It has been a while since I’ve typed…ran…raced…puked…lived much of anything within the trail community. After the race in June of 2018 (2018!) I definitely hit a long stretch of lonely miles, uncertainties with my health, and just an overall adjustment in what I really wanted to accomplish as a runner.
Meaning; I’m truly no different from the stubbornness and dreaming ideologies that my 13 and 14 year olds remind me of on a daily basis…when they do not turn in their papers when they are due.
However, after being shot with a nuclear isotope, listening to my heart do its own version of a Latin Salsa, and building…rebuilding…and building orthotics in my shoes (thanks to a very unsettling, slightly unhinged mad scientist) by the end of November I had finally felt that my feet were under me, and I was slowly (so slowly) crawling through each mile.
Because learning from the past is for losers, this obviously meant that I was ready to go back to a trail racing!
Now, I did
ask beg my coach to enter a race. With December quickly approaching I knew there was a frozen, miserable race with my name on it: The Back 40. I even tried to negotiate (HA!) by saying that I would run the half marathon instead of the usual 20 mile race I had done in the previous two years.
With God laughing, Michael facepalming, and the stars beaming down on me I was finally given approval to head back out on the trail. With excitement, a week prior to the race, I hopped on the internet and began the registration process.
Only to learn that the half marathon at The Back 40 was completely sold out.
After swallowing tears (and snot) I refused to back down from my own bouts of stupidity, and did what any sane person would do:
I sent an email to the race director asking if there was a wait list for the half marathon.
Yes, you read that correctly, I requested a wait list for a 13.1 mile race.
I’m still laughing at myself.
Days went by without hearing anything from the group in the Natural State (that’s Arkansas by the way), and I began to realize that my dream was gone, and even more painful was knowing that instead I would have another long run in the woods, in the cold, in the dark around my house. Truth is, I had been itching (not quite oak mite itch, but more like poison ivy itch) to get out of town for a few days. The Hitchcock 100 was taking place in Iowa that same weekend, and I knew enough to know to evade that frozen tundra like my life depended on it, but I still sought adventure. In Arkansas though…the weather was setting up to be perfect for racing…snow, wind, rain, and ice. There’s no place I’d rather be.
In my own grief of eating Tailwind straight, and gorging Honey Stinger chews, my sugar-hyped eyes bounced around my screen until I saw the response come through my email.
Well, we can’t let that streak end, can we? Come on down and sign up when you check in.Seriously. This group is amazing to allow me into their race just like that.
Sweet redemption! I texted my coach, kissed my cat, fed my wife, and packed my bags…red coat and all! I stopped at Run816, our local running store, and purchased some Yak Trax (because I like being cool and trying to fit in, though each race photo with others shows me that I’ll never fit it) and a new BOCO beanie. Afterwards it was a quick trip down to northwest Arkansas on my own. I met with a few others from Kansas City who were…thrilled with the upcoming weather that they too had to get in on the action. The bib I received for the race was custom made for me…meaning it was made with a Sharpee marker…and the race director wanted to know what I didn’t sign up earlier. I explained the situation, to which (JOKINGLY!) he said he wouldn’t mind fighting my coach, to which (JOKINGLY!) I said he’d win. In the end, the marker on the piece of paper still held true, I was back in action.
Saturday morning, if being honest, came with a blur. There was no snow, there was no rain…in fact, similar to the previous two years, the darn race weather was the exact same. Cold, windy, overcast with a hint of death (or wannabe snow) in the air. The 20/40 mile runners had already left, allowing me to have a moment of self-pity for not being with them, but that was quickly replaced with the echoing tunes that had become accustomed to this race from the race director.
Y’all pay attention! I’m only gonna say it once! This is your ribbon! If you do not see this ribbon, you are lost!
Something about that noise that is abrasive to the ears is also calming to the soul. The next thing I knew the horn went off, and we were already heading down the pavement to the trailhead. Like any good Arkansas race, it is pivotal for me to start off in the best way possible, but practically sprinting the first mile. Looking back, I clocked a ten minute mile in the first mile, it was rather daunting.
After the first mile and onto the single track, I spent the time in a very awkward scenario blended of peer pressure, poor choices, and pride. I had ran to the front third of the race group in the first mile, meaning I was with really fast people. The only problem? I am not a fast person. However, I didn’t want to be “that person” that slowed down the folks on the single track. Because of this dilemma I did the only thing that was feasible at the moment; I sucked air like a dying velociraptor, and tripped over every rock in the state of Arkansas while trying to keep moving with the group.*
Thank goodness my wardrobe failed me after 3 miles.
I had layered the heck out of myself for this race; a singlet, a dry-tech long sleeve shirt, and finally my new running jacket. That jacket is as close to the furnace of hell as I’d like to get. The harder you run, the hotter it gets, and like a bad hotbox at youth camp, the heat goes nowhere. By the third mile, dying from trying to run with a bunch of Pre’s, I pulled off to the side to ‘put my gear in my pack’…which really meant…let the Daytona 500 get past me so I could run at a pace that wouldn’t kill me at mile 8.
The journey calmed down tremendously from that point on. I barely stopped at aid stations as I made my way through the course, I did not have any chaffing issues, and cramps were a thing of the past. A few bone issues at my ankle by mile ten, but the biggest issue came only from the scalding, delicious chicken broth around mile 9. On a side note I am pleased to report that I did find the remnants of Cheryl’s She-Shed laced along the trail side between a few residential development areas…hot water heaters and all.
While listening to the rage of Witt Lowry and his broken heart over the years through some speakers, I noticed two runners that had been behind me for some time during the race. They kept chatting in their wonderfully thick southern accent, but as angelic as that noise was, the guilt was building in me. I had to let them through.
Naturally, I stepped off to the side to allow them through.
Naturally, they did not go through.
Oh, you’re fine! You’ve been constant, so we’ve been using you as our pacer most of the race. We’ve sat back here chatting, and on occasion we’d look up and say, ‘Where’s the guy in the yellow? We need to find him again.’ Thank you for pacing us today.
Truly a pacers job is never actually done.
The final two miles were possibly the best miles of the race. They were a blend of uphill, and the final section of pavement. Through the misery of uphill running back home…and many nights at the gym learning to “hinge”, I’m pleased to say that I passed more people in the final inclines versus the rest of the race.
The concluding pavement turned into an emotional wash of feels and warm fuzzies. As I came out onto the blacktop, I noticed that I was still feeling somewhat fresh. So…I left the race like I entered…just about straight sprinting into the finish line. Ugly running and all. My final mile was nearly identical to my first in relation to time.
…and somehow…frozen in sweat, soggy clothes, and chicken broth…there was a 45 minute person record for a half marathon awaiting me at the finish line.
Along with two Big Mac’s, two double cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a Dr. Pepper…plus a steaming hot shower.
I think Candice Burt, race director of the Tahoe 200, made the best note a few days ago when she said that races are viewed as celebrations for the work that we’ve put in leading up to the moment. In many ways, this was my celebration. Physically and mentally I did not have any breakdowns. It wasn’t the longest race I wanted, but there was nothing tragic to write home about…except the bacon. That’s a victory in my book, and it gives me a nice, defining, restart leading into 2019.
*Aside from a former Soviet judge, I would have scored a 8.9 on dismount
…speaking of bacon…
BONUS STORY: DEADLY BACON
If your eyes are already bleeding, please pay no attention to this section and move forward with your life. You deserve it.
If you are looking for more punishment, sadness, and overall insanity of my own mind…keep reading.
The day after The Back 40 I was to head back home to Kansas City. Prior to leaving I had made up my mind to get a ‘fancy’ breakfast on my way out of town. I had earned it, and it would taste better after putting some work in. My wife works at Starbucks, so I am always in the mood to find better coffee shops (because we love to argue). This brought me to the Onyx Coffee Lab in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.
The decor was exactly what you’d imagine for a millennial-driven concept. Hanging Edison bulbs along the tables, contrasting black and white countertops and tiles. Tattoos and man-buns galore, with at least three church buildings within walking distance on any given Sunday.
I stepped into the building, and walked up to the counter. I did not see a menu, and there was a line forming behind me. The barista was patient, but the sweat on the back of my neck told a story of panic knowing the people behind me were waiting.
So I randomly picked a drink and a sandwich for the road. The drink was to be expected (delicious). The sandwich was toast with avocado on it (I said it was millennial-driven for a reason). They boxed up the toast for me to take on the road. I never opened the box prior to getting in the car.
Twenty miles down the road, with cruise control set on I-49, I opened up the box for my breakfast.
Pickled onions? Yes
Egg? Hard boiled, dropped on top…but yes.
Raw, floppy bacon?
Raw floppy bacon?
RAW. FLOPPY. BACON.
Staring at this food poisoned disaster I was not sure what action to take. I did my best to eat around the raw hog pieces, and enjoy the rest of the bread. However, there was this morbid curiosity about the bacon. What did it taste like? Was it there on purpose? Was this an assassination attempt? I contemplating my life, running, and my hunger for a solid twenty minutes before I decided that, that bacon was there for a reason.
…and I ate it…
…and it had the texture of what I imagined raw bacon to have…
…and I gagged…
…and I finished it.
The rest of the car ride was a game of trying to figure out what food poisoning felt like, and my over zealous mind trying to figure out strategic hospitals along the way home in case it got really rough.
By the point I hit Kansas City I nearing a full meltdown mode in my head. I sent a message to my therapist (she’s around for these exact moments). I explained the situation, trying to calm my anxiety, and not go into a complete panic attack.
The phone stayed silent.
I pulled up their menu. I found your toast. You were stressed at the place, so you did not read the menu. That was not raw bacon, that is called prosciutto. Have you ever had that before?My therapist…who deals with more than she ever should…
After swallowing my pride, I decided to share with story with my wife. Knowing that we grew up in similar households (where that stuff would never be found), I could teach her something new.
Oh. You had prosciutto. You’ve never had it? We sell it at my store…quite a bit actually.My wife…who loves when I’m wrong and she knows something that I do not
Needless to say; after any race I’ll be avoiding the panic of raw, floppy bacon…also known to the fancy folks as prosciutto.