Monday, October 7, 2013

Arkansas Birthday Fun

I turned 36 on Saturday.  Where is the time going?  I celebrated with two very fun and very, very different races:  The Chile Pepper Festival and Arkansas Traveller 100. 

(aside:  I had some kind of unidentified and undiagnosed flare back in July/August.  It was acute and very painful, rather than gradual and lingering, and was over and done with by the time school started.  I was very, very uncomfortable, and completely freaked out, but it turned out to be a false alarm.  The neurologist said that it could have been a random bout of Guillen-Barre.  The specific tests that I had for inflammatory markers were clear for anything more serious... not to say that there aren't other problems elsewhere.  A huge relief, although I apologize to my friends for taking my "alarm" so seriously.  Thank goodness for my support system.)

I heard reports of snakes in the water.  Snakes!
Back to the birthday.  I have always enjoyed either running or working the Chile Pepper.  It's a huge college, high school, and junior high cross country meet that has an Open 10K before the other races start.  It's one of the bigger community events, and so much fun.  Looking back at a spring/summer dominated by injury and illness, I haven't been running much, and was in no mood to register, which turned out to be a good decision.  I got up at 5:20 to get out the door for my 6:00am shift, and could see the lightning start to flash in the west as I rode my bike there.  We were just ahead of a strong front, and the 73 degree low was going to be the high for the day. Sure enough, 30 minutes before gun time, the storm hit and we were in a wait-for-it delay for the next 3 hours.  The 10K was shortened to a 5K, and I have never seen so much mud and water on a race course.  I have no idea how the rest of the day went, but I'm sure that it was a long one for alot of people.  I worked until about noon, and headed home to get warm and dry before setting off on adventure #2 for the day. 

MV taking care of biz at AT100
By 1:30pm, I was on the road to the Arkansas Traveller 100, a 100-mile footrace through forest service roads in central Arkansas.  My purpose was to meet a friend from grad school, run the last 16 or so miles with him, and then be a designated driver back to Fayetteville.  We (a friend from F'ville who was doing the same thing for another runner) shot for Copperhead Aid station, mile 52 and 64 on the course, giving an opportunity to see runners twice within a few hour period.  We spent the time chatting with friends who were crewing other runners that we knew... Mark DenHerder's whole family was there supporting his race, and he would go on to finish 5th.  Scott Rogers appeared soon after we did, crewing his wife Eunika, who finished her first 100 that day.  Ultra-friends are good for the soul.  Around 7:30pm I saw my buddy head through inbound looking very strong and making good time.  About then, the same system that had gone through Fayetteville that morning was bearing down 200 miles to the southeast.  I felt bad for my friend who was driving me down remote roads in the pouring rain to meet my runner at the last crew access point at Lake Winona.  It's not easy to get there, and she was going to have to go all the way back only to find that her runner had dropped.  I was at Winona for maybe an hour and a half, when Matt came in wearing every article of clothing that he had packed.  We took off, and he was moving purposefully.  Once his inertia got in motion he was ready to run, and there were a few times when I felt that I was downright pushing it just to stay with him.  Every time he dropped something (a much-needed glove that I never could find), or I lingered behind to finish up at an aid station, it was a tempo run to catch back up.  After the uphill jeep road to Electronic Tower aid station, the road smooths out and tilts down for some really smooth running.  There is one more technical section before the final 2-3 miles, and we just put our heads down and concentrated on minimizing rock-kicking and staying smooth.  Once we hit the final run-in that passes Lake Sylvia and eventually turns to pavement, I estimate that we were doing 8:30 miles.  He let me know that he was hurting, but I tried not to let him dwell on it, and he willinglly engaged whenever I would change the subject.  His words once we hit the pavement:  "Let's see what I've got left."  He finished in 22 hours, good for 10th place. 

It's good to do something totally out-of-routine.  How often do you run through the night with everything you need on your back?  I heard coyotes in the forest at 2:00am while completely alone.  I saw stars that I have probably never seen before.  I felt like the world was so much bigger than me and the petty structures that I allow my life to revolve around.  The world seems so large, and yet things seem so simple.  Pack light, stay warm, watch your step, and keep moving.  Ponder the absurdity of running through the forest at 2:00am.  Feel the cool night air on your skin and in your lungs.  See where the treetops open up to a clear sky full of stars that you've probably never seen, and realize that you would be missing it all if you were in bed back home.  Monday comes soon enough, along with the other 364 days of the year.