“Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.”
(Credence Clearwater Revival, Bad Moon Rising)
Gary Griffin is sitting quietly on the edge of the concrete skirting under the picnic shelter. A stream of bright red blood is coursing down his left leg from knee to ankle. But it is the palm of his left hand he is examining. “Damn,” he says, “I hope I didn’t break that sucker.”
Mike Martinez is sitting next to me, with the stunned, sullen and disbelieving look of a man who just walked away from a train wreck. I saw Mike as he finished the third of four loops in the 50K at Torreya this past Saturday. He was taking little baby steps and I knew that his legs were cooked. But, it really isn’t your legs at this point, rather it is your head and your heart. He circled the bright orange cone under the clock, grabbed some supplements and perhaps a bottle of whatever, and resigned himself to one more 7 mile dance with the demons of the trails. They beat him silly but ultimately he made it back. Now, he is sitting next to me, almost absent mindedly eating post race lasagna and bread, with that far away look that ultra runners sometimes have after the war is over. He says “I am not doing that again. Ever.” Oh, we’ll see. I’m betting that in a week he will be looking at the race calendar in UltraRunning Magazine. Or maybe he’ll just be thinking about it. Mike doesn’t know it yet but he has just joined the fraternity.
Ed Baggett has finished the 50K. He can’t seem to sit still. Ed’s left leg is covered with dirt and leaves, it looks like some heavy weight from Wrestlemania body slammed him to the ground, left side first. That is a good explanation of what happened, the Torreya Trail picked him up and threw him down. Ed is walking around still energized somehow, I won’t say that his eyes are rolling around in his head, but Ed does resemble someone who just fell down the stairs and who got up a little bit groggy, all parts not yet quite coordinated.
And Dana Stetson. Dana finishes his race, sits down with a big sigh, rips off his big trail shoes and pulls off his bright green socks. Let’s see—all10 toes…check. All six toenails—check. Three blackened toenails—check. Dana is no worse for wear except exhausted. Now, if someone would please wipe that big loogie off of his moustache . . .
Others are a bit more fortunate. Brian Corbin, who won the 25K, and Vince Molosky, who won the 50K, are walking around still pumped up on the victor’s surge of adrenaline. Andy Maurey has finished his 25K in good form and is polishing off Light Ale number 4..or is that 5..or.. 6? No matter, he earned each and every one today. There is MJ, she came out to cheer on David, she ran one of the loops, and in true ultra runner fashion, took a tumble out there somewhere. But in true MJ fashion, she got up and kept on trucking. So did Judy Alexander. After running the first counterclockwise loop of the 25K with me, she pulled away, took a wrong turn and ran the course backwards (clockwise). Can’t let a little thing like a wrong turn ruin your day. She didn’t. Judy took everything that tough 25K course had to offer and more, and I saw her finish with a broad grin on her face. Hey, I don’t know, maybe it was relief in not being lost out there all night. There are many more stories to tell, I cannot tell them all. I can tell you that, as predicted, race directors Joe Edgecombe and Marti Kirkland put on a rugged, tough top quality event.
I believe that in the final analysis, most ultra runners will tell you that his/her race/run is very personal. Maybe because you are sometimes out there alone with yourself and your thoughts for a very long time. You start to peel away the layers of polite society and you thus gain the opportunity to peer more deeply into your own soul. That’s how it works for me, and it underlies a deep camaraderie that accompanies these events, wherever and whenever they are.
As for my 25K, the race started off in increasing darkness and thunder rumbled overhead. It started to rain. But I am pleased to report that I fell only once, on my final loop, at the bottom of the sadistically and strategically placed big hill you need to run up each loop to get to the finish/turn around. Another time I ran into a tree, I don’t know why, it was there. The first loop went easily but even if you run easy, the hills here will sap your strength. Then they start to work on your will. I don’t recall much of the second loop at all. Sometimes you are fortunate enough to become one with the trails, I guess. I do remember odd passing thoughts of loved ones far away, my children with their children, and of missing old Buster, who loved to charge the hills, then go off on a scent that only his beagle nose could smell, then return, racing past me close enough to brush my leg, as he often did, to let me know that he had my back and no worries Boss.
Much later, the sun came out. Somewhere, probably on a hot, steep, open and shadeless climb, with three miles to go, I felt the gas tank go to near empty. It was getting hot and I was out of water. There are times in every race, much less every run, where you make conscious decisions. You decide to go faster or slower or harder or easier or walk or pray or strike a bargain with yourself or God about tomorrow. On this day, I chose to dig in. Out there in the tough beauty of the trails of Torreya there really isn’t any other choice you can make. No, it didn’t feel good and yes, it hurt, and yes, I later took a tumble on the trail. But I got up and kept going. Really, I had no choice in the matter.
I salute you, my fellow competitors and friends, for doing likewise. On the trails of Torreya and on the trails of life.
The first edition of the new ultra at Torreya started dark and threatening. It ended with blue skies. It is a winner. Here, you know the tune:
“Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine.
I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I’ve got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I’m in love and it’s a sunny day
Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine
We take a walk, the sun is shining down.
Burns my feet as they touch the ground.
Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine.”
(Good Day Sunshine. The Beatles)