It is Just a Damn Hard Race


Gordon Cherr,


I have been staring at the bedroom ceiling for a while now, wondering if I will ever move again. The ceiling fan goes around and around an unknown number of times, I think it is counterclockwise but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Well, I suppose that I will have to move eventually. My favorite post race meal, pickled herring and chocolate milk, has been beckoning me from the refrigerator for a few hours now since I got home. Bleh…maybe coffee and banana walnut cake…yeah, that’s the ticket.

I mechanically took a hot shower, did the obligatory tick check, got the chills, started to shiver, put on a stocking cap, a sweatshirt, shorts and socks, and crawled under the covers. It is only 75 perfect degrees outside on what has been the most glorious day to run. And I am shivering. My head feels like someone has fastened a band around it and in some medieval torture ritual, is slowly tightening it. The cat hops up on the bed and finds a place to snuggle up. Normally I would kick her off or push her away, she has no sense of personal space. Not your personal space, that is. But the room is spinning and I lack the strength. Thankfully, I finally drop off to sleep.

At the finish someone said “There is blood on your face”. “Huh?” It is running down my left hand into the palm from between two of my fingers and is smeared across the back of a few knuckles. “Where did that come from?” Chuck Davis asks. “I don’t know, I have no idea” is about the best I can mumble. He says, “Maybe it is better that you don’t remember.” Maybe.

I ran my usual stupid race at Torreya again. Two years ago I was about 75 minutes to the first aid station, so I wanted to slow that down and save more for the second, “more runnable” loop. Yeah. So, last year I got there in 72 minutes. I promised I wouldn’t do that again, so this year I got there at 69 minutes. Good pace management. Hell, the day was perfect, the company outstanding, the course is gloriously hard and beautiful. Ask anyone who has ever run at Torreya. Oh, no tough ultras in Florida? Guess again. Better yet, show your face at the starting line.

So, the wheels came off somewhere about halfway around the second “more runnable” (right!) loop. A few very quiet other runners caught up, many did not. No one appeared to be taking a stroll in the park if facial expression means anything, and I believe it was speaking loudly. When does the fun part start? Didn’t someone say that there was going to be a fun part?

Well, it is called a “race.” Sometimes when all else seems to be falling to pieces and you are all alone with your thoughts, you can hear the little voice that convinces you to drop your expectations, to stop feeling sorry for yourself, to put one foot down in front of the other and to make it a real honest day in your life. Just maybe you won’t be granted another. You’d better believe it and stop taking it for granted.

So, I grunted and groaned my way in over the last five miles of the death march. I actually don’t recall that much about it except that it hurt. I tripped over roots when my legs grew heavy and smelled the good Earth. I saw white clouds through the canopy, on their journey north. I listened to the birds. There was a barred owl screaming in the woods. Pileated woodpeckers rat-tat-tatting on dead trees. Cardinals and wrens and lord knows what else singing songs to ease our collective pains and efforts. The soft breeze through the trees and swaying palmetto fronds along the trails. The three lovely sirens at the last aid station (“only two miles to go”), yes, I remember you.

Sometimes I look around me and do not believe in God. Then I run Torreya. It fills my cranky old soul with joy. It is just that kind of place. Thank you Marty and Joe, for reminding me. I didn’t leave anything out there and honestly gave it whatever it was that I had.

Then again, I left a lot of me out there. It was so worth it.