It's not a Buckle. Yet.

It’s not a Buckle. Yet.

I will start off with what a new (running) friend had said in her race report. The context goes along this line: she did not consider herself an ultrarunner until she    finished a 100-miler. I exactly felt the same way, except that I have not finished my first 100 yet. I sort of felt I am not an ultrarunner until I ran and finished my first 50-mile race. This was back then.

So some time ago, while waiting for my 8-year old to finish her piano class, I found myself inside my car, signing up on an impulse (and based on ego) for the Beast of Burden Winter 50. No, I was not ready for 100. I am not ready for 100, thus the choice to go with the 50. It was based on a challenge by Otto Lam, a quite well-know Ultrarunner in the NY/NJ area. Bottom line, I signed up for BoB50, in that 30-minute wait inside the car.

Of course, I was mocked by people who were personally close to me for signing up for an ultra in the middle of winter— in upstate New York, particularly, in Lockport, New York, which is ultimately synonymous to Buffalo.

Signing up probably happened in November. Or say, late October. Either way, I felt I had enough time to “train.” I know it is “just 50.” Not a 100-miler in Vermont or Utah or Colorado or California. But when I signed up for BoB50, the word DNF was never an option.

For those of you who know me, I am not a fast runner. Nor am I a runner, born and blessed with fast-twitch muscle fibers. I came from a country that did not quite place enough leverage on physical activities in educational institutions, back in the day. I also happen to have been hit by an SUV in head-on, while crossing the street in 2009 that left me with a knee surgery a year after.

No excuses. Bottom line, I. AM. NOT. FAST.

But I happen to have the resolve and determination to finish what I start— at least, when it comes to running. I think that is the only form of artillery that I arm myself with each time.

So on January 18, I ran BoB.

Being that I had planned few weeks before Beast of Burden to run Badwater Cape Fear, I decided my goal was to finish under 14 hours, primarily because Badwater had a 14-hour cut-off. I sort of figured that was a lofty-enough goal. That was a rather slow pace, yet realistic for me. But even that made me nervous.

I knew BoB was flat. And that it was going to be in a sub-freezing temperature. But yes, it made me nervous setting the 14-hr goal. Not because of the “cold;” rather, because it was flat.

Now I am not a hill runner. But so far, I know some of my short distance PRs were in Central Park where there are “mounds.” I even PR’d in Bethlehem, PA for my half-marathon by 12 minutes. So yes, the “flatness” of the Beast’s course scared the hell out of me. Why? Because that meant using the same muscle group for 50 miles. So I wasn’t exactly afraid of the cold. I knew Icebreaker got me prepared for that. Besides, I have always had this belief that when it comes to forces of nature, I can only deal with them and not fight because they are what they are.

For some reason, however, the night before the race, over dinner with friends who came from NYC and NJ for the race, I somewhat decided I’d aim for an even-loftier goal: finish in less than 12 hours.

I hadn’t really told anyone about what my goal was (remember that 14-hour goal?). Or maybe I did tell Vivian. But then, no one else.

So when I decided on dropping my goal to 12 hours, I felt I was about to explode, not having anyone to tell it to, share it with.

Morning of the race, I had to hit coolrunning.com and check what my pace should be. “Okay, doable,” I thought to myself. So I had set that out for myself. Less than 12 hours.

Ten o’clock in the morning, the race started. There were flurries. I could only be thankful for a 10am start. That meant sleeping in after that dinner that ended a bit late.

And then the race started.

It was an out-and-back of 12.5 miles down (or up or whatever) alongside the Erie Canal. And for some time, I thought about what another running friend, Dylan, had repeated over and over: I don’t want to f#cking run on a straight, flat course on a tow path!!!

It will always be my choice for 26.3 miles and beyond. Thanks, Hoka!

It will always be my choice for 26.3 miles and beyond. Thanks, Hoka!

That statement lingered for a bit. Actually that lingered before I came to Lockport. I thought, for some weird reason, that the course would literally be straight— like airport runway straight. That was dumb of me to think. Of course, it bent some. Curved some. But yes, it was flat. Almost as flat as a runway could be. And it was a towpath. Thankfully, there was no slush, which mortified me. I looked down the towpath and for a mile or so, all I saw were loose soil that resembled chia seeds.

For some reason, I had fun. I rushed past the first AS in Gasport (about mile 7), not knowing I was supposed to stop there for the splits. Thank goodness for Kino! I was just “high” and full of adrenaline. I was happy running. Soon enough, I reached Middleport, which was the turn-around point before taking the route back to the start.

Then THE moment of torture happened.  The headwind was horrible. It was, what? 25mph? 30? I don’t know. I just knew it slowed me down and it was blowing against my lungs that already have issues with cold air (read: weather-induced asthma, which I diagnosed myself with). I could barely open my eyes and with the dryness, I looked to my right at one point and saw a field of what I assumed was a plantation or something. And then I hallucinated. Or was that my blurry vision… of Santa Claus in the middle of the field. I had to rub my eyes over and over when I stopped. Finally, it cleared. It wasn’t Santa Claus. It was a red fire hydrant near the snow-covered field. Who puts a fire hydrant in a field, anyway?!

That was a horrible time coming back. But I managed to reach Gasport then the start line. And I was smiling again.

Still smiling. Approaching the halfway mark at the start line. 25 miles more to go!

Still smiling. Approaching the halfway mark at the start line. 25 miles more to go!

In a way, again, I remembered one of the best encouragements I received the night before. “Fifty miles is just less than 2 marathons! You will crush that towpath.”

Again, thanks, Dylan!

Having finished 25 miles, I knew taking 1.2 miles more and I would, in fact, be less than another marathon towards finishing a 50. So off I went back out, saw and greeted some runners, and ran, ran, ran.

Reaching the Middleport station at 8 hours 9 minutes since the start of the race, I felt I had a chance to finish in less than 11 hours, instead. I somewhat figured that it couldnt possibly take me 4 hours to finish 12.5 miles. So I went for it, hoping to finish sub-11 rather sub-12. It even propelled me further to aim for that “new goal” when Violet told me the wind has somewhat dissipated. Ha!

But then, I think at that point, some exhaustion had set in. And yes, there still was wind, although not as horrible as it had been that morning.  By then, it was darker and colder. I had already put on an extra shirt, put on a pair of borrowed mittens. It was a fast turn-around, considering the excellent crewing of Ken Tom, who had helped me put my hydration backpack with so much ease, primarily because he got authorization that he “can touch my boobs.” What am I talking about?! I don’t have any!

Regardless, that was some saved time at that point. But of course, little did I know coming out of Middleport that I had forgotten to turn my head lamp on and now with mittens on, that had become a somewhat difficult task. That was when I slowed down. I had to take the mittens off then the other layers of gloves underneath. The whole process just ate up so much time.

And then my hydration back pack seemed to have loosened. Then my bottle was leaking. Again, I had to remove my gloves and mittens. More time wasted.

From then on, it was a struggle. Murphy’s Law. Five and half miles from Middleport to Gasport seemed like eternity.

Eventually, I would reach Gasport and leave it one last time.

Now I did not pee before leaving Gasport. I sucked it up and because I am a nurse, I was pretty good at it. At least, for the time-being. I would see Tiger and run alongside her, walk a few feet, and catch up again when I ran. I knew the only reason I was able to keep up with her was because she was running a 100. On an ordinary day, I knew I wouldn’t. I would eventually go ahead. But not for long. I had to pull over and hide behind a tree.

The nurse in the runner me could not hold her pee. My butt was numb and I had forgotten to turn my headlamp off, but I didn’t really care. Another few minutes lost.

Finally. I went back into the course. Ran alongside Tiger and went about my merry, tired way.

Photo taken from the start line. Across the canal is part of the course, approximately 2 miles away from the start/finish. If only swimming was allowed, it would have been closer. But it isn't and I can't even swim! This last stretch can feel like eternity. At least, it was for me.

Photo Courtesy: Lockport Photographer (My apologies for not remembering who took this photo). Taken from the start line. Across the canal is part of the course, approximately 2 miles away from the start/finish. If only swimming was allowed, it would have been closer. But it isn’t and I can’t even swim! This last stretch can feel like eternity. At least, it was for me. At any rate, this sight is reminiscent of a Van Gogh, except I can’t find stars.

Finally, too, I saw the finish line from across the canal. That only indicated the final 2 miles. But even that would seem like forever.

I looked at my watch and saw I was nearing the 12-hour mark. Where did time go?

Damn it. At that point, I really thought I’d murder myself if I didn’t make it to the 12-hour “goal.” It just wasn’t acceptable at that point to finish past 12 hours. It. Was. Not. An. Option.

So in exhaustion, I made a mad dash for it. The 2 miles became 1 until I reached the bridge called Exchange-something that marked the point where I’m finally home stretch. I struggled to run as fast I could, whatever fast meant at that point in time.

I kept looking for the blue tent. The freakingly elusive blue tent. But finally, there it was. And there was Jim.

Finally it was the end. Jim hugged me. But then I had to push myself inside the tent. I don’t know if I needed to but I felt I needed to clock-in! Boom! I looked at my time: 11:51. Or 11:51:53, according to UltraSignUp.com.

Okay, I was happy. More or less. Part of me was actually disappointed. I had wanted my sub-12 to be sub 11:30. Yes, I could never be satisfied.

Thus, I resumed the revelry with more hugs– from Ken and Denise and again, from Jim– that I didn’t even notice the RD give me my medal. I took the Jello-shot, only to realize after I took it that I had already sworn not to take alcohol again. But “whatever” was what was in my mind at that point.

Jello shots!!!

Jello shots!!!

And then I cried some. Eventually, I would settle on a chair, covered by volunteers with a warm blanket. (Oh, no, no, no. Not the Christmas Tree blanket!!!) And I would see some runners finish, some runners turn and go for their halfway stretch, and just witness some of the remarkable events that can only transpire in ultra races.

It was a beautiful experience.

It still is. And I still smile at the thought of the Beast of Burden. Of how beautiful the people are at the Aid Stations, at how friendly, at how kindly they make you feel like family. Now I understand what Lisa C. meant when she referred to her “BoB family in Lockport.”

It is funny now. Someone had said that that being in Lockport was like being in Redneck New York. I did not feel that being there.

Beast of Burden was an experience that was beautiful overall. A lot of things had happened training for it, which, thus, led me to call this article a non-race report.

Bottom line, preparing for the Beast was life-changing.

I have made so many friends. Learned so many things. Gained a whole new experience.

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Sorry, RD, I did not even notice you.

Equally important during the preparation for the Beast, I have turned my diet around one that was so ingrained on animal products into one that is plant-based, aka vegan. And in running on a vegan diet, I didn’t feel weak, at all. I felt great. I barely walked (besides inside the ASs)!!! In total, I’d say that in all the 50 miles, I had only walked about 20 feet in the course.

Surprisingly, above all, I did not suffer from the same hand swelling that I often suffer from running races prior to the Beast. I am not quite sure if it was turning vegan that made that possible, but considering that I have nothing else to attribute that to, then why not say it was because of that. Why not?

So thanks, Joe, for the influence. I will have this stamped for life.

So going back to where I started with Violet saying “I felt like I am not an ultrarunner until I ran a 100-miler.” I hear you, Violet. For a time, I felt I was an ultrarunner as soon as I finised a 50. I still do.

But then what you said about running a 100-miler is a reflection of what I am feeling now.

Pre-race dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms. One of my favorite pasta mixes even before turning vegan.

Pre-race dinner: Linguine with Mushrooms. One of my favorite pasta mixes even before turning vegan.

Its time to up the ante, push the envelope, and say, I feel like I am not an ultrarunner, until I finished a 100-miler.

Let’s see what September brings.

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