Posts Tagged ‘#garminrunning’

 

With my Trail WhippAss team mates and friends. L-R: Matt Gerowitz, Juliette Ciacca, Stalina Gibson, Moi, and JC Sta. Teresa.

With my Trail WhippAss team mates and friends. L-R: Matt Gerowitz, Juliette Ciacca, Stalina Gibson, Moi, and JC Sta. Teresa.

A week ago today, around this time, I was in the Appalachian Trail, either run-walking up or flying down the beautiful downhills.

But before that even happened, I must say, I came to JFK 50 with fear. I have run and finished 2 50-milers before and I knew I CAN FINISH 50 miles. But then, as the cliché goes, no 2 races are the same. JFK 50 has a 12-hour cut-off for those starting at 0700 and 14 for those toeing the line at 0500. So far, one of those 2 50 miles I’ve done, I finished under 12 hours. But that was at Beast of Burden, which was flat as a runway. The other, TARC 50, I finished at 15 hours and 50 minutes of running, after I got lost at mile 48.5 or 49, sat, cried, and then given the chance to finish. So technically, I didn’t have a good history to bank on. On one hand, I thought that while BoB was flat, it was cold, I had my period, and went to the bathroom a million times. So maybe, there was hope that I can actually finish under the cut-off.

Still, the assurance was not enough. I freaked out.

And then, there were the whys. Why did I let Stalina talk me into this? Why did I even think I could do it?

My husband ran it last year and finished under 9 hours but that was him. Why did I even think I could do it? Or may be I could. But then, wait, was I even trained enough? Not in my opinion.

Since TARC in June, I had 2 DNFs. Two 50Ks— what would’ve supposedly been “training runs.” One, a week after TARC (who was I kidding?) and the other, in October. So talk about confidence. Then, I guess all the other “trainings” involved running some “hills” in Central Park, walking on 35-40% incline in our treadmill, probably 1 back-to-back 16- and 11-milers, and Steamtown Marathon followed by a 10-miler the next day. The only other essential part in my so-called training was trying to train/run on empty. So far, I’ve only managed running without nutrition or hydration for the longest distance of 10 miles. So was I ready? Not exactly. But I had to convince myself I was.

Fast-forward, November 21 came. With my family, we packed 2 more runner-friends, Stalina and Juliette, in our car and headed to Hagerstown. I was thankful the husband came because I could not imagine driving a day after the race. That Friday, we picked up our bibs at a hotel after eating Thai food. Then at dinner, we headed to Ledo’s Pizza (and their pizza was awesome!) where I had the quasi-mandatory dinner of vegan pizza and pasta. I swore I’d never eat that much before. Following dinner, we readied in our room. I skipped the FlatKat, the “traditional” laying down of race attire for photo-ops. I was scared as f#ck that might jinx me.

Then fast-forward race day November 22.

I had a good night’s sleep. When I woke, I had coffee and a wonderful bathroom visit.

That's my best poker face at the bib pick-up.

That’s my best poker face at the bib pick-up.

It was a cold morning. There were frostings on cars at the parking lot. I was wearing shorts. I had settled on a long-sleeved tech shirt with my Trail WhippAss (my running team) singlet over it. But I’ve also a loose tech running shirt over it for throw-away, then my Ultimate Direction Jenny vest.

After a quick stay in the gym for some last minute race announcements, we were heading out to the start. Jun’s (the husband) last words to me in our dialect “Don’t DNF.” Boom.

Gun went off just right after I used the porta-john, where I actually tripped and hurt my ankle.

Just as expected, it was crowded, but that was good. With over a thousand (?) runners, I figured I could never be the last person.

The first five miles were just relentless uphill on pavement. As soon as I heard a volunteer say “last uphill and you’ll be in the AT,” my eyes lit up. That trek uphill ate up so much of my time.

Soon enough we hit the AT.

I had to make a mental note about what how my ultrarunner, badass friend, Elaine Acosta told me to go slow in the AT, because per her experience, she was fascinated with it that she ran too fast and bonked in the towpath. But that wasn’t a problem for me; I can’t run fast, anyway.

But yes it was beautiful. I managed to run smarter, walking the uphills mostly. (I have been warned by a random runner and Jun to not run the uphills because they burn me out but I feel I can run better uphill than walking uphill.) Then I made up for time by running downhills, even in the most technical ones and along the switchback. At one point I twisted my ankle really bad and heard a snap and I was worried for a while but that didn’t do harm.

The AT was a beauty. Unfortunately, we only had about 9 miles of it. I have memories of the picture-perfect scenery but only in my mind because I turned my phone off to fight the temptation to take pictures.

It was sad when the run along the AT ended. I especially loved the view that overlooked the river when we started the switchbacks and the AS by the rails where we actually had to stop for about 5 mins for a cargo train to cross. But I didn’t really stop long in these ASs as I was constantly making sure I had enough time. I breezed through them just to get water to mix with my Drip Drop and a spare bottle to drink. Other than that, all I picked up at the AS spread apart were 2 PB&J Uncrustables and 4 pretzel sticks. Other nutrition only composed of 2 dates and 4 or 5 V-Fuel, which I took along the way.

Finally, we hit the 26-mile stretch of the towpath, almost flat as a pancake. Contrary, however, to the Beast, at least, there was some fall foliage to see. Fine. I’ll take that.

So it was the most boring part of the race. I was dragging my feet. I was only thankful I was wearing my Hoka One One Clifton as they were the lightest bunch. I also had to make sure I relaxed my hips because more than the legs and feet, they are the first to give up. But boy, did that hurt. Same muscles for 26 miles. But then again, if there was one thing I learned from pacing Gerald in Badwater 135 in the middle of the night going up Cerro Gordo, pain has its limits. You can always push past the pain. Because if it didn’t have a limit, the pain scale that we often use at work would not be a scale of 1-10.

A lot of things go on in your mind when you’re running 50.2 miles. Especially for a back-of-the-packer like me. Because that’s a verrrry looongg time. But the goal is to stay away from surrendering.

On the towpath, mind wandered from where my ovaries are relative to the fact that since they’re no longer anchored to a fallopian tube and/or uterus, where could they be? Are they bouncing like me? That question kept me going for quite a bit. Then there were thoughts of inspirational words I had received days leading up to the race like “Believe” and “Have Faith” from 2 of the best ultrarunner friends I know, Stephen Bandfield and Paul De Nunzio. And everytime my mind went off on a tangent, I had to override it with some thought I had from Michele Yates’ interview: stay focused.

I would also discover, my GPS was off by close to a mile at this point. And I had 2 Garmins on. My old 910xt was the one I relied on, as my 620 stupidly did not start until 8 minutes into the race. I had calculated my pace to never exceed 14:11-min/mi if I wanted to make it to the cut-off. But with a GPS reading that was skewed, it was hard to say what my actual pace was. So I mostly relied at elapsed time.

And of course, there were cut-offs I had written on my arm and covered with tegaderm. They came in handy. And yes, I only looked up and found out about the cut-offs the night before. And that’s when I freaked out. This is one bad habit I need to overcome: I don’t read instructions.

I had about an hour of buffer on the first cut-off time, even with all the walking that happened the first 5 miles. But the numbers just thinned out as the day went on.

Then boom, we were nearing mile-38, where, in my opinion, the strictest cut-off was. For some reason, nearing it, my GPS said we were close to mile-38, even with the GPS being inaccurate. But behold, we almost didn’t make it past that Aid Station.

The volunteer there blurted out “even if you continue now, you will not make it to the next cut-offs.” This, even with 3 hours to spare to finish 12 miles. For some reason unknown, or may it was exhaustion, I almost quit and call Jun to come pick me up. But for some reason, as well, I felt lazy about taking my phone out and thought that if I stayed, I would be cold. Stalina, my Russian friend, was feisty enough to talk me out of it, so we, along with 2 others went for the last 13.2 miles. Of course, I was a bit miserable when we left because I didn’t realize until later that in our haste, we had not gotten water. I only had about 6 ounces left. Good job.

And then, Stalina left me. And I couldn’t find her. Without looking at the cut-off chart on my arm, part of me thought that I may not make it to the next AS on time. I only remembered Stalina saying the night before that the last 12 miles of the whole 50.2 will be like doing negative splits, aka running for your life. While you are exhausted.

So I took my time, took my dates from the back of my pack, and ate those 2 dates. “Ahhh… Real food, finally.” In my not-so-hasty trek, I was surprised that after only 2.8 miles, there was another AS not far ahead. In my mind I was saying “Wait, what? 3 miles with an hour to work on?” I crossed that AS with about 10 minutes to cut-off and that was with walking. This time, I had more FAITH and I BELIEVED more that I could actually do it. My friend, Stephen, told me to have the same faith when I ran Steamtown Marathon where I PR’d by 15 minutes. My faith resurrected and I knew at that point finishing was possible.

I was just 9 miles away and I think it was when we were donned the “vest of shame,” the vest that was to protect us in the next 9.2 miles because we were running on a road with actual traffic. But I didn’t mind that. I figured way before that if wearing the vest of shame meant I would finish, then so be it. I wore it with pride. And well, with my headlamp.

Again, I was reminded by what Elaine had said about how the last 9 miles are helpful because while it was rolling, you gain time in the downhills. So that was what I exactly did. I walked some incline and just ran the downhills. Ran some inclines and ran some downhills. Repeating the pattern in the next miles.

Along the line, it got a bit tricky staying safe. Because we were in a highway or main road, there were no shoulders to work on. In some areas, I actually had to stop because there were trucks coming and there was nowhere to run. But then knowing there were other runners made me feel safer. And I met John the Irish (I would find out his name after from Paul Grassie). He kept on giving encouraging words about how we were almost there. This went on for a few miles. And finally, when we hit the mile-44 (or 46?), I heard someone say “boiled potatoes.” I found that ridiculous because I have been looking for potatoes all day and never saw any. Now seriously, what will boiled potatoes do for me at the end of the race? So I brushed it off.

Finally, I hit the last few miles and there were mile markers, counting down. I could already smell the finish. And my family’s stench of fear that I may not have finished. Haha. It was also at this point I heard Mr. Incredible, on his bike, playing a boom box. “September” was playing. My heart was racing and when he was finally beside me, I asked him if he was the sweeper. He laughed at that and said “No! There are actually about 25 runners behind you” and he biked along.

I lost John the Irish somewhat and I had a sudden surge of energy as I passed some runners infront. I finally caught Stalina, who I saw had to do a double take and say“Oh, my god. I’m happy you made it.” I went and ran and at this point, I saw my pace was still under 14. But I knew that was no longer accurate because when we almost stopped at Taylor’s Landing, I paused my watch and we stayed there for 5 minutes. So literally, I didn’t have much time left. So I just ran, passing a few more runners. Until that final left turn on the highway where I was finally told the finish was waiting.

Sure enough, I saw the blown-up arch that said finish. It was slightly under 12 hours at this point but I was happy. I heard my name as I was approaching the finish. And I heard one of the announcers congratulating runners. The same announcer I heard talking last year, when Jun and finished.

I found myself making the sign of the cross and thanking God and thanking the Holy Spirit for helping me through it. The same way I had been praying so hard to just be guided in the past 50 miles, to know when to run, to pause, and to run again.

And with the intention to be photographed with my Trail WhippAss singlet, I took the vest of shame off about .1 mile away. And a few feet from the final timing mat, I saw Jun and Mariska and I jumped what was supposedly my jumping pic (unfortunately Jun missed it). And in Maggie Guterl’s words, I “pranced” to the finish.

Oh, my Lord. The clock read 11 hours 48 minutes something. I survived JFK 50. I finished under 12 hours!

With Herman Nichols Gilbert Gray and Paul Encarnacion.

With Herman Nichols Gilbert Gray and Paul Encarnacion.

It was one of the happiest finishes in my life.

I was ecstatic. I received my medal and then ran to the side to see Stalina finish and some other runners finish. Just like we all do in Ultras. But we had to walk out of the finish before the 12-hour mark sounded off. It was cold and I didn’t think I could handle seeing runners not making it to the cut-off. That would break my heart. But I’m not quite sure if anyone did not.

So I survived JFK 50. My thoughts and fear of having bought a JFK 50 hoodie and magnetic car sticker dissipated.

Sure enough, by the time we reached the public school cafeteria, there were no more ramen noodles. Back-of-the-packer problems. But who cares? I could very well survive the next days with just the runners’ high.

In retrospect, JFK 50 was a journey, a reflection. This is why I run ultras or why I sometimes DNF ultras. In my own twisted thinking, it is the experience that matters. When you’re happy or in pain but are able to digest things in life. Because if you can’t do that, then what’s the point?

Run careless. Run free.

Talisa and I at packet and bib pick-up. 6.6.2014.

Talisa and I at packet and bib pick-up. 6.6.2014.

They say, in life, we often see crossroads where one direction means success, the other failure. But how do we know that? It is a gamble. Often, we do not know what lies ahead, unless we take that step.

That is how TARC 50 turned out for me.

June 7, 2014 was going to be my 3rd attempt at a 50-miler. I was determined to have this attempt a success, having DD’d (dropped down) to a 50k at Badwater Cape Fear in North Carolina in March.

I signed up for TARC 50, after having spectated at the inaugural TARC 100 last year, when the husband ran it at its old course in another part of Massachusetts. I figured it would be nice to go back to the race. Last year was my first ultra immersion as a spectator and I did like the experience. Plus, it was only 20 minutes off Boston, which is one of my favorite places in the country.

So off I travelled with my friend and running buddy, Talisa, on Friday. This would be Talisa and my 3rd race together. We’ve run The North Face Bear Mountain 50k in May 3rd and Dirty German 50k May 18th. Nothing proved nicer than going out of town for a race with her.

 

This time, however, we picked up another runner, Bradford; a runner uprooted from Florida to Croton-on-Hudson, NY. The 3 of us drove up to Weston, Massachusetts, where we would meet 2 more runners, Jess and Brad.

Mile-2: I took my singlet and visor off. It was hot.

Mile-2: I took my singlet and visor off. It was hot.

Soon we arrived in Dedham, where our hotel room was (yes, 5 of us shared one hotel room, on the premise that Bradley would be running 100 miles overnight Saturday, anyway, while Jess paced him, so we would have more space Saturday night after the race). Thankfully, we would find out that our hotel sat right beside a Chinese restaurant and was right across a Whole Foods flagship store. That was convenient for nutritional purposes.

After checking in and a quick late lunch, we went to packet pick-up at the Hale Reservation where the race was taking place.
It was low-key. I liked that. I screamed for Otto, the only other good, close friend Talisa and I know, who was running the race. No sight. We would eventually see him at WF later that day and wish each other a good race the next day. Otto was also running a 100 and this would be his 2nd TARC 100. He ran the “mudfest” last year, too.

After doing flatKat, which has now become a “tradition” for me, where I’d lay my “attire” and essentials and take a photo, we finally decided on getting rest. Talisa and I shared a bed, Jess and Brad shared a bed, and Bradford slept on the floor.

Now when I said “rest,” I must have been delusional. Because sleep never came. Or barely came. Despite Talisa giving me a pair of earplugs, the snoring session Bradford performed that night was unbearable. I since, then, made a note to self to screen future hotel roommates for snoring.

Where the hell is Otto?

Where the hell is Otto?

And just when I thought I finally dozed, I heard noises of people getting ready for the race. I estimated the max amount of sleep at 2 hours.

Already a rough start to a day that was going to be spent running 50 miles and I know myself to be less functional with sleep deprivation.

I forced myself out of bed and got ready. I put my usual Asics split shorts on, my Asics Trail WhippAss singlet, my pink polka-dotted C3 Fit compression sleeves, IceBreaker socks, Hoka One One Stinson Trail shoes, and UltrAspire hydration vest.

Days prior, I had bought a Garmin Fenix 2 watch but being that I have not used it in a race, I decided to wear that along with my Garmin 620— just in case. I was stoked wearing the Fenix 2 with the promise that it will last 50 hours.

After some breakfast with left-over plantain and bagel and coffee with almond milk that I brought from home (yes, running vegan, I learned to be self-sufficient with my hotel breakfast), we headed out. Thankfully, since becoming vegan, going to the bathroom prior to a race is no longer an issue. That was taken care of earlier on.

Talisa in one of the steep, less-technical climbs.

Talisa in one of the steep, less-technical climbs.

 

 

At the race start, we gathered by the lake in Hale Reservation. Since it was June, it was a little nippy but comfortable enough. It was predicted to be upper 70s on race day and I knew it was not going to be long until I start shedding off my singlet and my visor.

I placed my plastic box drawer of nutrition in one of the grassy sections by the lake. In it were some Hammer Vegan Bars, Vega Bars, MacroBar, and some SL and S-Caps.

The lake was beautiful and the water at that point looked pristine. I could’ve really just stayed there and watched the runners run, instead. But a job had to be done.

After a few selfies with Talisa, gun finally went off (or was it the yeti with the gun?) and we all headed our merry way out of the beach into a section that would serve as the trailhead.

Just as I predicted, 2 miles into the race, I had to stop at a race marker and take my singlet and visor off. At the upper 70’s, it was too warm for me. I figured, I would be able to come back for them later in the race.

Pre-race selfie by the lake.

Pre-race selfie by the lake.

The 50-mile race was 2 loops of 25miles. Race description of the 50 showed minor elevation. I have run part of the course when I was in Boston in April and I figured, this race could not be so hard. Days prior, however, I was a little apprehensive, realizing this was my first trail 50-miler. The other 50-mile race I ran was in a towpath. Flat as hell. Not that I know hell is flat. The TARC elevation profile, as described at the sign-up website, somehow, did not bother me. Or so I thought. After all, the course was described as “friendly” for those new in ultra trail running .

Well, I had fun. Until it dawned on me how technical the course was.

I love downhills!

I love downhills!

There were so many— and I mean, so many— rocks and roots. Rocks and roots. Rocks and roots.

It actually reminded me of Bear Mountain 50k. No seriously, it was a mini-version of Bear Mountain spread in 50 miles!

This is how I liked to describe it: the elevation was not “bad elevation” but they were steep when they were uphill.

I also remember a section with really loose gravel but was really quite steep. And there were climbs that required some hands. Like one of those in Tammany or Bear Mountain that would be like climbing rocks, leaving you cursing a bit or being swarmed by mosquitoes because you’re going too slow. But as in any uphill, the hard work is often paid off with breath-taking views when you reach the top. This was no exception.

It was like that.

And then you hit the Aid Stations. Very well-supported. The first AS even had the vegan/gluten-free option (aka avocadoes and oranges side versus the pretzel or bread side, duh). Talisa would laugh at the memory of that AS with the gluten-free option.

Not 2013 TARC mud.

Not 2013 TARC mud.

Then there were some mud, but not TARC 2013 mud; just enough mud to get our feet wet and dirty.

Eventually, I finished the first loop. I decided to sit on a bench at the AS to apply some Trail Toes. Then a cramp hit me. And I never had leg cramps ever. I figured, however, that might have just been from sitting and rubbing my feet. Yet I screamed. It was painful. Some friendly AS volunteers helped me. That was very comforting. Something I love about the trail slash ultra running community. People are just there for you.

However comforting that was, I did not stay long on the chair. The husband had already inculcated in me that notion “beware of the chair.” I left the AS. I was confident I was going to finish sub-13 hours at that point, having had the eye-view of the course at this point already.

I went about my way, passed mile 27 and saw my visor and singlet still intact. Passed the same AS’s along the way and intermittently, Talisa and I would take turns passing each other. However, she is always fast at coming in and out of  Aid Stations.

Halfway into my 2nd loop, I was still confident I would actually finish at sub-13.  I was going to be happy with that. I am not a fast runner so there isn’t any delusion of grandeur there. Days before, I actually was being talked into by the husband about finishing sub-12, but I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I was capable but you always maintain the cliche “I just want to finish.” But of course, deep inside, you have your own secret mission.

But then, exhaustion started kicking in. Still my mind was set on a sub-13 finish. Or faster.

Of course, a bummer of a text would come from the husband, who would tell me, I am “predicted” to finish around 14:33 or something, and that really dampened my spirit and for a while, made me cry. What a motivation!

NIGHT FALLS TARC

My Petzl.

I pushed on. Yet the inevitable darkness would fall and although I had my Petzl headlamp on, I would slow down, especially on those uphills with rocks and roots.

My time would further drag and I reevaluated my goal to finishing just slightly under 14 hours, rather than my earlier target of finishing sub 13:30. (Yeah, I have this crazy thing in my head where anything over half an hour on a given hour “would not count.”) And yes, that shit was kinda hard.

So one foot after the other, taking some walks at this point to prevent nasty falls. I was comfortable and I was optimistic to finish under the cut-off despite losing the battle on the secret mission. I was focused and determined—- until, I reached mile 48.5 or 49.

DARKNESS FALLS TARC

Darkness falls.

There, I lost track of a trail marker and lost 2 other runners that I intermittently ran side by side with, passed or get passed by (I would later find out they were Annette and Gwen, who I am now Facebook friends with).

But I wasn’t alarmed. At least, not at that point. I thought I still had over an hour until the 15-hour cut-off and I was only over a mile, at most, away from the finish. So I navigated through the darkness, with only my headlamp as my guide. Once I tried to scream for help, saying “hey, I’m lost.” I saw some headlamps from all sorts of direction but no luck.

So I ran and raced, walked and raced, now with the cut-off haunting me. I finally found a marker and threaded that path. Sighed a sigh of relief. Ran on. Then I reached an uphill, which I sort of suspected that was not supposed to be there. Yet I continued and followed the markers.

Earlier in the day, but when I ended up in this section for the 3rd time that day, I suspected I was about to get lost.

Earlier in the day, but when I ended up in this section for the 3rd time that day, I suspected I was about to get lost.

When I finally hit a flat land that would take me to a right turn on the coursel, that’s when it hit me.

I was lost.

I was on my way back to the mile 45 AS.

It was then that my world started to crumble. I looked at my watch. It was now 14:23 into the race. It registered 49 miles. My mind was racing.

Then another sound dug the hole for me. My watch gave me the signal “Battery Low.” What the fuck?! What happened to 50-hour battery life Fenix 2 ads promised?

I think I died at that moment.

Epic fail or human error?

Epic fail or human error?

For the first time, I couldn’t decide on what to do. And I am mostly decisive.

And I did, for the first time, something that I have not done before. I paced few steps to the left, few steps to the right. I did this over and over and over.

And I did what I often do. I called Dylan, my friend and “little brother.” Of course, I think he was drunk again.

I explained the circumstance. And even as I’m doing this, I was pacing left and right. I literally didn’t know what road to take. I would just take a few steps left, few steps right.

I was facing a grassy, flat section at this point. Right meant DNF. Left meant DNF. Right meant going to AS 45, declaring DNF, and asking for a ride back to the AS. Left meant taking the same route where I was on twice before, attempting to find the finish with the prospect of getting lost again, and, of course, not making to the cut-off.

I tried to make myself cry. And I couldn’t. So I hung up and I did what was logical at that point. I walked the longest one or two-mile walk ever to an AS.

Nearing AS 45 (for the 3rd time that day), I was hallucinatory. Or paranoid. I saw a man in a spotted cow costume. And for a while, I wasn’t sure why he was there. I wondered if he was a psycho with a machete out to kill me.

I would learn his name was Chris Agbay, a runner volunteering at the AS. He and another runner would volunteer to pace me back and I remember saying over and over that there was no point running to the finish as I would not make it to the cut-off.

Mile-45 AS volunteers at my declaration of DNF.

Mile-45 AS volunteers at my declaration of DNF.

For some reason, they assured me not to worry about the cut-off. I didn’t understand that but one of them said the RD was not implementing a really strict cut-off.

Still I decided on a DNF. My first DNF. Chris drove me to the start/finish. As I neared a quasi-suicidal state where I asked myself the question why I DNF’d a race one mile from finishing.

I was disappointed. I knew I had put my 100 percent into that race and I was this close to finishing.

At the start/finish AS, I saw Bradford, who was already comfortable and clean.

However, for some reason, after talking to him I decided to walk up to the tent, where the RDs would be and told them what happened. How I would not find the trail maker on that final route to the last AS.

For some divine intervention or something, Bob would ask me how far I was from finishing. And he would ask me, too, if I am still up to running 1 mile.

I didn’t quite get what he meant. He had to clarify if I wanted to “finish” the race and I could do 1 mile.

“And I’ll be a finisher?” Duh, what a stupid question to ask. He said yes. What does one say to that? Oh, hell, yeah! I tried to show him my watch to prove how far I’ve run but, perhaps, under the unspoken honor code that exists in ultras, he took my word for it.

So off I went with Chris, pacing me in the last one mile that would seal my fate as a TARC 50 finisher.

Time 15:55. Fifty-five minutes over the supposed cut-off that was now down the drain. But who cares? That’s the beauty of ultras. Unless you are elite or competitive, the spirit is in finishing. And so I did.

Talisa would finish shortly after. She had gotten lost, too. And so did many other runners. In and around the same area where I had started to get lost.

But Hallelujah!

There were lessons learned. One essential point is to never give up. Or maybe I did when I declared a DNF and hopped on Chris’ Audi. But then, I guess approaching the RDs at finish was still, somewhat, a testament of some hope lurking in the background. And it paid off. With some faith and perseverance.

My time was poor. But then again and again, I am not an elite. I could not even run a track 8 years ago. So I went home happy. Poor time. But happy, happy trails.

Anticipating-a-finish jump.

Anticipating-a-finish jump.

  • Teeny-tiny eyeview of where the run started.

    Teeny-tiny eyeview of where the run started.

    This one is for the record. Writing about a race two days after the event is, in fact, a record for me. In fact, I have not even    arrived New York but I am already tip-tapping on my phone. Just taking off from Phoenix! Bravo. I guess I owe that to the levels of hormone that somewhat contributed to the outcome of my adventure in Utah, running Grass Roots Event’s Moab’s Red Hot 55k.

    Okay, enough about hormones.

        Let’s talk Moab.

         Where do I even begin?

    Perhaps on the fact that I wasn’t supposed to run this race, which is all the way in Utah. It was my team mate, Joe Delano (or JD, as we would call him), who planned to run this months and months ago. I was just an accidental runner. Somewhat. JD had incessantly talked about “Moab” and invited us to run with him since forever. Since forever that, in fact, I managed to schedule this post-Valentine weekend off of work, thinking that I may actually decide to run it. But as it would turn out, I signed up for NJ Trail Series’ FebApple, instead. This was scheduled a week after Moab.

    Photo-bombing my team mate and travel buddy, Joe Delano, who talked non-stop about running "Moab." Taken a day after the race.

    Photo-bombing my team mate and travel buddy, Joe Delano, who talked non-stop about running “Moab.” Taken a day after the race.

    Honestly, part of me was a bit hesitant about traveling all the way to Utah to run a 55k. I mean, I thought that if I were to travel, anyway, it may as well be for a 50-miler or longer.    Then again life happened and I would end signing up for Moab 55k Tuesday, the week of the race. And– a day before race registration closed. When I met the cool RD for the race (who JD and I would call Chrick because we weren’t sure whether his name is Chris or Rick), he would tell me they recognize me somewhat as the runner from Jersey. “Usually, its runners from Colorado who would sign up last minute… not from Jersey.” Yup! That was me. In Moab. From Jersey.

        I’ve always been in love. But not like this.

    Oh, my god! Utah is beautiful. Moab is even more beautiful!

    The place just mesmerized me. I was transported into that state again where I would declare “I want to live here.” And I think I could. Now that I don’t eat seafoods, I will not miss what the sea would offer. Besides the sea itself. So maybe.

    Moab is a small town. Quaint yet not the usual quaint town I have seen in the east coast. As I would learn from a 711 cashier, for you to live in Moab, you have to either have money, be artsy, or have a business. So I asked “Is there a hospital?” Yes. There was the other unspoken option. Ha!

    I could really live in Moab. The dream will live.

        Clueless.

    Before I came to Moab, I only had a faint idea of the race I was running. I only found out about the elevation profile days before the race. I would also only find out how “big” (aka popular) the race was few days before February 15, with Anton Krupicka, Karl Meltzer, and Jenn Shelton (sorry, I had to throw her name in there) as among the guests/runners.

    Package pick-up was at a restaurant-bar called McStiffy’s. Yup, that’s no typo. No pun intended, but it was kinda tight and packed a venue for the packet pick-up. I was expecting more like a JFK50-ish expo. The line was long and extends from a nook in that resto-bar to the entrance. But I couldn’t complain. I was in quasi-fugue state.

    I can't complain; they have vegan pizza!!!

    I can’t complain; they have vegan pizza!!!

    One other important thing I missed or misread were the “rules.” For some reason, I was a bit complacent taking the race seriously because I had somehow misread the “12:30 pm cut-off for mile 18 ” (before they declare you as having DNF’d) as a 12:30 (read 12 hours, 30 minutes) cut-off for the whole race. My thought process was “yeah, that’s easy-peasy.” Count on me to finally read the whole race rule the day I flew to Salt Lake City; it was only then that I found out that there was an 18-mi cut-off at 12:30pm!

    The race was to start at 8:00am. Sonofagun! 4:30 to finish 18miles. Thank goodness for gogoinflight services! That’s when I started to freak out. By my marathon time, I knew I would be done with 18 miles before 4 hours and 30 minutes, I figured. But that was marathon! On a flat surface! JDC, another friend who encouraged me to run Moab, would over and over try to appease me and say “Its all in your mind.” I would use that as a mantra although sometimes, admittedly, it failed. But on race day, I would hang on to these words.

       Running Slickrocks. 

    So what ends up when you’re mostly unprepared and without expectations? You get a good beating.

    The race was in the canyons of Moab. Over slick rocks and mountains and loose dirt.

    It would start at in a valley and all you did from when the gun would fire was climb. Or run on some elevations. And run on some more elevations. And climb. And climb for many miles. And yes, uphills are not quite my friends yet.

    Now to begin with, Utah already has some altitude. Put that in the context of actually running with an elevation. I was gasping for air. I hate runners who make those heavy breathing sounds but I knew that day, other runners probably hated me because I just panted. For good 4 miles or so.

    I would also meet an Instagram friend, Francesco, from Salt Lake City at the race.

    I would also meet an Instagram friend, Francesco, from Salt Lake City at the race.

    The course was point-to-point, except for one AS that repeats at miles 13 and 18. This only means no going back for anything I may need like shoe change, nutrition, etc.

    The markers for the 55k were in pink! Brilliant against the orange dirt and lime-colored rocks.

    The scenery was beautiful but I think I was done and beat and exhausted by mile 11.

    However, all I could think of at that point was beating the 12:30 cut-off. I thought I did not come to Moab to DNF. And DNF IS NOT AN OPTION. I had other things that would motivate and push me to push on that only I know personally know. “Push past the pain” is another.

    Running the course was just brutal. Being in the back of the pack proved difficult when the markers became few and far between. Most often, I ran the course alone and in those instances when I could not find the markers, I would end up in another hill by the time I finally retraced the course. Time lost.

    But if there’s one thing I figured running trails lately is that I have developed a penchant for getting lost. Of course, it is imperative to find my way back. Duh. But I loved the solitude. Of being able to tell myself I am the master of my own destiny, literally.

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    Some of the climbs through slickroc  On one hand, one great thing about being a back-of-the-packer in these ultras, too, is that it is easy to pass gas or pee behind the shrubs when there is hardly anyone near you. If you’re on vegan diet (and eating a lot of  beans because Mori emphasized the importance of beans to powering legs), you’ll understand how much gas I passed.

        Finally!

    At 11:53 or 3 hours 53 minutes or so on my garmin, I crossed mile 18. I could not be happier enough that not only did I make it to the cut-off, I also managed to cross it before 4 hours. I was exhausted and dead, by then. However, I knew I only have to endure the remaining miles (although I honestly didn’t know and still don’t know how many miles I was supposed to finish at 55k).

    One of the AS's, manned by absolutely wonderful volunteers.

    One of the AS’s, manned by absolutely wonderful volunteers.

    So I ran and walked. And I not ashamed, at all, to admit I walked many uphills. But then  what’s weird about running elevations is that you realize even walking hurts and that running would hurt less. So I braved some uphills and actually ran some.

    What got me through those difficult moments running or walking was the idea that with uphills came downhills, although not always in that fashion. Some climbs through slick rocks were just succeeded with more climbs over some cactus-infested hills. At mile 24, I remember going up a slick rock (not a boulder but a rock the size of a hill, I should say) so pretty in pink with the marker on top, but what the fuck?! There was nothing to hang on to to climb it! Going up that rock took a lot of thinking.I finally realized that going over and through it meant crawling and positioning one foot on this tiny crevice on the side, that one slip could mean my death. Thankfully, my analysis of the situation was right and my Hokas didn’t fail me and I managed to reach the apex. I think it was at the same point that my hormones peaked because I remember crying at mile-24. All the emotions in my life just poured out.

         Downhills, I Heart You!!!

    Then there were many steep but lovely downhills from there. Somehow I knew and figured out lately that my quads and overall, my legs, have become pretty good and tolerant with downhills. I was flying. If only uphills loved me the way I loved downhills.

    But it was also around that point that I decided to stop looking at my watch. I just ran and sucked it up. There was no doubt that I can finish. It was just a question of when.

    I would finally reach the last AS, manned by elderly men and a woman. They would tell me that there will only be 5 miles left. I looked at my watch and saw 28miles. That couldn’t be 5 miles, I thought. Still I gave them the benefit of the doubt and told myself “These seniors couldn’t have travelled so far to man this AS, so its probably just 5 miles.”

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    Some of the climbs through slickrocks.

    And thus I ran and brisk-walked and peed and ran again. At that point, there were a lot of flats yet running on a flat terrain hurt, too. I prayed for downhills but there were barely any. Yet, towards the end, part of what  motivated me to push on was not wanting to be “chubby chick’d” or end up DFL, if I, in fact, ended getting “chubby chick’d” and all the others behind me didn’t make it to the cut-off 12:30 pm cut-off at mile-18. So I made a dash for the last remaining miles. Eventually, I would see a runner infront of me being met by a friend. That’s when I figured we couldn’t be far from the finish. I would also see more people, kids included. And ATVs that looked fresh.

    Finally, as I would see one more downhill that runs on a zig-zag pattern, I would hear a white man sitting call out some name. Oh! My name! It was JD! Already in his sweatpants and– taking pictures. I would pause to ask to have a jump picture taken. He obliged.

    You know I just had to jump in the end. Still need to work on that facial expression business.

    You know I just had to jump in the end. Still need to work on that facial expression business.

    He would pace me in the last few stretch.  I would finish at 8:21 (on my watch). And I wouldn’t forget to stop my Garmin this time.

    Then it was time to do the traditional jump again. This time, at the finish line.

            My take on this race?

    me and chris

    With Grass Roots Events RD, Chris Martinez. Such a cool guy!

    Beautiful, beautiful course that any runner should have this on his bucket list.

    Great race to meet new friends. Moab Red Hot 55k reminded me again why I have learned to love ultra/trail/ultratrail-running: it is the sense of   community.

    Few of the wonderful people I met were Lisa and Bruce W., Maureen H., and Julia L. from Colorado, Rachael B. from Idaho, and Francesco P. from Utah.

    Cool, cool, new friends from Colorado and Idaho.

    Cool, cool, new friends from Colorado and Idaho

    Enjoying the company of a team mate in a new land, who can actually make you cry and takes your crying in stride (I hope).

    Meeting really cool RDs, who would take you running trails the next day.

    Above all, experiencing the beauty of Moab. I will forever be thankful to you, JDC.

    The final take is that some friendships may have been severed during this trip, new ones formed, but memories (both painful and wonderful) will forever be cherished. But that some words that were uttered and feelings felt in the journey towards finishing a 55k in Utah, will have to remain in Utah.

    Now I dig this trucker's hat.

    Now I dig this trucker’s hat.

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.

1026271_10202953076970981_1446902105_o

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.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

Lovely addition to medal collection.

I wanted a 5mm David Yurman ring for my birthday. Bought by my money. Not expecting it from anyone.

But no. I had decided otherwise. I wanted to let go of all non-essentials because I wanted to save to see more, travel more. Run more races and see how racing is in other parts of the country, the world.

For now, lets talk Scranton. Particularly, Steamtown Marathon.

My friend, Philip, said and I quote, “If you wanna see the spirit of marathon in small town America, come to Steamtown.”

And, in fact, he was right.

Before Sunday, all I thought of Steamtown was that it was or is a race that promises some PR. Apparently not. Or apparently, there is more to that.

So here’s how it went down.

We arrived Scranton Saturday, the day before the race.  Because when you are married with a child, running out of town no longer means just packing your bags and taking the first flight out. Or drive at the earliest convenient time. Rather, running out-of-town becomes some sort of an extended family-to-friend affair: friends-with-kids come along. They are there to act as quasi-babysitters and it becomes somewhat a play date. And it is most (even though it really isn’t) covenient to arrive on a Saturday.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

At the finish line, Saturday. I know the police was near. I was actually a bit nervous breaking into the area.

Thus, Saturday, like any other pre-race days Saturdays, was highlighted with the expo and then a side trip to kid-friendly destinations. (If you know me, I do not quite have the patience for children’s activities. Take me to an expo that sells novelties then I’m in!!! Kid-friendly spots in an out-of-town trip? Try to count me out.)

So whatever kid-friendly activity Scranton had to offer Saturday, any day, I was thankful my good friend was there. She took care of that.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

One of the landmarks in downtown Scranton, near the finish line.

Thus, off I went with the husband and Philip to see what we can of the Electric City.

Fair enough, it was beautiful downtown. A quaint town of many Main Streets. The architecture on some buildings from when, I surmise, Scranton was big and mighty, when electric lights were introduced and when it first started production of rails, was astounding. I had to take pictures. And Instagram them.

But you don’t see more than that when it is Saturday night and its pre-race day. It didn’t even seem fun on a day or night when it was supposedly your birthday.

So what has a person nearing twilight got to do when its her birthday and she is out of town and it is the day before a race?

Hit a Chinese buffet and burn (!!! lol) $55 for 5 adults and 2 kids! Yes! And no kidding! After all, this wasn’t New York. Hit a Krispy Kreme store for a donut on the premise that it is justified because “carbs are needed for the next day.” Then hit the bed. Surely, no alcohol.

Thus, all you have left is a blur of what and how that birthday on a Saturday in Scranton had been.

Race day and you wake up early. Still in a blur. Or a fog. Whatever its called, seeing the beauty in a town, a borrough is probably not on top of your agenda when you have 26.2 miles on foot with only yourself to rely on.

But then, you drive to downtown Scranton, hop on the bus that would take you to Forest City, where the race starts.

And there is where it starts to hit you.

nice

One of the architectural beauties of Scranton.

Because it is fall, a bus ride to the start means a blanket of darkness. While you are wrapped around with anxiety over what might transpire in the next 2 or 3 or 4 or, in a worse case (like mine) maybe 5 hours that would take you to finish 26.2, you cannot help but wonder what scenery, thus, unfolds in your journey.

You see, Steamtown has the reputation of being a “quad-buster.” What this means is that there is a significant elevation drop. Quite profound, especially at the start. Assistant Race Director Jim Cummings kept on reiterating that 955-ft drop. What this also means is that whe you drive up to Forest City, your bus goes up and up and up. In return as you look out and down from your window, you see lights. Lots and lots of them.

For me, it reminds me of a city in northern Philippines called Baguio. Whenever I went there, I was in heaven.

That bus drive was reminiscent of the few times I have been there.

Anyway. The moment you arrive after that 45-minute bus drive with your bladder so full and about to explode because you had coffee to drink earlier, thats when you start to actually feel the beauty of this marathon.

Again, I have not been to many marathons or races, thus, my points of comparison are quite limited, admittedly. And this is where that David Yurman dream comes into the picture. You know, that wanting-to-see-more agendum.

And just when you thought your bladder couldn’t hold any longer, the bus finally halts. You step off the bus, you are greeted by young kids (high-schoolers, I think), and they, in uniform shirts, guide you to either the porta-johnnies or the school auditorium, where you can take cover from the cold. But wait. Before you even enter the school, you are greeted by cheer-leaders!!! Full of energy at 7-ish in the morning!!! You just know you are up for something wonderful.

Inside the auditorium, runners are gathered on the floor, against the wall, all over. In retrospect, while I felt security may have only gone as tight as implementing the “universal” plastic bag thing, the atmosphere seemed relax and friendly. Don’t get me wrong; you still see the over-achievers and the elites. But there is the absence of the snotty-ness of big-city races.

It was at that point when I decided I miss those days when running was simply a free-for-all, smorgasbord of fun, sportsmanship, and shared experience by families. And knowing how I haven’t been running that long, the memory of that is not from long ago. F@#k those Boston bastards!

Stepping out into the start line, where you await the start, the unassuming-ness of the Steamtown Marathon can be seen from the akward lack of corrals that I have, somewhat, become accustomed to in NYRR races. Or the absence of pacers. But then when I think about it, that becomes spectacle in itself. No “stiffness” or rigid rules, where runner 1 can only go to blue or where 4055, slacker that you are (and yes, that was my BIB number at one point) can only go to the pink corral (or was it purple?).

So off the cannon (yes, cannon) blew in lieu of the gun. And out and about the runners went. Down the downhills of Forest City towards Scranton.

But before all the finish line revelry happens, a lot of other things happen.

Runners who made a mad dash down course blow their quads. And yes, you see many of them. Ouch!

But that aside, other lovely sights unfold before you as you balance enjoying them and avoiding crapping in your pants or bonking or both.

Picture doesn't do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

Picture doesn’t do justice to how fun this neighborhood really was. They made me take beer and I said I was coming back.

People are just everywhere!!! Kids are everywhere— from the high-schoolers who hand you water at fluid stations to children giving you high-fives.

A personal favorite was a young boy that had a sign that said “Push button for more horse-power.” I saw him once earlier a few miles from the race start then again, perhaps, past mile 22 when I was close to dying. What has a girl with no leg power that day to do? Yes, she “pressed” the button on the sign and ran. At that point, you just want to try anything to avoid hitting the wall.

But just when you think you felt like sh#t and had no muscle power, you see more lovely people along the course.

You see elderly men and women in wheelchairs, outside some nursing home or assisted living.

You see blocks and blocks of houses with residents gathered outside their homes, beer in hand at 10am, 11 am on Sunday, feeding on BBQs.  They cheer you and give you the biggest lie ever told (and a lie youv’e heard more than a thousand times if you’ve been running): LOOKING GOOD, RUNNER!!!

No matter how you know how shitty you look at that point, you actually try to believe it and go on a smile, talk, or high-five with them.

It makes you go on. It gave me a renewed sense of envigoration even when I felt like I didn’t have strength.

And you take your strides. And I took my strides, little as they were at that point and saw more lovely faces of Steamtown. They are nameless and faceless at that point. Faceless at this point. But they were faces that gleamed and beamed, passing on those gatorades and water set up by the race organizers. Passing on slivers of oranges, plates of pretzels, bottled waters. Yes, bottled water.

As we would find out a day after, those residents in the “unofficial” aid stations apparently pooled some funds to set up everything. Now thats the spirit.

And there would be more. The fall scenery of leaves turning the color of autumn. The mom, who I’d always call from hereon as “Megan’s mom,” as she had screamed from mile 1 to another and another and another for, who I supposed, was Megan, her daughter. The bands playing “Cotton-eyed Joe” to the other band of elderly men taking a break, violins on-hand to the lone man by the bridge with his cassette player blasting  “Charriots of Fire.” So appropriate.

Then there were the runners. And when you are among the back-of-the-packers,

you see a lot of the spirit, which, to me, can only be surpassed by the camaraderie I’ve seen, so far, in ultra races. Where runners helped other runners. From as little as passing on a cup of Gatorade (because he didn’t want that cup and wanted water, instead) to asking for a pack of salt to giving away some gel to just running along, side by side to the finish line.

I finished at a dismal time. I honestly felt disappointed when my half-marathon split did not yield a number I was looking at. Especially when it displayed an even more “off” of a target number.

I tried to make up for it and pushed on. But I guess, there comes a point in running those 26.2 miles when you are forced into introspection and figure where you went wrong. I wasn’s spared that state. And then, resignation. Be resigned to the fact that you did not meet your expectations.

Was it the 3-hour sleep the night before? Was it the lack of sleep, leading up to the race, which is ironic because I was supposed to be on my 9th day out of 12 days of hiatus from work? Was it the ginseng bottle that broke when it fell off my pocket that morning? Was it nutrition? (Though I doubt it was, as I had been eating well on days prior). Or was it the other marathon 3 weeks ago that still left me battered, physically yet unknowingly?

Then, even in the middle of that immense period of introspection, you eventually snap out of it and just decide and say “F#ck it! As long as I finish.” And you push and walk a little and run again and push again and run like you’ve never run before with your legs dead and tired.

Then you come out of that fugue state that consumed you for several miles.

And you just see the people of Scranton (or Steamtown) cheering you on. Like they know you. As though you know them. And you cross the finish line.

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

Volunteers, serving coffee, pasta, and pizza!!! And they tasted good!!!

The unassuming finish line marker, void of any of the frills of big-city marathon finish line markers. Arms to the side, not quite high as that of the Marathon Goddess’ but enough to make a statement during that brief photo-op moment to say “I made it.” And you cry inside.

And you stop your Garmin. Then you figure that is the end. At least, the running part of it.

Because the beauty of Steamtown doesn’t end.

Awaiting you are volunteers bestowing you your medal. And they serve you pasta and coffee and pizza and fruits and massage for your legs that surprisingly, still had strength to make you try do a jumpshot.

And you pause.

And say, wow. Beautiful Scranton. I will run you again.

Food!!!

Food!!!