I cannot find my Rocky Road long sleeved tech shirt, or my Outdoor Research cap. Not only is it my most comfortable long sleeved shirt and my most comfortable cap, but they are also my LUCKY shirt and cap. It’s no coincidence that the last time I saw either is right about the same time my PF worsened and my ankle started bothering me. I don’t know if I even have time to find new lucky stuff between now and August 3rd. This is serious.
Here’s what is going on with the unlucky foot: “The plantars in my left foot is causing me to supinate to take pressure off the inside of the heel. This, in turn, is straining my ankle. I had bad cramps last night, and the cramp was in the muscle that runs on the outside of the achilles. Self diagnosis (which has never proven helpful or accurate) suggests this is Peroneal Tendonitis.”
I wrote that self diagnosis (and a whole lot more) sitting at Blue Ridge campground having coffee on a Sunday morning three weeks ago. I wrote “At this time, 3 weeks from today, I will probably be somewhere between Idlehour and Sam Merrill. If all is going well, maybe even past Sam Merrill.” I had three weeks left, and now I have 4 days. At this point 4 days from now I will be passing the spot where I sat having coffee and writing up on Blue Ridge. I will be about 6 miles in, and have about 94 more to go. I’ll be at one of the race’s most beautiful spots and moments, watching the sun rise through the trees on Blue Ridge.
There was optimism that my foot would have healed itself or at least gotten better. Now that I am only 4 days out, there is no more optimism. My “race” strategy is “suck it up, buttercup.” I need to get out of Chantry before the pain becomes unbearable. That’s all. I need to manage the pain for 75 miles, and then hobble the last 25 to the finish line.
Three weeks ago I wrote “I’m a little nervous about the race. My return visits are often not quite as good, burdened with expectations of some sort of success beyond just finishing. I am a person who gets easily frustrated and who doesn’t deal well with frustration.”
Saturday I was wearing my AC100 shirt to remind myself that I’ve finished this race and can do it again. Bruce is in his 70s I’d guess. “Do you actually do those?” he asked. “Now?” he added.
I told him I do. He replied that his daughter in Seattle also does them. I should have asked who she is, but didn’t. He wondered if running 100 miles could possibly be healthy. The answer is that no sport is actually healthy, from a fitness standpoint. In all sports we push ourselves to a breaking point, sometimes quite literally. Jogging around the Silverlake reservoir is something we do for fitness. I’ve never run for fitness. I’ve run primarily for the mental benefit, the mental focus, and/or the mental drift as the mind untethers from the physical task at hand and runs free and uninterrupted. I made it through college thanks to that daily hour of untethered thinking during which time essays were written, calculus problems were solved, and thoughts were allowed to reach a conclusion rather than being aborted by some interruption.
I love the feel of physical exhaustion. There’s a satisfaction in that hurt. I don’t know that I have a high tolerance for pain – my own self image is somewhat that of a pussy, although the reality is my pain tolerance is probably somewhat high. I guess this must mean most people are even bigger pussies than I am. There is a real sense of accomplishment when I’ve taken my body just about as far as it can go.
I’ll need to make the most of that sense of accomplishment on race day. If I can revel enough in the thrill of pushing my body further than it is supposed to go, I should be able to get to the finish line regardless of how much pain my foot and ankle is in.
Why run 100 miles? In the beginning, it was just to do it. When I’d first heard of the 100 mile distance, it was incomprehensible. A 50K was just slightly over marathon distance, except that it was on trails, which take longer. Doable. 50 miles seemed like a stretch. I could imagine people running that distance, but I couldn’t imagine myself doing it, at least not yet. 100 miles was beyond all of that.
As always, I become fascinated with the incomprehensible or the undoable, provided, of course, that there’s not an immoral or unethical component or I otherwise have a revulsion to it. I could never hurt anyone or anything, and I could never bungee jump. I became fascinated by this 100 mile distance, had the great pleasure of watching a few people achieve it, include a first timer, and soon enough I was signed up for AC100, which I finished, near the back of the pack, which places me well inside the top half of those who signed up.
There is another answer to why I do this. That answer was especially clear that morning at Blue Ridge 3 weeks ago, sleeping in until 7am, woken up by chipmunks running amok, sitting in my folding chair, having campfire coffee, watching the early morning sun warming up the sides of the tall trees. The answer was not just clear as I sat there, but was my sitting there itself. I was there because I am training for this race. I was on Baden Powell the day before, having set up my tent at Blue Ridge first, and the answer was that, and there, too.
There is also the redefinition of me. This person who runs through the mountains, who sits there marveling at chipmunks and deer and the occasional bear or perhaps a rattlesnake, and who knows the peaks and the trails and the history of it all – that’s not me, even if I’m the one who is doing it. That’s the person I’ve always wanted to become, ever since I was a little kid. I’ve a long ways to go still.
When I lost my first tooth, I actually lost it. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth after dinner, and there was a space where it used to be. We looked all around for it, but it was nowhere to be found. It probably came out when I was eating an apple, and I’d probably swallowed it. I was pretty sure this was going to deny me the whole tooth fairy experience, and that seemed about right because at the ripe old age of, I dunno, 5? 6? I was already pretty certain my life was going to consist of being denied experiences that other people enjoy. Five years old, and I already lived in a world of resignation.
My mother suggested we write a note to the tooth fairy explaining what happened. She said she figured that would be good enough.
I woke up the next morning and found the tooth fairy had left me a book on Indian Chiefs. This was an awesome book. They were all in there: Geronimo, Cochise, Chief Joseph, Tecumseh, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Standing Bear, and one I’d never heard: Osceola, of the Seminoles.
Like any good Western Canadian kid, I had a strong awareness of Indians, now known as First Nations in Canada. They were very present in the South Calgary suburbs, and an integral part of cowboy lore; cowboy lore and cowboy culture is, in turn, at the heart of Calgary, or at least was in the 1960s. At the center of Calgary culture was the annual Calgary Stampede, some great photos of which are located here. Since its inception, First Nations people have always had a strong presence at the Calgary Stampede, even while the Federal Government tried to ban them (because they were out performing the white Canadian cowboys), and had their own section on the Stampede Grounds, called Indian Village.
I learned a lot about Indians from my Indian Chiefs book. I’d never heard of the mound makers of the American South, like the Creeks. I wasn’t that into the idea of Native American cities. Even as kid, I liked the idea of movement, impermanence, portability. The Plains Tribes were what it was all about. I am still fascinated by teepees.
We never camped as kids. My stepfather is a Canadian prairie boy from Glenaven, Saskatchewan, population 104. He was an avid birdhunter and a less avid fisherman, completely at home in the outdoors. My mother was not. She was upper-class French, and while Europeans in general and French in specific have more of an outdoor culture than Americans, she had little appreciation for the grit of nature. The beauty, yes, the fresh air, and especially the sea air. She had some sort of fascination with the Great Plains and Prairies, or at least with the particular male archetype from there, because she had search to find men like my father and my stepfather.
My stepfather used to lay seismic line up in the Northwest Territories. They would spend summers living in big canvas tents. He saw no need to go camping for recreation. In fact, there was very little he liked to do for recreation aside from go bird hunting in the mountains, drink beer, and drive.
I think growing up on the vastest (or perhaps relentlessness) of the Canadian prairie might force a sort of philosophical Buddhism on people. When the road goes on forever, the journey has to become more important than the destination.
The old man’s ideal weekend was to hop in the car with his buddy Stan, our impatient German Shorthaired Pointer bird dog Casper, shotguns, shells, plenty of beer, bread, cheddar cheese, and salami, point the car towards the mountains, start driving and just see where the road would take them. From what I could tell based on my trips with them, there was no physical destination in mind. We would just kinda go, and then eventually we would find a place that seemed right, hunt pheasant, maybe get one or two, maybe not, and then we would find some trash for me to shoot at, and then we would drive, Dad and Stan in front, drinking beer, eating salami, and farting as loud and as often as they could because that was not something they could do at home with women present.
We would do this all day, and maybe all weekend, and if it stretched into Sunday, I would be warned that Mom would be very angry because they had been gone for so long with me and not called. There were three messages. The first was they were going to the mountains to get away from the wives and do whatever they wanted, which was not much more than to fart, shoot at stuff, and eat salami. The second was the wives were happy to see them go, and really didn’t care when they came back. If the women panicked, it was because they were late returning me. The third message, an unfortunate one, was that I tethered the men to the wives. Taking me along meant assuming responsibility that they were trying to evade, and so I didn’t get taken on these trips as often as I’d like.
There was a lot to be said about those seemingly endless drives to nowhere-in-particular/we’ll-know-it-when-we-see-it.
AC100 is really just about as purposeless and impractical a destination as any destination can be. It’s certainly less practical than those road trips shooting, farting, and eating salami, because on those we often came home with pheasant to eat. I don’t run AC100 to win, that’s for sure, and doing it to finish is maybe something that only needs to be done once. It’s not particularly fun, to be honest. Pain management and battling mental demons is not my idea of party-time. The journey is all that matters, and there are a number of journeys involved. There’s the journey to the race, which is the true joy: all those weekends in the mountains, maybe without guns or salami, but closer to the earth itself because of that lack. There’s also the journey through the race, which the one time I did it was kind of a metaphor of life itself.
We’ll see what this weekend brings. Meanwhile, here is a video of me trying to deal with questions at Chantry, mile 75, in the middle of the night, looking like a junky on the nod. You can almost hear the gears grinding slowly in my head as I try to think, and the clunk is audible for sure when they jam up.