why not me? ~Gia Madole
I’m sitting on my bed right now, which if you’d seen me try to get up here you’d understand why this is such an accomplishment. About five hours ago, I finished a timed trail event called 24 The Hard Way, and our tall bed coupled with a solid day of trail running makes anything more than a shuffle across flat surfaces laughable. No seriously…. To get into bed, I scooted over to Matt’s side to really, really tuck the sheets and comforter in between the mattresses, scooted back to my side and grabbed hold of the bedding to pull myself up. Then, of course, I realized that I left my water bottle on the dining room table, so I slide off and repeat the whole thing. And then, shit! The glass of wine is still on the bookshelf, and I’m not leaving that there, so I slide off and repeat the whole thing. Again. Anyway, I’m trying to recount the last thirty or so hours with a foggy brain, because this was such a momentous event.
It started around 6:00 yesterday morning when I peeled myself out of bed to shower, throw some running clothes on, and pack a drop bag before heading over to Elemental for a black coffee, and a double shot almond milk cappuccino (both for me). I should mention that I haven’t had caffeine since Memorial Day, and it took all of twenty-six seconds for that to kick in, and only another twenty-six seconds for Matt to say he’s not running with me. Apparently ‘spastic’ is not what you want to fall into step with for twenty-four hours. Who knew? Anyway, as we’re finishing up coffee, I check the weather app to be sure that I’m properly packed. With a high of 63˚, low of 53˚, no rain, and light (for Oklahoma) winds, my Landrunner singlet should carry me through the race. I’ll be just uncomfortably chilly enough to want to keep moving. *Side note: remember these temps, as this is a perfectly Adi-like story.
So we pull up to the race site at 8:45, and since the 12 hour runners are already almost three hours in, everything felt busy and excited. We dropped our bags near the aid station, and I grabbed my chip, said a few hellos, and then it was go time. Matt and I took off together at a clip much faster than I wanted, but I felt energized (thank you, Elemental) and decided to bank some miles before it got too hot. I stayed with this for maybe 15 to 18ish miles – can’t be certain, as I’m a bit sleep deprived – until I decided that I was being stupid. Actually, I decided I was being stupid with the first step. It was at this point that I decided to do something about how stupid I was being, and slowed to a more reasonable and sustainable pace. I’m not sure what that pace was, as I chose to leave my watch out of the picture. I didn’t want to spend 24 hours worrying about speed or fumble with trying to charge it mid-race. It was quite freeing, as it turns out.
Let’s skip out of the story for a brief moment so that I can take the rare opportunity to share some smart things I did regarding a race. First, as noted above, I left my watch at home and, from relatively early in the race, ran by feel. Secondly, I didn’t blaze through the water stops. Despite how much water I drink, dehydration is a real issue with me given my medical issues and I committed to at least one full cup of water per lap. It helped immensely. I also brought half a pan of homemade lentil loaf that I’d made and frozen a couple of weeks ago, and that, it seems, is the greatest ultrarunning fuel in the history of all ultrarunning fuel. Anyway, back to the story….
Early in the race, I ran past my friend and recent trail running partner, Nic, as he stopped by his drop bag for something. Ordinarily, I would’ve paused but something kept me moving forward as I shouted “Good morning! How’re you feeling?” behind me. I’m not sure what his answer was, but I did hear a voice that said, “Let’s go for number one.” This was a flashback to a few weeks ago when we still barely knew each other, but had run together enough to understand how our minds worked and how our feet moved. He’d told me this story about one of our badass ultrarunning friends, Gia, who started running small and quickly went big after a conversation with herself. It was a short conversation…. a one-liner, to be exact. “Why not me?” In any case, I outwardly said sure, but inwardly laughed it off. I’m not a competitive person by nature, and the one time I tried to be, it nearly ruined running for me. Something happened that morning, though. I don’t know what, but there was a switch inside me over which I had no control, and even when that voice pierced my ears, and even when those words flashed in my head I still had no idea. In any case, I kept going. And going. And going.
These timed loop courses are much more fun than you’d think. You end up alone a lot, but you also end up falling into step with other runners quite a bit, too. At some point, I fell in line with Matt again (he’d pulled ahead around lap 12ish or so), and asked how he was. He was feeling good and said that I was running well. We were in first (him) and second (me) place. I didn’t believe him, and I still didn’t care, but he finally convinced me that I was a lap ahead of the second place female, henceforth known as ‘Stripey Shirt Girl.’ “Cool,” I thought. It’s a bit of a confidence booster to be in first for a while, but I was still just running my own race. Matt and I ran a few more laps together before he pulled ahead again. I think this gave him two laps on me, and I was imagining how awesome it would feel for him to win his first 24 hour trail race.
As these thoughts were flowing, I noticed Nic ahead of me on the trail and picked up the pace a little to give a proper greeting. Let’s be real. Shouting platitudes behind you in a manner that doesn’t even allow you to listen to a response is pretty sucky. It turns out that he was having knee issues and kept getting taped and retaped by one of the volunteers. We ran a little together, which gave me a bit of a boost, and then parted ways as you do in a race. I didn’t see him again for a while, but Gia (the aforementioned badass) was out crewing and said that he was in the top of the 12 hour pack runners. Actually, I believe the next time I saw him was across the trees when he yelled my name and, perfectly in keeping with my utter lack of grace, I turned my head to yell back and immediately kicked a root, nearly catapulting myself down the trail. I laughed. He laughed. The guy between us laughed. And we all continued forward.
Because I’ve just become aware that my excessively wordy nature is reaching new levels, I’m going to skip ahead to just before nightfall. Matt and I have now been separated for hours and I’ve got no idea where we are in relation to the other 24 hour runners. I do know, however, that Nic is vying for first in his race and there is less than 20 minutes left before the gun signals the end. When I hear it, I’m still not sure where he was, and it will be the next morning before I learned that he was within two minutes (two freaking minutes!) of winning his first 12 hour trail race. Unfuckingbelievable perseverance through physical pain and the mental challenges that come with that.
Anyway, that gun was the signal for me to grab my headlamp because I knew that it would get dark quickly and I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of the trail with no way to see. I wrapped it around my arm until it was too dark to see. That moment – that moment that it became too dark to see – was the moment I realized that I still didn’t know the features of the lamp well and I couldn’t get the damn thing on. I slowed to a walk and fought with it for five or six minutes, carefully marching through the trail like a young bootcamper so that I wouldn’t catch any roots again, before it turned on. I still have no idea which button made it do that. Can I say that I love, love, LOVE running the trails at dark?! It is so exhilarating. So soothing. So connecting. It’s my favorite of all favorites. And this was the first time for me to run trails at dark alone. Sure, there were other people out there, but we were so spread out that I couldn’t even see the glow of their lights. I was happily and peacefully in and out of my head as the minutes flew by, my zen only periodically broken by the awesome volunteers at the aid station. Around 9pm, I passed through the aid station, grabbed splash of water, and headed down the path to the trail for my next loop when I saw someone walking up the sidewalk. She was in street clothes, so I knew it wasn’t a runner, and as she got closer, I recognized her gait. “Suzanne?” I asked, incredulously. And it was! She said she saw my pre-race coffee post on facebook and had to come see what this thing was all about. Now, I’ve never been one to need anyone out there while I’m running long, but to be surprised by one of the most beautiful souls ever to have drifted through the universe gave me a boost that I didn’t know I needed. I will never, ever forget that feeling. She trotted down the path with me until I entered the trees again with a sudden burst of energy and a smile on my heart.
Sometime near midnight, my friend Maurice appeared at the aid station, and while guzzling water, I asked him to see where I was in relation to Stripey Shirt Girl. “Catch me with that on my next lap,” I half-yelled as I hurried away. I circle back around to find she was only three laps behind me, and our paces matched. “Cool. If I can just not slow down, I can hold the female lead for a while.” This was both a first in thought process and reality. An even bigger first? I actually cared… though I didn’t realize it yet.
Hours passed. Miles passed. Thoughts passed, and the next time I broke rhythm on any of it was sometime after 3am. Two more friends (Karl and Amy) showed up to work the aid station, and, to them, I made the same location request on Stripey Shirt Girl. Just as I was bent over my drop bag and Karl was saying he hadn’t seen her in a while, I saw, out of my periphery, her walk past me. “Shit!” I said silently, as I threw everything back in my bag. I stood up (and this is where I start to lose myself because my next move was so wholly out of character), calmly walked past her, and gauging the increasing gap between us by her headlamp, I waited until I felt about ten feet ahead of her before taking off in what felt like a sprint for two full laps before settling back into a comfortable pace.
Side notes: a) “sprint” is a relative term, here, as I was eighteen-ish hours in and surely wasn’t moving as quickly as it felt; and 2) “comfortable” is also relative, as, again, I was eighteen-ish hours in, and NOTHING is comfortable.
It felt foreign and invigorating to move like that – with a purpose that I finally realized was to stay in front. I’ve been competitive with myself before – although I try not to, as it can suck the running joy dry – but never with another person. Anyway, this was the moment I realized I hadn’t seen Matt in a while. I wanted to catch him to tell him the story, but when everyone is moving the same looped direction, you can go hours without seeing a familiar face. I asked about him on my next pass through the aid station, but both Karl and Amy said that he'd not been through since they'd arrived. Onward I went, suddenly realizing that I was really chilly. And, here comes the aforementioned “perfectly Adi-like story….”
Yes, I'm still hyper-aware of my wordiness, so since there
are about two-thousand of them between the start of this story and now,
I’ll just give a little reminder: on Saturday morning before the race,
my weather app forecasted a high of 63˚, low of 53˚, no rain, and light
(for Oklahoma) winds. I wore shorts and a singlet, certain that I’d be fine. Perfectly sensible, right? I mean, I checked it an hour before the race! Anyway,
once the sun went down, naturally, I felt it cool off a touch. By
midnight, I reached the keep-moving-and-the-temps-are-perfect point.
Once I finished that sprint to secure my lead over Stripey Shirt Girl, I
was downright cold. In my mind, though, it was only 53˚, and I thought
that it was just my body beginning to react to the running. I kept
going. For a long time, I just kept moving forward, stupidly shivering
and telling myself to suck it up. I’d reward myself with the gloves
that were that
I thought were in my bag once I made it three more laps. That, as it
turns out, was outstanding motivation to keep going because cold fingers
are the worst, and I pushed harder, only to discover that I
couldn’t find the gloves anywhere in my bag. “Bugger. Fine, I’ll go one
more lap and get to put on my jacket. That will be my reward,” I think,
and push even harder. I get to my bag after that lap only to discover
that my jacket wasn’t in there, either! Kidding. My jacket was in there.
I just couldn’t get the damn thing on because my hands and arms were
too frozen to move. “Awesome. One more lap and I can find out where
Stripey Shirt Girl is. If she’s still three laps back, I can spend one
minute in front of the volunteer heater.” Off I go, pushing myself
because Sweet Fancy Moses, I was cold and that heater was going to feel
damn good! As I finish that lap and trot over to it, another trail
running friend, Luke, was bundled up in the volunteer tent and the first
thing he asked was where my jacket was. I told him that it was in my
bag because I couldn’t get it on, but it was 53˚ out and the sun would
be up in another hour or so I’d be fine. “Actually, it’s in the mid 30s
right now, and if you show me where your jacket is, I’ll put it on you.”
I listen to him say these words and am torn between indignant about the
weather app’s trickery and the relief that in thirty seconds, I can
start to thaw out. I leaned toward relief. Not that I ever needed
convincing about that whole “mind over matter” concept, but this was a
damn convincing argument for it. I guess sometimes stubbornness can pay
The sun came up and brought Matt back out to the trail with it. He’d also gotten cold and took a little reprieve in the car to warm up. We spent the last two-ish hours of the race together chatting about the previous twenty-two, and getting more and more excited about the gun going off. At 9am this morning, it finally did. I put my stake in the dirt and made my way back to the start/finish to see Suzanne standing there with a bottle of wine and a bag of home-sprouted nuts. I’m telling you, this woman is perfect. Nic came back, as did so many other friends that had been there throughout the night. The energy of the past twenty-four hours was both sweet and vibrant.
Immediately after the race, I stripped my socks and shoes off and, while digging for my flip-flops, I found my gloves. Of course. We all gathered around as Dave and Chisholm presented the awards. I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d finished. I had inkling that I was the first female, but I wasn’t comfortable fully believing it just yet. Then, Chisholm – or was it Dave? I'm a bit foggy. – called me to stand next to them as they present me with a finisher’s certificate and first place award. It would be twenty more minutes before I realized that I was the overall winner, and not just the female winner. I was home, showered, and in bed munching on sprouted nuts before I realized that when he said, “Go for number one,” those words, unbeknownst to me, seared themselves inside, and that’s exactly what I was doing.
I should be on a dark mountain, right now, running trails lit only by…
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