Sunday, March 6, 2011

2011 USA 50 km Championships: Caumsett

The 50K National Championship was held at Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor, NY. It was beautiful. The course looked like Holmdel Park—-for all the NJ XC runners out there—-except it was flatter. So if Holmdel were made of butter and somebody took a blow dryer to it for half an hour so that it melted a little, then that’s what the course looked like. It was all pavement, ten 5K repeats. The day started at about 50 degrees with the promise of rain, and IT KEPT ITS PROMISE. My clothes clung to me like Saran Wrap to raw chicken.

Hold on, I need to brush my teeth.

Okay, go.

So the past two weeks have been nuts with schoolwork. I was so mentally exhausted that I decided it would be better to disengage, to pick a pace and cruise control, and to fill my head with somebody else’s thoughts, namely Plato’s. So I sat under a tree the hour before the race and read Ashbaugh’s “A Study of the Cosmological Account in the Timaeus.” Mental exhaustion is a terrible way to run. Because you’re not strong enough to push through the rough moments. The whole morning, I was a bottom-dweller, a suckerfish, a detritivore, pond scum with personhood.
We lined up at the start. I felt like such an imposter among the spider-legged speedsters. Imposter Syndrome is real. I see it in my peers at Yale. It’s the thing that drives my Cognitive Science classmates to present their credentials before answering every question. Oh, so you worked in a chimp lab for 4.5 years while living in a military base on the moon? Cool, because if it had been only 3.5 years, I would have doubted your ability to meaningfully contribute to this conversation.
the race start
Anyway, I have a short, choppy turnover, characteristic of technical trail running. My greatest trail virtue is my worst road vice. I’m a worm gear, you guys. I’m great on mountains and last a long time, but I love road running, too, because I don't want to be a one-trick pony who only runs trails. So off we went, their legs flipping at altitudes above my rib cage. I felt like the stocky mutt, trotting multi-step, having the best time ever, silently coaxing my legs to grow. Then the rains came. And it suited my mood.
I started to think about the psychology of ultrarunners, which is decidedly immoderate, at least by Aristotelian standards. Among competitive endurance athletes (many, not all), there’s an all-or-nothing mentality. Like neurons, they fire in binaries, ones or zeros. They either go out in record-shattering performances, or they DNF. They either run 20+ milers, or why bother leaving the house? I am trying to get to the place where it’s okay to do okay, to disengage from that mentality. Because even if you don’t win, there is dignity in completion.

There is an old western movie that my dad made me watch called The Searchers. It is TERRIBLE, (but I loved spending time with you, Dad). And in the movie one of the guys asks John Wayne if they should just quit. And John says, “That’ll be the day.” He casts a sanctimonious glare at the other guy and furrows his leathery brow.
(J.W. and me, hanging out and not quitting)

Sometimes I think about that when I feel weak. Should I quit? "That’ll be the day." But, whatever. I’m unimpressed. That pansy rode a horse.

One of my goals for this race was to work on my hydration strategy. Because usually the week after a race, I am marked by lingering desiccation, indicative of a poor job of balancing my electrolytes with water. Today, I gulped some fluids every 2.5K. Because I like my water pure and unadulterated, I chewed my Nuun tablets. They fizzed and felt sharp and sugary. Totally awesome. I also drank some Gatorade and soda, kind of. I mean I actually just poured them down my shirt because I didn’t want to slow down, so my sports bra was about a 1.5 molar solution of sugar-water, which decreased as the great deluge soaked me through. Basically, had it been a warmer and drier day, I would have been a hummingbird’s saccharine dream girl.
Furthermore, you can replicate my experience at home! To simulate my race, do this: For two weeks, do homework—-a hecka ton of studying. Then, somebody will scoop you up and put you on a treadmill in a shower and turn the water to ice cold. Then they'll lock you in and say, “I’ll come back and get you in 4 hours. Your performance will be linked to your name on the internet forever.”

No, hold up. When I was conceiving it in my mind, it sounded more fun. It was definitely a great day. General rule: If somebody ever explains an ultramarathon and it doesn’t sound like the best time ever, they’re probably explaining it wrong.

I finished the race with my homeboy, Mike Lynch. He looked at my feet. Blood and guts. Everybody has foot guts, Mike. Just usually they’re on the inside of the feet. At one point, I thought I felt a rock slip into my shoe, and I guess it did. It traced a line along the inside of my arch, leaving a blood trail across my new shoes.

The finish line attendant gave me a high-five and suggested I celebrate my day with a beer. “That’ll be the day,” I answered, just like John Wayne. I changed out of my spandex, into some other spandex, and out of my Inov-8s into some other Inov-8s.
Race over. 50Ks done. 100-mile training starts this week. I am pumped.


  1. You are sooo funny! I check your blog ALL the time to see if you've updated. Thanks for not disappointing. I love your go-get-em attitude and the fact that you take great pleasure in sticking out the hard stuff...even bloody foot guts. Your perseverance inspires me to look at hard, tedious things in my life and say "Ha! That'll be the day!" and hop back in my metaphorical saddle to chase more bad guys.

  2. "dignity in completion"...Good Stuff! Awesome report!

  3. great post! way to hang tough and be BALANCED.. because that is extremely important! enjoy the rest of spring break! RUN with wreckless abandon( okay, don't do that but you know what i mean) and just have FUN training this week and having some down time!
    take care and hope to see you on the trail soon!!


  4. It'll be fun to see how you shift gears to 100 mile training, but... you hated "The Searchers?" Everyone's allowed to hate one great film, but still... The Searchers?! Sure, Wayne plays a despicable bigot willing to kill his own child, but you're supposed to hate him and still understand him.

  5. Awesomeness here, S! Pure awesomeness! :) Plus, i may have to change my blog name to "Detritivore."

  6. hahaha Steve, I apologize. But I mean, I'm still quoting John Wayne, so it was definitely an important movie experience in my life.

  7. Nice job! But I'm with you. The Searchers is possibly one of the worst movies I've ever seen! I do, though, like the quote you have gleaned from it and will "borrow" it when I'm feeling like quitting in a race. What's next for you?

  8. Deb! I'm so glad you agree, haha. I'm focusing on Old Dominion 100 now (but maybe something before then) and then into the 24s.

    P.S. I just discovered your blog, and I love it. I especially love the header photo of Edgewater Park...See you back there this year? Have a great week!

  9. You are amazing!! I wish I was half as funny and a quarter as smart as you are. Also, that last picture of you is adorable.

  10. HA! Hilarity! "That Pansy Rode A Horse."
    I love it.
    Also, you chewed a Nuun and lived. I've thought about doing that, but feared they might be like Pop Rocks and the gases would expand and explode my stomach and kill me.