Monday, October 28, 2013

24 The Hard Way (24 Hour National Championships)


Race: 24 The Hard Way (the 24-Hour National Championship)
Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Race Director: Chisholm Deupree (kind, well-organized, hospitable, so so so great)
Race Summary: I probably won’t finish this race report, to make it reflective of my race. I'm not super upset, though. I have this vision of being 90 and deciding to power walk across America in a cardigan, turtleneck, and wind pants, so I need to remain structurally sound until then.
Conceptual foundation for my grief: The Greek word for perseverance is hupomone, which means to “remain under” a yoke, burden, or difficulty. It’s a concept I like because somehow it makes the world feel more manageable if all you're doing is remaining as you are. Ultramarathons are about managing a burden the best. Just go the fastest for the longest. But part of maturing in a sport is growing in discernment for when you are able to carry a burden and when you have to take your inhaler and go sit down back off. I told David after 5 hours that I was too sick to run, but I didn’t bring myself to stop for another 7 hours. I ran 77.9 miles in 11:45 hours and left. My dominating emotion is laziness, which I realize is contextual. My secondary emotion is hungry for cereal.

The Run

When the sun fell on Saturday, I put my headlamp on and was having a nice time—kind of like a spa day but faster. Christmas lights were strung throughout the course, and I was enjoying the intermittent company of running friends. It felt nice. We were only 10 hours in, but I became aware of a woman hanging on my shoulder acrimoniously, which was an agitation to me. So I shut my headlamp off and accelerated away to spare the both of us. In a 24-hour event, you're supposed to be congenial for the first 16 hours in casual excellence. It's ultra etiquette. Then you race hard. If you break each other down before then, you cost each other your races because it's too much of an emotional onus to bear for so long. Running is a special sport because you're supposed to out-race your competition, not break them down in any directed way.

When I moved forward, my legs felt light and comfortable, and I was so happy. Imagine a tube of toothpaste. Every day, you empty out part of the tube and throw it away and then start with a new one the following day. That’s what my life is like, energy-wise. I like ultrarunning because it means I can probe my depths on occasion. Even if I don’t get to live in fullness every day, I know that sometimes I’ll get to go run and exhaust my whole self, which feels enlivening and corrective.

I’d been hitting 8:30s for much of the first 10 hours. My chest was sore from wheezing most of the day, and this concerned me. My super-mother-in-law and one of the National team doctors had prescribed an inhaler for me, gotten it picked up, and given me a dose. It helped a bit, but I was still not in fighting form. Being sick just feels bad. The problem with asthma is that it lowers your athletic ceiling, and when you’re probing the boundaries of your finitude, trying to run for a day anyway, you notice the difference.


I teach in a middle school full of angel children who like to hug me goodbye when they get sent home sick, which I wouldn’t change for anything in the world, but it’s made me quite the vector for disease. On race morning, my chest was heavy. From the bat, I was coughing. Within an hour, I was wheezing. My heart rate was elevated, and it made everything feel harder. My lungs felt like lava. 

Ultimately, I decided I needed to go home to get better. When I say I am deflated, I mean it in the literal sense where a balloon loses its air, not in the unhappiness sense. At the end of the day, I really like to run. I'm glad I went. I met great people. There's a lot more to ultramarathoning than being Michelle Obama (the First Lady, ha). Sometimes I learn more when things don't go according to plan.

Coaching with Davey. You guys, life is good.