Seventy-seven paces to the fire hydrant. Two hundred meters to the lights. No advanced green. If you hold the cross walk button for five mississippi's it will beep. Crossing the opposite direction, on the return trip from the bus home from work lands right at rush hour, and spasms of children running free from their educational cages all at once, in all the directions, in all the bubbles of noise.
Step down there. Curb up there. There's a drop off on the Tim Horton's side of the sidewalk beside the bus shelter. Don't veer off. Not even if the adolescent giants are hogging the entire sidewalk. Hold your ground. They will move.
They will move. Surely they will share this space. Dammit. Fine. Step down into the drop off. Yep it's muddy. Fucks sake.
Wait. I don't have the next two steps memorized from here? Fucks sake.
Merge lanes at this light. Merge lanes and asshole coffee-aholics that think I can make eye contact with them through their car windows. Panic rising. Hands shaking. Cane clicking on the ground in intervals that sound so.... controlled. So controlled in this ablest land of mayhem.
.... and that's just getting to work.
That's not running. That's not trusting every footfall past the next. That's not grand open spaces of adventure. No sir, it's not.
That, my friend, is just life.
Don't mistake that for a plea for sympathy. It's more of a gentle self reminder that life, this life, my life.... Is far from perfect. But it's a life. Delicate steps. Delicate coordinated memorized steps.
Sometimes I run alone. I like that. Of course I have to convince my guides to run me that route a number of times first. Then I'll go back alone. And if the weather changes, or the leaves grow, or the wind sweeps across the woods, or it's garbage day; I need to have them run me through it again.
To memorize it, to commit it to memory. Every step, every nook, cranny, crack, root, rock, branch. Just ask the people who guide for me. When we are in the woods near my house, I give directions from the rear;
"You're going to come up upon some chunky roots under foot soon. About ten paces past them, take a sharp right turn on the trail".
"Okay. yes here they are.. chunky roots.... and a right turn you said?"
"But that's a big hill?"
People talk about running to zone out. You know that thing? That space? That calm that over takes you? Where nothing else can touch you? You feel invincible? Content? In-the-zone?
That's great. Good for flipping you....
Running only gives me a break from my 'every day' chaos of normal life, because I can't hold on to all of that 'stuff' while thinking about memorized steps, while interpreting your dialogue and descriptions about my next five steps, about my safety. I'm not that good. I have to focus. I have to shut every thing else off. I have to BE HERE NOW.
Try being that attentive for 24 hours straight. Try. Most of us can hardly make it through one dinner with family before glancing down at our phones for distraction.
Okay, in fairness, I'm being harsh. I'm exhausted. And totally by my own doing and choice. No Sad Panda Points for this one baby. Self induced...
.... as every Ultra is....
Remember? You paid for this nonsense? Fuck, you relished in it. Let's be perfectly freaking honest right now; You're likely so sadistic you were lying in bed immobile from your last 'exposure' to the ultra world when you bloody well signed your life away for this one?
Okay.... moving on.
When you set up your race calendar for the year (oh no, don't you shy away from the screen now, I know you sit down in flipping November to think about your entire next year, you've likely submitting your work vacation days for the next 16 months to have the right weekends off)... you have your "A" races, your "Training" races, your "Goal" races, your "Family" races, your "Can't NOT do that one again" races...
I do this too. Set up my list to serve my training purposes for the "A" race. So what do you do when not one, BUT two of your "training" races go to shit? Absolute literal shit?
Shakes the ground you stage your "A" race on right?
And I need to breathe. Why do you run? I run to feel like I can run. It makes me happy to think that me running might in some strange twisted way, help you run. I run to change the world. I run to create space for Disability in Sport. I run to try and inoculate myself against the harshness of the world in which the teenagers won't share the bloody sidewalk. I run to feel brave.
I am not brave, let's be clear on that.
I'm also not the least bit fast. I fight tooth and nail for every blasted cut off. I crave the ability to browse UltraSignUp without the fear of finishing within the time line. I sit around your post race camp fires like the outsider that squeaked in the back door. I listen to your race banter and hope you don't notice that I'm under qualified to be there. I keep showing up. Rather quite lost most of the time.
Fucks sake, I get lost in bathrooms.
First thing I asked my friends to show me when we arrived at Three Days at the Fair was the bathrooms. Goodness knows I should know where these are. Let me describe this in my terms....
There's the start line. Buildings on both sides. Cobble stone ground. But random inlays in the orderly brick. They fucked me up every time I crossed them. Round patterns within the brick, taking my direction away, stealing any sense of finding I'd gathered. Food on the left. Lots of food on the left. Oh the smells. All the smells. The start line itself was two cables. Each end pinned down by an orange pylon.
Orange. My favourite fucking colour. Of all the colours I can't see clearly, orange in nearly every light, is completely invisible. Why the fuck can't my ex be spray painted orange? Because that's one thing I'd like to never see again. But no, let's mark race courses with orange. That sounds like an attention getting plan, right?
On the right is the timing screen. Turns out I can read this from a few millimetres away in the dark. I hesitated to go over and look though, it gets addictive, knowing stuff. Besides "You make a better door than a window!" kept running in my head whenever I did.
Just up there's a wee right turn. A few uphill slanted steps and garden like rocks on the right. Don't veer right. Don't pass anyone on the right. If you miss the right, straight ahead are the bathrooms. Bathrooms with two doors. An entrance AND an exit. OMG lost in the bathroom flash backs.
Why just last month I was running around an indoor track with my Steven and stopped in the loo. Memorized the steps from the door to the stall. Steps from the stall to the sink. From the sink back to the door. The door with no handle? No handle? OMG... There were two exit doors from that loo. But then taking them would put me where on the track? How many steps off course? How much in the way of the track team would I be? OMG Lost in the flipping bathroom. Someone please inform my Steven, that this, this right here, is who he intends on marrying. For Fucks Sake.
Needless to say I did NOT exit the fairgrounds bathroom from the exit door. Not once.
Okay right turn. Running in front of the loo. Garbage can on the left. The big kind with the lid. Sharp left turn. Or if you went straight in non chipped moments you could get to our site, to Robins car. But then there was a divoty gravel driveway to navigate there. It's a scary world batman. One breath of running and another sharp right turn. Don't veer right, there's a lip up on a interlocking brick step there. But don't veer left on the right turn. There's wooden barricades. You know those triangle things? Where the legs stick out WAY further than the tops? Oh but you know, the top railing is super excited to meet your hip should you get too close.
Right this is the out and back strip. Our tent is second on the right. Camouflaged walls. Hey as long as they're not orange. Barricades all the way down this strip of road. And at the end where you make the 180 degree turn left, two of them separated with a garbage can in the middle. The toes of the first barricade are angled out a bit further. And the edge of that garbage can is rather sticky. Just saying.
Ok around the turn around corner and back down the road. Do not turn to head back to the bathroom. God knows what you'd have to step over. Barricades continue straight. It's just enough straight running to let you listen to the song in your ears. Don't loose focus. Right turn ahead. Don't veer right. Drop off on the right. And a misleading white arrow on the ground that if you follow specifically would have you run head first into a invisible fence. Instead three steps left. And a white chain fence appears from no where on the right. Twenty meters maybe? Straight again. Sharp left turn. Optional gravel step off left. I joked with Catherine as she zipped past me a hundred bazillion times, that's okay you're faster, I'm getting all the extra mileage going around that gravel spot.
OMG stop giggling to yourself and Turn LEFT NOW dammit.
I loved this strip. Slight down hill. Back side of the course. Must be near a full km. Okay I loved this strip minus the few trucks presumably transporting the chickens into their barn. Minus the series of orange pylons that kept us left, that never seemed to stay still the entire 24 hours. Sneaky little bastards were having their own party while I was running. I swear.
Two garbage cans on the left along this strip. Hey this was important to know. Good places to barf and all. Street lights. No need for headlamps. Gentle turn left with the road. More pylons. Stupid left turn at the #8 gate. Don't veer left. Drop off. Step down. I tried to hit this each time with a left foot forward swing, so I could drop and hopefully jump over that spot. Two breaths and a right at the stack of white horse fences. Sharp left. Optional grass section. You go for it. I'll be over here on the slight left, but not all the way left side of the gravel road. Watch the left, there are pot holes there. Don't pass left. OMG there's three middle pot holes. Merge right. NOT THAT FAR RIGHT. There's missing edge, like the spot where Catherines monster truck has chipped away the edge of my driveway. Sharp right uphill turn. Barricades. Garbage can. Pylons. Sensory overload...
Few meters of running and one left turn to avoid before finding that last left hand garbage can. Turn left to come back around to the start line. Two cables. Food smells. And well, you get the idea.
For 24 hours.
Oh truth be told I was content to stop and sit down at 22 hours 13 minutes.
When we arrived Friday evening, the girls walked a loop with me. Told me all the nooks and cranny's, fences and barricades. First loop of the race, Robin ran with me. Whispering sweet nothings in my ear about this step or that. The thing about my memorized steps that always seems to surprise me; I can't memorize the moving parts. People had been running for five days when we started. Others for three. Others for two. And in our mix were marathoners. Dammit they all refused to stand still. The buggers. Moving parts.
When I started running it was road racing. Which I hate by the way. Two much noise. I used to pin bells on my guide runners shoes. This helped me follow the right feet in the crowd. The pack in this race was varying gate and shuffle. Too many tempting sounds to follow. We were blessed with a good 5 hours of overcast sky's. I ran 'blind runner' bib on my back, but guideless along the memorized course. Robin assured me she was only ever a mile away if I needed her.
Several things happened.
I couldn't handle the noise so plugged my music in. I let the moving parts move themselves. I apologized in my head a number of times for bumping into them all. I prayed they'd forgive my repeated clumsiness.
My tummy, which has been my biggest nemesis this year, revolted. Revolted in flying fits and spurts of barf every which way and where. As the day went on this made any attempts of a bouncy run step (which my legs seemed quite happy to do) impossible.
And the icing; The sun came out.
You may as well shoot me. I kept thinking about the worse possible events here. Like what if my flying spasms of barf happened in front of the food building? What if I tripped off that gravel step down and knocked over the moving parts? What if... What if... I failed. What if ... I choose to fail?
Okay so here's the thing, the retreated sentiment of the day; I am only here as a training race. Chosen specifically for the attempt at making my tummy digest and stabilize for 24 hours so I can trust it again. But that goal was flushed down with the rice I had at four hours. This unknown piece of fate that hangs around in the tear misted air around a "change of plans", leaves me heavy. Here I am empty and angry. Self induced, no Sad Panda Points, put myself exactly here on purpose. Suffered the 12 hour tummy failure 8 hours early. Ran a bit more anyway. And now?
Blazing brightness from every direction. All the memorized bits and pieces, details of this step and that, and my head full of fear.
Then I did something I've never done. And prayed it would help. I began running with my white cane out.
Every turn, every obstacle I 'knew' was there, found me repeating to myself; I'm gonna die. I'm not gonna die. Is New Jersey a good place to die? What are the death taxes like here? OMG I'm gonna die. Please please please don't die.
Someone touched my arm on the second loop with my cane out. I unplugged my headphone to find Catherine "Do you need me?"... Of course I do! I'm so glad you can't see me crying. Every fibre of my everything wanted to cling to her TAKE ME WITH YOU! She came for a goal and was on track for it.
"No, I do not need you" But I do...but I do... but I ... Of for fucks sake run away faster. As much as I loved her and her offer, ignorantly I jammed my headphone back in place. Hope she forgave my rudeness.
Robin found me too and asked. I laughed and said I'm not dead yet. Keep running.
Under-breath cursing, I ran a number of loops in the slow to set sun. People say I swear a lot when I run. I say you haven't met Catherine obviously. But seriously, I spent $40,000 on a linguistic degree, figure I'm making use of the cost per swear rule with each curse.
Fucking sun. Fucking Brightness. FUCKING STUPID SELF IMPOSED ULTRA SUFFERING.....
I know y'all pray for the sunrise after the seemingly endless hours of lonely dark. I love the dark batman. Oh look! I can see the timing screen. Oh Look! I can read the exit signs in the loo. Oh look! I can take the optional gravel L-cheater path to the left and NOT die. Who knew?
Please, give me dark. Endless hours of dark.
I did relent and nap. Settled my tummy. Well not entirely true. Emptied my tummy and waited. And faced the truth that this would yet again, not be a big number race. Faced the truth that I would sink after. I know that pattern. Faced the fact that I'd have to face the fucking facts. I came for what? 45 miles?
No. I came to learn how to eat and survive a lot of running. Also I had to pee. And like hell I was going to cut back along the course, or worse, behind the car where I'd barfed about ten times, to get to the loo. So I walked a loop to get to the bathroom. On that loop I was discovered by Catherine. "Movement is better than stillness" she sang as she flew past. Oh fuck you too, I'm just going to the loo.
But I kept going. And ate a few things. Tentatively. Anything over a swagger gate produced more endless threatening barf. So as with the rest of my life, I did the best I could with what I had.
Darkness meant no cane, no blind runner bib, no music needed, no glasses.
Of course all things come to an end. The night is no exception.
My "day" at the fair ended in a ridiculously low 65 miles. Happily I can report fear did not win. This time.
.... and no, I have not yet browsed Ultrasignup. Maybe I'll take up full time knitting? Or spray painting?
Oh but I hear my shoes calling me from down by the door.....