Friday, October 10, 2014

The Solitude of the Solo Runner

“The long-distance run of an early morning makes me think that every run like this is a life - a little life, I know - but a life as full of misery and happiness and things happening as you can ever get really around yourself” ~ Alan Sillitoe
The Routine: Up early for a shake out jog. Kiss the kiddo and husband goodbye - and off I go. At this point no one even notices that I'm leaving. There's the cursory wish of 'good luck', but it's just same old, same old now. I pull away thinking, "It wasn't always like this". Park the car at the long term lot, jump on the shuttle to the terminal (calf cramps kick in with a vengeance), through security, to the gait. All so predictable. Board the plane with 101 purple T-shirted Denver Landscape Co. employees off for a debaucherous company weekend trip to Sin City. It's 9 a.m. and they are in full on parrrtaaaaaaaaay mode. As we board, one remarks: "Well, the good news if that it's currently 92 in Vegas." My response, "Not good news. I'm running a marathon tomorrow." They all stare at me incomprehensibly...Fly...Land...two shuttles to the 'cheapo' rental car office...and then off to St. George, through the desert. 90 miles per hour feels like a crawl through this immense space...So, I call Cecilia...Why not. I'm finally sitting down. And I have time...and I drive and talk...She is supposed to be here with me, but life got in the way. She doesn't really believe I've gone by myself...


It's been many years since I have been here. Hmmmm how many?? Must be 13+? More??? I have spent A LOT of time around Vegas and St. George during my serious rock climbing days - before the house, the kid, the too-many-hours-of-work, and before I started running races again...Yes. When I was young. And this becomes a bit of a trip down memory lane. I cruise through the Virgin River Gorge, a place I've spent countless hours climbing, zoom past Cedar Pocket where we used to camp, and glance up the barren rocky hills where I've run so many miles, so long ago...


As I approach St. George the town feels like an old friend. I remember it all. I find my hotel, freshen up, and head to the expo. I hate expos, so I'm in, get my packet, t-shirt, stop at information for bus pick-up parking info...head off to the bus pick-up to scope out the situation...off the Starbucks to get a cup of Joe for the morning...and then back to the hotel where I will not move for the rest of the day...

I watch crap TV and a movie on Netflix, and eat as much salty stuff as I have. My calves are still giving me grief. I tell myself "Eh, it's happened before with no issues during the race. It's fine." Still, as I try to relax my left calf and shin feeling like it is in a vice - like the fascia is squeezing the bejesus out of the muscles. I eat my dinner (yes, brought with me from Colorado) 'hangout' on facebook, check in with the runners I coach running marathons this weekend, phone home, read for a bit, set a couple alarms for 4 a.m. and turnout the light...And the second I close my eyes, what I see in my head, is my waking with the sun up...I see myself oversleeping. The whole day I have been remarkable relaxed, and in an instant this thought creeps in and will not loosen it's grip for the remainder of the night. This is a problem with traveling solo. You are alone. Hell, I could die in my sleep and no one would know...and so, I spend a restless night arguing with the useless thoughts in my head...

I finally get up at 3:50, and 10 minutes later both (feckin') alarms go off.

Since I'm up early, I shower in a futile attempt to wash the blood-shot from my eyes...dress, plan the gear check bag, and off to the bus pick up... Wait on line with a couple guys from CO. Everyone around me seems to have run this one before. I get the course beta. The bus ride is LONG...through the darkness. We pass flood light lit aid stations, where we will be at some point, but on foot...and then reach the start area lit up like daytime - flags line the start area, blowing frantically in the 25 mph winds. The air is choked with bonfire smoke, and the whole start area resembles an over crowded refugee camp. We are delayed about 15 minutes, the last buses arriving literally minutes before the start. Wheelchairs are off...And we are off.


It's still dark and I can't see my blasted watch. Heat blankets blow across the road like tumble weeds, and make for a bit of an obstacle course. Eh, just take it easy. The first 7 miles are perfect, though I do note that my quads are not feeling as fresh as I'd like. Starting at 8 miles the course goes up. The hill out of Veyo is steep and a mile long. And for the next 7 miles we go up mostly with an occasional down. The sun pops above the mountains to the east, and within minutes the temperature climbs noticeably.


At 15 miles I pop into a porta potty and then race out to make up for lost time...and at this point we crest the high point. I look down the hill, toward Snow Canyon, and all I can think is, "I could ski this thing." It's STEEP. I mean really steep. I try to run light and quick, spinning down the hill, but as it lets up for a bit, I feel the fatigue in my quads rising.

One of the things I really did not anticipate was the steepness of the downhills. I ran a lot of downhill training runs. I'm good at downhills (there's not much I am good at), but this was too downhill. Maybe it was the downhill half I ran two weeks earlier, I wonder - perhaps that was too much, too close - but whatever it is, the down was NOT agreeing with me on this day.

And so it goes...down down down. And I am beginning to feel zings of cramps in my left calf and both quads. I pull it in on the downhills, and pick it up when things flatten out, but I'm really trying to avoid a colossal meltdown. I started out with a small handheld full of HEED and intended to chuck it and use the aid stations, but the aid stations are a total cluster - they have them only on one side of the road and they are too compressed. There's banana peels, orange and melon rinds, Vaseline sticks, etc covering the ground and everyone comes to a complete stop. So, I hang on to the handheld, refill it with Gatorade and water, and forgo as many water stops as possible, grabbing the occasional cup of water to pour over my head.

When we get into town, the heat is building. Someone hands me a baggie of ice, and though I've only got 2 miles to go, I clumsily peel it open and pour in down my bra. At this point I'm having non-stop cramp-zings shooting through my legs and I'm trying to just keep going and not fall flat on my face as one hits mid-gait. As we turn the last corner, I see what I believe is the finish ahead and just do my damnedest to get there without completely seizing up. Each time I press, my body presses back.


 But somehow I manage to cross...3:46:36.


And that makes it 1 minute and 37 seconds off my goal of sub 3:45. Why did I want sub-3:45??? It's the Chicago guaranteed entry qualifying time. So, I guess I'll try again on that one - but this time might be good enough to get me into the second wave at Boston. Looking on the bright side.

And though hot and tired and crampy and a little disappointed, I do muster a little smile ;)

I hang around the finish area hoping to catch Monica, a runner who I coach but have never met in person. I know that if things have gone well she should be close behind. As I stumble over to bag check and creakily try to replace my newtons with Birkenstocks, I hear "I think I know you". I look up and it takes a moment to register that it's Monica. A person I know!! I haven't seen anyone I know in 2 days. We hobble off to find her family.

Monica is ecstatic, having just run a 27 minute PR and a 4+ minute BQ. And with this news, my own disappointment melts away. She has just experienced the magic of the perfect race. I can feel it radiating from her pores.

We hangout for a while, and I savor the brief human companionship, and then I make haste back to the hotel to shower, checkout and head back to Vegas for my flight home...and alone again, I head back through the desolate desert. I have a couple hours to kill so I head west of the city out to Red Rocks Canyon, where my husband and I have spent a lot of time climbing and I had some of my more memorable road-trip sends (that's rock climber lingo for completing a route/project).


As I stand at the entrance of where the old Oak Creek Campground used to be (climber digs), taking this picture, I think back...and back. Another time. So much is different. So much remains the same. The first time I saw these formations I was 31 years old - 20 years ago. How can that even be? I stand there for a very long time...and think. 

I make my way back to Vegas, drop off the car, shuttle off to the airport, 2 hours to kill...and, finally, have a giant IPA in hand. I have no one here but myself, but I strike up numerous conversations with strangers, watch people be people, and again feel deeply thankful to be blessed with the life I have had and do have.

And the fact is, that it is these alone trips that allow me to tap into these things. So, while it can be lonely, it's more often a solitude that reveals things that need to be felt again.
Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone. ~ Paul Tillich

1 comment:

  1. Caolan! So today I was pondering how I felt about my "perfect" race! I remembered reading this and searched to find it to read today! I am glad I did. It brought back so many memories of that day and finally racing and meeting you, the coach that proved to me that I could BQ! Never had I ever had such a goal before. After all I had only ran 2 marathons previously and really had only been running for only 4 years. My sister had joked with me when she went to Boston in 2012 on a business trip that I should run it! I laughed and belittled the thought! Thank you so very much for helping me realize it was possible. For me, a woman who had previously had a brain tumor removed 5 kids and a busy life! I think you said to me "trust in your training" and that's exactly what I did! It was the perfect race! That hill was flattened that day for me...cause I felt it the next year! Lol! You have changed me. I believe in miracles! Boston bound in just a few weeks from today! You are the best!

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