You’ve happened upon the musings of a 40-ish lazy bum trapped in a back-of-the-pack runner’s body. I sign up for races with no idea why I would do that, and then run them, simultaneously loving and hating every moment of it. All of this is my husband’s fault, but don’t ask him. He’ll say it’s mine.
When I’m not suffering on the road or trails, you will find me playing alchemist in my home kitchen studio where I dye yarn for a living. I have one shockingly-patient husband and two horribly-behaved cats, all who make these relentless trips around the sun less banal.
I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, reinventing myself every day, kindness matters, and that the perfect cup of coffee is all I need to get by.
The world is better with you in it, and I am glad you’re here to share it with me.
I wish I hadn’t been eating when I took to a recent local running periodical, flipped through, and saw the article, “Transgenders in Women’s Sports” (more on that particular choice of title later – and no, I am not going to link the article. It doesn’t deserve readership, so I will spare you the pain.). Unfortunately for me, I was – and I might be turned off to my favorite lunch for the rest of my life.
Every single day we can open any of our myriad electronic devices, and they will instantly deliver baseless, ill-informed toxic masculinity to us for free. Why, then, should I be surprised that a service I pay for is now offering me the same banal, flavorless word salad? Perhaps because these words are coming from a publication I cherish – a publication from an organization whose mission statement, in large print at the top of the website states “is committed to promoting running, physical fitness, and wellness of a diverse membership.”
It’s not that I am not concerned about “women’s sports in general being effected [sic].” I am more concerned, however, about why a male accountant in his 70s is concerned. I am concerned that a man with zero skin (and zero qualifications, mind you) in this game is telling women that we have a “difficult battle on [our] hands,” and implies that we need to take up arms and fix his world so that he can be comfortable in it again. That’s not just concerning – it’s disturbing. Was he “concerned” about women’s sports before? I feel like, nah. Not a chance.
So, so concerned.
How telling is it that of the two government officials quoted in the article (Tennessee governor Bill Lee who favors banning transgender girls from youth sports, and Tennessee Senator Heide Campbell who is labeling a banning as “hate legislation”) the CIS-gendered male is the one squawking about the sky falling, and the “biological woman” (you know, the one who supposedly has a dire need to fear this kind of thing?) just wants everyone to stop hating folks who might be different from you?
By and large, we “biological women” aren’t the ones having a collective hissy fit about this issue (sure, there are some TERF-y women out there, particularly the young athletes from U Penn cited in the article, but I suspect they don’t understand a lot of things, including their own privilege). What does that say to you? I know what it says to me. I roll out of bed with this body each morning and live my life as a woman. Anyone who has ever lived life as a woman (biological or not) can tell you something for certain – it’s not something you would ever choose for yourself, were it actually a choice. It isn’t our world – we just live in it. Not surprisingly, men like the article author remind us of our place in it as often as they possibly can.
I suppose, though, it wouldn’t be America in the 2020s without someone being outraged over something – and so, I call upon you to be outraged:
One in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, but because 63% of sexual assaults go unreported (out of fear), that statistic is likely far higher.
Of violent crimes, transgender people are four times more likely to be targeted than those who are not transgender.
Women are 3 times as likely to have a clinical eating disorder (and even more likely to have disordered eating in general) than men.
Transgender people are four times more likely than cis-gender females to suffer from disordered eating.
Given these statistics (which are far from comprehensive – dig deeper and you will be horrified, I assure you) I ask you – with all of the atrocities inflicted upon women’s bodies at the hands of men, and the atrocities we inflict upon ourselves because a society of men demands our bodies to be a certain way to be acceptable, do we really need to feel threatened by fellow humans who live in bodies that not only will be rejected by society, but will also be far more at risk than our own?
By now it should be very clear that no one is going to wake up one day and arbitrarily decide to be transgender, what with all the delightful woes that come along with it. Not to win a few dinky little races. Not even to win the big ones. So why, then, would I not applaud Lia Thomas’ big wins just as I would applaud the win of any other woman out there? Should I really take away the one thing that makes her feel like she belongs in her own skin? She should be punished because she is good at performing something with a body that some folks don’t understand?
Lia Thomas – photo credit: J. Bazemore of AP.
Are you truly afraid for women in sports, sir? I don’t think so. Otherwise you would never have claimed that we have achieved “equal rights,” (yeah, he really said this) when that statement is categorically – and comically – false.
Talk to me again about these equal rights? I’d love to hear about it.
Or, maybe, juuuuuuuust maybe, are you just afraid to challenge deeply-held beliefs about people who have always existed in your world, but you would prefer to dehumanize by labeling them as “transgenders?”
This is an important time to point out that the language used for our fellow humans matters. “Transgender” is an adjective, and at no point is it to be used as an epithetic noun, as it was in this unfortunate article. Calling someone “a transgender” is a derogatory label. That someone is not “a transgender.” She is A PERSON. It is not an acceptable term, and if you are going to attempt to indoctrinate the running community at large about a topic you believe to be inherently threatening to us, it might do you well to leave the hate-filled language out of it. Taste your words before you serve them to others.
As a mid-to-back-of-the-pack woman in her 40s, I am not winning any races – but then again, neither are you, my dude (I checked – I’m petty like that). Because this issue does not matter in the slightest to either of us as far as our sport is concerned, why would we not both be approaching the issue with compassion and love rather than fear and disdain, particularly because neither of us has any clue what it feels like to be living inside a body that doesn’t belong to us?
Women – ALL women – are enough. And that’s what we should be “concerned” about conveying. We should be “concerned” that men think those of us born this way are that fragile and weak. That is the issue here. What we want is for you to turn around and hold onto whatever weird little ideas you have about masculinity and femininity if you must (and clearly you must, because we cannot pry those ideas out of your socially-stunted little fingers), but to just leave us alone. We didn’t ask for your “help.” We aren’t in distress. You are.
What I am gathering is that you do not want the transgender community to tarnish your formaldehyde-preserved notion of what your local running community should be. You do not want to promote running for them, or their physical fitness, and most certainly you do not have their wellness in mind. Diversity is not what you want. Nothing you want aligns with the mission of the people to whom you are writing – the very heart of that mission is rooted in service. Who, exactly, are your ideas serving?
Yep. It’s been a hot minute since I published anything here. But then, I spent the latter part of 2019 and the first half of 2020 injured, and now we’re in year three of a pandemic. I just haven’t had much to say – until now. And, oh boy, do I EVER have something to say.
I don’t really weigh myself much, but I probably hover around 145 pounds. I used to weigh 267 pounds. Oh, I know I know. Everyone just LOVES a good weight loss story – especially in January when everyone is resolving to do that kind of thing, right? Right.
Ya’ll need to put your clapping hands down, because this isn’t that. It’s never going to be that, despite how much you want it to be that – and gauging by the following scenario, you really, really want it to be that.
We have been together for ten years, and I selected a few of our favorite moments from a decade’s worth of photos. Most of those photos were from when we used to live inside larger bodies. Can we please keep in mind that this was an anniversary post, and not a before and after post (like, not even a little bit)? What sort of comments, then, should I have expected from family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers? Something along the lines of “happy anniversary,” would’ve done just fine.
Yeah, that’s not what happened. Dozens of messages rolled in. Some did celebrate that two kindred hearts had found each other, sure. By and large, however, the comments were about our bodies. And, oh my-lanta, the assumptions you all made about what we were then, and what we are now!
The “weight loss story” lovers? Those same people really love their new year’s resolutions, too. I think they come in a convenient multi-pack at Target or something. But anyway, it’s January 2022, so I have something for you to resolve. This is the year you’re going to stop saying shit about bodies. (Especially shit about other people’s bodies, but also your own for reasons I’ll go into later.) We’re not going to say shit about body size. We’re not going to say shit about body shape. We’re not going to say shit about smallness, or largeness, or in-betweenness. We’re not going to say shit about things that adorn bodies, either – hair, makeup, clothing, jewelry. It’s off-limits. No one else’s body is here to serve you in any way, shape, or form, and you do not get to impose your expectations, assumptions, or opinions upon them.
That said, can we talk about your thoughts on our bodies though, for a few minutes? Let’s dig our heels in and get to the bottom of what you said about mine and my husband’s. Let’s talk about why it’s not “just a compliment” and how I should “just get over it.”
[in reference to this photo]
“You’re incredible… thin… isn’t life better being this way?”
Holy christfuck. Am I really BETTER? What even does that mean? Who am I better than? If I was still living in a larger body, I’d have less worth to you? Shrinking doesn’t make anyone greater. Not losing weight – and not wanting to doesn’t make anyone lesser.
[in reference to this photo]
“I honestly can’t even comprehend this… knowing how healthy… you both are today!”
I’m sorry, at which point in my life were you my doctor? How can you possibly glance at a photo and have any IDEA what our health was like?! Ma’am, I won’t speak for my husband, but as for me – I wasn’t unhealthy. I was unhappy from a botched surgery that nearly took my life, two rounds of IVF with miscarriages and a failed adoption, and an ex-husband who took my self-worth, but thanks for playing.
“Weigh to go!”
Like, really? Really really? We were SO young and cute and newly in love, but our bodies is what you focus on. I cannot. I simply canfuckingnot.
Comment after comment about our bodies. How messed up is that? But I can’t just go around throat-punching people who say stupid shit entirely out of bounds. Throat-punching is frowned upon – to be socially acceptable, we may only violate each other with words, not fists.
What if it was the other way around? What if I was a wispy little thing 5 years ago, and then gained a metric shit ton of weight? Would they be like, “Jesus! I remember when you used to be a beanstalk!” I mean, some people might? But mostly I feel like, no. We don’t do… that. Because we think less of those folks and we don’t point out what we classify – consciously or not – as a major life mistake.
The worst part of this is that it’s not just my family, friends, and acquaintances on social media doing the whole “damn, girl, you look so good” thing.Complete strangers also feel like they have some kind of right to my body’s story.
I live in a large garden apartment community, and I run through the parking lot in the complex to get to my suburban side streets every day. Last week, I went out for a very short run, which I had intended to be slow and lazy because I wanted it to be mostly a “rest’ day. A man pulled up next to me. He’s an old guy, so I didn’t feel immediately defensive, and I mostly knew what was coming. Either he was asking me for directions, or “it” was about to happen. I know “it” well, because “it” happens at least once a month – and probably twice a week in the warmer months. Well, “it” happened, as it does. “Wow! Look at you! God bless you! I remember when you were chubby!”
As you may have already surmised, I was born without a filter. I rarely miss a beat, and I certainly did not that day. “Well, sir, isn’t that a GREAT thing to remember about me? Thank you so much. Exactly what everyone wants to be stopped for on their run.” He didn’t sense the sarcasm. He was high on his own supply. “Well, God bless you, honey. You’re doing so good.” I’ve never seen this motherfucker in my life! Strangers are watching me from their cars and windows? Maybe I do get it. I really do. I was in the 240s when I started running. I wear clowntastic clothes when I run so that I don’t get hit by cars.
I am out there on the same route EVERY day. They “know” me, and even in a smaller body, I’m not graceful. Probably a sight to behold. Okay, yes. Definitely a sight to behold.
Now, he didn’t mean to set me on edge. It wasn’t his intention. He thought he was doing a “good thing.”
But my fucking fuck. He just praised a stranger for shrinking herself? Like, is FAT really the worst thing someone could be? He was compelled to drive up next to me and tell me what I used to look like? Did he… um… did he think I didn’t KNOW?! I am so sorry that you had to stare at my ample ass for so long, sir. I am glad that I’m finally suitable for your eyes and no longer detracting from your world so you can be comfortable in it again.
So help me, even if it’s the last thing I do, I will make sure we put a stop to this bullshit. We are going to stop thinking about other people in this way, and we are going to stop thinking about ourselves in this way.
You. Yeah, you. The one who keeps telling people how “fat” you are? Well, the size of your body may be the very size that someone else you know is working really, REALLY fucking hard to love about themselves – and you just set them back by a lot with your words. What you hate about yourself is what someone else adores about themselves. So maybe it’s time we stop believing everything that we think, because a whole hell of a lot of it isn’t true. It’s just the self-hate demon coming out to play. Put the demon to bed and do something else with all of that time and space you’ve just freed up for yourself.
If you’ve gotten this far, this is the part where I tell you that I am STRUGGLING, ya’ll. It’s not something I have been ready to talk about until very recently. I am struggling, but I am also HEALING. My relationship with my body and with food has been so broken for so long, that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of all of the fuckedupness of it all. And I am not doing it without help. I have sought out a brilliant registered dietitian who specializes in athletes. So anything you say or think about my body or my plate? Unless you’re me, or you’re her, it doesn’t help – more importantly, it doesn’t matter.
Yes, I lost weight. Thanks for noticing, but I didn’t do that for you – and in all honestly, I didn’t even do that for me. It wasn’t the goal. Not this time. It’s something that happened to my body along the way of becoming a runner. This body is strong most of the time, and weak some of the time. It takes me distances I never I imagined. This body is also wonky, and weird, and awkward. Despite that – or perhaps because of that, I love it. I am so much more than my body. It’s mine. And it serves me the way that I need it to. I fuel it. I nourish it. I do not know where my body will end up settling, but I do know that I won’t settle for anything you have to say about it.
Here are some other things I know:
The pot of gold at the end of the weight loss rainbow isn’t there. You don’t wake up magically happy and perfect once you reach the societal standard. In my experience, it’s kind of the opposite, really. They tell you “good luck on your weight loss journey,” but no one tells you what to do once you get to your “destination.” You have to learn how to navigate a brand new uncharted course with the realization that shrinking fixed zero of the shit you expected it to fix. You’re still all kinds of fucked up, just in a smaller package.
Existing only for the hope of a future where you’ve changed into the “you” that you aspire to be isn’t living. You’re worth everything NOW. The past is gone, and you aren’t guaranteed a future. Don’t you deserve to be enough for yourself TODAY? Yes, you do.
Throw OUT the clothes that do not fit. Too big, too small – whatever. Donate them. What are you holding onto? Bodies are dynamic. Clothing should not make you miserable. It’s made by a machine to fit a generic body. You aren’t made to fit into clothes. Clothes are made so that they fit YOU. If it doesn’t, find something that DOES. Something that you LOVE. Don’t let a tag or a swatch of fabric ruin your day.
Even after you start working on yourself and get shit “figured out,” you’re going to have bad days. Maybe bad weeks, months, and years, too. How you love yourself and talk yourself through those times makes all of the difference. What you believe and the truth about your situation are generally vastly different things, and recognizing that will help you play the cards you’re holding.
So – friends, family, internet buddies, and strangers. I love you. I really do. But, this gorgeous little girl below? She is my niece and is my entire world. I will be damned if she grows up with the same kind of body image and food issues I did. It stops here.
As such, I invite you to have a giant bowl of STFU for breakfast. If that’s not enough, have some for lunch, dinner, and dessert, too. I am not going to be nice to you about your unasked-for opinions anymore. I am not going to smile sweetly and say “thank you.” As they say, “kindness without boundaries is self-sabotage.” I am drawing the line, and it is no longer to be crossed. I strongly suggest you find some chalk and do the same for yourself.
Belleville, Wisconsin to Orangeville, Illinois (out and back)
Brevity may be the “soul of wit,” but Shakespeare never knew me. I have no soul, and zero wit. Succinctness isn’t my strong suit. Excess verbiage is, however.. So, if you’re someone who can’t handle TL;DR things, this is your chance to bow out or to skip my “why” and just go to the race stuff. You’ve been warned.
Background – How Did I Get Here?
I’m an accidental runner, and certainly not a good one at that. I’m the one you’ll find at the back of the “back of the pack.” I make slow look fast, and I’m perfectly cool with that. I may never break 30 minutes at a 5K, no matter how much I try. I didn’t start running because I was an athlete in high school. I was the kid who had a “sprained ankle” or “sudden-onset asthma” when they asked us to run that damned mile in gym. I wasn’t particularly on some quest to get healthy as an adult, either, although I suppose that’s a nifty byproduct.
I started running because my dog died suddenly and unexpectedly, and I didn’t know what to do. Really. So I laced up some way-too-heavy sneakers, went for a run, got about 1 block, and I never hated anything so much in my whole life. I almost joined the dog in death. For reasons beyond my scope of understanding, I felt compelled to keep going for run after futile run, continuing to hate it. Somehow the habit stuck – mostly because I found it to be an excellent opportunity to get away from absolutely everything and everyone for an hour or so, even if I couldn’t breathe and was drowning in swamp ass. If you tell people you’re sitting at home working, it doesn’t seem like a great excuse to not talk to them and do whatever it is that they need you to do. or be for them at that moment You tell them you are going for a run? That’s kind of serious and no one bothers you. People think you’re accomplishing something.
So, why do I run? I guess you can say it’s because my version of hell is other people. If I can still run, it makes it look like I kinda have my shit together, even if that couldn’t possibly be any more false. My whole existence is based on smoke and mirrors, and hiding from the general public. I’m not antisocial. I’m just not social. Big difference. If you fall in the parking lot, I will be the first one to make sure you’re okay or call 911. If you tell me your life story on the checkout line at Walmart, I’m inclined to imagine myself dropping an anvil on your head in the style of Wyl E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Meep-meep, motherfucker.
So, why would I race when there are sometimes literally thousands of other people around me, all with a story to tell? Maybe I’m still answering that question for myself, but mostly I think it’s because I want to test my limits and see what I’m capable of doing. Truth is, I don’t really know. I’ve never really been the one to challenge myself physically, and I’ve always been told I can’t or shouldn’t do things by people who have no authority to give me that kind of advice. Yet, somehow I always listened.
My husband Thaddeus started listening to the Ten Junk Miles podcast sometime in 2017 or 2018. He jumped right in wherever the show was at the time, and never listened to the earlier episodes. I had exactly zero interest. I’m not much of a podcast person. I tune out talking in my ear – probably the whole not-so-peopley thing. When he started mentioning these people (who, in all honesty, sounded like they were so obnoxious that I’d loathe to listen, what with all the alcohol and guffawing), my eyes would glaze over. The idea of an ultramarathon sounded as stupid as a cow riding a unicorn in the Sahara. I was very happy with my 5K’s, thankyouverymuch. But, he wouldn’t shut the hell up about these people. Mind you, this is a man who doesn’t talk. Ever. So, as any wife with a husband who doesn’t really talk about anything and suddenly starts blathering away, I started to listen to what I figured would be relentless drivel, if only to finally have a meaningful conversation with my spouse. I started from the beginning with the original TJM crew because I am way too obsessive to jump right in the middle of something. I either want to know the whole story, or none of it.
The first handful of episodes had some expected growing pains. Episode 2 is the best, though, and never let anyone tell you anything different. It was like aliens had visited earth and were talking about things that were entirely unfathomable to our species. These people were sitting in a room eating garbage, getting hammered, all the while running distances that seemed detrimental to human life. I was flummoxed as to how any of this could be done. During their races, they were doing things that sounded so gross it couldn’t possibly be real. Like, no one could come out of one of these things without a serious case of e. coli and maybe herpes of the face.
Yet, I was captivated. This weird-ass sport was fascinating, and they seemed more fun than the road-racing dweebs who pranced by me effortlessly in every race, but couldn’t be bothered to say hello, lest my slowness rub off on them. Still, I said I wouldn’t do this… ultra … thing. I told my husband that he had my blessing to do whatever moronic shit he wanted and that I would support his idiocy every step of the way, but it would sooner snow in Hell than I signed up for something that dumb. Just, no. I liked my legs each in one cohesive piece.
Lo and behold, I listened to one of the earlier episodes in which a running couple discussed “sort of running one of these abhorrent things together.” I don’t know who it was. I can’t remember, and I am far too lazy to go research it. They had each had previous spouses, and I think they left those spouses for each other (I’m not judging. My starter husband was a turd, so I get it). Maybe the husband wasn’t present for the show and it was just her? I don’t know. Whatever. But somehow their story made me call my husband tell him that “maybe someday I’d do one of these things with him.” Then I forgot all about agreeing to that, and continued to listen to this weird soap opera of outdoorsy people saying offensive things to each other.
That “someday” came, though. It was this past weekend, August 3-4, 2019 at the Badger Trail Races which started at two points on the Badger State Trail in Orangeville, Illinois, and Belleville, Wisconsin. The Ten Junk Miles podcast branched out into race directing with Ten Junk Miles Racing, and since their show was a major impetus in my husband and I accidentally getting healthy and becoming athletes, it was only right for us to celebrate our second wedding anniversary with these depraved characters we had come to know and love. They are our family, even if they didn’t know it at the time.
Sometime in January 2019, I signed up for the 50K. It seemed like a respectable and doable distance, even though it barely qualifies as an “ultra” distance in the eyes of many runners. It’s basically a marathon that got a little lost on the route. But, whatever. I had my first marathon coming up in May, and it seemed like a natural progression. I’m only 40. I have forever to conquer stupid distances that I won’t even attempt in the safety of my own car, let alone running shoes. My husband had signed up for the 100K, and I figured I’d finish my race and then find a way to help him run it in at the end. If there was a god, (not my thing – 14 years of nuns cured me of all religion – but maybe it’s yours) he’d have laughed at these plans.
We ran our first full marathon on May 5, 2019. I had a raging stomach virus complete with fever, and there was basically a monsoon that day. The vast majority of this marathon was on a parkway with quite literally nothing to look at but pavement and trees. No houses. No onlookers. Even the aid stations started packing up because of the storm. It took me 6 hours, but I finished, with my last mile being one of the strongest I had run all day. Some of the wind was knocked out of my sails, because I’d planned on 5:30 or better.
In late June, I paced my adventure-seeking husband at his first timed trail ultra, the Forbidden Forest 30-Hour Ultra Run in Stratford, Connecticut. He began the race on Saturday morning, and I was able to join him for the last 8 hours beginning at 6:30 that Sunday morning. He managed 89 miles on the challenging course in that time. The confidence boost led him to bumping his Badger race up to the 100-miler.
Around the same time, some twunty, gatekeeper-of-running-Karen at my yoga studio scoffed at me for wanting to attempt a 31-mile race when it took me 6 whole hours to complete a marathon. She wondered if what I was doing was “even running.” That made me mad. Big mad. I started to toss around the idea of doing 100K out of spite. Ultimately, I figured that I had hardly trained enough at all since the marathon, and doing the 50K seemed sensible. With an 11 hour cutoff, I could walk it backward and still make it in.
The day finally came to travel. I was all packed with 50K gear – nothing too excessive, because who needed to pack tons of crap when there would be tons of aid on the course? I’d managed to get through a marathon with a water bottle and a few gels. This was hardly different, right?
Coincidentally, it was also the day to either defer or change my race. I had to shit or get off the pot. That skinny Karen’s voice in the back of my head was nagging. Somewhere in Ohio, we sat down to some spring rolls and pho, and I pressed the 100K button. I had asked the entire internet what to do, and got none of the sage advice I had hoped for. But, fuck it. It’s just running, and I had to attempt to make that limber little bitch eat her words. I’m a Long Island girl, and this is what we do.
Ultimately, I owed it to myself to try. If someone tells me what I can’t do, I do it twice and take a picture. The worst that could happen is that I didn’t finish. Okay, and? Whatever. I knew I could do more than the 31 miles I had initially signed up for, but probably fewer than the 62 to which I had switched. Fine. I’d be missing out on a medal and a finisher shirt, but those are just things. I could handle that. My apartment is filled to the brim with things. I knew it would hurt. I’d listened to enough ultrarunning podcasts to know that. I’m dumb, but I’m not stupid. I’d seen my husband’s feet, face, and body after the 30-hour. Wasn’t awesome.
This race was going to fuck me up, and it was going to fuck me up royally. Cool. This is another story for another day, but in short: I’ve been ripped open belly button to pubic bone three times, and had to learn to walk upright again. I was told by doctors that I’d never run, never do a sit-up, and never be able to eat normally. I lost sections of bowel. I lost half my reproductive system at 22 years old. As a result, I have gone through In Vitro Fertilization twice and lost both pregnancies. I have put one marriage to rest, and entered another. I can handle being fucked up and stressed out. I am very familiar with burying my hopes and dreams. I’m no stranger to pain. Agony is the catalyst for just about everything in my life. Bring it on.
The Actual Race Stuff – Mostly.
The race booklet was sent to runners well in advance, but I had to re-study it for the race change. Full disclosure? I had to study it in the first place. I didn’t bother reading it for the 50K. There was nothing I needed to know for an 11-hour race besides when to show up and where to turn around. I couldn’t really wrap my mind around running double that, so the race manual spelled it all out. It was extremely thorough and covered all the necessary information and then some: parking, timing, where to eat. All the checkpoints for every race were listed and what was required of runners at each aid station. I found it particularly fun as a geeky chick that the 100-milers had a side quest: to pick up a coaster at Dot’s Tavern to prove they had been there. Also, I was jealous as hell that I didn’t get to do that. The course was described as flat and nice (and no one lied about what it was really like – it was flat, and it was nice). The booklet even had some humor to break up the dry nature of such a publication. I can’t think of anything that wasn’t touched upon at least briefly.
I was fully unprepared as far as supplies for a 100K would go. I had to run to Target twice so I could throw together a decent drop bag. The good news is that I had my big waterproof duffel bag from Rareform with me. It was perfect. I don’t think I did a bad job, of packing stuff without really having planned for it. The only thing I was really missing was a vest/hydration pack of some sort. It would’ve been so helpful, because everything I couldn’t carry during the race, I stored on my head. Not kidding. I have pictures. They’re epic. You’ll see. But I labeled it all, and laid it out on the bed. I had just about everything including the perfect outfit complete with a shirt that had an amazing message for other runners. I only lacked confidence.
Packet pickup went far more smoothly than many of the road races I’ve been to, and that says a lot considering that TJM Racing was handing out packets for hundreds of people who would be running a whopping six different distances starting on two different days, and that the cutoff for changing races was generously just one day prior to pickup. The volunteers actually knew things and could answer questions with authority. Sweet. We got to meet the Ten Junk Miles team, and they didn’t mind posing for pictures. Hell, Scott even brought his bath towel for us to run away from (sorry ya’ll – if you don’t know about this, you don’t know. I’m not explaining it.). The directors and guests of honor were genuine, kind, and just as much fun in person even though they must’ve been under unthinkable amounts of stress trying to get this race off the ground. I wistfully said goodbye to my drop bag, and told it that I’d see it at the Orangeville turnaround at mile 31. I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t make it that far.
We ate dinner at the Corner Cafe diner on Main St. in Belleville, and it was good enough for pre-race food, if not exactly what I wanted. I eat as plant-based as humanly possible (“vegan” without the whining – ‘cuz, fuck PETA and the uppity horse it rode in on) because that’s how my body functions best. Meat, dairy, and eggs don’t really agree with me because of the surgeries I’d had when I was younger. There wasn’t really the ability to avoid dairy or egg in my food in this small town, and that’s okay. Given that I’m not allergic to it, I chose to do in Rome what the Romans do, because when I asked for a cheeseless pizza for lunch, I was looked at like I had six heads. They made me what I ordered, though, no matter how much it killed them inside.
So at the diner, I caved and had the pancakes. Carby enough. Tasty enough, though I’d pay for it later. The service was good, and the prices were far better than we are used to living on Long Island.
We got back to the hotel, and I filled out the info for my race bib with specific instructions for the aid station workers who would have to read it. I was also very honest about my reason for running.
Sleep came easier than expected. Nervousness didn’t keep me awake for anything. A twenty-hour ride will do that, I guess. Race morning came earlier than expected. We woke up somewhere around 2:00 AM. Thaddeus had to get on the 100-miler bus to Orangeville, Illinois for 4:30 AM, and that royally sucked. He was smiling, though.
I cannot put into words how much I hated leaving my husband on a bus and knowing I wouldn’t see him again until I ran into him on the course later that day. He’s my best friend. We were about to embark upon the scariest adventure of our lives, and we had to do it separately. This brought me more physical pain than anything in the race possibly could.
Nevertheless, I figured I would see him off on the bus and relax in the car until my race at 9:00. I was pacing like a lunatic outside the buses when Scott asked me what the “hell I was doing just milling about there.” I dunno, being a wife? He ordered me to jump in the car with his sister – they had room for one more to the 100-miler start, and there was no reason on earth that I shouldn’t go. If this isn’t top-notch service by a race director, I don’t know what is. I was going to get to surprise my husband by seeing him off! He had no idea I was coming. I had never been so grateful for anything in all my life. Ever. It meant less sleep for me, but was I really going to sleep in the car? Not a chance. The car ride in and of itself was a gift. I got to know some amazing women, and they took my mind off of the enormity of what I was about to experience.
The 100-miler start was so beautiful. My husband looked like he’d seen a ghost when he saw my face as he came off of the porta-potty line. He couldn’t wrap his mind around how I could possibly have gotten there. Some of the racers were cool and collected, others were running around like beheaded chickens. Speeches were given, and given well. We all learned “what a train would do, “and that suggestion served me well throughout the weekend. The national anthem was sung by Adam Benkers’ teenage daughter. She did a beautiful job, considering she was surrounded by anxious weirdos. The mayor of Orangeville started the race under a covered bridge. He seemed nice, if not exactly… charismatic. The term “aseptic” comes to mind, if I’m going to be perfectly honest. But he was really, really nice. The runners didn’t seem to notice – they were off like a prom dress. If I hadn’t seen Thaddeus start this race, I’d have been a total wreck until we crossed paths on the course. Instead, I was only half a wreck. Good times.
Know what the problem was with me hitching a ride to the Orangeville, Illinois start? I had the opportunity to see just how fuckin’ long a 31-mile drive was, and I was about to run that same course. Twice. I was coming to terms with the fact that I had made the utterly stupidest decision I had ever made in the 40 years I’ve been alive, and I’ve made some fantastically stupid decisions. (Can we acknowledge once again that Thaddeus is not my first husband? Before him, I previously made a 185-pound mistake that lasted for nearly 13 years.) This run was a far larger error, and I was going to have to see this one through – I’m more stubborn than I am stupid. I still have that going for me.
Lubed up the feet, the pits, and bra straps with Trail Toes, put on my FitSoks and Saucony Peregrine 8’s, and slammed down some mostly-decent coffee. Was I rocking back and forth self-soothing a bit? If there are no videos, you can’t prove anything. Didn’t crap my pants, but that was absolutely a valid option. My fellow racers said I would be fine. I was silly enough to believe them. I was as ready as I’d ever be, and I still knew how to smile.
At this point, things got fuzzy. I vaguely remember the national anthem being sung by Adam’s daughter again. I remember very little after that. Who started the race? Couldn’t tell you. Maybe some bank lady. I’m sure she was fine, and perhaps less dull than the Orangeville mayor, but I can’t swear on that. Scott told us all once again about how trains go straight, but more importantly, that this was a Trail Sisters-approved race. This means lots of things, but for me, it meant equal access to the starting line. Some of us boob-wielding runners were going to have to get our asses up there and start at the front. Fine. Okay. Perhaps the only time in my entire pitiful running career I’ll ever have a head start.
Three hours after I watched my Thaddeus start running in the opposite direction, I was off. Did I go out too fast? Like, duh? This is who I am as a person. I run everything like it’s a 5K and I can’t seem to stop doing that. Figured I’d run while I still could. If anyone has tips on how to calm my tits, I’m all ears. But oh, then… stairs. Good. Great. Fabulous. I hate stairs when I’m walking, and there they were at the beginning of a run. And if that wasn’t super swell, a bridge. A bridge with 50-something people ensuring it bounced enough for the ground not to be there when your foot was supposed to land. I can’t even tell you what kind of mind-fuck that was. It’s like running in a bouncy house. Not a quarter mile in, and I knew this was going to be unlike any race I’d ever participated in before.
The ladies I’d started with left me in the dust, and that’s okay. I’ve always gotten along better with men, and I found some dudes who helped me slow my roll. One of those dudes was Jamison Swift. We hung for a couple miles. He has no idea how much he helped me get out of my own head and just enjoy the day for what it was. He’s the race director for the St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra, which sounds super cool. Well, cold. It sounds cold. It’s entirely NOT my thing. (I know, I know. I said that about ultras in general, but I really frigging mean it about this. Below-freezing survival running is absolutely out of the question.. Like, no.). He seems like he has his shit together, but this man ran the The Sandlot Marathon, so he’s just as much of a dumbass as I am. We started seeing pretty greenery and farms, despite our collective lack of wit.
The tunnel was the first freakin’ truly awesome thing we came upon. I am not afraid of the dark (or so I thought at that point – more to come later). It was cool, misty, and felt great. I joined a couple of older dudes who looked like they knew what they were doing.
The first aid station came up right after that at mile 5.5, and I didn’t spend a lot of time there. It was just a few miles in, and I was feeling invincible. I filled my bottle and got a move-on. I couldn’t stop smiling at the folks who started to approach us coming from the other way. Seeing 100-milers meant that my husband was well into his race, and that I would get to see him soon enough. I told them they were about to get to the tunnel, and that it was like nature’s air conditioning.
That’s one thing about me – no matter how bad it gets for me (and oh my-LANTA, this run got very bad as you’ll soon see), I keep the brave face on for other people. I had signed up for this shit. I asked for it. I paid real money for it. When you do that, you don’t get to complain. I still have legs for running and a body that lets me do it. I’m thankful for every new ache and pain that this sport has brought me. I could be in agony and still have a smile stored up for someone else. I truly believe in leaving this world in better shape than I found it, and that means treating everyone as if they’re the best part of my day. In many ways, each and every person was exactly that. I hate the general public – that’s no lie. But my fellow runners on race day? That’s another animal entirely. They’re my people. They’re my family. It’s a shared experience, and I won’t ever let my demons fuck up someone else’s race. No one ever needs to be that selfish. I always a have a smile, a “please,” a “thank you.” I will always love you, even if I don’t particularly like you.
I skipped along feeling finer than I imagined possible, given that I didn’t train for shit for anything like this. Again, let’s revisit: my longest run had been a slow-ass marathon in May, I’d only run 30-ish mile weeks at most since then, and my longest walk was 19 miles spread over 7 hours pacing my husband for his 30-hour at the end of June. I had managed the taperiest taper in the history of tapering.
Mile 9-ish was Monticello – Holly Lindroth’s aid station (she’s a show host). I still haven’t figured out exactly what in the actual fuck her theme was. But, it didn’t matter. There was a hell of a motherfuckin’ party going on, and I DID pause to join this shit. I wasn’t racing for time. More likely I was racing against time, but I knew that there was fun to be had, and I was gonna have it. Some guy named Billy was dressed like Hulk Hogan. Another very tall guy named Jimmy Jones (dressed in Daisy Dukes, because WTF) offered me the Malort. I wasn’t saying “no” to that. I had a shot, and it tasted exactly like something my mother-in-law might make for dinner. He said I was the very first person to brave it. I’m not sorry that I did. At the time, it was delicious. I’ve since formed other opinions.
Dusty Olson was there, and looked on in a far more mild-mannered way than I ever expected him to be after all of the legendary stories I had heard. He was kinda shy. I grabbed some chips, gave my girl Holly a sweaty hug, and went on my merry way. And, after the size shot of Malort I’d had, I was pretty damned merry.
At this point, I hadn’t even considered turning on my headphones. Weird, because I’m one of those people who doesn’t run without them. Rather, I preferred chatting. (Who was this person in my body, and what had the aliens done with my former self?) I’m not a small talk person. I couldn’t stop telling passers-by about the boozy bliss they were about to encounter. “You’re just two miles from Malort, ya’ll!” The trail was just beautiful. If a bucolic setting is your fetish, you’ll get off on this course. The day was heating up, the corn was swaying in the breeze, and the cows and pigs were pooping. The smell attached itself to that swaying breeze, and had my stomach been a bit weaker, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. I’m a Long Island girl. All but the very last few of our farms disappeared by way of Pizza-Chinese-Nail Salon strip mall suburban blight in the early 90s.
When I reached the half-marathon point at the Gutzmer Road aid station run by the Cry Me A River Racing folks, I was hot as fuuuuuuuck, but still in great spirits. Was it my fastest half marathon ever? Uh, no. Didn’t care. I filled up my Zombie Runner Cool Off Bandana with ice (get one. It’s the best thing gift my husband has ever given me!).
Some wind left my sails. One of the guys who had been running with Jamison and me at the start of the race was at the aid station just… sitting there… limply. Couldn’t get up. This guy was in better shape than I could ever hope to be. He had run more races, albeit nothing of this caliber. And there he was, sidelined? Christ. What had I done? Who the hell did I think I was? He was so nice, and I knew he had more in him. I tried to convince him to come with me, but he wouldn’t. Part of me wanted to stay with him and make sure he was all right. I say I hate people, but I’m cursed with the “empath” quality. I don’t know you, but you’re my friend, and you don’t leave your friends behind. Ultimately, the aid station workers told me it was MY race to run, and that I need only be responsible for myself. Thank you for the permission to be a selfish asshat, aid station dudes. It’s really hard for me to do that. I have abandonment issues. This buttercup had to suck it up, because I had quite a ways to go.
Things did start to get real. If I’m going to have one minor bitch-and-moan about this race, it would be the stretch between the 13.1/47.9 “Gutzmer Rd”(Cry Me A River) station and the 20.4/40.6 “Monroe” (Ornery Mule) station. I likely won’t be alone in this complaint, but I do understand why it was set up this way. There are no road outlets during that seven-ish mile stretch, and ain’t nobody hauling a whole aid station by foot to set up in the middle of nowhere. I get it, but it was bad. Very, very bad. Bigly bad. I cannot stress this enough. Those seven miles felt like an eternity during the day (and they were soul-crushing at night, but I’ll get to that later). It was hot as balls, and there was the… road. We had been forewarned that there was a stretch of paved road to run, and that we would be detoured because of some trail repair. I just didn’t particularly enjoy reaching it during the hottest part of the day. I only had a 20-ounce bottle with me. No hydration pack. My bad for not knowing I’d change my mind about the race I was running. Ask me if I had nary a drop left after even five of those miles. Just ask me. That sucked big old elephant balls. I trudged on over, eagerly awaiting the next aid station. It took awhile, but I was all thumbs and grins.
When I finally got to Michelle Hartwig’sOrnery Mule Racing aid station at Monroe, something spectacular happened. You know those cartoons when people see mirages in the desert? Not too far off from that. I’m not even sure if this sweet older gentleman was real or a figment of my imagination, but someone said, “You’re not looking so good, honey. Let me fix you.” He grabbed me, wiped me down everywhere with ice water sponges. He didn’t even ask, but I don’t think consent really mattered here. It was like I had died and gone to heaven. I lost an earring, but I had no fucks to give about that. I also gave no fucks about how many faces or body parts those sponges had already revived. I’m normally a clean freak and somewhat of a germophobe. Apparently that goes away when I run ultras. I couldn’t possibly care. I considered never again leaving the loving touch of this stranger bathing me in other people’s frosty bodily fluids. I probably moaned more than just a little bit inappropriately, and I thank these men for saying nothing and continuing to sponge me like Jesus in his final footbath. The town motto for Monroe is “We Bring You Back.” Shit, baby. You sure did.
Another man popped out from the woodwork after my resurrection (these aid stations, man – they’re like fuckin’ Oompah-Loompahs – people just appear from nowhere trying to help you do shit!) and said I looked hungry. By golly, I was. It was 20 miles in, and I hadn’t really thought of food yet. I was having too much fun to notice. Can I just get a point across, here? I have never, ever been 20 miles into any run and have been able to say I was having fun before. 20 miles in, I welcome death. I pray for it. But I was fine. Hot, but fine. He made me my own entirely fresh whole PBJ. I didn’t have to pick from the wilted quarter sammies in the cardboard box. I didn’t ask him to do this. He just did it. Sir, I love you. It’s the most delicious thing I ever had, among all the other “most delicious things I’ve ever had” moments I’d continue to experience over those two days.
He also made me eat a pickle and take some leg cramp pills. I wasn’t sorry. He likely saved my race. I couldn’t have kept going without eating, and it’s just not something I think about when I run distances that normal, sane people run. You don’t eat a whole meal and keep running at full speed, or at least I don’t. I slowed down a bit, and enjoyed that refreshed feeling for as long as I could hold onto it.
Mile 25-ish found me at Rachel Ingle’s Town Center Road aid station. My sweet friend must’ve drawn the short straw, because they plunked this poor girl down in the middle of Cowshit Junction. Good lawwwwd, the smell. I had some close encounters with Dan “Not-Objectively-Famous-But-Drank-The-Aged-Clamato” Slater, who had some icy rags to wipe me down. I haven’t been bathed by someone else since I was an infant. Even when I was in a hospital for six months as an adult, I washed my own body. But here I was, twice in a few hours having some man rub me all over with a community cloth, and I didn’t hate it. I dunno. Maybe I’ve found a new fetish or something. I made those noises again, and Dan absolutely DID have something to say about it. He doesn’t seem the type to willfully ignore an opportunity for impropriety. I wasn’t eating there because everything smelled like cow ass. I should’ve, but I didn’t. I sprayed myself with approximately 5,284 cans of OFF, because mosquitoes can eat a dick, and those fuckers were coming out to play in droves. I pranced away.
Not long after, I happened upon Vincent. Vincent owns Trail Toes, and he claims to not be much of a talker. This claim is patently false. I was pretty grateful for someone to speed-walk and talk with, because I was beginning to run out of steam for actual running. This stretch was pleasantly uneventful, save the whole thing were I left Wisconsin and entered Illinois.
Vincent doens’t know this, but he’s responsible for giving me the oomph to get to the 31-mile turnaround at Orangeville. He told me I was on target to have an 18-hour 100K. At the time, I guess I was. (Oh, how things can change.)
Got to Orangeville after walking with a sweet girl who was having some serious foot issues. I can’t remember her name, forgive me. She told me all about how she was adopted with her biological sister by a white American family when she was about eleven, and all she had known before that was a childhood spent in a Kazakhstan orphanage. She is 28 now, lives in Chicago, and has a job in… finance maybe? I can absolutely get a feel for why she’s a runner. I wish I had gotten her name, because I’d love to be her friend. We never did come up with an animal whose name begins with the letter “Q,” You know I Googled that shit several days later.
At Orangeville, I knew I needed a little bit of a sit. It’s the 50K mark, and that was my original race. I recalled wistfully that had I stayed in the 50K, I’d be done. My course would be different, and the 50K wasn’t starting till the next day, but that distance could’ve been my race. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. I headed straight for my drop bag because all I wanted in the universe was to brush my teeth so I could be a new person again. It seems like my husband had gotten to my drop bag first. I unzipped it, and there was a tiny rubber duck inside. I lost it. Our “thing” is ducks. He leaves them all over the house. I had broken the seal – crying was now fair game.
Adam Benkers’ (co-Race-Director) mom thought I was broken and rushed to make sure I was okay. I was fine, but I wasn’t fine. I missed my husband something terrible, even though I did run into him briefly at some point after mile five (we forgot to take a selfie). I carried that fucking duck with me for the rest of the race. It’s how I got my trail name, but I’ll get to that later.
I went to change my shoes and socks. Sure ‘nuff, my feet were fucked. My blisters had given birth to blisters of their own. It was awf-some. Adam’s mom is a seasoned nurse, and this sweet, kind lady just gawked. She said, “Honey, I’m a nurse and I don’t know how to fix that, but it sure looks like it hurts. Here – have a quesadilla.” That’s one smart lady. Vincent was still at Orangeville, waiting for his friend, John T. Sharp, of Salsa Walk fame. Vincent saw my feet. He taught me how to fix them so I could get through the rest of the race. Thanks, dude!
I opted to not change my clothes. In retrospect, I sure wish I had. I’d have felt so much better. I had a beer with John because I’ve been waiting to meet him for nearly a year. This man is my polar opposite, but somehow I just love him. He actively aims to be offensive, and somehow that makes it all the more benign. I can’t explain it. The man isn’t a person – he is an experience. I must’ve shoved six of the bean quesadillas in my face before jetting out of there with John. I was starving. (The cheese was such a mistake.) I had been there resting for about an hour, and it was time to go before I simply decided I would live at that aid station forevermore. That thing that I had been looking forward to – brushing my teeth so I could feel like a person? Ask me if I remembered to do that. Just ask me.
John stuck around with me for a few miles. I was still in power walking mode, and it was just before dusk. I was tired, but things were good. I made him go on ahead. That’s fine. It was still light out, and I didn’t mind some alone time. Seems I found Wisconsin again, too.
At some point nearing sunset, I ran into a grandma and little girl on bicycles. Grandma didn’t know there was a race going on. I explained it to her, she couldn’t particularly grasp the whole idea of what I was doing (did I even grasp it, really?). We discussed how the mayor of Orangeville had been the ceremonial start to the 100-miler. The little girl said, “I thought mayors were a myth!” I couldn’t even! That may have been the heartiest laugh I’d had all day. When I told them I wasn’t going to sleep because I had to keep running, the little girl invited me to her house to sleep that night because “running all night sounds silly, Miss Suzanne.” She wasn’t wrong. Very wise for her six short years. But, hey. Wisconsin sure is different from Long Island. People here wouldn’t have given me a second look.
Getting back to Rachel’s cow pie aid station at mile 36 was okay. I was alone and tired, but still kind of all right. I had every reason to believe I’d stay around the same pace and still complete the race in 20 hours or so. I filled up on water and ice, and things were … things. I guess it was around 9:00 PM or so. I don’t know. Time wasn’t time anymore, and perpetual forward motion was what life was like now, and I knew nothing else and felt like I never would know anything else ever again. I had no clue how fucked it was about to get. I probably should’ve stuck around there longer and gotten a little bit of my head about me. This is the aid station in which I 100% should have eaten at both times, but didn’t. I chose to just keep going. Bad move, chickadee. Bad. Fucking. Move.
Probably around mile 40 is where life started to turn into utter and total shit. I got back to Monroe, and I was very, very tired. It was around 11:00 PM, and already past my old-lady-ass bedtime. I saw a woman sleeping in those crinkly marathon blanket things. I thought I was above that. I thought wrong.
This is about the time I started to regret eating my weight in bean quesadillas 9 miles earlier. I don’t eat cheese, but I kind of HAD to at this race if I wanted something other than chips and jellybeans. And I had to… GO. Some people get the trots. I had no such luck. So there I was, in a porta-potty, giving birth to a breech turd baby with fingers and baby wipe as forceps. Few things are so humbling. Thankfully, no caesarian was needed, and a generator motor graciously muffled the sounds of my labor pains.
I found myself building my self-worth back up, sitting ,and having some tomato soup after dousing myself in as much Purell as is legally allowed in the state of Wisconsin.
At this point, a girl said, “You’re Suzanne!” Okay, you got me. I am. I came to find out that my husband had been asking about me as he was running the opposite way, and wanted to make sure they took care of me. (More waterworks. I was toddler-level tired. ) Except, I couldn’t cry for long, because hysterical laughter set in. Why? Here’s how he described me to the aid station workers: “She’s maybe in blue with something obscene on her shirt. Oh, no, wait. She’s wearing the positive one today.” Eight years together, and this is all he can say about his wife to describe her. He’s a keeper, kids. I did sit just a bit, but fuuuuuck. Again I left too soon. That’s the last moment I remember being fully human during this race.
The 7-mile stretch. Please recall that it was partially on road as a result of the trail-repair detour. I had hit this shadeless portion of the run during the blistering 90-something-degree day, and then when the skies opened up to piss on me in the middle of the night. As a New Yorker. I expected an ax murderer to be waiting behind every dark dumpster in an alley. Stupid bitch – I should’ve appreciated the halogen street lamps while I still had them. I was beat, and paranoid fear was starting to settle in. I almost missed the trail marker. I hadn’t seen one of the cones in a few minutes, and I thought to turn around and look. I’m glad I did. There it was, a few hundred feet back, yellow flags giving me the finger. My race would’ve been over. (Of course, then again… my race would’ve been over! Two ways of looking at that shit. )
Things fall apart. These words are far more than a Chinua Achebe masterpiece of literature. Marching through the night alone with no food, very little water, just headlamp to see, dick-eating sabretooth mosquitoes, willy-nilly bats two inches from my face, and eyes in the trees? (look closely. Those eyes are there, and thousands more surrounded them.)
The things that happen on a trail at 3:00 AM with no one around will change you. They break you. I’d like to think I’m pretty tough. I’m not usually a super emotional person. Throughout the race up to that point, I’d had some fairly high highs. I suppose I should’ve expected the polarity of extremely low lows. They came. I cried all night. Sobbed. I have proof. I left my husband this voicemail.
Not sure those are all words, but they were words at the time. I included this for transparency. I refuse to claim that I was a champ. I wasn’t. I turned into a blubbering wimp. I couldn’t really walk anymore. I just wanted to be done, and I was stripped down to pure id. I had never, ever been so exhausted. I am a woman who loves her sleep. I don’t oversleep by any means, but I do want a full night’s sleep. Every night. Without fail. When it’s bedtime, I go the fuck to bed. I’d been awake for more than 24 hours, and this is just not okay. I was swaying, and my knees were wobbly. I was freezing, and uncontrollably shaking. During a normal run, 7 miles will take me anywhere from 1:15 or so in a race, to 1:45 for fun. This was no longer a race, and fun was a distant memory. I smiled for the camera and posted this to Facebook so no one would think I was dead.
At some point during those seven miles, I just sat down on a bridge. I couldn’t see or walk straight, and I did the safest thing I could. Sat. Down. On, A. Bridge. People legit stepped over me. Either they realized I was having a moment, they were having a moment of their own, or they figured I was dead and had no intention of being the one to find the body because they had a race to finish. I refuse to believe that trail runners are selfish enough to not have checked on me and ask if I was okay, so it had to be one of those other things. I think they were just being kind enough to pretend to not notice my nervous breakdown. Maybe these people didn’t even exist and I only imagined that there were folks stepping over me. I don’t know. They looked real. At some point, I told myself to fuck right off because I had asked for this. I got back up, but that didn’t make it much better. I couldn’t stop peeing on the trail every 20 minutes. I had hardly peed all day, but I spent the night with my ass to the breeze, whizzing away.
Full disclosure: Around mile 45, I started screaming at the trees. Literally. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t people, and I started to genuinely believe that the next aid station was a lie. That I had already passed the place where it used to be, and they had packed up and left, just like the aid stations did during my marathon. I kept asking people passing me how far out I was, and it felt like they gave me a further and further number every time.
The aid station came. I wasn’t the only one who came in sobbing as if 300 puppies had just been drowned in front of us. The dude at Cry Me A River (Yes, yes I will cry you a river!) said people were destroyed by that 7 mile stretch. I wasn’t happy that other people were hurting and scared, but I was comforted knowing it wasn’t just me being a big old baby. He made me a quesadilla and let me just sit until I felt the rumble.
My earlier poop baby had a stagnant twin – I had another one to pull out before Racine started knocking on the porta-potty wall. She’s a legend, so I had to birth that one as quick as possible, no epidural. She was pacing a 100-miler who was in far better spirits and condition. I wasn’t going to fuck up someone else’s race with my ass. Next race, I’m going to pray for diarrhea. It’s easier. Classy and fancy – that’s how I roll. Note to self: no more cheese, kiddo.
I didn’t rest long enough (see the theme here?). I was too angry that it had taken me so long to get there. Way longer than it should have.
Eventually, some time around 4:30 AM, some older gentleman was about to pass me. He heard me crying. He had an interesting, not-quite-identifiable accent. He gently took me by the shoulders and he said, “Sweetie. That sun is going to come up, and I know you don’t believe me right now, but you are going to be a new person. You can still do this. Just go. Wait for sun. It always comes. It has to.” I mean, like, okay? I’m pretty sure he was real, and I didn’t even punch him for calling me “sweetie.” In all fairness, I probably looked like a sniffling kindergartner. My husband hadn’t heard my desperate voicemail, but he did call me back. He talked me down. He was also in the pain cave, but he knew I was pretty bad off. He stayed on the phone till the sun came up and convinced me to just get to Monticello, where I’d had so much fun the previous day. I really didn’t have a choice. There was no sad bus to pick me up between aid stations. The sun rose. It had to.
Right after sunrise, I saw a bunny on the path. I was so punchy that I decided it was the cutest bunny I had ever seen, and I started sobbing again and telling her “I love you.” That’s a good sign that I’m probably not cut out for this shit, yet, there I was, smack dab in the middle of it all.
Long since had I resigned to the fact that I was just slowly and mindlessly flowing in almost-half-hour miles from aid station to aid station, like some witless, nomadic fool. I knew it could easily take me the whole 33-hour time limit to complete this race, IF I made it to the end. Whatever. I just wanted to live, although I was no longer sure why I would want that. Death probably meant I could sleep. My feet felt like someone had stuffed spiked golf balls into my shoes. I was so beyond paranoid, that I could’ve been easily led to believe that someone indeed had done exactly that.
Somewhere around 9:00 AM, I made it back to Holly’s aid station at Monticello. Mile 52. I had ten miles to go – so close, yet so far. I was still breathing, and that was the only realistic goal. Waiting there was Denise Sauriol of Run For Change. This top-notch human was someone I hadn’t met in person, but she was no stranger. Her book Me, You, and 26.2 got me to complete my first marathon. She greeted me with smiles and hugs. And I’m all like, “Listen. I am so excited to meet you, and I’m not being rude, but I really need to pee.”
Kids, I didn’t need to pee. I had to crap – again. If you know me, you know I don’t unload without a full shower afterward (if at all possible) so this entire experience of dumping 400 times in porta-potties in the woods was uncharted territory. But you just don’t tell the Marathon Whisperer that you have to pull a turd out of your ass because you’d made the grand mistake of dairy. You just don’t. I got that situation all taken care of, and bathed in wipes. Denise found me a seat, and gave me her dog Farley to play with.
Best moment of my life. Furry friends fix everything, and this doggo just came back from cancer. If that ol’ girl can rally after cancer, I had ten more miles in me, even if I had to pull them out of my ass like I was pulling poo nuggets.
If you didn’t love this woman before that, you have to love her now. I nursed some tater tots, and I looked like a pile of diapers, but they got me the fuck out of there on my own two feet. Denise, Holly, and Holly’s mom Debbie, I love you!
One more aid station. If I tell you I have no idea how I got there, please believe me. I got there. Five miles, and I remember exactly zero of them. Full-body Trail Herpes was settling in (a mixture of heat rash and severe chaffing) and comfort was a thing of the past. It may not look like it, but this shit HURTS.
Tunnel aid station was just before the tunnel (if the name didn’t clue you in), and these ladies fed me potato chips and had me down two shots of Fireball. Bless you, unnamed chicas. You gave me life.
I was puffy, swollen, and waterlogged. Perpetual dampness was the way of life I had come to accept. Everything I owned was on my head, (no backpack, ‘member?) including my jacket, so I looked like a demented version of the Chiquita Banana girl. Zero fucks given. Sliiiiiiight issue – I forgot to pee at the Tunnel station, and boy did that came back to bite me in the ass on the last 5.5-mile stretch. But, holy shit. I was almost there. For realsies. In 5.5 miles, I would complete 62 miles, and I was still way ahead of the 33-hour cutoff. I don’t believe in magical men in the sky, but some sort of miracle was taking place. I could’ve used just a little bit of extra magic, because during this 5.5 mile stretch it started to get hot, I ran out of water, I needed to piss like a racehorse, and the Sunday start racers started passing me, all fresh-faced gazelles prancing in the opposite direction. Good times.
The 50-milers, 50K-ers, Marathoners, and Half-Marathoners began coming in waves, and I found the energy to cheer them on. They all told me I was doing awesome. Sure I was. For a corpse. The women in the lead for the 50-miler (I think?) actually STOPPED and asked me what they could do to help me. Ladies, I am a feminist at the very core, so what I want you to do to help me is GO. Get it, girls. I told them exactly that. Just fucking WIN! But apparently that’s what trail/ultra runners do. They will sacrifice their success to help others reach their goal. I will never forget that moment, as long as I live. Speaking of the shorter races, some folks may think that those of us out on the course for 24 hours or more might be annoyed by seeing rested, fast runners going the other way. For me, that just wasn’t the case. I was revitalized by them. It was a reminder to me that just yesterday, I too had looked like a person and not some wayward, half-drowned meat sack.
Something amazing appeared in front of me. The opening to the tunnel. At this end, it had been marked with a juvenile, rudimentary dick painting.
I appreciated it for the work of art that it was. In that tunnel, I found a new purpose for the next mile or so, and it kept me going – to tell others approaching from the other way how to keep their feet dry. I had avoided the puddles both days, and because I did so, it’s one major factor for me getting through this race. Outside the tunnel, I paused for a quick chat with the race photographer, Scott Laudick. This guy is top-notch, and totally good people. His work for this race is fabulous, too.
I am doing my best to credit him for all of his photos I have posted here (his all have the Ten Junk Miles Racing logo!), because he made them free. I’d love to find a way to repay him, so I’ll see what I can do.
I clopped on down the course, and the need to pee was more than I could handle. There was no waiting until the finish line, because I wouldn’t reach it feeling like that. There were no trees to duck behind (because of course there weren’t, such is my life), so I had to take the chance of waiting for a lull in the crowd, pulling my shorts to the side, and aiming as well as femalely-possible. A man I hadn’t seen came up behind me. I was all apologies. He said, “Lady, the world is your toilet. You have my permission. Just get the race done.” Well, that was fine and dandy, but I had pee all over me. My aim suuuuuucks. Point goes to me for having chosen black shorts. I unlocked the achievement of smelling like I lived below-ground in the NYC subway stations with the sewer rats, because I surely already looked like it.
“OKAY! I WON’T QUIT!” Jesus. Loud. No. So loud. Some dudes behind me were laughing and basically yelling to me, if not quite at me.
“What?” I wasn’t so sure I was in the mood for people. I was hot, thirsty, and I’d just peed all over myself like a freshman at a senior frat kegger. To say this wasn’t going well would be the understatement of the century.
“Your shirt. You told us not to quit.” One tall, goofy-smiled guy with an awesome Inkburn shirt was clamoring up beside me, dragging some dude who had seen better days. He had a very pronounced lean, and was pretty mentally checked-out.
“Oh, sir, I no longer mean that. You have my blessing. Let’s just lay here and nap forever.”
“Nope. You’re coming with us, girl. Let’s go.”
“You don’t want this.”
I had been almost enjoying my wallow in evaporating urine and shattered hope, but far be it for me to turn down so insistent an invitation.
So we went, like delirious dwarves in some off-off-Broadway version of Snow White. Happy’s name was Paul, and Sleepy’s name was Oak Miller. The tale they spun was that Oak had found Paul on a runner’s version of Tinder, and they both swiped right for a match made in heaven. Paul had never met Oak, but was charged with 31 miles of his well-being and contracted to help him formulate all of his future happiness and self-worth. I don’t know how you agree to sign up for that. Maybe I made that up, but I swear that’s what they said. Oak was about to finish his first 100-miler, even if he couldn’t stand up straight. Like really, he couldn’t. These men were my new best friends, and helped me find the last ounce of self-preservation I had in my body. We were having actual, real fun and laughing at everything around us, and poking fun at east other like we had been friends since grade school. The thing is, I couldn’t keep up. I kept falling behind.
At one point, Oak said, “Ma’am?” (Ma’am? Really? How fucking old did I look right then?!) “I don’t want to be rude, but I really want to do this under 30 hours. Is it okay if we go on ahead?”
It’s the funniest thing I ever heard. I was wheezing with laughter but eeked out, “Dude. It’s your race. Fucking GO! Make me proud!” I wasn’t going to make anyone stay with me. I will cheerfully ruin my own race, but I won’t drag anybody down with me.
Paul said, “I like you. You got some fire, don’tcha?”
“Flame’s out. Just go get it for him. I want him to get this”
And there they went. But, I wasn’t satisfied with being alone. I sprinted a quarter mile to catch up with them, because I wanted to see this guy finish. I have no idea where I found the legs to do that. It was more important to me to get him to the end than it was for me to do my own thing. I needed a project, and I think he needed a few laughs. I hate people, but we were no longer people.
When we were about two miles from the finish, it happened… My chest squeaked. WIIIIIFAHHHHH! I had forgotten all about Thaddeus’ stowaway duck. During my urination misfire, I had tucked it into my cleavage, afraid I’d lose it.
“Uh, just what the FUCK was that?” Paul wasn’t going to let this go unnoticed. He had joined Oak about 30-sumpin’ miles ago, but he was still fresh as the morning dew.
“Um, you see, my husband and I have this thing with ducks…”
I pulled it out.
“Holy shit. It’s DUCK DUCK BOOBS!” Great.
Thusly, as if had always been so, my trail name was born in a whirlwind of puddletits.
We started asking half marathoners passing us how many miles we were from the finish. They kept giving us longer and longer mileage, and it made no sense. I had flashbacks to the endless night where the station seemed further and further away. Oak was starting to see imaginary snakes, and jumping with dexterity I didn’t think possible from a man in that kind of deteriorating condition. I was still out of water and was questioning my life choices again. I briefly wondered why anyone would do this, but I knew why. I can’t put it into words, but the reasons are there. We kept walking.
“OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD! CEMENT! THE BRIDGE IS COMING! LAND HOOOOOOO!”
I hadn’t seen that area in over 24 hours, and it didn’t seem real. Holy shit. We were going to FINISH this fucking thing. The plan was to climb the stairs (this is just so laughably unfair. A flight of stairs after a journey like that. But that’s how this journey started, and it’s important to return from whence you came.) and then hit the ground running, kicking like it was the last 15 seconds of an amazing 5K. And we did. I’d say that the run felt amazing, but those aren’t strong enough words for that kind of feeling.
Oak finished first. I could’ve sprinted ahead – I am really fast for very short distances if I want to be – but there was no reason for me not to let him go first. He had completed 38 more miles than I had, and was at least half responsible for me getting to that line at all. I really genuinely believe I’d have flopped on the side of the road again if it weren’t for these two men.
I hit the blue patch of finish line felt. The blow-up, comically large finishing arch was there. I did it. I had finished.
No tears came – I had already cried them out a million times over. I was just so happy. Scott and Adam were there to hug me, and Scott tried to put the wrong medal over my head, but that’s fine. No medal was fitting over my head. He was so very perplexed by my pack mule headgear – but this is who I am as a human being. I don’t do anything the normal way.
The medal got around my neck at some point.
It was heavy. I was heavy. Everything was all of a sudden very fucking heavy. I had two more goals: (1) not to be wet anymore and (2) to obsessively wait for my husband to come across that finish line. I had already done so many glamorous things in the previous 26.5 hours, what was one more? I “showered’ in the car with paper towels and fancy Whole Foods ionized water, all the while watching John Sharp pee on his rental car. (Because of course he did. He’d had 11 beers DURING the race, and I can’t imagine what he managed after he finished.)
I stumbled back the shade tree underneath which I had gently placed Oak Miller
(he hadn’t moved – shocker) and Paul, and my sitting towel.
I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw when I took my shoes off (you might not be, either, so this is your chance to scroll on to the next section if you can’t hang with gnarly feet) My toes had given birth to new toes of their own. It looked like a cloning experiment gone critically wrong. The first thing I did was text these photos to my mother, because upsetting her is my one true calling in life.
A sweet woman from my Constantly Varied GearFacebook group was present to watch her husband do the 50K. (She sent her husband to give me a hug on the course, and he had. Nicest man ever for touching my sweaty self!) She got me Neosporin and beer. Bless you, my friend. You really get it! Folks gathered ‘round to watch the surgery on my feet. Those blisters did not disappoint. They got their money shot, one by one.
I think the wait for Thaddeus was about 3 hours. I didn’t remember food or water in that time, but I drank my weight in beer, served by the one and only Dusty Olson. (Thank you, Josie Benkers, for capturing this pivotal moment on film, as your children learned to tap a keg whilst a legend poured me a beer!) I’m not sure how it happened that this living legend was manning that keg and serving me, but, all right. Thank you, Mr. Olson. You’re a fine man. A total sweetheart in every sense of the word. And I LOVE your frigging doggo. She’s the best.
The best invention in the universe is the stalker app. The iPhone Find Your Friends app was exactly the ticket to watching my husband progress toward the finish. His finish was way more important to me than mine. It was the only reason I was still standing. I couldn’t sit. He has come so far in his journey – from almost 300 pounds, to 100 miles. But that’s his story to tell, should he choose to tell it.
I am not exactly the world’s best map reader. I was hounding Adam with “where the hell is he” questions. This, too, was captured on film.
Sometime around 2:00 PM, after waiting approximately forever, I saw the man get his buckle.
And we continued to rehydrate with beer, as we will forevermore.
To that end – rehydrating with beer, and the like, I couldn’t stop laughing. Maybe it was the exhaustion. But, here’s the thing. I am used to tents filled with physical therapy and sports massage people giving “free” post-race workups to people before and after 5K’s and 10K’s, as if three or six-mile runners have risked their entire lives to cross the finish line. Running is hard, no matter what the distance. I will always maintain that belief. But this finish line was different. Folks sprawled on the lawn in various stages of disrepair and states of undress, with nary a masseuse or stethoscope to be found. And somehow, they were fine. Happy, even. These were the people who most needed the professional attention, yet, they sought none except New Glarus Brewing Spotted Cow. And it struck me so funny, that my sides hurt from laughter. I almost pissed myself again.
We broke away from the crowd sometime around 5:00 PM because my feet were swelling to resemble basketballs with obliterated toes. It was time to get some rest. We got back to the hotel and showered for approximately 8 years, and then died temporarily. We woke sometime around 1 AM, and came to the realization we hadn’t eaten diddly squat. I fixed us a fancy meal of road trip food – pita chips, hummus, Persian cucumbers, carrot sticks, a slighty-aged pancake, and beer.
Thereafter, we wiped the crumbs from our chins and went back to death until 8:00 or so.
We’d survived. We’d finished. Happy anniversary to us – 2 years to the day, and we’d celebrate with ibuprofen and whimpers! After a proper breakfast and gallons of coffee, we went back to the finish line and gathered forgotten drop bags for as many folks as we could so we could mail them their stuff.
We then enjoyed a pint and bought disturbing amounts of bring-home beer.
Our mission in Wisconsin complete, we set forth in horrendous traffic to Michigan, to recover at my parents’ house. We may have stopped for some Malort in Chicago as a tangible, albeit bitter, memoir.
If you know my family, you know that exactly zero rest and relaxation was to be had. I started running again. We swam. We were climbed on by the niece and honorary nephews. We tried new beers. Not an ounce of tired left us. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Will I do it all again? Ever? On the drive to Michigan, I began searching for my next race. Haven’t found one yet, but I will. On September 1, I am aspire to be the first ninny to sign up for the Badger Trail 100 Miler next year on August 1-2, 2020. I am calling my shot. I am coming home with that buckle. This time, it’ll be because I know I can do it, and not because some salty yoga-Karen thinks I can’t. Never tell me what I can’t do.
Race Rating – A++++ (with no other ultra to compare it to, bear in mind):
Race was well-organized by actual runners.
Goodie bags were really great. Felt like Christmas!
Race directors did not treat us like peasants, children, or idiots, although in some cases they had every right to do so.
Aid stations were plentiful, and well-stocked. They ran out of Tailwind, but I’m gonna go ahead and place that blame on Tailwind as a sponsor and not the race organizers. Nobody died, so, no biggie.
Announcing the start of every race and being there to individually greet EVERY finisher was the kindest touch I have ever witnessed in my short running career.
Cutoff times were more than generous for all but the 50-miler. For experienced runners, the 50 was still doable.
Plenty of volunteers and medical staff. I never felt like I wasn’t safe at any point.
Food was good! Drinks were good!
Finishers’ gear was saaa-weeeeeeet!
I’m trying to find criticisms, but I really can’t. That 7 mile stretch was a bitch, but it couldn’t be helped, and I know how to better prepare for it next time.
Things I learned:
I will never do another overnight without a pacer.
I will never do another overnight without a pacer.
I WILL NEVER DO ANOTHER OVERNIGHT WITHOUT A PACER.
Eat more than I think I need to. Eat everywhere. It’s an eating contest with a little bit of running. Not the other way around.
Never turn down an offer for an adult beverage.
Everything is a snake, but it’s never a horse.
My husband was right, and this isn’t so stupid after all. He’ll be so chuffed to see this if he makes it this far. But he won’t.
If everyone ran trail ultras, the world would be a better place.
Thank you for revisiting this pilgrimage with me. This was my first-ever race report, so please be as kind as you can in your responses.