Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hallucinations From The Trails - Trans Rockies Run part deux

A few months ago, a new friend was giving me a tour of his home. We came to a wood carving of a woman, seated and contemplative, in to me, what looked like a position of peace and strength. What spoke to me about the carving was that the woman’s arms and legs touched, but her core, her center, was hollow. Where her stomach, heart and lungs should have been, the seat of all of her power, there was nothing. Yet she sat there, peaceful and strong. Needing nothing to fuel her, other than the space that simply existed.

I have no idea whether the intention of the artist was to portray this, but this is how I interpreted the piece. While my work is in nutrition, and in teaching others to fuel themselves with clean, powerful food, when it comes right down to it there is so much more to where we get our power. No matter what you put in your body on the day of the race, no matter how long you’ve trained for it, without inner strength, your body will not perform (The new physics: http://www.scribd.com/doc/11657589/EpigeneticsThe-Biology-of-Belief).

And at times, when we are running on empty, we surprise ourselves with strength we didn’t know we had. And had we not been given the opportunity to get to the bottom of the well, to consume the last remaining reserve of water, we would never have access to that source of strength within us that we didn’t know existed.

For me, Trans Rockies gave me the opportunity to tap this strength. Sure, I’ve been through some pretty tough stuff in my life, haven’t we all? But I’d never really tested myself like this. Never been pushed to the limits.

As we walked into the finish area on Day 4, after having pulled out of the race, I couldn’t quite get a sense of what it was I should do with myself for the next few days. It seemed to me that the options were to
1: give up and volunteer with the crew, cheer others on and be a big girl about it.
2: see what it’s like to run at the back and take pictures and just really enjoy being out in the mountains without being focused on a time goal. I honestly would have been ok with this option. It seemed to me that some of the runners at the back were truly enjoying themselves, had no pain and tons of great conversations. Was I missing out on what was important here because I was too focused on the goal line?
3: push hard on my own to see where I would place. As I have never been much of a team sport person, I’m used to this option. No one to blame if you screw up, and no one that can take credit for your winnings. It’s all you baby.

Back at camp, still unsure of my choices, I grabbed my ipod and picked up a few torture tools from the massage tents. I seated myself on a yoga mat in the sunshine, happily enjoying the music and digging at the knots in my feet with the wooden sticks and knobs. Runners mingled everywhere, chatting, sleeping, eating. Life was good and I was open to the answer as to what to do with the rest of the race.

And then he landed. Sat down beside me, grabbed one of my feet and said “What have you done to them?”.

My first reaction was something out of a movie where you try to save the person who is just about to stick their hand in the fire.
I am speechless. Someone is touching my feet.

First thought: I don’t think there is enough sterilizing agent to help this guy.
Second thought: why would he touch my feet? No one in their right mind would do that, is he ok?.
Third: Wait a sec. I’m with my tribe. Just chill.
Still I couldn’t help but smile and mutter some self deprecating comment about how horrible they were as he carefully examined the blisters and calluses and excellent tape job that John The Blister Guy had attempted.

Great conversation starter.

I never did get a chance to look at Martin Gaffuri’s feet, but after about 1/2 an hour of easy chatting, he had convinced me to run with him the next day. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, he had lost his partner to injury as well. He had continued to run, but was officially out of the competition. Little did I know that this guy had some pretty serious talent and could have easily been running with the front guys. He had decided to do me a favor, because he’s a good person. And good people run (www.goodpeoplerun.com). :)

Fast forward to the start line beside Mango’s the next morning. I’ve got my music and we are about to hit up a 10 mile climb just to get to the first aid station. Another of the longest days. I’m ready for a fight. Not because it will matter in the standings but because I want to see what I’m really made of. Am I all talk or can I really keep up with the lead?

Max King - overall winning team keepin' it real on Day 5

Day 5: 23 miles. 4407ft of climbing. Red Cliff to Vail.

The gun goes off and we settle into an easy front position. My race style has always been to get out in front and hold that position. It’s always been much easier for me to take it out fast and maintain an edge than it is to try to regain lost ground. At one point, the lead women (pink t-shirts to identify themselves) take up a race and sprint past, and within seconds I pass them back and stay out front. I’m pretty sure Martin thinks I’m making a rookie mistake, but he’s happy to go with me. No talking necessary, we just jaunt up the hill, cool and calm. I don’t think he even breaks a sweat.

Just to keep it interesting, about half way up the hill I ask Martin “Do you believe in God?”. I figure if you’re gonna run that many km with a person, you should at least ask one tough question. I thought maybe I could get him talking so he wouldn’t die of boredom at my pace. “No. I believe in fate.” was his reply.

There is a poem that really stuck with me this week while I ran:

Come to the edge
We can’t, we’re afraid
Come to the edge
We can’t, we will fall.
Come to the edge
And they did
And he pushed them
And they flew.

Whether you believe in God as a source of strength, or the God within yourself, or Budha or the Universe, it doesn’t really matter to me. Everyone has a source of strength that they can access, that requires blind faith. Like the woman’s core, it looked empty. But within that space, was her source of strength.

The 5th day was pure bliss for me. Phil Villeneuve (Salomon as well) and Martin were playful and fun to run with. They were shooting footage for the Salomon site, so there were times where we ran as three, times I was alone and a good portion of the day where Martin and I ran together. He was great about just being there, by my side, not pushing and not pulling. And the best thing he said to me all day, was something only my dad has ever really reinforced my whole life, except with a french twist:

“Impossible is nothing”. Nothing is impossible.

He was right. And there was something about his style and the whole day that reconnected me with why I run. I almost quit a couple of times when we were at 37 km of what was supposed to be a 35k day. But I kept going. And we kept smiling. It was just one of those days where I felt like I was being carried. Or flying.

I wouldn't have placed 1st in open women. I/we would have been third. And that was enough for me and when Martin grabbed my hand and hoisted it up to cross the finish line, I knew I had left everything I had on the course, to be replaced by the deep satisfaction that comes from pushing past your self imposed limits.

Day 6: Vail to Beaver Creek. 21 miles. 4623ft of climbing.

And then it all went downhill. Not literally (I wish).

So for most of the week, there had been a pretty bad bug going around camp causing any assortment of symptoms from bloody diarrhea to non stop vomiting and obviously severe dehydration. I got the pleasure of waking up to one such symphony outside my tent one morning. It was not pretty. As a guess, there were at least 15 people who had been hit with the bug and had to pull out. Not fun.

When I woke up on the final day of TR it didn’t even occur to me that the bug may have penetrated the immune system I pride myself on. But it did.

I’ve been really sick twice in my life. Once in Thailand about 10 years ago, just before my diving course, and once a couple years ago in Ghana, West Africa. Both times I had the privilege of laying around moaning, and of Cipro. This time, it hit me smack dab in the middle of the final stage of a race that I had promised myself I wouldn’t give up on.

(On the upside, if you're going to vomit non stop for 2 hours, I must say that puking into the bushes is a lot more pleasant than into any toilet I ever encountered in Thailand or Ghana. There’s always a silver lining right?)

That morning, the run started out playful and fun. We had acquired another partnerless Salomon runner, Audrey, and it was Martin’s birthday so the mood was light. He even sang for us for a good part of the first 10k. Everyone was happy to be out, sore and tired, but at the same time wanting to cherish every step of the final day, knowing we would all be sent away from this perfect sugar coated trip within 24 hours. As much as I wanted it to be over, I so badly wanted it to last forever.

Right from the start I could tell something wasn’t right. My legs were heavy. Felt worse than the first day but I thought maybe it was due to lack of sleep and just generally being worn out. I dragged my ass through 12k and after the first station, Martin decides that even if he’s sworn to enjoy the day, this is just ridiculous. He ties a makeshift tow rope to my waist belt, and another to Audrey’s and literally takes off up a hill before I've had a chance to protest.

(Another side note here for those of you who haven’t seen it: a tow system is pretty common in this type of race. Inevitably, one runner is going to be stronger than their partner on any given day, and a tow system enables the stronger one to pull their partner through. While I’d never tried it, apparently it can be incredibly helpful.)

However, neither my body nor my ego could handle a tow that day and I had untied within a few minutes. “Go you guys. Have a great run. It’s your birthday! I expect you to be drunk by the time I get there!” And they were gone.

As soon as they were out of sight I walked. I let the fatigue take over and blissfully enjoyed it. Total fatigue. I had worked really hard for this feeling and I was going to enjoy it. I was happy with my performance. Even though the race wasn’t over, life was just too good to be dissatisfied with where I was. No matter what happened after this point, I would go home content. I had a reason to run again, a reason to love running. Not that I didn’t enjoy it before, but this was LOVE. I remembered why I started running. Being out on the trails, in flats for that matter, and essentially without injury, for a whole week of running with other like-minded folk. I had reconnected with a tribe I didn’t know existed. It was like coming home.

About 15 minutes after this nice little realization, the vomiting started. The usual hot, sweaty, panicky feeling and there I was in the bushes losing my cookies. Heaving away, all on my own. Walk. Puke. Walk. Stumble. Puke. Repeat.

For the first hour or so I tried to drink water because I knew I still had 20k to go to the finish and there was no way I was letting them pull me off the course because of some silly little electrolyte imbalance. Bah.

The water would have nothing to do with my stomach and vica versa. Same goes for any sort of fuel.

And so it was, I got to be the woman from the wood carving. Running on empty. But tapping my inner strength. Using what existed in the space when we empty ourselves and our minds, and discover our true power.

I can’t really detail the rest of the race for you because much of it is a blur. I know I walked a lot and tried to smile at the aid stations. And tried not to puke on anyone’s shoes. A few people stopped to ask if I was ok as I was bent over heaving in the bushes, to which I would turn my head, smile, wave, puke. All good.

Right about the time it got really bad, I picked a purple flower for Martin’s birthday as a thank you. That flower became my reason to keep moving. I held onto it for dear life because I told myself if I dropped it, it was all over. Sounds silly but sometimes we need something to hold onto to get us there and none of my usuals were around that day.

In the last few km, as I neared the finish line, I could hear music. I started to run. Not sure why because at this point it’s not like it wasn’t obvious that I had walked a good chunk of the day, but I wanted to finish this run running.

Probably not a great idea in retrospect considering I had lost a lot (500mg of salt per pound of sweat, at least 3-4 pounds of sweat that day) and had not replaced any of it. As Cynthia Amon (of Gore-tex) walked towards me with my finishers medal, it was all I could do to put a “just a minute” finger up in her direction and lunge for an empty cardboard box to recommence the heaving. What a show. What drama. Within minutes I had a team of friends around me (Thank You! Doone, Tim, Magi, Martin, and all the others who were there) undressing me, space blankets, trying to get me up. As soon as I stood I had to vomit (or dry heave as it were... there was nothing left inside me) again so then I got the all time most humiliating gurney ride of my life over the the ambulance for a few litres of IV fluid. Not really the shots I was hoping for at the finish line, but within an hour I almost felt human again. And, even though I think it ended up under the cardboard box, the birthday flower made it to the finish line.


So I think I’ve pretty much spilled my guts, at some points literally, on everything I went through this week. We all have our stories and telling them and hearing them is what makes us who we are. We weave others stories into the fabric of our existence and hopefully learn from them.

And in closing, if in reading this, any part of you has wondered if you could do a race like this, like I did when I first signed up, then consider this:

To anyone brave enough to face themselves, even if you have never run a step in your life, I challenge you to run with me next year at Powderface Marathon. It's one day. 42km. It’s a beautiful marathon on the trails near Bragg Creek, Alberta. http://www.powderface42.com/index.html You have one year. And no matter who you are or what your story is, challenging yourself to something you believe to be impossible and then proving yourself wrong, will make you stronger and happier than you could imagine.

Earlier this year, my dad, aged 57, ran the Vancouver marathon in 4hrs 45 minutes. I had been trying to get my dad to run with me for nearly 15 years and he wouldn’t even do a 5k. But when one of my best friends, the right person, put the challenge to him, he made up his mind and did it. And if you ask him he will tell you, with tears in his eyes, how it changed his life. Impossible is nothing.

To anyone who accepts the challenge, no matter what your age, sex, weight or geographic location, I will run with you at your pace. Even if it is at the back of the pack and the crew is sweeping the course looking for stragglers. I hope that at least one person takes me up on this offer. And the more the merrier but the deal is I run with the slowest person. The only condition is that you have to register for the race before you start the training. :)

Happy trails and here’s to fate and new beginnings.