Thursday, July 12, 2012

Running Through My Childhood

Maybe it has to do with waking up in my childhood bedroom; it’s the same, but different.  Gone are the 1970’s flower power wallpaper and my bright yellow canopy bed.  Added is my husband, who’s had the pillow next to mine for much of my adult life.  I’ve returned home different, but the same.

I had some time on my hands and new running shoes on my feet.  That combination only means one thing, and I was going to make the most of it. 

The first thing I see when I leave my mom’s place is the “big hill”.  I remember being about ten years old, my Dorothy Hamill haircut was blowing in the breeze as I cruised down this monster on my purple banana-seat bike.  I vividly remember thinking, ‘I never want to leave here’. 

I ran up and down that hill, and after all these years and all these races, I can attest, it is still big.

I leave the old neighborhood via the “big block”, though it is hardly a block at all.  I smile at the mailboxes that have names I remember—I once knew them all.  Leaving the neighborhood, I glance and see the Superette.  We used to call it “Ed’s” and candy bars were 25 cents.  I wonder if I can still find that shortcut behind the Moller and Benoit houses?

I hug the shores of Monponsett Pond East to the boat launch, thinking about all the times we launched and loaded that old yellow boat.  I miss the Yellow Lightening, and all those hours of water skiing, tubing, wake boarding and hanging around she offered the five Kaloshis children.  I continue on and almost get pegged crossing Plymouth and Homes---good God, I’ve almost been pegged there since I was little.  When the heck are they going to put a light in and make it a two street light town?

I cross the road that separates Monponsett East from its sister Monponsett West.  The tunnel is still there.  I crawl down to see if my initials are still in it.  I knew they would be.  My dad had me put them there on our way to swimming lessons that we arrived at via aluminum boat.

I back track and head toward the town center.  I notice that the town has way too many pizza joints, even though BR’s is the only place to go.  The clock at the car wash is still broken.  It has been 12:00 for almost 40 years. 

I get to the elementary school.  Gone is the naughty wall for recess rule violators, and where I could always find one of my brothers.  New is the Margaret Meyers amphitheater, which equates to a small outdoor series of benches.  I don’t think there is a native in this town, under fifty years old, who did not learn to tie his/her shoes from that woman.

I recall fireworks on the hill; Easter egg hunts on the front lawn of town hall and Boy Scout parades down Holmes Street.

My feet know where they are going; I don’t even really have to give it conscious thought.  My final stop will be my dad’s final resting place.  It comes to me as I water the flowers on his grave---he guided me through these memories, and now it is time for me to guide my children through their own series of adventures that will become their childhood memories.  

With happy tears straining to escape my eyes, I ran home to my family---the same, but different.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Spartan Race

Noah and I set off on an unknown adventure last week--the Spartan Race.  It's a boot camp style obstacle course held somewhere in the woods, about an hour north of Toronto.

The organizers do not release a course map, so you really have no idea what you are up against.  Our only clue was watching the Spartans who had already finished their race.  They looked dirty and banged up.  Game on!

As Noah and I awaited our wave to begin, we were approached by a very tall man in a Spartan costume.  He was the m.c. for the event, but turned the microphone off as he was talking to us.  He also would not let go of my hand.  When  he left, Noah asked "Mom, how come all the guys who hit on you are jacked?".  Whoa, I was hit on?!?!  Cue awkward moment.

We jumped into the starting corral and were immendiately pummelled with high pressure hoses.  Then we ran through a series of stink bombs, our wet bodies holding on to the stench.  A mile long series of hills thinned out the herd.  Noah opened up his stride and had me at a full sprint--trash talking and taunting the whole way.  I made a mental note to teach my future grandchildren to treat him in kind.

We hit obstacle after obstacle-ranging from walls to scale, ropes to climb, sandbags to haul, javelins to throw, concrete to move, and tunnels to crawl through.  Each had a penalty if you could not complete the task.  Damn javelin, I missed the target and had to do 20 squat thrusts.  If you think Noah stood there and cheered for me, you'd be dead wrong.

We had to balance on obstacles, row, belly crawl through a foot high, thirty foot long tunnel (with mud and rocks).  There must have been a sale on barbed wire, because it was all over the place. We were pelted with buckets of ice and mud. We even had to jump over fire, whose flames were about knee high. 

The worst by far was the hip deep mud pit.  We had to wade through, followed by an army crawl through mud and pseudo-swim through more mud.  It was intense, but you couldn't open your mouth to complain or smile or you'd be eating the stuff.  They were throwing it all over the place.

When Noah emerged from the mud pit, he playfully chucked a mud ball at me.  Karma intervened and he fell flat on his butt.  We laughed so hard that when he finally got to his feet, we both took a step and simultaneously wiped out together.  Two uncoordinated mud balls.

I completely enjoyed watching Noah take on each challenge.  He'd eyeball the situation, cuss, and charge it.  Pretty similar to my own technique actually.  We competed against each other and were about 50/50 for the challenges.  Spending this type of bonding time with my son was priceless.  We were not only mother/son, but we were athletes.  It was surreal.

I'd like to say we finished hand in hand, but Noah was not going to let that happen.  I got hung up on the last angled wall (which they covered in plastic, so it was impossible to get a grip).  But when I did cross the line (5 seconds behind him) he was waiting with his arms open to give me a gooie, bloody, muddy hug. I know he took it easy on his old mom, and could have beaten me by a lot more, but he didn't make me feel like he was going light.  I adore that young man, and I don't think I'll quickly forget his muddy smile.

We both have some decent boo-boos.  I hope one leaves a scar, it would be a great way to remember this amazing day.

Trees. Knees and Bees-- Finger Lake 50

I started off tired.  I had just driven home from Plymouth, Mass, with the hubs and three kids.  Spending the night doing laundry is not part of my normal pre-race routine, but what's a weekend warrior to do...

The alarm went off at 3 am and I was out the door at 3:13.  It took about 2.5 hours to get to the race start, and I was thinking of every excuse possible to get a pass on this race and turn around and go to bed.  Unfortunately, everything fell into place and I was at the starting line ready to go at 6:30 am.

This race is run by my friend Chris, and I really wanted to see what kind of class act this classy lady would put on.  I was not disappointed.  She really thought of everything.  With the weather predicted to hit 95 degrees, she put a high priority on hydration and runner safety.  I've  never seen so many search and rescue and medical people mulling around a race before.

The course was a typical trail race with a mix of single track, double track, paved and unpaved roads.  We also had to run through a couple of cow pastures.  We were warned to shut the gates as we passed so as to not let any cows out.  That of course ment dodging cow patties and potentially cows.  Luckily I only had to deal with the former.  The trails were thick with my old friends:  rocks, roots, and mud.  I took one hard spill over a tree root and ripped open a boo boo I had received last week.  There goes my career as a knee model.  I joked with one of the aid volunteers that it seemed like the trail was working to put me on my butt.

Things were going well until mile 5.  I heard a buzzing noise and felt something on my hand.  Damn!  I couldn't find a stinger or the body, but I prayed it wasn't a bee.  I'm allergic and my epi-pen was in my car.  Damn, damn, damn!  I stopped the next runner, who happened to be a nurse (Thank God).  She stayed with me a few minutes, gave me an Advil and the blessing to continue on.  Earlier, all I wanted was to get out of this race, now I was fighting to stay in it.  I found an over the counter allergy pill in my stuff and popped it in.  I wasn't having trouble breathing, nor was my heart racing, so I cautiously continued.  I was scared, but stubborn.  At the next aid station, I filled my sports bra with ice and iced my hand until it was numb.  It was swollen, but not too bad.

The allergy pill worked pretty well, but did not stop the hives.  It couldn't have been a bee, or I would have been down for the count, but it was something my body wasn't fond of.  I had hives mostly on my left leg at first (odd, I was stung on my right hand).  About an hour later they were on both legs, both arms and my neck, but still no major swelling in my  hand.  The hives seemed to come and go.  I decided if they were worse after the first loop (it was a 2 loop course) I would call it a day.  Fortunately they were manageable at that point.  I popped another allergy pill and started loop 2.

My goal for the second loop was to not let anyone pass me. I was also hoping my second loop time would be within 5 minutes of my first loop time.  I met the first goal and came close on the second.

The field had thinned by this point, and I chased down every runner I saw.  I moved up about 8 positions.  There were these two ladies I met on the first loop.  They had on bright pink matching t-shirts.  One said "Vanilla" and the other "Mocha"  (Yes, I thought of 50 Shades of Grey).  They happened to be from Massachusetts and were great ladies.  They were pretty new to ultra-running and wanted to pick my brain. 

Anyway, I passed Mocha and Vanilla at about mile 7 of the second loop.  We chatted a few minutes, but I did not share my not-being-passed goal with them.  I wished them well and buzzed on by.  I tried to put as much distance as possible between us.  I did not know they were spending their last 9.5 miles trying to catch me and ask me more about ultras.  EVERY time I thought I put some distance between us, I'd see those pink shirts and have to surge again.  Uggh.  I did finish ahead of them, but barely.  They were great ladies and I enjoyed the challenge they set for me.  Ultimately, it was good for me, as it kept me moving at a pace quicker than I would have otherwise kept.

The heat also met its projections.  While I was on the trail, I was mostly protected from the low 90 temps.  However, one section before the last aid station was totally exposed and it completely drained me.  I lost a good ten minutes there.  Oh well, I'll live to run another day.

I finished the race, collected my bottle opener finish medal (very cool), hugged Mocha and Vanilla and headed home.  When I arrived, Mark looked at me and asked "coconut or lily of the valley?"  (my other 2 allergies).  His face fell, when I told him "bee". 

As usual, he asked me about my race, but really only tuned in for the first two or three words (It was good....).  However, he did have waiting for me my favorites: veggie pad thai, fruit and feta salad, caprise salad and lemon bars.  He may not be all that interested in ultra-running, but he sure knows what I need after a race.