Monday, March 23, 2015

HAT Run-Boogie Man Be Gone

I remember running with Rog at Bond Lake.  We had hit the hills for the gazillionth time, and I wanted a break.  I could see the trails and suggested we move our torture session to some switchbacks.  Our conversation went something like this:

R:  You’ll love it.  But, I’ll only take you if you promise me you won’t run there by yourself.
E:  Rog, I know what I look like.  I can take care of myself.  I’ll be fine.
R:  It won’t matter.  Just promise me
E:  Do YOU run there by yourself?
R:  Yes, but that’s different

Such is the double standard for men and women runners.  Men simply don’t have to think about some of the things that women do when they spend hours and hours alone, in remote areas.  Although I’m sure personal safety crosses their mind, for me, as a woman, I can never let the threat of the Boogie Man wander far from the forefront of my thoughts.

I never forget that the bars in Erie County close at 4 am.  Drunks don’t care.
I’ve had cars follow me closely and slowly.  Too slowly.
Lewd catcalls…too many
Men who walk alone, carrying dog leashes, when I can’t see a dog, scare the hell out of me.
If I pass a man walking alone, I will always quicken my pace, listen for footsteps, count to five, and abruptly turn around, to assure he hasn’t changed direction to follow me.  I have come face to face with a few strangers using this method.
I’ve had my tent unzipped, while I was sleeping, while camping at a race.
A homeless man grabbed me, during a race in Philly
I’ve received unwarranted and unwelcomed inappropriate messages from a man I have only casually met on the trails

This weekend, I ran the HAT race.  It involved some solo travel.  I would be where I didn’t know a soul.  I should preface, that I never felt un-safe at this race, but I did miss the comfort of having my friends with me, watching my back.  I was cognizant that if I got hurt or lost or encountered the Boogie Man, I was on my own. 

Rog…. Jim…. Russell…Marco, I trust these guys without reservation.  My gender is irrelevant.  They are simply friends.  I love each of them, and adore the easy comfort of being with someone who wants nothing more than to share a laugh, some space and time, or his thoughts.   I have always been able to maintain male platonic friendships.  Just ask my brides men:  Victor, Mike and Rob.

As a woman, I know uncomfortable situations exist.  I accept and acknowledge this.  But, I will never let it stop me from living my life.  I CAN take care of myself, and if the Boogie Man puts me in an uncomfortable situation, I will respond. 

At the HAT race, I had no worries; there was no Boogie Man there.   I was able to crunch over the snow-covered start, squish through miles of mud and giggle my way through knee-deep streams.  Without my friends around, I may not have felt comfortable enough to crash-out at the finish, like at the Beast.  But, otherwise,  I was able to do what I love, on a beautiful course, on a (eventually) gorgeous, almost spring-like day.  I had my own back, and there was a smile on my face.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Thank you, Legs

When I finally got to the starting line of the Rock and Roll Marathon in Washington DC, I reached down and rubbed my thighs, and thought, ‘Okay legs….you know what to do…”

My legs.  They aren’t pretty.  I simply don’t think of them in those terms.  They are hard…bruised…scarred…strong.  It is rare for me to have more than six toenails at any given time.  My own husband once remarked, that they are so muscular,  I look like a transvestite when I wear a skirt. But, oh the places those gams have taken me.

I get up early, really earl, to run.  It’s my legs that get me out of bed, against all protests from my mind.  I talk to them before I close my eyes at night, “ok girls, tomorrow it’s a long one---hills”, and when my eyes open, they are ready,  mechanically taking me out the door. 

On training runs, they run on auto-pilot.  They free my mind to wander…appreciate my surroundings…figure things out…empty.  I dial in a pace, and they respond.  Left.  Right.  Repeat.  Relentless forward progress.  They do as I ask. I rely on their compliance.

It is only when they tire, that I notice them.  My feet blister on anything over 50 miles.  My thighs tighten after 70.  After, 90, they scream.   But, they don’t relent.  They will push on, at whatever pace they can.  They like to move me forward.

I find ways to reward them.  Prior to my race yesterday, I took them on a walk around DC.  I asked nothing more of them, than to take me left because it looked more intriguing than going straight.  I take them to yoga.  They love the flexibility it provides them.  The hot tub makes them giddy with relaxation.  The stick (although loathed by my mind) brings a sense of serene calmness and release.  I spin them on my bike trainer, which relaxes every fiber.  I do squats and lunges, and they appreciate the strength created.  I give them hills…flats…mud…they love the variety.  I provide opportunities to open my stride and fly, or to shallow my step, and simply cover ground.  

I ask much of them, and they deliver.  In return, they have allowed me to leave footprints in the most amazing places, and to cross paths with friends I hold deep in my heart.  They do, however, miss belly dancing.   Perhaps, because finally, the focus is not on them.

There is a mile during the DC marathon called the ‘Memory Mile’.  It is lined with pictures of fallen soldiers, and their family members.  It also happens to be on a killer incline.  Ok legs, do your thing.  They ran, at the hardest pace they could maintain, up the entire incline. 

At mile 13, just as the half marathoners split off for their finish, a man handed me a flag…’Remember where you are” he said.  I did, and pushed up the tempo of my race pace. 

Near the end, with the finish in sights, they opened and flew,  allowing me to sprint across the line.

The day after a race, they don’t like going down stairs.  They will recover, and they will be ready for my next starting line, which will happen sooner rather than later.

So, for bringing me to the finish line of yet another marathon, for letting me explore the world on foot, for pushing me, for giving me strength to keep going, for teaching me about me,  Legs….Thank you!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Starting Lines---Hashahawa 50k

If you’ve run with me, you’ll know that I don’t like starting lines.  I’ve learned to handle tapers, gear packing, and pre-race nutrition, but starting lines still give me apprehension.  If it’s a 100-mile race, that apprehension starts the night before.  I become introverted, pensive…okay, I’m a train wreck. 

I’d like to say that once the race starts, that all is good, and off I go.  Again, my friends know to give me my space at the start.    I’ve learned not to implement my race plan until mile 4.  That’s when I come back to “me”, and finally get myself in my groove.

I’ve noticed a certain pre-race energy.  There is almost always 20-30 minutes before a race, which you are standing around, just waiting to do your thing.  All racers are different, but many approach the start in similar manners.  Some size-up competitors, subtly (or not so) asking about previous race times.  Some recite their race resumes, like it will bolster their performance.  Some make excuses to any one who will listen about how unprepared they are for this race.  Some gear junkies will either ask you a zillion questions about something you are wearing, or talk incessantly about something they just bought.  Some visit their drop bags like they have visitation rights.  Some seem calm, like this is no big deal.  Some lean on family and friends.  Some cry. 

Then the gun, or guy yelling, “go”, happens.  We all take off en mass.  Sometimes elbows are thrown.  Sometimes people muscle for position.  Often slower runners start at the front and have to drop back.  But, the first 30 seconds of a race have an amazing energy.  It produces a unique “thud thud” heartbeat-like cadence, caused by group footfalls,  that only happens when a group of runners all start at the same moment.  I’ve heard it on pavement, gravel, sand and grass.  I’ve heard in it the rain and on snow.  I’ve heard it with large marathon-sized crowds and in small 5k’s.  I adore that sound. 

Saturday, I was privileged enough to run the Hashahawa 50k.  It’s a challenge to find a trail ultra in February, and as such, there is a lottery to get into this race.  I ran it once before and was knee deep in mud.   Last year was cancelled due to a snowstorm.  This year’s race was a trudge in un-groomed, crunchy snow.  It was a struggle and only 54 of the 120 registered runners found the finish line.  I loved it!

I often tell my daughter, “negative self-talk is not allowed…find a way to say it without beating yourself up”.  I was reciting that at the start.  I didn’t know a soul, and was finding it hard not to give myself a good mental beating.  My spirit was comforted, when I looked at my phone and saw that familiar red circle indicating that I had text messages.  Roger, always knowing what to say, wrote, “It’s ok to wipe out in snow!  So, run hard!”  Jim and Russell, out on their own training runs, sent me banter that made me giggle.  Mark simply sent me a “go get it”.  Texts like these, and other’s that I have received prior to races, help me center.  Help me get out of my head.  Help me remember that this too shall pass.  They go a long way in un-wrecking my train.

The race was all I could hope a February trail run could be.  Snow…hills….spectacular views…blue skies, and small hints that spring might actually happen.  I had to work hard during this race.  Much effort was needed to stay upright, and I had to remind myself of Rog’s advice several times.  Yup, I wiped out.  I was on my butt so many times, that once, I took advantage and made a snow angel.  I used my butt to slide down inclines, to haul me up a hill affectionately referred to as BFH, and to kick myself into gear on some of the long stretches where I could actually find my stride.  Butts, I’ve learned, are not to be underestimated.

I did muddle my way to the finish line, and was able to collect a very cool hand-made mug.  I didn’t get the time I had hoped for, but that’s okay.  I know there will be another starting line.