"This is stupid."
This is NOT the first time I’ve heard these words uttered from Eva’s mouth. She was heading out early on a Saturday morning to run yet another Winter Beast of Burden Ultra-Marathon. Sure, each one has been different. Different conditions. Different training and preparation. She was geared up for a 50-miler after completing a 50-K trail ultra the previous weekend. This Beast was going to be different.
Eva was going to complete the run and then “give back” to the Beast. This race has—and continues to—give her so much. Lifelong friendships, new running partners and countless memories. After spending 10 (+) hours running 50 miles in the f-r-i-g-i-d cold along the open trails of the Erie Canal, Eva was going to finish and volunteer at aid stations. Cheering, feeding and supporting those who muscled and willed themselves to finish their own 50 or 100-mile race.
I had decided to volunteer at an aide station this year as well. There would be NO “Beast” run for me; I ran my own 50-mile race last January under frigid conditions and I knew this was NOT my sport. I wanted to support Eva and the community of AMAZING (super) humans who owned these trails year after year. Andy. Jim. Ken. Denise. Dan. Gary. Lisa. The list goes on; each with their own running stories, struggles and victories. To be in the presence of this group is to be reminded of your own potential. So, I volunteered a shift at the Gasport Aide Station—half way between Lockport and Middleport.
I stayed in touch with Eva throughout the race via text. She was loose but still dealing with the elements. Friendly banter ensued about the food that was awaiting her arrival at the aid station while I ate brown rice and fish. “You picked the wrong sport,” She texted. Eva likes to sign up for runs. Eva loves to finish runs. Eva relishes the stories, experiences and lessons learned from each run. The training for each run drives her. It has turned back the clock—health, grace, discipline, beauty and snarky wisdom has been the paycheck for her over 50-miles per week AND yoga, Pilates, body weight and abdominal workout routines. But…She doesn’t necessarily enjoy each run.
From the generator-generated warmth of the aide station, I began to think about the differences in our chosen sports—our passions. I enjoy weight lifting and bodybuilding. Eva enjoys running. My sport calls for sacrificial diet—counting micros and ingesting proteins at unappetizing levels. Her sport calls for carbo-loading. You know. Rice cakes, nuts and fruits, veggies, and oats and grains of every kind. The week prior to bodybuilding competitions—affectionately known as “show time”—involves water deprivation and calorie counting in an effort to “shred” the hide. Eva’s sport calls for tapering and an “eat anything” meal the night before a race. Cookies, pizza, and pasta fill her belly and make her smile on those nights. I get “hangry”. She looks forward to going off of her clean diet. Food is her fuel before a race. Food is my enemy the week of the “show”.
I lift heavy shit with strict form. I can hear the voice of my trainer as I try to “cheat” out another rep. Cheating doesn’t cut it in my sport. Strict form hits muscle groups at various angles and planes of motion. “Muscle NOT momentum.” “It doesn’t matter how much you lift, what matters is HOW you lift it.” I commit to a daily 5 am cardio routines that burns over 400 calories each session and a 6-day lifting schedule that teaches me about physiology as well as my limitations, potential and boundaries. Eva runs 50-75 miles each week. Sometimes 10 miles; sometimes 20 miles a day. She clocks the miles through rain, sun, snow and wind. When the elements are too tough, she gets tougher—taking her training inside Mausoleums and through the roads of a local cemetery. She runs before dawn, after work (and/) or late at night to shoehorn her workouts into the life of a mom, teacher, student, friend, coach and wife. No wonder those who know her, know her as “Tough Cookie”.
My sport involves wearing a piece of clothing that reveals more than it covers. Humility is not to be faked. All I saw of Eva’s skin on the day of the Beast were her eyelashes peaking from under her thermal face-shield and sock monkey hat. When she shows up at the starting line, Eva has moments of reflection and introspection. I am consumed by nervousness and engage in stupid banter while those around me beat their chests and strut their stuff
Eva deals with bears, wind, rain, snow, alligators, wild-hogs, hills, rough terrain and insurmountable distances—let’s just call it Woman vs. Mother Nature (that bitch). Eva is a pioneer in her sport—a sport where age is irrelevant and even invisible. I deal with spray tan lines, spotlights, internal conflict and self-doubt while pretending to be confident for a few minutes as I display the product of sacrifice and discipline—let’s just call it Man vs. Self (my own worst enemy). I am an old man in a young man’s sport. But still I compete. I want to prove them wrong.
“This is stupid,” I think to myself as my fellow aid-station volunteers serve up M&M’s, Mac ‘n Cheese, cola and peanut butter sandwiches to the runners (Eva grabs fruit-I have NO idea how she does it) while I reach for another gallon of water from my cooler along with a Tupperware container filled with broccoli, brown rice and chicken.
Upon return from the race this year, Eva noticed a sprig of asparagus that had fallen from my prepared meal-bag. “Does anyone know why there is asparagus in the driveway?” she said.