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Approximately one year ago, I arrived at Rock Cut State Park to witness my very first Hobo Run. I believe it was held in August, and it was unusually warm. My plan? Start running at 6:00 a.m. and then watch my new found friends compete.
As I parked the car, I couldn’t help but notice this strange figure unloading a van packed with various boxes. It was obvious that he was setting up for the race, so I strolled on over in the dark and said, “Hey, would you like some help?” He said “Well, you could put this box here, and this container over there, and oh yeah, don’t forget ……etc, etc.” It was quite dark, so it wasn’t till hours later that someone introduced him as “Uncle Larry.”
Excitement built as the sun rose and the volunteers arrived. Ann , Ed , and Carol were the faces I recognized. I couldn’t believe how many people started to arrive. This was completely new to me. Everyone seemed eager to start, relaxed, and happy.
“Hey Ed! Can I borrow 40 bucks?”
“Why, do you want to enter the race? “
“Yeah, I think I do.” It didn’t matter to me that the longest distance I had ever attempted was 10 miles. It didn’t matter that I was totally clueless as to how to train over time. It didn’t matter that my normal pattern was to run until I was thoroughly lost, and then ask Jeff Miller how to get back to my car. It just seemed like fun.
Next thing I can remember – the race suddenly started. I was talking to someone 30 years my senior, and he was running past me with ease. Up ahead, I could hear Ed’s voice “Watch out for the walnuts! It’s easy to slip!” By mile 10, I was dying. But I remembered Ann Johnson’s optimistic advice “You can always walk it!”
By mile 14, I wanted to lie down and die. I hydrated at the aid stations, but I knew nothing about gels or salt tabs. I can’t even remember if I had eaten breakfast that morning. Doggedly I walked on. When I rounded that corner and eyeballed the finish line, I was ecstatic. Carol Bingley snapped a photo of me at the finish line. My foot was barely raised a centimeter off the ground! My legs were so heavy.
Did I use ice afterwards? Nope. Did I enjoy delicious citrus flavored recovery drinks? Nope. Did I manage to eat some Hobo Stew? I think so. Did I sleep that night? Not a wink. My system couldn’t come back down. Several days later, I fell ill with a bug that wiped me out for a week. My immune system had crashed. Geesh! Somebody train that girl!
Fast forward the timeline to the Triple Crown Series 2008. On Thursday night before the first race, it was rumored that not one female had registered for the Triple Crown Challenge. Tanya, Tonya T. and Kathleen were certainly capable of finishing the series with outstanding times. But all of them had chosen different goals. Something stirred in me. Could I do it? Could I run all three races? Could I run through the series which equaled 57 miles? Would I finish on Sunday by crawling through the finish line on my hands and knees? Could I endure?
All right, I thought, I will see how my body feels before officially registering for Sunday, the 50 kilometer race. Friday night came and went. I actually earned a spike(a trophy)! I felt great. Hmmmm. What is my strategy? How many gels do I need? How many salt tabs? What should I eat? Should I alternate endurance drinks versus water? I hate that packaged stuff! I prefer honey, lemon juice, water and maple syrup! Should I tape my feet? I knew my arches needed a little more support. Decisions, decisions.
Saturday’s run went well. I beat my previous time by close to 30 minutes. No walking for me in this race! Rush home, an ice bath, a nap, and the get dressed for the Rockford Road Runner’s Banquet. Thanks, Larry W., for the dance moves! Twisting on the dance floor with Kathleen reminded me of my college dancing days! Coach Mike took a survey which astounded me. Several people in the room have put in as many miles as this planet is round. You have got to be kidding! But enough was enough, let me rush home to bed, please.
Sunday morning arrived. Why did I want to complete this never before attempted feat? It was overcast, and I was worried about running in the rain. Recently, I had learned that I am ‘anemic’ and low in calcium. I have suffered with that since being a teenager, even when my diet consisted of good old fashioned meat and potatoes. (Yuck! No offense!) I honestly don’t know if it made a difference, but I had started taking vegetarian supplements faithfully. Didn’t I learn my lesson from last year?
Yes. Never give up. Stretch beyond your comfort zone. Achieve, recover, and then achieve again. My heavy duty water belt was stuffed with gels and salt tabs. I had studied Chi running for almost a year (almost), and I knew I was a much more efficient runner than last year. My overall diet is a pretty strict one . But most importantly, I said to myself, “I want to finish.” Nothing else matters. I needed proof.
How strong can one become?
About a dozen Chicago marathoners competed that day. They were treating this race as a long distance slow training run. They walked every hill and ran cautiously the first 25 kilometers. I observed their expertise as many of them had raced in ultras before, and I copied their every move. Once I hit that halfway point, Ann Johnson offered me a protein bar. Yes, I was desperate for protein! I listened to my body and took off. I found my rhythm. Breathe, lean, move. I was on automatic. Jim Simmons met up with me toward the end and compared me to a metronome. He even offered to carry my water belt. “No, no “I said. “Isn’t’ that cheating?” He assured me it wasn’t. Soon, I handed him that weight belt and sighed with heavenly relief. But oh, my aching feet! The extra support I had placed in my trail shoes was no longer helping. I foolishly chose to run one of the very last hills, and started to feel my legs spasm. Oh no! Was I going to collapse? My legs felt like quivering sponges! Slow down, Deb, I thought. Slow down. Breathe, count, lean, - imagine Chi carrying me through the path of least resistance. “Jim, I am going to take my shoes off at the end!” I do not remember what he said. I just imagined running barefoot through that soft, lush grass. “Kathleen!” I can’t remember why she was there, I just remember being so thankful. ‘I am taking my shoes off!” Plop. Thank God for grass. I pulled those shoes off of my swollen feet, ripped my socks off, and stood back up. Power through that finish line! Lean, breathe, and pump! Oh god, it felt so good. No one was there to take a picture. My time was a slow 6 hours and something. Nothing to brag about! But by God, there was no need to crawl. My spirit was flying.
I learned a few more things after that run. First, cover yourself with ice IMMEDIATELY. Coach Mike saved me with his ice bags. I think I could have slept on them. Second, drink recovery drinks for 2- 3 days after the race. (I would love to find BTD compliant recovery drinks. I just haven't found them yet!) My brain didn’t feel normal again until Thursday. (Oh sure, I read this tidbit from the ultra marathoner’s magazine AFTER the fact!) Third, take one day of recovery for every mile of the race. I should have taken 57 SLOW days of cautious running. Oops. Live and Learn.
And last but not least, give back to the world. Be there for people when challenges block their path. Give to those in need. Lean on your friends when times are tough. I can endure and I can push on, but my friends added to my strength. Seriously. Lean on your running buddies. Lean on the people who choose to solve “all of life’s problems” during a run. Lean on their positive attitude, their desire to improve, and their unending support. Believe in your dreams. Dig deep within yourself. Believe in the possibilities. Coyote Strong.
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