Redemption in 5k Increments

ham•ster | ˈhamstər | noun – A solitary burrowing rodent with a short tail and large cheek pouches for carrying food, native to Europe and northern Asia.

As far as I can tell I’m not a solitary burrowing rodent although I do have a reputation among those in the know for tucking into astonishing amounts of food so large cheek pouches may exist but I’m not telling.

On July 7, I ran the Brazen Dirty Dozen, which is a 12 hour fixed time trail race. What is a fixed time race? You run for a set amount of time on what is typically a short loop; 3.37 miles in this instance. Run that loop as many times as you can or want. Stop at one loop or go until the wheels fall off or the horn sounds or anything in-between. You get to choose.

For obvious reasons I affectionately called this my Hamster Run. I’d never done a timed race so I was fascinated with them in that can’t-take-my-eyes-off-the-train-wreck sort of way. I figured this would get it out of my system. It also, as it would turn out, become my redemption run after the debacle that was the Miwok 100k (which exists) or in my case the Miwok 55k (which doesn’t exist except in my mind).

I didn’t talk about the Brazen event much. After the debacle that was the Miwok 100k I didn’t feel like bringing a major event into the glaring light of day. I went into Miwok on May 5 nursing an injury I incurred in mid-March and one good leg. I came out of it still nursing said injury and now one sort of good leg. I didn’t know if I could recover and heal in time. I had the Double Dipsea on June 23, which would be a good indicator of how I was coming along. Turns out not so bad. I could run downhill again without feeling like someone was driving a nail into my kneecap. I waited until the last minute then decided to go for it. At least I knew I couldn’t DNF this one.

I had no idea what kind of distance I would be able to cover or if I could go the full 12 hours. I figured at least a 50k since I’d proven to myself already that I could do that with one good leg. Fifty miles was a stretch though. I hadn’t done 50 miles since American River over a year ago and my longest long run since the debacle that was the Miwok 100k (can you see a common thread here?) was 19 miles. That’s not long even by marathon training standards so something between 50k and 50 miles seemed like a reasonable goal, if one can say that about such things.

I woke up on July 7 excited to see what I could accomplish. The course was pretty. It was on a trail with nice views of the bay. The terrain was flat in areas and rolling in others. There was an aid station at the start/finish area and one in the middle of the loop.

I started ticking off the loops, one at a time. I had given myself the green light to stop at any point if I was having any problems or just plain felt like it. Sometimes I’d run with a friend. Sometimes I’d run alone. Sometimes I’d run with a stranger. When the scenery doesn’t change much you notice other things. Like how the shadows move and the wind changes direction and the temperature rises and falls. Like which section of the loop you looked forward to or dreaded seeing yet again. I tried not to note the time or the distance. Long and far would feel longer and farther if I did.

Eight loops was the marathon distance, which I think I hit around the 5 hour mark. I remember feeling tired already and appalled that there were still 7 hours left in this thing. What was I thinking? When I hit 10 loops and the 50k distance I busted out the iPod as a reward. I don’t know what my time was here because I wasn’t paying attention and it didn’t matter. I don’t listen to music very often when I train and never for races but I was glad for the diversion this time since the usual things that keep me entertained and on my toes during an ultra just didn’t exist here.

Finally I neared the 50 mile point. When my Garmin ticked over to 50 miles the time was at 10:22 (paying attention now) and I completed the loop a short time later. I was alternately pleased, 50 miles in 10:22 woot woot, and dismayed, OMG I still have a solid hour and a half left. But there was no more run in my legs. I was so focused on 50 miles that when I reached that goal it seems to have sent a signal to my body that said no more. Nothing was hurting. I was just DONE.

I dawdled at the start area. I did my Happy Hamster Dance. I chatted with a few people. I high-fived anyone with a hand. I looked at the posted standings. I contemplated eating the dinner being provided for us. I didn’t know what to do. Go? Stop? In my indecision I found myself walking out of the finish area, so I just kept on walking until I finished another loop. It was the longest, most uncomfortable walk ever but I had a huge smile on my face and had the opportunity to think about how the day went, which was perfectly. Finishing the loop got me to 11:45 and finally the end of my race.

In total I did 16 loops or 53.92 miles. My recovery afterwards was surprising. Within a few days no significant soreness and within a week everything was back to normal. I had to remind myself that the 12 hour actually took place and that I didn’t dream it.

It’s a funny notion to think you can find redemption out on a race course, as if it’s hiding under a rock and you just need to turn over the right one. Miwok was either the stupidest thing I’ve ever done or the bravest. My family and crew had the dubious honor of watching me slowly and completely fall apart that day. The Double Dipsea went a long way to helping me get my confidence back. The Brazen 12 Hour was icing on the cake.

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