As it turns out, apparently a member of the Comeuppance Committee observed me at that moment and decided to take action.This weekend I ran a trail ultra. Thirty miles in the woods, through creeks, up and down steep hills, over branches and rocks and lots and lots of crunchy brown leaves. There is nothing, not one damn thing I’d rather be doing on a gorgeous late-autumn Saturday than running a trail ultra. I felt strong and excited. I had Cokes, Pringles, and a peanut butter and honey sandwich for refueling. This was my third and last ultra for the year, and I wanted it to be an Uber Ultra, if such a thing can be (and if the Unitarian Universalists don’t mind my borrowing their acronym for this post).
The ultra consisted of three ten-mile loops. I ran the first half of the first loop conservatively, as is my M.O. By the end of that loop, I felt terrific, excited for Loop 2, and cautiously optimistic that things would go well. I flew through the first half of Loop 2, and as I pushed through the second half of it—the tougher, hillier half—I reminded myself that I’d only have to do this tough half one more time and then I’d be done.And here, reader, is where you start to figure out where this is going—which puts you one up on me at the time.
“The trail is well marked!” is something that has only ever been said by someone who knows that trail like their own backyard. With a mile to go in Loop 2, I took a wrong turn and got lost. Where the blazes were those pink blazes—the ribbons meant to show the runner the right way to go? Funny thing about trail markers: you only know if you’re going the right way if you’re already going the right way. Once you go astray, there is nothing to guide you. At the time, I did not ponder the metaphoric implications of these thoughts. I was too busy being a cursing, screaming, hateful little diva.What the eff. Eff the effing well-the-eff marked trail. Where the effity eff am I supposed to effing go? This effing sucks. This is an effing eff-fest of effdom. Eff it. Eff everything.
There are no atheists in foxholes, nor, it would appear, elocutionists lost in the woods.As I tried to backtrack, I saw a runner about thirty yards away and tried to catch up with him. Using my best damsel-in-distress persona, I begged him for help. Unfortunately, he was literally one of the front runners, going into his third and final loop, and he didn’t even so much as slow down as he grunted something vague, a verbal shrug, before dashing away.
Mother effing effer, who the eff says trail runners are nicer than road runners, eff that effed up ess.Eventually a slower, kinder runner appeared. He was sympathetic, but no more helpful. He had been well behind me, you see, still midway through his second loop, and all he could do was point me straight ahead in the direction he was going. Unfortunately, that was the worst thing he could have done. Somehow I’d jumped the trail back to mile 6 or so; there was a stretch of sandy trail dotted with horse manure that I recognized. When all the trees look the same, a singular pile of horseshit becomes truly memorable. “This just doesn’t seem right!” I whined to my would-be rescuer.
“I’ve run this trail dozens of times,” he assured me. “It’s this way.”I followed him; I didn’t have much choice. It wasn’t so bad at first—he was a hottie, all trail-runner leanness with a buzzcut, and what damsel in distress would mind that? Problem is, he was really, really slow. Dude, I silently urged him. If you want to be my knight in shining armor you got to stop with this walking business and get moving. Eventually when I figured out for certain what I had done, I left him behind. I knew where I was going: I was going to do that same effing stretch of the loop I’d already done before.
Four miles is nothing to me. That’s not bragging; that’s simple truth. I don’t even bother running anything less than seven miles these days; it just isn’t worth my time. Those four miles I unnecessarily repeated yesterday were four of the longest, teariest, screamingly tantrummy miles of my life. I wish I could say that I laughed it off. I wish I could say it didn’t bother me that much. I can’t. I didn’t laugh, it did bother me, and it ended up spoiling a great day. I wish I could say that upon reflection I’ve learned my lesson and next time something like this happens, I won’t let pettiness get the better of me. I can’t say that either. When something like this happens again—and it will happen again—I almost certainly will react the same way. I know this about myself. I hate it about myself, but something I hate even more is lying to myself.People who write about running, myself included, often write about the gloriousness of it. Running makes us realize we are stronger than we think. Running makes us see that we should never give up on our goals. Running makes us see the beauty in little things. Running is just a big ol’ festival of love and joy, isn’t it. Well, yeah, but there’s this other stuff too. Running can also be a big ol’ slice of humble pie, and not just in the dramatic way where your face contorts in a beautiful sort of agony because you’re in so much picturesque pain because you wanted it so badly but you didn’t quite make it. The humility also comes from seeing sides of yourself you really would much prefer to see in other people, so you can make fun of them and feel better about yourself. It’s fun to smirk when some other runner makes a big scene over something insignificant, fun even to sigh pityingly and wonder why they can’t just enjoy the run. Running is glorious! Forget the Gu and enjoy yourself! Getting lost is part of the fun! Stop worrying about the fact that you tacked on an addition 50 minutes to your time, which by the way would have beat your previous 30-mile time by 10 minutes if you hadn’t gotten lost. It isn’t about the time. It’s about the run!
Eff the run.Oh don’t worry. I’ll be back running ultras as soon as the new year begins. I still love it. It’s still preferable to rage over my poor sense of direction than to rage over any of the other deficiencies in my character or my life. That, you see, is yet another positive aspect of running. Even the worst of it can be tolerable. Even being smacked upside the head with my own hypocrisy and smallness won’t keep me from saying eff it and hitting those trails once again.