Monday, February 17, 2014

Fatass run + bigass snowfall = badass runner

In case you didn’t hear, I won an award recently. (If you did hear, keep your smart alec remarks to yourself.) My running club awarded me Female Ultra Runner of the Year, and as little as five years ago I’d have told you I had about as much chance winning an ultramarathon running award as I had of winning a Nobel Prize in astrophysics. Here’s the thing, though: proud as I am of this award—and I am damn proud of it, to the point where I have to restrain myself from starting every conversation with a reference to it—I know I didn’t win it because I’m a great runner. Running does not come easily or naturally to me. I have the advantage of a distance runner’s build, but that’s about it. Beyond that I’m a thoroughly average runner. I’m not particularly fast or strong, I’ve had my share of injuries, and you know those people who can hold animated conversations while they run—and imagine somehow they can hold them with you, despite the fact that you’re clearly gasping for breath and rewarding their lengthy soliloquys with grunts of “uh”? Those people? Yeah, I’m not one of them, at any distance or pace.

I got the award because, as my award presenter and running buddy put it, ultra running is about being able to deal with obstacles. Not necessarily triumphing over them in glorious, victorious fashion, mind you, but simply dealing with them.
I was reminded of this on Saturday when I did the Fat Ass run held in the next county over. A Fat Ass is basically a run that isn’t timed, doesn’t recognize winners, doesn’t charge anything, and has no set distance but only suggested ones ranging from zero to ultra. Fat Ass runs are meant to take place in the dead of winter, the idea being that this is the time to get off your fat ass and burn off all the crap you ate over the holidays. The Fat Ass on Saturday took place at a 7-mile loop around a lake. Generally the idea is to run anywhere between one and four loops, and on a day with good weather a handful of people will run all four, a large group will run 2-3, and a few people pressed for time or concerned about an injury or illness will do a single loop.

I am sure you caught the key words in that last sentence: good weather. I am sure they made you chuckle, the way it would be if I’d said “rainbow unicorn” or something equally preposterous. There has been no good weather for months. It does not seem like there will ever be good weather again. This is the black rhino’s revenge: if it had to be extinct, so too with sunshine and warmth.
To be fair, it could have been a lot worse. Do you find yourself saying that a lot these days? I do,  and not because I’m an optimist—see “rainbow unicorn”—but because it’s true. It could have been like it is today, snow becoming thundersnow  becoming freezing rain becoming rain becoming I don’t even want to know what else. On Saturday there was very little wind and the temperatures were reasonable, at least for a winter when breaking into the double-digits at all is reason to rejoice. There wasn’t even any snow, at least not falling. It was all on the ground, in the form of a good half-foot of powder. The powder wouldn’t pack or melt, and the seven-mile run felt like a seven-mile trudge through wet cement.

This is a poor description. I can’t even begin to tell you how tough this run was. On clear roads in good weather, I can run seven miles in less than an hour. On a trail, of course, I’m a lot slower—everyone is—but generally not 100% slower. It took me just under two hours to do the loop, and there was no way in a very frozen hell I was going to do more than that. When I went back to the lodge where the runners were hanging out after their run, drinking beer and eating Lee’s Fried Chicken and huddling by the wood-burning stove, I felt dejected and ashamed to have to tell them I only managed a single loop. They laughed, not at me, but at the word “only.” I glanced at the sign-up sheet and discovered that only two hardy souls had done two loops; everyone else—and that was a large group of elses—had done far less than that. And my two hours? Par for the course.
In other words, I was average again. I rejoiced, and loaded my plate with chicken tenders.

In the car on the way home, the BF and I were still shaking our heads at how ridiculous that whole ordeal had been. Ultra running, we agreed, is a constant cycle of feeling like a badass for doing impossibly amazing things and feeling utterly humiliated for realizing, again and again, that you ain’t all that. This was a hard, hard run. I am still sore; my piriformis is angry and wants to kick me in the butt for putting it through that torture (except that it is my butt, so I’m not sure how that would work). Yeah, I did it, sure, but I’m not exactly gonna brag about it.
Oh, who am I kidding. I’m bragging. I have dealt with another obstacle. I won’t get an award for it, but sometimes just getting through the damn thing is sufficient. I’ll take it. Tomorrow there will be a brand new obstacle in the form of today’s nasty weather lingering on every road and trail. In other words, just an average day in the life of an average runner.



  1. News Headline: "Ultra Runner of the Year" does only one loop at Lake Mingo!

    1. Yep, that's right -- and given my problematic piriformis, I make no apologies! I intend to stay an ultra runner; can't do that if injured. (Yes, I've actually learned a thing or two after my ordeals last year. Go figure.)