Thursday, September 13, 2012

LAVS 500K: Tales From the Road [ Part I ]

The following events take place between
 July 11 and July 21, 2012.
First, a word about the "tales" you are about to read. You have to understand that I am totally sand bagging how good these stories are going to be a lot of stories from this race won't be funny to you, because the humor can only be appreciated from the perspective of one who is being pushed to the sheer edge by pain and fatigue.  But to me, these stories will always be hilarious (or heartbreaking, or some other equally intense adjective), and in the re-telling, I know a few others will be out there chuckling to themselves and "getting it". That's enough for me. My goal in writing this is simply to be able to look back at these words one day, when the experience of Vol State 2012 is almost faded from my memory, and be reminded of what an incredible adventure and achievement it was to run 314 miles for the first time.

So now that the bar is set appropriately low, let's set it a little lower.

I'm not even going to try to capture events in the correct order. I'm not even going to try all that hard to get the facts right. Instead, what follows is my account of many of the most intense moments (both good and bad) that I experienced over 9 days on the road.

Of course, the first memories were made days before the start of the race. The lead up to something this epic is epic in itself.

Also, and worth noting - there is something strange going on between Charles and I and Laz's races. Take Barkley for example- Charles ran it last year and I ran it this year. We had this shared freakish mirror image experience- a year apart! You can't make this stuff up:  We were both #1 on the weight list the day before the race. We both got in at the very last minute- and we got in because someone died (yeah, I know -  someone had to die for us to get in). I was alone for the first 4 books this year, and finished a loop with Naresh and Matt Mahoney. Last year, Charles was with people for the first 4 books and finished alone.

Coincidence? Maybe.... But on the eve of Vol State, I had to wonder if this strange link we have wasn't continuing with this race. It's as if the intensely surreal quality of preparing to board the ferry had somehow spilled over into Charles' life. I wish I could tell you the details of what happened to him on the eve of Vol State, but this one is not my story to tell- although it's a really good one! At the very least, it deserves a shout out to Julie for adding a heaping dose of drunken crazy surreal to an already over the top experience. Good lord! Someone check- was it a full moon on July 11?

OK, more ramblings...about the genius RD's. From the very start, I marveled at how Laz is an absolute master at designing life-changing, consciousness-altering experiences...that just happen to be running related. What makes me say this, you ask? Well, it is simply pure genius to set up a 300-mile race and drive the runners from the finish to the start.  Think about it: it takes all day to get there. As the hours roll on, no one can escape the fact that we'll all be on foot the next time we see the locales being discussed by vets as virgins try to take it all in.

Don't let them fool you- this is what RD genius looks like
More genius RD strategy- you see Laz and Carl at least once a day for the first 3-4 days. You would not believe how good it is to see them! After about day three, you become completely aware that on some level you are living to see their faces again. On Day 5 I told them I now know what it feels like to be a dog: All of a sudden, they're HERE! They came back! They came back! They came back! Great rush of happiness, excitement and love! Oh, now they're gone again.

Another great impression of genius I was left with about those two- They are out there in the very early miles recording race splits like it's the Kinney National Cross Country Championship or something. Seriously, the last time I had what could even be considered a near-race experience was back in 2009  when I tried to run down the only other over-40 female for an age group award. At my ability level, ultra's are extreme efforts, but are not races. At least before now.  Yet, here I was, just a few miles in, feeling the distinct rumblings of competitiveness. I left Hickman, KY in 16th place (16th? Damn! There's only like 23 people out here!! I better get moving!)
And finally, on the drive to the start, I remember Laz saying Vol State is nothing like Barkley- that anyone with enough determination can finish it. I remember how relieved and encouraged  I felt at hearing those words. Barkley is for strength-oriented runners who thrive on tons of climbing and rise to the challenge of orienteering. Nothing in that last sentence remotely describes me. Vol State, on the other hand, plays to totally different strengths.

First, you don't have to be fast to succeed at LAVS (check).
You have to be able to exist on very little sleep (check).
You have to be able to sleep at the drop of a hat (check).
You have to be extremely, extremely determined (check).

In hindsight, and in my humble opinion, Vol State trumps Barkley as far as life-changing experiences go.  But what's really cool is that they are completely different experiences- and chances are, if LAVS is your thing, Barkley probably isn't.

If nothing else, I owe these two a debt of gratitude for bringing the race experience back to me as a reality. True or not, I am convinced I have what it takes to be a future King of the Road. Given enough things going right, and very few things going horribly wrong, I really believe I have a chance of being in the hunt for the win one day. As Dan Fox mentioned, with this beast, the race isn't even ON until mile 250.

Day One: The First 400 Years
I officially get on the ride. I discover LAVS as my calling in running. I adopt a hybrid strategy based on John Price's advice and my own stupidity. I get attacked by dogs. I get befriended by Tennesseeans. I cover 57 miles on day one and, yes, there is beer.

As we set off to our first destination 18 miles away (Subway), the female unfriendly nature of this race in terms of bathroom opportunities becomes immediately evident. Nothing out here but wide open spaces and cars. You can be sure that before it was over, I found some pretty interesting ways to pee in public. Some successful, others not so much. All were pretty funny, though.

Day One really didn't get interesting until night time. However, as I mentioned before, I was desperate to call Charles and find out how the drama of the night before had finally resolved. At this point, I was convinced Charles needed to be running 300 miles far more than I did.  As we arrived at Subway for lunch, I called to check in with him and was hardly surprised at all when Daniel Tosh answered.

Daniel Tosh has begun narrating Charles' life. This is not good.

Mike Melton, Paul Lefelhocz at Subway

Just 2 miles down the road, everyone checked in with the RD's at the 20-mile checkpoint.

Paul Lefelhocz in disguise at Mile 20

Psyche and John Price- disguised as each other at Mile 20
Around 4:00, I stopped at a Burger King in Martin and enjoyed the air conditioning, a chocolate shake, and the company of John Price, Dan Fox, and Sherry Meador. Pretty heady stuff for a newbie.

Heading into Dresden that night, I was about 40 miles in to the race and it finally felt like the adventure had begun. I came upon this sign painted on the road and enjoyed following the arrows for a while. I was really enjoying running at this point. I love this time of day, and was moving well and feeling good.

I caught up to Sherry Meador and realized I had missed the pizza place described in my directions. Last chance for water for a good while. So, as we walked through a neighborhood I only half listened to Sherry as I searched the houses for a hose I could drink from.  I finally found one, but the water tasted like 3 parts plastic hose and one part water. Really nasty stuff .

As I was drinking said nasty hose water, I noticed a guy in a truck had pulled over and was talking to Sherry. It turned out he was from the local radio station and he wanted us to call in to the station to talk about the race the next morning.  He gave us his card and we would see him a few more times over the next few miles.

On the way to Gleason, a mom in a minivan stopped and gave us ice cold water and oranges. This was my first experience with the kindness of strangers. It was fantastic! This family made us feel like rock stars!!  I would show you their pictures, but alas, I lost my camera somewhere around the 200 mile mark. (Yeah, I just wanted to say, "200 mile mark". It makes me feel like a badass).

At about 8:00 p.m., I had to decide if I was up for another 15 miles or if I would stay put. That's where my "strategy" came in. I had asked John Price all kinds of questions about this on the drive to the start and he was wonderful about sharing viewpoints about how people do the race. He had some really good advice. One thing I was going to follow was to try to get 4-5 hours of sleep a night.

Everyone approaches the sleep issue differently, but I tend to think you only hurt yourself by being too sleep deprived. I can function really well on 4-5 hours a night. It get tricky, though, because you need to decide every night if you can make it to the next stopping point in time to get 4-5 hours of sleep.  If  you think you'll roll into town at 2-4:00 a.m., it might be better to stay where you are that night. I just felt good in having some way to approach each day.
Since it was just 8PM, I thought I could easily push the extra 15-17 miles into McKenzie. I would arrive around midnight and check in to a motel for 4-5 hours of sleep. I set off to McKenzie with Sherrie Meador. Sherrie was having stomach issues as she will tell you she's prone to do. I didn't want to hurt Sherry's feelings but I was really just in the mood to run alone and try to get into a groove. I actually felt pretty good, and I just told her it was nothing personal. 

Around 10PM, I was running through a neighborhood in the dark. It was peaceful. I called to talk with Charles for a bit. I was aware of what a lovely memory I was going to have of this night, as I looked at the moon, enjoyed the breeze, and especially the company of the one I love.

Not 5 minutes after hanging up, 3 dogs come tearing down a hill from behind a house. I immediately knew they were not protecting their territory or trying to warn me off. They were out for blood. They seemed to be medium sized terriers or something and they did not hesitate or slow as they got closer. and I was immediately completely freaked out. I started yelling and screaming and waving my arms but they just kept coming. The terror was magnified when I realized they had formed a circle around me! I swear to god, this seemed like it lasted 20 minutes- the dogs coming at me, and me fending them off and screaming like a crazy person. I have woken up in a cold sweat and screaming from bad dreams less scarey than this.

Finally, I threw some water at them from my water bottle, then threw the water bottle itself and distrated them. I started running and they came after me, but didn't pursue for long.

I thought I may die of adrenaline overdose, and I was shaking, and I was especially wondering how in the HELL no one heard me screaming or why came outside to see what was going on. I left that neighborhood screaming, "What is freaking WRONG with you people....???"

I probably had about 7 - 9 miles left before I could stop for a few hours in McKenzie. The adrenaline and previous 50 miles had both taken their toll, and I began the slow death march in to town. The last couple of miles were extremely long.

As I exited the neighborhood which dumped me on to the street where I'd find a motel, I spotted a convenience store that was still open. It seemed about 2 blocks from the motel, so I decided to stop and see what fine craft beer they might be carrying. As I was in line paying for my barely drinkable hops, I struck up a conversation with a guy who seemed to be the buddy of the guy working behind the counter. They said another person had come in there about an hour ago and he asked me what we were doing. It was incredible to tell these guys we were in a race across Tennessee.

I checked in to the motel, requested a 3:30 a.m. wake up call, and climbed the stairs to the second floor. I wasted no time at all  in drinking a beer, getting a shower (cleaning my clothes by washing them while still on me) and getting right in to bed for whatever precious little sleep I could get.

I was gonna need it.

In just 3 hours, my future self wakes up, hits the road, and travels 8 miles in the wrong direction.

Stay tuned....