I Race, Therefore I Obsess
I am too old and slow for this nonsense. Why did I click through the Race360 web site a couple of months ago and commit to: a $40 entry fee, pre-dawn wake-up, one hour drive, $5 for parking, hours/days of pre-race fretting about how to handle the chilly morning air and ground, and a 24-hours-before-the-race moratorium on chocolate (while an unfinished box of Sees Christmas chocolates lurked in the cupboard)?
On the phone an hour ago to my 30-something daughter . . .
Me: I think I broke my toe.
Daughter: The middle one on the right foot?
M: How did you know?
D: When you said the words “ ‘I think I broke my toe,’ I felt a pain in the middle toe of my right foot.”
Two shirts or one? Long or short sleeves? Running tights or shorts? Carry water or not? Bring mid-race snack? Spend the night at the (100 yards from start/finish line) campground the night before? Drag husband along?
Barefoot or ?
I am eating a (homemade, retrieved from the freezer) chocolate chip cookie as I tap these words out. An hour ago I finished the box of Sees chocolates.
Dinner smells good cooking in the oven: sweet potato fries and fish sticks to make into fish tacos, complete with cilantro, tomato, onion, and cabbage just collected from his organic garden by my Long-Suffering Husband.
My right foot toes are cozied in an ice bag.
Last night (pre-race!) when I got home from work, I was not pleased that Long-Suffering Husband had made spaghetti for dinner using organic wheat noodles. I wanted organic brown rice noodles. Floating in my work-strained brain were vague shreds of bloggian ideas about how runners should avoid wheat.
I may have raised my voice.
When a race is imminent, I am not a nice person.
I have not worn shoes to trail run for four years; I avoid the too hot/too cold ground issue by running early morning or early evening in the summer, and any time after the day has warmed up in the winter. This is Southern California, land of magical trail running weather. Why would I sign up for a race at the beginning of January with an 8:30 am start time, at 3300 feet elevation?
When I was little, I had to compete for Jello. One box did not make quite enough for seven kids. I was the youngest. Now I’m 54. Some of my siblings are on Social Security. Jello is not organic.
Today’s race was advertised as 12K, but with ups and downs (1300 feet elevation gain) and twists and turns, the web site said it would be more like 8 miles. I like running this distance. I like hills. I like the heavenly scented chaparral country where the race is scheduled: white sage, black sage, and California sagebrush provide aroma therapy.
I need aroma therapy today after I get distracted by the view over the ridges all the way to the layer of fog that was creating a new horizon over the hidden Pacific Ocean . . . get distracted and catch the middle toe of my right foot on one of the many rocks that ice-berg up from a steep single-track tunnel through the oaks.
Half-way to the race, my dashboard flashes and dings. Now what?! Oh—nothing wrong with the car; it’s just letting me know the outside temp has dipped below 40 (F). No ice on this road. It’s been dry and in the high 70s all week. Later today it will be that deliciously warm, but right now it’s darn cold.
What to put on my feet to run?
I wear a custom pair of Tar-Sox, made a few days ago by dipping an old pair of wool socks in a black tar-like substance called PlastiDip. It (smells super-toxic and eventually) dries, and provides just enough insulation that the cold ground does not turn my toes to Toe-sicles. (I made up Tar-Sox, but stole Toe-sicles from a Facebook post by a fellow barefoot runner with chill issues.)
For the first half hour (I guess about two miles . . . how slow is that) the Tar-Sox do their job, keeping my feet warm and sort of protecting them from the many many rocks. But then my feel start to feel sweaty, and I worry about my skin breaking down from the moisture (which turned out to be non-existent, but it just felt weird to have something on my feet while I ran), so I pause—not the first time, since I’d been stopping to snap photos—and quickly peel off the socks.
Ahhh . . . the blessed feel of trail beneath my bare feet.
I carry the Tar-Sox for a couple of miles, but when I stop again to unzip a snack from my Nathan hydration vest, I stuff the socks in with the half-filled water bladder.
In my Nathan: water bladder. Packet of Trader Joes Omega Fruit/Nut mix. Organic sucker, strawberry flavor. Canon pocket camera. Merrell Pipidae Wrap sandals (these are strapped to the back as Plan B in case the Tar-Sox fail). Emergency whistle. Duct tape. Pocket knife. Band-aids. Paper and pencil (in case I feel a poem coming on). Trail trash: one blue balloon ribbon, one plastic water bottle cap.
Comments by hikers out on the trail: “Yay bare feet!” “Zola Budd!”
Comment by two lady racers who saw me cross the finish line: “You did that barefoot?”
Comment by old-guy-my-age runner who stopped by my car as I was getting ready to leave: “How long did it take you to get your feet conditioned to do that? You looked very smooth out there.”
I start almost in the back of the pack. Maybe five people behind me. One of them catches me on the first uphill. I greet her pleasantly, but inside I am pissed.
I catch her on an uphill a few miles before the end. I greet her pleasantly, but inside I am doing a rude goal-line touchdown dance.
Most of the time I run with no one else in sight, passing no one, being passed by no one. Just me and the many many rocks, and a few miles of smooth and sinuous single-track down down past ceanothus, chamise, scrub oak, manzanita. In the sunny sunny exposed places, it is warm enough to make me push up my long long sleeves. Lovely lovely.
I stop to take a picture of my bloody toe. It does not hurt enough to interfere with my lovely lovely pursuit of no-one.
I wear a watch. . .
30 minutes: crunch away at the organic sucker
45 minutes: stub toe
60 minutes: eat the dried fruit/nut mix
75 minutes: find an old man with bloody elbow, hiking poles, and leg brace inching up a steep uphill. “Good job,” I say, but inside I feel bad for passing him.
90 minutes: feel the first twinges in my left knee
Rest of race: power-walk due to left knee pain (Note: this pain will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in May of 2014.)
120-124 minutes: try to run and smile the last quarter mile of pavement, because the fast/finished runners are walking back to their cars to change, but every step. Stabs. My. Knee.
123 minutes: hear some scary heavy breathing behind me and turn to see a man intent on passing me before the finish line. Usually I would increase my pace and enjoy a bit of finish line drama. Today I keep trotting slowly along, focusing on not limping. (It is bad publicity for barefoot runners to appear injured in public; we nurse our TOFP privately, in special FB groups reserved for this purpose.)
124 minutes and change: I trot across the finish line in just over two hours. I am not out of breath and feel somewhat bummed I was not able to push myself at all in the last couple of miles.
125-155 minutes: hang around the finish area, wishing I were not an awkward introvert. There is a cardboard box-lid half full of bright-orange-dusted tortilla chips. I sigh and take another drink from my hydration bladder. “Do you know when the raffle is starting?” “He’s getting ready to do it now.” I decide against walking back to my car to grab my organic quinoa/home-grown-avocado-lime mixture. I decide to feel superior to those eating the orange tortilla chips. No one eats any.
I decide I have too much pride to ask the scoring table ladies what my overall position was. Just now I tried to look it up on the web site. Not posted. I decide not to care. There were very few people who finished behind me. I decide to stifle a life-time of over-competitiveness that usually has me heavy breathing at the finish line, trying desperately to beat one more person so I can regain the feeling of winning the school spelling bee back in 1973.
Race awards time.
I find out I did not :
a. win the race overall
b. win my gender/age division
c. win the barefoot division (But I would have if there were one. Just like I would have in the five other races I have entered in the last four years. Jello!)
Instead of drawing names or race numbers, Baz-the-hilarious-race-director has prepared a trivia quiz:
“Who was the most famous Pony Express rider between 1860 and 1861?”
“What billionaire wrote an autobiography titled Losing my Virginity?”
“What fruit gives off so much ethylene gas that it makes other fruit . . . “
I won a hat.
SOME PHOTOS from today: