The thing about my second run during the Ed is, well, I’d been down that particular stretch of the White Pine Trail once before, hombres and wombres.
It was a more innocent time.
As you know, I’d done the Fred twice before. The first time, I ran two quite short spurs and then the event was cancelled because of a thunderstorm. The second time, we had – no got- to finish. My last run that time was my longest, nearly six miles. I’d done two runs before it, the event was wearing on and it was hot and humid. However, I’d been doing 10ks in the Riverbank Run and I was eager to prove that it was within my capabilities to make this contribution to the team at a not ridiculously slow pace reliably.
But I’d been wedged in a van with a bunch of sweaty teammates for too long. I’d gone without sleep, or proper nutrition or the kind of extreme privacy necessary back then (before cancer and my reckoning with the limitations of my human gastro-intestinal system) for comfort (if you catch my drift).
I always considered that last run a disaster. I mean, I made it, but I had to walk a fair portion of it. I was forced to stop and do unspeakable things in broad daylight. Very luckily I was out there all alone except for a patient husband on a bike and a runner from another team who was nowhere to be seen for most of the spur but passed me at the end.
I handed the baton to one of our best runners, who quickly avenged me. None of my teammates knew why it took me so long and I have rarely told that tale. But for me, especially then, I considered it a humiliating failure.
Me About to Meet My Match in 2012
Interesting then, came the realization only upon boarding the inescapable van this time, that I would be running that exact spur again. After rectal cancer. After a seven mile run. After a night without sleep, proper nutrition or privacy. Out of 36 potential spurs, I got that one again.
I felt… thrilled. I mean, this time I was prepared. I was the boss of my bowels. I was packing supplies and I was chugging Imodium and I was really ready for any of that kind of rumble. And all the training. I’d run nine straight miles, I’d run three times a week for months. It was obvious what was going to happen here. The Universe was about to hand me a big heap of Retribution on a silver platter. I might have to wrestle with this, but I was going to leave that spur laying on its back on the road like a bad guy in a western. Right? Either that or the Universe knows absolutely nothing about plotting.
So it was that I found myself at the Howard City station at high noon. (See, the White Pine Trail is along a former railroad track and many of the public buildings are still there, so this western theme is too perfect. My running app says I started this spur at 11:38 am so I’m pushing the high noon analogy a little bit but I think it’s well within poetic license.)
So I’m there, in advance of the previous runner and having to wait, to hang around town knowing there’s something unpleasant coming for me and ain’t nobody to help me. I have to take on the 5.6 Horsemen of the Apocalypse all by myself. I’m even slingin’ a belt (except not with guns (it’s a l’il running belt that I use to carry a kleenex and a spare mini pad) so not really the same thing as Gary Cooper had).
The time came for me to set off. I started Endomondo and Pandora and went my pace. Things felt like they were supposed to. My trainer came along on a bike. We chatted a little. I watched to see if I recognized anything as I’d gotten intimately familiar with a few spots along this spur the last time. A couple miles in, Kym asked me how I was doing and I managed one word, “suffering.”
“You’re pace is good,” she responded softly, cheerily.
And then, not long after that, I stopped running. Right out there in the open in front of Kym and God and everything. I don’t even think it was much further along the trail than where I stopped before. I didn’t have to go to the bathroom this time. Neither did I trip or faint or throw up. So why did I stop?
I don’t know.
I just felt like I had to.
It wasn’t until I was back home again that I thought of the concept of “hitting the wall”. I hesitate to apply it here because that’s a thing that marathon runners talk about when they’re, ya know, running a marathon. But I don’t think you have to be running a marathon to hit the wall, sometimes it happens to me if I’m still doing dishes at 10:00pm on a weeknight.
I mean, you tell me, Other Wall Hitters, what is this thing about? And what do you do when it happens to you?
As soon as I stopped, I believed I failed. I told Kym as much and she claimed that if I had a child in trouble on the other end of that spur, I would be able to keep running. That was inspirational. And in my mind I thought, “Sorry, imaginary kid, but you are screwed.” See, I didn’t feel like I needed a break, I felt like I needed a medevac. Plus, having failed, there wasn’t any point to continuing anymore.
What to do?
I wanted to go home. I wanted to skip the rest of that spur and the whole third spur entirely. But just a little teeny part of me felt unsatisfied with such a disappointing ending to the whole drama. Also, I was nearly half way between Howard City and Pierson on foot with few options.
So I started walking, very fast.
After a little of that, I started running again. I did not feel magically refreshed. So after a little of that, I walked again. And that’s kinda how it went.
At one point, Kym pointed out two better runners ahead of me on the trail who had passed us. Both of them were walking. That was interesting. Then suddenly, two women appeared on either side of the trail in the middle of nowhere with orange wedges. That was the best orange wedge I ever ate.
It felt like time had stopped but the distance in front of us continued to slowly shrink. Finally we could make out a crowd gathered along the trail, signifying the end of the spur. I am a bit of a ham, ya know. So I ran it in to finish and got a big cheer from the group hanging out there. There was a lot of consolation in that clapping and calling but I still loved it. I assumed they were applauding a 54-year-old rectal cancer survivor, not an impressive performance. A cute man even walked over and brought me a bottle of cold water (it’s possible he was one of the event coordinators worried about pr or liability issues that would result from a participant biting the dust in front of so many witnesses).
That, my friends, is the story of the second spur of BadAss Jen on the 2016 Fred Meijer White Pine Trail 200 Mile Relay. I’m not sure you want me to be your sheriff. But I think I did the best I could.
And also one more thing. Amazingly, my time was not that bad. I ran a minute per mile slower than my prediction. You know what that means (you folks who can do math)?