Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pineland 50 Mile Race Recap

So the culmination of my senior project at COA was the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival 50 Mile race. When I registered for the race in March, I was nervous. I'd never run more than a marathon before and didn't know if I could last almost twice as long.

The 2008 MDI Marathon seriously wrecked me by mile 18 with leg cramps and hypothermia. The race volunteers restored my health by giving me all they had - hot liquids, their own sweats, massages. They said, you better stop, let's call the van over. Nope, I hobbled onwards and finished in 4:11.

I didn't train for the race the way I thought I would. Instead of logging high mileage, tempo runs, and track workouts, I ran how I felt. I felt good, I ran longer. I felt sore and tired, I ran shorter, slower. I ran with friends' dogs a lot. They kept thing interesting when no one else was up to running 6 miles over hills.
Once I interviewed a dozen ultrarunners about their fantastic transformative experiences running ultras, I knew I couldn't wait until the Pineland 50 at the end of May for my first Ultra. So I made my own course - around the perimeter of Mount Desert Islan. 65 miles. My first attempt was foolish and it hurt people and I learned hard lessons about responsiblity. My second attempt was glorious, I had so much support from the school and faculty and friends and family and I planned it all out. I fundraised for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in honor of my cousin Christopher and raised over 11,000 dollars. Gave presentations at the local Jesup Library and Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor to a bunch of great kids. I asked what they learned and one girl, Emma, said " I learned that you can raise a lot of money by doing what you love and trying hard enough." Amazing. I'm not sure yet, but I think she spelled out what will become my first postcollegiate adventure. Professional fundraising. Inspirational running that raises money for good causes. My dream.

After all this, it finally came time to drive down to New Gloucester, Maine, and run the 50. I anticipated not just the race, but meeting friends I had interviewed over the phone. Like Mike Brooks. Past Firefighter. Ultrarunner, ultrafundraiser. Raised 10s of thousands of dollars each year for Camp Sunshine, a camp in Maine for terminally ill kids and their families, by running races like the Badwater 135 mile race and the Sri Chimnoy Society's 10-day race in NYC (running almost 500 miles).
Friends like Barry Dana. Former chief of the native Penobscot People in Northern Maine. Organized a sacred run for his people over twenty years ago called the Katahdin 100, held every September. 100 miles from Indian Island up the Penobscot river by boat, foot, or bike, to the base of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park (end of the Appalachian Trail). Following the paddle strokes of their ancestors, they run the course in honor of another. Carry an eagle feather 100 miles to the base of Katahdin where they give it to their honored individual and tell them a story of their journey. Once I heard about this event, I knew I had to run it in honor of my cousin Christopher. So I wrote a letter to Barry requesting invitation to the sacred run. A few weeks later, impatiently, I called Barry about the letter, and he said he'd just talked to the Elders and they agreed it was a good idea for me to be invited! I was overjoyed. I called my Aunt that I'd run this 100 mile event in honor of her son and she had a good cry over it. So going to the race, I was excited to meet Barry.
When I arrived at the Pineland Farms, I thought I was lost. Big brick buildings everywhere. School campus looking. Weird. The races were just starting. Hundreds of thin people in short shorts. One swath had all kinds of dogs attached at the hip. The 5k Cani-cross run with your dog. Next year, I thought, I'd love to do that. Met Barry Dana and his family. Met Mike Brooks too. Mike persuaded me to join the 5k at the last minute. The course is set on well-groomed ski cross country trails over steep bunny hills and tight curves. My highschool competetive nature kicked in halfway, and I passed over a hundred people before I finished. Unlimited FREE smuttynose beer after the race. Wow! Made friends with the race directors. Asked them about the weird campus. Used to be a "school for the feeble-minded." For mentally challenged folks but orphans were sent here too. After the school went under a few years back, new owners took over the 500 acres. They rent out the land, host weddings, grow potatos, meats, make cheese and sell it in their own Market. Pretty neat.
That night, I had to sleep in my car. Had a long talk with the old security guard about politics and all the problems of the US like wars and debts that my generation now has to deal with. Slept maybe two hours. My head ached, my stomach churned, and I felt feverish. Great timing. Woke up early, packed, sleptwalked to the starting line, nervous but not panicked. The race directors were right. The energy and vibe on Sunday was the polar opposite of the Saturday of short races. The runners in the longer races on Sunday were much more calm, quiet, and meditative. We lined up. Cow Bell rang. We slowly jog into the woods. At the first hill, I saw something for the first time. Everyone's walking. Never before in a race had I walked willingly. This seemed so odd and new.

I ran the whole race with Barry at my side. We talked about everything. His long-time passion has been canoe racing. He and his wife are national champions in the sport. Fascinating. We talked about motivation and inspiration and spirit and the absurdity and necessity of running. About how modern man has ruined all natural elements. Poisoned the water, the air. The value of things (the worth of all things measured against gold). He pointed to the painful gravel on the course. Yes, Man has even managed to ruin rocks. We laughed a lot during that race.
The dozen aid stations on the loops around the hayfields were manned by volunteers and local kids. Part of the race proceeds went to the most spirited aid station. There were brass bands and Christmas themed stations and everything in between. At the aid stations were sports drinks, water, cookies, gummy bears, cranberries, PBJ sandwiches, fruit, and even Coke (still carbonated, yuck). The volunteers were very compassionate and helpful.
The course was so natural and lovely. Grass meadows, hills of dirt, trees always overhead or nearby. 30 miles in, I dropped my shoes, socks, shirt, and hydro pack at the start line and ran free. Pebbles hurt my feet every now and then but I relished in the lightness of barefoot running.

Barry and I finished side by side in 9:34. What did it feel like? I felt old and tired. More tired than I've ever felt. Old because I matured through overcoming a giant challenge. Old because I knew myself better now. Like what I just read in Tom Brown Jr's early book...most people don't know their own abilities, because they've never tested them thouroughly. To know what you are capable of, is a wondeful feeling.

I tried driving home to Bar Harbor sleep-deprived and utterly wasted from the race, but I almost fell asleep on the road! I napped at a rest station, made it to my house, and slept like a baby. A strange side effect came a few days after. The roof of my mouth was pretty sore. Couldn't swallow fully either. I learned later from Marshall Ullrich's book on running across America that eating constantly all day can irritate the soft skin so a mouthwash helps protect the gums and skin. Good lesson.

This summer I'm working again at Journey's End Farm Camp near Scranton, PA. My COA friend Gina recommended I work there, and I've fallen in love with the place. Natural farming, Peaceful and harmonious Quaker values, well-tended animals, and this year, I'll get to go hiking with the campers for 2-3 days on the Appalachian Trail. Hard work, but the most meaningful I've ever encountered. I can't wait to teach kids about firemaking skills and herbal remedies and knot making and more theatre and improv. Phew, gotta remember to breathe. : )