Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Third Ultramarathon Run

My Third Ultramarathon Run
Martin Bodek
I think I can call myself an ultramarathoner at this point. Two years ago, I ran a 50k, but that may have been considered a lark. Last year, I ran a 55k, but that might have been called a flyer. This time, I ran a 60k, and I have to say, three times a charm. I’m officially addicted.

I learned something about myself this year after purchasing a treadmill: I love running. Well duh, of course, but not in the way that I had thought. I was under the impression that I needed parks, sunshine, and friends to enjoy myself. I learned that those are wants, not needs. I enjoy running no matter where, with no regard to temperature or time of day, and whether or not camaraderie provides a boost. These things, I found, are the gravy to the main dish that is the run.

I mention this because the ultra was all of the above, a tale of two races, in almost perfectly apportioned measure. You’ll see what I mean.

I scheduled the run for the Motzei Shabbos of a three-day Yom Tov, which was perfect, because what better way would there be to burn off the thousands of calories I had heaped on over chag? Several of my friends were on board with my thinking.

So we found ourselves – me, Matt, Adam, Jonathan, and Steven - assembled at my house after making the trip from far (Queens, Brooklyn) and near (well, my house). Matt was scheduled to run the distance with me. Adam was in for 20. Jonathan and Steven were playing it by ear. We’d be picking up two others.

At 9:00 PM, we are off.

Mile 1: After running through park #1, I announce that we have only 36 miles to go, which isn’t that much really. It’s just ten miles added to a marathon, ya know, no big whoop. Welcome to the rationalizing, compartmentalizing runner brain.

Mile 2.5: We pick up David, who is scheduled for 16-20 with us. And then there were six.

Mile 3.5: Jonathan and Steven peel off and run back home together. And then there were four.

Mile 4.2: We pick up Glenn, who is also in for 16-20. And then there were five. We start up the highest climb of the relatively flat course I’ve devised. It’s 126 feet over a mile. We take it nice and slow, because it’s only slightly less than 55k to go, and we still need to conserve lots of energy.

Mile 5.1: We pass through the world’s smallest park, which once again, gets rave reviews from the pack. Okay, fine, I’ll admit there’s something interesting about the rising stone path, pretty meadow, and gothic lighting. Google “Midland Park, Montclair, NJ”, select “Maps” and click on Street View to see what the fuss is about. I do think, however, that it’s at night when the magic happens.

Mile 5.5: We loop though park #3, which I declare an optional porta-potty stop, but mandatory water stop. Want to see some gorgeous architecture? Google “Edgemont Memorial Park winged statue” and select Images.

Mile 6.8: We pass yet another of the 45,822 froyo joints that have popped up in the U.S. in the past week, and boy do I wish this one was kosher. No matter, I have lots of goodies on me: three GUs, two jelly bean packs, two powerbars and a water bottle filled with Powerade.

Mile 7.6: Some of us pass through park #4, and some of us run parallel in the street, and we meet up at the end. That was an interesting, fun, impromptu split-squad.

Mile 7.8: We skirt past park #5, which has all the amenities a runner needs, but everyone is good. We carry on into Eagle Rock, New Jersey, which must be the world’s smallest town, because there are flags welcoming you, and signs that pop up one block later that thank you for visiting.

Mile 7.81: We arrive at West Orange.

Mile 8.9: We pass a Dunkin’ Donuts. All of us crane our heads and salivate at the same time.

Mile 9.8: We run past the Thomas Edison museum, an amazing place. I point out the structure where the world’s first motion picture was made (google “black maria” and select Images). That gets even more attention than the Dunkin’ Donuts! It is also home to the most beautiful library I’ve ever set foot in (google “edison library west orange”, select Images, and stare). If I had gobs of discretionary money to blow, I would rebuild this for myself, fill it with books, buy a ’57 Plymouth Fury and park it outside, then commission the making of the world’s largest block of halvah. I’m telling you, it’s weird and dangerous inside my head.

Mile 10.1: We reach the apogee of our run, far from home, but time to turn back.

Mile 10.6: We sail past Colgate Park, where the Yankees and Dodgers scouted before the minor leagues existed. It has a sloped outfield, which is weird, and two very interesting water fountains. Google “haws barrier free trough style galvanized pedestal drinking fountain” and select Images. First one on the top left.

Mile 11.2: We arrive at Nishuane Park, which is park #7, but was park #5 when we ran past it. It’s a mandatory stop for everyone. Some take advantage of the drinking fountains, some use the facilities, some run a few hakafos (appropriate) around the paths. Once we’re all refreshed, we continue on our way.

Mile 11.7: We begin a four-mile long stretch that’s as straight as the crow files and as wide as…whatever metaphor’s available for that. It’s the safest part of the route due to high visibility, good lighting, and a painted off section for parked cars/fitness folks. Parked cars are usually in driveways, which means fitness folks have a two-car wide lane for themselves. I’m always comfortable here, but alert.

Mile 12: I notice that Matt is dragging a bit. He’s fit like a horse, but something is a bit off. The rest of us seem to be peachy keen. I certainly am. No complications. We’ve been doing nine-minute miles consistently and absolutely nothing is bothering me.

Mile 12.6: We get a shoutout from a person dining al fresco at a Montclair restaurant. “Hey, jogger people!” she says. Hey, uh, sitting and eating person! Her comment, of course, sets off a debate among us on the derogatory vs. acceptable nature of the j word.

Mile 13.1: We hit the half marathon mark in under two hours. Perfect. Really, only a marathon tune-up distance to go, plus a 10k, which is really just a 5k, plus another 5k. No big deal.

Mile 13.2: Matt suddenly asks me if I’d mind if he DNFed. I muttered similar blasphemies to him when did the 55k together last year, but he knew not to take me seriously. For some reason, judging from his uncomfortable efforts, I took him very seriously right away. I also felt, before the race, that this could be a possibility, so I was prepared with a plan just in case it happened: should it happen that I’m left alone to finish the race, then that’s okay, I’ll finish whatever’s left on my treadmill. The running would count no matter where it happens. I told this to Matt and asked him to keep me posted on his condition.

Mile 13.6: We hit a street corner and pause our watches. David and Glenn want me to point them back to their cars, as their runs are wrapped up for evening. Adam and Matt are in for only 20, so I have to change the course to accommodate. No problem. I point David and Glenn back to their vehicles, and they’re off. And then there were three. I then make some calculations for a bit, and determine a 20-mile modified course. My phone dies, but I’ve brought with me two modes of auxiliary power, a Mophie (google “Mophie”) and a PowerPack. I connect the PowerPack, and we’re good. Adam, Matt, and I start up our watches again, and run towards home, in the same direction I sent Glenn and David.

Mile 13.8: We pass the spot where Glenn parked. He’s long gone. That was, uh, fast.

Mile 15.2: We pass the spot where David is parked. He’s playing with his electronics, just as I remember him doing in middle of the JRunners relay race two summers ago. All business, all the time, huh? We say hey as we move on down the road.

Mile 17.1: We arrive at park #1, having come full circle, or, judging from the route map, full trapezoidalhombusallelogramipopangle.

Mile 17.9: We hit the bottom of the park. I tell Adam and Matt that I’m going to rest here while they make another loop to get a mile in and finish with their 20. I’m perfectly fine, but gosh, there’s still much more to go, and I’ve got to conserve my energy. I down a salt packet and some of my snacks while they head off. With my happy belly, I set off to meet them from the opposite direction. We hook up again, and run towards my house.

Mile 18.7: We hit my street corner. Matt had hit his 20 a few hundred yards back. Adam does a few out-and-backs to get his 20 in. Matt wants pizza really badly. I point him to the shop in my neighborhood that’s open now, and Adam follows him, as I bid them both adieu. And then there was one.

I check my watch. It’s after midnight, but for me, the night is young. My run is only half over.

I bound up the steps to my house, surprised that I can actually do so. I’m feeling really, really good.

My wife and in-laws are chatting around the kitchen table. I remove my night-run accoutrements, refill my supplies, grab the iPad, hook up the Mophie to my phone, and I tell everyone I’ll see them later, I’m just going for a little run.

Before I hop on the treadmill, I make a plan: I’m going to take it very easy until I hit the 50k mark. I want to be running at the end, not falling off the treadmill due to exhaustion. I have to conserve a pile of energy, and also get a lot of energy into my body, so that I have the resources to run the last 10k.

Mile 18.7-50k: That’s exactly what I do. I mostly walk/trot/jog for 3.5 hours until I hit the 50k mark. I pass the time by eating, drinking, and being merry. My version of merry is watching TED talks on the iPad for the entire duration. I never have time to watch the 20-minute clips, but suddenly I find myself with all the time in the world. I learn lots about city planning, mathematics, engineering, agriculture, and a whole bunch of good stuff for my brain. At points when I get a little overloaded, I watch some Crossroads Guitar Festival clips. Those are awesome. About every hour, I get off the mill for five minutes or so, stretch, and shake things out a bit. I am amazed that I’m not physically fatigued. Well, yes, I am fatigued in the sense that my body really should be asleep, but I fix that with a cold cappuccino. Once re-alert, I realize that my legs and body are in quite good working order. I’m not breaking down. Like the great fighter Rocky Balboa instructed, I just keep moving forward (‘Tube “keep moving forward speech”), because that’s how winnin’ is done.

Mile 31.0686-37.2823: When I hit the 50k mark, I do so in excellent spirits. Now I get to see if my energy conservation and ingestion is going to pay off. I also need all this remaining energy for the rest of the day, which consists of taking apart the sukkah, building a backboard for my kids, and enjoying a surprise show that my wife is treating me to later in the evening. It is generally wise to be awake for these things. It is about 4:00 AM, and I’ve already been on my feet for seven hours. I begin to run and my body responds happily. I perspire at an even rate, which shows I’m properly nourished and hydrated. I enter a zone of focus, watching the treadmill count away the tenths of a mile. I hit the 55k and I’m still moving. 56k. 57. 58. 59. And at about 5:30 AM, I hit the 60k mark. I did it. Whoa. My final official time is 8:05:11, which is a long time to spend not just on one’s feet, but in permanent forward motion.

With a smile on my face that I can’t shake, I step off the mill, sit down on its edge, pet it like a baby, and I breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeathe. I head up, make myself a small breakfast, and make some calculations: after three days of non-stop eating, and after 4,500 calories burned on the run, and despite the various foods I stuff down my belly on the run, I come away with an aggregate loss of 1.5 lbs.

I shower, and hop into bed at 6:15 AM, but find that falling asleep is impossible. Just can’t do it. Not gonna happen. At 9:00 AM I roll out, not having caught a wink, and begin my day. The first thing my oldest son asks me when he sees me is why, when he plugged in the iPad last night, it was at 48%, so how come now in the morning it’s at 33%? Too funny.

I manage to take apart the sukkah, build the hoop, and enjoy Bill Cosby with my wife. Great present from her (though I do nod off twice. Oops, sorry!). Great, full, grateful day for me.

What’s next? Well, the second half of the run actually took place on my half birthday. I’m going to be 40 next year. That’s a nice, round, inviting number. Hmmmm…