It was a hard rain and it had been that way for awhile. Friday night and SXSW was just getting cranked up, so I waited til after 7pm to head south. Didn't matter! Bumper to bumper stop and go traffic took me an hour just to get through Austin, and I live in Austin. Neither the traffic or the rain cleared up as I finally made it out of town. Over 2 hours later just shy of San Antonio, I pulled off in Selma. I met John and a few of his work mates at a pub just of the highway. We shared a beer or two and a few lies then headed over to John's place nearby. My legs were still cramping from the 2 hour stop and go traffic as I lay down to sleep. I thought that if I just pounded the water, it would stop... but all it did was make me get up constantly all night to pee.
John needed to drop by his workplace in the morning, so we drove over to get what he had in his car that he left there the night before. When we arrived at the McAllister Park, we had about 10 minutes to pick up our packets, gear up, and go. Didn't really have much time to think about options, so I simply went with what I already had on, including rain jacket, Tilley hat, and gloves. Didn't take me very long to realize it was way too much, so I stripped off all the extras and left them at the first aid station.
It was raining pretty good, coming in waves of mist at first. If you can imagine what its like to run with the deer, this is what I imagine it would be like. Just following your instincts, taking the path of least resistance. Bodies lined up in order with some being passed and passing others as we snaked through the trees. Because of the crooked path we took with our large pack, we must have completely surrounded a small herd of deer that tried to wait us out, but then freaked and simply took off strait through our congo line. One barely missed colliding with the woman in front of me, but besides everyone being startled, nobody missed a beat and the deer were gone... for now. There was very little talking and the little said was muted by the rain and the sloshing of the mud.
I could run along the main track at first, but then it got so messy and slippery that I switched to the side berm of grass when I could. Sometimes this required that I ran side to side for aways. I know it was longer, but if I went down the middle, I could never count on my foot landing and staying where I put it long enough for me to get the next foot down. Because the mud was as slick as ice, I had to take short rapid baby steps. But, on the sides, I could open up and run. I knew this was going to take forever if I didn't get my speed up, so I gambled now and then... and on one of those gambles, I slipped and performed some acrobatics. Somehow I managed to not go down, but I almost wish I had as my performance stressed the limits of the shorts I was wearing and ripped out the inseam. Well, the reason I wear tights is because my legs slide against each other every stride I take... and without the material there for protection, I would chafe my inner legs bloody. I have done it before, so I know. And now I have a real problem and there is nothing I can do about it til I get back to my truck for the spare pair I always take with me.
Running like a cowboy, legs wide apart, sliding out on every step, and laughing like a fool... I was enjoying the tough time I was having. I considered packing it in for a moment, but these sort of moments always come to test my mental and emotional strength. I like to think that you really never know what kind of character you have til times are hard. How you deal with it defines who you are. I recalled a friend who died from Lou Gehrig's Disease, another drowned, a brother stabbed to death, a daughter with cancer... and I begin to laugh quietly at first and then loudly at how simple and easy my issues are in comparison. I am alive and I can do this, and they all wish they could be right here right now if they could. Just thinking about it lights me up. And I begin to love every damned slip and slide even more than I already did.
Thinking back a few years ago, maybe the first year Bill added the 50km to this event, I ran a 4:25 on a very dry day that was crisp and cool. I have slowed way down and wonder if I can complete two thirds in of the race today in that time. As slow as I seem to be going, very few people are passing me. Its just me and the rain at this point. I see a few others in the areas where we switch back and forth a lot... and you can see somebody a ways ahead or behind. Occasionally, I see somebody come off a side trail that I know isn't part of the race and then they disappear ahead of me. I don't know if they are cheating, in a different race route, or just out for a run, but it surprises me each time. Most likely it was just my imagination or the spirit of D.Keitz messing with me like he always loved to do. It was always his way to force me to think in a profound way in the simplest of settings.
My leg is bloody raw when I arrive back at the end of loop one. John has just retired even though he was way ahead of me. Says this will screw up his entire week of training if he continues. He offers to go find my gear and extra shorts while I refuel. My stomach leads me to the bathroom first, then I put on a dry shirt, eat some food, and then John comes back empty handed. There are no spare shorts. I'm not sure what to do. I try some duct tape but it wont stick with everything already soaking wet. Bill Gardner (the RD) says he may have a pair in his truck, and brings back a pair of clown pants... but what they hell. The entire thing is a circus at this point and I am done without them, so I slip them on... and go!
Not sure how fast I did the first loop, but add another 30 minutes for the wardrobe malfunction and its looking like a very long day in the rain and the mud and the joy. I surprise myself by passing 5 or 6 people right away. I suppose they came in and went out while I was killing time back at the main station. I visit with a few different people but pretty much maintain a good slide, constantly moving, even if it is baby steps. I pick up my dropped jacket, hat, and gloves... just to take them back home with me. I don't need them, but I don't wish to leave them either. The mud and slick slime is even worse this time around. With a couple hundred runners in the 10 miler and then all the 50km runners in front of me on their 2nd loop, all the grassy side bars and now as slick as the main track. There are no dry places left. Its all mud now. Regardless of where I try to go, I slide down to the lowest point in the trail. After just a bit of this, I learn that I simply have to remain in the low rut which is a shallow stream of mud and debris. My lower legs were already covered in mud, but this new tact now adds mud plashes all the way up my back and chest. And oh hell yea, I am still going slow. We do pass through a few streams which I could wash off in, but it seems such a waste of time, when its all coming right back on.
The end of loop two is no more than the beginning of the final loop. I drop off my extra gear with John and he hands me a beer which goes down oh so good. Off for the final go round, it starts so well. I suspiciously think I can even run for a bit, but the mud soon destroys any thought of that. Still, I keep trying to push it and I'm quite surprised that I still have plenty of run left in my legs... if I could just plant and push off. I try this one too many times when I suddenly find myself airborne in the inverted superman position.... or maybe a flying casket... my feet level with my head, looking up at the sky. I hit the ground butt first and slide for another 10 yards before stopping. My entire back side slathered in mud, my right arm completely coated from finger tip to shoulder. What a great fall and slide. No blood, no bone, no harm! I get up and laugh at the thought of dusting myself off. If I touch anything, its gonna be mud. Mud from mud gets mud.
As slow as I'm going, I secretly revel in the thought that nobody has passed me.... until the running preacher blows right through me and disappears ahead. Oh well. I certainly have persevered through an interesting day, but speed has nothing to do with it. This one was all about bullheaded refusal to quit. I finish finally and find a nearby water-fountain with a dog faucet and wash myself off. John brings the truck around so that I can climb in and change out of the soaking wet muddy mess I've been wearing for 7 hours.
My inner leg is bloody as hell, I have the shakes with a bad cold coming on, and every muscle in my body that I use for balance is screaming in anger at what I just did. I think I needed that. I do love running in the rain. John and I go to a nearby burger joint for a cold beer and a greasy burger with fries. I think I had the start of the cold before I left Austin, but the all day wet run kicked it into high gear. I thoroughly enjoyed the run, never once hating the mud or the rain. All the hurdles that I experienced made it what it was and I do love a bit of variety. This is probably the best place and time for me to quote an old friend: Red Spicer: "Life is a headlong rush into the unknown. We can hunker down and hope nothing hits us or we can stand tall, lean into the wind and say, 'Bring it on, darlin', and don't be stingy with the jalapenos."
Life is good