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Running On Empty

May
17
2006

I will admit that I am probably the last person on the planet who should write about running. When people talk of running I purposely don’t say anything because I don’t want to get That Look.
That Look says, “How can someone with an Oompah Loompah body like yours possibly know about running?”
The fact is the Shenandoah Valley has over the years become The Place to Be for ultra-marathon runners. The Massanutten Mountain Trails 100-miler, the Old Dominion 50/100 Mile Memorial Run and the Annual Old Dominion Endurance Run are all run locally within a few weeks in the spring. Ultra-marathons are run for 100 miles on a combination of mountain trails and back roads over the course of 24 to 30 hours, depending on the race.
And that would be the extent of my knowledge had Dirtman not worked as a sports stringer for our local newspaper for several years. He went from covering the events to volunteering his whole family to run one of the checkpoints along the course.
Now, truly, I understand the reason why people take up certain sports. Everyone has a hobby of sorts. And since Heir 2 is on his school’s track and cross country team, I understand that some people are the competitive type who actually enjoy running several miles, even if that pained expression on the face of every runner I’ve ever seen looks more like they’re passing a kidney stone than enjoying the exertion.


I also have a brother who is a runner. He’s run marathons, which are 26.2 miles, and once completed a 50-miler. It would never occur to him to run four marathons in a day because he was never dropped on his head as a baby as far as I know.
I just don’t get the running mind set. A college friend of mine who ran talked about “running through the wall,” the wall being the point where he had to pause briefly to vomit or cough up blood.
Alarmed, I consulted my brother who assured me, “When you’re coughing up blood is when it gets good.”
Huh? Isn’t coughing up blood what all the dying heroines do? Mimi in La Boheme (and, therefore, Rent), Camille in La Traviata (and, therefore, Camille), Satine in Moulin Rouge, all coughing up blood. It takes them awhile, during which they are very vocal, but they do eventually die.
Apparently, though, nausea and coughing up blood are sought after by a lot of people in the running world because that about the extent of what everyone was doing whenever they ran through our checkpoint.
Since we also provided water, snacks and a place to rest, runners usually had their crew meet them at our location and tend to their injuries and needs. This was fine with us because, frankly, ultra-marathon runners are not particularly attractive when they are doing what they do. Actually that’s an understatement. They are disgusting. And it’s not just the sweat or the spit or the blood. They tell us you just aren’t trying hard enough if you don’t lose toenails from jamming your feet against the rocks on the mountain trail portion of the race. There are the strange muscular injuries causing legs to look deformed. There is the vomiting in the woods and the raw abrasions in places you’d rather not think about.
Did I mention they pay entry fees to do this, not to mention airfare and lodging? Heck, for free they can walk out in front of an 18-wheeler on the interstate and get the same effect.
Actually, for the most part, 100-milers are quite normal. But as with any group, there are the extremist who make the intelligence of the entire group suspect. There was the crew who stormed into the rest tent, carrying their runner who was covered in blood. They surrounded him on the cot, shouting commands like an ER team on a TV hospital show. Just as I was about to take off to get the doctor who was running the next checkpoint, the crew dragged their runner back out onto the course and shoved him along, still bleeding and looking a trifle dazed.
One particular genius first came to our check point doubled over with abdominal cramps. We suggested she stop, which she wouldn’t. So we told her to mention this to the doctor at the next station, but we heard she’d continued on with the race. A little later the doctor came by to check on us (it was very hot that day) and mentioned that he had pulled the cramped lady from the race, seeing as she had just had a hysterectomy the week before.
From the viewpoint of someone like me who believes that if I stand up and pace the kitchen while I eat a cannoli I’m “working it off,” such behavior is inconceivable. I get a hangnail I figure I’m justified in taking the day off to rest my hand beached on the couch while watching Merchant/Ivory films. Run after a hysterectomy? Surgery like that deserves an afternoon nap and dinner out every day for a few months.
So perhaps I’m not the best person to judge the sanity of ultra-marathon runners. And I suppose one might question my own decision to, say, consider hauling the Heir’s laundry to the washer a daily exercise program or to use light cream instead of heavy cream in the Alfredo a “sensible eating program.”
But at least I’m not coughing up blood.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 10:20 AM | Permalink

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