Beast of Burden Winter - 2012

“That was fucking miserable!”

Those were the first words out of my mouth after I crossed the finish line of the 2012 Winter Beast of Burden. The race director was waiting there with my buckle and I blurted it out at him. I do hope I didn’t offend. One of the individuals waiting alongside him raised her hands and said “I’m glad someone finally said it!”

I described the race in nauseating detail twice before, because I’ve DNF’ed it twice before. Not much has changed, same fantastic aid, same family feel, same great meatballs the night before. The race has changed hands but it was pretty imperceptible.

What was different, was how low the low got for me in this race. Or maybe I just forget how horrible doing these stupid things feel in between events. Either way, it was miserable. There were so few moments in this race where I was able to take a breath and enjoy the scenery. Maybe I’ve been up and down that towpath in pain too many times. I spent 90% of the race alone and the course was empty after the 50 milers were done. I did get to talk to some old friends here and there, but mostly in passing.

One of the things that had the biggest impact on my mentality was how long the night felt. I should have taken in caffeine earlier I think. It was dark at the end of only our second lap. Darkness before 50 miles is the suck. Around mile 80 I began a weird stumble routine. I’d be running perfectly straight and my eyes would drift shut and be hard to get back open. A few seconds later I’d force them open and notice I had drifted off the path. Thankfully I didn’t stumble into the canal. Once or twice I knelt on the path and leaned forward on my knuckles. Pretty sure I got in a minute or two of sleep this way. At one point I couldn’t tell which physical state I was in and just remembered the sound of my breathing, like someone snoring through their teeth in an old cartoon.

I thought of conversations I had earlier in the week about dying to the elements. I overconfidently said that my mind state is usually solid, comparing it to how clearly I can think when I’m drunk. When I drink it’s almost like the world gets fuzzier and fuzzier while my mind stays in an insulated later. If anything it always helps me focus better, but it’s harder for those ideas to get out. Anyway. As I passed by benches in the tow path I actually, very briefly, floated the idea of sitting down on one and closing my eyes. I knew it was a horrible and dangerous idea but in retrospect I see how people in bad situations might succumb to the elements. It wouldn’t have taken long out in the open like that for my core temperature to drop. Who knows if my body would have woken me up for it, or I would have slipped into a hypothermic coma.

When I got to the next aid station I took some hot chocolate which helped. They also informed me it was about 6 AM and the sun would come up soon. Sure enough as the sky filled with light the sleepiness started to fade. It was electric how the energy given off from the sun, after traveling thousands of miles through space, hit my skin and eyes and influenced the creation of proteins that woke me back up.

I had purposefully saved a few vices at the various mile markers. I wore my 110s until mile 50 at which point I was able to change my shoes and socks into the cushy pair of hokas. My feet would stay toasty and dry the rest of the race. The height on the hokas had a lot to do with that I think. At Mile 75 I donned a buff that I had previously given to my girlfriend. It smelled faintly of her shampoo and perfumes which was a hugely uplifting factor. Mile 87.5 was at the final turn around and I picked up my MP3 player.

The last 12.5 miles I was able to move pretty quickly. Music is an insane motivational force in all my races, at least for a short while. The angry strums of Trent’s guitar matched every pained step. Just those first few notes in “Somewhat Damaged” flood my body with adrenaline. The resulting emotion is a mix of being angry that I’m going so slow, frustrated with my weakness, desperate to just be done with the race. It’s so strong I choke up. I grunt and curse. In the last 2-3 miles I passed two people at a good click. As I passed the area of the canal directly across from the finish line I could hear people shouting over to me. I showboated a bit and cranked out the last few miles as hard as I could. It felt like a 7 minute mile but it was probably a 9 minute mile in reality.

This is the latest into a race I’ve ever tried music as I believe it’s best saved so that I can finish before the adrenaline dulls and I come to a screeching halt. I might be able to utilize it a little earlier in future races as I finished this one with a bit left in the tank. I have to work on staying that motivated through the race as well.

The path itself had a little bit of snow on it that packed into a nice single track after the first few passes through it. As soon as night fell I’d find myself zoning out and forgetting that people moving in both directions were using the same worn single track. Near collisions abounded. I did my best to get the fuck out of the way for people but I think when others were feeling pretty low they didn’t feel like getting out of the single track. Even on the smoothish single track my ankles bounced around on the packed snow. The hokas did help immensely with this. I felt like a suburban soccer mom in a newly acquired Ford Explorer, crashing through the snow and possibly parked cars.

Physical performance wise, it was a solid meh. I am super happy I completed it and revenged a DNF. The experience I’ve gained at this distance is going to translate into a better success rate, and maybe, possibly better finish times in the future. I feel like 24 hours is about my “base” time for a 100 miler right now and it hasn’t changed much in two years. My first attempt two Augusts ago I hit 75 miles in 17:15, not much different from what I did this weekend. I think my winter attempt in 2012 saw my 75 mile time in the 16s. Moral of the story, I may change up my training plan a bit.

The schwag continued its tradition of being pretty top notch. We got cool long sleeve tech T’s, a imitation buff with the BoB logo on it, some socks, and a jar of peanut butter....?

1 month till the trip to the dirty south. I don’t know how much to actually train before then, or what I should even do. I do know that Double Top is something like 18k feet of gain over the course.

I didn’t take a whole lot from this race. In talking with a running buddy who did the race as well we felt like we drove out to Lockport, something horrible happened to us that we can’t really remember, and we went home. Whenever I think of this race I will recall the cold, and being so far from the finish. A long, long, empty path along the canal on a dark and cloudy night. The full moon well hidden and no stars to guide me. A vague memory of battling discomfort. I think my mind is repressing it already.

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