Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Devil's Cadillac

I'm convinced that the devil drives a Cadillac. It's the class vehicle one gets with great power and wealth, large and fuel inefficient. It's probably got a bunch of red, because that color is usually associated with the devil, and smells like cigars.
When I was running the 50k out in the Elkhorns last August, I might have considered a ride in the devil's Cadillac. I'd just gotten back to the aid station at the top of a figure eight, and had plenty of miles of painful downhill ahead. My toenails were in the process of coming off. My shoes had given out ten miles ago, and the heel was falling apart. My socks did little to comfort the blisters that were forming, and were a wet, soppy, mess. For better or worse, the devil's Cadillac might have an impressive speed on the Autobahn, but is completely incapable of getting around the Elkhorns. So, regardless of what I wanted to do, I had no choice to continue onward, regardless of the consequences.
The main thing that separates the runners who finish events like the Elkhorn 50k from everyone else is a refusal to quit. It is technically possible to quit the race, and have a staff carry one out. I suppose, if one should actually get seriously injured, a helicopter can always take one the ten or so miles back to Helena, as the crow flies. Yet, despite all manner of aches and pains, the consequences for quitting are severe. Thus, as I constantly remind myself, I've nothing better to do, and continue onward.
During the Fat Ass 50k, I became confronted with the same dilemma. I'd ran too hard at the start, took too much time at the aid station at the power station getting my water pack unfrozen, and fallen behind the main pack of runners. I'd run into a friend, Lisa, and asked for the one that would get me through the race, a perfectly acceptable cup of hot chocolate. I knew that I'd be walking up Lump Gulch and Travis Creek, until I got to Brooklyn Bridge. So, I'd been going at a steady uphill slog for two hours, with nothing but Bruce Springsteen to accompany me on the iPod. Yet, after cresting Brooklyn Bridge, I knew I had another seven hard miles down Grizzly Gulch.
My temptation came when I ran back into my friend, who, I must admit, I'd completely forgotten about. She was helping another runner who got injured, and so I walked with them awhile, trying to get my legs warmed up again.
She had two great temptations. The first was the hot chocolate I'd requested two hours ago. The combination of warmth and sugar filled me with unimaginable energy. At that point, I'd spent over four hours in temperatures ranging from -5 degrees Fahrenheit to a balmy +5 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd have to fight to get clothing back on, as it would freeze whenever I needed to remove it at aid stations, or to get at the semi-thawed water pack. But, all of a sudden, everything just felt better.
Second, she offered me a ride back to Helena, instant transportation in a more humble vehicle back to the safety and comfort of the indoors. Yet, I knew I couldn't take it. I was not injured. I'd followed my running plan well enough, and had plenty of strength to get back down Grizzly Gulch and to the finish line. And, most importantly, I'd no reason not to accomplish what I'd set out to do that morning.
Fifty kilometers seems a long way. But, the secret to success is to keep going, and not quit.

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