You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones in George Michael style)

(Status – Solo/Uncrewed Runner)

Race Director:  Brandon Wilson

“I’m grateful for always this moment, the now, no matter what form it takes.”  Eckhart Tolle

Rubberized tanks, white castles, foaming ocean waves and teethy cruel dogs are just some of the dreams one might have in a smatter of seconds during sheer exhaustion.  Sometimes a second, fraction-to-fraction, is all one needs to find that indefinable ‘more’ to keep going.  Graveyard will take it all from you if you let her.  Better yet, one can choose to feed from her desolate folds of faded tar, sand and ever-marching telephone poles; perhaps learn a lesson or ten in the journey.

In the two weeks leading up to Graveyard, I ran twice.  For the past 8 weeks, my preoccupation lay in finishing 31 hand-sewn periwigs and judge’s robes, a disco suit and multi-colored coat (84.50 hours worth) on top of dissertation work, learning cello, and a job.  I just couldn’t find any more time to get it all done so the sacrifices went towards the run – long taper, perhaps.

The drive to Corolla, NC initially brought a steady rain that picked up along with the winds as the distance closed.  It brought back memories of last year’s event which was preceded with a hurricane-like storm that caused high winds, flooding and the news of an out-and-back course four hours into the race (the course is originally point-to-point).  This year, the weekend forecast was ideal with temps ranging from 43deg (night) to 55deg (day) with a supposed 17mph tailwind.  I packed my drop bags accordingly without the consideration of how the weather might change at the unforgiving Atlantic Outer Banks.  Upon reaching check-in at the Pier House in Kitty Hawk, I grabbed my AS 1-4 pre-packed drop bags from the trunk for the haul to come.  I was warmly greeted by co-RDs Heather Wilson and Brad, both of whom gave me and all the runners a warm welcome as we collected our numbers, AS tags (for solo’ers) and race swag.  In embracing the many friends – with a quick handshake or hug – of the ultra-family/community, the familiar sway of the Pier House was felt underfoot and for those who did not experience it in 2013, showed the same concern on their faces during the race brief as I had, last year (of falling into the sea):  innocent entertainment.

Wake-up call began at 0230 Saturday morning of the 8th.  Preps were taken care of the few nights before so all I had to do was gear up, make sure I had my carry-on fuel/hydration, eat a little something (oatmeal, coffee and eggs) and get to the Corolla Hampton Inn for van pickup to the start (I bunked at the Corolla Lighthouse Inn – highly recommended).  The race start area was already abuzz with excitement by 0400, mainly with the runners who had crew where, their cars and crew people stayed the motors to keep their runners warm not to mention a few stragglers finding temporary respite from a cold morning breeze.  Headlamps, both straight and askew, bobbed about to get checked in, and a high-energy start-line music blared; complements of Brandon Wilson (RD) and his volunteer staff as a second wake-up call if you weren’t yet all the way awake.  Just before the 0500 start time, the Star Spangled Banner played via a recording by the Charlie Daniel’s Band on fiddle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXtcQVaZ_UY) which I found apropos – almost like a sad yet beautiful mourning for what was to come.

 

Below:  Valmir Nunes, Connie Gardner, and I – prerace fun.  Connie and Valmir are both race champs of the Graveyard 100.  Both have the warmest spirit one can ask of any runner or person for that matter.  They continue to be a great inspiration for me and I am sure many others.

 

Miles 1 – 21. 4  Corolla Lighthouse at the Currituck Park start to AS1 at the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept

Dark at the start – the start and my ARS hat

 

Star-Spangled Banner on fiddle and we’re off; shadows dancing all around to the oscillating rhythm of different running forms exacerbated by shifting artificial light.  We’re like moths to some hidden need, each finding that place we look for in every long one.  For some, the goal is quite clear.  For others, we wait to experiencing what it’ll bring.   For all of us, we live in the moment.

At the start, there is a short out before we head back towards Hwy 12 and then a no-nonsense straight shot for the next 96 miles.  The day looks promising with no whipping winds and heavy rain from the night before.  It takes me a while to get warmed up and into some sense of movement unto itself so I enjoy the awkwardness of the start by listening to, and watching other runners.  The elites are already well on their way coming back towards us.  I give a yell to Valmir, Connie and a few others’ with a quick whoop response back.  Their efforts don’t go unnoticed.

A few miles in, I had the privilege of running with friend and great runner, Tim who I call T1 and is about 20 years my junior.  I met his father the night before, both very handsome, gifted, and athletic men.  Tim and I talked about a little of everything and we both found that we have an obsessive love of the show Columbo.  We got a good laugh out of that one and the miles flew by.  I eventually realized that I was going faster than I wanted to, averaging 10min/mile clips, so at some point, I told Tim I was going to walk a little.  He stayed steady and kept going as I hollered and cheered watching him pull away:  Strong runner, I thought.  Once my heart rate went back down, the plan was to run for as long as I could, stay steady and enjoy the other runners’ and views which I did.  Aid Station One came quick, I loaded up on more fuel (water, gluten-free carry-on food) etc., grabbed some extra socks and changed my socks from my drop bag, off-loaded gear I didn’t think I needed to carry (morning headlamp and outer climbing jacket).  I’d made my decision on what to do a few miles before so that nothing was guesswork when I got there.  Stop time was about 10 minutes.

Miles 21.4 – 42.4,  to AS2, the Beach House

Upon leaving AS1, I knew we were entering last year’s flood zone.  Miles of flooding and wind had a lot of runners scrambling onto the sides of the road or beach surf to escape the mess of floating two-by-fours, kid’s toys, and other unknown objects.  There was no preventing the sinking to the ankle syndrome then, but this time, we could see and run the road without hindrance.  One of the most memorable occurrences here was the sound of rough surf and ocean behind the dunes and houses.  I was curious a few times and had to take a look.  It was beautiful!

Powerful surf – last year this almost swept me away around midnight.  Not this year.

 

We were actually running on road that we could see this year

I cannot remember much about running this 21-mile clip other than staying steady and reading the many signs from the hotels and resort shops/eateries lining the roadway – several of which welcomed the Graveyard 100 runners.  I do recall thinking about counting the telephone poles as they went by – never happened.  I believe I went somewhere else beyond what was in front of me….  Here, folks were starting to spread out.  I had no major issues, no discomforts, and no complaints.  Entering AS2, I needed to change my socks.  In every drop bag, I had a change of shoes among other needs but I didn’t feel I needed to change my shoes yet.  I did take care of feet stuff as usual – popped a few blisters, pulled off a toenail, and cleaned my feet of sand/dirt.  Otherwise, all was well.  This stop took about 20 minutes.

In one word, AS2 was ‘awesome.’  Warm room, first aid table, lots of grub, FANTASTIC volunteer teams!!  Here, you can see I am actually sweating from the run despite the winds.  My feet got some TLC, to the right you can see the usual beveled needle that I always carry with me for any kind of foot care I may need along the way – drained a few here.  As an FYI, beveled needles can be used for IVs or blood-letting as well, lol.

 

 

Miles 42.4 to AS3 Rodanthe Waves Salvo Community Center mile 62.9

From the warm folds of a heated room, soft couches, cushioned seats, hot foods, cold drinks and a superstar group of volunteer-staff helping runners, each ultra-athlete eventually has to embark:  To go back to the cambered concrete or sand-laced roadways, marching telephone poles and hints of heat induced waves hovering just above the horizon in the distance mixed with wind.  My senses became alive again from the brief respite of decadent treatment at AS2; we were coming up on two bridge crossings in the short future.  Just prior to the 0500 start, Brandon announced that our course was confirmed to be a point-to-pointer hence, we were going to experience all 2.5 miles of the Bonner Bridge which spans Oregon Inlet.  Bonner Bridge gave us a ride on the cusp of Hatters’ spine and into land similarly described by Eliot’s Waste Land, only, we were toiling in the Ides of March instead of April:  Just a little bit colder, just a little bit windier.  Upon reaching Bonner Bridge, the winds shifted and from here on, we had a headwind.  Never trust the forecasts of the Atlantic.

 

If you look in the distance, you can see the Bonner Bridge highpoint

just before landing on the desolate Island of Hatteras

At the bridge apex

 

Here, we entered desert-like territory with dunes that either blocked the wind or acted as tunnels, only to funnel the winds directly into our faces and bodies.  Every so often, a car, truck or SUV would pass us, throwing air-fulls of sand into us.  I particularly recall the sting on my face and the grit in my mouth.

 

Stanza II of Eliot’s Waste Land reminded me of

Hwy 12 on and into Hatteras

 

 

 

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

T.S. Eliot

 

It was on this stretch too, that if one were coherent or observant enough, you could catch a glimpse of a shipwreck on the other side of the dunes (to the left) – mast askew in a mortal pitch, bedraggled cloth (reminded me of prayer flags) and lines blowing in the wind.  It was a sad sight just enough to allow me to ponder what happened for the next few miles – perhaps dream a few lines of some poem waiting to be written.  Memorably, this stretch provided great beauty in the surrounding environment:  sky, ocean, sun, and sand, a hint of green fields to the right, life and death all around.  It somewhat reminded me of OD100 in its own kind of allure and at one point, I couldn’t help but think that at Old Dominion, I counted rattlesnakes.  At Graveyard, it was seagulls.

 

I’m not sure where the time went from AS2 to AS3, it was nice and so much so that I almost went right past AS3 where it was hunkered on the other side of the road in the twilight of the day.  Every aid station was a requirement since we had timer chips on our ankles.  I believe it was a way to observe the status of runners as well – safety checks.

Sunset – Into the night

 

 

AS3 (mile 62.9) to AS4, the Hatteras Lighthouse Parking lot (mile 87.3)

 

AS3 to AS4 was the longest clip between aid stations (24.4miles) and any source of immediate fuel or sustainable energy-provoking fluids if you are a soloist.  It is here, I have learned, where I made the biggest mistakes of this race.  Brandon did not make the last long leg between *true* aid stations by mistake.  It is an intentional design to test one’s mental and physical skills in congruence with their on-site planning in reference to their physical needs.   I failed miserably.  I took my time at AS3, changed into warmer upper-body clothes but abandoned the idea to put my tights on which I should have done – temps were dropping, and we had a headwind at this point.  I carried them for 24.4 miles.  HUGE mistake.  At AS3, I failed to fuel up properly and did not eat anything other than a cup of hot vegetable broth, and a cup of Coke.  I still had a partial sandwich which I was carrying with me since AS2.  I was excited that I was still feeling good and I let my excitement dictate good sense.  Never again.

 

I left AS3 in good spirits, no problems, feeling strong.  Reaching mile 70, I started experiencing a certain amount of nausea and realized I had left my Tums back at AS3.  I had a feeling this was not going to turn out well but I put that out of my head and kept moving.  First bout of vomiting happened around mile 72.  What little I had left in my stomach was now on the side of the road.  After some of the heaving sensation went away, I attempted to eat my sandwich and have some water but the nausea stayed strong.  After a few minutes of convincing myself I wasn’t going to lose that energy source it all came up and this became the story for the rest of the run.  There were a few awesome crew-teams that offered food and assistance but I kindly declined because any kind of aid disqualifies a runner from being a soloist.  I didn’t come this far to lose that status.

 

With falling temps, a steady headwind and the loss of food and fluids from so much vomiting something is bound to happen.  For me, it was the compelling need and desire to lie down and go to sleep – very similar to high altitude sickness as I recall.  At about mile 80, every fire hydrant, 8 X 8 post, or stop sign, I would run to it, and either sit or lean and take a nap which consisted of a minute or two.  This is what I described in the very first paragraph of the report.  It’s downright amazing how one can dream in a matter of seconds.  In hindsight, I should’ve maybe found a safe spot on the side of the road and take a 15 or 20 minute nap (Tom Green recommends naps).  It was one of the biggest struggles and challenges I’ve had in a 100 yet:  Vomiting, staying warm, and trying to stay awake.

 

Approaching AS4, there is a skyline that the runners can see by the lights of the buildings and the Hatteras Lighthouse’s beam (where AS4 resides) every few seconds, beaconing (as in beckoning) the runners yet, seemingly getting further with each closing step – hallucination – much like trying to reach a summit in the rigors of altitude and hostile environments.  Upon entering the town, it had the feel and look of an abandoned resort with closed up shops yet, the gaudy lights of a deserted carnival.  I kept thinking Sponge Bob Square Pants.  I was calling uncle, mercy, onegii (please in Japanese) or whatever at this point, let me get to the Lighthouse and make a decision from there – pull out; keep going.  I didn’t think I had anything left and I was quickly approaching the mindset of not caring if I finished or not.  Just put me out of my misery, please.  On the winding in-out road to the Lighthouse, the tower would be on my right, then on my left.  I was becoming confused – just let me get to AS4.

 

AS4, the first thing that I did was ask for potato soup and coffee, maybe something solid to put into my sallow belly.  Just the thought of food and hydration made me sick to my stomach.  I brought the cup of soup to my mouth and felt that guttural response of wanting to disgorge anything in my stomach but at that point, the only source of food was in my mind.  The coffee went untouched as well.  I finally put my tights on, hoping to warm up just a bit to take the bite out of everything else I was experiencing:  Anything at all would be welcome – just something, gimme somethin’ man.  I made the decision to get up, just friggin’ keep going and if you drop, someone will shovel you off the side of the road.  Whatever happens, take it one step at a time.  The AS volunteers gave me a handful of ginger chews and I stuck a couple in my mouth and tried to chew them up before I could catch a hint of a scent.  I managed to take two down, praying that it’d help with the nausea.  About a mile down the road – attempting some running – and after trying to force-swallow the impending vomit back down, everything came up including the ginger.  Precious chunks of ginger and fluids wasted on the side of the road – I felt better for a few minutes.  There is less than one-half of a marathon to go and I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage that – I was in serious doubt.

 

In Ruiz’s Fifth Agreement he discusses the power of doubt.

In this, one learns the lesson of being able to be skeptical but too,

learns to listen.  He relays that “whenever you hear a message

from yourself, or from another artist, simply ask:  Is it truth,

or is it not truth? Is it reality or is it a virtual reality?

The doubt takes you behind the symbols, and makes you

responsible for every message you deliver and receive.”

I’d made my decision.  Just. Keep. Going.

 

AS4 to Home (The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum – mile 100)

 

One of the most frustrating things about this particular 100 (or probably any race for many) was, that my legs were strong the entire time.  I never had an issue with my legs.  Maybe a little bit of foot soreness at 80+ point but nothing cringe-worthy.  It was my stomach that became my downfall, my Achilles’ heel, if you will.  In the final 50K, every single time that I tried to start running , I would end up retching, puking, and dry heaving.  I was at a loss and frustrated as hell.

 

Around 6.7 miles from the finish, I was sitting on an 8 x 8 post and a fellow runner by the name of Greg Harfst came up to me and asked if was okay.  I told him yes and that I was trying to stay awake and couldn’t stop vomiting.  He asked if we could walk together and help each other stay awake, keep moving.  I told him if he could handle the vomit, I could handle his company and so we commenced our own private kind of death march.  Every mile, Greg got a complementary vomit-induced rest from me. At one point he asked me if I tried any ginger to help with it and as he was asking, I pointed to the ground where I just off-loaded and he figured it out, “there’s the ginger.”  A few more folks asked the same question as they passed us during a vomit session.  We would both point at the ground – I couldn’t talk at this point.  My throat was toast.  We both got a laugh out of that because all the ginger was on the ground and that’s what we would say.  That was our story and we were sticking to it.

 

Sometimes we as humans are conscientious about some of the things that happen or what we do in front of others’.  Greg stayed with me the entire final 10K, even with the gut-wrenching, soul-drenching sounds that came out of my mouth and body each time I had to barf.  I learned that there are sounds that can come out of my body that I had no idea could.  Greg told me he was familiar with this since he experienced it with another woman friend of his who he paced at Leadville.  Same issue, different day.  I was about to get religious that morning.

 

Closing in on the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the finish line, our path took us through a small town with winding roads that seemed never ending.  There was some small signs that kept posting, *finish straight ahead.*  At several points, Greg and I kept asking ‘how far ahead’ even though our GPSs were spot on.  The morning colors in the sky and reflections off of the water were quite scenic, exquisite, and rustically beautiful and I found my attention constantly being drawn to such.  About 2 miles from the finish, a couple of raggedy guys in a raggedy car (both looking like they came from the 70s) came up to us and said we had about a half-mile to go (encouragingly).  We could see the blood vessels in their eyes and smelled the alcohol on their breaths and someone made the sarcastic comment, “someone had fun last night.”  Some more great laughs despite the sore stomach muscles from the standup vomit crunches….yeeehaw!!!  J

 

We finally saw the museum, chute cones, tent, and timer with the blood red numbers digitizing away.  Best of all, we saw Brandon standing there with a gorgeous oceanic background cheering us on with the coveted soloist two-toned buckle in hand.  I grabbed Greg’s hand and I said, “we’re going to run across that finish line, throw up and all, hell AND high water”  and Greg moaned, “Oooh noo, I wasn’t expecting this at all.”  We ran across the finish line together, hand-in-hand and smiling.  The first thing I said to Brandon was, “That was tough.”  Next thing I told him was that I wanted to take one of those *finish straight ahead* signs and wrap it around his neck and head.  No kidding.  Brandon likes that kind of stuff – loves to see the spirit of the sufferer getting through.  Good man, a fellow sailor.

 

Third thought.  I hope to get it right next year.

 

On the left is the Graveyard coaster set given to

2Xs finishers, the right sits the two-toned buckle

that Brandon told me, was “hellashish” to get made

(not many manufacturers will make a two-toner)

 

Once again, I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to Brandon Wilson, his family and the entire RacENC Team for putting on a spectacular event.  I look forward to the many future races that you all put on not just because of the tough events but too, you are considered family to me.  Cheers, cheers!!!!!

 

I would also like to thank the Annapolis Running Shop for allowing me to take the time to pursue my dreams.  You all are the BEST team ever!!!

 

Paula

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