“Trailmix: What Doesn’t Choke Me Makes Me Stronger”
For the last five or six years, I’ve run a spring race that’s held in a nature reserve outside of Minneapolis. When registering for this race, which is called The Trailmix, there are three options:
- I could run the 50K solo race (translation: 31 miles, all on my own screaming feet). But since I often feel as though I’m going to expire just from carrying a basket of laundry up from the basement or heading into the kitchen for another snickerdoodle, I’m pretty sure I’d be dead by Mile 12, and I would like for my children to know their mother. So that’s out.
- Or I could run the much-more reasonable 25K solo event, which would have me out shuffling 15.5 miles on muddy trails for, oh, let’s say, five hours or so. Here’s the thing, though: I need to eat sometimes, and if I were out there, frolicking with the spring peepers for such a long period of time, I would need some serious sustenance–none of that Gatorade or little cookie business they have at the aid tables, either. I would need a catering van to meet me mid-course and lay out a spread of corn puffs and brisket and scones and espresso panna cotta if I were to have any chance of getting through the rest of the mileage. After ingesting such a fine meal, however, I’m pretty sure I’d head back out onto the trail and need to hurl it all up the moment I ascended the first hill. And, frankly, paying for a catered meal only to vomit it up shortly thereafter sounds way too much like being a 21-year-old bride at a wedding where Kool and the Gang covers are played during the reception.
- So I have always opted for the third choice in this race: the 50K team event. Under this option, four of us break up the 50K distance, which means that we each run 7.75 miles. This distance is still long enough that I take walking breaks, especially when the course snakes up the back of a downhill ski hill (and then we all get to careen down the front of the thing, like out-of-control Hot Wheels cars, on the other side). And sometimes, when it’s really slippery, and I’ve just stumbled for the 50th time in three minutes, along with realizing I’m just about the last person out of 400 runners still remaining on the course, I cry a little.
But my tears are all part of the fun, I’m sure. Indeed, good weep generally spices up my day and breaks up those endless “hours of contentment.”
Mostly, I do this race because it’s a chance to be on a running team, and Paula Radcliffe only knows when I’d ever get to be on such a thing otherwise. My lot in life, historically, is to be the kind of person who is drafted for a Trivia Night at the Bar team, where I slam a beer and ring the bell simultaneously, shouting out, “Wink Martindale!” Thus, it’s a rare thrill for me to be part of any team that taps into my physicality rather than my some-would-say-“useless” knowledge of gameshow hosts, film directors, and Reese Witherspoon’s love life.
Unlike at Trivia Night, the first requirement of my Trailmix teammates is that they have to enjoy losing.
Okay, I put that wrong. Rather, let’s just say they shouldn’t be competitive for, rest assured, our team is going to place about 42nd out of 60 teams. Or maybe 59th. In fact, with me as Team Captain and literal anchor, I hold my team’s standing to the back of the pack; my sluggish form keeping me at well over a ten-minute mile, I’ve even approached race directors and offered to be a “sweeper”–the person who takes the flagging down off the course and who, encountering injured strays upon the race course, helps them hobble to the ambulance at the finish line. I did this once for a little kitty I found on the path, and he licked my face repeatedly with his sandpaper tongue before the nice paramedics strapped him to a stretcher. I’ll never forget his woebegone little face peering out at me from the back of the ambulance as they drove him away.
At any rate, I’m a slow runner, and I don’t care a whit. Many of the students in my English classes are poor writers, but I don’t begrudge them their efforts. It’s okay to participate enthusiastically in something you’re not inherently good at and not to measure yourself against others but instead against your own possibility. For my students, this sometimes means using a comma correctly (I give them a big “Woo-hoo” and ring my Trivia Night bell when that happens). For me, with running, it means covering almost-8 miles on trails with a grin on my face.
All runners at the Trailmix start at the same time, and then teammates’ final times are all added together to arrive at the team’s total time. My goal, one day, is to find teammates who are both swift and humble, who would be willing to engage in this proposition: I would like their three times to equal my one time. Maybe they each could run the course in 45 minutes, and then I could finish in 2 hrs, 15 minutes. For no good reason and with no real purpose, that plan still has an intriguing elegance to it.
Interestingly, though, my efforts at this past Saturday’s Trailmix overthrew tradition. Having felt quite certain that I was ready for little more than a leisurely jog up and down the hills of the reserve, viewing the race as, really, just another chance to save a kitty, I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself possessed of the Eye of the Tiger.
See, at the starting line, I took a notion: instead of starting out really slow and then slowing down, mile by mile, I might try starting out with a bit more exertion and then slowing down mile by mile. My eyes got a little buggy, then, when, two miles into the race, I wasn’t having the solitary run I’m used to; in fact, I was still in the middle of a pack of people (they were all clacking to each other so loudly that any plaintive mewings in the woods would have gone unheard; fortunately, they rather toned it down after I bellered, “SHUT UP, FELLOW RUNNERS, ALL OF Y’ALL. SOMEWHERE OUT HERE, THERE MAY BE WOUNDED FELINES WHO NEED MY HELP. HOW WILL WE EVER HEAR THE CRIES OF DISTRESS IF YOU INSIST ON THIS RELENTLESS BLABBING TO YOUR FRIEND ABOUT THE NEW TIRES ON YOUR CAR?”).
And then, mile after mile, despite the mutters swirling around me about “watch out for the crazy lady,” I just felt good. The course was relatively dry, there was good cloudcover to protect my Southern Belle skin from burn, and the kitties had all stayed home. Stress free, I was having a fine ole toodle. The fact that I’d also selected a “rabbit” to follow, a determined woman who chugged along in her snazzy little green sports bra, helped, as well.
There she is.
Whoops, there she goes. Better ramp it up and dog her heels. Slow down, Cinderella! What is it, midnight, and your carriage is about to revert to a pumpkin? Rein it in, princess.
At one point, Rabbit Lady took off, out of my sight, and I feared I’d lost her for the duration. But then, in the last mile, there she was again, taunting me with her sweaty greenery.
The Rabbit firmly back in my sights and plenty of steam still in my engine, I plucked her off efficiently and made for the finish line, grinning at the cheers of my family and teammates (yea, of course they’d all finished already, but they hadn’t had time to change clothes, exfoliate, do some coupon-clipping, and have a roast beef sandwich before my finish, as has been the case in the past).
And when I looked at my time on the clock, I just about had to grab my cell phone and dial up Paula Radcliffe right there and then, to holler joyfully to her: “Paula, Paula, sweetmeat, I beat last year’s time by 20 minutes. Do you hear me? 20-friggin’-minutes! That’s beyond outrageous! I am fleet; I am zippy; I am a veritable winged sprite!”
But then I remembered I don’t own a cell phone and that Paula changed her number after my last call anyhow.
So, instead, I just hummed a few bars from a little-known song called “Jocelyn Rules All Things and Saves the Kitties” and jigged over to the t-shirt table.