September 13, 2011

Instant Gratification

There is a point at which the quality of coffee consumed is outweighed by the mere presence of the stuff. This correlates nicely, which is to say that the more arduous the circumstance, the worse coffee you'll find palatable.

It is with that preface that I must admit to consuming Trader Joe's instant coffee this Saturday night. Furthermore, I must confess that, in the moment, it was as satisfying as the finest Yirgacheffe. If you feel inclined to revoke whatever card I carry for my coffee elitism, now would be the time to do it. I couldn't argue, really. I drank instant coffee, knowingly and willingly, without the slightest bit of coercion. And I liked it.

But there are circumstances.

Well, sure. But there are always circumstances. What sort of circumstances justify such a travesty?

See the previous post, for starters. If you can't penetrate the overly-verbose prose, or simply don't care much for my frequent running-related diatribes, this is basically the gist: There was a 100-mile ultramarathon. I signed on to help, and in so doing, ended up logging about 40 miles myself on Saturday. (As an aside, I should note that this isn't bragging. I don't think I'm any kind of remarkable athlete. Rather, I think everyone is capable of more than they think, and that you can teach yourself to keep picking your feet up. But I digress.)

The scene, then, was the same picnic shelter mentioned previously, stocked with various kinds of salt, starch, and sweets. In short, there was endurance fuel aplenty, save for caffeine, my favorite kind. I had brought to bottles of cold press, which had been used to prepare the morning's hot coffee. But morning, for everyone there, was between 4:30 and 5:30. Thus it went quickly - and with plenty of thanks to the provider of it, I might add.

It was, as I returned from my last lap of the evening, about 8 PM. Calories were the first priority, which I consumed easily enough. After choking down several handfuls of pretzels, a bagel, and two cups of tomato sauced pasta, my appetite felt somewhat sated. At least, my stomach volume had mostly been filled, which required a stop to eating, lest I lose the food I'd just consumed.

Still, I felt a bit off. Granted, one might expect to feel a bit off, after spending 8-10 hours running over technical trail. But this was not an "off" born of exertion, but rather deprivation. Simply, it had been far too long - and with far too little sleep - since I had last consumed coffee. A reasonable man might have gone to bed. A reasonable man might also not attend ultras, and offer to do "whatever needs done". So no, I would not be going to sleep for some time yet. There was, perhaps, more to do. At the very least, there were other volunteers to entertain with my witty banter.

Thus, we finally wind back around to the start. The only coffee left available was Trader Joe's instant. I dosed it, or rather, I poured it until it covered the bottom of the cup. This seemed appropriate, to my glucose-starved mind. There was just-off-the-boil water, which I poured to the cup's rim. I sniffed. It seemed flat, a little like acrid smoke.

Then I sipped, and sipped a bit more, then gulped. Then, it was perfect, because it was there. The caffeine and the residual endorphins made fast friends, danced a stimulatory tango and resigned fatigue to the periphery. I stood, paced, grabbed more pretzels, then considered going back out. I decided that another cup would be necessary, consumed it, then decided that my regained energy would be better spent regaling the other lagging volunteers with information about quinoa's amino acid profile and the sole of my running shoes.

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