September 9, 2011

The Trail Head

At some point, you realize you really ought to be afraid. By any conventional metric, what you are about to attempt is foolish, at least - and probably dangerous too. And yet you're smiling, excited. The adrenaline prefaces the endorphins, and you can't help but wonder if this is all some chemical mask. Perhaps your body is hiding the fear behind this veil of ecstasy. Perhaps this is the sensation of shock, blocking the pain before it has a chance to set in.

Maybe all of that is true. But maybe those conventional metrics are only good for measuring conventional things. Maybe the measures are faulty, and maybe the conventions are too.

I walked towards the picnic shelter, a humble wood awning overlooking dense brush, and lower, Clinton Lake's North Shore. People milled about, which was almost surprising. These were ultrarunners, a species of pseudo-humans, endurance creatures bred from whipcord and bone. Or so the perception is. The reality, as it turns out, looks very much like the average. The visible fitness was unremarkable. There was beer, burgers, and pasta, consumed in fairly typical picnic quantities.

Peel back that vainer, however, and realize that there are two kinds of veggie burgers present: One is vegan, the other is not. The beer is darker, heartier, and from obscure brands. There are no sandals or hiking boots, only running shoes, flat things built for slicing through dirt and rock. And the shirts do not proclaim allegiance to any sports team, but rather names and dates of races and distances past. People are eating quinoa salad, whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce, discussing veganism and lycopene and midfoot striking.

But they are talking, to each other and to me. I brought cold press coffee, of which no one is partaking. That's because they're all getting up at 5:00 AM to race 100 miles. The coffee might be appreciated then. And that, in case you're wondering, is the crazy part. That's what sets this dinner party apart from the 30 or so others, this huddled mass of cloaked cardiovascular godhood.

I'm the barista for this event, insofar as I brought the coffee. It's what I do. It's what people have come to expect of me. I'm not racing, however. But the dramatic prelude isn't a facade - I am running. How far, I don't know. Nor am I really sure how fast. But it will be 23 miles, at least, of moderate jogging, at least, on rocks and roots and slippery dirt. At least. It's called pacing, or circuiting, both of which make the endeavor sound nearly effortless. It's not.

This is the part where, once again, I realize the degree of effort involved in said task. I know what it takes; and I know that it takes a lot. I know a lot of things, but mostly, I don't know much. Trail running is like that. Things happen. Bad things, good things, glorious things. I'm banking on the latter. In case of the former, I did bring those two bottles of sweet black release.

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