Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tunnel Hill 100 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Suck

Last Sunday, I did this to my ankle. Yes, it hurt.

This was a week before I was supposed to run Tunnel Hill. My shot at redemption, so to speak, after DNFing at Bryce earlier in the year. I wanted a belt buckle for finishing the 100 mile distance. I wanted to be able to wear it with pride. It's really the only physical possession I'd wanted for over a year. My life, somehow, felt empty without one - this object that I'd never had but I felt I needed. "Well, I guess I'll be 0-for-2," I thought. Through a bit of good luck and some aggressive rehabilitation in the next five days, my ankle healed up enough for me to drive up to Vienna, Illinois, and toe the line. "At worst," I thought, "I don't finish the race." Although that was never really an option for me. My sister, Jessica, originally had tentative plans to come down from Michigan to meet me here but it just didn't work out with her schedule so I went (mostly) solo.

I woke up at 4am on Saturday morning at the scenic Super 8 motel in nearby Anna, Illinois. I got a full 8 hours of sleep which is unusual for me because I usually don't get 8 hours of sleep anywhere, let alone the night before a race. I went to the bathroom several times, put on my kit (including my Dumbasses with Shoes shirt -- cotton ones available now for $15), and double checked my drop bags.

I made my way to the starting line and met up with Steve "The Dude" Novicki, Erin, Theresa, Michelle, and Ramon. I had met a few of these guys at races previously and they all know my sister so I just kind of tagged along with them for a bit. The Dude was racing the hundo as well so we sort of informally agreed to stick together for as long as we could. Here we are at the starting line full of hope and promise but before the day turned into a sufferfest... much like the first Chronicles of Narnia movie!

Look at how big my feet look! Life is hard when you're a hobbit. "Oh, let's send you on this dumbass quest and give you really unwieldy feet with which to do it! You think the wide base is going to give you a competitive advantage? You're about to find out you're a total idiot. Not a partial one. A total one." That's two high-fantasy references in the last two paragraphs. Don't worry, Sue still thinks I'm wonderful and lovable.

The Dude and I stuck together for the first 25 miles. It went really well. We met up with his crew a number of times. They kept jamming things in my mouth which normally I am NOT into but these were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so I was FOR SURE into it. Off we went for our second 25 miles. A few miles in, I noticed that The Dude and I were at different paces and we decided to split up for the time being. I rolled into the aid station at mile 36 and his crew which I had been utilizing until then asked "Where's Steve?" I told them "Uh... that way?" as I pointed back down the trail and then reassured them that I wasn't a total turd and that he told me to go run my own race. Here's a picture of me and The Dude still having fun.

I got back to the start/finish line at mile 50 in just a little over 12 hours. My feet felt pretty rough at this point in time, so off came the shoes and out came the blister kit. I can almost safely say that I will not be the cause of a blood zombie lycan outbreak thingy in Southern Illinois as a result of my amateur attempts of trying to fix my feet in the dark by myself. I put my socks and shoes back on and thought, "I've got 18 hours to finish this thing... That's like two 9-hour marathons! I can totally do this!"

I went out for my third 25 mile stretch. It had been dark for a little over two hours by now. All I heard were the crushing of leaves under my feet, the grinding of limestone rocks under those leaves, and the occasional owl. It was cold. It was dark. It got depressing. Real depressing. Like listening-to-an-Evanescence-record-album-in-your-room-by-yourself depressing. Or like Kelly-dumps-Zack-before-the-prom-for-the-college-guy-Jeff depressing. I saw the reflection of several deers' eyes in the woods and had to convince myself that there aren't mountain lions in Illinois (there aren't). I thought I saw a giant once but it turned out it was a STOP sign. I saw a woman named Mel wander off into the woods for a bit. How do I know her name was Mel? Because her pacers let her go off for a few seconds, laughed, and then asked "Hey, Mel. What are you doing in the woods? Why don'tcha come back to the trail?" I listen. I'm attentive. I'm Grade-A boyfriend material.

I got back to the start/finish line with exactly 10 hours left on the clock. "Dude! I can totally run a 10 hour marathon!" That's like two and a half miles per hour! That's the slow speed setting on a Power Wheels car!" How do I know that? Again... I am FULL of useless information. My right leg had started to really hurt by this point in time. A combination of the sprained ankle and my knee compensating for it by changing my stride really started to hurt. I slid my knee compression sleeve on and made the decision that while this may help me for the rest of the race, it's really going to hurt for the next few days afterwards... but that's a problem for Future Peanut. Off I hiked into hour number nine of total darkness with nothing but my headlamp, some food, and my dulcet voice singing "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music. Listen. I know I'm weird.

On I trudged up Tunnel Hill one last time. I kept waiting for the sun to rise: every aid station, every mile, every tree, every step. I knew that if I could just get to daylight, I was going to finish this thing. My right leg was angry with me. I passed through the Tunnel at mile 86. I knew I only had to go two more miles before the turn around to head home. I finished walking the hill and got to the turn-around.

Mile 90. The sun was rising behind the overcast skies. I wasn't afraid of STOP sign giants any longer and Mel probably wouldn't be making her way into the woods anymore that day. Back down the hill I went. My right leg was screaming at me. I asked a volunteer at an aid station if I was allowed to pick up a walking stick from the side of the trail (I'll be damned if I was going to get disqualified this late into the race). She told me that, yes, hiking sticks and trekking poles were legal. I picked one up and continued my tromp. I felt the dreaded Cutoff Monster catching up to me with each step. "Step" - that's a generous word to use at this point in the race. I started frantically checking my watch every ten minutes. I puked three times -- all the same concoction of Gu gels, bananas, and soup. I hurt.

Mile 97.2. I was off the hill at the last aid station. The volunteer there said "We don't have much left." I'm not sure if she meant food or time but I didn't care. I just forced a half smile, gave her a wave, and a breathy "Thank you" as I plodded on. "I'm three miles from home," I said to myself. Those same leaves crunching under my feet. Those same limestone rocks grinding beneath those leaves. Those same deer were still out there somewhere, too. I was getting passed by competitors who had run a much smarter race than I did. I didn't care. I just wanted to finish.

I came across the last bend. For the first time since the afternoon before, the clouds parted just a bit and I could see just a few rays of sunshine streaming down on the Illinois farmland around me. I could see the clock counting up. I could hear the 50 or so people at the finish line start cheering for me. I threw away my hiking stick which had served me well for the past several hours and genuinely thanked it for its service. I was going to finish. 28:54:47. 28:54:48. 28:54:49. 28:54:50. 28:54:51. 28:54:52. And, just like that, in a completely random and non-descript time, I was done. No one is going to write any articles about me. Eric Schranz isn't going to call me up and invite me to be on UltraRunner Podcast (especially with Camille Herron's performance at the same race to talk about). I might get my name printed in my high school alumni newsletter. But that's about it. Not too many people really care about this niche sport. And I kind of like it that way.

I stood there in a daze for a second. Someone asked me if I wanted to sit down. I did. Someone else asked me if I wanted a beer. I definitely did. Then, a woman came up to me and said "What size finisher's jacket do you want? Oh... and also, here's your belt buckle." I had completely forgotten about it! This thing I thought I had wanted for so long had completely slipped my mind.

I cheered on the 24 people who finished behind me. There were more than a few teary eyes as these last runners crossed. There was no great awards ceremony. No real fanfare other than this growing contingent of cheerleaders waiting at this finish line in a small park in Southern Illinois rooting louder and louder for total strangers as they crossed the line. No camera crews - a couple of people had their phones out to record their friends or loved ones finishing. Just high fives and mutual respect.

Twenty-eight hours, fifty-four minutes, fifty-two seconds. The soreness still lingers three days later. My right leg feels better but not yet good enough to run on. I still don't think I've realized what this means to me. I get glimpses of it every once in a while - like someone walking behind you and slapping the back of your head - but it hasn't really sunk in yet.

I believe not everyone can do this. And I believe that anyone can do this.

I would like to thank several people for their assistance and belief in me. I'd write out the reasons why but I don't think I need to.
Sue Black, Jessica Bohn, Daniel Larkin, Newton Dominey, Andy Smith, Steve Novicki, Theresa Flores-Novicki, Michelle Soltys-Cox, Ramon Hernandez, Erinn Sullivan Hadley, Mom, Dad, Eric Bohn (yes, believe it or not!), Matt Melanson, Aaron Benson, Steve Durbin, and (of course) Pippin.

[Tags: Tunnel Hill 100, Tunnel Hill, Tunnel Hill Race Report, Race Report, Ultramarathon]

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Rope Lights, Eddie Vedder, and Why I'm bad (to occasionally mediocre) on dates

Nashville Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher recently introduced an ordinance to ban rope lights on several streets in Nashville. I wrote her an email today. Here it is.
Councilwoman Vercher,

I am writing this email to let you know that I disagree with your recent proposal to ban rope lights. This is stupid idea and debating it right now is a waste of time and money.

I'm curious if you have any factual data that supports your claims that rope lights are dangerous. [I googled it and *SPOILER ALERT* I came up with nothing.] I have some in my house and they are both awesome and safe. I've got a string that lead down the steps from my kitchen and into the garage. The number of times they've kept me from falling down because I'm able to see has got to be at least 3 or 4. Maybe even higher than that. Also, my mom came to town to visit me once and said that they were "nice" and "they really helped her see". So, that's two people that they've helped be safe and not, you know, that thing you claim. Also, I have them in my music room. They really add to the vibe when I'm playing along to Pearl Jam records from the mid-90s. I can't definitively say though that they've helped me with the ladies. "Oh, you've got 50 feet of rope lights in your music room? Maybe we should go get a beer sometime and then you can try to kiss me at the end of night (Is it a date? It's kind of a date. Sort of. Who knows). But I'll just turn my head to the side and you can kiss me on the cheek and I'll smile awkwardly as I get into my Honda Accord and drive home and then never return your texts." she'll say. I don't know how to properly punctuate that. Can you put parenthetical expressions in a quote? Sure. I just did. But look! Another issue of rope lights helping people be safe. Think of all those women who HAVEN'T gone out with me because of the rope lights in my music room. I've saved a proverbial ton of women from an awkward evening and myself a lot of heartache. Safety everywhere!

Why is your proposed rope light ban only for Arterial and Collector streets? I had to look up what both of those things meant but I don't understand how the street size makes a difference. I mean, it's not a good street related rule like you shouldn't drive 100 miles per hour down Nolensville Pike. That one makes sense. An anti-rope light rule on Nolensville Pike doesn't make any sense. There are some really solid liquor stores who have signs that are illuminate by rope lights on that road. How would I know where they are otherwise? I probably won't. And that's a bummer because I really like beer. Are you trying to deprive me of beer? That's not very nice of you. First women won't go out with me because of the rope lights in my Eddie Vedder shrine room so I have to go buy beer by myself and drink it at home. Except now I won't be able to do that because I won't know where the awesome liquor stores are because you're trying to make them take down the rope lights. This just keeps getting worse and worse for me.

But wait! There's more!

Why does this ordinance (according to the story I read on Fox 17 today) not affect downtown Nashville? Don't you think those rope lights would be more of a distraction to the bachelorette parties and drunk Chicago Blackhawks fans who are "just here to have a good time, bro!" when they're driving down the wrong way on a one way street again while they're looking for a chill spot to 'just hang with the locals'. Like locals ever go downtown. Except for The Ryman. And sometimes Bridgestone. Why do the tourists get to enjoy rope lights and I don't?

I'm an avid runner. I wear lights when I'm out for run out on the streets. It makes me more visible to traffic. What if I were to wear a suit made out of rope lights? A company called Noxgear makes them and they look kind of awesome. Would that make me more safe or less safe? Would the police try to arrest me if I were running up Nolensville Pike wearing one of those? Do you think they could catch me if they tried to chase me? I'm pretty fast and I'd be able to see all around me with the light emitting from my rope light vest while they'd be running with just their flashlights jostling about. My money is on me instead of Officer MagLite.

I know this is starting to read like I'm an alcoholic runner who listens to grunge music and is bad with women and has a rope light obsession. I'm only two and a half of those things. Maybe I should make that my Bumble account bio. Might help. Hell, it certainly couldn't hurt.
In conclusion, this bill doesn't deserve our city council's time or energy. I ask that you withdraw this ordinance and focus on more important and pressing needs for Nashville: better sidewalks, better public transportation, and an improved greenway system. Those are the things that are going to continue to make Nashville awesome... Not ordinances about rope lights.

Shine on,

Stephen P Bohn