Sunday, April 22, 2012

I may wear lipstick, but I am no candy ass

Thirteen years ago I would not ever have imagined running more than one marathon every six months.  The first time I "turned over" a marathon in two weeks, running Towpath and then Columbus, it is a distinct memory, my speaking the words, "never again."

Running a marathon one week after a fifty mile race?  It is now my "normal."  It is amazing what a body can do. 

Back in 2004, when I met and married Bob Pokorny, I was shown a totally new life and way of thinking. He was the one who took me out for my first trail run, bought me the right shoes, and introduced me to his group of friends who just so happened to be really big into the sport of ultrarunning, all extremely talented runners.

I was connected with Medina runners who were or soon became national champions -- like Connie Gardner and Roy Heger. Even Bob was a national masters champion. He threw me into the Saturday morning group, with Mark and Steve Godale, and company, who became known to me as the "A team", as Bill Wagner adopted me into his group on Saturdays, quietly known as the "B team".

An aside here, Bill Wagner is one of the toughest runners I know, and is the best pacer an ultrarunner could ever ask for. He understands the pain, assists to get you through it, but quickly ends the moaning with a harsh word or statement akin to "is THAT ALL ya GOT?" That voice has motivated me to finish lines and running up hills so steep I surprised myself.

So back in 2004, when my first trail run was a fantastic success, I fell in love immediately.  Kinda like downhill skiing, I dove right in, bought all the equipment after only one try, and immediately considered this sport my new passion.  However, my second time out was not love. It was muddy, and well, as most trail runners do, I slipped and slid down a hill on my bottom, which at the time shocked me. I cried. Real tears. I can tell you the exact spot on the Buckeye Trail where I lost it and cried. Bob walked me to the road, we gave it up and ran back to the car. He was pretty much silent. It was my make it or break it moment.

Thankfully, I attempted a third time. And that was the training run when Roy Heger gave me the unwritten rules lecture that there is absolutely NO COMPLAINING, NO WHINING, and certainly NO CRYING in the sport of ultrarunning. In other words, shut up and run.  Tanya Cady -- also another national champion, I believe -- was my model for shutting up and doing it.  Toughest woman I have met on the trails, for sure.  I learned quickly that folks like me who didn't harden up would be known as Candy Asses. I hardened up, toughened up, sucked it up, and went head-first into ultras.

It was a life changing time for me. It formed the unique, passionate person I am today.  I may wear lipstick, but I am no candy ass.

Earlier this year I posted a blog about picturing my perfect mate as a runner, or at least someone familiar with our "community of understanding." How we push through limits (like running back-to-back marathons), run to places we never dreamed of going, and how we get through even the most adverse of situations. Bob Lisey, another well-accomplished ultrarunner, once told me that I am an adversity runner -- the playing field is leveled when you put me onto a hard course with other not-so-tough runners. I get through challenges like mud and pouring rain, and falls and bleeding and running out of water.   I might be slow, but I endure.

A non-runner has a truly difficult time understanding how we say "no" to fatigue and pain and continue a race -- he simply doesn't understand how this is good for us. For me, it is the best, most rewarding sport, a sport I cannot -- or want not -- to live without.

So my daughters spent six years-plus living with a couple who ran ultras. They were raised into our sport, knowing dinner would be served late, traveling to races, crewing for us, making signs and helping at aid stations. Alicia has been the aid station captain for Burning River's mile 89 aid station and Savanna has worked as the only female on the supply truck team every year since the race began.  In other words, both my daughters are pretty darn tough.

Amusingly, since living on my own, I have dated only ultrarunners.  Until just recently. This one particular non-running man, suffers with migraines.  He actually pays attention to his body signals of pain, and one evening arrived at my house with a headache. I heated up a hot pack ("bed buddy"), propped him up on pillows, fed him Advil, kissed him on the forehead and closed the shades to let him sleep. I overheard Savanna say, perhaps in a mumble only I could hear, "He won't last long in this household." I asked why and she said something like how he will be taken care of for only so long, and then, the pity party is over and done. Get up and get moving. This is the house of an ultrarunner.

I realized that she was right. Oftentimes when one of the kids comes home with an ache, I say, "wanna go to Kaiser?" to which she responds, "no way," and I say, "then be quiet about it." Toughen up, kid. Serious issues are treated seriously, of course. But when enough time passes that the healing is done, so is the empathy.

There is a fine line where pity meets no mercy.

And therein lies the key to what I need in a man.

All along I have asked for a runner, preferably an ultrarunner, who understands endurance events and the mindset of these athletes. But maybe I am just looking for a man who can see that fine line -- not necessarily because he runs, but because he understands the gray area between wallowing in sorrow and picking yourself up (or pulling me up) and moving forward.

I made mistakes in life, and the largest mistake of all was agreeing to end my marriage. When I fall back into a rough patch these days, I am usually overwhelmed with this guilt of screwing up, which magnifies all the loss, and creates an internal inability to do all that I am required to do. It is like a death spiral. I then must rely on myself for motivation and accountability. Once in a while, when I am in my dark hole, obsessing over losses, or being depressed over long gone issues, I have had a friend or relative come by and say, "Pity Party is done. Get your head out of your ass and get moving." In other words, grace, sympathy, empathy, mercy, all that extends to me. I am allowed to grieve, to wallow... but for only so long.

That is my greatest need in a life partner: enough compassion to hear my whinings, but for only so long -- and then he motivates me to shut up, get up, and get moving. This personality trait -- a true mixture of soft and hard -- I have found mainly in ultrarunners. Like Bob Pokorny, who works full time and still manages to run doubles during the weekday... and admits it's hard as hell to get out of bed exhausted, but how ya just have to do it to get better. Like Roy Heger, who will understand the pain of blisters (or annihilated toes) but yet be willing to patch you up and get you back out on the race course to finish. Like Bill Wagner, who knows personally the fatigue of running a tough 100-miler, how the body screams to stop but how the mind has to overcome and continue. As a pacer, Bill will give a hug and then a push. Like Mark Godale, who runs and finishes his 19th Boston Marathon, despite a debilitating knee injury, but overcomes the pain BECAUSE it's his 19th Boston and he's gonna run it.  Or like sweet tough Frank Probst of Virginia who has run Bull Run every year now for 20 years (that is 50 miles and he is over 60).  

So the man who will be best for me is the man who reads my last blog, where I consider either excelling or outright quitting, and he tells me "don't quit."  He will be the one who tells me I am tough when the going gets rough.  He will not balk at my running a marathon a week after a 50.  He will be the one cheering at the finish line telling me I am awesome and lying how beautiful I look at that moment.  He is the one who will be showered with an equal amount of support from me, in any capacity he needs it.  No, we don't do pity parties for very long around this house, but he will understand that tough love, and embrace me, my daughters, and my community with understanding. 

I hope I am not asking too much.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Suzanne... Well, I could be the perfect man for you, but I am happily married (to another runner). I do not know you personally, but from reading your blogs, you sound like a terrific person. I hope you find love and happiness. See you at the trails....