Wednesday, October 10, 2012

There and Back Again: A Runners Tale

Report from LPTRunner Marty Kanter-Cronin...

I am a house on fire. A microwave of flesh and bone, cooking inside out. I’m barely holding lunch in a rope knot twisted stomach. I’ve never tossed it during a run, and I’d really prefer not to break that streak right now.  I teeter on a taut line. Struggling not to fall and shatter. There is no one there to pick up my pieces. I’ve been at it for nearly 43 miles. Running out of the Eagle section of the Ice Age trail, past hwy 59 and headed south, I exit the open prairie where it was an unseasonable 80 degrees. Finally in the cool shade of the forest. The next 3 miles will take me an hour, as I try to get my system righted. The question is on my mind as I shuffle along, one asked of me many times over the past several weeks.


Why would anyone want to run from one end of the Southern Kettle Moraine to the other, and back again?

The question comes in two forms. The first is rhetorical; not really expecting an answer. Usually coming from a non-runner, it has the element of challenge as in “Why would anyone want to do that?”  For these people, a return volley “Why not?” is usually sufficient to end the conversation. They are not going to understand a real answer any way. The second kind of why is from many wanting an answer. Are you training for something? Are you running for charity? Is this a “Fastest Known Time” attempt?

It’s not all that complicated, really. I just wanted to see if I could. It really is that simple. It really is that fragile. To test myself, mentally, physically, spiritually.

So why the Kettle?  To quote Edmund Hillary, when repeatedly asked why climb Everest: “Because it’s there”. Because it’s out there, and someone has to do it. And I have to do it. An itchy feeling that just must be scratched; a thing to haunt your dreams and keep you up at night; a stone in your shoe that will not shake out. It is a good thing Everest is not in my back yard. Never mind that its already been climbed; I would have to do it too.

The Southern Kettle. To run there, and back again. All of it.  From Rice Lake to Hwy C, and then turn around, and do it again. 31.5 miles each way, 63 miles total. Simple rules: Do it solo, self-supported. No aid stations, no drop bags, no water stashed on the trail. Everything I needed I would carry with me.

There is elegance to the start of a local adventure. Minimal planning, no plane tickets, no shuttles, no set up. I am flush with excitement, starting at 4 am on a Saturday, the dark carrying its own kind of magic. I carry 2 liters of water and a pile of food. Probably too much, but that is part of the trial of the day. It is one of those axioms hard to defeat: if you have the room in your pack, you will fill it. I have over 5000 calories. 15 pounds or so, with headlamp and some other gear.

So I carry everything. Some of it’s a guess, you never know what the weather or your food needs are going to be. Many folks wanted to come and support me, and I appreciated the thoughts and gestures very much. It shows what great supportive community exists in Ultra running. But I wasn’t counting on anyone but me for any of my needs, simply because counting on myself was the point. In the coming months, many other adventures lay waiting, and most of the time, I won’t have that support anywhere to be found.

There is that mental support too, when you know you are coming to an aid station, or your crew. Once I got started, the only thing I could count on was me, so it’s good I like my own company. Interestingly, I actually still had that mental boost when I knew I was coming to a familiar spot. A road crossing, a landmark, anything. I would arrive, and the thought on my mind was “Wow, here I am! I made it to there!”

Mostly, though, I was just running. At first alone with my thoughts; run and think and run and think. Thinking thinking, thinking until suddenly you stop thinking. You let the animal out of the cage. You don’t think you just act. The mental energy burned away. Foot, rock, root, tree, turn, up, down, jump, move, look. Stop and look. Be there. Cresting Bald Bluff, sunrise just started. See what a glorious day it is to be alive.  I wasn’t thinking about where I had to be, what time it was, or how fast I was running. I was running. Moving through the forest, with a capable speed. It was just plain good to be here. It felt just right.

The section from Emma to Hwy 67. Usually too hot in the summer, or too fly infested, in the fall it is glorious. Everything was blooming in the prairie. Flowers, full, leaves, red and yellow and brown. Waves waves and waves of blowing, moving sea of tall grass.


Hwy 67, Road X, Piper Road, Scuppernong, Pine Woods. The miles flow. I reach Hwy C, and Robyn is waiting for me. It was a nice surprise, unexpected. A kiss, a photo. I’m off.

Time to go back again.

As the miles pile on, it gets hard, then easy. Highs, lows. Thoughts of doubt, of my own ability. Euphoria. I remember two places in particular. After hitting 54 miles around Hwy H on the return, I realized “This is the farthest I have ever been!” I had such a high, I ran the next three miles under a 9 minute pace. I was floating on a cloud. Soon after, about 5 miles from the finish, between Duffin and Hwy 12 I hit a low low low. I was in that place where the brain is just saying stop. It passes.

There were times, as there always are, when I had everything I needed, but nothing I wanted. Times when food wasn’t going down to stay down, and I could have used something different. I dealt with it. Digging deep, working without a shovel, you find the resolve to keep going. Dig deep, setting heart and soul on fire, sometimes the only things that burn. Give me silence, water, hope. Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes. The poet Neruda.

In the end I used less than half of what I carried. My 15-pound pack could have been closer to 10 pounds, had I given it more thought. But, that was part of the point. What do I need? How much do I really need? I mean how much stuff have I ever gotten at an aid station? It seemed to me, not all that much. If I could figure out how to carry what I need, what kind of range would suddenly open up to me as a runner? What possibilities? Your imagination is the only limit to the possible adventures.

Running and Ultra running events primarily focus on time and competition, and I love Ultra events. The community, the atmosphere, the competition. It is the glue that holds many ultra people together. Races are always going to be a part of my ultra life, whether participating or volunteering. But to limit myself to that one facet of running is to leave out some great possibilities. Open it up. It can also be done for the thing itself. And any act done for itself should have elements of style, elements of fun, elements of challenge to it. (And not too many rules).

So I am reaching the 15-hour mark. Yet, for this run, elapsed time was never really much of a factor. It was about range, self-sufficiency. Fast and efficient was just one element instead of the only one. No one asked Edmund Hilary how fast he got to the top of Everest, just that he got there at all.

After Hwy 12, with about 4 miles to go, twilight was setting in. The timeless time of October light. I ran out the sun, from east to west. Another feeling rises up. I wasn’t hungry, tired, or anything. I was just ready to be back again.

Robyn and a good friend of ours, Cheri are waiting for me. Headlights on, and cheering loudly. A nice surprise. Watermelon, and an Izze soda quench the fire in my belly.

Deep breath.

So, I made it there. And then, I made it back again.

1 comment:

  1. Good for you Marty. :)
    I always enjoy your reports. You have a way of easing my troubled mind when I am fretting about an upcoming race. Here I come Glacial 50k. I am ready to enjoy a day on the trail.
    Thanks Marty.