We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over expecting different results. With that in mind…for this year’s Tough Enough relay I piled the usual suspects into the “Fun Bus”. The Fun Bus has been most aptly described by Jim Kornell as, “Kind of like that relationship with that person with the intense inner life, who was brilliant, then morose, then brilliant and in either state was never all that reliable . But a van instead of a person.” That’s what he had to say in 2011 about the Fun Bus and I’m sure he was merely commenting on the vehicle, not suggesting anything about any of the people transported within it. Two years ago the Fun Bus broke down somewhere en route to pick me up at the end of leg 6…you know the one down the back side of the dirt road off of West Camino Cielo . The one that ends in BFE with no shelter , food, water, or especially……..no toilet paper. This year I assigned the same leg to myself and set off with one bottle of water and no snacks . Lightning never strikes twice. Right.
I had an absolute ball running along the ridge with the ocean to my left and the valley off to the right. My friend Nancy was riding her mountain bike alongside of me, the flowers blooming were beautiful in a high definition “OHMYGODTHEYARESOFREAKINGPURPLE” runner’s high kind of way, I felt great and the headwind didn’t bother me too much. It was an excuse. I can’t stand up in a strong wind much less run against one. As I ran I could hear myself crowing a the finish, “Yeah! Sixteen runners passed me on that leg but there was a HEADWIND!!!” I couldn’t have planned it better. We all need those excuses. Like, “You know , I ran 100,000 miles this week so my legs weren’t fresh!” or “I had Thai last night, food poisoning. Lost five pounds in vomit weight but decided to run anyway.” Who doesn’t shove an excuse into their pocket before a race?
I had started out a little fast since John, Sara, and Dana had rebelled against my steadfast insistence that we run for fun, not speed. They’d put us in the top five and I didn’t want to be the one to lose the early advantage. Cursing them, I had pushed the first two miles and then spent the next two trying to get my heart rate to recover. I kept trying to explain myself to Nancy but it was hard to get the words out what with my heart rate somewhere around two hundred and sixty. Still, she kept saying things like , “fskf hdhifh mmmm m fsfs.” Perhaps if I’d turned down my i-pod I could have heard her but maybe it was better that I didn’t . Sometimes a pacer’s encouraging words just beg for a good ol’ slap and that just wouldn’t have been nice to do to Nancy who was after all, being a good friend and pacing me. As good as a friend as she is though, she makes a poor wind break. Her 99 pounds was doing nothing for me.
Leg 6 is 8 miles, at least according to Jim in the course directions . Every year my GPS flashes “9 Miles” at the handoff but what’s an extra mile of arduous uphill? I hit 8 miles after giving as much of my all as I was willing to give and looked excitedly toward the handoff spot for my teammates. I got nothing. I yelled in horror at Nancy who was doggedly riding her mountain bike alongside of me giving me pointers that I pointedly ignored. Nancy was sure that they would be around the next corner for maybe six corners in a row. Dying a little inside I mentally kissed goodbye the visions of Corona with lime and vinegar potato chips that had been dancing in my head. I could smell the singed hair burning on my arms from that second strike of lightning. Realizing that no toilet paper was forthcoming, I screamed at the Groundhog that it wasn’t $%#$$# spring and kept on going.
Apparently, the Fun Bus had RUN OUT OF GAS.
Secretly, I was tickled. Life seems more of an adventure when the basic human needs on Maslow’s hierarchy aren’t met. I might not feel the same way if I should end up homeless someday but for now…. it only makes me laugh. When the next leg, (John Voorhis’ leg which I was running while he was partying mountain top), had been mostly run I saw a car approaching with John inside. I assumed that this was a rescue vehicle sent by one of my teammate’s significant other and that the rest of the car’s inhabitants were the remainder of my team. Thinking this, I gleefully raised my arm high into the air and gave John the bird. Right here, right now, I would like to apologize to those strangers in the car who did nothing more than be Good Samaritans in trucking John out to meet me. Really, I felt a twang of remorse when I energetically flipped you off. Please forgive me.
I started to stammer to John that he should let me finish that leg and just take the next but before I could make a cohesive sentence John was off and running ( downhill of course) with Nancy trailing behind him. I found myself alone on the side of the road. Still without toilet paper.
For the life of me , I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make it to the end of Leg 7 to relieve John for Leg 8, my next assigned piece of the race. He’d left me in the dust but somehow I had to leapfrog ahead of him to the start of Leg 8. As I was mentally bending the laws of physics trying to get myself two miles down the road, Josh and Laura drove by and let me into their car. I subtly felt them out to see if they were willing to feed or hydrate me but my delicate requests of, “MY GOD I’M HUNGRY AND THIRSTY” were met with the comments that all of their food and drinks were in the back of the car. I repeated myself a couple of times to make sure that they got it but they were both so, (understandably), focused on gettng to Taj that I felt obliged to bail out of the car.
After sticking out my thumb again I was picked up by the Care For Paws people. Thankfully,they were happy to take me to the start of the next leg . Driving towards the next handoff we passed the stranded Fun Bus and they let me out to grab supplies. I clambered into the back of the bus, dropped my headphones, lost my water bottle, forgot to get Gus, stole somebody else’s headphones and heard the Care For Paws people yelling that we HAD TO GO. Running back to their car and leaping in as they tried to zip off without me, I realized that again I had no toilet paper.
We arrived at the handoff before I realized that we were even driving and I saw John coming towards me. Luckily I’d had all of 14 minutes to recover from my 11ish hard miles and was fresh and ready to go. John and I sneered at each other, I counted this as a high five, and took off down the steep backside of the mountain. Nancy was beside me again on her bike and she let me know, in an attempt to be calming and reassuring ,that there was a fast chick coming up on my ass. I did my best to be at one with gravity but the fast Care For Paws antelope passed me anyway. I tried to grunt something friendly as she free fell on my right but what I was really thinking was that she was being silly. That part of the course is not very driveable, few cars pass on it and if you want to slow down a bit, nobody would ever know. Excepting the presence of a large mountain lion, there is absolutely no reason to be doing 6 minute miles down that slope. As a matter of fact, even IN the presence of a large mountain lion, the only time you would need to be running 6 minute miles there would be if you were running with somebody who was running a 6:01 mile.
Happily I found my teammate Becky waiting at the start of Leg 9. Running the flat land through Solvang would have been a little like traversing the bowels of hell by that point in the day and I was relieved not to have to even contemplate it. With Becky on her way, I turned to see John wearing a ladies jacket. According to him, his warm clothes were still in the bashful Fun Bus which had yet to reappear. I suspect that he has had a long standing desire to wear women’s clothing and that Saturday’s fashion show delighted him. The Care For Paws people agreed to shlep us to the final leg and we squeezed into their vehicle for the trip. It was starting to dawn on us that we wouldn’t be seeing Sara for the final leg of the relay. The last leg is 3.5 miles and after much bitching and moaning John agreed to run the first half of the 3.5 miles. He insisted on taking the first half because he and his girlfriend had dinner reservations at 4:30 and she was going to come pick him up at the side of the road and whisk him away. The GPS tracking device in his leash would facilitate this plan. John warned me that he would just get into her car and go if I wasn’t around to relieve him for the last leg and with those sweet and altruistic words, he was off.Hopping into another stranger’s car, I convinced Eric, Megan R.’s husband, to set his odometer to zero and drive me to my appointed spot. We noticed with smug satisfaction that the first part of the last leg was a steady , painful looking incline but one that leveled off at exactly 1.7 miles. I told Eric that I would give John the last 0.05 miles and relieve him a bit early to gain the pleasure of watching him enjoy that last sprint uphill.
Predictably, John struggled up the hill with a look on his face that betrayed his realization that I was enjoying how things had panned out. He inched slowly up the hill and I waited, not really extending my arm for the hand-off high five but stretching it out behind me to give him an extra second of running. Chesire grin in place I set off for the final section of the course. Off to my right I saw John climb into the girlfriend’s convertible. As they rode off into the sunset, he raised his middle finger in a final salute and had what he thought was the last laugh.
Running into the finish hurt badly but it was a good hurt. I saw Jim there and knew that I’d get my hug and maybe even a cool Horny Toad Shirt. I knew that pizza would be forthcoming and that somewhere in the park there was a room that I could rest in. Funny enough, John and his girlfriend were at the picnic tables reveling with our runner Becky. No Fun Bus in sight, I crossed the finish without my team. They were busy drinking in the park and in the bus.
Twenty minutes after I finished I saw the Fun Bus roll into sight. With a sigh of relief I headed off to the restrooms. Which were…. out of toilet paper.
I can’t wait until next year’s Are You Tough Enough.