Saturday, January 19, 2013

Andreas the Dane, or "Timothy Olson has my Junk on his Hand"

Somehow, Blogger seems not to work on my iPad. If it did, I would blog more often.

We just got back from Wisconsin and Texas. Wisconsin was the usual game of fitting work, kids and vacation into a few weeks. It's always the same pattern of trying to make enough money for child support for the next few months, while spending enough time with Andreas to feel like a decent parent - and then trying to go on a little mini trip, just the Girl and I.

Andreas has matured a lot and I enjoyed being around him. He didn't seem sad when we left this summer, but he was definitely happy to hang with us now.

I think the years of living with his mom's violent girlfriend have finally been erased from his memory. I see his current life as stable and peaceful. My ex-wife moved out to a small town with her husband and his two daughters. They live in a large, immaculate house. Andreas has a large room to himself, his Legos and his video games. Three large vehicles ferry the kids around town.

Two episodes almost brought tears to my eyes.

First, we were at the gift shop in a space museum. They had a map of the US; tacks indicated where visitors came from. The woman asked where we were from and Andreas says: "Denmark". The woman designed a little piece of paper to the way right of the map and wrote Denmark on it. Andreas proudly placed his tack there.

In the car, I decided to push my luck. Me: "Hey, do you want to come visit us this summer in Denmark? We're moving back in the fall, so it might be our last chance in a while". Him: "Um, no". Okay, then.

The second episode was more remarkable. The boys had such elaborate dinner demands that I took them to an Old Country Buffet one night (I could think of no other place that had pizza, macaroni and cheese and fries). I told Andreas that the first night we moved into our house in America, he was almost 2. We had spent all day moving and had no food in the house. We had just moved from Denmark and didn't know where anything was, so we went to Old Country Buffet to eat. I described how the kids spoke no English and everyone looked at us.

Andreas almost immediately yelled, "I could speak Danish?!?!" Speaking to Andreas, for me, is often very tedious. I ask him question upon question and he answers in single words or grunts, if he answers. This time, he wanted to make sure that he, indeed, has been able to speak another language. I told him that for a long time, he kept using Danish words, like "legeplads", but by the time he was 3 he had forgotten all of it. I told him that I thought it would be easy for him to learn it again, and he was obviously considering the implications of not being the only uni-lingual sibling.

On the last morning, I drove him back to his mom's house in time for school. I was tearing up a little, as I always do, and gave him a hug. I said I loved him and that I would see him soon. He snickered and ran out to the school bus without looking back.

We went to Texas to run the Bandera 100. The Girl would run the 100; I would run the 50. Joining us was Alicia, who had planned on running the 100, but had some knee pain from the Tuscobia Winter Ultra.

Alicia has always made it very clear that she accepts abnormality. This acceptance is key, when traveling with us. The Girl gets so nervous and intense before races that her behavior can be a little terrifying, but Alicia seems cool with it. Maybe that's how she gets before races.

Bandera is a cool little cowboy town in Texas Hill Country. I imagine it gets intolerably hot in summer, but in January it was 60s to 70s every day. The hills are rocky and technical and a few hundred feet tall. The race is held in Hill Country State Natural Area.

The thing about combining different ultra distances is that the shorter ultra always becomes the de facto fun run. One can spend the whole weekend apologizing for only running 50K on technical, hilly trails. But, sure, the 50K was not remotely as competitive as the 100K. Not even close.

Going to the briefing the night before was like an ultra Academy Awards. There was Karl Meltzer quietly smirking behind sunglasses drinking Red Bull. Sage Canaday was smirking a little more insecurely, like he didn't like the attention. Megan Arbogast had a friendly baby face and a body that looks like it's made out of steel. Dave Mackey looked huge.

I realized at the start of the 50K that Timothy Olson had switched from the 100 to the 50. He apologetically made his way to the very front of the pack, while quietly encouraging people to have a great race. Olga was yelling out instructions at the start and demanded "Where is Rahs-moose?". Pressure on both syllables; it almost sounded like "Race Moose", a giant wilderbeast waiting to gallop up hills. I raised a pale, hairy hand and 100 eyes looked me up and down. She yelled something about the course record and I made every possible gesture to show how ridiculous it was to yell Race Moose and mention the course record. She screamed: "just stay behind Timmy. Otherwise, you probably won't finish."

I should have met Olson's eyes with a "so you have won Western States and countless other ultras... But have you beaten a Race Moose? Huh?" Instead, I mumbled something and looked down.

At the gun, Olson sprinted into the muddy fog. I had thought about sticking with his pace for a while, just so I could say that I stuck with Tim Olson's pace for a while. But no, instead I got passed by one young athletic runner after another. We ran up steep, rocky inclines and jumped down dangerous ascents. I kept losing positions, until I was in a depressing 15th or so, feeling old and inferior.

The first aid station was manned by Olga, who yelled something to the effect of "just run your own race".

After 10 miles (that's 5 miles into the 100, btw), the trail flattened out and became very runnable. There was a lot of mud, but overall, it felt more like my kind of terrain. I started re-passing a lot of 50Kers, while also starting to pass more and more 100Kers.

I passed the Girl at about 16 miles (her 11 miles, I think), and she was motoring along, somewhat frustrated by the mud. I felt great and even had a little runner's high. With 10 miles to go, I fell painfully, causing both my legs and right ribs to cramp up. I took a little break and peed in the cacti, while trying to recompose.

Alicia was at the Cross Roads aid station with 5 miles to go and I still felt pretty good:

The last five miles were very hilly and apparently way too hard for me at the end of a 50K. I passed one 100K runner, only to seize up in violent cramps in both legs. It must have looked ridiculous; it hurt so bad I couldn't even get out of his way. The last few miles consisted of mainly walking and standing, while waiting for the cramps to subside. It always surprises me how fast and reckless everyone starts out, taking chances to gain a second here and a second there, when most ultras end up so very slow and painful.
Well, I got third, so all ended well.
Alicia wanted Timothy Olson's autograph so badly that she made me go ask for it. Or was it the other way around? In any case, he seems like a pretty approachable guy. I shook his hand, thanking him for his autograph, and then quickly realized that he probably preferred no contact with some random guy's greasy, sweaty, HammerGel-infested palm. To Alicia I lamented: "he was just about to eat, and now he has my junk on his hand". To which she answered: "and there is the post of your next blog post". Yes!

The poor Girl. What can I say? She is training for shorter distances, but thinks like an ultrarunner. But thoughts will only take her so far, and she dropped out at 70K. This year, she has PRed in everything up to the 50K (4:09, 33 minutes faster than my time at Bandera, btw!). She will PR big in the marathon this year; she will get her ultra moments in due time.


Alicia said...

"Alicia wanted Timothy's autograph"--nice try, Race Moose.

Same time, same place next year? I hope so!

Olga King said...

Funny. May be you can download the way I should have said it so I can practice? Glad you stayed behind - almost surprised you played it so smart (or the hills with rocks and mud made you to). Bummer on the last stretch. Yeah, ultras are not won (or even finished) on sprinting at the start. Thank God I don't have a sprinting gene! Great story about Andreas.

Fast Bastard said...

Alicia, I would be game next year. Definitely.

Olga, my name in Danish is hard to pronounce. The R is almost as silent and guttural as an H. So maybe it sounds a little like HOSS-mehs. In English, it varies between RASmehs (ras pronounced like rash) or rasMOOSE. You pronounciation was fine but did put me on the spot a bit.