by Laura Bleakley

Dam Wakely Dam Ultra 32.6 miles
July 23, 2005   Piseco, NY
Finish Time 6:26:11
Overall place 6/46 Female1/7
2005 Totals: 7 marathons; 4 ultras
Lifetime Totals: 26 marathons; 5 ultras

Pulled into the Wakely Dam campground (finish line) around 10PM the  night before the race.  Not quite sure I was in the right place nobody was around quietly slammed my car door and cracked open a cold one… very loud in the stillness of the night. That drive took me an hour longer than I expected…needed to even things out with a beer since I had to stop and pee three times.   Off into the distance I saw a campfire on its’ last limbs and a moving headlamp. Hi, Laura!   headlamp said…  How do you know who I am??? It was Jim the RD for the race we emailed and spoke on the phone a few times.  He figured it was me…said he heard me open my beer… everyone just went to sleep. We spoke about the course a bit hoping he would set me up with an experienced ultra runner to carry me through.  I’ve never run an unsupported race before… but in the end “most people end up running by themselves.” …Confirmed that a “lean to” means don’t go that way…I  returned to my minivan, curled up in the back seat and tried to sleep.  Despite the seatbelt jabbing me in the ribs every so often sleep went fairly well.  My husband Jeff was in Seattle at a conference sleeping in comfort at the Westin and the kids were under grandmas care at home. 

4AM up woke up, choked down the day old cold coffee I pulled from the cooler and jumped onto the bus to the start.  Getting my gear together met two other Rochester area runners Barry Erickson and Rick Cronise, happy to meet them.  At the start heard the story that there are no DNFs only one way in and one way out and about the guy that broke his ankle had walked out 14 miles to finish last year. He was back again standing right next to me.  The race started single track trail after a few miles someone shouted did anyone lose a map mine was gone ran back to get it.  Placed it back where it came from wedged right next to my water bottle waist pack thinking how could that have fallen out.  Easy pace long way to go… grow tired of looking at the long line of calf muscles … practice patience my mind says impatience is growing on me…can’t pass on the left… I pass on the right and apologize  for doing so in such bad form.  I was ready to look up and see the trail. 

Upon this course I will have three new found heroes, my knights in shining armor … ironically all dressed in black coolmax shirts.  I did not know their names upon our meetings but they helped me find my way.  Ran with a fine young man dressed in red running his first ultra he will do well… he’s smart … I’m thinking as we walk the steep ups early on in the run.  Run with another veteran Dam runner who will have his family at the finish to cheer him in.  I repeatedly bug him with questions about the course says to be careful of the “leantos”.   I shared in his joy remembering my three boys cheering me into the finish of my first Boston qualifier(after 9 years of trying).  This was  just last year…a happy day… the boys were covered from head to toe in chocolate ice cream jumping up and down with the resort nanny… my husband was in Iraq at the time.  I run ahead alone feeling comfortable with the trail.  After awhile my first found hero sprints up to me from behind.  Did you lose your map? I reach back and mine is gone.  Well how did that happen again I’m thinking.  I wedge it this time in my hand held water bottle because if the map wants to jump ship again I’ll see it happen. 

Another veteran Dam runner my hero who brought me back my map I pick his brain about the course.  He says to be careful of the “leantos” … I see water fill up my water bottle and fumble with the iodine tablets trying to do all this while running.  They all fall down… leave not a trace… I stop to pick them up… those tiny tiny little things dirt and all shove them back into my Ziploc zombie runner.  I look up he’s gone he knows the way and I will never see him again…. I surge to find him twist my ankle in doing so.  I see a leanto… my body wants to go that way because it looks so nice my minds repeats the mantra leanto don’t go that way leantodon’tgothatwayleantodon’tgothatway.  I go straight on the road less traveled and run into a “blowdown”… get tangled in it’s web then decide to go around and lose the trail. HELP!! Which Way?  I yelled.  Silence!  I vowed at that moment to never yell for help again in a race.  I’ve done it twice before and nobody ever ever answers. I need my knight in shining armor back with his sword to break me out of this mess. 

I’m lost…. I squat to pee at least I’m hydrated my mind thinks.  Get a closer look at my shoes perfectly black covered in mud… unrecognizable…. as the stream hits the back of my shoe the yellow square and gray triangle of my Montrail Hurricanes becomes apparent. A good trail shoe for me.   I stand up and see the trail and the blue trail marker. I run… there’s mud… lost my shoe… where did my hero go he was to throw down his camel back cloak so my feet wouldn’t get wet.  He was long gone off to a 3rd place finish… who needs him my mind thinks.  What I need me… is a lumberjack with a chainsaw to get out of this mess.  I was at least experienced in losing a shoe in the mud…shoved my foot back in enjoying the coolness of the mud against my hot twisted ankle.  I ran on feeling comfortable with the blue trail markers…I was Packman and every time I saw one felt the bleep of the game giving me more points and power with only the blow downs, stumbles and falls to slow me down… then ran straight head on into a branch… my arm hit… my whole body bounced off… Dam That Hurt! It will bruise quite nicely I think. 

I run on all by myself a bird screams makes me jump twist the same ankle on the way down.  Big bird hope I don’t run into him I realize there’s other stuff out here… I’m scared by myself… in order to ward off bears I make noise singing out loud I’m a big fuzzy bear with a little fuzzy tail… one of the kids favorite songs… it worked no bears.  I run on shake my water bottle…almost gone.  My mind sings drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry the good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye and this will be the day that I die this will be the day that I die.  I’m going to die!!! I’m a road marathoner I don’t belong out here.  Not ready to die I scan my surroundings for water.  My mind sings the song over skipping the I’m going to die part.  Thinking whiskey and rye yuck give me a cold one and I’ll be happy.  My mind puts me in a sports bar with Fat Tire on tap… watch Syracuse score from center court the buzzer sounds I hear the roar of the crowd.  The TV is turned off but I still hear the roar of the crowd…reality sets in… I’m on the trail hearing rushing water.  I bolt feverishly toward the sound… skidding down a steep decent hop onto some big rocks…in the middle of an oasis.  I suck down the last drops of my drink for this will be my last for a half an hour until my new found water is treated…should have bought that water bottle filter but ran out of time.  My hands shake as I swiftly fill my bottles slipping the iodine tablets in, making one a Gatorade. 

Grab myself a Gu and look to cross the water but the trees on the other side are tightly knit at the bank no trail becomes apparent.  I begin to backtrack to the last blue marker I saw…need to figure things out… but it’s OK now I have water my mind sings I will survive I will survive.  And there he was my second hero emerged he had big broad shoulders  wore a black coolmax Boston shirt and bandana There’s my lumberjack!!! Before I could ask him where his chainsaw was there were more important  questions like which way do we go?….  because I just came from there and it’s not that way.  He stood there solidly and pointed with his right arm “always go with the structure” he says.  my mind thinks what the Hell is he talking about what structure??   My eyes follow his arm to the right…the footbridge now I see it.  I avoid eye contact with his yellow trail sunglasses, as I was afraid to see him roll his eyes at me.  We run together and I follow. I am now safe I have a friend to run with.  We come to a crossroads my body wants to leanto the left… but I’m not sure… probably just another leanto …we run right… I follow… down a nice hill we talk do you see any trail markers? nope neither do I a little further and we’ll figure things out.  We see a clearing my lumberjack hero sprints ahead.  It dead ends at the lake he says backtrack back up it must be the other way.  Back where we started I pulled out my map and 18 pages of directions too many words can’t figure out where we are…we go straight  so…I follow …find it’s not that way either.  I shove the directions in his face and said here I don’t understand you figure it out.  Doesn’t matter there is only left. 

We run left…I follow, blue trail markers we’re on track bleep I hear the Packman game in the back of my head it’s a runable part of the trail I feel good.  My good friend stops and offers me some peanuts.  I decline.  I know peanuts and peanut butter are a well loved ultra food they just don’t sit with me well.  I run ahead thinking he’d catch up when he was done.  I never saw him again.  Some time passed crossed over another footbridge slipped into the pond water.  Where oh, where is my lumberjack knight in shining black Boston shirt…catch up… please pull me out…sorry I left you back there…sorry I didn’t take your peanuts…sorry the thought ever crossed my mind that I was right and you were wrong.  But I don’t hear any footsteps; I stand up sliding my feet at the bottom of the pond careful not to lose my shoes… like the swamp thing I climbed up back onto the trail. I watch the black green slime slide off my body and begin to run to a different rhythm…the squish of my wet shoes.  My stomach turns nauseous I think I’m going to puke…what is that smell???  It’s me!  I smell like the pond… I begin to run fast as if I can out run the slime and the smell.  I run alone and my mind sings songs TNT…she’s dynamite…TNT…I can’t remember the rest of the words as my mind sings on….A told B we’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree….Boom Chicka Boom will there be enough room…  You  know your head banging days are over when you can’t remember the words to the cool songs and they are replaced by Preschool songs!!!  I reach back for words here she come just walking down the street singing do wa ditty dum……..

I feel good I’m running then my body hits the ground hard like some big wrestler picked me up overhead and slammed my body down.  My knee hit a rock, I heard my hallow chest hit the hard ground and the air leave my body.  I cried and tried to move my body but I couldn’t.  I heard the roar of laughter from above… the Ultra marathon Gods scored me a perfect 10 for that fall.  I hear their words we got her good..she’s not moving…a DNF have to be carried out…she doesn’t belong out here…go back to road marathons.  Dam that one hurt!…. I stood up, spit the leaves, dirt and maybe a tooth or two out of my mouth, and walked….and walked…I’m OK, nothing’s broken…I’mOKI”mOKI’mOKI”mOK…..So I run on alone…thinking that knee will bruise up quite nicely.  I still stumble and fall but no longer count the number of falls there has been too many but instead play their (ultra marathon Gods) game and score them.  They no longer hurt or even bother me because nothing even compares to the big fall back there.  I come along a little lake and see two hikers and ask if they’ve seen any runners pass to make sure I was on the right path.  Yes, we saw 5 guys.  There is a big gap in the trail…. long legged runners could probably take one big step up… but I placed my belly on the vertical ground before me and crawled up.  I turned to the hikers and asked,  “Am I close to any of them?” They said yes there are two guys right in front of you.  There is life ahead!!!! I surged with excitement my feet catching on the ground …I slow down practice patience the trail dictates my pace.  Hold it steady and they’ll come back to you.  I see a man standing off to the side of the trail… automatically think…  he must be peeing but no I see his yellow water bottles reach down to the stream that traverses the trail.  Good idea!  I said Hi and refilled my water bottle but when I look up he was gone… when I caught up we run together…we change places… we run together but then I no longer hear any footsteps behind me. 

The sound track from Last of the Mohicans starts to play into my mind… there is another guy up there.  I then become an Indian… practice running swiftly floating over rocks and roots landing softly without a sound.  He comes into view.  There he is!!! so happy to see a new friend to run with… he lets me pass… I say its time to rock and roll this is a beautiful part of the trail… we run together.  I reach into my past for Janice Joplin’s music …come on come on….  I’m rockin!!!…I pull out my “mountain mist” E-Gel enjoying its’ high sodium content…happiness surrounds me as the sun peers through the thick of the woods making everything sparkle… then I no longer hear footsteps behind me.  I pass a hiker going the opposite direction (probably a sweep) says I’m in 6th   place first female…so that means I’m on the right trail that’s all I care about.  Some time passes see a park ranger… all good signs and I ask if the road is this way he say yes about another 6 miles.  OK, fine…6 miles piece of cake… I feel good but then look at my watch and cringe…the time on my watch says  I should be finishing soon…I’m slow.  I run on through some tall tall grass that goes above my waist can’t see my feet… proud of myself for locating the pink tape marking the trail through the grass… my feet skim the bottom reaching for level ground.  I find the old logging road this is good but it goes on forever the trail is clearly marked …as I come to a lake don’t know which way to go.  I pull out my map and directions they’re all stuck together and pages mixed up.  Go North!… I pull out  my compass and go North. 

Need a little something now but don’t want the full GU…really want the sweet tarts I have stashed in my Ziploc zombie runner in my zip pocket of my waist pack…too many zippers to deal with and my hands are swollen…instead grab a little tootsie roll from the back pocket of my shirt…dig at the wax paper with my nails… can’t get it all off…eat it along with half the paper …don’t really notice it…big sugar rush…I’m flying now.   I run into a big blowdown decide not to go around it but through it.  I’m horizontal crawling through it’s web… a twig snaps back at my face…my whole body lurches upwards.  I cried as another branch stabs me in the back…. Dam near punctured my lung!!!…I calm down…take a deep breath…air moves… no punctured lung…I run on thinking that’ll leave a nice bruise.  I run on forever no longer seeing trail markers I question myself and pull out the map it won’t help me I forgot it’s wet and pages stuck together.  And for a windless day the wind blew all 18 pages out of my hands over the trail.  I scrambled to gather the paper…frustrated crumpled it into my fist.  My mind thinks…  make a decision and go with it.  I plan to run another mile if no trail markers then turn around it must be the other way.  I quickly figure… if I’m wrong then I’m only adding 15 min on to my overall time.  HAHAHA… I laugh at this hallucination of a thought as if I running a 7:30 pace right now.  The Ultra marathon Gods pipe in and laugh with me.  

Confusion overwhelms me…my pace slows due to uncertainty. I should turn back this must be wrong.  My mind thinks…maybe I had the map upside-down…maybe I had the compass upside-down…is it possible to have a compass upside-down???  I break my all time rule…  I have never in my entire life of running ever looked back in a race.  I know those fast runners do it all time as part of strategy…but looking back for me never made sense because I already ran that part… Why do I need to see it again?  It’s like telling all those runners behind you that I’m tired come and get me.  But here I stand….spinning around in a full 360-degree circle…examining my surroundings from every angle…and for signs of life. I hear the Ultra marathon Gods laugh again She’ll get dizzy doing that all day.  This was different I didn’t feel like a failure for looking back…this was survival…thinking I was lost again…I bit my lip as to not yell out for help.  George Winston’s piano plays in my mind and calms me…I run on…   thinking how I came to run ultra marathons from what started out as running a bunch of marathons real close together…it was a little more than the lack of available road marathons during the summer months. 

I look at the strengths from each of my children …my mini-mes.  Justin (12yrs) although not the best athlete…loves to play all the sports with such passion, he’s social with lots of friends, never says a bad thing about anybody.  He’s a really good kid…he has to be for if he’s not I’ve threatened to show up at his school dance and get down and Boogie.  Ryan (5yrs) The superstar athletic one…who at the age of 4 sandblasted the older kids with an 8:12 mile at the Nut Tree Challenge…he’s a switch hitter…can throw a football with such a spiral could drill a hole in the house if it were to hit…brings home the best all around player award from Brighton Soccer camp despite the severe blisters caused by his new shin guards. And then there’s Alexander(just turned 3 last week)…the crazy one…the reason I’m no longer going to have that 4th child…He leaps fearlessly from great heights…runs lovingly into swinging baseball bats…embraces his blood soaked shirts refusing their removal or washing…High 5’s the ER doctors says thanks for the head full of stitches and making him look more like a football player.  My children make me who I am…running an ultra marathon for I have the passion and drive for the sport…a little bit of athletic ability…and a whole lot of insanity.  I smile…

I see a clearing ahead…is it the road to the finish or should I turn around and it’s several miles behind me in the other direction.   I question myself and turn around to look back at my surroundings.  And there he is my third black coolmax shirted hero.  Oh, am I so happy to see him…he’s a veteran Dam runner and knows the way.  I feel ancient as I look at him…he’s cute…must be twenty something.  But he speaks with great authority and points to the right…this is the road that will take you into the campground and into the finish.  My mind thinks that we will finish together stride for stride with my newfound hero but my legs do otherwise.  Although I have grown to love the trails…for the first time now in this entire race I run with confidence…I feel my feet strike the solidness of the dirt seasonal road…when I put my foot down I no longer worry or wonder if it’s going to come back up in one piece or not.  It feels good to really start running…my legs turn over quicker greatly aided by the downhill grade...gotta love running downhill.  The brown register comes into view…I see the campground…see the Dam…the finish…my car where I slept last night.  I finish strong and proudly think I was way out of my league with this one but some how managed to find water and the finish line. 

A bit of sadness come to my mind…I’m not done yet…I just started running.  I scan the finish line area for the school bus to take me back to the start…I want to do it again…let me back at it…surely I can run it as a negative split now that I know the way. Certainly running two ultras in one day is not unheard of because I personally know of  those three superhero runners who accomplished such a feat.   I hear my imaginary coach Herb Brooks whistle blow my body hits the ice…AGAIN!! he screams.  I walk down to the Dam water to wash…had one too many run ins with poison oak this year.  Coach Brooks’ whistle screams AGAIN!!!!.  And YES I am well aware that these thoughts are not normal but they exist…as one of my regular friends told me that its just not normal to run a marathon then wake up the next day and run another marathon then wake up the next day and run another marathon then wake up the next day and run another marathon.  But my mind makes sense out of it somehow…just as that 50 miler is broken down into smaller increments run in repetition…it’s all perspective….one mile run 50 times…and when things get tough run to that tree then walk to the next runwalkrunwalkrunwalkrun….one foot in front of the other until you finish. 

My picture is taken with the Men’s winner Ryne…my mind thinks must have mud on my face…He puts his arm around me tightly…my mind thinks…Oh, Great the husband is going to love this picture.  The Whistle blows…AGAIN!!! Coach screams…I watch Ryne leave quickly in his car…poor guy he had to hang around until I finished for the picture.  Whistle blows…Again!!!! My mind thinks...but Coach Brooks I can’t find the bus to bring me back to the start…I can’t need to go ..I look at my watch my poor mother has probably had enough of those boys.  I say my Thank yous to the finishing crew, pick up my goodie bag and a Gatorade to go and drive home. I think of the runners still out there and hope they all come in safely.  My quest to run harderfasterlonger…a direct quote from my e-gel package…this has risen the SPO factor (spousal piss off) in my household quite high at times since I’m always asking if I can just run one more race…but he’s still out of town for another day.  I arrive home my mother looks exhausted…just let me take a quick shower before you leave…It doesn’t all come off in the first washing…I’ll shower again after the boys are asleep.  We play and catch up…mostly I break up the never-ending wrestling match… they try the HammerGel I won and pretend to like it. I tell them stories about the race the great adventure and how I battled and conquered the big tree. 

These same children still don’t understand  why I didn’t win the Boston Marathon this year…“you should have tried harder Mom!”…but they do enjoy the story of how I puked green on that poor Boston Volunteer.    They are tired and they sleep…Alex sleeps with his bath towel tucked in the back collar of his jammies…never know when Superman needs to fly out the window in the middle of the night.  I hang up the phone with Jeff he’s on his way to some event a top the Space Needle.  Do I wish I were there?  Absolutely Not…I don’t care much for dressing up and my left foot wouldn’t fit into a high heel anyways.  I place my left Achilles on a bag of ice…it’s never been the same since that partial tear back in 2002.  For a restless person who spends most of the night tossing and turning…I am now content.  Running helps to put things into perspective…it makes me a better Mom.   There is much work to be done…as I crack open a beer and glare at the mountainous pile of procrastination that lie before me…take the cap off my sharpie and begin writing JUSTIN BLEAKLEY on everything.  He leaves for Camp Cory in the morning.