Thursday, August 19, 2021

A Rainy Night in Georgia

Arkady Kalikhman, who served as my mentor and guide the first time I ran the Baikal Ice Marathon, summed up the inexorable power of the natural world with the simple phrase, “Man proposes; Baikal disposes.” This past week in the Republic of Georgia, where I traveled to take part in a 7-day, 250K, self-sustained endurance race, “disposing” assumed an uncomfortably literal form for me. One can only laugh.

As usual, my friends at Racing the Planet put on a great show. Indeed, they outdid themselves in organizing an epic event in the face of the covid mess. Every detail was planned and executed to provide for the safety of participants, while maintaining the integrity and magic of the race.

I worked hard to get myself to the starting line. I followed a rigorous training regimen and developed a comprehensive race strategy. I was motivated, in part, from having come up short in my last RTP adventure two years ago in Chile, the lingering malaise of the pandemic, and the hints I kept receiving from the outside world that maybe I was getting a bit old for this variety of over doing it. I went through my training runs with a I’ll-show-you chip on my shoulder.

And it seemed to work. I got through the first two stages of the race, 23 and 28 miles, respectively, fairly well. The course was tough, more so than I expected, but I managed to lug my rucksack up every hill, across every stream and down every dale. The other competitors and I ran or tramped mostly through verdant farmland populated by free-ranging cattle, sheep and chickens, as well as astonishingly large and occasionally menacing dogs. Shepherds and residents of small villages, who sadly seemed to have nothing more pressing to do, alternately gawked and ignored us. Children waved. Women in black headscarves took snapshots with their iPhones.

After completing Stage 2, I chowed down on a 1,000-calorie, freeze-dried serving of spaghetti Bolognese and crawled into my sleeping bag. Sometime later, I awoke to a rumbling in my stomach. Instantly, I was out of my bag and I shot from the tent. I remembered my flashlight but forgot my jacket in my mad rush to make it to the camp’s makeshift loo, a six-inch hole in the ground surrounded by a thin, plastic barrier. No sooner was I tucked back into my sleeping bag then the urge returned, and it was off to the races again.

A few dispiriting minutes later, I was in my tent when the lollapalooza arrived without warning. I barely had time to shift my weight to avoid ruining my bag. I did what I could to attend to the situation with extremely limited resources in the dark when three more rounds followed like cannon volleys from the 1812 Overture. That’s when I woke my poor tentmate Paul to fetch the doctor.

Earlier that day, while grinding through the tough final 10K of Stage 2, it occurred to me that my GP and cardiologist may have had a point in their cautionary appraisal of my participation is extremely challenging athletic events. I considered that crossing the finish line of the Georgia Race might make a fitting crescendo to my ultra-running career allowing me to ride off, carefree, into a glorious sunset. Lying in my tent, I confronted the alternate reality that it may have ended in a pool of my own ****

I tip my hat to the running gods for their devilish sense of humor.

This is no tale of woe. Apart from a couple of regrettable hours, I’ve had a marvelous time. I’ve made great friends, ate delicious food (the spaghetti Bolognese excepted) and seen incredible sights. Georgia is a wonderful country, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to experience it. I am the luckiest man alive.

My deep thanks to Racing the Planet, its doctors, volunteers and local staff, my fellow competitors, the tour operators and guides who assisted me, and numerous others I met along the way. I am also forever grateful to my son and daughter, Dash and Tess, my many friends and supporters, and my trainers. Most of all, I thank my lucky stars for my wife, Linda Rosner, for putting up with me and my ****