Maria Walton paced Chris Clemens 16 miles from mile 75 to 91 of the 2014 Burning River 100. Here is Maria’s account of the day and dealing with the good, the bad, and the UGLY.
Sweet Sixteen, My ASS! The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly… YOU Choose, who and when, and why?
“Hello, is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home? Come one now. I hear you’re feeling down. Well, I can ease your pain. And, get you on your feet again. Can you stand up? I do believe it’s working, good. That’ll keep you moving through the show. Come on, it’s time to go. There is no pain you are receding. The child is grown. The dream is gone. I have become comfortably numb.” – Roger Waters, David Gilmore
Various definitions of Tarzan, range from – “White Skin, lord of the jungle, the hairless one, king of the apes, the man who rejects the life of civilization, a hunger to learn, fearless, curious, strong, honest, a lover of peace.” Chris Tarzan Clemens – He does possess a few of these characteristics. Or, perhaps his quest to live free has evolved into an adventure seeker, who has a dream, and simply charges ahead. Anyone who can successfully conquer 2,180 miles throughout 14 states of mountains, along the Appalachian Trail, has some bragging rights. My God, the total elevation gain is equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times! I’m not worthy.
So, I was excited to find out that my friend would embark on his first 100-mile adventure throughout the forests and wilderness of The Cuyahoga Falls Valley National Park in Ohio, the race known as The Burning River 100. – Embracing the Past, Moving Forward.
He was literally running through sacred, native ground. What could go wrong? Cuyahoga, an Iroquois, name meaning, “crooked river”, is filled with flowing rivers, rich wilderness and deep, wooded forests. After many months and miles of running the canyons of Santa Barbara, California, and Prescott, Arizona, Chris was confident he was ready. The course had several rolling hills, a bit of steep climbing, switchbacks, and pavement running, but no elevation to speak of, and his buddies from college, were going to help him out. But, once his brother Tyler decided to take on the challenge, and take away his team, Chris invited my best friend, Jess Soco, (La Pantera) and I (La Mariposa), to be his pace and crew team along with his talented friend, Ryan.
Even the Pacers get cool race swag! Jon designed for Team Clemens, (which included their Mother Sharon and Stepfather, Tom), customized, canary yellow and black, mustache t-shirts. As Clemens Warriors, our Team Colors: Yellow, represents hope, guidance and determination, willing to fight to the death. Black represents Victory, success, power and strength. Game On! We were ready to help Chris, and Tyler bring home the coveted Buckle, and to qualify for The 2015 Western States 100!
Ryan’s enthusiasm was contagious! He was thrilled to be part of our crazy clan. Since Jess completed Western States 100 several weeks earlier, and the three of us ran an Ultra Marathon race together in Prescott, two weeks prior, we assured Ryan that both boys would earn their buckle. As a Marathon Coach, and 100 Mile gal myself, my personal concern was that these young bucks would start out too fast early in the race, and potentially struggle to the bitter end. I kept this thought to myself. Sharon and Tom were traveling with our crew throughout the entire weekend. Not only was she worried about her babies, I’m certain they both thought all of us were foolish, goofballs, to always be so excited about running through rain and mud, smelly, and sleep deprived. I explained to Sharon that she shouldn’t worry about serious injury, such as broken bones, concussions, bloody cuts and abrasions, hypothermia, dehydration, hallucinations, or kidney failure. Her sons were seasoned athletes. But, the look on her face after this dialogue was quite shocking. She said, “Oh, my goodness, I never even thought of that!” Oops, too much information for a mother to bare.
In my heart I knew that mentally and physically, they were ready to dance! I was also preparing our team to be aware of Chris’ possible mood swings, as endurance athletes often face a variety of psychological, physical and emotional changes while chasing down demons and dreams.
The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly – The Party is just beginning. And, it’s back to reality.
We decided to divide our Pacing responsibilities, with Ryan taking Chris through his “Happy Place”, from miles 54-76. And, each time they came running into the aid station, they were joking, joyful, and quite relaxed. I would feed Chris, while Jess massaged his muscles, emptied out trash, or attended to Tarzan’s special needs. I would be the Cheerleader, and update Chris of his performance and timing. He was pleasantly surprised by his treat of a hot, juicy, Big Mac sandwich. And, loving his Sticky Buns, donuts, and yogurt covered granola bars. His hamstrings, gluteus, and quads eventually tightened up, nothing that the rolling stick massage couldn’t cure. He would pick up gels and S-Caps, and fresh fruit at the Aid Station, and off he’d go! Tyler would always be just minutes behind, in such great spirits. Sharon was quite happy that her sons were racing so well. And, Ryan had it SO GOOD! He had the FUN Gig! Tag, Maria, you’re it!
Sweet 16 – My Ass! – Miles 75-91. Pine Hollow to the Botsom Parking Lot – Ay, Dios, Mio!
For most girls, sweet Sixteen represents a party, a celebration of the transition into adulthood, when your parents are accepting of boyfriends, and for a moment, you feel like a Princess. So, I kept this silly, positive thought in my head as I faced an easy 16 miles of running into the wild with Tarzan. I knew he was exhausted, tired, and aching. But, we had all the supplies needed to move ahead. Besides, I was his number one, fan, his personal cheerleader, Sister, La Mariposa, Earth Mother, his spiritual, Apache Sorcerer. Although, during the night, I believe in his mind, I was just another bull shit, non-stop talker. He much preferred the sound of silence.
I was prepared to face the challenge of running throughout the darkness into the wee hours of the morning with my brother. As if you’re riding a wild roller coaster, often times, while running along the rolling trails, you face many highs, and several lows. The body becomes weak. The mind loses focus. Then, without rhyme or reason, you come back from the dead, an awakening, resurrecting to a place of utopia… well, for SOME PEOPLE, that is. I would laugh to myself and keep repeating, “Don’t take it personal. He hates you now. He’s a whiny little Bitch. Whatever gets him through the night, will be all right. When it’s all over, he’ll be happy, once again.”
Our duty of personally attending to the needs of our athletes never ends. The following day, Jess and I made certain Chris and Tyler were fed, hydrated, all achy muscles massaged, and completely spoiled until we were dropped off at the airport.
Here is my favorite, “Sweet Sixteen” Tarzan comments:
1) I’ve got to get my life in order.
2) Here. Right here. Maria, you run down this hill. And, see how fast you can go!
3) Stop telling me about forward progression, movement, or whatever. I want to stop for awhile, okay?
4) Mud! Mud! that F’…kng mud! I’m sick of climbing through this sloppy, shit.
5) Horse shit? Cow shit? Are you kidding me? It’s 3:00 in the morning, and I have to deal with this?
6) My headlamp is dead already? Give me yours. Shit! Yours isn’t any better.
7) Maria, Hurry up and just shove the food in your mouth. You’ve wasted enough time here already. Let’s just get off this covered bridge once and for all.
8) I’m taking a piss now. And, I’m not going off trail to hide anything. I don’t care who sees it.
9) Damn, all this time it takes to piss is adding to my finish time. F..k this hydration bullshit!
10) Stop telling me I’m great, or running strong, or looking good, or that you’re proud of me. I don’t need that now. I just need to be left alone.
11) Pavement and sidewalks again? Are you kidding me? Isn’t this supposed to be Trail running? Who marked this course, anyway?
12) A Cornfield? We’re running through a damn cornfield? I left Indiana for a reason. It’s like that freaky, Steven King horror movie, Children of the Corn. Get me out of here! This isn’t a Luis Escobar event.
13) Maria, you’re turning into a driveway. The course is this way. Please don’t get me lost at mile 90.
14) Quick, look behind us. We’ve got to hurry, and run faster, before more people pass us.
15) These Relay teams are a pain in the ass. I’m chasing them down for nothing.
16) Don’t touch me. Don’t be a cheerleader. Don’t say anything. Maria, Please Shut Up!
Throughout this unforgettable journey, I had the time of my life! I savored every moment, each mile, with this incredibly strong, courageous, and fiercely determined athlete. It was with mixed emotions that I passed Tarzan onto La Pantera. I selfishly wanted to guide him all the way to the finish line. Because, I knew he would soon rebound to a higher level of strength. Which he did! I would have loved to witness that happy moment in time. I knew he would be in good hands with Jess. Because she runs so swift and smooth, as sleek as a Panther. As Chris was stretching, eating food, and taking a well – deserved break, I noticed him lovingly encourage his brother Tyler, to keep moving ahead. They were almost home. It was an emotional moment for everyone. I passed along my words of wisdom to Jess. Just keep him moving in silence. And, I will be anxiously waiting with Sharon, to greet you both, and run with everyone across the finish line!
Would I volunteer to do this once again? Absolutely! The circle of friendship, family, and love, is never ending, when your share the trails with those who touch your heart. So many moments, we connect in meaningful, lasting ways. You see who you really are, when everything is stripped away.
– Maria Walton, 2014