We’ve been laying low ever since Mom broke a few weeks ago. “Laying low” is what you call it when you hide in your Stuck House and watch other people’s adventures on YouTube rather than having adventures of your own. Mom has been running well, and I wanted to push her in a new and interesting way. But how? So I sent Mom to Facebook where there’s always somebody recruiting for a bad idea.
“Hey look, a bunch of people are doing that challenge we tried to do in the desert a few weeks ago,” Mom said. “How about we try again, but from home this time?” I said. “We can go to a different trail for each lap!”
The challenge is so simple that even a dog can understand it so long as his Mom keeps count for him: You run 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours, which means running almost 2 marathongs in 2 days, including the night parts. It was invented by a man-Oscar with big muscles and dreamy eyes who is a coach just like me (but he’s also not like me because I have more fur and a better sense of humor.) I think his name is Mr. Froggins. The challenge is supposed to make you strong on the inside, and since Mom can be a real whiny baby sometimes I thought it might do her good.
Lap 1 – Friday, 6pm @ the trail I can see from the dog bathroom
Distance: 4.21 miles || Elevation: 740 feet
I couldn’t believe my luck when Mom closed up her laptop early and changed into running things. By the time we got to the trailhead a mile from the Stuck House, I could feel the excitement in every hair on my back. “Boy, oh boy, oh boy!” I panted, trying to fly up the hill despite the Mom I was dragging on the other end of the leash.
“Waaaah! Slow down!” Mom whined. “My legs feel sore already!”
“How can you already be sore? We just started! I’m going to run forever and ever and I’m never going to get tired.”
“It’s just a little inflammation from sitting all day,” Mom said, so I would feel sorry for her but not so sorry I would tellher to stop. “If I feel bad now, how am I going to feel after twenty, thirty or forty miles?”
“I don’t know exactly how you’re going to feel, but it’ll definitely be different from how you feel right now. And since you feel bad now, then that must mean you’ll feel good later!”
Lap 2 – Friday, 10pm @ Dreadmill
Distance: 4.0 miles || Elevation: 0 feet
Mom and I had fallen asleep while watching TV when The Witch screamed and woke us up.
“Come on, Bud,” Mom groaned, dropping as much of her body out of bed as possible before she actually got around to lifting her head off the pillow.
THWACK! thumped the screen door.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I was thinking we would do one night run down at the beach, where it’s well lit.”
“But there’s a storm…” I said.
AWOOOOOO! the wind howled.
“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” Mom said. “There’s no reason to make this more unpleasant than it has to be when I have this treadmill in the house.”
“Why do something hard if you don’t want it to be unpleasant?” I yawned as I settled into my Mom-watching chair next to the dreadmill.
“Overcoming a hard thing you decided to do feels like an accomplishment, but withstanding discomfort you didn’t plan for feels like a punishment,” she explained. “Like how I’m walking right now. I could run, but with my legs feeling the way they do I might get injured. It would be all pain and no gain, just like running in the rain.”
Lap 3 – Saturday, 2am @ Dreadmill
Distance: 4.0 miles || Elevation: 0 feet
Mom hadn’t been in bed for very long when The Witch screamed us awake again.
“Grumble, grumble,” Mom grumbled.
“But it’s the middle of the night!” I coached. “I think you should just pet me until you fall asleep again.”
“No,” Mom sighed in that voice people use when they want to fool you that they’re awake. “The point is to do the miles even when you don’t want to. …especially when you don’t want to.”
“But life is full of stuff you don’t want to do but have to do anyway, like baths. Why add another thing you don’t want to do if you don’t have to?”
“I guess because it’s easier to do something hard when you remember that it’s a choice. And because if you give in every time you don’t feel like doing something, then pretty soon everything would be overwhelming and I’d just lay in bed all day every day.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I said. I lay in bed all day and it’s working out for me. How else would I recover from all the times Mom wakes me up in the middle of the night to escort her to the bathroom?
Lap 4 – Saturday, 6am (but really 8am) @ the trail that used to be a highway, but now there’s a tunnel
Distance: 4.01 miles || Elevation: 603 feet
The next time The Witch screamed, the sun was already inside our bedroom and Mom had pulled her mask from around her neck to cover her eyes.
“Oh no! You overslept!” I said. “Just wait till I get my paws on that Witch. I’ll drop a house on her for this!”
“Don’t worry, bud,” Mom mumbled, sitting on the end of the bed and screwing up her courage to stand up. “We have 4 hours to do every lap, we’re just going to start this lap a couple of hours late. Sometimes the trick to not giving up is to find a way to make a hard thing more bearable.”
Since Mom had slept in her running clothes, all she had to do to get ready was pull the mask back down around her neck, lace up her shoes, and make some poop juice to drink on the way to the trail. When we got to the car kennel I was surprised that Mom started shuffle-running like she was crossing a street while cars were waiting.
“I thought your legs were dead,” I said suspiciously. Had she been faking it for sympathy?
“They feel pretty good as long as I run slow,” Mom said. “Sometimes the pain of half-assing something is worse than the effort it takes to just get it done. Anyway, we’ve got to shake a leg if we want to finish this lap before the next one starts.” We finished with just a few minutes to spare and hurried through the tunnel to the far side of the mountain for our next lap.
Lap 5 – Saturday, 10am @ the mountain at the end of the world
Distance: 4.26 miles || Elevation: 601 feet
Our next lap was the bottom 2 miles up a 4-mile mountain that is good for hill running because it is gradual enough that Mom doesn’t need walking breaks. Today I thought she’d be running lazy like an ultrarunner and walk up all the hills, so imagine my surprise when Mom leaned in and started running… sorta.
“Aren’t you worried you’ll get tired?” I asked.
“A wise coach once told me that I might as well run while I feel good because who knows how bad I’ll feel later,” Mom said. “Anyway, there’s less impact running uphill, so maybe this is a way of taking it easy.”
Lap 6 – Saturday, 2pm @ that trail with the hills
Distance: 4.35 miles || Elevation 864 feet
I was starting to feel pretty pooped when Mom announced it was time to get in the car for the next lap. We went to the place with the good views and the steep hill. Usually this trail isn’t very crowded because it’s hard to find a trail that doesn’t have a name, but today the secret was out and there were tons of new Friends on the trail. I always wondered why Mom ignores strangers, but as we marched up the hill and then tottered back down, the barks didn’t boil up inside me like they usually do. Instead I felt a little grumble bubble from deep in my legs until it popped in my head as the thought, “Get outta my way.” I had to roll in the grass for a good long time to shake all the grumps out of my legs before I could run again.
Lap 7 – Saturday, 6pm @ Haunted Highway
Distance: 4.26 miles || Elevation: 662 feet
Just when I was getting hungry for dinner, The Witch announced that it was time to get back in the car. This time we went to the old abandoned highway where the skeletons of old car wrecks rot in the ravines where they fell a million years ago. This trail is dangerous on weekends when a big bike could rip around a corner and squash you flat at any moment, but now that the sun was about to set it was just Mom, me and the mountain lions and coyotes using the trail. I know this trail so well from running on it at least once a week that now it runs itself without me having to pay attention. After a couple of minutes of walking, habit took over and we rode our legs most of the way up the hill before turning around and letting the earth suck us back down again.
Lap 8 – Saturday, 10pm @ Dreadmill
Distance: 4.0 miles || Elevation: 0 feet
Mom walked on the dreadmill as I snoozed in my Mom-watching chair. With twice as many legs to take care of, I needed the rest.
Lap 9 – Sunday, 2am (but really 4am) @ Dreadmill
Distance: 4.0 miles || Elevation: 0 feet
This time Mom did the midnight run late to double up on sleep. I woke up to the thundering thumps that her legs made when she tried to make them keep up with the running dreadmill.
“You’re going to hurt your new dreadmill running all clunky like that,” I warned her.
“I don’t think I have more runs in these legs anyway,” Mom said, poking the dreadmill until she was walking again. When she was done, we hurried out to the car to watch the sun rise over the Bay.
Lap 10 – Sunday, 6am @ the trail that looks east
Distance: 4.2 miles || Elevation: 733 feet
Our next run was on the one trail in town that faces east. Mom thinks she likes to run this trail in the morning so she can watch the sunrise, and always forgets that once the sun is up we’ll have to run straight into it with our eyes closed. We walked the steep parts, but ran most of the way because going slow would be more painful than running on tired legs.
When we turned around and it was time to run down again, I saw a dog standing alone in the middle of the trail. That was strange… Where was his service person? Then it dawned on me: this wasn’t a dog, it was a coyote!
“Yippee-kay-yo-kay-yay!” I squealed, blasting off after it.
“OSCAR! NO!” Mom roared in her dragon voice, yanking on the leash and making herself an anchor.
Luckily, it took longer than usual for her to drag us to a full stop and I was almost in the bushes by the time she got stuck to the ground. I stood as far ahead as the leash would stretch, mouth breathing into the bushes. “Come on!” I panted. “He’s getting away.”
“It’s hard enough to slow you down when you’re chasing something on flat ground,” Mom said. “Going downhill on tired legs, forget it!”
“But the best way to make a task go more quickly is to make it fun!” I said. “It’s like the song: Chasing a cougar makes the venison go down… Come on, let’s play tag with that coyote! Or, if you want to be such a party pooper, you could just let yourself off the leash and I’ll chase him myself.”
“Not a chance,” Mom said.
“I can see why running feels like such drudgery to you,” I said in my best coach voice so she would know that her biggest problem was her attitude.
Lap 11 – Sunday, 10am @ That really steep trail
Distance: 4.01 miles || Elevation: 1058 feet
We saved our hardest trail for the second-to-last lap. This trail is so steep in places that we never, ever try to run there. Mom had planned to visit this trail toward the end when she knew we’d be walking a lot anyway, but now every time we stopped for pictures it felt like time that was getting robbed from my nap. It was also so steep that Mom was running in a herky-jerky way even on the downhill parts, like she was getting pulled by a leash in slow motion.
When we finally got back to the car I asked, “How long do we have before our next run?”
“A couple of hours, maybe a little more,” Mom said.
“Oh,” I sighed, letting my head sag onto my paws.
“How about we just do it now?” Mom said. “It would be cheating if we did any of the other laps outside the 4-hour window, but I can’t think of a good reason why we should have to wait for the last lap.”
Lap 12 – Sunday, 2pm (but really 11:30) @ The beach
Distance: 4.83 miles || Elevation: 386 feet
So we drove to the beach, which was infested with strangers on a sunny Sunday. We ran slowly around the big clumps where the people stuck together because it was too crowded to pass. When we’d finally reached a clearing at the front of the clot of people, the urge to go potty struck and I built the most enormous poo castle in history with everyone crowding around me like fans admiring my work.
“Jesus, Oscar. My hand isn’t even big enough to pick all of this up!” Mom complained.
“When you’ve got a big project, sometimes it’s better to break it into more manageable chunks,” I suggested. “… kind of like this run!”
Now that I was unburdened, we ran easily over the stumpy beach hills until Mom’s watch beeped that it was time to turn around. On the way back, Mom led me on a detour onto the sand, where we ran back and forth for the camera so we would have photos to remember our finish by. When we were done on the sand, we ran the last half mile or so back to the car. Then Mom kept running.
“Where are you going? The car’s right there!” I said, looking over my shoulder where the car was getting farther and farther from my tail.
“We’ve been running a little extra with each of these runs, and we only need a little more that 1/10 of a mile to make it to 50 miles,” Mom said. “Let’s run around the block.”
Some races you can’t wait to finish because of the relief when it’s all over. But sometimes it’s better to keep the mom-entum because if you stop you might never get started again. Now that we had gone 49.9 miles, we would never be this close again without running 49 miles first. So since we were here, we kept going.
During the challenge I learned how to get out of bed when I didn’t want to, and keep going when I thought I was too tired to go on.
I learned how to get through the not-fun parts by turning off my thoughts and just waiting for it to be over.
I learned about not falling asleep, waking up all night, and still getting up to run when the alarm said it was time.
Sometimes I was so tired that I didn’t care to chase bunnies or introduce myself to strangers.
My tummy didn’t want the nutritious meals that Mom served, but I ate treats until I thought my belly would pop.
When I couldn’t remember one good reason why we were doing this challenge, I learned to follow the plan and trust that I’d eventually feel better even though it felt like I was dying.
When it was all over, I climbed into bed and I curled up in the Pantene cloud next to Mom. “So what was all that for?” I asked. “Did we just train for an ultramarathong?”
“Nah. Training is supposed to be practice for the hardest part of something. That’s why you practice running fast without puking for a 5K, and you run far without stopping for a marathon.”
“And what’s the race where you do something easy over and over until it feels bad and all you want to do is stop?” I asked.
“It’s called high functioning depression,” Mom said.
“And we won!”
Total Distance (Mom): 50.13 miles
Total Distance (Oscar): 34.13 miles
Total Elevation (both): 5647 feet