“You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.” Harry Burns, “When Harry Met Sally”
I am a trail runner, a dirty girl. I gleefully post pictures of my muddy legs, my bloody toenails, my middle of the night war wounds. If I know I’m running 30 or 40 miles the next day, I won’t bother washing my hair. I’ll just throw on a baseball cap and put it in two braids, because really, what’s the point? I’ve been known to come home filthy from a trail run, but so exhausted that I just pull on long pajama pants over the filth so I won’t get the bed dirty while I nap. I even get impressed by my own stinkiness on occasion, because I can generate some seriously rank ammonia.
Every eight weeks, I have a standing appointment with my friend Dana. She pulls half of my eyebrows out of my face and restores me to my “natural” hair color. It’s amazing how much even your natural color can fade in the summer. Like I told Salty and Cinnamon last week, sometimes I still pinch myself – I can’t believe I was actually born with deep chestnut hair with violet and auburn streaks through it. Dana is expensive and worth every penny; my two and a half hours with her are like a little oasis. I get my Wednesday long run done in the morning, pick up some Starbucks on the way, and read trashy magazines and gossip about reality television while the violet and auburn streaks seep into my hair. Then I go home and do nothing but smell my soft hair for the rest of the day.
I own only two types of shoes: running shoes and shoes that increase my height by a minimum of four inches, whether they be stilettos or wedges. I haven’t owned a flat or a sandal since high school. I like short shorts with high heels and fun floaty sundresses. Big earrings and long necklaces. Straight-ironed dark hair with jet black eyeliner.
But on the trails, I wear mud. Because the mirror has two faces.
I used to be a girly girl of the highest caliber. Always short, I started wearing heels in sixth grade. Now before you imagine a tiny little hussy, I should state for the record that I was allowed to wear them only on Easter and special occasions. I had a knack for walking in them from the moment I stepped into my very first Payless pump. It was probably plastic. Pleather at best.
My first lipstick was Cover Girl’s “Iceblue Pink,” a hideous frosty shade of purple that should have been ripped out of my hands by some caring teacher, friend or grandparent. Sadly, the shade looks good on no one; even more sadly, I didn’t realize that at the time. My further forays into makeup were just as frightening; when I finally got rid of the Iceblue Pink, I moved on to stoplight red lipstick and I preferred to wear my eyeliner under my eyes only. I imagine I looked like a whorish raccoon; as a matter of fact, I think some friends told me I did. I tried to follow the trends, most notably fashion and hair, but coming from poverty and a very limited budget, it was a pass/fail sort of class at best. My hair has been both red and platinum blonde, and finally settled into its current shade, a dark chestnut brown, about three years ago. My real hair is actually is a very dull, very boring, mousey kind of brown. It does nothing for itself or my complexion. But I’m doing a lot better with the makeup thing these days.
The trails were no less a learning experience.
I worried about getting dirty at first. I wore my road shoes as long as I could, and before I started to realize that part of the reason you have road shoes and trail shoes is, well, poop. That’s right, poop. You see, you will often dodge poop on trails, and not always successfully. And even more often, you will find the poop and mud are mixed together into one glorious mess. So while you can spray those trail shoes down all you want (because you don’t really want to put the “poop mix” in the washing machine), they will never smell quite right again.
And we haven’t even started talking about tread, stability and grip yet.
I run trails for six to eight hours a time, and sometimes 10 to 20. Except for my first 100-miler, I haven’t stopped to reapply deodorant. Or brush my teeth. Or clean up a skinned knee. Yes, I did all of those things at my first, and never again. These days, one of my favorite memories of a 100-miler is when the guy I was running with asked me if I knew my armpit was bleeding. Now that’s chafing. Late in a 100-miler, I’ve shoved a hand covered with Vaseline where the sun doesn’t shine, and with just a little bit of altitude, I can blow a bloody snot rocket with the best of the boys. Most of all, I love when I fall, and get dirt all over my hands, and then get annoyed by sweat dripping down my face, and end up creating my own muddy war-paint concoction, the results of which are never seen until the end of the race. I love showing up in a spinning class with black lights, and looking at the no-longer invisible concoction of mud, sweat and sunscreen my adventures have left behind on my singlet.
I do things in the woods that would make most people blush, and I’ve found lately that I resent porta-potties. Really, they’re far more filthy than the woods, and once you’re done maneuvering around in order to touch as few surfaces as possible – including the door handle – it’s easy to see why a large tree might look just as attractive. So I run with a “poopy-pack,” which is nothing more than four or five tissues in a little plastic baggie.
So stiletto and eyeliner girl with the expensive hair runs with toilet paper tucked in the waistband of her shorts. An open-toed shoe at a professional or social event immediately gives me away; I have four perfectly manicured small toenails and two big spaces where the toenails on my big toes used to be. Right now, I’m wearing a really cute frilly tank top that just happens to show off my latest chafing acquisition, a nice welt on my left underarm, courtesy of Sunday’s 40-miler. Oh, the backpack I brought my stuff home from Western States in will probably never be used again, see “poop-mix,” above.
Speaking of Western States again: I stayed up all day and all night. I hiked 3.5 miles up a mountain and back down again in wind, dust, rain and hail. I ate in the car and then stood in the rain again, in too many layers and working up that weird sweat where you’re cold on the outside but hot on the inside. I ran around the course in various combinations of clean, part clean and plain dirty clothes. Then I ran a solid 22 miles in 80 degrees, with mud, streams, poop and poop-mix. Then I slept on the field inside the track where the race finished wrapped in sheets and blankets from the medical tent until DB finished, at which point we slept in the car for two hours. After that, I took a cold shower in a high school gym and brushed my teeth with some icky-tasting water. I would find I still had mud on my legs later. I took a red-eye flight home and landed at 1:20 am.
The next day, I took a long hot shower. I shaved for the first time in four days. I washed and straight-ironed my hair and put on a fun floaty sundress, wedges and black eyeliner. The dirt and grime and exhaustion of the weekend’s efforts had been washed, scoured and primped away.
And when Sunday’s 40-miler rolled around? It felt so, so good to get dirty again …
What about you, Salty readers? What “sides” of your personality war with your running self? Is it Mom v. runner? Executive v. runner? Social butterfly v. lone runner? Tell us about how you reconcile your “every day” self with your precious running hours.