Liza Howard

Liza Howard

Liza Howard is a long-time is a longtime ultrarunner who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She teaches for NOLS Wilderness Medicine, coaches, directs the non-profit Band of Runners, and drives her kids around in a minivan.

October 2018
« Sep   Nov »


Still toast and poems 300/365


300 posts!!! Good grief. 65 more to go…

Here is a poem Laz put up on the ultra listserv about the Big Backyard Ultra.

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: lazarus <>
To: ultra List <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 24, 2018, 4:17:27 AM EDT
Subject: 68 hours: dreamtime
the race for me had become an endless repetition,
as i made my way around my circuit of duties.
hour after hour i went thru the same unchanging tasks.
the core task was the bells and whistles.
that was the one that had to happen every hour
and had to happen at the same time every hour.
walking across the nearly empty field to tend the fire,
it was filled with the ghosts of the throngs that had crowded it at the beginning..
a couple of isolated tents were all that remained of the once bustling tent city that had flowed across it a few days ago.
the fire itself had once been surrounded by defeated runners and crews warming themselves by the glowing orange coals
and flickering yellow flames.
now only a couple of lonely souls without tents huddled beside the fire in yard chairs.
the fire was almost burned down,
so i added a few logs
and started across the empty grass towards the sole remaining pocket of life,
the timing tent.
on the way i thought about what to write about in the update i would send out after the start.
i was determined to come up with something concise
and squeeze out a few minutes to sleep
before i started out on my rounds again.
i had amassed a total of 37 minutes of sleep since getting up on race morning
almost exactly 3 days ago.
a couple of sleepy timers sat in the tent
trying to keep warm .
their duties had dwindled along with the field.
and there were now only 2 runners left alive.
courtney dauwalter and johan steene.
they were the best of the best.
tough, talented, and extremely competitive.
we were resigned to an indefinite stay
as they whittled each other away.
we all looked forward to the sunrise,
now only 5 hours distant.
the remaining competitors were ensconced in a pair of big tents about 20 feet from the empty starting corral.
wrapped in tarps to keep out the freezing wind,
they appeared deserted.
i watched the clock accrete its numbers,
and at 3 minutes till blew the whistle three times.
there was not a sign of life from the tents,
as i thought back to 3 days earlier…
when three whistles had drawn a throng of runners to crowd the corral.
at two minutes till i sounded the whistle again.
up until a few hours earlier,
courtney had come out to stand alone in the corral at two whistles.
it was a blatant display of indifference,
as the rest of the dwindling field had come to the corral later and later,
scraping for every second of rest they could get out of their too brief interloopal periods.
there is a little bit of poker in the backyard race,
and runners took every opportunity to show strength.
courtney had finally succumbed to the need for that extra minute of rest.
one whistle sounded.
still i stood alone in a nearly empty field
in front of an empty corral.
the darkened tents betrayed no signs of what was (or was not) going on inside.
it was impossible not to wonder what i would do if no runners answered the bell…
and there was no winner!
at 30 seconds the two gladiators emerged from their tents
and walked to the starting line
standing silently awaiting the bell.
as i counted down the last 10 seconds i saw courtney turn to johan,
and say something.
they exchanged a few words
blown away in the wind,
and then they embraced….
and i knew instantly what had just happened.
only one runner remained in big’s backyard.
i watched johan’s slender figure disappear into the darkness,
as courtney walked over to her husband (boyfriend?)
and they stood a long time in a sad embrace;
then she walked over to me
a deep sorrow washed over me as we hugged.
what could i say to this magnificent warrior?
she had fought a good fight.
she had run 279 miles in less than 3 days
and broken every man in the field,
save one.
she had absorbed unbelievable punishment without flinching
endured intolerable pain without a whimper.
she had run to the very brink of victory.
but walked away with nothing.
truly. what could anyone say?
she went into her tent,
and the backyard seemed totally empty.
it was a long wait for johan to complete his victory.
he would later tell me it was the hardest lap of the race.
“once i knew i had won, i could feel all the pain.”
the joy of victory was overshadowed
by the loss of his last rival and companion.
it is always this way when the backyard ends.
you have suffered so much together.
shared the pain and the effort
gone through so much
for so long.
in the end losing them is like losing a piece of yourself.
after it was all over
i went to the little house to start my update.
the update i had been putting together in my mind was,
of course,
how to express the flood of emotions
how to explain the loss of purpose
i could not.
i thought about the wasps we had seen around camp all weekend.
while they were everywhere,
no one got stung.
this time of year the wasp nests are dead.
and the wasps who had tended them all summer no longer had a purpose.
they flew, or walked, about aimlessly.
they were still alive.
but they no longer had any purpose.
i felt like one of those wasps.
i looked at my laptop,
sitting there and waiting for me to put words in it.
and no words would come.
so i gathered a few of my possessions that i would need in the morning
and walked up the hill to the big house to get some much needed sleep.
maybe tomorrow i would be able to explain big’s backyard ultra.

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