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Race Report: Ode to Laz 2022

Running a race without a finish line.

By Laura PresleyPublished 10 months ago 4 min read

It’s a hot summer Saturday, and the Stairway to Heaven is killing me slowly.

For the first time in my life, I know what a fighter’s corner feels like. There’s an impressive wealth of supplies laid out beneath our canopy: fresh socks, bandages, a chest full of ice and calories. It seems like an impossible amount of emergency prep. It is. Everything here is meant to keep me moving indefinitely.

Because today I am running the Ode to Laz, a race with no finish, and I will run hourly four mile loops until it breaks me.

Spirits are high the first two, three, four laps: spectators cheer when we pass through camp, throw us beanbags for cornhole as we cross the grass. Tupac blares from someone’s Bluetooth speaker.

Somewhere around lap five, as Laz would say, the race begins.

Runners ascend the Stairway to Heaven

At home, I enjoy the luxury of a mild, gentle running route: the hills are few and far between, the landscape meticulously tended and trimmed.

Here, the trail veers upward without warning, suddenly narrows to barely shoulder width. Roots reach eagerly to trip any careless feet. Once you finally ascend the Stairway to Heaven, you must also navigate back down it.

The signs read: GO GO GO

The signs read: FINISH…

The signs read: DONE…?

If I [can] hurry, we have five minutes between loops for calories and care; as that window tightens, I’ve barely lowered into the chair before the three minute warning sounds.

The whistle.

The stairs.

If you miss returning to the starting line, your race is over.

I shovel chicken soup into my mouth from the can, chase applesauce pouches with greedy fistfuls of bacon. Mr. Presley holds ice to one thigh and a massage gun to the other. There’s a cold wash rag for my neck. We wrap my feet in gauze.

A tent away, someone asks to hire him.

The whistle.

The stairs.

A park goer watches our caravan stagger upwards, shuffling forward in increasingly grim silence. She asks how far we’ve gone.

Twenty five miles, someone says. We’ve almost reached the marathon.

“That’s amazing!” she says, and behind me, a runner snorts. It isn’t, he says. It’s fucking awful. These stairs.

These fucking stairs.

Ninety degrees isn’t the enemy. Eighty four percent humidity isn’t the enemy. Losing focus is the enemy.

There’s a runner on the approach as the clock ticks away its last seconds. Someone yells to her. Go go go go go go

We clap. We cheer. She lifts her feet.

She crosses the line and turns to leave with the rest of us, all in one breath.

Whistle. Stairs.

I accept a beer at the gate camp just to press it between my swollen hands.

Mr. Presley makes friends with the site next to ours, where another husband hovers over his wife with the same anxious attentiveness. They evaluate each other’s tactics, share strategies to keep us in motion. What they were yesterday doesn’t matter: today they are field medics, coaches, mechanics, pushing us further, holding us together any way they can find.



We aren’t making it to the tent. I chase ibuprofen with half a Red Bull at the starting line and cry.

“One more lap,” Mr. Presley says. “Give me just one more.”

He asks if my phone is okay. It is. I’ve just forgotten how to use it.

I make a song from our children’s names and repeat it endlessly. The stairs. The stairs. The stairs.

On the lake outside the woods, there is a boat, electric blue and unbelievably bright. There is only the boat. There is no boat.

It’s a moment later. It’s a lifetime. Somewhere in the roots I fall suddenly and without warning. My palms burn. There is no blood. Someone helps me up.

The stairs.

I stop drinking water and start splashing it over my face. A few seconds of clarity are better than none. Home is a dream I had once. I just need to climb the hill. I just need to cross the lot.

Seven laps.

It takes Mr. Presley thirty seconds to change my shoes and socks. We have sixty. Come on come on come on he says

I need something. I don’t know the word. I spill the bag of ice over my chest and sob.

Come on come on come on come on. Twenty seconds. Mr. Presley helps me to my feet and I fall immediately. My legs work. They brought me here. I don’t remember how to use them.

I have been strong. Now I only want to be safe.

The whistle.

Okay, he says. Okay.

My time at the Ode ends after eight hours and just over 33 miles, my 50k just surpassing the line between marathon and ultra. It is nine miles less than I ran in 24 hours for my first ultra; it is eight more than I ran in Tennessee through Frozen Head.

It is the closest I have come to delirium, the hardest I have ever pushed myself to breaking.

Were the rankings of interest, I am within the top third of the competitors today. The fact is, those numbers count for nothing. Only one of us will reign victorious here: the rest, one by one, inevitably fall, exactly as we’re meant to.

It’s why we’re here.

The Ode names its champion a full day after I have finished my run: Justin Wright completes a staggering 39 loops. He takes the winner’s mantle; the rest of us carry home only what we’ve found inside ourselves.

And in the race’s aftermath, I can take stock of its toll. Aside from my scrapes, the bottoms of my feet have bruised; I bandage a pair of toenails sternly back in place. Two days later, I have to ration my trips down the stairs.

But somehow already, 2023’s Ode is on the horizon.

This year, I found out how far I could go.

Next year, we’ll see how much farther.


About the Creator

Laura Presley

Laura Presley is a firm believer that magic is real and birds are not. She lives and works in Ohio with her husband, their brood of wildlings, and their excessive number of rescue animals.

IG: @makeshift.martha

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