Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prize Fight

A few days had passed and I still felt like I was recovering from a fight.  My legs barely functioned.  My right shoulder was sore.  I had scars down the right side of my body and a tie-dyed contusion on my thigh.  And I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

It reminds me of a quote from Muhammed Ali the day after the Thrilla in Manilla...
I heard somethin' once. When somebody asked a marathon runner what goes through his mind in the last mile or two, he said that you ask yourself why am I doin' this. You get so tired. It takes so much out of you mentally. It changes you. It makes you go a little insane. I was thinkin' that at the end. Why am I doin' this? What am I doin' here against this beast of a man? It's so painful. I must be crazy. I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him.

The day started as my crew (Allison, Tully, Olive, and Scout) and I loaded up and headed down to the Pine Mountain 40, the long race I'd picked for the fall this year.  I was somewhat familiar with the territory since its the same course as the The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler.  The trails in FDR State Park make for a mentally challenging course for a couple of reasons.  First, the single track is very rocky and rooty.  And during this time of year it is mostly covered in leaves.  Second, there are no huge sustained climbs but it is never flat and therefore pretty deceiving...the 40 miler gains over 5,000' according to my watch.
Crew Member #1

Crew Member #2

Crew Member #3

The race started after some instruction and I try to maintain a controlled pace.  I knew the course record is 6 hours flat by Mark Lundblad, one of the best ultrarunners in the east.  So I focused on setting a reasonable pace for a 6:15 goal.  Other runners had much grander plans at the start so I let them go.  Over the next five miles or so I worked my way up to 3rd, chatting with fellow runners as I went.  I knew the first two guys went out hard and it would take a while to reel them in, if I could.

Over the next 15 miles I tripped and fell twice.  "Fell" is probably not the best description.  "Launch" is more like it.  Superman style.  The first time left me bloodied and with jacked up shoulder.  The second fall was a little more serious in terms of the race that was going on.  Just as I started to glimpse the shirt of the runner in first place I tripped and launched, landing my quad on a big rock in the trail.  Now my right leg was jacked too! What else could I do but just keep running?

I eventually moved into first as we were going through a slow, but nice, part of the course due to boulders, creek crossings, thickets, and bridges.  I moved out, cruising and feeling pretty good, but knowing it could change in a flash.
Flyin' High

At around mile 25, the course loops back onto itself and I found myself running against the flow of the outgoing runners.  This was inspiring seeing the dedication of the  others and hearing the cheers and well wishes.  One older gentlemen yelled "There's the man!" as I ran by him.  I told him he was really the man.  The cool thing about long distance races is that, no matter where we are in line, we are all running AGAINST ourselves and the conditions....trying to answer the question, "can I do this?".  And the yin to that yang is that we are also all running WITH ourselves and the environment.  So when you get encouragement from other runners it's always a special, unexpected boost.  Ultrarunners are a good group of folks.

Anyway, things went south around mile 30.  Creeping.  Stumbling.  Worrying about the second place guy.  Then not caring about the second place guy.  And just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.  And not sitting down beside that tree.  What am I doing here against this beast of a race?

Flyin' Low
I'm not sure if this happens to anyone else but when I stumble in a trail race, I always let out this primal grunt....like a loud dry heave....as if it will help me right the ship.  It's pretty funny.  And the longer the race goes on, the legs get more tired, and the more frequent they occur.  And another thing happens, leg muscles tense up and cramp during that attempt to right the ship.  Even though I had paid particular attention eating and drinking, the leg cramps were imminent.  I eventually tripped one too many times.  I stumbled forward, fell to the ground, and legs tensed up. My right calf went into full on cramp mode.  I squirmed and screamed, lying in the middle of the trail, in the middle of the forest.  It's so painful. I must be crazy. But I managed to pull myself up by a nearby tree.  And what else could I do but just keep running?  Errr...a bit gingerly.

My favorite thing about trail running is the zen like state that it puts you in.  That one singular focus and trance that separates the mind from all other thoughts....and sometimes from body.  It's never more prevalent than in a long race and focusing on the task at hand.

I suffered through the next few miles and eventually arrived at mile 37.  I knew that last three miles were downhill.  And I had somehow held off all of the runners behind me.  I cruised in as hard and fast as I could and finished with the win in 6:17.  Pretty dang proud.  What a day.  What an experience.

I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva race, and God bless it.

Let The Wild Rumpus Begin!