Monday, February 11, 2013

The Rabbit and the Pain Cave

                                   Holiday Lake 2013

I've been called a rabbit  and I guess its true that you need to know your place, but am I just a rabbit?  We all joke about it, even Horton, that she is always chasing me.

It has become customary for me to go out faster than Alexis at a race (any race), and for her to chase me down.  This works out fine for the most part, because that is just how we run.  Alexis is a start slow and negative split it kind of gal, and I am a go out hard and use it up while it feels good kind of guy.  Feeling nearly dead by the end of most races.

Depending on the distance she will catch me or not, but having me to chase evidently makes her run faster.  Being chased by her doesn't really change the way I run, and as far as my ego is concerned, well that's between me and my therapist.

I had a great run at Holiday Lake this year.  In my usual style I went out hard, but it was more then just what I do, this year I had a plan.  Like all great plans it was simple:  run harder than I was comfortable running, and try to hold it together through two loops.  It was going to be a test of my pain threshold.  You see, this was going to be my eighth ultra run, but the first one I have ever raced.

My friend Frank affectionately talks about this place he goes when he runs.  The Pain Cave.  If you ask him about his race strategy  you will get an answer like this:  "I'm going to see how deep I can go into my Pain Cave, and we'll see what happens."  I knew what he was talking about, we all have a Pain Cave, it just happens to be a place I don't like to spend much time in.

Oh I've been to my Pain Cave before, peeked in the entrance, 'Hello, anybody home?' and then  quickly retreating.  Slowing my pace down, walking a hill.  I have never went in there and tried to make myself at home.  It is a dark place and there are scary things in there.  There are demons.  The kind that tell you to stop, right now before you hurt yourself.  The kind that tell you that's not normal muscle fatigue, THAT is a serious injury.  The kind of things that needle away at your determination and drive.  'You've run strong, you could walk it in at this point.'

Oh those Demons have always held too much sway with my sub-conscience, which you spend a lot of time talking to in an Ultra.  But I was ready for them this year.  At mile twelve I was still ahead of Alexis (run rabbit run) and still feeling good.  But the voices in my head were getting stirred up.  Friends at that Aid  Station told me I was doing great, that I looked strong.  I felt strong, 'but you're running too  fast, you can't hold this.'

And so it began.  I made it to the turn-around at just under 2:20.  Right on target as I wanted to run a 5 hour race and I knew I would slow down in the second half.  I spent too much time fumbling around in my drop bag for gels and electrolyte tablets, and headed out for round two still feeling strong.  100 yards onto the trail I saw Alexis heading into the turn around, we exchanged encouragements in passing and were off.

I made it through the woods around the lake and back to the next Aid Station at 20 miles in 3 hours flat.  My legs were feeling tight, and I just knew that cramps were imminent.  I grabbed two ibuprofen from Alexis' crew, mostly just to ease my mind.  I'm pretty sure I knew when I swallowed them that pain killers aren't going to prevent cramps.  I also grabbed a handful of pretzels and forced myself to eat and hike up the hill coming out of the Aid Station.  I wanted to run, but forced myself to walk and ingest some real food.  It was like trying to swallow cement.

Right before the top of the hill I started running again.  Having to stop in the woods twice before I reached the power-line section, the doubts in my head were getting larger and louder.  The power-lines mean 10 miles to go, my first year at Holiday Lake this section broke me mentally.  It seemed to be up hill from both directions, and so monotonous that you think it's never going to end.  10 miles to go.  I used that to fuel me.  I put my head down and pushed on.

At the next Aid Station, mile 24 roughly, I was feeling better in the legs than I thought I had a right to.  I pushed up the hill to the Aid Station strong, I was afraid that if I took to walking at any point now I wouldn't be able to make myself start running again.  As I grabbed my water bottle from the Aid Station worker and started running again, I saw Alexis coming into the Aid Station.  I don't know how I had managed to stay in front of her for this long.

Downhill to the creek, I kept expecting her to zip by me with a smile and a wave, but as I splashed through the cold water I looked back and Alexis wasn't even there.  Where did she go?  'Slow down, if you're running faster than her at this point then you're going too fast.'  But I didn't feel like I was going too fast.  My legs were tired, but I hadn't changed my pace except for letting gravity help me get down the hill to the creek.

I looked back a couple of times on the rolling road between the creeks, and didn't see her.  Was she hanging back trying not to pass me?  Did she think I would give her an unnecessary race if she pulled up beside me?  She clearly overestimated me at this point if that's what she thought.  At this point I was running on battered legs and will power.  My friend John's voice telling me:  "If you don't want to quit on the second loop then you did something wrong.  Keep going."

Through the last of the creek crossings and up the hill.  I checked my watch to see how much time I had to run the last six miles in and realized it was time for a GU.  'This hill looks like a good place to hike and eat.'  When I broke stride to open and eat that gel Alexis appeared at my side instantly, as if she had been running invisibly right behind me waiting for a sign of weakness.

And then she started hiking beside me.  Every bit of wanting to out run her to the finish line vanished just as quickly as she had appeared beside me out of nowhere.  I knew she was in the top ten females, but I wasn't sure if she was eighth, ninth, or tenth.  I knew she couldn't afford to loose time or position slogging the last six miles in with me.  I had led for 26+ miles, good job rabbit.

"Go on," I told her, "I'm done.  You can't run with me.  I'm spent."  She looked at me almost hurt.  "Get out of here!" I yelled at her.  She shook her head at me and tried to tell me that I was wrong, but she started running again.  I let her get about 20 yards up trail before I started running again.  I didn't want to race her, but this was a race.

This is where I really started to notice the HURT.  We crossed the road and started running on the single track treadmill to the next Aid Station.  The last Aid Station.  Every step was an effort, and even with all of that effort she was pulling away.  I got passed by two more people before I got to the Aid Station.  "How are you feeling," someone asked.  How was I feeling?  I was on target to make my 5 hour goal.  My legs felt like they'd been beaten with hammers.  My stomach was threatening rebellion.  For the first time all day a thirst had set in, probably dehydration.  How was I feeling?  I was fading fast, but I could do this.  Let's see how deep this cave goes.

Down to the lake, over the rolling trails, through the beach area, all by myself.  Climbing out of the woods I saw runners.  Was I actually catching up with someone?  One mile to go, 4:45, "You could walk it in."  I ran  the last mile in 8 minutes flat, but more importantly, I was deeper into my Pain Cave than I had ever gone before, and I had survived.  Survived and learned a thing or two about myself.

Official finish time 4:53.

Maybe I am a rabbit, but I think I could be a little more.  And besides, if you've got to be chased by someone, I would chose Alexis every time.


Thanks to everyone who came out to Holiday Lake this year;  David Horton and all of the wonderful volunteers,  all of the friends who ran and suffered with me, and all of the friends who crewed and encouraged runners.  We have an incredible trail running community family around here, and whether I'm hitting the trails by myself to enjoy the solitude or with a group enjoying the fellowship, we are all connected through the dirt we play in.
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