Thursday, March 28, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50K

This was my second running of the Terrapin Mountain 50K, and I was really looking forward to it.  When everyone was running flat fast runs for Holiday Lake, I was tackling hills whenever I could, focusing on the mountain races I had picked for this year.

I knew it wasn't a good sign when I got so sick that I didn't get out of bed for 20 hours on the Sunday before the race.  On Monday I didn't feel much better and stayed home from work laying on the couch.  I felt better after that, but just for good measure I had two really strenuous work days on Thursday and Friday.  Don't tell me I don't know how to taper.  So when I woke up Saturday morning for the race and my quads hurt walking down the stairs, I knew it was going to be an interesting day.

But I had a plan, and everything was going to be just fine.

Running with Frank Gonzales and Sam Dangc on the Saturday before the race, I was privileged enough to get some insight from two of my favorite fast guys.  Frank told me when to start running hard, and what he would do here, and what not to do there, and I soaked it all in like a sponge.  I really respect both of them, and feel honored to get to train with them so obviously I take their opinions seriously.  Until they start talking all crazy on me.  Frank asked what my goal was, and I told him 5:30, and he laughed at me.  "You can run it in 5," he said.  And he meant it.  Crazy.

So I had a plan, Frank's plan for me actually.  I felt good at the start line, I was ready.

Step One, take it easy on the climb to Camping Gap, the race hasn't really started yet.  So I head out at an easy pace, comfortable enough to talk.  I had looked back on last year, and I made the climb in about 48 minutes, but my friend Charlie Peele took an hour, and then beat me by almost 30 minutes in the race.  So I fell in behind Phil, one of my new running buddies who is a good climber.  I hiked a couple of times when I didn't really need to, and ended up getting to Camping Gap in about 46 minutes this year.  Faster than I planned, but I didn't push it so I figured it would be alright.

Step Two, don't push too hard on the five miles downhill of Hunting Creek Rd.   That will just blow out your quads, and Terrapin is mostly a climber's race anyhow.  I fell in with a couple of guys running down the long gravel road who had the same idea that I did.  We let about six or seven runners pass us, commenting on how it was too early to push that hard.  About the time that the road leveled out the conversation turned to 100 milers, and it turned out that between these two guys, that had completed about ten thousand hundreds. Needless to say, I let them go on without me on the next climb.

Clark Zealand (race director) asked how I felt at the Goff Mountain Aid Station (about 9 miles).  "Not as good as I should," I told him.  Even taking it easy on the down hill, my quads were complaining about deep muscle soreness, and I just felt kind of weak.  I filled my bottle, grabbed half of a banana, and started to climb.  And climb.  And climb.  I'm not sure how long the climb up Goff Mountain road is, but I ran every step.  I wasn't feeling good, but I knew that I was trained for these hills, and running Ultras is a mental game.

By the time we turned back into the woods, I had never been so happy to see trees.  The weak feeling stuck with me, but being a little kid at heart, I find it easier to run in the woods than on the roads.  I ran most of this section pretty strong, and before I was ready for it, it was over and I was back on Hunting Creek road with a 3.5 mile climb back up to Camping Gap.

Frank had told me that this is where my race starts.  This is where I was to start exploring my pain cave.  I hit the gravel, waved at the aid station workers without stopping, and started climbing.  It had been my plan for weeks to run that hill.  Every step of it.  I am ashamed to say that I walked  hiked a lot of that climb.  I couldn't shake that feeling of weakness in my legs.  Jeremy Ramsey was running down and told me I was doing a good job.  I was embarrassed that I was hiking, knowing that Jeremy thought I should be faster than I am.  I started running again, and ran most of the rest of the climb.  I was starting to feel like I was letting people down.

When you get to Camping Gap the second time, the race is half over.  I felt like I was more than half way done at this point.  I didn't spend much time at the aid station, because I knew that how I was feeling it would be too easy to linger.  I started off up the WHOR loop, feeling like I should be running faster than I was, but unable to muster much more than a shuffle.  Then the leader passed me, looking strong and fresh like he had just started running.  He had a 5 mile lead on me at this point.  Then I passed Frank and Sam, side by side, 2nd and 3rd, smiling and joking.  I tried to feed off of that energy and push myself, but as the terrain started to climb again, I started to hike again.

I have hit some low points in races before.  One time at a 40 miler I ran past my drop bag and forgot to pick up my gels and had to push through a 13 mile loop at the end of a race without them.  One time at a hot half marathon I bonked so badly I couldn't get my legs to move and had to lean against a tree for 5 minutes.  But never had I entertained the idea of quitting a race the way I did in the WHOR loop this year.  I walked and I walked and I walked, all the while wallowing in self pity.

And then the climb ended.  My ability to run downhill is nothing stellar, but I am always willing to accept the help of gravity when it is offered.  So I ran down and out of the WHOR loop, back on to the road that leads back to Camping Gap, and something changed.  I was passing a lot of runners who were entering the WHOR loop, people who were miles behind me in the race, and most of them looked happy.  Their smiles were contagious   I started greeting every runner I passed with a "good job," or "looking strong," and my energy levels started to rise.  By the time I got back to Camping Gap for the third and last time I felt like a new runner.

I filled my water bottle and grabbed a few gels from my sister-in-law Erin who was awesome enough to hike to Camping Gap (4 miles each way) to crew for Alexis and me.  I started up the climb to Terrapin Summit,
the steepest section of the race, feeling better than I had since the beginning of the race.  This section of the race is where almost all of the fun of the whole 50K is located.  It is only about 4 miles from Camping Gap to the Terrapin Lane aid station, but you get to summit the mountain, visit an awe-inspiring overlook, crawl through Fat Man's Misery, run the ridge line, and then rocket down through the Rock Garden.  This single section of mountain trails makes the entire race worth while.

At the last aid station it is easy to get a little deflated.  The fun in over, and there is nothing between you and the finish line but 5.5 miles of hard work, most of which comes in the form of a monotonous rolling trail filled with identical seeming switchbacks that make it hard to gauge your progress.  At the Terrapin Lane aid station my friends Charlie and Dennis were there hanging out and encouraging runners.  They seemed a little surprised to see me when I got there, but were very encouraging.  I headed out on a mission to run hard the rest of the way, and PR this race.

I knew that I wasn't going to hit Frank's time goal for me, but I was in range for hitting my own.  I ran the best that I could, stopping to hike a couple of times on little rollers that I knew I should have been running.  When I finally hit the Reeds Creek crossing I knew that I had two miles to go and it was mostly down hill, and I started pushing for all I was worth.  Then I passed Chelsie hiking back up, shouting at me to run faster.  I tried.  Or at least I tried to try.  By the time I got to the finish line my legs were so sore and tired that I didn't want to walk another step let alone run any farther.

I hit my goal, with a finishing time of 5:25.  But more importantly I learned a couple of things about myself and perhaps a better way to manage my resources better during a tough mountain race.

Terrapin Mountain 50K is a very tough, yet extremely rewarding race to finish.  Everyone who finishes that course is an accomplished runner, and I am proud to have so many of them as my friends.  I will see you all on the next mountain!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Terrapin Mountain 50k Race Report: Alexis

Terrapin 50k
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Big Island, Virginia

The past few weeks have had me simultaneously nursing a puzzling injury and trying not to entirely lose the base I've worked so hard to build over the first part of the year. Monday I was reading Sophie Speidel's blog and was making mental notes on how to race Terrapin, an event that has eluded me the past two years. However, Wednesday evening's run had me so down and out when the calf started up a mile in that I was back to just hoping to finish Terrapin. With two weeks off following Holiday Lake followed by four weeks of barely running, my training consisted of a handful of Wednesday and Saturday trail runs with a Tuesday or Thursday thrown in for good measure. My 'training' was only about pulling through my injury and I decided, after Wednesday's confidence beating run, that I was training through Terrapin. My goals were simple; to finish but listen to my body and maintain any pain within the 'run through' limits.

Friday I was a little out of sorts. I wasn't nervous like usual with the usual questions, who would beat me, how strong a field is it going to be? I was so worried that the pain in my calf would make it difficult to finish. I was literally wallowing in some of the lowest amounts of self-esteem I can remember. Then I happened across Jennifer Nichols status update on Facebook, she had posted a quote "The body achieves what the mind believes." I instantly knew there was truth, yet challenge, in that statement. How could I perform whatsoever at Terrapin if I didn't even believe that I could? Remember what you told yourself earlier this year Alexis, tell yourself what can be and make it happen.

Saturday morning saw me quite calm. I wasn't worried any longer. I had a simple plan but vowed to even throw it out at any time the day suggested. Once again we were late in arriving but we were able to say a few quick hellos to friends. I ate one Strawberry Banana GU, two Pepto Bismol, two Electrolyte tablets and a few Vitamin I as I waited for the start.

Before Holiday Lake, after I had cheerfully spread the news about Dennis offering to crew me, my sister had texted me, "Why have you never asked me to crew you?" I laughed, I smiled. Honestly, I didn't think she would want to, but I called her up and made plans for Terrapin. I told her she could only crew at Goff mountain AS unless she was willing to hike up to Camping Gap. She said she was up for it and we made plans for her to come out, cheer for me and crew me. I had completely forgotten however about the creek crossing on the way to Camping Gap something Todd told her about minutes before the start, in my defense I had given her an out when I called her the day before, doing my best to scare her away with claims of cold temps and steep ascents, but we both knew I wanted her there. Sometimes my family can seem a little disconnected from what I do and it was nice to have her familiar face out there and also be able to share a glimpse of ultra running with her.

I had decided because I was 'training through' Terrapin to leave my Garmin at home. Todd was even surprised by this, "you don't want to look at your splits later?" he'd asked. Knowing myself well I knew I wouldn't be able to hold with my plan of not racing wearing it, I did however have on my simple Ironman Timex watch so that I could keep some track of time.

I knew from training runs over the past few weeks that my calf is worse the first few miles of every run and when I try to push my pace. I knew I would need to take it very conservatively those first few miles Saturday morning or end up suffering the whole day, and possibly not even finish. Run smart, listen to your body I reminded myself at the start line.

Running from the Sedalia Center I started in the far back of the pack, but as we got on the road I would start talking to people and just fall into their pace. As we turned onto Reed Creek Road I was talking to Brenton Swyers and Andrew Charron, we were joking about my love for hills when my calf started to question what I was doing. I would have liked nothing more than to run up to Camping Gap with them but I had to listen to my leg. I bid them farewell and took to walking. And I walked and walked and was passed by droves of runners, this is usually quite difficult for me, so I reminded myself that it was important to let the leg warm up. I turned on my iPod and settled into the best hike pace I could. Fortunately, a great deal of my training over the past few weeks has been hiking, something I've always been quite poor at, I was happy to see that my hike felt comfortable but productive.

I had given myself an hour to Camping Gap. In life, I am a deadlines or distractions type, if I don't have a time goal, no matter how arbitrary, I can get incredibly unfocused. I set about doing what felt the most comfortable, not looking at my watch, and just hoping that it would be about an hour. I took a second GU and drank water. Then, shortly after the GU, my leg told me I could run again. It was awesome, it felt so good. I started to run and I was passing all of these people who were walking, which I took as a reminder to keep erring on the side of caution. At one point I passed my friend Freda who was doing the half, she said she thought I was long gone and I told her I needed to start slow (because of my calf). Someone up ahead turned and said "Sophie?" "No," I responded, "but thanks for the compliment." I was feeling stronger and stronger the farther we went and was gaining confidence in my plan.

I made it to Camping Gap the first time in 56:33, I was quite pleased. I filled up my water bottle at the aid station and headed off into the back loop, the part of the course I had not run other than the parts that are in Hellgate. Again, remembering Sophie's blog, I took the five mile descent very easy, several people passed me but I didn't let that bother me.

This section, while downhill, was very monotonous and near the bottom, where it levels out I started to get burnt out on all the road running. Then I had a wardrobe malfunction, my GU that I usually sandwich between two sports bras kept falling out and I would have to stop and pick them up. I ended up having to stick them in the first bra, pressed against my skin, this wasn't very comfortable. I'm going to need to plan something else for future long runs and races. I hadn't run on roads since Holiday Lake, it is not my favorite thing, and I started to get a little mentally bogged down here.

When we got to the turn on Goff Mountain I was thankful, in a way, that we were about to start climbing. I thought I saw Jeff Martin ahead, I ran and walked to catch up with him, we ran a short ways together and I ran on but with the burnout a little less after a quick chat with a friend. Then up ahead, I thought I saw Brenton and Andrew, this definitely raised my spirits and I ran and hiked at intervals to slowly catch up with them. When Andrew caught sight of me he said "Nooooooo" while I simultaneously cheered "I looooove hillllllllls!" I ran with them a ways before pushing on. I had just started walking again when I saw Blake and Kevin up ahead.

Usually, at races, I never get to talk with people, I'm all 'head down on a mission' so to speak. Saturday I enjoyed the brief conversations with friends as much as anything else. Blake had fallen just as he had started the descent down Hunting Creek Road and was pretty banged up. I felt bad that such an unforeseen moment could quickly change the kind of day you were having. I used this as a reminder to be thankful for each relatively pain-free moment. Blake had news of Todd, he said he'd passed Blake's mom getting onto the single track about 41st place and looking good. Blake and Kevin were about 110th when they'd passed by his mom a few minutes later.

Thrilled that we were on single track I ran on up ahead, this section was quite runnable. I hiked a few uphills and took some of the steep switchbacks carefully but overall really began to enjoy myself, the first time all day. Coming out of the single track I passed a huge group that had been crowded together on the trail now all stopped at the aid station, I took this opportunity to gain another dozen spots. I'll  be honest, there were a couple times throughout the day, like at this moment, that is was really very hard not to be racing.

I settled back into intervals split between hiking and running. I had given myself the arbitrary time of two hours to do this back section but my lack of running uphill over the past six weeks made that a challenge. I did mourn the race that could have been slightly and settled into running the best that I could for the day. After a mile or so of uphill I saw Grattan Garbee up ahead, his tie-dye compression sleeves gave him away. He was running and hiking the hill same as me and it took a few minutes to catch up with him, at one sharp switchback he looked back at me and I gave him a mischievous wave to suggest I was coming for him. We ran a few minutes together, he said he was glad to see I was running smart and he said he was feeling really good himself.

Near the top I realized I wasn't going to run this section in two hours but it would be close and that wasn't too bad for some arbitrary goal I had set, not knowing what to expect from my leg or lack of earnest training. The top of Hunting Creek Road was steep and as I climbed I ate another GU and two more Electrolyte tablets. I reached Camping Gap the second time in 2:59. My sister ran over and swapped bottles with me and handed me two GU, she seemed a bit frazzled and cold and I felt bad that she would only see me a minute or two the entire day but was glad she was there. She said I was tenth female which delighted me as I felt that I had been running very smart and comfortable. I passed by Horton in his truck who asked how I was doing, he'd seen me at the start and I had told him I was just training through Terrapin which I sensed disappointed him. I told him my sister thought I was tenth and I was pretty content with that. I wondered if that too was a disappointment but didn't take it to heart, just ran on through and into the WHOR loop.

On Thursday the WHOR loop had seemed so difficult as we had marked the course, it was yet another confidence depleting run. However, on Saturday as I crossed paths with the front runners and was feeling warmed up and comfortable it didn't seem nearly as bad. I kept waiting for the calves to tighten and rebel on the climbs but they never did. Now this is by no means to say that I ran the whole thing, I walked a great deal of this loop but I also ran more than I thought I might which wasn't too bad. I started to feel that I was running really smart for me, I was feeling great and with no real pressure was actually having a good time. Then I passed another female, which excuse me for this, always feels nice.

I had to wait in a short line to punch my bib at the top of the WHOR loop and I laughed inside, good thing I'm not racing today and then cruised down the other side. I passed only one runner on the downhill, I was taking this section conservatively because I feared the trail was possibly slick after slipping on Thursday. Approaching the bottom of the loop I saw Brenton, "Your hubby's only eight minutes ahead of you." This too excited me, I wasn't hopeful that he was having a bad day only that my day was going better than I had originally planned.

Running back to Camping Gap I felt amazing. My legs felt good, I still had a good deal of energy and I was excited about the prospect of having a better than planned day. I passed runners going into the WHOR loop, cheering them on and saying hello to my friends. Their encouraging words in response only drove me on harder, it was seriously the highlight of my day. Funny, I'd really dreaded the WHOR loop, hadn't even given myself a time goal because I didn't want to be disappointed and it turned out to be a pretty good section of the day.

I came back into Camping Gap at 3:58, I had run the WHOR loop in 59 minutes, I was quite pleased. I stopped to swap bottles with my sister and grab a few more GU. I talked to Blanks Blankenship who ran up the trail to take my picture. I was leaving when an AS worker said "Great job, you look really fresh." I said thank you to the person and acknowledged inwardly that I felt really fresh. Just up ahead I saw Phil Layman and Jenny Nichols. This surprised me, I would never have thought that I would catch up with Jenny or Phil. After a quick hello they pulled ahead on the climb to summit Terrapin. I slowed, remembering what I had read, climb Terrapin smooth and relaxed. I ate a GU, two Electrolyte tablets and three Tums. I drank water and focused on not letting the heart stress about the climb. Before long we were at the summit, punching our bibs and on our way to Fat Man's Misery.
Photo courtesy Blanks Blankenship

Jenny let me pass on the downhill, she said she wasn't as strong on the downhill. I usually am not, especially this particular section, but I was feeling really good. Phil stayed behind me until Fat Man's Misery where he got to witness me literally fall into the crevice between the two boulders that make up this obstacle on the course.  Ouch! Both my elbows and my bottom felt that. I was a little disoriented coming out the other side and was thankful another runner was just through the other side and reminded us to punch our bibs.

In the Rock Garden I encouraged Phil to pass me but I tried to stay with him as best I could. I ran this section between Fat Man's Misery and the AS at Terrapin Lane as fast as I ever have and even passed one more female along the way. Since the beginning I had been telling myself that if I felt good at Terrapin Lane I would run hard from there to the finish. All day I had seen this as a good option to make up some time and get a little racing in. When I got to the AS there at Terrapin lane I was happy to see Dennis Coan and Charlie Peele. I handed my hat and gloves off to Dennis and asked for salt tablets. Dennis said he had some in his car but I told him that wasn't necessary. A volunteer offered me salted popcorn instead, I took a big handful and asked about Todd as I headed out. "He's fifteen minutes ahead of you," Dennis said. Knowing I would never catch him I headed on in the hopes of running a strong finish.

Two bites of popcorn later and I immediately started to have the sensation that worms were travelling through my right calf, my injured, listen closely to me, calf. With no electrolyte tablets left and not wanting to ruin what had become a pretty good day I decided, on the slow uphill climb back to the Terrapin Ridge trail that I needed to take it easy and avoid cramping. Despite how the rest of me felt, which was pretty good, I couldn't risk cramping. I walked the uphill back from the AS and then some of the turn once I was on the single track trail. I was a little disheartened. I felt so good but I didn't know why I had just experienced that strange calf sensation and I just couldn't risk it, especially when I was supposed to be 'training through' Terrapin.

Then I realized something even more foolish. Despite what must have been my longest stop of the day at the AS at Terrapin lane I hadn't filled my water bottle up. It only had a few ounces left in it. I was feeling nervous, really hoping to keep the cramps at bay. Shortly after I had another wave of cramps so I ended up eating another GU, my ninth for the day, only about 20 minutes after my last one and drank the rest of the water in my bottle. Fearing I still had a few miles left and with the sun warming up for the day I stopped and filled my water bottle at a stream crossing. It tasted fine though so I nursed it as I weaved in and out on this section of winding trail. I looked back at one point and saw no one behind me, I really wanted to run this section harder but the cramps had me scared. I didn't enjoy this section, usually one of my favorites, as much as I would have liked because of the fear of the unknown and cramping.

When I saw Reed Creek I was very excited, I hadn't had any cramps for a few minutes and figured I had less than two miles left. I ran the downhill section well if not slightly fast. When I arrived at the turn off of Reed Creek road however, I could feel the lack of speed training and road running over the past month and a half on the mostly flat section. I also had a twinge of cramping on the road so I ran easy due to that as well. When I passed Todd less than quarter mile to the finish he reached for my water bottle, just then the Mountain Goats came on my iPod. I smiled a great big smile. Fearing further cramping if I tried to sprint in the finish I took it easy and coasted across the finish line in 5:39.

Overall for my current level of training, which has consisted of an average pace of over 11 minute miles, I feel I had a very good day on Saturday. I would have liked very much to not have muscle cramps the last few miles but even despite this I feel I ran a very smart and conservative race. I didn't surge at any time during the day, I carried out what fueling plans I had made and I listened to my body, backing off when there was pain or cramping. Even though I didn't push it per se, Terrapin is still a really tough course. My body was sore afterwards and my elbow tender and bruised.

I ended up finishing 50th overall and there is a part of me that wonders how I would have done if I'd been strong and healthy this past month, able to train efficiently and race well. Or if I'd been able to keep cramps completely at bay. At the same time, I finished well enough that I wonder how much better I would have even ran if better trained. My goal in January had been to run Terrapin in sub 5:30, I was only 9 minutes off of that time. Oh well, maybe next year.

Very thankful for all the friends I have met through ultra running, and their encouragement and support. It is always fun to see friends out on the race course. I am very thankful my sister was out there on Saturday, she isn't sold on ultra running but I think it may have opened her eyes a little to what we do, though her opinion that we are in fact crazy may have only become more etched in her mind. And of course, a big thank you to the Aid Station for letting me be a part of their running team this year.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Convalescing in Apprehension

The consideration that his claim may have no basis in fact made no difference. His words had already been swallowed by my ears and were being digested by my brain.

"You could have run sub 5:30, you're faster than me... Maybe next year."


Of course, I could do any number of stupid things between now and then. But for now the state of things is that my poor choices and obsessive personality have once again conjoined to do me in, the race that could have been will no longer be, not this year.

But the race will go on and I'm swimming in a sea of questions; Am I? Is it? How can we? How can we not?
Will I race, any race, at Terrapin?

Believing that I may in fact be on the mend, but still suffering from slight weakness, tightening, I am afraid of every step I take but just as afraid to not take these steps. Wondering if it weren't this muscle, would it just be that knee? This foot? Will there always be some lump in my throat, some damaging fear in my arsenal?

And which race are we even really talking about, is it the one looming in six days or the one that beckons closer every day, arriving the last weekend in June? I'm so frightened, have been ever since the morning after Hellgate when I was properly rested and first allowed the effects of my whimsical decision to drop my name in the lottery to take hold, I'd signed up for and subsequently been chosen for a race I fear I've no real place to partake in. More questions in the sea of what's to be; Can I? Will I?

I've most likely been given a once in a lifetime shot, you don't just walk away even if you're riddled with fear, even the crippling, fatiguing fear of failure. All I need is a chorus of "Not you, not now, not ever" to complete the scene, my utter lack of self-confidence versus the need to prove myself, which will overcome? And there are other fears, pulling and pushing in every direction. The fear of regret. The fear of being seen as reckless, stupid, foolhardy. The fear of disappointment.

I digress, though parallels in my mind, the focus, at the moment, is on Terrapin.

Terrapin is less than a week away, I intend to participate, to complete the 50k. Neither fast or slow I don't see myself as particularly talented, I am just a runner with a profound competitive drive and a little bit of heart to match. I'm in no place to win or set speed records, but I'm driven to compete in next weekend's event for a handful of reasons, but namely, simply because I want to.

Scratch that, upon further reflection the word I mean to use, is need. I need to go out next weekend. I need to know for my own sake and satisfaction that I can be smart, run easy, listen to my body and manage any pain within the 'run through' limits. I need this experience. Understanding that I may in fact do further damage or be seen as stupid is not enough to compel me to change my mind. The stronger other's argument that I shouldn't may become the more the need to becomes, you're pushing me into the arms of my star crossed love with every well aimed criticism. Might you know me better than I know myself? I desire this finish in a way words would fail to convey, in a manner that is felt but cannot be described.

Not running would take me out of the LUS but that weighs ultimately rather low, I know I'm not trained to run like I was hoping and that my personality is such that I may face great effort in overcoming the inability to race. Truth is, I can't even promise I won't shift into race gear should the leg give me the green light. However, I am struggling not with the decision to race but with the opinion I am gathering is forming now that  I've decided to go through with the race. People whose advice I do respect but don't necessarily want to follow, the fact that there are people who think I am foolish, stupid. The looming "I told you so's" should I further injure myself or fail to finish. Between the draw of the race and fear of your disappointment I'm once again drowning in doubt and self-loathing.

But you see, I know me. I know my own regrets and what I don't regret is any race I've ever run, because I know how they turned out, I know what I put into them, what I got out of them. Even that 5k at Liberty several weeks back, I honestly hold no regret, I know I made the choice and there was no other way it could have gone. I gave it everything I could and to my crazy, delusional self there is success of a certain nature in that. There is a whisper, it is telling me I have to give Terrapin a try. I have to see how it all turns out. Maybe I won't finish, maybe I'll have to quit, but then I will know that I couldn't finish, that I had to quit.

More than ever before it may just be that the odds are in favor of failing and in my own mind, I need to test the waters and risk how the failing may feel in order to go forward with Western States.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Time for a little (more) self-reflecting.

Since the pain in my lower right leg intensified four weeks ago I have been on a roller-coaster that simulates the mountains that I long to run pain-free. In a craze to diagnosis, treat and prevent further occurrence I failed to perform the thorough job of self-reflecting. Yes, I conceded stupidity for a number of bad choices but I misfired when I left it at that, further frustration forthcoming when I failed to flip back through the pages of my precise mileage accounts and detailed training logs. Having finally progressed past denial, anger and depression but not arriving at what I would term the upward turn, I was lingering in limbo.

Last night I ran, third time since that painful 5k after Holiday Lake a few weeks back. The leg was feeling fine walking, just the occasionally twinge of weakness and resulting worry, so I was hopeful that a run of true comfort and ease might follow. We arrived early enough to get a warm-up in, I did two loops of the parking lot but in the first few steps I felt the weakness. Hard to describe and even harder to stomach, the stiff ache in that lower leg beckoned for more of my attention. I went to the van and resumed my current addiction to googling all things calf and injury and waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

A poor choice of running shoes coupled with the slushy leftovers of a diminutive snow day and I was instantly urged by my body to heed the advice I'd promised to follow. Dropping pace and slipping to the back of the group my leg commenced tightening. Being alone in the woods and fighting the frequent slip on slush and sludge I focused on the tightening. A mile in I yearned to catch up to the group, I had them in my sights, but the faster I moved the more the leg tightened, not cramping, just tightening. Again, I dropped my pace, decided I could call it quits at any time having faith in my ability to find my way back to the car and settled into the run that was to be.

The group, or at least a portion of them, waited for me at an intersection. Todd inquired about my leg which was at it's tightest but I decided to carry on seeing as the group had waited for me. Fortunately, being among the group afforded conversation and a shift of focus from the leg. Oddly enough over the next mile or so the muscles began to loosen up. The more I ran the more I felt I could run. This is exactly what happened during this past Saturday's run in the mountains. I would imagine if it were a stress fracture this would not be the case.

With the leg warmed up and the pain lessening I strove to continue to take it easy. I realized, over the next few miles, how hard this is for me. I wanted so badly over the later part of the run at several points to speed up, it was an effort not to do so, that is just how deep the crazy runs within. In a way I was happy to see that a few weeks rest and recovery had not lessened the crazy (sometimes it's best to embrace what you are). Suffice it to say it was a struggle to constantly remind myself to keep my hands on the reigns, but the urge was overwhelming at times, I want so badly to be fast. Kevin Correll reminded me in the parking lot after the evening's run that just last week I was just happy to be out there. In other words, don't try and screw it up.

Long is the list of reasons why I love to run with others, but it's this source of outward reflection that I take with me, the insight and advice from fellow runners, that is perhaps the most beneficial. During the course of the run Grattan Garbee remarked that I was learning something, he wasn't sure what, but if I didn't learn it, really learn from it, I would be bound to repeat it.

Home from the evening's run, feeling better than I did at the start, I sat myself back down with my favorite book on running, Tom Noakes "The Lore of Running" (4th ed. 2003) and began to more thoroughly than ever read the chapter on 'Staying Injury Free'. Noakes insists several key points, his "Laws" of running injuries, including that they are not acts of God, seldom need surgery and cannot be cured until the causative factors are eliminated. He goes on to clearly spell out the treatments for most running injuries for which he claims to have a success rate of nearly 75% with injured runners in a 1983 study, and most of the runners who weren't successful, he claims, didn't follow the protocol correctly (Noakes, p 753).

Moving on from the laws, he lays out treatment, step two after determining that the injury is running related is 'Diagnose and determine the cause'. First, Noakes says, look at your shoes, have you switched them recently, are they worn out, etc. He is very thorough in his explanation for why you must look very closely at your shoes and how they can cause breakdowns throughout the body from the feet upwards. Then, Noakes says, if you are done looking at your shoes, look at your training to see whether your methods or patterns have changed that might explain the injury, including speed, daily and weekly running distance and  number of days per week run (Noakes, p 772).

I stopped right there. I laid the book down, went and collected my training logs from this year and last and sat down with a calculator and a blank piece of paper. I had a good guess that I had increased my mileage in January but I hadn't really sat down and crunched the numbers.

What followed was an inquiry that lead to such an eye opening reveal I just had to share.

Turns out there is an awful lot you can learn from yourself if you keep a log, journal or both and actually go back and read and analyze the data. I had in fact increased my mileage too quickly in January. After a few minutes to figure out with Todd's help the formula to figuring out such increases and percentages I learned that over a five week period I made an increase of over 150%. Talk about stupid.

You see I ran Hellgate. Then I got sick.So I took a few easy weeks. Then I remembered I was training for Holiday Lake, looking towards Western States and now potentially had a sponsor. My intense desire to be good led to a very bad move in my training. In that five week period I jumped 18.5 %, 27%, 29%, 26%, and 1.5%.  However, I never got my mileage up as high as I thought I had, my highest Monday to Sunday week was only 68 miles. But when you rearrange those weeks, look at them from say one particular Friday to the next, I had an 81 mile week, my highest ever.

But it wasn't this fact that was the eye opener. It was that on this same list of weekly miles I decided to record, due to Noakes suggestion, the number of days in a week run. In that same five week period I jumped from running three days to six days a week. And in the two weeks that followed the huge percentage increase I stayed at six days per week. The second six day week was when in fact my leg first began to hurt.

I almost never run six days. So I looked back further into the training logs into last year to see number of days per week run. And I learned two more things. First, through all of November and December I ran only 1, 2 or 3 days a week. Seriously, in those two months the most I ran was three days in any given week. Prior to January 6th the last time I had run four days in a week was the week ending October 28th. And from January 6th to January 27th I had jumped to six days. For someone who doesn't feel stupid, I certainly act so.

The second thing I learned was that I had actually run two six day weeks in October training for Masochist. The last day of the second six day week? I got INJURED!!!!! I did something to my left foot, my big toe tendon. An injury that scared the dickens out of me for Masochist, resulted in many trips to my chiropractor, numerous hours of icing, many usages of KT tape, hours rolling out with a tennis ball, took a combined two months to heal while all the while only running 1, 2, or 3 days a week!! When I realized this I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or scream. If you don't learn you're bound to repeat your mistakes.

Thank goodness I'm too busy doing nothing on Friday's other than the occasional visit to the Aid Station or else it may have been worse, I may have pushed one of these weeks to seven days.

I was blind to this fact, hadn't seen the pattern until last night. Here I was running six days a week and instead of getting better I was having to take weeks and months of less days and mileage, in other words more was actually resulting in less and I was doing loads of backwards peddling.  Not that I will never be able to run six days a week. But I can't get there in a few short weeks.

But wait, then there was more. I've done enough googling in these past few weeks that I have a much wider range of knowledge about my lower leg than ever before and yet I still don't know what is wrong with my leg. So I put down the log with all the numbers and I picked up the journal and started to reread my post training notes, the stuff that may not be blog worthy or seem of use to additionally note but still I record for posterity's sake.

And guess what I 'remembered'? After I finally overcame my foot/tendon injury in December, what did I go out and do? I went out and ran my fastest half marathon ever. Not a race, just a tempo run with Todd and Grattan in the snow, but still my fastest by several minutes at the distance. Immediately following the run I had sore, tight calf muscles. The next morning they were incredibly sore waking up, I wanted to cancel my run with Cheyenne and Jennifer but Todd urged me to go. My incredibly tight and painful calves hurt the entire run, I even made those girls walk for me once or twice. I took the next day off because they were that tight and painful. On New Year's Day I suffered through a long, cold run on Terrapin where they never eased up. Finally, after five days, they let up a little. So of course I went out to run a fast 10k that Saturday.

You're calves were bothering you at the beginning of January but you thought nothing of this when they started bothering you at the end of January?  I had been running hills a lot the week this new pain emerged, I thought that was the cause.  Well, what if the calf damage had started in early January and I just exasperated it with hills and more hills and little recovery by way of six day weeks until it finally said 'enough'?

So I kept reading.

I went far enough back to be reminded of something else by way of notes made about races. The Trail Nut Half Marathon, Carvin's Cove Marathon, the Lynchburg Half Marathon, and Deep Hollow Half Marathon all shared a similar ending in their race reports. At every one of these events I finished with debilitating calf cramps, at Deep Hollow they didn't even go away until a few minutes after the race ended. I have failed to narrow down the cause for the cramps other than possible hydration issues and pushing too hard at the end of races. However, it seems important now that I am seeing all of these other interconnected warning signs about calf pain and too much running with inadequate recovery.

Monday I went to Salem to see Josh Gilbert, chiropractor and race director, for his advice and aid for the pain in my leg. In addition to an adjustment he suggested I use the stick and roll out more frequently, say 100 times in a certain spot. Holding his advice in high esteem and suffering from soreness now in my left leg after Saturday's run in the mountains I spent Tuesday rolling out the legs like it was my part-time job. Several times that day I sat down to roll out the legs, both of them, using my stick, my foam roller and a softball. Yesterday  morning the legs felt better, the soreness in my left leg was completely gone upon walking. Yet, I rolled again several times throughout the day. Even though the muscles didn't feel sore to the touch they reacted to the stick. My right leg (the injured one) felt pretty good, almost about as good as the left except in two spots.

The morning of the Liberty Mountain 5k I came home and Todd massaged my legs using the stick and his hands. There were several very painful, tender spots, but they weren't where the focal point of the pain was. They were really only painful when he tried to roll them. Now, nearly four weeks later, the leg is feeling better and better but last night those painful, knotty spots were still present upon using the stick and rolling.

After rolling out I went back to reading Noakes book, this time the chapter had lead into description and specific treatment for injuries.  After reading about shin splints and stress fractures we arrived at Chronic Muscle Tears (muscle knots). They are possibly the 'third most common' running injury and 'usually misdiagnosed' can be very debilitating (Noakes, p. 820). The description seems similar to what I've been experiencing. Gradual onset, pain grew worse until it interfered with training, especially speed. According to Noakes there is only one possible treatment, cross-friction. Once last night with Todd's help and then again this morning I am working out the 'knots' with the help of a technique I read about online.

There is certainly more to the leg injury, or at least there was, but I have started to feel better, just maybe not as quickly as I would have liked. There was more to the pain when it began but I'm beginning to believe that what occurred the morning of that 5k was a direct result of my ignorant training, in particular the too quick increase in number of days a week and ignoring the warning signs that my calves needed special attention and care especially when the week the injury appeared I ran six days that included three days of fast, speed workouts on hills. My calves were begging for a break, maybe they decided to incorporate other muscles, tendons and ligaments to help spread their message to me as they alone were unable to reach me.

With a clearer view of how I may have gone wrong I can hopefully go forward better equipped at keeping injury at bay. Still in recovery I am desperately worried about taking any steps backwards at this point, but feel the need to get out and run to maintain some mental strength and physical conditioning. It's a hopeful sign to me that my leg felt no worse at all after yesterday's run and this morning it feels better yet, not strong or tight upon waking which may be due to the rolling I did before bed. I know that the legs seem to do better after they are sufficiently warmed up, which seems to take several miles and they are still in no mood to toy with speed. They still give me that feeling of weakness every so often when I'm walking around the house, but definitely less and less so.

I know one thing, I can almost dance pain free in my kitchen, and that my friends, I'm hoping is a very good sign.


Monday, March 4, 2013

What devil art thou, that dost torment me thus?

I strive to be accepted, liked, befriended. Todd has joked that I am the trail ambassador, I want to be warm and welcoming, encouraging. And yet, try as I might, I feel that some are just unwilling to accept me, return that welcoming warmth.

Case in point, the Appalachian Trail.

I am starting to believe that the AT hates me. This past spring I was so excited to finally set foot on the historic trail that extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. Immediately moved by our short trek on the scenic trail with our whole family in tow, I was eager to go back and run on the AT.

However, our first run on the AT, while set upon during a heat wave this past July, was particularly difficult.  From the James River Foot Bridge to Petits Gap and back, Todd and I had set off in high spirits. We carried too little water and were unprepared for the humidity. I believe there was a point I thought I might die. Twenty miles never seemed so hard.

I just thought we had a bad day, the AT couldn't possibly be that difficult to traverse, or could it?

The next few runs we partook in on the AT, even short sections thrown in on longer runs, were equally arduous. The week before Holiday Lake this year we went on a run that included sections of the Hellgate course and the AT. At the back of the group, being slow and in taper mode, I began to question myself as a runner. What is it with me and this scenic, stirring trail?

Why can't we be friends?

On that run, a few short weeks ago, I set about to make it my mission to trim the dislike we seem to carry for one another. The AT and I will find harmony, I vowed.

Step one. Visit more often. This past Saturday, still slightly injured and fearful of further time benched, I hesitantly agreed to a run of mid-length in the mountains. The whole run was to be taken easy by me, walk the uphills, listen to my body for cues. When I realized we were to join up with the AT for a five plus mile portion of our run, I was filled with trepidation and caution. However, when we got to the AT it was suggested we could turn around and go back the way we came. Tuck our tails? Well, not really, we were in somewhat of a time crunch. But I hadn't spent the first half of the run preparing mind and body for the trail that thwarts me time and again to not even be given a chance at balance.

Step two. Employ an open mind. I let everyone else in the group we were running with pass me and I settled in, knowing from past experience to revere this trail or suffer the confidence beating it can deliver. I turned my music on, settled into taking it easy and let the trail guide my pace. The section we ran did feel unending, and there was one point where I felt a bit uneasy, even a tad light-headed, but I think this has more to do with poor planning (I didn't carry any fuel along for the run) than anything. The run itself, which included a fair amount of hiking, was, might I even use the word, enjoyable.

Not as technical as other sections I've been on, it was a winding, hilly in both directions, run. Yet I was able to settle into a pace of sorts, my mind ended up finding the ability to travel, which for me is a sign of comfort and balance when I no longer have to plan out every next step. The AT, with its deceiving trails and magical scenery, is not for the faint of heart. What can make you stronger can also tear you down, pummel your self-confidence. It could be said that the AT demands your respect.

Saturday's run was a fair start to befriending the AT, I was happy to arrive at the intersection that carried us back to our cars, but I also didn't feel broken coming upon the turn, a feeling I have felt on nearly all other AT runs. At a time where my body feels damaged, the absence of a shattered mind upon completion of a run is a souvenir I will enchantedly treasure.

The best part? I am actually looking forward to meeting up with the AT in the near future.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

What moves you?

Why do we run?  The question gets asked so much that it has become a cliche.  Why do we run?  Why do we punish our bodies like this?  What are we running from?  What are we trying to prove?

Well, I can't speak for other runners, so I won't even try.  So then, why do I run?  In the simplest most generic terms, I run because I love to run.  But that doesn't really answer the question does it?  Why do I love to run?

I've been thinking about that lately, mostly when I'm running.  I love the sense of community that I share with the local runners whom I share the trails with, they are like family to me.  I enjoy a certain level of competition, though it is mostly myself I compete against.  I appreciate the level of fitness running awards me, not to mention the ridiculous amounts of food I am allowed to consume.  I enjoy the satisfaction of running distances that seem daunting to so many.  But these are the wages of running, these are not why I run.

I think that sometimes we don't know why we run.  Maybe some of us have forgotten.  Sometimes we don't care.  Sometimes it is just a routine, just what we do.  But sometimes it is right there, clear as day.  An epiphany that can only happen when you are barreling down a tricky single track all by yourself.  Whether you are with a group or just chasing one of your fast friends, when it happens you are always all by yourself. A moment of clarity, when everything makes sense and the universe is in harmony.  These kinds of moments are fleeting, and the clarity fades as we drive home from the run.

For me it is truly a spiritual thing.  Those moments are what keep me coming back to the trails.  Running through the woods like an animal, free of all of the weights and chains of everyday life.  It is a primal connection that we are lucky enough to still be able to make.  There are times when nothing matters but the next step.  Mileage and mortgages don't exist, it is the simple joy of your feet moving gracefully over the forest floor.

I have been lucky enough to have two of these runs in the last week.  On Wednesday night I was trying to explain this phenomenon to Blake and Kevin as we descended a technical single track in the dark.  I don't think that I articulated my thoughts very well, so I am trying again now.

It is a feeling like being 10 years old and playing in the woods.  Or what I imagine it feels like to be a deer running free through the trees.  A feeling that overtakes you, replaces you with a stripped down version of you.  I run in the woods because it takes me back to my childhood, when things were more simple.  When life was still an adventure.  It is like devolving to an animalistic state where we are allowed to follow our instincts.  A place where it is OK to have fun.  Where every step is a quest for solid footing, every hill a foe to be conquered.

I don't like road running for the same reasons in reverse.  Road running is about safety and control and pace.  There is no adventure there for me, only work.  And life has enough of that already.

Don't get me wrong, I am not slighting road runners.  On the contrary, road runners are some of the toughest people I know, both mentally and physically.  They train their legs to move with robotic precision and strength.  They run grueling amounts of miles at solid and steady paces that I can not ever seem to keep.  Road runners are tough people, I just don't want to be one.

Running for me is a journey and an adventure that is meant to be wild, dirty, and unpredictable   It is a passage to another, more exotic world, filled with beastly climbs, and treacherous descents where footing is unforgiving and the scenery is awe inspiring.  Where you leap over fallen logs and splash noisily through frigid creeks.  The forests and the mountains offer us an unordered world to explore where we can lose ourselves.

I love to run, because I am just a little boy, and running is what I do.