Monday, March 24, 2014

Terrapin Mountain 50k Race Report : Closer to Fine

Terrapin Mountain 50k
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Big Island, Virginia

If you would have asked me at any other time, I would have told you that the ground beneath my feet was that of my most favorite trail, the winding horseshoes that turn into and then away from the Terrapin Mountain, the shallow creek crossings and the views of Bedford County. But at that moment, it had become just too easy to fall into feeling sorry for myself. Walking steps I should have been running, already mourning the could have been, should have been of the miles beforehand. Assuming I was just biding my time until my legs locked up for good and had me walking to the finish. It seems to get like this, the insurmountable negativity driving me away from my goals and aspirations. I was alone out there, until the Indigo Girls found me.

I run with two iPods, this gets laughed at on occasion, but isn't all that funny when you know that one of them is permanently locked on a low volume and won't let me skip or replay tracks. It's the backup. The other doesn't hold a charge much anymore. It's the go to. I hadn't turned them on at all that day until the climb to the summit on Terrapin Mountain. When I turned the 'go to' one on it said in it's cold robotic voice "Battery Low" before it ever played a tune, the going had gone, from my perceptibility, from bad to worse. Two songs later, it died completely.

The second iPod did it's job of playing songs I don't even know why are on my iPod at intolerably low levels, I could still hear my breathing, the voice inside my head far louder than my Shuffle. So there I am, walking along on my favorite trail, decidedly done with the day, when the Indigo Girls comes on, "Closer to Fine". That classic acoustic guitar intro almost immediately doing the job alone but being further urged along by one of the best awakening lyrics ever to reach my ears:

 "And the best thing you've ever done for me, is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all."

The evening before I had been present when Clark had his accident at the camp. I don't do well with accidents or the sight of blood. I don't do well when people I care about are hurt, or with statements like "I think I've fractured my skull". I don't do all that well under pressure. It was decided that I would take Clark to the emergency room, the prayer "Please don't let Clark die in my van" honestly going through my head. Honestly and fortunately, all was for the most part alright. However, on the ride back to the Sedalia Center that evening I decided that everything being so temporary I was going to just enjoy my run on Terrapin the next day before immediately realizing that it is precisely this temporary status of everything that made it all the more pressing to, in the words of Mike Mitchell, use it before you lose it. Do exactly what it is that scares you, I told myself, push yourself. 

"I went to the doctor, I went to the mountain, I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There's more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line."

On Saturday morning I soaked in what I enjoy most, the anxious air surrounding a group of people about to embark on a journey of self discovery. I wish I could bottle that energy, save it for a rainy day. But perhaps the real beauty in it comes from the fact you can't bottle it.

Surrounded by friends we set off for the day's trek, starting out on a flat paved road. I was content that I seemed, for once, to dress seemingly appropriate for the day's weather, being just slightly cool from the start. I knew the weather was to reach the low to mid-70s later in the day, temperatures far above that we had seen in the majority of the previous weeks, so I sat out at once to stay ahead of hydration needs. I thought I was doing OK by mostly emptying my bottle between aid stations, in retrospect, maybe I was only thinking I was doing a good job because I usually drink nothing.

I jogged down the road as Kevin Corell pulled away, he had told me to stay with him but I am who I am. I let him pull away. I ran with Jamie Swyers to the End State Maintenance sign where I took to walking and she pulled away. I did what I could on the technical road meets trail section that is mostly uphill and makes up the first few miles of the race but I can't climb like that from the start the way others seem to be able to. I was doing what I felt like was my best, pushing my calves to tighten hoping that I was pushing enough to do a good job but not too much to weaken their strength later in the day. I ate two Strawberry Fig Newtons and tried to empty my bottle before the top. I made it to Camping Gap the first time in about 51:40, just under 5 minutes faster than the year before, I thought I was going GREAT! Todd swapped bottles with me at Camping Gap and told me I was 8 or 9th female, Frank cheered me on and I took off down Hunting Creek Road.

I was saving my legs, that's what I told myself, but a dozen or so people passed me as I tried to linger between a good effort and saving those legs. Mike Mitchell passed me saying he was using it while he had it in him, Alisa Springman and a few other men flew past, I wondered if I was taking it too easy on my quads.  JJ Justice stayed with me though, he said rumor had it I would catch those people passing by us later. I ate my last two Strawberry Fig Newtons I packed for the day and a few raisins. I got uplifting cheers from Charlie, Dennis and their camping buddies on the long pull downhill. Near the bottom I caught sight of Jamie and Kevin. In a text a few days before Jamie said I would pass her at 15 miles, I thought I would be happy just catching her to run with her awhile.

At Goff Mountain Aid Station a volunteer filled my bottle and I grabbed a few potato chips. I could see Kevin just ahead and he must have seen me too when he was at the aid station because he looked back once or twice. I was talking to Alisa when I finally said "I'm coming, Kevin" and took to running to catch up with him, passing Mike in the process. Mike said "Go get your pacer." I know he didn't mean anything by it, but I don't think of it that way with Kevin and I, we train a great deal together, we are very similar paces, we ran off and on very near each other all day, but I think it tends to be a more equal push and pull system.

Kevin and I ran a lot of Goff Mountain road. JJ was still with us and I knew Kevin could tell I was trying to reel Jamie in without ever saying it. Just before the trail section Blake's parents cheered for me and Jamie turned and said "You're a mile late, Alexis!" smiling. I asked where were we, I had 15 miles, she said no I gave you ten. I said I can show you the text later, but it was all in good fun, I was really happy to be with her, Kevin and JJ. We were running along chatting merrily and talking about the Blue Ridge Trail Runners strong presence on the course that day. We passed Frank G. and Brenton (Jamie's husband) on the trail headed in the opposite direction, they told us there were six girls ahead of us and told us to push it! I thought we covered the trail between Goff Mountain and Hunting Creek Road well. I filled my water bottle again at the aid station on Hunting Creek Road but didn't grab any food. I always think I'm running and fueling much smarter than I actually am.

The climb back to Camping Gap is TOUGH. It's a little under 3 mile climb on gravel roads back to Camping Gap, the same road you experienced leaving Camping Gap takes you back, except the quad burning downhill is much more grueling in reverse. It eats my lunch and makes me feel inadequate on many levels. I was very thankful to have Kevin and Jamie there though JJ had disappeared. It was nice to meet a friend or two along the way. I ate a mini Milky Way and a few more raisins. We walked and ran at intervals and Kevin was a great help along the way despite the fact he was feeling pretty sick. Jamie stopped to go to the bathroom and though I caught sight of her behind us, she didn't catch back up. That was the last we saw of her during the run. Near the top Kevin said we were going to hit Camping Gap at about 2:50, I was stoked at the news, feeling slow and having done it the year before in 2:59. Then I saw my great buddy Clifton up ahead, I pushed on as I thought I would get to run with Clifton.

We made it to Camping Gap in 2:49. I was in a great mood having made that climb faster than aimed for and with it being so tough. Todd swapped bottles again once more and we were off to catch up with Clifton when I hear "Want some company?" from Dennis and Charlie. They headed off with us towards the White Oak Ridge loop as they were headed to Apple Orchard Mountain. Todd called after me, "Be back in an hour!" I was in a very good place right at that one moment, if there was to be a highlight of the run, this was it. I was feeling pretty good, I was in a really good mood. However, I was outwardly optimistic but inside I knew what lie ahead, steep ascents and descents for which I fear I am no match. I worried that it would all coming falling down. Not at that moment it didn't, but soon.

Kevin, Clifton, Dennis, Charlie, Brian Deibler and I were all running along and I felt like I was running more of the section than I did at this point last year. It wasn't long though before Charlie, Dennis and Clifton fell back. It was just Kevin and I again, I told him my stomach was bothering me a little and my legs felt close to cramping. I took my first two salt tabs of the day and drank more water. I ate a couple M&M's but I probably didn't eat as well as I thought I did through here. We saw Beth Minnick just as we started up the horse trail but my legs and stomach were getting the better of me quick. We caught up with Beth and talked a moment before climbing on to the summit. We were headed down the other side, managing through mud and light snow when my stomach told me to pull off. I told Kevin I was going to stop and he pulled on ahead. I tried to go fast but I had to climb higher to remain unseen and I saw seven people pass me, it was quite stressful. Climbing back out of the woods my calves cramped up on me. I drank more water but I was no longer having an awfully good time.

I tried to catch back up with Beth who had passed me while I was in the woods but the calves cramped again. At this point I started to cross paths with runners headed into the WOR loop which is a good point of the race, it was my favorite last year and it was nearly my favorite this year if it hadn't been for the cramping. I got to say hello to friends. I was just seizing up with cramps and took to walking through a particularly bad jaunt when I passed Blake, he seemed incredibly genuine when he urged me on, telling me that all the girls ahead of me were just up ahead of me. I told him I appreciated it but that I had started cramping. I took two more salt tabs and tried to pull it together. I caught up with Beth and we talked about the trails and training and I was pleasantly surprised when we were back at Camping Gap at 3:48.

Todd swapped bottles with me and got me a coke when I told him I was cramping. He gave me two quarters of PB&J and a banana quarter to eat. The plan had been that Todd would crew for me at Camping Gap and then head straight back from there to the finish taking in the summit but not running to Terrapin lane so that he could be there when I finished. He pulled ahead on the climb and I was fading fast. He told me to eat and put my iPod on. I climbed slowly and became a pouty baby as my calves continued to cramp despite how slowly I was moving. At the summit I didn't even take in the view, just out to punch my bib and keep on moving. Moving downhill I had to focus on striking with my heel because if I landed on my toes my leg, especially my right, would cramp. At one point I looked down during a cramp and the calf was so deformed, dented in and tight, that I vowed not to look again during a cramp again. I finally took a GU desperate for the cramping to end.

The downhill from the summit and the area between Fat Man's Misery was no fun at all. Kevin and Todd had told me at the summit "those girls are right ahead of you" but I didn't ever see any girls and every two or three minutes my calves were cramping up and I was just starting to feel sorry for myself. I was worried how I was going to make it another seven miles not how I was going to chase down a few more females. On the steep downhill that takes you to Terrapin lane aid station I did my best but could barely stay in sight of Kevin. Todd turned off and told me to eat a GU at the aid station. On the way down to the aid station I cramped in my calves and now also in my hamstrings, a first for me, I honestly figured I was moving on borrowed time, soon my legs would fail me completely and I would be walking it in to the finish. I told myself, angrily, this is why we don't push, because we can't push, we aren't made for this. Slow and steady is the best that we can do. I ate the GU at the aid station and sulkily headed back up to my 'favorite trail'. I was sad as I knew the last five miles would be less than stellar.

I could see Beth Minnick as she turned onto the Terrapin Ridge trail but I had nothing at the moment left to give. I walked up the hill and walked some more as we turned onto the trail. Brain went around me and pulled ahead. I turned my second, broken iPod on. I was walking more than I liked, moving slower than I would have liked and just in a bad place. With nothing to distract me but the counting of creek crossings.  Kevin was right behind me but we had stopped all communication. I was in my lonely place, with no interest in going it alone, when the Indigo Girls found me.

It's ridiculously simple sometimes, how much my mind really dictates how I run. I was waiting to fail, waiting for my legs to give out, a pile of misery and defeat.

 "Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable, and lightness has a call that's hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safely til I sank it, I'm crawling on your shore."

I was nearer Reed Creek when this song came on, it's a little depressing and a little inspiring that a song could pull me out of what I could not pull myself out of. I immediately picked up my pace, I figured if I only had a little left in my legs to give then it would be best to use it to my advantage. I ran more and more and walked only when the climbs were just a little too steep to warrant running. When I reached the creek I looked down at my watch, 5:16. Could I pull a 5:30? A girl crouched by a rock told me two girls were just ahead of me. I was in a little better place, I was in the home stretch. Wasting no energy to dwell on time lost pouting I got moving. I passed Brenton and Horton, Horton said "You've moved up girlie", Brenton said "Those girls are just ahead of you". I was doing what I could.

At the turn from gravel to paved road I caught Brain and in that straight away between bridges I saw a male and female ahead. Brain told me to chase them down, I had little hope that I could catch them but I figured they were a good and final push. And I am glad that they were there and gave me that push because without them I may not have reached my sub 5:30 goal. As it was I made it with seconds to spare. Kevin was just a minute or so behind me.

In the end I didn't meet my seed, I was 5th female. I let the cramping get the better of me and I probably didn't eat or drink as well as I THOUGHT I was during. For example, Todd said my bottle was never empty when I passed it off to him like I thought it was and I didn't eat a bite after that GU at the last aid station. Todd told me I could have been better if I had. He's probably right. But instead of being sorry I am fairly happy. I set a 10 minute PR on a less than stellar day, I had my shortcomings illustrated in a bright but informative way. I looked at the failures as the source for making a list of needed improvements instead of just as failures alone.

Besides, in the end, what I loved the most, was overcoming the hardships, running with my supportive friends and spending time with an amazing group of people on a beautiful day. It would only be in error to judge Saturday as anything but bringing me 'closer to fine'.