I'm struggling. I have spent a great deal of time trying to articulate for myself why that is or exactly what that means, but I can feel it in my mind. It isn't just running, it's other facets of my life, but it's all focused on looking back. Remember when I ran that nearly great race, oh to be in that shape again. Oh remember when _______, just fill in the blanks. My 33rd year has been spent thus far looking only backwards. I didn't realize just what damage that was doing.
I made a plan for Promise Land around Terrapin when I finally remembered that 'running' and 'training' are not synonymous. I followed it loosely for a week or two before dropping the workouts and just focusing on miles. Not getting tons of them but increasing them safely. That was where my focus ended up, mileage increases.
A week out from Promise Land I wasn't overly optimistic (but then, when am I ever, really?). But I am a realist. I figured I had a good chance at 6:13 at Promise Land. I knew this, so why did I race so dumb?
Because I want to be better than I am. And I took the bait that maybe my head was preventing that sub 6 finish at Promise Land that I've longed for these past two long years. Todd told me I would never if I didn't believe it, then no less than 3 people said this was my year for sub 6, and so late on Friday evening I decided I needed to go, give all, go big or go home. The thing between me and my sub 6 was my head. Silence it. This is your day.
Only. It wasn't to be.
I was nervous. I took that as a promising sign. Don't I race better nervous? Looking back I say I do. I put the headphones in at the start line of the Promise Land 50k. I had that "Go Do" attitude. Todd told me not to run anyone else's race.
The race started and I turned my iPod on (mistake #1. Don't go to your iPod until you NEED your iPod) and "Beautiful Day" came on my iPod, I felt amazing. This was going to be a great day! I had never felt better mentally going into a race. Never felt better, bigger. I started up that climb and just fell in to the crowd and the pace, so happy to be there, so warm surrounded by people I like. I love racing, I thought. I love these days.
Anna Evans passed me and I thought, don't let her out of your sight (mistake #2, didn't your intelligent spouse warn you 5 minutes ago not to do this!?). I didn't run what Anna did, I hiked and just kept her in my sights, but I should have known when we got to AS #1 faster than I ever have (35:10) that I had already made mistakes. Instead I held on as Jared Hesse, Joe Alderson and Micah Jackson passed me. I was going big, I wanted the good day!
I ran and hiked better in these next few miles than I ever do, which made me feel good, but I was a little worried that I was giving too much. Wearing my heart rate monitor (for my first time ever in a race) I walked when it hit 160. But instead of just listening to my body I would run as soon as it said 159 or less (mistake #3, listen to your body not just one often confused though important muscle). When Joe and Micah picked it up on the Grassy Road I followed (Mistake #2 revisited). I ran with Joe. I had my music in so I wasn't probably very good company. I think the only words I spoke to him where to scold him for a 7:30 mile in the middle of the grassy road.
At Aid Station 2 I was just barely ahead of Joe, but 2 minutes behind my goal. But I felt pretty good, so I gave a little more in the WOR loop. Up, up , up, I passed several runners and tried to run smooth but hard. Passing over to the parkway my brain was just down on the fact that I wasn't running that "fast" and there was still so much left to run. I played it smart here, didn't kill the downhill miles to Sunset Field, but then I made it there, despite the overall effort, basically where I always make it, around 2:30 hours. The first time I ever ran PL I got here in 2:32, Saturday it was 2:27. That was discouraging.
But I saw familiar faces and Blake had my bag of GU and I knew that I had actually trained for what came next, steep technical descent. I left the aid station not as high as I had been at the start but still feeling good and optimistic. And then I (for me) killed the descent, for about a mile and a half. I passed a few people and felt good! I hiked the ups but ran the downs hard and well. And then my quad cramped. At not even 16 miles in! But I was making good time and I WANTED that good day. I thought of Frank G. He cramps, he keeps on running. I would just keep on running. I slowed a little but kept up best I could, then my calves started to cramp.
Then it started to get the best of me. I was drinking and eating well. It wasn't that. I had let that HR rule me, push me (mistake #4 and #5, try something new on race day and run a heart rate you never trained at and expect to have a good day). I had up until this point tried to hover around 160 bpm, I saw no reason why my body couldn't take that. Except that I had been training in the low to mid 140s and perhaps (though I am no doctor, just a Google user) the extra effort was just a little too much for my cramping prone legs. Just because you have never cramped at mile 15, well, never say never!
So I slowed until I had to stop and stretch. I tried hard to keep it together. I reassessed. I had been running STUPID. I had been running like someone else, not like ME. What is so wrong with ME that I was trying to run from ME? I started to worry about things other than sub 6. I started to worry about going 19 more miles on cramps. How bad would it get? How bad could it get?
Then I saw Kevin up ahead, I recognize him before I see he's struggling. The momentary happiness in seeing him was fleeting as I could see he was hobbling. I knew before I reached him it was his ankle. It looked bad, I'm too honest to have lied and said otherwise. I stopped and offered him help, he told me he was done but I needed to go on, get a sweatshirt he said somehow still bearing that winning smile of his. I'm cramping I complained, he offered salt tabs but I said no, he told me again that I needed to run on. I did so, but hesitantly.
At the aid station I told Jordan Chang and Horton about Kevin and then said I was cramping, Jordan gave me 5 Enduralyte capsules. I took 3 and stored the others for later use and told Horton that I was sad, I had never cramped this early in a race before. He told me I was still doing Ok, 9th place or so. I just gave him a thumbs up. Though I had been racing stupid, I'm not actually stupid, I knew that this was not a good sign. I ran on down the road and I started to really berate the mistakes I had made. I knew I was taking a risk when I started, that there's a reason that they are called "risks" but I mourned the race that the smarter me would be running. I slowed on the road, I drank, I ate. I did the things I knew I could and that maybe I should. I tried to keep the cramps at bay. I didn't run over 150 (heart rate) again for the next 10 miles. My calves and left quad were so painful from the cramping, running downhill on cramps probably isn't very good for the muscles.
Shannon Howell and some men who I had passed on the steep descent caught back up and passed me, I was embarrassed to be running so poorly. I took out a Larabar and ate some of it. Shannon was super friendly and for a moment I was thankful for the sport and the people it attracts. She told me about her race last year and pulling her quad. Good runners have bad days I recalled looking back. Sometimes good runners have such bad days that they don't get to finish, and yet they still smile.
I tried to smile. But the cramps came back. I took the two salt pills I had stashed from Cornelius Creek. I hiked a lot along the trail to Colon Hollow. I remembered how Horton says this is where the race begins, I sulked a tad that this seemed to be where mine was ending. Amy Albu passed me back (when I was running stupid on the descent I had passed her and Shannon together). I tried to keep her in my sights but the cramps kept slowing or stopping me. She ran on. I tried to keep Allen Whittle in sight, he would pull ahead and I would try to keep him in sight but the calves were so tight I felt like they were in a state of solid cramping. I could tell I had probably done something not nice to my left quad as it hurt more than anything, I tried to remember it could be worse. I drank and ate because those were easy at the easier pace.
This incredible song came on my iPod so I started it over, in the middle of the song not much past 4 hours into the race, my iPod died. It kind of felt like the day was just laughing and pointing fingers at this point.
Then another girl passed me. I hadn't cramped in a few minutes, I hadn't run over 149 heart rate in 10 miles, I figured I would try and keep this girl who I didn't recognize in my sights. I put on my second iPod and without giving it thought started to pull my day back together. I ran with the girl, who was Laura Welch, to the Cornelius Creek aid station. Amy Albu was leaving the aid station as we were coming in. Jordan asked what we needed and I said new legs with a laugh, I drank a big cup of Mountain Dew. I was feeling beaten and there seemed to be so many miles left.
On our way out of the aid station Laura said there are two girls right behind us, it was Elizabeth Minnick and Michelle McLellan. Laura said come on, let's not let them catch us and then she moved like the meant to keep that word. Then I saw Anna Evans headed to the aid station in the out and back. All of those girls got me a little bit back in the game.
I tried to hike hard and run a little but my quad and calves weren't cramping but just so tight and painful from the miles of cramps, but I tried to be thankful that I was still moving. Laura pulled ahead and I expected all the girls behind to catch up. Near the falls Laura took a slight wrong turn, I called out to her but got ahead just because of the turn and her doubling back. Then we caught a male and female near the 'road crossing' just as you have .9 still to climb. As I crossed that road I looked back because I could hear chattering and laughing, Beth and Michelle were running up the steep switchback behind me. I said aloud, "Those girls are running!" to no one in particular. I figured they would pass me but they were also keeping me moving so I was thankful. I made it to Sunset Fields the second time about 5:38. Sub 6 gone, top 10 not looking too promising and 5 girls on my heels. I drank some Mountain Dew and Laura called for me to come on. It may have been a little fun, but my heart was only in the finishing not in the race and I only realized that later. I started telling Laura about Kevin, he's my running partner and he got injured, she said "Right. Right. RIGHT!" I was going the wrong way across the open field. I was lost in my story and not where I should have been, but I was enjoying myself and there's something in that when you've had a bad day.
I stopped to go to the bathroom (I peed 4 times at PL! That's a record for a 50k for me! The only record I have for the day! Sometimes it's the small things...) Laura said 'Catch up, those girls are right behind us!' I managed to take my break and get back on the trail just as Beth and Michelle were passing. They were friendly and looked so fresh. Running the steep rocky descent to Overstreet Falls I knew I had done something to my quad, but I didn't figure slowing down at that point would help the quad so I ran on anyways though by this point it was making the downhill pretty painful.
I caught Laura and we ran to the road together but then she took off, I wasn't running slow but she was gone in a flash. I didn't try to keep her in my sights but it wouldn't have mattered if I had, I don't think I had much more to give. Then Beth caught me again, we ran it in admiring the sub 6 finish and vowing that someday, well maybe, it will be ours. Mike Pflieger was out on the road, it was good to see him and have him run a few steps with me, though he did worry me when he said that he hadn't seen Kevin at the finish( I was worried that Kevin's ankle had been worse and he had left/been taken to the ER, he was however at the finish, Mike just hadn't seen him). Mike stopped running just as we reached the camp entrance and Beth started to kick it, I said "Wait, I'm not trying to beat you, I just want to finish with you!" But I was laughing, I was so thankful that the race was over.
Horton graced us with the titles of "First Losers" which surprised me a little, I wasn't fully aware that Laura and I were in the 10th spot, but it doesn't matter, the mistakes had been long made and a top 10 wouldn't heal those wounds to my ego any faster. During some of those final miles I had been feeling fairly high, that I hadn't "quit" when my mistakes caught up with me, that my risky behavior hadn't cost me more, that I had still given everything I had for the day, that I had shifted from risky to safe and pulled out a 6:19 finish. But there, at the finish, it just came bearing down so hard. That I alone had cost myself a better day.
The worst part was that I wasn't feeling motivated or encouraged by my day, but rather seriously reconsidering ultra running in general and more specifically races I've already registered for. I tried so hard to put on a happy face but I was just so mad at myself. Ultimately, it really is what I think of myself that weighs the most on me, I learned that Saturday, I had bought in, that I could break 6, and it hurt me, that I had hurt myself, let myself down.
I feel beaten. My left quad is pretty battered and my calves still fairly tight and angry. I complained aloud a lot the rest of the weekend. I failed to train the way I should and then thought I could do something I knew I wasn't trained for (mistake #213). But running stupid trumped sitting the race out completely last year. And running reckless taught me some things that I wouldn't know if I hadn't risked it. And 6:19 isn't really that far off of the 6:13 which is what I thought I could run. So why am I so damn upset?
Because ultimately I have been looking back, back to when I was 'faster' and 'racing better' but also to when I was 'injured' that I've failed to look forward.