Archive for December, 2013

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I don’t always write. But when I do, I just want it to be over.  Running has never been that way for me.  The only thing the two have in common is that by doing each I hope to say something to people.  Or maybe I’m just saying the same thing to myself over and over again in hopes that some day I’ll wake up better.  Even on a day such as this, when your breath freezes on your lips and fractures the flesh that would smack together if you could move your jaw fluidly enough to speak, I never really want to stop.  I’m happy when I’m done, but its not the satisfaction I feel when, after quitting one of my 3 blog entries a year for the tenth time, I publish it and swear it off because I hate it so much.  It’s a satisfaction that makes getting back to the car seem like going down Mt. Doom on a Crisco coated tube after throwing an unspeakable burden into the fires within, just to know that you could do it.  The struggles in running and writing are similar in the sense that I have no training (that i paid attention to), thus no practical knowledge of what I am or am not doing right, just that occasionally something works out for me in either.

I woke up and sat on the toilet for an hour.  This is becoming tradition.  That makes it respectable.  Like having a blowout during every 5k you do, or puking regularly every time you find out what your Vo2 max really is.  Nothing really happened for me.  My stomach had been weird for a couple of days at that point and some sort of full blown respiratory illness that had set in the night prior was stabilized but taunting me still.  “If you can’t breath well while you’re trying to crap, how do you plan on taking the ski hill three times?”  I was hesitant to say anything about this, because acknowledging it would make it more real and I wasn’t sure what it meant for my race.

One of my favorite things about this event was that it started at 10 am.  Anyone familiar with racing knows this is a rare blessing.  It basically meant that waking up at 8 provided me with time to take the dogs hiking at Ellison park, assemble my wardrobe, grab the gels that I’d bought the night prior in a feeble effort to be responsible for once and lastly to drive to the race at a legal speed.  I was even sober when I woke up, so pretty much everything was going well aside from the concrete in my lungs.

I forgot my beer.  I had purchased a 6 pack of Blue Moon for after the race and to maybe start paying back all those that I’ve bummed beers from, and I forgot it.  The race fell apart.  My whole life fell apart.  Every dream I’d ever had about running vaporized before being inhaled and vanquished by the universe.  NONE OF THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.  I didn’t care all that much.  I joked with myself about how bad I am at the prerace end of things and that someday I’ll find myself toeing the line at Badwater without a water bottle.  Strangely enough, I found myself not even thinking about the race at all.  I was completely calm and not thinking about running or racing or winning or even finishing.  Much like at the Mendon 50k, but with less purpose.  The moments leading up to the race were spent mingling in the cabin, soaking in last minute encouragements before being called to the line.  Into the cold.

Standing and waiting, I could already feel the snot taking over my mustache without remorse. Snow was collecting in my beard and my breath lingered in front of me like smoke drawn and smudged over a Bob Ross original.  For the briefest moment I had a nostalgic pang of yearning for a cigarette.  They were always the best in the winter.  They started the race at that point and two or three steps later I realized why I don’t do that anymore.

The single track section at the beginning of the race presented me with some problems.  I was lodged in the back, as I had my standard pre race anxiety and didn’t feel comfortable being up front.  After seeing Andy Frank, Elizabeth Matthews and Phil Nesbitt surge away from the pack I began to panic and stagger dangerously along the edges of the path trying my best to alert people that I was passing while paying attention to my footing and laying down a 1:30 quarter mile.  By the time I caught the women’s leader there was enough separation between Andy, Phil and the rest of the pack for me to know that expending the extra energy to catch them would be stupid and short lived.  But then again, everything I do is pretty questionable and I was really excited to be running with those two for the first time ever.  Each of them have such graceful form, Andy in particular, and it was truly humbling to be cruising with them for the first five miles, whether they made me look like the running equivalent of Shrek, or not.

Crampons.  This was a new experience for me.  I broke the cardinal rule of racing and used a piece of equipment that I was completely unfamiliar with outside of a short, slow trail jaunt two nights earlier.  I believe that these can be a very effective tool for me, given more time to adjust, but during this race they were sliding off of my toe-box and sagging off the bottom of my shoe the entire time, collecting slush and leaves and making it fairly uncomfortable to run road crossings or craggy downhill sections.  The biggest gap that opened up between the two leaders was at the start of the second loop. I’d been staying with them through minor cramping and breathing difficulties, but wanted to see if I could adjust my traction and get back into a comfortable race.  This took far longer than expected, as my hands were numb and crampons simply aren’t easy to adjust.  I blew a completely irresponsible amount of time at the aid station before getting back into the race.  This ultimately was a good thing however, as it allowed me to settle down and run my own race.  i probably could’ve stayed in sight of 1 and 2 for another loop, but it simply wasn’t going to change the end result.  This also left me some valuable time to reflect on racing and consider many things about it.  Fairly early in the race I could tell that I wasn’t a contender, but also that nobody was coming for me.  I’m currently struggling to get back to a level of fitness that might keep me in a race less than 50 miles with two guys that move so effortlessly and quickly without fatigue.  I spent a lot of time focusing on my form and honing my hill bombing capabilities.  I should’ve ended up with a tibia sticking through my skin on a lot of these, but recklessness is a necessary evil sometimes so that we might know how far we can go when everything is on the line.

Comfortably locked in third, I ran hard and focused on how lucky I was to be running at all after the year I’ve had.  I spent a lot of time being thankful for Sean Storie and for Jamie Hobbs and Ben Murphy, each of whom I saw regularly on the course and always picked up my pace for a bit after passing. I thought about the art of volunteering and how I respect what they do so much more than what I do. I felt terrible for Susan, Eric, Ron and the photographers, freezing their asses off so that I might hear something besides snow packing under my feet periodically.  I also thought quite a bit about my friends Greg and Amber and wondered how their first trail race was shaping up for them.  And mostly I thought about where I was a year ago as a runner versus where I am now.  I was much faster and stronger back then.  I probably could have won this race if it had happened a year ago.  But the more I consider all of the circumstances that caused me to lose 1000 miles off my annual total and all of my dissipated progress and everything that I loathed about being injured, I am happy to have a group of friends that go through so much to make events like this happen.  The community has exploded into a symbol of camaraderie and enthusiasm and genuinely caring about the successes and failures of everyone within, and there truly are a small handful of people that are responsible for that.  They wear orange and they sacrifice on an inspiring level so that we might feel significant enough to believe that what we are doing is truly meaningful.  And then we do better.  Even on a day like this, when I did so much worse, I’m left feeling only as though I did better.

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photos used with permission from Alex Tong    http://www.flickr.com/photos/soupster/