Monday, August 24, 2015

2015 Run on the Sly 50k

I am familiar with the area around Run on the Sly. I frequented the lake as a child. I camped, hiked, sledded, fished, jibbed, wakeboarded, biked, and drank plenty within its vicinity. When I first heard Fleet Feet set up a race in its region, I shuddered. The August heat? The dust? The rolling hills? I avoided it, even if it held some nostalgic promise.

I did my first 50k, in Oregon, last year, and last year’s run on the Sly was supposed to serve as a bounce-back run. I'd go half marathon or twenty miles, two of the other distances offered.  But the early arrival of my son quashed those plans.

Here's a rundown of my experience this year.

I just wanted Sly to serve as my annual 50k and help justify a big, eventful summer of training.  I didn’t have any particular goals in mind.  I spoke to Cody (Lemons) at the start line and he seemed confident. I never saw him after the BSB start a few weeks back, so I assumed he had big intentions after a pretty good go at Way Too Cool. I also saw Ian Torrence in the parking lot (thanks to Jon Onate for pointing him out). It was confirmed at the drop bag truck (all Adidas gear, "TORRENCE" on the bag), so I felt a certain contentment that I wouldn't be in some awkward front pack--even if Torrence was running to condition.

I essentially went in with very low expectations, and hoped no hype from fellow runners or noise from my marathon history would invade a nice, long, eventful day on the trails.

First Third (Start - mile 8ish):
No one seemed to push to the front of the line. In fact, when Chad (Worthen) blew the air horn I was immediately out behind Chris Knorzer (whom I didn't know of or about at the time) and Cody in third. I was, as a friend told me I would be, rightly insulted by the uphill start. We crested a right hand turn onto a gravel road, then bent left and onto a fire road along the flume. I'd spent time as a child along the canal, so as I ran I played with the idea of striding by a version of my former self. Chris was already out of sight; no handhelds, no fuel, and doing work.
Cody and I maintained what he called "cruising" past the aid station at Overlook (3.82). I waved to Steven (Shenck) and took a small sip of water, not afraid to briefly stop and not afraid From there, we dropped onto Kurt (Mellick) and Mike (Shubert) and a host of others at Tank Stop. No stopping for any of us who were packing fuel, but I took it as a chance to access my first hour's calories, a Clif Shot of banana, mango, and coconut. I'd never trained with this particular product, but I wanted real food that I could trust as digestible. I knew I would spend the next few hours sipping on Tail Wind (high calorie liquid with electrolyte), then eventually close with some caffeine in the form of a Gu. I thought it worthwhile to begin with something akin to baby food, and the Clif Shot fit the bill. It was the right call. I would certainly advocate for this kind of fuel if you've struggled with some of the other compounds in the past. I didn't even worry about the fact I hadn't trained with it. It felt right, and pace was steady throughout the rollers.

I spent the next chunk of time enjoying the cool shade around the back of the lake. Small pockets remained astonishingly chilly. I felt refreshed, and ran with a bit of intention. My thoughts were determined. I knew the pace could bite me, but I started to push my justification into a motto that would sustain me throughout the morning. It ended up being, "If you can do, and if you can't try." I figured there was no worth in delaying the good running since the end could fall to pieces for any number of reasons beyond a push when I could justify it.
Second Third (mile 8 or so - 19):
I was warmed up. The running felt good and the pace held, and I relished in the fun of what my mind called the "middle miles." We'd also reached some familiar territory for me, and I felt pretty comfortable winding through the back end of the lake. We crossed the footbridge toward the waterfall and swung through the back campground. The distance between Cody and Ian and I grew. The more we twisted around the lower side of the lake, the less I heard and saw them. Before long I passed two spectators who told me that Chris was about 2 minutes ahead.

I didn't see him at the Mormon Emigrant aid station, but then again I wasn't looking for him. I was happy to find familiar FOO faces volunteering their time. Theresa (Lewis) and Mark (Oamek) topped off my bottles and I moved on to find more shade and fire road leading me into the endless turns toward the Evergreen Island aid station (mile 15.41). Nearly there, I caught a glimpse of Chris's red tank moving up the hill ahead of me. I topped off my bottles at the aid station, slugged some electrolyte, and doused my neck. Then I headed off toward Chris, excited to redirect back toward the road and the section of the course that would bring me home.
The trail, climbed gradually, but continued to surprise me. I still moved through a surprising amount of canopy, but the temperature was increasing far quicker now, and the single track, with my new proximity to Chris, was an unsettled cloud of dust.

I worried that the calorie intake--by now ingesting purely liquid fuel in the form of Tail Wind (mandarin) that I hoped would sustain the next two hours--would be compromised by the increased desire to hydrate. The handheld containing water had already become a supplement to cool my head and neck. I knew with Gu on tap and an aid station ahead, though, I probably wouldn't be in a deficit for fuel.

After a final climb I started the downward push back to where Loop 8 trail began and I worked my way back toward the Mormon Emigrant aid station (19.3) and saw the some speedier splits again. This time, the station was bustling with more volunteers and a massive stack of runners competing in races of varying distances. I received a whoop of support and all the fluid stock I needed, and Mark reassured me that Chris had only taken out a minute or so before me. At that point I still didn't care; I just wanted to continue feeling capable.

Final Third: 20-31
More switchbacks greeted me as I climbed from the spillway up to the road and the main entrance to the reservoir campground.
Pushing up from the lakeside to cross the campground road, "cruise mode" became "crash mode," and I mindlessly tripped on a root and went air born into the brush. The hands were mostly shielded by the bottles and straps, but my thigh took a sharp set of scrapes. A 20-mile runner checked on me, and I resumed my climb only slightly embarrassed.
More walking ensued. At 10:45 AM I took my last fuel supplement, a blueberry Gu Roctane with caffeine. I don't favor a particular flavor of Gu, but I have, by chance, used the blueberry in a few good races at later stages. This race stands as the only time I almost vomited at smelling the open package (though tasting it didn't seem to bother me).
I climbed up and down the perpetually winding trail along the campground road. I'd shuffle past a walker or two only to stop and hike while intermittently dousing my head and neck or drinking water and what was left of my electrolyte-diluted calories. At this point I was sure I'd hear Torrence or Cody charging up behind me. I'd given up on Chris, having not seen him since just below the Mormon Emigrant aid station, which seemed like an eternity ago.
At some point, after walking up a small crest, I was able to run steadily without granting myself permission to rest. The familiar smell of campfire and s'mores I recognized earlier hit me again, and I knew my next left would place me back at the Tank Stop aid station. When I arrived, Kurt and Mike told me Chris was barely out ahead, and while I appreciated the support, I had no intention of getting him or even believing they were being honest. I figured it was a supportive move on their part. Once my bottles where loaded again, I started up the dreaded climb toward Overlook.
Surprisingly, the pitch wasn't as tough as I anticipated, nor as unforgiving as the Stagecoach section of trail in Auburn I trained on with my friend Galen (Farris) in preparation for this. But it was hot, and I was tired, and I walked completely runnable stretches. It didn't seem so much a result of an inability to run as much as the hope I'd reduce fatigue for the end of the race.
Not long in the climb I saw Chris moving slowly ahead. He certainly wasn't walking, but I managed to gain on him. The sight seemed to awake my willingness to run. Suddenly I wasn't offering myself the option to walk. Two thirds from the top (I estimate), I slowly eased up next to him and offered him a plug from my handheld. He declined, checked his watch, and confirmed we'd be at Overlook soon enough (roughly 2k, I thought). We ran side by side for a moment or two, but my pace was pushing me ahead, and since we'd essentially passed the serious climbing, I wasn't really in favor of slowing down if my body didn't need it. We faced half-marathon runner traffic--one of whom was my friend Amy (Thoma), who showed me a massive bandage on her elbow that covered a nasty wound. I showed her the number "1," an oddly competitive move for me, and kept pushing.

Heading into Overlook, I waved at Steven again. Fresh from Tank Stop and ready to be done, I had no reason to stop. I turned left and dropped down a gorgeous descent along the road leading to the canal. Evidently Chris stopped for fuel, because I didn't see him coming downhill behind me. I logged a 6:25 split and actually felt pretty good, even though my brain knew I'd given a bit too much a bit too soon. The next two miles are mostly flat, wide, and navigable. I did not take advantage, though, having burned up the fun stuff in the free fall of the previous mile. 7:31 and 8:13 aren't bad splits, but I walked frequently, and I certainly thought I was going to get sacked.
I kept hoping to see the oil and chip road that would lead to the finish, but it never materialized. I was granted some false hope by the sound of the freeway, but that was evidently more a sign of elevation than proximity. I passed a friend Ty (Nikel), and he said I had maybe "6-, 7-, 800 meters left." It didn't seem possible. Yet soon enough, the trail squeezed through a gate and, lo, my feet left the dirt. I crossed a bridge, flew past a resident in a parked Chevy Camero near a sign reading, "It's REALLY All Down Hill From Here!" I finally allowed myself to believe I might be the first to cross.
I made the final left, heard a shorter-distance runner say, "Geez, he's going fast," and let gravity do the rest. The straight shot to the finish was fast and painful and sweet. I heard my name and the distance (though not my place or my time), stopped my watch, threw down my bottles, and put my hands on my knees. Done, brought in by an inexplicable 6:41 mile.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Weighting Game.

They must really, really like us here.

Our initial check-in happened on Tuesday afternoon, the birth occurred Thursday evening, and our checkout is all set for...


Yup. Not quite sure. And it's really OK given the factors. My boy was kicked out pretty early, so he was certainly bound to be on the smaller side. Dr. Z was induced, and those medication cocktails can add weight to the baby that's quickly shed after the birth. We knew he'd lose a fair amount over the course of the next day or so. It's expected, on the one hand, but in our case it was certainly a garauntee given the level of IV fluid provided to Mom during the induction process.

But nurses did acknowledge some difficulty with latching and feeding duration--all of which have resolved themselves over time--so the evidence suggests he needs some more monitoring before they can justify his healthy release.

Oh, and there's one final procedure they're consented to perform that will tucker him out and delay the subsequent feeding. So they're justifiably against putting the boy in a race that affords him no time for adequate recovery.

Thus, we sit and feed and change and eat and watch and talk. We do all those early formation activities that help christen and solidify a developing family unit. Mom does quite a bit during these sessions, obviously, and I take the role of occasional provider to help stabilize those things. We know the value of these activities, but still wish we were doing them at home.

And as I said, deep down I know it's really OK given all these factors. But deep down I've studied my ilk, and I know I often struggle with the moments that lack what I consider a familiar unfurling. In the manic scheduling associated with simple day-to-day living, it feels excruciatingly difficult to endure what's become, for lack of a better term, the "nothingness" comprising the space between tasks. It's almost as if the essential simplicity of life has become too dull for us. It can be hard to relinquish the compulsiveness I've developed through merely riding the contemporary merrygoround.

We are blessed, cared for, looked after, and on the mend. The sterility of this post-labor experience will dissolve, thanks to a car ride, and the nesting will begin.

A Late Showing for an Early Show

After what one nurse called a "marathon ordeal" this week, Dr. Z and I welcomed our son to the world on Thursday evening at 5:04. The boy endured a long induction process, going through sporadic and often painful contractions with Mom in order to prepare her body for the labor. After nearly 30 hours of Pitocin-laden intervals, nurse #8 told us we'd proceed with "the process" after checking the dilation.

Another doctor arrived and prepared Mom for the manual breaking of the water. As he approached the bed, the water broke naturally (!), Mom had her most intense contraction, and then immediately vomited in an emergency puke bag.

And then things got moving in a hurry.

The painful preceeding hours had only pushed the dilation to 3.5 cm, and given the strength of the contraction, the immediate reaction to the fluid spill, and the absence of strength sapped by the previous days' work, Mom went off script and asked for the epidural. By 2:50 p.m., the shot was administered and the doctor OK'd Dr. Z's prognosis. By 3:45, less than an hour after completing the epidural and confirming a 3.5 cm dialation, Mom was at 8, and felt at times like she was actively holding back a child rather than letting one advance.

The doctor said the unborn boy had a bit more distance to travel, and speculated things would go even quicker around 4:30. By 4:42 we were set up and ready to push. Contractions became a bit harder to pin down at this point, but upon arrival, gave Mom three solid opportunities to work with the push. After just twenty-three minutes, our son set out on his great run, just as mom crossed another finish line.


In the course of this process, I'm processing.

The concept of arriving at the precipice of this grand moment in one state, then departing it in another is difficult to trudge through because it's so drastic. One second you're a party of two, and the next you've acquired a third wheel.

The past 7 years have been focused on being a partner and provider. And along the way I've been eating and functioning and running in ways that serve my specific interests. But a wife in labor is not a wife requesting marinara with her dinner--it's not a period of provision I'm used to operating in. As a result, I can't help but struggle along the slippery slope above what should only be considered the childless version of myself.

If I was impatient in the past, I should try to avoid it now. If I would resort to any task because of some perceived compusion--walking, stretching, running, cooking, eating--I should try to avoid it now. That should probably include screen time, yet here I am hacking away at my thoughts, watching my wife watch me inquisitively between contractions.

I don't expect any sudden changes in who I am and the ways I operate. That's a bit of foolish hope atop rock-hard, established truths. I'm certain that those negotiations will carry on forever, really, once the baby decides to make his way(s) through the world.

Until then, I'm trying to avoid selfishness. I'm pushing thoughts of running and eating and sleeping and driving and working into the back corners of my brain so that I can engage with the moment. I'm distracting myself with screen-time breaks, needless tinkering in MyFitnessPal and searches on Yelp! I won't ever see play out.

And with that, I should get back to the moment.

Not a Pacer in Sight.

Let the fatherhood blogging commence.

Well technically I'm not a father.

Yet. But Pitocin has been administered, although it's application doesn't suggest the beginning to anything except the possibility of labor.

And that's why I'm writing this. I'm not sure what else to do that doesn't involve reassurances, occasional massaging, or incessant pacing around the floors of the Labor and Delivery floor of the hospital. Given that I've eaten two breakfasts, downed 30-odd ounces of coffee, and wouldn't dare suggest selfishly lacing up the trainers for a run to fill the space between the developing contractions, I figured documenting the early stages might be worth doing now--even if just to provide filler--and to revisit later.

It's early. The day is ripe, but we're at 37 weeks into what is often considered a longer process. A blood pressure check at a Tuesday afternoon appointment had us bound for the hospital in Roseville, where, after monitoring in a triage room, we faced the overnight order in the Labor and Delivery wing. A quick trip home for me, and I was back with a belly full of food and a bag full of supplies. By midnight Wednesday we were facing the possibility of inducing, and the procedure for it started early Wednesday morning. After choppy sleep and a 4 AM drive back to Sacramento for more necessities, and the day was off and rolling.

We continued monitoring the blood pressure and the very healthy boy, and moved to increase the "readiness" of Mom's body using various methods along the induction process. We advanced to sporatic and painful contractions through parts of late Wednesday and early Thursday, which platueaud enough for Dad to crash out for a few key hours. Mom maintained contact and felt much, much better thanks to vigilant nurses and an IV.

And here we are. Mom's mom arrived, unprompted, and took over entertaining and easing duties. In fact, I've tried to spell her for a few of the contractions and realized that developing a fatherly mentality does not include any motherly intuition.

More to come, I suspect. News, perhaps, but surely a baby as well.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Slippery Slope.

A 50k tends to fall, like other longer-than-marathon races, into the "ultramarathon" category (though given the rise in the popularity of running events, most of the old codgers and diehards reserve the "ultra-" prefix for 50 milers, 100ks, and 100 milers. There are also the ultra events beyond those, like Rim to Rim [to Rim] or 24-hour races, many of which are measured by FKTs [Fastest Known Times] rather than timing chips). For the sake of semantics, let's call the 50k an ultramarathon distance; therefore, by signing up for the Siskiyou Out Back 50k in February, I found myself cast into an area of the running universe I'd yet to traverse. And whether you're with the old timers who think I'm just a newbie dipping his toe, or with the others who think I'm off in the ether, I can now say I've completed an ultramarathon.

In training for a trail 50k, I felt a degree of reluctance in considering myself an ultrarunner because I hadn't completed a race longer than a marathon. Just signing up merely landed me on the fringe of the population, so even on the night before the race--even as I idled in the parking lot of the Mt. Ashland Ski Resort--I felt a weird nervousness and had no one with which to share it.

I planned to camp--which is popular for this event--in the lot. Upon arrival, I set up a cot and table and prepared a small dinner. I was surrounded by campers and trailers and tents of all sorts. Some families had plans to stay the weekend, some solo runners had plans to pull out just after they crossed the finish line. As the evening stretched on and mountain wind kicked up, I realized I'd set up a campsite on unlevel ground. A quick reassessment, and I'd broken my makeshift camp, folded the seats in preparation to sleep in the Prius itself, and driven to a closer location near the start line, the restrooms, and other car sleepers.

If you filed these decisions under pre-race anxiety and restlessness, I'd have to agree. The chatter among the other campers--the other experienced ultrarunners and dusty veterans--didn't contain a degree of trepidation. I'm used to the marathon speed scene, where pace and place and performance, all planned and finely tuned, can produce a debilitating fear of deviation. But these folks were talking about the watermelon slices they long for after 35 miles, or the ways backpacks and bladders stacked up against handhelds after 50k. It's not to say that others weren't concerned, but the context felt so tangibly different.
The resettling worked, and I rose and brewed coffee as the 50-mile runners checked in at 5:15 AM. Most did their best to "prepare" for their 6:00 AM race start, lumbering about, stretching, and working to cooperate with the bag drop procedure. Before sunrise, runners took off at a steady jog, initiating their body for hours upon hours of traversing. Not long after the 50k check-in kicked off. The sun rose, and it was a glorious, mild morning at 6,600 feet. Precisely at 7:00, 208 runners set off through the parking lot. Ultrarunners. And I was now technically one of them.

A solid pack set off through the lot heading west toward a descending fire road. We took the smooth downhill for nearly a mile before bending right onto the Pacific Crest Trail. I was warned the night before by a man twice my age of the potential for a bottleneck at this point. Not that I ran like he ran, but hopes of avoiding an early hike did push my pace. The warning didn't hold true for the first group, and we found our strides, easing through splits of 7:18 and 8:05 along the fire road, which didn't vary as we peeled off onto the PCT.

We glided through the shade of early morning--I logged another steady mile (8:08) through rolling trail that carved along the middle of a sloping mountain. The undulations woke my legs and gave me a chance to look to the left through the expanse of the valley. I had clear views into California, including Mount Shasta to the south, but I struggled to capture it at any length while navigating the tall grass, the tricks of light played by the forest at sunrise, and the inconsistent footing. It occurred to me that any trail race touting its incredible views does not provide instructions for how to race on a trail while simultaneously enjoying the scenery.

The first steady incline arrived between miles two and three where, aside from a couple of quick descents, we climbed for just shy of two miles. I slowed to 9:19 through the stretch, but quickly regained the time just after the trail crested 7,100 feet, when the course fell to 5,780 over the next three miles. The two runners ahead of me charged on, picking up speed in the downhill. I'm leery of unfettered speed on the downhill; having suffered lower back injuries in my football days, and upon shedding much of the weight from my upper body and midsection that served to pad the sport's pounding. I've come to fear the combination of impact and braking and propelling, especially on trails. With no one behind eager to fly by, I tried to remain conservative. I still logged fast miles, going 7:17, 6:34, and 6:51 up through mile eight.

Intersecting fire roads from time to time, the crisscrossing trail afforded a nice mix of early exposure and shade, and given the hour and temperature, the combination was refreshing. I found the expansive view mostly distracting, and it allowed me to speculate where the trail might go on the horizon rather than how it might climb through the denser tree-socked sections. (I did not consider what any of these factors would mean hours later upon my return, however.)

After bottoming out, the course offered fair rollers as it climbed back toward 6,000 feet. The trail leveled off just before my watch indicated the tenth mile, an announcement I enjoy because it ushers my brain into the "double digit club." In longer races, I'll often confirm that I'm too far in to give up, and too far away to get greedy. In this particular event, though, the course used this moment to punch me in the gut. At mile 10, we began a climb of 600 feet in just a mile and half. It's unrelenting, and when the reprieve does come, it's in the form of more rollers--back at 6,600 feet--that rise and fall for another mile and half, before launching you up another 600 foot climb. This pitch lasts just under three miles, but its saving grace is an arrival at the second aid station. Runners are checked in, drop bags (if used) are retrieved, and the restocking commences. I made pretty good time here, slowing from the mid 7s to the mid 8s, and topping out with two 9:00-minute splits and a decent pause with the volunteers.

As I entered the tents at the aid station, my first priority was locating a water bucket and accompanying sponges. My lazy legs sent me on a tumble during a descent near the half marathon point, and I needed some cleansing. Unlike a few I suffered during my training, this fall fortunately didn't draw too much blood, and it didn't destroy any of my equipment (bottles, glasses, hat, and watch all emerged unscathed). While I mended my condition, two eager volunteers elicited orders, topping off one handheld bottle with water and the other with electrolyte. I scanned the food table, overwhelmed at the choices many of the 50-mile runners were eagerly sampling. There were the ubiquitous banana segments, along with potato chips, gummy bears, and watermelon. I wanted no part of those, having committed to a strategy of gel packets and something called Pocket Fuel (in two separate servings) for the later stages of the race.

The training for SOB did teach me about my one aid station indulgence, which seems to be a particular kind of pop. I've had luck with carbonation before bed and after certain meals because the fizz produces an instant burp, but I struggled with cola at times, and fell victim to its inconsistency again at the first aid station that morning. Here, I felt I'd won the lottery; the ginger ale was flowing. The carbonation and sugar instantly rejuvenated my gut. It also seemed to ignite my mind. I even joked with a few of the volunteers--something about cups and party fouls and "going back to my car now," before thanking them profusely and separating from the 50 mile runners in return to the northeast.

Now back on an access road, the next three and a half miles of the course were easy downhills. My spirits were lifted by the aid station crowd, and the relief of the ginger ale helped initiate my metabolizing of the gel I'd taken just before the turnaround. I meandered along before looping back to an earlier aid station, where the course veered off onto the single track--this time on the northern side of the range--offering views of Ashland and its surrounding valleys.

I continued to clip off steady splits (7:02, 7:07, and 7:11), which slowed to an 8:25 as I climbed into mile 22. Mile 22 was, for me, akin to mile 17 in a marathon. This point offers a unique mental advantage because it's the "single digit club." Only 9 more miles until the finish! Mile 23 was a tough stretch on this course, and the pitch of the slope and the heat of the day slowed my pace to just over 9 minutes. I reassured myself that I could endure, though, because I was in the club. Just keep chipping away.

Clearly, I had forgotten the gut-check provided by the double digit club, because my membership dues for this status came with a jarring upper cut, then a dizzying one-two combination. Here, the course deposits runners at the base of the fast morning descent (mile 8, were the course had dropped 1,300 feet in three miles). I aimed to tackle the canyon with run/walk intervals, but resorted to power hiking and shuffling. 10:35; 12:55; 12:38; I bled time as the miles oozed on. Amazingly, though, I passed other runners in the process.

All I could do to occupy my mind was translate the remaining miles into equivalent mid-week workouts I'd completed so regularly during training. The watch would beep, and I'd check for reassurance: Six miles left! That's an easy Thursday morning before work, I'd think. BEEP! Five miles left! That's the core segment of a tempo workout! This translation might seem silly since my tempo workouts do not average miles of 12:55, but the naive translations did help sustain me in those later fatiguing stretches.

After topping out at 25 or so, I was able to run comfortably again. I had a steady diet of walking, though. Ultrarunners will often tell you to walk uphill to conserve energy and use different muscle groups to save your legs. At this point in the race, I walked certain flats. I even walked a few downhills. I did my walking because I needed rest, pure and simple.

I managed to run more than walk, though, and continued to dialogue with my watch regarding it's announcements. When it beeped for mile 28, I sighed aloud, "There it is! Three!" then yelled, "Make it two!" and ran on, hoping to come upon the fire road and the ascent toward the parking lot. I knew I wasn't bonking--which more than one person I passed attested to doing--because my later miles still felt pretty decent. I closed down the race with splits of 9:00, 8:17, and 8:44, before submitting to more walking on the fire road and the final climb toward the ski resort. The last stretch through the parking lot and race spectators was extremely gratifying. It was down-home, family oriented, and extremely celebratory. Everyone seemed fatigued--volunteers, supporters, and other runners--but all were proud and congratulatory.

At this point, runners were so strung out along the course that every finisher seemed to have his or her own moment in the spotlight. As I trucked through the last 200 meters, I couldn't help but smile and wave at the supporters; I knew I was the focus of their support.
I don't know if finishing makes me more of an ultrarunner now, or if I'll ever feel like I belong when I compete in more events of this nature. I do know that I never once thought I'm done! or Why the hell am I doing this?, both of which have been hurdles in faster road races and marathons. I know that in the four days since the event, I haven't had one bad memory or flashback of the near 4.5 hours I spent on the course. The fact that I completed the distance mattered to me when I decided to sign up and train for the event, but the fact that the experience itself will go the distance for me... that has to matter most of all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Race or Run?

Heading into Saturday's Siskiyou Out and Back 50k event, my body is primed for a strong performance. When I consider the workouts and the numbers from this long cycle, it's hard not to invest in the notion that this has to go well. Math--and all that logic behind it--continues to vex me, but that doesn't mean I don't try to crunch numbers and project sums. This often pushes me toward a generalizing trap. If I look long enough at the recorded data, try to set it on equal sides of plus sign, I can't help but hope that Saturday equates to some kind of running boon. But running is not necessarily an equation, and the surplus is never certain.

The SOB 50k weaves around the Pacific Crest Trail departing from the Mt. Ashland Ski Resort, and remains an unknown for me. I'm also unfamiliar with the 31-mile distance. Saturday's conditions, as always, remain a mystery. Heat? Elevation? Fueling? Wildfire? Lightning (look no further than third overall Adam Campbell at the Hardrock 100 last weekend!)? Races are always subject to myriad outside factors, so I'm doing my best to avoid the aforementioned numbers trap and the "what-if" hypothesizing.

But does that mean SOB isn't a "race"? With so many unknowns--and for me, firsts--is there really a way to avoid seeing this as just another "run"? I can't help but wonder, is there a clear switch that individuals hit in order to distinguish one from the other?

This spring and summer, I've had my share of disastrous training runs. There's been various kinds of botched fueling and hydrating and grueling climbs at unbreathable elevations. I've fallen--twice this cycle--in the middle of 20-plus mile runs. Feeling the sharp pain of road rash, coupled with the sight of dirt and blood, makes the ability to regain composure in a remote location, hours away from the car, a difficult  process. What choice is left? You start running. The pace of some of these less enjoyable runs has been all over the map. I've walked up hills I'd sprinted up just weeks before. I've slogged through botched speed work, soggy shoes, and sweltering temperatures.

I've also experienced sustained fits of joy. I slewed elevation climbs, slaughtered down hills, and stabilized intervals. I managed to run for over three hours in a childlike stupor, hardly believing in the existence of time or conditions. I can only hope to replicate and prolong the joy during the race, but with such varied experiences, it's almost silly. If there is a switch between run and race, some omnipresent finger is perpetually testing its durability on me. If this authoritarian flipper is failing to distinguish days or events, why should I force myself to?

And so when my dear mates and family members wish me "good luck" in my "race" this weekend, I continue to politely thank them. But I take a second to remind them that this can't be about racing and it can't be about luck. It's another run--like those before it in principle, and like all those subject the crucible of the given day and time and meal and moment.

So where's my mind?

Simply, I will try to feel good. I will do what I can do when I can do it. I will ask my body and hope that it responds.

I will complete, and also compete. Yet, my competition is with the steps I take, not the splits I make. Analyzing it any more just seems, for me at least, like a recipe for disaster.