Tuesday, March 13, 2012

race report

Trail running is a great way to experience something old in a whole new venue.  I get to be up close and personal with rocks and roots and trees and streams and creeks and incredibly steep hills all with fairly unsure footing.  I love it, it's much more fun then running on the road.  Sometimes I fall, but usually not.  I use my stopwatch just to get a rough idea of how much longer I need to endure the suffering that comes with a race.  The actual race time doesn't matter much because all trail race distances are an educated guess at best.  The first race was like 5.5 miles and the second was 5.6 miles.  I got to strap on my new natural running trail shoes and mix it up with about 400 of my new best buddies. 

I was hooked the first time I did one of these races.  My good friend Sara (also a successful Personal Trainer) told me she likes to do them all and I should join her next time.  Gentlemen, if a good looking and athletic red head says, "come join me it will be fun!"  Do not question her!!!  Back then I was in the middle of an impressive, if not daunting, stretch of 11 marathons, 6 half-iron triathlons and 2 full Ironman in a 7 year period.  I was getting a little burned out by the road and was looking for a change.  So I signed up for the full four race series of 10 mile trail runs.  There is a 5 or 10 mile option but at that time going big was second nature for me.  I was excited because everything was new.  The gun went off and off I went, over the creeks and up the hills deep into my "dark place" and about an hour and change later I finished and headed towards the finish line buffet.  Pizza, cookies and a coke later and I was human again.  "Let's go check the results," she said.  We wondered over to the results page paper clipped to the finish chute fence.  I found my age group and started looking for my name.  I started in the middle and started slowly moving my eyes up.  I have never won a race before in my life.  So I was pretty shocked when I found my name atop the list. "I won my age group." I said quietly to Sara and anybody else in earshot.  I won my first pub glass.  I was very proud.  2 weeks ago I began my comeback trail, well, on the trail.  This time I entered the 5 mile race.  I was more concerned about how my body would feel then how many fools I could beat to the line.  I found a pace that was hard but sustainable, some people passed me I passed some other people, I was running and it felt great.  When I got to the finish I was pleased with my effort and pleased to see that I had placed 4th, doing the approximately 5.5 miles in 43:43.  Another race, another pub glass.  After the race my Plantar Faciatis really flared up.  I really wanted to put some arch support under my feet.  Next time I will bring shoes to change into for sure.  I was worried that the balls of my feet would hurt but they didn't, just the arches and the heel.  The rest of my body actually felt really good.  Because of the stress of the race and the stress of the work week I only had time to run one day in the week between the races, a pleasant and flat 4 miles on the Cap C Trail.

The second race was supposed to be the easiest on the circuit.  5.5 miles of almost completely flat and only two serious hills.  The main difference this week was that a great portion of the trail was made up of smaller, sharper rocks.  The balls of my feet really feel it this time.  I crossed the line in 41:40 but only managed a 5th place.  No worries, I was still able to take my 20th pub glass home, keeping my string of 20 straight podiums in 20 trail races.  I changed into more supportive shoes for the awards ceremony and pizza brunch.  This time my Plantar only was moderately annoyed but the balls of the feet felt bruised.  Nothing a good massage couldn't help.

Bottom line here?  I don't really have one, I suppose if I was creative enough I could have spun a tale about not losing sight of the forest for the trees.  Anyway, next race is in 2 weeks and I can't wait.

a little test

I have long been a believer that if you really want to test yourself, if you really want to see what you are made of then you need to compete.  Competition causes people to really push themselves beyond their own perceived limits.  "I never thought I could go that far, or that fast, or that high or lift that much, but I really wanted to beat that person or my previous best time, etc."  People can never really do more work than is possible but people can always do more work than they thought was possible. I learned this lesson way back in high school. 

It was my senior year and I was running what I suspected would be my last official race representing the school colors.  It was the Fall of 1985 (I did not have a Members Only jacket but I did have an Indiana Jones hat, acid washed jeans and big hair.  I was listening to Squeeze and George Thorogood and The Police) and I was one of the stars, well...participants, of the cross country team and I really wanted to beat this one particular guy from a rival school.  Why was I so concerned with this dude?   I'm not sure, we were both middle of the pack runners, we rarely if ever figured into the scoring of our teams (only the top 5 score for each team, I was usually the 6 or 7 runner).  But this dude really bugged me.  First of all, he was a big guy.  What the hell is a big guy doing in a cross country race?  He was built like a linebacker or a power forward (a private prep school version not a college scholarship version), he didn't look like he could run far or fast!!!  I, on the other hand do (well...did), look like I could run far and fast.  In fact, I feel like did both... regularly!!!  Second of all, his running style made it look like he was not even trying, he looked like he was running slow, jogging.  He kind of lumbered down the trail, with heavy feet and slumped shoulders and a protruding brow.  OK, not really a protruding brow, he wasn't a caveman but you get the point.  So early in the season when out teams ran a dual meet and he passed me with a mile to go in the race. I tried to follow him, this Neanderthal with his distinctive style.  I was getting more and more frustrated that this big dude with the slow feet was beating me, the fast kid, at my sport!  You don't see me trying to slam dunk over big kids on the basketball court.  I never did catch him but I never forgot him and 3 weeks later our teams met again, this time at a big invitational meet with 25-30 teams of 9 kids each.  I wasn't sure I'd even see him.  I just wanted to run my race and do my best for the team.  But with about a mile to go I spotted him up in the distance.  He looked brutish and awkward, like he was going to trip any second.  I picked up the pace a little, I was going to catch him about 200m from the finish then blow past him as I whoooshed into the finishing chute and into the arms of the cute cheerleader.  But, again, it was not to be.  He felt me closing in and right at about 200m to go he broke into a sprint that sucked the will right out of me.  There will be no beating rivals this week, no self-indulgent pride, no confidence boosting cheerleaders.  So we flash forward several weeks to the conference championship race.  All 8 teams, best 9 runners each on the toughest course on our schedule all running the one race that we all have been training for all year.  The one race we wanted to win more than any other.  It was a cold and windy day in late November, everything was gray and stark.  The only color was the red on our cheeks and the Blue and Gold on our singlets.  I lost sight of my unknowing rival and soon forgot about him.  I was simply trying to run as fast as I could in order to stay ahead of the 2 or 3 guys breathing down my neck.  But again with about a mile to go I saw the lumbering fool.  This time I was going to leave nothing to chance.  Impossibly, I picked up my pace even faster and not only did I pass him I flew past him in two steps, like he was standing still.  "When you pass don't look back, just look ahead to the next guy you are going to pass!!" I heard my coach’s voice in my head.  "Looking back is a sign of weakness," is another one of his sayings that kept bouncing around.  I was right at my limit, right at the red line.  I broke out into the last open field.  The finish line was just at the other side 300m away and closing fast...250m and my season and my rivalry would be over...200m and my lungs were searing and my legs were on fire but redemption will soon be mine...150m and I started to hear a load cheer from somebody's dad, "Go Dexter GO!!"  50m to go and the finish line is close enough to touch, then out of nowhere Dexter blew past me so fuckin' fast I swear to this day I heard a sonic boom.  The lumbering idiot beat me again.  I finished one second behind him and pretended my momentum (or frustration) caused me to push him over in the finish chute.  I was pissed.  I cried a little, more because it was the end of my scholastic running career then because I couldn't ever beat the guy.  I have been known to cry at the end of really hard events that leave me completely drained.  So what's the lesson here?  What can be learned from getting beat by the same guy three times?  17:52 that's what.  It was, is and always will be my fastest time ever in a 5k.  I have never before or since come close.  I've gone under 20 minutes a bunch and even under 19 once on a downhill course but never could touch sub-18.  I was able to push myself beyond my perceived limit because the competition caused me to force my body into new territory.

Here I am again, pushing myself into a new territory, running on familiar trails with some unfamiliar shoes and a forefoot striking stride.  I raced twice on the last two consecutive weekends, 5 mile trial races both.  My feet hurt but the pain is eased by the pub glasses I brought home by placing in the top 5 in my age group each time.  In true cliff hanger tradition I'll report more on those two races next time because this blog has gone on long enough.

Bottom line is that competition brings out the best in us and I like it.  Who wants to join me next week?  www.ex2adventures.com

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How I reconnected with the earth

I have my first trail race coming up this Sunday.  It is the first race I've done of any kind since last June when I hobbled, under trained and injured, thru the DC Tri.  It was right after that race,  or maybe during, that I decided to take a month off of running just to let my budding Plantar Faciatis heal.  Or is it heel?  I had to let my heel heal.  Well a month turned into the summer, which lead into the year.  I was a DNS to my entire 2011 race schedule.  The Annapolis 10, The Nations Tri, the Pocono 70.3, a fall marathon TBD, the Fall Backyard Burn trail race series, the turkey trot and a few other random 5k-10k's.

But as you, my "faithful 4", as I shall now refer to you my dedicated following, already know...I AM BACK!!!  I have signed up for and am super excited to do the Spring Backyard Burn trail run series.  The first race is this Sunday.  I have competed in this series 5 times in the past several, always in the 10 mile races and always with success.  I don't think I have ever finished one of the great trail races from www.ex2adventures.com without being on the podium somewhere.  I've collected a cool set of branded pub glasses, each with that races finishing place and the EX2 logo.  My wife loves them, she thinks they are charming and practical and a testament to the virility of her lifelong mate and companion.  And by that I mean she thinks they are a hideous white trashy eyesore and must be hidden from sight, banished to that death row of knick knacks...storage.  I think they are cool.  So far they have stayed.  So far.

So here I am.  About to embark on the first official step, as evidenced by the entry fee and tee shirt, towards my BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal).  A set of 5 mile (stepping back, inside my new limits, go me) trail runs in my new natural running trail shoes.  I figured that even though I am easing into this I better put a few dirty miles on them so I  did the same run as last week to RCP.  This time I fell.  Hard.  I laughed as I brushed myself off and checked for structural damage.  No big deal, it happens from time to time.  I have a picture of an awesome raspberry I gave myself in a race a few years back.  It won an award from the Race Director at the pub glass ceremony (I'd show you the pic if I could figure out how to pull it off my iPhone 3).  This time I'm not so sure a pub glass is coming home to join his 13 other friends.  I'm slower now, but it's OK.  It'll just feel good to get out in the fresh air and push my new body to its new limits, in different directions.

40 minute run with 30-34 on dirt