>Reflections

June 21, 2010 § 4 Comments

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I’ve spent a lot of the past 2 weeks trying to wrap up my feelings after Old Dominion. I guess I was kind of hoping that I would experience some sort of profound ability to be able to put into words how the event changed me – because it did. I feel like this race was a huge milestone for me. It was security in a time of questioning if I was even competitive in the sport. It was the answer to the question of “what happens next?” I now look at myself, my sport, and fellow athetes in a different sense. But figuring out how to describe the experience in a way that is not just by replaying the miles, what I ate, who I ran with, and the things I ran by seems nearly impossible.

Ultimately I have decided that I don’t think I can really convey my feelings. People will either get it, or they won’t. I am fairly confident that anyone who saw me out there running that race, while they may not really understand why I do what I do, could see that ultrarunning was a part of me. That was what I came to do, and I was having a good time getting the job done.

I also reflected on the flawlessness of the race. In just about any distance you will have a moment where you wonder if you will be able to go on. You wonder if you’ve pushed too hard, if you’ve trained enough….or maybe you’ll simply just get sick and not be able to continue. Especially in a 100 miler, it’s just assumed you will have your low points and your high points. You will, inevitably, have moments over the hours that make you want to stop. Bring you down to your lowest. Make you question why you’re there.

This race was different. I had low moments, don’t get me wrong. But not once did I question my ability to continue, to finish, to get in under 24 hours. Not once did I sit and procrastinate getting up. Instead, I was attacking each section. I was eager to make up time and find some company on the trails. I was hungry to win the entire time, even when I knew winning wasn’t a possibility.

So instead of trying to explain to everyone the feelings that a race like that can bring you, I decided to ask myself questions and really try to figure out how this race what different. What did I do that made the race happen so easily? Over the past 6 months, what did I do right? I also read a lot on endurance athletes trying to figure out my own motivation and get a glimpse inside my head to how I stayed positive and strong not only through the race, but through some long months of training.

The most obvious change I made for this race was in training. Last September I went to Francesca and told her that was going to be my goal race, and I wanted to win. I wanted to do everything I could to beat as many people as I could. I think it’s important to have a coach that is on a separate level than just being a friend. She is, by every definition, one of my good friends. But, she’s my friend because she’s my coach – not the other way around. By treating her like a coach first, I become more accountable. And maybe it’s just because I took the role of having a coach so seriously in my sports growing up. Who knows. Either way, when she wrote my workouts, I did them even when I didn’t want to. Working 730-430, then starting a 3 hour run at 5, getting home at 845, and getting in bed to get up the next morning at 430 to do 6×2 mile wasn’t always fun. It wasn’t always easy. There were plenty of times I didn’t hit the splits I should have. And sometimes I am sure my pace the last quarter mile was probably that of my grandmother. But, I stuck out the miles. And from that I gained a greater sense of appreciation for the work that was required to do this distance properly. I enjoyed being out on my long runs. My legs started to get stronger during the 30 miles I’d be putting in, the day after a 3 hour hill workout. I would take the longer, more challenging routes. And that felt good. So, not only was I putting in the time, but I was doing what I could to make the miles count. Running became my second job – one that I enjoyed, and had fun at, but I still had to treat it as a job to keep myself in check.

So why was I doing it? Why was I running until 9 pm on a Friday night, then rushing to bed so that I could be up at 5 to be driving to the trails for a 6 hour run? When Lance is asked this question, he had the, now famous response that he doesn’t do what he does for the pleasure – he does it for the pain. That made me think – do I get some sort of sick enjoyment out of the pain? Do I thrive on the pain that’s required to run these races? I don’t think that I do. If I was looking for pain, I’d just run marathons. I can’t walk for longer after those than a 50 miler anyway 🙂

Then I thought about a Tim Noakes argument – maybe my personality made me a distance runner. He suggests that distance runners share a series of common traits – a love of privacy, an overwhelming desire for solitude, and an inability to relax or talk in company; an overconcern with physical health, typical patterns of mental behavior that include day dreaming, absentmindedness, procrastination, and an inability to make decisions. This seemed even further from the truth for me. While I value my alone time and my privacy – and I certainly love that running does give me that time away from the world – I don’t think I am an introverted or absentminded person. And, in fact, while I run the majority of the miles in these races alone, it is during the races that I am able to feel more connected to people than at any other time in my life. When I run, I am keenly aware of myself and my body, every hunger pain, every sense of thirst, etc. Being able to relay these things to crew, aid station workers, etc, boils life down to the basics of survival. I am trying to survive, and those people are helping me do that. There are few greater bonds than that. And few feelings of greater self worth than when you have a handful of people cheering you into an aid station, on a dark country road at midnight.  While the 60 people who ran the race may never cross paths in the race, we all share an indescribable bond. We know that each other raced the same trails. The same problems arose for everyone. The same day was spent running – and even when I had 10 miles to go, I felt close to those who still had 30 to go…and those who were already showered and laying in their hotel rooms that night, hoping for some brief escapes from the pain to sleep.

So, ultimately I don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly made this race pay off in such a great way for me. But, as simple as it is, I put in the honest effort and, just as importantly, I believed in that process. In the trial of miles. And having fun while you do it :

>Old Dominion 100 Mile

June 9, 2010 § 4 Comments

>”Now is not the time to be nervous. Now is the time to have courage.”-Kelly Cutrone

Who would have thought I would manage to find the most applicable quote for the Old Dominion run in an episode of The City? This race report has been simmering for several days in my head. It has been very hard for me to wrap my head around all the events and the emotion. But, I am giving it a try, so bear with me.

The weekend started midday on Friday as Melissa, Jen and I loaded up the Tracker to the brim with supplies and headed down south to Woodstock, VA. The sky looked dark as we settled into Seven Bends Lodge and then went back to the Fairgrounds for the pre-race weigh-in and briefing. The RD talked through the course and introduced some of the race staff. The race has a really cool history, and it’s also a race with strong women in charge, which is cool. There wasn’t much time for anything else as I had to get back to the cabin to prepare dinner, do last minute race prep, and go to sleep. Melissa and Jen made me a super awesome dinner and then before I knew it I was having flashbacks to last June as I sat down among about 50 GUs, baggies of pills and powers and notecards, packing the bags for my crew to take to the aid stations. As I prepared my things, my crew also prepared theirs. Arjun and Jen, having come to Western States with me last year, were preparing for the worst. As Arjun said, he didn’t want to get his hopes up by expecting me to run my 21 hour goal pace. Or my 24 hour pace. He was prepared for another 28 hour finish.

It was funny to me when he said that. For all intensive purposes, he was right. Why would he expect any different? Why was I believing that I would run under 24 hours this year? All I knew was that I had put my money in the bank. For the past 6 months, I had prepared to the best of my ability for this race. I knew that if I ran smart and relaxed, I could do it. The training that I had done gave me the courage to go after that goal. It calmed my nerves in the late hours of the night as I turned restlessly, waiting for my 2:20am alarm to go off.

Promptly at 4am, the blessing wrapped up and the gun shot off, signaling the start of the race. It was so quick and sudden that many of us were not ready – we all kind of looked at each other asking “do we go?!” before taking the first steps. Looping around the track I got to see a last glimpse of my crew for a couple hours. I didn’t need a head lamp in the early hours. We hit the water street aid station without stopping, and found ourselves at the bottom of Woodstock Mountain in no time. I made this climb with David Snipes and Rob. Sniper is a good friend of mine, a CRC teammate, and full of ultra and history knowledge. Chatting as we hiked up made it pass quickly, and before we knew it we were at the top. I refilled a bottle here, and we had a nice long descent down into the valley as the sun rose over the Shenandoahs. Hitting Boyer’s Furnace we were in a group of probably 10 or so guys. My intentions for this race were to stay calm and keep things easy for the first fifth of the race. After that I could start to push it more where I wanted, but I need to be held back in the beginning. So I sat at the back of the group as we went up the trail at a comfortable pace. I continued to go through my checklist as I went – food? water? S! Caps? Things were moving along nicely, and before I knew it I was on the last road leading up to the 770/758 aid station where I’d see my crew at mile 19. I had begun to pull away from Sniper and Rob at this point and was beginning to run by myself, so I knew it was a good idea to refuel here and take my time.

Thanks to Arjun, Jen and Melissa this was the first of many flawless aid stations. Sniper came in as I was heading out and reminded me to run smart. I knew he was pulling for me to have a good race just as much as I wanted to for myself, so I appreciated that. I was back on the road in no time and had a nice enjoyable rolling road section through the next couple stops. I was alone for most of this, passed once by a man named Chris. I found myself again excited to see some friendly faces as the cheers from Four Points aid station rose up ahead. At this point in the day I knew it was getting hot (eventual high that day was 88 degrees). I was a 50K in and had a long way to go, so I just went through the routine and again found myself behind a couple men climbing up the ATV trail. This lead to an eventual steep downhill, then right back onto a trail for a LONG climb. Long. Long. Hot. Humid. Buggy. Long. Climb. This was probably the lowest point in the race for me. I was all alone, the bugs were getting on my nerves, and I was frustrated feeling like I had no sense of when I’d be out of the climb. Alas, the only way out is to run, and that I did. Finally I hit creekside where I dunked myself in the creek then got to the aid station. It was here I regained my composure again. I was at the aid station with about 5 other guys – they must have just been a few minutes up ahead the whole time. So I wasn’t all alone and in last place like my mind was starting to tell me. The guys were getting weighed, all a little weary at the 4-5 pound drops. I hop on the scale and find out that I gained 1.5 pounds. Go figure.

Heading back down to Four Points is a long gravel road, mostly downhill, and I ran quickly to get there. The climate change from being out of the trail where the air wasn’t moving was refreshing, and I felt like I was getting my life back. I was even hungry at Four Points and jokingly asked for a burger. Again, I felt like a Nascar car entering the pit station as I sat down here and my crew worked around me, doing everything perfectly. With a yell from Arjun saying my pants were falling down, I was heading out for a 6 mile climb, this time at least it was a road climb. It took a long time, and again I was by myself, but it was refreshing to see the 50 mile mark on the road. I hit there in 9:35.  After the long ascent we got a nice downhill. I saw a snake which scared the Russian man I ran with, and then I caught a glimpse of my parents as I pulled into Edinburg Gap. For some reason seeing them made me tear up, and I had to get a hold of myself before coming in close – I knew if my mom saw me crying she’d think I was dying!

I think it was here that I really realized how far I had left to go. Having run 56 miles, I still had another 44 ahead of me. It was HOT. Luckily the GUs were going down like water today, because I was having trouble pinpointing anything else that sounded good. Melissa even suggested ice cream which I turned down – I NEVER do that!!!  From here to Little Fort I was on an ATV road. Since the storms the night before were pretty strong, there were some huge mud puddles. Meaning, you either went right through them – garunteeing me another 20 miles of wet feet before I changed shoes – or you added distance by running from side to side – because naturally the clearest path always alternated sides of the puddles. It was here though I noticed how well my legs were still holding up. I was running with ease, and holding a good pace whenever possible. I was still able to run many of the hills, and pound the downhills. I was able to work with Chris through a good portion of this section. He is a seasoned runner who had taken about 10 years off and was getting back into it. By the end of the section I was alone again, and was excited to see the signs I recognized meaning I was at Little Fort. My crew even had a burger waiting for me! That sounded great, and so did watermelon….so I sandwiched the meat between the watermelon and chowed down. I am fairly certain I scared some people here. I took in some soup and a couple chips here too, washed it down with Mountain Dew, and then headed out. This was exciting for me because at least now I knew all the parts that were to come. There was no more unknown.

My stomach was pretty full after all that food, so the miles down to mudhole gap were fairly easy even though I probably could have made better time on them. Cruising through the aid station there, I had my head set on getting to Elizabeth’s Furnace around 7. I had told Mel I’d be there between 6 and 8 and I didn’t want to be late 🙂 I caught a couple guys on the jeep road. One had run last year and was only about 20 minutes off his pace from last year where he finished in 21:xx. That was reassuring to me, but I knew we still had a long way to go. I had been trying to do the math for the splits all day, but the heat and the running was making my brain melt. I knew calculating things wouldn’t matter anyway – I just needed to get from point to point as fast as I could.

At Elizabeth’s I was weighed in again…up another pound! According to my crew I didn’t look to good here, and I think it was probably because I had pushed hard on the trails to get in quickly. I felt okay, but was also focused on getting up the famed Sherman’s Gap in daylight. I had about an hour to do that, and with Melissa’s help, we made it to the top just as the sun was setting! Melissa was great through the entire 12 miles she ran with me. Always positive and telling me I was doing good, reminding me to breath and take my time when my feet got ahead of my brain on the rocky downhills, I couldn’t have asked for a better safety runner. It isn’t easy to run through streams and rocks in the dark. It is even harder when you have a runner with you who’s already gone 75 miles and is at their wit’s end mentally, emotionally, and physically. She held me together though, and with her help I passed 3 people in those 12 miles. Not bad considering there were only 11 out in front of me to begin with!!!

Unfortunately Melissa’s duties ended at Veach West, but I was greeted with Zero and Ryan who had come down to spectate and had just missed me leaving both Little Fort and Elizabeth’s. It was here I knew I was within the time limit, but I still had some challenges ahead of me. I changed into new shoes and socks (which felt like heaven!) and set out on the dark, windy country roads leading me back to Woodstock Mountain.

All I can say about the next 4 miles are that they were the longest 4 miles of my life. I saw 3 chem lights in those miles because kids from town had been driving around taking them down. Your mind plays cruel tricks on you in the middle of the night after 85 miles, and that night was no exception. I would look behind me often, not looking to see if I was being caught – but hoping that I would have some company in this long dark section. I was out of luck in that respect though, and had to rely on myself to stay strong and get through it. I did this by talking outloud to myself. I had run these roads before in training with Bobby. I knew the way. I would say that over and over to myself outloud: “I know where I am, I am looking for my next left turn, I am on the right road.” Then, whenever I would catch a glimpse of a flag in a tree marking the course from the morning section, I checked my watch and would repeat the time out loud to myself. I figured if I did think I was off course at any point, I should keep track of how many minutes I had been running since the last time I knew I was right. I think it took about an hour, but eventually I saw a red glow up ahead, the 770/758 aid station. There my crew told me that several people in front of me had indeed gotten lost on that section. I was thankful for the preparation I had put in, running the course, and staying alert and aware of where I was. (NOTE: in addition to running the course, I also made notecards with the turn-by-turn directions for myself. My crew would switch these out with my GUs and bottles at aid stations. This was extremely helpful and I would not do another run with turns like that without cards!) I got some soup and some more food, ready to head out on the next 10 miles, and as I left another runner was coming in. THat was Mike Bailey, and he caught me again at the top of WOodstock Mountain.

No time to chat though – I headed down the mountain which proved to be one of the most painful experiences of my life. Switchback after switchback, the lights of Woodstock almost seemed to be getting further away instead of closer. But finally I was at the dam, only 5ish more miles to go! Chris (from earlier in the day) came flying by me here. He said he had some stomach problems but had obviously overcome those and was well on his way to a strong finish. I wished him well and moseyed along at my pace, reaching the Water Street aid station, getting some body glide one last time from the crew, and making my way up those last few hills back to the fairgrounds. I dropped my bottle at the gate and ran the last half mile, coming in to cheers and clapping and, of course, Miley Cyrus jams on the radio!

I had done it. I had run, no, I had raced 100 miles in a time of 21 hours and 43 minutes. I had crushed my time from last year by about 6.5 hours. It is funny the power of the mind in one of these events. Coming into the fairgrounds, my legs hurt (obviously), but I was still able to run. Within 10 seconds of me finishing, it’s like they new they were at the end, and immediately started hurting. With no food or water or really anyone else at the finish line, there was nothing left to do but go back to the cabin, shower, and get in bed. I even managed to get a couple hours of sleep.

As we all woke up the next morning, I jokiningly pointed out how lucky we were that I wasn’t still running. The relief on my crew’s faces for that same fact was clear! The awards breakfast was great. It’s nice to be at a smaller race where you can hear words from every finisher as they accept their buckle or finishing award. I got to see 2 of my friends receive buckles that they had been seeking for quite some time too, and that is always a good feeling.

As quickly as it started, the race was over, and at work Monday morning it was just like any other day. Except for my slight limp and extreme hunger.

There is a lot more I would like to write about, but for the sake of time it will have to wait till my next post. In the meantime, I hope that the OD100 continues to gain steam and grow as a race again. I had the time of my life running those trails, and the race support was top of the line. A must-do for any ultrarunner!

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