Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reflections on an Oak Mt Day in the Woods

"But time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I'm getting older too" - Landslide, Stevie Nicks

Let's face it, I just love to be out there. Back in the day (man, I hate that term), I used to be in the upper third at races of all distances. I would put in 50-60 miles a week and pretty much all of my training runs were laced with the background goal of being a little faster than whoever I was running with. You'd be loping along, talking about the Braves, or the weather, or whatever, when suddenly you noticed that your sentences weren't flowing as smoothly, you were breathing heavier, and your legs were being filled with cocktails of lactic acid. The pace shifted, as it always did, and you sped towards home anaerobically, wherever home was. 

But time moves on, and the training gets slower, the races get slower, and the competitiveness wanes. But, still the love of the run is still there. And the love of the LONG run is where most of that love lies. If I can physically make the distance, then time takes a back seat. Not happily, but agreeably...a compromise...I'll give you distance, but I'll take some of your!! And so, after 5 years of volunteering due to non-cooperative ankles, I decided to enter the Oak Mountain Trail 50k for the 1st time since 2007 this past weekend. My goal was to simply finish. I usually don't like to write race reports...I've read many good ones, but just don't feel like I write very good, what follows are some of my memories, though with my fading mind...maybe I should have written this earlier in the week.

The course comprises each of the four major trails in the park and on each trail, there is a major hill. Over the 31+ miles there is over 4000 feet of elevation gain. Is that a lot? I don't know, but it felt like a lot. The problem is most of the hills are steep grades and not mamby-pamby inclines. These legs used used to find a (slow) groove and trot up the hills, but now, there's a lot of walking involved. No big deal, but it just takes longer. When you're flat-out tired, but running, 16 minute miles feel like you're flying. But you know what...falling sucks, and falling twice in one mile sucks twice as much. Lots of banana peels on these trails (banana peels are what my buddy, Moha, and I call roots, rocks, ruts, etc - anything that can trip you up). One good thing is I'm going so slow, so I sorta fall in slow motion and unless I crack against a rock, I really don't worry about getting hurt.

Despite the two tumbles, I was moving relatively well until at 13 miles when you hit Peavine Falls. You literally have to climb down a 15% rocky grade 2/10ths of a mile to the bottom of the falls, traverse the 30' water crossing, and then climb back up the 2/10ths rocky 15% grade on the other side. Fifteen minutes later, at the top of the climb, with my hands on my knees, I looked at Moha and said "Well, we're almost halfway there!" and cried inside. It would have been so easy to get to the next aid station and convince myself that a 14 mile run on a beautiful day was something to be thankful for.

Without belaboring a description of the rest of the race, I did keep remembering an interview I heard with one of my true running heroes, David Goggins. He's an ex-Navy Seal who's career I've been following for years. Read about him, or better yet, view some of his videos on youtube (here's a good one). Essentially, he's an amazing athlete with an incredible mental tenacity that all of us wish we had, and he puts this tenacity to work raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Anyway, in this interview, he said something to the effect of "When you think you are done, you are like 40% into what your body is capable of doing. That's just the limits we put on ourselves". So, with that in my mind, I trudged on, and I mean "trudged".

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have no better friend than my long-lost brother, Moha. We have put in tons of miles on the road and on the trail together. We've been there for each other if one of us falters, but it seems he's supporting me much more than the other way around. I did have to laugh though, as we were climbing a 2.5 mile hill on the Red Trail, I said to Moha "I'm sorry I'm slowing us down so much". Without missing a beat, Moha says, "I'm going into the woods and find a big stick to beat the sh*t out of you". Gotta love a good friend!

And so, we huffed and puffed and ran and walked and finally made it to the finish line, BUT IT WAS THE FINISH LINE, and that was the goal. Only a runner who reaches an official finish line knows the special feeling it brings and I especially enjoyed this one. I really don't mind keeping my time with a sundial these days. Actually, I may have to do this as my very unpredictable Nike+ GPS battery gave up the ghost 6:41 into the race - so much for the advertised 8 hour battery! More on that in another blog. I guess either watch batteries need to improve or I need to run faster. Let's send a text to the new Pope to pray for the watch battery.

One final the hell can anyone in their right mind ever take an ice bath? The night of the OM50, my ankles were barking pretty good, so I decided to dunk them in the bathtub jacuzzi we have. I filled a big pot full of ice, grabbed a magazine, a cup of coffee, planning to plop my feet in this ice bath and sit on the side of the tub. I filled the tub half full with just cold water and plunged them in. Now, mind you, I haven't even put the ice in yet!! Holy Crap!! My ankles felt like James Caan's in the movie Misery when Kathy Bates gave his ankles a horrific whack with a sledge hammer. Thirty seconds and out. Thought about what a tough guy I am and plunged them back God, I didn't know you could get an Ice Cream headache in your feet. Thirty more seconds and that experiment was OVER!! Drained the tub, poured out the ice, grabbed my coffee and put on my Smartwools. Ryan Hall and Ken Harkless can have their icebaths. They must be missing an evolutionary part of their brain! Actually, it did help me take my mind off my ankle pain, so I guess it served it's purpose. Whew!

As I said, I love to be out there, and so far, the pluses still far outweigh the negatives, so I'll keep going as long as they keep the finish line open. Do I expect better results? That would be nice, but on 25-30 miles/week, probably not. Will I push past that 40% mental barrier? I hope I'm strong enough. Will Moha beat the sh*t out of me? I doubted, but we will always be there for each other, and that in itself makes it all worthwhile. Will I EVER take an ice bath again? Not in this lifetime!

And so another chapter ends, but the book continues to be written. And one of the most important parts is I'll see you all on the road - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"


Dean Thornton said...

Great to see you out there, Al. You're an inspiration to lots of us.

AL said...

Thanks for that Dean. I'm not sure about that "inspiration" accolade, but I sure appreciate you saying it. I'm afraid of when folks start saying "He used to be Al DiMicco". But Dean, I'll still be wearing my Hokas. Hope to see you soon