Saturday, May 11, 2013

Still Running and Still Learning

"I'll be happy if running and I can grow old together" - Haruki Murakami

I've often said that I'm not one for writing or reading race reports. It is just so very difficult to transcend the feeling of the writer/runner to the reader...yada, yada, heavy legs, yada, yada, uphill, yada, yada, sun going down...and so on. Let's face it, MOST race reports are extremely important to the writer, but they are pretty boring to read all the way through, so I won't start here. But, last weekend, I ran the Run4Kids 50k at Oak Mountain in miserable conditions. Those of you that read my blog regularly might remember (yeah, right!) that it was this race last year that I re-entered the ultra scene after a 6 year hiatus due to rusty ankles (If for some reason you want to read that post, here it is). The ankles are still rusty, but in the past 12 months, I have managed to run finish 3 50k's, one tough trail marathon, and a road marathon. 

Last Saturday, after a dark and stormy night, I woke up to a torrential downpour and thought "this is the type of Saturday morning I dream about" - where I can just pull the covers up and not feel guilty at all about not going out for my usual Saturday 2-3 hour run. But instead, I headed out to OM to spend 8+ hours in 3 hours of hard rain, sometimes ankle deep mud, and lots of slipping and sliding. Surprisingly, I only had one fall, and that was within 50 feet of the aid station for all to see...Great! Overall, I was pretty pleased with the result as I am these days with any finish before everybody goes home. No injuries and the ankles survived to be able to walk, although the next day was interesting - I thought while shopping I might have to get one of those Granny Carts to ride around in. Instead, I treated it like an ultra race itself, rationed my energy, and made the dairy aisle my line in the sand where I knew I would finish. Going through the checkout was the last aid station, and my car was the finish line. Yes, Walter Mitty was one of my favorite stories growing up! 

Although I've been running these races for about a hundred years, I'm still learning things along the way. Here's a couple of thoughts I came away with (at least ones I remember a week later):

Check your shoes - I've been running in Hokas for about 3 years now and am convinced they have saved my running. I usually have one pair for road running and when they start to show wear, they become my trail shoe and my current trail Hoka is retired. I'm not REALLY cheap, but at 170 bucks a pair, I'm bound and determined to squeeze all the juice out of these Hoka lemons. I'll usually get about 450 miles on the road and another 250+ on the trail before they go to Hoka Heaven. Well, after slipping and sliding for 8 hours last week, when I took my mud-caked shoes off I noticed that most of the sole on these babies was slick, like a bald tire! No wonder I was skiing through the woods. The next day, I calculated that those pair of shoes had right at 1000 miles on them (I write the date on my shoes when they do their 1st run)! Guess I squeezed that lemon a little too much.

Buy a thin rain jacket - The temperature started in the high 40's and it was pouring. I have 2 rain jackets. One is a very good waterproof/breathable jacket I picked up on sale from GearBuzz. It's great, but a little heavy for MOST Alabama rainy days. There were some early morning rains in the 35 degree range that this jacket was a lifesaver. At this race however, I ran in a light, waterproof bike jacket that I picked up for $32 about 10 years ago. It works great...always has, probably always will. Doesn't breathe and has no pockets, but I wore it for the first 20 miles of the race and had no problems at all.  

Have dry/warm, comfortable clothes ready at the finish line - Preparation is key. It always amazes me that on a cold morning after a tough run, and you're freezing your ever-lovin' butt off in the parking lot, that when you get that sweaty, cold shirt off and put on a dry one, you immediately warm up. Following this race, not only was I wet as a striped bass, but I was as muddy as a happy pig (I love to paint visuals). Getting changed was almost life-changing! 

Stay positive - the hardest points of any race is when negative thoughts start-a-creepin' in. Every runner knows that to be successful (whatever your definition of that is) a big piece has to be about defeating the demons. They'll hit you usually about 2/3's of the way through any race and usually lay out a pretty convincing argument to quit. But, it's easier to hang on during the last 2 miles of a 10k than it is the last 30 miles of a hundred miler! During this race, I never hit a real low point, but when things started to go south, I just tried to concentrate on my form, and moving smoothly. I try to concentrate just in the moment, not how far I've been, and certainly not how far I have to go. My mantra has been with me for decades and is even on my RoadID - "Every step is a step closer"

Just keep moving - This is easier said than done, but when it hurts, you just need to keep moving. Getting to the aid station always brings some relief, but you can lose a ton of time just "hanging around". Walking is ok while you refuel and restock, but stopping doesn't get you anywhere. Ration your energy and keep your effort even. You'll be going slower at the end, but your effort should be on even keel.

Smile - This goes along with staying positive, but when you smile, you're more likely to stop feeling miserable. You're too tired to be a stand-up comic, but keeping things in perspective and trying to stay on the bright side of the situation will always be an option to help keep you going.

You chose this - keep reminding yourself that this is what you love to do, so stop whining. We all have our own reasons, but choosing to lie in bed on a miserable, cold, rainy morning, or running 50k in these conditions was never really a decision to fight with. To me, running a 50k is a blast for me...I ran for over 8 hours through mud, rain, cold, and the amazing scenery of Oak Mountain. No, I didn't romp like a teenage gymnast doing her floor exercise, but I did enjoy most of it. And you can't describe how you feel when you finish, but believe me, the needle on the Good/Bad meter is definitely on the "good" side.  

Music is Good - About 5AM on race morning, I got a call from my buddy and long-lost brother, Moha, that he couldn't make it, so I was on my own. Because we wouldn't be yukking it up for 8 hours, I decided to bring my own entertainment. I ran about 2 hours without anything, then a podcast for more than 3 hours (TalkUltra is a great pod, but gets longer with each episode). Finally, I plugged into my ipod shuffle of favorites. We all have our own playlists that embarrass us to admit what we listen to, but mine is all over the place. However, I have to say that Van Morrison's "Bright Side of the Road" is the best song to listen to when you're within smelling distance of the finish line. Love that song!  

Thank people - The volunteers at ultras are top notch, they deserve your gratitude. Despite the miserable conditions, at least I was running and staying relatively warm. Good friends like Prince Whatley were out there all day. Dan Ripple (who is running the CCC at France's UTMB race in August) was standing in ankle deep mud to direct us. David Christy was there all day taking fabulous photos that he makes available to all runners free of charge! And Mary Jo Tosch, the RD's wife, opened a Gu for me when she saw me struggling to rip the top off the damn thing (somebody has to come up with a better design for wet, sweaty runner's hands). Anyway, thanks to all.

OK, not a race report. Hope you all didn't get too bored with this recap, but I'm proud another one is behind me. Tough 18 mile trail race in July, and then a pretty busy Fall season. At the beginning of the year I told myself if I was going to go down, I was going down in flames. So far, so good. Let's see how many more pair of Hokas I can wear out. Run strong my friends.

I'm looking forward to seeing you all on the roads - AL

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


Yo Momma Runs said...

Great job out there! I need to figure out who you are in person because now I know for sure we have passed each other on the trails because I was there at OM too. Really, really need to find a lightweight rain jacket. Hoping I can find one on sale here soon. There are already many runs that I would have used it on in the last month or so. And I love to have my phone with me for backup entertainment purposes. I love talking to people during the run, but it just isn't always feasible with everyone's different goals during a race. Training runs are easier to try and keep everyone together. What's your next race? Are you doing the SE Trail series?

Running said...

Al, you did a great job of describing the Run for the Kids race. It was muddy, wet, cold, sometimes miserable but most of all fun. I wear a North Face Better than Naked jacket in cold rain. Works for me and does breathe a little. Keep on writing and see you on the roads or trails soon. Bill Woody

Al D. said...

THANKS Bill. It was good to see you out there. Good thing you decided to go that extra lap to get over 50 miles. Yep,see you down the road.