Friday, August 2, 2013

A View From The Back Of The Pack...The Very Back!

"Change is inevitable. Change is constant" - Benjamin Disraeli

Those of you that read my blog know that a few years ago, my ailing ankles were barking so bad, I could hardly go a couple of slow miles without having walk or sit down. My love of long distance runs was literally shot down the toilet and I was pretty depressed about it. Slowly, through some diligent ankle stretching, running agonizingly slow on pancake flat surfaces, and mostly switching to Hoka shoes, I was able to build back to (for me) a fairly respectable distance. I literally made a deal with God that if I could run, I wouldn't kick and scream complain about the pace. Well, it seems that he is having a ball with me by testing me more and more. My early morning runs push 12 minutes/mile and we won't even mention what happens when I hit a hill! My ankles are still sore, but that ache just lies North of allowing me to try races that I used to think nothing of in my more formidable days. I see these races online when I'm at work and think "I can do that". Yeah, I can do it. BUT, although I'm still moving, I'm moving so much slower than everybody else. But, that was the deal I made with God, wasn't it? Last Saturday, I ran the Hotter 'N Hell 18 mile Trail Race here in Birmingham. Now, I don't mind finishing last, but I was "1962 New York Mets last". If you're not a baseball fan, just take my word for it, they were WAY behind!! And so was I!!
I've been doing ultras since 1981 when I did the 3rd Strolling Jim Race up in Tennessee. Been pretty hooked in mind and body since. As the years pass, it gets to be more mind than body, but I'll keep doing them till I can't I guess. Back in around the late 70's, before I started running, I used to go to the UAB gym every lunchtime to play racquetball and after showering one day, this guy comes into the locker room just after running. He sits down, completely whipped, sweating like a drenched pig. I asked him "Why do you run?", and he says perfectly seriously "Because it feels so good when I stop!". At the time I thought that's about the stupidest thing I ever heard, but I quickly learned the truth of his meaning.
Feels so good when you finish. That's true, but I do just like to run, and, I like to run long. Left foot, right foot and repeat several thousand times. There's a lot of us around. We run long. And, our version of long is sometimes very, very long. They are the runs you take two bottles on, where you take a bunch of Gu, they are the runs where you walk a bit up the hills, and then walk a bit on the flats, and then walk a bit on the downhills. They are the runs where you run out of stuff and they are the runs where you run into stuff. You run down gorges and wonder how you'll get out, but you know you have to because...well, you have to. They are long and hard and sweaty and deep and, in the end, they are the kind of runs that make a difference in who you are and who you want to be. Yes, I love to run, but last Saturday, it sure felt mighty good when I finished.

Although this is Alabama, and it is July, and the name of the race was Hotter 'N Hell, it was actually a cool, cloudy day for most of it, so excuse #1 was down the tubes. But, this course, although "only" 18 miles, has plenty of God-awful hills, some 25-30% grade that somehow got steeper the 2nd loop. At about the 5-mile mark of each loop you have to descend (climb) down into the gorge of Peavine falls, go under the falls, and immediately climb up the opposite cliff. During my 4 training runs on this course, I never could exactly find the correct trail to navigate this imitation of mountain climbing, and during the race, following the flagging, I was completely surprised to see there was a 5th way! There are a couple of other killer hills, but despite this, the 1st 9-mile loop went fairly well. Unfortunately, the 10 runners behind me were only doing the one-loop 9-mile race and I was bumped to last in an instant (well, a figurative instant).

The 2nd loop is when things went completely kaput. The long grinds just took it completely out of my legs. Ok, I knew I would have to walk on some of these long pulls, but what really bothered me was when I got to the top of these, my legs just decided to go on strike a while instead of picking it up on the more friendly grade. I mean they were just sapped. My buddy, Moha, surprised me by joining me on the 2nd loop or I might still be out there! I felt I was moving, but was I really going THAT slow? Yeah, I guess I was. I know my best running days are behind me, but, doggone it, I want to be UP THERE where I can at least see some of those folks ahead of me, not BACK HERE. This is not meant to be a sorry race report, or a epitaph of poor, poor pitiful me, but rather trying to figure it out and after a week, I think I have some answers. 

1) Not enough calories. I think in terms of miles instead of time, so my plan for Gu was one every 3 miles. Well, that's fine for a road run, but if it's going to take me 45-50 minutes (or more) on the hilly trail for 3 miles instead of 30 minutes, well, you can see how you can fall behind. I took only 5 Gu's in 5 1/2 hours of running. That's about 100 calories/hour instead of the recommended 250!  Uh-oh!

2) I usually drink energy drink along the way, at least at the aid stations, but decided to forego that and use Nuun tablets in my water. These are purely for electrolyte replacement, and I think they work great, but have no calories. Uh-oh #2

3) Specificity of training. All my weekday runs are basically flat (less than 75'/mile) with no leg sapping hills. Specificity used to be the icing on the it's the cake itself!! I try to hit the hilly trails at least once a week, but that's not really stretching the envelope, is it?

Sometimes, you just get bummed out and that's where I found myself after my humbling race Saturday. But, after a week of mulling it over, I guess it's alright. I what if I was dead-last...30 minutes behind next-to-last. Yeah, my running seems to be in a bit of a tailspin. Smoke is coming from the engine.  I am a Physical Therapist, and I know with aging there comes a decline in muscle power (yeah, tell me about it!). Also, there is a big decrease in recovery and healing rates, so after a run, it takes a little while more to feel tip-top. Don't get me wrong, I am glad and thankful that I can still run a decent amount of miles each week and I can line up on these crazy starting lines, but I'm a little slow to adjust to the present "me". Sort of an ego adjustment in addition to the physical adjustments.

OK, my Southeastern Trail Series Races take a little break till September and then it goes full-bore. I'll train, I'll line up, and I'll do my best. With each race, I get to know the evolving "me" better. I may not be crazy about it, but I'll learn to co-exist with the situation. Hey, it's my choice and I choose to be there. So, as my buddy Ken says, "Shut the hell up and get to the finish line".

Now, I've gotta go and get my stuff together for my training run on the trails tomorrow morning. The clock keeps ticking! Gonna be great, gonna tear it up, gonna charge the hills...oh wait, that's the ol' Al. How 'bout I aim to get from Point A to Point B and be happy I can still do that. Yeah, now that's a plan.

I'll see you all on the roads (or trail) - AL

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

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