Monday, July 13, 2009

Psycho Psummer 15-mile trail race

Feelin' fine at the start

The Psycho Psummer trail race has been the primary focus of my training since I got back into running regularly last February. I have never run a race longer than 10 kilometers, and prior to this stint of training, my longest training run was about 8 to 10 miles—way back in high school.

Over the months, I had a good stretch of building up mileage and maintaining focus on my training. My longest run was 12 miles on trails at Wallace State Park at the end of May. A week or so later, I "tweaked" my right ankle on those same trails, and ever since have had a nagging but mild stabbing pain just below my inside ankle bone.

In the weeks leading up to Rick's Western States 100 run, my training became a little more inconsistent as I experimented with resting the ankle, avoided running on the uneven ground of trails—and got caught up with work, preparations for our trip, and other extracurricular activities.

On our trip to California for WS100, my ankle became aggravated when I attempted to hike 25-lb. Adrian part way up the last mile to Emigrant Pass. At that point I knew that my ankle was going to hurt during my Psycho Psummer race, and the best I could do was try to ignore it.

So I came into the race feeling under-prepared, but determined to finish as close to 3 hours as possible. I had in my head a time of somewhere between 3:00 and 3:30, but was willing to accept anything the course and the weather had to throw at me.

Heavy traffic
It turned out to be a good mindset. The race began with the start-and-stop traffic jam of 200 runners funneling themselves directly onto single-track trails. I would think I had a good pace going, and then we would come to a near-standstill. Eventually the conga line sorted itself out and I actually benefited from being sandwiched into a group of runners moving at a pace right at the upper level of my comfort zone.

But the miles were dragging by. I kept glancing down at my Garmin Forerunner and marveling at how the time kept passing, but the mileage did not. I tried not to worry too much, but when Rick jogged up beside me after photographing runners at the top of Hedgehog, I pointed to my watch and asked, "Is that for real? Are we really only 4.5 miles into this race?" Almost an hour had elapsed.

Rick nodded. "But there's some more runnable sections coming up," he said. "It gets easier!"

Miles kept peeling off. But as I plodded along the long, exposed, uneven ground of the dam, the cranky ankle crashed my party. I had done my best to ignore it, but the clumps of grass and the slight uphill slope on my right side made it impossible to find good placement for my tender right foot. I went into a cool, quiet place in my mind to try to get away from the discomfort, forgetting each aggravating step as it trailed off behind me.

Summer Tanagers were singing in the woods. Northern Parulas. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I choked down a GU gel and swallowed half a bottle of water. As I headed up the new single-track and away from the dam, I heard a Prothonotary Warbler singing its sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet chant.

When I emerged from this haze, former Kearneyite Mike Prentice was standing at the edge of the woods dolling out water to thirsty runners. I said howdy. He said I only had a half mile to the next aid station. I took some fresh water anyway, and went on my way.

Again I was tucked in with a small group of runners, and was moving along at a comfortable pace. Soon the trail sidled up to pavement and I began the 3-mile out-and-back "Boy Scout Honor" section, which consisted primarily of gravel and pavement. The stable footing was a marvelous respite for my ankle, and I took advantage of it, happily glancing down at my Garmin when it beeped at the end of each mile to see that this mile had been faster than the last.

Forgiving gravel and pavement

On my return trip past Pat Perry's "man shower" aid station, I stopped for a while to talk to Rick, grab an S Cap, and scavenge for food. Inside the shelter, I found Stacey King hard at work making PB&J sandwiches. Those didn't look appetizing, and neither did the watermelon, but... Ah, then my eyes fell on a bowl full of little bite-sized chunks of orange melon-type stuff—I think it was cantaloupe. I haven't ever been a big melon-type-food person. But Rick had to drag me away from this bowl of delicious goodness.

"It's time to go," said Rick.

"But it tastes so good!" I mumbled, a little juice dribbling from the corner of my mouth.

"Then take some with you."

This seemed reasonable. I grabbed a handful and headed out the way I came, back up the pavement, across the street, and then down the trail into the Wyandotte Triangle.

Almost there. I know the Triangle—it's the turnaround for the Psycho Night 10k, which I have run every year since its inception. I relaxed on the single-track and my ankle felt good, but my legs were starting to recognize that I was now pushing them farther than they had ever gone before. I powerwalked a good portion, and took comfort in the notion that I was "almost finished".

As I came up out of the Wyandotte Triangle, I was pumped. Only a few more miles to go on a section of the course that I actually know pretty well. This section would throw at me the biggest mud pits of the day, along with some tough climbs and descents with large, loose rocks—but I was almost done and my legs actually felt pretty good. I cruised the downhill section away from the Triangle, passed a person or two, decided to try running through one of the mud pits instead of tiptoeing around it and Schlup! My left shoe stayed firmly planted in the mud as my legs continued on their path of forward motion.

I tried to laugh as I tiptoed back through the mud hole pitted with horse-hoof prints, retrieved my shoe (it took a few strong tugs to get the earth to relinquish it), and then tiptoed back to a slightly drier side of the trail to reapply the wheel. I tossed my bottle onto the ground, and as I attempted to unknot the wad of mud that was once my shoelaces, I glanced toward my bottle and noticed him: a little Three-toed Box Turtle chilling out in a water-filled horse-hole just his size. He stretched out his neck toward me and said, "Hey, man, take a break. You need to just sit down in the mud and reelax..."

A couple runners picked their way past me. I fumbled to tie my shoe back on and wiped my mud-caked hands on my thighs. "Sorry, Turtle, I need to finish this run."

The box turtle slowly looked away. "Whatever, man..."

The air had completely come out of me. I used the narrow, packed paths beat out by all the runners who proceeded me to make my way around the large mud pits, but the uneven ground and unstable footing was sending stabbing pain into my ankle. My legs were toast, so my uphills were reduced to a crawl. The ankle was screaming, so instead of taking advantage of the downhills I had to pick my way carefully down the rock-strewn bridle trail. I shuffled along at something that may have resembled a jog on the flatter sections that cut through cedar trees and scrub habitat.

Runners passed me. A man somewhere behind me was singing hymns about angels and heaven.

The trail flattened out and Canada Geese at the ranger's station honked. The woods spit me out onto pavement, and I shuffled down the hill and across the long, flat, open lawn trying to look somewhat strong for the camera that Rick pointed at me. One more final push around the shelter and over Raul's mats, and Ben rewarded me with an ice-cold soaking-wet bandanna across my shoulders and back.

Finish line — 3 hours 24 minutes

All the people I have watched from the sidelines were incredibly supportive of me as I made this first venture into trail racing. All along the course I would hear someone yell my name and in my haze didn't know who it was or where they were, but it definitely kept me moving forward. Familiar faces filling my bottle and offering me words of encouragement made the miles go by faster. And the congratulations and sweaty hugs at the end were perfection.

Laurie Euler, me, Debbie Webster

Later in the day, Shane Jones said to me, "You had this look on your face that said, 'How can anyone do 100 miles?'" No, I know how people do 100 miles—training training training, and the rare ability to disconnect one's mind from one's body and one's body from one's soul. As I came across that finish line, that look on my face that Shane saw may have been the look of wheels turning. Turning in the direction of thought: Not enough long runs this last month...Ill prepared for those last three miles...How many more miles of training would I need in order to do two loops out here...?


Anonymous said...

Beautiful report. I love your knowledge of birds, people and yourself.

The turtle talking was the best. I love when the animals out there chat! And here I thought I was crazy all these years.


Anonymous said...

Kristi I love this report! Sorry about your ankle, and proud u pushed thru it! And would have loved to sit in the mud to support you and to talk to your little friend, the turtle:) great job again!!!