Thursday, July 15, 2010

Forward Motion

Raven Rajani and I eyed the pack of people positioned behind the starting line of the Psycho Psummer 15-mile trail run. We both wondered out loud whether we should start out near the front, or step back a little further into the safety of the pack.

"Last year I was stuck in a conga line clear to the five-mile mark," I recalled.

"Oh well," said Raven. "Let's just start near the front. They can pass us if they want to."

Co-race director Ben Holmes gave the go-ahead, and the crowd simultaneously beeped their watches and surged forward, funneling from a short paved section onto the singletrack. Then the runners were immediately faced with another decision. Here, the trail split in two: Go left, and you splash through a low-lying area of slop; go right, and you run up a short but rather steep and rocky hill followed by a steep and rocky descent. Raven and I opted for the slop to the left, and somewhere in the merge with those who had gone right, Raven was shuffled away behind me. She's a strong and determined runner and I kept glancing back, expecting her to catch up to me, but didn't see her again for the rest of the run.

The strategy to go out a little quicker was a good one, because—paradoxically—I was able to settle into a slower and more controlled pace early on. Within a mile I was running with just a few people nearby. I started out power-walking the inclines early through the aptly named "Three Hills" section and running freely on the downhills . It was not as muddy as I had expected and/or my Inov-8 X-Talons were handling it well. On one downhill, a female runner beside me muttered something that I interpreted as, "I'm going to die." Trying to be friendly and reassuring, I muttered in reply, "No you're not." But as I ran on ahead, it occurred to me that maybe she'd said, "I'm doing fine." In which case, my reply of "No you're not" would have been entirely inappropriate. Either way, she was a far stronger runner than I, and passed me shortly thereafter, never to be seen again.
Photo by Rich Stigall
The 15+ mile course unfolded before me and I found myself much calmer and more focused than the year prior. In the mile before the "Hedgehog" hill, I could feel my X-Talons were loosening and a hot spot was developing on my left heel. I was also about an hour into the run and knew I needed to get an S-Cap down and maybe a GU, but instead kept moving with a desire to get the 35% grade of Hedgehog out of the way. At the bottom of the hill, we encountered a rope installed to aid runners in scrambling up the moist, steep, and slippery trail. I grabbed the rope and started up, utilizing it fist over fist, which worked great—until two or three other runners grabbed the rope behind me. Bing! I was sling-shotted off the trail as the rope lurched to the right, and then Wham! I was dragged back to the left. That was interesting.
Photo by Rich Stigall
After finding the top of the hill, I plopped directly onto the ground, out of the way of the other runners. I was glad to have waited to do the shoe adjustments and to dig out my nutritional materials until after the climb, because my breathing and heart rate were completely out of control. By the time I had untied and tightened both shoes, pulled an S-Cap out of the plastic baggie tucked into my Nathan backpack, and torn the top off a GU packet, only a minute had passed, but I was ready to run again.
Photo by Dick Ross,
Unfortunately, the damage had been done to my left heel, which at this point I was certain had blistered. The discomfort I could bear, and this only became a factor when we hit the Boy Scout section of the course on new singletrack that has a significant camber. This created just enough friction on my heel to make me slow a little through those sections.

Once out of the Boy Scout section, though, the blister faded into the back of my consciousness. In the meandering Wyandotte Triangle, a cluster of 15-miler women gathered together. "We're all sizing up the competition," said the runner behind me, as we heard the others asking, "Are you in the 50k or 15 mile?" I told her I really just wanted to run faster than last year. At that, she swung around me and disappeared around a switchback and into the wilderness. I proved myself honest by not trying to stay with her. To this point I had run the race with a focus on maintaining an even level of perceived exertion—and even though my watch showed me I wasn't making any monumental gains over the 2009 race (I knew in the Triangle that I was going to finish well over 3 hours), I felt I was putting forth a more consistent effort than I ever had before.

On the outbound Wyandotte Triangle Aid Station—about three miles from the finish—I stopped for the first time to fill up my Nathan backpack's 70 oz bladder. While there, another runner asked for ice. Ice! I had been running for almost three hours in heat and humidity without even a single thought about the existence of ice. I set off with a precious Dixie cup of ice, which I relished immensely: I rubbed ice cubes over the back of my neck and my pulse points. I chewed on ice. And, best of all, I put ice in my bra. This was the first time I had experienced this magnificent pleasure on a run. It was simply divine.

Playing with the ice put me in a jovial and playful mood. I caught up to a runner I had been playing leapfrog with all day long. She crossed a creek ahead of me, and when I crossed—instead of trying to pass—I doubled back and kicked around in the cool, clear water for a while. When I squish-squashed in my soggy shoes back to her, we chatted for a while. Then she bid me farewell, and I managed to find a happy jog and pulled away for the final miles toward the finish.

For a weary runner, the last 5k of the course can only be described as demoralizing. The hills are rutted, rocky, and just plain steep, with the occasional shoe-eating mud pit. In 2009, I was cursing every step of that section. This year, I was able to keep my head up and simply moved forward, not concerning myself with whether this would be described as a run or a walk, a jog or a shuffle. I was just getting there.

And so: 3 hours and 19 minutes from the start, I got there. In the end, there was nothing terribly remarkable about the race, save a blister (I never blister) and a couple sore toenails (I never lose toenails). In between the finish line and getting cleaned up, I was a bit emotional while talking to my daughter and my mom—I think because it was the first time since the start of the race that I let myself relax. That had never really happened before. I went into it with a "long run" attitude, and planned for it to be a good trainer for races to come. But I came away from this race with a deep sense of satisfaction.

It was a good run.

Photo by Dick Ross,

Rick after finishing the 50k version of Psycho Psummer
Photo by Dick Ross,

1 comment:

laurie said...

Nice consistent run! And yay for iced boobies!