Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rough Creek Trail Run Report: 40 miles and a serving of humility

This race was to be a step towards ramping up for the Big Cedar 100 in November.  I’ve done this before with other races, with good results.  The basic idea is to try to treat it as a training run for a more difficult race later on.  You might end up having a lousy finishing time, but if you recover well, a great training effect.  It was also my return to the ultramarathon distance after over a year of dealing with an injury.  I was both excited and grateful to be running, but also nervous about how things would go. 

Rough Creek Trail Run  

I certainly picked a tough course for a return to ultrarunning.  I guess I forgot how hard it was since I ran the ½ marathon in 2012 and then hung out in the shade working an aid station last year.  Yeah there are long flat sections where you can cruise along without having to even look down for rocks, but then there is this stuff: 

over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over... 

I’ve run a few hard races, including some in the mountains, and this might be the toughest race I’ve run.  The rocky, technical nature of the crown and the accumulation of the steep ascents and descents really add up, even though it’s a small portion of the course.  Try to remember the beautiful view waiting for you at the top...

because remember you get to do this:

over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...

Might not look like much if you've run those mountain races.  Trust me, it isn't easy...

Thoughts from the trail…

“…Mind, body, and soul all do best when none are neglected…”  This was something I read just prior to the Rough Creek 40 miler and it would certainly frame much of my thoughts during the run.  Where was I right now?  This run would be pretty revealing in all three areas, and a good learning experience overall.

The Body

I’ll start with the area that had the weakest showing at Rough Creek.  OK, so I did a handful of runs in the 4-6 hour range, I was acclimated to the heat, I had done hill repeats.  I was still kind of ramping things up though and only had about 3 weeks of what I would consider good ultra training under my belt and it showed.  Loop one was easy except that I was sweating a lot and felt dehydrated even though I was drinking and trying to take care of nutrition.  On loop 2, I started to get cramps in my calves, which I've never had before.  I was still able to run about ½ the flat sections.  I knew part of this was probably a result of being undertrained for this course, but I saw some signs that I was getting really dehydrated as well.  I spent the entire 3rd loop trying to manage my cramps and dehydration just so I could finish the run.  It turned out to be a long walk with a little shuffling mixed in.  Lots to work with here, both in my training and with my race-day fueling and hydration.

The Mind

I took a wrong turn the last time I ran here, no wrong turns this year.  I was especially cognizant of following trail markings. 

I kind of screwed up by getting behind on hydration but once I recognized it, this became a focus area.  I set goals between each aid station like what I would force myself to eat and drink.  I made myself drink so many bottles of fluid at each aid station and between each aid station.  In retrospect, I might have been able to regroup better if I would have sat down in the shade for 20 minutes or so and recovered more fully before moving on.

I admit my mind did wander and I did think about quitting, which is uncharacteristic of me.   I’m usually good at keeping positive but I found myself thinking “these rocks suck, this rusty crown sucks, this heat sucks, my cramps suck.”  It’s easy to do that.  Heck, it’s easy to do that in life, isn’t it?  I tried to think about how working through my physical and mental challenges would probably be of great benefit in a couple of months when I’m going for the 100 at Big Cedar.  And turning those thoughts positive finally started to happen…“There are beautiful yellow and purple flowers along the trail, I get to go do this, I’m still moving, I’m in a beautiful place with a great group of people!”

The Soul

What is it about these runs that get to the soul?  It’s probably all the hours on the course without a lot of distractions.  Even though I make a focused effort to cultivate reflective time into my life, it’s nothing like a full day of running around in the woods.  Add in a few challenges and I might have to think about what’s really important.  What is this suffering all about?  Is it something I should run away from, quit?  I often worry when life’s difficulties come up and wish things would go “the way I want them to.”  That’s a complete waste of time.  Maybe I could decide that the suffering could be redemptive...maybe I could even accept it and decide to carry my cross a little while. 

Dave (race director extraordinaire) asked me before I headed out for the final loop what I thought of the course since it was modified since the last time I ran it.  I said something like, “I’m really thinking about humility, Dave.”  And really that was what I thought about on the last loop.  A couple of funny things came up to help with that.  I left my shirt at a crossing where I could pick it up later, something I’ve done many times before.  I grabbed it on the way back and stuffed it in my waist band.  About a hundred yards down the trail I started to feel a growing burning sensation in my nether region.  After a quick inspection, I realized I literally had ants in my pants!  I’ve heard the phrase many times before, but whoever coined that phrase, really must have experienced ants in their pants.  You will jump around like a crazed nut and shuck your pants down without checking to see who’s looking to get rid of ants in your pants.  And that is exactly what I did. 

The hills and the cramps were really the humbling part of this experience.  Having not really experienced such disabling cramps before, it was almost comical to have the same series of events repeated over and over.  All of a sudden one of my calves would seize up, which resulted in my toes pointing straight down, which resulted in my tripping.  Soon to follow was some weird noise from me that sounded more like the bleat of some distressed animal and a flinging of my bottles up in the air as I headed for the ground.  The only way to recover was to stretch the cramp out by bearing weight on it and then pull myself up like a little baby trying to stand up for the first time.  I know it sounds like I’m being very dramatic but I think if you’ve ever experienced that you know what it feels like. 

The final 3 miles to the finish were flat.  I finally saw some signs that my hydration was getting better.  I actually shuffled along a few times without cramping up but really I just walked.  I would like to say I made a miraculous comeback but that’s not going to be part of this report.  When I got to the finish line area, I didn’t even try to muster a jog.  I just strolled on in, bottles in one hand.  Rough Creek had humbled me for sure. 

I am so grateful for this experience.  As I finished, I thanked God for humility. I thanked Him for my health.  I thanked Him for everyone out here running and volunteering.  I thanked Him for my wife, children, family, and friends.

Monday, September 15, 2014

And the band played on....

Something pretty cool happened recently at Mass.  A pretty mild Sunday rainstorm somehow knocked out the power right in the middle of the celebration.  All the lights went out and suddenly we were all in the dark other than the light coming in through the stained glass windows.  Suddenly, it seemed as if we had gone back in time about two hundred years.  I couldn’t help but wonder how magnificent those stained glass windows must have been to someone who had not been fully desensitized by all the “flashing bright lights” of our current time.  I imagine it would feel like Heaven had come to Earth.  It was also a reminder to me that that was exactly what was happening at that very moment in our very Church.   

I was slowly transported back to the present as everyone started dusting off the flashlight app on their smartphone.  That was when I started to look around and see what was going on.  People just started helping each other out, shining lights on hymnals so people could keep singing, alter servers positioned with candles to light the way, and the band played on…The choir never seemed to break stride and the band kept playing despite the darkness throwing them this little distraction.  They got a well deserved applause at the end, one of the loudest I have heard in the Church.  And just to boot, they threw in “Rain Down” for their next song.    

I don’t want to over dramatize it, but it was neat to see people spontaneously helping each other out.  Let’s open these doors to bring in some light…lets put these candles here…I’ll light your hymnal…let me help that older person who might not see as well…let’s go get the flashlights…hey let’s just keep going...

Yes, let’s keep going.  What’s really important?  The Eucharist, our community, loving one another.  As my Priest said after the celebration, “Well this is how we did it for the first 1800 years or so, we don’t need any stinking electricity.”  Well said Father!