Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Timeless Race

Sometime during the summer I decided to stop using my watch for my runs. I knew roughly the distance of most of my runs but did nothing back at home to keep track of just how many miles I was putting in for a given week. I still had kind of a training schedule, with one long run a week interspersed with shorter runs at a faster pace. So when I arrived at Bradbury Mountain State Park for the twelve mile Bradbury Bruiser race, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to perform versus my past performances.
I was really looking forward to this race as I hadn’t seen many other Trail Monster runners over the course of the summer. I had run the Scuffle but missed out on the Breaker as I spent that weekend hiking with my family. So there would be no Bad Ass hoodie for me at the end of this race for completing the series. One of my goals over the summer was not to become a Bad Ass runner but to allow time and opportunity to spend with my family, which for the most part was completed.
Since I hadn’t run most of the summer with a watch, I decided to leave mine at home for this race. I was a little inspired by Bob McGuire who I knew raced sans timepiece. I met up with him and many other friends before the race. When I told Bob I was taking his lead, he did confide in me that he usually trained with a watch, which had me wondering if this was such a good idea after all.
In talking with people before the race, a common question arose, “What race is next?” To which I did not have an answer. Most people didn’t probe too much, but George the Jedi really didn’t accept that answer and probed some more while we stood in the starting coral. So I began to ask him a little about the Massanuten 100 miler. While he excitedly told me all about it, I glanced behind us and noticed that there were a lot more people behind us than in front of us. Normally I don’t like to start in the front at this race as it starts out with lots of twists and turns on the trail and you really can’t get a fast pace going until about three miles into the race so it’s not that bad to move slow and make up time later on.
As the race started I really enjoyed having a little more space than I’m used to. I wasn’t stuck behind a slow moving group and there wasn’t anyone right on my heels either. I ran close to a few runners and there was a little changing of positions. Jim Gott was right with me as we were swapping places with Rebecca Miller. I was pleased I was able to stay on pace with these two as Jim has been training with the upcoming 50 miler at Bradbury and Rebecca has had a stellar summer of races. I caught sight of John Rodrigue and Zak Wieluns and pushed myself to catch up with them eager to strike up a conversation.
I made up a little song for John as I pulled in behind him. I was a little surprised to find Zak not closer to the lead pack, but when he told me about his race a little while ago in Ireland and how he was fighting some bad hamstrings I knew I shouldn’t let him lead our pack and potentially due more damage to his legs. So I pulled ahead hoping that I could pull him and others along, kind of like taking a turn at the front of a bike peleton.
When I got to the first aid station, most of the peleton had fallen behind except for Jim and another runner. I let both of them pass, as I took time to drink my full cup of water and chat a little with Jamie Anderson who was working at the station. I didn’t fall too far behind and was soon within a few strides of Jim.
The trail got a little technical again and I was able to pass Jim while still feeling that I wasn’t over exceeding my effort level. There were a couple other guys close by, one of them whom I had seen at many other races but was never formally introduced. So as we ran together and talked about football games later in the day, I formally introduced myself. He said his name is Nate Pike and that he was going to be doing a Spartathalon next week in Vermont. Although I tend to look down upon many themed races this one was not one I thought your normal weekend warrior could take on without some serious training. I had all sorts of questions about his training but only got to ask a few before we turned onto the snowmobile trail where he and another runner pulled out ahead of me.
The three of us were able to catch up to our race director Ian Parlin, and while the two busted up the hill I spent sometime talking with Ian. At the next aid station I once again took my time, still totally unaware of what my time was but pleased that I was placed near some good runners. I was hoping to be able to catch back up with Ian, and when I saw him just up ahead pulling some leaves off a tree branch I knew I had the opportunity to distance myself from him while he made his nature stop.
As the trail began to take it’s normal twists and turns again I was able to catch back up with Nate and the other runner. The three of us all moved together at conversational pace. The other runner, Bob Arsenault, talked a little how he got stuck behind a small train of runners earlier in the race whom he said were just chit-chatting. I told him that was probably me, John and Zak. And so while the three of us chit-chatted the miles quickly flew by.
Waiting for us at the last aid station was Iron Joe handing out water before we turned onto the dreaded O-Trail for the last couple of miles. I talked a little with Joe letting the others pull ahead and drank down my water. I quickly caught up with Nate and then another runner and then they both let me pull out ahead of them. To those unfamiliar with the O-Trail I will quickly describe it as the large intestine of trails and running on it you feel like a lump of partially digested food making it’s way through the digestive system. To my delight however, I was feeling still really fresh but knew if I pushed much harder my feeling could quickly change.
There are so many twists that you can see many other runners but be totally unaware just how far ahead or behind you are from the others. So when I began to catch sight of Bob once again I just wasn’t sure how close I was. He had said earlier that he hated leading people on this part of the race as it would suck energy away. So when I caught up to him, I thought there might be a chance to get past him. Instead, his pace only increased, and anytime the trail was straight he made the most of the opportunity and pulled farther ahead of me. I enjoyed keeping on his pace even from a distance and was feeling better than usual at this point of the race.
It can be very challenging to stay on the course with all the turns and I really appreciated the orange tape set up at a few of the more challenging turns. The tape was a great addition and perhaps next year there may be a few more places to add some. As I spotted other runners I had to make sure that I clearly saw an American flag sewn on the back of one before I shouted out encouragement to John who was having a stellar performance.
Bob was still in sight when we caught up to another runner who appeared to have all his energy sucked away from him by the O-Trail as we blazed by him. Not long after that I took the final turn off the O and picked my pace up not wanting to get caught in the final moments of the race.
I was unable to catch up with Bob before reaching the finishing chute. I must have been charging pretty hard as I came in when Ryan Triffit hollered for me to stop and then ripped off my info tag from my bib.
Even though I ran the race not concerned about my time, now I had to know. It was kind of like taking a test in school and wanting the teacher to grade it right away. Only now, I had to seek out runners close to me instead of the listing of grades posted on a professor’s door. (Yah, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in school.) I saw the one runner just behind me and he told me that he finished at 1:47. My PR for this race is just at 1:45 and to be about two minutes off was very pleasing. The conditions for the day had been perfect, as the sun was out but there was a chill in the air and the ground was just soft enough to have some good grip.
I hung out for awhile more sharing in the glory of the day with some great people. Before I slipped out of there, I did glance at the finisher’s board (literally a board) and saw that I had placed in twenty-fifth, later I would find out there were about one hundred fifty finishers.
Despite not wearing a watch during the race, I did need to be conscious of the time of day as I needed to pick up the kids and get to work later in the day. Looking back now, I think the real joy of not running with a watch is not about the race itself but that I didn’t need to be aware of any other moments of the day. There will always be time to measure time, why not live moments of pleasure in the absence of time.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bad Ass Shin Splints

       I will admit that I felt pretty much like a bad ass coming off my hundred mile race. Maybe, justly so a little bit but I know I alone was not responsible for getting my ass across that finish line. And it was hard as hell to cross that finish line but, I found out about a month later that sometimes just getting to the starting line can be something rather epic unto itself.
It was that time of the summer when I go with my family to Indiana to visit my wife’s family. I usually get some free time for a few hours while Mo’ takes the kids off to see old friends or other family members. So what do I do, yah, I go for a run.
I drove down just off the Butler University campus to run along the canal trails. These are not trails like I’m used to running. These are flat, packed down dirt trails that are nearly as fast as running on roads, except you don’t have to worry about getting hit by texting drivers.
The only problem with running on these trails in Indiana in July is that it is hot! I’m on vacation so I don’t want to wake up at 5 a.m. in order to beat the heat, and even then it is usually hotter than I’m used to back home in Maine. So after helping getting the kids ready for the day and while Mo is visiting with one friend before going off to visit another I slip off to the canal sometime around eleven in the morning.
I park just off the campus and stepping out of the car I practically melt. Ugh, this is going to be rough. I have not been running all that much since my last race. Sure I’m still in decent shape but I decide to take it easy and not push the pace like I like to do along these trails.
Most of the details of the run escape me, which is good so as not to bore you the reader. But I’m sure this is mostly what I saw. A few runners and walkers who would not look me in the eye, least of all say hello as they are accustomed to this routine as there are usually too many people to acknowledge everyone. Also, there are turtles managing to find sunny spots to perch on in the canal, either logs or rocks, but I am always amused to see them and remember winning plastic turtles at the fair back in my youth.
I refrain from looking at my watch too much not wanting to push the pace in order to go a little farther rather than a little faster. I manage to make it to the end of the canal path as it meets a road and I do a little u-turn while a young man stretches out in order to get ready for his run. I do a quick inspection of his outfit and shoes and decide that although I may be twice his age I can still probably run his ass into the ground. Why should I even care if I can? Maybe I want him to be humbled by someone like me just in order to inspire him to be someone like me.
On the way back I decided to take a little side trail, which is actually a trail by the Indianapolis Art Museum leading around a pond. It’s less than three quarters of a mile around the pond, but it’s single track and you’ve got to be aware of your footing, so it’s by far my most favorite part of the run.
On the rest of the run back I just keep hoping that I’m close to the car, as it is too friggin’ hot and I’ve got a few ideas on what I want to do for the next hour or so. Which means getting whatever it is I want to eat, and I have a favorite place in Indy that is not too far away.
I keep sucking down water as I pull into King’s Rib Barbeque on Keystone Avenue. Mo’ read about it in a book some years ago and since then it seems that no trip to Indy is complete without going to King’s. It is a rather unusual place as it is a converted car wash and you can only do takeout. Fine by me, and I place my usual order for the tips and am surprised to find out that they now actually accept credit cards. I also order a quart of their sauce to slather on all kinds of food back in Maine.
I am so looking forward to feasting on the tasty tips back at my in-laws but decided to make one more stop before getting back. The Blue Mile is a nice running store located in the Broad Ripple district. And although I can’t remember the last time I ever bought anything there, I always enjoy having a look around.
The store was pretty busy when I walked in, and walked in still feeling pretty much like a bad ass. I was wearing my tech shirt from the TARC 100, which was actually rather inconspicuous. Most of the customers were female, and appeared to probably be on their lunch-breaks while I was the only one who was gleaming of sweat which made me feel even more bad ass since I had dared to run in weather that was only suitable for frying eggs in the parking lot.
I overheard one lady at the counter telling the clerk that she was having really bad shin splints and was hoping for some help. She did not have a runner’s build and the snobbish side of my brain just wanted to tell her to drop about thirty pounds and then the pain would likely vanish.
Meanwhile, I picked out a couple pairs that I just wanted to try and I waited patiently while one of the clerks finally got me some to try out.
I happily bounced around the shop, not in love with any of the shoes, and picking the displays off the wall to try out as well since they were close enough to my size to get an idea of the comfort and support. The lady with the shin splits then sat down across from the clerk and took out a pair of shoes that she had been using, wondering if they were causing her any of the pain in her shins. I secretly began to listen in to the conversation as I was still a little curious about shin splits as I had excruciating pain in my left shin following my century run. It was awful. For sometime I seriously thought I might have actually broken my leg it hurt so much. I had missed some days of work as I could barely get out of bed in the morning and couldn’t get comfortable at night to sleep. My whole body had ached badly after that race but I just couldn’t shake the pain in that leg. My doctor diagnosed what I thought it was but said there was nothing I could do. He also said that I really couldn’t damage it any worse so two weeks after my race I went ahead with previously made plans to hike the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire.
A friend of mine, Andy, had turned forty back in May and wanted to do something epic to celebrate. So on my suggestion we decided to do the Traverse on the summer solistice. He had a couple friends from work join us, who were a decade younger than us. It was by far the most painful twenty miles I had ever done in my life as we summited seven peaks all over at least four thousand feet, and higher. I have absolutely no regrets about putting my leg through so much pain as we had mostly a very clear, albeit cold day. I was especially pleased that at the end of it all I still felt like I had energy left while the young guys who were hard to keep up with during our eleven hour hike were mostly spent.
The pain only got slightly worse while trying to recover from that event. I did finally discover some methods on-line to rid myself of the pain. So I spent the better part of a day stretching and icing that leg and miracuously the next morning when I woke up the pain was gone. I don’t mean that it felt better, I mean it felt normal. Like nothing had ever been wrong. So now I listened to the slightly overweight woman asking what could be done.
She just didn’t say that her shins hurt and hoped different shoes help. Instead, she opened up. She said she was training for a 5K along with some friends that would benefit the American Heart Association. She went on explaining that she had never been able to exercise for most of her life as she had always gotten really tired. It wasn’t until sometime last year however that she finally got diagnosed with some kind of heart disorder. Upon discovering whatever disorder it was, that she had open heart surgery to fix the abnormality. Since then, she had finally been able to gradually build her endurance and now really wanted to give something back by doing this race and getting her friends to join her. It meant more to her to get to that starting line probably more than it has ever meant to me to get to a finish line. I felt more like a dumb ass than a bad ass for ever judging her when I first heard her talking to the clerk. I put back on my own shoes, returned others to the boxes and shelves and after her clerk returned to where she was sitting waiting to try out some new shoes, I walked out with my hand extended.
As I shook her hand, I told her that I overheard her story and wanted to tell her how proud I was of her. I just also had to offer her up some advice beyond the shoes to help get rid of the shin splits, although I’m sure a new pair would help a little. I advised her to stick in there and wished her nothing but the best in the future. There would be no way that I would ever find out if she made it to the starting line of that race. At least there could be no imperical proof. After hearing her and seeing the conviction on her face, I can be nearly certain that she made it to that starting line, and by getting there also getting to the finish.
I walked out of the store actually feeling rather breathless. I continue to be amazed by the sport that I have chosen that it can really inspire people to break away from who they thought they might be classified as for their entire lives and into someone who they are more proud to be. This young lady who might have spent her entire life being seen as the little plump girl who couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs was now seen in my eyes as the strong, young lady who so earnestly wanted to run three miles in order to help other people.
Now I had dessert to go along with my King’s Ribs, Humble Pie!