Tuesday, September 25, 2012

6 Weeks to go: Confidence Builder AND shaker!

  Warning....long race = long blog, enter at your own risk!

The week of 9/17/12 was very interesting in terms of training and my first real test of fitness / readiness.  The goal was to run about 20 easy miles during the week (I was pretty trashed from last week) and then compete in a 50 mile race (The Georgia Jewel) on Saturday.  This race is run on the Georgia section of the Pinhoti trail and has very similar elevation change and terrain to what I would be running in November.  Although “only” ½ the distance!

The week went well, it was really strange (perception is reality, I suppose) that I was not really nervous, or thinking about this race much – In March 2011, this was the longest I had ever run and was very nervous.  Last year I tapered for 3 weeks, totally prepared the week of with nutrition, sleep, etc.  This year I trained right up till race day, didn’t get a whole lot of sleep and didn’t eat as well as I could have.  In fact, I didn’t even know where the race was being held till about a week before (Dalton, GA, FYI)!  Obviously with my upcoming 100 miler, this race was a “training day” to see how I was doing.

Friday night I prepped my “drop bag” (a bag you give to the race director to drive out to an aid station with favorite foods, change of socks, etc.) and got into bed at 6:30pm.  Yes, 7pm was my projected time to be asleep as my alarm was set for 2:45am Saturday morning!  This race was 90 minutes away and I had to be there at 5am!  Actually fell asleep no problem and got up feeling awesome.

Got ready and was at the race site a bit early.  Funny, now I started to get nervous.  Not so much about the race or distance, more about making sure I had everything I needed.  Ironically, that is the one thing I really didn’t need to get nervous about – anything I might have forgotten they had out on the course.  If I had been smart and actually reviewed the elevation change and terrain of this course – THAT is what should have made me nervous!

We started in the dark at 6am (there was also a 35 mile race going on, they started with us and a 100 miler, they started at 4am – imagine when they had to get up)! The course started out very uniquely (for me, anyway) with a 1.3 mile climb on a road before we hit the trails.  It was very cool to look back and see all these headlamps running up the street – must have been quite a site for cars driving the other way.  The trail then went off road, right on to a jeep trail – and another mile or so of climbing (I think, may have been shorter but distances are weird when it is dark).  We all kept saying:  “this 2 mile (or so) downhill is going to be really fun at mile 48 when we have no quads left to help us run downhill”!

Anyway, we then finally hit the single track and, OMG, this was a technical trail.  I have run on rockier, but never for this long (and in the dark) – it felt like at least 10 miles of sharp, jagged and nasty rocks – up and down hills, did I mention in the dark?  Did I mention rocks?  The most common Facebook post I have seen on this race was about having nightmares about rocks. 

I ran with some people for a while but I realized that going at someone else’s pace (whether slower or faster than my normal pace) was really messing up my gait and after almost falling 3x, I passed the group I was with and headed out on my own.  This worked well for a while but then, of course, right after it got light out, all by myself,  I took a very nice fall – God was with me as it was not a very rocky section – a little banged up but nothing too bad.  More dirt on my body than anything!  I also smashed my toe so bad one time I saw stars and almost took a tumble face first into a tree.  Other than that, the first 25 miles was pretty un-eventful.

I was really feeling good and pushing the pace (again, for me, pushing the pace is probably a 12 minute mile on these trails) for the first ½ of the race.  I decided early on to not eat or drink as much as normal and push myself harder than normal to see what my “100 mile training body” is now capable of – I figured if I fell apart there would always be someone out there that could take me back to my car! 

I don’t have a GPS, but I knew we were getting close to the 25 mile turnaround based on the aid stations and how long I had been running and something very strange was happening; I was not seeing the leaders of the race coming back (this was an out and back course).  I did some math and figured they should be about 4-5 miles ahead of me at the turnaround, I actually didn’t see the leader until about 1 mile from the turnaround point!  So now my mind starts playing tricks on me.  I must have taken a wrong turn.  Or maybe they didn’t come back the exact same way as we went out (I know, that makes no sense, but this is what happens to your brain after 5 hours of running).  So, I ended up seeing about 8-10 people, including the top 2 females, coming down the climb (it was a very cool, long climb up to the 25 mile point) and finally admitted to myself: I am in the top 10, overall,  in this race!  Now, this is not such a big deal for some people but it was a shocker to me!  Of course, I just chalked it up to going out so hard for the first ½ and figured 30 people would pass me on the way back (not sure how many were in my race, but it wasn’t that many – obviously). Either that or there were only 10 people in the 50 miler! I got to the turnaround at 5 hours, 27 minutes (over an hour faster pace than my last 50 miler – on a much tougher course – except for the mud, of course).  Fueled up, enjoyed a beautiful view from the top of the mountain and headed back down.

I really loved the top of this mountain, especially coming down.  It was very sparse, sunny and felt like you were in Colorado or Washington State – pine trees and everything!  If it weren’t for the HUGE rocky steps we had to go down, it was a perfect trail running moment.  Saw a bunch of people I know on the way down and there were lot’s of words of encouragement that helped me a ton and kept me running when I thought about walking.

Up to this point I was doing very well physically and mentally.  Except for my feet.  The bottoms of my feet started to really hurt after only 10 miles on this gnarly trail.  On my left foot I knew it was a huge blister that I always get after about 3 hours of running.  But my right foot was a different story; a burning sensation just behind the big toe – very very painful.  On a good note, it got so bad that I completely forgot about my chronic Achilles pain in my right foot!
I passed a few people on the way back (not that I was running faster, I slowed considerably, but they must have slowed more than me) and was still feeling good but the pain in my right foot just kept escalating.  At a few points I had to stop, hold on to a tree, and lift my foot up to take the pressure off it hurt so badly.

After about 30 miles I was pretty sure I could finish and I was still “running” ok. Only one person had passed me (female) so I figured everyone else in the race got lost, quit or were having as much trouble with their feet as I was. 

I knew I was getting close to the finish and passed a guy that was in the 35 mile race – he told me he trained on the course all the time and we had just one more climb till the downhill all the way to the finish.  I picked it up and tried to run all the downhills and flat sections, even a few of the gentle uphills.  I got to the top of the last climb and met up with a woman who I had seen all throughout the race – she was having terrible stomach problems.  I helped her get some salt pills, offered some water (she could not swallow either) and then realized what she really needed was to be left alone so she could collect herself, maybe puke and then make it to the finish! 

Now it was downhill all the way to the finish. 2 things:  my feet were beyond painful now, and downhill running was the worst – but at least it was not technical and no more rocks.  2nd , I had this feeling that everyone I passed was right behind me so I was “sprinting” down the hill and looking behind me the whole time.  I think it was actually over 10 minutes before the next man came over the finish line so I was safe, but you never know!

I could not wait to get to the finish line and take off my shoes.  I crossed the line and – much to my absolute amazement and non-belief, get handed the “3rd Overall Male” trophy!  Crazy, I was thinking I might win my age group as I knew there were only a few people ahead of me, but I never, ever expected top 3 overall!  Not sure of my time cause I didn’t stop my watch and there was no race clock (that I saw) but I think it was somewhere around 11 hours, 40 minutes.

Sat down (OMG, that felt good), took off my shoes and drank 3, yes 3, real sodas:  One Coke, One Orange and One Sprite!  Also had a McDonalds hamburger – really hit the spot.  All I was craving was something bubbly and cold.  I had been drinking luke-warm water and salt/potassium pills for almost 12 hours.

BTW: this was a hot race for me also (about 60 at the start and warmed up to over 80) and I did not have any real hydration or overheating problems!  Training through the summer must have helped.  Trust me, I would much rather run in the cool weather – but this gave me some confidence if we happen to have a freak warm day in November.

Lessons from the race:

Mentally I came to some conclusions and gave myself some freedoms in this race.  The pain in my feet was so bad that I know, if this had been 100 miles, I would not have been able to finish.  I can handle a decent amount of pain but when it feels like burning needles in your feet every time you hit the ground, I’m pretty sure I found my pain-tolerance limit!

So, at about mile 40, I made a deal with myself – I would do everything in my power to finish today.  If I had a day like this in Pinhoti, even though I feel a strong sense of obligation to finish to raise the most $$$ possible for the homeless men, I will not risk permanent injury or a hospital visit to finish the 100 miles.  Mentally, this helped me a lot.  I have never, ever DNF’ed a race, but if my first does occur in my 100 mile race, I will do my best to accept it as God’s will and move on. 

That being said, I will spend the next 6 weeks experimenting with different shoe and sock variations.  I will focus more on my diet to drop some weight, which cannot hurt regarding foot impact.  I will train my butt off, adding more long efforts on rocky terrain to train my feet.  Also will plan on changing my shoes 1x during the race and socks multiple times (this seemed to help a lot of people out there).  I am still going to do everything in my power to finish the race on November 3rd / 4th .  I am just allowing myself the freedom to pull out if it gets dangerous!

From a spiritual, mental standpoint I had a good day.  The first 6 hours, even with the pain, were very steady.  Lots of nice prayer time, 2 full Rosary’s, lots of appreciating God’s beauty and feeling blessed to be able to do what I was doing.  The next 6 hours were a emotional “rollercoaster”, however, 3 things got me right out of the low times:

1.       Nutrition.  After 6 hours, I really become disinterested in food and I was eating much less than normal.  When I would start to feel down mentally, I would take a break to eat a gel, or some food and would feel better within 5 minutes (note to pacers (Bob, Rob and Troy) reading this when my mood goes down, make sure I take in some sugar, salt and fat if possible)!
2.     Perspective.  When the pain got really bad, I would just think (and pray for) of the homeless men in Atlanta.  They have it so hard, every single day.  My pain was/is temporary and I was heading home to a great house, warm bed, awesome family.  That put things in perspective and pushed me on.
3.       Perception of Pain.  The day before my race, I went to see a good friend of mine who is an Applied Kinesiologist to work on my back, which was really tight, and my Achilles, which is even tighter. We talked about pain and he shared with me the medical definition of pain (I am sure I will butcher this):  “An emotional response to a nerve stimulus from real, or perceived, tissue trauma”.   I would repeat this mantra in my head (between Rosary’s and prayers) and the pain would just magically go away!  Pain is an emotion, we can control it (to a point)!

So, now I am looking at a HUGE 3rd place plaque and enjoying some wonderful post race nutrition and Advil.  Feeling confident in my race performance, elated in how I finished.  Feeling very scared about my feet.  Overall, feeling very OK, centered with all of these emotions.   Another cool thing that came to me in this race (since it was so small and I spent so much time running alone) – I really need and enjoy fellowship every hour or so during these things.  Mentally I try not to think about running 50 miles – I think of running from aid station to aid station.  This race had a few “un-manned” water stations that just didn’t quite give me the uplift that I get when I see humans!  As a bonus, being able to see my family and friends during the 100 will be a much needed, and appreciated break in the action, so to speak.

It is God’s will.  On November 3rd and 4th I will do the best I can, but I will not put myself in the hospital in order to finish. 

Until next week……..


PS – 71 total miles for the week, most ever, by far, in my life.  Recovery week planned this week, praise God.  Even if it was not planned, it would happen as I can barely walk, much less hit the trails with these hamburger-feet. 

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