Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Ebb and Flow

*if you like this blog, you might enjoy my book:"Quiet the Noise: A Trail Runner's Path To Hearing God"


As I sit here with my foot in a tub of ice, gazing out over an incredible view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I am overcome with three strong emotions:    Peacefulness, Gratitude and Closure.   For the sake of brevity, I will share my thoughts on only the first emotion: peacefulness.

The day before this writing I completed (for the 3rd time) the Mystery Mountain Marathon – if you have read any of my books you will remember fondly that this is a race that I consistently suffer more than others and swear I will never do again.

In October of 2013 it did not disappoint, again.

The upside of the level of suffering this race produces, especially when you are not trained for it, is the incredible sense of peacefulness and accomplishment you feel the day after.

And the day after that.

It is basically like it strips away all the worry and stress in your life and leaves it out on the trail.

One of my main goals in this life is to get to the point where I can leave it all out on the trail, for good.  Without having to run 6 hours in the mountains every day to achieve it!

 Before  I get into the suffering, I have to mention that it is such a blessing that even after many many years of running and competing,  I can still be surprised!

This time, not pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless.

I signed up for this race, again, with the complete intention, again, of dropping down to the 12 mile  option if my training was not there.

My training was not there.

I didn’t drop down.

My training leading up to this race was fairly consistent in terms of frequency of runs and total weekly volume of minutes.  Unfortunately, for me, I did not do any training runs over  2.5 hours and very little quality/distance time in mountains.

Not a good combination.

Here is where the not so pleasant surprise came in.

My thoughts going in to this and the reason I didn’t run the 12 miler, which my training was perfect for  went something like this – “I  have a huge base built up and I know how to pace myself for a race like this, I will rise to the occasion and surprise myself with a good performance”

Maybe at a normal marathon, but not this race. 

GPS estimates have this race at between 7000 – 8000 of elevation gain over 26.2miles. 

You just cannot fake MMM.

The other surprise was my attitude going in.  Instead of giving this race and course the respect it so completely  deserves, I went  in with an almost non-caring, happy go-lucky attitude.

 This will be hard, I told myself, but I can handle it.  Cmon, I “ran” 100 miles for peet’s sake.

Choosing to adopt this carefree attitude was another in a long list of not so good moves.

I didn’t taper at all for the race.  I didn’t eat or prep my nutrition the way I would normally do for a marathon.  The day before I enjoyed some wine and pizza for dinner.

Well, truth be told, I’ve don’t that before, even when I was adopting a more serious attitude.

So, the surprise here was how badly I fell apart – even with all of my base training in the year prior to this race.

I ran most of the first 12 miles with a good friend who had made the intelligent choice to do the 12 mile option.  After my normal 1 hour of feeling stiff, sore and out of sorts I felt excellent from hour 2-3.

The only problem was that my long standing Achilles injury, which had been feeling better, started to flare up right away when the race started.   Advil, changing my gate a bit and ignoring the pain was my way of dealing with this.

Then, at hour 3, things started to unravel. 

The title of this chapter is “ebb and flow” for a reason.  I had not had a race like this in a very, very long time. 

The ups and downs were epic.

After 3 hours I would feel amazing running downhill.  Then I would barely be able to walk on a flat section.  Then I would feel strong as I could be on a steep uphill.  Then I would be debating dropping out at the next aid station.

This would all happen in the span of 10 minutes!

This is such a hard thing to explain to someone who does not do these events as, invariably, as you are explaining how bad you felt their next question is “why on earth do you put yourself through this”?
No way to explain as sometimes we cannot even explain this to ourselves.  So I usually don't even bother trying.

Prayer definitely helped, as it always does.

Also, I decided very early on (after the 12 mile section was over) that it would benefit me to stay alone till the end.  This was one of those days that I needed to be in my own head and draw on my own strength, not someone else's, to get through.

It is funny, ironic even,  that on the day before I was watching the Ironman live on the internet and they kept talking about how much easier it is to run with someone because you can draw on their strength in troubled times.

I decided not to do this.  I think I really needed to suffer this day.

Eventually, I made it the the finish line – took me 5 hours and 52 minutes to complete the race, keeping with the long standing tradition of consistency no matter how I feel.  The first time I did this race it was very cool out and I felt great:  5:42 ish.  The second time it was hot and I felt even worse than this time: 6:04 ish.  About a 20 minute spread over 3 attempts.

To give you an idea of how tired and beat down I was, I actually walked a flat section of the course that was less than ¼ mile from the finish.  I just couldn’t bring myself to keep running, I needed a break.

On a flat section.

¼ mile from the finish!

 Normally, once I “smell the finish line”, I can run through any sort of exhaustion or pain. 

Not here.

I was completely spent. 

Something about this race (the marathon distance) always brings me to a level of suffering that no other race does.

Only my fellow long distance runners will understand this, but I suppose that is why I keep coming back.

Praise God, even in (especially in) the hard times -- this is the time you really learn things about yourself and grow.


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