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Archive for August, 2012

“Hi, Jeff, It’s Me, Your Central Governor”: The 2012 Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon Race Report

Dan, Me and Otter, post-race. 12 beers consumed among us (though one of us was responsible for 8 of those on his own).

As my summer of ultras comes to a close (but not definitely… yet), I begin to turn my attention back to what made me such a running fanatic in the first place: RUNNING FAST.

There is just something immensely rewarding about moving my body as fast as it will go, powered on its own, that hypnotizes me, calls me, begs for me to do it.  Even though it hurts.

My ultimate “things-I-must-do-before-I-die” goal is to run a sub-3 hour marathon.  My current personal best is 3:15 and my first valid attempt at cracking three will be this coming January, again in Houston.  While I know the chances of me pulling off such a feat in such a short amount of time are almost as insane as they seem impossible, I figure the bar is better set high than not high enough.

Challenge is good.  Besides, I keep surprising myself with what I’m able to do, on any given day, so I might as well keep crawling deeper into the caverns of my mind to slay every last dragon of doubt.

DIE, BITCHES!!!

Enter the Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon in Batavia, IL.  I ran this race last year and had a blast, so I made sure to sign up again.  This time I would be joined by two new friends: Dan Solera, who is just past the halfway point in running 50 half marathons in 50 states; and Dan “Otter” Otto, who impressed the hell out of me by downing six Old Style heavies WHILE RUNNING a sub-2 hour race at Batavia (more on this a bit later).

Pre-Race 4 a.m.

I’m up before the alarm.  I went to bed at 9:30 last night, so I wake up feeling fully charged.  Ready to rock.  I sip a half a cup of coffee, eat a banana and some toast with jelly before checking the weather report.  It’ s already 72 degrees, so I slap on my 1:30 pace bracelet knowing it’s pretty much a given that I won’t be hitting these splits today.  But I’m wearing it anyway because I think a PR is definitely possible.  I haven’t run too many half marathons; and I’ve never trained to peak for one, so I enter Batavia with a 1:34 best, confident that, as Ice Cube reminds me via my laptop, today always has the potential to be a good day.

5 a.m. and I swing by to pick up Dan and Otter.  We are leaving Chicago, on the highway by 5:20 a.m.  All is well.  There’s something comforting about company just prior to a race.  It lessens the nerves, distracts the mind from busying itself with senseless worry.  I enjoy the conversation, especially as I learn Otter’s race plan to carry a pack with six Old Styles stowed, with the goal of downing them all prior to the finish.

Holla!

6:30 a.m. and I’m jogging my warm-up.  Holy Nikes!  I bump into a friend of mine from high school whom I haven’t seen since the late 90s!  It’s so cool to see her!  We make plans to meet up at the finish and I go on my merry way, feeling out the legs, wondering Do I have it today?

Early signs point to… probably not.

6:55 a.m. I enter the chute and stand next to Dan towards the front.  We fist bump, the horn blows and I… am… ruuuuuuunnnnnnnniiiiiiinnnnnng!!!

Miles 1-6

This is just four 5Ks and a jog, Jeff, I tell myself. Run four decent 22ish 5Ks and you’re good.

Thanks, me!  I appreciate that!

I also appreciate the course.  Though the beginning has changed a bit from last year (they got rid of the big hill at the start), I am still impressed with how quiet and quaint this little town of Batavia is.  Its river-centric, historic downtown and sprawling neighborhoods with lots of green reminds me of my hometown of Quincy; and the people who are standing out on their lawns at 7 a.m., though not in great numbers, are especially awesome in my book.

Thanks for coming out, everybody! I yell with a smile. I like your town! It reminds me of home!

And boom!  Just like that I look down to see I’ve come through the first 5K mark in 20:44.  Not too shabby.  The 1:30 pace group is about 3o yards ahead of me, running ahead of schedule, but already I can tell that today will not be a 1:30 day for me.  I’m totally cool with it though because I feel fine right now and know that holding on to 7-minute pace will be more than enough for me to consider this a solid performance.  It’s warm.  The sun is blaring down on me at certain points along the course.  But I feel fine.  My legs are moving in a rhythm that seems sustainable.

I hit the big downhill section just before the 6-mile mark, build speed then bang a hard left onto the bike path that runs alongside the Fox River.  Ah yes, this is where I built momentum last year, I recall. Time to push it a little bit.

Vroom!!!

Miles 6-10

Covered by the abundant shade, this sudden injection of conscious speed should be sustainable… except that, well, it isn’t.  Around the 7-mile mark, the voice of fatigue makes a home between my ears.  I take a GU and down some liquids, hoping to shut its ugly face, but alas, here it is, still talking shit.

Okay, dude, you can chill out now, you’re not going to PR so… yeah. It’s too hot. You haven’t been speed training. You can’t even see the 1:30 pace group anymore.

I run harder to shut him up.

Oh, so you think you can shut me up, Jeff? You know who I am, right? I’m your central governor and I make the decisions around here. Just try to get anything past me.

I push.  I push again.  Yikes!  Pull back.

Haha! See. Told ya. I, am, the master.

I look at my Garmin, which tells me I just ran mile 9 in 7:29, a number I don’t like right now.  Who’s the boss of who?  I decide it’s time to stand up to Mr. Central Governor.

I am the boss of me, Central Governor. Not you. Not anyone. Just me! And look! I’m almost done!

Miles 10-13.1

Ha!  Yes, this is the beauty of the half.  Ten miles into the race and I’m almost done!  After the summer of ultras, where training runs regularly lasted 4-6 hours and races 8-10 hours, oh what a glorious feeling it is to know I am an hour and eleven minutes into a race and I’m almost done!  With so few miles to go, of course I can go faster!

So I do.  The central governor tries to stop me but I pick out a guy ahead, the guy in the green singlet, and reel him in.  Concentrate, I tell myself.  Catch that green man! 

I catch him, he speeds up to race, I go a bit faster and then I’m by him.

I pick out another.  Guy in red.  I look down at my watch and see I’m cruising at 6:40 pace — something that felt hard just 20 minutes ago seems so easy now, because I have focus.  I am here to do something.

Mile 11 and I realize it’s all downhill from here.  Literally.  The last two miles of this course are a continuous downhill.  Ideal for building speed and passing people.

I do both.

I can’t believe how good I feel right now.  Who does that central governor jerk think he is?  I’m gonna have to learn to shut him up quicker next time.  Maybe I’ll train to do just that.

Up ahead I see the big orange sign instructing runners to turn left.  I know that once I get there, I’m at mile 13, with just one tenth of a mile (the “jog”) to go.  A quick glance at my watch informs me that I AM GOING TO PR TODAY, marking yet another victory over my Debbie Downer subconscious.

Eat it, Central Governor!

I turn left onto the bridge, turn right then left onto the last bridge before making the hard right turn to the finishing chute.  I blaze in with the emcee announcing my name, across the line at 1:32:37.

Ice Cube was right.  Today was a good day.

Post Race

There’s something uniquely awesome about eating pizza and drinking Sam Adams before 9 in the morning, so I take full advantage of that as I meet up with Dan, whom I learn had me in his sights for the first half of the race before trailing off a bit.  He still finished with a solid 1:36 and was smiling at the end so all signs point to GREAT JOB!

We both look out for Otter, wondering if Dan might get the call from the county jail that he’s been picked up for public intoxication WHILE RUNNING A HALF MARATHON.  Luckily, Otter’s drinking on the run made him a race favorite, a point the emcee even brings up as Otter chugs his final beer, crossing the finish line in under two hours.

I am extremely impressed.

High fives are had.

– – –

The Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon proved again to be a great event.  It’s just small enough that it doesn’t feel crowded and big enough to feel like each runner’s needs are being met.  From the big downhill after mile 5 all the way to the finish I think the course is just fantastic.  The aid stations were a bit small for my liking, but the volunteers more than made up for that and everyone out there was extremely positive and energetic.  Also, just like last year, the hardware doubles as a bottle opener, which may be the running gods’ way of telling me that, indeed, beer and running do make a beautiful couple.

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Inspirations, Warriors, Angels and Victors: Team LOL’s Run Across Illinois Pre-Postscript

Every once in a while life allows us the rare opportunity to really live, in the moment for an extended period of time, undisturbed and unfazed by distractions from the outside world.  Beginning at 5 a.m. on Friday, August 17, and all the way through 6 p.m. on Sunday, August 19, my life had but one purpose: get my friends from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan as they ran 161 miles along the northern border of Illinois.

To say it was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life would be an understatement.

Which is why a typical race report will not suffice.  How does one even begin to summarize the myriad stories, themes and struggles that developed over 58 harrowing hours?

It is impossible.

Yet, not impossible.  In fact, if I learned anything over this past weekend, it’s that pure guts and determination and confidence can overcome anything.

ANY.

THING.

So instead of the typical race report, I’m going to take on my biggest literary challenge yet.  It may take some time — I may get tired, I may bonk, I may do the zombie walk — but for someone who enjoys hours and hours and hours of perpetual motion in the way of running, sitting down for the hours and hours and hours it will take to flesh out this epic tale seems quite fitting.  And now, it also seems doable.

So to Juan, Chuck, Kamil, Tony, Brian, Mike, Kathy, Scott and the steady stream of heroic volunteer pacers and crew who made Team LOL’s Run Across Illinois a beaming success, I tip my cap.

And I thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.  You inspired me beyond words, and you also showed me that if you really care about something enough, you will find a way.

I am going to find a way.

– – –

Team LOL’s Run Across Illinois was done to raise money for Chicago youth charity Chicago Run.  And there is still time to help!  Please consider supporting this worthy cause so that today’s youth can overcome the obesity crisis that it currently faces.  You can support Team LOL’s efforts for Chicago Run *HERE*.


Dissuade Discomfort, Move Your BUTT: The 2012 Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Run Race Report

(Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

I have run enough marathon+ distance races now to know that aches and pains are simply going to come.  There is no shortcut.  I know this.  I either accept the discomfort and move on or I suffer defeat.  I also know that anything can go wrong, at any time — that a successful race is never a given and the best runners are those who are able to adapt on the fly.

Yet I somehow still seem to underestimate just how uncomfortable I will be at times and how I might possibly struggle to keep up the fight.  In my mind, it’s always a given.  In reality, it is much harder.

In preparation for the Kennekuk Road Runners’ 22nd Annual Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Run, a race that typically features hellaciously high temps and unforgiving humidity, I heat trained in winter gear at high noon and suffered through several long road runs outside of Houston, TX, just so I would be ready for whatever mother nature would throw at me.  I put myself in painful situations and prepared my mind to reinterpret the norm.

Naturally, August 11, 2012 would bring unseasonably cool temperatures (mid-high 50s for low, low 80s for the high) to the Danville area, I would be bothered by an old nemesis that had been dormant since October 2011 and I would realize that one can train and train and train, but that there really is no substitution for the feelings associated with running 50 miles other than running 50 miles.

The Night Before

Me, my sister Cara and my friend Jerret all arrive together at the Kennekuk Cove County Park where we will camp along the course prior to the race.  It turns out that even though I have recently acquired a strong taste for all things outdoors, I am still an idiot when it comes to putting things together, as is evident by my inability to put up our tent.  Luckily, ten or so special aides jump in to make fun of assist me.  These helpers are just some of the 30 or so runners from my New Leaf and M.U.D.D. groups, fellow ultra junkies who know how to have a good time.  It turns out we’re all having such a good time that the tent is thwarting our focus.  Finally, Tony and Alfredo save the day and I can begin my pre-race routine.

I have ONE beer, eat a salad and some pasta, then try to relax as much as I can as the group gathers around to share race stories and good cheer.  Admittedly, it’s hard for me to calm my nerves when there is so much excitement in the air.  I’ve been looking forward to this race for a long time now, mostly because of how many familiar faces I will see on the 3.29 mile looped course and how good I feel knowing that, right now, I am in the best shape I have ever been, my whole life.

My sister and I have already had an EPIC week, so I’m taking those positive vibes, channeling them through my mind with deep belly breaths, and being confident in my training.  I begin to yawn, so I say good night to everyone and retire to the tent.

Race Morning

The air is cool.  Dew all around.  The chill peps me out of my zombie-like state.  Did I sleep last night?  A little, but not much.  Cara’s allergies had her coughing most of the night and my rookie camping ass didn’t bring a soft base layer for the tent, so I rolled around on uneven ground most of the evening.  Still, it’s rare that I get a lot of sleep the night before a race anyway, so I’m not too bothered.  Instead, I go about my normal routine, which includes a liberal application of heavy-duty lubrication (you knew that was coming, right?).

I make sure I proudly display my red short-shorts around the start/finish area so everyone can get their taunting out of their system (I say this in the most endearing of ways, because I know the shorts are insanely short, and are considered a running fashion faux pas by some — that some not including me, obviously).

I check in with my official scorer, Pat, the man who will be recording each of my laps as I pass by throughout the day.  I introduce myself and shake Pat’s hand.  He seems just as excited as I am, so I know he and I are going to have a connection — whether he knows it or not.  “Nice meeting you, Pat.  I will see you soon!” I say as I head back towards the tent.

My mom arrives to help my sister crew the race.  I give Mom a big hug and marvel at the shirt she has on!  Both she and Cara are wearing custom made shirts that read “Jeff’s Crew” on the back.  Wow!  How awesome is that!  I know I am spoiled having a family that is so supportive of my never-ending running adventures.  I don’t take that for granted.  Having them involved by crewing my races, sharing in my ups and downs, serves as a real mental boost.  Makes me feel special.

I go over last minute instructions with them both, but Cara has done this before, so we all feel confident and are ready to go.

7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

As the race director makes his announcements, I position myself at the front.  My goal for this 8 hour run today is to be in the mix.  Ultimately, I want to run no less than 50 miles, hoping that is enough to get me another top ten finish; but deep down, I want more.  I want to push and see what happens.  That doesn’t mean I am dumb enough to kill myself early on, but I do plan to straddle the line between stupid and daring.

We take a moment of silence to remember Scott Hathaway, a remarkable runner who died on the course five years ago.

And then…

WE’RE OFF!!!

I dart out, being led by the man who has owned this event since 2004, Scott Colford of Logansport, IN.  He has the course record (61.72 miles) and has won it every year he has participated.  I figure he is going to set a pretty quick pace to drop as many of us as he can, and, indeed, he does just that as we settle around 6:30 to 7:00 minute pace out of the gate.

As we hit the first turn onto shaded rocky trail, we all take a moment to touch the memorial set up for Scott Hathaway — a salute to a fellow ultra runner.  We all touch it for good luck.

(Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

About a mile in and already the lead pack is well separated from the rest.  Colford takes off at a pace I simply can’t match — not this early anyway.  There is a young fellow with him and a slim runner dressed in Marathon Maniac gear chasing close behind, but I settle into my own 7:00-7:30 pace, and focus on memorizing the course.

From my training I learned that one way to beat the monotony of a looped course is to know its every nook and cranny, to know where to accelerate, where to slow down, what tangents to run to shorten it up, to isolate any spots that may offer trouble along the way.  This course is mostly grass and dirt trail, with some occasional pavement.  There’s one tricky spot in the middle that throws a gauntlet of uneven footing highlighted by a couple of ankle traps.  There is one relative downhill section, just after the first aid station at the halfway point, where one can genuinely take advantage of free speed.  And there is one significant uphill section that I decide to run the first few times, but know I will have to walk at some point.

I finish the first loop in a quick 23 minutes.  I run by the tent where my mom and sister are waiting for me (something they will do a lot of all day long!).  I assure them I’m good to go and I zoom on by.

My kick-ass crew! Mom on the left, Cara right. (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

I make eye contact with my scorer, Pat, we establish the first of many connections we’ll have throughout the day and now I start to think about what I’m really in for: 7 hours and 37 more minutes of RUNNING!!!

After a couple of steady 25-minute loops, and no change in the three leaders up front, I settle into the chase pack that offers another familiar face, John Kiser from Grayslake.

“I remember you,” I offer to John.  “You blazed by me at the Earth Day 50K with just three miles left.”

“Yeah, I was feeling good that day,” he says with a good-hearted smile.

We carry on, running and chatting here and there with another runner, Gary, who hails from Mokena, IL.  For the next several loops, we ebb and flow, picking up, slowing down, chatting every so often and trying to catch up to one another just as much.  I feel especially confident on the down and uphill sections, so I tend to drop them there only to have them catch up to me soon after.  In fact, I crown Gary as “The Accelerator”, because no matter how big a gap I put between us on the hills, he seems to have no problem closing it with his speed.

Back and forth we go… back and forth for one loop, two loops, three loops.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.   UGH!  The more we exchange positions, the more irritated I become.  I can’t seem to drop him.  My mind is losing focus!  But before I can battle any of my thoughts, another obstacle is kicking me in the butt.  Literally.

And I’ve nowhere to hide.

Piriformis syndrome.  A real pain in the ass.  Deep down inside the gluteus maximus.  A condition I have been dealing with off and on for a few years now, it is most positively rooted in the fact that my day job has me sitting for eight hours a day.  It probably doesn’t help that, when I’m not running or working, I am usually writing, from a sitting position.  The only way to beat it is to apply great pressure to the piriformis itself — a muscle that excels at being elusive to even the deepest of deep tissue massages, or settle for a series of elaborate stretches that help elongate it.

Unfortunately, none of those remedies are very applicable during a race.  It flared up on me during the 2011 Chicago Marathon, but I was able to run it off after 20 minutes or so.  That isn’t happening today.  I’ve been redirecting my attention from the aches for almost an hour now but as I finish up my 7th loop, this time in 27 minutes, I slow down considerably as I approach my crew.  I bark orders at my sister, then immediately feel guilty for letting my frustrations dictate my voice.

“Sorry,” I offer.  “I’m just not feeling so great right now.” I try to explain.

Supergirl (yes, THAT Supergirl) is there with my mom and sister now, and she offers to help, but I know there is nothing that can be done for this royal pain in the butt, so I just grab some grapes and a new bottle and head off knowing I’m going to have to slow it down.

I think I was sorta short with Supergirl just now, too.  What is wrong with me?

In fact, my mom’s notes from the race at this point read “Shitty”, and well, yeah.  That’s about how I feel right now.

10:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUU —

I want to scream.  But I can’t.  I can’t be a baby now.  I just gotta suck it up.  Or… drop.

That’s right.  I could drop.  I could just stop now and say I gave it my all.

But… am I giving it my all?

No.  Yes, my butt hurts.  Can I still move forward without causing any further damage?  Yes.  It’s just a butt-ache!  It will go away!

But…

There goes Gary, flying by me.  For the last time.  I can’t keep up.

Damn it!  I should just DNF.  Who cares?!?  It’s stupid if I’m not having fun!

Why aren’t you having fun?  That’s no one’s fault but yours… mine.  Suck it up, Jeff!  This shit isn’t easy.  It’s supposed to be tough!

Of course, it is.  Just keep moving.

John flies by me.  A few minutes later two guys I passed earlier in the race whiz by me.  A few minutes later, another.  I’m fading.

So what?  Be glad you’re moving, dummy.  Be glad you’re alive, running around this park with your mom and sister waiting on your every need, a friendly face around every bend.  Wake up!!!

There’s Alfredo up ahead.  Let’s go catch him and see how he’s doing.

“Jeff!” he says, excited to see me.  “How are you doing?”

I want to tell him about my issues, about how I was in 4th and now I’m in… I have no idea where I am now and that my butt hurts and that it’s hot now and I want to be sitting down with something cold in my hand and I am feeling sorry for myself and I am thinking about dropping and THEN…

“I’m doing okay,” I say.

We run along together for a short bit and he spontaneously tells me that I inspire him.  He tells me that he uses me to push himself to be better — this coming from a man who went from being a 250+ pound alcoholic to a sober, slim running beam of light!  Wow.

I really am being stupid.

“Thanks, Alfredo.  You inspire me too.”

In fact, he’s inspiring me RIGHT NOW.

I dart off, fully aware of the lingering pain in my butt, but accepting (finally) the fact that mulling about it in my own head isn’t going to help me run any faster.  I’m going to run this next little bit for Alfredo.

Then I catch up to another friend, Art.  I’m going to run this little bit for Art.

And there’s Jeremy.  I’m gonna run this little bit for Jeremy.

And Eric.  And Kelly.  And Tony.  AND MY LORD I COULD RUN THE WHOLE REST OF THIS RACE ON THE ENERGY OF ALL MY FRIENDS!!!

I may be slowing down considerably as I roll past my crew and check in with Pat for my 10th, 11th and 12th loops, but I see I’ve logged 39.48 miles with two hours to go and suddenly I am ready to MOVE AGAIN!

Ultrarunning Rule #1: Always smile. Even if it hurts. (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Pain in the ass?  WHAT pain in the ass?  Move along, son! 

Okay, so it’s not the most conventional of running mantras, but it’ll work.  Especially now, since this is a race against the clock!  I have two hours to run 10 miles, something that I could normally do with my eyes closed and feet shackled.  Of course, it’s a bit harder with 40 miles already in the legs, but I get another boost of inspiration from my friend, Whitney Richman, who sneaks up on me as I start running out of the start/finish area aid station.

I am officially getting “chicked”.

So what?  It’s Whitney!  Whitney is a badass.

She is currently running in the first female position.  I respect her speed as much as her toughness.

“You started running again just as I pass you,” she says jokingly.

“It’s all good, Whitney.  You’re going to pass me.  And you’re going to win!  Great job!”

Getting “chicked” (passed by a female competitor) can be a big stain on the psyche of many males.  I used to think it was just out of jest, but apparently some dudes do take it very seriously.  I am not one of those dudes.  I started off in road running, where I was getting beat by fit, fast and elite women quite regularly.  What the hell do I care if a girl passes me?  She must be fast if she’s blowing by me so more power to her!

All I care about now is getting my 5o miles in.

And I’m gettin’ it now.  In fact, I even have a little bounce in my step.  I keep a decent 9:00-9:30 pace at this point and just concentrate on moving forward.  For a little while I run with another Kennekuk regular named Scott who tells me this is his 20th year running Howl.  20 YEARS!  WOW!  Eventually he runs on past me but I definitely appreciate the conversation while it lasted.

*Running with Siamak (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

My pal Siamak catches up to me and we run together for a while.  Hmm, been in this situation before, I thought.  I could get used to this!  It really is comforting to have a familiar face join you in your most primordial pits of pain, if only to distract the mind and body from feeling so crappy.

We eventually separate, and once again, I concentrate on catching up to the next friend, and then the next.

I finish my 13th loop in 33 minutes, a whole five minutes faster than the 12th loop as my mother quickly points out.

“Why do I do this stuff again, Mom?”

“Because you’re going to feel really good once you’re done.”

“Exactly.”  I knew the answer.  Deep down I know that.  But sometimes, in the middle of it all, it’s easy to forget.  It’s nice to be reminded by someone who has your best interests at heart.

“I’m getting my 50 miles.” I declare.

The 14th loop is a blur.  Really.  To keep my mind from doing annoyingly instantaneous calculations that never seem to accumulate fast enough, I force myself to look down at the ground in front of me, so when I eventually do look up and see that I’m done with the loop, it doesn’t seem like it took that long.

“I got you down for 14 loops, headed out for your 15th, Jeff.” says Pat.

“Thank you, Pat!”

I like Pat.  I really like that guy.  Something about the way he says my name every time and looks me straight in the eye and raises his hand so I know he is talking to me… I don’t know him, but I think I know that he’s an awesome dude and he probably has a whole circle of friends and family who would back that up.

This last loop is for Pat.

I get to the bottom of the great big hill.  I power hike my way up and thank the aid station volunteers at the top.  Nearly ever time I crested that big old thing I immediately craved ice cold water.  And there, every time at my service, were the kind souls at the top of that hill with just that very thing to ease my pain.  This last swig of water is for you, awesome aid station workers!

Up ahead of me is Jerret.  We’re runnin’ this in together.

Jerret and I, finishing strong. (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

I finish the 15th loop alongside Jerret.  We have 20 minutes left, but since we don’t have enough time to make another full 3.29 mile loop, we now have to hit the quarter mile out-and-backs as many times as we can before the eight hours are finally up.  I need just two out-and-backs to make 50 miles.

I run three and finish with 50.85 miles.

Whew.

Post-Race

My mom and Cara are there to hold me up, because now that the race is over, I don’t feel like using my legs much at all.  I lean on them both as we make our way back to the tent so I can begin the healing process.

As usual, tears start to fall out of my face like a big old softy.

“Why does this always happen to me, Mom?” I ask.

She says something about serotonin overdrive or something like that and I realize it doesn’t much matter.  These are tears of joy.  I fought the fight today and I won, because I’m still standing.

I didn’t give up.  And in the end I won my age group, finishing 8th overall.

The New Leaf/M.U.D.D. crew showing off the hardware. (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

– – –

Everything else was just gravy.  The folks who put on this race are awesome people!  As the RD repeatedly said, they love to party.  We ate, we drank, we hung around for a kick-ass awards ceremony where our New Leaf and M.U.D.D. groups took home some major bling.  We hung out and just relaxed knowing that we all did something special out there while most of America was probably busy sitting down, watching awful reality TV, eating something engineered in a chemistry lab.

Congratulations to Whitney Richman who won the women’s race, coming in 6th overall!  And, of course, a tip of the cap to Scott Colford, the winner and STILL champion of  Howl.

I’ll be baaaaaaack…

(Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

Also, thanks, Brian for all these fantastic pictures!


Mindful Perspective, Reinterpreting Pain

During U.S. Olympian Aly Raisman’s gold medal floor routine, NBC commentator Tim Daggett mentioned her unique ability to view the nervous energy associated with such daring gymnastics (something most of us call “pressure” or “anxiety”) into something much more performance enhancing.  He called it “excitement”.

What a novel yet extraordinarily simple idea!

Embrace the nervousness, the anxiety, the pressure and transform it into something positive.  Use it as a springboard for optimal performance.  Face it.  Take it.  And run with it.

Digging deeper, I know that, for me, most of that pre-race energy comes from knowing the type of pain that will be involved.  If you have ever raced a race, I mean, really put yourself out there, leaving nothing behind, then you know the type of pain I am talking about.  It’s the type of pain dictated by the central governor, that annoyingly present theoretic portion of the brain that says, “Stop! Are you crazy? This is unnecessary!”

It’s also the type of pain that, when challenged and overridden, leads to bouts of ecstasy.  That’s one of the reasons why I love racing.  I love pushing myself beyond what I think I can do.  Even in failure, I am guaranteed to experience something most people never will, a satisfying feat all by itself.

Overriding the central governor, attempting to accomplish extraordinary goals, I remind myself of Dave Terry’s wisdom as told by Scott Jurek: “Not all pain is significant.”

And just in case you don’t believe that, consider the fact that Jurek won the 2007 Hardrock 100 on a severely sprained ankle, or that Thomas Voeckler’s captivating Stage 10 victory at the 2012 Tour de France — the one that had him making all sorts of uncomfortable faces towards the end — was done despite a bum knee.

I know a thing or two about pain myself.  Just look at my face as I crossed the finish line during my current marathon PR.  That was a painful race, no doubt.  But the pain has long subsided and all that is left is the purest joy I have ever come to know.