I'm a realist and a reasonably level-headed individual, most times, so I understand the comparisons won't do anything but a). depress me more and/or b). motivate me to try and get back there but that's still not enough. I tried brute force, it worked for a couple weeks here and there. I tried running for just running and it made me nuts not having a race to train for and/or a plan to follow. I slacked on my eating & in my yoga practice and it only depressed me more. By late last year I was probably +11 lbs of my race weight, suffering from PF in both feet for the first time ever, feeling unmotivated and uninspired and not willing to do much to change any of it. The thought of planning for races in 2011 was truly scary, daunting and demoralizing. Really the only thing that I knew for certain was that I most certainly did not want to train for a spring marathon. No way, no how. The comparisons were much too fresh in my mind and training for another 26.2 in the same period of time after one of my best cycles, would prove to be frustrating and maddening.
However! ... I love running the miles. I love the long run. I love dedicating hours on a weekend to topping off a week's worth of running. I just wasn't ready for all the other stuff that goes into specific race training, you know the guts of it all (aside from the mileage), the tempo work, the intervals, the progressions. Basically none of the quality. Even more so b/c NYC had more of a snowy winter than I can remember in my almost 11 years here; which doesn't really affect my ability to get out and run but does affect my getting to a snow-free track and nailing split-driven segments of running.
Back to the point, coach and I talked about this quandary of mine quite a bit. He encouraged me to keep running consistently and logging whatever mileage I could muster. He also planted the idea of finding a 50K for the spring. I heard him and I did a poor job of executing. Again with inconsistent weeks, finding my morning runs only when I had plans to meet up with others and often compromising on miles for un-needed rest days and additional hours of sleep that I wasn't lacking on to start with. All in all, I was in no better a position by mid-January than I'd been for much of last year. I HAD to do something!
And so on January 17th I mailed in my registration for the 2011 Fools Run 50K trail race. I had something to work towards. From that point until the actual race last Sunday (3/27) I'd almost be OK with yada-yada-yada'ing it. Sure, I ran long on trails on the weekends and I tried to improve my consistency but the in/out of my mojo remained. I just wasn't feeling it.
Fast forward to last weekend.
I flew into Cleveland Friday night and drove directly to meet up with my awesome coach, Lloyd, his wife, Andrea, and my host for the weekend, Jim. It was the warmest of receptions and I knew I was in for a special treat of a weekend. A couple tasty Ohio beers consumed, a Kansas victory on the televisions and a lovely spinach salad in my belly. Ready!
The next day brought much of the local scene into better focus. I was able to get out to the race course, check out the start/finish area and run an easy 3 miles on the toughest part of the course, the last loop known as the Salt Run. I was also able to tour many areas of the huge urban park that is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park including a few solid looks at the great blue heron heronry and hit up one of the local running stores for bib pickup. The day was capped off with a lovely dinner in the company of Kathleen & Andrea
Pre-race dinner with Kath & Andrea
Race morning and I was excited!! Not the least bit nervous nor anxious, just plain ole excited. It was truly a liberating feeling that continued the entire 6:52 I was out on the course. See, the beauty of this day, this race, was that I had no expectations, no pressures, no desire for a certain time or a certain race plan that had to do with splits. The sun rose and provided a gorgeous day esp for those that seem to be heat-challenged (raising hand!!!). Crisp temps in the upper 20s rising to the high 30s/low 40s (I think) by the time I finished and a sky full of blue and sun. Not even a malfunctioning Camelbak could upset this scene. I lined up in the last 1/4 of runners and without much ado we were off just after 7:30 a.m. The course was a 25K loop consisting of 4 legs where each leg was made up of several trails and connectors and shortly after starting, my one and only fear of getting lost/off course, was laid to rest. Everything was marked so well and in the first loop I was always following or running adjacent to several others. We darted around grass trails up big sledding hills, along wide cross country trails made of fine gravel, up & down single track that often sported more than one set of stairs and around a gorgeous set of boulders known as the Ledges.
I would have had to work at not smiling.
I ran at a quicker clip when I could, power walked up steep inclines when required and made the most of mini-coversations with my fellow runners whenever we'd come upon one another. The volunteers were AMAZING and the eventual winners were crazy friendly, cheering us along as they passed. We looped around a few trails double-backing and finally got back to the Salt Run. Soon enough the first lap was done and I was grabbing some soda and a pb&j square before starting back out on the second loop. Doing a quick body check and everything was a-OK, no aches, no pains, not even the nasty PF or my ultra-crabby hamstrings came out to play today. The second loop was much of the same, less runners now as many more did the 25K, and a whole lot muddier! As the day warmed up so did the ground and with the passing of so many foot falls everything got a bit dirtier. I was still feeling way good. Every once in awhile glancing down at my Garmin but only thinking "heh, doesn't feel like I've been out there that long". Soon enough a woman passed me who looked about my age and I decided that I'd try to stick with her; we seemed to be running the same sections at about the same pace and walking the others. I'd say this started somewhere around mile 21 or 22? We continued trading spots and finally at the last aid station before we traversed the big sledding hill one last time and hooked back up with the Salt Run, she dropped her cookie (a sad sight indeed) and I was able to pass her one last time. It was funny, there was no competitive nature to this even though I find myself to be very competitive, although mostly with myself. On to the Salt Run to finish this puppy off and what a sight! Not only was this section crazy muddy but it was a different kind of muddy than what I experienced in all of the other sections. Those were just wet and muddy, big puddles of water and mud that made for dirty running but not much more than that. This last bit was what I'd call shoe-sucking mud. It was a thicker consistency and made running on ups and downs nearly impossible. Just as I'd get all amp'ed to pick up the pace, I'd slide off to the side b/c of the mud. My shoes also gained a bit of weight at this point, desperate mud clinging to the sides :) It may have been the only time I was grateful for the many sets of stairs going up & down. Their wood ledges provided a good opportunity to quickly rub off some mud and keep going.
Soon enough I could see the clearing where the trail popped out of the woods and into the giant clearing eventually leading to the finish line. You can't see the actual finish at first but you can hear it, powering up the last hill there it was!! I clearly saw Lloyd (also the race director!) and knew I'd done it. Crossing I gave him a huge hug, collected my finishers mug and mugged for a bunch of pictures. I couldn't stop saying what a fantastic time I had and how happy the day and race and scenery had made me. I think Lloyd even did a mini-interview caught on video somewhere. At the same time, it was a weird feeling. I didn't want to stop. I wasn't exhausted, I didn't need to sit down, I wasn't hungry or thirsty or spent. It was magical and for a second there I had it back ...my mojo! And this last bit is what I consider to be the true addiction of trail running & ultramarathons in general. There's just so much out there, trails explored and not, scenery to be taken in and the lack of pressures normally felt during a road race, at least for me. In the immediate aftermath of that day, only a short week since, my body has responded tremendously. I was only very lightly sore, no PF flare-ups, not the trouble of getting up and down stairs as I normally have post-marathon, none of that. Just the warm feeling of a goal accomplished: get my running spirit back!
Coach Lloyd and I at the finish
A dirty day indeed!
Finishers mug crafted by the talented, Kathleen!
Bottom of the mug, a race I won't forget
And while I am currently shopping around for a fall marathon I'm also hooked on both trails & longer distances. I feel another 50K is in my near future.