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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Valle Crucis 25k Race Report

The weather was beautiful, the course was perfect and the result was much more than hoped for. An 80 degree day met about 50 of us for an early Saturday morning. Toeing the line I had one goal. To run patiently and allow my best performance to grow from this approach.

A group of 5 set the early pace and I found myself gliding at the tail end of this pack. One runner set out a bit further up and by mile 2 had a sizable gap of 45 seconds on me and two other runners. Soon it was myself and one other runner concentrating on efficient strides on up the 4 mile climb to open the run. By this time the leader was out of sight on the tight switchbacks. Around mile 3 I felt warmed and ready to exert a little extra energy, knowing a resting flat was upcoming followed by the last of the hills for about 9 miles. I picked up a small gear and worked the hill. Soon I saw the leader, he was coming back and I was cautiously grabbing hold of him with a mental lasso. My goal was to get on the edge of LT effort, catch the leader and run with him the rest of the way... until one of us could not maintain the required effort. We are here for enjoyment, for competition and to excel as best we can as runners today. This is the integrity of the runner. Not to measure one's worth against a backdrop of others, but to find our best through cooperating shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride.

By 3.5 and a half mile flat portion I had overtaken the leader and was wearily in the front with the motor bike. I had not wanted to be leading this early but I was not pushing, just flowing and nobody was there to go with me. I deduced that if I felt fine after that climb and nobody else did that the relative risk was low of being caught even with 12 miles remaining. I moved forward gently but assertively, greeting folks in their yards along the way as they walked their pups or washed their cars or smoked a butt... whatever they all do.

At 4 miles a one mile aggressive climb popped up. I ran it in thirds, progressively upping my effort to AT or slightly above for a short time. Then swooped down the other side with a stride transition preparing me for the 6 mile descent to the river. I wanted to make up time and also save the quads for the 5 miles of flat that round out the course. I popped a gel here and waited for the aid station to appear. When it did I was disappointed to find that the folks were not quite ready for runners and were simply enjoying the morning bird song. Not wanting to stop and wait I pushed on with hopes of two miles ahead.

An occasional peak showed that I was up about 45 seconds on the second runner. Mile 6 passed and I enter the shade and gravel. Mile 7.5 was just short of half way and the quaint scene was priceless with the green fields and abruptly rolling hills. I had a short exchange with an early morning starter whom was walking the course and set out for the aggressive downhill from 8-10.5.

Another motor bike made its way to the front and pulled ahead. In a few turns I saw the driver getting off and grabbing photography gear from his saddle bags. He quickly snapped a couple shots but apparently did not have time to get me in frame. I figured I was going pretty well at this point but really was not pushing at all, just falling down the slope and cutting all the tangents. Storing up my effort for the last 8k on the river road. Eventually the man got his photos and as the end of the downhill approached I grabbed my last gel from my pocket, oozed it down and hit the flat where I was pleased to grab Gatorade, stop a spell and drink the cup down. Then off I went adjusting to the feel of the flat, gravel road. at 12 miles I met the geese on the river's edge. I see them at the 3.5 mark going out on training runs and I use to be a little skittish of their honking. On this day though I felt as if they were my personal cheering squad. They honked with a passion as I breezed by them. I was beginning to feel some fatigue and reminding myself to not over stride. The mantra "relax. and move." (given by John Weswah) played on a loop and brought me the next 1.5 miles.

The final aid station was at 13.5 miles. I saw my beautiful better half there and she was accompanied by Lil' and Goliath who were a little confused as to why I was running by them on a strange road but still pleased to see me. I was sure happy to see them and knew that with no other runner in sight at this point that I just needed to get over the next 1/2 mile hill and then cruise it home for the final mile and a half.

I met the first part of the hill and felt the slight tension in the legs. Thinking about running tall and smoothly I pumped onward, crested the incline and then swung to the right and left as the road swooped upward again. This final stretch of climbing was the focus. I worked to the halfway point and set my eyes on the horizone 150m ahead. I pumped and pushed and glided upward, moving with my fitness until the land's incline gave in. I then zoomed down the backside and swerved the corners of the road bringing me back to the river. At the junction Lynnea waited again to cheer me on for the final 1200m. She helped to remind me of those tight shoulders and I dropped them and regained a relatively smooth torso. The finish was ahead and I dropped back into the parking lot at the elementary school happy to have completed the course in 1:42:30. Though a little off my goal time of 1:40 I was very pleased to feel so fresh at the finish despite running at a pace far quicker than what I anticipate at the Chattooga 50k upcoming.

I was able to meet some good folks and quality runners following the run and we shared some of our experiences from the morning as well as our racing plans for later in the year. This is a race I will be looking forward to running again next year!!! What a blessing it is to enjoy a lifestyle that lends itself to rewarding physical exertion and camaraderie between those whom were strangers such a short time before. This is why we run, this is what we miss when we don't run. See you down the road, whenever that may be.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The weather is warming and the long runs are stretching with the days length. Now sitting at 7 weeks until the Chattooga 50k I am feeling prepared physically and now adding some quality to increase mechanical and physiological efficiency. Still having two long runs to go and some 50 runs all told there is still much work to be done which balanced with rest will do nothing but increase fitness and confidence.
This weekend I will depart from the 5k racing I have been doing recently and step up to a 25k. The 5k races have done well to reacquaint me with the feelings involved with racing, balancing of anxiety, adrenaline, patience and ultimately performance. Those races both went very well competitively and I felt my approach was a well rounded one allowing for the best results for my training accumulation at the time.
Now with a 25k looming including over 1000 ft of elevation gain and then loss, I will really see how the blend of long runs and tempo runs have blended toward a goal of performance. Fortunately the race takes place about 15 minutes from home so I won't be driving an hour or more to get to the start... more sleep is always welcome;)
Today I will go and drive the course, get a sense of the climb from mile 2 to 4.5, where the course peaks out. This is the 1000 ft climb before the road plummets to its original elevation around mile 10. From there the flat and rolling terrain will test the quads and their ability to withstand the previous punishment. I have been running quite a lot of up and down tempo runs and longer runs so I feel that with a patient approach I should fall into an excellent run that will be fulfilling. Otherwise, I will be fortunate to have 6 weeks to correct any deficiencies that are made apparent.
This will be a real test and a beacon toward the bigger goal of the 50k. Beyond that I will run the Grandfather Marathon in July. A 26.2 miler that ends with a 5 mile stint leading up to the mile high swinging bridge on Grandfather Mountain.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Linville Gorge- a rugged wall awaits

Arriving at Linville Gorge two days ago I was prepared to get in a rugged 2 1/2 hours of training. I laced up, felt the sun for the first time in a week and headed down and down and down into the gorge. The first descent was ongoing by the time I reach sight of the river I had dropped about 800 feet and would wind through another 300 feet in the next half mile before reaching some flatter trail sections parallel to the river's flow. The footing was tricky, and the trail constantly raced up vertically to reach rock outcroppings where camp sites had been made by many in the past.
After a few miles I could already feel some jelly on the quads. This being official long run number 4 I was a tad surprised by this feeling, after all I did have 2 hours to go before reaching the car, assuming all went as planned. The downhill was taking its toll, grinding my muscles to pulp. I continued on, lightly pouncing and bounding with the terrain.
At 50 minutes out I stopped for a drink and an energy gel. Below me, about 150 feet was the river and a crossing bridge which could take to me to Table Rock and the Mountains to Sea Trail. That would have to wait. After another few minutes the trail dropped again and finally reached the river's edge. I'd been crossing over many tributaries with beautiful waterfalls and mossy pools but this was the first time I had actually reached the river proper. Things were much gentler here. The trail widened as it made haste over the terrain. Many campsites were strewn about.
The trail darted back away from the water and up another short climb. This was interesting as the Mountain Laurel had grown into steps for about 20 feet up the embankment. I pushed on twisting through small trees and fallen giants. Sometimes leaping up and over, other time contorting to pass beneath. I finally reached a small stream below and long waterfall. I cooled in the pool for a few minutes. This was all I would see today. It was time to head back. Though it is so tempting to run on at this point... 75 minutes out, I really had to remind myself that today I had no choice but to take longer on the return. This initial portion of the trail was predominately downhill. I had lost about 2000 feet of elevation. While this feels easy on the physiology of the runner there is another consideration.
The runner will support up to 9 times his body weight while running one step downhill. I had been doing this for 75 minutes and 2000 feet. Now that would all need to be regained. I was happy to feel rather fresh but knew as well that I had lost a certain amount of efficiency in my legs to this point. My heart and lungs would be willing to do the work but would my quads cooperate? I was about to see. 'This is why I came here today', I thought... and started running.
I reached the bridge again. Another gel and some water, a minute at the bridge to soak in the scene... It meant adding some climbing back to the trail but at the time it was worth it. We cannot avoid the grittiness of work. We need to be immersed in the experiences of life, not simply come close, approximate them. I climbed back. '25 minutes down, 50 to go', I told myself. So far, so good I felt a little worn down but could tell the work I've been doing is paying off. Here I was at the bottom of a gorge 1:40 into this run and feeling a little tired. If I recall earlier runs I just marvel at the human body. I feel the ghosts of those dreadful 6 milers at the start of this cycle. The burning of the chest and stinging of the legs. The dead weights all over my body. The flab urging me back to the couch... 'now look around, look at the beauty of it all.' Thankful for the delusions of endorphins I methodically plodded onward, upward.
At this point I was feeling a little warm and decided to use my shirt as a head covering. When reaching the next stream I paused, dunked the shirt in the cold run off and fashioned myself a snug cold compress. I'd repeat this every mile or so, keeping the shirt cool. When I reached the final watering hole I was happy at the progress but also weary of the climb ahead. It was going to go UP and UP and UP and each step would bring me that much closer to the sun. At this point in the late afternoon the sun was getting tired at least.
My steps felt swift. 2 hours in, alright! I had to temper this excitement. My brain a little slushy, how much farther is it... really? I did not know. I think it took 11 minutes from here. Maybe it took 25? In any case it would take longer on the return to I just bit off a small stride at a time. Two feet here, six inches there; whatever the terrain would allow me given an agreed upon energy expenditure. How much was left in the bank?
I knew I had ten minutes of work left in me... I had done that much last run. I figured I can always go an additional 15-20 beyond my previous long run as well. I hoped that would get me to the car, to water and to food. Not to mention some dry clothes and a chair. I had quickly become TIRED!!! I reached my turn now... Babel Tower- this way. I knew what was left now. It was 11 minutes down to here. I had 20 minutes to go, probably. I paused to look at the gorge below. Above the foliage I could see a long way to all directions, except for the one I was headed in. There I saw a hill. The top was some 600 feet away. Go.
'One minute', I thought, 'run this minute.' Quickly I changed strategy. 'To that tree,' and ten feet later I would find another. My lungs were searing, my legs were beyond pain, in fact I did not really feel them except to know which rock my toe about to swing into. Twice on larger steps up I crashed into a heap. Each blow landing squarely on my shin in exactly the same spot. I laughed the first one off. The second was in slow motion, my brain thinking 'anything but this' and then 'flump' as the bare meat of the shin scraped against the leading edge of the rocky step. I did not laugh this time though I tried desperately. I was only relieved to run on ever so slowly. I was getting a fast food version of some of those stories from Hardrock and Western States. For the record I was not thinking anything grand, except 'get to the car'.
At 2:40 I was cooked. I could no longer think about running and I gave in. I walk it back to the car, saw the cell flashing and saw my wife had called to see if I was alive. I rung her to confirm my state and then sat down. The goal today was 2:30 of rugged running. I was given all I could handle and more. I broke. In some aspects this was a failure but in most it was full success. The terrain I encountered was much more demanding than anything the Chattooga will offer. The time I spent on my feet was more than planned and I learned to carry more water (To think I was not going to carry ANY). The only question we have to answer at the end of all of this is, 'Was it worth it?' If we say yes, then we know we lived with passion and that is not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
(Then I went home and ate a half of a meatloaf)