Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nothing Like the Sun - Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon

There's nothing like an alarm going off at 5:30AM to make me second guess my running decisions. Especially after a night spent soothing my sick, young son. But, I can't let parenthood get in the way of my running stupidity, so I stagger from bed with a strange, nostalgic feeling - the feeling I used to get after pulling all-nighters in college to finish some huge project I had procrastinated into an emergency - the feeling like my internal organs had been burned to cinders, and I was powered only by smoke and glowing embers.

Stumbling to my car in the darkness, I wondered how a zombie might perform in endurance sports (yes, my brain actually works this way). Pain would be irrelevant of course, and as long as limbs didn't fall off, running a half marathon should be no problem for the undead. Suddenly, I had my motivation for the day's race.

Photo by Jim M.
Pre Race - Zombie Running
Zombie running made perfect sense to me. I had foresworn my pre-race coffee due to the many unfortunate pre-race port-o-potty incidents of the past  8 months, and that alone had pushed me into the physiological realm of the undead. All I had to do was to embrace the idea of running like a dead man.

I knew the race would be tough due to the expected heat (I'm not acclimatized to heat yet, especially after a winter full of trail races), so I had filled my newly purchased Amphipod handheld with the preferred zombie fluid of choice, brain juice (yes, ask any zombie!).

Race Venue
The race was to be run (mostly) as an out and back course in Umstead State Park on the Reedy Creek bridal trail (essentially a dirt road, not really a trail). The first and last mile or so was to be run on streets and Black Creek Greenway (paved).

I love Umstead. I wished I lived near enough to run through it every day, however working at SAS allows me to skip over to the park during the work week for a quick trail run whenever I feel the need.

I knew the course very well, and thought, even in my zombie state, I should be able to pull off a sub 2 hour time. Apparently, I've learned nothing during the past 8 months of running races...

The Stats
Before I get to the race details, here are the brilliant stats:

  • Hours of sleep before the race - 3 (maybe), but zombies don't need no stinking sleep!
  • Pre-race snacks - None! The zombie colon must not be awakened!
  • Time at the half way point - 50(ish) minutes
  • Brains consumed during the race - Only 1 (my own)
The Race 
Sub 2 hour for a half marathon on Reedy Creek Bridal Trail in Umstead - I could do it! Heck, I've done it on training runs. This should be a zombie walk in the park. I had my handheld bottle full of brain juice, so I didn't need to stop at any of the aid stations, so right there, I am already 30 seconds ahead of the game.

Miles 1 - 7 : Hey Look, I'm Doing It!
Honestly, I don't remember much about the first 7 miles, except that I enjoyed them. Easy, fun, brainless (brain-dead) running at about a 8:30 minute per mile pace. I arrived at the half way point around the 50 minute mark, so felt very confident of finishing in under 2 hours.

Miles 7 - 9 : Adding Insult to Injury
Instant death - Injury Hill; $200 Fine - Insult Hill
I knew miles 7 through 9 would be tough since I had to climb some of the steepest hills in Umstead. When I "ran" the Umstead Marathon, these hills were named Corkscrew Hill and Cemetary Hill. After running them repeatedly during the past year, I would personally rename them Insult Hill and Injury Hill. 

My only goal was to NOT WALK during this segment. When the pain set in, I retreated into zombie mode. Run.. Run... Run... Brains... Run... Run... Don't walk... Run... Run... Brains...

After slogging up Injury Hill, I took a swig of my brain juice and nearly hurled into the nearest ditch. Turns out that warm coconut water is not even palatable for a zombie. Now I know why zombies alway appear to have a pale greenish complexion. You have been warned!

Happily, I made it up Insult Hill without walking, however, one guy did pass me while I was "running", even though he appeared to be walking. Damn you, Insult Hill!

Miles 9 - 11 : Arise from your Grave!
Passing through the aid station at mile 9, I was unexpectedly greeted by Shannon, the photographic uber-talent behind the most excellent Running Down blog. I was in such a zombie stupor, that I could barely cobble together a coherent greeting before I realized that I had stopped running and was standing still at the aid station table like.... well, like a zombie. 

My internal hall monitor screamed "Run Fool! RUN!!!!"

In what seemed to be slow motion, I turned and continued my zombie rambling towards the finish line. A mile or so after that encounter, I realize that AC, the author of the Running Down blog,  was behind the aid station table. Sorry for not saying hello, AC. Insult and Injury Hills had taken their toll on my already rotting brain.

After the hills and the aid station, I got my second wind and picked up the pace again. I passed many people before exiting Umstead and was absolutely sure I would finish in under 2 hours.

Miles 11-13.1 : The Metamorphosis
I emerged from Umstead and entered Black Creek Greenway near Crabtree Lake. The entire race to this point had been mostly in comfortable shade, but now, next to the lake, there was no place to hide. A solid mile of open space lay ahead of me. 

No problem, I thought, just keep cranking away. However, within seconds of entering the sunlight, I felt a weight descend on my shoulders. The sun's rays seems to be hammering me into the pavement of the trail. The air became thick. I struggled to push through, but my legs refused. I felt dizzy and the top of my head began to tingle. A horrific realization dawned upon my addled brain. I wasn't a zombie after all. I was Nosferatu!
Not the sun!!
As the Sun roasted my vampire flesh, I slowed. Eventually, I slowed to a walk - closer to a crawl actually. I had overheated and was well on my way towards heat stroke. I don't know how long it took to crawl through that sunny mile, but it seemed like hours.

The last mile of the course was back in the trees on the greenway. I recovered somewhat and began running again, but was still feeling very sick. I trudged into a very disappointing finish of 2 hours and 3 minutes. 

I alway strive to learn something each race. I want to learn something about myself, about life, about racing, about running, or simply about the world in general. This race was no exception.

So, what did I learn? Nothing specific really. I reinforced a feeling that's been building in my mind for the past few months. Road racing isn't for me, even when the road is nearly a trail. What I love is the shadowy solitude of running single track trails. I need to be enveloped within the arms of the forest - wrapped in the the shady comfort of the trees. The trail is my mistress, and my mistress' eyes are nothing like the Sun.