Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Learning the Hard Way - Race Season Prologue and Epilogue

May You Live in Interesting Times
I used to be really, really small,
but also very fit.
I started running again in January of 2010 after about 12 years of time off. I take my time off seriously. Between my last official run, Race for the Cure 5K in 1998, and January of last year, I alternated between the disciplines of skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and trashing my left knee. I really excelled at trashing my knee. But at least I was in good shape...

By 2006 I was on my third ACL revision, coupled with lots of side work, including MCL reconstruction, cartilage removal, meniscus removal, and massive scar tissue removal (I also excel at growing copious amounts of scar tissue apparently).
Yes, this hurts. Very, very much.
Tired of being on a first name basis with the orthopedic surgeons at Duke University, I decided to stop putting my knee in danger. Actually, I decided to just stop. I had two kids, a very stressful job (anyone up for going through 20 layoffs in under 10 years?) and no time.

Yes, that is my gut.
There was a downside to dialing back nearly all of my cardio activities and concentrating on building my expertise in beer drinking. By 2009 I had gained over 30 pounds and was spiraling into a mid-life health crisis (too many boring details for a place like this). I decided to do something about it before it was too late. I cleaned up my diet and started walking on the dreadmill.

I hated the dreadmill. Hated it with a burning passion. So, I tried to run again. And failed miserably. I couldn't manage a quarter mile without severe knee pain, followed by severe knee swelling, followed by severe depression. OK, maybe not severe depression, but definitely a deep dark mental funk, curable only by massive quantities of beer.

May You Come to the Attention of Those in Authority
I read Born To Run over the holidays of that year and decided to try to learn to run again from scratch in 2010. I bought some Vibram Five Fingers and hit the track. On a cold January afternoon, I somehow managed a first run of one third of a mile with no knee pain. I was on to something here!

“To punish me for my contempt for authority,
fate made me an authority myself.” — Albert Einstein
Over the course of the next 10 months I would re-invent myself as a runner, using a more gentle running form and lots of advice from many very cool, knowledgeable people on Barefoot Ted's most excellent Huaraches Google Group. I'll save that journey for another post. Suffice it to say, I was no smarter on my path back to running than I have been in any of my races this past season. My ortho surgeon actually called me an idiot, but I love stickin' it to the man (who was in this case, a woman) and somehow struggled through until I was ready for my first race.

In the end, I consider myself a bit of an authority on how not to transition to minimalist running.

May Your Wishes be Granted
First 10 mile race. Fat poetry in motion, but
at least I looked like I knew what I was doing.
By late September of 2010, I felt overly confident enough to sign up for a couple of races. My goal for the fall was to run a half marathon, so I signed up for the City of Oaks Half. But as part of my training ramp for the half, I also signed up for the American Tobacco Trail 10 Miler. I wasn't really enjoying the training grind of the half marathon prep, but as soon as I ran the Tobacco Trail 10 mile, I was seriously hooked. I loved racing. Not that I was any good (see subtitle of this blog...), but I really enjoyed the atmosphere, camaraderie, and overall vibe of the event.

I totally wrecked myself during the Tobacco Trail race. My pace was over a minute faster than any training run and I paid dearly for it. I slept for 15 hours after that race. I was so sore, I didn't think I would be able to run the half marathon two weeks later. 

But I did run the Raleigh Oaks Half Marathon two weeks later, and even finished in under 2 hours, but by that point, I was totally burned out. The training plan had killed all the joy I had felt about rediscovering running.

I decided to simply stop any sort of real "training" and just run by feel, for joy alone. And it worked! I took long leisurely runs through Umstead State Park on the bridle paths and rediscovered the primitive joy of running. I guess that's why Umstead is still so special to me.

Still, I wanted to do more races, but not necessarily longer road races, so on a whim I signed up for my first trail race - Run at the Rock. I had so much fun training on the Umstead hiking trails, and then running the race, that I immediately signed up for another trail race - Little River Trail Race. My very first blog post was a race report for the Little River race.

The rest is blog history. I continued to sign up for all sorts of races. I continued to do stupid things. I continued to blog about those stupid things. 

Last half marathon.
My hair has fallen out, but my leg
has finally grown some quads.
And yes, I really am still as confused
about running as I look in this picture...
In the end, I ran 10 races ranging from 4 miles to marathon distance, mostly on trails. I've met some cool folks through trail racing, both online and offline, this past year, and that more than anything else has been the most rewarding aspect of it all. Thanks to everyone who has tolerated my snarky comments on their own blogs, and a special thanks to everyone who reads my blog.