Saturday, January 14, 2012

Who's In Charge? - Little River Trail Run

Who's in charge? At any level, from the metaphysical to the mundane, this is a killer question. Given the mindless nature of the drivel on my little corner of the interwebs, you could probably guess that the question is very much on the mundane end of the spectrum. And you would be right of course! Who's in charge - of my running?

This has been a tough week physically for me. I'm training for the Umstead marathon, participating in the 12athon, and running other trail races for fun. A 21 mile run in hilly Umstead was followed by a killer swim laps session (I have triathlon fantasies of course!), which was followed by 5 miles of speed work (mile repeats), which was followed by a 12+ mile bonktastic run for the 12athon. So, stepping up to the line for a 10 mile trail race with nearly 40 miles of running on the books for the week would seem, to put it mildly, unwise for a mediocre middle aged runner with a crappy knee. Obviously, wisdom isn't in charge of my running.

What? You thought I was out in that cold air?
Wisdom be damned! I'm running Little River!
I ran Little River last year (I did my very first blog post about that race. Ahh memories....) and had a great time. Well, a great time other than the falling down part (there was snow!). And other than the incredible pain in my bum knee because of that fall, even though I blamed that pain on a knife wielding Sasquatch. I couldn't blame running! Running is pure goodness!

Like last year, it was cold. Last year 27F. This year 25F. But beautiful otherwise. I know that sounds bitterly cold, and it is, but only for the first mile or so of running. Then it's actually quite pleasant, in a masochistic sort of way.

After the previous week of running, I toned down my goals quite a bit. Usually I'll have two or more real measurable goals (metrics) for a race along with a bunch of softer goals. This time...

  • Finish. Yeah, that's it. Finish. Can you tell I'm a little tired?
  • Finish in 1:30 or better. I didn't think this was even in the neighborhood of possible, based on how tired I was feeling. But, aim high as they say...
  • Win something in the prize drawings after the race. Hey, it's the only "win" I'll ever get in a race, so don't roll your eyes like that... Not every one can be as fast as Cat Daddy Man or his old(er) alter ego, Chief Runs Down A Lot.
  • Touch base with some of the trail running folks I've met over the past  year.
  • Avoid the Sasquatch and his swiss army knife...
Who's in Charge?
Wandering out to the race start line, I was wondering exactly how this run might go. I wanted it to go well of course, but lately it seems like very little is in my direct control when it comes to running. Oh, I train hard and mentally prepare for races, but things seldom work the way I imagine they should. Today I decided I would use the old "who wants it more" approach. You know, that old sports metaphor about the winner being the one who simply wanted it more. Well, I can want with the best of them. I may even be a world class wanter! So, I would give "wanting" a try today.

The race started and I took off from the rear third of the pack. Having raced this course before, I knew the first couple of miles were an easy downhill to the river. So I let it rip! 

And nothing happened. 

My legs simply refused. No amount of wanting could force them to turn over any faster.

Ok, plan 1 out the window. Time for plan 2 - relax! Sometimes relaxing can give you speed that you wouldn't normally get by pushing hard. So, I relaxed and flowed down the trail to the river. I didn't run any faster, but it was definitely more enjoyable. But I wanted to go faster! Oh, wait, the wanting plan didn't pan out. Relax more! Remember, you run for fun...

By mile 4 I knew relaxing wasn't giving me any real speed. Time for a new plan. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a new plan (thinking on the run isn't a skill I possess), so I had to revert to Plan Want. But I added something extra in the form of  demands. I would Want and Demand my body to go faster. I not only wanted to go faster, I demanded that my legs move me faster. Move it legs! I'm in charge!

And nothing happened.

Mile 7 and I was becoming frustrated with my running. It was as if some invisible rope were attached to my waist, which when I reached a speed just below my goal pace, would yank me backwards. At this point, I was well out of my target window for the one hard goal that I wanted to achieve - finish in under 1:30. So, I simply stopped trying to achieve any goal, and concentrated on enjoying the run. I bantered with some of the other runners in my little group. I enjoyed the views of the beautiful North Carolina Wintertime forest. I just ran. 

And something happened.

I started passing people. One, then two more, then several more. I tried not to think about it. At mile 7 I was almost 10 minutes off my goal time, so there was no way I could make up that time in less than 3 miles. I just continued to run for joy.

Non-answers for Ridiculous Questions
As I crossed the line, I stopped my watch. It read 1:33. Not quite my goal, but I have no complaints. I ran the final 3 miles at a faster pace then the preceding 7. I feel good about that. 

As for my other goals, I did win a $5 discount on the purchase of a Sports Kilt. I wonder if wearing a kilt will make me faster? Doesn't matter. I'm a winner (of a $5 discount on a Sports Kilt)!

So, who's in charge of my running, you ask? I don't know, but it's definitely not me. And honestly, I really don't think it matters.