Monday, October 15, 2012

Shirtless and Shiftless - Medoc Trail Marathon 2012

I haven't had the wind knocked out of me since I was 10, following a failed attempt to jump my Huffy bicycle over a dodgy ramp my older brother and I had constructed from some rotting boards and a couple of cinder blocks. I remember the crack of the board as my bike hit the ramp at something approaching mach 3, and the strange sensation of my bike suddenly stopping, while my body continued the jump across the handle bars and on out into open space. I actually had a moment to ponder my situation then, but all I could mentally muster was  the 10 year old equivalent of "Oh SH*T!!". It's funny how memories like that come back to you 30 odd years later, in the split second that you are airborne, just before thumping the trail at Medoc Mountain State Park with your bare chest. Really funny.

But, I'm getting way ahead of myself. Let's back up a bit and talk about Medoc Trail Races.

Twice As Nice
This was my second year running the marathon at Medoc. I had a great experience last year, and promised myself that I would return this year. Medoc is fast becoming one of my very favorite races. It has just the right mixture of challenging hills, fun twisty, bumpy sections, and lots of wicked fast riverside trail. I also love that the race is comprised of three long loops. Covering the same ground might sound monotonous, but there's something comforting about knowing exactly what's ahead of you when you start that last loop. Knowing where and when you can push just a bit harder or slow down just a skosh really helps to manage the mental demons that invariably make the charge through my oxygen starved brain late in a race.

And then there are the organizers and volunteers who make the race happen. Top notch! From the fully stocked aid stations to the post race finisher "surprises"and the excellent red beans and rice at the finish, I was never disappointed. The aid stations were especially fantastic this year, with potato chips, sugary sodas, gummy bears, various cookies, boiled potatoes (that's real race fuel folks!) along with the normal gels, water, and Gatorade. I might have actually gained weight during this race.

If you haven't run this race before, you should put it on your list. It's a winner.

Another perfect weather start at Medoc.


Doubling Down
Last year, I had one serious, time-based stretch goal for the race - to finish in under 5 hours. Somehow, I managed to put everything together and made that goal, but only by about 10 minutes. Never one to shy away from the (nearly) impossible, and (mostly) insane stretch goal, this year, I set the bar a bit higher. I would try to finish in under 4 hours. Stupid - it's what I do.

Goals

  • Finish in under 4 hours. Yeah, stupid.
  • Run shirtless. Hey, Medoc Man is a shirtless monster, so I figured he might mistake me for one of his mutant spawn and leave me alone during the race. Besides, blinding other racers with my pasty, pale, puny pectorals is just good race strategy.
  • Don't fall down. Well, you already know how that goal turned out.

Pre-Race
There seems to be a very bad trend of me catching some random virus the week before all of my big races. I think the viruses read this blog and only like the stories of defeat, failure, humiliation and injury. Personally, I agree with them, but that's beside the point. 

Right on cue, 3 days before the race, I got sick. Nasty head pounding, sinus pressure sick that put me in bed for a couple of days. In fact, I told myself the day before the race that if I woke up still feeling rotten, that I would just not run. The viruses must have caught wind of this, because I woke up feeling almost well. No headache and sinus mess, but very weak and tired. I decided I would run. I thought I could almost hear the tiny cheers of millions of viruses. Or maybe that was only the fluid draining from my sinuses.

Two Laps of Perfection
Weapon of Mass Distraction.
Yes, I run like that all the time.
(Photo courtesy of Jade Wei)
Well, the race didn't actually start perfectly. I was busying goofing off and talking to several friends in the starting corral and totally forgot to double knot my shoe laces (which *always* come untied if they aren't double knotted). So, 3 minutes into the race, I had to pull over and retie both shoes. In that minute I was passed by about 60 people, all of which I spent the next 20 miles passing to get back to the position from which I had started. Have I mentioned that I suck at racing?

But other than the shoe tying debacle at the start, the first two laps went very well. I ate a lot of boiled potatoes and drank a lot of flat soda and my stomach was very content. I ran what I thought was a solid 9 minute pace, only to find out it was really a solid 9:30-9:45 pace when I did the mental math. Unfortunately, that's all I could muster, but I'm used to disappointment. I think the sickness had really drained me the prior few days. I just didn't have that springy feeling in my legs. Once I realized that I wasn't (and more importantly, couldn't) make my ridiculous 4 hour goal, I decided to keep pushing as hard as I could just to see how close I could get. I was on course to finish in under 4:20 and that would still give me a big PR (previous PR of 4:31 if you care, which you shouldn't). So I slogged into the last lap determined to at least keep running and not start walking.

A Pair of Pummeled Pectorals
By mile 22 I knew I could make my time goal if I just stayed on my feet and dealt with the muscle pain that comes in that stage of a marathon. Easier said than done though. I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that running more quickly means dealing with more pain, especially in longer races. And I really hate pain. I like to enjoy my running, and pain makes that so much more difficult. Unfortunately, I'm also a very stubborn person, and when I'm denied something, even by my own body, I just push that much harder to get it (DON'T be me! This has been the cause of all of my injuries!).

So it was that I found myself stumbling along around mile 23, pushing hard and not paying full attention to what appeared to be a smooth, pine straw covered section of flat trail, when something grabbed my right foot and stopped it dead. Well the rest of me was still moving at 9:45 pace, and since my foot seemed to have been mugged by an invisible tree root, I headed through the air on a steep trajectory towards ground. I barely had time for the "OH SH*T!!" childhood flashback before I pounded Medoc Mountain State Park with my mighty, meatless, shirtless chest. Luckily, I didn't have enough time to get my wrists fully extended, and so avoided snapping them like overcooked chicken bones.

I was back on my feet and running in a split second. Isn't adrenaline amazing? And then my field of vision began to narrow, and darken. Adrenaline was pushing me forward, but my spasming diaphragm was not allowing my lungs to bellow. I stopped and sat down on the trail. It was sit down or fall down really. To say that this scared me would be an understatement. A 170+ bpm heart rate and nonfunctioning lungs is a bad combination. But in a handful of seconds, I finally managed to take a shallow breath. And then a deeper one. And in a few more seconds I was breathing normally again. 

I got back up and continued my run, with the mad banjos and lyrics of Mumford and Sons "I Will Wait" running through my head. I have no idea why. It must have made sense to my shaken brain at that moment. And somehow it helped. I ran really strong and free after that, finishing in 4:18:46.

Epilogue
I learned a few things about myself during this race. First, I'm capable of more than I think. I am able to run hard for long stretches without completely falling apart. Knowing the line between hard and stupid-hard is something I've been trying to learn since I started running. Medoc has helped me get one step closer to that realization. And for that, more than anything, I am grateful.

I've also learned that nipples make very poor landing gear for the human plane.