Sunday, October 20, 2013

Success Through Failure - Medoc Trail Marathon

"I'm giving up on running. I'm OUT! Running sucks. Running injured sucks even more! And having a wheel fall off during the last 6 miles of a marathon is just miserable. I'm tired of this whole lifestyle. Too much training. Too much pain. I could be sitting at home, drinking a nice cold pale ale and enjoying life. Instead, I'm cursing every painful footstep just trying to get to the finish line."

I think every runner has lived through that sort of mental train wreck in one race or another, and I'm no exception. It's exactly what I was thinking in the last 6 miles of the Medoc Trail Marathon this year. But before I get too far into the Freudian analysis of my self destruction, I want to talk about the race itself.

The Race
Aside from the great course, excellent aid stations, and superior race swag, what makes the race truly exceptional are the people. Medoc is magic, and the magic ingredient is the people who make it possible.

This is my third year of running the Medoc Trail Marathon, and honestly, the race just gets better and better each year. I just can't say enough good things about the guys who organize the race and the volunteers who spend their day in the remote woods of Medoc Mountain State Park cheering on the runners and serving up gallons of Gatorade and other goodies. You people are simply awesome! I wish I could do something greater than simply saying "Thank you!"

I've said this before, but if you are thinking about your first trail marathon, or even your first marathon, do yourself a favor and sign up for Medoc. It's special. You won't regret it.

That Headsweats hat is from 2 years ago
(still my favorite finisher prize ever), but the shirt
medal and cap (awesome!) are this year's
marathon goodies.

My Race
OK, on to the deconstruction of my self destruction. Even with my gimpy, plantar fasciitis riddled foot, I thought I had the conditioning to finally pull off the elusive sub 4 hour trail marathon. In fact, I was sure of this, which was probably why I failed. Never make assumptions with anything related to running. Unless you want to make yourself look like an ass.

My foot has been steadily improving. I made it through the Salem Lake Trail 30K with no long term damage (even though the race itself was painful, I still maintained a sub 9 minute pace), and my fitness seemed better this year than in years past. But Medoc, and my foot, had other plans for me.

The first couple of laps (miles 1-17) went according to plan. I passed the a halfway point in exactly 2 hours, feeling pretty darned good. The foot felt tight, but overall was behaving itself and I felt comfortable with my pace. By the time I made it back to the start finish area (mile 18-ish), I had started to feel the first rumblings of pain in my foot and the 9 minute per mile single track effort was starting to really take a toll (I told my friend Ryan, who had finished the 10 miler and met me at the aid station, that I wished I were done). But I expected to be in this mental state around mile 18. Miles 18-26.2 wind through demon fighting country. You've got to be prepared to fight those mental demons. This being my 6th trail marathon, I assumed I had the right weapons for that battle.

The Lap of Failure
I'm good at modifying my race goals on the fly. Years of practice I guess. So, when I made it to the top of Medoc Mountain and arrived at the aid station outside the window of a possible 4 hour marathon, I quickly switched my goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon to simply beating my previous marathon PR (set last year at Medoc) of 4:18. I had plenty of time to make that goal and was still feeling pretty good physically, although my lack of 20+ mile training runs was starting to chip away at the foundations of my mental fortitude. With a bit of encouragement from Frank Lilley (one of the race organizers helping to run the aid station. See!? Awesome people!), I headed down off the mountain, confident in achieving a new marathon PR.

Unfortunately, my foot had other ideas. Ideas like "not running anymore" and "sending level 10 pain signals to my brain". Less than a mile from the top of Medoc Mountain, I was reduced to a hobbling shuffle. Pounding down the mountain at 8 minute pace had apparently pushed my foot to the breaking point. After 20 miles, my foot was DONE. Cooked. Smashed. Destroyed. And very, very angry at me for putting it through such an ordeal. So, for the last 6 miles of the race, it had its revenge. It sent wave after wave of high intensity pain signals into my fatigued brain anytime my pace crept below 13 minutes per mile.

Oh, I tried to compensate. I ran on my forefoot to take the pressure off my left heel. This resulted in a totally cramped calf around mile 23. I tried using my right leg to maintain the pace, but my right hamstrings just laughed at me and promptly took a cramp break around mile 24. Eventually, my entire lower body was just one giant convulsing cramp. I was an angry, cramping rock in a steady stream of other runners as they flowed past on their way to the finish.

Finishing And Friends Make Everything Better
Limping to the finish, I had the total mental break down (the opening of this post). I've never hated anything more than running in my entire life in those last few minutes. I crossed the finish line well outside my PR, and far, far away from my sub 4 hour goal. I crossed angry and miserable. But within seconds, I was surrounded by smiling friends. By other runners who had both good days and bad days out on the trail. And that camaraderie, that trail runner communal friendship, totally washed away my bad attitude. The failure had somehow reminded me of why I love trail running so much. The people.

How do you turn a total failure of a race into a success? Simple, look at it through a different lens. The goals we make for ourselves aren't the measure of happiness, or success, at the end of a race. What matters is friends, and fellowship. Simple connections with your fellow humans. That's success. And by that measure, I won Medoc this year.