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.

Epilogue
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.





16 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Harold. It was good to share some race time with you again.

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  2. Nice job sticking with it. It would be SO easy to bail at 23 when you hit that last aid station at the shelter. I hope you've managed to enjoy some of those pale ales.

    Ron

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    1. Thanks, Ron. I have definitely enjoyed a few pale ales since the race. I definitely considered bailing at 23 miles. But I'm stubborn about some things.

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  3. But you looked soooooo good at the Firetower aid station!!!! Sorry Scott! But you are sooo right! It's really not about running at all . . . its about people - friends and relationships! Congratulations on your WIN!

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    1. Thanks Frank. I usually don't say I have something like a PR in the bag unless I really feel I can do it (and I *did* feel really good at Firetower). Just goes to show how much changed in the next mile and half. Races (and my body) are unpredictable. That's what make them so fun, I guess.

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  4. Damn sorry your foot turned on you like, that, Scott! It's a rogue beast, I'd say. You can tame it, man!
    And, regardless of your feelings toward the finish, I'm still enormously envious that you were able to participate in this superb example of a trail marathon. I hope I'll have time next year.
    Congrats on finishing in spite of the suffering! That's a strength, you know. I've read about it.

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    1. Thanks Ash! The foot is actually improving. It's going into the weeds at greater and greater distances, so I think it's on a positive healing trend. We'll see how it recovers from this big meltdown though. Missed seeing you out there this year!

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  5. Sixth trail marathon already?! Dude, your foot might hurt, but you're still a badass machine. Your recap made me think back to the trail half I "ran" in August wherein I received a beatdown from Flipper Foot. I was pretty much over the whole running thing by the end of that. Beer worked wonders.

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    1. Crazy huh, Iris?! I still can't believe it's my SIXTH marathon either. You'd think I would be getting better at them. :-)

      Oh, and beer did work wonders for me, but I'll have to keep testing it to make sure that was really the recovery mechanism.

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  6. Sorry to hear about the foot dude! Still a good time for that course. I know you will shake it off and sign up to meet Uncle Uwharrie in February!

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    1. Thanks Gene! I'm already signed up for Uwharrie again, but only the 20 miler this time. I'm making Umstead Marathon my A race for Spring and 20 miles of Uwharrie hills 4 weeks out is just perfect training.

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  7. Dude, you did awesome just hanging in there and finishing. Do you know how hard it is to run a sub-4 marathon on trails? I've yet to hit sub-4 on roads. I've had my share of disappointing races and often left upset with my performance. Congrats on putting a positive spin on it. The running community is an awesome and supporting group of people, and it's great to draw from that camaraderie.

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    1. I'm really beginning to understand exactly how hard it will be to run a sub-4 on trails, Bob. I think I have the training formula down finally, but I'll need to be totally healthy to pull it off. Thanks for the kind words!

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  8. Feet suck. You looked like a machine to me. 26.2 is so far out of range right now its laughable. I'm going to start building slow on my gimpy foundation. If you don't get a bit of rest I might meet you in the middle around 13.1. Way to hang in there.

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    1. Thanks Ryan. I'm hoping we can meet at 20 in Uwharrie, even if we both have to limp the last 7 miles. At least we can soak our feet in the streams after Dennis Mountain. :-)

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