Sunday, October 16, 2011

Running Redemption - Medoc Trail Marathon

Running Atonement
After blundering through my first trail marathon at Umstead in March, I had this strange feeling. Dissatisfaction wasn't the right word, although there was some of that. Not that I was unhappy either. Quite the opposite in fact. I had pulled off a running coup of sorts. I had trained for a half marathon and "ran" a full marathon. Friends, especially running friends, were very happy for me, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I had somehow missed something.  I even felt a bit guilty. And then I felt guilty about feeling guilty. Of course, I felt guilty about that too. I'm good at guilt. Very, very good...

And then I felt stupid for feeling guilty in the first place. It was only running after all.

As the weeks went by, the answer to my nagging doubts finally dawned on me. I had missed the most important part of the first marathon experience - that sense of achievement and atonement for all of the hard work that comes with the finish. I had the "finish" but not the achievement. I could fix that.

Running Penance
I scanned through the various Fall race calendars and stumbled upon the Medoc Trail Marathon. The reviews for the race and the overall event were outstanding. So, four weeks after finishing Umstead, I signed up for Medoc. I knew that a mid-October marathon meant a late Summer of long runs in North Carolina. And that meant heat, pain and suffering. I loved the idea. This sort of thinking gets me into trouble all the time.

Fast forward to late August. It was noon and just over 90F. I was at mile 17 of a planned 18 mile long run. And I was hating everything about marathon training! My stomach was in knots from my fueling "experiments". My feet felt like I was running on hot coals. My hamstrings and glutes were cramping and contracting like demon possessed boa constrictors trapped in a pillow cases. Hubris? Stupidity? Take your pick. I would have admitted to either. After all, I wanted the "achievement"...

By September the sweltering North Carolina Summer finally broke. I was able to squeeze in my long runs on a few sub-tropical days and gradually, everything fell into place. I had worked out a successful 20 mile fueling strategy for my battered, gluten intolerant, 40-something colon, and I had figured out how to manage a long run aerobic effort. I even managed a couple of 21 mile runs where I was able to push for the last few miles, just to see how my body reacted. And mostly, it reacted well. I was ready.

Ryan, my race crew captain.
Running Redemption
Race week arrived and I was nervous. Well, paranoid actually. Mostly, I was nervous about my paranoia. I had done everything I set out to do in my training. There shouldn't have been anything to worry about. But, I worried nervously about my own paranoia anyway.

I had set both hard and stretch goals for the race. I would have been happy if I made all my hard goals. Ecstatic if I made even one of my stretch goals.

Hard Goals

  • Finish on the run, pushing instead of fading. Feel good about the last miles.
  • Talk to people during the race.
  • Enjoy every second of the race, even the low points. 
  • Trust in the training.

Stretch Goals

  • Manage my pace, and know my limits early in the race. I had yet to do this properly in any of my previous races.
  • Dodge every bullet ole Krampus shot in my direction by fueling properly and staying hydrated. I adopted the trail name of "Krampus" in a weak attempt at demi-god appeasement.
  • Finish in under 5 hours. None of my longer single track training runs had been at a pace that would put me below 5 hours. But I could dream...

Absolutely perfect day for a race.

For those of you who are already tired of reading this epic of mediocrity, here are the glorious race stats:

  • Trips - 5 (yes I counted, I always count. I work for a statistical analysis software company after all...)
  • Falls - Zero. I'm finally getting the hang of this trail running stuff. Now, watch me break my neck in the next race...
  • Cramps - Zero! Suck it, Krampus!! You can have your name back. I'm done with you. Please don't hurt me in my next race, Krampus!
  • Race conversations - Many! Trail runners are just very cool and friendly people.
  • Finish time - 4:49:16 at 11:03 pace

I achieved every one of my goals during the race. Every. Single. One.

The course was beautiful and comprised of a 8.x mile loop run 3 times. There was an excellent mixture of hard hills, fast flats, and fun rollers throughout the course. The few times I tripped were mostly because I was trying to absorb some of the beauty of the park. Medoc was a gorgeous place, much like Umstead. The race was very well organized and the volunteers were some of the most friendly and helpful that I've seen. I've already promised myself that I will run this race again year.

I have nothing exciting to tell you about my race itself. I started sanely, and made decent splits at each loop (1:3x, 1:3x, 1:4x) and most importantly, I was able to push hard the last 3 miles. I actually passed about ten people and had a very strong last mile. I never bonked or cramped, although it seemed like everyone around me was cramping during the last lap. Maybe Krampus was shooting at me and hitting innocent bystanders... If so, my apologies to all newly inducted members of the Krampus Running Club.

And by the way, I ran in my bedroom slippers.
I have discovered that the greatest challenge of my marathon training wasn't the brutality of the scheduled running - it was the paranoia. Towards the end of the long training cycle, I got the fear - fear of injury, fear of sickness, fear of failure.

But, I overcame my fears and my self doubts. I ran the race relaxed and happy. To paraphrase David Roche, the stonking winner of the 10 mile race at Medoc this year, running is full of highs and lows, but in the end, it's an amazing journey.