Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Limberlost 56K Race Report - a little redemption

“Oh Limberlost race report where Art tho?”
I promised JD that I would be quicker with this report than the last one. After he dropped Kim and I off from the race I am pretty sure he yelled out the car window “ Don’t take a month with this blog”. Well it hasn’t been a month but it must be getting close so here goes (by the way JD is always great getting his posts up quickly, see his report here).

We got up bright and early on July 17th to get ready to head out to the Limberlost trail race. That’s right another 3:45 wake up call all in the name of fitness and self induced pain. I was bright eyed and bushy tailed while Kim looked a little tired to me. My sleeping schedule the last few weeks has been pretty messed up so this was almost a normal wake up time for me, not so much for Kim.

JD showed up to pick us up just before 4:30 for the 3 hour drive up towards Huntsville. Thanks for the ride JD! I think both of us were pretty nervous about this race after we both put in such bad performances at Creemore. I know that I was kind of freaking out over my sudden rash of poor racing performances. We made great time and arrived at the race nice and early. The race was easy to find but we still got slightly lost as our GPS sent us past the race and down a logging road, around a big loop, back to where we started and then recalculated to send us down the proper road. It was really strange, technology rules, sort of. After arriving we spent the next half hour chatting with other racers. Both JD and I were doing 56k, which was 4 loops of the 14km course while Kim was running the 28km race.

Things began well off the starting line with a 400 meter run down a gravel road and then right into the trails. It was very hectic going for the first few KM with the 14, 28 and 56k runners all starting together and us ending up on single track trails very early on. I didn’t mind that much and used it to try and keep my pace in check although I always worry about this kind of crowding on the trail. It becomes very easy to catch a root or roll an ankle when you can’t see the trail directly in front of you.

The trail was really nice and well maintained but even early it seemed to be ever changing. I wondered if the course would be tough and found out soon enough. Right around 2k we hit the first really big hill which was a tough climb followed by a great deal of technical trail along the side of a lake. It rolled up and down as it snaked along the lakeside.

I have to say this course was beautiful, maybe the nicest trails I have ever run on but also deceptively tough. I have tried to figure out just what made it tough and I think that what it comes down to is that you just never seem to have anywhere on the course that you can make up time. In most races, especially loop courses once you know the course you know there are areas that you can conserve and other areas where you can really open it up and make up some time. With the exception of the brief road section at the start / end of the loop there was just nowhere like this. I found myself working hard almost all the time.

It was very hot in the early going and by 5k I was soaked. The course had great tree cover so you where not in directly sunlight very often but it was still hot with the humidity a whooping 97% at race time. There was a stiff wind occasionally but it was of little benefit.

The first loop went really well and somewhere around 6k I hooked up with Stephan M. who was running around my pace so I decided to stick with him for awhile. I hydrated and gelled as planned and as we came into the end of the first loop I was feeling really good.

Loop 2 – Here comes those aching feelings
We both headed out for the second loop together I tried to not torment Stephan too much with my ramblings. All seemed to be going good and I was on pace. My past race problems where briefly forgotten but not for long. Somewhere around 20k I began to slip. My legs were suddenly very heavy and I could really feel the heat. How could I be feeling tired this early? Oh wait I know maybe it has something to do with my stupidity (doesn’t it always). What stupidity you ask? Come on you know your asking. Well that would be the running the 10 miler Acura road race full out the weekend before. Hey what can I tell you I sometimes believe the laws of physics and the rules of recovery just don’t or at least shouldn’t apply to me. Yeah I know they always do but I keep forgetting. That’s what happens when you get old you conveniently forget important things that might save you from yourself.

I made a conscience decision to let Stephan, who was running well, go and try and adjust my pace. Even though I know why I was slowing some because of the last few races and the Creemore implosion I was getting paranoid about my race judgment or lack of it. I ran the rest of this loop conservatively but still felt okay about it.

Loop 3 – Grin and Bear it
I headed out for loop 3 slow and just got slower and slower. It was hot and I was struggling physically but even worse I was struggling mentally big time. I remember thinking oh no I am slowly headed towards another crash and burn, what the hell. I can remember going up the big hill 2km into the loop and thinking my god I have another 26km still to run, how is that possible. At 8km I spent a good deal of time thinking about what I would call this blog entry. Titles such as “How I became a 5k race fanatic” and the more simple but direct “Suckage” came to mind. My favorite though has to be “Lost: my race mojo, somewhere on the trail at Sulphur Springs. If found please return, reward offered no questions asked.”

This loop was a struggle and I was passed by a number of runners. Right around the 7km mark a guy passed me and soon was about 50 meters ahead. I watched as he crested the rise of a small hill just ahead of me and then something very strange happened, he came running back down the hill towards me. I began to think that’s odd, the guy is going the wrong way until he got close to me and then said that thing you never really want to hear, “BEAR!”.

What? Really, oh crap. He told me there was a bear on the trail right over the rise. It was so strange and somewhat surreal, a kind of okay what now moment. On the one hand I really wanted to see the bear, on the other hand I really wanted to not get eaten like a runner sandwich. I also figured I would be too tired to run away with any kind of speed at all. We decided to give the bear a minute or two to move on so we waited and then headed back up the hill. The bear was gone. I got to say I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see it lumbering back into the woods. As I made my way around the rest of the loop I wondered if the bear would reappear during loop 4 to carry me off into the woods never to be seen again like those kids in the Blair Witch Project (it’s a true story don’t you know).

With 2km left in the loop a guy and girl passed me. I don’t know why but this really pissed me off. It really had nothing to do with them but getting passed here really irked me.

I finished loop 3 feeling tired, grumpy and wishing I could drink the beer in our cooler right then and there. My loop time was really slow. Kim was at the turnaround having finished her race and I had to sit down and try to empty the crap out of my shoes. They were full of all kinds of debris and I lost about 3 to 5 minutes here. No more running without gaiters.

Loop 4 – Redemption?
I headed out for this loop with the objective to just run as well as I could, enjoy it and finish. I ran along through a trail that I was now very familiar with. Once again I can't even begin to convey to you just how gorgeous this course was. I was running alone, nobody in sight ahead or behind. It was up the big hill again and then along the lake for the last time. At some point I realized that I felt really good and was, do I dare say it, running well. I remember thinking okay just go with it don’t question it and so I did.

As I ran through what I now called the "bear zone" I heard cracking branches behind me on the trail... Oh no. I looked back but there was no bear in site, instead I watched as a large dead tree branch fell from the sky and smashed into the trail 20 meters behind me. Wow that was close, this part of the trail is kind of scary. I pondered this as I keep my eyes peeled for large furry creatures. Then I heard cracking again but this time it was right in front of me. I stopped dead in my tracks and just in time as another huge dead branch fell 5 meters in front of me and shattered into many peices. If I had not stopped I would have took that one right in the head. Ah the forest is such a fickle place. Don't worry though I have a very hard head.

The KMs clicked by and I felt better than I had in 3 or 4 hours. At the 8k point I passed someone and then caught someone else. At the 9.5k aid station I caught up to the guy that had seen the bear and we left the station together.

I was still feeling good and it was freaking me out. This is how things had been early in the season for me (minus my crappy loop 3). In April and May I had been running well early and finishing very strong. Could I have rediscovered my Mojo? I made a decision here to just let loose for the last part of the race and run with reckless abandon. I quickly dropped the runner I was with and before long had passed another. With a couple km left I could hear people up ahead and soon I saw them. It was the couple that had passed me last loop and left me in a very grumpy mood. Now they had done nothing wrong and actually seemed like nice people but I decided that I would make them the bane of my existence. I would catch them and crush them. So I did, quickly catching them and leaving them behind. I used the thought of them maybe catching me like a cattle prod in the ass and ran the last few KMs at a very painful pace. Then I was done.

There was some good and bad here but mostly good so lets start with the bad. My time was slow relatively speaking. I was maybe 30 minutes slower then I should have been but it is what it is. It's amazing how tentative you can get when you are wallowing in self doubt. Also once again I didn’t run well in the heat.
The good far outweighs the bad. I believe I have pulled my sorry ass out of the funk I have been running in and that makes me happy. My time was slow but I ran really well late in the race.

The event itself was awesome with difficult but amazing trails that were well marked and diverse. The organization was top notch from the prerace registration to the aid stations to the post race food. The only thing they might want to think about changing is staggering the starts for the different races and also maybe add a 50 miler. Also some kind of finisher medal or token would be cool as I like shiny metal. This race will definitely be on my calendar next year.

Next up Dirty Girls 24hr trail race this coming weekend.
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