"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Just what was I thinking?

Last night, I joined Matt for his planned all night run at Afton. I wanted to see how my many injuries were healing and needed to know how much stamina I've lost in the past couple of months. The news wasn't good. I was tiring and having trouble keeping up with Matt 20 miles in (and he was planning on 60+) . It was good to be out there, though. Bill came in from Hastings to do the first lap and Zach and Jim were there for the second. I hear many others showed up later that night, but I was in the car, listening to Crap From the Past when it started at 10:30.

Matt says the first thing that goes when he tires is his short-term memory. For me, I have trouble getting my eyes to adjust to changing light (ever notice that, when you head into the woods, it's always a steep downhill? Try doing it blind) and then I get clumsy. So, I couldn't see the trail and I fell. On the bad hip and bad shoulder. It wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been, but I decided to call it a night and think about Voyageur next week.

Now that 10 hour prediction looks very rosy. I'll be happy just to finish. Of course, race day, I'll go out much too fast, but that's just the way I am.

A couple of weeks ago, I was running hill repeats at Hyland with a guy named Phil and he asked me, "Why do we do this?" It's not the type of question I'll entertain when in the middle of things, but I've thought about it a lot since.

Why I'm running races I don't do well

I'm not a natural ultrarunner; I'm all fast-twitch fibers and lactic acid. I'm not a natural trail runner; I don't run hills particularly well and I'm really bad at technical courses. I'm also doing a ton of races when I've reached that horrible age when I don't recover quickly. Add to that a propensity to go out too fast and to dehydrate, to swell and chafe and blister, to not be able to stomach food when running and to suffer in bad weather and to fall and get injured, one has to wonder why I do it.

I do it BECAUSE I don't do it well. There are some things that come to me easily and things I learn at lightning speed; they might impress others, but there's no challenge. There are other things that I just never master and which I learn very slowly with tremendous effort, when they come easily to others - those are the things I enjoy. I love to play chess, because I'm terrible at it (I could be a champion at postal chess, but over a board, I'm hopeless). I'm interested in foreign languages, because it takes me years to learn a few phrases - and then I forget them.

[This is the point when Lori would say this explains my love life; I enjoy it because I'm bad at it. I miss that wit.]

When I reached the point where I couldn't win the short road races any more, I couldn't be satisfied with running a slow 5K (about 17:00 at the time) and taking third among the old guys in large races. It was a treadmill of racing every weekend and never actually meeting anyone. Everyone would show up at the last second and leave the moment they finished and there wasn't any fun racing people who were just names in the race results.

Now I get to run with others and have conversations and see the wildlife along the way (there're feral cats at Afton. I saw them fishing as I ended last night. Matt was impressed by the size of the eagles and vultures, so I got to enjoy his surprise vicariously.) I get to learn about all the things that can go wrong when the body is pushed beyond its limits - for 10 hours or more. I get to think about the puzzles of clothing and gadgetry and not-quite-foods.

So, if I accidentally do well, like I did at Trail Mix, it's a lot like my first races, when I got to wonder if I could do even better. And, if I get hurt like I did at Afton (and Superior and...), I get to find out what the limits of human endurance really are.

Today, I don't feel so good. Tomorrow, I might be back on the hills. That's the way I like it, I guess.



take care of your body so you can keep doing this with us in another ten years.

phillip said...

Its comforting, somehow, having the 'Fab 5 Fifties'
Trail Series Race Director out leading the charge on the paths. We're getting deep in the calendar now.

Voyageur will be special fun for you and all this year with cooler weather.
That's a guarantee.

Phillip Gary Smith

keith said...

Crazy all night running. Just glad I didn't find anyone sleeping (or otherwise) on the trails this morning.

Take care of yourself and have a nice, refreshing run at Voyageur.

Diane said...

Be careful! Don't push yourself so hard that you limit yourself for the future!

Matthew Patten said...


You used good sense Friday night. You stopped while you were still in control of everything.

I bet you were worried that vulture was keeping a tasty eye on you.

You would have been amused by the "inexperienced" horse riders when we saw them again. They were in WAY over their heads.

Good luck next weekend.