"It's a matter of instinct, it's a matter of conditioning, it's a matter of fact... well, I'm lying in bed just like Brian Wilson did." - Barenaked Ladies, "Brian Wilson"
I'd been sick for a week before Voyageur and every day my expectations for the race dwindled. Then my knee started to hurt mysteriously; on one of the rare occasions I left my bedroom, I tested it and found I could walk uphill and downhill and I jogged across an intersection, so I felt I could be ready to run in two days. Probing around, I found the iliotibial band was tender, as were the hip flexors and glutes and there was an ache all along the sciatic nerve - four times a day I worked out the kinks and it seemed to be healing. I didn't sleep for even a minute the night before the race, so there wasn't any morning stiffness. A mixed blessing.
I drove up to Carlton and started making the rounds of greeting people. There are a lot of friends I seem only to see at races and people I wanted to meet and there were a lot of people I didn't know who wanted to meet me. Through my blog I've become sort of a medium-sized fish in a miniscule pond. I was disappointed that the Danish couple, Rasmus and Tracy Hoeg, were nowhere to be seen, as this seemed like the only chance to meet them. The Bunks weren't there, marking the end of an era (Tom has over 20 finishes here).
In races I hope to run well, I take a mental stance something akin to a man going to war or an animal on the hunt. Others, I take a taoist approach of trying to be relaxed, part of the scenery, flowing like water through the course. Once in a while, I'll take the "let's have a party" approach. At Voyageur, I just seemed to be there; it was another day at the office.
I made it a point to start slowly, but I was behind Matt Patten for a bit and told him I left a present in one of his dropbags (hours later he'd tell me that he thought the wolf trap was funny). I backed off a bit and found myself with Doug Hansel (who's won the Superior 100), which meant I was still too fast and slowed down some more.
The first few miles are technical, but nothing difficult that early, just awful on the way back. I hit the first aid station at 36 minutes (compared to 34 the previous two years), but I couldn't get my heart rate to drop to where I wanted it. Slow AND labored - not a good sign. My white technical tee felt hot and wet (it was a humid day), so I took it off. I ran the Power Line hills with Scott Turi, who mentioned that I didn't do any of the things I said on the blog that one should when running hills. Busted! I'm a bad hill runner, I know it, I work on it, I ignore it.
I ran much of the rest of the first half with a guy whose name I never learned and told him what to expect; 15 miles later, when we met again, he said I saved him with my help. That makes the whole day worthwhile. I got caught by Rasmus, who told me he and Tracy had started late and that she had started the race running 7 minute miles, trying to make up for lost time (deadly in ultras). It would've taken a longer conversation for me to place his accent; my first thought was "Yooper." Only minutes later, Tracy caught me and we had an enjoyable chat, which ranged from baby names to the side effects of prednisone - odd, the things that come up.
Shortly before the turnaround, I had an urgent need to urinate and was surprised to see I was badly dehydrated. I grabbed a shirt from my drop bag, drank about 30 ounces of water at once and headed out at 4:50 (compared to 4:23 and 4:32 the past years). On the way back, I developed sudden diarrhea and jumped into the woods, seeing Julie Treder, Kami Holtz, Julie Berg and Connie Lutkevich pass. I ended up running with Julie Treder, who I hadn't met before (She has the thickest midwest accent you've ever heard. Val, Helen, Rasmus and Herb may have their exotic accents, but Julie's is amazing. And delightful.)
I briefly ran with Julie Berg and Doug Hansel, before Doug took off like a flash and Julie pulled ahead gradually. Julie (Treder) and I got caught by Scott, Larry Pederson's nephew (did I just mix the names of Larry's son and nephew again?), and the three of us had an enjoyable time, especially given where we were at the time. After Fon du Lac, where I discovered the shirt I wanted to wear (white, rather than the dark blue I had on) was missing, my heart rate was down to where it should be at last, as I climbed through the endless boardwalks and steps. On the power lines, my legs were already gone and I did the halting tiptoe dance downhill that tells me that the death march will come. The sun broke through the clouds and steam rose from everything - still, better than if they were rain-slicked!
Scott and I walked almost the entire next section, which is gradual uphill to the Peterson station, where he left me for good. Julie left me soon after, followed by... well, half of the field. At this point, I was peeing almost continuously, even though I was drinking little. I also had nausea for the first time ever in a race; it was mild and brief. It was a slow slog until I got to the last section, where I would've settled for slow. It had started raining and the technical section's rocks were slippery. In between the rocks was mud, which had streaks where shoes had slipped and water-filled footprints, whose depths were hard to gauge. In two particularly bad spots, I went bushwhacking off course, just for better footing; seeing Carl after the race covered in mud, I learned I made the right choice (and he said, "That's what I get for listening to your advice!")
I had nothing left, even for the final yards, where thankfully, not everyone had stayed indoors to be out of the rain. I crossed in 11:22. I checked the average heart rate on the Garmin and it was exactly what I'd expect for 11-12 hours; I just didn't expect to take that long, nor to have slowed so much.
The lesson learned: I'm not a good runner who had a bad day or even a bad year. I'm badly out of shape. I'm a 11:22 50 Miler and I have to live with it. If all had gone well, I might've shaved off 20 minutes, but the 10:09 of 2007 is truly just history now (and I walked 20 miles that year). I can't blame being sick or bad weather. The question is: what'll I do about it? It'll take a year or two to make a comeback. Will I? Do I want to? How many near cut-off finishes will I have to have before I call it quits or get angry enough to fight back?
The best photos of me, courtesy of Jen Pierce:
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