Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Weymouth woods 100k race.

Fourteen loops across 4.5 miles of sandhill trails hacked up by knobby-gnarled pine roots, fast descents dog-legging offa' redmud ascents, water-carved cuts of earth and pine needled miles padding the distance ahead, and the endless need to disregard the screaming quads, the setting sun, the runner that has now lapped you twice, the left knee, the right calve, the lumbar tug, the cold hands, and the massive rush of physicality thrusting you forward. Disregard the ultrarunner concerns with kidney damage, cardiac swelling, hypnotania, and know that ultrarunning deals as much with stamina and endurance as it does pain management. And know you are stronger than pain as you shuffle like a cinderblock mistakenly thrown as a bowling ball. It is only mile 52 and you still have 10.58 miles to go.

I am already excited for the next one.

ii. schwag and logistics.

The rd, Marie Lewis, put a helluva fine shirt (a printed patagonia capilene LS) and a printed sports bag together. She also secured a chip system to record splits and count loops when you were incompetent to do so (which I was for about 80% of the run). Professional quality, top-shelf stuff from a fellow ultrarunner.
Two aid stations divided the 14 loops into halves, as Marie's husband manned the grills and stocked the main aid station, where vegans and carnivores alike had their fill of options. (If you starved during this ultra, its 'cause you cracked your head open on the trail between aid stations and slowly succumbed. . . . no other excuse was valid. The food was downright luxurious-- especially the chicken noodle soup.) The frostbitten aid station in the middle of the trail loop offered rotating options, including peanut butter smores, pizza, and some of the best grits around.  A well-marked course, good schwag, good volunteers, good management, and a full day in the park makes for a great 100k.

iii. The basics, the course, the folks.

77 runners suited up for the ultra. mtc (mangum track club) was a major player, as was rfh (runner from hell). the calender put it on a saturday january 14th, and the starting temperature was a wintery upper 20's. A brief opening, a passecaglia of about 1/3 mile, allowed the runners to position themselves before entering the narrow trail where we would spend our day. The first half of the trail sort of leaned into some 4x4 steps carved into a hill and then slithered down a soft decline for a mile or so before tacking up some pined slopes and cutting into a narrow single-track which hovered above marshland. This area was so still and quiet, a tranquility point. A few foot-bridges kicked you across a gurgling brook and deposited you back at the foot of an incline which shot up towards an abandoned platoon, or a home, before eventually edging back around to skirt the road. 

Coming down into a tunneled area of woods was the sign “3 minute hostel,” and a chunk of my race was dominated by this sign. 
A.) they kept moving the sign. Slightly, but they moved it. 
B.) was it mile 3? was it a 3 minute pause? Was this the midpoint or a slightly advanced position, or neither. both. . . . awwhhh hell.

But this AS group made my run work-- their grits (sans buerre s'il te plait), and the generous portions of hot cocoa spiked with dark coffee kept me in the calories for the last 18 miles. If the loops were a single sine curve, the three minute hostel would be the -1 point from which the curve goes back into positive zone. a point to start over and invigorate.

The second half was the gnarl, continually wrecking me with sharp upshoots stepped by roots and tight turns, weighing against knees, hips, the sides of swelling feet, the arms moving and sculpting balance across the strides. The straighter passages, the few & the cruel, deceived the inner-competitor into accelerations, pushing long kicks through brief lunges of red clay hills, dodging the skree-clogged rivulets and collapses of sand and stone and pine-root steps, and then quad-busting declines that would make Kupricka a heel-striker.

The final bend, which I kept looking for well in advance of its appearance, allowed a view of the weymouth woods park building and museum. It was a morale boost to see that geometric form lift from the tree-line. You then jam up the gnarliest part of the course, a steep ascent of mixed steps and roots, everything being just spread out enough to force leg-lunges to clear necessary distance, or force a tight-gape powerhike.  either way you were getting burned up at the joints.  then came the final hill to a curve that brought you into the home chute and the main body of event.

All of these terrains and their exclusive challenges served to beat a body up, to pulp down a runner's guts, back, neck, legs, ankles, and to render them a jellyful thing lurking as a number on a leader board kept by the aid station. It was enthralling, a perfect combination of challenges.

Again, I can't wait to sign back up.

iv. my experience as a runner doing his first 100k.

I had never run beyond 32 miles.  my long runs during training were 2 to 3 hours, with a higher concentration on back-to-back mileage.  but my legs felt strong enough for the distance, and fast enough to compete on a racing scale.
Nutrition was a concern, but I had heed, gu gels, and a pretty good stomach, as well as some extra padding. As far as pace, I started conservative, and then realized I was running well (within a 1/2 mile), and I really wanted to keep the lead pack in my sights.  I began passing clusters of folks who were watching me with a quiet wisdom, a wise reserve. I wanted to keep a competitive and aggressive pace, for my level of running, and my garmin read 8min- 8min30s miles for the first 25km. I felt strong and determined as I reached my marathon point, though I thought 3h45min was a little extended from my goal time. Reaching 50k, I was around twenty minutes behind my gator trail 50k time, which I thought I would match in my current fitness. Privately, I thought I might better the time actually.  Slight buzzkill.

Middle miles are my weak point: there is little to anticipate but more running. Reviewing your accomplished miles does little to encourage; everything goes grey and melancholy.  Factory miles, shift miles, inattentive and grinding.  Whether a tuesday ten miler or a sunday 18 miler, my psyche is the same. But when my left knee went tweaky about mile 40, I was even more lost. This was when I considered the possibility of a drop.  My good friend Mark Long (and a helluva runner himself-- besting the Boogie twice and killing it across many marathons and ultras) recommended ibuprofen. I was wary, but after forcing out a painful powerhike across the total distance of a loop, I took his advice. Then a fellow runner offered me an S-Cap, repeating, “don't eat the brown acid.” my drowsy, somewhat defeated mind appreciated his humor, even if it took about two miles to do so. the combination of ibuprofen and restored electrolytes (ultra-ball (patent pending)) got everything rebalanced and runnable and off I kicked to clear some good loops out, trying to beat the sundown/moonup, try to reclaim some time.  Strangely, I ran alone much of this middle distance.  I rarely encountered someone, and when I did it was momentary and peripheral.  My quads cemented up around mile 54 and running slacked to a horror-hike, hands on quads on the uphills. My head was throbbing. I had long ago 86'd the ipod, and launched mental diatribes against anything that crossed my mind. Charlie Sheen had nothing on my rage as I kept jogging awkwardly through the woods to mark one more notch out. Night fell (enter another totally new experience:  nighttime trail running), and my headlamp was surreal and fantastic and I jogged/ran 60% of my final two laps in good spirit with an appreciation of the life-experience. I tumbled once, and that was in the last 100 yards of the race. A combination of nighttime running, fat roots on a steepish ascent, tired legs, and an effort to rush to the finish resulted in a fine allfours type roll. . . . no harm. My finish was 11h34 mins, a seventh place finish and a first for mangum track club, which earned me two fine pieces of pottery by a local potter and ultrarunner, Irene Russell. The time was enough to be proud of while also leaving a great gap for improvement. For a premiere 100k, I am pleased.

Ultimately the race was superb, while the actual work of the thing was neither good nor bad, just grueling in the middle miles. For sure, running 100 kilometers on trailed earth is something of a bitch. Meanwhile my body is still reconnecting the fissures and tears and thoughts and reabsorbing the swelling. My feet are no longer alligatorish, but I still have some bruising across the top of my feet from my shoe laces. My lungs are less fatigued, and my abdomen seems to be relaxing again. my shoulders feel like i got a beatdown and my energy-level is still off, but I can honestly say I have ran 62.58 miles. And regarding weymouth woods 100k, I can honeslty say i will do it again.


Bravo to the volunteers, to the organizers, to the cooks, to the runners, to the support crews and families, to the dogs, and to the park rangers who made this all work. Marie Lewis was extremely supportive and positive-- she brought a good vibe to her race.  Thanks to Mark Long, whom I would readily hire as an ultracoach if I weren't too far away. Thanks to my wife (who took all of the above pictures also-- quite the photographer!) and my little man and my dog maya for showing up and cheering me every loop, and for not laughing at me, no matter how much snot or pizza or confusion or hate was on my face. And thanks to the higher power that put me in a body that can accomplish such a thing, without chemicals and madness, and who lets me discover the joy in running this great golden earth.

Weymouth Woods 100k Trail Race, a preface and an aesthetic arguement.

Zeno's paradox, zendo of sand and long-leaf pine, the final passages of a blog.

I've been immersed in a strange, echo-layered existence of deja vu for a few weeks now. Nostalgia and reflective pause filter my thoughts sepia, washy technicolor. . . life like a rediscovered, bentcorner photograph, a bending into the past, a begging for a younger time.  its the paradigm of winter, really; distorted & false. sentiment and grovel.  a coffee-stained life, overexposed, overanalyzed.. . . like an artist working an image. . . . memory peels back the layered grounds, grinds down pigments, distorts contours, extracts an essence and makes prominent certain details. In spaces where a face once smiled towards a bird feeder, or a black bike leaned on a boat, there is only a textured-vinyl background yellowing. A skew of the facts. Exhaustion.  Anyway.

Running through the woods of cabarrus county, chasing the tiny sounds of snakes and birds, following the anemic splashes of five-mile creek. . . a filthy creek, but it meekly trickled, sulfuric and beer-canned, unabated. filthy was just the way the creek was, neither good nor bad to a child's understanding.  Water.  A place to play. We would swim there on occasion, a small fish or black snake swimming by. Bamboo thickets. Red clay. Roots like mad hands reaching out of the steep river banks. The long shadows swallowing the thick leaves that never seemed to decay. sweet oak scent. The cracking and shuffling of my steps.
It is probably in those woods that my love of running began. I spent hours in those woods as a young boy.  Solitude and exploration, the prominent traits of a runner or an artist, are embedded here.  From my love of being in the woods came a love of hikes, then the freedom to run down a mountain, an intoxicating thing, a self-reliant act, a collaboration of earth and body. My love for running down a mountain remains, but with age, you also learn to run up the mountain, to savor the work. To build on the work.

Fast forward to the years beyond cobblestoned cannon village, the smokey seats of gem theater, smells of axle grease/ sweat at earl's tire, shotguns trained on dove in rural concord fields, the wild splash of catfish at paul's lake, the doppler roll of summer halfpipes, virginia amtrack stations and the phillips & the hirshhorn, prague and west berlin, stravinsky and picasso, hemingway and modigliani, coltrane & mingus, a midnight collapse in a greensboro club, lost paintings, college flunk outs, strippers in atlanta with an armful of ecstacy, deaths and births, mushrooms of florida, loves and loss, farming tomatoes in the mountains, strolling galleries in asheville, ER and ache, the stomachknots of hate during intervals of detox, various other failures, various other happenings. . . the tragic magic of existence. Insomniac eyes that bled and craved; eyes turned inward, anger turned inwards. Life turned inward. Eyes riddled with fear, anxiety, panic, lost breath, the vicious collapse of reason. Paint, a whole love, a Love Intact, a boy that once gave freely, that feared little, that laughed heartily, that embraced. a boy like any boy:  nothing special but the fact of his existence, which is an absolute diamond-marvel.
But here approaches a culmination of work and love and life with a trail race of 100km, a horrorshow of struggle and a series of miracles equivalent to anyone else's life.  ultimately, the 100k is the thrust of my belief, it is a duchampian happening, a kinetic installation, a self-portrait.  an alchemy and a restoration.

I fully intend on finishing, I would like to make between ten and eleven hours, and I would like to continue running after a few days of rest. my mind reels the distance into a zeno paradox, and if I can stay in the act of the stride, the mile-to-mile part of it, the loop-to-loop, if i can sustain a belief in the mental/spiritual journey behind the musclework (which is only the vehicle, like linseed oil or a train or an instrument), and remain in the act of enduring, then I will finish a 100 km trail race.

in conclusion, to run is a very natural thing.  to paint is to compose, to embellish, to dramatize.  art is a sociological-psychological thing. myth exists in these two acts, but at very different levels of the work.  to engage in the more primal act is more certain an honest labor. and running is primal, innate, instinctual, a gut-level burn.  running is a communion of body and ground, of mind and legs, of distance and silence. painting is a soloist act, a zarathustrian trapezist. art is a propaganda (especially in a contemporary art market) while running is a meditation.
for now, i prefer running, though i still enjoy the oiley dry drag of a charcoal vine as it bites black into a thin layer of zinc-white gesso. meanwhile, wherever the burn goes. . . to weymouth.