Monday, April 2, 2012

Gator Trail 40k (of 50k) 2012.

Flash back one year ago to the 2011 Gator Trail 50k. Held on the trails of Lake Waccamaw State Park, Grant Egley's event was my first ultra and, in terms of mileage, it also contained my first marathon. The 31 miles passed as a personal triumph and cornerstone in my running life, imparting a new philosophy regarding my body, my mind, my abilities. The people I met were as supportive as they were diverse, and they were enjoying their lives.  Amazed and proud, emboldened and sovereign, I felt I could gain speed and confidence in distance running. I was hooked. Fast forward through a MTC shirt run, Grandfather Mountain Marathon, Weymouth Woods 100k, Wrightsville Beach Marathon, 1800 miles and 370 days.

2012 Gator Trail unfurled a new set of issues but the biggest was my 3h30pm shift. A vicious list of reservations had already populated the seating chart and there was no getting out of the shift. So, Friday's shift clocked out around midnight and the 5h30am alarm sounded Saturday with the dripping of coffee and a boiling h20 pot for oatmeal, some gear loaded up and then the family and we were off. Slightly Stoopid and a sunrise and a reunion with some familiar faces, the line up and briefing, and Grant's easy countdown to begin the big kicks into the sand and roots and lake mists of this coastal salt lake.

This was a jaunt and taunt run with a grand sense of reunion attached.  Mark Long, Bill Wiemer, Donald Drees, Marie-Ange and Stephanie Carter were there and I had something invested in each of their successes.  My run was more of a social thing with some trail mileage sandwiched in.  I had not planned on running the full 50km and, this being a looped event, I had easy options to drop in increments of 10k. A DNF bothered me little, rather the DNF-factor alchemized towards a rare opportunity for a “disposable” race. My decision and strategy was to charge ahead until the chain slipped the gears- just see what my legs held. The result was a great deal of play and excitement and an actual lead on the first lap. I've never been in first before, so to try a front-runner position was a helluva lot of fun, even if a total flop. Alternating pours of rain cooled the legs and torso and kept me feeling like a wild wet wolf on a hunt, invigorated. But I also knew my limits were hanging after the 18 mile- 20 mile mark.  And when I fell into third while urinating behind a tree, I felt part of my wolf-fight yawn.

Around mile five, a female caught up to run in synch with a bit of conversation, saying that this was her first 50k with one prior marathon. Her name was Leaanne and she turned on some mad afterburners about mile seven and became a Trysports-jerseyed flash in the woods. The girl was killing it, running the sandy access roads like it was the loop at Wrightsville beach, running the technical sections like she was navigating a low tide beach. She ran with a grace in the work that few accomplish, and she powered through for an overall first place after leading for nearly a marathon's distance. Marie-Ange was nearing with her artful form, and I was reminded of the strength of the local female running community. (New Hanover county boasts many talented female runners, but I don't know if the Gator Trail has ever been bested by a female. . . Leanne put up a great set of miles to get to that line.)

From there it was a good progression of miles with alternating rain in the flat light of an overcast morning. The surface of the trail offered passages of churned black mud and faster sandy stanzas (packed and manageable from the rain), staccato roots biting into stride with an increasing aggression as the miles accumulated in the legs. Breathing went ragged in the warming of the day and a consequential humidity, and my pace began struggling towards 8m30sec on the third lap. My IT bands and quads were getting slowly microwaved and, with one more loop to finish but an eight hour shift ahead, I formally dropped at mile 23.99 and 3h 16mins. I thanked Grant for putting on another great race, and he thanked me for coming out and participating. This is a man who created the Mississippi 50 mile run several decades ago, and who remains so humble to us stumbling newbies, so his graciousness is a diamond kindess. His wife was awesome and warm, offering one of her famous sandwiches. I shoved my soggy self into the car to start the process from trail running shoes to Danskos. 

Sushi and coffee and a shower and the time clock and I am polishing silverware and taking drink orders on a 9-top. Work went well and finished well, excluding a setting fatigue and a voracious appetite for every plate of food I served.  Especially the grouper filets and pommes frites and chocolate mousse. 

Many lessons came across my body, including:
a.) the need to pick up some S-caps for the Southern running season (thanks Brett!).
b.) Extend the long runs-- if your body is only accustomed to 18 mile runs, then 31 miles holds too much unknown, too much unencountered muscle damage. Your long runs in training constitute the high-water mark for stamina in racing-- Adrenalin only forgives so much.
c.) I need to learn to run through the pain. I continue to enpower the difficult parts over the passages where I run well, and the difficult miles cost all benefits of earlier exertions.
Finally and d.) I've learned from the Weymouth Woods and from the Quintiles Marathon that the training is as much about the recovery as it is about the actual race. To prepare the body for the work and the damage, and to teach the body how to heal itself, is as important as learning the footwork to take roots on a trail.And I felt good after the race, a minimal discomfort.

I think these are universal obstacles, and tomorrow, I will get an easy ten miler on some trails to start kneading the legclay back to a workable shape.