Do you want to kill yourself? Do you want to harm yourself?*
Yes, that is how you start out any interesting story that connects somehow, someway to strange world of trail running and all the insanity that comes with it.
I need to preface prior to the waterfall of thoughts, beliefs, and poor choices to state that I am not a medical professional (and the world is a slightly better place because of that). Everything that I am typing comes from personal experience (over the past 48 hours) that I firmly believe highlights the actual risk that is associated with our sport today.
Without further ado…let’s talk about breaking my heart…
First, let’s begin with a confession. I am competitive. Mentally at least, physically is more like a daydream on the days that I forget my medication. Internally though I am competitive. Even during strength class, when required to carry kettlebells like a jug of moonshine from down south down the street and back…yes, I wanted to complete it first. I am opening my heart, soul, and fears to confess that as a trail runner internally I am competitive.
Because of that, and my lack of experience, knowledge, skill, hopes, dream, etc…I tend to want to rush everything to ‘catch up’ with everyone else. However, the fun part of trail running, especially the endurance races, is that isn’t how it works. Patience, grace, and humility tend to be the building blocks of success.
I tend to miss those blocks, step on them in the middle of the night, and then wonder why we didn’t just replace the world’s landmines with Lego’s instead.
I am a teacher in my other life. That means the summers are designed for a time to recharge, refresh, and more importantly…run. The month of June this year was just littered with all sorts of new opportunities for me. Whether that was running the North Fork 50K, climbing around Quandary Peak, fishing in the Missouri heat, or learning that raves at night clubs have dress codes…I was moving around the nation literally the day after school got out.
Here’s the kicker to all of that though…
I never stopped.
I told myself that I would “recover” after North Fork by fishing and camping an entire weak in 90 degree heat in southern Missouri. The recovery from that trip would be me attempting (and failing) to climb my first 14er in Colorado the following weekend. Finally, the ease back into ‘reality’ I would not do anything strenuous for a while, I would just go to a rave, and finish the month with another 50K. Granted, to make sure I wasn’t too lax throughout the month I had yoga, a yoga mala, strength class, ab class, Monday run nights, Friday speed sessions, and all sorts of goodies in-between.
The knowledgeable, experienced runners know exactly where this story is going by now.
Two nights ago, on another normal Monday night run, I went running with my friends (yes, they are real). The final mile I was feeling spunky (because it was only 80 degrees, not the standard 1000 degrees outside), and in turn I dramatically** picked up the pace.
Dramatically: Going from a comfortable 16 minute pace down to a 10 minute pace and holding it for nearly a mile on single track.
Upon finishing my attempt at the land speed record (and likely causing the seismograph in the community to go off) I slowed down and walked out for some fresh air. That’s when I noticed my chest hurt. Yes, seriously, it felt like I had a cramp in my chest near the center. I laughed it off (freaked out internally) and went to dinner. At dinner I had a classic meltdown in front of the people at the table (so sorry!), and talked about my concern. They were all super chill.
I went to bed that night and woke up the next morning. The dull ache was still there (this is where the medical folks reading this go, “You’re an idiot!”), but I decided to go to yoga because I couldn’t figure out the different between a physical issue, anxiety, and a panic attack. After too many namaskars to count, a ton of sweat, and a moment of relaxation broken up by a Harley Davidson zooming away (to another country? Too soon?) I made the comment that the cramping, dull pain was still there…except that it was a little further to the left.
The next comment, I kid you not…
Go ahead and get in my car. We’re going to go get you checked out at urgent care. Actually…we’re going to the ER.
Now, this comment came from a person with medical background, someone very knowledgeable, and likely someone who did not want to perform CPR on my gangling, pasty body. I didn’t question, I just followed.
I could tell you the story of being in the ER, but solely off my writing style I’m certain you
can imagine what kind of dumpster fire that was. My blood pressure was through the roof, they couldn’t get me calmed down, and I could not shut up. Frankly, it was less like a hospital visit, and more like the final 5 minutes before a race starts.
After two EKG’s (heart stuff), a blood pressure cuff that freaked me out, two blood tests, a bag of IV fluids, being asked at least 10 times if I wanted to kill myself, and a really creepy lady named Betty (psych eval); I was out of the hospital by 12:30 AM this morning.
I went in at 8:00 PM last night.
Thankfully all of the signs for a cardio moment, like a heart attack, were negative. In fact almost everything looked rather healthy. However, there was one indicator on the blood work that caught the attention of all three doctors, nurse, and creepy Betty (you had to be there) was this stuff called Troponin. There was an amount of it that was found within the blood tests. Troponin is a protein enzyme that should stay in your heart, not the rest of your body. It is a protein that helps your heart contract when it is going through the beating process. If you have some sort of heart injury, heart attack, cardiovascular failure, Troponin can show up in your blood work.
It showed up in mine.
I was hooked to an IV, and practically told to chill. The results from everything else were not indicative of a heart attack. However, with that protein floating around, something was obviously amiss somewhere. After the IV was finished they ran the results again; the Troponin levels were back to normal. According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, if Troponin levels continue to stay elevated for days (10-14) it can indicate a heart attack has taken place. However, if the numbers drop there is a strong consideration of another piece in play.
Once the head doctor got my story of what I do with my free time (hehe), and started looking at the charts, everything was coming into focus. While preliminary (stress test ordered for next month), his thoughts are that I overexerted myself over the past month. Imagine your body being dehydrated for an entire month, imagine not taking legitimate rest days for an entire month, now you’re starting to see the same picture he was seeing.
The reality is that I pushed my heart, along with all other muscles, too far, too fast, and this was the result. Yes, I did injury my heart in this process. No, it was not a heart attack. Yes, it can result in a quick recovery if
you I play by the rules.
Rule 1: No, you cannot go run the Night Hawk 50K this Saturday. The doctor indicated that by crossing his arms in the form of an “X” and saying, “Times three.”
Rule 2: Yes, you do have to go get a stress test in July. That will cover anything else that may have been missed.
Rule 3: No, you cannot run or do strenuous activities prior to the stress test. You need to rest.
Rule 4: Yes, those closest to you will kill you if you try to violate any rules mentioned above.
Rule 5: Learn to rest.
For the experienced runner much of this information above is redundant and a whole lot of ‘duh’. However, for the rest of us I really do think it is a crucial lesson. I did not get an advantage over other people, I did not ‘up my game’ on the trails, and yes I did hurt myself in the process. The good news is that I am surrounded by knowing individuals who repeatedly keep me from making really bad choices, or at least are there to pick up the pieces afterwards.
It is easy to get excited, wrapped up in the fun, and in some cases make stupid ideas because they result in hilarious stories. At the same time, there is a fine line between trying new things and causing harm to yourself and your passion.
For once, even with a smile, let this be my lesson so that I can run further next time.
*I learned that it is common for people with heart attacks to sometimes feel lousy before the incident and become extremely depressed. Hence the constant checking.
**For humor purposes; 16 minute mile to a 10 minute mile…that’s dramatic in my world
I have learned of a few sayings in the trail running community over the span of the past two years:
The mountains are calling, I must go
Not all who wander, are lost
I am pleased to share that after studying each saying, reflecting on them with
granola crunchy hipsters trail runners, and dreaming of the cliche world of tattoos with these sayings on my wrist, back, foot, and heart…that I have come to a solid conclusion:
Both of these sayings are just traps set by higher powers in order to snare humans into despair, misery, and quite possibly death…or worse…all three.
Our story begins within the confinements of Arc’teryx. No, this is not a French statue, nor is it alphabet soup. Instead it represents some weird, dead bird-animal-thing that would make Jurassic Park blush if they knew how evil it truly was. In 2018 the dead bird-animal-thing has taken on an even scarier presence for people like myself; an outdoor clothing store. It was here, within the center of Denver, Colorado that I ran into two people that should have immediately been my indicator that I was in the mix of bad company, and eventual poor choices:
While chowing down on a burger** after hearing Adam speak about his endeavors and remarkable recovery, with Caleb, Kelsey, the manager of Arc’teryx, the winner of the 2017 High Lonesome 100 (Anthony Lee), my wife, and other random people throughout the region, I began to wonder if we’re all connected through bad ideas, good beer, and uplifting stories of perseverance.
Translation: I was near several insane people at the same time that can easily give way to an awesome opportunities to make some really stupid choices.
Welcome to 2018; my first race of the new year, and one thing really still hasn’t changed…
I’ll still find ways to harm myself in the middle of the woods surrounded by darkness, death, and poor choices. Why change what works?
Prior to adventures in the mountains and summer heat; I…being ‘all-knowing’ decided to “warm up” by traveling to the Potawatomi Trail Runs (aka: “The Pot”) in Pekin, Illinois. That’s next to North Pekin, South Pekin, East Peoria, and Peoria. Practically speaking; throw a compass out on your dash, drive to the middle of complete hopeless isolation, leave Chicago, find the other spot of hopeless isolation and you have found Pekin, Illinois.
Driving into the region is quite phenomenal. Understand that Potawatomi takes joy in their elevation claim through each loop (1600 feet). However, if you take any route into the area all you see if flat, corn, flat, corn, Casey’s Convenient Store, flat, and corn.
Do not let your guard down.
Do not feel better about your choice.
Do not go gently into that good night.
You. Will. Suffer.
It. Is. A. Lie.
“The Pot” is an older race within the midwest region. Having existed for well over 10 years. Translated into ultra-years that is quite a duration of pain and suffering. It is a strange race. There are several distance choices; the 200, 150, 100, 50, 30, and 10 mile options for all runners. The course is a
simp…unique 10 mile loop through almost all single track and a few water crossings. 200 and 150 runners start Thursday, 10 mile runners at night on Friday, 100 and 50 Saturday morning, and 30 Saturday night. The only rule? Be done by 4:00 PM Sunday. That’s it. That’s all you have to do.
Originally, I was slated to run the 50 mile race. However, with a random string of random injuries I made my first smart choice of my running career, and dropped to the 30 mile race. That meant that I would be starting in the dark, running through the night, and whimpering into the morning hours. The race, being in April, should have been moderate weather for the time of year. However, Mother Nature couldn’t just get over herself for one split second, and so it snowed at “The Pot”.
By the time my time came to start, the air was cold, the sky was clear, and we were moving between 20 and 15 degrees. Please note those water crossings that were still in this realm of hell.
The beginning of the race is a lie, much like the hope that you have in your soul, you start flat. Really flat. In fact, so flat that I’m proud to report that my first mile was under 10:00 minutes (any experienced distance runner knows what that means for later…). I was cooking under the stars. The beginning is an open, flat prairie priming you for the rest of the night. At mile two, next to a power line, I saw my first omen; a fried, dead woodpecker. That was all it took for me to realize that the night was just getting started.
After witnessing the crispy rendition of Woody, the trail began to show its real teeth. Like a bad roller coaster, I was soon plunged into the eternal darkness, this time without that attractive girl sitting next to me, that I waited all through middle school for that one moment, at that one drop, so that I could place my hand in hers…and cry like a little baby for the next thirty seconds, and remain dateless through the rest of your school years. No? Just me. Continuing on…
The course turned into a single track that weaved through the night, like an elegant, borderline murderous prose from Poe. I was stepping through and dropping down the best I could. One slip, and the flash backs of Bryce Canyon came flooding back,
If I fall right here. I’ll be impaled and then my neck will be snapped by the rocks 200 feet below. This is really scary at 10:30 at night…
I had been warned, via Facebook, that there was a rope on the course to assist you up a hill. Now, even at home we have a rope for a hill, and it is used when the course is muddy, but it isn’t…that bad. Knowing that, in the back of my mind, I continued my trot through the woods of darkness, and eventually my trail ended.
Literally. Just stopped. There was no place to go, I thought I got lost, and then while pondering my next move I heard it. That noise that can be distinguished over all other noises in the woods: profanity. I heard the “F#*@!” above me, and looked up. Just like the scene from Men In Black where the guy sees the other guy plastered to the ceiling by bug juice, I looked up and found where the trail had gone.
In the middle of the night the trail goes up, and it isn’t an incline…it’s a real wall. That rope? It wasn’t a guiding rope. It was that rope that you failed to climb during gym class through elementary and middle school. That’s all there was, and you had to figure out how to get up the evil thing. People were positioned, like drunk mountain goats, along the wall, cursing, crying, and Facetiming their loved ones, knowing it would be their last moment on this planet. I eyeballed the rope, eyeballed my waistline (while inserting a disappointed “sigh”), and realized it wasn’t going to work for me. Instead, I used the trail to its advantage. In northern Illinois there are no rocks on the trails. It is merely dirt and tree roots; that’s all. The roots are really annoying, unless you have the ability to convert them into a ladder.
Yes, at mile 4, I used the roots as ladder to drag my sorry self up that trail in the middle of the night. After catching my breath, thanking God above, I began on the next leg of the journey.
Unfortunately, what goes up, must go down and in “The Pot” that means it goes down at the same rate of angle as it does up. I thought my toes were going to bust through my shoes, my knees were going to crack, and really my ankles felt like T-1000* felt when he was trying to walk after being frozen by the Terminator with liquid nitrogen. That, was the downhill.
The process repeated itself throughout the course. The water crossings were…well…cold, and there were even reports of people getting slush in their shoes while crossing. It was that cold**.
Now, one of the highlights of this unique race is if you are a short distance runner, you get to enjoy running next to the amazing 150 and 200 mile runners. Granted, you’ll be tempted to pat them on the back. However, you won’t for two reasons:
It was not worth the risk.
By mile 7, I had started to realize that this course was quiteawful, my nightmares were flooding my soul, and the screams in the woods were intoxicating to the fear within me. Make no mistake; it was a hard, hard route. You could get lost, you could drown (maybe), you could freeze to death…in fact…there were so many random pieces to it, it felt like I may have taken a wrong turn and wound up at a random, secluded, race in the mountains of Tennessee.
It was at the moment that I thought that ridiculous notion, that I came across an intersection, and sure enough, to my right, was it. Through the paltry light of my headlamp, almost as an attempt to add insult to my evening, was a locked…yellow…gate. Similar to cooked woodpecker, its omen was one of reminding me what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what I needed to do to get out.
Past another creek crossing, through the labyrinth of dirt, I made my way to the disk golf course. Less than half a mile from the finish line I am proud to say that I finally got lost in a race, for approximately one hundred feet. Past that, it was just a short, hobbled stretch into the start finish line.
One lap: Completed.***
Upon passing the start/finish line. I walked over to my wife, laughed a bit, and proceeded to drop from the race.
Yes, you read that correctly, I dropped after 10 miles, just one loop. Why? Because my foot hurt and this was not my goal race. I have had physical therapy, more needles than I can count, A.R.T, and x-rays over the past four months. It has been frustrating, but thankfully it has been progressive. If I had gone out for two more laps (20 miles) there was a high likelihood that I could have messed up my foot with a real injury, and sidelined myself from a 50K in June. It was not worth the risk. Mike, the race director, was humored enough that he took a plaque and with a Sharpee wrote, “10 Mile” and handed it to me. I laughed at the aid station walking out, and I cried in the car heading to our hotel. Dropping is hard, and the regret afterwards is even worse.
Granted, even with dropping, that just justifies my excuse to cut classes and go run this race again (highly, highly recommended).
*Truly, he was the real victim
**Shoutout to the ladies who pulled trash bags over their shoes prior to hopping into the creek, you are the real MVP
***For the math pros out there; that would mean you would run that same course 20 times for the 200 mile race
Someday’s it is best to be cliche.
Looking through the last week of 2017, and the first week of 2018, I noted the people who braved that rabid society of judgement and departure, and posted their goals in the running/health world for the upcoming year.
Make no mistake; I am not a fan of resolutions just because January 1, 2018. Nothing exploded. No one died(ish). Computers still work (s/o to my Y2K peeps). However, I would venture to believe that resolution versus goal could be a fair argument. We make goals. I make goals daily; one day it is only one cookie, one day the goal is twelve. My goal this weekend was to run for hours in the cold, my secondary goal was to eat McDonald’s driving home after said first goal. We are goal driven creatures. We scream the word (in multiple languages) for fun and excitement, it is an embodiment of society. We have to create goals, otherwise the world of Wall-E is closer then any of us care to confess.
With that rant said, all robots aside, I would love to divulge into my goals for the 2018 race season. My self-esteem tends to run between 0-1%, so most judgement is treated like the fur of an otter (they are so cute!), so enjoy these goals while I type (and enjoy my 10% Southern Tier Choklat Stout).
Goal #1: Less is More
I ran a total of 10 different trail races in 2017, that does not include the three suicide missions (AKA: pacing) deep into the night in sketchy places throughout the Midwest. The truth is, much like a drooling, peeing puppy, I got excited about this whole ‘trail thing’, and tried to load up on everything I could find like an American at a buffet.
However, similar to the reality of the soft-serve machine, more isn’t always better. Killing the vanilla ice cream with a pound of gummy bears just because you can doesn’t make the dish any better. Many times, especially with licorice, it makes it worse. I am grateful that I made it through 2017 without injury. Truly, that is a blessing that should be highlighted. I should have been injured, and I should have had several DNF’s. Thankfully, it wasn’t necessarily the case by years end, but something to reflect on.
For 2018, I have three races (and one poor choice) highlighted for my race season:
While I would love to sign up for everything out there, I think it is wiser to have focused training sessions and seasons. Doing so, along with doing it right, can build up to a more successful race. I’ve survived my first year, now I would like to thrive in my second year.
Goal #2: Harass More Runners
More pacing. More volunteering. More Fireball.
There is a belief within the trail running community that volunteering for a race is, in many ways, more rewarding than actually running the race. In many ways I 100% agree. It is fun to disconnect from society, hang out with the other rejects, tell horror stories, and after that runner is done puking; encouraging them to keep moving along the trail. Those are memories, people!
I still loved the medic from High Lonesome 100 that explained for each race she signed up to run, she would also sign up to volunteer at another race. While it is (surprisingly) easy to get addicted to the trails, it is also only because of people, that we are able to enjoy them.
One addition I would add to this goal it to spend more time with our local trail building community; Urban Trail Co. Throughout the year they have maintenance and building days; because I live so close to one of our circuits, there is no excuse why I can’t grab and shovel and pitch in.
Goal #3: Century Mark
It is reckless, I 100% recognize that it is reckless. This year I would like to complete my first 100 mile race. I have a site picked out, a race I know of, and a training schedule to go along with it. I’m not years into the trail running community, but it is something that I definitely want to complete this year.
It is not for the sticker, the buckle, the Instagram likes, or even the blog (though it should be absolutely, mind-blowing stupid with humor). Selfishly, I just want to do it for me. I want to run 100 miles in the woods free of this world. I just want to explore every aspect of my soul; from the highest points to the lowest, and back again. Most of the time I do things because I want a funny, stupid story out of it. This one time though, this one race, I want to see something new about myself that I didn’t know existed.
…and then days later I’ll write a stupid story.
Goal #4: Focus
Anyone who has ever had to work with me in the gym or a yoga studio or at home or at work or at…well…anyways, focusing sucks. I hate it. I hate having a single track direction for anything. I would rather splinter out into a million ideas. However, when it comes to these races and these goals for this year, I can only find success if I focus week in and week out. That means not necessarily getting caught up in fun games with friends, not taking extended vacations, and not binge watching AKB0048 (again). Focus breaks down into training, rest, and diet. I am blessed that my wife has decided to eat grass for the rest of her life (AKA: vegan), so that has absolutely adjusted my diet within our house. I have an insane amount of support within the running community, the health community, and the nutrition community. Focus means relying on others for help when I don’t have the answer, and from this only-child’s perspective, that’s a hard thing to do. Additionally, focusing for nine months is not an easy task (shoutout to all the mothers out there).
There you go. A quick compilation of ideas and goals heading into the 2018 season. Summed up; so much revolves around quality over quantity. It feels strange saying that, but in the end that is a lesson learned from 2017. I have had fun surviving, but now I want to become faster and stronger. I want to wear those ideals better than Kanye (and half as good as Daft Punk).
Happy 2018 from one sucker to another!
…hehe…I’m getting crafty with my titles…
True story; I delayed on writing this race recap simply because I am an extremely conceited individual. Translation; I read last year’s race recap for The Back 40 trail race, and I laughed so much reading it that I convinced myself I couldn’t do any better. Vanity truly is my middle name*.
The Back 40, as alluded to last season on “stupid runners”, is a beautiful 20 mile loop in northern Arkansas. The race is held in December so that all can enjoy the reality of winter in the Ozark region as I did as a young, broke college student who had recently been dumped.
Cold. Windy. Grey. Death.
There was no ‘heat wave’ to speak of this random weekend of December, no, it was just cold and windy. The race started at a balmy, tear jerking 21 degrees**. Like all other smart runners I stayed in the tent near the start/finish until the race director politely guided us to the starting point to give his announcements…
Hey! Y’all are fart’n near the open flame heaters I’m not talk’n to y’all in here, otherwise I may die. Get outside!
Welcome back to The Back 40.
Mentally, I came into this race in search of a break. I finally was able to admit it within my own mind. I was tired, worn out from running, and winter sucks. I wanted to relax, do yoga, eat cheeseburgers, and stay away from being in places where the air hurts my face. In my own warped reality; The Back 40 was my ‘swan song’ to a year of traumatic, near death experiences.
All I had to do was survive.
I started in the field where I should have (dead last), and had all the necessary equipment on me. I chose my small UltrAspire device because I only wanted water, Tailwind was for ‘last ditch efforts’, my dear Honey Stinger gels, and I wanted a spot to hold my peppermints. Those same peppermints that I had my wife go grab fifteen minutes prior to start because I forgot mine in Kansas City. The irony is while I hate winter, I do enjoy winter’s kiss in the form of Starlight mints while crying in the woods. There is something soothing of remembering being picked on with candy canes in elementary school from my classmates each time I eat a peppermint…a reminder that somehow, something could be worse compared to dying at mile 15.
There was no gun, no timer, no beep, just our beloved RD yelling, “get go’in” to flush us down the tube of immortality. The twenty mile was the event that I had signed up for. Initially, pre “The Hawk“, I thought I wanted to do the 40 mile option this year. Of course, I realized that, that was a horrifically stupid idea and only wanted twenty out of The Natural State.
Within the first quarter mile I made two very quick realizations:
I learned that I could run a race in the event that one of my arms was immobilized (because I could see myself dislocating my shoulder in a mountain race and going on to win it…har-har-har) due to my wardrobe malfunction. I am already shunned in my ‘real life’ outside of the running world, so naturally I was mortified of dropping my drawers to expose my pasty self to all those good souls out for this December stroll. At the same time, I was trying to warm up and get moving, so walking wasn’t necessarily an option either. Embracing my inner-Kílian I continued running, swinging one arm like a mad pirate singing a Disney song, and kept the other snuggly attached to the waistline of my pants.
This went on for a half mile. Finally, when the single track started to remind me of ‘good ole times’ I stopped to adjust my pants. After ensuring that no blood would circulate below my waist, assuring all passing runners that I did not already need a salt tablet, I took off for the rest of my 19.5 mile adventure.
Realistically, a lot has changed personally since running this race a year ago, over the rocks, the hills, and the overall terrain nothing really bothered me. I say this half joking, but by mile 5 I was so thankful that I had decided to attempt races in the mountains. That time helped me mentally understand that I truly wasn’t going to die in Arkansas, and that indeed things could be much, much worse.
At mile six I departed from the two that I had tracked for the majority of the race.
What that really meant; I stopped at the aid station and they were fast. This slow pace would pay off in the later mileage as I would learn that one of our runners was indeed struck by a deer running through the course. People, I cannot make this stuff up.
At mile ten I had started to figure out the system of the trail that we were on. The trail is actually labeled every .25 miles. This can either be a great thing for those of you who are curious about your location, or a death sentence for those of you wondering, “Will this ever end?” Important note: The race and the course do not match. There is a two mile difference from what you see on the course and what your actual mileage is. Meaning, because God (and the RD) enjoy toying with humans, the tree may read 10 miles, but the truth is during The Back 40 you would have only traveled 8. This translated to me doing elementary math the entire time that I was out on the course. I cannot express to you how much of a struggle that can be for some of us.
Finally, I decided that I would look at my watch when I had accomplished thirteen of the
twenty miles. After two aid stations and some time alone in the woods (a lot) I looked at my screen and sent a text to my wife letting her know where I was mileage-wise.
The elementary math came flooding up when I looked at the 13 mile mark.
3 hours and 5 minutes…
It was at that moment, between a man with a chainsaw up the hill and the creepy red balloon near the drainpipe, that realization had dawned on me. I had just set a half marathon personal record by 35 minutes.
…and that’s where I lost it…
Between the broken oven and two water heaters in the ditch along the trail I had snot and tears running down my face; while trying to also ingest a honey based gel. In so many aspects I was one ugly ginger running around in the woods of Arkansas (something tells me I will not be the last). While this year had been triumphant in the sake that I escaped with no injuries and only one DNF; personally I was seeking just one example, one moment that demonstrated that I had grown. GOATz was close, but I chose to drop the 50K, so in my head…it did not count. This though, along the rugged moguls (not to be mistaken with muggles) and razor rocks, this was real, this was proof, this was
evidence that I was doing something, anything right.
Through the mental celebration of growth I missed the part about seven miles remaining in my journey, and through that blissful ignorance, one stumble across a rock and it hit.
Since “The Hawk” I have had a rather annoying cramping issue. It isn’t in my back, calves, quads, hamstrings, etc…I get the same cramp at nearly the exact same part of any long run. Imagine, someone taking a golf ball made of metal, heating it to approximately 212 degrees, and then pressing it along the inside of your thighs, just below your waist.
That is my cramp.
I’ve looked up the causes and adjustments needed to prevent these cramps. In the running community I have found absolutely nothing, but inside the biking community I’ve found that it can be very common. I can tell you that it is debilitating and a silent killer. The bigger issue is knowing that these areas of my legs cramp up only when going uphill. Well guess what…
ALL OF ARKANSAS IS NOTHING BUT AN UPHILL, BOTH WAY JOURNEY TO DANTE’S NINTH LEVEL OF HELL
The last four miles turned into a painful, dragging, slow eternity of torment. Similar to when you get stuck in one of those passive aggressive business meetings after a potluck dinner in a small town church. No? Just me?
Nearing each half mile I was having to stop and stretch out my legs to break up the cramping. I attempted to be productive; I drank the Tailwind, ate the salt caps, licked the salt lick, and about everything else thinking that would diminish the cramping. Nothing.
The fight stayed with me for the duration of the rest of the race. Finally, hopping off of trail onto the paved path that nearly resulted in me going pantless in the beginning, I slowly trotted into the finish line.
I finished The Back 40, 20 Mile race one hour faster*** than I had completed it in 2016. This was the feel-good ending I had wanted for the 2017 year. I’m not Kaci, Kristen, Leia, or any other fast soul. I know this and accept this, but that does not mean I don’t want to see growth in myself like anyone else.
Naturally, while bathing in my accomplishment, the RD laughed and said I had time to start my second loop…
…I’m still slightly apologetic for giving him that “one” good reason why I wouldn’t be heading back out for another lap.
2017, peace out.
**Nope. I hate the winter. I hate the cold. You are not going to be able to convince me otherwise. The end.
***Learning that my first mile, nearing the completion of the moon cycle, was 10:46 helps that PR
Back in the hellish days of July, with a balmy temperature of 114 degrees (in the shade), I desired to run the Psycho Psummer 10 Mile race in Kansas City, Kansas. The purpose? Simple; new photos from Mile 90 Photography, and just as important, I wanted to see if I had improved at all over one year of trail running.
However, due to the ingenious idea of cruising along the Barr Trail in Colorado Springs, Colorado completely undertrained and out of my mind, I made one smart decision in not signing up for Psycho Psummer.
My time of repeating a race would come later.
In fact, it would come much later. Out in Nebraska, along with the runner killers referred to as GOATz. The same people that tried to massacre me in the grass, hide my corpse along the gravel, and destroy whatever was left of my feet out in Iowa would ensure that I would get to experience my first repeat race.
In the most colorful way possible.
Heading into Omaha, Nebraska late Saturday night my wife and I met up with “The Legend” and a few others at a local Greek restaurant (that is a thing). I had absolutely no idea what I ordered, but it involved rice and potatoes so I figured that would be something my body would need in the coming hours as I would peer over the shoreline of the prestigious, gorgeous, deadly Lake Cunningham. Halfway through enjoying meat with white sauce at the table, I started to consider the reality that I was facing the next day. Originally, I had signed up for the 50K race in Nebraska. It turns out though, after running for 50 miles in the middle of Kansas (because God enjoys watching you make stupid decision, while laughing along with Michael), that it takes time to get over that experience. Time…time…time…TIME! I thought that it would take a week to recover from
praying playing in the woods that long….
Try six weeks and at least three dozen buffalo wings before ‘normal’ came back into my world of running. After listening to wise words of wisdom of people far faster than myself, I made a mental note that I would likely drop from the 50K to the 21 mile in Omaha. After all, in one year I had already ran my first ultra, I had ran my first mountain race, I had ran my first 50 mile race; frankly, in 2017 I didn’t think there was much left in my soul to give to show that I did “that thing” out in the woods.
You can run a race just to…well…you know…run a race.
So after a night of
absolutely amazing of sleep snoring endured, tortured evening of kinks in my neck, and nightmares of grading papers, I awoke at 7:00 AM Sunday morning for the Greater Omaha Area Trail runnerz Trail Runs 50K (or some weird title like that). I decided, compared to last year, that I would attempt to run this race with a handheld. No vest, no gels, no breakfast (hehe), just a handheld, mixed with water and Tailwind. I knew the aid stations would have HoneyStinger gels that I could keep down, and I would reward myself for eating a beehive during the race by eating raw fish after the race (looking back, and seeing that typed out, I truly am a stupid human). There were a few guarantees as I walked up to the start/finish line of this random 10 mile loop course:
The 50K runners started at 8:00 AM with the rest of the runners (21/10.5/5) starting at 8:15 AM. The horn started and I did what any smart person would do; I walked my
carcass straight across the start line for a fun day in the woods. I walked for the first half mile because the conga line of a death march was moving so slow that running was futile. It was only when I saw a photographer that I attempted to move (photo evidence notes that I failed at that) with passion along the course. Eventually, we came to our first hill. Instead of going up the hill though, we went straight past it on the broken asphalt section. Last year that broken section was the route coming back to the start/finish line.
Maybe we were running the course backwards this year?
Note: I was in the very back of the 50K pack at the time that the entire group realized that we had taken the wrong direction. Again, the field went the wrong way.
Due to my slowness in life I was able to live out the reality of “The Walking Dead”, as my colleagues, all these amazing runners slowed to a stop, turned their bodies towards me, and with the face of fear, frustration, and death came running right at me. Meaning, a half mile into the race I did what any smart person would.
I took off sprinting.
I sprinted up that hill in record time. Why? Because the amazement sat in that I was going to do something that was quite impossible…
I WAS GOING TO BE IN THE TOP 10 OF AN ULTRA RACE! SAUCONY SIGN ME! MOTHER I’VE MADE IT! PRIDE, CHECKS, FOOD, HATS…SHOES!
…it was the most euphoric 500 feet in my life.
Of course, natural selection worked itself out just fine, and before I knew it I was back in the end of the field once again. Though, between the weather and just being in the woods, I did not have much to complain about.
I was not running a race to see if I could survive (for a change of pace), I was just running because I wanted to. I ran along the pine trees, I ran along the fields, I ran along the gravel alongside the lake, and I ran through the aid station. I ate my gel, I carried forward, and I just embraced the day. The reality was this; aside from the beginning, it was a beautiful moment to soar.
After the first ten miles I came into the start/finish line, and…well…I felt fine. It is still weird typing that out, because I remember last year when I finished the first loop at this race. My wife had to walk away from me to ensure that I went back out on the course. Make no mistake, she was there to greet me with Body Glide upon my arrival. However, like all good memories, the moment I turned to talk to her. She was already wishing me luck from her picnic table across the grass from the course. Meaning, some things never change, and my wife hates watching me waste time.
The second loop I got to do something special, at least in my own special world, I actually ran with another person for an entire loop. Back at The Hawk 50 in September, there was shuffling behind me from mile 26 to mile 30. The shuffling was that of a Michelle, a notoriously elusive creature that tends to wander the woods on their own. They are sneaky, cunning, and if you find them in the right part of the day, they are a great partner to trample through grass with. Michelle and I have a similar pace (that is a lie, she is faster in pace, but I did not want to be lonely). She is also from Omaha, so seeing her at the race on the second lap meant that I had someone to work with through miles eleven to twenty one.
Because the weather was unlike The Hawk, meaning it was actually normal for a change of pace, we were able to talk and run.
People; did you read that last though?
Go back and reread it.
…we were able to talk and run.
For like the first time ever I carried on a conversation with someone while I was still moving at an appropriate pace. Dearest reader! I was doing the thing! The time together
was wonderful, when you’re both not miserable, the miles really do cruise by…as does Kaci and Kaci’s twin…nope…never mind…rather certain that was her mother…they look so similar.
As we embarked on the final few miles of lap two I had made up my mind about starting the third lap for the 50K; Michelle was still on the fence while we ran along the fence, and the ruts…my goodness, this course reminded me how much I really missed running on rocks versus dirt and grass.
Crossing the line after the second loop I politely walked over to the tent and asked to drop to 21 miles instead of the 50K.
Are you sure? You’re not dropping.
What I have learned about traveling along different trail routes with different tribes, is eventually you cross paths with people that remember you from doing other stupid things. Sadly, the man running the timer, counter, etc…remembered me from another race, and swore that I was out of my mind for dropping my distance. We haggled back and fourth for thirty seconds over my soul and my life before my true skills of years past** came up with the victory.
I dropped to the 21 mile. It was the first time that I have ever dropped a distance since starting trail running. Did I feel alright? For the most part; yes. Could I have made the cutoff? I make no promises. Could I have completed the distance? Yes, but in the process I would have had significantly beaten my body to a hard point of recovery.
The decision fell on 21 because my body was still getting over The Hawk. My mind was still getting over work (teacher). My heart was there, but my mind wanted me to be smart for a change. There was nothing monumental for me to accomplish, and I was/am completely ok with that.
After thanking Michelle for the time, she went back out for her 50K finish. I fell right back into the exact same routine as last year following the same race. Grab my chair, grab a cup of chili, and wait behind the same two people from last year (seriously!) to be treated and stretched. Afterwards, I enjoyed the weather, my wife, and watching our friends finish their own adventures.
Following a night of sushi with my wife, friends, and “The Legend”, we embarked on our three hour journey home. Monday morning brought with it some aches and pains, but compared to what once was, I could at least get to my classroom without the elevator that day.
Weeks later, texting with an amazing runner, they made note of my choice to drop down, read my thought process, and made a comment that stuck with me…
You’re getting stronger.
At least in my head; that comment was not in relation to my physical strength.
Humorously, after all was said and done, I only set a personal record on the GOATz course by 22 minutes compared to the previous year. The notable thing is understanding that I could have kept going, I did not feel like death, and unlike last year, possibly most importantly…I had fun.
*Seriously…40 some odd degrees is absolutely stupid…
**Debate. My only athletic advantage in life was debate…try to process that thought…
Has anyone else purchased a pretzel only to wonder what being a pretzel is all about?
Neither have I.
However, I did grow up in a world that was bent on ensuring that I never spent anytime around those long haired, hipster, Fair Trade Coffee sipping, granola crunchy yoga people.
Since my adventures began in the world of trail running I have transitioned to growing my hair out to embrace what is left of my youth, and to look like those cool guys that wink at the camera while running up 9000 feet along a mountainside surely spelling (spilling?) out their inevitable doom. I’ve adjusted my diet significantly, and I enjoy wearing my trucker hats on any given day. Factor in the reality that my wife causes me to drowned in a world of fair trade coffee (aka: Starbucks as an employer), and one of our runners owns their own coffee shop, it is merely fate that aligned itself in this post-apocalyptic time that caused me to mumble under my breath in this early week of fall…
The truth is after The Hawk 50 was completed I had already made a few plans/goals of what I wanted to do with my life, if indeed it still existed after that race; I wanted to increase strength training, run a little less, and increase flexibility. Meaning, I was curious about this whole yoga thing that my childhood church tried to convince of its origins being of the devil (along with Pokemon cards for some reason) was all about.
Inevitably, through a few clicks on my phone, and a quick drive downtown I found myself in front of the place that already causes so much ‘good pain’ in my life; Phys. Ed. KC. As it turns out, not only can they push you to the level of dry-heaves, but during their downtime they can also craft you into the newest pieces of modern art through their yoga classes.
Feeling extremely insecure about myself I signed up for the “yoga for athletes” class. I felt guilty doing so due to the reality of not considering myself an athlete, but every other class offered was for those with some experience, and it would be a sin against the mighty yoga people if I had signed up for one of those.
Tuesday evening, after wrangling 100 pubescent students (and getting paid for it) for the day, I walked into the yoga studio; of which from now until the end of this piece I will refer solely to as “the tomb”.
The tomb was a white room; walls, ceiling, floor, stage…stage? Everything was white. The smell was of something you would truly only find in a yoga studio; sage? Sandalwood? Tuberose? Frankincense? It smelled like a Yankee Candle store had burned down inside the tomb…in the best way possible! The scent of the room was enough to calm the mind, prior to the stretching experiments.
Naturally, like any good thing that may be associated with ancient medicines of Asia (I completely made that up), one must remove their shoes and socks upon entering the tomb. Sit crosslegged along your yoga mat (Subway sandwich), take a few deep breaths, and eventually we were led into our first pose: rest.
I kid you not; I found myself on my stomach, resting my head on my hands, closing my eyes, and listening to the latest sounds of Enya. The instructor informed us that she would be coming around and adjusting us. Meaning, like what a cat does to your favorite blanket, she is going to kneed you into comfort. For 90% of the world out there, that is completely fine. For the 10% of us it is a dying fear. Not because of touch (massage win!), but because of the fear of knowing that the instructor is pushing on your organs, you’re on your stomach, you ate a fast snack prior to coming in, and bless her soul she is uncomfortably close to your export port…
I have been in tornados, floods, and hurricanes…I have never prayed as hard I did in that one moment…
Please. Don’t let me fart.
After the most fearful/relaxing process was done. It was time to get busy in the world of yoga. I was ready for the crane, the praying mantis, the salutation of the sun, but the instructor…in such sweet sounding tones…simply said…
Alright. Let’s go into plank position.
Sweet mother of all that is good and evil. I paid to be stretched, and instead I’m getting a previous of the same class that already kills me on a weekly basis. However, I managed to get into plank. From plank we moved one foot close to our face (haha!), and slowly moved up the body. Eventually I was sitting in a chair, focusing on breathing, listening to one voice, not talking to myself unlike when I am in the woods, and noticing the profuse amount of sweat I was already losing.
I did yoga, and I needed Tailwind as a recovery. This is my life.
After moving from rest, to plank, to cobra, to foot by face, to chair, to praise hands, to…I can’t remember all of them; I was feeling alright. I was hot, sweaty, experiencing my own world of ‘hot yoga, and feeling ok with my choices.
Until I heard…
Now, we’re going to go through that three more times.
WARNING: THERE ARE REPS IN YOGA! I REPEAT, REPS IN YOGA! It’s a lie, it is all a lie. It isn’t granola crunchy’s running the show, it’s real athletes and they will kill you!
Through the screaming in my head the minutes continued to tick by. I became a Sphynx at one moment, another I was a table, this thing was like a mashup of charades and what happened to the castle people from the curse in Beauty and the Beast.
Yet, even through the shaking of the planks, the cramping during the table, and the excitement of the sun salutation; there came one consistent theme: peace.
Even through the humor of the entire experience, the truth is that for a change of pace, I was extremely calm. My mind was clear, I was not bouncing off the walls, I was in a moment where life finally caught up to me and it was refreshing.
Granted, this moment came towards the end, while us puppets were laying on our backs, eyes closed in the tomb, and the music had mixed in to the sounds you hear at the funeral home when your great aunt Agnus finally died in that town of 500 people. Truly, in the strangest metaphor possible, I felt as if I had been buried. Between being in the tomb, the tones of peace (and grief), and the smell of things I’m certain were also used to bury Jesus; I too felt lifeless.
fun… good…unique experience though; this session to came to an end. I did get to say the signature word “Namaste” at the end. I bent over to roll up my mat, and without even thinking twice I noticed something:
I could bend over and grab the mat. In fact, even though I was somewhat sore from the planks, my body felt so incredibly loose. It felt so loose that a day later I was able to make appropriate lunges during the weekly strength class I attend.
I have come to appreciate my strength classes while trying to become a stronger runner. However, there is a different place of appreciation in my heart for that yoga session. I have a super, super hard time paying attention, focusing, and sleeping at night. Those are three things that I personally struggle with on a daily basis (so much so that once at strength class the ‘step up box’ got taken away because I was not paying attention). I can confess that after a session in the tomb, my focus was better, I paid attention to other people, and most incredibly…I slept remarkably well that night.
To no surprise, as I continue to try new things inside and around the world of trail running, the more I am learning about myself and my body. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to gliding through the woods in search of mileage…perhaps I am search of something more…
Not really, I am looking for an excuse to eat buffalo wings, but yoga is fun too!