Sunday, November 11, 2012

Riding The Winds


Thank you to all of our Veterans to whom this race honors.  Thank you to all of our current active duty military.  Thank you to Cindy Melder, Race Director, for putting on a great event that exemplified trail running and filled the giant shoes left by Tom Crull.  Thank you to all of the volunteers, Michael Melder, Cindy's Father, all the aid station volunteers, the chefs, and everyone who lent a hand in marking the trail, cleaning up the mess, and handling all the unseen aspects of the event to make our trail running experience memorable.  Thank you to my family for coming out and supporting me and tolerating my growing obsession.  Thank you to my coach Jeremy Day.
In 1996, I think it was, I was introduced to the Northshore trail at Lake Grapevine on the recommendation of my club track coach.  Ever since then I have come back to it for runs ranging from peaceful long runs to challenging dashes through the woods, rocks, and roots.  My first participation in the Rumble's events would not come when it began in 1997 shortly after my introduction to the trail.  My first participation in the Rumble would come ten years later in 2006.  I ran the 15k and came out of the woods and on to the rocky shore line in route to a 1:05 1st OA finish.  After the race I remember watching 50K runners coming through the start area only to head back out again.  I was intrigued.  Though I had not wrapped my head around being able to run for that length of time part of me wanted to find out, just not anytime soon.  I would run the 15K every year following or volunteer.  Though I was on hand for 2011 I did not participate due to illness.
With my desire to run the 50k well steeped over the past five years, my anticipation was about as high as it gets.  The latter portion of the week leading up to the race could not go by quickly enough.  In addition to simply being eager to run, I was also a bit on the worried side.  Was I recovered from Palo Duro just three weeks ago?  Did I enjoy my vacation too much?  Was I getting sick?   
Friday I had everything ready to go for the race by late afternoon.  Beer was coolered and hydration bottles were correctly prepared unlike Palo Duro a few weeks ago.  My running attire was neatly stacked on the dresser with casual wear too.  The car was loaded with the essentials.  All I need do now was eat, sleep, and wake up on time. 
Dinner was served before 6pm.  Slumber swept over me by 8pm.  As is my "ritual" pre race lately, I fell asleep to Unbreakable.  That movie moves me and inspires me to push the envelope.  I am a trail running geek without shame.
The alarm went off a couple of minutes after I woke up just before 4:15am.  I had been waking up about every hour since around midnight.  Eager and ready for the events arrival.  I made it out the door a shower and a couple of Eggo's with honey later just before 5am. 
Cruising down the desolate freeway to The Black Keys and Tool, I was entering the gate to Rockledge Park by 5:20am.  My reward was a primo parking spot in the paved lot near the start line.  Only volunteers and a few other overly pro-active runners were on-hand.  With the passing of around 30 minutes, the traffic picked up and the trail runners to be were blowing into the park steadily riding on the winds of anticipation.
After anxiously milling about in preparation, dawn was greeting us.  I made my way to place my drop bag and greeted a number of friends and familiar faces.  More than a familiar face, my Father greeted me just prior to the race announcements.  My Dad started running this race a few years ago and he too fell in love with it for the people and atmosphere.  He was pleasant and excited to be there for the 15k.  He kept asking me how I was and the only response I could conjure was "ready to run".  We listened to the race info dealt out by RD Cindy.  Then enjoyed and sang softly to the instrumental National Anthem played.
photo by Mark Olateju.  Great to see you!


First year Race Director Cindy Melder gathered the 50k runners at the gnarly tree by the park road to start the race.  She led us in the traditional pre race trail runner pledge.  You know, keep your eyes on the trail.  If you look up expect to go down.  It really is a great way to set a positive tone to the race before everyone hurries or shuffles off.  Then she sent us on our way down the road to the trail head with a verbal command that ended in "run!"
I had looked around me prior to the start and noted some fit and eager bodies.  In addition to respecting and preparing to compete against friends Nick Polito and Josh Witte I knew their were clearly some folks there interested in going for it.  The start confirmed that as around ten of my fellow runners took off fast.  I mean fast!  Compared to Palo Duro this was the start of a 400m track race.  My first thought was jeez these guys are crazy.  My next thought was "shit, I have to at least stay close to them and see how soon they calm down."  Josh was close behind me as we charged down the hill which would follow the park road and lead to the trail head about 3/4 of a mile away.  A young man named Michael led the pack.  Josh and I sat around 8th and 9th as we made our way onto the trail and along the sloped rocky trail that is the first .4 miles or so of actually trail at the Rumble.
The lead group separated quickly with me inhaling their dust an unknown distance behind.  After a 7:30 first mile I settled in to a more patient pace.  Still wanting to run intelligent yet competitively I found myself clicking away between 8:00 and 9:00 pace.  About three miles in my legs were tired.  "Hmmm, I guess I'm not recovered from Palo Duro," I thought.  This was only my second 50k but it is around my seventh marathon plus distance and well into the teens for races over 13 miles whether trail or road.  You have moments in runs where you feel bad, good, and somewhere in between.  The moments like this typically come at least a few miles later in a race.  They can be over come and they typically pass.  To say I was not concerned though would be dishonest.  I spent the next few miles trying to ignore the negative thoughts spilling through my head.  It would take about seven miles to accomplish that.
The first aid station, about 5 miles, came and went without much note other than great volunteers ready to help and very pleasant.  The second aid station, about 9 miles, also came and went with the same description.  Just beyond the 2nd aid station you begin running a portion of the trail and race that is two-way single track.  I knew I would find out how well I was holding up in position through here.  To my surprise I was not too far out of touch.  Not far before the turn around I began seeing the leaders.  As they passed I counted my way to discover I was sitting in eighth place.  I was in good position and this helped my motivation and mental state.  Unfortunately, it was not going to magically replace my legs.  At this point I had decided to ignore how my legs felt and just go for it.  This was the 50k that made me want to run a 50k.  With five years in the making, I was not going to give up so readily.  I was prepared to lay what I had in me on the line early and suffer the consequences later.  I figured if I can stay close maybe , just maybe, they will crack before me.  Besides I knew this trail like the back of my hand and would bet my lines were straighter and more efficient than anyone in front of me.
Rejuvenated and inspired I made the turn-around and headed back toward the start, ten miles away.  I made it to the 3rd aid station, same as #2, refilled my bottle with a fresh mix of Roctane brew, and headed out with controlled hunger to steadily pursue those ahead of me.  Seeing a runner leave the aid station just ahead of me here helped drive my pursuit.
Through the woods, winding, twisting, climbing, falling, running, thinking, I forged on.  Around 2:30:00 into the race I hit the fourth aid station at Murrell park, same as #1 about 16 miles now, again a runner left just as I arrived.  The familiar faces here really helped me out.  I still felt pretty good and was staying fairly positive despite the repression of reality and the state of my legs.  I think I looked about how I felt here.  What do you think?
photo by Deborah Sexton.  Thanks for your support!

Between the Murrell aid and the turn to start the second loop at the start/finish I picked up Michael.  Michael, you will recall, had charged out and led the race early.  He was in the lead at the single track earlier too when I got a picture of where I stood.  he linked up to me and we ran and worked our way through the next few miles.  My fatigue began to show when about half way through this stretch my left leg said screw this and seized up.  I retorted by cursing and yelling loudly in discomfort without warning.  Hopefully Michael was not too shocked by this outburst.  I told him it would pass and after a brief walk I ran it into submission.  We came upon a familiar steep climb and he asked if I wanted to sprint it.  My immediate reply was "I'll hike in the straightest line available.  Maybe I will run it when we are back here again on the next loop."  We hiked and found our run again when the trail leveled out just above.
Onward!  Coming out of the woods and onto the rocky slope to the end of the trail and on to the road was like stepping into a wind tunnel.  As if keeping good footing was not hard enough the wind added that much more of a challenge to the experience.  On to the road and down into the loose gravel of the shore below Jackson Pavilion where the race finishes, I ran with as good of form as possible to the supporting family friends and volunteers awaiting me.  The wind was so strong that it was blowing dirt into the cups of water on the aid station table.  I grabbed one cup and downed.  Then grabbed another and dumped it on my head and opted for the jug of water and  the flat coke in my drop cooler.  My family gave me kind words and I tried to efficiently get what I needed and head out.  In my haste I dropped one of my two seven grain pancakes in the dirt.  I grabbed the remaining pancake and headed out eating, sipping, and pursuing the three runners who were in the aid and out just ahead of me.  Opportunity, was at hand if I could will my legs to life.  I would not be winning but I could move up into the top five if I could force the issue upon my body. 
After a couple of miles of feebly attempting to make up some status in the standings, I succumbed to negativity and fatigue.  Now the fatigue was mental as well as physical.  I was exhausted.  I began running to this curve and that tree.  Trying to constantly convince and remind myself that the more I ran the sooner I would be done with this death march.  I was done though, despite my best emotional tactics to re motivate myself.  I would run six steps and out of no where walk.  I would try to remind myself to at least walk with purpose.  Bikes were flying by me at this point now pretty often.  Every time, even when they were courteous it would make me feel defeated.  To be honest I envied them.  I wanted to take one of their bikes and ride home.  Some were so courteous they laid their bike down slowing up out of respect for the race and my participation.  Others were plugged in, headphones on, inconsiderate jerks to put it nicely.  We won't get off topic though...
Somewhere about a mile out from the turn around on the second loop the lead lady cruised by me.  We exchanged encouraging words and we, she more than I, continued on our way.  I wearily wandered down the trail to the Murrell aid station. 
The aid station volunteers at Murrell greeted me with encouragement.  They did exactly what they are there for, lie to me about how great I look and asking what I needed.  I told them I needed two new legs and to be at the finish.  They responded by filling my bottle and building up my esteem.  I thank you guys for that!  I also saw Lesli Witte here on her trip back on the first loop.  She was on her way to completing her first 50k!  After chatting and laughing with the aid station crew, I headed down the trail re inspired yet again.  I found energy and motivation going into the final miles of the run thanks to them.  The next five miles or so would turn out to be the best miles of the race for me, though definitely not the fastest.  This segment I passed many of the 50k runners still wrapping up their first loop and a few of the 30k runners who were finishing.  Everyone was pleasant and the words exchanged in passing helped all move forward.  One gentleman commented that he wished he were where I was in the race.  I told him we were probably in the same place mentally.  These moments in a run are the ones I enjoy the most.  When the body breaks through and the mind frees itself and you simply run, steadily alert yet detached moving as one through nature.  In these moments I am at peace. 
There is a healthy climb about a mile from the shore or rock ledge that switches back and climbs up a bit before leveling off in the woods into a meandering section of trail.  As I was beginning to work up this I remembered a Facebook post from Nick Polito to the effect of , " I think I'm in about 5:30 shape for Rockledge."  I glanced at my watch and thought, "huh, I should be finishing in around 5:30 at this rate."  No sooner than that did Nick come running up the hill passing me.  "Damn," I thought, "now I have to run."  No one with a friendly competitive bone would let an acquaintance blow by the less than two miles from the finish without making them earn their race within the race.  So I latched on to Nick and found what little drive I had left.  With me not far behind we were on the rockledge together before we knew it.  He was trying to lose me, I'm pretty sure, and I was trying to crack him.  We hit the road and Nick pulled away. 
I could see my daughter Claire swinging on the playground.  Beyond that I could see the steps leading to the finish.  I had made it.  I could care less about catching Nick.  Claire jumped off the swing and ran over to me, running with me briefly.  My wife was just below her on the shore and cheered me on as well as got me back on course.  I decided the race would not be complete without a few extra feet and running through a patch of brambles.  I found the base of the stairs and attempted to sprint up the stairs but then, out of no where as Jay would observe, a demon lept out and grabbed my ass!  Yep, a cramp as I headed up the final steps.  I power hiked hands on knees up the stairs and cast the demon off  feet before the finish.  In a daze I dramatically kept running almost all the way up to the parking lot trying to out run the demon.  I'm sure I looked like a drunk leaving the bar at 2:15am on a Friday bent over and walking all over the place.  Everything I had was on the course behind me, all 31 miles in 5:17:16 of it.  Wife and daughter by my side and finisher's medal around my neck, I gathered my head and told the concerned EMT personnel who stalked me that I was OK. 
The post race was highlighted for me by the simple company of my wife and daughter.  Having them there meant the world to me.  The compliment to that was enjoying the company of friends Josh, Phil, Nick, David, Bridget, Cindy and all who I know I have not mentioned.  I hung out drank great beer and talked running, life, politics, and more with friends for around three hours.  I am thankful for days like this.