Wednesday, April 20, 2011

God's Country and the Devil's Thumb

Life is funny. There are moments when you feel so completely happy and at peace with the world. Then there are moments when you feel so unbelievably upset and angry at everything and everyone. The funny part is that often times, these two very opposite kind of moments occur in very close proximity to one another.

On Saturday, I went out for a long trail run with my friend Steve Wolfe. We headed over to the Wapack Trail in the Mondanock region of New Hampshire for a moderately challenging 16 mile round-trip jaunt from Temple Mountain over to the Windblown XC area and back. Steve’s getting ready for some serious trail races and I was just interested in having some serious fun. And, the Wapack Trail seemed like the best (and most convenient) venue for our exploits.

The Wapack Trail is a great 21.5 mile path that runs from Mount Watatic in Ashburnham, MA to North Pack Monadnock Mountain in Greenfield NH. Its open ledges and rocky peaks provide breathtaking views of Mount Monadnock, the Berkshires and the Green Mountains to the west, Boston to the southeast, and the White Mountains to the north. The spruce forests lining parts of the trail give hikers (and runners) the feeling of being deep in the North Woods – God’s Country.

The weather was a rather chilly 34 degrees at the start with a strong breeze coming out of the northeast. The trail conditions were better than I thought they would be given the harsh winter we had and Steve & I made quick work of our roughly 8-mile first leg of the trip. We stopped briefly to refuel at Windblown before heading back north again. The legs, which felt a little heavy on the way out, started to come back to me a bit and we worked over the return trip in fine fashion.

Good trail running on rooty, rocky terrain is a skill that is honed through miles of back country experience. Your strides must be quick and light so as not to put too much weight on any one step. Your vision must be sharp in order to scan the upcoming trail for the best possible footing. And, your core must be strong to repeatedly lift your legs over the highest of trail obstacles.

At the beginning of our trip, I felt a bit shaky in these areas since I hadn’t done much of this style of running since the early fall. But, once we got going (and I tapped into my inner trail monster) it all came back to me and I felt like a wild animal bounding through the woods with the greatest of ease. Our total time on the trail was 2:38:10. 1:19:34 on the way out and 1:18:36 on the way back. All in all a very enjoyable first mountain running experience of the season!

On Monday, I tuned into a very different running experience - The Boston Marathon. 50 of my fellow Gate City Striders were scheduled to take part in the historic 26.2 mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston and Marathon Monday is always a special day for anyone associated with running. This year it was particularly so, as the weather conditions couldn’t have been more perfect with temps in the low 50’s and a strong tailwind pushing the runners towards the finish.

The race itself was a thrill to watch. Early on New Zealander Kim Smith pushed the pace in the women's race while on the men's side American Ryan Hall did likewise. In the Newton hills, Smith came up lame and the pack swallowed her whole while Ryan Hall hung tough through surge after Kenyan surge. Just past Boston College an unheralded American named Desiree Davilla made her presence known. She surprised the front-running women with a jump to the lead and rallied each time the Kenyans tried to put her away. She held on gamely all the way until the final few blocks of Boylston Street where she finished a close second to Caroline Kilel.

In the men's race, the Kenyan duo of Geoffrey Mutai & Moses Mosop eventually broke Ryan Hall (and everyone else) over Heartbreak Hill and staged their own mano-a-mano duel to the finish. With Mutai finally taking the win over the final few strides and setting a new course (and potentially world) record of 2:03:02 in the process. Ryan Hall finished an impressive 4th in 2:04:58 – netting a 4 minute PR for him. Whew, what a ride!

Naturally, with all the adrenaline that was coursing through my body from witnessing such amazing action, I decided to head out for an unplanned tempo run at lunch time. My quads were a bit sore from Wapack, but I still managed to clock a PR of my own with a personal best 6 mile tempo run time of 35:54. So, in a span of three days I had done a challenging 16 mile trail run at 9:54/mile and then a speedy 6 mile tempo run at 5:59/mile. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty darned good about myself!

Yesterday, I headed out for an easy recovery run in the woods near where I work. The trails are relatively flat and clear. No technical climbing or fancy footwork required - just a soft, comfortable stroll in the park. About two miles in, while my mind was elsewhere, I clipped a root with my left foot and went down – hard. As I tried to stop myself from falling, my right foot slipped on some mud and I ended up jack-knifing in a way that no grown man should.

I felt (and heard) a pop in my right hamstring and a pain so severe that my scream scattered the birds that were perched nearby. I rolled around on the ground in agony for two solid minutes unable to get up. Eventually I collected myself and hobbled back in the direction I came - my right leg uselessly dragging behind me as I went. On my way I searched for the culprit that took me down only to find a tiny sapling stump no bigger than my thumb protruding from the ground.

It was a devilish little thumb that reached up, grabbed me and hurled me back to the ground (literally and figuratively) as if to say, “Who are you to run so fast and so far? Who are you to think you can fly? Here's what you and your trail running skills are worth – nothing!”  

So here I sit pondering what it all means and uncertain of what my immediate future holds. At best, I have months of physical therapy to look forward to - just to get back to where I was yesterday. At worst, I may be facing surgery to repair my torn hamstring and a long (and likely frustrating) road ahead. Either way, it sure didn’t take long for me to fall back to earth. 

Tonight, my running club will hold its first Outdoor Track practice of the season. It’s one of my favorite running events of the entire year. Everyone gathers to commiserate over the long, cold, lonely winter. To discuss with eager anticipation the impending workout or an upcoming race. And, to enjoy each others company with the promise of summers warmth getting us through those first few chilly laps of the track. In many ways it's like a running family reunion. And, this year for the first time since I joined the club, I won’t be a part of it. I suppose running is like life. It goes on whether you’re there to see it or not!

1 comment:

  1. Mike,

    Sorry to hear about the injury ... hang in there buddy ... and with some time i am sure you'll be back. Unfortunately i am speaking from experience with a long list of hammy injuries.