Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sweet Agony

Every runner knows that there’s a certain emotional ebb & flow associated with the  experience of running. Runners “Highs” and “Lows” are just part of the give & take nature of the beast. Whether it’s the supreme joy of suddenly (and effortlessly) running your daily 6 mile loop a minute faster than you’ve ever run it before, or the slow (but oh-so-sure) death of bonking hard halfway through your Sunday 12 miler, the peaks & valleys of a run are what we’ve grown to love (and also hate) about our sport. And never are these ups & downs more dramatic than when a “run” becomes a “race”.

Such was the case for me Before, During, AND After this year’s Bear Brook Trail Marathon.

Immediately after I ran the inaugural 2012 race I thought to myself, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again!” Then, after giving it a bit more thought (and giving my throbbing legs a bit more ibuprofen) I figured, “Eh, it was a cool event, but I think once is enough. I’m not sure I want to put myself through that kind of suffering again”. Later, when nearly year had passed and the 2013 edition was quickly filling up, I said, “What the heck! Let’s go for it!” Later still, when I re-read my original race report in the days before the race I cried, “What the @#%* was I thinking?!” You see, I was already on the BBTM Emo Rollercoaster, and I hadn’t even laced up my racing shoes!

I think the nerves I felt before this year’s race were directly attributable to knowing EXACTLY what I was in for. Last year, I started blissfully unaware of what racing in the woods (over fallen trees, around mud puddles, across rock slides & through thorn bushes) for 26.7 miles would really feel like.  I ran it easy, and enjoyed most every part of it until the end (or nearly the end) when all I wanted to do was die.  This year, after all the trail running I’d been doing, I hoped to do it exactly the same way – but faster. No problem! Right?

Making that lofty goal a little more difficult to attain was the fact that, this year, the course would be run in reverse. So, everything I had learned (or thought I’d learned) about the course from last year was right out the window! AND, the wet spring/summer we’ve been having caused the bushes to be bushier and the mud to be muddier! AND, due to the relocation of a couple of the Aid Stations, it was now going to be a ½ mile longer - 27.2! You don’t see that combination of digits on many oval bumper stickers!

I did, however, have a few things in my favor this year. Rather than driving from an hour away on the morning of the race, my family and I would be camping at the Bear Brook Campground - just down the road. AND, at about the 19 mile mark, the course ran right by our camp site, so I’d have the emotional boost of seeing my family help propel me through the last 8 miles! AND, I decided to go with a smaller, 16oz hydration pack rather than the 50oz monster I carried last year. So, not only was I fitter, I would also be lighter!

After my usual restless night sleep in our camper, the 6:30am start came not a moment too soon. The temperature was a little bit warmer than the previous edition, but still very reasonable for this time of year. Soon the Race Director sounded the siren, and we surged down the gravel road. I felt ready to run. At least until we hit the first of three early climbs! Last year, these climbs almost killed me. They came at a point in the race where I was at my weakest – the end. This year, we’d get them out of the way early and be able to cruise the last (flat) 8 miles to the finish. At least that’s what I hoped!

About a half mile into the race, the course took a sharp right turn and we headed straight up Catamount Hill. Not surprisingly, on fresh legs it seemed a LOT easier than I’d remembered it. Still, I decided to let the “conga line” of runners go on ahead and just run a steady and controlled pace. Included in that line were my friends (and fellow GCS teammates) Danny Ferreira and Rich Lavers. Danny had mentioned that they were planning to run easy today. But, as they quickly pulled away, I realized his “easy” pace must be right around my “suicide” pace.  So, I let them go.

Coming down off the second of the three climbs I suddenly felt nauseous. Within moments I was off to the side of the trail - retching loudly. I guess I must have had a bit too much Gatorade sloshing around in my stomach. Anyway, after starting again I immediately felt better and reeled in the handful of people who passed me while I was stopped. We soon came to the new out & back portion of the trail leading to the first Aid Station so I had an opportunity to see most of the people ahead of me – heading the opposite way. Danny and Rich offered me encouragement to catch them, but I held back. At least for the moment.

After a quick “splash and go” at AS #1, I was back on the trail. 39:06 was my time for that first section, a plodding 11:30 pace, but not nearly as slow as the 14’s I crawled through there with last year. The next section, although rather wet, was quite flat, and I started to move up through the field. I ran next to Dima Feinhaus for a while, which was surprising on two counts. Firstly, he’s usually pretty far ahead of me by this point. Secondly, he’d just run two back-to-back 100 mile races over the course of the last two weekends. Which, come to think of it, might explain the first surprising part!

Anyway, I rolled into AS #2 in 42:15 (9:00 pace) and a minute per mile faster than last year. It was still early, but I was starting to get in a groove! As I arrived, Danny and Rich were still there and after a quick refill of my water bottle, and a piece of power bar, and a couple of chips, I was on my way - just ahead of them. Eventually they caught up and we ran the next section as a group. But it quickly became evident to me, that Danny was holding himself back to run with us, because as we climbed the slight hill up to AS #3 Danny was chatting away, and all Rich & I could do was grunt, smile and nod. Plus, I was starting to feel dizzy. Excellent!

Once again I went through the Aid Station with a maximum of efficiency. Water, Heed, Go! At 3.2 miles, Section 3, was the shortest of the race - and I ran it in 31:29. A bit slower than I wanted to, but still 10 seconds per mile faster than my time on it last year. Coming down onto the Mount Hall Marsh portion of the race, I felt a sudden, but all-too-familiar feeling in my lower abdomen. Within moments, I was crouched (deep off the trail) relieving myself.  I suppose I shouldn’t have had those 3 campfire hot dogs for dinner last night! About a mile later, after gaining back most of the ground I had lost, I was off the side of the trail again. Crap! This was quickly starting to become the BM marathon!

Eventually I “righted the ship” and caught back up with Danny and Rich just before the climb up Hall Mountain. Rich looked like he was suffering a bit, so I bid them adieu and set off after the four folks just ahead of them. It took some time, and effort, but once we reached AS #4, I had put all four runners in my rear view.  My time of 50:47 for that loop was a full minute slower than last year. But, still not too bad considering I’d made two unplanned, and messy, pit stops!

Immediately after leaving Aid Station 4 I found myself running alone. And, it pretty much stayed that way for the next 5 miles. I could feel myself slowing down, but as I rounded Beaver Pond I used my family as a magnet pulling me towards the finish. I shed my hat, shirt and hydration pack at the campsite and raced towards them at the camp playground. After a kiss, a couple high fives and some much needed Gatorade, I was on my way. AS # 5 loomed just a couple “easy” miles ahead and I couldn’t wait to get there!

By this point, the heat of the day (and, with it, a slight case of dehydration) had really started to get to me. I began focusing on holding my form together as best I could and keep moving forward. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a runner came up on me and went quickly past - First Female. I tried to stay on her tail, but it was no use. And as I passed by a lush field of wild blueberry bushes, it was all I could do to keep from stopping and partaking of their plump and juicy goodness.

Thankfully, I soon arrived at AS #5 and guzzled all the water I could stomach. My split for the last segment was still a fairly reasonable 48:36 (9:55 pace) but well off the 9:30’s I’d run there last year. I was quickly losing time! Back out on the trail and it was less than a minute before I heard the next runner arrive just behind me. I had to get moving! Unfortunately, my legs had other ideas. Re-starting after stopping for any length of time is one of the most painful parts of long-distance running. And I was certainly feeling the pain!

At some point, a mountain biker passed me, going the opposite direction, and told me I was in 20th place. I was both pleased and pissed with this information. Pleased, because I was a lot further up the leader board than I originally thought (Top 20!) and pissed, because now I felt obliged to work at staying there. So, I put the pedal to the metal. Eventually, after stopping yet again to “mark my territory” I gave up that spot. But not without a fight. Or, at least what felt like one, anyway!

Fortunately, over the course of the last two rolling trails, I was able to make up ground and get that spot back - and then some. I’d gone miles without seeing anyone, now it seemed like I was passing runners at nearly every turn! I guess I wasn’t the only one who was suffering out there. One guy was hobbling just ahead and then stopped abruptly to stretch. I implored him to keep moving, which he did. Right by me!

I caught him again at the next little hill and after he went by once more, I tried to pick up the pace and stick with him. Unfortunately, once I attempted to go that little bit faster, my right calf started to cramp up and I had to slow down to a glorified shuffle again. Much to my frustration, I just couldn't take advantage of those last "easy" few miles like I'd hoped. I guess after violently expelling most of the liquids from my body over course of the previous 4+ hours, I should be grateful just to be standing – let alone running. Soon I could hear the shouts and applause coming from the finish area just around the next bend. I pushed up the final hill (calf in full-on seizure) and crossed the gravel line in 4:34:25. I’d run the last 6 miles in just over and hour - 1:02:09 (10:20 pace) and it felt like the longest hour of my life!. I crawled over to a shady spot to lie down and watched in dismay as my calf did the rumba right before my eyes.

As was the case before the race, the emotional ups and downs during the event itself were really quite amazing to behold! From feeling so good at the start, to puking 20 minutes later. From passing a ton of runners, to nearly passing out. From slowly losing ground, to rapidly gaining it again. The full spectrum was certainly on display that day. And, as I sipped my coke (while sitting still for the first time in 4 ½ hours) I could only laugh at the sheer incongruity of it all. Running is such sweet agony!

Sweetness and Agony. I guess, if you’re doing it right, racing should be a little bit of both!

My overall pace of 10:05 per mile was quicker than the 10:22’s I ran last year, but due to course being half a mile longer my Finishing  Time ended up being about 2 ½ minutes slower. On the plus side, I did finish in 17th place overall, 4th in my age group, and got a sweet BBTM beer glass and tech shirt for my troubles. So, now that I’ve done the Bear Brook Trail Marathon twice (once in each direction) what do I have to say about it for next year?  “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again!”


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