Monday, October 10, 2005

Glacial Trail 50k

"Be like water flowing over the rocks-the water flows constantly, not stopping to consider its path around the next stone." -Takuan Soho

This is one of my favorite quotes about how to live life. Never did it take on as much literal meaning as this weekend at the Glacial Trail race. Maybe in his meditations Takuan visited the North Kettle moraines.

On a day when 40,000 people ran in the streets of the windy city for the Chicago Marathon, some of us were 150 miles north in the woods of east central Wisconsin for the Glacial Trail Trail Runs near the small town of Greenbush. I arrived with Kim and Keegan on Saturday afternoon at our hotel in Plymouth, just in time for a dinner of chicken and rice and the obligatory pint of Blue Moon (carbs, baby).

Race morning started for me at 4:00 a.m. when sleep decided to leave me to my nervous energy. Today was to be a test of faith and an experiment of the self. It has been only five months since I resumed training coming off last fall's fracture. Pam and I both were starting this event on much lower mileage than in the past. My long runs were 3, 3 1/2, 4, 4 1/2 hours, all on the hilliest trails we can find in this area and at a slow pace. Weekday runs were sporadic and only around 5k or so each. In addition to worrying a bit about being undertrained, my knee has been twinging just from walking for the last few weeks.

The morning air was slightly chilly, in the low 40's, but the day promised sunny skies and highs in the 60's, absolutely ideal conditions. After filling the bottles we drove out to the start at the fire station in Greenbush. We met up with Pam and Ron and headed to the start. Kim and Keegan saw me off at 7:00 as we shuffled off into the sunrise-bathed streets. My biggest concern, the IT band area of my right knee, was already twining within minutes of the start, but my feeling was that as things loosened up the pain would be absorbed for 7 1/2 hours or more, and if not, I would find a way to cope. The first half mile is on roads, from there onto a short stretch of trail that took us through a gorgeous stand of bowered pine, and then onto the Ice Age Trail, where we would spend the next 30 or so miles.

The plan was, per usual, to run the flats and downhills, and power walk the ups, keeping to our training pace, staying hydrated, and eating whenever offered. Got a scare about 5 minutes into the Ice Age Trail when I hit one of the 1000s of rocks and rolled my left ankle. I was able to take it in stride and keep moving, our hill training holding me in good stead as nothing felt injured and the pain minor. A nice way to start the morning and wake up.

Did i mention rocks? This trail is littered with them and demands focus and respect at all times, lest one violate this code and pay with blood.

We hooked up with old ultrarunner at mile 4 who hung with us and kept us occupied with chatter. The first aid station is at mile 7-ate a banana, a few pretzels, and refilled my bottles. I took a succeed cap at about 2 hours just to cover the electrolyte bases. We soaked in the beauty of the trail and felt strong between the 7 mile and Butler Lake aid station at 13.1 miles. The midway point is just beyond this scenic lake and it's here that I got my first twinge of hamstring trouble while descending one of the small hills.

At about the 18 mile mark I started feeling some real tightness in my hammies and Pam's IT band and legs were kicking in. We encouraged each other to stay strong and focused. Despite getting into that semi-meditative state of focusing only on the moment and the trail of front of me, tired legs made it difficult to pick my size 13's up enough to clear every rock. The result was stubbing the toes several times and almost (but not) going down. This resulted in two problems: The first being that each stub was hammering the hell out of my feet, and secondly was that my hamstring would completely seize up, making it tough to even walk without pain. This where my very limited long run experience came in. In my first 50k, at the six hour mark I tripped and went down. My legs were completely locked and cramped. I mentally panicked, thinking my day was over and all the training futile. Struggling to my feet (insert "Chariots of Fire" or some shit) I got to hobbling and miraculously after a minute the muscles bounced back and stretched, allowing me to finish. The lesson was to just keep moving and allow my body to adjust and regulate itself. I'd been there before, and knew what it felt like and how to cope.

At the 20 mile mark the ebbs and flows of energy and mood kicked in. The beauty of the forest helped alleviate the low points. The foliage, while not at peak, was plenty colorful, especially considering that back home things are still green. The last aid station came at about 24 miles, more banana slices and a few rice krispie bars (damn good) helped give a boost to the legs. Pam, the optimist of our team, thought a sub-8 hr. finish was possible, while I, ever the slacker, didn't know where we stood on splits but didn't want to jinx anything, thinking that 8:20 might be more realistic. I have to work on my attitude.

The home stretch was a beautiful power hike/occasional run up and down the hill of the kettle moraine forest, up and down the range of emotion. With three miles left we knew it was in the bag and the adrenaline kicked in. Pam picked up her pace and I followed. The last mile cuts through the pine cathedral where we started and onto the strees of the Greenbush. We walked the hill, always leery of pavement, but ran in the last 1/4 mile, knowing that we had our sub-8. Kim and Keegan were there at the finish and Pam and I crossed the line and collected the sweet finisher's shirts 7 hours 52 minutes after starting this spiritual journey.

What an honor and a blessing to be able to get out and do this, to feel wholly alive and energized. The only thing missing at the finish was Dad. He was there at the QQ finish, almost 2 years ago, just one month after his surgery and cancer prognosis, and on this day I have no doubts it was his spirit that was the sun shining through those trees and illuminating the way. Thanks to Pam for being an awesome partner in trail crime and Kim and Keegan for supporting my lunacy every step of the way. How awesome to see them at the finish. I have to say also, those two bowls of chili were the best I've ever had.

Enough fluff, now the damage: One day later I'm very sore and it's not a walk, but a hobble. The bottom of my right foot is bruised up and the second toe on my left foot is badly purpled and probably broken. Chalk it up as a sacrifice to the trail. It's all worth it and I coulnd't be happier.

I probably need to lose 10 or 15 pounds, do more speedwork, work up more gradually to long runs, figure out what imbalances are leading to these hamstring issues (probably being fat), and do more overall mileage. All things to ponder and work towards. But for today I am a slightly stronger person, changed in some subtle ways. Many lessons learned along the trail and many, many more to learn in my future. The journey continues...

4 comments:

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Miss Tenacity said...

Congrats on your run, Jason. I also did the 50K and it was much bumpier than I remembered from 1997! :-)

moor-rambler said...

Congrats on completing your run in one piece. Mad props. I hope you get to spend some time chillin' before embarking on more 'lunacy'. Tupa and I have been running/walking together and enjoying the shrinking days. You're right, maybe I am watching too much cricket, 1 out of 4 on the
LDS is pretty poor. Go Cards!!!