Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grasslands 50 Something

I really enjoy running in the winter.  It is my most consistent time of year for feeling good and running fast.  Day after day I seem to be able to run in the cold dry air effortlessly and as fast as my body will take me.  Then sometime in February I will wish for warmer weather because it is tough to get in those first couple of miles every day in below freezing temperatures as you wait for your body to warm up.

Then mother nature makes you pay for ever wishing for any type of warm weather.  She will torture you and brutalize you with her heat and humidity.  It is only March and you are already wishing for fall and the below freezing morning runs again.  If you are really unfortunate, mother nature's slap in the face will occur on a race day, even worse, an ultra race day.

With a forecast high of 80 degrees for Saturday's Grassland 50 Mile race, I told myself that 80 is not too bad.  The problem is that I had not felt what 80 felt like in four months.  And I certainly had not felt the full brunt of the sun on my winter whitened body.

One of the more interesting views.

On the way to Decatur, Texas where the LBJ Grasslands is located, I listened to a great show on NPR's Radio Lab.  If you have never listened to this show, here is a link, it is fun and very interesting as is always the case with NPR.

Here is a synopsis of the show: 
"What do you do when your own worst enemy This hour, Radiolab looks for ways to gain the upper hand over those forces inside us--from unhealthy urges, to creative insights--that seem to have a mind of their own."

In some ways this is exactly what ultrarunning is all about.  That's exactly the information I need before running fifty miles.  If I take a cue from this show, I cannot possibly DNF (did not finish) as I have a tendency to do more often in recent years.  So that night as a slept in my tent at the Grasslands, I was ready to run a smart race and finish strong.

As the race started, some type-A characters took off.  They were sizing each other up and began going way too fast.  I hung back and bided my time.  If I have a good race, it will be fun reeling them in.  There is plenty of time in a 50 to make up a lot of ground and the day was going to be hot.  I ran very conservative and felt very good after the first five miles.  Then on the next 14 mile loop, I continued to run well but I could tell the heat was taking it's toll already even though it was only 9 am. 

I soon was all alone in 3rd place and only 10 minutes back of the leaders but out in the full sun, with little shade, I began to really suffer.

The heat was beginning to really kick my ass.  The downward spiral begins innocent enough.  I notice that my posture is poor.  My shoulders begin to slump and the hills begin to seem really tough.  I am running a decent pace but it begins to feel like a 5K pace.  My stride begins to shorten and then the back bends forward.  My face becomes red hot and the shortened stride turns to a shuffle.  I try rallying myself, but almost subconsciously find myself walking up some of the hills.

A pic from the internet shows how you really feel the sun on this course.

The radio lab show comes to mind and I begin to do battle with my inner psyche.  I can just quit after this 13 mile loop and I will have run almost 50k.  That's good enough.  That's a great training run.  An additional 20 miles will be pure torture and you will run it slower than any other 50 miler and this Grasslands is a pretty easy course minus the dry dirt and sand.

But my other self says no, you must see this through.  It will feel good to finish, even if it is a slow finish.  Then a thought enters my head that I am unable to shake.  During the Black Plague, some monks and parishioners would often whip their own backs as an attempt to atone for sins.  It was a way of trying to suffer as Christ had suffered so that God would stop the plague.  They were called the self-flagellants.

Is this what I was doing?  Is this what ultrarunning is about?  A sort of punishment to one's self in order to atone for sins or to make oneself feel better?  There may be enough of a connection there to make some sense and in a sun drenched state of exhaustion and dehydration, this strangely made sense to me at the time and overrode any will power that was left to continue on.

Of course, that is not what ultrarunning is about.  In a good race, I can run almost effortlessly with little pain and just seem to fly.  Sure there is fatigue but it is not debilitating nor painful.  This day was both and it was only going to get worse.  I know because I had experienced it all too often.

In my first 50 miler at the Ouachita Trail many years ago, the same thing happened.  But it was my first fifty miler so I had to prove to myself that I could to it so I persevered and finished but it was so much suffering, I didn't run another fifty for two years.  Last year I went back to the OT50 and set a course record that was a full hour and a half faster than my original time and it was soo much easier.

So I think I am getting older and wiser.  As for the Grasslands course and race.  It was scenic in a different way.  Certainly I like the mountains better but it was a nice change of pace.  But the multi-loop course is always tough for me to complete.  I rarely drop out on an out and back course becomes the fastest way home is usually to just keep running rather than wait for a ride.  I'm glad this wasn't out and back on this day.

Unfortunately, there was little food at the finish.  I was disappointed in this.  While the aid stations were great and the people were wonderful, an $80 dollar entry should also get you a BBQ sandwich rather than having to pay for it.

Overall it was a good 50K training run for me.  I am certainly not deterred by this run as I know that I will just have to keep racing and I will hit my stride sooner or later.  Unfortunately, my next two ultras are in April and the heat and humidity will only get worse.  I'll be glad to run in the cool mountain air of the Rocky Mountains this summer.

1 comment:

  1. very interesting Tommy. Your writing skills are getting better and better. I bet you have already looked up to see if they have a race in the Luxembourg area while you are there.