Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Agony of Defeat - Dogwood Canyon 50K

This is a hard race report to write.  I'm still trying to see the bright side.  Still trying to just be glad to have run in the beauty of nature and to be able to participate in such a great sport.  Still trying to see the glass as half full.

Two weeks ago I DNF'd at the Arkansas Traveller 100 because of severe sciatic pain that just would not allow me to go on.  That made me especially nervous about running this race but I had signed up at a bargain price of $40 way back in February and this is always a fun fall family get away.  Dogwood Canyon is a private resort and it is beautiful and Bass Pro Shop who sponsors the race as part of their Fitness Festival always has the best race shirts along with finishers fleeces from North Face (this year it was a North Face hoodie) and then they also have great food.  So if nothing else, this would be a great vacation.

One other thing, they give a little prize money.  $500 for 1st and $250 for 2nd but zero for third.  Four years ago I won the race and at that time they gave away a $1000!  That's the most money I've ever won in my life at anything so I was pretty excited that year.  Last year I took 2nd and $250.

The race day turned out to be near perfect conditions.  It was a beautiful fall day with a nice cool start with clear skies.  Usually the fall foilage is at its peak here but this year it had not quite turned yet though there was a little color in the trees.

The course runs mainly on jeep trails with tons of creek crossings and lots of short but very steep up and downs.  I would guess the course has about five or six miles that is on a paved trail that runs through the canyon.  Overall it is a pretty tough and technical course and very scenic.

The first 12 miles Taylor Surley (who passed me at mile 24 last year to take the win) myself and Doug Assenmacher who was third last year are all running in a nice pack but Taylor really seems to be pushing the pace.  Then we had about two miles of pavement and he really began running hard.  It felt like 5K pace to me.  When we reentered the trail and the woods for a big climb, I began to fall back and the hard effort for those two miles on the pavement really seemed to irritate the sciatic pain.  At the top of this climb 50K runners divert from the 25K runners.  25K runs a half mile or so down the hill to the finish.  I seriously contemplated quitting at this point as the pain was becoming pretty intense.

But I thought I could at least run the next five miles because the course loops back around to that same point and then I could drop if I really needed to.  These five miles are run in a huge open pasture that is really scenic and pretty.  But I was hurting and soon Doug, whom Taylor and I had put a small lead on, caught up and passed me. At one point I even stopped and stretched trying to work out the pain of the sciatic.  At mile 20, I seriously considered dropping again.  But I knew my wife and kids would be waiting for me.  I wanted that nice North Face finisher's fleece to give to her.  I now only had eleven miles and I wanted to celebrate with my kids and it would not be much of a party if I DNF'd.

So I continued to run and slowly and amazingly, I began to feel better.  It's not that the pain was not there, but it had gone kind of numb and was bearable.  I started running faster and faster.  I really didn't think I'd catch Doug but sure enough around mile 22 or 23, there he was.  Doug is an amazing runner.  At 47, he is five years older than I so I can't use age as an excuse.  I kept running strong.  I felt though like I could push even harder but was afraid to risk the sciatica coming back.  Nonetheless, with only about six miles to go, sure enough I managed to catch back up to Taylor.  What a great story this would be!  To come back from a near DNF and then to end up winning!!

He was at the top of a climb and he looked back and saw me.  For a moment, I thought he might come back to me but I guess seeing me was enough motivation for him to pick up the pace.  I stayed within sight of Taylor until only three miles left but upon entering back into the canyon and without seeing him ahead of me, I concluded he was too far ahead to catch.

So at that point I had resigned myself to just finish as comfortably as possible.  It seems as though flats irritate the sciatic more than going up and down steep hills.  Weird, I know but that's the way it is.  Now I am back to the pavement looking forward to getting second and $250 when out of no where another runner named Nathan appears suddenly behind me.  He was whooping and hollering as he passed me because he must of known I was not going to be able to run hard they way I was just shuffling along.  So with a half mile to go, he passed me and I felt so angry and dejected.

I had run so hard and overcome so much to try to get that second.  And to be honest, that $250 was going straight for Santa money and now I lost it at the very end.  To make matters worse, I only lost it because I thought I was all alone so I had really just let up those last three miles and by the time I realized he was there, it was too late.  Oh, the agony of defeat.

I write now only two days since the race and I am only now beginning to get over the loss.  As I watch the World Series, I can't imagine how low the pitcher feels when working so hard, his one wrong pitch is the one that gives up the game winning run and then he has to spend the rest of winter with that memory.

So I hope to get back to Dogwood Canyon and win again and more importantly, I hope to run without pain.

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