Monday, May 14, 2012

Love Affair on Massanutten Mountain Trails

The title just draws you in... sounds exciting like maybe this time she'll talk about something other than running....

So last week I was still "down"... I was happy, rested, running...but still not totally myself. Some guidance suggested I seek becoming more involved with running, as if giving it 75% of not-working life just wasn't quite enough to keep me happy due to some social issues with being human and what not. So after realizing how right this was... I decided that I would go to MMT 100 mile trail run on Saturday evening to volunteer and hopefully pace a runner so that I could 1) pace someone who could use support 2) learn a thing or two from the people I idolize (anyone who is willing to put themselves in and through hell for a good challenege)  3) to check out the course and get in a great trail run. oh and 4) see how running on no sleep through the night felt. Not to mention I knew at least one of the runners personally and a couple others by name.

So I ended up getting to mile 87.9 "picnic area" Aid Station #14 around 7:30PM, parking my car and then getting acquainted with the other volunteers. Time was moving at 3 x normal speed, before I knew it darkness had settled and the top runners were passing through. Unbelievable- these guys look like they'd done only a warm up jog and were now just getting ready to start the race. Hardly a trace of fatigue worn on their face or body despite how they may have felt internally. The top female came through also looking fresh, the only sign of a tough run was the longer hair made the sweat from the near 90degree temps early that day visible. She was smiling up a storm for every photo opp. An hour or so, maybe more, though it felt like mere minutes sitting by the campfire talking about running with crew members hanging around for short periods until their runner would check in- and out of the aid station and they'd move out to meet them at the next, David came through. I was already aware of his placement and pace from the other volunteers who kept an eye on the web postings. I knew he was having a good day, so he wouldnt need nor would he want a pacer. He would finish the race with time to spare to make his goal, but still I asked to be sure. He said he was good and off he went. (He finished in 23:32- goal well completed :)). I knew I should sleep for a few hours and pick up a runner later, but I wanted to hit the course so badly, sleep was not an option. Again time passed quickly. Runners in/ runners out. Steve came in around 2:30AM on Sunday, No green dot on his Race number... and no pacer in sight... this meant he wasn't taking part in the Solo race but was clearly doing this on his own- no crew- no pacer....but he looked mentally tired, so I asked if he'd like some company. His eyes actually brightened up a bit.

Off down the dark single track techinical trail we jogged. for the first hour we chatted and kept pushing. The ups and downs were mild but continuous, nothing flat. I was trying to watch my own footing and watch for the flourscent markers to keep my runner on track. I missed one. Damn! I thought and I sprinted back to find the course, luckily Steve and another runner who'd missed the turn had only gone about 2 minutes in the wrong direction. Back on course- the trail began to ascend, gradually, but at 90miles into a run, it doesnt matter much.... up hurts and up steeper hurts more. I felt empathy for the runners as my legs were nearly fresh and I sprung from rock to rock. I was noticably tired though not from running. I tripped often. I am a  Strong trail runner because of good proprioception (from years of gymnastics) and strong ankles- but I felt like an amateur in my trail shoes. I've never run trails with anything that clunky before (minimalist on every surface)... I wasn't able to blame it only on being tired, the shoes, the lack of experience with a headlamp... I wasn't sure which or if all made the difference but I was struggling more often than I'd like to admit to keep my footing stable. I must have turned my ankles 5 times each- i mean enough to take most ppl down.... but I was intent... I'd not fall, or draw of my runner's attention toward my experience, I was meant to be support, to minimalize the anxiety of the mind as it screams louder and louder "STOP running you idiot and go to sleep... NO one is around, just REST, you can't take ONE more step, STOP trying!" (or atleast this is what my mind yells under such conditions -20+ hours into a run on significant hiking trails... (not that I'd honestly even know... yet)).

My runner was getting desperate. The climbing was a continual frustration, "I'm so sick of climbing" he would say as he pushed onward and the downhills were continually painfully as your feet fall over and over again on fatigued muscles, jolting the body with X times your body weight over and over and over.

At the next aid station somewhere around 4:45am I made sure my runner got everything he wanted to eat/ drink. I almost forgot that despite the temperature and pace, I was doing significant work and should eat too. Despite my sickening sweet tooth during my day to day life, on the trail I hate the thought of sugar, some chex mix and a couple tortilla chips were perfect. My runner was up on his feet again, I asked him if he was ready, "ready to go to bed" he replied; I smiled and said, "Nah You look ready to RUN... lets move." (Never let an endurance athlete rest too long - many exceptions to this rule, but generally, if the mind settles into the rest, its a lot of effort and sometimes nearly impossible to get moving again.)

As we headed upward, knowing this would be the last BIG climb, I tried to think of supportive commentary. Unfortunatly I've never had much support out the course of almost any races since college 5/6K races, I love cowbells when I'm out running more than any spoken words. For me, hearing that I still look strong, helps me the most, because when my mind is fatiguing and my body hurts, I start to feel like Im collapsing inward. If it doesn't look that way to anyone else- then it's just in my head, which means I've got A LOT more to give... So I fed him what I could honestly; Telling him thjat he was holding a great cadence and to just keep up that rhythm, he looked strong enough to climb this mountain 3 times over. Besides that, we ran/ hiked up and up. I remembered for the 1st time in years a high school running shirt which we had chosen to quote the movie "The Matrix": "There is No Spoon" to which we used to say upon running up hills.... the idea being of course that the limits we set are soley in perception of the mind.... aka... if you shut up the mind... the body can in fact handle that climb many times over. So I shared this little story as we began to descend at about 5:20am. The rest of the race, although 3+ miles over the 100mile marker, would be essentially negative gain... so downhill/ flat. Once out of the woods dawn was well upon us, the pace picked up. My runner asked me, as he had a few other times throughout... how far till... (this time "till the finish") do ya think?." Having never been here before and I had basically no idea as our pace varied from 8 min/mile pace to 22min/ mile pace... so What would I want to hear?....5k... so 5k it was... thats what I said we had left, even though I was pretty sure it was closer to 4.5 miles...3.1 sounded much more doable. We Took OFF... bounding down the road at my comfortable run pace, roughly 7:55 per mile.... I was totally inspired... how does any one do that after 101miles of running.... but he just kept running. After running this pace for about 22 min, he began to falter a little, but only two 15 second walk breaks were needed to get him rolling again. The last rolling hill was less than a mile from the finish... but I wouldnt have known that for sure, but we got up that. Zipping through a stretch of woods and across one of two bridges, the sound of the finish was audible and the yellow markings appeared, I patted my runner on the shoulder and said, "Thats all You... take it home." And he ran to a 26:43 Finish.

I was embarrassed by how sleepy I was, The runners all were so elated (though many at this time that I'm talking about and or with had slept for an hour or two and showered) and talkative and I was barely awake at 7am...I ate some breakfast and Listened as intently as I was able to David talking about his run and the course and his pre-race stressors. By 8am I was freezing. I was provided a warm-up suit that combined with a cup of hot coffee made the lack of sleep and the chill much easier to manage without complaint, which among this crowd I felt as if, unless i started to have a serious medical issue, nothing I could think to whine about could compare to what they had just endured.

I took part briefly in a few conversations but felt too sleepy to really be attentive enough to socialize. Around 10am David drove me back to my Aid station (10mi), for which I am extraordinarily grateful for... I figured before he'd offered that I'd have 10 more miles on my own to it was a pleasant surprise. Though I still feel midly guilty for taking a finisher away from the finishers crowd for an out and back drive of 20miles on a dirt road after running for 24 hrs... :/... But Thank You again!

Of course when I got back there was only 5 more runners that needed to come through before the 11am cut off, 2 made it... 3 did not. Everyone cleaned up so fast, I didnt feel all that helpful. I think I mostly helped by eating - so there was less to clean up :). Only a few minutes later another volunteer, Charlie, said he was headed out for a run. The early morning grey clouds had broken to a gorgeous sunny day, and everything was so green. So naturally I told my sleepy mind to shut up... since I almost never had the chance to be out on a trail.... and I wanted to see more of the course. Off we went for another 90+ mintues of running.  It was an amazingly beautiful out and back that wrapped up the weekend in a cozy blanket made of moments only found by few but sought by many for the beauty, the joy, the purity and the wisdom.

Needless to say, I'm in love with trail running- I feel re-connected via my mind, my body, my soul and my existence ... all energy channels re-opened and flowing. I know, to many, sometimes to myself, this sounds hokey.... but I have no other words to describe it... So I borrow these and try to share my joy with you. <3

Run Capon 50K next Saturday 5/19/12, aka TRAIL RUN <3

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