Thursday, November 3, 2011
That might be an odd introductory paragraph for this post, because in this case - a trail race I completed last weekend - I was able to practice real patience and self-restraint, recognizing the distance and difficulty of the course and understanding that every step was included in the final result. And it paid off.
The race: It's called Surf the Murph, and it was actually three separate races rolled into one event: 50 miles, 50 kilometers, and 25 kilometers. The actual loop in Murphy-Hanrehan Park (Savage, MN) was 16.7 miles in length, so while three of those loops would hit 50 miles nearly exactly, you can do the math to see that the other races were more like 54 and 27 kilometers each. Well, that's trail racing. You want accuracy, go run on the roads or the track.
My current fitness ruled out the two longer races, so I entered the 27k. I arrived, after getting lost just once while driving in unfamiliar territory in the morning darkness, about an hour after the 50 mile racers had started, just in time to see the 54k racers take to the course. The 27k would be the final start, one hour later. It was brisk, about 30F with a clear sky but no real winds. Shivering in the bathroom line was a common denominator for all of us. Of course, if you know me you know I like to race in the cold, so this was good news for me.
Having never run in this park before, I didn't know quite what to expect. I'd been fore-warned by a couple of friends that there would be some sharp ups and downs, and the "Surf" in the title was an easy clue to the way the hills just kept coming, like ocean waves. I was determined NOT to repeat my fiasco at the Surly Trail-Loppet. No fast starts today.
As the starter sent us off, I tried to focus all of my attention on myself, how I felt, and ignore the runners around me - not always easy, this race taking place on Halloween weekend, and having several costumed competitors, including a sandal-wearing Neanderthal running just in front of me. Of course, it's still a race, so as we sloped down and around the first corner, I quickly tabulated thirteen bobbing heads on the trail ahead of me - putting me in 14th place.
The first 3 miles or so included some relentless ups and downs. None were more than maybe 100 feet, but they were steep and frequent. Running up is just guts, but running down is about form and efficiency. Downhills have never been my forte, but I stayed relaxed and tried to allow gravity to help.
Without trying at all, I slowly wove past three runners, and hit the first aid station just before 3 miles sitting in 11th place. I was happy with that, figuring that I was probably doing just fine in my age group, and knowing that I'd been holding back a lot - so hoping for a stronger run in the final miles of the race.
The second aid station was said to be at about 5.5 miles, and I'd moved to 9th place by then - again, not trying to run anyone down, just staying relaxed and doing my thing. I didn't have any more runners in sight ahead of me, so figured it was unlikely I'd catch anyone else on the day. At that point, I was averaging over 9 minutes per mile (I told you it was hilly - we did some walking on the uphills).
During the next 30 minutes, we began to catch the tail end of the 54k racers. This surprised me - they had a 1 hour head start, and I was about an hour into this loop. If I was running 9:00 miles, this meant that they had taken about 2 hours to "run" the first 7 miles of their race - something like 18:00 mile pace. Ouch. Those guys were in for a very long day. they still had 25 miles to go!
Things started getting more confusing after this. I was catching and passing people, but which race were they running? I tried to use logic: if I saw someone, then caught and passed them within a minute or less, I assumed they were in the 54k. If I saw someone, but had to run them down over a few minutes before going by, then they must be in my race. But what about the guy walking and stretching his hamstrings? And what about the three guys standing at the aid station at 12.4 miles - which race were they in? Hmm.
Making some assumptions (playing games in my head), I figured I could be anywhere from 5th place all the way up to 2nd, but there was no way to tell for sure. The final 4.3 miles to the finish flew by, and I had finally opened up the throttle and gone into full-on race mode, running as hard as I could to pass as many people as I could. I had to thrash through the underbrush a couple of times, as some 54kers - at least I THINK they were 54kers - refused to move to the side - sigh. To be honest, most of them were totally cool and polite and encouraging, it was just two dunderheads who refused to yield the trail to me, despite my asking politely more than once. Yeesh.
I pushed through to the finish, a very casual set up, with a table of friendly volunteers. No idea what place I'd garnered, I asked a volunteer, who said, "I don't know, second maybe? I think some guys are in already". All right, but what does that mean, and what if runners in the 54k had dropped out at the end of their first loop? Hard to tell.
I decided that it didn't really matter. I'd run a MUCH better race than last time, finished very strong, and felt like I could have gone another mile or two if I'd had to do so. I grabbed some snacks, made sure to thank the volunteers, congratulated the race director for a great event, then headed home.
Waited for several days for results to be posted, which was a bit frustrating. Finally, they were up, and I saw myself listed as 2nd place - okay, that was more-or-less what I expected. What I didn't expect was that the winner was a 58 year old from St. Paul. Fifty-eight?? Dude, I want to know what you have for breakfast! Beat me by 11 minutes too, stomped me. I was curious - this guy had to be an outstanding age-grouper around these parts - so I searched the internet for the name and race results. Nothing, except one of those Mud-Warrior events from last summer, showing a mid-pack finish. Wow, this 58 year old guy came out of nowhere and won a 27k trail race? Then I finally found some links to the name - and the right age - but it was related to some guy who lost almost 100 pounds using some special intense training regimen - didn't look like a runner. Hmm. Weird. Well, kudos to you buddy. Nice run.
The next day, just out of curiosity, I took another look at the results. Lo and behold, I was listed as first place! I guess it was a scoring error or something, but that other guy was now way down the standings, and there I was in first. Hey, I'm an old codger now, I don't WIN races! Or, do I? If I'm patient enough, run to my strengths, build momentum and come flying home in the last miles ... maybe I do!
I last won a race back in 2008, and I was convinced it would be the very last race I would ever win. I was wrong. To say I'm on cloud nine right now would probably be an understatement. Let me bask in this one just a little while, I'm sure I'll be shot back down to earth the next time I toe the line. But I'll enjoy this feeling while it lasts.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
Monday, May 2, 2011
Photo credit Dawn Moore Photography
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
We miss you, already. You were, and always will be, the epitome of grace, power, humility, focus, and gentle friendliness - the ideal runner. You represent what we all should strive to be as runners, and as human beings.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
I will be attending the NYC Running Show coming up on April 22 & 23 here in NYC. At the event, I will be joining a Panel Discussion (4:00pm on Saturday). The Panel is titled "NYC Running Scene with NYCRuns.com", and I've been informed that our goal is to provide a broader picture of New York area running than one might get otherwise, especially those NYC runners who tend to get a bit focused only on the NYRR. We will discuss area clubs, why you might consider joining one, and what you might gain from doing that. I actually blogged on this topic about two years ago, and I think that post still remains relevant.
In addition, we will be talking about our favorite races throughout the "area", which I take to mean essentially any place you can reasonably get to during the morning hours pre-race (at least that's my definition, anyway). The Panel will include:
Karla Bruning - Moderator, Harrier, Running Blogger. Self-described Running Nerd. Serious Journalist.
Douglas Hegley - Competitive runner since 1978 (700 races and counting), trail running nut, Athletic Director/Coach of the New York Harriers - and former team President. Blogger.
I hope that those of you in the area will join us and participate in the discussion. In fact, check out the two-day schedule of events, and I think you will definitely want to be there.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I also found a short home-made video someone posted:
My race ended up being about exactly what I expected: I did not get a great start, because the young bucks just move too fast for me. However, as soon as we hit any technical stuff, I can reel them back in. I was about 30th at around the half-mile mark, closer to the top 20 by about 2 miles, and passed a few more during the remaining 3 miles to finish a fairly respectable 17th on the day, out of 423 runners. That is actually my worst-ever placing in this race, not surprising given my current state of fitness and my age. However, ironically it wasn't my slowest time ever on this course - I ran almost a minute slower way back in 2001. So I haven't lost it completely!
There were more downed trees on the course this year than I remember from years past. In fact, we twice had to sort of wriggle our way through a tangle of branches laying across the course. That meant coming to a near-stop twice and crawling/scrambling/pulling ourselves over/around/through the limbs. Fun, but definitely not helping with overall elapsed time. Ditto for some of the muddy sections, which were appropriately goopy and stinky, as only swamp mud can be.
The water crossing was about average in depth, but rather darned cold this year - or is that I don't manage to remember how darned cold that thing is every year? I do think that I am not aggressive enough leaping into that stream - check out Ben's aerial hi-jinks in the slideshow above. There is another funny aspect to that water crossing: somehow it doesn't feel all that cold when you're IN the water, but a few seconds after you get out, it kind of hits you ... and hard. My toes curl up, I start breathing in shallow gasps, and I almost want to rip off the cold, wet clothes I'm wearing - only that sounds cold too! It takes me about 30 seconds to get re-focused on the simple of act of running the final half-mile to the finish, on my cold-numbed and thus wobbly legs.
I wanted to send kudos to a couple of old friends who ran great in this race. Kevin Shelton-Smith, who at age 51 has been running lifetime personal bests on the road, finished 12 overall and first in the 50-59 age group. Nice work. Not far behind, George Buchanan was 14th overall and second in that division. At 17th overall, I am actually lucky to be still age 49, because I'd have been 3rd in their division, but managed second in my YOUNGER age group. Those two guys are really strong trail runners - and lest I forget to say so, Kevin had actually raced a 30k trail race on the day before, and had come in second overall in that event. I can only envy that kind of fitness right now, because my only real goal for 2011 is to avoid the injury bug. That requires me to take more easy days, and not to push my hard workouts too hard. I'm not willing to take the risk of hurting myself in order to maximize my fitness, at least not yet. Maybe later this year, maybe next year, but not right now. I'll keep at it and do what I can, but I'm not pushing myself back to the sidelines again if I can help it.
A final note on this race: my 17 year old son Max came along and gave it a shot. I was slightly worried that he'd lack the fitness to make it the entire way, but he seemed enthused. I lent him some gloves, a hat, some trail shoes, and he stomped through the swamp like the rest of us. By the end of the day, he finished in 157th place out of 423 runners, on literally no training whatsoever since last October. I'm proud of him for that, and as we stripped the muddy clothes off of our shivering selves back at the car, it really made me happy to hear him already plotting to come back next year and bring friends. Now that would be really, truly great.