Wow! I can’t believe it has been so long since I posted on my blog…I wonder how many blog posts start that way? Anyway, lots and lots has happened since my last post, so I wanted to get some of it down on virtual paper before the details start to fade.
Since rupturing my L5-S1 disk last July, and my subsequent back surgery in September, it has been a long road. I was released by the doctors in late December to start running again, and since then, I have been slowly building up the miles. After nearly six months of no running, it was like starting running for the first time!
After getting back into running, I also made the transition from being a pronounced heel-striker to a mid-foot striker. I have been meaning to write a post on that journey and what I learned, but maybe later. Well, the long and short of it is after about 8 months of experimenting, trial & error, and a lot of hard work I am almost back to where I was before my injury. In fact a few weeks ago (Aug. 24th, 2013), I achieved my comeback goal of completing my second 50k!
This race format was pretty unique, and I thought it would be a good way to get back into ultras. It was run on a 5k loop. At 7am the participants lined up to run one lap. We repeated this every hour, on the hour until all ten laps were completed. In the end your time was calculated as the total sum of your ten lap times. Running ten 5Ks sure SOUNDED easier than running one 50k!
I came into this race woefully under trained. Due to pulling a muscle in my back about 6 weeks prior to the race, I missed out on some of my key long runs at the end of my training. In fact, the longest run I had done since my surgery prior to the race was 15 miles. Even so, I woke up that next morning feeling pretty good, and ready to run. I was putting a lot of hope in my PEK working some magic to get me to the finish line!
So, with all that on my mind, I drove down to Ridgeland, SC on Friday afternoon to pickup my race pack and setup my tent at the race site. Afterwards, I went down to Hilton Head for my pre-race meal at Mellow Mushroom. By 8pm, I was settled down in my tent where I listened to a couple of podcasts and then tried to get some sleep before the big race.
I woke up at 5:45 am, surprisingly refreshed after the fitful nights sleep I had gotten (it had been too hot/humid for camping), ate some fruit and almond butter and went for a warmup walk before the race began.
Thankfully, the weather was overcast and cooler than expected (high 70s – actually cooler
than the night before), but still pretty humid. The course was a bit of an out and back figure eight, with about 2/3 of it being single track and the rest service roads. The first lap let me know what I was in for the rest of the day. A large portion of the course was muddy. If you are not familiar with coastal GA and SC, you probably don’t fully appreciate what I just said. Mud in this area of the country is not just wet dirt, it is mostly clay, commonly referred to as “gumbo”, and it is like running in creamy peanut butter spread about 6″ deep…relentless, slippery, shoe-sucking mud! Even so, I felt pretty optimistic about the day by the end of the first lap. I had hoped to hold a steady pace between 11 and 12 min/mile throughout the day, and so far, things looked promising. However, that was not to last.
The next few laps were uneventful, but by the end of the 5th lap, I was starting to feel the effects of being under trained, poorly rested and running solo. This was my first time running a race that my son Christian and I didn’t run together. Actually, it was the first time I had run more than 15 miles without my running partner. I totally underestimated the importance of having someone there to motivate you when it gets tough.
On lap six, I put on a fresh pair of shoes that had a little more cushion and traction and started using the run/walk method that had gotten me through my first marathon at a 3:1 ratio. By the end of lap seven, the wheels were coming off and I was running 1 minute, then walking two minutes.
At this point, I was hanging by a thread and I was doubting my chances of finishing. I started lap eight thinking that I would drop after that lap with a respectable 24.8 miles completed. About a mile into the 5k loop, my quads started cramping. every time I tried to run for more than 30 seconds, they would spasm and cramp. From the two mile marker, I death-marched in to the finish line with full intention of embracing my first DNF.
When I crossed the finish line for that lap, Tim Waz was there logging everyone’s lap time. He told me I was doing great. I just winced and said “I’m done.” He said something to the effect of “You’ve got about 12 minutes before the next lap starts. Get something to drink, sit down for a minute and see how you feel.” In my mind, it was over. But rather than argue with him, I grabbed a couple of oatmeal cookies from the aid station table and hobbled back to my tent. I got my last bottle of Tailwind out of the cooler, sank into my camp chair and took off my shoes.
My rationale was good. I knew I could not complete two more laps, and I also knew it would be crazy to quit with just one lap to go, so now was the time to drop. Just finish that last cookie, turn in your race bib and start packing up.
About that time, they sounded the five minute warning for lap nine. I didn’t budge. I didn’t even raise my head. Just finish the last of that bottle of sports drink, turn in your race bib and start packing up.
Soon I heard, “Two minutes, people!” Since my station was only about 30 feet from the starting line, I decided I would at least hang around to cheer on everyone for the start of the next lap. Just clap, turn in your race bib and start packing up.
Then, something happened. I honestly can’t explain it. It was like someone else was controlling my body. “One minute!” I looked down and one of my shoes was on my foot, then the other, and by the time they started the ten second countdown, I was standing there in the middle of the pack thinking “What the heck…it’s only two more laps!”.
To my surprise, I power walked the entire course except for the first and last 100 yards of lap nine, and finished in about 45 minutes (faster than lap eight). Every step took effort, but now I had a plan…relentless forward progress. I knew I was going to be able to finish this thing!
Just before the last lap, I realized that I had not taken any pictures of the course, so I grabbed my iPhone at the last minute and brought it with me. Now I knew I could take a little extra time and still beat the cut-off, so I stopped every 1/4 mile or so and snapped some pics of the course.
It was such a great feeling to round that last corner and see the finish line! I was so glad that I stuck it out, though I’m still not sure where the motivation to get back out for the last two laps came from, but I couldn’t be more proud of my finish. As a bonus, I also won a pair of SwiftWick socks they gave away via several random drawings! No one was going to be writing articles about me in Trail Runner Magazine with my 7:04 finish time, but it was a PR for me, and that’s way better than a DNF!
As I slowly packed up my campsite (I had failed to consider having to do that by myself with leg cramps when I decided to camp out instead of getting a hotel) I did think to myself that I was done with any races over the half marathon distance. I had done it, I had nothing more to prove to myself or anyone.
Two days later, I’m browsing UltraSignup.com for a January 50k for Christian and I to run together…….