Sunday, December 13, 2009

What I Learned At Hellgate 2009

They (you know, those mysterious mass-majority who are the authority on life and everything in it) say that you learn more from your failures than your successes. As much as I don't want to believe that the conventional wisdom about everything is always true, I think that "they" have a point in this case, because for me, Hellgate 2009 was overall, a spectacular failure, and, upon further reflection, I have a list of things a mile long that I could have done better. Here goes:

1. Eat a lot more in the days leading up to the race. In the past, I've paid more attention to this, eating until just past full for about three to five days before the race. This time, given my hectic work and travel schedule, I had to eat on the run most of the time, which made it difficult for me to do this. No, I wasn't starving myself, but if anything, I lost weigh over the past two weeks, which is not the direction to be heading before a race like this. Consequently, I was hungry within the first ten miles, and that never got better because . . .

2. You have to warm your food before you eat it. At the second aid station, they had food, none of which looked appetizing to me, but I knew I needed to eat, so I shoved a potato chunk in my mouth, and . . . ouch. Not only was it so cold that it was hurting my teeth, but swallowing something that cold was making me nauseous. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to take food from the aid station, keep it close to my body, and eat it after it warmed up.

3. You need to be mentally and emotionally present before you start one of these things. Due to my hectic schedule between being out of town for work for a week and a half, traveling for Thanksgiving, getting engaged, final projects for school, not to mention the other miscellaneous life stresses (like laundry, bills, dishes, and all that other garbage that responsible people worry about), by the time I got to the race, I was physically there, but mentally, I was already exhausted. In the past, I've been able to put myself in the right frame of mind as the race went on, but at Hellgate, the race was too long and too dark for me to get myself back together. Every time I starting feeling even a little bit tired, all of the stresses of the past few weeks started bearing down on me, and I was too emotionally weak to fight them. So, although I was physically fit, I was emotionally burned out from so many highs and lows that I came in to the race emotionally exhausted - not good.

4. You need A LOT more sleep. I had a good 9 hours of sleep the night before race night, but that was after I stayed up for almost 40 hours straight (due to work, school, and personal commitments that were all happening at once), and I was not recovered from that going in to the race. Being sleep-deprived definitely does not help your emotional state, but unfortunately, that's where I was.

5. Not giving all of the above their due. You would think that, coming in to a race like this under-nourished, sleep-deprived, and emotionally distracted, I would have been more mindful that these were the real demons that I would be battling. Instead, all I could think about at the time was how bad food tasted, how awful I felt, and how much I wanted to give up. By the time I was able to properly recognize the source of the problem, I was too far gone to attack it. Really, these were problems that should have been dealt with in the week leading up to the race.

But, in spite of all of that, there were some successes during the race, and to give them their due:

1. My clothing worked. I hate cold weather, and normally I choose to just tough it out and freeze. However, in a last-minute 100-dollar shopping spree, I bought socks, glove liners, gloves, poly-pro baselayer, and an outer wind shell to keep me warm, and the system worked. Yes, it was very stressful to be doing this in the few hours before the race, but the point is, I was never cold, except at mile 22 when I was first thinking about dropping, and I stood around for about half an hour, making no attempt to get warm. Considering that it was about 10 degrees out there, I feel that my clothing strategy was successful, since I have NEVER been out in that kind of weather for as long as I was (9 hours) without feeling really miserable about the temperature at some point.

2. I found a comfortable long hill rhythm. For months, I've been trying to develop a "low gear" for hills in these long races. At Hellgate, after the food that I ate before the race kicked in, but before it wore off, I fell into this groove going up a very long hill. For about three miles, I chugged up a long hill, passing about a dozen people, and workig my way back into the top 15.

3. My shoes worked. Because they didn't have my size, I bought a pair of Mountain Masochist trail shoes that were a size and a half too big. As it turns out, this was exactly enough room for my feet to swell, so I wound up not having any toe problems, even though my feet got wet a lot during the race.

So overall, the point is, I focused so much on the cold weather aspect of the race, and being adequately trained for the race that the more basic physical and mental aspects of preparation fell through the cracks. In the future, I need to recognize that mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation, and, above all, that you are never alone when you run one of these races. There are always people back home that love and care about you, and if you are too full of confusion and negativity to have room to carry what may be the most important thing of all - their love - in your heart, then you might as well be running Hellgate naked, without food or water.

Oh, and also, don't get your shoes or your windpants too close to the fire - they don't have to actually be IN the fire to melt or burn. :)