Cold, hard numbers:
5 February: 2.5 miles (17.5 minutes) to Our Daily Bread for a service project, during which I saw a guy punch another guy square in the jaw, causing him to drop like a rag doll. Then, 2.5 miles (17.5 minutes) back home, wearing "nice clothes" (jeans, button-down shirt, and a Ben Sherman jacket) on Monument Street, narrowly avoiding getting jumped by four high-school-sophomore age boys (race redacted) - clearly a case when you're "asking for it" by dressing a certain way. Finally, 10 miles in normal running clothes in normal places (70 minutes) - what Super Bowl?
6 February: 10-ish-mile lunch run with Luke (70 minutes)
7 February: 10-ish-mile lunch run with Luke (70 minutes), then my return to Tuesday Night Track - 2+ mile warmup, fast "minutes" (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1), with 1 minute running "rest" between - intervals at high-5-minute-mile pace, "rest" at low-7-minute-mile pace, 2+ mile warmdown, for about 10 miles (70 minutes) total
8 February: 10-ish-mile lunch run with Luke (70 minutes), then 10 more miles in the evening (70 minutes) with the Wednesday night Canton run crew.
9 February: 5 miles at the end of the workday (35 minutes), waking me up for a night with Me Talk Pretty, Hawthorne Heights, The Young Electric, and some other bands at the Legendary Dobbs in Philadelphia (a pretty legendary night . . .)
10 February: Doubled, on a theory - 6 miles (40 minutes) at around noon, then another 6 miles (40 minutes) at around 7 p.m.
11 February: Mid-Maryland 50K in 4:29, follwed up with 7 miles (49 minutes) in light snow and whipping wind around the Inner Harbor
Total Time: 888 minutes
Total Distance: 120 miles
Warm, gently massaged memories:
I didn't want to run the Mid-Maryland 50K.
But this year, I set a goal to run a race of at least 50 miles in length every month. Unfortunately, when it comes to ultrarunning, February is the cruelest month (except for the Rocky Raccon 100, but it would have been 2 weeks after the Beast of Burden 100, and the race director didn't seem keen on late entries, although with the number of people that asked me about it, I'm regretting now that I didn't at least try, but anyway . . .), and so it seems unlikely that I'll be able to meet that goal this month. But I can maybe at least run an ultra every month this year, and 50K is pretty much the legal minimum for an ultra. Plus, this race was close (shortest drive ever to an ultra for me - just under half an hour) and cheap ($50, registering online 3 days before the race). And, theoretically, the course, 5 10K trail loops, was flat and fast, so maybe a chance for a PR.
So whatever, I entered.
The night before was total routine - less than 10 minutes to lay out cold weather running outfit A, and post-race warm-jeans-and-button-down-flannel ensemble B, and put together my bottles and pills. (Perhaps it's a little disturbing how dialed-in all of this is now.) I went to bed early, got plenty of sleep, left the house on time, arrived an hour before the race, and had plenty of time to do everything I needed to do, including take this picture:
Which is how it looked before the race, and why I was, even more than when I woke up and forced myself out of the relative warmth of my bed, dreading this race. All that snow, and still coming down - over the course of 4 or 5 hours, that would make clothing wet, heavy, and useless at best (burdensome at worst). But again, whatever, I was here, and so were Serge Arbona, Christian David Creutzer, Henry Peck, and Mike McGonagle, ultrarunning buddies. Time to run a race.
The race director gave us about two minutes of instruction, joking that he marked the entire snow-covered course with a white line yesterday (as it turned out, he really wasn't joking, which meant the course markings were nearly impossible to see - good thing there were a lot of signs). Then, with little fanfare, except for all of us shouting the word "Uno!" in a nod to the pizza sponsor, not the card game, we were off.
(Oops, wrong race. The other side of the sign was supposed to be directing vehicular traffic to the start of the race. Apparently, the race director thought nobody would be foolish enough to drive the wrong way to the start. *raises hand*)
The race director kindly ran the first loop with us, to blaze the path and help prevent people from getting lost. So I stuck with him and a small pack of front-runners for our loop around the fields before we entered the woods. But within the first couple of minutes, I could tell that something was horribly wrong. My quads felt like they were bleeding out, badly, for the first time in a run since the Fire on the Mountain 50K debacle (see this: . . . I am just now realizing the funny coincidence that was my relentlessly burning quads). Maybe it was that I wasn't warmed up, maybe that I haven't been on trails much in the past month, maybe something silly to do with uneven surfaces and muscle activation and whatever, but the point is, it was awful. I was struggling to picture the rest of the race continuing at this level of pain.
So I started falling back, and, predictably, within the first half of the first loop, Arbona, Creutzer, and McMonagle passed me, in that order. When Mike passed me, he asked how I was doing, and since I don't pull punches with that sort of thing, I didn't hesitate to tell him that I felt awful and this was going to be a long day. He was kind and reasonably encouraging as he passed me.
But really, it was going to be a long day at the rate that I was going. The second loop came, and this was the worst. All of the parts of the course that were muddy the first time were even muddier, and some parts that were only sort of muddy had gotten worse, all from a bunch of people trampling through the mostly narrow single-track for some reason. (By the last loop, conservatively, 70 percent of the course would be slippery-to-ankle-deep mud - not exactly a fast surface.) The second loop was the worst, since I knew we were still in half-marathon/training run territory, and there was no chance of anybody falling off pace at this point, so I would continue to struggle along.
Fortunately, the course was scenic, and offered a good amount of variety - it was seemingly in short, distinctive, mentally-manageable sections that made each loop feel a lot shorter than it actually was. Also, I could console myself with thoughts of A FRIEND who was also running a 50K today, under far hillier conditions, and solidarity with MY FRIEND'S pain was some consolation, since other feelings that I had kicking around at that point for various reasons were anything but.
Eventually, I reached the end of the second lap, and I saw Mike coming out, which was surprising, considering how poorly I thought I was doing. Maybe I had a chance to catch some people after all. Mike asked again how I was, and I shouted "TERRIBLE," and, just like that, whatever demon was afflicting my quads had been exorcised, and suddenly, I felt "normal" again.
I felt my pace quicken on the third lap, and the amount of grunting increase (it seemed to help release the pain, so I really wasn't worried about who was hearing me at that point). But darned if the race hadn't somehow gotten faster - the first woman was not far behind me, and at this point, I was resigned to defining success as not letting the first woman pass me and not letting the overall winner lap me. So I pushed harder, and, at one point, fell with first woman not far behind me, and I've never gotten up and mumbled "I'm fine" to the nearest runner (who asked if I was okay) more quickly. Mud and roots came and went - the third lap.
I started my fourth lap optimistically, especially since one runner who was ahead of me was dawdling at the start/finish aid station (the lone aid station in the race). But somehow, he, like everybody else that day, was super-fast, and caught up to me and passed me within the first mile after the aid station. So much for that. I kept pushing, and feeling a little more human (albeit sore from slipping and sliding so much on the mud), but other than lapping lots of other runners, I wasn't passing anybody. I couldn't even see anybody close enough to pass. The lap ended, and I ended up right where I was.
Fifth and final lap - surely somebody will slow here. Nope, everybody is super-fast all the time. I had finished the fourth lap in about 55 minutes, and was hoping to go a little faster on the last lap, especially since I had finally shed my soaking wet outer layer (which, it turned out, probably weighed upwards of 5 pounds, and probably had not been helping my cause earlier in the race). But in spite of my pushing, and my lighter load, I still came through in just about 55 minutes for my last lap, and I still didn't pass anybody who was ahead of me. I came through the finish line, 7th overall, 4 hours, 29 minutes, and some-odd seconds, ripped off my teal Baltimore Marathon Under Armour recycled-fabric long-sleeve shirt (still best shirt ever) in discomfort and frustration, my brief shirtlessness causing small-scale stare-age and swoon-age by the females in the vicinity of the finish line (yeah, I just said that), before putting on the very dry, somewhat warm, long-sleeved finisher's shirt.
Mike apparently finished 7 minutes ahead of me, from the look of his watch, and we chatted a bit, during which time his lady friend Jackie (1) asked about Rocky Raccoon (okay, seriously, as soon as they open registration for that race next year, I'm signing up . . . and hoping the word really does end before then . . . kidding :P), and (2) informed me, after a significant amount of mental math, that 3:20 marathon pace was probably good enough to run sub-4-hours in a 50K (her goal, and mine, and everybody's, apparently - but this is the mystery of the 50K dance, one perpetrated in part by the fact that most "50K" races are probably closer to 35 miles than 31 miles - I'm curious to see a GPS on this one). Both completely valid topics. :)
I congratulated the people that finished ahead of me and had stuck around (Arbona and Creutzer, and that guy that I almost passed but eventually didn't), and congratulated Henry Peck when he finished about ten minutes after I did. Then I put on my warm clothes, ate pizza from Uno's, drank Dr. Pepper, and listened to 50 Cent on the radio ("In Da Club"), for some reason. And, after hanging around the finish line for a little while, I left, at 113 miles on the week - 7 more to go (on 2/11 - a great day for numbers).
(As visual evidence, a sample of the mud - if there hadn't been a few dryer gravel sections, this would have looked a lot worse.)
Back home, after shaking out my muddy clothes in the park across the street from my house, while the late 20-something neighbor guy carried flowers into his house for his girl (different lives, indeed), I sat on my front steps, lacing my house key into my black-on-black Asics 2150s, as the wind callously whipped tiny snowflakes in my face, just like this time last week. I pressed "play" on my iPod shuffle, to be shot down by a female voice that said "LOW BATTERY." This would be a run alone with my thoughts, apparently, to piece together this post to the sound of the earphone cable pounding against my chest, like a heartbeat in my ear. I cruised through the streets, totally comfortable, showing no sign of the 30+ miles that I had already put on my legs today. And as I came home, just like last week, the snow had stopped, although the wind had not totally abated, and the sky in front of my house was crazy, in the way that only the sky in front of my house can get crazy:
So if music had been playing, I'd go with Sunny Day Real Estate's "In Circles." It was not the same day as last Saturday (over twice as many running miles, and not nearly as many mall miles), but in a lot of ways, especially emotionally, it felt like it.
And, to go one further, it wasn't the same race as the Holiday Lake 50K this weekend last year (see this: . . . ), but, again, emotionally, it felt like it (although intellectually, it is nice to know that I'm in shape enough to turn out a race like I did today, even on a "bad" day). Maybe this weekend is just a bad weekend for an ultra, although the Mid-Maryland 50K is a top-notch race, on a beautiful, varied, challenging course, incredibly hitch-free for its first time, and poses stout competition to the race that Horton himself claims is his least favorite to put on. In any event, in all cases, it was a little high, a little low, a little bit of everything.
But in the end, whatever, a lot of it is just running, and the stuff that isn't is easily (if sometimes temporarily) obscured by running, even (and sometimes especially) by a bad day of running.
And as much of a mixed bag as these experiences are, they're uniquely so, and I'm thankful for everybody, "good" or "bad," who help to make them. And that's the best I've got right now. :)