Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week in Review: 22-28 January, and Fixing Things

Here we go with this again:

22 January: 15 miles (200 minutes), the bitter end of the Winter Beast of Burden 100-Mile Run.

23 January: 6 miles (50 minutes) in Tel Aviv, struggling on a tender right Achilles tendon.

24 January: 1 mile (10 minutes), plus about an hour of walking around Tel Aviv, still struggling with that Achilles.

25 January: 1 mile (10 minutes), plus about half an hour of walking around Tel Aviv.

26 January: 1 mile (10 minutes), and then an all-afternoon walking tour of Tel Aviv.

27 January: Back in the US and A, 12 miles (85 minutes), on a very weird weather day, somewhere between sunny and rainy and cold and warm, all at once. Achilles still not entirely happy, but I managed a "normal" 7-minute-mile pace by the end.

28 January: Up early for no real reason, to run 10 miles (70 minutes), which felt markedly better than yesterday, finishing up at around 6:40/mile pace.

Total Time: 435 minutes
Total Distance: 46 miles

And, one more thing: Last night, when I was resting, I finally fixed my jeans, which got torn during this escapade: For having very little experience with any of this, being partially distracted by the Nine Inch Nails "Lights in the Sky" DVD, and doing this totally by hand, I'm pretty happy with the result:

And I did this, and I wrote about this, because when you read the rest of this post, you'll see that I take pride not only in my craftsmanship, but also in my ability to be a living, breathing metaphor . . .

The most notable omission from my race report (which was written just hours after the race ended, on no sleep, and contained a few spelling errors) was that I ran most of the race on an injured right Achilles tendon. I injured it somewhere in the first 12 miles of the race or so, as I recall first feeling the pain on my first run out, then having a brief debate about whether or not to stop running. Of course, to stop running at that point would have felt really foolish, considering how logistically difficult it was to even get to the race, not to mention the fact that I hadn't even run 10 miles yet. So I tried my best to ignore it, and persisted. Perhaps this injury was the greatest factor in my mysterious slowdown. I think one of the reasons that I've been so sturdy over so many miles is that my body has a pretty good sense of when to sound the alarm and force me to slow down when I'm at risk of injury. Over the course of the race, the alarms were probably going off somewhere, but they were hard to feel, considering that the cold temperatures had a tendency to numb everything.

That said, the Achilles aside (I'll spare you pictures of my foot and ankle being swollen to about twice its usual size), nothing really hurt the day after the race. The 6 miles I ran in Tel Aviv were cut short solely by the Achilles trouble. In a way, that's frustrating, because again, it means I didn't go as hard as I could have. But in that case, had I gone as hard as I could have, I might have seriously injured myself, so considering how well I've recovered, I think everything turned out the best it could.

Which brings me to the philosophical point of this post, which is about fixing things. At some point or another, assuming we're pushing our limits, we are all subject to some sort of illness or injury (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, or otherwise). What we aren't necessarily subject to is being crippled or limited by it. There's always a way over, around, or through, provided that we're both appropriately patient and active in our recovery. Continuing to push, not harder, but smarter, just below the pain threshold, below that "edge," heals us faster and ultimately makes us stronger.

So in this case, I backed off on the injury, but I didn't stop completely. Short runs certainly hurt, and long walks, although not as acutely painful, were colored with persistent, low-grade pain. But none of the pain was beyond the point of injury, and all of the effort was purposeful, focused on playing with the pain point, finding a way to move past it.

And within a week, I did - today, I ran 20+ miles, finishing the last couple of miles at low-6-minute-mile pace, feeling totally comfortable. In fact, I feel better this weekend than I did last weekend before I ran Beast of Burden. In a way, the injury not only made me stronger through the recovery process, but also because the little bit of forced rest helped my body catch up on its response to the stress of hundreds upon hundreds of miles in the last couple of months.

Not only that, but, as I type this, in 20-mile run afterglow, it's about 50 degrees in the middle of January, and the afternoon sunlight and the sun-warmed air made it feel like early spring on the Baltimore city streets. Just one more thing that's a little "wrong." It always makes me a little nervous when a season seems to be coming before its time. At the same time, in the spirit of welcoming uncertainty and disappointment as opportunities to grow and push limits, it's exciting to have the feeling that this is "fixing" to be one fast year. (I am just barely south of the Mason-Dixon line, so I am allowed to use that word that way.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Week in Review: 15-21 January, and Winter Beast of Burden 100-Mile Race Report

Okay, getting the "boring" stuff out of the way . . .

15 January: 12 miles (90 minutes), partly as a "victory lap" to, from, and around M&T Bank Stadium, to celebrate a Ravens victory, and partly to and from yoga.

16 January: 15 miles (105 minutes), to, from, and with the Fed Hill run.

17 January: 10 miles (70 minutes), APG lunch run.

18 January: 8 miles (56 minutes), APG lunch run, then 8 miles (56 minutes), to, from, and with the Wednesday night run from O'Donnell Square

19 January: 9 miles (60 minutes), APG lunch run

20 January: 2 miles (20 minutes), run from Maryland Transit Center to Greyhound Station to make the bus to Harrisburg, PA, to meet up with my ride to Lockport, NY for the Winter Beast of Burden 100-Miler

21 January: 85 miles (840 minutes), Winter Beast of Burden 100 (yes, I'm counting the 15 miles that I technically ran on Sunday towards Sunday . . .)

Total time: 1,192 minutes

Total distance: 149 miles

And now, the race:

Why the Winter Beast of Burden 100? Well, forgive me father, it's been three months since my last 100-mile race, and with a busy year of 100s ahead, I didn't want to go too long and forget what it feels like to run that distance. Plus, the race director was bugging me to come back for a rematch with Valmir Nunes, and this year, there will be a "Double-Beast" buckle awarded to runners who complete both the Winter and the Summer edition. So once I figured out the work travel logistics to make the race possible, it was a go . . .

I won't dwell on the convoluted method by which I arrived in Lockport, NY (hinted at in my mileage summary for this past Friday), or the random stop at the "Victorian" McDonald's in Pennsylvania, or the part where I got to the Lockport Inn and pretty much went straight to sleep (except for an unexpected visit, which I also won't go into detail about here). Let's leave all of those things mysteries, and just skip to race morning . . .

Mark Rodriguez and I got to the starting area around quarter to 9, which was way early for a race which started at 10 a.m. We wandered around, used the bathroom repeatedly, checked and double-checked gear, and made small talk with the other runners until it was time to line up at the starting line, and, with absolutely no fanfare (I wasn't even sure that we had started, except that the clock had started, so I guess it was time to go), we were off.

The weather was "good" for a Winter Beast of Burden - the past couple of years, high winds and blizzard conditions were the norm. This year, it was cold (in the teens), with snow flurries, but only an inch or two of accumulation, and very little wind. So naturally, everybody started off too fast. I started out fast-ish, but I felt under control: a little over 3:30 for the first lap (25 miles - 12.5 miles out, 12.5 miles back, along the pancake-flat Erie Canal Towpath). At that pace, a time in the 14-hour range was within reach. So I decided to hang on the best I could.

But for whatever reason, I just wasn't feeling that fast. Maybe it was the shoeprints in the snow making the surface uneven, maybe it was fatigue from being out in the cold for an extended period of time, or maybe it was just not enough taper before the race. (EDIT: I also strained my right Achilles tendon somewhere in the first 10 miles, and while the cold numbed the pain away before I could seriously consider quitting that early in the race - although the thought crossed my mind - the weakness in that ankle as a result of the injury was probably also a factor.) Whatever the reason, I gradually slowed down on the second lap, coming through in around 7:40 - a 4:10 lap. I didn't feel bad exactly - I just felt slow.

The highlight of my second lap was when I was walking briefly, as it was the most efficient way to fiddle with my pants and jacket pockets to take out gels, Endurolytes, and Sports Legs, and Mark Ott, who apparently has some speed, caught up to me and asked me "Is this your first 100?" I was feeling particularly insulted - maybe the clearly false encouragement from people who were behind me, going the other way on the towpath, asking "how are you feeling" in that way that was fishing for me to say that I felt terrible, thereby validating their miserable experience (which I wouldn't say, because, as a general rule, I am brutally honest about how I am feeling, and, in this case, it wasn't bad at all), was getting to me, or maybe for an instant I just felt tired of the disrespect, so I responded, "Sure, why not?" Since this was clearly a sarcastic remark, he followed it up with "Well, we're back here trying to figure out who the hell you are . . ." which was even more insulting, considering that the first time that I passed him, he introduced himself and we shook hands. I later found out that he claimed that he was going to beat Valmir and win the race, so I guess somebody who would make such a brash claim shouldn't be expected to be above such remarks, but, knowing only the little that I knew at the time, I responded "Let's just keep it at 'who the hell am I?' for now . . ." and ran off, to which he responded, in fifth-grader fashion "aww, c'mon!"

Meanwhile, back in the race, Valmir was about four miles ahead of me, and looking strong. As I was gradually fading, I realized that, barring some kind of horrible mishap, Valmir was going to, quite literally, run away with this one, and the race would be for second place, where I currently was. So I devoted the last 50 miles of the race to hanging on to second place. In a way, it was gratifying to finally get in that "grind" gear and sit there - except that that gear has no place in a theoretically flat, fast race like this, except in times of desperation.

I wish I could say that the race was more eventful, but for the most part, it wasn't. And actually, this turned out to be a good thing. I ran the first 50 miles in the daylight, through light flurries, and the last 50 miles in the dark, under the glow of my headlamp. Aside from the continued disbelieving, disgusted looks from the people I was passing (although, towards the end of the race, these turned congratulatory, as some of them were finally willing to concede), it was a calm, quiet, peaceful run in the snow next to a mostly-frozen canal. During moments when I wasn't distracting myself from my gradual slowing by playing a 5-second clip from Nine Inch Nails' "Discipline" literally thousands of times in my mind, or saying decades of the rosary, when I was simply accepting that I was out on a cold, clear, beautiful night, with the sky bright red on the horizon and flurries gently settling on my face, sticking in my patchy beard, I felt truly in harmony and at peace with life, the universe, and everything.

But that said, the second half of the race wasn't totally without its drama. Mark Ott had drastically fallen off, and was walking much of the course, but Ryan O'Dell, after a tentative start, was making a strong comeback. At the 75-mile turnaround, when I passed him, I had about a 2-mile lead on him - not bad, but not totally comfortable. 12.5-ish miles later, at the far end turnaround, the lead had shrunk to a mile. It didn't take a math genius to figure out that if I kept doing what I was doing, and if he kept doing what he was doing, he would pass me in the final mile, and I would be mortified, Sweet Valley High-style. So I very gradually starting picking up my pace in the last 12.5-mile stretch, to the extent that one can do so in the course of a lap that wound up being just a shade under 5 hours. I resolved not to walk, and to dutifully force down the "Tropical" Hammer Gels (by far, the worst flavor, but the only ones left at this point, as other runners apparently already knew this and had picked through them to take the "good" flavors) on the run, instead of walking and fumbling with them as a means of delaying the misery of ingesting them.

I crossed the Exchange Street Bridge, about a mile from the finish, and finally the people I was passing were unquestioningly congratulatory, but I wasn't sure where Ryan was, and for the last 12.5 miles of the race, I had been assuming that he was gradually gaining on me, even though I had no visual confirmation of this fact. So as I came off the bridge, completely assuming that he was right behind me (I thought I had heard a snot rocket about a half-mile ago that sounded like him), I broke into the fullest-tilt run I could manage at that point, which was probably somewhere in the slightly-sub-7-minute-mile neighborhood. My stomach immediately began to protest, but this was neither the time nor the place. I backed off only enough to quell the feeling of imminent vomit, and then I saw him on the other side of the canal, under the "Niagara Fiberboard" sign, looking fairly strong and charging hard. I was not giving up second to Mark Ott's apparent colluder in refusing to know who I was, especially at the end of this race, when I knew Ryan had family and girlfriend waiting for him. Call me a jerk if you must, but this was about burying him and making a statement. Maybe he saw me hauling on the other side of the canal, got scared, and conceded, or maybe he just didn't have that kind of charge in him, but in any case, I hauled through the finish line in 17:20, sort of surprised that the last lap took me nearly 5 hours, but whatever, I was done, on the verge of vomiting right then and there, but satisfied with my final push (which perhaps suggested that I had more in me than I thought, and I could have pushed harder earlier, but again, not the time or place to second-guess). I managed to compose myself for this finish-line picture:

And then I stumbled into the heated tent at the finish line, where I sat and pretty much didn't move for the next three hours or so. Eventually, I showered, changed, and packed my things - off to Buffalo, for a noon flight to Newark, on the way to Tel Aviv, Israel for work. The fun never stops with me, apparently.

Valmir finished in 14:56, a new Winter course record, and the fastest time on the course. But I now hold two of the three fastest times on that course (17:20, Winter, and 16:19 Summer), in part thanks to the ghost of Ryan O'Dell, who ended up finishing 9 minutes behind me (so maybe he did concede), but didn't bother to congratulate me (and neither did Mark Ott, who stumbled across the finish line in the mid-21-hour range or something, but I guess if they don't know who you are, it's asking a lot for them to congratulate an apparent stranger who beat them). Had I not been immobilized, I would have gone up to them, but, oh well.

Overall, it was a pretty good day. Not bad, not great. I spent perhaps too much time in the bathroom (20-30 minutes, maybe enough to have put me in under 17 hours), and fumbling with my pills and gels, I didn't have the speed I wanted today, and, in some sense, I didn't push myself hard enough, maybe. But I felt pretty beaten up after the race (although as I type this, I think that my estimation of how much the race took out of me may have been a little excessive), and, for what I believed that I had, I feel like I gave it all.

And I had Papa Leo's Pizza, and a Corona, and an Egg McMuffin after the race, and those are the things that really count. :)

EPILOGUE: I've since extended the proverbial olive branch to both Mark and Ryan. Because for as rotten as I (or anybody else) might seem in the heat of competition, at the end of the day, it's your competitors that push you to run faster and to be better than you thought you could be, and win or lose, if they weren't there, you wouldn't be where you are, either. So I'm completely thankful for, and I wholeheartedly welcome, the mind-games, the posturing, the trash-talking - it makes a real sport out of what might otherwise be branded a pointless pissing contest.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

100 Miles Per Week, the Hard Way

Okay, first some stuff you don't really care about:

1 January: 15 miles (105 minutes), Patterson Park and wherever

2 January: 12 miles (85 minutes), out to the Fed Hill Monday Night Run and back

3 January: 10 miles (70 minutes), lunch run with Luke at APG

4 January: 10 miles (70 minutes), another APG lunch run, then another 4 miles (30 minutes) out and back to yoga

5 January: 8 miles (55 minutes), abbreviated APG lunch run, yoga later

6 January: 1 mile (10 minutes), in the Detroit International Airport, in cowboy boots, in a vain attempt to catch my flight to San Antonio, which had already left

7 January: 62 miles (617 minutes), Bandera 100K, 11th place overall

Total Time: 1,012 minutes
Total Distance: 128 miles

8 January: 1 mile (10 minutes), real lazy

9 January: 15 miles (105 minutes), out to the Fed Hill run and back, chasing the pack because I was about two minutes late (caught up in a couple miles)

10 January: 10 miles (70 minutes), APG lunch run, yoga later

11 January: 15 bitter miles (105 minutes), in dark, cold, windy rain (yes, that is a type of rain), in part with the Wednesday Night Canton Run crew

12 January: 1 mile (10 minutes), because life was too busy to allow for more . . . on the best-weather day of the week, no less . . .

13 January: 21 miles (127 minutes), Druid-Hill-ward, in moderate cold (35-ish degrees), but ridiculous wind (35-ish mph, probably) . . . almost intolerable

14 January: 27 miles (183 minutes), all over the industrial east side of the city (and a little bit of Fells Point in there, in a nod to civilization), less cold and windy than yesterday, but still no picnic

15 January (early, still within the 7-day window): 12 misguided miles (85 minutes), 25-degree weather, 15-mph winds, in a flimsy pair of boxers because I didn't have access to running shorts - that hurt in the wrong way, but felt great otherwise . . .

Total Time: 695 minutes
Total Distance: 102 miles

Two weeks into 2012, and I'm 2-for-2 on 100+ mile weeks. Yes, I know that the mileage mark is sort of arbitrary, and maybe in some cases counter-productive (and maybe, by some accounts, 30 or 40 miles too low as goals go), but for the most part, I think that being able to get out there and make 100 miles happen in the span of 7 days, even with a couple of days that were pretty close to a total loss (like Sunday and Thursday of last week) says something about the type of shape you're in, and the type of results you can expect to see when you jump into a race without any particular planning or strategy . . .

Which brings me to Bandera, and my next adventure, the Winter Beast of Burden 100-Mile Run, next weekend in Lockport, New York. While my result at Bandera was good, and I was more or less happy with it at the time, I can't help looking back at it and feeling more and more disappointed. Sure, I finished in a time that, many years, would have won that race, and, by all accounts, is some of the fastest running I've ever done on such nasty trails, but I finished the race feeling basically okay. I wasn't hobbling away from the finish line, I didn't need help up and down stairs, I didn't pass out in my car. I drove to San Antonio and back that night, took pictures at Riverwalk and fielded jeers from drunk, boisterous Texans (maybe because of my black puffy coat and dark blue skinny jeans?) . . . I came back to camp at 4 a.m., and was out of it for the rest of the day for lack of sleep, but not for effort in the race. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that that's the best I've felt and the quickest I've recovered from an ultra.

And, in a way, that's a good thing. I want to be able to run like this for a long time, and I want to feel fit and ready to compete in a lot of different races and have a lot of fun experiences and all that jazz.

But in another way, it's a disappointment. To see some of the top-5 finishers hobbling away from the finish line, barely able to walk . . . sure, that sucks for them, temporarily, but, at the same time, I can't help feeling that if I had been truly willing to submit to that level of pain, I could have been hobbling back to the car from the finish line, just ahead of those guys . . .

Which brings me to Beast of Burden, a race where I won the summer edition in 2010, and where I set my 100-mile PR (16:19 and change). I was in good shape then, yes, but probably not better shape then than I am now. I'm not convinced that back then, I could have woken up in a place that's not my home, put on a pair of worn boxers (backwards, so the fly didn't come open, at least not in the more-indecent front), and braved 25-degree temperatures and relentless winds to drop mile after mile sub-7-minutes as if it were no big deal.

So it seems that I am in great shape physically, but perhaps mentally, I'm not ready to make that leap. I'm not ready to submit to the kind of pain that, in the past, allowed me to do more with less. So this week will be focused on mental preparation (although running will happen, undoubtedly . . . I'll be throwing down another, hopefully Ravens-victory, 10 miles or so after the game, to officially kick off the week). I'll spend some time thinking about how it feels to RACE 100 miles, to run out there fearlessly and not look back, and, perhaps most importantly, realize that now that I have even more, I need to do even more with it.

Because experiences are all well and good, and for as much as I run, in the colorful places where I run, I have no shortage of them. But the thrill of going all-out and duking it out with top-notch competition doesn't come along every day, and not being able to sieze that moment when it comes . . . well, that's REALLY 100 miles the hard way.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Race Report: Bandera 100K

Okay, I don't normally do this, but since I don't have pictures from the race to post (save the buckle picture that's already on Facebook), and it's taking me forever to eat this Whataburger and fries, here's my quick turn-around Bandera 100K race report, straight from the iPhone.

I decided to run Bandera about a week before the race. Since my post-Hellgate training had been so strong (consistent 100-mile weeks, and yoga classes at Charm City Yoga that have been beyond helpful), and Bandera is the USATF Trail 100K National Championships, I figured this was a good opportunity to capitalize on my training, compete with the "big boys," and experience a new place.

My flight to the race was a bit harrowing, as I missed my connection from Detroit to San Antonio, due to general laziness on Delta's part, so I arrived in San Antonio about five hours later than planned. So most of my pre-race tourism consisted of $3.99 all-you-can-eat pancakes at a restaurant in the airport (which Delta paid for), and the requisite 10 minutes of entertainment that the light show in the tunnel between the terminals provided. Once I finally made it to San Antonio, it was off to pick up my red Chevy Aveo, hit up Bike World for Endurolytes (except all they had was Sports Legs, but whatever, placebo effect, at least), and the Dollar Tree for cheap knock-off sports drinks, A&D Ointment, candy of various types, and plastic bags. Then, the one-hour drive to Bandera, mostly in the dark, in heavy traffic, so it took more like an hour and a half. I met with some friends, including Jack Pilla, who had been on my team at Bull Run, and we spent excessive time waiting for overpriced, underwhelming spaghetti (in my case, spicy spaghetti that was hot all the way through, if you catch my drift). Also, I cut my finger on their bathroom lock, which was the most I would bleed during this entire expedition. We eventually finished yakking about running over our cheesecake dessert, and then we were off to car-camp near the start-finish of the race, which seems to be the order of the day at this race. (For the record, the backseat of the Aveo was very comfortable - for a short person like me, anyway, and since I brought my bright-red Hellgate blood blanket, I had matching bedding.)

The alarm went off at 6:16 (because I like to wake up at times that are palindromes), and I put on my clothes, put together my Dollar Tree drop bags, and tidied the car. I picked up my chip and number, used the woods one last time, and lined up at the start five minutes before go-time. Perfect.

For those who didn't do a lot of research about this race (I confess to doing only a little), last year, the front of the pack went out stupid-fast, half of them blew up, and even the winner, Dave Mackey, ran his second loop almost an hour slower than his first. So of course, smart, well-intentioned runners at the front decided not to do that this year - for about five minutes. Then the lead pack started breaking away from me, while I stuck to my plan, which was to run comfortably and consistently, come through the first lap in around 4:30, and then just see how the second lap goes (a plan that I recounted to my lone fellow Maryland competitor, Mike McMonagle, as he passed me). This approach is especially stupid since the first section of the race is rocky and nasty, with some steep climbs, so you have plenty of opportunity to burn yourself out early.

I just kept plugging along, and it wasn't until Crossroads, around 17 miles into the race, that I started passing anybody in my race. At least nobody was passing me. The highlight in the meantime was a volunteer at Aid Station 2, who commented on my Auburn football 2010 National Champions hat. He asked me who I was pulling for on Monday night, and I flatly told him that I had no idea who was playing; I just liked the hat. He responded that he was going to say "WAR EAGLE," because his wife went to Auburn, and I told him that he could still say it, because it's awesome. That hat = best $10 that I ever spent.

Anyway, towards the end of my first loop, my strategy started to really pay off, and I started passing people who had gone out too fast like it was going out of style (yeah, I just dredged that expression up). As I was flying down a steep, rocky downhill, passing a few of the faster women (who were really not enjoying being passed like that), a spectator commented on how awesome I looked, and I told her that it was because I didn't go out crazy-fast like the lead pack did.

I cruised through the start/finish in 4:37ish - pretty spot-on, especially considering that in spite of the frequent markings, the trail was not always obvious, so I slowed a few times to make sure that I wasn't running off-course. I felt pretty good about my chances of throwing down another lap that was just as fast or faster.

Unfortunately, I made my first (and arguably, only) tactical blunder of the race. Rather than refill my pack with water at the start/finish, I decided to wait until the next aid station. Halfway there, I ran out of water. I had to chew an Endurolyte. (They taste terrible.) In an effort not to blow up, I slowed a little, and ended up running this 6-ish mile segment about 6 minutes slower than I had the first time around. Not too bad.

Water refilled, I soldiered on, but the hydration boost hadn't taken full effect yet, so I was outrunning my water. I kept moving forward, but slower than I would have liked, for no apparent reason. Finally, on my way to Crossroads, a blessing in disguise - I was about to pass another runner on a hill, and I put my head down and pushed up the hill. As I came closer, I realized that (1.) the runner was none other than Jack Pilla, and (2) he was flat on his back on the ground - severe cramping had caused him to seize up and fall over. Coincidentally enough, we had been talking the night before the race about how we had both just ended long-term, marriage-bound relationships that had gone bad, and I felt as though, by sharing my experience and thoughts, I was figuratively picking him up. Now I was literally picking him up off the ground, which was difficult, because he was not moving and bodies get heavy when they're like that. I walked with him for a bit, and then, when he started running, I started running again, and before long, I was way ahead of him.

Still, in spite of the break, I was dragging myself into Crossroads, and my stomach was now starting to turn. As they had no Tums, this was going to be a water-and-Endurolyte slog until I could pull myself back together. It got bad enough that one person passed me as I did what felt like sauntering over the rocky, winding trail. Fortunately, due to patience, and a number of super-secret yoga tricks that I am paying far too much to learn to discuss here (except to say that in a lot of ways, yoga and ultrarunning are very similar disciplines), I pulled myself back together, and started running again. I even passed that guy back.

And now that I was through the last truly difficult section of the race, it was a cruise to the end, especially now that it was cooler, and as the temperature dropped, my stomach improved further. I had plenty of legs left, so I gave the last two sections whatever I had left. About an hour and a half later, I had covered them, and reached the finish line, probably feeling too good considering the distance. 10 hours, 17 minutes - 11th overall, according to the race director, who handed me my sweet solid-silver belt buckle. And, although I don't like to talk about being "chicked," since three women had finished ahead of me, that made me the 8th male - "shit, that's impressive against the big boys,"
according to the race director. I celebrated by driving back into Bandera and taking way too long to change clothes at the Dairy Queen, then eating there, then driving to San Antonio to take pictures of crazy stuff along the way, and eat at the Whataburger, and apparently post this.

So I'm pleased with my performance. Could I have gone faster? Probably. Had I been more aggressive with the water and Endurolytes in the heat of the afternoon, an even or negative split on the second loop was a possibility, especially if I had gone harder than I ended up going. But I still had an awesome time at the race. The varying terrain, from flat, clean, and fast, to rocky, winding, and technical was a joy to run - after finishing a race that throws all of this at you, you really feel a sense of accomplishment, especially when you run it well.

So to what do I owe this success? A steady diet of 10-15 miles per day, yoga several times a week, one Sports Legs tablet per hour, a Hammer Gel every half an hour, the Brooks Pure Grit trail shoes (finally, a shoe for the fat-and-flat-footed like me), a patient strategy, sensing a potential blow-up and containing it before it got out of hand, and pretty much starving myself all week, then eating like a little pig the day before the race (typically, I net around 1500 calories per day - the day before the race, I ate close to 5000, and ran only a mile, in cowboy boots, carrying my bags, in the Detroit airport, in vain to try to catch my flight, and then just to finish out the mile). But really, the most important thing was that, this weekend, my heart was in Bandera. After much consideration, I decided that I wanted this race, and I went after it. All that other stuff? Just consequences of wanting it. And as nice as buckles and t-shirts and names in top-10 lists are, the real prize here was sitting on the dirt near the finish line after the race, pleasantly exhausted from running all day, watching the sinking sun light up the sky. Times like that make you acutely aware of how good it is to be alive.

But enough waxing poetic, I've got a cold hamburger to finish . . . :)