Monday, March 26, 2012

"Snakes don't walk, they slither. So there."

Ok, so it was a Snake Run, not a walk, but the line from a Disney classic is totally fitting. Sorry I have been quiet lately, but I have been moving as well as recovering from Little Rock and trying to get ready for TATUR's 2012 Snake Run. So I hope that you will forgive my absence. But as you can see, I am back at it.

So, with all that having been said, it's time for me to talk about my experience on the trails on Saturday. A few weeks ago, I signed up for this crazy race and made a commitment to give trail running a try. On Saturday, Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra Runners (TATUR) hosted the 5th Annual Snake Run at the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in Tulsa, OK. Yes, this is the same area I blogged about not too long ago that some developer wanted to make into an amusement park.

The Snake Run is a unique run for distance in a set amount of time. For me, the challenge was to simply make it through one full loop, 4.2 miles. I woke up early in the morning, just as dawn was breaking and started getting ready. The temps were supposed to be awesome and they did not disappoint. I got all my stuff together, taped my foot, knees and elbow, put on an older pair of shoes (I didn't want to ruin my brand new pair of street kicks) because I knew there would be some mud on the course.

The race started at 9, so I showed up at 8:30 and there were cars and trucks on both sides of the narrow roadway and in parking lots. I managed to find a good parking spot just inside one of the gates at the top, just a tenth of a mile from the start/finish line. I picked up my packet and got myself ready as best I could. The air still had the dawn chill, but it was promising to warm up fast. Walking around, I found that my excitement was much like that of my first 5k 2 years ago. I found myself wishing that someone would have been there, at least at the start. Even though I had started 2 half marathons before, I knew this would be a challenge, and it turned out to be a very ambitious outing for me.

Ken "Trail Zombie" Childress, the Race Director, gave everyone the lowdown and last minute skinny on the trails and then we were off. Like a good boy, I took up a position at the end of the pack because I was not only slow, but new to running the trails. I took the open field at the start to set my alarm and tried my 4 and 1 walk/run that I had set on the roads. For a while, the trail parallelled the road and I could hear traffic for a bit. The first downhill bit was a slow start, with rocks and roots and a generally more uneven surface than I was used to. But it wasn't too bad and soon I found a more smooth running surface to move down and I actually started running just a little bit, at least until I came to the first of several little streams I could cross or trek through.

Crossing over the stream, the uphill side was quite muddy with a stream of it's own trickling down it. The herd of previous runners had not done much in the way of favors to me, so I hesitantly waded through it and found that it wasn't too bad. I got a little mud on my feet, but didn't carry much away with me and continued on. Right in the middle of this climb, one of my alarms went off and I just reset it for the next time... I didn't think it would be safe for me to try to run with such tenuous and slippery footing. That would soon become the norm as I had to skip more and more of my running minutes.

There were a lot of differences between running on the trails and running on the streets. The obvious one is the matter of terrain. Trees and roots and rocks and rivers and trying to yield up the trail to passing runners in both directions took its toll on my physically, to be sure. But another major difference is the fact that most of the time on the trail, I had no idea about the distance I had travelled. While the trail was well marked and I never strayed off it, this still made trying to pace myself very difficult -- no map with landmarks, no cross streets to measure progress by.

It wasn't long before all sense of being "in town" was gone and it was just me, the trees and my fellow runners. Somewhere after the turn away from traffic, I paused and drank down some of my Gatorade, not wanting to dehydrate too early in the race. The sun was creeping up and so were the temperatures. It was about this time that I noticed another feature or difference of running trails... the wind was blocked more by the trees, so there was less cooling effect as the day warmed up. At first, this was good. But later, I was wishing for a bit more wind.

Ahhh... the first aid station! I took in some water and a couple of oranges and a few small pretzel sticks for the salt. It was good to see the aid station, it gave me some sense of where I was on the course. I left the aid station and felt a bit better, but this was a 4.2 mile loop and I was just passing the first mile. On the road, I've got various places I scout out in case I need a quick sit for 20, 60 or 90 seconds. But on the trails, these were few and far between. And with the warmer weather, you never knew when you might happen upon one of the race's namesakes, so I knew I had to be careful.

Finally, what I guesstimate as about a half a mile away from the aid station, I found a rock formation just off the path where I could catch my breath and rub out some of my sore muscles. Between the unfamiliar terrain and having to break trail to give right of way to passing runners, the trails were forcing me to use untrained muscles and they were complaining. But I wasn't anywhere near done yet.

Getting back on the trails, I had just stepped away from my break area when my cell phone rings... Well, I had no idea so I answered it. Wrong number. I don't know why I was so put out, but after 3 times of me telling them I didn't know any William Bass and that this had been my number for over 10 years, they finally got the message and I continued on. It seemed that the further along I went, the worse the mud got. There were a blessed few spots where I could go around at least the worst of it, but many spots there was just no place to go and I ended up carrying around a couple of pounds in wet mud.

Finally, I slogged my way to the halfway point and even had a great place to sit down and knock some of the mud off my shoes. Taking a quick break just short of the turnaround/aid station, I basked in the sun for a few minutes... Maybe more like a snake than I'd like to admit, hehe. Then I got up to see a familiar face manning the aid station. I got more water and refilled my bottle with water, got some more orange slices and the last piece of banana, a few more pretzel sticks and I turned around to slog back through it all.

Heading back around through all that mud just doubled how tired my legs were already feeling. I dug down and did my best to find rest stops. I drained the last of my Gatorade and started on the water. It was a long way back if my legs weren't going to hold up... and I had left too many races unfinished anyway. I don't like doing that. So I kept pushing. Finally, I made it back to the last aid station. I knew that it had taken me about a half an hour to reach it the first time, so I figured that as tired as I was, it would take me about 45 minutes to slog my way back out. While I began to feel the closeness of the finish line I was also starting to feel bloated, even though I had not had what I thought was an over lot to drink. I refilled on water anyway, but the bloating made me pass up more potential fuel. I rested at the aid station for a few minutes and gathered my strength for the push back around.

But it wasn't long before my legs had enough and right in the middle of the trail, they gave way. I otherwise felt fine. I dragged myself off the trail and went over a mental checklist... Heart was beating fast but strong and regular... Vision was good, no spots before my eyes or anything. I mentally checked myself on the day (Saturday, 24 March), President (Obama, why couldn't it be Reagan), location(Turkey Mountain, Tulsa). I took several deep breaths, no pain there. Just my legs. I wasn't sure if I had anything left... it didn't feel so. Passing runners on their additional loops checked on me and a couple of them said they would tell the aid workers. I said thanks and rested, sipping on my water.

Finally, the idea of giving up frothing vily in my mouth, I hauled myself up and kept moving toward the finish. I didn't want to quit, I didn't want to give up. I wanted to finish. How far was I? I didn't have any idea. Half a mile? Surely I could drag myself another half mile. I met the 3 guys that were coming down to check on me on my feet. They wanted to take me off the course. I was near the road by now and there were a couple of nearby paths that led right out to the road, but I just kept trudging up the path. I was hurting and in trouble and everything in me was screaming that I should just give up and let them carry me out. I knew what they said about being in the woods in bad shape, but I just couldn't stop. And yet my legs failed me again.

Down I went for a second time. Again, I went over my checklist. Just the legs were a problem. Silently, I prayed for the strength, but for a while, I mentally gave up. I knew I had really pushed hard. It was not an easy transition, from roads to trails. And it was even harder with the mud. Before long, Ken came down and checked on me himself. This time, I had collapsed only 3/10 of a mile from the finish line. I wasn't at all sure, now, what I was going to do. 3/10 of a mile was excruciatingly close. Only 2/10 and I'd pass right by my truck. I could stop there and just get in my truck and go home in shame...

Not that anyone at the race would have been shaming me... that was just myself. With Ken's encouragement and having finished the rest of my water, I crawled to me feet on my own and pushed through it to the clearing where my truck was. I found a log to sit on for a couple of minutes about half way to my truck. Then we stopped at my truck and I rested there while drinking some of the Gatorade that I had stashed for after the race. I could stop. I was safe and could go home. I wouldn't finish the race, but I could stop the pain, take the easy way out. This crossed my mind as I sat there. 1/10 of a mile to go, but if it was too much, I could just stop.

I got back up and started moving again. I don't really know why I couldn't just give up. I had every right to. I had played out my legs, not just once, but several times. I was nauseated and bloated. I wanted to puke, but couldn't. I just kept pushing. My body wanted me to quit, my mind had given in for a few minutes. But then I just couldn't. I stumbled up the hill I had come down several hours earlier and headed for the finish line. I was out of the woods, but not done yet. When I finally crossed the finish line, I just stood there for a moment. I'd made it. I wasn't carried off, I didn't get pulled for some medical reason. I'd finished under my own power. I moved over to the mound of dirt thinking I should sit down, but my foot slipped on some mud... the final insult hurdled at me from a race that I had taken far too lightly, but had managed to complete. I just sat there thinking and praying my thanks for giving me the strength to finish the race. It was a most gruelling race for me. The hardest one I have done, thus far.

Finally, I managed to get up off the dirt and move down to the finish line aid station. I was now more nauseated than I was weak in my legs and I sat in the shade and drank a bit of water and a bit of Sierra Mist, trying to settle my stomach. Finally, I laid down for a while and tried several of the normal cures for my stomach being so upset. The salty potato, pretzels, orange slices, flat coke... Nothing seemed to help and I knew that for me, the only things that were going to help were some sleep and actually puking. Finally, I drifted off into a light sleep on the cold and damp ground, which actually felt good at the time.

After laying on the ground for over an hour, I began to feel good enough to go get a shower and get some rest. So I got a ride to my truck and headed home. My stomach was still a little queasy, but I felt better and was confident that I could make it home. But just a half mile from my exit, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the reflex to vomit and even though my window was down, I could not get my head out the window and get slowed down enough. 65 Miles Per Hour is not a good time to experience this. I managed to get pulled off onto the shoulder safely, but I don't think I will ever forget that sight coming back at me.

Finally getting home and getting ready for a shower, I took the opportunity to check over my feet.  Mud was certainly the order of the day, as were blisters. 
Several people asked me after it was over... would I come back? It was a bad question to ask at the moment, but I didn't say no. Having had a couple of days to think about it, I think I can now say yes, I'll be back. Not soon and not often, but I will be back.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Race Report - Little Rock - DNF, but really a win?

Little Rock. Being here is kinda like coming home. I graduated High School at North Pulaski High, just about a dozen miles north. It was good to be back again.

I rode down with my friend Cheryl from Tulsa on Saturday. I met her at 0630 and moved my gear to her vehicle and we set out without delay. The drive in was scenic and we chatted on the way in. Temperatures were moderate, if a little on the cool side. Conversation was friendly and encouraging, mostly though, we were both excited to be going to Little Rock for this race.

We got to Little Rock in good time, pulling in to our hotel just before 11am. We got our bags out and proceeded to the desk to check in, having called about an hour before to confirm that we would have no problems with the check in. I should have recalled the old murphyism, when everything is going smooth, something unsmooth is about to happen. And so it did. The hotel messed up Cheryl's room, telling her that they had given all of the doubles out the previous day. They also advised us that they would not honor the late check out request... a definite problem as neither of us expected to be done with the race by noon. We tried talking to the manager on duty, but they wouldn't budge from their position and we each decided we would do what we had to do and worry about whatever fees we got charged later. It was, for me, the most unpleasant part of the entire trip.

We got to our rooms and dropped out gear off and then hit the expo to pick up our packets. The expo wasn't as crowded as I had expected, but there was a lack of product samples, from my perspective. We walked around and stopped by a couple of booths and inquired about other races that seemed interesting, but generally cleared out of the expo pretty quick. Cheryl had plans with some of her friends and my daughter and niece were in town, so we each had separate plans, but both sets of plans got changed at the last minute and we decided to grab lunch together. I suggested an Irish Pub I knew across the river called Creegen's and so we ate a good lunch. When we were through, Cheryl's friends were still busy so we met my daughter and niece at the USS Razorback and took a tour through the WWII submarine.

What I didn't realize at first was that this was no modified for museum vessel... We had to enter and exit just like a regular submariner would have... through the watertight hatch and down the ladder. I'm not a skinny guy and it was an interesting fit, but I made it and was never in danger of getting stuck. But when I suggested it, I had forgotten that my friend had some issues with ladders due to a bad accident a few years ago. Going down wasn't so bad, but on the climb out, it was a little anxious for her. I, myself, was fighting my own demons while inside the belly of the sub, as the ventilation was not great and the stuffiness closed in around me. I'm not generally claustrophobic, but was certainly feeling it during the tour. I had to force myself to keep breathing deeply and tried desperately not to show it. I was also worried about getting back up the ladder... coming down was easy enough, but the rungs were spaced a little far apart and I wasn't at all sure about getting back up. I joked bravely about joining the crew. But I didn't have near the problem I was worried about and made it out to stand on the deck again.

After the tour, we all broke up and went our separate directions. I had the Early Start meeting to go to and made it with just a minute to spare. Here I met Hobbit, the Walking Coach for the Little Rock Marathon. I also saw Laurie and Derek at the meeting and we talked for a few minutes. At that time, I found out that the hotel mix-up was really a lot more mixed up as they had gotten a double even though they had asked for a king and had come in after us.

After that, I retired to my room. After a bit, my daughter came up and we chatted and I tried, unsuccessfully, to nap. I started to notice that my mouth was dry and I sipped on some water I brought. My niece joined us late and we went and got something to eat about an hour later than I had planned for. Sticking with what I knew and not wanting to risk getting something that would haunt me the on the run, I decided for Creegen's a second time. I had the shepard's pie and it was good. Finally, just about 9pm, I made it back to the hotel checked the weather for the next day and laid out my things. I set my alarm and called for a wake-up call. Shortly after all that, I was sound asleep.

Race Day

I was up in the morning and excited. I felt good and felt ready to take on this race. I had done all the training and knew a lot of the course already, after all, my first apartment was on the race course. I got my things on, loaded up the supplies I would carry with me, took the meds I needed and headed out.

Downstairs, there were several faces I recognized and several of my running friends from RunnersWorld Tulsa were there. We chatted on the way to the starting line for the early start. I was ready, dressed correctly for the temps and excited about the trek. we arrived with just a couple of minutes to go before the gun... No standing around like at the Route 66, just get there and suddenly we were off.

I crossed the starting line just 30 seconds after the gun, I was loving the early start and the sky was just starting to lighten as we approached the Clinton Library. Being at the back of the pack, I was hit up for an interview by the Marathon Show's Joe Taricani. I don't know if it ever aired, but it was an interesting thing.

As Joe Taricani left me and the solitude that I am used to settled in, I started my familiar 4 and 1 walk/run pace. Before the race, I had thought that I would just walk the first mile or two, but I was feeling particularly good and having just been interviewed, felt kinda empowered on top of the race day adrenaline.

It wasn't long before I was headed across the Broadway Street Bridge and into North Little Rock. Temps were starting to warm as the sun peaked over the horizon and the wind died down. It was going to be a beautiful day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was being observed by another runner who was just getting ready for the regular start... You never know, even in your solitude, who might be watching. I was revelling in the sunrise and the the fact that I was now in my old stomping grounds. Mile 2 came up quickly and I was 8 minutes ahead of my normal pace, but slowing down a bit to conserve my energy. I paused just past the 2nd mile marker and had one of the officers blocking the roads take a quick snapshot of me in front of my old apartment building. I was still feeling pretty fresh and looked it, too. Onward I went.

About another half mile and I tapped into my nutrition, just a little. Soon, I was coming up on the first water stop and I grabbed a bit of water and carried on. At 3 miles, my feet were hurting a little, but I've had that before, I shifted a little and kept going. A minor nuisance wasn't going to stop me. About a half mile later, though, I started having my first cramps. My calves kept trying to cramp up and shut down. Having just had some water, I decided that even though it was early, I'd intake a salt packet. Moving on down. At mile 4 and a half, the handbikes, wheelchairs and elites started passing me. I had slowed down quite a bit, but still on course and despite the achy feet and the cramping legs was still good and moving.

Coming around the bend and heading back across the bridge, the little things started adding up. It was about that time that the main pack started passing me and the bridge from North Little Rock was a longer climb up than when I first went over. Now those who know me know that I normally like hills, at least in training. But this hill, this bridge, seemed to be really getting the better of me. I kept going, occasionally pulling off to the side and hanging off the rail to stretch out my cramping legs and get a little more endurance out of them. But all that foot traffic was causing the bridge to noticeably oscillate and I had to fight that as well as already having problems. The oscillations were the worst under the arch where I was just certain the bridge was rising and dropping my at least half an inch. It was very disconcerting and very tiring, even just to keep my balance. Finally, I fought my way off the bridge and had to sit down for a few. That wore me out and I sat down for several minutes, but finally got up and continued on.

I moved along and up the hill to 3rd street. I was coming up on half way and just didn't want to stop. I took some more of my fluids, but my mouth would get dry quickly afterward. I want to say that I got a tremendous amount of support and well wishes as I trudged along. I started to realize just how deep in trouble I was and it seemed like I had to stop and rest every time I turned around. Still, I wasn't wanting to quit. My quads were on fire, my stomach was nauseous, and I was starting to get dizzy, but I kept getting out there. My friend Cheryl passed me and shouted some encouragement and I did my best to keep going. I was really played out and hurting when more of my group came upon me. I guess I had started to drift a bit and they made me sit down and gave me some water and they made sure I was ok before they left. Angry with myself, I got back up and squeezed some more out. Mile six couldn't be more than a mile ahead, I was thinking. About half way down to the next turn I stopped again and before I realized it, I was watching the sad wagon pass me. They started picking up the course barrels and they didn't even know I was still on the course!

I got up again. The turn was just ahead, I was sure. I pushed, even as my quads were giving out. Every muscle in my legs were burning and complaining. I got to where I thought the turn was and turned up the street. About half way up the block I realized that cars weren't supposed to be parked on the race route and that the street was full of cars. I turned around and went back down to the race route and turned to go back down, but realized I wasn't sure where the route was... I couldn't see the marker for mile 6. I was in trouble and knew it so I started messaging people I knew. Finally, my legs gave completely out. Had I been close to the finish, I'd have simply crawled, but I had enough presence of mind to realize I couldn't crawl 7 miles and finally pulled up short. Soon, Little Rock EMTs were on the scene and after making sure that I wasn't in imminent distress and then they helped me get back to my hotel.

Once safely in my room, I crawled over to the bed and let myself collapse with a water bottle. I set my alarm and sipped some and slept for a brief time, doing the best I could to recover. I was cold, cramping and thirsty. Eventually, I tossed and turned enough that I managed to pull covers over me and I warmed up. After a shower, I was feeling almost human again. Slowly, I got some use of my muscles and when Cheryl finished and got her shower, we decided we could stay for at least a little of the post race party. We gathered our things and checked out of our rooms and had a nice surprise waiting for us... the hotel didn't charge us for any additional time. It made thing a bit better.

We got our gear back in her vehicle and then sat in the hotel restaurant for a while. I had a little to eat, expecting the entire time to get nauseated again and happily surprised when I didn't. Previous races had gotten me there and I was glad this wasn't one of them.

On the way home, there were many quiet, introspective moments. There was also some good discussion on what went right and what went wrong. As Cheryl pointed out to me, I finish a race... I just signed up for the wrong one. She also said that I might try racing some shorter races and just work on making my times better. Those are good thoughts and I hope she knows I did hear her on them.

All in all, I am not giving up. After the Route 66, I felt bad because I didn't get a chance to put it all out there. I had the same problem with the Tulsa Zoo Run 5k the month before, even though I had finished it and did comparatively well at it. But sometimes it is hard for me to be able to express to others. But at Little Rock on Sunday, I put everything out there. I went MY distance, the farthest I could go on THAT day. Did I make mistakes leading up to that race? Sure I did. Some grand ones, I think. I let the travel day interfere with my hydration, I didn't watch my exertion the day before the race, I probably started the race slightly dehydrated and then exabrated the problem by taking salt early on without the proper hydration. I also probably started my pace a little too fast. But I did all I could do and then went further. I will be back and I will get to wear a finisher's medal. I liked coming to Little Rock for this race and you can bet I'll be back.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Before the Race

It seems that the Law of Taper has gotten into almost everything, including my blog. Well, I didn't run on Saturday, taper got me and I used the time to get some much needed sleep. And aside from running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, I've not gotten out on these wonderful and temperate days, much to my regret, to do any running, either. I need to get out and do some exercising, but it seems with all the craziness this week trying to get prepared, I've just not been "in the zone".

So, Little Rock. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the area. About 8 years total, I lived at Little Rock Air Force Base, about 12 miles north. I graduated from North Pulaski High School. My first apartment after high school is actually right on the course I am running Sunday Morning. How exciting it will be to go by that place again. Wonder if it is for rent. LOL.

Anyway, just a few thoughts before the race...

I am thankful to be able to go back to Little Rock... It's been a while and it gives me a chance to remember some good times.

I am thankful to be able to participate in an endurance race... There have been times when I thought I never would.

I am thankful for the aches and pains I experience along the way... They remind me that I am still alive and need to finish so I can get home.

I am thankful for the people who have brought me into this sport and supported me through all this... To see a 400+ pound man and think he could EVER be in this position take great vision.

I am thankful for the people who accept me for who I am, who I was, and who I may be in the future without judgement. It means more to me than I can express.

I am thankful for each and every one who reads my blog... You guys help me keep it real and keep me finding things to write about.

I am thankful that I was cared about when I was not even able to walk to the end of my block... I'll never be over those times...

I am thankful that I have been so blessed by God... For how else can any of this be explained.