Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Return To Old Skool

One hundred kilometers of trails.  Point to point.  18 hours to get 'er done.  Plenty of well-stocked aid stations and crew access to more than adequately support me.   Everything on my side.  And yet, I couldn't get it done.  The score ... me:  0, Twisted Branch:  2.  I am by no means a fast runner but I will admit that I have never had to worry about cut-offs during a race.  It seems that most races anymore are geared toward helping you succeed and they are pretty generous with the cut-offs.  But Twisted Branch 100K is Old Skool.  No time for dawdling.  No gimmees.  You gotta work for every bit of it.  You need to know ahead of time what you need before you need it.  You gotta keep moving.  There is no time for a pitty-party.  For me, the cut-offs are tight; a reality that I have to go into this race with a race mentality.  I may not be racing other runners but I am definitely racing the clock.

For two years I thought I had it together enough to conquer this beast.  I tried specific diets, specific running foods, the "in-thing" of low heel-toe drop shoes.  And for two years I failed.  So this year there was only one thing left to do ... return to Old Skool.  Return to my roots ... my running roots and my soul.  I needed to quit going with the new trends.  First off I decided to go back to what is my heart and soul; I went back to eating a vegetarian diet.  It made my heart and soul feel good and light again.  I gave up the race specific foods and decided to listen to what my body was wanting ... healthy or not.  I changed up my shoe choice (more on that below).

This year I had a number of specific goals for this race, hoping they would help to keep me focused over the many hours.  And fortunately, I had some help on my side to help me achieve these goals.  The overall finish time was increased by two hours, so I now had 20 hours to complete it (and starting an extra hour early to have more time of cooler temps before the sun rose).  I had my trusty crew of Joe and an ace pacer, John, ready to kick my ass if I started to fail.

Goal #1:  Finish.
Goal #2:  Finish within the original 18 hour cut-off.
Goal #3:  Reach the Urbana Town Hall (mile 58.5) in the daylight.
Goal #4:  Finish the race and be back in my own house by the time the race officially finished.

The results:
Goal #1:  I FINISHED!!
Goal #2:  Close ... I finished in 18:06:58.  And I'm OK with that.
Goal #3:  I made it to Urbana by 8pm.  And it was still light out!
Goal #4:  Made it back home by 12:01AM ... ONE MINUTE off of my goal.  If I hadn't had that second beer I could have met this goal.  OK ... totally worth it to miss this goal because that second beer was necessary.  And so good.

So rather than go through moment-by-moment of what happened during those 18 hours, 6 minutes, and 58 seconds I would rather remember the highlights that helped me achieve my goals.

- It was an amazing day weather-wise with pretty pleasant temps and some amazing cool breezes throughout the entire race.
- I started out carrying water, electrolytes, gels, and some snacks.  My fuel for the day actually consisted of water, ginger beer, Dr. Pepper, Gatorade, tapioca Snack Pack pudding cups, one pierrogie, and a "lunch" of cheese quesadillas with sour cream.  But I gotta say, it was the ginger beer and Gatorade that really was my primary source of fuel and it worked.
- For once I didn't change my socks or shoes at all during the race.  A last-minute panic that I didn't have the "right" shoes for this race (because with the extreme ups and downs it is really necessary to have a shoe that holds your foot secure) brought me to buying a new pair of Solomon Sense Ultras just days before the race.  Actually, I had only 3.5 miles on them come race day.  These shoes have a 9mm heel-toe drop, way higher than I normally run in, but they worked.  They were amazing.  Somewhere around 21 miles I could feel a hot spot on the side of my left heel but it wasn't devastating.  I knew that nothing was going to stick to my foot at this point to cushion it.  And I knew if I took those shoes and socks off I would never get them feeling right on my feet again.  So I just soldiered on, sometimes the pain annoyed me, other times I was able to completely not notice it.
- I shared some great miles with amazing, strong people.  I feel very fortunate to be able to share the trails with you all!
- Joe was the ultimate crewman, as always.  At each stop he had everything out of the car and set up by my chair, ready and waiting with all the things I needed and didn't need (or want at that moment).  At each stop he was pushing me to get out of the chair and get moving.  Tough love.  And then there was my pacer, John.  Constantly asking me if I needed to eat or drink or take electrolytes.  Encouraging me to "just trot a little" when he felt that I was walking for too long (because I could have certainly just kept on walking!).  Those guys were key and I can't possibly thank them enough.
- Hitting the main Finger Lakes Trail (still light outside!) and knowing exactly where I was, exactly how far I had to go, and truly knowing about how long it would take me to cover these miles (because I have run this section so many times in training).  And it was so nice to be able to let John see these trails in the light so he could truly know how amazing our trails are here!
- Hitting Mitchellville Road and one of the volunteers there was Nate Huckle.  Now there's a blast from the past.  This was so Old Skool.  Nate used to run many of the old Finger Lakes Runners Club races years ago; a name I remember hearing and seeing in the results when I first started running.
- Getting to the Urbana Town Hall still in the light of day, knowing I was going to finish this race ... FINALLY!  And then having the dread come over me as I looked up at the mountain that I had to tackle.  It was still light out but I knew that once we entered the woods the lights would go out.  And John had lost his headlamp somewhere miles earlier.  And amazingly a friend had picked up the light and had given it to his wife who somehow got it to Joe.  The fates were with us.
- Across the highway, into the woods and into the dark.  Hearing noises that I wasn't sure what they were.  And then not giving a shit about the noises as I tackled the 32 switchbacks that lead us up the next mile of climbing.  I just kept thinking that so many runners ahead of me surely had to help keep the bears away.  I tried not to shine my headlight on the trees where the bear scratchings were that we saw just a couple of weeks prior when hiking this section.  And grateful that I was not alone here.  John did an excellent job of keeping me focused.
- Coming out onto Winding Staircase Road under the clear and starry sky and John asking me "do you think you can trot a little?"  And me answering ... no.
- My headlight started dying with probably a half mile to go.  And I really didn't want to stop and change batteries when we were so close to the finish.  John did a fantastic job of shining his light on the trail and getting me to the finish!
- All day long I just kept thinking I wanted to get to the finish so I could be done with this.  This 100K race is every bit the experience and difficulty of any 100 miler.  Hands down.  And then I crossed the finish line and remembered what a great feeling that is.  Having the support of so many friends and family and sharing this experience with them is such an amazing experience.  So there's that.  The score is now me: 1, Twisted Branch:  2.  I am still behind, and I have a score to even.  So Twisted Branch 2018, watch out.

Thank you to Scott and all of the wonderful volunteers who helped us all throughout the journey. We couldn't have done it without you!  And true to Old Skool ... the cotton race t-shirt.  I hope they never get rid of this.

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