Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night)

"Not all those who wander are lost" - JRR Tolkien (printed on the back of the Timber Knoll tech shirt).

I am sitting here with my feet up watching the womens' olympic marathon that I recorded last night (come on Radcliffe, Yelling and Yamauchi). Out of the corner of my eye I can see the spare running shoes and socks that I put out ready to take with me yesterday and forgot. That is why my feet are a mess right now - I have counted at least 8 separate blisters and I suspect at least two toenails are going to part company with me. On the plus side, I ran well enough to knock out 51 miles and finish 4th overall in the Timber Knoll 12 hour race (I finished around 11:45).

Because of the threat of rain and thunderstorms we decided that Nancy and Gavin would stay at home. I drove down to Penernales State Park under strict instructions from Nancy that I would not attempt to drive back before taking a nap in the back of the Explorer. Fingers crossed, I agreed.

Got to the park early, picked up my packet from Brad and wandered around saying hello to friends. The packet had some good stuff in it including a hat, a technical singlet and an LED handheld torch. Just before 7pm, Brad and Joe gathered us all together and explained the course. It was an 8.5 mile loop and first time through we would run it clockwise, then anti-clockwise and so on. The 6 hour and 12 hour runners would start together and right on the dot of 7 we were off.

Quick note of explanation. There is no set distance in these races - it is however many loops you can run in 6 or 12 hours. The terrain is half jeep road and half rocky technical trail. The entire course is hilly.

I found a niche for myself just behind the lead pack and ahead of the main group and felt comfortable, though as usual I probably went out too fast. About 30 minutes into the race, the heavens opened and it felt glorious. If you've never run in the rain, you've missed out on something really special. But because the rain was so heavy, it turned part of the course into a mudbath. In places your shoes would sink into the mud and clumps of it would stick to the bottoms, making them very heavy. Stones and pieces of mud found their way into my shoes and started rubbing my feet raw, but there wasn't much I could do about it. I really need to invest in a good pair of gaiters. This was an ideal course for my Montrail Hardrocks, so it was doubly frustrating that I had forgotten them.

I finished the first loop in 1:21 and started out on the reverse loop - very useful because you can see who is behind you and how close they are. About halfway through this second loop it got dark and I turned on my headlamp. I was wearing my El Scorcho singlet, as was one other guy and the volunteers called us the "El Scorcho" boys (Ryan - a number of folks asked me about your race and were keen to sign up for next year).

Once the rain stopped, it got very humid (although the temperature was a very comfortable 78F). For the rest of the race I noticed something I never thought I would see - my breath fogging (like a cold winter's day) in Texas in August. I'm guessing it was due to the saturated air.

Just before starting loop 4, I stopped to gossip with some "6 hour" friends who had already finished while Brad made me a burrito and some ramen noodles. They were really good and I told him I would run this race again just for the food. Once I set off again I took a wrong turn a few minutes into the loop which dumped me straight back at the start line. Feeling rather stupid I headed out again.

By loop 5 the field had noticeably thinned. Most of the 6 hour folks had finished, and some of the 12 hour runners had given in to sleep. About a mile or so from the end of the loop, a guy caught up with me and recognized me from El Scorcho. Apparently I had caught and blasted past him on the last loop. I didn't remember him, but he sure remembered me. We had a chance to chat for a few minutes before he passed me up.

When I got to the start line, Joe asked me what I'd said to the guy. He had told Joe that I had him worried and he kept talking about having to put some distance between us to negate my finishing kick. I told Joe he needn't have worried because this was going to be a slow last lap for me. Brad joined in and urged me to have a crack at him (since he'd also had a similar conversation) and we could have a good race, but my feet were really hurting and I was really in no condition to do much. I knew I didn't have much of a chance of catching him or Dalton, and Derek was way ahead. By the same token I was far enough ahead of my pursuers not to have to worry about them either. Sure enough it was a painful last loop, and I stopped several times to empty stones and debris from my shoes. I finally hit a rhythm about 3 miles from the end, ignored my blistered feet and turned on the gas to kick to the finish line. The last section seemed to be the longest of the night - every turn I was convinced would lead to the finish line but it kept on going. I eventually finished 4th overall - the first time I've cracked the top 5.

I came in to the finish line, grabbed my camping chair, a bunch of good looking munchies (including some fantastic coffee bean brownies made by Dalton and his wife) and joined the group seated around the timing station. It turns out that my "El Scorcho" rival pulled out a fast loop the last time round - ah the power of motivation.

We all hung out to wait for the last runners and Brad sent out for breakfast burritos. They were super yummy and I had two. Then I helped tear down the tents and do clean up which I think helped prevent any post-race stiffness.

Lessons learned from this run - I had none of the problems I encountered at El Scorcho, I was very well hydrated and my shot bloks and sports beans always gave me a jolt of energy when I needed it. My final time was by far my worst over this distance, but it was on par for this course and the other runners. El Scorcho aside, I haven't run any training run longer than 7 miles for the last month, so I'll take it. All in all a good race. I had some tough moments, but it's good to know I was mentally strong enough to overcome (or ignore) them. That mental drive seems to be my forte and helps make up for my lack of natural running talent. I also ran most of the race by myself and found I enjoyed the solitude. Damn, but my feet are sore though.

PS. Just finished watching the Olympic marathon. Unfortunately, Paula Radcliffe couldn't overcome her injury problems and finished a distant 23rd, obviously in some pain. Still, it was a good race and Constantina Tomescu deserved the victory for her gutsy front running.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic effort Mark!!

Jeff F

steve said...

Another inspirational race report!

Well done Mark...

Shame about Paula but it was a good race to watch. Nice to see a 38 year old win the race too!

One of these days I'll try something longer than a 50k. Just have to find the right race..

Hope your feet will be ok.