Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rocky from the Other Side

The rugby match didn't start the day off too well as Wales lost a scrappy game because of a moment of madness from a player who should know better (and if he didn't he does now).

But minutes after the final whistle I was on the road to Huntsville, nursing a water bottle and a slight fatigue headache. Once I got off 290 it was a pretty drive and I turned the radio off, cracked the window and forgot the game while enjoying the best of a beautiful winter's afternoon.

I had Derek's predicted splits in my head, so when I got to the park I wanted to see where he was so I'd have an idea of when I would be needed. I estimated he had just started on his third loop so I headed to Josue's aid station. I chatted with Gabe, Diana and Jeff and it wasn't long before Derek came through. He was right on time and looked strong, focused and in the zone - he didn't even stop at the aid station. I figured he would finish out the loop around 9 o'clock, so I headed down to the lodge, said hello to some friends and then headed into town for supper.

Huntsville is a very odd place - the roads seem designed to suck you in and prevent you from getting where you want to go, and the roadworks never seem to change. I've been coming here to race for over 3 years now and the same bit of road is always dug up and the same lanes are always closed. Go figure.

I hadn't eaten very much since I'd been in the line at Austin ISD so I wanted some quick calories and ventured into town in search of them. The first thing that struck me (just like last time) was that almost everyone seemed to be walking around town in camouflage (I can still see you).

My first choice was a Mexican restaurant, so I sat in the parking lot watching some camouflage-clad middle aged rednecks performing handbreak turns and "Tow Mater-style" reverses in their monster Dodge pickups. The mexican option faded a little, so I decided a chinese buffet may be the order of the day. But that place looked even more scary - it had a zany 70s style decor and almost everyone in there was wider than they were tall (yes, I know that's rude and very un-PC, but it also happens to be true).

So I settled for the safe backup - takeout pizza. I took it back to the park and set about it like a pig at the trough. Thus fortified, I pottered over to the park road aid station.

I loved this aid station - they'd decorated the trees with beads, had a heater and a radio and had a great party atmosphere going. It was 4.4 miles from the start/finish so I figured if I saw Derek come through here it would give me plenty of time to get to the start/finish, change and be ready to go back out with him.

I had thought that coming to this race, I would be jealous of the runners and wish I were running it. But surprisingly I wasn't. Nancy has a theory on this that I will explore in its own posting.

But back to the race.

By now it had gotten dark and COLD. I remember last year running into aid stations and wondering why everyone was dressed in coats, hats, scarves and gloves. This year, watching from the other side I found myself wondering why so many runners were in shorts and t-shirt!!!

Yes, I know -

Derek came through right on cue around 8:15 and was still running strong. He was in good spirits and looked remarkably fresh. When we'd talked about this race, one of the things I'd recommended was not to waste time in the aid stations - get in and out as quickly as possible. Well he'd obviously taken that to heart because I turned around to say something to the guy next to me, and by the time I'd turned back around he was gone, headed toward the lodge and the end of the loop.

That was an excellent sign.

So I drove down there, changed into my running gear and hurried over to the turnaround. I found a "mess tent" where they had a heater set up and stood around it talking to Rod H. from Hawaii. He and his nephew had completed the Hawaii Hurt 100 three weeks previously, and while Rod had dropped due to muscle problems his nephew was on course to finish well (which he did - 4th overall male).

He was good company, and Larry and Jeff joined us. From time to time I'd step outside to see if Derek had come in, but there was no sign. As time went by and still no Derek we started to get worried and I wondered if I'd missed him. We went and checked the computer and that confirmed he was yet to come in.

Eventually I saw him hobbling in just after 10pm - almost two hours after leaving the aid station 4.4 miles back up the trail. Disaster had struck - it turns out he'd lost concentration for a moment just after leaving the aid station and hyper-extended his knee which was now locking up and preventing him from running.

I was utterly deflated for him. He had put so much into this race, including 7 months of training, and had run an almost perfect race. But that's the thing about trails - a single misstep or lapse of concentration can wipe out everything in an instant.

I sat him down in the tent and got him some hot broth while we assessed the options. Derek said he was going to drop and I'm 100% certain he made the right decision. But I had to make sure and I pushed a little. I suggested we try a few miles to see if it eased up, or taped or iced it. I'm sure I got a little annoying, but I just wanted to be sure that was a decision that Derek could live with in the morning.

And when I saw in his face that it was, I let it be.

Though disappointed, he was very philosophical, and I know he can come back and complete this goal. I am equally certain that but for that misfortune he would have gone on to finish the last two loops and bag an outstanding first 100 mile finish.

I'm just sorry I didn't get to share the trail with him for a spell - it would have been fun.

I helped carry his stuff back to his car, and then I wandered back to the start/finish line not quite sure what to do. I chatted with Jeff and Larry for a while and helped crew for Cheri when she came through. Then around midnight I decided to drive home. I didn't have a hotel room because I'd anticipated running all night, and I wanted to sleep in my own bed so I set off for the long drive back to Austin.

And it was pretty uneventful. When I got too tired to drive any more I'd pull over and take a quick power nap then carry on. I stopped three times and got home around 5am. Having not slept since Thursday night I figured I would fall into bed and not wake up until this afternoon, but oddly enough I couldn't sleep - I got up barely an hour later wanting something to do, and got busy making bread.

I'm sure it will hit me later, but right now I'm feeling great.

And since New Orleans is playing in the superbowl today, I'm going to make some sausage and shrimp gumbo to accompany the bread for supper.

Looking forward to that.

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