Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Head and the Heart

The Head -
Land Between the Lakes 50 mile trail race.

Put on by amazing RD Steve Durbin, and also offering distances of 60k, marathon, 23k, and a road 10k, the LBL trail runs draw a pretty huge crowd.  Like 800+ huge.  The masses back up to the shoreline at Lighthouse Landing for the start.  All distances starting together, with the number of laps we registered to run coded into our bibs (4000's signed on for 4 laps or 50 miles, 3000's = 60k, etc.), we would run away from Grand Rivers and on toward the singletrack loop that was the bulk of our course.

I bid adieu to my buddies and campmates, Tom Nielsen and Craig Sampsell at the car.  Jumping around to stay warm, I ran in to lots of friends and trail acquaintances - Cynthia Heady, Heath Fenton, John King (fresh off a huge marathon PR and unsure how far he wanted to run), Ricky George (warning me - "don't let me catch you on lap 4 Hoyes!"), Russ Goodman, Troy Shellhamer and Scott Breeden (all three racing the 60k and the latter two gunning for the course record).  I don't remember if it was a gun or a "go", but we all got under way with the 1 1/2 mile asphalt approach to the Canal Loop.

So began the long day in my head.  Having guys running a road 10k next to those running 50 miles next to those racing for 60k course records requires one to look inside and feel for the pace that's going to work.  Although it's hard to let people go, Scott and Troy were just up the road, and they were going to be flying through a race 12+ miles shorter than mine.  "Settle down" I'd tell myself.  Then I'd be jolted by the thought of a hundred people bumbling through the trail in front of me.  So, I just made conversation, ran into Derek Ball and talked with him for a while, and before I knew it, the first lap was half over. 

Russ Goodman and I movin' on
Course markings showing the mileage in lap increments provided lots of opportunity to stay in my head doing math.  Not being a GPS user makes one rely on quick math and the ability to multiply and divide mileage and time.  As the first lap came and went, so did much of the company.  23k'ers were done with one, leaving only marathoners, 60k'ers and 50 milers.  I had spotted one 4 on a bib up ahead of me on a section of trail that doubled back on itself, and I passed him as he went for a drop bag (I didn't use drop bags).  Right in front of me, however, was a good gauge - Russ Goodman.  If there's one word to describe Russ, it's consistent, and that's what I needed to be.  Although, he was doing the 60k, which made me second guess my early enthusiasm.  As we rolled through the second lap, picking off runners, I simply let Russ set the pace.  Easy yet not hiking the climbs, and smooth solid running throughout made me feel like I was only running a little too fast having limited 50 mile experience (one awful 50 mile trail race and a 64.5 mile 10 hour effort).  Maybe this was a lot too fast. 

At some aid station, I got in front of Russ and was cruising into lap 3 on my own.  Lapped runners were all over the place and most all of them offered kind words of support which I returned as I asked to get around.  The trail running community is amazing, and this race made me appreciate it like never before.  I was asking at aid stations and the one electronic bib check about other 50 milers but no one could give me much info.  Then, as we exited the mid-lap aid station, I caught Ed Kirk.  Ed is a crazy-strong trail runner and knowledgeable racer who lives right on the Lovin' the Hills course.  He told me that only Troy, Scott and couple of other guys had come through, and he noted that Gingerich (multi-time past winner) had passed him in exactly that spot in previous years.  So, in Ed's words, I was doing sub-seven hour pace.  Finally, I had gotten some solid info - sounded like I was second or third.

Then, the end-of-lap aid station finally got there.  There was lots of activity as tons of runners were going for drop bags and Scott (who was already in his sweats and looking fresh having crushed the 60k record) was there in support.  He looked wide-eyed at the salt deposits on my face and said "Matt, man you're salty" and tried to hand me some Endurolytes.  Adept at the quick math, he said I was on 6:40 pace and told me I was doing great.  My good friend, Tom (gearing up for his third lap), spotted me and said "Dude, are you starting your fourth?'  I think my response was "I guess so, but I don't really want to."  If I had bailed and headed to Grand Rivers right then I would've been 4th in the 60k.  I could be ok with that, but then that stubbornness reared up in me.  One more lap.  I told myself that I was strong enough to go one more lap.

Damage control was about all that I could muster.  Constantly thinking about how a fall would result in a massive cramping attack and how walking would kill the pace that I had worked so hard for, I dug deep to maintain something that biomechanically looked like my stride.  I was shrinking to a shuffle, and kept telling myself "don't be a ____________."  I ran every climb, and got updates at every aid station from Julie House (even if they might have been somewhat fictionalized).  I was running 2nd, and she'd tell me that I was closing in on him, "five minutes" she'd say.  I wasn't really worried about him.  This was a battle in my own head.  I thought about making my son proud, about my girlfriend's embrace, about the kids I coach looking at me for inspiration.  It's the title of my blog, and my most simple mantra - go.

I finally got to the end of that last lap and Julie confessed that the winner was actually more than 20 minutes up.  The worst part of the entire day is that the 50 milers have to this out and back on the road to get the total distance.  It's hard running away from the finish line, but I peeled myself away from the aid station and headed up the road.  After rounding the cone and running most of the way back to the aid station, I spotted the third place overall runner.  It was Melanie Peters, ultra phenom, who went on to smash the women's record by over 45 minutes, less than 8 minutes behind me.
Tom, me, Craig.  Sporting some hard earned belt buckles.
Wound up second to Matt Urbanski of Seattle by 25 minutes, (I clocked a shiny new PR of 6:51), 8 minutes up on Melanie and 20+ up on 4th.  Three 60k guys and eight marathoners ran faster paces, which I'm super happy with.  The Western Kentucky Runners crew led by Steve Durbin, all the volunteers, the amazing performances by every brave soul, and the sheer beauty of LBL made this race one of the best days of running I have ever had.  What better way to spend almost seven hours in my head?

The Heart-
The Heart Mini Marathon, Cincinnati OH

A side note really, my Heart Mini race report is basically to laugh at my inability to stay away from starting lines.  All I needed was to hear that my uncle had put together a corporate team to raise money for the Heart Association and I offered to be his "ringer."  Well, as much of ringer as one could be having just run 50 miles seven days prior.  But, it's a fabulous charitable event, and I was a little curious to see how the body would react.

Seconds before the gun it started snowing.  The course climbed a lot and it seemed like there was a headwind no matter what direction you were running.  And, 6:15's felt like 5:45's.   Managed to hit marathon goal pace and clocked a 1:20 for 4th overall.  Five minutes off my PR, but I still feel OK about it moving forward.

On the horizon - back to Cincinnati.  Flying Pig Marathon.  May 5th.

1 comment:

  1. Great race report, Matt. Congratulations on your shiny new PR! I spoke to you right before the race that day about cross country and congratulated you afterwards. (Run It Fast shirt... which I did not do!)
    I searched Backside Trail Marathon race reports and came across your blog. I'm excited to run it as my first trail full this weekend.
    I hope to see you at RUTS in a few weeks. By the way, Estes is in. He bought a bib from someone who wasn't going to use it. Good Luck at the Pig!