Thursday, July 21, 2011

Angeles Crest: Final Thoughts

F you, yucca.

This is not my usual entry.

First of all, it is actually an entry at all, with words and stuff, which is more than I’ve cared to post in the last few months.  But that’s where the similarities to my archive end.  See, normally I get lost in the experience of writing; spinning a cohesive story punctuated with a well thought out point.  I edit.  I add photos.  I work to create a little environment for you. 

But today, I don’t have a lot of time – yet I sure have a hell of a lot to say.  And it’s really important that I get it out before Sunday morning, when I cross the finish line of the 2011 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run.

I’ve been wanting to run this race for awhile now, but respect the challenge too much to come into it without having the time, physical capacity and mental clarity to prepare for it properly.  Last year was a wash in all of the above respects and so the thought of entering never even crossed my mind.  But as my life began to shift and level heading into 2011, for the first time I felt wholly capable of rising to the challenge.  And so I set into motion, committing fully to training harder and more focused than ever before.

Basically every single weekend I was not out of town for another race, I spent training in the San Gabriel Mountains.  Through the winter months, I ran loops out of Chantry so many times that I’ve lost count.  I ran all the way up Upper Winter Creek for the first time ever in February, and then continued to do so every time since.  Two years ago, I could barely hike up the thing without completely breaking down.  I ran the 4,600 gain from Eaton Canyon to Mt. Wilson through sun, wind, hail and snow and lowered my split to the top each time.  I dragged my ass up Baldy, past the snowboarders at the notch and down into the abyss that is Lytle Creek… experiencing microclimate after microclimate and exploring a seldom touched are of wilderness.  Then I’d turn around, put my head down and focus on the snowy slog back up; legs and feet becoming stronger and stronger with each step.  Sure, it would have been easier to enjoy the California sunshine down in the Santa Monica range – but that wasn’t going to help me come July.  That wasn’t the absolute most I could be doing to prepare myself for seven months down the road.

In March, I completed my first race of the year.  Well, sort of.  I ran half of the Coyote Moon 100k, before being pulled off the course due to the blizzard I’d been running in for the past eight hours.  In the aftermath of the experience, I realized I’d been running the climbs and moving stronger than ever before.  Something was clicking.  In April, I went to Boston to run the most treasured marathon around – admittedly without any traditional speed training or road work, and definitely sans a proper taper.  I PR’d, while spending the last few miles alternately puking and peeing my pants.  Turns out I had been a little sick.

May brought a return to the high country and with it, what I consider my strongest month.  I was climbing 10-15k a week and running 80-100 miles no problem.  No injuries.  The elevation was a challenge at first, but within a few weeks, I was running strong, even over 8,000 feet.  At the last minute, I decided to jump into the Bishop High Sierra 50 miler, which is all run at elevation and contains a great deal of climbing.  I ran very comfortably and finished in the top, having managed some truly terrible stomach issues for the entire race.  Eating and drinking was a challenge, yet I forced the calories down until they literally would not be accepted.  My legs felt fresh the entire day, despite the fact that my kidneys shut down for a good 15 hours.  The next weekend, I capped off the month with an 85 mile Memorial Weekend on the AC course.  When I finished my final run on Monday, I was no longer afraid of Angeles Crest.

But just as the San Gabriels giveth, the San Gabriels taketh away.  The next weekend, I ran with a group from Wrightwood and we decided to go exploring down in Mine Gulch at the base of Baden Powell.  I fell into a yucca plant and my leg was immediately in excruciating pain with a knee rendered unbendable.  I couldn’t walk for days, and just like that – running was removed from my life. 

It was a full two weeks before I could run again, and even then it was slowly.  And before I had the chance to be appreciative, I was back in the emergency room.  The purple poodle dog bush on the course had been turned up into the air and I woke up one Monday to a swollen face with eyes that wouldn’t open and a throat that was swelling shut.  In short, I was fucking miserable without my running and I could feel all of my hard work slipping away.  It was not cool.

What happened next was surprising. 

I jumped back into training – only experiencing pain on the downhills, but running the climbs faster than ever.  My body was rested and refreshed.  Since then, I’ve been gradually building back up and managing the knee pain as much as possible, aided by physical therapy.  (Yes, I needed specialists and PT for a plant stabbing!)  I spent five days in the San Juans sleeping, running and loving the hell out of life at 10-13,000 feet.  I felt entirely comfortable.  I’ve tapered well.

In the past seven months, I’ve watched my body change and I’ve felt my strength grow.  I’ve run the majority of my miles completely alone, tracking splits and trying to shrink the distance between myself and the fearsome duo of Dom and Jorge (stay tuned people, it’s going to be a good race.)  I’ve opened my mind to new possibilities and I’ve harnessed my emotions on the trails.  I’ve cross trained, I’ve heat trained, I’ve trained at altitude, I’ve trained at high mileage.  I’ve run the shit out of some mountains.

So am I ready for the challenge at hand?  Am I ready to finally run the Angeles Crest 100?  The answer is that I am honestly as ready as I possibly can be.  Admittedly, my knee is still not 100%, but I really don’t anticipate it being a problem.  I can’t worry about the weeks that it held me back from training, because those weeks have passed.  They are over and gone and in retrospect, it was a very short time in the grand scheme of the work I’ve put in. 

As such, I will head up the Acorn Trail at 5am on Saturday morning with confidence in myself and the hard work I’ve put in. I’ll feel lighter than ever, with the ten pounds that has come off my frame in the process.  I’ll trust my instincts of where to run and where to hike, intrinsically understanding every twist and turn and bump of the course. I’ll eat, I’ll drink, I’ll salt and I’ll remember how much I want to be there, even when the dark places come.  I’ll maintain a razor focus on doing everything I can in every moment I can, which will include remembering to smile.  I’ll sing at the top of my lungs atop Baden Powell.  I’ll high five my niece and relish in the love of my family and crew.  I will give my honest and best effort at running the race in under 24 hours and I will have absolutely no regrets.

This is going to be fun.

Bib #92.