Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Off to Missourah

Ozarks in the Fall.  Home Sweet Home.
(OT100 Facebook Page)
The simple fact that I will be running 100 miles on Saturday (103 proper) has finally settled into my brain, so I reasoned it was time to gather a few thoughts before I take off.  If for nothing more than to laugh at when things inevitably stray from the plan.  Because they always do.

The poison of choice will be the Ozark Trail 100 in Southeast Missouri, and it's no secret this will not be my first drink.  Said elixir just about killed me back in 2010, when the weather took a turn as the sun went down and hypothermia set in.  It was my first ever DNF and to be honest, it took a long time for me to get over it.  Here's what I had to say about it, via the race report I could never bring myself to finish:

If a race actually brought me to my knees and would not allow me to finish, you know it was hard.  Shit, I was 100% positive getting up and turning around to walk back to the aid station was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.  Unfortunately, ending the race did not end my fiercest challenge. Instead, it was only the beginning of the true toughest test of  my life: learning to accept my human limitations, and becoming open to seeing the outcome as anything but a failure.

Jeeeeze.  Bring on the dramatics.  For real though, I say that now - after I've DNF'd two additional races (both 50ks at the first aid station, by the way) and have generally settled the f*** down with regards to my competitive drive and need to control everything, but I assure that it was all quite horrible when it happened.  Listen to me, all acting like two years has garnered me a decade of experience and wisdom, but honestly it does kind of feel that way.  

The things I've learned are not only tangible and tactical, such as switching my headlamp batteries in the middle of the night, relying on liquid calories and aid station food in the cold when my gel freezes and packing every warm piece of everything I own in my Hwy DD drop bag.*  But I've also I would say earned, rather than learned, some serious peace of mind with regards to getting through a 100 mile race.  For starters, I ran Angeles Crest with spikes jabbing my patellar tendon the whole way and pain that had me gasping for breath - and I finished.  If I can run through that, I can pretty much run through anything.  At Western States this year, I discovered that running a little bit harder in the last 20 miles is really no different than just trying to move forward at all, at any rate, so I might as well keep pushing the pace.  
*That's the place where shit got real last time.  I had to go over 9 miles through waist high stream crossings to the next crew point in shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt.  It was 17 degrees in the hollows.  It was not good.

Getting even deeper still, I've learned to place my self assessments not in relation to other people but rather in relation to myself.  By no surprise, this keeps me in a much better mental state throughout the ordeal, as well as prevents me from doing something truly stupid.  Or in other cases, not pushing where I know I can.  I remember last time I ran the race, a gentleman scoffed and scolded me for running all the uphills.  Accordingly, I started hiking - now just barely hanging onto a 24-hr pace.  I realized much later that it had been wholly stupid not to run while I could, and given that the course was covered in hidden land-mine rocks - that would've been the uphills, followed by weird, hoppy dance-like maneuvers on the downs.  I run in the San Gabriels and Eastern Sierras for chrissakes.  Two of the steepest ranges in North America.  Of course I can run up the hills.
Them thar hills
Shall we peel another layer?  So the other thing I've got going for me is that I am in a largely better place in life, generally speaking.  Two years ago was basically a bunch of turmoil with work, finances and relationships - all things I was fighting to fix, all of which was absorbing every ounce of my energy and patience.  I had thought a 100 mile run through the woods would be just what I needed to clear my head, but as it turns out, it only added another layer to the problem.  The whole, "Why am I not good enough for ANYTHING?!" game crept in something fierce and was compounded as I lie on my back in the leaves somewhere around mile 70, officially unable to move.  

BUT, my dad scooped me up and all but carried me back to the nearest aid station.  I eventually warmed up, got some rest and survived.  And lo and behold, over the next few months, pretty much everything started to get better.  In fact, the last year of my life has truly been one of the best ever - not for any specific monumental event - but rather simply the comfort and trust I have felt in EVERYTHING.   Some things have worked out, some have not, and some I have been wholly indifferent to - but through it all, life has just flowed right along, and I've been happy for would I estimate to be 98.2% of it.  If I can extend that ratio to the race on Saturday, I should be in damn fine place.

Now, as for the less ethereal, feel-goody aspects of my preparedness for this race… I'm going to be honest.  Shit hasn't been ideal.  What I mean by this is that my plan when registering was that I'd recover from Western States and then start hitting it hard mid-July, building on the supreme shape I felt I was in and my best 100 to date.  This was all going well through a great week in Silverton for Hardrock, and then my world came crashing down.  I ended up really sick and exhausted for the better part of two months - only finally starting to get things rolling in September.  This was all likely related to a kidney infection and some antibiotics that seriously f'd up my system, but more on that in a later post.


Here's the thing though - while it was hard being a bit slower and doing a little less mileage at first, at some point between now and then, I suddenly realized how awesome and strong I felt.  I was running faster and higher; I completed some extremely long and challenging days; I re-graduated to the heavier weights in my cross-training.  And best part?  I wasn't injured, overworked or tired.  I was on some sort of an upswing, if you will.

Recently, I sat down and crunched the numbers in my training log - you know, the numbers I would write down but refuse to add up, lest I dive headfirst into a horrible "why can't I run as much as I used to" depression.  To my surprise, they weren't too far off from what I consider one of my best months leading up to Western States.  Because I haven't been racing, I've been able to build up some real, quality miles and vert, and lo and behold - the training was actually there.  I'm still having a bit of trouble believing it was enough, but hell, that happens even when I'm hitting 100 mi+ weeks.  Which, btw, I did have one of those in there without even realizing it.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I feel good.  My body is rested and uninjured and my mind is finally up to the task of running for a day and night or so through the Mark Twain National Forest.  I valued rest and recovery almost even more than the training itself, and the result is a body that's truly chomping at the bit to get out there and tear into the trails.  On Saturday, I ran 11 miles up over 8,000 feet with a couple K of climb in there and felt like I was on a 5 mile stroll along the beach.  Last night, I felt electric as I ran a few "easy" miles around town, only to discover I'd been clipping off 6:30 miles.  I have so much energy in the evenings, it's hard to contain myself even with an addicting book*.  I do, however, still feel like I weigh 200 pounds - so I guess all signs point to taper in full effect.  Dom's probably been wise to leave me to my lonesome, but that will be inescapable when we meet at LAX tomorrow.  Praying for his sake the emotional warfare portion of the fun doesn't take hold between now and then.
(*"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed - def worth your time)

All this aside, arguably the best part about running the Ozark Trail 100 this Saturday is that I get to go HOME.  I get to hang out with my mom and dad, snuggle with the most awesome bulldog ever - Miss Stella, eat my grandma's pies, drink some Schafly Pumpkin Ale, get a way-better-than-LA haircut from Cherie, run through the crunch of a midwestern fall and bury myself in the most comfortable couch in all of the land when I'm done.  It will be glorious, and even better yet, I get to share it all with Dom!  He's never been back to Missouri with me and I'm so excited to show him all of the things I love about my hometown in my favorite season to spend there. You's in fo' some fun, California Boy!

Fit for crunching.
(
Missouri Hiking)
There is going to be some in-race tracking of sorts this year - though I wouldn't rely on that too much.  If you were wondering if we'll be in the freaking styx, the answer is yes.  No cell service, no towns, no nuthin'…. but trees, leaves, rocks, roots and hills.  All of which should add up to a good challenge of what they say is 15k of gain over a nasty surface that you can't see, due to all the leaves on the ground.  Yee-haw.  Thank goodness for my pops, who knows the area well thanks to camping, fishing and float trips and has a general sense of direction and timeliness which can be trusted.  Having him there to take care of my crew and ensure they survive in the wilderness (Joan) and get to where they need to be (Dom) is a giant relief.  Plus Mr. Mitch will be there for comic relief and Aunt Laura will be there for the much needed F bombs. Feral pigs, bald eagles and possible meth labs will add to the charm. It's going to be a backwoods party for the ages.

This is real, people.


Planning on tackling the thing in the New Balance 1010s (which come in a 2A!), which I think should be a good blend of providing a little bit of protection, while still being flexible and minimal enough to let me feel the trail and not crack an ankle.  Injinji Ex-Celerator socks should help keep me from tweaking my calves in the cold morning and I'll also be trying something new with nutrition.  I've been using GENR8 Vitargo and Nuun for the past month or so, and it's been a great departure from eating so many damn gels.  Of course, I've still got shit-tons of those as they are basically fool-proof for me, but I'm going to try and rely on liquid a bit more, given that it could be very cold and also fumbling with gel packets on super technical terrain = disaster.

Weather could be anything from hot and humid to thunderstorms to freezing temps - though it's looking like the cloud cover could keep things from getting too unbearable.  Either way, I've got Goretex and Primaloft coming out my ears as well as the recent experience of running 40 miles in the hail, rain and wind of the 2012 Western States Apocalypse… all in a 3 oz. Minimus jacket.  So I think what I'm trying to say is I'm pretty much good.

Final thing (lay off me - I'm tapering and disjointed):  technically the farthest I've run is 101.5 miles  - never 103, so I'm looking forward to a new PR regardless.  

Oh, one more thing:

Happy Halloween.  I'm a panda.

OK seriously - bye.

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