Sep 132011

By David Bidler

I learned something about trail running, about racing in general, and about myself on the Bradbury Bruiser course this morning. I’ve never been the fastest runner and until recently I’ve been satisfied with a middle of the pack finish and a morning well spent on the trails.  But, as I’ve begun to take my training more seriously, I find my view of racing starting to evolve.  I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to peel back the layers of comfort, assurance, and perceived ability and find out what’s underneath.  And the twelve twisting, turning, tripping, spitting, miles of the Bruiser course present this opportunity in droves.

As the starting pack formed I placed myself a little closer to the front than usual, knowing that the first few miles of single track would be extremely tight.  Pre-race energy filled the tingling autumn air.  Ian said a few words of warning and with the clang of the cow bell 160 runners began the collective experience known as the Bradbury Bruiser.

I planned to run the first three miles hard to gain position, hold a steady pace between miles 3 and 9, and give it hell when I entered the treacherous, twilight zone-ish terrain of the O trail.  The first aid station at mile three came sooner than I thought and as I prepared to take it down a notch I began to have second thoughts.  I was feeling great, running fast, and enjoying every minute of it.  If I was truly confident in my training why not go for broke and see where I end up?  The old saying “No guts, no glory” popped into my mind (For the first time ever, actually. Turns out to be a pretty good motivator.) and I asked myself ” Would you rather cruise across the finish after a “sort of” hard effort  or risk blowing up at mile 11 and shuffling across the line knowing that you left everything you had on the trail.  I dropped the hammer and ran for it.

The mile 6 aid station came and went and by mile 9 I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling.  I had thought that navigating the O-Trail would be one of my strengths during this race, hence my initial plan to build up my reserves for a strong finish.  What I didn’t anticipate was entering the trail from the opposite end that I was used to and running it backwards (I could have anticipated this pretty easily by glancing at the course map that the Trail Monster folks so thoughtfully provide on their web site, but for some reason I’d gotten it in my head that we were running it the way that I’d trained for it).

No problem.  I told myself that the only way to blow what would be my best race to date was to get lost or to fall hard and break something important.  The fall came about a mile in but I bounced back up and immediately back into stride with everything intact. With a mile to go I couldn’t have been in better spirits. I’d exceeded my expectations of myself, I chose to push where I might have backed off, and I had earned what would assuredly be my best race performance yet.

Then it happened.

Coming around a bend I headed straight for two runners who were on a a trail directly below me.  I apologized and realized that I must have bypassed a turn.  I hadn’t looked at my watch once during the race, worried that whatever data it displayed would throw me off of the perfect rhythm that I’d found, but I now glanced at it to confirm that I was where I should be, around 11 miles into the course.  These two women were really moving and they quickly put some distance between us.  But, as I came around a bend about a quarter mile down the trail we met again…in a clearing that was clearly not part of the course. We turned to each other to figure out where we went wrong.  Soon after we heard someone yell out “You’re off course! You’re heading back towards the start of the loop!”  We could hear the direction that this voice came from but couldn’t figure out the best way to get to it. (If I’d known where the alternative would leave me I would have simply bushwacked my way through woods and dealt with my trail etiquette- race ethos, guilt later in the day).

Divided on which way to go a few of us, now joined by another pair of runners who found their way to this section of trail,  headed down one path and a few of us down the other.  We came upon course markings but couldn’t tell which way we’d come from and which we was leading to the finish, only a half mile or so away.  I told myself to trust in my intuition and run hard.  As I passed the giant felled tree midway through the loop, for the second time, I realized my mistake.  I also realized that a smarter decision would have been to calmly back track when I realized that I’d gone off course until I was absolutely certain that I was going the right way, eat the lost time, and run to the finish line, so frustratingly close to where I was fifteen minutes ago. We live and we learn.

I’ve envisioned this playing out so many times in my mind. Running the “perfect race”, the one where it all comes together for you, and seeing it fall apart just a few minutes  from the finish due to a wrong turn and thoughtless move.

A race is full of tests and the overwhelming majority of them are mental. Could I continue to enjoy and to appreciate the gorgeous stretch of single track trail laid out before me, the early September breeze breeze blowing through the trees, and the camaraderie of the other runners, both on the trail and at the finish line? Or would I spend the time beating up on myself.  Recognizing my weakness exposed (or simply realizing that my legs were too tired to kick myself in the ass with) I made a choice. I put my mistake out of my mind, slapped a smile on my face, and my put my Montrail’s to the mud to run as fast as I could, which at this point was pretty slow.  I crossed the finish line in 2:16:36 after 13.28 miles and embraced the post-race atmosphere.

I enjoy seeing everyone unwinding after a race. Clear, radiant, and proud of what they’ve just accomplished.  I love gathering at the line to cheer on the incoming finishers and making sure that everything that they need is on hand to ensure that they’re post -race experience is a great one.  I value being part of the trail running community and am fortunate and grateful for every moment that I spent on Bradbury Mountain this morning.

On the ride home disappointment began to set in. I was faced with the realization that I’d betrayed my training and all of my effort on this morning’s course by ignoring one of the most crucial aspects of a trail race: navigation.  It’s one of the critical differences between running a road race where you couldn’t get lost if you tried and running in the woods where you are responsible for finding your way back out. The Trail Monster crew did a fantastic job of marking the course, evidenced by the 150+ runners who found their way from point A to point B without tacking on an extra mile and a half.  I took the successful completion of the course for granted, drifted into auto pilot, and it cost me a new PR and the satisfaction of  seeing my name just a little bit closer to the runners whose times astound me after every race and make me want to work harder, dig deeper, and improve in my abilities.

So what did I learn this morning? I learned that if I can continually put in the necessary training to show up to a starting line with the confidence that I felt this today, that I can spend a fraction of that time reading over a map and coming to the race prepared.  I learned that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if I keep relying on the runners in front of me stay on course I’ll find myself running in circles in  races to come (and my ” It’s all good in the woods!” response to the situation may change the fourth or fifth time that this happens.)

And, as training and competing mirror our approach to accomplishing any of our goals in life, I learned this final lesson on the course of the 2011 Bradbury Bruiser.  Anytime that I experience success without having taken all of the necessary steps to prepare for that success, it’s just luck.  And we only have so much of it.

Thanks to the TM’s for another great race and looking forward to the snowshoe series!

NJ Dave

  2 Responses to “Bradbury Bruiser – David Bidler”

  1. Nice job out there NJ Dave! Sorry to hear you got lost, but sounds like you took away from it some good lessons learned. Great to meet you after the race, and hope to see you on the trails again soon!

  2. Dave! What an excellent write up! I wish I’d read it before today’s run at Bradbury so I could have told you so in person. Too bad you added extra miles to the race, but you have a great attitude. Your PR awaits!

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