by Kevin Robinson
Well, the bruiser has come and gone. I have mixed feeling about my performance. There are always things we wish we did differently, isn’t that how we learn to do things better? I had a battle plan weeks before this race. I trained on the course and felt I knew the terrain fairly well.
I ran three times on the bruiser course (not counting the prep and race for the Scuffle) the first time 5 weeks out I ran 9 miles, the second I ran with the Trail Monsters 4 weeks out and accomplished a 10 miler but missed the O trail, the third, 2 weeks out I ran the full course 12.5 miles and found the O trail to be difficult but fun. I felt I was fairly ready for the race only 2 weeks away.
As luck would have it, I came down with a cold and sore throat last week. It was a bit of a shock as I haven’t had a cold for over a year. Why now? And the week before the race. I knew my race would be affected by the sickness and regrouped my expectations. I was on track for a 2:10-2:15 race but figured I would be lucky to pull off a 2:30. I convinced myself that I would be OK with the slower time, but deep down I dreamed of that perfect race where I conjured up some super human energy and surprised everyone.
The week before the race, I only ran 12.65 miles with a weekend run of only 3.5 road miles instead of my scheduled 10 mile trail run. It was that Sunday morning that I had no choice but to admit I was sick. I had all I could do to drag my sorry ass body out there for the 3.5 jog. The week of the race I knew there was nothing I could do to enhance my performance other than staying as tuned as I could, get plenty of rest and hope for the best.
Once I got over feeling sorry for myself, I realized I could use this race to learn more about adapting to changes. One thing about longer races is that they never go the way you plan so you better be prepared for whatever comes your way. Most of the runners in this race are of the ultra variety. This is a short race to them. Some even view it as a pickup race or an easy jog. So comparing myself to them is rather foolish.
I can rationalize as when I think of a 3 or 5 mile race, I feel the same way. I know I can finish regardless of the circumstances. To me it would not be difficult to impulsively enter one and run it. Because of the caliber of the runners here, I understand and admit to myself that I may finish very close to last in this race.
I decided to start rather conservative and put more thought and effort into running efficiently and fueling properly. In the end I hoped to feel much better than I did in the 25K at pineland and if I accomplish that, I plan to have a pretty good kick to put an exclamation point on the race.
On the morning of the race, I got up 3.5 hours early to be sure and get my fuel in. I usually eat within a two hour window so we will see if this changes my first few miles. I should have a little more energy (at least that is what all the training books say). Normally I would not make too severe of a change on race day but due to the circumstances this is the perfect time to attempt adapting to change. I used the extra hour to relax a bit and read. This was nice and since no one was up in the house, it was very nice.
The weather forecast said periods of ran today. What does that really mean? I suspect it means just the period between the race start and the race finish as Murphy’s law is so prominent. I was actually Ok with this as rain does not bother me as long as I don’t have vision problems. I usually run a stronger and faster race in the rain but with this technical of a course it would surely slow me down.
I showed up early and with no serious expectations of finishing time I enjoyed the prerace hour with no nervousness. One thing I like about Ian is that he seems to put a lot of thought into his races. The T shirts are quite different and that is what I like about them. I wear my Scuffle one quite often and the bruiser one I received stands out too. I am disappointed that I didn’t earn a BADASS one….well maybe next year.
Finally race time comes around and the closer that point came, the harder the rain fell. Judging by the smile on Ian’s face I felt sure he called in some favor with the gods to give his trail race some real challenge. Oh, he was happy about this for sure. What good is a trail race that does not gives it’s participants some difficulty? Aren’t most of us running trails because of the mundane and predictability of the road races? Don’t we feel that we are a little crazier then the average runner? It is exactly the rain that pounds that point home. Most of the average runners would not show up.
As I watched the Trail Monster crew and volunteers work together like a finely tuned machine, I realized this was like a clan. Yes the Trail Monster Clan.
Working in the rain and using all their effort to create an enjoyable time for the rest of us. In the city this would be somewhat of a gang and when wearing the trail Monster colors, all other gangs better tread softly. There is no initiation (like running around the school naked or wearing a dress to soccer practice), you only need to show your respect of the trails and the running community.
As we lined up for the prerace pep talk, I tried to position myself to hopefully allow me to get a couple miles off without too many people passing me. I figured ¾ from the front would be about right and if I was too far back, well passing a few people would surely give me a confidence lift. It was quite disappointing that a few people in the back near me didn’t feel they had to listen to what Ian was trying to say. Perhaps they were seasoned trail runners and didn’t need any further info about the course. Their conversation pretty much drowned out everything else. Anyway, all I got was, the wooden bridges were slippery, A smiley face on a paper plate meant you were almost done, if you see an X you have to turn around and if you pass out and die on the course please let someone know so they won’t worry.
Finally we were off and before the first cutoff, I was passed by at least 5 or 6 people. As we cut into the woods, I was following a girl (at the time I didn’t know it was Kelly Wells) who seemed quite used to trail running and even though I felt I could have run a faster pace, I had visions of this girl passing me later on in the race as I labored and gasped for air. No I decided to settle in for a while and see how things panned out.
I watched as she expertly placed her feet and seemed to waste no energy. On the straighter flat areas she excelled but as the trail twisted and became more technical I would have to hold back a little. For now I was fine with just following her. It wasn’t long before the group behind us got antsy and looking for places to pass. I could feel them coming up on my shoulder and decided to move over and give them some room.
It was like opening a flood gate as close to 15 runners passed us within a mile or so. Still I was fairly comfortable at this point and figured if things went well for me perhaps I would pass a few of these people back as the toughness of the course began to take it’s toll. I guess it was about mile three that Kelly pulled over and sent me on my way. I don’t know if I followed too close and bugged her or if she was fueling but anyway I kept going.
In the twist and turns I did well but on the straits and flats I could see her catching me. Not too long after that I twisted my right ankle and then twisted it again. My problem was visibility as my glasses were fogging up and I could no longer see the trail clear enough. I had to pull over to wipe them and Kelly passed me back. This back and forth passing continued through out the race. Our pace seemed similar and if this was a road race we probably would have spent some time running together and struck up a conversation. Not in the trails though.
With clean glasses I could feel the quicker pace but would regress as the visibility became worse. I guess this was the real down side of the race for me as I ended up twisting and landing on the sides of both ankles numerous times and as time went on the right one hurt continuous and had severe stabs of pain when I had to support my body weight on it alone. This ended up being quite often with these winding trails.
This guy Jason passed me somewhere about 7 or 8 miles and before long he was out of site. I devised a plan where I would try to increase my speed and pass him back. Perhaps outkick him in the end. I got glimpses of him quite a few times and figured he was probably only a minute or so ahead of me until I realized with the trails twisting so much he could be a lot further ahead then it looked.
My fuelling seemed to go real well and I felt right up until the O trail my energy level was good. I worried about Kelly passing me as I started losing the level of energy I felt I needed to keep on pace. The O trail was kicking my butt and I could see her behind me. At the same time, I could see that Jason was slowing down too. Every time I felt dead legs and no breath, I would look up and see him in the distance. Somehow I would find a little bit more in me and continue.
The combination of the O trail, my energy level and the sore ankle was taking a huge toll on my self esteem and though I was quite excited when I saw the first smiley face, now that I passed the 6th or 7th one, I wasn’t too excited about the fact that they were supposed to indicate I was almost done. It seemed forever in this trail. A bad dream that would never end. The trail would open up and my spirits would lift….almost done! Then it would twist right back into a pretzel and my legs would groan.
The smiley face said FASTER….yeah right! Then I came across one that said DON”T GIVE UP NOW!……..what I really wanted is one that said THIS IS THE LAST ONE YOU WILL SEE AS THE FINISH IS HERE! As tired as I was, I chuckled a little as I thought about Ian, Emma and their buddy’s laughing and enjoying the extra effort they put into our enjoyable affair. Yes the huge puddle (I called it a pond) that they gave us no choice but to run through. The newly fallen tree across the trail (I almost thought I was going the wrong way) The cute little x’s that actually saved me at one point (thanks guys) and the never ending smiley faces that seemed to say You’re not done yet rather than you are almost done.
Finally I exited the O trail and felt I could not have appreciated for much longer. True to my word, I found some energy and started picking up the pace. I knew Jason was not too far ahead and just maybe I would catch him. I kept picking up speed and could feel my muscles twinging under the demand. I hoped one of them wouldn’t snap before I finish. I rounded a corner and could see a glimpse of the finish through the woods….perhaps only a tenth of a mile or so. I cranked it up and as I planned I crossed that finish line with the vengeance of a madman. I was finally done and actually finished only 17 seconds behind Jason.
I was so glad to be finished and couldn’t wait to wash off the mud, dirt, crap and change into something a little dryer. I learned so much from this race. I can easily say I have a great respect for this trail and 12 miles of it is a lot for me. I worked harder, prepared better and finished stronger than the 25K. I guess I can say I accomplished plenty. I think the kicker here is the difficulty of the O trail. Right when you don’t have the energy is when you need it the most.
Someday, I will feel like a full fledged Trail monster and perhaps hang my photo on the wall beside these amazing ultra runners. For now, I guess I will be happy being a trail cub. I am planning a 50K next year which is a huge step for me. Surely this type of racing with the great runners at Trail Monsters, have given me a good start on the trail to Monsterism.