Sunday, July 1, 2012

Report: Run Between the Suns 12hr Trail Endurance Run

Even a well-planned, well-executed plan may not yield the intended results. It's the day after and as I reflect back on this event, I wouldn't change a thing. So here's how my experience went at the Inaugural RBTS 12hr:

I don't know how many fellow runners that I've helped from running their first mile to those tackling the 100 mile ultra distance. A lot, that's for sure. I once worked at the local specialty running store so I know shoes and how to fit someone for them. I'm now in my 3rd year of sponsorship with Brooks Running so in that brand, I know it extremely well. I've also run 26 marathons, 3 100-milers and bunch of other distances in excess of the 26.2 mile marathon distance. I feel like I have a good handle on what it takes for the average guy or gal to reach their goals and potential. An expert? Not even close. But, for the average person with a family, full-time job, other responsibilities yet still has a desire to "go the distance" in one way or another, I know I can help and boy, don't I love it! Selfless service, to me, is one of my life's greatest pleasures.

With that said, I prepared well, was fully hydrated, properly fueled, and hit the trail yesterday with "all systems go!" The Run Between the Suns is a 12 hour endurance run that circumnavigates a beautiful fresh-water lake in Franklin, PA...northwest PA. Each loop is 5 miles and little did I know, has every kind of running surface there is: roots, rocks, little streams, wide grassy areas (i.e.: great cross-country skiing), rocks, pine needles, and open grassy fields along the water. Not only that, it's not all. There are plenty of climbs, descents, and some flat areas, too. A total mix and 100% gorgeous. When I finished yesterday, the race director asked what I thought about changing the course. My response was "Don't change a thing!" Tough? Yes. Beautiful and representative of the area in which its held. Yes.

I broke into my normal shuffle with a new goal and that was to start at a pace I believed I could maintain for 12 hours...just a smooth, even shuffle. That's something the most accomplished ultra folks do and it's very tough. At the starting line, we all feel fresh and want to kill the course with it. Eventually, we slow and slow some more. But, if you could start out easy, breathe through your nose only, and maintain CONTROL, the outcome should be much better and more enjoyable. That's what I did and through 2 laps and 10 miles, I felt 100%, was eating and drinking as I should, and had high hopes for what the day would bring. Could I break 60 miles? Perhaps! I was on track to do so and was building a buffer around it. The weather: it was forecast for around 50% humidity and mid 80s. The result until early afternoon was complete cloud cover which kept the overnight high humidity up but the direct sun away. In the early afternoon, the sun was full and temps climbed to 90F. My main "Achilles Heel" in ultra-running is humidity and higher temperatures. I am a completely different runner in cold and sub-freezing temperatures. But, I have found over the years that no matter how well I execute a race strategy, these conditions often get the best of me. It's different for every person, too. That's just my disposition and how God made me so I deal with it. By the time I finished that 3rd loop, I was sweating profusely, clothes were soaked, and my pace slowing. I took an extra few minutes at the aid station at mile 15 but did head back out. As the miles wore on, the sweating decreased yet my heart rate kept cruising at a high BPM. I can almost always tell where I'm at physically by checking my pulse and sweat rate. If I'm walking a flat in order to get my heart rate down and it simply won't drop nor am I sweating, I have to be smart. My heart is doing all it can to cool and keep my core temperature down and without the sweat, it's not having much it keeps trying. At mile 25, my wife and girls showed up and I sat down for about 20-25 minutes to visit with them and talk about the race. Besides my own predicament, the race was awesome and COULD NOT BE BETTER. Eventually, I looked at her and said: "I need to get out there and get going, don't I?" She replied with "Yes, you do. You love this so go and do it." I stood...paused...gave a goodbye kiss and was off on the 6th lap. By the time I even got a 1/2 mile down the trail, the decision was made: this will be the last loop. Now, should this have been a "race" where the distance was set (i.e.: 50K, marathon, etc.), I would continue to walk with a purpose and not give DNF (did not finish). However, this event was one where you could do what you wanted and stop when you wanted and not be considered a DNF. You would still get a finishers award and treated like everyone else. For me, I saw no reason to suffer and risk myself when there really was no shame in stopping. Would I be disappointed? Of course. Will it be the right decision? Absolutely and I will stand by it..regardless.

During my last mile, the 30th mile, a relay participant asked if she could stick with me to the end. She was struggling a bit, too, and needed the company. That made the last mile go fast and keep us moving briskly. I'm not sure how we ended up on the conversation, but the last thing we (or I) talked about was running in Afghanistan on the base and how the Taliban rocketing us put a serious damper on my running! Anyway, as I came up on my staged area (adorned with a small American flag, a chair draped in Brooks ID, and cooler), my girls were laying down on a blanket and I let them know I was done. At this point, it wasn't up for debate or discussion. I was done. It was over 7 1/2 hours gone and under 8. Not sure of the exact time...I wasn't really paying attention. Once I crossed over and finished, I handed over my timing chip and let the race director know I was done and shook his hand to thank him for a phenomenal race. A short while later, he gave me my finishers award for accomplishing what I did, I had some food, and I relaxed for a bit with my family as others continued to emerge out of the woods finishing their loops.

A premature trip home, a hot shower, and lots of thoughts about what was sought after and what was achieved...and not. I entered today with cravings for the 100-miler and wanted to know if they were for real. I'd say those thoughts/plans are on hold for now. If I decide to challenge that distance again, it won't be now but I still remain open to it. One other revelation I had today is how I felt when my family showed up at mile 25. I wouldn't say they made me stop simply by their presence but where my priorities lie became readily apparent. Would I want to take the precious time away from them in order to train for a 100-miler again? Is it worth it or selfish? Should I decide to tackle that goal again, that's where my training will be different. It will have to be done in such a way to minimize the impact to them and my priorities as a husband and father. I don't think I did that very well last time.  Otherwise, I won't do it. Running is important, I love it, and I love taking myself long distances where I see what I'm capable of. However, it is a very selfish sport and left unchecked, can leave others in the dust that you hold close. It's a delicate balance which is one big reason I'm so thankful to share most of my miles nowadays with my bride. I never had that before and now I do...not so selfish, anymore.

I live to run another day...and will Run Happy every mile.

Here are some photos from the day and ending with my finisher's award. Enjoy! (click on any photo for high resolution version)

Entering the start/finish area and aid station

Awesome tech tee and priceless finishers award

Inspiration pre-race

My staging area

Pre-Race Instructions

Ready to run!
Photo courtesy of Cheri Carbaugh (entering start/finish area)

Photo courtesy of Cheri Carbaugh (at start/finish area)

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