Monday, January 11, 2010

Advanced Training Technique

Advanced Training Technique

As I am sitting down to write this installation I realize it has been over 2 weeks since my last writing. I guess I am kind of surprised I have not churned out some manifesto full of all sorts of New Year’s resolutions or other original thoughts never conjured by another living soul. In the back of my mind I have it in my head that I am due to write and that I need to get 2010 started. I want to write on a very regular basis, but I also do not want to press it. The last thing I will post here is something contrived or forced.

I have spent the last few weeks during and turning the corner on the holidays running a pretty tough and regimented mileage schedule. February 6th I will be running the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile trail race in Huntsville, Texas. The day is rapidly approaching and I just finished up my last high-mileage weekend and have now entered the dreaded “taper” phase of my preparations. I hate the taper. The taper is necessary and the taper works as intended. The taper to a runner is like giving a kid a brand new bike for Christmas and telling him he cannot ride it for almost a month. The bike looks fast, feels great when he climbs on the seat and he can picture himself flying down a hill somewhere with the wind in his face. My body is like that bike. It feels fast and ready to answer the call when I ask it to take me places I have never been before, only now I must wait. Taper, taper, taper!!! I overused the word taper so many times in this paragraph even you probably dislike it now too. TAPER! Now you know how I feel.

As I am planning my training schedule for this last weekend with my running crew I have to juggle some social commitments. Namely, my business partner’s brother’s 3oth birthday bash. Make sense? I have not hit the town hard in quite a while, so this one was widely anticipated. The fact that a limo/bus is going to drive us around made the date even more ominous. This could mean trouble. I am not going to go into details about this night, but I will say this. I drink about 327 beers over an 11 hour period of time and eventually pass out on my friend’s couch. I wake up the next morning at almost 11:00am with his 80 pound lab sleeping on top of me. I am due to meet my training partners at the trail in about an hour.

So why the hell would I agree to a 32-mile training run the morning after my first all-nighter in a long time? I like to call this an “advanced training technique. “ Folks, do not try this at home. I am a professional. I know I will be out all night and will drink waaaaay too much and I also know I need to get those miles in on Sunday. What a great and fortunate opportunity for me when the world of excessive drinking and excessive running collide! So the night before I pack all my stuff for a day of trail running knowing that where ever I end up I will have my gear with me and no excuses.

My head is in a massive fog bank when I wake up Sunday. I look at my watch and mumble a few expletives. The next thing I do is text one of my running friends that I am going to have to meet them a little later. I get a one word reply that is the catalyst and spark for the rest of this adventure: “LOSER!” I take one look at this and it is game-on. There is no way I am going to let that moniker get thrown onto me. It seems that I know my own tendencies pretty well. I put my stuff in the car so I cannot use that as an out. I also played another little trick on myself the day before. I told my 2 training partners the day before that I am going to party like a Rockstar on Satrurday AND still be able to run like a Madman on Sunday.

So out the door I go to the trail. I stumble on some pretty unsteady legs out to my car. The minute I step outside I knuw that I have made the right decision. After 2-weeks of being buried in an arctic deep-freeze for the better part of 2-weeks, Texas is thawing. Not a cloud in the sky and the temps are going to be a blazing 43 degrees later this day.

The next problem is food. My body is craving comfort food. I need something to soak up all the remnants of the night before sloshing around inside me. A quick stop at Sonic and I inhale 3 breakfast burritos, large tots, and a coke that is at least a liter of fluid. I do a quick check-in with my running friends and they are already at the trail ready to go. I tell them to start without me and run the first short section without me so they do not have to stand around waiting on their woozy friend.

The place we park to get on this trail is at the back of a neighborhood close to the lake. I know once I get there I will have 30 minutes to get my gear and myself together until they will come back around. I chang in the parking lot out of my smoke-infested clothes from the night before. I am standing there in the sun with my shirt off. It is 38 degrees, but the sun on my skin make me feel very warm. So warm that I lay on the hood of my car and meditate soaking up the vitamin D while listening to AC/DC on my iPhone. Within about 30 seconds I am asleep.

In what seems like 2 seconds, I awaken to the familiar, friendly chatter of my partners of pain. They give me some well-deserved good natured ribbing about my current condition and we get ready to hit the trail. I always enjoy the conversation and trading of barbs that we throw around at one another. I have not been with them for 2 minutes and I am not disappointed. The sun was shining, we have miles and miles to go, and we all are in great spirits.

I still have not really fully explained my “advanced training technique” that I am employing. I do not promise this will make any sense, but see if you can follow my thinking here. When you run 100 miles you face extreme fatigue. Not just physical, but also mental fatigue. You tap every resource you have again and again. When you think you have nothing left to give, you find some morsel of motivation or energy still unspent. It is late in a race such as this that you really find out what you are made of. The situation I create for myself today gives me the opportunity to step onto the trail and start mile one, but have my body and mind feel like it was mile 87. From the first moments I am in agony and there was nowhere else would have rather been at that moment.

Normally, I am the pace-setter in our little group. I always enjoy leading us out. There is a certain amount of pressure to keep the pace high, but not too taxing. When do we walk? Who needs to stop for a gel? Bathroom break anyone? These are all questions I am usually very in tune with amongst our group. Today I am in the fog. Today I very quietly fall in line at the back. I need to work myself into things a little bit slowly.

I should probably describe more about what it feels like to be 80+ miles into a 100 mile endurance race. Most of these races start before the sun comes up on a Saturday morning. You take off, the sun rises, you run all day until the sun sets, and you run on through the darkness. Unless you are really fast, you will still be running when the sun peeks over the horizon for the 2nd time on this run. You reach a point, several points actually; of increasing fatigue where you think there is no way you can be any more tired. The harsh reality of that fatigue and just how long you have been running really start to set in once you see the sun rise twice without stopping.

This is exactly how I felt as I take my first steps on the trail. At that moment I am grinning from ear-to-ear. I got to experience all the pain and woe of running for more than 24 hours without actually having to do it this time. I am already there! Now I can test myself and see how I will answer the bell this time. The smile does not last long as my stomach is churning and gurgling. As a man I have always lived by the mantra “The world is my toilet.” We can whip it out while standing behind something (or not) with this look on our face that says “What? No I am not peeing! I am just standing here!” Dealing with intense gastro issues are another story. All I can really do is adjust my pace and keep moving forward.

The miles start to clip by and the caffeine from the soda and my cocaine-laced gel get me going after awhile. I soon find myself leading us down the trail with all of us now in our usual places. All is right in the universe. The temps are perfect for running. Short sleeves with gloves are the perfect coverage. The trail is dry and soft and the conversation is light and easy as well. My head is still in a cloud, but I have high hopes the crisp clean air and the sweat off my brow will clear the cobwebs out. This does not happen exactly as I have planned.

As the hours clip by my gastro issues constantly ebb and flow. As we chat along the way the girls later tell me that much of what I am saying early on does not make much sense and that I am slurring my words. They think I am still drunk! While I am definitely very hung-over, I am sober. I am so mentally fatigued that I am having a hard time making my words match my thoughts. I know what I want to say, but the words I hear myself speaking are all over the map. This is exactly what it is like at the end of a long endurance race. You are tapped out.

My old friend Doubt starts to rear his ugly head again. As we approach the cars nearing mile 12, doubt whispers: “12 miles hung-over is better than lying on the couch all day. You can leave now and grab a pizza and a power nap.” My friend who sent me the “Loser!” text must be able to read my mind. After getting tired of listening to my complaining way too much, she informs me that I better not bail on them. Employing another self-motivation technique, I fake it and strongly proclaim: “There is no way I am going to bail on this run!” The funny thing is that at that moment I know it is true. Just like that, Doubt has been vanquished. This is going to be hard in my condition, but it is going to get done.

As we take off from reloading on fuel and gels yet again, we grab our headlamps as it is approaching 4:30 in the afternoon and it will be dark within the hour. There is something very cool about needing to use a headlamp to finish the last 3 hours of a run that starts at noon. I love to run in the dark on the trail and I can feel my energy levels rising as the sun set. The fog is rolling out!

I still have my gastro stew brewing and it takes constant adjustment of my effort to keep from having the cork pop off the champagne bottle if you catch my drift. Sometimes running makes it all better, other times walking does, and sometimes nothing does. I just kept moving forward. As long as you always keep yourself moving forward your fortune can always change. Examples: My knee was hurting pretty bad early in the day despite the proactive handfuls of ibuprofen I was tossing down. It is the kind of pain that caused me to fail gloriously at Cactus Rose in October. Sometimes it hurt when I ran and others it only hurt when I walked. So here I am with my knee telling me to zig when my stomach is screaming ZAG dammit! Most of the time my stomach won. Back to my point. There is a point I promise. I have a saying I now use to remind myself to keep going when it seems like things are deteriorating past a point of no return. “It does not always keep getting worse.” Meaning, at some point you will hit bottom and then you will come back from the running dead.

This is where I foundind myself after dark. Like a zombie shuffling my feet down the trail in the little halo of light my rapidly fading headlamp is emitting. At some point I notice that my knee is not hurting when I run OR walk. My stomach seems to be on the upswing as I quit eating quite a while back and have switched to pure water. All the sudden I feel pretty good so I go with it. Now I am gliding down the path with the wind blowing in my face. I have been resurrected. The only bad thing now is I only have 3-4 miles to go and it will all be over! At this juncture I could not have run another step and I will be completely satisfied with my effort for the day. Mission accomplished!

Now every step I take on the trail is a bonus. I know I can run all night until the sun comes up again if I have to. It is an unconventional “advanced training technique” but it worked. Now I can cruise into the trailhead and wait for my partners to finish-up and call it a day. On the last section of the trail the girls and I had become separated while I was in zombie-mode. It is very quiet and I have made sure to yell forth my usual Braveheart “Frrrreeeeddddoooommm!” battle cry from time to time. It serves 2 purposes tonight. It allows me to dig deep once again and get myself restarted and it will also let the girls know I am still OK and moving forward.

I get to the parking lot and start my car so it will warm up. When the sun went down, the temperature plummeted to around 33 degrees. I fully expect to see the girls come around the corner any minute. Ten minutes pass and then twenty. I walk back down to the trail head and call out for them. Nothing but black silence stares back at me. The dark and stillness cover the park like a heavy blanket. Maybe they felt good and extended the run beyond the turnaround? Maybe they are looking for me? What if they got lost? What if one of them is hurt? Now that I have stopped running the cold is really creeping in. I think about running back down the trail but thought better of it at this point. I do not want to make matters worse by getting myself turned around on the trail. Then all three of us will be out there chasing our tail. I decide to stay put and keep calling into the void of total darkness that envelops the trail.

To bring this lengthening account of this adventure to a close, I will let you know that a few minutes later I see the bobbing headlights of the girls turn the corner. They got a bit turned around and had done an extra 2.5 miles until they figured out they missed a turn. Us hard-core runners call these “bonus miles” . As it turns out we were not out of the woods yet. We had come in separate cars today. Usually we would have all ridden together, but my “advanced training technique” changed all that. The battery on their car is dead and can not be jumped. So you see, if I had not responded to the taunt of “Loser” they would have been stranded at the trailhead in the dark at 9 pm on a Sunday without a manly-man like me to protect them and ultimately save them!

The reality is that I owed them one. They may not know it or not, but over the last 6 months or so they have “saved” me many times. Accountability to make me get out of bed for an early training run on a cold morning. Slogging miles together in the mud and rain. And of course, the gentle and loving taunt of “loser” if you should ever not show as promised.

Saturday was a great time with great friends and Sunday was amazingly painful with great friends. All because I embrace the challenge of allowing extreme drinking and extreme running to collide head-on. I answered the call and sent Doubt packing again. It was definitely a confidence booster as I finish my preparations for Rocky Raccoon. I guess I felt like I had to trick-up my variation of a pain-fest training run one more time before the dreaded taper.

Remember: Do not try this “advanced training technique” at home. I am a professional.

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