Well, things are shifting in my running world. The safety of repeating achieved distances at faster paces is giving way to the crazy, exciting ambition to run longer and tougher races. Right now, more challenging is more rewarding, and some of the things we have in store may take me close to disaster in the pursuit of new conquests. I suppose time will tell.
This past weekend DW and I tackled a small race in Redwood Park in Oakland, CA called the Canyon Meadow trail run. It had a 5M, Pikermi, 30K, Marathon, and 50K, so there were runners of all kinds milling around the start when we got there. For some reason, both DW and I woke up with absolutely no desire to run a race that day. The course sounded fun and all, but the enthusiasm for riding on all-terrain legs for the day didn’t swell up in my chest until we stood there, surrounded by tall sequoias and pines, watching all types of runners warm up in their own way. The 5 milers sprinted up and down the roads, 30Kers bounced up and down to keep warm, and the very few 50Kers chatted while eating granola bars and playing with the volunteers’ dogs.
A few instructions and we were off! It was strange for everyone to start at once because with so many different distances, everyone had a wildly different goal pace. We really wanted to push ourselves on this challenging course to find out what we could do. We always just kind of run ‘em to run ‘em. PRs are nice but the main point is the experience. Anyway, after the somewhat crowded start we settled into a groove and patiently chuggachugged our way up the incline of the first 5 miles.
The race was a loop course and we’d have to run two 13M loops and a 5M loop to finish the 50K. This is part of why we chose it, since we’d better get used to passing the finish line to begin another loop. Rocky Raccoon is several 15 mile loops, and everything between now and February 2013 will be in preparation for that race, smaller goals with a larger endgame in the distance.
Around mile 7 we hit the deep redwood forest on the backside of the big loop, and I flat out fell in love with this trail. The feel of pine needles underfoot and the smell of redwood bark took me back to childhood camping trips with my family, and I could almost hear a campfire’s crackle with every footfall. The mist was beginning to burn off and the sun’s radiating heat was rearing its ugly head. Fortunately the trees provided so much cover that it wasn’t an issue.
When we got to the start area (2:24) I noticed a complete lack of desire to quit. Great! In fact, I felt eager to attack another round on the now familiar loop. The climb of the first 5-6 miles in the loop is more than offset by the descent of the next 6, in my opinion. I drank a ridiculous amount, filling my handheld at every station. I ate a turkey rollup and a couple S-Caps every 5 miles and ate whatever looked good at aid stations. For the first time I tried eating real food and not wearing a hydration pack, and it worked out really well! My energy stayed level and it was easier to maintain upright running form without any weight on my back. I’ll certainly still wear my pack for training runs and some races, but for these faster races with ample aid, being able to travel light is awfully nice!
Miles 13-26 were nice. This time I had things to look forward to: shaded singletrack, rocky technical downhills, cushy needle-strewn miles to float over, etc. I really enjoyed the ride, although by the time we got done with all the downhill of the last half (5:16) I was ready for some uphill!
The last loop felt like a shortcut, since halfway up the climb we got to shoot off and blaze down a fun slope, switchbacks and all! By this time I was beginning to feel that delicious deep exhaustion creep into my muscles and joints. The harder it felt, the more poignant the experience became. The last three miles or so ran along a beautiful path under a thick canopy of redwoods.
As we closed in on the finish, I had a strange sensation wherein I felt separate from my body for a second, as if I had simply shut down the pain and weariness. I felt the woods around me, my wife beside me, and the miles behind me in one intense feeling that I can only describe as supreme gratitude. I am a lucky man, and although I always try to remain thankful for the simple and pure things in my life, nothing brings that truth home for me like runs like this.
We pushed the whole way, and it paid off.
OFFICIAL TIME — 6:20:53
23 minute PR!
Run happy and healthy, my friends. It is indeed a privilege to do so!