Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 LBL Marathon - What a Trip!

Several of us tossed about the idea of staying at a house near the Land Between the Lakes Recreational Area before deciding to drive down on race morning. It was a familiar and easy hundred minute drive for me, so I didn't mind getting up at 3:15 am for the 6:30 start. The bag was packed, so I needed only to shower, fill the day's bottles, and prepare an oatmeal breakfast and a triple shot mocha before departing. I laughed when I caught my foot on the threshold of the door as I left. Foreboding . . . that damned foreboding!
Polar RC3 GPS Map of the Canal Loop Trail
There were plenty of friends, real and Facebook varieties, in the crowd of nearly 900 in Grand Rivers, KY to run one of the five simultaneous events that ranged from a road 10K to a 50-mile trail run. I was entered in the marathon, which consisted of two laps around the 11.2-mile Canal Loop Trail plus out and back segments on the Woodlands Trace Road from Grand Rivers. Many of my friends were entered in either the 60K (3-loop) or 50-mile (4-loop) runs. I alternated between envy for the ultra runners (who were deservedly treated like royalty by the runners and race management) and giddiness that I didn't have to face all of those tight turns and bone jarring descents more than twice.

Nearing the Trace Road first lap.
With temperatures expected to climb from the low-40s into the high-50s before I completed two laps, I decided to wear the new white Polar singlet and multisport shorts with light gloves. I wore Brooks Pure Grip 2s that I recently picked up at Ultimate Fit. Near perfect choices as I was thermally comfortable all morning and the shoes provided me with more than sufficient cushioning and protection from the rocky, rooty, and sometimes steep Canal Loop Trail.

I chose to measure my output with the new Polar RC3 with built-in GPS to monitor my heart rate and to map my course. I love this new unit for gps usage on trails because it lets me see where I have gone. While no gps unit is accurate enough to certify courses, I have noted that the RC3 is close enough and it is consistent. What I really care about while I am running is my current and average heart rate. Nothing else really matters to me since I have learned to judge my perceived effort by those values. Unfortunately, the data reveals how little I worked throughout the second lap. The average HR for that lap was lower than any training run I've ever completed on the Canal Loop. That data file will serve as fuel for the next LBL run.

Unlike last year, I managed to keep both shoes tied all morning. The Grip 2s felt equally as comfortable and stable on the road as they were on the trail. After chasing a group of young studs into the gusting wind, I reached the trail in twelve minutes. That was when the fun began. I LOVE that trail! It is constantly winding and dipping and climbing, so it is impossible to get bored. In fact, the trail is so technical that it is just plain silly to go sightseeing or get out of focus for even a few seconds while running on it . . .

I ran in a very loose group of front runners for the first half of the first lap. The undulating trail along the Lake Barkley side of the loop conceals the constant ascending and descending quite well by forcing runners to focus on the many toe grabbing obstacles: rocks and roots and stumps. I reached the Trace Road halfway through that first loop after 40 minutes with two young studs on my heals. I was on pace to run the first loop in 80 minutes and these two guys were about to pass me and motor on for three laps! One of them, Scott Braden (blonde in rear of picture above), went on to crush the course record for the 60K event with a time of 4:07.

Remaining steady in my effort, with only slightly elevated HR on the five big climbs along Kentucky Lake, I cruised along to finish the first loop in just over 80 minutes. I felt great! And I planned to stay that way by slowing a bit on the second loop. I had also done this quite successfully last year in an effort to save my legs for other spring events. (Drawback to low mileage running is that these events put HUGE dents in me that last for weeks!) It was while climbing those big hills that a light rain briefly fell on us. One of the young studs replied from behind me that the raindrops were all kisses from God. I agreed.

I stopped at my drop bag to pick up a second loop flask of VFuel and watched as two runners ran straight through the aid station to begin the second loop ahead of me. I quickly hit the trail and noted that I was just behind them after a 49 second pit stop.

Several minutes into the second loop I was making ground on one of the runners when he stopped for what TdF announcers call a "natural break." He began to run again just as I passed and I turned to ask him which race he was in. (At this point, you might reflect on my earlier statements about the technical nature of the Canal Loop.) Catching a root with my right foot, I took a really hard fall onto my outstretched right hand. It hit the back side of another large root. The resulting impulse caused my back to bend and compress - a painful LOT. I jumped up and took off with my back and hand (visibly) throbbing.

Within seconds I caught the right toe again and fell just as hard. I jumped back up again yelling my normal "Sh@t Shane" as I shook my head and tried to regain my stride. Then, a few strides later, I again caught the right toe and went down hard with my right hand crashing into a stone. This time I stood still to take inventory. The white Polar singlet was still beautifully white! I wiped mud from the crystal of the RC3. The palm of the right glove was torn. This revealed a nickel sized chunk of rolled up palm flesh. I immediately wondered aloud how I was going to keep that blood off the white top.
Polar RC3 GPS altitude and HR plots of my 3:19 4th place LBL Marathon.
After realizing that my knees had been fortunate enough to land in mud, I began to run. (The left knee still limited hard cycling a week later.) And a nauseating pain shot from my lower back to the right hamstring. Hmmmm. Having been there before, I knew my day was done. I would not be catching the two runners who had passed me at the aid station. I knew that I would not be likely to regain my stride without significant body work and rest. So, I resigned to shuffle on. Oddly, despite the pain, I never once thought of dropping out. Instead, I thought only about lifting the obviously dragging right leg high enough to clear the obstacles until I reached pavement - and about keeping my bloody hand from rubbing the white top (FAIL!).

I quickly calculated that I needed to be under 95 minutes for the second lap to stay under 3:20 for the marathon. Chanting "concentrate, concentrate" and "don't fall stupid" in my mind, I shuffled around the second loop, finishing it in just under 94 minutes. As much as I prefer to run off-road, it was actually refreshing to run on the obstacle-free road for the 1.7 miles to the finish.

It was while running along the Trace Road that I focused on my right hand. It seemed possessed as it twinged and contorted in the most unrealistic poses. The bony knob called the Hook of Hamate was removed from the corner of that right palm back in 2008. I had broken it during the 2007 bike crash that cost me some teeth (and six other surgeries). Oddly enough, I didn't realize it was broken until a year later when I slipped in the snow while climbing one of the big Canal Loop hills and fell on it. That was the day that the hand started its contortionist routine. Now any impacts on that hand cause it to "act up" for days, since there is less protection for those nerves that pass through there. I call the act the "crazy hand,"  since the fingers take positions I cannot repeat even with significant force. And it hurts like hell!

I reached the finish in 3:19:11 for fifth place. It was not what I had hoped for when the day started, but it was what I was dealt. So, I smiled broadly as I stiffly walked away from the finish line. I had to shower and get back to see some of my friends finish their races. One of them, good friend Jeremy Aydt, finished his first ultra by claiming 5th place in the 60K with a great time of 5:13. My last collegiate recruit, Chris Hollinden, broke the course record in the marathon with a stellar 2:52!  Fellow All-American duathlete, Greg Fraze, finished third in the 23K one lap event earlier in the day. And there were several BOR members who finished the 60K and 50-Mile events to earn their buckles. It proved to be a successful day at LBL for southern Indiana runners.

In the end, I have to be thankful for the fact that I am within months of turning fifty while remaining healthy enough to run for hours on trails. I am also thankful that I did not suffer even a minor turned ankle during the run.  And I am thankful to have so many friends who support and inspire me with their kind words and impressive performances (I believe that people are placed in my path for reasons). And I am thankful for the LBL race crew for putting on a class A event. And I am thankful for the support I receive from great companies with valued products, including Polar and VFuel. And, finally, I am thankful that my wonderful massage therapist, Donna, already worked the pain out of my back, allowing me to log four quick miles this morning. Yeah, there is much to be thankful for. I am now looking forward to reclaiming some power on the bike for the duathlon season and taking on Whiskey Hill in the Oak Barrel Half Marathon next month.

And I might just dare to dream of completing a trail race without kissing Mother Earth.

Later - Shane