Saturday, March 28, 2009
First of all, I was really glad to be racing because, 1, See knee story below; and 2, I hadn’t signed up for the race that typically fills in a manner of minutes. After some minor begging, the race director, Julie Fingar, let me in 3. I got to sport my new Sunsweet gear. Looking over the start list I didn’t recognize many names but that really doesn’t mean a whole lot since I’m terrible with names, and am somewhat new to the sport. I thought Kochik, Skaden, and Grossman would be guys to look for. It can help to know who some of the real players are so you don’t get overly excited and get sucked into the “out-fast-and-die” folks. The first two miles were on a gentle down grade with one slight rise, so they were very fast: 5:45’s. Aside from the shirtless, tattooed guy, all the folks I was with seemed like the real deal. We were running fairly hard and mixing it up most of the way back to the highway crossing. As we crossed the highway it looked like it was Grossman, Pantilat, another guy, me, Kochik, and Berkontiz. I topped off my bottle and grabbed an extra Gu. As we headed out on the trails, I think that Pantilat had started to really establish himself as the one to beat but Grossman, Berkonitz and I were all right there. I remember thinking around mile 20 that this was more than I bargained for. I was hoping places would have been established for the most part and I could just dial in and run my race. Instead it seemed there was constantly someone who you thought you could pass or who was trying to pass you back. At Ball Bearing Hill, on the way up to the ALT aid station at mile 26, I could see Pantilat up there and either Berkonitz or Grossman behind me. That was the last I saw of anyone. On the way back I was able to spend a little more time looking around-- there are some really beautiful and easy running sections in there. The out-bound runners were all very nice and quickly gave me room to pass. I made an effort to give a quick “thank you” to everyone. It gets a little old after a while, but I kept thinking how nice it was of everyone to pause their race so that I could make mine a tiny bit faster. Folks kept saying things like “He’s got 30 seconds on you.” Then it was: “He’s got 1 minute on you,” or “1.5 minutes.” It was clear Pantilat was pulling away and looking at the splits it looks like he was going maybe 10 seconds/mile faster. I finished 2nd in 3:42:58. Taking the average pace and subtracting the 1.6 miles that was added in 2009 I would have finished in 3:31:30 on the old course a good 2 minutes faster than last year so I was happy about that. I did a few things differently from last year. I was in better shape and I took more Gu’s and S-Caps, probably 8-10 S-caps in all. BTW the oldest finisher was Bill Dodson age 74, he wins.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Last June, two days after Western States was cancelled, I went out on a 56-mile consolation run by myself on the McKenzie River trail. The trail is always beautiful, but I had a terrible run; I ran out of water and salt, and ultimately, injured my knee. It was a good thing I hadn’t raced at Western States. After some time off for healing, I still had a fair amount of pain on the inside of my left knee. Finally, in October, I’d had enough. I made an appointment with a well known running/sports doctor in Eugene. He had some ideas, but wanted to do an MRI to be sure. The MRI was somewhat inconclusive, but he thought the meniscus had torn. This brings me to the real subject of this post. I’ve been running and racing since age eleven. I run because I love to, because I have to. It is good for my mental and physical health, and probably feeds a good chunk of my self esteem. However, I always told myself if I ever got to a point where my running was causing long-term damage or was in some other way bad for me, I would be strong enough to shift my energy and focus. I would view it as an opportunity to challenge myself in different ways, and try activities I’d never attempted or had time to do, wrapped up as I was with running. “Well, it looks like you might have a torn meniscus,” the doctor said. “Every runner has 30 years or so of good running in them, so you’ve had a great go at it.” He continued: “You might want to consider transitioning to lower mileage—you’d be surprised how well you can still race on 30 miles a week!” So this, it seemed, was it. Surgery might be an option, but did I really want to consider that option if ultimately I might be damaging my body more by continuing to run? A whole world of physical activity exists—I wanted to be walking around in the woods at age 90, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that in order to feed my addiction at age 37. Right? OK! Time to get out on the bike, swim laps at the pool, get out to go rock-climbing… I would be having so much fun I wouldn’t even notice when the running reaper came snooping around. The problem with Ultrarunning magazine is that after you pay your subscription, it shows up at your door whether or not you are running. At first I read it from cover to cover, finding joy in the amazing races, and peoples’ stories, even if I wasn’t joining them. But, a few months into my new no-running lifestyle, it just made me depressed and I recycled it shortly after it arrived. Other aspects of my new training life were harder to ignore: the smell of fall leaves, the rich reds and browns of the Amazon trail in November, the rain clouds slipping over and around Spencer’s Butte, the sound of alder branches moving against each other in an autumn breeze, and, of course, the endorphins. Biking didn’t do it, swimming didn’t come close, and I’m not a gym rat. And then there was the unknown—the unfinished question of Western States. I’d reached a point where I wanted to be on the starting line of that race more than just about anything. After 6 months or so, lots of time lifting weights and stretching, a different doctor, a very slow build up, and a new physical therapist, I’m back. Turns out it wasn’t a torn meniscus and hopefully I’m not doing long term damage to my body. I can almost take things for granted again. I still like to think I can let go of competitive running someday if I had to, but I certainly learned a lot about myself this past year. I’m a long distance runner and it’s what I should be doing. When I scan ultra race results now I look for the oldest finishers. It’s one thing to place near the top; it’s another to still be doing what you love when you are 70 or older.