Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Psycho WyCo 20 miler: Losing My Mojo

Sigh...I've been putting this off for a while. A large part of me wants to forget that this day ever happened, but I know deep down that this race was significant for me as an athlete. I know there are some solid truths to be unearthed from my 5 1/2 hour slog through hell last weekend. I began writing these blogs mainly to tell stories, and to have a good solid memory of the events I've done, and minimally to entertain/inspire if possible. I have found another incredible effect of rethinking and retelling my races...I tend to learn a lot about myself and about racing in the process. I'm really hoping that over the course of what I'm about to write, I figure some things out, because this race really bothered me in a bunch of ways and I have no idea why. This may not be enjoyable in any way, so I apologize in advance. See you on the other side, brave readers.

Thanks to Matty Mullins for the poster!
So...where to begin. My brother has been getting more and more into running and racing, and when he informed me that he had signed up for the 20 mile race for Psycho Psummer, I was thrilled! I knew it would be a great chance for us to finally race each other. I've been racing for a few years longer than him, but we're both still relatively new to it all. I was excited for him to see some of "my turf" so to speak, and to see how "flat Kansas" compares to the trails he runs out in California. I was so excited for this race that I even convinced a buddy of mine to design some promotional posters to hype up the Brother v Brother match and to get the competitive juices flowing between us.

Originally, I felt I was the better athlete and that I'd smoke him. Then I began seeing some of his recent race results. He was training consistently("What's that?", I said.) He was getting faster. In his 2nd half marathon, he almost beat my PR without TRYING. More and more of these results convinced me that it might perhaps be a closer race than I thought. I kept going back and forth between thinking that I'd destroy him, he'd destroy me, or it'd be an exceptionally good race and the finish would see us sprinting it out for honor, glory, and Favorite Son status with my mother. I began to weigh the variables that would decide this contest For The Ages. His advantages were his consistent training and the fact that he is probably naturally faster than me. My advantages were that I was familiar with the course and accustomed to the heat and humidity of Kansas in July. And honestly, the home court advantage was, in my mind, my ace in the hole...because nobody is ever prepared for Wyco their first time.

Time passed and the race approached. Being in nursing school, as usual, limited my running to once or twice a week. My half ironman went particularly well and I felt pretty confident in my fitness, so I didn't attempt to push mileage in the 3 weeks between that race and Wyco. I ran modestly and rested to try and get some of my nagging aches and pains to subside before raceday. This was mostly unsuccessful, as I was still somewhat gimpy in my right ankle when that day came.

Loental v Loental for great justice!
My brother arrived in town and my parents decided at the last minute to come up and watch us race. This was very cool of them, as they cancelled a trip to see friends and attend a wedding to do so. Or maybe they were just too lazy to do a bunch of driving. Or maybe they really do love us. Who knows? Anyways, the day finally came and there we were, lined up and ready to run off into the forest at Wyandotte Country Park.

In contrast to my last race where I had done absolutely everything wrong the day before(got sunburn, didn't eat dinner, didn't get enough sleep, didn't eat breakfast, etc), for this race I had done everything right. I ate wonderfully the day before, I drank plenty of water and was ridiculously hydrated, and I got plenty of sleep the night before. I even planned my raceday nutrition. I was quite certain that I would not bonk this time, especially since I was ONLY doing 20 miles.  

I had no particular strategy for this race, but I had a rough time goal of 2 hour splits for each 10 mile lap. As far as my plan for beating my brother, I figured that I would just run my race and hope that he either would be unable to match my pace, or would go out too fast too early and blow up, allowing me to pass him before the end and steal all the glory for myself.

Sometimes, a plan is just a funny list of things that ain't gonna happen.

Ben's typical pre-race speech went as expected and as the clock struck 8:00 am, Ben sounded the horn and we ran off into oblivion. It was hot for sure, but not any hotter than I remember it being the previous year. I picked a pace that felt modest, but bordered on aggressive. I wasn't overly winded to begin, but I was definitely working. I wanted to see what kind of legs my brother had. For a couple miles I ran and he matched my pace stride for stride(although he did almost lose a shoe in the place where I warned him he might lose a shoe). We got through the ridiculously muddy sections and were still cooking along. After a few miles, he made a pass and I responded and matched his pace for a short while. I felt uncomfortable with him in the lead and wanted to give his legs another test, so I gave a slight acceleration, passed him, and waited to see if he came along. He did. Shortly after that, he passed me again, this time on a hill. I let this move go, but I kept him in my sights. I chuckled to myself that he had no idea what was in store for him and that he would likely regret going out this hard so early. I kept him in my sights for a while, but eventually lost contact.

I would not see him for another 5 hours. What follows is the real story.

Wouldn't even look at the cameraman
The race was effectively over. I didn't know it exactly then, but within a few miles I was pretty certain he would beat me. Shortly after he dropped me, I stopped to pee. When I started again, I immediately became aware of how sluggish my legs felt. How little energy I had. How much I really, in all truth, just didn't want to be running at that moment. I was still keeping a decent pace, but I didn't feel good. I was only a few miles in and my running form was already sagging. I was walking small hills that I should have been running. Then I was walking slight inclines. Then I was walking imaginary inclines(otherwise known as flat terrain). I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Why wasn't I able to pick up my damn feet? I passed the 2nd aid station, which claimed to be mile marker 5.5 and my watch read just over an hour. I breathed a sigh of relief that maybe everything I was feeling was all in my head, because I was still technically on-pace for 2 hour splits. My spirits lifted temporarily and I absolutely stormed back onto the trail and blazed down Fall Down Hill. I then hit the dam. This is maybe a quarter mile across a grassy field with no protection from the sun whatsoever. It felt like I was walking through hell. If I could just get back into the damn shade, I'd be ok. Then the nasty hike up the hill, still in the sun, across the road and YES, back onto the trail and in the shade. I felt like my race might be salvaged and started to at least pretend to believe that I was finding a rhythm. These few miles after the dam were the only truly enjoyable portions of my race, with one exception, but I'll get to that later.

My footwork was getting really sloppy and my ankles felt really wobbly and unstable. I was beginning to have to walk the downhills as well because I was pretty sure that I'd roll an ankle or break something if I kept running them. My bad ankle was also really beginning to make itself known, and my already sagging running form developed a slight limp. I arrived at the enormous hills that come in the last mile or so before you finish the 10 mile lap. As usual they were steep, rocky, and incredibly muddy. In the midst of this, I began to get passed by the really fast 10 milers, but I also started really taking stock of how I felt. I was barely running at all and felt dizzy and drunk. This felt all too familiar, especially given the location. Five months ago, I stumbled through the end of my 50k in this exact place and felt this exact way. The only differences being that today was much hotter, there was no snow, and this was mile 10 as opposed to mile 31. This was when I knew beyond a doubt that the rest of my day was going to suck.
1st lap done...not happy.

I struggled through the final hills of the 1st lap and trudged into the main aid station at roughly 2 hours, 15 minutes. My parents greeted me and informed me that I was about 15 minutes behind my brother. At that point they asked if I was ok and I simply told them, "I don't feel good." I didn't really feel much like talking about it, so I went about the business of grabbing snacks, refilling my bottle, and slamming an S-cap. I thought about quitting. I wanted to be done. I wasn't having fun.

But I've never quit a race before...why would I start now? Running isn't always supposed to be enjoyable is it? Aren't there times when we're supposed to grit our teeth and tough it out? I've always prided myself on my stubborn "finish at whatever cost" attitude and always endured through the pain and suffering. Why do I want to quit now? Does this race actually mean anything to me?


I began the 2nd lap with these thoughts on my mind. The telling of The Race is more or less over. I am quite certain that I walked more than 80% of the 2nd lap. The physical struggle was mostly over for the day, and I settled in for 3+ hours of mental torture as I examined, discarded, and re-examined everything I know about myself, why I run, why I race, and why I supposedly love running and racing.

I momentarily wondered if I was really just sore over the fact that I was getting trounced by my brother, but I knew that wasn't true because I have been nothing but 100% stoked over the fact that he has become a badass athlete. The fact that he was up the trail somewhere kicking ass was one of the only things that made me smile all day. The other thing that made me smile was getting to the really muddy sections on the 2nd lap. I approached the bogs, saw other racers gingerly and carefully stepping around them, and somebody in my brain said "Aw, f*ck it" as I charged straight through the middle...the deepest, stickiest, nastiest part...making a point to splatter as much mud as possible onto myself. My legs plunged calf deep in some places and I stomped and stomped and stomped as I hooted and hollered. For the next 10 minutes I was happy, and then the disappointment and conflicting thoughts regained their foothold in my mind.

Over the next 3 hours, I contemplated why the hell everything had gone so wrong today. I walked. And I walked. And I kept walking. There was no inner pep talk, no voice of courage urging me to pick up the pace, no "Kill the bear, Daniel!". In fact, I was completely content to simply trudge along in misery without a single motivating thought. This was perhaps the most I have ever despised running in my athletic career. I watched as slower runners than myself passed me. And then slower ones. And a couple hikers even passed me while I was sitting on a log. I felt embarrassed to even be wearing a race bib. Some of my Mudbabe friends passed and asked me if I was ok, and I informed them that I wasn't, but assured them I'd be fine. They're all such great people, and I felt guilty being so short with them when they were simply trying to look out for me.

My ankle really started to get pissy over the course of the 2nd lap. My slight limp was now quite pronounced and even WALKING the technical sections was becoming increasingly difficult. I stumbled often. My legs nearly buckled on more than a dozen occasions. I looked at my watch occasionally and tried to project how long I'd have to suffer through this humiliation of hiking it in to the finish line. If I had been able to move any faster, my only motivation would have been the fact that my parents would be more and more worried about me with each passing minute, and I didn't want them to have to stand out there in the sweltering heat for too long. At this point, I felt like a burden. My brother had likely finished an hour ago, and I was out here pathetically trying to prove something to myself. (My brother did have an amazing finish time of 4:12...go Chris!)

Well, the miles passed slower than molasses and I stumbled and struggled through the final hills. I knew I'd be able to run the last stretch to the finish line, but I really didn't want to. I didn't even want to be seen. I wanted to walk across the finish line unnoticed...I didn't want a finisher's medal. I just wanted to let my parents know I was alive and go home.

I finally saw the finish line, and rather than give the impression I had been running, I walked...just as I had been doing for the majority of the previous 5 1/2 hours. I walked towards the finish line and across it. Ben was the first to see me. He saw my face. And he instantly knew. He has been running for much much longer than I, and if anybody else there would understand, it was him. No explanation was needed, because I'm sure he's been there countless times. He offered a simple consolation and handed me a medal without another word.

A bad race. I knew they happened. This was my first. Sometimes you can do all the planning, training, and preparing in the world, and there's still nothing more you can do to prevent it. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was a matter of motivation. Maybe I was burned out on running Maybe this race didn't really mean anything to me aside from the novelty of hosting and racing my brother. Once the race was a done deal, what was left besides my tired body aimlessly trudging through the mud?

In those 5+ hours of solitude I considered many things. Just like a year ago, my body needed a break. Maybe my mind needed a break from running. Maybe I needed to really figure out what I wanted to achieve as an athlete and set my heart and soul to that purpose like I had done with the Ironman. I have run once since that day, and I am no closer to having answers...all I know is that the 4.5 miles I did yesterday at Shawnee Mission Park were just as miserable as the 20 I did at Wyco. I need to let my ankle heal and this god-awful heat needs to calm the f*ck down. I'm not sure how I feel about my original plan to do a 50 miler this fall. I'm not really sure what I want to do with myself for the rest of the year. I know I need to get back to riding my bicycle and training/fundraising for the MS Ride in September, but aside from that I'm clueless.

That's it. I'm done writing and I haven't really figured much out. If you read this whole mess, I can only hope you didn't have other important things you should have been doing. I may be currently experiencing a complete lack of motivation, but that will not stop me from giving props to several of my friends who are training and racing. Ellie and David are two friends of mine who have, within the last week, completed their first triathlons. Dustin, another friend of mine, is doing his first full Ironman next month. To them, as always, I say this....Kill The Bear.