Last week I wrote this thought experiment on Loving Messages. It didn’t take long before I had the opportunity to put the thought experiment into action. In most cases I will probably not name the cast of characters involved, for pretty obvious reasons; and I still want to share my results.
This past Friday and Saturday my coworker friend, Ryan, ran in the 150-mile McNaughton Park Trail Run in Pekin, IL. Some might think Ryan is a bit nuts, and in this regard I probably wouldn’t give much of an argument.
Anyway, months ago he asked if I’d support him in the race. Last year was the first year he ran it, and he had a full crew of folks from work and others come to make sure he had plenty of fluids and solids going in and out of his body, as well as to “pace” him (which means to run along).
I had planned to go down for both days, and with the level that my life showed on the insaninometer, I just couldn’t swing both days, so I told Ryan I’d come down on Saturday and possibly run with him (what the hell was I getting myself into!).
I set off at 7 am and had a great, solitary drive down, with the exception of missing the jog on US 39 and needing to call Josh to get new directions–which he sent to my phone as a text message. Parenthetically, I’ve decided that was the LAST TIME I’m ever going to deal with that: I’m buying a Garmin or TomTom or something. Life is to freaking short to spend time and energy getting lost and following maps. Bah.
I listened to a number of podcasts on the way down, which is a real treat, since I rarely have (OK, take) time to do that. I listened to Grammar Girl for about two of the four hours on the way down. Love it! It had been so long since I’d had a nice, long drive to myself. I’m realizing I’m a bit more introverted than perhaps I thought I was.
OK, OK, I’ll get on with the story. I arrived around 11:30 or Noon and looked for anyone I’d recognize. Uh, I didn’t recognize anyone. Eventually Ryan ran through, and I believe Mike was just finishing a 10-mile loop with him (this must have been mile 110). Several of Ryan’s friends and coworkers, as well as associates from WTCA and other athletes were there to support him. I brought my gear down, and by God I was going to use it. I guess… I got dressed and did little warm-up, and Ryan was on his way in! He didn’t stop, and Steve, John and I started the next loop with him–this was at mile 120.
Let me back up for a moment and describe the day. Cold. Rainy. Windy. Some might say miserable, and I would be in their numbers. Before getting ready to run I’d had all of my clothes on that I’d brought. I paid the folks $10 to eat some food; they did a pretty good job of it. It was a relief to start running and warm up!
The loop started with a downhill mud ski. I’m not really exaggerating. There were three different races going on at this point: the 50-, 100-, and 150-mile–that was a lot of footfalls on the soggy ground! I don’t think Steve and John expected much, as they remarked that I was nimbler than they anticipated. It’s nice to surprise people. They’re both runners. Well, more serious than I, anyway.
We were probably running 5 mph, which is a comfortable pace for me. John and I ran out front for a good part of the lap while Steve stayed back with Ryan. There are several way stations along the way, which was good since I’d not drunk enough fluid before starting.
I would estimate that MOST of the route is NOT on flat land: most of it is going through very hilly woods. As we approached one downhill, it occurred to me that it didn’t look as much like a trail as it did an object d’art: the ground was complete mud, and there were long trails of feet sliding in it. It reminded me of a clay sculpture, or perhaps an oil painting with really think swaths of oil painted on the canvas. It was actually quite beautiful… to look at anyway; a moment later I attempted to run or walk or at least not fall in it. I did fall once, although I caught myself so didn’t get too much dirty. However, the shoes were getting completely muddified.
We were all falling down. Steve fell right on his rear end at one point; luckily he didn’t hurt himself. Ryan fell down eight times in my time with him. At about mile 8 he fell on a grassy, muddy hill and just lay there for a moment. Finally he said quite simply, and perhaps a bit weakly, “That hurt.” Ryan’s not very flower in general, and his straight-talking is more pronounced after he’s run several tens of miles.
At some points the trail was simply wild: steep hills (there was actually a rope tied to a tree at one point!), logs over ravines and little streams, and even some fairly well-made footbridges.
The sheer ten miles was weighing on me; add in the terrain and it was pretty grueling, actually. I’ve been running for a couple months: 3x/week, about 4-5 miles each at 5.5 to 6.5 mph. On a treadmill I don’t have to pay much attention to all the stabilizing muscles in the legs, and especially around the knees and ankles. That was MOST of the concentration during this lap! I became reacquainted with some muscles that I hadn’t had good conversation or lunch with in a while.
Oh, I haven’t yet mentioned the river that needed to be crossed. Twice. The first time was, oh, around mile 4 or so. While it was cold it was actually fairly refreshing on the feet. It was only about two feet deep, and my shoes were comfortably dry within about half a mile or a mile. We crossed a much deeper stretch of water at about mile 9 or so. That was too late in the game to allow me to dry off before finishing the lap.
I would estimate that at about mile 7 or 8 I was in as much pain as Ryan. Maybe not as much fatigue (he’d started running Friday at noon and this lap was 3:30 to 6 pm Saturday), but he’s in much better shape than I–I was really give my body a pounding at this point.
About the last five miles I ran behind Ryan while Steve and John ran 100 yards or so ahead. I had several things to focus on: keeping my body relaxed with good form so it would continue to function, not running into Ryan (oh that would have been bad), being careful where I step to not twist anything, and supporting Ryan. A lot of it was small talk, some questions and talk about the race itself, and from time to time I would discuss things having nothing to do with the present moment, just to give us both a mental break. I also gave him plenty of encouragement, as during this lap he was in third place, and he was focusing on catching up to second. I noticed he was touching is right leg, and when I asked he informed me it was getting tighter and tighter (Hm. I work on my own IT bands…). So I had him imagine it relaxing.
After we crossed the last river around mile 9 I was beginning to have difficulty keeping up with Ryan. I was afraid I was going to pay for this later. There was a funny (or something) little moment when I was on my way up a hill in deep mud when I almost lost my shoe–I caught it just in time, although I did have to stop and retie it, then catch up to Ryan. Luckily, we walked up all of the steep hills; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
I also encouraged Ryan to keep up a good pace, and I could feel it every time he accelerated. I told him that I promised I’d run with him… every time he’d run 120 miles first. That makes us fairly evenly matched for a while. Am I really this old?
I don’t dare make myself sound heroic in this blog, since I was running 1/15th the distance of Ryan, yet in my condition I will say I was getting to the point of running on sheer guts and determination. My legs hurt and I was running out of gas. I told Ryan in the last mile that I was going to leave after this lap. I didn’t see much sense in staying since there was no way in HELL I would going to be able to do more running (or even walking), and cheering him on for 5 seconds between laps made no sense. He was also scheduled to finish around 11 or later, and it just didn’t make sense. He was OK with that.
On the way up the last hill before the straightaway to the finish I told him to go get #2 and have a great race. When we high the straightaway he put on a burst of speed as two things happened, I think: he saw the finish line (for that lap) and all the folks there, and he also saw #2 ahead of him. I forget the guys name, but he looked like he was having difficulty. At this point, I was done. Perhaps I could have gone for some adrenaline and kept up with Ryan, but there was really no point, and I would have been damaging my body worse that I already had. So I finished the last hundred yards and crossed the finish line outside the actual finish area, which I believe was customary.
Completion of the McNaughton 10
It didn’t seem all that significant at the time, and I realized later that I think that was probably the longest I’d ever run. I can’t remember if we ever ran 10 miles in a cross country practice when I was in high school. Hey–I’d just run 10 miles! That’s a pretty good accomplishment!
I think Ryan stopped and got some food and drink, and Randy had his headlamp on in preparation for the oncoming darkness. Ryan changed some clothes and off they went.
I went for food and sat by the fire. My pants were still wet, as were my feet, and I had no intention of being any more uncomfortable than I already was. I sat next to a young fellow who wasn’t wearing much considering the conditions, and was shaking. I asked how he was doing, and he said OK: just having a hard time with his core temperature. He’d finished the 50-miler earlier. I got him some soup; I was concerned that he was headed toward hypothermia. Sure enough, a few minutes later the shaking became more pronounced. I got a blanket and put it around him, talking to him (to ensure he was lucid). He stopped shaking after a while. I consider that my second good deed for the day.
I hadn’t taken many pictures, and left the camera with instructions with Mike, so that he could take pictures later. I changed into dry clothes (oh my, how nice!), had a bit more food (hey, I can eat whatever the hell I WANT after that!), got in my car and left. I ran Ryan’s miles 120-130, and he had 20 miles left. We discussed that while we were running, and we decided that he could do anything two more times.
At Mike’s suggestion I stopped after driving about 30 minutes to go to the bathroom and stretch. The only problem was it was cold in the rest stop–what’s the point of stretching in the cold? None. So I got in the car and drove on.
I listened to four hours of Grammar Girl. I guess I’m a huge grammar geek, yet I loved it! I did stop once to get gas, and just drove. I love driving at night. It’s so nice to have the solitary time and not be able to do anything else–as though I need an excuse to relax. However, something about that setting allows my mind to truly relax.
I got out of the car when I got home around 10:30 and could barely walk. It was painful–especially my left knee and hip. Josh came over and we sat in the hot tub for a while (something is wrong with the pump–sigh) and went to bed.
Epilogue: Half-Marathon Anyone?
I was in fairly serious pain, although Advil helped a lot. I felt much better pretty quickly, and was giving something a great deal of thought: If I can run in that **** for 10 miles, a half-marathon (13.1 miles) on flat road would be a piece of cake! So I signed up for the Madison Half Marathon on 5/25, the Sunday before Memorial Day. My coworker Libby and her two friends (who are also friends of Josh’s) are also going to be running it. Josh will be at the finish taking pictures. Oh, and I believe the race registration was the first time I listed him as my emergency contact. 🙂
I found a training schedule for half-marathons, and while I’m starting too late, I’ve created yet another Google calendar (I now have 10 that I’ve created, along with the 10 I have included) in which I’ve placed the training schedule. Hell, even if I didn’t do anything beyond the running I’m already doing, I’m sure I’d be fine. However, I’m excited about this endeavor! I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about it, so stay tuned.
As always, comments are appreciated.