Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ridge 2 Ridge 21miler

I don’t really get nervous or anxious about anything. Though Philippian’s 4:6 straight up tells me not to be… I honestly think God just wired me that way from the get go.  Even in the tightest of situations… I’ve always been able to keep a cool, calm and collected aura about me.

Like back in the 7th grade when I was shooting free throws in a massive coliseum in Springfield Massachusetts during the championship round of the Elks Lodge National Free Throw Contest… I should’ve been nervous… but wasn’t in the least bit.  
I had won the past 6 or so free throw contests to secure a spot to shoot in the championships, so my family headed up to the The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. What was cool about this opportunity was that the winner would have their name put on a plaque in the actual basketball hall of fame! What was even cooler? At the first round in lil ole Hartselle, Alabama… my dad had jokingly said he would buy a dirt bike if I won the whole thing… and I had every intention of getting that dirt bike. Another kid and I hit 24/25 of our free throws which sent us to a 5 shot playoff… and well… long story short... I missed. This ended any chance of me ever being inducted into the basketball hall of fame… as well as any shot of performing in front of the masses at the X Games.
I should’ve been nervous during the College World Series back when I was a sophomore in college… but I wasn’t.

My apologies for my thug like appearances during this DVD preview... ;)

I think what made me such a good candidate for a closing pitcher was the fact that I could stay calm and level headed in tight/clutch situations.

In one of the final games of the College World Series... we were tied late in the game with the number 1 seed Tampa when I got called to the mound. There was a runner on 2nd and a big brute of a man was at bat. He had one of the best bats in the NCAA and could smash a baseball. With 2 finely placed breaking balls… I quickly jumped ahead 0-2 in the count. The coach called another breaking ball 5 zone (off the plate) to see if he would chase. He didn’t. With a 1-2 count… my coach continued calling breaking balls to which Shrek kept fouling off to the backstop. After 12 straight breaking balls… I wanted to throw something else. I wanted to give a finger signal over to our dugout that would be highly offensive to anyone that wasn’t named Eminem. Instead... I looked down the 60ft & 6inches and took another 2 finger signal from my catcher.

Shrek lined a bullet back up the middle scoring the runner that was on 2nd base. I’m not saying he was expecting a breaking ball… but it might as well have been plastered all over the jumbo screen in the outfield. To this day… I still think if I could have thrown a 2 seam fastball painting the inside inside corner… buckling him at the knees… the World Series would have played out a bit differently than a 3rd place finish.
Now that I have successful thrown everyone for a loop and not talked about my intended subject… I’ll get down to business…

I had zero expectations going into the Ridge 2 Ridge 21 mile race. Since April… I had been slowly recovering from an injury and had not had any pain free miles since March. I did have 2 decent 14-16 mile runs while up in British Columbia a few weeks prior… but I was still having issues with my foot and most of runs have been less than 5 miles.

Warming up with Beau the morning of the race… I felt something very rare. I felt anxious. I think it had to do with the fact that my foot wasn’t 100% and I honestly didn’t know how it would hold up. I firmly believe that reason I rarely feel anxious or nervous before athletic events is mainly because I know that I’ve put in the hard work leading up to the event… and showing up for these types of events end up being mere formalities more than anything.

Even though my foot still felt “off” and tight… by the end of our warm-up I was mentally relaxed and back to feeling like my normal self again…

We gathered in the gravel parking lot and with a blast of David Tosch's gun… we were off!

I took off really fast to avoid the bottle neck that trail races often have at their starts. I kept a fast pace for the first mile until we reached the first climb on the Yellow trail. Beau was looking strong out in front of me. He was running the 10.5m race, so I knew I didn’t need to stick too close to his pace or I’d tire out on the first lap. Jonathon (who would go on to win the 21m race) and I chatted all the way up the long Yellow/White connector climb. As soon as we hit the flat Jeep road Jonathon took off and disappeared. I wouldn’t see him for the rest of the race. I had zero desire to play chase. I wasn’t looking for a race… I simply wanted a solid effort to see how my recovery had progressed. A few 10.5 milers (Matthew and Christian) had caught up to me along the Jeep road as well.  I enjoyed talking with Matthew during this portion. He had moved to the area from Utah and was in school at UAB. Though it was great seeing Jeff and Vanessa manning the aid station at mile 4… I didn’t check up. I had plenty of water left so I continued up the Green trail. I talked with Christian for a bit until we got to the Blue trail. Once we hit Blue he pushed ahead and picked up the pace. Matt had caught back up to me and we settled into a nice rhythm for the next 3 miles. I popped in front of Matt as we climbed up the Orange connector towards the White trail and settled back into an easy pace as I topped Shackleford and ran along the ridge. I caught and passed Christian on some of the more technical downs along Shackleford ridge. I finished the descent and connected with the Yellow trail to start heading back towards the Start/Finish area. I cruised into the S/F area around the 1hr38min mark… slightly ahead of the 1hr50min goal I had somewhat set before the race started. Beau took first overall for the 10.5m (congrats again bro!) a few minutes before I rolled in. He asked me how everything was holding up. Honestly… things were good. The legs felt strong and my foot had actually loosened up throughout the first lap.

“I’m feeling good… but no way in hell the 2nd lap goes that smoothly.”

I was right. I continued feeling really good up until I left the mile 14.5 aid station.

At this point… my legs were shot and the heat was starting to take its toll. I wasn’t caught off guard or even frustrated in the least bit by this. I had just started running regularly again (let alone training) and had practically zero distance/mileage built up on my legs. If anything… I was pleasantly surprised that this inevitable moment hadn’t happened earlier. I knew Sufferfest 2015 was going to be playing on repeat for the next 6.5 miles… so I took down a few salt tabs and a swig of Mountain Dew before heading out for the last leg of the race.

The last 6.5 miles sucked. There is simply no better way of saying it. It just sucked. It was hot as hell fire, I continuously cramped, and ran out of water 2 or so miles before the finish. It was not a very pleasant experience. Nonetheless… in a sick and twisted kinda way… I enjoyed it. 

I was the 2nd runner to cross the finish line with a time of 3hrs48mins and immediately headed to the cooler. I didn’t just want one drink. I wanted ALL the drinks. You would have thought I had been lost in the desert without water for days. I killed 2 Sprites, 2 sports drinks and eventually a beer… all within 15mins of finishing.

After a quick rinse under the water spout and a change of clothes… I went back and mingled with the rest of civilization. It was so fantastic seeing my girl Breanna! Just a few weeks prior… she had become the youngest female to ever finish the ridiculously brutal Badwater 135 . I’m so excited for her future plans… and even more stoked about planning some adventures with this chicka!

I had missed all of this. I had missed the community of trail racing… seeing all of the familiar faces and meeting some new ones. I had missed the feeling of hobbling around on worn out legs… the minor aches of an exhausted post-race body… mmmmmm…. it was good to be back.

Surprisingly… my foot feels better post-race than it has in the last 5 months! Hopefully Ridge 2 Ridge was a turning point and one of those runs where the body weirdly works itself out. Though I still don’t feel like its 100%... the foot is slowly getting there. I am excited that the recovery and time spent away from running has paid off. I can’t thank Beau and Sloan of The FARM and Dr Lal of Fagan Sports Medicine  enough for their patience and support over the past months. I plan on sticking to the plan to gradually get back into the longer distances. I’m looking forward to slowly stepping the training mileage up over the next few weeks and hopefully having a solid and enjoyable StumpJump 50k in early October. I would love to toe the line for the Pinhoti 100 in November… but that mountain of a decision is still a distant silhouette and will be approached very cautiously. Whether through racing or self-supported fun runs… I’m thrilled to be plotting and scheming an adventurous Fall/Winter.

But for me… racing isn’t the end all be all. Racing is simply a byproduct of the lifestyle I’ve chosen. It’s fun to line up with a bunch of like minded individuals that I may not have had the opportunity to run with regularly and to be able to push myself in a safer environment. I very rarely toe the line with the intent of competing against other runners because racing and competition is not the thing. The trail and journey through the mountains is the thing… and I really really enjoy that thing.


Run long, run wild, and howl loudly.


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