Sunday, January 08, 2012

Recovery run: Crystal Springs 50K

At the start of the Crystal Springs 50K
I felt weak and a little off-kilter, not unlike the way I felt a month ago after I returned from Nepal. I went for a couple short bike rides, and on Thursday decided it was time to return to running. Since nothing I did in the deep snow and intense cold of Alaska can really be counted as running, it had actually be a while. I ran my standard eight-mile loop. It felt weird. I returned home with my usual attitude that forms after a hiatus of any length — "running is too hard." But it was too late; Beat had already signed us up for the Crystal Springs 50K.

Upon arriving at the start in Woodside, I learned I was currently the female course record holder for the Coastal Trail Runs race. I did not know this, nor did I feel pressured to defend my title (Crystal Springs was a smaller affair in 2010 and 2011, but this year there were 60 people starting the 50K, at least a dozen of whom were women.) But as the "defending champion" I did feel some responsibility to at least show up and give this running race my best running effort. But not too much running, because running is too hard.

The antithesis to my frosty face photos from Alaska — this is what winter running looks like in coastal California. 
I hit a few snags early on in the race. I learned why leg warmers aren't more popular with runners after I had to stop several times to pull up my leg warmers after they'd fallen down, then finally just took them off. There were also a couple trips into the woods when something from that morning didn't agree with me — I convinced myself that something was running. But eventually I hit my stride and found myself surprisingly able to hold a solid pace without excessive effort. I'd already decided I was just going to run Crystal Springs "easy" because right now, maintaining my endurance motor is about the only thing I can do to improve my chances in the Susitna 100. Speed will accomplish exactly nothing toward that particular goal.

Everything motored along swimmingly until I passed the last checkpoint, 4.6 miles from the finish. I looked at my watch and realized if I could somehow log sub-nine-minute miles for the rest of the race, I might just reach something that has been a longer-term goal of mine — to finish a trail 50K in less than six hours. The remainder of the course was predominantly downhill, but in my world, that's a bad thing. I think you have to be a similarly flailing and awkward runner as I am to really understand what I mean. Even on flat pavement, seven miles per hour is about my speed threshold before I begin to feel uncomfortable, like my feet are stumbling over themselves and painful things are about to happen, and sometimes they do. Even if they're physically achievable, fast speeds frighten me enough that I'm psychologically incapable of letting off the brakes.

I crested a small hill with my GPS registering a 13-minute-mile, which just wasn't going to cut it. Just then, a song came on my iPod that reminded me of my trek in Alaska, and momentarily moved my thoughts from the vibrant sunlight filtering through the redwood forest, back to the frigid air and frozen swamps of the Susitna Valley — "The Cave" by Mumford and Sons:

It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you've left behind



For a moment I could feel all of it — a hundred miles of snowshoe trekking, a reluctant sled tugging at my hips, lips cracked with windburn, swollen fingertips, a painful patch of dry skin that formed on my nose after I dozed off with my face sticking out of my bivy bag, the cold headaches, the fatigue after my long flight home, the lead weights in my legs during my difficult training run, the 27 miles of consistent running I had already logged that day. And then, in the next moment, I let it all go. And I ran. 

But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck


I locked in to the frenetic banjo harmony and matched my own cadence, feeling a rush of wind and adrenaline as I accelerated down the narrow, winding trail. A towering redwood canopy filtered the sunlight into a hypnotic strobe, dry leaves erupted at my feet, and I could almost taste the moist aroma of soil and green moss. Even the endless hairpin turns couldn't disrupt the exhilarating sensation of simply running without fear. Who cares if I fall?

And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again


I passed several runners — a guy, another guy, a woman, two guys. One of them called out to me, "Nice pace!" "Thanks!" I shouted back. The trail disappeared beneath my feet like a conveyor belt. I felt like I could run faster, but I had a hunch I was running fast enough. That was good enough for me.

I crossed the finish line at 5:51, a personal record by 20 minutes. (Garmin stats here) I didn't win. Not even in my age group. The woman who did win shattered my course record and beat me by an hour. But it felt like a big victory, all the same. 




9 comments:

  1. Some times personal bests are the best of all.

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  2. Wendell6:26 AM

    Great to see you & Beat. Congrats on breaking 6 hrs!

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  3. Anonymous7:21 AM

    Nice!

    Norbert Leinfellner

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  4. I have yet to find myself unmotivated whenever Mumford & Sons pops onto the iPod. Congrats!!

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  5. You are running, and running well. I think all the snow walking made it good for you.

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  6. Congrats!! And I have to say, y'all make a super cute couple!

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  7. after doing a few competitive events as an adult, I appreciate that there is a lot more to get out of it than trying to win. which is good, because 99% of us almost never do anyway.

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  8. Anonymous8:31 PM

    broken radius bone in august, surgery, rehab, back on bike... dont jinx us.

    On On!

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