"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." –RFK
Sunday, May 06, 2007
The Perfect Training Run
I drove to Twisp, WA Friday night and checked in at the humble but convenient Idle A-while Hotel. There was a sign at check in that warned that "rude people would be subject to additional charges." I chuckled at the appropriate sarcasm but after just a couple of minutes with the grumpy owner at check in, I realized that this sign was less of a joke than I thought. Even as I complimented his gorgeous Great Dane who meandered behind the counter to check me out, he warned me there was no time for niceties as his "dinner was getting cold." ....Well, alrighty then! The room wasn't glamorous but served the purpose of a place to lay my head for a few hours of sleep.
I woke up at 3 am and put together my drop bag that the kind and generous Dave Lygre, who was running the Sunflower Iron, was going to take to the Start line of the official race (our half-way point) later that morning. I put 35 oz of Gatorade in my UD Wink and packed about 5 gels and one 100-calorie pack of mini fig newtons. I decided last minute to wear a light fleece under my light windbreaker because it was very chilly outside and I knew we would be moving slowly in the pre-dawn darkness.
I met Tim Englund, Dave Lygre and Gene Trahern at the Twisp River Pub and we drove to the Finish (our Start), which was less than a mile away. After some last minute adjustments, Dave bid us farewell and left us to return to his tent for a couple more hours of sleep before the official start at 8:30 am. Tim, Gene and I set off to find the trail.
We were immediately stopped by a locked gate with a sign that read, "What part of No Trespassing don't you understand!" Yikes. We heard there were some land owner complaints about us "doublers" in the past, but that really didn't make sense since we followed the exact same course that hundreds of runners would traverse in a few hours. We were quiet, we were respectful of the land, we were friendly to a few dogs on the course. We even picked up some litter. Fair enough, we thought. So, we found another way around the gate about 50 feet away and we were on our way.
The air was chilly and we sported handwarmers and extra layers. Gene wore tights with plans to change into shorts at the "start." He would be meeting his wife and son there and was running the official race with his son, an excellent long-distance runner at only 12 years old. There was a bit of concern about getting lost becase two years ago we got REALLY lost and were forced to turned around about 2 miles short of the official race start in order to have accessible aid on the course for the return trip. Well, we seemed to have learned from our past mistakes and, with the help of Gene who has run multiple doubles here in the past, we had no trouble finding the trail that lead up the first hill. The course ribbon markers well easy to follow and we seemed to make reasonable time, stopping for a few pictures along the way.
The moon was brilliantly poised over the hill like a star guiding our ascent. Eventually, the moon receded as the sun dominated the sky revealing the spectacular landscape that surrounded us grateful early risers.
We had no trouble with the trail, no trouble with any aches or pains. Tim's ankle held up and seemed to be doing well enough despite a severe sprain about a month ago. My ankle too was just happy to be making contact with the dirt again instead of the pavement. My body and soul too were light with gratitude and delight.
We covered the usual topics of trail conversation, from family and work, to injury and races yet to come. And we dabbled in other deeper topics like what motivates us to run...like what REALLY motivates us to run. Tim asked, do you run because you love to be outside or do you go outside because you love to run? Hmm, good question with lots of tangential answers...
The trail was mostly smooth with some rocks and certainly some hills, but easy according to ultrarunning standards. When we hit the short paved road section, which meant we were about an hour from the start, Gene decided to go on ahead because he didn't want to chance missing his wife and son at the start line. Tim and I took time to de-layer and fuel up. We realized that with all our chatting and laughter, we had not eaten any calories. He put down some gels and I ate my fig newtons. We continued on at our leisurely pace down the asphalt, which made our joints grumble.
Once back on the trail, we were so thrilled to have the pine needles under our feet again that we lost track of the ribbons. We strayed a little from the trail and had to put our directionally-challenged heads together to help relocate the correct path. After a few false starts, we reasoned our way to the correct trail and were comforted by the "confidence" ribbons in the distance.
We were about a mile from the Start when runners started coming at us head on. We gingerly moved off the trail into the pine-coned covered forest floor as young and fast relayers and then solos went flying by. Even the front runners shouted "good job, doublers!" as they went by, and other runners too were so kind and generous in spite of their competitive speed. Gene and his son came by and we were happy to see he made it in time for his family. Dave Lygre stopped briefly to inform us that if we hurried, we could get our drop bags at the Start... but we had to hustle as they would soon be gathered up and transported by bus back to the finish.
We "hurried" in an ultrarunner sort of way...that is, continuous running, no potty or picture breaks, picking up the pace just a tad, and we arrived at the Start to find just a few stragglers hanging around but no signs of race organizers or drop bags. Bummer. I was nearly out of fluid and was even more concerned about the lack of calories as I had only a total of 450 calories on me after consuming the 100 calorie fig newtons and about 30 oz of Gatorade. Oh well, right? What can you do but fuel up with what you've got and move on out in hopes that the aid stations would wait for us lazy doublers.
So, after about 4.5 hours and 21.5 miles (reportedly it was more like 22+ miles due to a significant change in the course), we turned around and headed back. The sun was now warming us up good and we remarked at how lucky we were to experience the beautiful the pre-dawn, dawn and now full daytime ambience.
Tim likes to carry weight when training so I gave him my fleece to carry. I was trying to get used to my hydration pack. I've never worn one except for shorter runs to try them out. This Wink seemed to fit me perfectly and was surprisingly comfortable for my small torso, and so far I was pleased with its performace. Of course it helped to learn about the tubing length, what to do if it leaks and how to burp your bladder from an experienced user like Tim! Like I said, we had plenty to talk about as we trotted along on this perfect training run.
Not long after we started our return trip, the sweeps on bikes came up behind us. They offered to ride ahead to alert the aid station personnel not to pack up just yet. This proved to be a real service because, despite only having fluids at the station, we were able to top off our bladders and not have any more concerns about that for the rest of the way back. A few of the aid stations had some hammer gels and being the last runners, we were welcomed to take 2 or 3, which we did. So, fluids and calories taken care of, we just had to get our legs to carry us back.
Along the way, we saw no other people except for the one or two aid station volunteers who were always incredibly generous and encouraging and "happy to stay open for the doublers." It was only about 5 miles from the finish that we saw a couple ahead of us moving pretty slowly. We caught up to them and chatted briefly. The guy was having some trouble with his knees but despite their slow pace, the two were happy and conversant and even took some video of Tim and I to incorporate it into their race documentation. They were sweet, but we left them for a slightly quicker pace. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves and kinda wanted to be DFL, but we also wanted to be done too.
The trail gets more and more beautiful as it approaches Twisp. The sunflowers carpeted the hillsides, and in stark contract with the bright blue sky, was just breathtaking. Even good conversation was interrupted with the ocassional, "Wow, just LOOK at that down there in the valley!" or, "Hey, check out those snow-capped mountains in the distance."
(pic: note the double single-track trail in the valley where we are headed)
I think we were both a little tired towards the end, but my legs actually felt better then than they did earlier in the race. Even though they were a little stiffer, they had energy, and I'm pretty sure that is just because of the lack of early calories.
At somewhere under 10 hours from when we started, we arrived back at the same place at our finish line. There were still race volunteers to cheer us in and they stayed for another hour for the last couple to cross the line.... which they did.
We did not see Gene at the finish, so he either finished with his son without incident and left with his family, happy with his 44 mile run...or maybe he had to stop early. I imagine he finished at about an hour ahead of us but will find out for sure soon.
So, if that's the case, then there were just 3 finishers of the Sunflower Iron Double this year. As usual, we don't really know the distance or even the time. That's not what matters in Twisp. The value of the "race" lies only in its beauty and its ability to revive the soul. It is truly The Perfect Training Run.
Dave met us again at the finish line. He ran a good race. He brought us our drop bags and we debriefed and stretched out our legs. Dave and Tim left for showers and a drive back to Ellensburg, and in less than 30 minutes, I was on the road for the 4 hour drive back to Spokane.
Today, my legs feel very good. They are noticeably stiff when I got up this morning, but I am already feeling like running today since the weather is perfect. However, I am going to restrain myself and NOT listen to my body, which is begging me to run. Instead, I am going to let my muscles relax and bask in the comfort of non-injury. I have 2 weeks until my 50-miler at Bishop and I am looking forward to it.
I am an ultra runner, physician and have been medical director of some of the toughest ultras. I tend to be a mover and a shaker and louder than my size suggests. However, my Gemini twin is gentler and contemplative, an artist, a writer, and a poet. I am a dog lover, a believer in souls, and have a special affinity for those who struggle because I have been there.
This is my crazy lovable huggable Weimaraner, Steely Dan. I call him Steely. He left us in January of this year at only 6 years from lymphoma that did not respond to chemotherapy treatments. Steely was a total goof. He loved trail running, road running, treadmill running, new experiences, making eye contact, sleeping on his back, me, kids, and liver treats. He was Zappa's best friend. We miss him dearly.
This is Stella. A rescue from the shelter. She's about 6 months old and a Border Collie. She is a joyous bundle of energy and curiosity and now also Zappa best friend. She will make a nice running partner when she grows up.
This is the now the big brother of my family - a rescued Greyhound. His name is Frank Zappa. I call him Zappa. He's 7 years old and has learned all about life beyond the track and crate from Steely when he was with us. It was very rewarding to watch his personality bloom as he settled into the family. And yes, he runs like the wind!
This is Natasha, my dearest friend. She was with me through college, medical school, residency, and she moved with me from Chicago to Spokane several years ago. She was my best running partner for 10 years. My sweet Natasha died from bone cancer in 2006. I miss her still. I hung a windchimes over the deck outside. When it chimes, I smile and think she has finally -- wherever she is now -- caught a squirrel!