"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." –RFK
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Ice Age Trial
The Ice Age Trail 50-Miler was this past Saturday, Mary 10th. This was my first ever ultra in 1999 when I hadn't a clue about what I was doing. Now, that I've been running ultras for 9 years, I realize I know perhaps only a bit more about what the heck I'm doing out there. Still, it always comes down to the same old thing - putting one foot in front of the other and making my way up and down the trail from start to finish.
I went to Wisconsin this weekend for Mother's Day. I love my mom. She's the coolest. My family is so dear to me and I was so happy to spend some time with my mom and both my brothers. I threw in a little race on the Ice Age Trail to help round out my Midwest reunion.
When racing, I've been wearing the ASO ankle braces for protection. I find I am able to enjoy myself on the trail much better when not having to worry about the next ankle sprain or near sprain. Other than bruised pride, I have no problems with wearing the braces. They help quite a bit. My plan was to wear them at Ice Age so that I could focus on having fun and not at looking at my feet with tense shoulders and a furrowed brow. So, I wore them for this Midwest trail trial.
As soon as I put on the left one, my shin hurt. The right one was fine. The right is actually my bad post-surgical ankle, but my left one wiggles around on its loose axis far more than what is normal too. I ignored the shin discomfort and started the race. My shin ached with every step, and by mile 9, I considered dropping from the race. I stopped multiple times to loosen the brace but nothing helped. I seriously questioned if I had a stress fracture, but I reasoned that there was nothing to suggest that that would be the case. I hadn't had trouble, I've never had a stress fracture, I had hardly even run, and for it to hurt really before I even started running, the sharp, limp-causing pain had to be somehow because of the brace. Still, I ran on.
I ran with Mary Gorski and we chatted and laughed and carried on about Badwater, which she is running this year. We talked about cows and religion and skiing and life and friendship. We talked about our tummies and how they were FOS. We were amazed at how much time has elapsed before reaching the marathon mark - something like 4-1/2 hours. Too slow for us, but we were doing our best without pushing too hard. (photo by Dave Gorski: Mary in front, Ian Stevens sneaking a hug from me)
Finally, I let Mary go ahead. I fell back and walked a couple of miles into Aid Station 8 at mile 33. I sat down, announced that I was quitting, and asked for a ride out. I mumbled on about my shin pain from the brace and I worried aloud about missing my brother and sister-in-law who were supposed to be at the next aid station 4.1 miles away. I took off the brace; my leg felt immediately better. Still sore, but significantly improved. Why oh why am I such a numskull for not taking it off at mile 5, or even sooner, when I knew it wasn't going to get better? Guess I didn't believe it would actually feel so much better immediately.
So, with the brace off and the shin sighing, I started to do the math out loud to the aid volunteers. I figured I could at least walk to the next station and still see my brother and his wife. I figured I would run a little, and so my time to there would be under an hour. I decided to discard my 9 hour goal and take a finish, no matter what the time. My calculations reassured me I'd probably finish in about 11 hours. So be it and who cares? I was good with that. So, I reneged on my request for a ride out and I headed down the trail with my brace in my hand. The more I moved, the better I felt. By the time I reached Aid Station #9, I knew I was going to continue on to the finish.
Dave Gorski - bless his heart - took my stinky brace. Beth Simpson-Hall, who dropped due to metatarsalgia, encouraged me on. And I met many old and new friends on the trail. I passed people from there on to the finish. The more I ran the stronger I felt. The stronger I felt, the happier my soul. Soon, I was skipping and singing down the trail without a care, not even for my naked braceless ankle. It was going to be just fine.
I ran with ultra virgins and some ultra veterans. I told stories of my first ultra there and my struggles to finish and my joy in doing so. I ended up hooking up with Jerry V. who ran a fabulous time at Badwater last year and who will be back again this year to pace and crew. We both struggled with letting go of our original goals, and wondered what new ones we could make. We thought we could finish in 10:30 but the more we ran, the more it became POSSIBLE - though not very PROBABLE - that we could finish in 10 hours. As the miles went by, we calculated the time, pace, and distance. Jerry would ask, "Think we could do 10 hours?" and I would reply, "Well, it's theoretically POSSIBLE.... but we'll have to run as hard as we can right here while the trail is relatively flat without causing ourselves to blow up later on down the trail." And so we would. Thing is, Jerry rocked the downhills and I did much better on the uphills, so while we ran together, we were often apart yet passing each other every 5 minutes or so. It was actually quite fun to realize how we had very different running strengths but the same overall pace.
And we ran. And we ran. And we walked when we had to, and we ran when we could. And we did the math and it always came out to the fact that we COULD - but BARELY - make 10 hours. We'd have to push. I was tired of pushing. I secretly wanted my calculations to suggest that we couldn't POSSIBLY have even time to run the remaining distance under the 10 hour cut-off. But always, it was possible.
So, we pushed with that goal in mind.
By the second to last aid station, we were pretty much set on pushing to the finish. "I've got nothing left," Jerry said. "Yes, you do," I said. And we'd push till we were both sucking air. I'd pass him on the uphills; he'd pass me on the downhills. We'd meet up on the flats.
We approached the finish and Jerry said, "Let's cross together." And we did, in 9:57:04. It was fabulous. A very good effort if I may say so myself. I honestly can't believe how many people we passed that last third of the race, how much we pushed ourselves to finish under 10 hours.
And for what? What for? There is really no answer to that except self-motivation I suppose. Self challenge, self discipline. To see if we could. To prove that we could. To overcome. To refuse to accept limitations. To overcome our bodies, free our minds from constraint.
It was a great race for me because it was, at first, such a crappy race. I was going to quit. I, in fact, did - in my mind. But I couldn't go through with it. Just one more aid station, one more mile, doesn't matter if I walk it, doesn't matter how many other runners pass me. Just go. Just move.
Most importantly, however, was that I got to see and hug my Midwest family. My ultra family who birthed me. I saw Kris Hinrichs, Tom and Lorraine Bunk, Mary Gorski, Beth Simpson-Hall, Larry Hall, Ann Heaslett, Christine Crawford, Brian Kuhn, Bill Thom, Mike Davenport, Pat Gorman, Bruce Purdy, Jim Blanchard, and so many others. Gawd, I love them!
So, my trail trial at Ice Age was a success. I now have five Ice Age belt buckles. It's definitely one of my all-time favorites. How could it not be? It's a midwest jewel.
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!