Monday, September 15, 2008

Wasted in Willowdale

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/
Gang aft agley."
-Robert Burns

One of my goals for this past week of training was to do my long run on trails, so my intention was to head over to Willowdale State Forest for some earthy goodness. Initially I wanted to do so on Saturday, but as things turned out (family commitments) I had to move my long run to Sunday.

Before I launch into the events of my long run yesterday, let me first explain a few things I have learned:

1.) Trails are easier on the body - sure you can turn an ankle if you aren't careful, but, for the most part, joints are happy with trails.

2.) Trails make you both stronger and faster. If I had to choose between two runners of equal ability, one training on roads, the other training on trails, I'd always choose the trail runner. Personally my road race times have decreased solely because of the inclusion of running trails.

3.) Dehydration kills.

It does seem like a paradox to say that trail running is easier on the body, yet make you a better runner, but the effort that one needs to put forth in trail running is such that you strengthen different muscle groups and develop a heightened focus that cruising on roads cannot provide.

Since our apartment is a mere 2.7 miles to Willowdale, my plan was to run over to the forest, stopping at Cumberland Farms to buy a Gatorade and a Powerbar, find a trail intersection just inside the forest where I could leave my drop bag as a makeshift aid station, and measure out the distance of the pre-planned circuit I had outlined on a trail map. Water bottles filled, gels stored away, trail map tucked away, and Asics Gel-Trabuco's snugly laced, I headed out to Willowdale. Very briefly, the Trabuco's were awesome on and off road. I have a pair of Montrail Hardrock's that are superb on the trails, but they are definitely not suited for too much contact with the roads - you definitely feel every step.

Obviously the game plan was to run slow, and then when I found that pace, run slower. I knew that throwing in an extended trail run would be more taxing than a normal road run, but my "crazy" has been acting up, and I am contemplating the idea of running the Stone Cat Marathon a couple weeks after running the Cape Cod Marathon... yeah, don't ask. As I came through the first mile I saw 9:00 on my watch - a good sign. Made my pit stop at Cumby's, chugged along to Willowdale chowing a Powerbar and carrying a 32 oz. G2. Got chased by a wayward dog, came through the second mile at 8:52, still good. Made it to the trailhead and started into the forest. Made it to the trail intersection that I wanted to leave my drop bag, or so I thought. Started up the trail only to find that a large section of trail that I was going to run was under deep water. Normally not a problem, but I couldn't see where the water ended and the trail came back. Pulled out the trail map, reassessed the circuit, and found a way around the water. After putting my drop bag at a new intersection, I began my first lap.

The first circuit was really one of discovery. Willowdale is a place where one can get turned around quite easily if they don't know where they are going, and with this being my first long jaunt through Willowdale, I was very careful at each intersection to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Quite often was the trail map utilized, and I met a couple DCR workers marking timber, and monitoring wildlife that helped me through a particularly difficult intersection where four trails come together. Unfortunately, this first lap was more about finding my way and less about monitoring pace, and as I completed the first loop - 5.4 miles - I was a little leery that I had run it around 9:20 pace. Far too fast for a long run on trails for me. Loop two was a little more controlled as I generally knew where I was going. The last couple miles I really started to feel a little wasted, but made sure I started drinking more often. The last mile I really started to question whether or not I should cut it short and head home. I didn't really look at my watch to gauge pace, I just did a brief systems check and convinced myself I could do a third lap. In hindsight, I ran the second lap in about 9:06 pace. Bad news.

The third lap was filled with numerous walking breaks, a turned ankle, thoughts of how stupid I was, but mostly a learning experience of how to react when you have given too much and all you can do is forge ahead. Unfortunately, though I thought I was slick with my stash of Gatorade, I really needed a second 32 ounces, and should have been consuming at least 32 ounces of fluid per lap. I was soaked, partially due to crossing a couple slightly flood sections of Gravelly Brook, but mostly because of the brutal humidity that took its toll. I started cramping toward the end of the last loop, realizing I had at least three miles to run after gathering my drop bag. The last loop I came through around 10:30/mile pace - which is probably close to where I should have been running during the first couple laps.

Maintaining any kind of pace was impossible during the last 3 miles. If I was running it was only for a couple minutes at a time with lots of walking. I passed by Cumby's, threw my empty bottle in their trash - KEEP THE FOREST PRISTINE! - and slogged home. Last three miles in 35 minutes, easily more walking than running, and it was a type of hurt I can barely explain. Absolutely wasted.

Here's my trail map, it is oddly a pictorial example of how my body felt:

(Click for Larger Image)

In total the final statistics for this run were 22.3 miles in 3:42:29. Although, I did have some early issues with the garmin, so it may have been closer to 22.5-23 miles in about 3:40. Needless to stay, a little much, and WAY beyond my previous highs for mileage and elapsed time. On the bright side, if you are one that believes in the "that which does not kill you can only make you stronger" mentality, this was sort of a breakthrough. It was definitely a learning experience, but I am not sure what the overall lesson was... Maybe, "don't ever do that again"? I really think the humidity and impending dehydration made the situation worse, and almost believe that I could double up with Cape Cod and Stone Cat as long as I rest and take Stone Cat as a trail 50k training run - which is my next goal.

I was definitely sore as hell today, but my heels, which have been a continued concern, don't feel any worse than they did before the insanity yesterday.

All things considered, if you think about goal setting, we stand back and say that our goal is to get from point A to point B, even when we are really not sure how exactly we are going to accomplish that. I may be insane thinking about two marathons in three weeks, but where my goals are based on completion and not time, I still think it isn't that much of a stretch. Plus, with the financial market going berserk, life is too short to worry about how crazy one's goals might be.

At least now I don't feel bad about calling this blog Tracks of a 'Trail Runner', because I definitely earned another stripe or two.

Roots, Rocks, Puddles and Peace, friends.

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