Monday, February 14, 2011

Dig the Pain

Photo of start/finish banner courtesy of Jenny Nichols (probably Brock actually)

I have never listened to an IPOD while running like some runners do... but that doesn't mean I don't hear songs in my head from time to time while running. This past Christmas I bought myself a present (even wrapped it and put it under the tree).... It was the latest CD by Chicago bluesman Charlie Musselwhite. Musselwhite is one of my favorite living harp(harmonica) players. He plays Chicago style blues but heavily influenced by his Mississippi Delta heritage. He plays much like "Little" Walter but now and then you can hear a bit of "Big" Walter which is more the style I play (or so I'm told). Anyway, I was listening to his CD "The Well" on my way up to Appomattox to run the Holiday Lake 50k++ and somewhere about 23 miles or so I couldn't get the tune Dig the Pain out of my head.
Can't let it go
Can't hang it up
I dig the pain too much
I pay a price in misery
It looks good to me
You tear me down
When you build me up
You know I dig the pain too much
I feel the pain
Don't need no crutch...
Ya know...
Tired of suffering
Tired of pain
Don't expect me to explain
I'm overwhelmed by your touch
I dig the pain too much!

It's been said that in ultra running you just have to "embrace the pain" when it inevitably comes during your run. I'd hit a bad patch somewhere around 22-24 miles and when I felt that discomfort of the effort, the tune started playing in my head and it wasn't so bad. I guess it was the song and possibly a double shot of Clif Shot gels that got me to feeling good again. I don't think "embrace" would have worked quite as well as "dig" for a blues tune!

As I took the 3 hour drive up to the Holiday Lake 50k, wasn't quite sure what to expect. I didn't plan to taper at all and had taken a 4 hour mountainous run last Sunday but by Wednesday my nagging knee pain was very evident. I'm not sure exactly what my problem is.... feels a bit like IT trouble but bottom line is I get sporadic very sharp pain on the outside of my knee and my whole left leg feels like it's going to collapse. Sounds a little similar to what Anton Krupicka mentioned in his Rocky Raccoon race report: "Over the course of the rest of this loop my knee would worsen to where it would spontaneously give out on any downhills" So I cut Wednesdays run a little short and didn't run at all on Thurs or Fri. Very unplanned. So went into HL not knowing how my knee would act but also feeling unusually rested.

Holiday Lake is a really nice setting for an ultra. Deep in the Virginia woods with somewhat rustic cabins, bunkhouse, bathhouse and dining hall. I picked up my race packet and milled around, ate the pre race pasta and hung around for Horton's pre race entertaining breifing. I saw a lot of familar faces from Masochist but didn't really know any of the folks assembled. I was shocked when Horton asked for all the first time ultra runnners to stand and it seemed like it was half the room. I headed back to my room in Appomattox around 8:30 p.m.

I didn't get the greatest nights sleep but not sure why. I wasn't nervous or anything (other then concern about my knee). I was up at 4:30 and did the usual what do I wear when the start will be in the low 20's and the finish in the 40's. After much internal debate decided to go with tights rather then shorts. I just don't really like being cold, so I wanted my legs covered. As we sang the national anthem, prayed and all that jazz I found Rick Gray in the crowd and figured I'd follow him out since we are of similar abilities and age. I leap frogged a bit with Rick early and joked with him that I couldn't let him get too far ahead since last weekend he had run Uwharrie and I had "only" done 4 hours at Pilot Mtn.

The course was hilly but nothing terribly tough or long. So very very runnable and the single track sections weren't overly technical even for a somewhat newbie trail runner. Pretty much the whole day I didn't get into a good rhythm and felt a little choppy. The trail wasn't rough but with the rising sun in my eyes, frozen rutty sections I just didn't feel real smooth. I got to the two loop turn around before expected and realized I should be able to get under 5 hours unless I fell apart on the second loop. There were two female runners ahead of me and I figured a couple of "old guys".

On the way out on the second loop I was running much of it alone but probably the best section in terms of feeling really comfortable and smooth. The runners coming in from their first loop were all inspiring with everyone encouraging one another. So great to see Jenny Nichols heading in with a big smile and a shout out. She was in control for sure. As I stated above, somewhere around 22-24 miles or so I hit a bad patch and really felt terrible. I thought, UH OH, this could be a long day. But some fuel and songs dancing in my head got me back on track. With maybe 5 or 6 miles to go Bethany, 3rd overall female, caught me and we ran together a bit.... she hoping no girls caught her and me hoping no one with gray hair might go by. She really pulled me along until I took a spill with a couple of miles from the finish. I was fine, just muddy and aggravated that I'd made it 31 miles without a fall but couldn't make it in without a dive and letting Bethany pull away. The last few miles I felt really strong and felt like if needed I could have run further or cranked it up a bit. Finshed in 4:56 (about what I expected) and was 48th place, chicked by 3, and behind 3 50+ year olds. My knee hurt now and then on the second loop but it held up well. Maybe I put the knee issue behind me???

Very much enjoyed the post race atmosphere. Great fun to cheer on friends and strangers that either have big time relief on their faces or joy. Highlights post race were seeing Rick Gray slip in under 5 hours by 15 seconds with his wife screaming and Horton hooping it up and then one of the younger mothers finishing with her 3 children running in with her, and of course the joy on the faces of every first time ultra finisher. AMAZINGLY there were 305 finishers out of 317 starters!!!!!!

One final observation. After I nibbled on some food and drink at the finish I walked over to my car to put on dry clothes and "clean up" a bit (if that is possible after 5 hours running in the woods without a shower to do the cleaning)... well I looked in my rearview mirror to check my nose and I had dried choclate Clif Shot gel caked all the way around my mouth! Yikes, I bet that was impressive. I hope next time that Rick, Tammy, Jenny or someone will say dude go clean up no one wants to talk to you looking like that.

So now to decide do I actually try the Beast and run a 50k the week before Umstead AND do that crazy Hellgate thing? Nah that is absurd....


  1. Well Rob, you got chicked and I got chicked by a couple of more than you did. Welcome to the world of ultra running. Get use to it. We have some fast ladies in our group. Bethany is certainly no slouch. She has a great deal of experience behind her. She just gave birth to twins just 11 months ago. She is an amazing runner and one fine lady. I will be sure to introduce you formally next time.

    In regards to a conversation we have already had, I for one think you should run the Beast Series. Yes, you will die, you will be in pain, but it is one of the most wonderful experience that a trail runner can have. Yes, I know Terrapin will be the week before Umstead, but you can be just like Tyler, Will and myself as we will be doing the same thing. Give that some serious thought. It is not that absurd! Great run by the way.

  2. Rob,

    Thanks for your nice comment on my blog, and congrats to you on your fine and fast race---with no taper! Impressive.

    And listen to your pal Rick above...if you are thinking of trying the Beast, you might as well now that you have gotten the "easiest" race out of the way :-) Seriously...I have run every race in the Beast series (though never in the same year, that would be stupid) and I loved them all. My favorite? Hellgate. I have written more blog posts on that race than any other... let's just say it's a special race, like no other out there. Go for it!

    Happy trails,

  3. ROB!!

    1. I did not see the dried cliff shot on your face:oP SCOUTS HONOR! :o)

    2. WAY TO HAMMER!! You looked strong and in control when I saw at the turn around. I knew you were in the "sub 5" group and was SO HAPPY to see you there!

    I really feel in this crazy sport you do have to DIG THE PAIN!!!
    do NOT run terrapin before umstead:oP LISTEN TO JENNY: it's a little furry MONSTER of a 50k!! 7000ft vert.. technical.. it's a mini- masochist only a little more technical and less forest service road than masochist. ( and only 2,000 ft less climbing!) and all in much less mileage. You don't need that the week before your first 100. TAPER!! BUT terrapin mtn 2012--- FOR SURE or beast series 2012.. GO FOR IT! :o)

    Congrats again on a well- run race! Way to tough it out through the tough sections!
    hope to see you soon! good luck with you training for umstead!


  4. Rick, Sophie, Jenn-
    Sounds like we all had good 2011 HL experiences.

    As far as the Beast and LUS... still not so sure. My main focus for this spring is to complete my first 100 mi, so leaning towards Jenny's advice.

    I keep telling my road running friends that girls find bloody knees sexy... but I'm not sure so they think the same of choc covered dried gels on your face. Jenn... thankfully I think I cleaned my face by the time you saw me! Maybe I need to include a little hand held mirror in my drop bag!!

  5. Will probably had a little mirror in his drop bag, so just borrow his. I will have to admit that I saw the gel on your face, but I did not know that any of us were in a beauty contest. My face was totally caked with salt so badly that I looked like a skunk. Do not listen to Jenny. Your body is stronger than you think. Go for Terrapin and then Umstead the next week. I did it two years ago. It is bad, but not that bad. You will have a valid excuse when you start getting tired at Umstead, but if you don't run Terrapin you will not have a valid excuse!

  6. I can just hear it now from Rick... so what, you finished a 100 mile race, you didn't even run Terrapin last week.... so what's the big deal?

  7. Yes you will hear it. Don't think I am anything even beginning to be a 100 mile expert. Afterall I have only finished four 100's. Twice at Umstead and twice at Grindstone. I also dnf'd twice at MMT. So there is my limited experience, but I do know this for a fact. Umstead is very doeable after Terrapin (assuming you don't get hurt). If Umstead was a mountain 100 miler, I would more than agree with Jenny. Doing Terrapin and Umstead back to back will help in giving you the confidence to go after Grindstone. The mind game is a huge part of running 100's. Plus, how would you feel if you missed out on experiencing "Fat Man's Misery" at Terrapin? It would certainly be awful!

  8. Rob, nice report, and great performance. I was the 3rd place "gray hair" in front of you at 4:54. HL was my first ultra 5 years ago. I was back for The Beast this year. I was really happy with my time without any nagging pains/injuries! Gonna try a little run, finally, right now. Gotta get ready for Terrapin...

  9. I think I remember you pulling away from me Jay. Before I fell on my face I thought I might catch you. BUT as Bill Rodgers once said years ago after getting second place after being tripped at the start of Boston or NY... he was asked if he had not fallen down and lost time did he think he would have won? He just answered: there are no "ifs" in sports.

  10. 1) loved the Musselwhite reference!
    2) dried Cliff Shot = Grenchik

    keep on rockin' bro!