I'm back in Boulder after being away for almost a week. My recent trip to Alabama was both fun and frustrating. We'll beging with the Fun first and I'll cover the rest later. I enjoyed my trip mostly because I got to meet some great people at the 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile, Alabama. I was also reunited with my "Bama Family". Primarily Sky Hope, who I met back in the late 1980's when we were both living in Bamako, Mali. Our folks being Military (his) and Diplomats (mine) were stationed there and our yards literally shared a wall. We've remained close family friends for 24 years and counting.
I was a guest of the Marines at Fort Whitting for a two day running/fitness clinic. It was great to interact with the soldiers, answer questions and get to see what their physical training is like. The two day clinic culminated with me being invited to take part in their PFT (Physical Fitness Test). I won't divulge too much, but needless to say they're some strong folks! It was a pleasure getting to meet Tyler Fotheringill, Billy Ross and of course catch up with my brother Sky Hope.
My trip to Alabama was twofold, the military component first and then competing at the XTERRA Southeast Championships/Oak Mountain Trail run. As I mentioned in my previous entry, the month between Las Vegas and Oak Mountain, hadn't been the smoothest. Still, I remained confident in my training and accumulated fitness to carry me through...
-Road trip to Pelham & Oak Mountain-
Sky & I drove from Mobile to Pelham Saturday morning at the completion of the PFT. I was feeling good and confident, as the calf/shin issue that had been hampering me, seemed to have gone away. Once we arrived to race headquarters, I quickly made my way to registration. Being relatively new to XTERRA (this would be my 4th event ever) I was pleasantly surprised to be stopped and recognized by several competitors and spectators. Many wishing me luck for the following day's race, while other congratulating me on the Lake Las Vegas victory. One of those such people was the wonderfully positive and active couple of Nozomi-Shinoda Wade & James Wade. James competed in the XTERRA Triathlon on Saturday, while wife Nozomi would be doing the 20K trail portion the following day with me. Meeting people like these two has truly helped increase my enjoyment of XTERRA events.
At registration, I was greeted by Emily Mcllvaine, signed my race waiver and took a quick look at the course map. I didn't know much about the course, but figured it would be a straight forward course, as my event consisted of two 10K loops.
-Race Day & Trouble ahead...?-
Sunday morning I woke up feeling good & eager to go! I went through my typical pre-race routine (more details in previous blogs if interested) once we got to the course. Oak Mountain State Park lived up to the billing. It was truly a beautiful place with a myriad of trails. As I got more dialed in on the race details, I begun to get concern about the manner in which the races would be executed. The plan was to have the Marathon go off at 8AM and the 5K ten minutes later. These both seem simple enough as my 20K race wouldn't overlap with either of these courses.
What had me concerned, was the spacing between the 10K, which would start at 8:20 and my race, which would start at 8:30AM. This meant that the 10K competitors would only have a 10 minute lead on us, which as I saw it could cause some serious headaches (or in my chase knee pains). Knowing the trail was primarily single track and that our course was literally the 10K course done twice, I anticipated the frustrating scenario of having to run through a TON of runners.
I listened intently for the pre-race instructions that are customary at XTERRA events. I eagerly hoped to hear of some sort of remedy to this potential scenario. Surely, if I had picked up on the potential quagmire ahead of us, then the race organizers/volunteers had too, right? Sadly, it wasn't addressed and my fears would soon be realized. They did address the aid stations, which sadly wasn't executed in the manner that we had been lead to believe. For the 10K/20K there was only one aid station, which in the 20K we passed twice.
Being pretty care-free and easy going, I decided to put all these worries behind me and line up. I was once again greeted by some fellow competitors and posed for a couple of pictures. I was feeling confident and ready to see my race plan through. My plan was fairly simple, run the 1st loop conservatively in order to learn the course while staying near the lead(ers). The 2nd loop, I'd go to "work" and either make a push for the win or make a push for the lead(ers).
-Cannon Blast: Pandemonium in 3...2...1...?-
The blast of the cannon sent myself and the rest of the competitors down a long undulating road. This was wide and long enough to allow us to spread out and settle into a rhythm for about 1/2 a mile or so before jumping into the single track trails. I felt good and we weren't exactly flying so I decided to assume the lead a few strides before we headed into the trails. I also knew we had a healthy group of guys with us and some would be keying off me, so I didn't want to get stuck too far back and risk getting shoved to the back.
Well, it wasn't long before I/we came across the fist of many 10K runners. Luckily they seem (as would be the case with several other competitors) to anticipate getting caught and quickly made way for us. Myself and the 4-6 guys behind me quickly thanked them in between gasp of air. This would become the norm for the entire race, right up to the finish line. At times it would be a smooth pass while other very frustrating. The race has a no headphone/ipod/iphone policy, well that rule wasn't exactly followed as I certainly startled my fair share of runners as I passed them last minute.
Towards the end of the 1st loop, it seemed myself, eventual winner Josiah and 3rd place finisher Daniel had separated from the rest of the field. I still felt good and confident in my race plan. The nature of the course didn't really allow you to look behind you too much, as there were numerous twist and turns to test focus on in front.
Coming around a turn I saw ahead of me a gaggle of women seemingly running in place. I immediately yelled, "on your left!", nothing. So then I yelled, "Runner!", nothing. Then I tried, "Coming through!" aaaand...nothing! I then took it upon myself to run around them by taking a few strides off the trail (something I and my fellow competitors had already done numerous times). It was at this point that one of the women at the back of that herd decided to move. It was a bit too late and in a futile effort to avoid calamity, I ended up crashing hard. I managed to avoid hitting my head and as as result my knees and arms took the brunt of the fall.
I quickly bounced up in an effort to avoid an inevitable stampede. Luckily I had enough of a lead on Josiah & Daniel that they were able to react to my fall and avoid falling themselves. As I sped/limped away, I heard the woman behind me yell, "OH well thanks for checking on how I'm doing!". Keep in mind, she didn't fall, and I didn't make contact with her at all. Perhaps she was startled as one minute she's listening to beautiful music through her illegal/smuggled headset and the next minute she's got this skinny, bag of bones runner crumpling to the ground just behind her. So naturally being the sarcastic guy that I'm, I yelled, "Oh yeah, stay put, we'll send an ambulance for you!".
Adrenaline and frustration carried me back to the lead. I could feel the ache in my knee but didn't want to look down in fear of seeing bone or too much blood. About 1K or so from the end of the 1st lap, I came across a bridge just as I was over taking even more 10K runners. I was still in the lead and I guess the course marshall mistook me for a 5K or Marathon runner, as he instructed me to go the wrong way. It was only when I heard Josiah somewhere behind me (or perhaps Daniel) say something to them about us racing the 20K, did I realize that I had gone the wrong way. I turned around to see them crossing a bridge. "WTF!? This isn't my day!" is what I thought. Of course in a race, you must push out the negative thoughts that constantly bombard your psyche, so I had no choice but to soldier on.
I turned around and sprinted to catch the newly minted leader(s). As I crossed the bridge I locked eyes with the marshal and thought, "well what's the point of us having different colored bib numbers?". Oh well, mistakes happen.... The end of the 1st loop saw me catching up to Josiah & Daniel. At this point I was filled with frustration -as I'm sure they were- and even more so, pain. I could tell the adrenaline was wearing off and the pain in my knee/legs was quickly settling in. Spread three abreast on the road back towards the start/finish area, it was the first time I could truly size up the two runners who were challenging me.
At this point my previous race plan went out the window. I was in too much pain and while a DNF (Did Not Finish) wasn't an option, I wondered how much harm I was doing by racing on it. I decided I would let Josiah and/or Daniel set the pace and merely track them and out kick them at the end. I was confident that if I could allow it to come down to a sprint finish, that I'd be victorious. Sadly, that wouldn't happen either. Sensing my predicament and clearly having seen me go off course and fall, Josiah did what I and any smart competitor would do. He aggressively set out on the offensive.
The entire last lap we put more and more distance on Daniel, who for a while hung on bravely. It became a fun(?) game of "hang on...hang on...HANG ON!!". Josiah would seemingly spurt around a tight turn or up a hill. He'd later go on to reference those tactics in his post race interview. I on the other hand would get dropped and then work on closing the gap. I would look while transforming into a mathematician. Calculating stride length, distance left to finish line, upcoming hill grade, anything and everything that would distract me of the pain in my knee and yet give me hope for a comeback. I refused to quit and kept pushing onward. Slowly but surely the downhills and turns took their toll of my battered legs. Still, I kept pressing, thinking, "maybe, just maybe he'll bonk or who knows...". To compound the pain and fatigue, we both still had to go through an impressive amount of 10K runners all the way to the finish line. This quandary + the wrong turn + the fall was just too much for me on the day. All in all, based on results of the 10K & 20K, I'd say Josiah and I probably lapped closed to everyone in the 10K minus the 1st 12 to 16 finishers(?).
In the end, it was not meant to be. Josiah ran a smart and great race. I closed the gap on him once we got clear of the trails and finished 2nd by 7 seconds, with Daniel some 2 minutes behind us. I attempted to mask my frustration as I had friends/family there as well as the always supportive and positive XTERRA staff there. I hung around and waited to greet and congratulate Daniel before heading to the Medical tent. I had my wounds cleaned, my knee wrapped and hobbled over to do a quick post-race interview. I did my best to come across graciously and thanked the staff/fans/volunteers. Inside though, I was reeling with frustration, anger and even some sadness.
I hung around for the awards ceremony, spoke at length with race winner Josiah, who was also in town from Colorado. We quickly got along and both demonstrated the spirit of competition. I thanked him for giving me such a great challenge as I genuinely enjoyed the battle. He expressed a bit of sorrow about my fall, as well as some frustration about having to deal with so many lapped runners.
On my way out, I stopped by to see Janet Clark and thanked her for having me at their event. Despite my seemingly sore loser-ish rant above, I enjoyed the experience and could potentially see myself coming back next year. The XTERRA family/community is a close knit one, and one that has embraced me in a short amount of time. I told Janet I'd be e-mailing her with my thoughts/feedback. Being super friendly and wonderful, she thanked me as well, expressed her sorrows, we hugged and I departed the Oak Mountain.
I'm now back in Boulder and the Doctor's verdict is that I've got a contusion in my right knee and a strained bicep femoral in the other leg. I received some treatment before leaving from the Military Doc at Fort Whitting, as well as this morning here in Boulder from Toby Marchand. I'll probably be out a week before I can resume training.
Thanks heaps for reading and I truly hope that this entry didn't come across TOO negatively. I love to compete and always welcome the challenges of the course and other competitors. I'd also like to highlight both PowerBar & RecoFiT. They were great in supporting me with the running/fitness clinic I put on for the Military. Lastly, to Janet, Dayton Morinaga, Emily Mcllivine and the rest of the XTERRA family, I'd like to thank you for your efforts at all the XTERRA events. I hope my feedback isn't taken as criticism of your efforts.
Till next time....