Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dropping Jeaph


It was most definitely a race.  No medal was involved, but my wonderously fragile ego was going to drive me to victory like a banged up stock car.

I have this "bike friend" Jeff—y'know the one—who has been my perpetual grail on every ride over the past year and a half.  On the bike he's just naturally strong.  At my best I could keep up with him just enough to push him on, but never quite enough to wear him down.  One of our kids once said something about Jeff and I and Mandy and Casey just being bike friends.  So that's been the running joke ever since.

While I'm not a competitive person in the sense that I absolutely have to win all the time; I'm most definitely competitive with myself in needing to see progress.  Measuring my own strength against Jeff's seemingly bottomless wellspring of cranking power has been a fruitful endeavor.  I've been challenged, humbled, inspired, and driven.
Anyway, as previously mentioned, my wife wanted me to crush him out on the trail on our Rugged Red themed training run Saturday morning.  Right up front let me say this was no fair matchup.  I’ve been running all summer and mostly longer distances on trails.  Jeff has run less than 30 miles in the same span of time and most definitely not on the harder trails of the Red River Gorge.  All the same, I was going to run him into the ground to boost my own gimpy confidence.
Looking at my training calendar I knew it wouldn’t be good to go more than nine miles on Saturday but I wanted to get in at least nine.  Jeff’s longest run to date was six miles.  A couple of options presented in my mind, but eventually I suggested the Rugged Red Simulator route I ran a few weeks ago and which I have also seen other people on Strava running. 
It’s a good Rugged Red specific training run because in nine miles you get about seven of the course in sequence and you only have to backtrack two miles to the car.  It also replicates the course in that the climb back to the car come around the same distance as the last big climb of the race.  The simulator route doesn’t perfectly replicate the race, but it comes as close as you can get without committing to the full race course during training.
The other big pro of doing the simulator route is the ability to bail and cut out three miles at the six mile point.  That allows you to assess your energy level and decide late in the run how far you want to go, but still adds enough commitment to make it real.
Jeff was game, so we met in Slade at 7am Saturday morning and I drove up to the Rough Trail trailhead off Chimney Top Road where we planned to begin.  Oddly, I wasn’t as stoked to run as I have been.  Maybe it was the rain.  Maybe it was anxiety.  Maybe I’m on the wrong side of the wave crest right now.  I do know that it’s harder for me to be inspired to run when I’m with other people.  I don’t think I’ll feel that way the day of the race because there will be no obligation to stick with anyone else.  I didn’t want to leave Jeff to die lost out on some trail in the Gorge.
There are some new waterbars on the first steep descent and the torrential rains had made them slick.  I went down on one hand after a particularly muddy one.  It was not the way I wanted to start out my Jeff’s-ego-crushing run.  I wasn’t surprised to find Chimney Top Creek raging between its banks at the bottom of the descent.  In fact, it was lower than I had expected.  With no other option I led the way through the mid-calf deep water and turned my bow toward Cuss Joe Hill. 
The trails were in decent shape considering the rain.  My sure-footedness is coming back.  I used to be like a mountain goat, though in recent years I’ve felt that assurety slipping.  When I started running early this summer I was ginger with my foot placements and my dynamic moves.  While still being somewhat careful I have definitely moved beyond being conservative with more of the youthful vigor I enjoyed pre-mountain biking.
I broke no records climbing up to Koomer Ridge.  I definitely held back for Jeff’s sake.  He was fighting hard to keep up, and I realized I was going to drag him into the red if I we weren’t careful.  I waited to make sure he made the turn onto Buck Trail and then began my descent.  It’s not long before the climb up Buck Trail to Pinch Em Tight Ridge comes at you, and again, I held back with Jeff for a while until he encouraged me to go on, so I opened up on the ridge until I reached the Sheltowee where I waited again for Jeff and did battle with a barbarian hoard of horseflies.  I texted Mandy:
“Kickin it.”
I should have ran Pinch Em Tight at a good cruising speed but again, I was holding back so as not to completely leave Jeff behind.  He was coming on steadily, but at a distinctly slower pace.  My hesitation out the ridge cost me some time.  I wasn’t running steadily myself.  I made a silent promise that if Jeff were game to run on out to the swinging bridge I would give the Chimney Top Creek section everything I had.
As I stood in the creek slaying horseflies just before the Sheltowee/Rough Trail split I hoped Jeff was game.  He was, though maybe he shouldn’t have been.  I told him I was going to go hard all the way to the bridge and I’d head back right away and meet him along the trail.  He could then decide if he wanted to keep trailing behind me or cut it short.
Mandatory wet feet
 
I love that section of the Sheltowee.  It’s nice and flat with a few creek crossings.  Saturday it was somewhat sloppy from the rain but I still managed to beat my previous time by a considerable margin.  After turning around I eased off my effort quite a bit.  It was a nice easy jog back to Rough Trail and the final climb out.  I waited for a long time for Jeff at the last creek crossing before the Rough/Koomer split and saw four other runners pass.
I gave the final climb no effort.  We basically walked the last half mile to the car.  I felt good, but Jeff was hobbling due to an old waterskiing accident.  He was still positive about doing the run with the intent of finishing though. 
I really didn’t take any pleasure from outrunning Jeff.  Okay, maybe that’s not 100% true.  I tried not to let my glee broadcast too loudly.  What I did take away from our run were some important tactical changes I need to make.
I had planned to go without food or water until the swinging bridge.  That’s halfway into the course.  I was pretty sure I could fuel up beforehand and refuel there for the final push to the finish.  I’ve now decided to take minimal water and three gels.  There’s no way to maintain a consistent effort over that kind of terrain without putting something back into your body. 
After the swinging bridge I’ll carry a little extra too.  I want this to be a solid effort.  I want to perform at my peak.  I know now, incontrovertibly, that over the past four years I’ve been trying hard to excel in this endurance event obsession ineffectively because I do not fuel myself properly.
I spent an inordinate amount of time whining about being too fat and trying to drop pounds and not enough time assessing what my caloric needs are to propel me on to glory.  There’s a part of my mind that thinks if I were too just eat a little more of the best foods I would have energy like I did in my twenties and could go farther and faster and longer.  So my tactics have changed slightly for the upcoming race.  I’m confident in the outcome.

We parted ways in Slade.  Jeff was in good spirits and I felt good about the day's run.  As he was getting in his car and I was pulling away he called out:

"I'm not your running friend.  I don't want to be anyone's running friend.

Later in the day I sent him a text to see how his knee was doing:


 
 
I don't think it'll stick...
 

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