Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Meeting in the Clouds

“Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.”
― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

I shouldn’t be going south on Saturday to run the Cloudsplitter (25k) 100.  My event season should be over.  I know this.  I just can’t get this event out of my mind.  It’s the first year and it’s a pretty big step for Eastern Kentucky.  Ultra-running has come to the East Kentucky coal fields.  It’s something I want to be a part of.
Since I wasn’t certain until just recently that I’d be going down to Elkhorn City at the end of the week I really hadn’t been carrying on with my diet and running regime.  I tried half-heartedly, but nothing really stuck.  I’m back up to my resting weight. 
I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about doing well down south, but Saturday I went out for a scouting run on the first half of the Rugged Red course.  I was running it to ascertain conditions for a possible change in dates next year.  Would the course be in good shape at the end of September as opposed to the beginning?  That’s why I went, but I’m not reporting to you, so the result is irrelevant.
Bean had picked up a stomach bug earlier in the week and missed a day of school and a couple of cross country practices.  She went into the Beast in the East meet at Owsley County (Booneville) with less than normal Bean-levels of energy.  Poor thing finished dead last in her race, but she crushed the Beast: a short, steep grassy knoll that frightens young children.
Kicking at the end

Slaying the "beast"; my little lanterne rouge
Our daughter is doing us proud.  She has overcome the mental demon of climbing hills.  She has decided she’s good at climbing hills and she has become so.  She has learned to bend herself instead of focusing on the spoon.
I’ve told the story of the one meet I won as a teenage runner when I was a student at Springboro high school in Ohio, but there was a race where I actually ran smarter and performed better.  For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the place but it had something to do with wood or the name of a tree like “walnut” or “oak” or something like that.  What I do remember is that it was cold. The course was wooded and hilly.  My teammates and all of the other racers were dreading the hills.
In my mind I had decided because I was from Kentucky that I would climb those hills better than all of those Buckeyes.  For whatever reason it worked.  I passed demoralized Ohiotians (pronounced “OH-hee-shans”) throughout the entire race.  I came in sixth overall and was first, second or third on my team.  My memory is really fuzzy of the details.
The Beast in the East meet is infamous for its “beast” of a hill.  It’s really not so bad.  It is a little over three hundred feet long and gains thirty feet.  So it averages nine or ten percent for a short distance.  It’s enough to crush any hopes of a PR at the distance and enough to decimate the morale of young people who are forced to run up it by their parents and coaches.
Middle school racers squaring up against the Beast

Angle at the crux
All of the kids did really good considering the hype that gets thrown around over the hill.  Most of the race is flat through a cornfield.  Anyway…
Cloudsplitter is not flat.  The out-and-back format is nice except the 25k route runs uphill and gains more than two thousand feet before turning around and losing it like a fat kid loses his lunch in gym class.  My knees are humming a familiar ditty as I write this. 
During my recent Rugged Red scouting run/final Cloudsplitter prep run I felt as if I might have picked up a touch of the stomach issue Bean had.  My energy levels were way down.  My heart wasn’t in the run but I had the time.  I almost turned around and headed home twice before I ever reached the trailhead.  The first few steps down the trail were the toughest.  I was certain it was going to be a mistake to run away from the car. 
Strangely—as I suspected was a remote possibility which is what kept me moving on toward the trail even though I didn’t feel it—I threw down one of my faster average paces in general and  what I think might be my fastest time on the first few miles of the Rugged Red trails to date. 
The funny thing is I felt slow.  Strava isn’t consistent in the torturous terrain of the Red River Gorge so I had to do some critical analysis.  But because Saturday’s mileage came up short but my moving time is known the pace I set had to be faster than previous times.  The first climb (Cuss Joe Hill) went down hard under my pounding piston legs.  I shuffled along the ridge after gaining it, and only jogged down Buck Trail before snarlfing up the second climb, but once on top of the second ridge (Pinch Em Tight) I kept a steady pace all the way back to the car. 
Flow carried me through the hardest miles.  Mentally I just put my head down and ran.  I didn’t run fast; I just kept moving.  While I didn’t feel great afterward (for more than twenty-four hours) I didn’t feel awful as I ran. 
Sometimes things you perceive as friction actually ease your passage.  And that’s why I’ll never assume because I’m sick or tired or lethargic that I won’t do well on a run or ride or walk or crawl.  The human body is pretty amazing.  

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