Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Running Red

Wild unicorns couldn’t have caught me.  Maybe some of those really fast runners who’ve signed up for the Rugged Red could have though.  I’ve seen some Strava times. 
I’m not going to win the Rugged Red this year.  I’m holding out hope for beating the rest of the oldsters only because I haven’t seen who I’m up against.  Reality is that I’m probably going to be far back in the pack.  I’ll be happy with placing anywhere in the top 50.  Still not holding out hope.
Saturday I took Jeff out to run the last five mile section of trail on the course from the Sheltowee Trace bridge over Red River to the Gladie Creek trailhead.  It’s all Sheltowee Trace except for the 0.8 mile Bison Way connector trail.  It’s also a fine section of trail that’s underappreciated.
Last year I was moaning about not having prepared for the grassroots Sheltowee Challenge 50k when I decided I was going to start trail running.  I had attempted to run off road earlier last year at Pilot Knob and ended up with a disgustingly sprained ankle.  My second foray into this wild and wonderful world was much more reserved and cautious. 
On the day of the SC50k I went out early and ran the loop I described above.  It was a beautiful early October morning and the trail was in fine condition.  I was hooked.  I vowed then and there that I would do the SC50k in 2014.  So far I’ve heard nothing about a repeat performance.
Along the last big Rugged Red climb (October 2013)
But then the Rugged Red presented itself.  As a bonus Kentucky also has a 100 mile ultra foot race now too.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been inspired to run the trail half if I hadn’t taken that run last fall, but it definitely sold me on trail running as a pursuit.
Saturday my pace was significantly improved over recent runs.  A couple months ago I had my best effort on what I called the Sand Turtle Loop at Natural Bridge.  I ran the Low Gap connector trail to the Rock Garden Trail to the Sheltowee Trace to the Sand Gap Trail and returned.  My pace was 11:05/mile.  I had hoped to improve on that throughout the rest of my training.  Frustratingly my speeds only got slower over the ensuing weeks.
When I did Sand Turtle it was still cool in the mornings.  The route itself is easy in that once you gain the ridge there is almost no more elevation gain with miles still to go.  It lent itself to a fast pace.  And then I've had three big runs where I was introducing others to the Rugged Red course so I was stopping a lot and waiting or lingering in places I wouldn’t while running solo.  I've also taken on some big, hard runs like my Swift Camp Creek-Rough Trail attempt.
My first run with Jeff two weekends ago I ran 14:05/mile.  That’s a far cry from the 9:00-ish mile pace I’ve seen from others on Strava on the Rugged Red terrain.  So I was happy with an 11:58/mile pace this past Saturday.  Not competitive, but much better than I had been anticipating. 
Mandy has been hugely supportive in this effort.  We sat down last week and planned our menu for this week.  I’m not intensively carb loading until Wednesday, but I’ve been trying to avoid junk for the past week and a half.  Wednesday I go into full on carb loading mode.  It’ll put me back up into the heavy-weight runner category, but I’m not stressing about the weight.  It is what it is.
I’m still trying to decide on what and how I’m going to carry in regards to fuel and fluids.  I don’t know yet where water will be available.  I think I’m going to go at this in self-reliance mode: small hydration pack and my own fuel.
What I don’t want to get caught up with is the need to refill a bladder or take on more chews or gels somewhere.  I don’t want to stop for more than a few seconds for any reason.  While I don’t think I’m going to be competitive in this field I also don’t want to throw caution to the wind.  I’m going into it as if I had a chance of standing on the podium Saturday afternoon. 
This year will be a learning experience if nothing else.  Then I have a yearlong plan (rough draft) for getting myself into the best shape of my life to go at this next year as a serious competitor.  I’m only sort of holding off at this point because I didn’t want to start experimenting and jacking around with what I knew would work for me after a summer of building up to where I am now.
I waited too long to get serious about it.  But now I’m ready to move beyond mediocrity and my average guy approach to endurance events.
First on the agenda is speed.  Between the Rugged Red and the end of the year I am going to focus on my 5k speed.  When I was fourteen I ran a 19:49 5k and a 5:55 mile.  That was with half-hearted training and poor diet.  Right now I’m roughly a 27-28:00 5k and at best effort around an 8:00 mile.  Speed training and slimming down would get me within striking distance of breaking my own 26 year old record.  I’m not sure I could ever be that fast again, but I’m going to try.
Next up is marathon distance.  Mandy keeps saying I need to do the Flying Pig with her.  I decided if I’m going to do it I might as well go whole hog and run the marathon.  So after the first of the year I’ll begin ramping up for a 26.2 mile run in May.  Speed won’t be my biggest concern, but it will be a factor.
After the Pig things will be complicated.  There are a couple of other trail half marathons that we’re considering in June next year.  Then I’ll be gunning for the Rugged Red with the Cloudsplitter hiding in the shadows just a few short weeks beyond.  I know the right thing to do would be focus just on the Rugged Red, but I want to break into ultras and I see the 2015 Cloudsplitter as being that first step.  In a sense that will be the focus with the Rugged Red as a shorter step along the way.
Of course I’m assuming both of these events will survive their inaugural year.
I was happy with my improved pace on Saturday.  I felt fast.  I enjoyed that section of trail and Jeff was absolutely stoked after his hobble-back the week before.  He’s going into it with the goal of finishing.  I’m going into it with the goal of outrunning unicorns.
Cycling will come back into play.  I’ve really not been on the bike since before San Diego.  The mountain bike is ready to be put back together.  All it needs now are some fresh brake pads which the bike shop didn’t have in stock last week.  I saw no need to rush until after the race on Saturday.  But then I fully intend to incorporate cycling cross-training into my running regime.  Finding the equitably beneficial effort on two wheels to running is going to be key.

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