Wednesday, September 10, 2014

To Be a Ruggedeer

380 signed up.  261 finished. 
A few suffered minor injuries.  Some became overheated.  Tons were tired, woozy, and wrung out like an old raggedy rag at the finish.  I know I was.
Thirteen miles is no giveaway.  I ran increasingly longer and harder distances all summer in preparation for the Rugged Red.  I was fortunate enough to have weekly access to the actual race route.  I managed to run the initial and hardest miles no less than three times in the months leading up to the race.
261 finished.  The winner came in one hour and forty-nine minutes after starting.  The second place racer came in at one hour and fifty-one minutes after taking a detour.  The other 259 runners came in spread out over the next three hours.
I finished just shy of three hours in and just a little more than an hour after the winner.  When I crossed the finish it was already hot and humid as only Kentucky in September can be.  Between the cutoff point at mile 8 and the finish there is a long stretch of lonely trail and one heartbreaking climb.
If you’re a mere mortal like me then somewhere around mile 10 you stop worrying about your time and hope you can still finish.  Early in the race I had a chance at a 2:30 finishing time, but after the second grueling climb of the day I lost my advantage and was looking at a 2:45 target. 
Somewhere around the base of Cloudsplitter (not associated with the race on Pine Mountain) I settled for finishing with hopes of ducking in under three hours. 
Sunday I was pretty wrecked.  Monday I let Papa Joe sucker me into sweeping the first “half” of the course with him.  We took a three and a half hour hike from the Rough Trail parking lot on Chimney Top (where the course first entered the trail) down to the suspension bridge at KY 715.  So much for resting this week!
I was able to reflect more directly as we hiked along looking for gel wrappers and empty water bottles.  Some of those trails I hadn’t hiked in twenty years.  Oh, I’ve ran them multiple times this summer, but taking the slow walk on them was a new feeling.  And it let me look a lot deeper at the experience.
The course was brutal.  I knew it was brutal.  The organizers knew it was brutal.  Many of the runners who came out and trained on it knew the course was brutal.  So many were surprised at the difficulty. 
The descents were knee pounding, ankle wrenching, slip-slidin’-away affairs.  They demanded focus and strength to negotiate at a race pace.  People pulled off to the side on the first downhill, seemingly overwhelmed by the severity of the grade.
On the first hill—Cuss Joe Hill—hearts broke.  Spirits withered.  On our sweep even Papa Joe was cussing Joe.
While he and I were out sweeping Monday afternoon something occurred to me.  A photo had been posted of Joe sending a wave of runners off on Saturday morning suggesting that he should run the race next year.  Joe is 71 years old.  For a man his age he’s in pretty good shape.  He’s not currently a long distance runner though.
But Joe has the experience to succeed if he wanted to be a trail runner.  He’s ridden his bike across the country and then some twice in his life.  He made two trips of 14,000 miles each.  He also walked most of the way across the continent on stilts to raise money for muscular dystrophy.  He’s mentioned that another 14,000 mile bike trip might be in his future.  He has that mental endurance that you need to be a Ruggedeer.
Monday night we hiked six hard miles taking down course markers and picking up trash.  We did the first two big climbs on the course and Joe and I talked about the difficulty of the course.  We’ve both heard from others and seen for ourselves that people are looking for challenging experiences like the Rugged Red.  If it were easy it wouldn’t be worth it.
So when I read headlines on a local news story about how a few people had been injured and that a bus had gone off the road carrying racers (no one was injured and the bus drove away) I had to reply: “and hundreds had an incredible time!”
If you approach an event like the Rugged Red or the Mohican 100 or one of the Leadville Race Series events with an attitude that the organizers should make it as comfortable and safe for you as they possibly can then you’re probably going to leave with a feeling of disappointment and perhaps even disdain.  You don’t go to those events to be coddled and carried along the way.  You go to seek and find the stone foundation within you.
The organizers of races like these provide a crucible for those who are willing to take on the challenges that the organizers set up for them to overcome.  I’m not saying that justifies a poorly run event, but it kinda means there are going to be challenges to overcome.
You may get lost.  You may get tired.  Your muscles may cramp.  You might slip and fall, twist your ankle, get stung by bees, or even pass out from the sheer joy of yourself running under the hot sun.  It’s the feeling of uncertainty you get lined up at the start that make events like the Rugged Red so compelling.  If the outcome were known there would be no point in setting out on the journey.  There would be nothing to be learned; nothing to be gained. 
I continually referred to my experiences in training for and participating in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race as a journey.  That’s exactly what it was.  It was a spiritual and physical journey that took me from an uncertain antsy state of rest to a peace and calm and stillness that is hard to achieve without overcoming adversity to get there.  My running journey this past year has been very similar and as rewarding as my Leadville obsession.  In some ways it has been more satisfying. 
To be a Ruggedeer means you’ve accepted that life is hard and you are not afraid to face the path ahead.
To be a Ruggedeer means you will keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how hard the trail becomes.
To be a Ruggedeer is to tell the world that you can overcome anything between you and your goal.

To be a Ruggedeer is to have an unbridled spirit and an unquenchable desire to discover your inner strength.

This is where the course left Chimney Top Road for Rough Trail at mile 1.7

Alright, it's time to move on.  I'm going to go back into hiatus mode and try to focus my energies on getting my fourth draft of my book finished.  I'll throw a post or two your way from time to time, but I really have to get this thing finished so I can work on getting it published.

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