Today, everything is different.
The sun shines brighter, the air a little crisper, and the morning recovery run a whole lot easier.
I didn’t win, place, or break the top 10.
In fact, as the 34th finisher out of 61 runners, I didn’t even crack the top 50%.
But, considering that four months ago I was lying horizontal, in a horribly uncomfortable hospital bed, with a tube stuck in my gut, draining “Arthur juice” out of my liver while jacked up on Oxycontin, Oxycodone and mainlined Dilaudid, and wondering if I’d live to $%^%! crawl again, I’m pretty damn happy.
Breaking All the Rules
You aren’t supposed to come to Laurel Valley if you don’t feel fit and ready.
It’s not your typical ultramarathon.
There aren’t aid station tables every six miles full of M&Ms and gummy bears.
There are no smiling volunteers taking your bottles, telling you how great you look, and offering a plethora of hydration choices while you rub cold potatoes in salt and mumble appreciation.
There are no pre-race coffee stands, no sponsor tents, nor porta-potties.
Just a bunch of nervous gristled ol’ runners who like it this way, self-supported and standing in the dark at the trailhead in Rocky Bottom, waiting for a simple “GO!”, before heading off into the foothills for yet another day of memorable experiences in the deep dark woods.
You eat what you brought, you drink from many water sources, and you pray each time that you won’t get “Laurel Valley Liquid Belly” for two weeks afterwards.
With all I have been through, and the current training times I was posting, I wasn’t sure if I was ready.
Other people weren’t sure I was ready.
That should have been enough for me to skip Laurel Valley this year – but I just couldn’t do it – The race means a lot to me, I’ve done it five years in a row, and as cheesy as it sounds, this is where I always, ALWAYS, get to connect with my deceased grandmother spiritually.
Sitting in the Horsepasture river at mile 19 with the loud-mouth, shaved-head, freshly-tattooed Mad Mexican, good ol’ grandma showed up for a visit as her usual butterfly self. As I ran solo for the next 13 miles, she showed up for more visits; and as I made my way along that awful Bad Creek section, she showed up for a visit, only this time as a horse-fly to get my butt moving.
My grandmother was always a supportive lady, just never a patient one.
What Did I Learn?
I’ve written 5 race reports about this event over the years, as slow as 12:14 as a sweep, to a 7:40 5th place finish in 2010, so I won’t subject readers to yet another rehashing of the course. I’ll just summarize by saying that it’s hard, with tons of climbing, and is known as feeling more like a 50-miler, than a really long 50K; but, with all that comes some of the most varied and beautiful terrain that is just as much spooky as it is beautiful.
Here are some of the ah-ha moments I had as I made my way through the 10-hour course:
Yup, they help like crazy. Even though I already knew this from the UTMB race in Europe, my poles broke descending in the Alps, so I didn’t get a long time with them. I don’t think they help me climb faster, but instead more consistent throughout the race. I did end up with cramping triceps late in the race, but some stretching and S-Caps usually took that away quickly.
Man, I hate that I love my Hokas so much. I am so proud of the whole minimal runner thing and my usual choice in footwear, but there is no denying the leg-saving benefit of the Hokas. I was a little sore for 24 hours after the race, but today, two days later, I feel like a million bucks.
Slow Changes the Experience
I really enjoyed the race this year because I rarely found myself in any kind of state of suffering. That’s impossible when you are truly racing, but when you are simply out for a great run in the mountains, you see and experience a whole lot more things. During the miles I ran with the Mad Mex, we stopped to take photos, sat in various creeks along the way, and talked enough smack to make Howard Stern wiggle uncomfortably.
Babette is a Great Volunteer
My wife volunteered at the finish and she took photos of just about every finishing runner. She followed finishers around getting them drinks and making turkey sandwiches and finding chairs for them to sit in – it was awesome to watch her. On the way home she kept saying how much fun volunteering is and I was both inspired and humbled by her satisfaction at doing for others. My wife is a pretty great lady.
Gotta Do A Mad Mex Shout-out
Lastly, something happened out there that I can’t let go without a mention. It was sorta intense, but at the time, we blew it off and kept moving, but it bears mention because it could have been really bad.
As the Mad Mexican and I descended a particularly steep and slippery section, with him in front and me behind, I had a momentary loss of equilibrium, tripped, and slid down a rock face with enormous momentum. The fall flipped me over, and while I was grabbing for trees and rocks along the way down, I couldn’t grab anything and I started barreling down quickly, scared sh*tless…
Then I just stopped.
The Mad Mexican had reached out, almost losing balance himself, and grabbed me at the last second by the arm.
I’m a beefy 200 lb man, and I was sliding down that rock face with a lot of freaky speed, and for him to grab me and stop my fall in mid-slide took a lot of strength.
Say what you will about strength-training for runners and whether or not its necessary for endurance athletes, but I’m damn glad my boy V-dub Mad Mexican is a Crossfit junkie, cuz his lightening fast reaction coupled with humbling strength, saved me from a very, very bad fall, into a very remote part of nowehere.
So, thanks V-dub. I just wanted you to know I knew what happened out there, recognize it for what it was, but was in a little bit’a too much shock to acknowledge it at that moment.
Thanks fo’ looking out.