Overhurt, Undertrained, and Over Here
In ways beyond the scope of this blog, 2019 has been one tough year. Every day has seemed to bring with it another challenge that has left me in a place where nothing’s shocking.
Low on the list of problems has been a spate of running injuries. In January, I broke my broke my arm on the ice at Highbanks Metro Park. Three weeks ago, I pulled my hamstring in an ill-intended effort to burn off anxiety. Last week, I turned my ankle when I stepped on a large rock. With all of these injuries combined, I am greatly undertrained and about 150 miles behind pace on my goal of running 2,019 miles this year.
Before all of this, I registered for the Big Turtle 50 in Morehead, Kentucky. In a rare moment of wisdom, I changed my registration from the 50 mile to the 50 kilometer run. Even so, it was not until Thursday that my physical therapist gave me permission to go. She made me promise that I would stop if I felt pain in my hamstring, not that everyone doesn’t feel pain in an ultramarathon. However, I went in to the run planning to walk the uphills and run the downhills to protect my hamstring. I just didn’t realize how many hills there were.
The run began at Morehead State University and traveled an out-and-back trail through the Daniel Boone State Forest. I looked at the elevation profile before the race but greatly underestimated the steepness of the hills. According to my Garmin, the run included 3,700 feet of elevation gain. Making it even more fun, a week of rain turned the steep slopes in to mud slides. Add 200 runners on to the trail, and significant portions of the trail were completely unrunnable (at least for my skill set).
Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day in the forest. The weather was perfect and the trail adorned with purple, blooming flowers and yellow butterflies. Hard climbs resulted in magnificent views. The winding trail led runners to wade across streams dozens of times. Yet the course was really well marked. In 31 miles I never got lost once, with a couple of saves from the runners around me.
As the Possum adage says, “if you haven’t made a new friend you are doing it wrong”. I ran the first seven miles with a pack of 4-5 runners, including a Baptist preacher
and two women with matching compression socks. A handful of Possums ran offering words of encouragement and a mid-run save with the assistance of a foam roller. Aid station volunteers were phenomenal. At mile 26 the aid station cheered for me like I was Scott Jurek setting a course record, not like the gimpy middle aged man near the back of the pack I was.
After one last climb and one long zigzag down the switch back trails, I was back on the campus and soon across the finish line. While I finished with the slowest pace I have ever run in any race, in many ways completing the Big Turtle is one of the greatest accomplishments. I successfully managed a series of injuries and one tough trail. My nutrition and hydration were on point for a day that started cool and got rather warm. In ideal circumstances, I would have trained better for steep hill climbs and descents. But, life has been far from ideal. Yet we keep putting one foot in front of the other with relentless forward progress.