#57: Battle-scars, Bests and Beer-chasers . Red-emption in Rehoboth?

“Why do you do this stuff to us? All we do is work and THIS is how you repay us? What good could possibly come of it?”  

Actually, it was the R

Pain has a funny way of making you think doesn’t it?  As I sit here “the morning after” marathon doing a little body-inventory, I imagine that if I could translate, into actual words, the message being sent from my right hip & friends to my brain, it would go a little something like that……from the ground up: a body that includes a sore foot, two tight legs (from achilles through hamstrings and quads), a hip that battled despite being a something-less-than ready and is now dealing with after-effects of a long day, and, well, a few other “sensitive” areas that don’t do well with friction.

Truth is, I love competing.  It’s really that simple.  I love games and figuring out the best way to play.  People that have known me for a while can attest that I used to love winning above all else…….it is no-doubt fun and exhilarating….and although I still pretty much hate out-right losing, it’s really become about the spirit of games & competition for me…..working your hardest….battling through something challenging and coming out on the other side…..all while learning enough to do it again, even better next time.

This week the Red-emption tour made its final stop for 2011 with a quick trip to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to put the final touches on the longest season of my (now 3 year old) endurance-racing career.  It was time to test myself against a race-distance that has, so far, gotten the best of me.  So after a busy week, and a couple of false starts, we got on the road and headed 4-ish hours south to a beach town in December.  


A Small Saturday Race…..

A Small-Saturday race has its benefits….most of the “big” races, where thousands of people flock to the event, are completed on Sunday.  Presumably this is to give people enough time to get there, pick-up their packet(s) and prepare.  For this race, we got down there with only enough time to unpack, set out the gear for the AM and go to bed.  As I was finishing up for the evening, I remarked to Lindsay how “full” my legs looked…..the result of carbo-loading and hydration………they weren’t swollen, but they looked downright thick……this would play out as an important detail later.

We stayed 2 blocks from the start/finish so I was able to wake-up, fuel, prep a little and head down to the starting line to check-in and ready myself. And after several weeks of planning and prep, I felt ready enough; I knew the right hip wasn’t 100%, but I had treated it well in the last 3 weeks (hopefully well enough) and expected to get a decent push from it

A crowd of 700-ish assembled around the quaint little “bandstand” at literally the end of the main drag through town and with a “ready, set, go” we were off.  Within 30 seconds I saw Lindsay and the kids yelling and screaming and thought that I probably wouldn’t be feeling quite as good the next time I saw them.  As I came around the first turn (1/2 mile or so out) I looked to my right and there was Brian, a local guy who although older than me, is an accomplished endurance athlete and a guy who has a competitive streak. I’ve done some training runs with him and ultimately he was the guy who turned me on to this race so it was good to see him.  I was looking for him at the start and couldn’t find him and there he was, standing next to me.  We talked a little bit about our plan for the day and we agreed that we’d probably separate around mile 4-ish.

As we got out of the first neighborhood and were running parallel with the beach, I felt the wind for the first time…..I pretty much hate wind because of the tricks it can play…..but I figured we’d experience some….it being a shore-race and all.


At the controls…

I once read an article that referred to an interview with Lance Armstrong at the height of his cycling career.  The interviewer asked “what do you think about during the race?”….his response was simple “I think about cycling”.  They say the best endurance racers in the world are constantly in tune with their bodies and like a pilot, making small adjustments along the way, and this was part of my plan for the race.  I wanted to not place all of the focus on my pace, but rather try to tune in to how I was feeling, and run a smart race……

Well, by mile two, I could already feel the hip a little…..hmm…..not good I thought…..but not painful either…..just going to have to manage it.  Shortly thereafter my focus switched from how my hip felt to how full my bladder felt……and by mile 3-ish, I was wishing Brian well as I stopped to go……this was frustrating for me b/c it signaled that I still haven’t figured out the right hydration plan……this time, over-compensating.  Thinking back, I wish I hit my lap timer to see how much time that little break cost me, but it was time to get back in the mix….now about 10 sec per mile behind pace.  In my head I figured that if I could get myself back to goal pace by mile 10, push the pace a little through mile 20 and then slowly empty the tank (assuming the hip was still playing along) over the last 10K I could still meet my goal of 3:17…..and things went about as I expected……..for a while.

The wind was picking up between mile 7 and mile 13 enough to see it in my pace some and make me happy that I wore a skull cap, arm-sleeves and gloves despite it being 40-ish degrees, but I wondered if perhaps I should have worn something to protect my chest…..as it turned out, it wasn’t my chest (per se) that needed the protection…..but I was feeling pretty strong and cruising along.  By the 1/2 marathon mark I had just about made up the time I lost and the hip pain had only marginally increased, so I figured things were on track.  We entered a park where the only real “hills” of the course existed and briefly the wind died……it was great.  It was also amazing to see what that did to my pace…..like running downhill…..a significant drop in effort.  Somewhere around mile 17 I started to feel the bladder AGAIN…..which was really annoying to me and at the mile 19 water-station I jumped into the porta-john to AGAIN relieve myself (of the precious seconds I had worked hard to achieve and likely my goal)……but when you gotta go….you gotta go.

As I started back up I got a zap of pain down the right leg reminding me not to push too hard to get those seconds back.  It slowly loosened up and by mile 20 I was feeling decent……I took some calories in and refocused for my last 10K.  I slowly picked up the pace b/c I wasn’t quite ready to give up on the goal……by 21 I was hanging in there but despite my efforts, it seemed the 2 porta john breaks and the extra effort to make-up time against a windy day were going to factor in…..by 22 the hip started barking louder and by mile 23 it was hurting so much that I had to stop and stretch to see if anything would give.

For me, this is where the battle really began.  The wheels were starting to fall off, the pain was building and the stretch felt soooo good.  Wouldn’t it be great to just linger there for a little while?  Nope….can’t do it…..so I got going…..the stretch helped A BUNCH……but only for about a mile……by 24 I was hurting again and it was time to gut it out.

Looking back, I wonder if there was another way to get through this section…..perhaps I should have stopped and stretched again…..but at that point, I just wanted to finish.


Getting “Old Schooled”

Wisdom from experience? If you live thru it.

Brian, who I hadn’t seen since one of the turns around mile 18 was still chugging along. He is a part of an informal bunch that I’ve done some training runs with and although they are all very good runners with some serious racing results under their belts, who, despite it not being the case…..like to joke about how “old they are” in comparison to Eric and I.

Somewhere around mile 25+ when I was rapidly declining, I heard “c’mon Mike, we’ve still got 3:20 if we hurry”.  Oh how I wished I could hurry at that point……not in the cards….I was barely maintaining at that point.  “You are an F-ing animal…..hip isn’t doing well…..go for it” I said…..I just didn’t have it.  I laughed a little to myself realizing how impressed I was with him…..he kept a steady pace throughout and it was paying off….he was going to meet his goal……and I wasn’t.  I was happy for him and (a bit to my surprise) for myself….I had just been taught another valuable (albeit humbling in the moment) lesson about endurance racing…..a lesson that can ONLY be learned during those trying moments…..when you feel like your goals are slipping away……today’s lesson: youth is a shrinking lever, but experience can continue to grow…..

As I rounded the final turn and tried to muster up some pace…..I got to the mile 26 marker and knew that I would be hearing a familiar sound soon…..and there it was…..the loud yell and scream of my family standing near the finish.  I knew that I had crushed my previous time and was flooded with emotions (pain + relief + happiness + let-down is a weird brew). I crossed the finish line and Brian, who crossed about 45 seconds ahead of me was there with a congrats as my kids gave me a big hug……26 minutes and 50 seconds off my previous best……3 minutes and 10 seconds slower than goal, but still a solid effort.  Knowing that I didn’t race 100%, I knew that I should be happy, and I was, but not satisfied…..I wondered how much I lost during my multiple pee-breaks and stretch break…..wondered what would’ve happened had I been more patient and steady…..wondered what could’ve happened if I was healthy during training…….and knowing that I wouldn’t have long before the pain and stiffness set in, we walked to the hotel for a much needed shower.


Simple Formula: Salt from evaporated sweat + chilly wind + friction for hours = ROOKIE MISTAKE!

“Your legs look different now” Lindsay remarked…..they did, all of the swollen, glycogen-packed muscles were now depleted back to a normal level…..and then “ooh….ouch” as she pointed to my shirt.  “What?” I asked, looking down to notice the rookie mistake of all rookie mistakes……the true mark of a warrior-marathoner…..a spot of blood about chest high, about the size of a quarter……so, either a sniper shot me and I hadn’t realized it, or well, friction got the better of me….

More “experience-based learning”

“OOOOOH NOOOOO!”  I said  “That’s going to KILL in the shower”.  The worst part about it was that I specifically thought about this prior to the race but since I didn’t bring any band-aids I extra “lubed”……..

A few hours later and after a DogFishHead Brewpub visit for some post race grub we were back on the road headed North. 


Where do we go from here?

Happily, I’m not at ALL burned out, which I’ve felt after completing a race before……sore?  YES, but not burned out.  By that time, I was already thinking about how much more room there is for me to improve.

I got home and caught some of the NBCSports presentation of IronMan World Championships from Kona.  So awesome……and even though I sat there sore and stiff, as I watched the story of Craig Alexander and Chrissie Wellington as well as all of the other amazing age-groupers who qualified, I wanted to get started right away on improving……so I can continue taking steps toward qualifying….but that’s not going to work quite yet is it?

Next steps are to take some time off and get healthy……a little recovery before the next leap forward.

Red-emption tour complete for 2011.

Happy for the improvement, but not yet satisfied.

More to come,

Mike E.

Still in the queue?  RED-iculous