2016 January 16
As the first racing effort of the year approached, I was anxious to test my fitness against recent
adjustments to training and nutrition. Taking a more disciplined approach to running this year, I am
aiming at longer runs, more days of rest, and fewer racing efforts overall. In the first seven training
runs of 2016 I clocked 112 miles between a 9- and 12-minute pace, with three solid training runs of
20 miles or more during the first 11 days of the year. Resilient recoveries indicated I was ready to
race, at least for three times 20 miles. Beyond that, I would find out. At my stage of experience,
there is no way I can train enough to race 100 miles comfortably. At some point I know things will
break down and I'll have to resort to running in survival mode. While the suffering is tolerable I
always question the value of going the entire distance at the cost of breaking my body down too
much. The hundred is always a juggling act, and I generally opt to save myself the misery and
subsequent down time from destructive running just to finishing the race. My unquestionable
priority in racing continues to be longevity at the expense of questionable glory and accumulating
more swag. I race for personal satisfaction and not to have something to post on FaceBook. I
love to run; when it is no longer fun, I stop.
So after driving the nine hours to the race venue north of Tampa and picking up my bib number I
slept in the car as best as I could before a 0500 wakeup to be on time for the reasonable 0700
daybreak start. I ran in this race before in 2012, so was familiar with the landscape. It is a fairly
straightforward one-hundred mile race and the people are friendly; I returned for the mild weather,
forecast to be sunny between 55 and 75 degrees before a nasty rainstorm moved in after dark.
After seeing Jackie Ong and meeting her brother Julius, who she would be pacing, at the starting
line, the race set off to a gentle sunrise over the Cypress Creek Preserve.
The mood and tempo were light as we found our places in the small field during the first half mile
on a bike path. Conversation is always good at the outset and kept me entertained for a quick
first lap of 20 miles in 3H 35M. My aim was to conclude 40 miles in under 8 hours and hit 60 miles
by 13 hours. My estimate of running fitness was spot on as I hit both objectives. If I was good
after 60 miles the objective was just to hold on for the rest if I continued.
The single track through the pines and palmettos was grassy and sandy but not wet for the most
part. Wild pigs had dug up the trail enough that it was far from smooth and predictable. Fatigue
on the legs from mild adjustments to surface variations made the effort more challenging, but at
least there weren't many roots to trip over. The running was easy for the most part, and
enjoyable. As temps rose the second lap became warm - for everyone. I slowed to accommodate
what felt like 80 degrees in direct sunshine, running without a shirt for more than a lap. As the
race passed three o'clock in th afternoon temps went back down to a comfortable level.
After forty miles everyone slows some. I didn't lose much ground, but I did take a lot longer at
the aid stations, enjoying the exchange with volunteers and support folks. A loop course cuts into
my attitude with time and I was losing my focus. Legs were good. Feet were good. Left knee
was starting to talk to me. And my lower back was tight and painful. The Red Bull I chugged at
45 miles really boosted my attitude, leading me to suspect that loss of attitude may be related
to chemical imbalance achieved during these long runs. In retrospective analysis, the race becomes
more introspective and less social as it proceeds, leaving me struggling for entertainment or
distraction. I wasn't suffering, just losing my interest in the enterprise.
After the sun set the landscape turns into the night country. For some, personal fears serve to
entertain or distract. For me, the sound of different hoot owls, an armadillo scurrying across the
trail to escape getting stepped on, the ominous color of the sky from an approaching storm, and
unseen creatures that move in the brush along the trail were highlights. Approaching sixty miles
I stumbled on a root that I kicked so hard that I re-injured a broken or cracked big toe. Every step
thereafter was painful. Compensating to protect the injury only exascerbated other overworked
tissues, like my knee and back. Injuries, which I've had a lot of, leave you to continue with
compromised efficiency and increased pain if you want to finish. To hobble another forty miles
did not seem inviting. After trying to run and walking for another three miles on both pavement
and single track I concluded that to continue just to get a finish was not worth it, so I stopped.
Before I stopped, I came across the first coral snake I have ever seen, warming itself on the warm
pavement of the bike path. While these little critters are nasty venimous, it is hard for them to
bite folks, as are the pygmy rattlers of the swampy areas of the south. While running around
poisonous reptiles generally unnerves me I wasn't too worried about getting bit.
The storm that moved in soaked everyone, but wasn't too bad with temps on the mid sixties. It
did generate tornados near Tampa that killed two people unfortunately, so it was still something
to be reckoned with. I had no regrets in stopping, once again. My knee was more sore than my
toe the following day; each will keep me grounded for awhile yet before I can return to running.
It was an enjoyable day. The weather was exactly what I had hoped for, the people were just
friendly and nice, and I ran up to expectations for 60 miles, giving me confidence that I am
preparing properly with my training. With a month until the next challenge, I am anxious to heal
and get back out there to keep my momentum and uplook intact.