September 12, 2016

I suppose the shortest possible version of this ersatz race report is this: For all my talk about taking any kind of finish I could get, regardless of time, I definitely DNF'd.

The slightly amended version would note that, because the race is generous, I'm simply listed as a 50-mile finisher, because I did at least that much. But I will know that's not what I wanted, as will various others I've told.

I'm not as bothered about this as I perhaps ought to be, for reasons I'll attempt to expand upon, but also because my present concern is almost 100% allocated to the fact that my left ankle is pretty fucked. I care more about my ability to run daily, and race often, than to obtain any single result. And if I've compromised that for any significant length of time, I will be pretty unhappy.

But I am not altogether unhappy as I write this, ticking my left foot back and forth, typing along with the too-loud clicking of that tendon I can feel snapping about. There are several real-life circumstances that, as ever, highlight the frivolity of these manufactured adversities--running isn't life or death, and some things are--but for now I'll stick to the race.

The race was to be a 100-mile trail race but instead became a 100-mile road race that I quite midway. Half of that was my choice. The other half was the rain, and the existent policy for the trails, being in a state park, that no race gets to tear them apart for all potential users.

So we got the rain course: Four 25-mile loops, consisting of a 21/4 road/grass ratio.

I ran the first one in four hours, which was both stupid easy and (probably) stupid fast, given the circumstances. I ran the second in five hours, because the last 15 were basically on one leg. I really don't know what happened to the ankle. It was working until it wasn't, and I don't recall stepping on or in anything. I'm neither mad nor disappointing, so much as embarrassed.

That's not to be taken as a criticism of the local community, but precisely the opposite. Everyone--or as close as humanity allows--in the Lawrence/Kansas City (and broader midwest) trail/ultra scene is awesome, and has been for the five years I've been a part of it. Bombing in front of nice people who are encouraging you by name is worse than doing it anonymously.

And in longer races, I've made something of a habit of it. That's really just the reality, not self-deprecation. I'm very consistent from 5K to half marathon (relative to my slim talents); and against local competition, I'm usually pretty competitive. But, against many of the same people--and, generally speaking, the same regional level--I perform far less well. I've done 14 such races now, and would only suggest three of them went as planned/hoped--whether grading by time or place--so I don't think that can be considered a fluke.

What perplexes me about this is, I'm sort of the "volume guy", locally. I'm usually around 70 miles a week, and in the buildup to this 100, I had ten weeks over 90 miles, with a high of 123. You'd think that would be enough, and yet, it clearly didn't work. I say that because I'm not willing to chalk-up whatever happened to my ankle as a fluke. I didn't step in a hole or on a rock, and more often than not, injuries just come from fatigue exacerbating biomechanical weaknesses.

A casual evaluation would suggest I might have been better off deemphasizing overall volume, and hitting longer long runs. Maybe--probably--I don't pace well. (A four-hour first 25 of my planned first-ever 100 is objectively pretty stupid, after all.) Perhaps there's also something biomechanically "off" that simply doesn't hold up. Shit, maybe I'm secretly hording some sliver of extra intermediate fast-twitch fibers, and would be better off hammering intervals, focusing on 5Ks, and stretching to the odd half.

I don't know, which is ok, because I'm not fast enough to have any sponsors to lose anyway. I don't need to do anything but enjoy it. And I still--despite the last few paragraphs--mostly did.

I like this event and basically everyone associated with it a great deal. No matter how my day goes, it's hard for me to feel too bad about the whole endeavor. A lot of people did have great days, and I'm happy for them. The RD, given the circumstances, did a phenomenal job, as did the volunteers, who had to remark a course and set up new aid stations with less than a day's notice. I've been a part of this event since the first, in 2011, and each has been memorable and valuable to me. This last one will be also, even if I don't quite know how yet.

Still, maybe I should be angry. Maybe I'd train harder or better if I were. But I don't think that's a switch you can flip--and I wouldn't, even if I could. Of course I don't really know what I'll do now at all, besides spin on the stationary bike/elliptical until I can move my left foot in at least one direction without pain.

When that happens, I suspect my ambitions will focus on those shorter distance, which have been kinder to me in the past. Ticking down under 17 on a 5K in a couple months would feel good, hypothetically, and there's a trail 25K in November I'd like to run. Still, maybe I'll just go powerwalk a goddamn 100. But for now, mostly I'd like to run at all, hopefully in a few weeks.

I don't really have a very interesting conclusion to write regarding myself, which is probably for the best, as I should shift focus anyway:

Here are the people who got the 100 done. For now, I still don't know how anyone does it, from the guy who hammered it in 16:16, to the folks pushing 30. These portraits are one of the coolest things the race does, and I'm genuinely thrilled for everyone pictured here, in all their exhausted, filthy glory.

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