Saturday, June 2, 2012

You Never Forget Your First

I've come full circle in running this year; hard to believe its been a year since my very first 10 km race! Oddly, it didn't come with a medal but I still have my first race bib and a t-shirt to prove I ran it and finished it.

The Sulphur Spring Trail Race will always have a special place in my heart! It was an event of firsts - first time I ran a race, first time I watched and crewed Scott and Ken, first time I met my friend MaryLou (who is inspirational to me), and first time I watched the camaraderie of the ultra marathon community. As long as this race exists, I plan on participating one way or another every year!

This year I chose to do the 25 km race. Not unlike the Chocolate Race last month I didn't have high expectations of myself. I hadn't trained much at all and the week leading up to the race was bad for sleep, bad for water intake, and I was getting over a very bad chest cold.  All in all, not a good set up for success. But as I kept reminding myself...a) I paid for it b) it was the 20th anniversary of the race this year and they were giving medals to everyone and I really, really wanted one c) even if I walked the whole race, I was still going to finish it!

If there was a time where the weather did a complete 180 degree switch, it was for this race. Last year's race was cool, foggy, and very wet and muddy. It was NOT a pleasant experience. This year however, was hot and sunny and the trails were so dry that it was like pounding the pavement in many areas. I still prefer the hot and sunny to the cool and wet conditions though. This is when I really appreciate trail running though - even if its hot and sunny, the canopy of the trees and bushes do protect you from the constant onslaught of the sun.

The race takes place in the beautiful forested Dundas Conservation Area in Ancaster, ON (just north of Hamilton). I'm going to try and go back this year and do a very slow run (ok, slower than even what I normally do or hiking at a brisk pace) and actually stop to take in the scenery. There were many times I'd slow down because the ravines or meadows were just breathtaking and then I'd remember to get my ass in gear because I was in the middle of a race! (Hello? McFly!!??)

The 100 and 50 milers (which was everyone else in our group BUT me) started their race at 6 a.m. It was good to get out early before the heat got to be too much. The 25 and 50 km race started at 7:30 a.m. and I was so glad for this because I was pretty much a walking idiot trying to help Scott get ready, never mind me. Once I was alone, I was able to try and collect myself and worry about what I needed. Needless to say, I still forgot to bring salt and Advil but I was able to get my shoes on, laced up, handhelds ready, and my bib pinned on.

When the race finally began, I was at the back of the pack with every intention of just hanging back and letting the fast people out first. I must say, this was the easiest part of the race as it seems everyone was faster than me! I saw Scott and Lisa coming in the other direction during my 5 km spur, near the halfway point, and apparently Lisa commented to Scott that I didn't look too comfortable. I never look comfortable. My face goes beat red every time I run, I sweat profusely and it takes 2.5-3 kms before I stop questioning why I do this to myself and find some sort of rhythm!

I did something smart again during this race - I found someone who was running at a comfortable pace and I fell in behind them. I'm sure she wasn't too impressed with the feeling of being followed but it helped me enormously. I still have a hard time finding a pace for myself but I've found that if I can follow someone, I can pick up their pace and keep going myself. This worked for quite a bit of the race actually. There were times that I'd pass this other racer because she'd stop at an aid station or she'd pull ahead of me because I'd have to stop to walk up a hill but somehow I'd still be able to meet up with her after 10 or 15 mins.

By the 15-17th km I was feeling pretty good about the race. I was comfortable, I hadn't stopped much to walk,and I wasn't stopping at aid stations except to grab some Heed as I went by. And then it happened. I walked up a rather steep hill and started to run down the other side. All I could feel was a sudden crunch in my knee and I knew my IT band issue was back (or so I thought). I chose to ignore it for awhile but it didn't take long before every downhill was filled with excruciating pain. Eventually, I was forced to walk. I was able to jog every now and then through some very flat parts but even that hurt. Man, was I pissed off! I honestly felt like I had been running my first really strong race and then to experience an injury like that set me off into a spiral of "I hate running", "I'm going to pull myself out", "I'm never doing this again". It wasn't pretty.

I had to get my head out of my brain. Luckily, I brought my MP3 with me on the run, turned on my '80's rock playlist, set the volume a lot louder than I should and let Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Heart drown out the self-deprecating comments.  Of course, this also helped me get into a good walking pace.

Just over 3 1/2 hours after the race began, I finished. I crossed that damn finish line. I'm pretty sure I jogged across it smiling but I can't honestly remember. I got my medal, grabbed a water bottle, and went to sit in the shade. It wasn't the way I wanted to run the race or finish but I did finish it. In the end I realized that I must have been running at a strong pace until my IT incident. Which gives me faith that I'm getting stronger and better and motivates me to keep trying.

Will I run the 50 km race next year at Sulphur? Who knows! I swore to myself last year that I'd never do anything longer than a 10 km race....

And on a side note - apparently, my IT Band issue has nothing to do with my IT band being injured. My lower back is the problem and its putting strain and pain on my IT Band. I'm hoping that the physio I'm doing with the new sets of stretches I have to do everyday will help solve some of these running problems.