Friday, January 27, 2012

Nothing Goes As Planned

I'm on day two of my second cold this year. The first was a nasty, but thankfully short-lived stomach bug. The second is a typical head cold: it started with a sore throat, moved on to a stuffy nose, and if this one is like any other head cold I've gotten in the past few years, stage three will be a lingering cough. My three days of illness mean that I've been sick for over 10% of 2012. Awesome.

This early in the season it's relatively easy to absorb a few sick days without it having much impact on my training schedule. I'm only trying to run 25 miles/week this month, so training is relatively mellow. I just hate being sick. It makes me cranky and apathetic.

Last year it seemed like I was battling colds the entire spring. It put a significant dent in my miles. The worst was a head cold I got the week before the Sage Burner 50K. I had dreamed of setting a PR on the course, but it seemed like life had other plans. I remember my ears completely clogging up due to the pressure change of driving down to Gunnison from Leadville. (You can't leave Leadville without descending, and when your sinuses are clogged the increased air pressure of lower elevations is surprisingly painful.) I set up camp near the starting line and tossed and turned restlessly under the stars throughout the night. In the morning, I felt terrible. No improvement: a slight headache, clogged sinuses, a cough... ugh. I seriously questioned why I was there. It was so frustrating! The weather was absolutely beautiful. Everyone at the starting line was bursting with energy. And there I was: sick, lethargic, and feeling sorry for myself. This was not what I had planned.

Well, I had driven all the way down there, I might as well try to run and see how I feel. Perhaps I could downgrade to the 25K halfway through the race, if necessary? I positioned myself dead last in the pack and started plodding up the first gnarly uphill of the course. I told myself to imagine that this was the final 31 miles of a 100 miler. Slow and steady... Pay attention to hydration and nutrition... As I crested the hill I set off through the sage at a blistering 12:30 min/mi pace.

As it turned out, the Sage Burner 50K was probably the race I felt most proud of last year. No, I didn't set a PR, but I only ran it about 10 minutes slower than I did when I was completely healthy (and better trained) in '10. Taking it easy allowed me to focus on my fueling, which helped keep my energy level consistent throughout the race-- not great, just consistent. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other-- walking every uphill, and jogging the downhills and flats. I methodically consumed 300 calories and 20oz of water every hour. Soon I started reeling a few folks in. I began smiling at the aid station volunteers and jokingly shouted "Negative split, dude! Negative split!" I had started the race running so conservatively that a negative split was a distinct possibility. I don't think a single runner passed me during the entire race.

In my depleted state, there was no way I would've been able to finish that race in '10. In '10 it was the first time I had run farther than 25 miles. When I ran it again in '11 I had a year's worth of ultrarunning experience to draw from. A 50K was no longer intimidating. And my experience-- certainly not my speed!-- carried me to finish. Run smart, not fast. It was as if my cold had freed me from ambition. I gave up any desire to go out fast and set a PR. I was happy to simply be moving forward. Sometimes running slower means you ultimately run faster.

Enlightenment through illness.

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