Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DV footrace pt II

Friday afternoon, after the bikeride, I saw a couple of park employees putting up yellow caution tape around several campsites. I asked them what was up.

“The rain will make these sites unsafe” they said.

“How about my site?” I asked, gesturing to the site next-door where my tent was set up.

“That site is already occupied.” They replied, as if that rendered it safer.

I was not very comforted knowing that what kept my site from being condemned was simply that I had reserved it over the internet.

The pre-race night it rained a light soaking rain. By the morning the moisture had soaked mostly in. There were a few puddles. One could avoid most of the mud.

I was really too nervous to care about a little mud. I woke an hour earlier than I had planned and dawdled as slowly as I could. There was espresso to be made, two pots. Breakfast required elaborate orange pealing rituals.

Finally I began going over my pre-race checklist.

  Hat? Check.
  Funny spandex shirt? Check.
  Spandex shorts? Commando? Check. Check.
  Funny shoes with bright purple socks? Check.
  Greased armpits and feet? Check.
  Vaseline on my thighs? Check.
  Bandaged nipples? Check.

I could have been getting ready for a very interesting party.

By the time I left the campsite, I knew that I would be wearing the VFF for the run. They are quite comfortable. With the Injinji socks they are toasty and comforting. The fact that the Injinjis were lilac colored was psychologically comforting as well.

The VFF have worked well on all the trail runs I had done up to that point. The only downside to using them at all occured only on paved surfaces. On the hard roads I would occasionally encounter a piece of quail-egg-sized gravel that would uncomfortably poke my foot through the flexible VFF sole. I had run on trails paved entirely in quail-egg gravel with no problem. The reason the paved roads caused the gravel to be a problem was because the gravel was immovable when sitting on the paved surface. On a gravel surface the stone would shift when stepped upon. On the paved surface the gravel would slam into the sole of the foot with the full force of the foot strike. This hurt.

I was nervous enough to need to pee something like 27 times. I began thinking that the people I kept running into at the restrooms would think I was stalking them. Then it occurred to me that they must have needed to pee almost 27 times for me to keep running into them in the restroom. At worst they would think I was just some old guy with a wandering bladder, not a pre-dawn toilet stalker.

I liked the attention that I got for the VFF. “Are you really running in those?”. “How do those work for you?” I must have burnt through a couple of my fifteen minutes of fame on that race morning. There was a younger fellow who was also running in a pair of VFF. I was more approachable and he looked a little jealous. I think the purple socks helped me. How can you not be drawn to talk with a white-haired man in lilac socks?

The pre-race pep-talk was given by a man with a largish belly who was apparently the race organizer. He told a few jokes and appeared generally affable. He pulled a woman from the crowd of racers who had run 238 marathons and had just two days before gotten married in Vegas. She stood on a stone fence and sang “America the Beautiful”. She beamed like a person with a super-power and there was an increase in energy for the crowd. I was getting more nervous and realized that I had to pee again.

I noticed a couple dressed in cycling vests that said Fatcyclist.com on them. Looking closer I realized that the male was none other than Elden Nelson who blogs as Fatcyclist. His wife passed away last august after a protracted battle with cancer. Some of his posts on dealing with the trauma are as touching and heartfelt as any I have ever read on cancer survivorship. It was nice to see him out obviously comfortable in the company of a woman. Since he is a Utah Mormon she is probably the first woman he has dated and they are probably already engaged to be married [He posted about his engagement now...wish them the best].

When the race started I immediately realized three things:

   1) The weather was perfect for running
   2) I was stronger than I had suspected
   3) It was the worst road surface for the VFF ever.

The road base was some hardened mixture of mud and salt. It was as hard as concrete. Over this base they had deliberately spread quail-egg gravel. The first several miles were like this. After a couple of steps my feet hurt. After a few more they hurt tremendously.

Several people began conversations with me like ”How are those working for you?”.

I had too much pride to say “I hurt...please carry me?”

Instead I said “So far so good”.

I think that my limping with both feet gait gave away my discomfort. I began darting around, trying to avoid the bigger or more jagged stones. Eventually the pain fused into a general discomfort.

“Only 18.5 more miles to go.” I told myself.

In the initially shock and pain I forgot to set my GPS when I crossed the start. Since I started a bit to the back I’m sure it took me at least 30 seconds to cross the start.

I actually kept a steady (but very slow) pace up through the turn around and a good bit of the way back. My legs were so tense after wincing in pain several thousand times that my knee started to act up at around mile 12. I was worried that I would have to drop out. I slowed to a walk for a tenth of a mile and the knee loosened up. It was not injury; it was just a response to my ungainly foot-pain running style. I would have to walk out the knee a couple more times, but I knew I would finish.

Since I knew I would finish I made up my mind to tackle my sub 4 hour goal. I kept my pace slow enough to minimize the pain and fast enough to make up for my walks. By the time I hit the final couple of quail-egg hell miles I think my feet were numb from abuse. In the last mile I targeted another racer ahead of me.  I pathetically limp-ran past her in the last tenth of a mile.

I heroically stubled in to the finish line with, by my GPS, several minutes to spare. Then the official timer gave my time as 4:00:03. Remember that I had forgotten to set my GPS correctly at the start? I guess I had forgotten that in the last miles. Four official seconds off my goal!

Since no-one really cares about the official times of those who finish in the last 10% of the race I am going to claim the few seconds it took me to get to the start and proclaim success in my time goal. Success!

And that woman I passed in the last tenth of a mile? She would finish 98th out of 103 30K finishers. This put me in the top 95% of the racers and allowed me to claim goal 2. So, success, and success!

I went back to the finish and cheered some of the runners (mostly full marathon) in. I saw Nelson and his woman friend cross and yelled “Good one Fatty, way to go Fatty, now sprint to the finish”. He looked around all pleased at the individualized attention, but did not sprint in.

One woman almost caught a very worn looking opponent in the last hundred feet. Those end-stage slow motion marathon sprint contests are my favorite. There is something about seeing someone who has given all they have finding a tad more for an end-sprint that makes it look like anything is possible in this world.

I had a very hard time getting up and taking the bus back to furnace creek. The other VFF runner (who did the full marathon) rode the same bus back as I did. I asked him how it went with his VFF. “I finished” he said dejectedly. When I finally took off the VFF there were purple bruises on the bottoms of my feet. Ow.

When I got back to the tent for a nap it rained. Eventually the raining would become more important than the blossoming bruises on my feet.

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