Sunday, February 17, 2008
2008 Sylamore 50K Trail Run Race Report
This weekend I headed down to Mountain View, Arkansas with fellow SLUGs Gena Bonini, Jeremy Bolt and Sara Kniffen to run the Sylamore Trail 50K Run. I first met Jeremy while running Berryman last year, met Gena for the first time down at Arkansas Traveller and have “run” into Sara a few times at races (plus we went to Parkway South High School together, but that was ages ago). Since then, Jeremy, Gena and I have gotten together a few times for group runs out at Green-Rock and Chubb so we already knew each other pretty well and I was really looking forward to our road trip adventure down south.
The ride down was a lot of fun as we swapped stories about life, our experiences and running while Gena treated us to some of her favorite songs by the Old Crow Medicine Show. All three of them are really great people; very positive, energetic, philosophical and fun so our conversations ranged from sharp witted humor to more serious subjects, a great mix for the 10 total hours we spent together on the road. We arrived in Mountain View around 7:00 pm, picked up our race packets at Angler’s Resort and had a great dinner before checking into our motel down the road. Due to the recent tornadoes that hit the area, FEMA had taken over all of the rooms at Angler’s so our reservations had been moved to a motel about 5 miles up the road. This caused a bit of confusion for the young lady working at the motel but Jeremy helped us sort it out and we got settled into our rooms to rest up for the race. Before turning in I began reading my new book, Swimming to Antarctica, which I bought some time ago but until now had been collecting dust on the shelf. I don’t swim and didn’t really think I would enjoy it but as I got into it I was fascinated by the author’s drive, determination and mental strength. She completely dedicated herself to the sport of endurance swimming and trained to push past the limits of fatigue and exhaustion actually becoming stronger with each passing mile. I could really relate and drew inspiration from her stories of dedication to a sport most people couldn’t understand or comprehend.
Gena awoke early Saturday morning and let me sleep in until the last possible minute, “Carey, time to get up, it’s 5:45.” “OK, OK,” I replied as I slowly began preparing myself for the day ahead. Gena went to the front desk to grab coffee and as she returned along with Jeremy and Sara they filled me in on the weather, “It’s not that cold but it may get colder later in the day, plus it might rain,” to which I responded, “No way it’ll get colder and it’s not supposed to rain until long after the race is over. I’m sticking with my shorts and no jacket but you guys do what you want.” As we drove to the start the drizzle began and of course the group pointed out to me that I could cross a career in meteorology off my list. We arrived, parked in the overflow lot and gathered up all of the SLUGs we could find for a group photo, chatted a bit and started making our way towards the start line as 7:00 am approached.
My plan was to start near the front so I wouldn’t get caught in all of the traffic at the Sylamore Creek crossing and before I knew it we were off. The lead group charged up the road section as we made our way towards the start of the trail. Everyone running towards the front seemed to know each other so there was quite a bit of chatter, “Woo-hoo! Got to love this trail! This is what it’s all about, right Steve-O?” “Yo, Yo, you said it brother!” Everyone was definitely stoked to be spending the day running through the woods with many of their close friends. I wasn’t quite as excited and for some reason couldn’t get myself into it mentally; I was feeling strong, running well but just didn’t want to be out there. As many of you know I have been doing a lot of high mileage training lately and averaging about 70 miles per week for the past 3 months. This has definitely taken its toll and I’ve been teetering on the edge of being over-trained. Lately, much of the joy I first found in running has been lost and it’s started to feel more like work, this is one of the main reasons I decided not to run the McNaughton 150 miler and instead drop down to the 100 mile distance. I want to get that joy back! As we approached mile 3 Stuart Johnson came up on me, “How’s it going Carey?” “Not that good, nothing’s wrong with me physically, I feel good, but I’m just not mentally into it today,” I responded. “That’s OK, Carey, it’s a long race. You’ve got plenty of time to hit your stride,” and with that he passed me and continued on down the trail.
For the next 7 miles there was a major battle going on in my head, “You’ve got to get yourself out of this, Carey. Maybe this just isn’t your day, but nothing’s wrong so why isn’t it your day? Some days you’re the windshield and other days you’re the bug; I guess today you’re the bug! No, you’re not, you’re strong and can do this; there’s nothing wrong with you. Stop making lame excuses for yourself, you know you’re not going to quit so push yourself to achieve your 5:15 goal; you came all the way down here to run, NOW RUN!!! But I’m not having fun, or am I having fun; I don’t even know anymore. What’s wrong with me!?!” I arrived at the Gunner Pool aid station, filled my water bottles, downed two Cokes and headed off towards the turn around. I began to mellow a bit and embrace the race experience; the weather was decent with a slight drizzle and the trail was a bit muddy and wet but otherwise in good condition. I was sharing the trail with some great friends and fellow runners, there were many volunteers out there sacrificing their time to make this experience the best it could be and you know what, I really couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. “You are having fun,” I thought. Relieved to be out of my “funk” I could feel myself getting into a rhythm both physically and mentally as I glided down the trail.
About 2 miles before the turnaround I spotted a very slippery rock and thought to myself, “I bet that would be really easy to fall and bust your knee on,” so what do I do? I step right on it and sure enough slipped driving my knee with the force of all of my body weight right into the rock. “Wow, that hurt. I wonder if I broke my kneecap?” It began to swell and went numb but my knee was still working so I continued. In the fall I also broke the top off my water bottle so much of my water was sloshing out with each swing of my right arm; for the rest of the race I could only fill my bottle half way up. I reached the turn at 2:37, downed some Coke and headed back towards the finish.
The way back is my favorite part of this race because you get to pass all of the other runner's still heading out to the turnaround. Some people may not like the fact that you have to negotiate your way around each other but I really enjoy seeing everyone and exchanging encouraging words. I had been running about 15 minutes and saw Gena, Jerry, Jeremy and Sara coming towards me. "Yea, Carey! Looking good!" Sara yelled and I smiled back, "You guys are doing great!" I replied, as I hammered down the trail. I continued on, seeing Brian Kuhn, Deb Johnson, Carol Izadi and Lee Hess and seemed to get stronger with each friend I saw. The miles flew by, "You're doing great! Looking strong," I said as I smiled at each runner. As I arrived at the Gunner Pool aid station I knew that I would need to give it everything I had if I was going to break 5:15. A quick half filling of my water bottle, two cups of Coke and I was off making my way up the hill. At this point I was running practically everything and began passing runners who had been ahead of me the entire race; this made me run even faster. "This is why you are down here, no holding back, just continue giving it all you've got, you can rest at the finish," I repeated to myself as I charged past two more runners. "Way to go, Man! You're fly'in; finish strong!" they cried as they stepped aside for me to pass. I don't know of many other sports where competitors cheer you on as you pass them; ultrarunners truly are an amazing group of people.
With about 2 miles left to go I saw another runner up ahead and caught up to him as we were crossing a stream. There was a Y in the trail, he darted right and I followed. About a quarter mile down we ran into a dead end at Sylamore Creek; we had gone the wrong way and I knew that I didn't have any time to spare if I was going to break 5:15. "This is wrong," I said and he replied, "You're right, the trail is up along that ridge." "Man, this is no good. I was trying to break 5:15. Let's just climb up the ridge and catch the trail." So we headed straight left charging through the thorns and rocks Barkley style (check out my leg in the picture above) and as we reached the top of the ridge found the trail again. We had gone an extra 1/4 mile and lost a few minutes but it could have been much worse. I pressed on running everything but also being careful not to fall in the mud and rocks; the trail was quite a mess by now. As I made my way down to the creek my watch read 5:12 and I knew that my goal of going under 5:15 was no longer possible. "That's OK, just give it all you've got," I thought to myself and charged across the stream making my way to the last mile of road. As I came out on to the highway I noticed that I was running a 7:00 minute mile pace gliding down the hill; I could "feel" the finish line drawing me to it. A woman was sitting in her mini-van and rolled down her window, "Way to go runner! You look great, good job!" I smile back and thanked her as the finish line at Angler's appeared in the distance. My legs were a bit heavy but I continued my sprint as I crossed Arkansas Highway 5 and the finish line in 5:23 beating my time from last year by 24 minutes. I'll take that!
I grabbed my finisher's shirt, chatted a bit with Marla Luckey and hurried back to the motel for a shower before Gena, Jeremy and Sara finished. When I returned Gena and Jeremy were there waiting and said Sara would be along soon. We stood inside watching out for her and Jerry and after a few minutes they appeared off in the distance. Everyone was all smiles (Gena set a new 50K PR) and said they had the time of their lives! We went back to the motel so they could take showers and then all met back at Anglers for a group lunch. Ten of us sat around at Angler's eating great food, talking about the race, upcoming events and life; 3 Days of Syllamo Race Director, Steve Kirk, made his way over to fill us in on the new courses he has designed for this year's race. He was excited about having 32 water crossings in the 50K along with one section where you are literally running down the middle of the creek; I'll make sure I pack my water wings! To view the results for the 2008 Sylamore Trail 50K run click HERE.
What a great weekend! I am so glad that I got to spend time getting to know Gena, Sara and Jeremy even better and am excited that I got to see so many of my friends down there and make some new ones. This was a true test for me as I was in a major funk for the first 10 miles of the race questioning what I was doing out there and why I even run. Ultra-running is a lot of hard work and requires tremendous dedication but it's all worth it. The feeling of pushing myself to the limit, accomplishing goals that I never thought possible and forging true, lasting friendships that are meaningful and deep; these are just a few of the many reasons I run. I feel like I can share anything with many of my ultra friends and know that they will not judge me or look down on me for what I've done in my past or the issues I still struggle with today. They accept me for who I am regardless of how much money I make, where I live or what clothes I wear; they are real, honest and true.
Don't ever forget why YOU run!