Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Reluctant Realization but a Wonderful Journey

I'm relatively new to the world of ultra running, so to successfully complete the 50k North Face® Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain  has been the only goal I have had since I registered in late January -- I wouldn't mind if I had some fun and didn't die along the way... but those are secondary thoughts.

The event website describes the course as
A serious, hardy test for trail runners of any level, The North Face® Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, NY takes place on the western shores of the Hudson River and through the craggy foothills of the Catskill Mountains.  

Runners can expect technical terrain and rocky footing that cuts to the chase, with some trails heading steeply uphill rather than zig-zagging at a gentler grade. Descents end in wooded hollows before the next rapid climb ending with a breathtaking view. Make no mistake: this will be a tough test of off-road endurance.
Overall Difficulty: 5 out of 5
Technical Terrain: 5 out of 5
Elevation Change: 4 out of 5
Scenery: 5 out of 5
I've never been concerned with my time, in fact I've been repeating to myself (and others) the ultra mantra of "Start out slow and then slow down". A very different mindset than the world of marathon and road racing where everything is about pace and finishing time.

In preparation for "The Challenge" I've run the Harriman portion of the 50k course twice. On my first run there was a thin crusty layer of snow on the ground and the second run was in early spring when the trail had softened. I've also done a reconnaissance run of the Bear Mountain portion of the course on a brilliant spring day as hikers enjoyed the views while I suffered through the brutality of Timp Pass.

In March I successfully completed my first 50k at the New Jersey Ultra Festival. My first Ultra was in the books.

But last weekend the unthinkable happened. I strained my calf on what was to that point, one of the most beautiful runs I've experienced.

I strained my left calf 8 miles into a modest 10 mile run and found myself struggling with the pain over the last 2 miles of difficult terrain just to get myself out of the woods.

As the pain shot through my calf with every step I took, I knew there were going to be implications and I did everything I could to not do any more damage to the pained muscle.

I knew that my ability to realize my goal was in jeopardy. I was already anticipating the mental back-flips I was going to experience while trying to decide whether I was healthy enough to start the race and if I did start, would I be risking a DNF and the possibility of making an injury worse (possibly sidelining me for months).

Since the injury, I've been advised by friends to take it easy and to avoid risking further injury, while I've spoken to another registrant who is already injured and plans to rough it out regardless of the physical toll it may take.  

Since Saturday, I've tried to rationalize the injury and refocus my attention. Perhaps on another event and give my leg just a little bit longer to heal, but that's a lot harder to than it sounds. There just aren't a lot of ultras in the northeast.

Over the last few days of waking up and anxiously assessing the healing and agonizing over the decision, I found was how much I've already accomplished and what I've already gained from the journey.

Trail running has become something that I truly love. I've come to desire the freedom and solitude of the paths that I had previously thought to be un-runable.

Over the last four months I've run portions of The Long Path, Highland and Appalachian Trails. I've been lost in both Harriman and Stewart State Parks. My dog and I have seen vistas from the tops of various Hudson Highlands peaks that may have taken years to experience on weekend day hikes.

I've experienced determination and self reliance that comes from being on runs that have lasted longer than the life of my watch battery.

And yet, as I reluctantly come to realize that I can not participate this weekend, I have found that I have been participating for the last four months. Disappointment has been a part of it but it's been a wonderful journey.

1 comment:

  1. "..I have found that I have been participating for the last four months."
    A perfect summation, Jim. The majority of the journey - no, the REAL journey - is in the training (i.e. the 'day-to-day', to use a Life metaphor). And the journey continues..... :)