Monday, March 14, 2011

The Mesa Meltdown 5K..Scratch That..20K (Nordic) Race Report

Or, alternately titled....When Sick, Sidelined Runners Get Better, And Think They Can Do Anything. Let me explain.

The first half of this week consisted of very little running, I am sad to say. After being healthy all winter, and the person reminding my sickly friends to rest, hydrate, and "See a doctor and get rid of it" (thanks, The Jerk-one of my all time favorite movies), I was hit hard with some kind of nasty funk. I'll spare the gory details but the lungs, nasal passages, throat, and really everything else in the body up and revolted on me. I managed one short run at o-dark-thirty with my running partner on Monday that I probably shouldn't have attempted, and that was about it.

I made it to the doctor early Thursday and got that lovely Z-Pak to knock out the crud that was overtaking my system. I swear the PA at that office sees me like clockwork as the seasons change, typically 1-2 weeks out from my fall and spring halves. By Friday evening, I thought I was bulletproof compared to earlier in the week. I was ready to rock and roll, and get out for some fresh air.

Backing up a bit....on New Year's Eve, I went to a this fun little shindig with the running club and ran in 2011 at midnight with a handful of similarly likeminded running freakazoids. We had a great time-even had some "fans" watching us as we ran from our host's home and did laps around Sherwood Park in downtown Grand Junction. Then, because it seemed like a good idea at the time, I got up bright and early to do a little nordic ski race just for giggles up on the Grand Mesa. It was a hard core crowd and it was Fa-REE-zing, but I had a blast and even managed to beat a few people and score a few points in the Nordic Council race series. Not bad for a runner girl out of her element. Add hot soup, door prizes and great camaraderie to the mix and it was a sweet way to kick off the year.

I thought I'd go up for the next race in January, but it was a no-go with my schedule. This weekend, though, was the last event of the season, and I thought it would be good to go up for the 5K, the shorter race of the two that would be starting at the same time. This was my plan until about an hour before the race. As I was driving up, though, this nagging thought entered my brain. An hour each direction for just 5K? Ten bucks entry whether I go 5 or 20K? Why not challenge myself with 20K? This was the gorgeous Colorado morning I was enjoying on the drive up that was only adding to my "ski long" brain worm:

I also made the mistake of checking the point series-I guess there hadn't been a lot of repeat racers, and by being one of the few out on that cold New Year's Day, I was in the top-10 ladies for points. Go figure. So now I was motivated to get a few more points (only the 20K scored points today) and maybe hold that spot. Never mind the fact that I WOULD most certainly be the last one out there. I knew I could easily ski the 5K, would probably finish midpack, have my chili and go home.

Once the thought crept in my head it wouldn't leave, though. It would be GREAT cross training, but I'd never skiied that long with no breaks before. When I showed up to the registration table I asked the race director (a guy who is on the boards of both the nordic council and running club) to talk me out of the longer race. He went the other way and said "you can do the 20K!" Wrong answer, Tom. Or right. "But just because I can RUN 20K, it doesn't mean I can SKI 20K!" I insisted. I got Tom's sly grin and he again casually repeated "You can do the 20K!" The friendly elderly lady also working the table said "Do the 20K! You'll be so proud of yourself for finishing." Okay then. Hook, line, sinker. Put me down for 20K. This, by the way, was the scene when I arrived (sorry for the shaky iPod action):

Waiting to start, I chatted with my old running acquaintance D. Yes, that's her name. Okay-I think it might actually be Denise but nobody calls her that. When I was brand new runner and I was sort of intimidated by all fast, serious looking ladies attending a Girls on the Run charity running team info meeting, D was this funny, relaxed woman who caused me to chill out and not feel intimidated. The first time I ever ran the Mary's Loop trail that year, she was the one who offered to lead our small group of first-timers before she took off for a longer three hour trail run. She learned last year that she had a congenital birth defect that prevents her from running anything more than a few miles, but she can do other stuff like bicycling and skate skiing without her leg swelling up. It was great to catch up with D, and true to her nature she told me "no wimping out for the shorter race!" Thanks, D. Nothing like knowing you'll get heckled for changing races midstream.

Soon it was time to go. I was having serious misgivings but figured what the hey...just suck up your pride, don't get a complex about how far back you are, and take on the challenge. We were counted down and off we went. I instantly dropped to the back of the pack but knew I'd be here. Most of these folks had been skiing for decades, but they truly don't bite, or heckle the lesser skiiers among them. Still, I was WAAAAY back there. It was VERY warm out there. I was sweating bullets and could have worn shorts. Pretty quickly, I was by myself, save for a handful of 5K skiiers. I just relaxed, though, and reminded myself it was just about me pushing myself through this, not competing against people with decades of this under their belts.

As I made my way out on the course, I was enjoying getting to see a section of the ski area I'd never used before. It was bright and sunny, and somehow the skiing was easier seeing a section of trail that was brand new to me. I must admit that I got a teeny weeny bit of a complex when I approached the turnoff to circle around a lake out there, and already saw the first skiiers coming back. I was getting lapped! I got smiles from each of them, though, and a "Hey Karah!" from Christie, the Nordic Council president who is also writing the Runner's World alcohol study piece I'll be in later this year. I got over myself in a hurry and just kept moving along.

Making my way around the loop, I couldn't believe how warm it was. Two weeks ago, I'd skiied with my friend in blizzard conditions and it was still winter up there. This was spring skiing for sure. I was pleased as I watched my Garmin tick off at the 10K distance, and realize that I reached this distance about ten minutes faster than on New Year's Day. I kept going and made my way back toward the tree-lined trails where I'd go out for a different loop before coming back to the finish. Every now and then I'd pass recreational skiiers and snowshoers but it was a nice, uncrowded route for the woman who was the caboose of the race.

With about two miles to go, I was feeling jello-y in the legs, my arms were sore, but thank you running-my breathing was great thanks to the old runner cardio. I was a bit concerned about not making the course closure time earlier in the thing, but I could see that barring disaster, I'd make it through with time to spare. Of course, I felt a little funny about knowing there was a race timer waiting on me and only me-but hey, that's why they say the course is open until 1:30. With the wax job on my skis today, I glided nicely over the slippery snow, but didn't have much kick. This made the couple of hills late in the course pretty tough. Still, I pushed on and soon found myself at the bottom of the last hill before the finish.

There I saw Tom, waiting at the top if the hill with the timing device. He woot-woot-wooted me in, and as I crossed the finish for my very first DFL finish, ten minutes behind the second-to-last skiier. I laughed and said "That was HARD!" Tom nodded and smiled, saying, "Yeah, that's hard, eh? GOOD JOB. Great training there." If I was going to feel like a bit of a schmo for being so slow, this was exactly what I needed to hear to not feel that way. I always tell newer or slower runners to NEVER avoid a race out fear of being last, and that nobody will mock or laugh at them. It is really different, though, when you are THAT GUY. I definitely have a lot of empathy for folks who hesitate a little bit to participate in a race knowing there's a possibility of being the course sweeper. Tom informed me that I'd won a door prize-some organic peach jam from the farm his family owns (SWEET! I won a door prize-a bike trainer-at the other race, too), and told me to head over for some chili.

Now, I was not pleased after finishing the RedHot that the soup had already been finished and supplies packed away with three hours of open course time. I was very appreciative and thankful to the volunteers today for sticking around for me, as well as for the last few folks out there. Heck, they were offering us hot beverages and grub with a smile, not remotely hurried to pack up and leave.

I chatted with folks for awhile and had some of the chili (delicious homemade stuff, not just big cans of warehouse club stuff). I was surprised to be asked about the upcoming 24 Hours of Moab relay, and was thinking to myself that word sure does travel fast in a small town among the people who like to do that kind of thing. Tom said he'd be down there for another event, and planned to come out to spectate during the night running portion of the race. Excellent-someone to cheer us on.

When it was time to go and I started driving back to town, I was feeling pretty good about what was a mediocre finish time but solid effort in going outside my comfort zone and not dooming myself to fail without giving it a try. Now it's time to turn my focus to running again. Next stop, the Canyonlands Half Marathon. We'll see if all this nonconventional, no-plan-but-fun plan training is still paying off.

1 comment:

DogPound said...

holy cow my legs hurt just reading that!