Friday, December 12, 2008

Tecumseh Trail Marathon - Race Report

Update Note: I knew there was someone I was forgetting to thank and that would be Patrick Kinsman. Thanks, Patrick, for teaching my Saturday class. Knowing the class was in good hands, I had no worries and could focus on the race.

"I'm very interested and excited to continue exploring the endurance aspect of 'me' and discovering where 'me' begins and 'me' ends, and I know that this endeavor is one vehicle to help learn where that 'edge' may lie.
So, what's next? The Tecumseh Trail Marathon on December 6th. For this event, I have no intention or 'goal' other than to finish and I intend on doing it using only the Project Principles and Diet.

Depending on how Tecumseh goes, I'll let you know what's really up my sleeve...!" - BTWG Blog. October 19th, 2008, upon completion of my first half marathon.

At this stage in my life, I'm less concerned about how I stack up against others and more interested in letting go of "self" in order to connect with and serve others, my spirit, and God. As I wrote on my old blog a year or so ago, "I'm less interested in what I can gain from my yoga practice and more interested in what I can leave behind." This summarizes my intentions for participating in the Tecumseh Trail Marathon. I had no intentions of competing against anyone other than "me", in my humble opinion, that is where the real competition is anyway. My true goal was to participate in an event that would take me to my breaking point so that I could observe how I respond to the physical suffering involved as well as the feelings and emotions that accompany such a challenge. My other goal was to cross the finish line. While I occasionally reach a similar point in my yoga practice or in the gym, nothing takes me to the precipice like endurance events. And let me tell you, Tecumseh delivered for me, big time. It was a humbling experience and certainly the most challenging event I've ever done.
I was blessed to have Pam "The Blam" serve as my driver and support crew for the day. When she arrived at my house, it was already snowing, the ground was covered and the weather report said more snow was on the way. We hit the road towards Bloomington just after 6a.m., driving off into the dark, the snow and the unknown.

Arriving safely at the finish line for packet pick-up, I met up with Project Grad, Corbin Baird and after getting everything settled in, we hopped one of the school buses which took us on the 40 minute, or so, bus ride to the start line.

Hanging out at the start line was actually the coldest part of the race. I think the temperature was in the upper 20's with the wind chill making it closer to 11 degrees (according to the weather report). The start was in a relatively open area so we were exposed and taking brunt of the wind. Everyone was eager to get moving and to get into the shelter of the forest and valleys.

The first few miles were flat gravel roads and fire roads and most of the runners stayed together in a long progression through the woods. Unceremoniously, we took a quick left and we were on single track which is where the pack began to string out and get thin. Small bands of runners began linking up while some runners began falling off the back and others bridging up to the next group. I was intent on being conservative for the first 1/2 of the race and didn't concern myself with which group I was in, if I was being dropped or if I was dropping others.
The first aid station, around mile 3, came much quicker than I envisioned and from my estimate, I was on an 11-12 minute per mile pace, which was a little faster than I intended, yet it was early in the race and the course was more or less flat up to this point.

As the miles passed the trail became increasingly treacherous the snow became packed and frozen. Fortunately, there were leaves in the mix which added an element of traction and some areas were sheltered enough or held enough leaves that traction was not an issue. That being said, by mile 6 or 7, people were slipping and falling, especially on the down hill turns. Trail running requires a heightened sense of awareness and constant scanning to avoid roots, stones, and trail undulations. The slick trail conditions added to the challenge, yet I never found myself fearful of falling. My years of training (body and mind) had prepared me for this sort of thing and I could simply look where I needed to go, commit, and let things flow.

Through the first 10-11 miles I kept getting caught in traffic jams of people. As we came upon sections that were a little sketchy, people were going so slow that others had to stop and wait their turn. I'm a slow learner, but after 4 or 5 of these "excuses" to recover, I started going off the trail in order to run around the backups.
I felt great when I reached the aid station around mile 12 (note - the only mile markers were at the aid stations which were situated about every 2-3 miles), but that all changed after mile 13 where we were greeted by a long hill on a gravel road. I hiked as strong as I could, yet I think it still took me 7-8 minutes to get to the top. Once I recovered enough to resume running, both of my calf muscles locked up in cramps; a sure sign that I had not trained sufficiently for the hills. For the next several miles I resorted to hiking as quickly as I could and would occasionally attempt to resume running, or make an effort to jump a log, where upon my left calf would lock up and I would spontaneously let out a quiet "ouch" or other expletive : -) After a few miles of this, it became rather comical. I relied on my training and years of knowledge/wisdom and with enough persistence, patience and doing all the "right" things (yoga stretches, fuel, breathing, and mindfulness, visualization), the cramping let up around mile 18.5. Interestingly enough, my race plan was to run conservatively through mile 18, as I knew from the course profile that once you hit mile 18 the majority of the hills were behind us; though there were still a couple of tough climbs beyond 18. So the cramps pretty much ensured that I wouldn't be running, let alone running too hard.

By far, miles 13 - 18.5 were the toughest miles for me and it's where I found the greatest internal dialogue and negative self talk. Hello ego! In fact, I knew there was a cutoff time to reach mile 23, if you didn't get there in time, you would be pulled from the course and part of me was wanting to self-sabotage and get pulled. Hey, at least it was be an "excuse" to not finish. I mean, it's not like I would be quiting, I got pulled! At least that was the game for a while. Again, I reverted to my training, discipline and prayer. I also pulled from the strength of all those who were pulling for me, and in particular I pulled from Jody, my wife. Trust me, I truly felt all of you out there with me. These thoughts passed, and I actually began to push it to ensure that I would make the cutoff. NO EXCUSES! I decided the only way they were going to pull me from the course was by gun point.

Over the closing miles there were a couple other low points for me as well. Mentally, it became difficult because I didn't know how much suffering awaited. People were slipping and falling all around me (note - I did not fall once and I attribute this to my training, meditation, yoga and core work). I didn't know what the course was like, how many hills were left, or if my body would keep going. All this combined with my egos disappointment of knowing that I would not make it in 5.5 - 6 hours (my projected finish time) brought on a couple moments of desperation. During these moments I did just what I ask all of you to do during a challenging yoga posture, when your mind is freaking out. I let go of the drama, it was all just a construct of my ego-mind and I wasn't buying into it, at least not for long. Again, I defaulted back to my training, pulled on everyone's positive energy, and focused on my body, the stride I was taking, each foot connecting with the Earth. I connected to my breath and merged into each moment. As a result, I felt better at mile 23 than I had felt for the previous 10 miles.

Somewhere around mile 22 we hit a sweet decent which set us up for the home stretch for the last 3.2 miles. Normally I can cover 5K in under 25 minutes, on this day it took me more like 45 minutes to do the last 5K of the race. Yet, all that mattered to me was that each step I took was a step closer to my inner victory.
In one final comical event in my race, I knew I was going to be super-close to a 7 hour finish, so I decided to try to bring it in under 7 (like it really mattered at this point!). However, as I was doing my darnedest to keep up the pace in the final 200 meters, the pavement was a sheet of ice and I continued to slip and slide. I finally decided it was better to sustain my record of no falls rather than pushing to the finish. I crossed the line in 7 hours 11 seconds.

Reflecting on the experience, I could not have asked for anything better. As I stated in a blog post leading up to the event, I knew I was to experience exactly what was needed and I trust that is what went down. Who am I to question or to feel disappointed in any way? When I extract my ego out of the mix, I know that I experienced exactly what was needed each step of the way. I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to finish the race and of greater importance to me, I was able to do this with relatively little time to prepare and I did it using only the principles from Project: Bridging the Wellness Gap®. I also experienced an invaluable inner transformation, which I will always appreciate.

One thing I feel I must make clear - I am not doing events and challenges such as the trail marathon to impress anyone or to cultivate my own sense of ego or pride. Rather, my intent is two-fold. First, I am doing this for personal reasons and as a vehicle to personal and spiritual development and as a devotion to God. Second, I'm doing this for others. My hope is to inspire others to embrace a lifestyle of health, fitness, and well-being. Perhaps by knowing that I'm out there running on a cold day, it might inspire you to get outside and go for a 30-minute walk. You see, it doesn't really matter if your challenge is that of getting off the couch to go for a walk around the block, or to run 26.2 miles in the snow and cold weather, if it brings you to your edge, it's the same. And as I preach in my yoga classes and in the Project, "it isn't what happens in your life that matter, how you respond to it is what matters."

So, what's next for me? Ultrarunning, or what is also known as an Ultramarathon. Any distance beyond 26.2 miles is considered ultrarunning. Years ago I read about guys like Dean Karnazes and races like the Western States 100 and was totally blown away at the concept of running 50 miles, 100 miles, or beyond; at the time, I wasn't even into running! As I trained for my half marathon I had an inspiration/teaching which lead me to commit to ultrarunning, or at least testing myself to see if I had what it would take. That is another post for another day.
My intention for next year is to complete a 50K race (around 30 miles) and a 50 miler at the end of the season and probably several ultra events that I will do solo (not a formal event or race). Ultimately, I'd like to complete a 100 mile event, yet I know that would be at least 2 more years down the road, so we will see.
There you have it, folks! A little insight into my experience, how I used the Project principles to train and complete, and what I've had "up my sleeve" for the past few months.
Again, I want to thank all of you and let you know how much I appreciate you. I also thank you for hangin' with me and reading the blog and for supporting my upcoming adventures in body, mind, and spirit fitness.
A huge thanks, much love, and a shout out to:
Jody and Family
All of you who sent text messages, emails, phone calls, thoughts and prayers of support and who joined me in the training runs and adventures
Steve Ilg/Wholistic Fitness®

Corbin and Chris post-race; doning the "robes" of a "Fitness Monk"...


Eva Lyford said...

What a great story Chris, and great insights to your mental process as a runner; that is the hardest part of endurance events to get right. I look forward to reading more about your further adventures.

ProMotion at Klipsch Fitness said...

Dear Coach, Chris:
A beautiful post full of much teaching. Ultra's, huh? the first thing that popped into my mind when I read that was the common salutation I receive from the only other ultra-marathon I know - when I say, "Hey, Brian! How you doin'?" and he replies, "Good enough." - not fine, not life sucks, but "good enough" I have pondered this salutation with what I must admit is admiration for quite some time, and have yet to fully figure it out. But your story of Tecumseh, in some way I think and feel, is leading me to an interpretation (an answer?). And it remains a positive one...thanks for everything
p.s: Coach Cooper ran her fastest 5k EVER this morning! I was with her step for step and even have an action shot of it!

Chris said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments guys.

John, I think I can relate to Brian's salutation a little better these days : -)

Way to go Coach Cooper!

Matt Fallin said...


I am so proud of you, you are such an inspiration to me! Although I personally do not currently have the desire to do anything nearly as Crazy as this run, the way you see your opportunities, Challenges and triumphs through such a Yogi perspective as a balance I do hope to acheive! Keep up the awesome progress reports and Keep inspiring so many, PLEASE! and Thank You!