A Maze of Emotion

Yeah yeah yeah … knob doesn’t write for two weeks, wins a race, and all of a sudden a blog post appears. Blatant self-aggrandizement, and I plead guilty. I’ve had some good workouts the last couple of weeks, including an invigorating solo firecracker, an encouraging 2K repeat session and some ok track sessions, and I’ll try to go back and log those, but first a race recap.

The Maze is Rogue’s first leg of their trail series. There are 10K and 30K races, and it was held out at Walnut Creek Park in North Austin. John Reynolds, aka j-rey, aka traildog, recruited me to race it, and Jessica was initially more enthusiastic about racing than I was. I signed up just because she wanted to run, and my initial goal was to just not get hurt (Gilbert said I shouldn’t even run it for that reason). John, Andre and I went out to the course last weekend and ran the trails, it wasn’t too bad, and John said he thought I could “podium”. I didn’t really think about it and just wanted to have fun and experience something different. I didn’t plan my race, change my training, or think about it all week. If anything, i figured the “real” runners would probably be doing the 30K and the 10K would be a low key affair that maybe I could do well at.

Come race morning, I think there were about 200 people doing the 10K. As always, one’s prospects usually depend on who shows up to race that day. I didn’t recognize any of the 10Kers, so I sidled up to the front of the start and thought, “well, i showed up, so let’s see how it goes.”

I started off with a lead pack of four guys, and some girl who was trying to run side-by-side with me on the one person track. I quickly left the girl and some kid in an iPod was out front, with me in fourth. The kid fumbled his iPod and ended up throwing it in the woods and I never saw him again. Two of us quickly passed the third runner and so inside of about a half-mile the race was down to just us two. (I found out later the other guy was Yancy Culp, i.e. “the medicine ball guy” at the AHS track on Tues/Thurs mornings.) The trail was single file and I stayed right behind Yancy for about 200 yards while I had a short internal debate of whether to stay there or go out front. A rabbit jumped out on the trail in front of us and I joked, “hey, I guess that’s our race rabbit!”

Anyway….. it was still real early in the race, and as we all know, I have a history of dying at the end of races, so I wasn’t sure what to do. We didn’t seem to be running that fast (or as fast as I thought I could maintain), and I even thought Yancy was slowing down a tad. Also, I much prefer running out front than behind, so I thought maybe I could put some distance between me and the others before my inevitable fade. Finally, I remembered Sensei Noel’s advice about the 5k: “Dude, if the first mile feels “not difficult” in a 5k you got to start moving on some people.”

So I said, “fuck it, i’m going for it”, passed Yancy through the bushes, took the lead about eight minutes in and ran like hell from there. Yancy said he tried to stay with me, but ten minutes in I was all alone and thinking, “holy shit, I’m gonna win!” But I had to bury those thoughts because there was a long way to go and I was working pretty hard and I have a pathetic racing history and I’ve never won anything in my life and I didn’t want to jinx myself and have those thoughts come back to haunt me and and and…. those thoughts kept reappearing throughout the race and I kept trying to smother them and just focus on the task at hand.

The task at hand was a fairly difficult course. I heard this trail race was the easiest of the three in the series, but still, it was nothing like a road race. It was sloppy muddy in places, we had to run through creeks and down gulleys and in and around trees. I think we had 7 water crossings, and the creeks were ankle deep and on the other side would be a slippery, muddy 5 or 6 foot embankment you’d have to scurry up. Yancy said he had to pull himself up one of the banks by grabbing exposed roots, and that he bit it pretty good in another spot. Quite a few times I would have to do that cartoonish move where you skid around a corner, sort of hopping on your outside foot trying to switch your momentum without falling.

But running around a wooded maze and through creeks and down rocky hills was distracting, which was good for the pain threshold, because whenever I got on a straightaway I was reminded of how freaking tired I was. But I just kept thinking, “Don’t let up. Push it some more. keep pushing it. If I’m hurting, the guys behind me are hurting even more.”

I was red-lined pretty much the whole way, but once the pain reaches a certain level you sort of get used to running with it. And if you’re in the lead, you can stand a little more, but you can’t look back or slow down, because someone might be gaining on you. Ok, I looked back and slowed down a couple of times but sometimes I’m pretty good about pushing myself out of it. I trusted my fitness and when I do that, it’s really as much or more about mental toughness as physical fitness.

I ran the last four miles with my shoelaces untied and thought about stopping to tie them, but privately I knew I was just using that as an excuse to stop. Who the hell stops when they’re winning though? I reached the aid station, which they claimed was around the three mile mark, at 21:05 or so. I was breathing very hard, tried to take some water but couldn’t sneak any down between gasps. It felt like I slowed down on the second half, and I kept waiting for the inevitable: for someone to catch me, but obviously it never happened. I started passing the slower 30K runners still on their first loop (they started 30 minutes earlier) and received a lot of encouragement from them which was so helpful and would keep me going for a little bit longer.

There were a lot of switchbacks so you could see other runners at different spots behind or ahead of you. I kept looking for Yancy but never saw him so I just kept pushing and pushing. It was painful but the fear of failure and smell of victory was powerful too. Around 5 miles you can hear the finish but luckily I had been warned not to be deceived, as there was still a good ways to go. The course was very well marked and I nearly got lost only once on a tight left hand turn after a hill. Finially, I saw a sign that said “Finish –>” and I knew I had it. My final time was 42:27 and I ended up winning by about 45 seconds I think over a minute. If the aid station really was at 3 miles I actually did the second half faster than the first.

The finish was very anti-climatic. In my mind I thought I’d throw out an “F-yeah!”, but I was way too tired for that. I didn’t notice anyone cheering, I was still amid some 30Kers just finishing their first loop, and there was no finish tape or photographer, just Steve Sisson yelling, “here’s the first 10k-er!”. And that was it. Jessica was still on the course, my kids weren’t there, one friend who was there was off chasing his son somewhere, and another friend of ours walked up and said, “so how’d you do?”

I won a pair of shoes. At the awards ceremony I walked up thinking I would get one of the bags the other people got, but Steve just handed me this postcard. I kind of stood there waiting for something else, but that was it. I have to send away for the shoes (using my own stamp), and when the shoes are worn out and thrown away, there will be no record I even ran. No results on the web, no photos, no medal, nothing.

But I’m not complaining at all. Really, I’m not. It was fun, rewarding, hard, different. Rogue put on a great event, and internally I was freaking ecstatic. I was so pumped after the race I did a two mile cool down and some strides and it felt like I was hardly running. Like I said, I’ve never won anything in my life, and while in any scheme of things, big or small, this little race is pretty meaningless, it’s very fulfilling to push yourself to maximum effort, keep it there, and be rewarded, if only internally.

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9 thoughts on “A Maze of Emotion

  1. Great Job DV, they’ll post the results for all eternity but like everything else related to trail running their not in any great hurry to do so.

    Apparently Steve got the hint and when he awarded the 30k shoe certificate he made a point of mentioning that he found a stamp. I guess that’s what you get for the the xtra 3x effort, a 32 cent stamp.

    P.S., even though everyone says that the next race in series is harder, including myself, I looked at the loop times from last year and they are actually faster than the maze. It’s a lot hillier, but no stream crossings and less switchbacks so although it seems harder without all the start and stopping it makes sense that it is faster overall.

  2. The boys and I are still going to make you a medal. Maybe we’ll use part of your new trail shoes once they are worn out.

    I should have seen this coming 2 years ago when you were so fast and happy at the Muddy Buddy, even on the Hill of Death.

    Does Coach know you won yet? Does he know you didn’t get injured? Don’t tell him I twisted my ankle 6 mins into the race…shhh..does he read this?

  3. Way to go Senor! Congrats – you deserve it. Funny reading about the lack of fanfare at the end. On a different yet related note, I just broke 40 minutes (39:51) for the first time at the Round-Up 10k, and was surprised to see no marching band or confetti falling everywhere when I crossed the line. Hmm. Must have been a mix-up somewhere. ENJOY the victory!

  4. great job david! you don’t mention in your recap how aggressive you were going down the hills and stuff. were any of the rocky downhills included in the race course?

    you must have really been flying to keep the more experienced trail runners at bay.

  5. So Cool. “Red-lined the whole way”. That’s racin’! It says a lot about your strength that you could keep going hard even with the all of the tough obstacles.

    Wish I could have seen it. It’s taken until 10 PM but this finally made my day. Thanks for the great story and congratulations on the effort that made it.

    You probably shouldn’t take any time off yet. Let us know how you feel during your next hard workouts after this effort.

  6. Hugo, congrats on your race. And that’s funny about the finish. I thought for sure there would be a camera crew, microphones, some french models with a bouquet of flowers….

    Andre, once on the course I never thought about playing it safe or worried about getting hurt. I attacked the downhills pretty good. Thankfully, that one big gulley we climbed down a couple of times wasn’t included, but the rest of the trails we ran were all there.

    Noel, I feel good.

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