After a wild desire to run up and down snowy ridges a few times a week, my left Achilles and right IT band were screaming at me. I cut my mileage way back and have tried to just focus on getting everything feeling good enough during the week so I could make my long runs on weekends. My IT was really bad last week, and I had intended to do an easy and relaxed 20-30 mile run this past weekend. Yah, well intentions and actual outcomes tend to differ greatly. I went out to Cooper’s Rock State Forest to do my long run.
Boy, was I unprepared and naïve (aka dumbass) about running Cooper’s Rock. It only took me 7 miles to realize 30 was out of the question. Boulder hopping, climbing over and under trees, sliding down muddy rocky descents, slippery roots, and ankle-deep water flows were the dominating characteristics here with some bad ass elevation changes to boot. What’s not to like? There was nothing even remotely close to easy.
This one almost completely destroyed me! It didn’t help much that I had only gotten a couple hours of sleep the night before. The trails were incredibly technical and extremely rocky. Footing was totally questionable.
Descending into the valley on the playful singletrack trails was incredible. Water was rushing everywhere, and the streams were overflowing with violent torrents of water plummeting over enormous rocks. I felt so alive. Everything seemed to be going great until I reached the valley bottom and began to make my first ascent. At one point, I was literally moving up a long, steep climb on my hands, moving from one slippery rock to the next. All the snow was melting and gushing down the trails creating some very hazardous conditions. My quads were on fire. At 7 miles, I was at a really dark place in my head. I sat down in the mud and began to question why the hell I was out here torturing myself so badly. I was hungry, tired, in pain, and had lost a brand new pair of arm warmers. Damn it.
When I got to the top of Cooper’s Rock I found myself demoralized, wasted, and just craving home. The moment of funk hit me so fast and so hard. I sat down, ate, and drank for a while and just decided I couldn’t go any further. All I wanted was a really cold beer. I began to head to my car which was a bit over 3 miles away. I ended up detouring some on my way back down some gorgeous trails, and the amazing and beautiful views and scenery on the trails brought back some mental spark. I finally got back to the car and sat down and stretched out my legs. The number on my watch began to haunt me, “13 miles is not what I came here for.” I pulled myself together and told myself I had about 2 hours of running left before the sun would start to crest the horizon, “I’ll go an hour out and come back,” I thought.
I headed back out for my second descent. Initially, I felt good and strong. Suddenly, with every step my IT band felt like it would seize up and shatter. By the time I got to the bottom, it was beginning to get pretty dim in places, and one thing I am not too keen about (to say the least) is running in the dark. It literally scares the piss out of me. It didn’t help any that I was somewhat confused about where I was. My map was pretty pathetic. I had a grueling ascent coming back out and wasn’t even sure how long it was going to take me to get out or where I really was. It made me a pinch nervous, but then again, it totally took my mind off the pain I was in.
I finished up with a bit over 19 miles (yes, in daylight). Not bad! I felt like a million bucks when I got home, cracked open a cold beer, and began to nurse my wounds. I was sore as crap, cut, bruised, and covered head to toe in mud, but I had accomplished what I set out to do. I felt like I had conquered the world.
This run taught me a few things. Firstly, I tend to overestimate what I can tolerate and push the limits way too often. Unlikely that will change since that’s what I’m always looking for. But it’s definitely been tearing my body down, and I’m barely staving off some significant injury most of the time. I just don’t know how to do things any other way. I also realized that I run so much better on real food than I do with gels. I think gels work great for me when I’m really just cruising along at marathon distance/pace. But for the hard distance or long distance stuff, I feel much better on real food.
Two days later and my quads are still sore like hell but I’m still full of cloud 9 juice. I will attempt to run today for a few miles. At least my IT band seems to have some forgiveness for my masochism and is behaving as of now. I’ll definitely be using this run in the near future as I get closer to my ultra in June. If this run can’t prepare me for an ultra, nothing can.
These are the kind of runs that make running so worthwhile – the ones that shatter me and I make it back home with a story to tell.