A lesson from an unlikely source…

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I fancy myself an ultramarathon runner so some things I generally do NOT like are :

– Running on the road

-Road running races

– Short races

-Short road races

….in no particular order. SO it should come as a bit of a surprise (or not if you know me well enough), to hear that I ran the Chilly Half this past weekend in Burlington, ON Canada.

I originally signed up for this race with my wife. E was looking for her first half marathon and wanted it soon, so this was all hers and I was going to happily pace her out on her first go at the distance. Injury intruded on E’s plans and I was left to decide whether to run this thing or not. My mind was made up in short order when I realized some awesome people from my run group where taking part this year as usual. I offered to drive a few of us and everything was a go.

As I mentioned earlier, a road half is NOT my kinda race and my wife could tell the morning of, that I wasn’t exactly JAZZED to be running it. Waking to a fresh layer of snow and -15C wasn’t helping either. My run group mates helped warm me up a bit and we were in Burlington in no time. We were also lucky b/c a few of us had a hotel room basically on TOP of the start/finish – so awesome to have a place to change and prepare – thanks guys!

SO I had ZERO plan for this race and realized it as the gun went off. After ย the first couple of k’s I felt I had a decent pace which turned out to be a 4:35 km/min. Felt comfy and that was my new plan – hold this pace.

The route was basically an out and back along the lake shore that was, forgive me, a long stripe of pot-holed slushy, icy, shit. The footing wasn’t horrible but it was SO bloody nasty – my god. In short order I found my apparently VERY sensitive toes were losing their sense entirely. Tips of all 10 of them TOTALLY numb. I was wearing a very fast and light pair of New Balance RC1600’s that did nothing to protect me from the elements but they felt pretty fast.

At about 8k I started to feel a little burn in the calves/quads and also felt a little out of comfort because the feet I was running on – I couldn’t feel so much. I hadn’t run a half in a long time, I was going faster than I normally race in a trail ultra and I was losing feeling in my body. My brain started immediately planning an exit and rationalizing a slow down or a quit. This was met opposite thoughts of “F that – I’m not going to die – suck it up ya big baby”. The pain and irrational frostbite fears were real though and they were playing with my head. I decided that in the meantime I would maintain my pace as I acknowledged my fears and the pain AND numbness. These played out for a while until I was able to set them aside and frankly, just run.

I found a place of acceptance and was just able to get forward progress happening until about the 19k mark. At this point my nose closed up, as in I couldn’t inhale or exhale – my nasal passages were I guess frozen or cold to a point that they literally swelled shut.

I normally, like most human beings, panic a little when I can’t F#$!%ing breath but I calmed right down as I kept cranking away into the home stretch. Deep mouth breathing and a mantra of “light & fast” carried me into the finish.

My feet were totally numb, my thumbs where numb, my nose was frozen shut, my calves where beaten up and my garmin said 1:38. Not bad ย for crazy conditions like these I thought.

I hobbled over to my friend’s hotel room and found the speedy couple had blazed some serious times. My nose began to thaw almost immediately as well. We chatted and laughed as 2 other friends came in…frozen..with stories of falling at 11k, getting up and finishing (i woulda called a golfcart and packed it in) – that grit inspires me. The feeling in my feet came back as my soaked shoes and socks came off and the rest of me warmed with a saintly cup of coffee that was bought for each of us by our speedy friend. Other than the fact that I had the soft warm post race “body buzz” feeling, you would never have guessed I had just been through the suffer fest I described.

Physically I was totally fine – great even – mentally I had changed though – ever so slightly but still different than when I started. I was reminded how tough I can be when I get out of my own way and how things are rarely as bad as they first seem when I’m in the midst of them. This half marathon of the road variety had taught this ultra trail runner ย a few things and I’m glad for it.

As I sat reflecting on this I checked online to see if actual finish times were posted and found them. Found my name. Scrolled across to confirm my 1:38 finish. What I found was a 1:37. My Garmin was off and I was reminded that things are also often not as good as they first seem either – sometimes they can be better:). PB.:)

Happy Trails.

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