Thursday, February 23, 2012

Letters to Myself

I was having a rather nostalgic conversation with an old college buddy yesterday, and we talked about what it would be like to go back in time 10 years and have a conversation with ourselves. Honestly, we both agreed our lives are nothing like what we expected, and if we had to describe it to ourselves in the year 2002, we probably wouldn't believe a word of it. I then thought, what would it be like to also write a letter to ourselves ten years from now? That, at least, is a possibility. Well, here goes my attempt at a little inner monologue "time travel". This is a letter to myself in the year 2002 from 2012.

Dear Mike in 2002,

I am writing you from the year 2012. Sounds like a long time from now, but rest assured when you glance back it will seem like a blink of an eye. Unlike the movie Back to the Future, I doubt we'll be seeing hover boards and flying cars in three years, but some of the ideas aren't far off. According to some people, they actually believe the world will end just before Christmas of this year, but I doubt it. A lot of good and bad will happen in your life, as I'm sure you well expected. Afterall, our personalities and gut instincts haven't changed much over the years, though the 30 year old version of you is a touch more jaded about work and relationships. Speaking of, I hate to break it to you, but you still won't be married in 10 years. You chose some pretty bad girls to date, and a some of them chose you. And whatever you do, never ever date a pastor's daughter. When your gut tells you something is very off about someone, trust it, and move on. Look at me futily trying to change the past. On the flip side, at least you haven't been divorced, or have any kids you owe child support on. Being a bachelor is actually quite nice as you have been able to see and do many things in your free time that you may not have otherwise.

How's that political science major coming along? Again, not to bust your chops, but you won't be using it much, and don't fret about the low GPA's your sophomore and junior years at JMU. The time you spent with the people you did was the most important thing you could have done with your time. Afterall, you learn life is about relationships and the daily pursuit of bringing life and fruitfullness to them. Not all days, months, or even years can be good.

So, how does it feel being 20 years old? My mind and body almost forgot what it was like to be full of energy all the time, stay up until 4am, and sleep in until 2pm the next day. Believe it or not right now I consider sleeping in anything past 8am. That's the same time as all those early classes you try so hard to avoid scheduling. Lol. Yeah, work is work. You are living back in Harrisonburg for the second time since graduation. You were here for three years, left for two, and are about to complete another three years. Oh, and you're still at JMU, but don't worry, you're an employee and not a grad student.

The family is still doing well in 2012. Mom and dad are healthy and still kicking. They look a bit older, but they are now in their 60's, which is hard for you to believe. Your little sister Elisa graduated from JMU in 2006, and is about to complete grad school at MCV. She is also getting married this August! Can you believe that little Elisa is getting married before you? What a mature, intelligent, and beautiful woman she has become, but, you never doubted it for a second. Her Fiance is named Tim, and it's moments like these you can really feel time fly. I hope you remember the fourth of July this year, and remember it well. You'll be at the Richmond Diamond for the grand illumination fireworks show and the entire family will be there, including grandma and grandpa. Please take time to appreciate every moment you have with them. When their eyes are gazing up at the spectacular fireworks take a moment to look at them. Look at your family in this place in time and know that beautiful fleeting seconds such as this are a glimpse at eternity. Appreciate every birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas you have with everyone for the next couple of years.

In 2005 grandma will pass away from cancer, and grandpa as well in 2008. You thought you'd always have them forever, but life is true and just in these ways. However, none of it was in vain. You became a runner! I know you're laughing because you hate running even a mile, but you will become a man on a mission to cure cancer. Did you'd ever think you'd run a marathon? Well guess what, not only did you run one, but you will have run over 75 by the time of your 31st birthday. Always an overachiever, eh Mike? You've sumitted America's highest peaks, been to Hawaii, run one hundred mile races, and lived a life's worth of experiences just in the next decade to come. You didn't just live. You LIVED!

Any big plans for your 21st birthday? Hate to break it to you, but you'll be working 11 hours on your big 21st birthday without a single drop of alcohol. By the way, Sarah Thomas isn't worth your time right now, and neither is Ashley. They will both be married to guys they have yet to meet. You do still keep in touch with your current best friends, but a lot of your aquaintances will fade soon after college. People are a transient part of this thing called life, and they come and go seemingly like the wind. All your best friends are now either married with kids, about to get married, or moved off. Learn when it's time to let go of old friendships. The days of having hundreds of friends and weekly parties will end shortly, so soak it up now. Samantha and Julia were amazing women, and you'll meet them both on a tropical island in five years. Enjoy that journey well. A bad car accident in 2009 will leave you scarred the rest of your life and you will learn that scars of the body and scars of the soul are two very different things.

I could go on and on about the technology, music, sports, movies, and fashion changes, but that will be fun for you to learn as time goes by. Just one warning though. Hollywood ran out of ideas so they are remaking all your childhood movies, and don't get over excited about the ending of a show called Lost, because it makes little sense, and your favorite show Smallville managed to run for ten whole seasons. I suppose some big milestones are that we have a black president, and we had the ten year anniversary of 9-11, which is still fresh in your memory. I could reveal it all, but one major lesson in life is that we/you/me must make choices without the benefit of foresight. Everything that happens from now on will have small and large impacts on how you view life and make choices that bring you one step closer to tomorrow.

Just be sure to get regular dentist visits and stop eating so many Sour Patch Kids. Stop taking things for granted, because you still do, and stop complaining about the mundane things you cannot change. The world isn't so different in 2012, but as technology increases humanity proportionately decreases. The vastness and speed of information and communication will lead to the further complacency of real human interaction in exchange for virtual relationship. Deus Ex Machina as you will call it. The empty silence and space between people is less filled with conversation, smiles, and pleasant glances. People are plugged into everything. Computers, phones, listening devices. Everything but each other. Instead of pursuing, we find every distraction possible to avoid the other 7 billion people on earth. Yup, we're at 7 billion now. This is the way the world is shaping up as the buildings rise higher and man relies more on machine than his common fellow. This is the world you will graduate into. This is a world waiting for you to do something big.

Yourself in the the year 2012
-You ( Mike )

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Return to the Icy 8 Hour Trail Run

(Photo courtesy of The Manimal: running through one of the less muddy sections, believe it or not)

It's been three years since I ran the inaugural Icy 8 hour run in 2009. That year I was able to cover 50.3 miles on a day that saw quick running early due to a frozen ground, but fairly muddy conditions later.

Feb 4, 2012 was now the fourth running of Athletic Equation's popular winter event. For starters, I wasn't actually sure I was going to be running. The race was sold out and RD Alex Papadopoulos suggested I drive out to the race early and if someone didn't show, I could have dibs on the first slot. So, at 3:45am I drove two hours down to Lake Anna and was pleasantly surprised to hear I was going to be running. The talent that came out to this year's run was greater than any of the previous years. On hand were the 24 hour ATR winner Steve Speirs (2:45 marathoner), Thad Meyer (2:59 marathoner), Iain Banks (2:40 marathoner), and ultra stud Olivier Leblond (2:48 marathoner). And then there was me with my modest 3:33 marathon PR. Talk about feeling like an under dog about to get his butt handed to him. It truly looked like it could anyone's race, and the type of deep field that would force everyone to max out their 8 hours on the trail.

My goal prior to the race was to run eleven 4.7 mile loops (51.7 miles). This race does offer the option to mix and match either an 8, or 4.7 mile loop. This would be a new course record and personal best, though I believed many of the other talented runners were equally, if not better, suited to raise the bar higher.

A little after 7:30am the run starts and the 100 runners make their way into the first loop. Almost imediately I knew that the course conditions were far too muddy for me to set a PR. I felt like the first loop had been run at a pace I was slightly uncomfortable at, and was even more startled to see it still took 41:30 to complete. To compare, on the dryer 2009 course we came through loop one in under 41 minutes at an effort that felt much more relaxed. The perception was that the mud was slowing things down as much as 15-20 seconds per mile, and perhaps even more as the day progressed and conditions only worsened. Doing the math, if each loop was taking 1.5-2 minutes longer, I would lose roughly 20 minutes by the end of the day. Time to redo the strategy.

I opted to throw in an eight mile loop in hopes that I could at least match the 50.3 I had run in '09. However, even by mile 18 my day was not looking so good. I could feel my muscles really starting to feel worked, and the fatigue levels were a good bit more than what I was used to only 18.8 miles into a run. The eight mile loop is where I hit my first major crux of the day. I thought there was a satellite aid station at the midway point of the long loop, so I neglected to refill my water bottle, or grab any food to take on the go. As I completed the 3.3 mile extension of the long loop I realized I had made a terrible error and there was no aid. Needless to say, I bonked hard, ran out of water, and dragged myself to the start/finish on fumes.

Although I had completed 26.8 miles in 4:08, I felt horrible. My body was aching, my energy non existent, and I was 12 minutes slower than my '09 splits. I was honestly contemplating walking one more 4.7 mile loop and just calling it a day at 31.5 miles. I would have still run a 50k, which would have been enough to collect a nifty beer glass award. Respectable, right? So, I sat around for a few minutes, took in a heaping load of calories and tried to get my head back in the game. Leaving on lap six I reminded myself that I have done well here before, and this was not the kind of showing I knew I was capable of. There were 3 hours and 50 minutes to turn things around, and I knew well enough that these eight hour runs don't really become competitive until after the five hour mark. I thought back to the wise words of MC Hammer and was determined to be too legit to quit. So I put my head down, sucked it up, and trudged on. I reached the 50k mark in 4:54 and started building back some momentum.

But, at mile 36.2 I had some decisions to make. I could either attempt three 4.7 mile loops and likely risk not completing the third loop, which would bring my total to 45.6 miles. Normally this could get me in the top 3, but with the deep field, I just felt like it was going to take more than that to do it. I went ahead with the decision to attempt another 8 mile loop, and then finish with a 4.7 mile loop. It was a fairly big roll of the dice, because if I bonked hard again, there would not be enough time to complete the last loop and I would be stuck with 44.2 miles (even less than the 45.6 with the other strategy). I had 2 hours and 10 minutes to cover 12.7 more muddy miles. Gut check time.

The eight mile loop was tough, but felt easier the second time around. The short steep power line climbs came as a nice excuse to walk, albeit a few moments. I will say it was tough to figure out how much effort I wanted to put into this loop. I wanted to give myself a reasonable time cushion to complete the last 4.7 mile loop, yet I did not want to blow up with an hour left on the clock. I completed the 8 mile loop strong, which brought me to 44.2 miles in 7:07:30. That gave me a nice buffer of 52:30 to run the final 4.7 miles. Though I was confident I could cover the loop in time, there was always a slight fear that any given low point could cost me. Afterall, only completed loops within the eight hours count. While it wasn't blazing fast, I finished the last loop in 47 minutes, thus ending a tough day with 48.9 miles in 7:54.

I am very happy with this run for two big reasons. First, I believe in dryer conditions, this effort could have netted that 51.7 mile goal I was aiming for. I will say, as history has shown, the Lake Anna course may just always be a very muddy course. Secondly, it has been a while since I have struggled so early in a run, recovered, and was able to bounce back for a strong finish. When you don't feel good 18 miles into an event, it is almost impossible to talk yourself into wanting to go for another 31 miles. I haven't been that exausted at a finish line in quite some time, but with so many strong looking runners all day, there was never room to ease up. My advice for people who want to be competitive at timed events like this is to have a flexible game plan and use as much time as possible. Sounds rather obvious, but it can be risky trying to max out the mileage, though smart planning can allow mediocre runners like myself do well. I'm sure some of the faster runners actually hit quicker cumulative mile splits, but perhaps left 20-45 minutes on the clock. 4th place runner Steve Speirs actually ran 50 miles a good 15-20 minutes faster than my 48.9, but he only got credit for 46.1 due to a missed turn. Sans his missed turn, which I've done plenty of myself, I would have fallen back to 3rd. In the two years I have run the event I have used all but 6 and 3 minutes. My two combined Icy 8 hour finishes total 99.2 miles in 15 hours and 51 minutes of running. This proves good clock management can, to some degree, compensate for lack of speed.

Congrats to all the finishers. There were a remarkable number of runners who eclipsed the 40 mile mark, including 68 year old Gary Knipling's 41.4 miles. The results spoke for themselves on what a strong field ran. Six runners broke 45 miles, and Olivier Leblond's course record of 54.1 miles should be safe until he decides to run again. Three women ran 40 miles, or more, and quite a few people completed their first ultra, or set a personal distance record. Thanks to Athletic Equation and all the fine volunteers to braving the chilly conditions to help us out.


Mike Bailey