Monthly Archives: February 2013

D N F

I learned several things over the weekend:

I am not as tough as I thought I was.
There’s a reason I exercise with music.
My Garmin will run 9+ hours on a charge.
Ski traffic does funny things to my heart rate.

Quick recap: I’ve taken up skate skiing to help keep my cardio base this winter.

And yesterday, I entered my second race. I think I’ve been on the skis about 18 times now.

Conditions today were rather sporty. It wasn’t all that cold, but the wind was up and there was a fair bit of fresh snow. Based on the unplowed last six miles or so I’m going to guess snowfall was between 4 and 6 inches with some drifting.

The important take aways from that section are: Fresh snow and wind.

Did I mention wind?

The race directors made a last minute decision to turn the 17k loop into a 5k loop in order to keep everyone closer to the lodge and avoid things like… death from exposure. They also gave everyone the option to do as many or as few laps as they desired. I’m guessing about half the skiers took that option.

When I signed up for the event I signed up for the 34K race. My plan was to ski the 17k loop, and then get far enough into the second lap that I would have little to no choice but to finish the 34k. So, based on the course changes my strategy was shot.

At the firing gun, (No kidding, a real live 12GA shotgun!) I was still hoping to complete the 34k. I kept that dream alive for about a mile. That first mile was mostly up hill. The snow, while groomed, was soft and deep. Every now and then a pole would simply rip out of the snow while putting pressure on it. And sometimes a ski would bury itself a bit in the softer spots. Conditions and the climb were slow, but really no big deal. The opening hills were steep, but not all that long and pretty doable if you could keep moving enough to get a glide. (This is where my technique needs work.)

About the end of that mile the course crested a hill, turned out of the trees and into the open. Open. As in nothing to block the wind. This middle mile was supposed to be the fast section. It was either down hill, flat, or a very gentle grade up. The problem is the wind. As we crested the hill and turned down the slope the wind nailed us square in the chest and face. The wind was strong enough to remove any momentum we might have carried. I have never worked that hard to ski down a hill before.

And the wind was so much more than fast air. It was a medium to carry little pieces of ice and try to embed them in your face. If your pulse was hammering, and your breath rate was high (as mine was) your mouth was probably open a little to make it easier to breathe. Well, that just exposed your tongue to the flying shards of ice.

Woo-hoo.

Flying shards of ice in your tongue. And throat.

Finally! Another turn and a climb through the trees. That’s right. I said “Finally, more climbing.” Because the climbing was sheltered. This next section was mostly up with two short down hill sections. The down hills were steep and fast, but oh so short. The first down section had a nice sharp right hand turn at the bottom that lead to yet more climbing. Remember where I mentioned soft snow? Skis sinking into the deeper spots? Drifting? Well, this sharp right turn was a combination of all those things. Since I was near the back of the pack the leading skiers did a great job of beating up that corner and making it really soft. After my first lap through the snow in that corner had an imprint roughly the shape of my body. Thank god it was soft.

The second up and down was no big deal. The down was steep and fast, but short, and lead into another steep climb. This last mile finished with rolling hills leading to a somewhat exposed climb into the wind to the aid station.

Warm gatorade never tasted so good.

And that was the course. Roughly two miles of climbing through soft snow and wind, and about a mile of exposed downhill, flat, and gentle up that was in the wind and no real relief from the effort of climbing.

Three miles of up. In a loop.

And I was set to do about six loops.

Cresting the first climb into the mile section that felt like Antarctica (Never been there, but that’s how I imagine it.) on the second lap I felt my resolve weakening. The second lap I managed to avoid a face plant in the soft corner. I did manage to bury myself in the rolling hills leading up to the last climb to the aid station.

As I got well into the first climb for the third time I realized something.

When I exercise with music I can’t hear my breathing. My breathing sounds kind of scary when I’m pushing it hard. I purposefully left the music in my bag. I didn’t like the way they made an air channel near my ears under my hat.

Hearing my breathing is when I started to really get into my own head. Seriously, is that what I sound like? Why do more people not look at me funny when I’m running and making that sound? That can’t be right? Oh why did I not bring the iPod? Oh right. The wind. My ear buds make a gap in my hat that tunnels the wind past my ears. Did I mention the wind? No iPod was the right choice since I like having ears more than I like having frostbite.

And then the wind. More wind. If it wasn’t for the constant pushing forward I would have been miserable. The effort to keep moving had my pulse racing. My breath rate was pushing faster than I remember noticing before. My core temp was perfect for the weather. But how long could I keep it up?

For the third time, that sheltered second climbing section was a welcome relief. And that soft corner? Well, if they made a “Snow Angel” award it would have been mine. I sank myself deeper and harder than the first time. Without a doubt, that was a human outline in the middle of the trail.

(I heard after the fact that several racers had been asking who bit it. I apologized to everyone I could. If I missed you, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry for destroying that corner.)

As I entered the rolling hills leading to the finishing climb I was on the fence. Was I going to keep going? Was I going to quit? One last turn, up hill, into the wind. The wind stole any momentum I may have had. And my mind was made up. I was done. There would be no fourth lap. I dug deep. I pushed hard. I tried for a strong finish. I knew I was working hard. I also knew I wasn’t getting anywhere because of the wind. And I slowly and painfully crossed the finish and noted my time.

After a brief talk with the lady running the clock I hung my head and trudged back to the day lodge to get changed. We would all get an official time. The race director was giving us all an official race regardless of what we signed up for and what we finished.

Just moments after finishing and I was disappointed with myself. Why didn’t I push for lap four? The though haunted me all the way back to the lodge (with the wind) and while I was changing. As I stepped outside to go to the lunch I was reminded. The wind hit hard and cold. Again it ripped the air from my lungs and sent a chill through me.

Thanks to the wonderfully managed colorado ski traffic I had a four hour drive home to think things over. (Garmin, 9 hours, heart rate in traffic…) In my head, I knew I did the right thing. But in my heart loomed those three letters every competitor dreads

D
N
F

Did not finish.

I have an official time. An official race result. But I said I was going to ski 34k. And I only did 15. (I would have been doing only 30 with the shortened course.) I had committed to something and I under-delivered. I cheated. The only one that got cheated was me. I cheated myself. And I have to learn to live with it. I have reasons. I have excuses. But when it comes down to it, I shorted myself. I let my mind and heart give out before my body gave out.

Though here I am the day after, and I am not ashamed to say that I am really, really sore. I feel worse than after the last race. I think that is due to the multiple impacts with the snow at 30MPH.

I’m beating myself up over this. This is failure. My official place has me at 5 out of 7 for the men who completed the 15k. But that’s not what I signed up for. Based on my pace I would have finished last in the 30k. Very, very last. Like well over an hour behind the guy that actually finished last.

I was lamenting this whole situation on Facebook. And a coworker mentioned something:

DNF is still better than DNS.

I still toed the line. I was there when the gun went off. I started. I left home 5 hours before the race started. I piloted my truck in four wheel drive across most of the state. (And back.)

And I’ll do it all again.

Until next time, don’t let the fat man catch you.

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Building Character

Character. Heart. Determination.

I believe each of us is born with character, heart, and determination. Some of us simply choose not to sharpen those tools. So far this winter I have done a fair bit of character building. This week has been no exception.

The drought has left the weather here in Colorado pretty mild this winter. Since I can’t control it and can’t change it, I choose to embrace it. That means my running this winter has been generally pleasant including several days of running in shorts or t-shirts. (But not both shorts and t-shirts. It hasn’t been that warm.) And being winter I’m not actually training for anything. I am simply running to stay in shape.

No. Round is not a shape. At least not in this context.

So the miles have been pretty easy. And this does nothing for character. But sometimes the weather moves in. This week is a prime example. Yesterday was chilly at about 30 degrees. But the wind was fierce. If the windchill wasn’t actually in the low teens or high single digits it sure felt like it. But hey, I have new cross country ski gear that doubles great for winter running. So I ran. I got an hour in. I didn’t push too hard, but I did manage to attack the uphill sections. This was a road run. Usually this means I have to worry about how close the cars come to me. On this day, the drivers were all giving the crazy running guy a wide berth. Even the snow plow driver was crossing over the center line in case my crazy was contagious.

Two days before it had just finished snowing a little bit – less than an inch. The sun was out. It was brisk. And I ran. I ran hills. On trails. With snow covering the loose rocks, roots, and near-permanent winter ice on the north side of the hill. And I ran it. Up wasn’t so bad. Down was only a little sketchy. I guess the loose junk on the trail had frozen into place or I just got lucky.

Today we’re getting more snow. And I ran. I had intended to run before the snow hit. It was bright and mostly clear a couple hours ago. The plan was for an intense 5k on a mix of trails and dirt road. At the end of my driveway that plan changed as I played human zamboni and cleared an impressive area of snow off the ice underneath. That moment mid-fall is interesting. The body tries really hard to stay upright. And the mind just pauses a moment and goes WTF!?!?!? 9.8m/s/s later there is a thud and I’m laying there covered in snow.

The inventory of possible injuries goes pretty quick. If I’m hurt it’s on the left side, so that eliminates 50% of the checks. My head didn’t hit. Left arm is going to be sore, but not injured. Same for left hip. Knees seem unscathed and feet… Well they were up in the air. I don’t think they were hit by any passing aircraft or flocks of migratory birds. I’d remember that.

And almost as quickly I’m up. Because it’s cold down there in the snow and I’m not dressed as warm as yesterday. I gingerly trot into the road and turn down the hill. In about 30 seconds I have completely reworked my workout. Today is suddenly a casual 5k day. It’s simply too dangerous to be pushing all out. I could probably still manage to attack the uphills.

This is so much the opposite of my business trip to Sacramento. This is not a 5k treadmill workout in the hotel. This is not a 10k on a 1 mile loop at sunset when it’s 65 degrees in January.

This is character building. This is learning to adapt. When I’m 4.5 miles into a 10k and things start going poorly I will have my winter training deep in my heart to fall back on. I will have the 17k cross country ski race. I will have snowy hills. I will have wind. I will have snowy falls down the driveway.

It doesn’t have to be winter to build character. In fact, by June most of this should be erased by something more recent. But those early season races will benefit from today. Summer character usually involves mid-day heat of lunch runs, dodging tourists who can’t be bothered to watch where they are going, hitting the wall 9 miles from the car and pushing through because there’s a meeting you have to catch.

It doesn’t matter how you build character, but that you do build character. If you wait for everything to be right before starting you will never start. Attitude goes a long way. Embrace the challenges and the changes to the plan that are out of your control. Get out there. Do something. Push yourself in a new way.

What are you going to do during this “off season” to help build yourself up for summer? Me? I’m going to keep enjoying my winter runs. I’m not going to let the weather stop me. I’m going to continue to ski and enhance my cardio base that way. And I’m going to smile every time my beard freezes. But you might not see that because with a frozen beard I often have to smile on the inside to avoid the real pain of facial hair being pulled out.

Until next time, don’t let the fat man catch you.

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