Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spring Racing Season, Part 4: George Wyth 5K Mud Run, Cedar Falls, IA, May 17, 2014

Saturday morning I finished the Spring racing season by running the George Wyth 5K Mud Run along with my two oldest sons.  This was their first race of the year, and my fourth in the last 8 weeks.  Fortunately, it was also the shortest race of the four.  In fact, I commented to my wife when I got home, this is the best that I have felt after a race all Spring...probably because it was only a 5K!

Yet, it was also one of my best finishes of the season, which totally rocks!  Praise God!  

The start of the 2014 George Wyth 5K Mud Run
This year's race was two laps and probably 97%+ trail, with most of that being single-track.  There were several places where because the trail was snaking through the woods, you could see both the racers ahead and behind you.  A new section of trail had been cut and broken in that allowed us to eliminate what use to mean running on road and through a parking lot in order to get back to the start of the trail for the second lap.  This new section of trail really made this year's course feel complete.  I have done this race about 5-6 times, and this year's course was one of, if not, the best course overall.  There wasn't as much mud on the course as you would have thought with some of the rains we had recently, but we did still run through one good water spot.

I wanted to push hard in this race, but wasn't sure how a solid training week and 3 longer endurance races this Spring would effect me.  Fortunately God shined His favor down on me, and I had a great race.  I started out a little quicker than maybe I normally would, but found the right pace eventually.  I pulled through the first lap feeling in pretty good shape, but definitely knowing I would have to pray and endure a fight through the second lap.  I was a little bummed to get passed in the last 1/3-1/2 mile, fearing that the individual who passed me was probably going to be 3rd place in my age division.  But, I fought on and ended up 3rd in my age division!

Finishing up the first lap!  (Furthest to the left, in green.)

As I finished, I was asked what my distance was and if I would mind going back out and rerunning the last section of the course and compare it to a road stretch through the park.  Apparently several people in the top ten missed a turn and ran the wrong way.  So, already having pushed hard, I ran the two stretches so comparisons and time differences could be made to correct times as closely as possible.  Now I was really tired!  As I finished this, I saw Aaron, who had finished in just under 32 minutes, breaking his goal of under 35!  Matthew came in last overall, but fought hard to finish!  We ended up 14th, 31st, and 49th.

Aaron running hard!

Aaron won 1st male in his age division, beating out his brother who was second! As they both received jars of dirt, (appropriate trophies for a mud run), I realized, prizes were only two deep!  Oh well!  I had a great race and a great time with my boys!  God blessed all of us with a good race and a beautiful day.

Matthew, myself, and Aaron after they received their jars of dirt!

This race supports CVAST, Cedar Valley Association of Soft Trails, a group that does much of the work to maintain these trails and make events like this happen.  Since most of Iowa is covered in corn and soybeans, we are very fortunate to have a group like this that allows those of us who hike, trail run, and mountain bike to do so on such well maintained and constantly growing trails.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring Racing Season, Part 3: Pilot Knob Trail Race, Forest City, IA May 3, 2014

The Pilot Knob Trail Race is a race I have really come to enjoy over the years.  When I first ran it in 2008, I had never run as far as 15K.  I remember my legs feeling like rubber toward the end and that I could hardly hold my cell phone afterwards when I called home to let my wife know I had finished!

The PKTR 15Kis a rather hilly trail race for Iowa, going up to the second highest point in the state twice in the course of its 9.3-9.5 miles.
Coming down the trestle steps to the lake in the opening miles of the 2014 PKTR 15K
I have an interesting history at the PKTR.  As I mentioned, in 2008 it was my first race longer than a 10K. As I prepared to try and better my initial time from 2008 in 2009, I came down with chicken pox 3-4 weeks before, and while able to run the race, was about a minute and a half slower.  Then, I didn't run the PKTR again until last year...but it was postponed from May until September due to a freak snowstorm the day or so before the race.  The rescheduled PKTR 2013 was one week after I ran The North Face Trail Marathon in Wisconsin.  My desire was to still go after a PR last September, but I knew it might be hard with such a tough marathon the week prior.  However, God blessed the week in between and both weekends and I ended up with two PR's over two weekends in two different states!

So now, not quite 8 months later, here I was again at PKTR and hoping to PR again if I could, but having already raced twice in the previous 7 weeks, once after being quite ill.  I wasn't sure my body could do it or not.  I also wanted to just go and enjoy the race and the day, similar to so much of what I had learned through preaching the book of Ecclesiastes last Fall.  God made us to have joy in life, as we understand that that joy must first be centered in Him.  Part of the enjoyment of trail running is getting out and enjoying the creation God has made.  Even in Iowa, amidst so much corn and soybeans, there are places of beauty, and the course at Pilot Knob is one of them.
Running around the lake in the first half of the PKTR 15K 2014.
My plan for Pilot Knob this year was to go out a little slower than in 2013 and hope to have more left in the tank for the second half of the race, trying to keep a more even pace and getting a new PR in the meantime. I was tired going into the race, so I figured this was the smartest plan.  However, this is not always as easy as it sounds, as I have a tendency to take the first hour out too quickly and then hope to hang on to the end.  

I was able to control myself and take the first 3-4 miles out a little slower than last year, but then it seemed as if it was actually a bit too slow and I was falling behind on my hopes for a PR.  The only section of road running in the race, (less than a mile), is around the 4-5 mile stretch.  I was able to pull back a good amount of time during this section, but I still had to go back up to the Knob again in the last couple of miles and then make it home.  A PR was going to be tough, but still possible

As I was running the last mile back to the start/finish area however, the time finally slipped away and I knew I wouldn't be able to PR this day, but there was still hope that I could break my second best time...but that passed too.  I did however beat my 2009 "Chicken Pox" time. So, I have four times sandwiched in between 1:39:02 and 1:41:38. Pretty consistent over four races spanning 2008-2014.  

To be honest, I was not that disappointed by failing to get a PR on May 3.  It was a beautiful day, on a great course, and a lot of us hung around afterwards enjoying the spring weather and eating hamburgers and hot dogs while we waited for the final runners.  God wants us to enjoy these types of moments and express that joy as we share it with others.  It was great to lay out on a blue tarp after lunch and then get up and cheer in the final runners and finally to celebrate with the age group winners.  Kevin, the RD, gives out rocks as prizes and tells about how this area was formed from glaciers once covering the area.  Think 8th grade earth science, but as trophies, it's actually pretty cool.  I will admit to a bit of "rock" envy come the end of every PKTR as I still have not taken one home! ;)

PKTR 2014 was a great race.  I didn't PR.  I didn't get an age group award.  A kid 11 years old beat me by around 12 minutes for that matter!  (And was extremely polite in doing so and we were all smiles as he hefted his rock winning his age group!)  It was simply an enjoyable day, and for that, I praise God.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Spring Racing Season: Part 2, Zumbro 17M Theilman, MN April 12, 2014

We had planned to leave for a week away leading up to the Zumbro 17 Mile Trail Race on April 6, but Matthew won a prize for a poem which had been submitted to a regional contest here in Iowa.  He won 1st Male in 8th grade in the regional and went on to be 2nd in the whole state of Iowa for 8th grade boys. Wendy and I were invited along with Matthew to a special reading and dinner on April 7 in Eldora, so we moved our vacation start to the next morning.  It was great to see and hear Matthew read his poem!

The next day all 8 of us headed up to Lake City, MN, which would be home base for our vacation and the race.  Shortly after arriving there, a couple of the girls and I headed over to the course just outside of Theilman, MN, and walked about a mile of it to get the lay of the land.

Wednesday we went to the Mall of America...and that's where my race looked like it was going to start to unravel, though I didn't know it until the middle of the night...

Whether it was food poisoning, bad food choices, a weakened/tired body from racing/training/work stress, race anxiety, or some combination of all of the above, my body revolted.  I'll spare you the gross and gory details, but just say, that much of Thursday, I either spent in bed, in the bathroom, or when we did go out...in pain.  I couldn't even cross my arms to rest them on my torso, it hurt so bad...which I knew was going to impact wearing a waist pack on Saturday if I was able to race at all.

In addition to being sick, I spent a lot of Thursday praying and wondering whether or not I could/should/wanted to race.  Friday morning dawned and I felt a bit better, but not great.  Finally I took a walk with four of my kids down to the river and skipped rocks on the Mississippi while the breeze blew nice fresh air over my tired body.  As I played, walked, and talked with my kids that morning and throughout the day, I realized they really wanted me to get well and be able to race.  Later in the day, we drove to the Race HQ so Wendy would know where to show up for the finish if I did race on Saturday.  I got out and talked with the RD, John, for a few minutes and he encouraged me to go for it the next day.  Being there as the 100 mile race was going on, I was inspired again.  What a beautiful day!  So, with my kids desire, the RD's encouragement, and God's help, I got up Saturday morning and made the decision to go for it even though I was still not feeling 100%.

At 8:00AM I sat in my car and watched the rain pour down and then turn to hail before going back to rain and eventually pausing right before the start.  People coming in from the 50M or 100M, whether finishing or preparing to go back out for another loop, were soaked and cold.  The beautiful day on Friday had changed into a dark, overcast, wet, muddy, cold (mid-40's) day on Saturday.  Fortunately, I had thrown all previous race goals out the window except run to God's glory, finish, and a new one: finish for my family.  

I took the first hour out too fast, but that's pretty normal for me.  The view from the first bluff in the opening couple of miles was awesome...you could look down on the whole valley that contained the campground where the start/finish/race HQ was for the weekend.  The course in many places had turned to thick, slick mud.  Footing was a problem in many of these sections, especially on the downhills from the four highest climbs.  I fell pretty hard coming down off one of the bluffs.  That fall shook me up, causing me to be a little more careful and slower on the downhills.  Since I had decided to go with a handheld bottle instead of a waist-pack, I constantly wished I had my hand free on the downhills to help grab at trees to steady myself.  

The course at Zumbro is great.  Lots of terrain changes along with about 3100 feet of elevation gain and loss.  Of course there was lots of mud this day and trail wide puddles to run through because of the rain. The trails are mostly single track and double track including even a few sandy sections.  As one section of the trail carved downward, it was like we were running through a tunnel of sand rounded on either side.

As I made my way up the fourth bluff, hiking/running through the thick mud on the trail and starting to see the view I would get to enjoy more as I ran along the top of the bluff, I realized, "This is why I train all year.  I train to be able to enjoy these moments.  I train so that even when the course is tough and the weather is bad, and I've been sick for two days beforehand, I can come up here and enjoy God's creation and see a view like this."  The view of the river valley was awesome!  I wish everyone could make it out onto these types of trails and take in the views. 

My fueling plan worked pretty well and I never felt sick during the race at all!  Amazing!  VFuel gels along with some electrolyte drinks were the mainstay.  I had a few bites of banana, pb & j, and some chips.  Later on I took some salt pills at the last two aid stations. I should also say that the people at the aid stations and all of the volunteers at the race were awesome.  John has built a great race here at Zumbro.

I fell again in some slick mud with about 1 mile to go, but got up again and kept pushing.  I was really looking forward to seeing my family and completing this race in what was for me, some epic conditions.  Interestingly enough, it seems like as I write this up, I am complaining, but I am not, and actually didn't complain at all during the race.  Instead, I just got after it, prayed and trusted God, and ran.  I am as proud, if not more so of finishing this race, despite my slow pace, as I am at getting a huge PR at Hawkeye.  To paraphrase Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  It really is amazing just what one can do when we trust God.

Wendy snapped this one of my on the way to the finish as I passed her at the van.

This pic makes me look like some old hick!

Post-race celebration!  (That was a good hamburger!)

Finally a pic with my wife, Wendy.

Zumbro was an awesome race!  That might seem astonishing considering my health, the race conditions, and the toughness of the course.  It certainly wasn't one of my fastest races, but I enjoyed it immensely by simply seeking to enjoy it, by being glad to even be out there and enjoy it!  I look forward to it in 2015 and racing to a PR while also having a great time!

Zumbro 2014 for me proves how spiritual endurance reinforces physical endurance.  I simply could not have enjoyed and finished this race like I did without the spiritual endurance and faith in God that He has given me.  At the same time, I also needed the physical endurance learned through discipline and running through this past hard winter in Iowa to be able to even consider racing Zumbro with the many hurdles that were thrown at me.   When the spirit wanes, sometimes you just have to dig deep and push on physically, and other times, when it feels physically impossible, God shows you just what is possible through faith.  And we are capable of so much more than we think that we are in life!

In the end, even a simple 17 mile trail race, (simple especially compared to those running the 50 and 100!) can remind us of Paul's words in Romans 5:1-5,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring Racing Season: Part 1, Hawkeye 25K Solon, IA March 15, 2014

The Hawkeye 50K & 25K was 2 weeks later this year for which I am glad, because NE IA was what I called the "Sub-Arctic" this winter.

As it would happen, much of the snow in Iowa would start melting the week of the race and the course had to be rerouted.  The normal course for the Hawkeye 50K/25K is about 1/3 roads, 1/3 crushed limestone trail circumnavigating Lake McBride, then a crossing of the spillway, and finally 1/3 rolling trails.  However, due to high water we were not allowed to cross the spillway.  For the race I would run, the 25K, this meant that our course would contain an out-and-back paved section, an out-and-back trail section to just above the causeway, and a final double-loop of trails.  Overall, the road section would increase to about 2/5 but the trail section would increase to about 3/5.  Since the trails were still in the process of melting, there ended up being a combination of snow, ice, water and mud.

My goal for the 25K was to PR and bring my time under 3 hours.  Since the first 40% would be on pavement, the temptation I would have to deal with was going out to fast and then having enough left in the tank for the final 8-9 miles on the trails where footing might be questionable and my body would be getting more tired as this would be the longest run I had put in to date for 2014.

During my run, I was listening to a podcast from Trail Runner Nation-Lanny Bassham on mental management in sport.  Bassham is a former gold and silver medalist in rifle shooting for the USA.  As I listened to this podcast during the first hour of my run, it encouraged me to look at racing as well as life a little bit differently.  One of the key skills that Bassham noted in champions is their ability to anticipate, deal with, and overcome problems in the midst of competition without letting it take them down into the "woe is me" spiral.  Furthermore, later in the podcast, he urged coaches/spouse/parents to steer away from the typical question of asking your competitor in their most recent sports endeavor, "How did it go?"  Since not everyone can win, this almost invariably ends up being negative for most people as they answer with a thousand different reasons of why they didn't do well.  Certainly those of us who do trail and ultra-running would agree.  When our spouse or friends ask how the last race went, don't a lot of us answer with, "It was going pretty good until..."  "I enjoyed it but..."  "I would have done better if..."

Bassham instead asks the athletes he works with these 3 questions:  What went good/what did you enjoy?  What did you learn?  What will you do differently next time?  I know this may not seem like much, but those three questions set one up to have better reflection on the most recent event and encouragement for the next one instead of just lamenting over what went wrong or could have been.  

But the nail really hit the hammer on the head, when he said parents typically are the ones who ask this wrong question of their kids and cause the worst stress that hinders their kids from succeeding.

And I wondered, as I ran, where have I done this to myself, and to my kids.  In addition to applying immediately as I ran  to the event I was participating in at that very moment, I thought of my kids and asked, "Am I helping them succeed in various opportunities in life, or just giving them opportunity to voice how they have failed and lament over how they could have done better?"  More importantly, am I doing this to my kids in regards to other areas of life, especially their faith?  Certainly we all sin, and that needs to be dealt with before God.  But in addition to teaching our children the difference between right from wrong, are we actually encouraging them in the pursuit of the right versus just avoiding the wrong?

Life is a lot like trail racing at times.  You never know what to expect, but you need to be ready for anything.  Course changes, unstable footing, warmer weather conditions, icy patches, falls, tree branches in the face...all of which I had at Hawkeye...where because I trusted God and focused on dealing with the problems instead of complaining about everyone of them...I PRed by almost 10 minutes and broke 3 hours!  Praise God!  

Now, if I can just encourage my kids like Paul does in Romans 8:28-30 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified;those he justified, he also glorified."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's been an interesting day to start a blog...

My 18 mo old is screaming at the top of her lungs and she's been throwing up off and on all day...oh yay!  I began the day with what was suppose to be an easy 30 minute run as I have done three races in the past 8 weeks and am a bit tired to say the least.  (I'll review those in a later post, but they include the Hawkeye 25K, Zumbro 17, and Pilot Knob 15K.)

But...that 30 minutes became one of the fastest runs I have done all year instead of a recovery run...and I started feeling the effects of it pretty quickly afterwards...and they felt good?   Instead of the stressed out-do I have adrenal fatigue feeling I talked about with my chiropractor last week, it just felt like the good tired after a good hard, fast run.  (Well fast for me since I have turned my attention away from short paved running to long trail running the last couple of years.)

Of course 30 minutes is not that long to make any quick judgments, but it felt good to run hard instead of slow.

Wait, poop clean-up time for the 18 month old---leak through...onto the couch...of course...well, life is kind of like a trail race, you never know what it will throw at you...

Six kids, a full-time job, and trail racing...well...this blog about faith and running should be interesting...

Now, how do I change this purple background so people can read the weird dribble that just came out of my head...

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