One of the most important parts of trail running is the mental component. I’ve always been relatively proud of the fact that I can, for the most part, push through when the going gets tough, especially during races. This past weekend though I didn’t have it–physically or mentally. I went down to the Cumberland Plateau Stage Race on Saturday morning. Although it was a 3-day stage race, I did it as a part of a team; David ran Friday and Yong ran Sunday. I’ve never been to the Cumberland Plateau, and I will say it was beautiful…and challenging.
The first 5 miles of the race were nice and easy. I ran with Jeff and James, and we were knocking out sub-8:30s for this section. Soon, we began about a half mile or so descent. After that, it was creek crossing after creek crossing and mostly running on flat, smooth, slippery rocks. Beautiful running, but it definitely banged up the already somewhat banged up ankle. This went on for a couple of miles. At one point, we followed the course markings up a steep, long climb. After about 9/10 of a mile, we realized this was not, in fact, the right way. As we quickly descended the monstrous hill we just climbed, we turned other runners back the right way. Unbeknownst to us, “locals” had been messing with the flags; at least we didn’t end up at a BBQ shack… It was more creeks and rocks for another couple of miles until it was (the correct) time to make the climb out. This climb went on forever. I think we gained over 1000′ in a mile or so. Once we made it out, the trails become pretty runnable, but my legs were definitely feeling the two big climbs. I was taking it a little slower than I probably should have been which ended my run with Jeff as he took off. Anytime you can run about 10 miles with Jeff, though, is a pretty good day. I made a new trail friend, and we ended up staying together the rest of the race. Around mile 13 or 14, we hit an aid station. They had a pretty good set-up, and we made sure to plenty of fluids as it had turned quite hot and humid. The next section was completely exposed and on grassy/sandy “road.” I still wasn’t running as fast I could have but was comfortable with the effort. We finally dipped back into the woods and came upon the last aid station at around mile 18. Sadie was there which was awesome. We thought we only had about 2 miles left so we grabbed a quick fill up of our bottles and decided to try and really hammer home those last 2 miles. Around mile 19.5, we popped out into more grassy/sandy road. It was clear that we were definitely not only a 1/2 mile from the finish but we kept running until mile 20. After that, we decided to hike some. We saw Roy’s wife, Darlene, Corrie, and my teammate, David, up ahead. They told us we still had another 2 miles to go. Womp, Womp.
This completely took the wind out of any sails I had left. I have never not cared during a race, until that moment right there. I knew I could run the next 2 miles and probably do it at a decent clip, but I did not care. I did not care that in 6 weeks I have a 50K during which I would run at least 7 more miles and that I needed the experience and time on my feet. I did not care if it took me another 4 hours to finish. I could not push past my mental block for the next 1.5 miles. And so I walked. Not power hiked or briskly walked. I just flipping walked. It was only until we went back into the woods that I could even force myself to do more than trudge, and we sucked it up enough to run the final 1/2 mile into the finish.
It was a tough course, it was hot/humid, and I was running on tired legs. However, what ruined me on Saturday was my inability to fight all of the external circumstances holding me back. I was using justification after rationale after excuse not to push hard. I told myself I was trying not to get hurt; I said that I was being an altruistic trail runner and helping pace my new trail friend; I told myself that our team had second place on lockdown so it didn’t really matter if I ran or walked. I’m incredibly pissed and incredibly disappointed in my mental performance this weekend. The mental aspect is what makes or breaks a race. It’s what Hunter harps on time and time again. It’s how you go from just finishing to competing. On Saturday, I did not beat average. I embraced it with a full on bear hug. Fortunately, I’m more determined than ever to really work hard and really focus on increasing my mental toughness because I hate not feeling like I gave it my all. I hate not having left everything I had out on the course or not having the drive to keep fighting/pushing harder. And I refuse to feel like that again.
*This has nothing to do with the actual race. John and Cody with HardWin Adventures did a great job, and I look forward to running more of their races. This has everything to do with me being a giant . . . cat.
WEEK IN REVIEW:
Tuesday: AM — 5k repeats; PM recovery run
Wednesday: East Nasty in the rain
Thursday: AM — RWB @ Race pace; PM recovery
Friday: Easy run
Saturday: CPSR 20+ miler — 4:27:35
Sunday: Penance run — ran the 5.8 @ PWP in 95 degree heat