Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Scream Half Marathon

Josh and I are identical in every way,
except one of us actually knows how to box.
Photo by Scott's camera
Hat to Hat
This was it. This was the big showdown with my arch-rival Barefoot Josh.
For background, see the rival post here.

When we last left off, I was on the sidelines of my favorite race, the Umstead Marathon, sobbing uncontrollably because I couldn't run it.
Josh ran by, on his way to winning an incredibly awesome bat plaque, and tossed his disgusting sweaty hat at me. "Here, make yourself useful and hold on to my disgusting sweaty hat you pathetic looser! Ha ha ha!".

At that moment, I chose to dedicate myself to kicking his ass at the The Scream! half marathon.
[Cue the sweeping dramatic music. Begin intense training montage]. I trained. I ran up and down steps in a heavy grey jogging suit... dragged around logs in the forest... punched slabs of beef... drank pitchers of raw eggs...

Finally, it was race day.

Here is how we stack up:

Tale of the Tape*

Recent Marathon PR2:58:474:36:31
Recent Half PR1:25:521:26:54
Recent 5K PR17:3819:23
Recent Weekly Mileage2030
SAT Score (Math/Verbal)610/680740/580
*Note: Only some of this is completely made up

I was very worried about his recent 17:38 5K.  However, I was fairly confident if any multiple choice math questions came up.

The eight residents of "The Running-Down Endurance Flop House".
In the morning, ready for the 2400 foot decent into pain.

I got up, made a pot of coffee, and drank the entire thing.
This inspired three trips to the bathroom. The past few days I had been loading up on pickled beets and I really needed to unload them. 

For breakfast, I downed 450 calories of watered down gu (three eGel packets). I have learned the hard way that if I intend to run fast, I cannot have a single shred of solid food in me. Not even banana. 

Josh had stayed the night in the cabin with us, and was thinking about making some oatmeal for breakfast.
"Here, have some of this", I offered the box of oatmeal I had mixed with assorted nuts and dried fruit.
"Oh thanks, looks good". Yes, I thought, it's good for you... loaded with fiber!

Photo is actually from the start last year,
but what's the difference

It was wet and muggy. Josh and I were in full shirtless-douchebag mode.

I gave Shannon a good luck kiss. I turned and gave Josh a cold, crazy-eyed stare. We were off.

After a half mile of jockeying for position, I settled into a steady 6:45 pace. 
Josh said was going for a 1:20 time, which was an average 6:06 pace. Given his recent 5 min/mile workouts this seemed quite plausible.
My only hope was that with his recent low mileage, he would fade at the end, and I could catch him on the steep downhills.

Mile 2
Still on slightly rolling pavement, I was following Josh who was only 50 feet ahead.
He was going slower than expected. Maybe it was the oatmeal. Or maybe the 4000 feet of elevation was getting to him. 

I had stayed the whole week up at "altitude", and it may have helped. It's true that 4000 feet is nothing compared to the mountain races out west that go over 10,000 feet. But when you are pushing hard, even a small bump in elevation can be noticeable.

However, it didn't seem to be affecting another of my rivals, Jeff, who had beat Dudley and I at the Umstead 4 miler. He was well ahead of us, and pulling away out of sight.

Photo by Der Scott
Mile 3
This is where The Scream! really starts.
We turned onto the winding gravel forest road that starts dropping precipitously.

Earlier in the week, I had done a 4 mile training run on this road which taught me a valuable lesson:
Running on gravel in minimal shoes can really suck.
For the last 4 months I had run in nothing but my Merrell Trail Gloves or barefoot. The little bit of gravel in Umstead was never a big deal in the Gloves.

But I found that crashing down a steep 8% decline strewn with chunky gravel was incredibly painful. 
After just a few miles, my feet were chewed to hamburger, and I was no longer running but just trying to tip-toe around the rocks. 
Fortunately I had dug my trusty old Brooks Pillow Plodders out of the garage to bring just in case. I had not run in the Plodders for 9 months, but I had no choice but to run The Scream! in them. I simply would not make it in the Gloves.

The elevation profile (posting for the 3rd time)

Mile 5
I was still trailing Josh who was just ahead. We were rolling down the mountain under a 6 min/mile. 
I stared at my watch in disbelief, because this is faster than my 5K pace. I had to keep shaking my arms out, repeating my mantra "Relax, relax". The Pillow Plodder shoes felt squishy, but comfortable. It was a relief to not worry about the gravel and just coast.

We passed one... two... three guys. Finally, we caught up to and passed Jeff.  
After the mile 6 marker the course flattens out and there is a slight incline. I slowed down some, trying to let my legs recover, because I knew what was coming next. Josh started to pull away, but then the next big decent began.

Photo by Scott

Mile 8
Somewhere around the 7 mile marker the bottom drops out. The next mile averages -8.5%, but some parts are even steeper than that. I spun my feet as fast as I could trying to keep up with the hill, and quickly caught up to Josh.

We exchanges some curses and obscenities. As we cut around the switch backs, we jostled for position and there was some incidental contact. He threw a shoulder into me. I jabbed him in the ribs with my elbow. He stepped on my foot. I poked him in the eye. 

Soon, the slope became too severe for me to "run". I had 2 options:

  1. Slow down
  2. Shift into balls-out overdrive. 
It seemed a little early to be making a kick, but I had to go for it. 
I shifted into balls-out gear. 
This is the gear I usually reserve for short sections of technical trails, like plunging in and out of a gully. It isn't really running; it's better described as leaping.

I launched myself down the hill, bounding with huge strides, crashing around the switchbacks. I felt a stabbing pain in my right hamstring as it made a "PING!"sound like a snapping guitar string. I would worry about that later. 
I pulled ahead of Josh, and quickly caught up to the lead female, who we had been following.

"I hear you back there!", she called out, as I plummeted past her like an out of control freight train, huffing and puffing loudly. My tachometer was absolutely pegged. My heart was pounding so hard it felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. But before that happened, I reached the bottom of the slope.

Lead singer for The Screaming Nipples
(name credit Scott Bassett)

Mile 9
My legs were quivering and I was gasping for air. I had just spent almost everything I had with a finishing kick, but I still had 4 miles to go. The lead female ran past me as I struggled up a slight incline.
She was keeping a steady pace so and I latched onto her, trying to just hold on. 

The road became muddy and the switchbacks more fierce. When I started sinking into the soft sand at the side of road I moved to the center and gave up trying to run the tangents. We zig-zagged down another 600 feet of elevation until it finally flattened out.

Mile 12
At the start, I thought that I had no chance of beating Josh. But here I was ahead of him with just 2 miles to go, and I was on pace for a huge PR.

It was like a dream... 
Specifically, that dream where you are trying desperately to run, but your legs don't work. You're moving in slow motion. 

After the 2300 feet of decent, I slowed to a crawl going up the slight incline. The muddy road felt like thick taffy and my feet sank into it. The lead woman was unaffected by the taffy road, somehow floating above it. She continued ahead at her same steady pace, quickly vanishing into the distance.

I looked back, expecting Josh or Jeff to be coming up behind me, but no one was in sight.
Somehow, I summoned one final push. I flung my arms out in front of me for some forward motion. 
I was moving, but my body was made of clay. I was Gumbi.

Me at mile 12

I kept looking back every few steps, plodding through the quagmire.
Finally the finish line was in sight, and I exhausted the last remaining fumes to get there.
The clock said 1:21:30.
This was absolutely unreal. On a normal course, this time is way out of my league. I guess I am better at running downhill, with cushy shoes anyway.

Photo by Bobby Aswell Jr.

I walked back to down the course, waiting for Josh to come in.
As he came by, I threw my sweaty, disgusting hat at him, "Here, take my sweaty disgusting hat!"

This time, I am the smug bastard, and he is left holding the hat.
Until next time...

Photo by Shannon

Josh has his version of events here.
Der Scott has his Scream! race report here.

The Scream 2011
The best thing about this race was that I was able to run it at all.
A year ago, I was signed up for it but had to sit it out because of my bad knee.
In 2011, I also had to sit out Uwharrie Rumble, Running of the Bulls 8K, Salem Lakes 30K, New York Marathon, etc, etc.

Doctors, MRI, cortisone injections, nothing helped. I just couldn't run consistently... until I went barefoot.
There are a lot of barefoot evangelists out there, but it was only watching Josh run farther, faster, and healthier that convinced me to try barefoot and stick with it.

Whatever the result of the Scream! was, Josh had already won. He has another convert.
Yes, I had to go back to the cushy shoes for this race, but that was an exception.
When I head out the door for a typical morning run, I won't be wearing shoes. I'm running again, and my knees feel great.

Thanks Josh!

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