Monday, June 10, 2013

Mango Madness, and Finding Balance

Kinda a lot in that header huh?  I often feel this inspiration to write, but then I find myself so busy, and there ends up so much to catch up on that the end result isn't quite what I had in mind!  End result, well, I haven't posted here for a while.  I was not in the best running form this winter, and the move to Hawaii really shuffled the old norms around. 

We arrived on the beautiful windward side of Oahu in February.  It was surreal.  I've visited Hawaii a few times, but the fact we were actually living here just seemed impossible.  The running though... My feet hurt, my right knee hurt, and I was just felt depleted.  I took a few steps back and resolved to spend February and even into March just exploring some trails and running just for fun.  It's important to remember the ultimate goal is long term health both physically and mentally.  My diet is designed for health, we pay attention to what cleaners and chemicals we use, but for some reason it's easy to fall into the trap of running myself into the ground instead of to greater fitness .  I think when I see top runners hitting long weeks time and time again I feel like a failure if I can't get at least 60 miles.  The truth is that moving a household involves a ton of stress, and I think even my modest training level might have been pushing my body over the edge as it tried to deal with all the other factors.

But Hawaii running:  Man, what a place!  I can access jungle trails that are impossible to run, steep ridgelines that will make you pay a very steep price for a stumble (but reward with stunning views!), and miles of great single track.  With an infusion of vitamin D, growing enthusiasm, and slowly healing injuries I set about creating a training plan for the Cascade Crest 100 on August 24th.  See my earlier blog post on last years race there.  It's an amazing mountain trail 100 miler!

I'm just an average guy.  I came into the running scene rather late (not counting one season of high school cross country and track), I don't run 100 mile weeks, I don't climb 20,000 feet a week, I get tired, and I question myself; 'Why would anyone want to do this?'.  In spite of those factors my goal is to win Cascade.  I had a great race there last year, running 20:14 for third place, but I feel I can do better.  Winning for me will mean simply doing the best I can, handling the guaranteed tough times, and recreating the magic.  I think that will give me a chance for a great time (and possibly the overall win), but if it's 10th place and I was able to run well and have fun, then I'll be happy with that and it will be a 'win' for me.

So my focus has been on consistent running, lots of trails, some speed work, and plenty of back to back runs in the two to three hour range.  I've been extending the long run every few weeks, recently doing 30 miles of trail (and 8000' climbing) in five hours.  That's not much compared to some ultra runners, but I feel like too many really long runs can be counterproductive, running me down instead of building me up.  Anyway, let's talk about Mango Madness! 

Hawaii Ultra Running Team (HURT) is a wonderful grassroots group here, and they run a stellar series of trail races that range all the way up to the fames HURT 100.  Unfortunately schedule conflicts have prevented me from running many of their races, but I came back from a trip just in time to line up at the Nature Center just east of Waikiki for Mango Madness 10+ mile trail race.  The atmosphere was wonderful, the folks were very well organized and super friendly, and the race was sold out, and I can see why these things draw runners!  There were at least a dozen guys who looked like gazelles, and I decided to really push and see if I could hang near the front.  No water bottle, no calories, no shirt.  RACE ON!  The first mile I traded the lead among several fast guys and then hit Hogs Back climb.  Most people would only consider hiking up this beast, but I ran ever step.  Unfortunately Killian Jornet's brother, 16 year old Makai, bounced up that trail in front of me along with local fast guy Jimmy.  They were soon out of sight and I was in third with a runner right on my back.  All was lost!  Until I hit a quick descent and caught right up (since Killian is world renowned for his descending, must not be Killian's brother!).  This happened a few times.  Every climb they would pull away, and I'd reel them in on the descent.  Eventually we popped out on the road (Tantalus) and then ran up the paved drive known as Concrete to the top of Round Top.  This 15% climb was something the Race Director challenged us to run up without walking a step, so it was just a matter of finding that pace that didn't blow up my engine.  Makai slipped ahead (jeez, how do you get that strong at 16?), but Jimmy slipped behind (cool, maybe I can hang on to second).  Then the Madness part kicked in.  The reason it's 10+ miles is that the front runners were directed down a steep and slippery trail all the way to the bottom of that particular climb, routed down the road back to the beginning of Concrete, and pointed up again (bringing the total for us closer to 12)!  I was prepared for it and warned Makai that this is what was happening.  He again pulled ahead on the climb back up, but I was on his tail on the descent down the back side.  After a few minutes of easy conversation I felt I was capable of running faster and took the lead, telling him to stay right with me.  I really wanted him to keep up, but I wasn't going to make that an easy task, and took off hard.  Makai stayed right with me.  My mind was playing tricks.  How much left in the tank?  How far to go?  Finally I pulled out of sight, only to have to stop at an intersection to ensure I was going the right way.  Makai was back.  I pulled away again down a steep and dangerous descent (wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't taking risks running a six minute mile!).  Young Makia may not be related to Killian, but he seemed to be improving over the rough terrain on jus this one run.  I hit every little climb as hard as I could, knowing my only chance was to maintain my slim lead.  As I came close to the finish I was able to see about a hundred yards back and no one was back there.  I cruised down the road to the finish at a fast pace, but relaxed a bit knowing there was no way anyone could catch me.  The final trick was balancing a mango in a spoon for the final hundred yards.  I dropped the mango once, and I could see Makai close behind now (should've hammered that last bit of road), I dropped it again and couldn't believe how clumsy I was being.. I was going to lose this thing right at the finish because I couldn't balance a darn fruit!  I hung on for the win though, and I couldn't be happier.  Makai earned King of the Mountain for hitting the top of Concrete first (twice).  Makai is a great young runner, and his performance was amazing, especially when considering the fact that this was his first trail race!  As for me, some of the hardest (fastest as well as toughest trails) running I've done in a long time, great competition, great organization.  I feel like my training is being validated.  I've got some speed, some technical ability, and some endurance (not even sore after that 30 mile run a couple of weeks ago). 

The recipe for the future is going to be more of the same.  Flying (work), hanging with the family, lots of beach time, eating good food, and of course plenty of time running the roads and trails.  I need to hit a couple more 30 milers, and I'll shoot for an eight hour/40-50 mile effort some time in July.  By the end of next month the hay will be in the barn, and it will be all about resting, recovering, and keeping the legs sharp. 
Thanks to Wily Woo for this shot of me and Makai!
Great view of Lanikai and the shore from a favorite nearby trail.
Honolulu/Waikiki and Diamond Head from Round Top drive.
Just a taste of jungle 'trail'!
Flying down the trail with about 1.5 downhill miles to go at Mango Madness.  Out of the shot it gets steeper.  You gotta pay attention on these trails... I don't even remember seeing Augusto taking this picture.