I learned a few things on Sunday about my level of conditioning. They weren’t happy lessons but they put my fitness into perspective. The XTERRA crowd was different than the typical mix I’ve observed at other races. This was a purpose-driven bunch, young, lean and intense. I would have been very intimidated had I participated in this event a year ago. After six races last year I understood what to expect and that my best strategy was to start at a moderate pace and just run my race. Yesterday was both an affirmation that I can run with this crowd (I really was worried about finishing far at the back of the pack) and a reality check that, perhaps, I’m not completely recovered from my pneumonia.
I was prepared to go out for 4.75 miles of tough trails and when they said they’d cut the length to 3.7 I said “easy.” I would not have allowed myself a DNF but I also wouldn’t have maintained 9:20 on those trails if I’d needed to cover another mile during the race. I truly understood the sensation of lactic acid buildup in my legs as we went from hill scrambles to abrupt descents to rising switchbacks. There were times when I told myself I just couldn’t make another hill but I managed to talk my way into pressing on. Sometimes I used the crowd of runners behind me as motivation and other times I told myself “One way or another you’re getting out of the woods so you might as well do it running.”
I did make good decisions prior and during the race. I wore warm outer clothes as close to the race start as possible and handed them off to my wife when we assembled for the start. I wore running gloves and noticed many didn’t. The gloves helped regulate my body temperature and gave me security that I had protection in the event of a fall. I refused to let the other runners intimidate me as they drafted closely behind on narrow trails and I left room on the left for those who wished to pass. I took the time to enjoy what was happening around me and took note of the course for future training. Next time I run at Stillwell I’ll take on the black trail and not shy away from the tough stuff. There will be another Stillwell race in June, this one full length, so I’ll need to be better prepared if I choose to participate.