Three cheers for the Gorn!

15 11 2009

The Gorn are a nonhumanoid alien species known to be slower and less agile but stronger than humans.  Oddly enough, I was quite happy to feel like one yesterday.


I lost my “trail-race virginity”  at the Vasque DINO 5k in Indianapolis on Saturday, November 14.  According to Runner’s World, trail running is more difficult than road racing because it ” requires more total-body fitness and a better sense of running technique than running on the roads.”  They say it is also “slower than …. the roads” for the following reasons:  “A trail surface is never perfectly smooth, so you can’t run with a perfect stride. A trail invariably undulates, which makes it harder to find a running rhythm. A trail has low branches and overgrown bushes, which means constant ducking and dodging.”  Therefore they recommend three months of biweekly training before one’s first trail race.

Not knowing any of these things when I signed up for the race a mere two weeks after my first exhilarating trail run, I found myself in my usual state of unpreparedness when I queued up at the starting line.  I’ve been running on trails for maybe about two months, doing 3 mile loops in the Hammel Woods near my home.   And given my recent training hiatus due to the ankle sprain, I most certainly have not spent both of those months diligently bounding up and down hills in anticipation.   In fact, the last several days before the race I did no running at all due to my crazy work schedule and the inevitable fatigue wrought by it.

The Vasque DINO Trail series (DINO = Do INdiana Off-road) consists of a series of trail races which each have a 5k (3.1 miles) and a 15k (9.3 miles) component.  I had initially signed up for the 15k as a practice run to include in my training for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon.  Since my original training plan proposed that my weekly long runs would have reached 10 miles by now, it made sense to plan a relatively vigorous 9.3 mile outing amidst a field of other runners.  Since I train alone, I like the rejuvenating effect on my enthusiasm that races tend to give me (Buffalo Grove Stampede excepted, of course).  What I didn’t anticipate was that an ankle sprain would cause me to miss almost a month of running and that my job would bring me to the forefront of the swine flu epidemic, half-broken by stress and fatigue more often than not.

Ever the proponent of having a Plan B (or C or D) for every circumstance, I was not about to allow these vagaries of fate to force me to cancel another race.  So I transferred my enrollment from the 15k to the 5k and headed off to Indianapolis, outwardly brave and excited but inwardly battling disappointment and trepidation.  To keep from ruminating too much, I decided to make the 3 hour drive as much of a “fun road trip” experience as I possibly could.  So I spent $50 I didn’t really have on the CD Audiobook of Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”, a book I’ve been trying to read for about 2 months but never find time to pick up (because I’m addicted to the computer) and thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment it provided.  Upon arrival, I was happy to discover my digs at the Hampton Inn to be undoubtedly the plushest room $87 has ever bought me and I fell asleep feeling hopeful instead of hesitant.

Due to the change from Central to Eastern time zone, I lost an hour of bed time and ended up getting only about a 6-hour nap instead of a full night of sleep.  I considered it a good omen that I had not forgotten any of my running necessities:  shoes, clothing, iPod, Forerunner, gloves.  That was comforting.  I breakfasted on coffee with a cup of milk and a banana smeared with Jif, then headed out.  I got to Fort Harrison State Park where the temperature was in the mid 40s—-a little cold but good enough once the sweat began to pour, I reasoned—-and found parking quite easily.  That made me feel a little better yet.  As always, I surveyed my fellow runners hoping to find those who looked to be as much of a longshot as I (basically older or fatter) and was happy to find a few.  More of the dread began to evaporate.

The 15k started 10 minutes before the 5k.  When I saw them take off and run like maniacs up this enormous hill, I was secretly glad I hadn’t joined them.  Man, were they fast!  The only thing missing was blue facepaint, Scottish claymores and a battle-cry. 

Soon it was time for the 5k to begin.  I lined up near the back of the pack between a pregnant lady and an old graybeard with a potbelly, figuring I would charge ahead and let them vie for last place between themselves.  And then we were off.  The course was well-covered in fallen leaves and I could not always see what lay beneath but spied enough gnarly tree roots and rocks to make me cautious. 

The first hill must have been at least a 45% angle upward.  “Holy shit” came to mind but I managed not to blurt it out.  I slowed down to a brisk walk with long strides and forged ahead.  Soon we reached the top and I ran down.  This became my pattern for the rest of the race.  I tried to keep my runs paced between 11:00-12:00 and hill climbs under 16:00 while steadily searching the ground for any obstacles that might re-injure the still-healing ankle. 

Buoyed by the fact that I had indeed outpaced a few other runners, I continued on….hill after hill after motherfucking hill.  Watching my Forerunner tick off the miles, I kept myself from slowing down by saying things like,  “I’m 1/3 done,” “it’s half over,” and “only a mile to go.”  After I had passed the final aid station and had about 3/4 mile left ahead of me, the trail began to emerge from the deep forest and I could see the finish line.  As I scampered down what appeared to be the last hill, I spied a smiling volunteer in the clearing below.  She called out as I approached, “You’re almost there!  Only one more little hill!” as she pointed to the left.  My heaving lungs exuded a sigh of relief that stopped dead in my throat when I finally reached her and turned in that direction.  Son of a bitch!  It was the Braveheart hill the 15k runners had started with!  “Little?!” I gasped, and she chortled, “Everybody has something to say when they see it.”  I wanted to slap the taste out of her mouth but knew I needed all my strength to be able to finish the race.

So I slowly hauled my chubby old tired ass upward, thighs and lungs burning, until I got to the top.  It was STEEP.  Running down, I felt almost out-of-body as I noted how my eyes were literally bouncing in my head making everything look like a movie filmed during an earthquake.  But down I went continually urging myself forward, ever closer to the end.  In the final quarter-mile, I tried to speed up for a spectacular finish but just couldn’t muster the energy.  43:25 after the gun went off I crossed the finish line 179th out of 189 runners, beaten by three 70-year-olds AND the winner of the 15K race but not minding it a bit.  Three cheers for the Gorn!



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