Saturday, June 13, 2009

How Not To Do It - My 10K Mud Run Experience

I turned 40 at the beginning of May.

It's one of those significant turning points in life. Men are supposed to have some sort of strange mid-life crisis, go out and buy a convertible, cruise the strip for hot young chicks or get into some other sort of trouble.

Not me.

I decided, upon turning 40, to prove that "I'm not dead yet" by being able to complete a relatively challenging physical activity.

I started with the thought of sky diving. That lasted nary a millisecond. So I turned my thoughts to something a bit more reasonable (and affordable). Running.

Francine runs three times a week -- and loves it. And I used to run with her many years ago. At least five years ago -- before our son was born. And the very first run I did was the CIBC Run for the Cure. It was my first and only 5K run. I ran it with Fran -- but that was more than five years ago. Fran kept running and doing better and longer races like 10K's and half-marathons

I thought about how much Francine gets out of running and how much I admired her ability to set a goal for longer distances and keep at it, regardless of weather or how tired she felt.

After a long two minutes of sitting and thinking (about the longest time that the average man will EVER think about anything before making a firm decision -- a man will sit endlessly for days, but the actual thinking going on usually occupies no more than a few solid seconds), I decided I would do a 10K run. One of the brochures Francine had brought home was about a 10K Mud Run in the north end of Toronto. It contains some obstacles, a trail run and ended in a 50 foot mud pit.

It sounded perfect for me.

Given my kindergarten-type attention span, a regular flat surface road race run of 10K would likely put me to sleep. Yes, I can sit around for hours staring at the wall, but when I run I need some sort of visual or audio distraction to keep my mind amused.

But I thought this mud run was the perfect thing. It contained a physical challenge which was good, but also a touch of the juvenile and goofiness that I cherish.

Okay, so where to begin? I consulted Francine about how to begin training for it. This was on about May 4th. The Mud Run was on June 7th. She told me that I should have started about 6 or 8 weeks prior to the race and attempted to convince me to register for another later race, offering tons of great ideas for local trail runs.

But, having invested a whole two minutes of careful thought into it, my stubborn mind was made up. I was going to do the 10K Mud Run.

I started my official training schedule the week after my birthday. I did have a 20L keg of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale to finish after all -- running would get in the way of sitting in the basement and working on ensuring none of that wonderful beer would go to waste.

My first "training" run was done on our basement treadmill on May 15th. That was mistake number one -- starting the training too late and too advanced. I ran for 40 minutes and went 5 K. I ran-walked the remaining 10 minutes as a warm-down and added another 1 K to my total.

Following Fran's suggestion, my next workout was some upper body work with weights. Man that hurt. It was a good workout but took me 3 days to recover from it, so I abandoned that. That was mistake number two.

My next scheduled run was May 18th. In 38 minutes I ran 5K. I cooled down by doing a run-walk up to 46 minutes and went 5.76K.

The 20th, I ran 4K in 30 minutes. Only cooled down for another 3 minutes. Didn't give myself enough time. Another mistake methinks.

The 21st I was in Montreal on a business trip. I went downstairs in the hotel to do weights (yes, I thought I'd try the upper body strength workout thing again since the hurting had finally stopped) -- but the hotel's workout room had only one set of weights and some other middle-aged guy was hogging it and sweating all over it. That was supposed to be my fat ass on that machine and my smelly sweat on it. Sigh. So I jumped on the treadmill and watched Canada AM and ran for 20 minutes and did about 3.5K.

May 25th I ran for 38 minutes and did 5K.

May 27th I ran 29 minutes and did 4K. I did a much longer cool-down run/walk and did 5.25K in 40 minutes.

May 30th I did 5K in 37 minutes. I did the rest of the run in a slow jog/walk combination and in 56 minutes I did 7.26K. I really wanted to go to an actual 10K despite the fact Francine repeatedly told me NOT to do this. Like any good husband, I could barely hear her tell me this, because every time she was telling me something important I was hearing the lyrics to the song Frère Jacques or The Flintstones theme song in my head rather than her words. I other words, I stubbornly wanted to be able to do 10K before the actual race. Big mistake number four. I didn't stop until Francine came downstairs and screamed at me to stop. Her words did finally cut through the lyrics in my head which, this time were Psycho Killer by The Talking Heads.

On May 31st I did my first "outside" training run. Fran had kept telling me I couldn't just train on a treadmill but needed to actually do something outside to get used to the different terrain. She took me to a run on the West Mountain that her group often ran. It was along the top of the brow then down the mountain and across a golf course before going back up to the starting point. This was the most wonderful picturesque view while running -- at that point I actually fell in love with running, completely enjoying the landscape, the scenery, the incredible beauty of the area we live in. My whole life I'd thought that runners and cross country runners were nuts to be doing something so difficult. But during this run it finally clicked in my head and I could understand their passion. It was a phenomenal experience. I was beginning to think that perhaps trail running would be for me. I did about 4.5K in 36 minutes. Of course, the stairs at the end of the race almost killed me. It took my legs days to recover from that.

On June 2 I ran the same route of about 4.5K in about 32 minutes. By then I was satisfied that I might be able to complete the 10K Mud Run in about 1.5 hours.

I failed to do another run on the 4th like I should have. Another mistake. But of course, not at all my last mistake. After all, I was so good at making mistakes and I was on a roll.

I spent the two days before the race installing a giant play structure we had ordered in the yard for Alexander. Almost every muscle in my body was sore and stiff, and, the Saturday I'd spent most of the day in the sun, so was sore, sunburnt, and had had a few too many beers. At about midnight Francine explained to me I wasn't in the best shape to be doing my first 10K run early the next morning. She again explained there was a 10K trail run in Ancaster on the forthcoming Tuesday and perhaps I should consider doing that instead.

Stubbornly, I grabbed another beer and shook my head like a defiant two year old. I think I got to bed some time between 1 AND 1:30 AM. Okay, I've lost count of what mistake this was.

The next morning, I had to be in Toronto at the Claireville Conservation Area near the 427 and Steeles for registration some time between 7 and 8 AM. I was up, showered and ready to go by about 7.

On my way out I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Fran suggested I take a sweater or jacket, that I'd be waiting around a while and would be cold. "Pshaw!" I said. "I'm from Northern Ontario. You Southern Ontario types don't KNOW cold. Besides, it's June."

Big mistake. It was something like 10 degrees. The sky was overcast.

For breakfast I had a banana and some yogurt and on the drive up I drank a bottle of water and my coffee and a cereal bar.

By the time I'd registered I'd already gone pee twice. Too much coffee I told myself. Another mistake.

And boy was it ever cold. As the misty rain came down I was physically shivering, so donned the cool Mud Run t-shirt I'd been given in my registration package and went to wait in the truck for the almost full hour I had to wait between registering and the race. I'd forgotten to pack something to read. Sigh. Another mistake.

When I pulled the t-shirt off and went to join the other runners near the starting point, I passed the giant line-up to the port-a-potties and thought there was no way I was going to get in that line-up. Yet one more mistake, because by the time the race started, I wasn't warming up by stretching -- I was doing a little version of the pee dance.

The race started about 15 minutes late (not much fun as I'm an impatient sort), and we were off. The first stretch was down a gravel road. As other runners zipped past me, I kept telling myself to keep to my normal pace. I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't racing them -- I was racing myself. That was difficult, particularly given my competitive nature. But I kept to my pace as much as possible. (Okay, I'll admit, I put on just a touch of speed, so I could at least feel satisfied with having passed other runners who'd started ahead of me).

We went down and up a hill on the gravel road, then turned off onto down a grassy field and through a treed area. At times near the beginning the path was so narrow that we were walking through certain stretches. I was quite a bit disappointed that I was walking within the first kilometer of the race. Then we had to jump down the steep bank of a stream and cross it -- perhaps only a couple of inches deep, but enough to get at least one foot entirely wet -- and on the other side up a really steep hill with two ropes to pull yourself up.

I was a bit impatient from having had to walk several meters back, and, like a few others, didn't wait in the line-up to use the ropes to ascend the hill, but, instead went straight up the middle, clutching at small trees and the ground to scramble up.

Oh man. That had been tough and entirely different from any of the limited running I'd already done. I was ready to stop right there.

The trail led out of the woods and back to the "finish line" area near where the race had begun and the final 50 foot long mud pit was. They'd told us that we'd loop near the finish line but go left instead of right on our first trip through. And here there was a stretch of a group of tires laid out flat to run through, then a small pile of bales of hay to run and jump over. Then, darting left, our first water station and back to a wooded trail. It felt like the run had just started and I wasn't thirsty, so didn't take any water.

By then, we were spaced out enough that we didn't need to walk, and it was a good solid run through some beautiful woods. I was impressed with the cordial manner of the other runners, and participated in the calling out of "branch" when you encountered a low lying branch at face height, or "stump" or "big hole" for those more than typical foot-stumble points we encountered.

The feeling of running through the woods was exhilarating. By that point, I wasn't cold any longer, and was used to the feeling of my right foot being soaked.

Up ahead I could hear screams and shouts of people seemingly having discovered something. Was it a dead body found mutilated in the woods? Was this like one of those opening sequences from a Law & Order episode?

No, it wasn't a freshly discovered dead body. It was a river. Perhaps three to three and a half feet deep. We had to jump down to the riverbank, then run through the river, and back up the other side. There was a bit of a "line" as many runners paused to consider this before taking the plunge and calling out about how chilly the water was. (Have I already mentioned it was somewhere in the range of 10 degrees earlier that morning?)

The water was cold and the bottom of the river bed muddy. By the time I came out the other side (it was only perhaps 15 feet or so across), we had to ascend a steep and muddy river-bank. It was slippery and my hands got a bit muddy. As I pulled myself up using a small tree, I tried quickly wiping the mud off on the bark or leaves.

By that time, my shoes seemed to gain about 10 pounds each -- I regretted wearing long socks, thinking the less fabric on my legs and feet, the lighter I would have been. And I wondered at the intelligence of running with completely soaked feet. I'd read in a runner's magazine that keeping your feet dry was important to prevent blistering. I prepared myself for not being able to walk the next day.

There were some confusing signs indicating kilometers along the way. I think it was shortly before the first river that we saw a sign that said 6K. It was confusing. There was no way we could have run 6K by then -- not according to my watch. And I didn't think 4 K was possible either, if it was counting down the kilometers we had left. Time-wise, based on the timer on my watch and my training runs, I thought maybe we'd gone 2.5 or 3 K. But not 4.

The signs got more confusing as we went, because the next one was 7. The one after that 8. Huh? I decided to ignore them and keep going. There were mutterings from other runners I over-heard that suggested the path had been messed up and we were somehow diverted the wrong way. The folks at the various intersections and water stations seemed to suggest the same vague notions as we passed.

But I just kept running in whatever direction the volunteers at various posts told me to go when I responded I was one of the 10K runners.

And at the next three water stations I paused to take a quick mouthful of water and ensure I threw the cup in the garbage can. We were in a conservation area, after all. Tossing the cup to the forest floor didn't appeal to me.

The race went through various grassy fields and wooded paths. Some of the paths were wide and allowed runners to job beside each other -- others were tight and narrow and reminded me of the creepy dense swampy forest where Luke Skywalker first met Yoda. I had to duck low lying obstacles like half-fallen trees -- jump over other fallen trees -- and there was even a metal culvert that went under a roadway and was perhaps 40 or 50 feet long that I had to run through in a crouch position.

There were a lot of hills, and each one took a lot out of me. Particularly the ones that came shortly after the rivers. (There were two rivers to cross -- each about waist deep)
After a little while (what I imagined was the mid-way point, as my watch had indicated a little less than 30 minutes by then), the 10K runners merged paths with the 5K runners.

Shortly after that we ran through the second river, and then went up a narrow path up the side of a steep hill. The hill was sloppy and completely muddy and was so slippery that we were all scrambling up the side of the steep hill (weary of sliding and falling down the hill and into the river on our right). My hands and knees covered in mud from crawling up the river bank and slipping several times on my ascent of the hill, I called out "Nobody told me there'd be mud on this run!" The other runners around me must have been tired too, because they found it amusing.

At that point, as we all slowly scrambled up the hill in single file, I had a chance to actually catch my breath and chat with some of the other runners. Slowing like that again felt like I was cheating, because I really wanted to run the whole race, not walk slowly. Sigh. By the time we got to the top of the hill, the path became less muddy and we were able to run again, this time through a very tight and twisty narrow path.

We moved on back to a gravel road that I didn't even recognize as the first road we'd run down. Then back down the grassy hill, through the woods and to that first stream we'd walked through. I wasn't as worried about my right foot getting wet by this point. Then back up the steep hill with the ropes. This time I used the one rope most of the way up. Then out of the woods and to the near finish. Back through the tires, over the bales of hay and this time, was instructed to turn right into the mud pit.

Ho-boy! It seemed to take at least 5 minutes to go through the 50 feet of squelchy 4 foot deep mud. Again, runners were cordial and helped each other out. (Okay, some of them flung mud at their friends or grabbed and tossed others who were trying to run by on the hard solid sides of the put into the mud). I helped a woman in front of me who was stuck up to her waist and pulled out a pair of shoes that were sunk down at least a foot. When I tossed the shoes over the side of the pit I saw that there were at least half a dozen other muddy shoes others had pulled out. They kept the mud muddy by shooting a fire hose of water into the pit. Definitely cold water.

I made it through the pit completely covered in mud about three quarters of the way up my legs. Unlike many others, I hadn't fallen face first or backwards into the mud, so, except for where others had grabbed me for balance (or perhaps to cop a quick feel) and I or others had wiped their muddy hands on my shirt, I was only half mud covered.

My feet felt about 20 pounds heavier and I had at least an inch or two of mud around most of my shoes and ankles. My legs looked pretty darn cool covered in a quarter inch thick layer of mud, and I wondered how many people paid hundreds of dollars for such a luxury.

We got to clean our hands off in four buckets of cold muddy water. But it helped -- I got a good deal of the mud off my hands and was able to grab a bottle of water and a half bagel at the end. Most of the bagel was mud free, but the grit and mud on it from my hands didn't taste all that bad. After that, I grabbed an apple and enjoyed that on my way to the showers.

I remembered to check my watch -- swiped some of the mud off it, and saw that the time was a bit over 1 hour. Something in the range of 1 hour and 4 minutes. I thought that simply couldn't be. There was no way I had run that race faster than my training, and was fully expecting it'd take me between 1 hour and fifteen to 1 and one half hours to finish 10K. I'd heard that runners often run a bit faster during races than when training, and know I did push myself a bit faster for most of the race, but didn't think it'd make that much of a difference, particularly given the delays on the muddy hills and the mud pit.

I then moved on to the line-up for the open shower area -- about 4 or 5 showers pumping down luke-warm and cool water allowed us to get some of the mud off our bodies. You had to really rub to get the mud off. I focused on my legs, figuring I'd already benefited from the beauty treatment on them, and walked through a field of really high grass for several minutes to clear much of the mud off my shoes.

I had followed Francine's advice and packed a couple of old towels, plastic bags and a change of clothes in the truck. I stripped naked right there in the parking lot, behind my open car door. (I'd put the truck key in my pocket inside a plastic baggie -- another bit of Francine's advice which was great).

As I stripped naked to change, I wasn't worried about terrifying anyone with my large white butt by this, because others in the area were doing the same thing. I got fresh underwear and shorts on, used a towel to remove a bit more mud from my lower body region, and put my shoes and socks into a couple of plastic bags. The rest of my clothes went into another plastic bag and I had another towel to sit on.

Of course, despite the fact Francine told me to pack my crocks as an extra pair of shoes to drive home in, I'd forgotten, and so ended up driving home in my bare feet.

As I'd mentioned, I made many mistakes related to this run, both in the pre-training and on the day of the race. But it was fun. Pure unadulterated fun. And I'd love to do it again.

In terms of official results or even pictures of the race, there are none so far. As of the writing of this, they still haven't posted the results -- apparently there was a mix-up -- some of the runners went the wrong way and I'm honestly not sure if I was among the ones who ran more than the full 10 or slightly less -- it would be very disappointing if I hadn't done at least 10K, because that means I need to do it again -- oh, who am I kidding, I definitely want to do this again.

Next time, though, I'll train properly.

And based on how much I enjoyed trail running, I think I'll be doing more regular runs outside in the beautiful scenery that our local community has to offer.

My shirt, bib, shoes and socks on our front lawn after I'd been cleaned off

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ok, this was just like running the run.....without running the run!!
Francine mentioned (during our run) that you were doing this race. She never mentioned too much about your training (or lack of) but you do realize that the girl knows of which she speaks. She is like a machine out would do well to listen to her wisdom, but like all husbands, I'm sure there's a much better tune playing.
Love the blog.
Barb T