I see that, um, about eight months or so have passed since I last posted a blog on this site (re-blog about the smoothie notwithstanding). Since the last time I really wrote a post for this site, I finished the book I had just ordered at that time, Less Than A Minute to Go (Thierfelder, St Benedict Press), and successfully completed my first 50k: Cloudsplitter 100. When I last blogged, I mentioned that I ordered Thierfelder’s book for inspiration as I trained for Cloudsplitter. The book did inspire me, and reading the book gave me a change in perspective about pain and suffering that helped increase my self-confidence before I began the race. Before I discuss the helpful aspects of the Thierfelder’s work, the former freshman composition instructor in me has to report the negative aspects of the book: the writer’s inferior style and the work’s apparent lack of proper editing. I feel somewhat uncomfortable writing anything negative about Bill Thierfelder’s work; I greatly admire his character and his faith. Given that Thierfelder is the president of a college, however, his work must be held to a high standard.
Throughout the book, Thierfelder quotes extensively. His quoted material is often too long, sometimes about as long as an entire page. In such cases the proper method of quoting is for the writer to summarize the context of the quote for brevity’s sake, then quote only the most striking lines of the quote that the writer believes best express the point he’s trying to make by using the quotation. Even more distressing than Thierfelder’s too generous use of quoted material is his chaotic use of documentation following the quoted material and facts and figures he uses throughout the book. His citation of sources is inconsistent as far as any formal citation style (such as MLA, APA, or Chicago), and it’s even inconsistent within the work itself. Furthermore, until the last section of the book, the work seems to lack organization. The strength of Thierfelder’s writing comes through only at the end of the book, when he relates the secret of improving and succeeding in one’s sport-related performance to improving one’s relationship with God. Although he touches on the relationship between one’s spiritual growth and one’s improved sport performance throughout the book, the relationship seems too loosely connected until the last chapter of the book: at this point Thierfelder’s successfully illustrates the way one’s faith can infuse and positively impact every aspect of his life, even his sport performance.
Many athletes may not be interested in the faith element of Thierfeld’s work (although I, personally, am inspired by the author’s faith); however, his work does provide some positive direction and advice for athletes who want to improve their performances. He is, after all, an experienced sports performance psychologist. The points in the book that helped me most are that pain is temporary; if a peak performance can happen once, it can happen again; peak performances happen when one pays attention to every detail of his performance, during his performance; and accepting the reality of one’s situation helps him to take control of his action in any particular situation.
Thierfeld makes more valuable points in his work regarding the psychological, spiritual, and physical aspects of performing well; however, the points I have listed here are the ones that helped me successfully train for, run, and complete my first 50k after having failed at my first two attempts at that distance. I went into the race knowing that no matter how much discomfort I may experience, it would be over after I finished the race. If I were to experience pain or illness (or unexpected discomfort of any kind), accepting the reality of my situation, rather than waste mental energy wishing I were in a better situation, would help me figure out a way to continue the race given the whatever particular challenge I had to face: it would enable me to cope. I have successfully achieved running goals in the past that I found arduous. My past experience (if not a peak performance, at least a successful completion of a running goal) told me that I could do it again. If I paid attention to the details of finishing this specific race (Cloudsplitter) at this particular time, paying attention to every step and only those things upon which I needed to concentrate to complete the challenge of the race, I would be able to prevent discouraging thoughts from conquering my mind, and then my spirit: a defeat that inevitably leads to that downward spiral that precedes a DNF.
Armed with the weapons of defense I accumulated while reading Thiefeld’s book, I arrived at the start line of the Cloudsplitter 100 feeling more confident than I usually feel at the beginning of any race longer than 13.1 miles. The race in general, outside of my personal experience and performance, was fabulous in every way. Having flown into Nashville, Phillip and I made our way up to Eastern Kentucky in the course of a day and arrived in Elkhorn City just in time for the 7 pm mandatory meeting for racers of all distances. As we drove into the little town, we passed a sign just inside the city limits, welcoming all the Cloudsplitter runners. The this warm greeting set the tone for the rest of our experience. The race organizers and volunteers were friendly and helpful. I didn’t get to eat any of the spaghetti dinner, of course, but having researched our trip ahead of time I knew enough to fill an ice chest with gluten-free purchases (fruit, nuts, cheese, gluten-free deli-meats, etc) from the Whole Foods in Nashville. I didn’t starve, for not having been able to eat the pasta and bread. The other race participants were friendly and the air in the church social hall was filled with the vibes of the familiar nervous, excited tension that exudes from runners just before a race.
The nervousness became a little more palpable when the first speaker, a ranger from Breaks Interstate Park, though which part of the race course runs. This ranger’s job was to warn the runners about possible bear encounters and to instruct us about the proper way to behave during such an encounter. The bears, it seems, are out in October, gathering acorns and such in preparation for their upcoming hibernation. The ranger assured us that a bear siting was more likely than not, that area of the mountains having one of the largest populations of black bears in the United States. I confess that I started to have doubts about running the race when I heard that crossing paths with a bear was likely. I hadn’t signed on for that kind of experience. The ranger assured us that if one just backs away without running away (bears view people running away as prey and give chase) while still facing the bear, and if one does not climb a tree to escape (bears being excellent tree climbers themselves), the one can escape a bear encounter unscathed. Better yet, explained the kind park ranger with alarming information, if one is noisy while running down the path, any black bears (shy creatures that they are, as the ranger explained) in the vicinity will run away before he’s seen; black bears are shy, we were told, and prefer to avoid chance encounters with humans. I decided right that moment to be the noisiest runner, ever, on that trail the next day. I also decided to look up into the trees more than I usually do while running trails; bears, according to the gentle ranger, actually sleep and hibernate in trees. Who knew? I meant to make sure I saw any bear before he could see me. Black bears may very shy, but none of them wanted to avoid seeing me as much as I wanted to avoid seeing them during this race!
After the meeting we drove up a dark, winding road to Breaks park, to the park lodge where we stayed. The lodge is only about fifteen minutes from the city park where the race starts. The room was plain, but spacious enough, and clean. We would stay at the lodge again, were we to ever return to the area. The lodge employees were extremely friendly and helpful.
The race itself went by pretty quickly. We arrived at the race site about thirty minutes before start. Parking around the area was sparse; we found a nearby church and parked at the end of the church’s parking lot. The morning was gray and cool, with the temperature in the upper forties. Back home in South Texas, Phillip and I had been running in still triple digits most days, even though we had just passed through the month of September. The cool temperature was a relief for us. We over-dressed, however, as people from the South are wont to do when they encounter much cooler weather. We were able to peel off layers, however, as the temperature warmed some. The elevation gain as we climbed into the mountain during the course of the day meant that the temperature stayed comfortably cool, though.
The region had received rain for the two days prior to the race, although the cloudy sky gave way to a perfectly blue sky and bright sun within an hour after race start. The day really could not have been more perfect for a long distance run. The trails, however, were plenty muddy from the rainfall, and the mud did cause some trouble. The trails of this race are steep and often straight up;the feet of runners maneuvering up the trail slid down in the mud even as they pushed their way up the trail. Many times we felt that we were taking the proverbial one step backward for every two steps forward. I did wear my Luna huaraches for this race, not knowing what the terrain would be like (it was very rocky – wearing my Luna’s was a wise choice, after all), and my feet were thick with dirt by the time we crossed the finish line. The mountains were beautiful, however, and the only race I remember with a course as beautiful as this is the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon (from Schenectady to Albany, NY) Phillip and I ran in October 2010. The leaves on the trees along the trails were turning fall colors, and a number of scenic vistas appear a various points along the way.
The total ascent of the 50k route for Cloudsplitter is 8983 ft, so Phillip and I decided to allow ourselves eight hours to finish the race. By the time we made our way to the support station at the 15.5 mile turn-around, we were clearly going to miss our goal. Rather than feel deflated at this point, we felt relieved to hear others at the support station saying that they had planned eight hours and were missing that mark as well. The support stations were plentiful, with two manned and one unmanned between the start and the turn-around. The tables were stocked with a variety of carbs and protein.
As we neared the turn-around, enough people passed us heading back that we knew we were the back of the pack. I tried not to let it gnaw at me. I remembered what I had learned from Thierfelder’s book about sport performance and committed to paying attention only to the details of the moment, those things I needed to do in order to finish the race. This strategy helped. For once I didn’t let disappointment at an already-missed goal during a race take me into an inescapable trap of despair. The weather was perfect, the scenery breathtaking,and neither Phillip nor I were experiencing any of the bug-a-boo, difficult to manage discomforts that often plague distance runners. My stomach, for once, did not betray me! We saw fewer runners as we ran (or really I should say ran / hiked) back down the mountain, and fear of black bear encounters descended into my spirit in response to this paucity of human company. I did – yes I did and I’m not ashamed to admit it – I did at this point begin singing songs. Pretty loudly, too. I could think of no better way to make noise! Phillip had to bear with my nervous behavior (pun only slightly intended), but in my defense, we did hear the occasional, but consistent, whooping and hollering of the two runners who were behind us from the time we left the turn-around station. They were too far behind to be seen, but we could hear their vocalizations echo through the quiet, still trees. I have no idea why these men were caterwauling so; I surmise (if only to comfort myself) that these runners were as worried as I about meeting bears on the trail. Though still to early for sunset, the mountain shades and shadows darkened the trails by this point as if dusk had fallen. I continually looked up into the trees, to reassure myself that no bears were sleeping or hibernating above us. Thankfully, we finished that race without exchanging greetings with any black bears.
The last three or four miles of the Cloudsplitter course are actually some of the most difficult to run. The trail at this point is straight downhill, and the trail is formed of loose rocks. Running down hill on loose rocks, in dim light after a day of arduous exercise, made for a difficult finish. We felt surprisingly energetic at this point, and we were feeling strong still, with little physical discomfort. Knowing the finish was near, though, we felt that anxious desire to finally be finished with our task for the day. Neither of us had eaten very much, not having been hungry nor having felt the need to eat, but we were ready to shower off the trail dirt and find a comfortable place to sit. We crossed the finish line at 10 hours and 20 minutes: over two hours more than we planned to run. We were ok with that time, though, for the race website warns that the course is difficult. What’s more, we felt pretty good when we finished. Still strong. Three women in my age group (50-54) ran the 50k distance. Of the three, I placed 1st. An exciting finish for my first successful attempt at finishing a 50k (the third time apparently is a charm).