With that said, there really aren't rules when it comes to running (except cutting the course to cheat). There are, however, some standard 'rules' (or perhaps more like 'guidelines') of running that every runner knows and for which the only penalty for breaking them is probably humiliation and/or pain to oneself.
Just a few examples:
- Don't break in a new pair of shoes on race day.
- Prepare yourself mentally for the task at hand...it's not always about the physical effort.
- Don't go out too fast. Better to start slow and finish strong, than start strong and not finish at all.
- Run YOUR race.
- Don't try anything new (food, drink, gel, etc) on race day.
"Bite off more than you can chew.....and then chew like hell." -- Peter Brock
Last year, the Psycho Wyco Run Toto Run 50K was my first attempt at the 50K distance. And, the weather decided to provide us runners with several inches of snow the week prior. It was brutal, with a DNF rate greater than 50%. This year, the weather cooperated and provided us with cool temps, frozen ground, and a sunny day.....it was a good day to run!
I'm a Brooks guy. But, I've never owned a pair of shoes intended for trail running. I got a new pair of Brooks the first week of December. Well, December was ~175miles and January (my biggest month ever) was ~251miles. It reeked havoc on my shoes and a week prior to the Psycho Wycho, my shoes blew out (I mean, 425+miles on them....). Right down to the day before the race, I was fretting over which pair of blown out Brooks road shoes I'd be wearing, knowing that whatever the choice, my feet would be getting wet and blisters could be an issue. The day before the race, my wife and I visited Up & Running, a wonderful new shoe store in Kearney, MO. Thanks to a sale going on and a gift card, I was able to secure a new pair of running shoes. This time, though, a pair of trail shoes. So, Saturday morning, I would be breaking in my new Mizuno Wave trail shoes. And break Rule #1.
Rule #3 will be forever my bane in running. I'm a former sprinter, and I still have the legs for it. I love the feeling of running fast. I've just been able to add stamina to it the last few years. I told my running buddy, Don, prior to the start, that I was going to try to run with the lead pack for a bit. I knew I wasn't fast enough to win the race, but a solid start would get me out beyond the herd of walkers and allow me to run for the entire day. Maybe even help me set a PR. Well, that lead group went out about 7:30/mile (which I'm fine with running for 15-20miles, but certainly not 31...). After 4 miles, I eased back on the throttle. I would still come thru lap #1(10.3miles) in 11th place with a solid 1:37:01.4. Two more laps like that, and I'd have a solid time.
Run YOUR race. Don't try to run alongside someone else. Don't try to follow in someone's footsteps. Run your pace, your way, your race. Going out fast was not exactly my attack plan for this race several months ago. But, with a 50K already under my belt this year, I took a chance. After backing off the lead group, I fell in behind several different people and found myself content to just follow them. I had my opportunities to pass them, but for some reason (probably not being mentally prepared) I just settled into position. Lap #2 wasn't bad (2:01:07.9), and my body was in good shape, but it was just slower than hoped for. Rule #4 broken.
Hey, rules are meant to be broken, right? Well, Lap #3 brought along the usual cramps that seem to be unavoidable in my long runs. Breaking my usual habit(and Rule #5), I grabbed chewable antacids and bananas in an attempt to rid myself of the cramps and get back to solid running. Miles 23-27 were a struggle and mixture of cramping, hill climbing, running, etc. But, the cramps had disappeared! I was closing in on another 50K completion on the daunting Wyandotte County Lake course and at mile 28, I stopped and had a beer with the guys at the aid station (another unusual drink choice during a race for me), but it was a celebratory beer because nothing was going to stop me at that point.....right?
Mile 29.5 would bring the 'Three Sisters' (this is the clean version of what a lot of runners call them)....a series of 3 hills that are nearly un-runnable due to their steepness. Right before these three hills, though, is a small river crossing and a fairly sizeable short climb. Per usual, I decided to jump the river crossing (I mean, this is what trail running is all about). Well, mid-air, my left leg went into a cramp and let's just say I didn't get a score from the judges on my landing. As I lay on the ground nearly seizuring from the cramp for a few minutes, I found the time to curse myself for thinking the cramps were entirely gone. But, with a little over a mile left in the race, I picked myself up and began to hike the hill. Within 6 feet, there was a rock step of nearly 18". I lifted my leg to step and dropped backwards into cramping seizures again. More cursing. After subsiding the latest round of cramps, I approached the rock again. Again, I lifted my leg, and again my leg muscles responded by throwing me backwards into cramping. Heavy cursing. After waiting out the cramps for a third time, I didn't even bother to pick myself up from the ground. Come Hell or high-water, I was going to finish this race. But for this moment, some stupid 18" rock step was in my way. I crawled. Yes, crawled. I'm not too proud to admit it. For nearly 8' of the 31.25miles I traveled Saturday morning, I was on my knees, crippled from my own ignorance. I crawled, rather pathetically, over that rock, stood myself up, and hiked the rest of that hill. I walk/hiked the 'Three Sisters' with ease and jogged home the final 1/4-mile to another successful(I mean, I finished...that's successful, right?) 50K finish.
Yeah, I broke some cardinal rules of running on Saturday. So, what were my consequences (if any)?
- Found an enjoyable pair of trail running shoes. No blisters. No cuts. No black toenails. Dry feet.
- Perhaps could have hung around with that lead group longer, but the mindest wasn't there. Thankfully, after running 10-12miles, my mind was back in the place it needed to be to tackle the task at hand.
- I lucked out here. Yeah, I started too fast. But, boy was that fun running! The cramps later in the race were probably partly due to this. But, I finished anyways, so the day was not a total loss.
- My 2nd lap could have been faster, so the price I paid here was purely time. I rectified the situation quickly and got past it.
- Hey, you know what.....chewable antacids worked. Bananas worked (although, I'm still no fan of running after eating them). And beer......well, maybe I'll fill my hydration bladder with Boulevard Wheat next time!
I think the running gods looked kindly on me on Saturday. Or perhaps my weeks/months of training beforehand helped me more than I realized. Either way, I broke a few rules, learned a few lessons, and have no regrets about any of it.
PS--The Trail Nerds put on a first-class event. Wonderful aid stations. Great gear! Awesome medals! A CHALLENGING course!