So as I approached the end of this Summer I signed up and ran in a couple of "fun" runs on our return from the road. OK so the BEAR is not exactly what you'd call a "fun" run but it is a short distance that feels very rewarding to complete and also a run that can be done perhaps not in stellar style "off the couch". The Belle Chere 5k was definately one of those more enjoyable runs both in distance, difficulty, and in experience running it with our friends Dan and Laura. Laura has gotten more serious about running lately and is one of those people it is easy to get psyched about running just talking to her. Both Dan and Laura have run a marathon in exceedingly fine style doing one of those programs where they raised money along the way of their training for a worthy cause then culminating in the successful running of a marathon in Montana a few years back. After the Belle Chere I was looking through the stack of swag and noticed a race called the Springmaid Splash billing itself as an extreme 10k . Come to find out Dan and Laura were already registered and so I quickly made up my mind to run it as well. The 10k distance was not overly intimidating even though the course was described as a single track with lots of hills and something about 4 stream crossings. Needless to say I was beginning to get sucked in. A thought was kindled in these days of running a race I had heard about, knew a few people that had run, and was a monumental accomplishment in my mind. They called it the Shut-In. Dah Dah Dah!!!
The Shut-In was the devious creation of the Lower Arden Track Club some time back in the seventies. They came up with a no-frills pure running (read that as sadistic challenge to any moron willing to inflict intentional prolonged suffering on themselves). I had heard of it off and on since leaving Asheville several years ago. It was always talked about with a certain reverence. Perhaps that is because it represented a 17.8 mile course climbing several thousand feet as it rolled upwards from the NC arboretum paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to the trailhead parking lot for Mount Pisgah. I guess it could have been worse and actually gone to the summit of Mt. Pisgah but the parking lot finish was plenty heinous I would no doubt discover.
I knew of a couple of people that had run the S.I. One was a dominating female Ultra-runner who actually had won events with distances like 50 and even 100 miles. Not exactly someone that would naturally inspire me to think I could do this. The other was the principal of my school. Wayne although a few years younger than I was not an uber athlete. I had seen him completely transform himself a few years back when I first ran the Bear. In the midst of a divorce he had thrown himself into running, dropped several pounds, and a few years later was still training and running consistently. He ran it the first year he became principal of my school. After hearing his account that year 2005, I actually began to consider the possibility. Wayne's story was inspirational in the way that you begin to believe that if you really did want to put yourself through something like this you could probably pull it off. Normally the distance itself was enough to snap me back to reality and say there's no way I would want to spend that amount of time actually running.
I have run off and on since high school when I used it as a way to get in shape for lacrosse. In college I started running a little more often on my own although I was never what you would call consistent. I would usually have a good couple of weeks and then wouldn't run for months. During this time though I could knock out up to six miles "off the couch" without too much difficulty. I even ran the odd fun run such as Cooper River 10k a couple of years. In 2004 going through a rather rough spot I ran the BEAR for the first time with almost no training. Since then I had run very little and was finding it difficult to motivate myself to get out. This Spring and Summer though something clicked and I found it enjoyable to have a goal to motivate me to run. By the time Springmaid rolled around I had pretty much made up my mind to enter. Leading up to Springmaid I had started running in and around my neighborhood which contains some sizeable hills in a rolling 4 mile course. Those runs paid off at Springmaid and although I didn't run all of the hills I was able to finish in just under an hour on a pretty demanding course. It was also secretly gratifying to catch and pass my friend Laura within the first half of the race. Back at the Belle Chere 5k I had caught up to within sight of her about 50-100 yards ahead of me in the last mile of the race. However, in the final half mile as the course headed into a downhill finish she kicked in the afterburners and I never saw her again. When I caught and passed her at Springmaid it was on a switchback uphill and I cruised past feeling great and saw it as a true sign of progression. At the completion of Springmaid as I sprinted to make it two seconds under 60 minutes I felt totally wasted. It was a feeling that was to hang with me until well into the next day. The post race conclusion was contradictory for me. On one hand I felt like I could do the Shut-In and wanted to work towards it. On the other had having completed roughly one third of its length on a demanding course it was becoming quite clear that this was going to be quite a challenge. But having accepted the realities I was now committed. A few weeks later when I downloaded the application it was with nervous excitement and also the lack of certainty that due to the limited number of slots that I would even get in. During this time I also began looking inadvertently at the Black Mountain Marathon. When I looked at the Shut-In it was billed as a race that was a pretty good predicter of a marathon performance. Although not as long in distance the elevation gain and difficulties yielded much longer times than the distance would suggest. I had been thinking of a marathon a friend had run the previous spring in Damascus, VA called the Virginia Creeper. It sounded like a great no frills first marathon and I was seriously considering it. I figured if I was going to run almost 18 miles I might as well take on a full 26.2. I'm sure you can imagine the internal dialogue or maybe not. It went something like.
"Yeah a marathon. That would be a nice personal accomplishment. Something to feel good about."
Little voice "But the longest you've run ever is 9 miles"
"Sure but I can train for this so many people pull this off."
Little voice "but you've always said you didn't enjoy running enough to want to do it for more than an hour."
Needless to say the little voice lost out in the excitement of possibility. He would come back every now and again to question whether I was really going to do this, but for the most part he was drowned out by the mental planning that happened incessantly around my training.
So I was committed and even decided that considering the amount of hill training I would be doing to prepare myself for the Shut-In that I ought to find a trail marathon that was more in line with the specific type of running I would be training for during the fall. Uh, that would be uphill running. I definately found a worthy challenge in signing up for the Black Mountain Marathon. But more on that later.
I spent the fall obsessing in the finest Zircon style over training runs and distances, hill running, and poured myself into reading anything on the web that could prepare me for what I had gotten myself into. I analyzed and re-analyzed the online topo map with the course super-imposed on it. I even managed to stay relatively diligent on my training regimen using a modified marathon plan I copied and taped into the cover of my school planning calendar. The miles started to build and even after an almost two week set-back involving a crick in my neck and the completion of our upstairs, I still felt good about my preparation. I also had worked in some runs up Howard's Knob and on to our neighborhood. They were grueling but a good measuring stick to see gains. My set-back had put me a little closer to the race with my longest runs but after a sixteen mile stretch in and around my neighborhood I felt as ready as I would get. Jelly legs and all I was out of time to get any longer runs in.