Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dead Legs


I ran the entire Powerline Pass Trail Race on Saturday with dead legs. The race was 13 miles starting in Indian, up over Powerline Pass and down the Powerline trail to Upper Huffman trailhead.

I arrived at the start just as they were getting ready to say go. I grabbed a number, signed a waiver, and pinned it on as I was running off from the starting line. The first half mile was nice, flat and a good warm up. But after that it was an unrelenting uphill that would last for 5 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain, and then 8 miles of downhill.

I had thoughts of turning back within the first two miles. I recognized how different race day of the Lost Lake run was. My energy during that race was at it's peak. My attitude was positive and was just generally glad to be there. Saturday was different. I wondered why I had ever gotten out of bed that morning.

As we started to make our way uphill the crowd spread out. My legs felt heavy and every step was a struggle. I thought about how far I had to go and did not think I was going to make it. If I hit the wall at mile 2, how was I going to go another 11 miles over rough terrain?

I tried to make myself happy. The sun was out, the views were great, I could see out over the newly snow capped Chugach mountains for miles. Briefly I forgot I was racing. As the hill got steeper, my pace slowed to a crawl. My arms hung at my side as I waddled up the mountain. I thought for sure I was in last place.

Once I determined that it was not feasible to turn back (I had no car at the start line in Indian, my ride was long gone, and the organizers were probably on there way back to Anchorage to set up the finish line), and that I was not going to do well in the race, I decided to come up with a purpose for this race that would give me motivation to keep moving forward. I pretended like I was nearing the end of a 100 mile race. I was in the last 10 miles and I was tired, my legs felt like they were going to fall off, my body felt like it was being pushed to the ground, I had an overwhelming urge to lay down on the tundra and go to sleep. Pretending like I had already run 90 miles and that I was relatively close to the finish line helped. I imagined this is what it would feel like, so I tried to overcome that feeling and force myself to run as much as possible.

It worked, but it was torture. I came up over Powerline Pass and could see the valley down below all the way to the Glen Alps trailhead (2 miles from the finish). I knew it was mostly downhill from there, but I quickly found out that even downhill was going to be difficult that day.

After much struggle, and a preemptive sprint to a finish line that was not there, I finished in 3:20. I found out today that I was not in last place. I came in 21st out of 31 amongst the women. And I'm happy with what I accomplished. My legs did not want to run 10 feet that day. But I ran 13 miles feeling the pain in every step.

In retrospect, I'm glad that it happened this way. I got to see what it was like to run on tired legs. I got to find out just how far I could push myself even after I felt like I was done. I had a conversation with another runner recently and she said your mind is your biggest limitation in endurance events. You quickly find out that your body can go much farther than your mind tells you it can.

3 comments:

OneMoreMile said...

It is strange how some days, no matter how fit we may have felt the day before, our bodies just don't want to move. I've had days like yours, more than I'd like, so I can relate to every difficult step. Good on you for carrying on, it sounds like a hell of a course.

Jennoit said...

Congrats, Julie, on the finish. I know how it feels when you just don't have the legs/energy/who knows what for a race like that. But I agree - you've learned something from it.

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

I always preferred going the other direction over powerline. Especially on a bike. There used to be bar near Indian where on sundays it was all the burgers you can eat provided you grilled them yourself. Made a good finish to a day out riding :)

How was the creek crossing? Please don't tell me they've put a bridge over it...