Friday, December 3, 2010

En-trance-d (Wild Hare 25K)

My high school memories include a daily assembly of all the kids and teachers in the school courtyard, always too early in the morning and always too hot in Chennai. After prayers and what not, you could then see us seated in neat rows of meditating yogis, or snickering teenagers, depending on how far you observed us from. Transcendental Meditation (TM), they called it. After several years of unintentional practice, I got reasonably successful at reaching that state of mind when you feel relaxed and almost trance-like, though I never did get to feel the 'energy from the end of the universe'. (That would come later in life, with Pink Floyd.)


The days leading up to the Wild Hare race were most un-'days-leading-up-to-a-race'-like. I signed up for the 25K so I could show off the shiny medal with the cartoon hare that Joe, the race director, and Alicia, the medal designer, baited everyone with. I wasn't trained, not by a long shot, but I wasn't completely out of shape either. I was in a rather curious stage with my running - when I ran, about once or twice a week, on short 5 mile runs, I ran comfortably well and despite my obvious lack of training, I was running faster than I had ever run before. But 5 miles was the point where not only my speed dropped, my run stopped as well.

A week before the race, I did a 14 mile run with my new training group. Since I had to re-learn how to pace myself, I scanned the group and promptly decided to keep up with Diana H, who knows a thing or two about pacing a long run. That was a good strategy, I completed my 14 miles comfortably. Now all I had to do was replicate that pacing strategy at the race: start slow, then go slower.

The Race

It's November 20, the Wild Hare trail race is on today at the Bluff Creek Ranch, Warda, TX. I've run here before on the soft pine needles and through the cow pastures. Driving into Warda on the race morning with Cris and Savi, I'm relaxed knowing I'd run the miles but not race them with a time goal to achieve. There are 2 loops of 8 and 7.5 miles each, and even with running slow, I expect my time to be around 90 minutes for each loop.

Seeing all my buddies at the race start bucks me up like a tonic and it is nice to see Sha, a fellow Team Asha runner, ready to do her first trail race! Despite my excitement, I remember my resolve to start slow. So I start at the back of the pack, chatty and slow. Warming up through the first half mile, I settle into a rhythm where I am not thinking about my run at all. I am just soaking it all up, all the friends and smiles and trees around me. After another mile, I am running on my own. I am en-trance-d, the feeling is similar to just what I felt with TM all those years back. I am only vaguely aware of what I am doing, there are no thoughts in my head and my body moves on pure instinct through all the rocks, roots and pines. I pass some runners and some others pass me, but I have found my natural rhythm.

The trance is broken as I near the first aid station 4 miles into the race. There's Cris and Henry, and after taking some salt and water, I am off. A few minutes into the long fields here, I get back to my rhythm, and back into my trance. Miles 4-8 go by without making an impression on my mind. As I run through the barn at the end of my first loop, I start getting conscious of the things I need to do: nutrition, hydration, change of shirt etc. I glance at the clock curiously, and I am shocked at the reading: I have done the first 8 miles in 72 minutes, way faster than I expected or sought to achieve.

A couple of minutes at the pit stop for fuel, and I am off. I'd been merely running easy until this point, now I want to race. Is it possible that I might finish in 2:30? How fast should I run? Should I avoid walk breaks entirely and just push through the remaining miles as hard as I can? Starting the second loop, I am sprinting with all my focus on how to make this a great race time-wise. I transcend into no sub-conscious trances no more, I am only too aware of how my legs are moving, how I am breathing hard and so on. From miles 10-12, it's narrow single track and I start getting anxious about passing runners who can't hear me shout at them because they've got headphones on.

I rush through the mid-point aid station in a hurry. Mistake. Saving a few seconds there meant that I did not prepare for a warming sun through the exposed fields. My body is heated up, and the day feels too warm to run, and I am willing myself to push through these last 4 miles. I am slow, I can't keep up with what I've been doing. I can feel the effects of the 6-mile hill workout from a day and a half before, my legs are tired. I am enjoying this no more, this second loop has had a completely different feel to it than my first one. I run in, and the clock says I've taken 78 minutes for my 7.5 miles, and I am not sure whether to be happy or not with my overall time of 2:32.

After a few minutes though, my body recovers and I feel good - not with my time because that doesn't matter, but with having run 15.5 miles and enjoying the post-run moments with my friends. I spend the rest of my excited day chatting, handing out finisher medals, putting up glow sticks and eating veggie burgers. It's been a great day, I've learnt a lot today about my running - about what to do and not do next time, and to just accept whatever happens and allow myself to be en-trance-d.

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