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Muscle Memory

Muscle Memory: 1. A kinesthetic phenomenon by which a muscle or set of muscles may involuntarily produce movement that follows a pattern that has become established by frequent repetition over a long period of time.
2. The phenomenon by which a runner is able to cover a distance for which she is not trained, but has completed in the past, and is thus mentally able to conceive of the possibility and make it a reality.*

I’m a morning person. But not early morning. So I took it as a good omen when the alarm went off at 4:30 and I was wide awake despite a restless night.

I'd signed up for this race in early January. Other than some snowshoeing and quite a few short runs, I had only managed to log a single 14 miler. Thanks to an injury, my last ‘long run’ was nearly six months ago.

The Race. Hashawha Hills 50K is a loop course. It's tempting for the weak-willed to call it a day after 15 miles. Frankly, I was even less optimistic about my mental toughness than I was about my physical readiness. This was going to be interesting.

Know Thyself.
  1. Starting fast wrecks me. I never seem to recover from the early effort and feel taxed all day. The fun factor goes missing quickly.
  2. Trying to project how much longer it will take me to complete the course at any point other than the last 10K is de-motivating. But, it's tough to override the impulse to check.
I started slowly as planned. The trail had very slick sections early in the day, causing bottlenecks. Comic scenes ensued as back of the packers clutched at saplings and skittered sideways on cambered trails. The ice worked in my favor. I kept my pace conservative, chatting with friends and enjoying the ideal weather.

Winter Blahs. The course was nothing special to look at, at least at this time of year. The landscape was drab, plants dormant, and there were no real views, but it wasn’t unpleasant. In fact it offered a little bit of everything: Treacherous icy downhill; crusty snow; mushy snow; half-frozen, half-soggy fields; stream crossings; boggy grasslands; leaf-covered, dirt, and muddy slop trails with plenty of log-hopping; brief sections of hard-packed dirt and paved road and a few short but steep trail climbs for maximum calf burn.

I took extra care to fuel well; I knew I was asking a lot of my body. Luckily, this wasn’t difficult as the aid station fare was above and beyond that which even this spoiled VHTRC member has come to expect. They had hot pierogies - my new favorite ultra food!, potatoes, hot noodle soup, giant soft pretzels, PB & J, Goldfish, homemade chocolate chip cookies, Oreos and more that I didn’t take note of because I’d spent too much time grazing and my companions were leaving me behind.

Did I mention how incredibly helpful, cheery and welcoming these selfless souls were? The whole race was flawless. Thank you Alan and Pam Gowen and wonderful volunteers!

Are We There Yet? I struggled as usual with clock-watching. After just ten miles, despite feeling great, I caught myself thinking, Gosh, I still have a long time to be out here.

My snap-out-of-it solution is to activate my senses and focus on being in the moment: Birds, optimistically singing in anticipation of Spring. The drone of a small engine plane high above. The scent of thawing, damp earth. Soft, thick grass cushioning my footfalls. The slight warmth of the sun and cool, sweet air on my face. The banter, unintentional pratfalls and laughter of friends.

How grateful I am to be running again!

Raptors. Soon, we were cruising through beautiful pine woodlands and an aviary. There were Great Horned and Barred Owls, a Bald Eagle, Kestrel, Red-tailed Hawks and some I couldn’t identify. It was glum to see these magnificent birds caged, but a sign explained they all had injuries that wouldn't allow them to survive in the wild. I suppose being in the woods beats captivity in a zoo.

Arriving at the pavilion, I couldn’t believe how good I felt after the first loop. I wolfed down half of a PB & J, some dates and Oreos and hurried down the trail before my body could register any complaints.

I took advantage of my inexplicable energy and picked up the pace. I didn’t start hurting until mile 22, after a concerted effort through the muddiest section of the course. The voices of friends just ahead had spurred me on. I caught them, but the effort cost me and I had to work to stay with them over the final nine miles.

Runner's High. I was amazed that I was still able to run at this point. Was it muscle memory? My new compression tights? The company on trail? My reigned-in pace? Though my body was growing stiff and sore, I didn’t want the run to end.

We neared the finish and I thought dreamily about how hungry I’d be for the next day or two. I knew I would hurt, too. But it would be a good pain.

As I wondered what had given me the resolve and strength to get through this run, I recalled a conversation from the prior weekend. Brittany had just finished an ultra and was happily recounting the familiarity of the aches and fatigue she was feeling. I was filled with genuine envy.

Yes, ultrarunners are a weird bunch.

It’s good to be back.

* this is my own definition.

Wordless Wednesday: Snowshoeing Whitegrass

Whitegrass, West Virginia

As peaceful and quiet as you'd imagine

Nordic Skiers and Frost Covered Trees