Last Saturday, January 7th, I ran the PHUNT 25K, a Fat Ass (that pretty much just means it's free...and casual) put on by the Trail Dawgs at the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area in Elkton, Maryland.
Who are the Trail Dawgs? Glad you asked. Go here and find out more about these fine fellows and what they're scheming up next: http://traildawgs.org/
Now where was I?
Ah, yes, I ran the PHUNT 25K and did it in a pretty pleasing 2:30, especially considering the continuous roll of the course and the muddy footing. Problem is I was intending to do the PHUNT 50K and here's photographic evidence of how that turned out.
No, it didn't take me an hour to run another 3 miles, but it did take me that long to get back out on the loop a second time, fear what my non-responding arches (especially my left) had to tell me and then walk back to the start/finish/mid-way point.
Even after more than a decade of running and several years of trail/ultra-running, I still don't know my body well enough to be certain when I'm being alerted simply to pain or receiving an emergency cry to bail out before real, lasting damage befalls me. Wish I did know the difference.
The Trail Dawgs were kind enough and the event low-key enough, that I was encouraged to log my 25K time which I eventually did. The unbelievably beautiful January weather and fine company made for a wonderful day in spite of the abrupt end to actual running, but, a week later, I feel like a cheater and know that, regardless of how the results might read, I actually logged my second ever DNF.
The short term good news, sort of, is that my arch has proven touchy all week long and I feel quite certain that I made the right decision by calling it a day. The longer term good news is that a few days of not-running (as I like to call it) and working out on the bosu ball (miracle invention...do your research) has me feeling vastly improved if not all the way back to normal.
Which brings me to a quick mention of the highlights on my upcoming race calendar. I'm signed up for the HAT Run 50K in March, the sure-to-be epic Hyner View Trail Challenge 50K (my first DNF was at the 25K version of this race at a time when I already knew I was nursing and injury and I couldn't resist the chance to take part in the inaugural 50K this year) and the Laurel Highlands Ultra 70-miler in June. With all of that on the docket, all of which is meant as a build toward the Slickrock 100 in October, remaining healthy is as important as logging miles.
So, that takes care of my DNF confession and its back story. Here is the plea. I'm not sure it's a plea so much as a call for opinions and I know you've got 'em.
Years of destruction from basketball (believe it or not, I was a pretty decent...or at least quick/pesky...point guard back in (sigh) the day) have laid waste to my ankles, especially my left one.
Every now and then I pull out the x-ray taken back 2004-ish that shows floating fragments and two bones grinding against one another in a manner that still makes me question why I bother moving at all. I didn't have the time or money to justify surgery then and less so now.
I steered clear of trail running for far longer than I wish I had because of fear of falling, twisting, breaking, etc. It was also only a couple of years ago that my left foot was still going completely numb after about 10 miles or so of running, leaving me feeling as though I was actually landing with each step on a stub located a few inches up my leg.
And, trust me, I tried every shoe under the sun to try and correct the problem. No dice.
Eventually (obviously) I made my way to the trail, endured the early predicted falls and twists but managed to avoid any breaks. Slowly, surely unengaged muscles and new types of flexion gained endurance and strengthened. Bulky shoes went out the window as my feet sent word that they were better up to the task than was rumored. Even on the road, I eschewed the gimmicky corrective structures I'd come to believe I needed and turned toward lower profile shoes that stayed out of the way of my feet and let them attend to their prescribed purpose.
And then, in time, I started covering longer and longer distances. Pain and discomfort, except among the most anatomically blessed, is inevitable when you start pushing out beyond marathon distance. It's part of the fun or, at the very least, an acceptable side effect of the fun to be had when going long.
Still, I kept seeking out the perfect shoe.
Lest you're still holding out hope for that very same thing, I'm here to tell you that that shoe does NOT exist. Perhaps if you are gifted enough athlete in the first place to be lured into the laboratory by a shoe company that lends you its scientists and molds a shoe to your very specifications, perfection may be obtainable. Perhaps, but, even then, unlikely.
I do, however, enjoy daydreams and "what ifs", so I'm giving you and anyone you know the forum to tell me that I'm wrong. To hold up THE shoe (cue the beam of light shining down upon it from the heavens) that is sure to solve all my problems, keep me pain and distraction free and deliver me to the finish line in personal-record establishing time.
I'm not looking to replace the MT101 (unless the 110 stays true to the design AND improves on durability) as my everyday shoe for up to 15+ miles, but I am seeking a reliable go-to for extended races and/or gnarlier terrain.
To improve the chances of success, I'm lowering my expectations to finding a low-to-medium profile shoe, preferably with little or no medial support, with traction enough to not be utterly useless in mud but not so burly as to be pointless in anything but mud. That still sounds like a tall order, but I'm all ears.
All ears and bone fragments.