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Failing spectacularly at an FKT

With most races were canceled this summer due to the pandemic, part of me felt fortunate that the 8-Hour Endurance Run in Indianapolis was a go for July 18. But another part of me was concerned about running a narrow 3.1-mile loop course for eight hours with about 250 others.

I bowed out of the race a few weeks beforehand, even though the race director made adjustments to limit the potential exposure to the coronavirus. So I decided to take all the fitness I had gained and go for a Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempt in my hometown, coinciding with a visit and taking place on the same day as the Indy race.

There was no known FKT for the out-and-back Seneca Trail, a 14ish-mile route that started behind the mall I frequented and worked at while in high school. Literally, all I needed to do was to finish and I would have my second FKT in a couple of months.

Instead, it was a spectacular failure, as my coach, David Roche, would say.

A good start

Initially, I was concerned about the first section, which was difficult to see on the various maps online. There were several road crossings and the trail seemed to randomly go beyond buildings and part of a strip mall.

But thanks to the Roc Trails app and the well-marked trail, I was able to follow the trail around its circuitous route in the early going. Four miles in, I was feeling good not only about how easy it was to navigate but that I had already completed the biggest climb. The out section had about 1,100 feet of climb, and the second half appeared to be a gradual ascent to the midway point.

The one-way FKT is 2:53 and I had set a goal to break that in both directions.

But after taking the trail behind a set of apartment buildings, it emptied out into an overgrown swamp with gnarly weeds that had pretty much overtaken a corn field. I trudged through the cornstalks and prickly weeds that were at least a foot taller than me. I thought about quitting there since one of the gnarly weeds had gashed my knee and I was bleeding pretty good. But I gave it another go, found my way back to where I entered the swampland and started to run again. I was bloody, torn up and soaked but was able to run.

Unfortunately, I was running the wrong way.

I had not gone that far so I turned around and was careful about following the trail. Of course, it led back to the swamp but I navigated to my left, instead of my right, this time. I was able to push past more tall and annoying weeds and found what was supposed to be the trail.

This led straight to another swamp, though thankfully without any weeds or corn stalks. I walked through it and was thinking that once I get past this, I should be good to go.

It was at this point, that I tried to restart my AfterShokz earbuds, which had shut off during the first swamp experience. That’s when I realized that a weed, corn stalk or branch had knocked them off and they were somewhere in that mess. The earbuds would not be the only casualty of this day.

A second swamp

According to a description of the trail, this section is “lowland meadow, woods, and swamp. The trail surface is grass, dirt, boardwalk, and (after wet weather) can be muddy in places. It crosses streams on bridges several places.”

A "muddy" trail, I can handle. This was something else.

I did find the boardwalk after trudging through around 75 to 100 yards of the second swamp. There must have been quite the deluge of rain recently that I was unaware of since I arrived in town the previous night.

While easing back into a run on the boardwalk, I didn’t see where to pick up the trail again and then realized my watch had not beeped in a while.

I believe that as I was bushwhacking through Swamp One something must have paused the watch. Since I didn’t have that data in full and my phone was on airplane mode to save battery, I wasn’t sure that even if I finished the next 20+ miles, that it would be accepted for an FKT.

At that point, I rationalized that nothing good could come from three to four more hours of running with a bleeding knee and risking infection. I packed it in and returned through the swamps again.

Learning from failure

In the column by Coach Roche I referenced earlier, he writes, “In taking risks, we may ‘fail.’ But that’s where a lot of the fun happens, and almost all of the growth.”

And, from our failures, we learn a lot.

I learned to always respect challenges, whether it is a race distance I’ve completed before or an FKT that only requires a finish.

I learned that risking a serious infection or injury is not worth a listing on the FKT website.

I learned that while I may not have come out of that mess unscathed, I will heal.

That’s more than I can say for my Hoka One One Challengers and a pair of Drymax socks. Not sure what was in the swamp but its odor infiltrated my shoes and socks, which have been thanked for their service and retired.

While my Challengers, Drymax socks and AfterShokz won't be going on future runs, I will be.

Smaller races, like the 8-hour one, are returning with safety precautions in place. Even as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow, there is hope that we can get back to the roads and trails.

I am signed up for two fall races but won’t do both since they are on back-to-back weekends. But in a few days, I will strap on running shoes again and take my scratched-up legs out for an easy run. It will be another step in the process of training, growing, improving, redefining my “why.”

And when race day dawns again, it will be celebration time. A time to put this fitness to the test, to enjoy the beauty of a challenge and find joy.

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