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Black Belt Candidate Dylan Mawdsley – Conditioning Challenge Race Report

As most of you know, students testing for Il Dan (first degree black belt) at RVTKD must train to meet physical conditioning benchmarks beyond our typical technical training in the dojang. In addition to a number of fitness goals that all advanced students are encouraged to pursue, each candidate works with a black belt instructor to take on a task of their own choosing, then document their progress as they prepare themselves to succeed.

Dylan Mawdsley, who will test for the rank of 일단 (Il Dan, first degree black belt) on June 30, worked with Carin Zinter to train for an ambitious trail run, which happened under the heat of last Saturday. Here’s his race report, which makes for fun reading if you enjoy heroic tales of tackling tough physical obstacles. Were months of training with his coach sufficient to help him prevail over the weather and challenging terrain and trails? Read on and find out. . .

I could actually feel my body refusing to cooperate with what my brain was telling it to do. My mind was also screaming “STOP” and I had to will my legs to continue moving. It took all my concentration just to silence that voice in my head.

So the Drummer Hills Trail Race 25k is in the books. I finished right at 4 hours 3 minutes, or right around a 15 minute per mile pace. While I thought that pace sounded slow before entering the race, I can assure you it definitely did not feel it. The second lap was a little slower than the first, but I crossed the finish line upright and jogging (though I did not remain standing long). With all the zig-zagging that happens on the trail, my GPS watch came up with 16.19 miles, and 2,238 feet of elevation. The majority of the elevation climb was in the first half of each loop, and the “back-side” only had a couple short climbs. Terrain was typical of New England hiking trails with lots of rocks, roots, and leaves. Most of the course was single track, with some sections consisting of winding narrow single track There were a few sections of jeep roads, but that was in the minority of terrain.

I definitely learned a few things during this race, and if I were to do it again, I would do a couple things differently. The first lap went great, and I felt like I had a good amount left in the tank. I had a solid climb in the first half of the second loop, but started to get really fatigued around mile 12 (just before mid-point aid station). With a quick refuel at the aid station (and a bunch of ice to lower my core temperature) I was able to get back out at a good pace. Then right around mile 14 I hit a wall, my legs didn’t want to cooperate, and I started experiencing muscle spasms. I ate again, and continued to hydrate which was enough to push through the finish. It took just about every ounce of energy to get across the finish line, and I had nothing left. After 20 minutes of food, hydration, and rest, I was able to get up and walk around and begin recovering. I thought I had found that failure point before, but this was something different, I could actually feel my body refusing to cooperate with what my brain was telling it to do. My mind was also screaming “STOP” and I had to will my legs to continue moving. It took all my concentration just to silence that voice in my head. It was a powerful, and humbling experience, and it felt great when I finally finished after pushing through.

So, the first thing I learned was about nutrition. Although I ate and hydrated regularly, I don’t know if I was doing it regularly enough. While I know most of the fatigue can be attributed to hitting the limits of my training, its possible I might not have had quite the shut down if I had just a little more fluid and food intake earlier in the race, before I was feeling tired, rather than when I hit that failure point.

The second really interesting thing I learned was how difficult running on trail terrain really is. I noticed a drastic slow down in my pace, mainly because every step was strategic. I had to concentrate to avoid obstacles (mostly rocks of varying size protruding from the ground, and occasionally obscured by leaf litter, seeming to mock my every step) and adapt to the uneven terrain. It was a far departure from the reservoir “trails” I was used to. This was also in addition to the elevation gain. I was also surprised by the amount of lateral movement required to safely navigate the trails. I found myself shifting side to side a lot as well as moving my feet really quickly just to keep a running tempo. Not only was this physically tiring, but mentally as well since I needed to focus on every footfall. If I were to do this again I would definitely spend more time on trail in addition to putting on mileage on easier terrain.

Overall, it was an extremely challenging and rewarding experience. I really felt like I left all I had out on the trails, and could not have gone another step. This was by far the most challenging run I have ever done, but the feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line was outstanding.

Great work, Dylan, this is an impressive accomplishment. RVTKD fellow students, feel free to give Dylan a few words of encouragement in the comments below.

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