Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where have I been / what's next?

Simple answer: I've been generally disappointed with my running since mid-July, so I've avoided blogging about it.

Long answer: I felt ready to go after Old Dominion and got back into 100+ mpw easily (the last 2 weeks I posted were 100+ with 60-70% in a 48 hour period on the weekend).  After that, I rested up with a week of 50 or 60 miles just to feel fresh going into Badwater, where I was the crew chief and one of the pacers for Claire Heid (now Deiterich), who was vying to be the youngest ever finisher of the race.  Our group (Kerry Devitt, John Goble, and myself) did a good job of crewing Claire and got her to the line in 40 hours and change, but in the process of running the crew, I made a big mistake: I ignored my own needs.  While in the desert, I got very dehydrated numerous times, got very very low on electrolytes, and didn't eat very much while pacing (having done up to somewhere in the ball park of 10 hours straight with Claire as my longest stint, from sun-down to sun-up on the first night).  When I started pacing Claire at sun-down, my right hip felt very sore and I could immediately feel the electrolyte imbalance.  I figured I'd just start popping tons of salt and take care of things, but I had already neglected myself enough that I had started to build some soreness and inflammation that the electrolytes couldn't take care of.  Needless to say, after spending 2 days in the desert, helping push Claire through the race that bills itself as "The World's Toughest Footrace", I was pretty beat up.  However, rather than rest, I immediately resumed training.  Within a couple days, I started having pretty bad hip pains on all of my runs.

(Claire and crew at Badwater finish)

As I started prepping for Speedgoat, I suddenly had a problem.  Not only did my training suddenly drop from 100mpw to about 10mpw, but even walking was moderately painful.  Having already paid for the race, I figured I'd start and just drop out at the first aid station.  Fortunately, I took some Tylenol and managed to keep things only moderately sore throughout the run, but I felt crappy after 2 weeks of almost no running, so with the moderate hip pain coupled with the lack of fitness, I only managed a mediocre 7:43.  That said, when I was extremely out of shape last year, the race took me 10:23, so at least I knocked off almost 3 hours. :)

After Speedgoat, things felt OK, so I rested up for a few days, thinking I had dodged the bullet, but as soon as I resumed training, my hip felt like it was on fire during every run, regardless of distance.  Finally, in a panic, after almost a month of pain, a week or two into August, and a month out from Wasatch, I went to the doctor.  He diagnosed tendonitis and bursitis, mostly brought on by one ridiculously stupid series of bodily neglects out in Death Valley, and then made worse by my mileage.

The doctor promised me a cortisone shot if 1-2 weeks of aggressive NSAID therapy didn't work.  NSAIDs seemed to help me get through some runs (I had one other long run post Speedgoat, a slightly less than 30 mile roundtrip from the King's Peak trailhead to the actual at 13528', and back, in a day), but as soon as I stopped taking them, the hip flared up and the pain was pretty bad.

(King's Peak, 13528')

Finally, I got a shot of cortisone 2 weeks before Wasatch, which helped immediately, but by this point, it was too late to kick the training back up and I went in very under-trained.  I felt terrible right from the start at Wasatch and honestly wanted to quit by the time I hit mile 10.  However, I held things together through 40 miles (despite slowing down during literally every section from one aid station to the next, starting at the first station 18.x miles into the race).  Shortly after going through 40, the wheels came off.  I couldn't handle the unbelievably steep downhills dropping down from Big Mountain and by the time I was coming into mile 47, I was completely destroyed.  I wanted to drop here, but my pacer, Joe Dean, made me go to the next aid station, just to see if we could turn things around.  We were able to get my body balanced out a bit, but my legs were undeniably trashed and I simply couldn't run anymore.  There have been some days in the past where I ended up in a much worse state and pushed on to the finish (such as Cascade Crest in '09, where, at mile 78, I was literally 100% convinced that I was going to die before reaching the next aid station, half-way up a mountain and very close to passing out due to forgetting all my food at the previous aid station).  Wasatch was different.  Sadly, I just didn't want to be out there.  I knew I came in out of shape and I hadn't trained myself into the necessary "do or die" mindset for such an event.  So, when I got to 53 miles, I walked up to the aid station (after having walked basically the entire last 10 miles), gave them my number, and rather unemotionally told them I was quitting.

To this day, I don't regret that decision whatsoever.  There are times when all of the eggs were put into one basket and the only right decision is to push your body through Hell to get to the finish as fast as possible.  This was not one of those days.  I had intended to put all of my eggs in this basket, but an injury kept that from happening.

While out on the course that day, however, I came to an interesting conclusion.  I absolutely love running in the mountains and in beautiful scenery and plan to continue doing this.  However, I am not content with my general running fitness right now.  I was ecstatic to run a 100 mile PR in June at Old Dominion, but when thinking about how nothing had really gone wrong that cost me all that much time, I couldn't figure out why it was only an 18 minute PR, while my previous PR had been a complete disaster of a race (Rocky Raccoon '09).  During, and especially Wasatch, I realized why this was the case: 100 mile training did not make me fit.

Let me repeat that.  I ran many weeks over 100 miles, and got my peak week up to 164 in 6 days, but I simply wasn't fit.  My diet has been poor this year, I've constantly held an extra 5-10 pounds that I shouldn't have on me when racing, and I haven't done any speed or threshold work at all.

With that in mind, I'm taking a break from ultramarathons to focus on the marathon.  The last time I felt close to being legitimately competitive in ultramarathon races with real competition was in 2009, before I had a bunch of health problems, and, more importantly, when I was running lots of marathons and doing faster and harder runs.  Because a picture is worth 1000 words, let's observe my level of fitness from 2009, when I was running lots of marathons and even 5ks and 10ks.


What does pure ultra training look like on me when I'm as fit as I can be off of big miles and no hard days?
(Good endurance, but not fit)

Not only do I look like I'm about to die, but I just lack the obvious fitness and power that I had in 2009 when I took a day or 2 per week to focus on speed and speed-strength.

Let me be clear on something.  I don't care all that much how I look anymore.  However, those pictures tell the story of what true high level training does: it gets you into shape.  I can't just run big miles all of the time.  I'm not naturally very quick, so unless I actually work on my speed and speed-strength, I will be slow at shorter distances and I won't have speed to carry over to longer races (which is actually important, even in absurdly long races like 100 miles).

In the remainder of 2012, and in 2013, I aim to get back to that true high level training and focus on races from 5k to marathon.  It is possible that I'll run a trail marathon or even a 50k at some point, just because I find benefit from such runs as long runs for marathons, but I can say, with 100% certainty, that I will absolutely not run any races longer than 31 miles in the next 15 months and I will also not actually "race" at anything that will take longer than 3 hours.

With that in mind, I propose my goals for the next 15 months.
1. Break my current marathon PR of 2:52:55 in the first half of 2013 (preferably in January, when I am likely to run the Phoenix Marathon, if my leg continues to hold up).  I have been in better shape than this, such as when I trained very well for a late 09 marathon, but I broke my foot 3 weeks out from the race and didn't get to run it.  The goal at that point was sub-2:40, which seemed fast considering my PR, but I had knocked 10+ minutes off my time for a very hilly 16 mile loop that I used as my hard long run, as compared to what I could run it in shortly after hitting my 2:52, so I know I was fit enough to give the upper 2:30s a legitimate shot.

2. Run at least a 10 minute PR in the marathon later in the year (ie 2:42 or faster, preferably at Grandma's Marathon in June).  Basically, I want to be at least back at the fitness I described in goal 1, before I think about what I want the future of my running to hold in 2014 and beyond.

3. Run under 16 minutes in a 5k (current PR of 16:34 was in the rain on a hilly course, taking the win with no competition to push me after the halfway point, have split 16:35 in a 10k).

4. Run at least under 34 minutes in a 10k (current PR of 35:07, ran terrible splits.  Hit 2 miles in 10:15, intentionally slowed down to try to avoid blowing up, came through halfway one second off my 5k PR, but still blew up after such a hard start, averaged a heart rate of 191, maxed out at 198 for the last mile and a quarter.  Ouch).  I think I could go to low 33s if my 5k gets down to 16 flat, but in my 3 ever runnings of the 10k, I have always struggled to pace properly (either going out too hard or too easy all 3 times).  Maybe I can get it right this year.  If not, maybe I can run a bad race like usual and still run just under 34.

In the short term, I want to build back up while staying healthy.  The one good benefit of my big base from this year is that I'll be better able to handle lots and lots of long hard workouts while training for marathons.  The one disadvantage to what I've done is that my hip is not quite 100% (I'm doing lots of preventative maintenance, but occasionally, it flares slightly).  In any case, I took nearly 2 weeks entirely off after Wasatch and picked things back up for real last week, running somewhere in the ballpark of 40 miles, with no long runs and with 2 quality days (1 very short introduction to a Canova style workout I plan to do a lot of in the near future, and 1 9.5 mile tempo-ish run).  I've also been spending plenty of time just relaxing with some hikes with my pooch Holly (OK, Mt Olympus in 89 degrees without nearly enough water wasn't quite a relaxing one).  I'll start posting weekly reports this week, although before I get to resume real training entirely, I'll be up in Logan, UT and surrounding areas for a few days crewing Meg Harnett at the Bear 100 (probably not doing much pacing, since I believe I'll be the only person on her crew, which would make pacing a logistical impossibility, due to needing to get back to my car on a point-to-point course).

(With Holly at Lamb's Canyon Pass and no, I don't bring my dog into watershed territory)

(Holly being a mountain goat on the Desolation Trail)

This has probably been way too long, so that's it for now.