Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Lost and Found", or "A Tale of Two Twenty Mile Runs"

In many ways I feel like the last few weeks can be encapsulated by the thought that I lost myself on the roads at Eastern States, but found a piece back out on the trails a few weeks later.

The low down on Eastern States is basically that I had every intention of running the race using an ultra run/walk strategy that would allow me to average a mile pace of less than 10 minutes.  Given how fresh I felt at the end of the Hyannis Marathon I figured this would be cake.  

The day just started off crummy, as I went out way too slow, and came through the first mile over 11 minutes.  I figured this would be okay, as there were another 19 miles to make up the time.  I continued to feel like junk, but kept with a 15/2 run walk strategy.  Unfortunately, this was not helping and the 8:35 mile pace I had been regularly running in longer training runs with the same run-walk strategy wasn't even translating, and to make matters worse, at 7 miles I had to take a true 'ultra' stop.  This included running off the course, through a bog of mud, and across a parking lot at the aid station to get to a porta-potty.  Following the potty break, I noticed my IT band and knee were a little uncomfortable, but nothing all that out of the ordinary, but a little alarming that it was bothering me this early on.  Regardless, I continued on and started feeling a little better toward mile 10.  At this point I resolved that a lost first half could be tempered with a speedy finish over the last ten miles.  

Proactively I started eliminating some of the regular walking breaks in the interest of gaining some time, and somewhere between miles 12 and 15 I had a three mile split time of 9:15/mile, and had rattled off 8:54 and 8:42 splits and felt good.  I was pumped, and finishing strong was really looking and feeling good, as I was easily picking runners off.

Then the death march began.

A little before mile 15 I hit a water station and stopped to refill my bottle and basically everything in my left leg tightened in about 30 seconds.  I tried hobbling to a slow run, but my body wasn't having any of it.  Stopping to stretch a little also was of no benefit, and I found it actually made the situation worse because it allowed everything else to tighten up.

I thought about dropping at the next water stop, but the ultrarunner instinct took over and it was all about getting to the finish line, no matter what!  The pain was searing those last few miles, and even a walk seemed to be too painful.  Ironically the smiles and confidence I had gained from the quick miles clicked off before the injury were quickly washed out to sea in some cosmic emotional rip current as I plodded along Hampton Beach.  Split for the last 5 miles: 1:16:04.

Ever since my 5 miles death marching to finish the Eastern States 20 a few weeks ago, I was sure I'd be lost in yet another period of recovery, regret, resentment, re-institution, and, with any luck, rebirth.  I took the week following ES20 off entirely and tried all of the good things people suggest when injuries happen.  Ice, stretching, and junk food.  Okay, I added that last part, but I hung out with my friends Ben and Jerry a couple times to wallow in my crapulence.  Do as I say, not as I do, kids!

As in my previous post, Easter weekend I was able to do a little running in the Vibrams, and the following week I clearly was in the frame of mind that the IT bad was better, hence a week of 36+ miles.

Monday I decided to run a time trial in the Vibrams, 2.5 miles.  16:48 (6:43 pace) was the baseline, and one of my goals over the next couple of years is to continue to improve my speed in order to improve my easy pace for the longer stuff.

Tuesday I decided to run a little longer with real shoes using 15/2 run-walk strategy.  Of course the last half turned into a tempo run and I finished the run strong.  Pace was slightly below 8/mile pace with the run walk in full swing.

Thursday I ran in the Vibrams again.  5 miles this time around, and I continued to see a vast improvement in my pace and time.  I can only hope this is the case with my form and resilience to injuries.

Saturday I had planned to attempt to run the Merrimack River Trail Race and get a better idea of where my fitness is compared to last year.  Unfortunately, race morning brought a stomach bug to both of the kids and I was grounded for the Eastern New England Trail Race Series' opener.

I decided to make the best of an otherwise depressing situation, and mixed a max batch of Succeed Ultra for the Nathan HPL, grabbed the new trail cam, and headed out for the Bay Circuit Trail with no particular plans regarding time or distance.

Getting back out on the trails for a long run was outstanding.  It was super interesting due to the amount of flooding we have recently had, and there is still quite a bit of fallen trees from the fierce wind storms we have had over the last few months.

So I scooted down the section of tarmac leading to the trail intersection close to my apartment, and instead of heading east, I decided to check out the local west end of the BCT, which typically is impassible due to high water and beaver construction efforts.

Sure enough a few minutes of running led me to the water crossing:
Not necessarily all that impassible, but I was really hoping to enjoy the BCT through Willowdale and Bradley Palmer, so I took a moment to enjoy the brilliant afternoon sun, and headed east.

I decided to use a 15/2 run-walk strategy for the run.  I knew it might be delayed occasionally due to water crossings and tree climbing, but that was the plan.

I cruised along at an easy clip, not having to stop until my first walking break.  The next session of running was not as consistent, as I had to find my way around hip deep swamp water.  Having forded the swamp, nearly losing a shoe, and getting back on the move, I discovered it would only get more interesting.  Just up the trail I discovered that the trail and another section of swamp had become one.  To add a little flavor, the trail was blocked by three fallen trees.  Eventually I got through the swamp and over the trees, and was able to resume some running.

Eventually I cruised over to Willowdale, found more tree dodging and high water, and then crossed over into Bradley Palmer.  At this point I realized an easy couple of hours on the trail just wouldn't do, and I turned over the idea of 3 hours or a nice easy 30k to make the training run worth it.  The thought of extending training run was also appealing, as it would increase the time to get deep into Bradley Palmer.

I crossed the fishing bridge and headed along the second half of the GAC New Years Fat Ass course, including perhaps one of my most favorite sections of single track in New England.  A sweet bit of climbing through the trees.  I decided I may not have the fluid for the trip, but I decided the run should be extended, and I continued the out portion of the run to about 10 miles out, asking my legs to do what they couldn't do at Eastern States a couple weeks earlier.

As I headed back I was able to enjoy the same obstacles encountered on the inbound amble:

(Too fun!)

(This never gets old!)

(Trail is somewhere under there...)

(I hated balance beam in gym class!)

(In the midst of a stream crossing...)

The following is my video of the aforementioned swamp section rife with fallen trees, and I have to say, at three hours of 'time on feet' it never seems to be easy, physically or mentally!

I have to say this was a really fun run, and I was really happy that I was able to finish this run in a lot less discomfort than my 20+ mile  adventure on the BCT last year that sent me to a very uncomfortable place toward the end.  I was definitely getting there on this run, but probably had another 1/2 hour or so in me before true 'gut check' training began.

Distance: 20.2
Time: 3:33:08 (10:34/mile)

The coolest part of this run was the fact that I did the entire thing in new shoes fresh out of the box.  I received a pair of New Balance MT 100's on Friday, and where I was a bit skeptical about how minimalist they truly were (more so than advertised), they turned out to exceed my expectations for performance on the terrain.  I'll hold off on a full fledged 'gear review' for these until I get a few more miles on them, but the early returns are great!  We will see how they hold up beyond 20 miles, as I hope to wear them more on the trail this year for both more technical trail races and endurance events. 

On this run alone, though, they are a really nice balance between trail ready rock star, and near naked minimalist flight shoe.  Can't wait for the next run!

Happy trails!


Trail Pixie Trespas said...

sounds like you had a wonderful adventure out there, Rob! Awesome! Love the pics/vids.

pathfinder said...

I have been toying with the idea of trying out some Newbalance might have convinced me. Great report!