Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Shin splints? Now!?!

It may be psychosomatic, but I have come down with a case a shin splints, or anterior fibialis tendinitis to be more precise. I last tried running on Monday evening; four painful miles. Well, the first two miles weren't that painful, but at the two mile mark things got pretty bad.

The problem started the previous Wed., four days after the Marquette Trail 50. I was out on a night run at our local trail and felt a little pressure on the outside of my left shin. I didn't think anything of it and in fact had completely forgotten about it until the next night, when I was reminded pretty early. I finished the six miles but was limping by the end.

Not having had shin splints before, I was not particularly worried. I thought I would take a couple of days off, and a few ibuprofen now and again, and they would go away on their own. I went out again for four miles on Monday (just hours after posting that I would finish Sawtooth), when the pain returned quickly and I began to panic.

Crap! Less than two weeks before Sawtooth and I can't run four miles? This is when I decided to get aggressive. I began icing and taking 800mg of ibuprofen every 4 hours. Yesterday, I also began searching the internet for advice. Turns out there are a lot of sure thing, quick cures for shin splints on the internets. I'm doing all of them! Stretching my calves, walking on my heels, walking on my toes, rolling out my shins and calves with a foam roller, taping, wearing a compression sock. You name it. I mean that literally. Please name a remedy, and if I'm not already doing it I will try it.

I also saw a physical therapist for the first time ever this morning. The good news is she didn't tell me not to run Sawtooth. She gathered quickly that I wouldn't listen. Instead she did some ultrasound therapy on the affected shin. Does this do anything that a heating pad wouldn't?

I haven't gone to my doctor yet. I would like to get a cortisone shot, but I'm afraid he'll try to tell me that if I try to do this run I may jeopardize my ability to run ever again, blah, blah, blah. I don't want to deal with that.

I'm going to keep up the try everything approach through the rest of the week with no running. I'm OK with not running. I know that there is much more potential harm to be done than any good. I will want to try to run this weekend, just to see how it feels. Probably on the treadmill so I can stop as soon as it gets painful.

The good news is that it doesn't hurt to walk. I know enough about Sawtooth to know that there is more walking than running going on there, especially for those like myself who are more focused on the 38 hour mark than the course record.

I still plan to toe the line next Friday. I'm hoping my new aggressive approach will resolve the problem, or at least abate it enough so that I can get to that point where my entire lower body is hurting so much that one squeaky shin will get lost in the noise.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sawtooth Motivation

In response to my post "If Not Now, When?", I've been asked by Matt and now Scott to consider why I want to get to the finish. SteveQ also had a recent post to this effect.

I understand where this advice is coming from. When I went to grad school, I did so mostly because it was the next step after getting my bachelor's degree, not because I really wanted a post graduate degree. There were plenty of others like me, but there was also a group of students that knew why they were there. Often, these students were slightly older and had spent a few years in industry. I don't need to tell you which group of students tended to progress more rapidly to their degrees.

There is a tendency to step up to the 100 for a similar reason. It's the next step. To be honest, there is that aspect to my decision. I've done the 50 twice, now it's time to do the 100. However, if that were all there were to my motivation I could have chosen a different, easier 100, as many have suggested. Or a 100K. Or a 24 hour run.

 No, I want Sawtooth to be my first. But why?

A big part of my motivation is intellectual curiosity. I want to know what it is like, and I can't know by reading books or race reports. Trust me, I've been doing so for the last three years. I have to get out there and live it. Sure, it may seem like this won't help me when I get to Sugarloaf early on Saturday morning. By all accounts this will be a low point, where I may be tempted to think "Ok, now I know what it feels like. It hurts. It sucks. I don't need to know anymore," and be tempted to quit. However, I am prepared to tell myself, "No, this is what it feels like to get to Sugarloaf, this is not what it feels like to get to Caribou". Don't underestimate intellectual curiosity.

Beyond that, I admit that I want to be a member of the club. That special club of people who get to wear their red jackets because they have completed Sawtooth. Finish in less than 38 hours and you too can join this club. Who says hazing is dead?

Finally, there is pride. I have told plenty of people about my pursuit. Not to brag, because 99.9% of the people I have told could careless, but for accountability. My pride will help carry me through to the finish.

I said in my previous post that I don't know if I can finish. That is the intellectual truth. I can't know until I've tried. That doesn't mean I am not convinced that I can, that I will finish. Nor does it mean that I don't care.

In less than two weeks I will know that I can finish.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Marquette Trail 50 race report

It seems that not many runners from the Twin Cities area are doing the Marquette Trail 50 yet. I understand this to some extent. It is a pretty long drive, about 400 miles, from the metro area to Marquette, and with so many great races closer to home, it may not seem worth the hassle.

Let me start by trying to convince you to add this race to your calendar at least once.

First, the course is beautiful. A couple of climbs give rise to absolutely spectacular views of Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula. I was not the only runner to sacrifice some minutes off our finishing times in order to take a moment and gather in the scenery from these peaks. There is also a rather long section that follows the Lake Superior shore line where you are about 20 yards or so from the water. On a hot day, I'm sure it would be tempting to take a quick dip to cool off mid race. The race also offers a nice mix of terrain: rocky, rooty, technical single track, soft pine, sand, horse trails, and old logging roads.

Best of all, though, is the low key nature of the race. There were only about 25 people registered in each of the two available distances, the 50K and 50M. As it turns out, however, more than half of the 50M registrants switched to the 50K before the start. This turns out not to be a bad choice. All of the beautiful scenery is offered in the 50K. The 50M follows the same course with an additional nine miles out and then back. The nine miles out were a gradual, but continuous climb; about 1000 feet over the nine miles and then you get to work your quads on the way back. Unless you need the distance, stick with the 50k.

For those of you who are fleet of foot, the race director offers $100 for setting a new course record. For the men's 50 mile race this is 6 hours and 53 minutes. Not. Going. To. Happen. Still, with such a small group of participants, perhaps placing was a realistic possibility even for a middle of the pack runner like myself?

The race starts at Tourist Park in Marquette, which offers camp sites for as little as $18 a night. Together with the reasonable $65 entry fee, this is a pretty affordable race. Our camp site was about 200 yards from the start/finish line. The course is very well marked, except for the first mile or so that loops onto some of the nearby roads and though that section isn't marked, you are led by a biker to make sure no one takes a wrong turn. That is, of course, assuming you get to the race on time and leave with the pack, which gets me to the story of my race.

I was excited to be camping so near the starting line, as it meant I could get a good night sleep  before the start. This was to be a welcome change after Voyageur, where I woke about around 3AM to make the drive up to Carlton. I set my alarm for 5:50 AM, this would give me plenty of time to prepare for the race and walk the 200 yards to the starting line for the 6:30 start. I even remembered to adjust my alarm for the fact that Marquette is in the eastern time zone. I did forget to turn up the volume, however.

My wife woke me up in a panic at 6:25. Crap! Five minutes until the race was to start. I quickly applied body glide along with some band aids to the appropriate places, changed clothes, put on my race number and grabbed my hydration pack. As I left the tent, I could hear the gun go off and see the pack begin to leave. As I took off to catch up, I realized I didn't have my Garmin on. Double crap! I did a quick cost/benefit analysis and decided to go back to the tent for my watch, which I had to dig for a bit. By the time I left the tent again, the group was no where to be seen. I ran to the start, got a quick overview of the starting loop from the race director and took off. As soon as I did, I heard a "You're going the wrong way". I hadn't had my coffee yet and was obviously having a hard time concentrating on the directions. I went back and he repeated the directions, and I took off again in the right direction. Needless to say, I took another wrong turn and ran into the lead group coming the opposite way. I retraced my steps, found another race volunteer, and finally got on the right track. I ended up passing a pair of 50K participants who were walking the race at around 2 miles. I think I ended up doing an extra mile thanks due to my miscue, probably costing myself a total of about 12 minutes or so with the late start.

I knew the 12 minutes wouldn't be a big deal. Over 50 miles and what turned out to be only 10 participants, twelve minutes means almost nothing. More concerning were the fact that I hadn't done any of my usual pre-race routine; no food, no hydration, no bathroom time. I didn't even get my shoes tied until the four mile mark. It wasn't until the first aid station, at about 10 miles, where I found my wife and got my breakfast, a Red Bull and a Cliff bar. By this time I had started to catch up with the other runners and managed to settle down a bit and began to enjoy the race.

It is after the first aid station that we began a climb up a seemingly endless series of steps to the Sugar Loaf peak, one of the fantastic vantage points I mentioned earlier. Taking a moment to gather in the view, and then descend to the lake side trail, I caught up with a group of four guys running the 50 mile race. In this group I met Marty, one of the Lapham Peak Runners group, who I ran with for the next ten miles or so. At the finish I would also meet Kevin and Angela from this group. What a great bunch. It is almost tempting to make the six hour drive across the state to run with these guys some Wednesday night.

The second aid station was at about 18 miles, just in time for me to refill my hydration pack. After this, the aid stations were much closer together and were all well stocked with the usual: water, Heed, Fig Newtons, gels of various flavors, potatoes and watermelon. Really everything you need for a 50 mile race. Aid station three marked the entry into the Top of the World loop. I really like this loop. Except for the climb up the peak, it is fast and offers a view worthy of the name.

It is at the 27 mile mark that the 18 mile out and back begins for the 50 milers. I met my wife here again, and she had another Red Bull for me as well as a bagel and cream cheese sandwich. I don't normally eat much in the way of solid foods when I run, and wanted to see how I handled it, knowing this would be a necessity for the Sawtooth 100. I wasn't hungry at all, but ate it anyway, and had no problems.

I've already mentioned that the out and back offers little to recommend it. This section was long, boring, hot, sunny, and mentally tough. Perfect prep for a longer run. This was also my first chance to see where I was in the race. About 4 miles in, I met Kevin coming back who would go on to win handily. About 15 minutes later, number 2 came by and not too long after, number 3. And one. Was I number 4? I didn't think that was possible, even with the small number of participants. Sure enough, I reached the turn around and began the long stretch back, now downhill, in 4th place. I saw Marty and Andy running together about 2 miles behind me, in 5th and 6th place. This gave me the little bit of oomph I needed to finish strong.

I hope the reader understands that I don't care about my place in a race at all. The thought of placing never occurs to me. I also understood that this was clearly an example of small sample size, but I wasn't going to not take advantage of my good fortune. I pushed as much as I could for the final 12 miles or so. There was a difficult stretch of a few miles where this was pretty slow, but I still was able to average under 12:45/mile over the last 10. Pretty good for me.

Finally the finish. Just under 10 hours 30 minutes on my watch, and a few minutes over on the official time. A nice ceramic bowl as my reward for 3rd place master awaited me. Better yet, a nice evening out on the lovely town of Marquette with my wife.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Final Training Run - Marquette Trail 50

My wife and I are heading up to Marquette, MI tomorrow for the Marquette Trail 50. I am going to be doing the 50 mile race, thinking of it as my last long run in my preparation for Sawtooth.

A finish on Saturday will give me two 50 mile runs in the six weeks leading up to the main event. I simultaneously hope that it is sufficient and not too much.

I ran the 50k at Marquette last year and had a great time. It is a scenic and challenging course, with enough hills and technical trail to give me a taste of what I am in for in a few weeks. I'll have the race report early next week.

In the meantime, here is the link from Joe Jameson, the race director, with the course map and elevation profile.

Friday, August 12, 2011

If Not Now, When?

I sent off my registration for Sawtooth yesterday. Let me emphasize here, I did not do so because I am confident I can finish it. To the contrary, I have absolutely no idea if I can finish or not. Having no experience with a hundred, I don't know what it will take physically, mentally or emotionally. It finally occurred to me that the only way to find out is by taking the plunge.

Last year after the Fall Superior 50 mile trail run, I had planned to do the hundred this year. I put together a beautiful training plan that I was 100% confident in. I knew if I followed my plan I would be able to run and finish Sawtooth in style. As is so often the case with plans, however, life got in the way.

I won't bore you with the details, but by the time April rolled around I was so far NOT on plan, that it was all I could do to just finish the Chippewa 50K. The fact that it took 7 hours to do so does little to tell the story of what a struggle that race was for me. It was then that I realized that I would not be able to run Sawtooth this year, and that I would be happy just to get back into shape enough to do the 50 again.

My thinking was that once I did the 50 again, I could begin my beautiful plan anew and shoot for 2012. Then I realized that life would almost certainly interfere yet again, and I would never be able to go in 100% confident. If I couldn't be 100% confident, what would be required? 90% ? 50%?

Screw it. Excuse the double negative here, but I am not 100% confident that I can't do it either. It's time to find out. If not now, when?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seeking advice - Stepping up to the 100.

As the title indicates, I am seeking advice on how one knows if they are ready for a hundred. Or more to the point, how will I know if I am ready to give it a go at Sawtooth this year.

I have only been running about  45 miles per week, though I do have a finish at Voyageur last week, and am also planning on running the 50 mile course at Marquette on Aug. 20.

I began the year with hopes of training for Sawtooth as my first 100 mile run. As the year progressed and my training wasn't what I hoped it would be, I scaled back that goal to doing a 100K at Wild Duluth. I'm beginning to wonder however, if it is not really just courage that is holding me back. Am I ready to give the full 100 a go? I fear that I will never get in the training I feel is necessary, and will continually find excuses to go with the safer distance. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Predicting finishing times

I would like to know how others go about predicting their finishing times for trail ultras, especially those that they have never run.

Recently, I predicted it would take me 12 hours to finish Voyageur. I ended up finishing in just under 11 hours. While I am certainly satisfied with the time, I can't help but think I possibly could have done better if I hadn't straddled myself with the lower expectations. There certainly is an element of self fulfilling prophecy in predicting race times, at least if those predictions are relatively conservative. You predict a certain time, so you go out at that pace, and lo and behold, you finish near the predicted time.

One strategy I have used is to look at the previous results for a race, and shoot for the median time. I have noted from my previous races that I generally finish right in the middle, near the median. So for example, before running the Wild Duluth 50K last year I looked at the 2009 finishing times, noted that there were 58 finishers and the 29th runner finished at 7:18. I used that as a ball park for my own time, and sure enough, finished in 7:05. But again, I can't help but wonder if I could have done better if I had predicted a 6:15 instead.

It is worth noting that this strategy works best with more data. Using a single year's race data is of limited use unless the weather and trail conditions are going to be identical, and there was a relatively large number of finishers. I just signed up for the Marquette 50 mile race on Aug. 20th. There were only 9 finishers last year. Number 5  finished in 11:32, but number 4 finished at 10:08.

This strategy is also limited by my own self confidence. I see my self as a median runner. Maybe if I saw myself as a top 25% runner my times would improve?

Well. What are your strategies for predicting finishing times?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Voyageur Trail 50 Recap

Last week I predicted that while I would finish the 30th annual Voyageur Trail Run, it would be slow and painful due to my recent low mileage. While slow and painful are subjective terms, I can say that it was neither as slow nor as painful as I expected. In fact, I finished about 25 minutes faster than last year and felt far better despite the conditions being significantly less friendly.

Last year I finished in about 11 hours and 16 minutes, so there was clearly a lot of room for improvement. Still, as I have only been running about 45 miles/week with very few long runs I really didn't have any hopes of bettering that time. I ran a rather slow five and half hours at the Half Voyageur marathon a couple weeks back, so I was conservatively expecting a 12 hour finish.

I ran the course with my new Garmin 310xt. I have had the Garmin 405 for a couple years, but with a battery life of only 6 hours, it was of limited use during ultras. I set the autolap to 10 miles, since it is easier for me to think of a 50 mile race as 5 ten mile segments rather than one 50 mile whole. Since I was expecting a 12 hour finish, I set the Garmin pace monkey to 14:23. Knowing it would be impossible to run even splits the whole way, this would allow me to see how I was doing compared to my prediction. Here is how those ten mile segments broke down.

Miles 1 through 10. Those who are familiar with the course know that besides a two mile very technical portion near the beginning, this is one of the faster sections of the course. While the humidity was high (100% according to Weather Bug), it was relatively cool and only going to get warmer. Knowing this, I intentionally went out faster than the 14:23 pace a 12 hour finish would dictate. In fact, my Garmin buzzed after 1 hour and 56 minutes letting me know that I finished the first ten miles at an 11:36 pace. A quick check told me I was about 25 minutes ahead of my pace monkey. Nice. That meant I could slow down to the predicted 14:23 pace and still finish well ahead of 12 hours. Or more likely, give me some room to run even more slowly on the return trip.

Miles 10 through 20. This segment starts with the infamous power lines, a three mile section of multiple and relatively steep hills. They are steep enough that the down hills are not much faster than the uphills. Not surprisingly my pace through the powerlines was a very pedestrian 16:00. Still that gave me seven more miles of relatively easy, albeit mostly uphill, running to get my pace down to the desired 14:22. As it turned out, I ran the ten miles in 2 hours and 20 minutes, an average pace of 14:03. Almost right on what I needed. I was now 30 minutes ahead of the pace monkey. I was feeling relatively good still, though I was conscious of the increasing heat. It would have been hard not to be aware, as it was already becoming the topic of conversation with most of the runners. Around mile 20 I started to see the leaders on their way back already, meaning they were already a good 10 miles ahead of me. They all looked very strong despite the heat.

Miles 20 through 30. The first 5 miles of this section are mostly downhill, bringing the runner down Spirit Mountain into the Duluth Zoo turn around. I got to the half way point in 5 hours and 15 minutes, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. I figured this was just about right, as I expected a melt down on the return leg. In fact, I told my wife here that while I was still feeling pretty good, I was expecting things to get ugly as I was now at the limit of my lone long run over the previous eight weeks. Even so, I was able to go back up the hill at a pretty strong pace and finished these 10 miles in just over two hours. It was on the way back up the hill that a weather boundary passed, failing to bring any rain or relief. In fact, now that the clouds had passed, things were going to start heating up pretty quickly. Also, since I blogged about my New Balance Minimus trails a couple of weeks ago, it is worth pointing out that the loose gravel on the road down into the zoo played havoc on my feet. I'm not sure why it didn't bother me during the Half Voyageur, but it was now. Ouch!

Miles 30 through 40. I was now a full hour ahead of my pace monkey. If I good manage to only slow down to my originally planned pace of 14:23, I could finish in 11 hours. I hadn't even imagined finishing faster than last year, but I was still feeling pretty good so this became my goal. Since the last three miles of this section would be a return trip through the power lines, now in the heat of mid afternoon with a full sun overhead, I knew I had to take advantage of the mostly downhill seven miles that lead into the powerlines. I was definitely starting to feel the heat now, and was running along that fine line that when crossed leads to overheating. Fortunately the aid stations were well organized and had great volunteers. Plenty of ice and salt was available at every stop. If this had not been the case, I would have had some serious problems. Kudos to the race directors and volunteers!!! Thank you for saving my race! As predicted I slowed significantly through the powerlines and finished this section in 2 hours 22 minutes, a 14:15 pace, only 10 sec. per mile slow that the way out. Perfect.

Miles 40 through 50. With only 10 miles to go, I was starting to feel relatively confident that despite the low mileage, my legs would hold up and I would be able to finish faster than last year. I still had two concerns, however: I was still concerned about the heat as I saw many around me begin to succumb, and I was worried about the return trip through those last technical miles before Carlton. My race really fell apart in that section last year and I couldn't be sure it wouldn't happen again. The first couple miles of this section are mostly uphill and single track. It felt good to be back in the shade. I starting filling my hat with ice at the aid stations and was keeping the heat in check. I got to the last aid station still feeling strong, and knew that I could powerwalk through the technical stuff and still finish ahead of last year. In fact, it was starting to look like if I pushed things a bit, I could actually break 11 hours, so that became my new goal. Fortunately I met up with another runner here, and we were able to push and encourage each other through the most difficult portion. I finished the last ten mile section in 2 hours, 12 minutes. A finishing time of 10:52. Not fast by any means, but it certainly felt like an accomplishment to me. Kim Holak was greeting the runners at the finish and she handed me my very sweet finishers mug, and as a 30th anniversary bonus, a nice finisher's tuke! A great group of early finishers, including most of the leaders were still around and giving encouragement to the late comers like myself. Thanks everyone.

Post race. One last note. I was sure that even though I was lucky not to have lost my legs totally during the race, that the low mileage would at the very least lead to some very sore legs after the race. In fact, my legs were quite sore for a couple hours. However, a couple Aleve, some chocolate milk, a pair of compression tights, and a good night's sleep later I was feeling surprisingly good. In fact, I was able to get in a comfortable five miles the day after the race. Who needs mileage?