Sunday, October 30, 2011

Surfing Murph

I probably shouldn't have registered for this race, coming as it does just two weeks after running Wild Duluth 100K. I registered for it impulsively after getting an email telling me that the cost of registration was about to increase. At the time I had no idea how beat up I was going to feel after Wild Duluth: if I had, there is no way I would have registered. Maybe the 50K, but not the 50M.

Still, I'm a sucker for October races; it is easily my favorite time of the year for running. Plus, I love doing any race when I can wake up in my own bed, run an ultra, and get back home in time for an evening with the family. So, despite some serious misgivings I got up at 4AM and made the drive out to Burnsville.

My goal was to run sub 10 hours. I knew that this is a relatively fast course, despite the rolling hills provided over the first 5 miles of each 17 mile loop. Plus I ran a 10:07 last year despite some serious foot injury that occurred around mile 40. What I didn't know is if my legs would be recovered enough for me to hold on to the required pace for the entire course. My plan was to run the first loop in 3:20, just fast enough to give me a shot at meeting my goal time, but not too fast that it would burn me out. After that, I would see how my legs felt, either trying to hang on for the 10 hour mark, or slow it down and enjoy the day on the trails.

Things started well. I got through the first hilly section right on pace and picked it up a little bit in the following flat section. I was going a little too fast and slowed it down, intentionally taking more time than needed at the aid stations, and walking even the run-able hills. After the last aid station of the loop, I started getting some pain in my foot in the exact same place I got injured last year. What the what? Was this psycosomatic? Did my brain remember how much I hurt in this section last year, and start sending my phantom signals? Or was this a real overuse injury in the making? After my injury here last year, I couldn't run for six weeks. I did not want to go through that again. I was thinking the smart thing to do would be to just run the 25K and call it a day.

However, I remembered the two things I learned from Wild Duluth. Don't give in when going through a bad spell, and bring your own ibuprofen. Plus, my legs were still feeling pretty good, so I decided to take some vitamin I, and do at least one more loop and see how things were going at that time. I got out of the start/lap/finish aid station at 3:17, just about perfect. As I started heading back through the hills on the second loop my foot was not happy an I was wondering about the wisdom of my decision. Once I finished the hills however, the ibuprofen had kicked in and I was starting to run comfortably again, and at a good pace. Because I didn't spend nearly as much time at the aid stations the second loop, I was to complete it in 3:12.

Still on pace for a sub 10 hour finish, my legs were still feeling good, and my foot problems had been beaten back, I never even considered not doing a third lap. Also, since I was no longer worried about my legs holding up, I pushed through the hills a little harder this time, getting through them faster than either of the first two loops. It was around this point that I started to experience a little of that elusive feeling known as the runner's high. I felt as if my head were filled with helium, just floating above the trail: connected to my body by a string, but barely aware of how hard my body was working.

I usually don't run fast or far enough for the endorphin rush that causes these feelings. In ultras I run too slow, and when I'm going fast enough it is only in shorter runs. I enjoyed the feelings of well being and positivity, but became concerned of the inevitable crash. I tried to zero in on a pace that would allow me to keep feeling good, but avoid a burnout. Fortunately, I found this pace and glided through the final in loop in 3:06 and finished in 9 hours and 36 minutes.

It was a great day for running, and really enjoyed the less technical terrain that allowed me to run most of the way. The volunteers were awesome and the aid stations well stocked. It really is a great way to end the season. I did hear some people had missed some turns, got lost, and did some extra distance. This led to some griping by those involved, but really, I had no problems and am not sure where the confusion occurred.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wild Duluth 100K

The Wild Duluth Races have to be among the most beautiful in the Midwest. That's saying a lot, as there are some really beautiful races in these parts. They are also very well organized, have great volunteers, and some pretty sweet bling. The hoodies for the 100K participants are especially nice this year; and my finisher's beanie is going to worn proudly all winter. If you haven't run this race yet, put on your calendar for next year.

My own race was nearly over almost as soon as it began. Things started well enough, a lovely, crisp fall morning with a nearly full moon lighting the still dark sky, perfect for running. About half a mile in, things start to get interesting with a pretty good climb up the Superior Hiking Trail to Engen Park. It was here that I took my first of what would be many falls on the day. At first glance, it wasn't a bad fall. In fact, I caught myself on the way down and was up before I fully hit the ground. However, it was just enough to start an episode of piriformis syndrome that would haunt me for the next 20 miles.

What is piriformis syndrome? The piriformis muscle is one of the gluteal muscles that runs behind the hip joint. It happens to run right past the sciatic nerve. This proximity means that if the piriformis muscle spasms, the sciatic nerve becomes strangled, resulting in pain throughout the hip area and down the back of the legs. And I am talking biting a bullet to avoid screaming pain. Piriformis syndrome is not uncommon in runners, due to their often tight hip adductors and weak abductors. I have had piriformis syndrome off and on for a couple years, though it has been a few months since I have had an episode. Well, it turns out that the little fall I had, combined with the cool of the early morning, was enough to start some muscle spasms in my piriformis.

This began a downward spiral that I couldn't escape from. The spasms and pain dramatically reduced my range of motion in my stride. This decrease in my range of motion meant I was much more likely to fall on the very technical trail I was covering. So I would fall, which would set off another bout of spasms, which decreased my range of motion even more, which....well, you get the idea. I tried stretching, I tried walking, I tried relaxing through visualization. At the 8.8 mile aid station I got a butt massage from one of the volunteers who was a licensed physical therapist. I told you they had awesome volunteers! Each of these helped, but only until I tried running again.

Honestly, if I hadn't just DNFed at Sawtooth, I would have dropped in the first 10 miles. I was frustrated, nearly in tears with pain, and unable to get out the negative loop. I decided to keep going only because I knew it would be good mental training for my next attempt at Sawtooth. However, due to my walking, my breaks for stretching and massages, I was at the very back of the pack. This didn't bother me in itself, but was afraid I would make the 50K cutoff of 9 hours. At around mile 17 I saw my River Falls running buddy, Jenny, who was running the 50K. She noted that I was at the back, said she was worried about me and asked if I needed anything. I asked if she had any ibuprofen, she did and gave me four which I downed instantly. Within a couple miles I was feeling better. My range of motion was back and I could run without pain. She absolutely saved my race.

The trail gets much less technical from the 20 mile aid station to the turn around. I was feeling good finally, and had the advantage of not having worked very hard at all for the first 20 miles. I picked up my pace and began steadily passing other runners. I also started to make up some time on my watch, and over the next 22 miles felt like I was flying down the trail. I even took another fall around mile 35, but it didn't start any spasms, so yay!

By the time I got back to the climb up Ely's peak, around mile 42, I had nearly worn myself out. Still I was able to keep pushing pretty well, and wanted to get as many miles in as I could before night fall. I made it to about 50 miles by sunset. The last 12 miles were pretty much a power walk. Any time I tried to run, I would trip over some unseen root or rock, and decided it just wasn't worth the effort. Others must have been having the same problem, as while I wasn't passing people any more, I also wasn't being passed. Well, until the last mile or so. At this point a couple passed me and ended up finishing 5 minutes ahead of me. There is no way I could have run that last mile 5 minutes faster, they must have been flying. They sure flew past me.

The sweet finish! Met and congratulated by Kim and Andy, the race directors, and presented with my finishers beanie. What a great moment. I ended up finishing in 16 hours and 22 minutes, a full 8 minutes faster than I had predicted to my wife. They way things started, I didn't think there was a chance of that happening, so I was very happy with that time. It was good enough for 21st out of 57 starters and 45 finishers. 

My night wasn't over, though. I didn't want to pop for another night at the hotel, and anyway, I had promised my mom and dad a ride to the airport early Sunday morning. My reward for being done running for over 16 hours, was a three hour drive back to River Falls.

Two days later, my feet are still swollen and I still can't walk down stairs without holding on to the railing, but I am recovering and looking forward to 50 miles at Surf the Murph in less than two weeks.

I learned a lot this race: always carry ibuprofen, don't quit when things are bad early, and to start strengthening exercises for my abductors, and stretches for my adductors. I don't want to ever go through that again.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Paleo Diet Blood Test

Several months ago I realized that I was getting too many of my calories from refined starches (think pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.) and, as I am wont to do, decided to go overboard in the other direction. This led me to what is commonly referred to as the Paleo Diet. This is essentially a version of the more general low carbohydrate diet - except that certain low glycemic fruits and most vegetables are allowed and encouraged.

I noticed two things that corresponded with this dietary switch; I lost about 15 lbs and I no longer had the energy I needed to do my long runs. I can't say for certain that either was a direct result of the dietary change, but I suspect this was the case for both. I would go back to a starch rich diet the day before a race, but that was normally the only time I would stray. The only supplements I take are a daily multi-vitamin and some fish oil pills.

A couple weeks ago I went in to see my doctor, and he ordered a fasting blood test. Below are the results.

Mostly good; glucose is fine, HDL is outstanding, and triglyceride levels are nice. The problem of course is the LDL,  the low density lipoproteins, more often known as the "bad cholesterol".

I am not sure what to think of this. Normally, I don't think that dietary cholesterol really effects blood cholesterol much, except in a small portion of the population. Am I in that small portion? I had been eating lots of cholesterol as of late, mostly in eggs, but also in other not so lean meats as well.

My blood tests came with a note from my doctor that he wants to discuss these results with me. I know he will want to put me on a statin drug. I am very resistant to this idea and plan to ask for another six months before doing another blood test.

In that time I will be moderating my diet again. I will cut back on the eggs and most offensive meats, and start adding back some healthy grains. Actually, I have already started doing this in the last ten days or so. In that time my weight has stayed the same, and I have gotten in three long runs. Including 20 yesterday at Afton State Park, and 24 today on my favorite trail, the Whitetail Ridge Trail in River Falls. Stay tuned.