Monday, May 20, 2013

Leadville Training Part 4: Bouncing back

Training for an ultramarathon (or any race, for that matter) has its ebbs and flows.  Some days you feel great, like you could run forever and never feel tired.  Other days, grinding out a 6 mile recovery run takes everything you've got.  Obviously, you hope that everything comes together and you have one of the good days on race day.  In my last post, I whined a bit about how that has not been the case so far this year, with two of the down days miring my runs at Moab and Quad Rock.  Fortunately, it seems when your confidence is most shaky, you get a string of the good days to bring it back up, and that's what I got this past week.

Well, not the entire week.  Early in the week I was still have some issues associated with the malady that affected me at Quad Rock. Nothing major, but an inconvenience nonetheless.  Once that finally cleared up, I resolved to put Quad Rock behind me with a solid weekend set of long runs.  Normally, I would run back to back long runs on, well, back to back days, but this past weekend real life intervened.  I am one of the coaches for my son's little league team and we had a tournament in Deadwood Friday evening and most of the day Saturday.  So, I tweaked the schedule and decided to run long on Friday and Sunday mornings rather than the traditional Fri/Sat or Sat/Sun.

Friday's run was the longer (but not necessarily harder) one, 25 miles on the Centennial trail from the Elk Creek trailhead (miles 17/83 of the Black Hills 100 course) to Dalton Lake (miles 29/71).  This is arguably the toughest section of the trail with a couple of shorter climbs and then a nice (or horrible, depending on your state of mind) grinder to the top of the ridge above Dalton Lake before finally descending to the lake itself.  On this day, after my legs got warmed up on the earlier, shorter climbs, I got into a good groove and was able to drop it into what I call my "grind gear" and run most of the uphills.  The return trip from Dalton to Elk Cr is theoretically easier since there is more downhill, but I am inevitably surprised by the amount of relatively short uphills there are along the way, which is one of the reasons this section is so tough....mentally, it's just hard to keep grinding on the short uphills when you think you should be running entirely downhill.  But, in reality, it's pretty much all runnable if your legs are feeling good.  Mine weren't great, but they were good enough and I ground out the entire run feeling pretty good (and finished the 25 miles about 30 minutes faster than my Quad Rock 25, albeit with less elevation gain).

After an easy 8 on roads before the baseball games commenced on Saturday morning, I was up at the asscrack of dawn on Sunday to tackle the real beast of the weekend, a triple summit of Crow Peak.  The Crow Peak trail is about 6.4 miles total, 3.2 up and 3.2 back down with around 1500 ft of elevation gain per lap.  I've run Crow Peak several times and had only ever run the entire ascent once before.  On Sunday, my climbing legs felt great and although I thought maybe I should hold back and save something for the 2nd and 3rd ascents, I couldn't "waste" the feeling so just rode the wave and ran the entire first ascent.  The descent is a good chance to stretch your legs a bit, but also features some good technical downhill running on the steep rocky pitches near the summit.  After refueling at the trailhead, I headed up for ascent #2 and found that the grind gear was working well....well enough to run the entire ascent again.  Another cruise back down to the car, another quick pit stop, and back up for ascent #3.  I was expecting this one to be a real slog, with a lot of hiking involved, and while it was definitely slower, there were only a few pitches I had to power hike.  A quick rest break at the top (it was pouring rain and a bit windy) and I cruised back down, feeling great.  I reached the trailhead after 19 miles and a little over 4500 ft of ascent in 3:35, a full 22 minutes faster than the only other time I've run a Crow Peak triple.  And, since I still felt great and since nice round numbers have some stupid magical aura, I cranked out another mile on the dirt road to get to an even 20 for the day.

So, as they have a way of doing, things have bounced back quite nicely.  I'll happily ride the wave while it lasts.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Not a great start to the ultra year

So, here it is early May and I've already run two ultras this year....well, check that.  I guess technically, I've run one ultra and one 25 miler (although I guess you could debate until the cows come home about what makes an ultra an ultra....distance or difficulty??).  So far, the results have been less than stellar.

Back in Moab in February, I blew up pretty hardcore at the Red Hot 55K and ended up slogging much of the last half of the race.  This past weekend in Fort Collins I was hoping for better results at the Quad Rock 50. I mean, after all, I had run, and finished, this race last year.  Weather conditions this year were near-perfect, my training has been going well and I'm 20ish pounds lighter than I was a year ago, so what could possibly go wrong?  Well, I've noticed this phenomena where at least one of my kids tends to get sick in the last two weeks before I have a big race.  Of course, this is mass paranoia time for any runner, so thoughts of biohazard suits, dowsing the house in Lysol or moving into a hotel room become serious considerations.  In the past, their illnesses have never affected my races, although I did come down with my son's flu bug the day AFTER the Fargo Marathon back in 2007.  I can't say for sure what happened this time, but I know my son was home sick from school one day in the last couple of weeks before Quad Rock and then on Thursday, just a couple of days before the race, my daughter was diagnosed with strep throat.  Awesome.  I never caught a fever or felt nauseous or had a sore throat of any kind throughout this period, but on Wednesday I did start to come down with some rather unpleasant diarrhea (too much information?....tough, it has major bearing on the remainder of this story).  I was hoping my bowel problems would clear up before the race, but they persisted all the way through Thursday and Friday.  By Friday night and Saturday morning, I was popping Pepto Bismol in an attempt to keep things at bay, but it didn't seem to be helping much.

I woke Saturday morning feeling pretty okay and the race actually started quite well for me.  I was keeping the pace under control, my legs felt great and I didn't feel any unpleasant urges whatsoever for the first several miles.  At one point, I found myself leapfrogging with Karl Meltzer as we ascended the first climb of the course, which led me to believe that I was either having the awesomest race of my life, or that Karl was having the absolute unawesomest race of his (the fact that he kept stopping to stretch his calves made me believe it was probably the latter).  I hit the Towers aid station at the top of the first climb and was still feeling good, ready to pick up some time on the downhill to the Horsetooth aid station.  And then the wheels came off.  About halfway down the descent, the urge that hadn't yet made an appearance hit suddenly, and I had to make a quick dive for cover to squat in the woods (spectacular pre-planning on my part had included putting some baby wipes in my hydration pack, thankfully).  Okay, so I lost a few minutes there.  Hopefully that's the only one.  I can still hit my goals.  My legs still feel good.  So back on the trail I went and continued on, feeling great again.  For a couple of miles.  Then the urge hit again, this time as I was nearing the Horsetooth aid station.  Knowing that there were toilet facilities there, I was able to hold off until the bottom of the hill, where I had to wait in line to use the facilities.  Another several minutes lost. Sonofabitch.  But my legs still feel great.  Hopefully THIS was the last time.  Onward and upward.  I passed through the aid station, said a quick hi to Rob (sorry Rob, I was in kind of a pissy mood....or, more accurately, a shitty mood) and headed up the hill.  Okay, feeling good again.  I can still meet my goals if I can hold my bowels together.  Surely it's done with now, right?  Wrong.  Again, near the top of the ascent, I found myself squatting in the bushes. Son. Of. A. BITCH.

By that point, I was mentally defeated more so than physically, which is dangerous in an ultra.  Thoughts of stopping after the first 25 mile loop started entering my head and never really left.  My legs still felt good, but thanks to the unplanned pit stops I was now well behind my goal for the day and had no idea how many more times I would end up searching for cover.  I argued back and forth with myself for the remainder of that loop.  I never had another episode after that third one, although I did have a couple of contractions that made me think one was imminent.  When I started descending the final hill toward the turnaround, I passed my friend Bob, who was on his way back up on the 2nd loop and he told me that Ryan had dropped at the turnaround (after attempting to run on only one hour of sleep).  That pretty much cemented my decision.  At that point I couldn't come up with a compelling reason to continue on for another 5, 6, or 7 hours battling an unpleasant condition I had no control over whatsoever.  So, I ran the remainder of the downhill fairly hard, called it a day when I hit the start/finish and commenced drinking beer to drown my sorrows.  Okay, that's a little dramatic.  I really wasn't that shook up about it.  Looking back on it now, of course I can armchair quarterback myself and think that maybe I would've been fine and still could have had a respectable finish, but it was always "just" a training run.  It just turned out to be a 25 mile training run instead of a 50.  And, strangely, the fact that I did finish the 50 last year brought me some, I've been there and done that, so it's not as big of a deal to not do it again this year.  Ah, the things we'll come up with to justify our actions. Regardless, Nick and Pete put on a great event and I'll likely be back next year.  For the 50.  All of it.

As for the rest of this year, one benefit of only running 25 miles of a 50 miler is that your legs don't take all that much abuse.  So, my training rolls on.  On the car ride home, I briefly considered switching from the 30K at Bighorn to the 50M to try and make up for Quad Rock, but I don't think I will.  I'm really looking forward to racing the 30K hard and going for a solid finish (top 10 for sure, maybe top 5??).  I have plenty of weekends to put in miles for Leadville, no sense in radically changing my plans now.  Right?  Well, maybe...  Nah...  Well..... ???

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Leadville Training Part 3: Spring has sprung (again), back to Quad Rock

Okay, so I'm now two full cycles (8 weeks) into Leadville training and everything seems to be clicking along nicely (knock on wood).  The big thing for me is routine.  Every week of my training plan is virtually identical in structure.  The mileages may vary slightly, but the type of workout doesn't really change much from week to week.  Mondays and Fridays are recovery days (6-7 easy miles), Tuesday is a double (usually 8 easy in the AM and 5 trail miles in the PM), Wednesday is speed day (either 800s on the track or hill repeats), Thursday is medium-distance trail day (10-12 miles) and Sat/Sun are long run days.

It's actually fairly incredible how quickly your body can adjust to the abuse you throw at it.  In fact, one thing I've noticed so far is that in some ways my body actually seems to thrive on the abuse.  During my cutback weeks, which are in the 55-58 mile range (as opposed to 85-90 miles), I have actually felt more fatigued and rundown than when I'm in a high mileage week.  Of course, that could be because I'm coming off of three straight weeks of high mileage by the time I reach a cutback week, but I have yet to really feel heavily impacted by the mileage in the midst of a high mileage week, whether is the 1st week of the cycle or the 3rd. I'm not a physiologist, nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I have no explanation for this, just an observation.

In any case, now that spring has returned, hopefully for good, I'm hoping to really be able to put this training I've done so far to the test, the first test being the Quad Rock 50 in just over a week.  I ran the inaugural QR last year as a training run for Bighorn and had a blast.  It was definitely the best paced (not fastest, by any means, just best paced) 50 miler I've done and I finished feeling relatively fine, which was the goal.  Like I mentioned, my time wasn't blazing fast (11:11), but considering my goal going in was a sub-12 and to not feel like a steaming pile of shit afterwards, things went pretty okay.  This year, with more time between my goal 100 and QR, I feel like maybe I can push for a faster time.  I'm not going to redline it by any means, but I'd definitely like to go sub-11 and maybe sub-10:30.  Of course, thanks to the April snowmageddon (or snowpocalypse, if you prefer), my trail mileage took a hit recently, so I don't feel as prepared as I could be. And I'm not really tapering for this thing, just training through it, but like I said above my legs don't generally seem happy with cutback weeks anyhow (although I still recognize and respect their necessity), so maybe that's for the best.  Most of all, I'm just looking forward to some good beer with the Fort Collins crew after the race.  After all, that's the reason the vast majority of us run ultras, isn't it??