Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Redefining the Grind

2012 JFK 50 Mile Race Report

Grinding down the towpath.

Perspective is a strange thing.  Case in point, I just ran 5:45 at this year's 50th running of the JFK 50 Mile. That is the 5th fastest time in race history.  It would have been a new course record in the first 48 editions of the race.  Sounds like I have a lot to be excited about right?  Well, I am - sort of - but my perspective tempers my excitement.  It just didn't feel like I ran very fast last Saturday.

First of all, I ran 5 minutes slower than last year.  Granted, that was one of those phenomenal races where everything just comes together perfectly.  It's not realistic to think every race could be that way, but it's hard to forget how that felt.  Secondly, I came in third place this year.  It's even more difficult to feel great when you watch 2 guys roll by you effortlessly and know you won't be seeing them again until the finish line.

So the best description of how I feel about my race is that it felt like a Grind.  I never felt particularly good or fast, I just gutted it out and never gave up even though I didn't feel smooth early.  But I am proud of myself for grinding it out.  Especially after a DNF at UROC six weeks ago and the ensuing injury that hampered my training since, I really needed a solid race.  I knew my training hadn't been perfect, and I wasn't quite in the same form as last year, but JFK gave me a chance to learn how strong I am - mentally as much or more than physically.  

Here are a few more highlights from the race:

Max and I ran relatively close together for a good portion of the Appalachian Trail.  I think he was content just to sit a few seconds back, being careful not to make a mistake, and just wait for the towpath.  My legs felt relatively good on the AT.  I was a minute or so faster hitting the towpath after being slower to the trailhead at the start, so I ran the technical section a good bit faster than last year.  It's fairly apparent where my training has been focused the last six months, and I was very strong on the rocky trail because of that focus.

The grinding really began when I hit the towpath.  Max passed me within a mile and was gone.  Last year I was consciously holding myself back to keep from running sub 6:30 pace early, whereas this year I didn't feel smooth running sub 6:40 and the legs began aching early.  My lack of fast, flat long runs over the last 6 months was very apparent.

My nutrition situation has been a problem most of the year, and this race was no exception.  I dropped out of UROC largely due to stomach problems, and because of my injury, I wasn't able to practice a new nutrition strategy between then and JFK.  But something had to change, so I went ahead with my untested strategy which consisted of only drinking GU Roctane...no gels.  I had the occasional pretzel, a couple swallows of Coke, and a few salt tabs, but other than that it was just the high-calorie Roctane drink.  Clearly I survived following this plan, but the stomach definitely could have felt better.  I need to continue tweaking and practicing my nutrition plan, but I imagine this will be my biggest weakness for some time to come.

Max King and Trent Briney just raised the bar and redefined what is humanly possible on that course.  I have my work cut out for me if I want to challenge their times next year.

That's a pretty solid top 10 group of guys.

So what now?  To be honest, I'm not sure.  I didn't earn an entry into Western States, so that doesn't look like a real high possibility for June.  I'm tossing around a few ideas though.  I know I'm going to focus on the World 100k that will be run in South Korea next October.  This spring I think I could go two ways.  I could train to run a fast, flat 100 miler.  Or I could go back to real road marathon training and see what I'm capable of now.  The road marathon speed would serve me well next fall at World 100k and if I decide to run JFK again.

First though, I'm going to take a few weeks, get everything healthy, and enjoy the holidays.  I hope you do the same.

King, Riddle and Clifton.  19 years of the JFK course record.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Uncharted Territory

I have been incredibly fortunate to have avoided a serious injury throughout my competitive running career. For the last month though, I have been struggling to keep a relatively minor injury from snowballing into something more serious.  The issue is a bit of tendonitis that I think was triggered by a stone bruise that I picked up at UROC.  

Stone bruise from UROC.

The strange thing is that the tendonitis is in a quite different spot than the bruise is the picture above.  The pain is actually on the front of my shin, just above the ankle.  My unprofessional opinion is that all symptoms point to anterior tibialis tendonitis.  That tendon attaches to a bone in the arch right where I got the stone bruise.  I ran for more than a week after UROC with zero pain.  The spot on my arch was tender to touch, but not to run.  But, I think the trauma to that attachment point caused the muscle and tendon to tighten down in an attempt to protect itself.  I ran way too long a week after UROC (but felt really good doing it), and then I felt the tendon above my ankle give way after a Tuesday night track workout a few days later.

Arrow shows where it  hurts now.

I didn't think much of it when it first happened.  I thought it would heal quickly like other nuisance injuries I've had before.  But this hurt pretty good - even just to walk.  I ran real easy and short on it for a few days, and when it started to feel better, I went longer and harder.  That was a mistake.  I made that mistake about 3 times before I figured out that I had to let it get all the way better.

You may have heard that I ran a consecutive day running streak.  I don't like talking about it anymore, because I don't think it's all that healthy, and I really wouldn't recommend starting one to anyone I was coaching.  In periods of low motivation, the streak can be very encouraging, but it's going to be very difficult for me to break off.  So of course, I still ran every day through this injury.  The sad part is that it most likely would have healed faster if I had taken just a week completely off.  Let that be a lesson if you're ever in a similar situation.

Anyway, I finally backed off enough that it got better.  I think I'm about 95% right now and running with no pain again.  I was able to go 20 miles at a nice clip yesterday.  That was the first time in a month I could have finished that run.  

I'm still planning to race JFK, and being less than 2 weeks out now, I don't have the time to hammer myself to make up for lost training (<<another thing I don't recommend).  The good news is that legs should be pretty fresh.  And while I don't think I lost a ton of fitness in the last month, I don't think I'm quite as tuned for JFK like I was last year when I spent all summer and fall training for flat an fast ultras (World 100k and JFK).  I'm most worried about the legs just being a little flat since I haven't been able to exercise them like I normally would.  

I just hope I can keep it interesting this year.  Max King should be the clear favorite to win.  Zach Bitter and myself will probably be duking it out for 2nd place.  I haven't heard of any other top men, but you never know who might show up.  Ellie Greenwood will be there and she'll overshadow us all.

In other news, I'll be heading to a trail running camp sponsored by Team RWB next weekend down in Texas. The camp is targeted at veterans and is aligned with Team RWB's goal of helping to re-integrate soldiers returning from deployment back into civilian life.  Endurance sports is one of the primary tools that the group uses to achieve that goal.  I will be there serving as a coach and mentor along with a bunch of other accomplished trail runners.  It's going to be a great way for me to give a little back to our veterans by sharing my passion for the trails.  I'm sure it will be a lot of fun as well.

That's all for now.  I'll try to keep you up-to-date over the next couple weeks via Twitter (@rundavid1), but I kind of doubt I'll have cell reception down in Texas.