Friday, March 21, 2014

Delano Park 50 - First sub-6

After getting sick and having to bail out early at Rocky Raccoon I really needed a goal race for the Spring. I had made the lottery for MMT, but did not feel I could appropriately train for the terrain. Instead I decided I would continue my trend toward faster 100 milers and try my legs at Umstead 100. There is about 2 months between Rocky and Umstead, so I wanted to run something in-between to get a bit of a confidence boost. I had originally planned on running the Rock’n Roll D.C. marathon, but our plans changed and we would not be in D.C. the weekend of the race. So I looked for something local to run and found a race about 2 hours away in northern Alabama.

The Delano Park Run consists of a 12 Hour Solo/Relay and 50 mile race. Twelve hours would be more running than I wanted, but  a 50 miler would be a good training run one month out from Umstead and hopefully give me a bit of a confidence boost. It has been almost a year since my surgery, and although I have been training and running well, I still had yet to complete an Ultra. So, a couple days before the race I registered and Friday night I drove down with Anne and the boys.

After battling traffic to get out of Nashville, we made it to Decatur, AL around 8 PM. After a few slices of pizza and some wings I was tucked in bed. I really had no expectations for the race. I knew there wouldn’t be much in terms of competition and I hadn’t run a 50 miler since before my injury over 2 years ago. My fitness was pretty good, and I had been coming off a string of 90-100 mile weeks. I didn’t taper at all, which was part of the plan. The course is a one-mile loop (a format I’d never run before) and is almost flat. So, as I told Anne the night before, I was just going to treat it like I was going for a regular long run.

Race morning was a chilly 36 degrees, but temperatures were expected to rise to the low 60s. We got to the start line about 20 minutes before the race, I grabbed my bib and pinned it to my shorts, dropped my bag on the ground, and waited in the car to stay warm. I was very calm and relaxed; looking forward to spending the next several hours running. The race started right at 6 AM and we headed out on the first loop. The course is primarily crushed gravel and winds its way around the park, with the only little hill leading up to a water tower and a slight downhill back to the start/finish. It’s not much more than a bump, but is just enough to break it up from being completely flat. The first lap I settled into about 6:50 pace and it felt easy and comfortable. The only person I would run with all day was a member of the leading relay team, but because of the looped format you are constantly surrounded by other people. After a few miles I settled into about 6:40 pace and was just clicking off the laps. As I began to lap people multiple times I got several cheers, and some questions about which race I was in. One lady jokingly asked if my twin and I were running the relay.

Ten miles came and went in around 67 minutes. I shed my long sleeve as the sun was coming up, failing to notice that my nipples were already bloody. It didn't hurt, but looked gross. Despite the looks I was getting, it was still too chilly to run shirtless. The miles clipped by as I settled into a groove running 6:30-6:40 pace. The cooler weather meant I probably wasn't eating and drinking as much as I should, but tried to stay consistent eating something every 20-30 minutes, primarily shot blocks.

About mile 22 Anne and the boys returned to see me through the second half of the run. There was a big playground in the park so about every 7 minutes I heard a “hey dad” from Logan and Gavin as they were chasing each other around the park.  I hit the marathon mark in 2:53 and the 50K point in about 3:27. At this point I realistically thought I had a shot to sneak in under 5:40, but there was still a lot of running left.
It was also about this time that the sun was fully up and the temperature started to creep into the 60s. While not very warm it was 25-30 degrees warmers than it was at the start. I ditched my shirt and tried upping my fluid intake. However, around mile 35 I started slowing. I did expect to slow, especially since this was the furthest I had run in a couple years. I thought I could hold it together and tried to keep the pace around 7 minute miles. However, my energy level kept dropping (probably a lack of calories) and my right leg started acting a bit funny. I don’t think my glute was firing right, so I was dragging the leg a bit. What I would have given for a good hill to break things up at this point.  

It was also hard to keep the pace when there was no one to chase or chasing me and mentally I only considered this a training run anyway. I knew I could jog it out and still finish under 6 hours, so there was very little incentive to push hard through the pain.

So, my focus shifted on simply finishing the run and I plodded along at what felt like a snail’s pace but in reality was 7:30 to 8 minute pace. I entered the last mile and said goodbye to the ever familiar landmark: the playground, the bench, the water tower, that one tree – I had consistently counted them down and now this would be the last I would see of them.

As I approached the finish line the RD got on the loud speaker to announce my finish in a course record time of 5:51:52. A small group of the 12-hour runners gathered to congratulate me, reminding me of the many great qualities of the Ultra community.

After the race I drove over to the local church with the RD, Jon Elmore, to pick up my award. My stomach was off for several hours, until I was able to get down a chocolate shake from DQ. Later that night I was nitpicking my run, when Anne reminded me that there aren't too many people that will run sub-6 for 50 miles. I know I can run faster, but given this was a last minute decision, at the end of a couple high mileage weeks and I am still less than a year removed from surgery, I have to be pleased. Next up is Umstead 100, we’ll see what happens…

Friday, January 17, 2014

Don't Call it a Comeback

I’m not really sure where to begin; it has been so long since I’ve written about running. Life has changed quite a bit since I last blogged. I could probably write a book about it, but I’ll try to keep this short. For a while I wasn’t sure if I’d ever return to running, but just like in an Ultra I was patient and determined. There were many ups and downs, but I made it through (with a lot of support from my family). 
My hip surgery in April went very well (thanks Dr. Ochiai!). The hip recovered well and rehab progressed quickly. However, my return to running took longer than I had anticipated. When I first tried limited running about 3 months after surgery, there was some weakness in the hip and I still had lingering adductor/groin pain. When it wouldn’t go away, I resorted to complete rest – no running, biking or anything aggravating.
During my rest, I decided to leave the federal government and took a job with BridgestoneAmericas (the tire company) in Nashville, TN. Good timing too, as this was right before the government shutdown. The new job has been great and we are adjusting to a slower/more “Southern” pace in middle Tennessee. We moved at the beginning of September and that is when I decided to start running again.
At this point my fitness level was relatively horrible, but this was expected. I started running about 30 slow miles per week. I was very reluctant to do anything remotely fast, but was happy to be plodding along injury free. Shortly after we moved, I also got smacked by allergies (apparently the air in this area is known for triggering bad allergies). I ended up developing a nasty sinus infection on top of a cold that lasted a couple weeks. This kept my running even more limited, which in retrospect was probably a good thing. When I could breathe again, I started back at it again. As my running progressed, there was occasional tightness and weakness in my hip, but no pain.
By October I was running regularly, and jumped into a Halloween 10k – my first race in over a year. My time was terrible, but good enough to finish 3rd. After that I decided I would start to return to regular training. I slowly incorporated some speed and upped the miles. At times it was frustrating because I would want to train at the fitness level I used to be, not where I was at. But it allowed me to see my progression, and every week got a little better.  It was nice to focus on normal running problems like sore quads and fatigue rather than being injured.
It also helped that we moved into a neighborhood with a sub 2:20 marathoner, Scott Wietecha. He has shown me many of the local running routes. He is a high-mileage guy and doesn’t mind going on easy runs - around 7 min. pace. This weekend he’ll be in Houston shooting to run sub 2:15!
While the level of competition here isn’t as high as it is in the DC area, there is a really good running community – especially with the Hendersonville Running Company. I’ve met a lot of good people and have enjoyed the Monday night runs from the local pizza joint and the beer we drink afterwards:)
By the end of November my fitness started to return. I was able to win the, very cold, Thanksgiving Day 5 miler by fighting off some high school kids and a college kid or two – they always start out too fast and fade after a mile or two. While not nearly in great shape, things were coming around and I was pain free. As the year came to an end, the holiday’s brought my first break from work since starting the new job. This allowed me to bump up the mileage. I’ve been averaging 90 – 110 mpw, including a 7-day stretch with over 120 miles that finished with the New Year’s Day 10k. I won the race (not too much competition); although it was a little slower than I thought I would run it. Given it was a very hilly course and my legs were pretty fatigued from high mileage, I’ll take it.  
I’ve decided to make my Ultra return at the Rocky Raccoon 100. I’ve never run Rocky, but have done fairly well in Texas at Bandera and Nueces. I’m excited to be returning to an ultra and to see many people I haven’t seen in a very long time. I withdrew quite a bit from the running community during my injury and recovery. I’m an introvert to begin with and I was out so long, at times I just didn’t feel like a runner anymore.
I’m not sure what to expect as far as a performance at Rocky. Normally I like more challenging, technical courses. However my training has been flatter and a bit faster - similar to marathon specific training, with a little extra mileage. I haven’t done extremely long runs, but I’ve done many 2-3 hour runs at a decent pace. I am coming around to the idea that you really don’t get much benefit from runs longer than 3 hours anyway. We'll see how it goes; it will just be fun to be back on the trails in a race.
I’ve also been running about half my miles in Hokas. I’ve tried the Stinson’s and the Bondi Speed; I like the Bondi’s a little better.  Hoka’s do seem to put less stress on my joints, which I think has probably helped speed my recovery. However, I do like variety in my shoes and still like to break out a pair of the much more minimalist Brooks Green Silence – so sad they don’t make them anymore.
I don’t have any solid plans for after Rocky. I did get into MMT, so I will probably return to the spot of my first 100-mile finish. I have also thought about focusing on speed and running a fast marathon time, but I’m just not sure that’s my cup of tea. Since we are in Tennessee, I’ll also probably hang out at Barkley, just to see what it’s like…

Hopefully, I will have much more to share and post this year – right now I’m just glad to be back!

“Do not run through life
so fast that you forget
not only where you have been,
but also where you are going.”