Thursday, August 26, 2010
Lets start with the good:
Solid long run training- Although many of my elite running role models run much higher weekly mileage, I feel that I’ve run a respectable amount of miles in preparation for this race. I wish I had done more long runs on the terrain that I’ll be running August 28th, but the purpose of the long run isn’t race simulation. The purpose is(in my humble opinion) to get the body accustomed to prolonged time on its feet. This has been done with excess this summer. My first documented long run of the season was a road marathon distance training run in preparation for the Kal-Haven Ultra. It went exceedingly well, especially for an unsupported solo run on hilly terrain and snowy roads. At 3:30, it was hardly preparation for a 50, but a good start to the year. Then was the actual running of the Kal-Haven. It went much better than expected, beating my goal time by about 45 minutes. From then on, I felt a bit of momentum building. Long runs then were a bit far apart. Many days, however, consisted of multiple runs with totals exceeding marathon distance. Mind the Ducks, the 12 hour that gets mentioned frequently, was the greatest confidence booster and training run as I contemplated the 50. 12 hours provided me with an opportunity to exceed 50 miles of running, hone my eating skills(I love this sport), and boost confidence. Not many runners have that feeling of safety going into their first 50miler. Next was our now famous(or should I say notorious) double crossing of the Kal Haven trail. By doing this, Jason, Mark, and I became excess, personified(especially Mark, who was training for a MARATHON). Most ultra runners I know do not run that distance for a training run for a 100 miler. The prolonged fatigue I experienced afterward provided a good explanation as to why. I’m not sure if my speed ever fully returned after that run. The final run that pushed my distance/exhaustion threshold was my pacing of Jason at Burning River. I only covered about 30 miles(or less, Im not sure), but even as crew members, Shelly, Art, and I didn’t sleep more than 8 hours over the course of 3 days. At the end of this episode of sleep deprivation, I guided my zombie friend through the woods of Northeast Ohio from sunset to sunrise(I joke of course, Jason was pretty coherent the entire time).
….So, I know how to be exhausted.
Semi-solid speed training- This year has been a breathrough year for me with regard to speed. In my formative years of running(all 3 of them), I always hated to do speedwork. The only real sprint efforts were actually done during races. This year has been different with my joining of the Western Michigan University Running Club. Being accountable for showing up to and participating in runs that are beyond my comfort zone has done wonders for getting faster. Though actual track workouts have been sparse, the amount of times I’ve been pushed to run faster can’t even be counted. Let’s just say I’m rarely the one setting the pace. I'm surrounded by supportive people who make me laugh and make the miles go by effortlessly, even when im running at redline. 5k training has been helpful, even for long races. I’ve whittled away at my 5k time, which I feel has made me a much more efficient runner.
….So, I know how to run fast(though my body is often reluctant).
A shift to more trail miles- Over the past month or so, I’ve changed most of my miles into trail miles. Much of this has been an attempt to keep burnout at arm’s length and increase my focus. Its also a matter of specificity-NCT is a trail race, so I want to train on trails. Last week was an 86 mile week, with about 20 of those miles being on the road. I’m hoping that the undulating terrain has helped me get more familiar with not being able to set my heart on “cruise control,” as Im sure will be the case at NCT. Though the course is not notoriously hilly, I am somewhat familiar with the area and its tendency to be deceivingly inconsistent. Running different trails has kept me from being able to run with a pattern. I feel that this should help when I’m placed onto a course I’ve never seen before.
Though a relatively new runner, trails have always felt like home. I realize that its an entirely different sport, I was essentially raised on a snowmobile. My sister and I were riding 100+ mile days at the age of 11 years old with our family. I’m often reminded of these times when I carelessly float over obstacles in the trails without flinching or thinking twice. Maybe navigating a 500lb machine over jagged bumps as an 11 year old at excessive speeds has taught me how to anticipate and adjust to adverse conditions on the fly. Trail riding on motocross bikes has given me and edge as well. As I mentioned, the connections are faint, but in my mind, they go hand in hand. The ability to adjust to terrain variations at 40-60mph has helped me learn to think quickly and...not die(a couple close calls). My love of the trails probably just because of my childhood memories of the wilderness and the calm that comes over me every time I re-enter. While Im by no means a hunter, I used to go hunting with my father at a young age. I loved the 1-1.5 hour trek to our hunting blind. We would cross streams, climb hills, and traverse swamps by the dim light of our mag-lites. Ever since then, I’ve felt that trails were home, even if I’m not necessarily the best trail runner.
…So, I like trails.
How about the bad news?
Lack of speed- I’m sounding contradictory here, but bear with me. I have the ability to run short and fast. I have the ability to run long and slow. Imagine a venn diagram the doesn’t overlap. The deciding factor at North Country will be if I can put together the pieces of the puzzle to run a strong race. I can run 5:30 pace for 3.1 miles. I can cover 68 miles at a pace of about 13:00 pace(actual running pace was about 10:30 or something, total time with breaks was about 14:00). Can I run 50 miles at 9:00-10:00 pace? I suppose we will see shortly. I’m cautiously optimistic that these two sides of my running persona will come together in harmony for 1 day.
…So, I’m slower than I’d like to be.
Lack of definitive goals- I think this should actually be a positive instead of a negative, but I’ll explain. I’m conflicted about how I even want to run this race. I’ve had some relative success recently, and that has given me a shot of confidence. It has also gotten inside my head and polluted my thoughts. Had I never covered this distance before, I would simply wish for a semi-solid finish that beat the cut off time. Since I have placed in the top 5 in almost every race I’ve entered this year, including ultras, I’m afraid of my own success. Worrying about how I’m going to place has caused me to cheat myself out of the innocence of my running. It has created this shifting of goals from intrinsic to extrinsic. I feel like the race has already been run, and I'm just waiting for the results. The work(or lack thereof) has already been put in, now we get to see what it adds up to.
Wow, I hope I edit this mofo, it jumps around like crazy.
To try to regroup, I’m feeling like going into a race with expectations for myself is a bit of a burden. I’ve never, in any distance of race, calculated pace into a finishing time. Now I know by memory that I’ll need to run 9:36 pace to break 8 hours,). The 8 hour mark has been stuck in my head ever since someone asked me my goal time for the race. Im trying to banish these non-productive thoughts from my head. Whatever pace I run will be my pace. I’ll automatically run a sustainable pace, so worrying would be a waste of time for such a distance. I would never dream of quitting if I wasn’t hitting a goal split, so why would I bother worrying about it? As you can see, I’m having a hard time even assembling a coherent sentence. I go back and forth.
…So, I can’t focus.
Terrain/Foorwear- I’m a minimalist runner by choice. I feel that the manner in which something is done is often more important than how fast. I’m also a minimalist runner by default. The more substantial the shoe, the more problems I seem to have. My original plan was to employ the New Balance MT100 as my primary trail shoe. I used it extensively for about 1 month, but found it to simply be too much shoe for me to handle. I had knee and foot pain in the shoe, not to mention occasional bouts with blistering(I hate wearing socks with these shoes). I can only seem to be able to use the MT100 on the most technical of terrain in my area. The inherent problem with this is that technical terrain seldom constitutes an entire route here in Michigan. Patches of roots, rocks, and logs are between trails of soft soil, bare-footable trails, and gravel sections. For that, the Vibram Fivefingers Treks fit the bill almost perfectly. Traction is good on loamy soil and roots/rocks, and the groundfeel is nearly a perfect compromise between tactile sensation and environmental protection. The only time that I wish I had more is during rocky, rooted descents in which a perfect area to place my foot doesn’t exist. As I’ve learned recently, the Treks provide the best compromise…unless they don’t. Any speed lost by navigating a downhill will surely be made up by fresh legs later in the race provided by a more minimal footwear. If I were to attempt a race in the Western part of the country, I would probably opt for the NB100(or possibly the minimus- can’t wait for its arrival). (Last minute edit-I also have a flat, slipperlike shoe that shall not be mentioned, as it hasn't actually been released yet. I can say that I like it and that I may end up using it for NCT).
…So, details like footwear worry me.
So why am I even doing this?
I’m not going to win. I know I can cover the distance. If I know these things, then why am I wasting the time? What is it about racing that the mid/back of the packers love? I struggled with this for a little while. I feel a bit of disappointment in myself when I worry about the times of others. I truly care about the success of others, but am I willing to wish someone well enough to beat me? Im hoping that this arrogance I'm experiencing is nothing more than a phase of immaturity, and that recognizing it is a good step. These thoughts are, of course, secondary to a genuine desire to see others triumph. I want to do my best, not someone else’s best. I’ve always taken pride in my appreciation of others’ success but have felt that slipping as I climb the ladder in my running career. I want to do well, but I want(to want) others to do well. Where is the middle ground? If I don’t care how others are doing, then why do I spend the time and money to “compete” against them? This conundrum had me held in limbo for some time. I honestly considered putting running on hiatus until I could take joy in the triumphs of others. Try as I might, I’m no nihilist; I know things matter.
After a conversation with my friend(and sister-you can check facebook) Kate, I was introduced to my answer: The primal urge to be part of a hunting herd. The fastest runner is valuable, but so is the slowest, as are those in the middle. One cannot exist without the other. Each runner has a role in their herd, and none is any bigger than the next. We all feel it at the start line. That nervous anticipation. That excitement to see what we’re capable of. Running stride for stride with people, pushing one another, trying to separate pain and euphoria. I think its what makes us human even though so very many of us have forgotten. What makes us human is that we’re all animals. That’s why I love it. It all hit me when Kate simply stated, “ I like being part of a herd race.” It was one of those moments where all things become clear and purposes are stated. I’m not a failure because I’m finishing in the middle. We’re all are part of something bigger, stampeding down the road in an attempt to reclaim a part of ourselves that has been overshadowed by bigger houses, newer cars, promotions, and the like. If I’m not an angry college student influenced by “Fight Club” then I don’t know who is. I’d better refine this piece of crap before posting it. "Being tired isn't the same as being rich, but often times it's close enough." This is one of the final lines in the book, and it has resonated with me more than any line in "Born to Run" ever could. Lets all run and fight hard, so little problems in life fade into the horizon behind us.
Monday, August 16, 2010
- Lack of motivation
- Alteration of sleeping habits
- Loss of appetite
- Tired, achy joints/muscles
- Loss of focus
- Easy workouts felt difficult
Here's one last picture(sorry for the crappy quality). I cut the heel/arch out of my old pair of Vibram Fivefingers KSOs as an experiment. Im going to use them throughout the week on my road runs to attempt to nix a slight heelstrike I acquire when I start getting lazy. Upon cutting up the heel, I realized that even with about 2,500 miles, the heel is still thick. The thin amount of padding can still allow for a bit of slop in my form, so I out it goes. I'll be sure to follow up on this next week. Why not hack up an 80 dollar pair of hard-to-find shoes?
Friday, August 13, 2010
The past couple weeks have been full of ups and downs. Since life is all about the highs and lows, I guess I can't complain. Nothing of great significance has taken place, but it may still be one of those times that makes us who we are. School has been rough, and running has been a source of both relief and anguish.
Feeling inspired from the Burning River adventure, I was ready to put in some hard mileage in preparation for my own ultra, the North Country 50 Miler. I had a perfect situation: 4 total weeks- 2 weeks of high mileage at a comfortable trail running pace, 1 week of relatively less volume but higher intensity(hills, tempo, very steep- almost anaerobic climbs), and one week of doing 2-3 miles a day for taper. This is a great training cycle and even follows some of the logical training principles I've learned in school. I returned with the mental energy, but was left totally "flat" from the weekend's festivities. I was achy, tired, sluggish, and physically drained. I couldn't figure out why- I wasn't the one who had just run 101.1 miles!
Well, apparently even my small effort(relative to the real heroes at BR) of pacing-combined with 3 nights of little sleep(I tend to get excited before big adventures) and a few very fast sprint efforts- warrants a rest week. I guess in retrospect, it was a few days of hard work(1 mile race, very little sleep, almost 13 hours of overnight running, drinking at the bar, and an all-out sprint for Jason's pink sandals).
So, as I found out, the week would simply not allow high mileage. I could have forced it, but I've learned that lesson a few too many times. I'm no elite runner- I require rest from time to time, and actually enjoy it. The week was far from enjoyable, from both a running and scholastic standpoint. My weekend, however, was a great time and I wouldn't trade it for the world. My cousin Sarah, who I'm very close to, had her wedding and the celebration was great. Mileage is as follows, grades will not be posted(nor will the pictures of my evil twin at the wedding reception):
AM: 8 miles(1:07)-did part of Abbey's long run, then bailed and went to class
PM:5 Miles(39min)- attended Wayland Road Runner's club fun run(very fun! great folks)
AM:5 miles(43min)-really crappy run at Al Sabo-NB100 cut me up, felt very dizzy
PM:6miles(50min)-downtown-ran by music festival enjoyed the atmosphere
Nada-enjoyed the company of friends and (new)family- My cousin's wedding rehearsal and dinner
Mas Nada- I should have worn my garmin to see how many miles I put on as a wedding usher
The previous evening's open bar made the next day "unrunable."
See what I mean? very uneventful week. My typical rest weeks arent even this low. I felt terrible about it at the time, but such feelings have since fled. Just a temporary loss of momentum.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Thursday was my last run before heading down the the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. I did a 6.5mile run at a comfortably hard(but not quite tempo) with my friend Abbey. We took the long way to campus to go watch the "Out of Shape Mile," an informal 1 mile race at our school's track. Im not even sure of the details, but the name of the race is an absolute misnomer. All of the runners participating are either high school, college, or post-collegiate runners. Well, all except me and a a couple others. Three of these runners work at our local running store and are really important to the local running/community wellness scene. Their contributions to the efforts to make Kalamazoo/west michigan a fitter place are much appreciated. One of the employess happens to be Ryan Sheehan, who recently place 4th in the USATF Nationals for the 5k. Needless to say, I was a bit out of my element. I've never raced a mile, and even my 5k races can be counted on one hand. Since everyone there was really fun and excited to do the run, I decided to join in. I stood around a bit, thirsty from the run to the track, the runners decided to head out for a warm-up of about 2 miles. I immediately realized that their warm-up pace was just a little slower than my mile pace. I could have been dropped on the warm up by everyone.
Joey, a friend and fellow exercise science student, was kind enough to stay with me even though it may have been an uncomfortably slow pace for him(he's incredibly fast).
The mile race went fairly well, although I could feel that I ran too slow, even for my ability. In retrospect, the first 800m felt too easy, but I always fear going out too hard. My short-distance, anaerobic-esque endurance is fairly limited. Upon finishing my third lap(1200m), I turned my head to realize that I was about 3 seconds from being lapped by Sheehan, who ran a 4:19. My only real goal was to not get lapped, so I succeeded in that respect, even if just barely. I found a "rabbit" on the last 600m or so and just followed him in for a 5:34(I think, within 2 sec one way or another).
I was have mixed feelings about the time. If I wanted to be negative, I could say that many guys my age have little difficulty hitting a mile time like that with some training. But there is a definite upside. At Mind the Ducks, a 12hour ultra in New York, I was able to run an 800m(a little short, actually, .49xxmiles) in 2:44. My 1 mile race didn't even have a split that low. I ran a faster 1/2 mile with an 11 hour and 55 minute warm up than I did fresh. That defies all logic, but it does confirm my suspicions that I have mental issues to work through when it comes to speed and racing.
That was the longest race report from a 1 mile race ever... If theyre's a direct correlation, then my Woodstock report should be 100 times longer.
In Other News...
I was given a special opportunity this weekend. I was asked by my friend Jason Robillard to be a pacer and crew member for his attempt at the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. It was such a surreal and enlightening experience. I'll post a more detailed report of my experiences once I read Jason's report and feel less lazy.I don't want to take anything away from his race report(since most people who read my blog are followers of his, I'll refer to his blog for the great report to come). His last 100miler had a novel of a race report(with yours truly in a short cameo- but I won't let the fame go to my head...). I will say that my experience with short ultras does not translate, nor does it compare, to anything in the 100mile range. I learned a great deal and loved the experience. Jason's wife, Shelly, is a great crew leader. She showed our new friend Barefoot Art and I how its done and flawlessly led our crew of barefoot gypsies to a successful race for our racer. Her hilarious personality kept me laughing all day and she knew just what to do every time Jason came down the trail to the aid stations. Art's tactful organizational skills and steadiness were a great supplement to our antics and made the experience flow very well for us all. He was also great fun to have around. The entire experience left me perplexed. Why would anyone do this to themselves? How can a person keep going when they can't even stay awake? Of all the people here, why am I pacing the dude in a kilt? Where do I sign up?
Many recently acquired friends finished the race, showing class and the utmost of sportsman(sportsperson?)ship along the way. Rachel Sterk(crewed by Phil Stapert and Ben Eggers) did an awesome job and stayed solid all day. Even when in a low, she still managed a smile when we cheered and waved. Jimmy V showed the Burning River who's boss and finished strong with his crew of badass ultra girls. Jeremiah Caltado ran a jaw-dropping 22 hour time and ran a strong as we all knew he could. I wish I could've watched him more; I think I could learn a great deal. I wish I could remember the names of the crews we bonded with over the day, watching and cheering their racers on as they cruised through the aid stations. I feel like I got to know lots of people without ever even introducing myself(sounds creepy, huh?).
Anyway, heres a breakdown of yet another unmotivated week of mileage:
Monday: 6miles (48:00)
Tuesday: 8miles (1:18)
Friday: nada- travelled to Burning River
Saturday: 36miles(12:30) night time pacing duties for Burning River(this may need adjustment)
Sunday: travel back home, passed out repeatedly.