Spring 2018 – Season Report

Launch point

I came into January following my best season yet where I saw big PRs across three distances: a 3:35 at the Baltimore Marathon, a 19:32 5k at Waystation Turkey Trot, and a 1:12 at the Goodloe Byron 10 miler.  I had improved my form to run at a 180 cadence, I fell in love with a light, fast shoe with the Altra Escalante, and probably most importantly I no longer had a pituitary tumor in my head.  I was ready to hit this spring hard.

Hard like Daniels

I’ve tried following Jack Daniels plans before and I knew they are intense, but that didn’t stop Jenny and I from making a pact in blood to “aim to try” to follow Coach Jack along an iditerod through the fiery pits of overtraining induced tendinopathy married with soul crushing sensations of inadequacy he calls his Q2 plan.  Guys, we had a Google docs spreadsheet and stuff.  It was serious.

Aim to try I did, with gusto.  In January, I took only 3 days of rest in 31 and hit an all-time high in mileage (230) and hours (30).  I did my best to hit the prescribed Q sessions.  At first they were rough going and I couldn’t do as many repeats as indicated.  By the end of the month, though, I started to adapt and began successfully hitting the workouts.  One such that stands out is the 6x400m R pace runs I did with Jenny on the track while Matt, Dustin, and Louis took easy laps with big grins on their faces.  I’m not sure, but I think they were reveling in our suffering.  It was cold, too.

But Daniels was working, and I was running strong.  Too strong, as it turns out.

Easy shmeasy

Here’s the problem with getting faster: you get faster.  I already have a clinically significant case of Stravapridinosis, characterized by a nagging voice in the head begging one to consider “but how will this look on Strava?” whenever the Garmin is on.  This condition is exacerbated with every minor increase in fitness.

As I began to feel the gains from Daniels I found that it became easier and easier to run faster, which I did… a lot.  I can get away with zone 3 running when I’m not also running 7 days per week, or mixing in hard zone 4 workouts, or certainly not both at the same time.  I ran way too many squarely zone 3 miles because it felt great at the time.  It felt easy and I loved running fast.  In fact, I felt better running in zone 3 than in zone 2.  And boy did my average pace on Strava look impressive!

Pride is expensive, especially on the legs, as we’ll soon find out.

The show-n-prove race

My spring season goal was the Frederick half marathon.  Out of all of my PRs, my half marathon was the oldest and therefore least indicative of my current fitness level so it was time to see what I could do.

Conveniently, the RRCA championship race came up smack in the middle of the season and presented a perfect opportunity to test my fitness.  Speaking of fitness, let’s talk about Jenny.

Jenny’s been chasing the 1:30 half for a while now.  Although she is in no way competitive at all and is never inspired to greater heights by the opportunity to trounce all those who would dare to challenge her supremacy, I talked big game about how I was training for a 1:30 too.  Realistically, I knew that was a stretch at this time, and only with a perfect season paired to a perfect May race day would I be in shape to threaten that time.  But it didn’t hurt me to write a check with my mouth that my legs can’t cash, so long as it motivated someone else to train harder, so that’s what I did.

Nevertheless, my goal was still to whittle my time down to as near as 1:30 as I could shave it.  That’s a 6:52 pace.  My “B” season goal was a sub -70 in the 10 mile distance.  That’s a 6:59.  I knew after a 1:12 on a hard course like Byron, a 1:09:59 was doable.

RRCA 2018It rained the entire tme at RRCA.  I run well in the rain.  I also had the fortune to have Javier to pace & chase.  We had the same time goal and ran together for about 5 miles until he cheekily quipped “now the real race starts” and then dropped me.  I kept him in sight, though, and hunted him down to within 20 seconds and a 1:09:30, a 6:56 average pace.

I hadn’t left anything on the course.  Those who throw up after hard races might say otherwise because I didn’t run quite that hard.  I knew I didn’t have it in me to drop a 20:30 5k at the tail of that effort on that day, but I came away feeling optimistic.  I had yet two months to train.  1:30 might be possible after all.

But maybe not

The optimism didn’t last long.  Before the RRCA race I had detected a few warning signals from my right medial ankle stabilizers, but they were fleeting.  Not so post-race.  My ankle hurt off and on for the next month.  I held out hope that it would resolve itself and kept running.

But something else was off, and I knew what it was.  It was overtraining.  I needed to rest badly, and I knew it.  The volume and intensity in January and February had caught up to me and the race pushed it over the edge.  Did I rest?  Of course not.  Resting is for the bush league.

Instead I gave Needwood a shot.  I ran slower at Needwood than I did at RRCA.  I needed to rest.  Did I rest?  Of course not.

I had committed to pace the Mission 10 miler for the 7:30 group.  I knew that this would be easy as I had run at least 5 sub-1:15 10 mile runs on “easy” days in the last 8 weeks not to mention a 1:09.  But knowing and feeling are different beasts, and the pressure to perform not just for myself but for the people I would be pacing kept me running at least one 1:15 10 miler each week through March while struggling to keep the mileage up.  I postponed the Daniels plan with the intent on taking a couple of weeks to “rest” by running a lot of 7:30 miles.  I hoped to pick it up again after Mission and do at least the distance-specific speed tune up work.

But maybe yes

The Mission 10 miler renewed my hope that I could still pull off a decent race at Frederick, because I ended up averaging a little on the fast side with a 7:23 against a goal of 7:29.999, but it felt so easy.  As in conversationally easy.  I started breathing heavy on the New Design roller coaster at mile 9 but otherwise it was a breeze.  Race magic!

Unfortunately, even though I felt easy in the heart and lungs, my ankle wasn’t having it.  The race pushed this nagging soreness over the edge, and it started to noticeably hurt after only 3 miles of very easy, measured running with a form emphasis on not bothering it.  I took 5 days off.

When in five days hence the issue had not abated, I booked an appointment with Dr. Montenegro at Charm City.  I tried on a variety of quality footwear at affordable prices to the backdrop of “the talk” – the one where Dr. Coach Javier reminds me of what I already know but infrequently (and when so, begrudgingly) practice, which is to run slower.  I’ve seen the studies.  I’ve read the literature.  I know there is no aerobic benefit to running in zone 3 compared to zone 2 but there is an increased strain on the lower body, but I keep doing it anyway.  And I introduce strain on my lower body.

All roads lead to Hoka One Ones

Last spring I had some issues with with my achilles.  Physical therapy failed to correct that problem, but Hoka One One Clifton 3’s succeeded.  This spring, I developed some issues with whatever it is that connects to the medial ankle bone.  The only other shoes I owned at the time with sufficiently low mileage were my Hoka Challengers.  They’re trail shoes.  And when I wore them, lo and behold: no ankle pain.

I love the Escalantes almost as much as I love my Verticoli, and a perfectly balanced brush with minimal torque made from illegal whale bone is a tough act to follow, but I will concede that their lack of stiffness does nothing for pronation.  The Hokas do, and that something is protect against it to the degree necessary to relieve my weak, small ankles.  I mortgaged my house again and came out with a pair of Bondis.

They are almost twice as heavy as the Altras and four times as ugly.  I find it hard to keep up the cadence with them on because it’s like running with a pair of skiff anchors.  This makes it easy to take Javier’s medicine and run slower though none the more enjoyably.

For the entire month of April I put in miles like a lamed horse with four shoes a hoof.  By now I had abandoned Darth Daniels’ plan wholesale and accepted defeat for a second time.

Tapering since 1992

I don’t beieve in the long taper, but alas an overuse injury before a big race forced my hand.  I didn’t decrease volume, but I did significantly decrease intensity.  I made a college try at a couple of threshold (sub-7:00) miles on days where I felt like it, but those few and far between didn’t make me any fitter.  They instead reminded me that I’m fat, slow, and have never run before.  They were embarrasingly hard.  The peanut gallery on Strava watched and disapproved.  If Coach Daniels were dead he’d be turning in his holy grave.

I like confidence runs before races.  I searched for one on that Ahab tip for weeks.  Yet each run felt harder and slower than the last.  I commented to my regular training partners that never had I felt so unprepared for a race than I did for the impending exercise in futility so called my “A” race.  I believe the phrase “I’m literally dying; help!” may have been involved.

The week before the race we did a final 10 miler on the canal.  The canal, guys.  So happens we passed Matt at mile 23ish of his 100 mile race; a total coincidence.  We gave him an 800 meter lead on us so we couldn’t be accused of pacing him – against the rules so early in the event – but we couldn’t catch up to him.  Yes, you read that right.  I couldn’t keep pace with someone running a 100 mile run the week before my half marathon.  You can’t spell confidence without F.  F minus.  F minus minus.

The race day cometh

I took my kids to Legoland the week before the race (“meh” out of 5, do not recommend) yet got in a little bit of running midweek, totaling 17ish.  The low point in the trip was when I discovered all of the segments within reasonable distance of the hotel were dominated by guys running 5:20 pace for 1200 meters.  That’s not “I don’t feel like taking the CR today” speed, that’s “I am not physically capable of taking that CR on my best day” speed.  Many bad words were imagined but not spoken to protect the ears of the young, innocent, and highly impressionable.  Again, don’t go to Legoland; you won’t get any CRs so what’s the point?

I was on my feet most of the days and got my Garmin’s arbitrary 12,326 step suggestion in.  On Saturday, Jenny, Katelin and I did a casual airport loop before picking up our Bibs at the expo and went full math nerd at the prospect that my bib number, 1363, might be prime.  But it isn’t.  It is a multiple of two primes.  We checked.  We’re cool like that.

The cursed ankle hadn’t bothered me in a couple of weeks.  I wore the Escalantes for the race, because I wanted to pretend that I am fast instead of pretend that I’m tall.

I’ve never felt more nervous about a race than I did on Sunday morning.  As Jenny and I haunted the fairgrounds we discussed what all runners discuss to psych themselves up for a great day: that we hate racing, we hate running, why do we do this to ourselves, whose dumb idea was this, we’re never racing again, what donut we will eat when we are done, etc. etc.  I felt nauseated, but I rose up and overcame.  I don’t throw up after races and I wasn’t about to start throwing up before races either.

Chatting with the Steeps crew at the tent calmed my nerves.  Speaking of nerves, only a guy with nerves of steel would risk moving a picnic table on race morning.  I could have pulled something; you just never know with these things.  I’ll accept the annual club reward for Race Day Risk Taker, a new category I invented just now.  I’ll even share it with Eric Cameron who managed to out chip-time me and came out exactly 1 spot ahead of me in the results despite assisting in the picnic table heist.   This goes to show that I clearly shouldered more of the table’s weight than he did.  I am going to talk about this for months.

It’s now time to head to the start line and actually run.  Whose idea was this?!

Off we go

Jenny and I lined up together, and then proceeded to run 13.1 miles together.

I am not the only casualty of Coach Daniels this spring.  It seems his mighty feasting of blood, spirit, and will to run on my wracked and tormented soul could not sate him, and so Jenny too bent her flexor digitorum longus to Jack’s cold kiss.  In other words, her legs hurt, man.  Fortunately I know a guy who has the stuff she needed.  His name is Javier and he’s got the hookup on the Hokas.  No skunk shoe at Charm City, only the good stuff.

31947356_10155270614847181_3861374657953267712_n

I digress here to illustrate how it could be conceivable to those who know us that a mortal such as I could be seen fewer than several miles behind the skirted legend herself.  What really happened?  I don’t know.  I ran a pace and she didn’t drop me.

Cameos by Jordan coming off his injury and getting back in the game, coming in 2nd on the coed relay with his wife.  This is the first time I’e met Jordan IRL after Strava stalking each other for literally years.

Given how I had been running recently I set modest goals.  I didn’t think I’d be able to match my RRCA pace of 6:56.  I guessed that I would end up somewhere between 7:00 and 7:10 on average, a result I intended on achieving by aiming for 6:59 yet coming up a little slow on the east side precipitous sheer cliffs the city of Frederick calls a boulevard.

My new thing is running races by quarter miles and it is amazing.  I set my “race” mode on my watch to display one and only one screen: lap distance and lap time.  I knew a 6:59 was 1:44.25 per quarter, which meant 52 seconds at 0.125 in.  I adjusted my pace twice per quarter.  Once around the 0.12 mark based on a 52 second target and once again at around 0.20, where I wanted to be around 1:25 or better.

Although it means I have 53 laps instead of only 13, they go by quick.  I’ve heard the race advice to “run the mile you’re in”, and I applied that to “run the quarter you’re in.”  The only thought on my mind was to make the next quarter under 1:45.  I succeeded most of the time.  I never ran significantly faster than 1:45 – consciously slowing down if I was ahead at the 200m mark – nor did I make up lost time from the previous quarter.

Throughout the race we were greeted by cheering friends.  We saw Art and Katelin several times.  I skipped a water stop to take a high five from Louis at the turnaround, which was more nourishing I think.  Matt impressed me by simply remaining vertical only seven days after coming in second at his debut 100 mile race.

The trouble spot on my ankle didn’t flare up at all.  Instead, because I’m me, a brand new pain appeared in my hamstring behind my right knee, and became somewhat critical near the famous out and back.  Somewhat, because I could still maintain form and pace, but critical because I knew that if this had started at mile 6 I would have had no choice but to drop the race to protect my body.  With only a mile to go, I knew I’d last.

As such, I made the conscious decision to run the hill on effort rather than speed and consequently we dropped pace on that quarter to 7:40 and ended up with a mile 12 split of 7:20ish.  I wanted to push it, but I also want to run for the rest of the summer and hike the Salkantay trail in Peru five weeks from now.  We left 20 or 30 seconds on the course in the last 5k, but I don’t have any regrets, because I walked the next day.

Speaking of the course, how do you manage a long course with that out and back?  Everybody’s GPS recorded at least 13.2 so I’m inclined to believe that it was long.  I play Gran Turismo and Forza.  I know the racing lines and I ran them.

Our official finishing chip time was 1:33:32, 4 seconds ahead of gun, for 7:09 average.  Strava has my 13.1 split at 1:32:46 for 7:05 average.  I’ll call the chip time an official PR and the 1:32:46 the unofficial PR.  Now, on to the really important business.

I am posting this for posterity because I’m quite sure that if this ever happens again it will be in the distant future:

ahead of jenny

We crossed the finish line together, but Corrigan Sports uses the same timing technology as Katelin’s watch and therefore sorts me slightly ahead of Jenny.  We’ll have to see the official videos to know for sure.

All in all, I’m happy with the results.  I ran my first half marathon here at Frederick in 2015, in 2:11 in 1900-somethingth place.  Three years later I ran a 1:33 in 98th place.  Breaking into the top 100 was a secret stretch goal for me from the beginning.  When I started running I never dreamt that I would achieve a result like this ever, let alone only thee years later.  I’m excited to think about where I might be 3 years from now.  But there’s a good chance it will be in the finisher’s area of the Frederick Half Marathon.

Coach Evan is accepting clients for 1:1 customized plans that involve a very limited quantity of zone 3 mileage.  Here’s a preview of the kung fu I offer:

31960799_10155270614567181_6820894346540220416_n (1)

The trick is to never actually touch the ground.  That just slows you down.  I can help you perfect your Wu-tang hover technique.

Moving forward

I signed up for MD Heat 50k as an alternative to the exercise in masochism and the voiding of my term life insurance policy known as Catoctin.  I need an excuse to keep my mlieage at an unsafe and unreasonably high level throughout the summer and that’s going to be the thing.  As with last year, I am going to do approximately 95% of my training for a trail 50k on flat roads.  On race day I’ll throw my nutrition plan out the window and subsist on Gulag rations of M&Ms and spend the bottom 25k with calves that are cramping so bad they’ll cast me for Fear the Walking Dead.

My actual plan is to up the mileage and stick to 80/20 – 80% very easy, 20% “effort” with a mix of threshold miles, hill repeats, and some M-paced segments of long runs.  In other words, what I should have been doing all along.  Maybe this summer will be the season I  train with my head instead of Strava weekly average pace statistic.  But it probably won’t be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Altra Escalante Review

I love these shoes.  They’re the best I’ve worn.  Here’s why.

The 2017 trend in running shoes has been the all-knit “upper”:

WIN_20171022_11_08_07_Pro

The entire top portion of the shoe is fabric.  This means a couple of good things:

  • The shoe feels like wearing a sock.  When you lift your foot up you never come into contact with any firm structural elements no matter how tightly you lace these guys.  They’re comfortable.
  • The shoe breathes well.
  • The shoe is light.
  • It flexes easily.

… and a couple of not so good things:

  • They soak water easily, so avoid puddles.
  • This shoe does not do well with lateral movement.  You need to be careful around tight corners that your foot doesn’t slip over the edge of the .  Don’t try playing basketball or chasing your kid’s errant lacrosse passes.
  • They don’t lace tightly, if that matters to you.
  • It flexes easily.   For some this can be problematic, but for me it’s a plus.

Weight

I used my kitchen food scale to measure the right shoe of the three pairs that I’ve run in most recently.  The Escalante run half a size smaller so they’re a men’s 12 and the other two are 12.5’s:

  • Saucony Hurricane ISO 2: 12.7oz
  • Hoka One One Clifton 3: 10.5oz
  • Altra Escalante: 9.7oz

I’ve been skeptical of shoe weight in the scale of ounces, but even dropping the 5% of a pound between the Cliftons and the Escalantes is something I noticed immediately the first time I wore them.  They just feel light and airy.  I barely notice that I’m wearing them.

By comparison

At the start of this year I wore Saucony shoes – the Hurricane ISO 2 and the Guides were my mainstays.  I tend to mildly overpronate.  In January I had some achillese problems, and switching from the ISO 2 to the Clifton’s (a “neutral” shoe) immediately solved my tendon problems.  I had some concerns about neutral shoes but I’ve run over 1000 miles in them without issue.

I transitioned into Hoka One One Clifton 3’s after being sick and tired of having constant leg pain on long runs.  The Clifton’s solved this to the extent that the day I bought them I wore them out of the store and ran a full marathon distance on the C&O canal tow path (slowly) without any lower body discomfort.  I drank the Hoka koolaid and I swore I’d never look back.  I loved the Clifton 3’s and would have stayed with Hoka if they hadn’t ruined the Clifton 4’s which have an arch support element too close to the heel for my oddly shaped feet.  Bear in mind that I wear a size 12.5 shoe but am only 5’9″.  That’s proportionally large.

The Hokas are highly cushioned and highly comfortable.  When I first transitioned from the Clifton to the Escalante I remember having reservations.  I definitely felt the road more with the Escalante than the Cliftons – mainly the impact up though my legs.  I didn’t know if the shoes would last, but after 400 miles, many of which were fast and hard, my legs have never felt better.

Let’s take a quick look at a side by side view of the cushioning elements of these shoes:

First, the Hokas are significantly thicker, 1.85″ vs 0.85″ at their thickest.  For the Hokas that’s the heel and for the Altra that’s right at the midsole.

Note that the Altras have the thickest cushioning right at the ideal foot strike location – slightly behind the ball of the foot.  These shoes encourage you to land where you’re supposed to land.  I spent most of the summer working on my form, particularly maintaining a high cadence even at slower paces, before switching to Altras.  The transition was easy for me, but could pose problems for toe or heel strikers.

Tread and Wear

The Escalante has an interesting tread configuration (and shape) that mimics the human foot:

WIN_20171022_11_48_03_Pro

Particularly when new, the ridges on the black elements of this shoe feel sticky on pavement, almost like trail shoes.  However, they are horrible on virtually every other surface.  Grass?  Not awful, but don’t inspire confidence especially wet.  Packed dirt?  You’ll feel slippage when you drop the hammer and open your stride.  Mulch?  Nope.  Wet leaves?  Forget it.   I would never run trails, even “easy” trails, in these shoes.  The poor traction coupled with weak lateral motion support would be a recipe for a disaster.  These are strictly shoes for the road, and ideally, dry asphalt or textured concrete.  I’ve run in heavy rain with these shoes on asphalt without grip problems.  I always take fast downhills a little more carefully in these shoes than in some others I’ve owned.

The pair pictured above has around 40 miles of wear on them.  Here’s a side-by-side with a pair with 350 miles (left) of wear on them:

The two areas of fatigue are right behind the ball of the foot and the outside heel.  You can see the texture mostly worn away.  There is less than 1/16″ in cushioning compression detectable at the midsole point in these two pairs.

For reference, this is what my Hoka Clifton’s sole looks like:

WIN_20171022_11_58_57_Pro.jpg

I don’t have a new pair of the Clifton to show you, but as you can see the outside heel is totally worn away and the cushioning is beginning to degrade.  As with the altras the midfoot is also worn, but not as dramatically.  This pair of Hokas have over 600 miles on them – a record high for a single pair of shoes for me, and have localized compression all over the place that I began to feel, prompting the switch.

Breaking in

Runners always talk about “breaking in” a new pair of shoes but I find it’s rather the reverse: the shoes break me in.  Predictably, switching into the Altras caused new pressure points on my toes which resulted in some new blisters, particularly on my index toe which is longer than my big toe.  After the second week these blisters had toughed into calouses and I haven’t had any chafing or rubbing issues since.

I have noticed the following:

  • The stabilizing muscles on the inside of my calves just above my ankles, particularly on my right leg, have been periodically “bothered” while wearing these shoes.  Remember how I mentioned that I slightly overpronate?  It’s particularly on my right food and these are neutral shoes with very little stabilization.  I’ve historically had issues with this part of my leg in the past.  The few (2-3) times I’ve felt discomfort in this area after a run, I simply took it a little easier the day after and haven’t had longterm issues, but it’s something to watch for.
  • In my older pair (350+ miles) I periodically experience mild pain on the inside arch of my right foot.  Not enough to be concerning or to affect my run, but enough to write this paragraph about.  It doesn’t persist and I have a feeling it is owing to localized compression as the shoe ages.  Haven’t felt this in the new pair, but have only run 3 times in those.
  • I have felt a few minor “pulls” in the arches of my right foot (e.g., the precursor to plantar fascitis).  Again, nothing terribly concerning and not necessarily related to the shoes.  I have been doing more stretches to help open my stride in preparation for 5k season which could also be at fault here.

This sounds a little like those prescription med commercials where they’re legally required to list everything that happened to everyone in every study regardless of whether there’s any proof that the medication had anything to do with it.  Take it with a grain of salt.

Zero drop, zero limits

This is a zero drop shoe.  Most of the fastest people that I know run in zero, or close to zero drop shoes.  This makes sense to me as I’m a believer in the idea of persistence hunting and a great deal of evolutionary evidence supports the idea that human beings evolved to run.  I have much more trust in the evolution of the anatomy of the human foot than I do in the Saucony shoe company (and all the others) with their 8-12mm heel-toe drop.

Since switching to the Altras I have run faster than I ever have before.  I don’t know if this is due to their light weight, the benefit of zero drop, improved form, general fitness, or something else.  As with everything in running there are so many variables that affect performance that it’s very hard to isolate them, so again, take with a grain of salt.

It’s also worth noting that I went from an 8mm drop with the Saucony shoes down to a 4mm drop with the Hokas down to a 0mm drop with the Altras over the course of about 8 months.  I can’t recommend going from 8 directly to 0.  That might be too drastic.

Cost

They’re expensive at $130 and I don’t expect to get more than 500 miles out of a pair which puts their cost per mile right around 25 cents, about average for high end shoes.  You can get a 10% discount on them from Running Warehouse if you check out The Ginger Runner’s review and use the code listed in his description.  I decided to buy these shoes after watching his video so I’m paying it forward.

If you have a local running store such as Charm City Run who gives you a return policy it might be in your interests to trial these before you commit.  After the first week I thought I might return them, but once I got used to the shoe I started loving it more and more.

Final thoughts

I love this shoe enough to buy a second pair.  I ran the Baltimore Marathon in the new ones and PR’d by 11 minutes overall and 32 minutes on the course.  I’ve historically had leg pain during marathons and with the Altras I was able to go the distance without having any skeletal-muscular discomfort beyond expected fatigue symptoms (cramping).  As a caveat, I haven’t run a marathon distance at pace in the Clifton 3s for comparison nor have I run a marathon in Saucony or other high-heel drop shoes since I improved my form so I can’t narrow this down to the shoe alone, but it definitely helped.

Give ’em a try.  You won’t regret.

 

 

 

Race Report: Balitmore Marathon

I have mixed feelings about this race.  On one hand, I shaved 11 minutes off my marathon PR and finished 32 minutes faster on (approximately) the same course from 2015.  On the other hand, I had several training runs this season that were better performances than this effort and I should have done better.

Training

I had brain surgery to remove Mr. Tumor in late July and didn’t really start training for this race until August 7.  This gave me approximately 9 weeks plus some “taper” time to train, which is less than ideal.  I only got two runs of longer than 18 miles in.  Both of those sessions were done at a sub-3:30 race pace for the entire length.  In fact, half of my long runs were done at either race pace or a high fraction thereof:

Week Distance Pace
1 8 8:41
2 16 9:20
3 15 9:10
4 16 9:04
5 18 7:55
6 16 8:20
7 “20” (Rick’s Run) 12:20
8 18 14 @ 7:55; 8:20 overall
9 21 7:51
10 16 8:16
11 14 7:55
12 26.2 8:13

Until week 5 I was assuming that if I were going to run a marathon I’d have to wait until Rehobeth Beach in early December.  But on that day, I went out ot Adamstown by myself.  It was cold and raining and I started fast and stayed fast.  I went sub-8 for that distance, something I had never done before and gave me confidence that I might be able to crack 3:30, which had been my goal last year at Richmond which ended in disaster.

Last year I went into Richmond with no evidence that I had the fitness for a sub-3:30 but I went for it anyway.  Cue week 9 where I ran a sub-3:30 pace for 21 miles.  That’s when I registered for Balitmore.

The only problem with week 9 is that it was on the C&O canal.  Soft surface and flat as a pancake makes for easy, fast runs.  I knew that on a real course, especially one like Baltimore, I’d have to pay the hill-and-pavement tax.  7:51 is a good pace, but it doesn’t leave much left over to still hit a sub-8:00 (3:30) pace on a real course.

As usual, I was over confident in my abilities.  I knew in the back of my head that 3:30 was still a stretch goal and that 3:35 was much more realistic.  That explains my decision to run the first 17 miles of the race ahead of the 3:25 pace group.  More on that later.

What about weekday runs?

Long runs are only part of the story.

Since September 1, 21 out of 32 of my weekday runs were run at 8:15 or faster pace.  Most of those were under 8:00, and 12 of them were in the last 4 weeks.  Particularly recently, sub 8:00 minute miles do not feel particularly hard for me.  I don’t start getting into tempo level efforts until 7:10 or faster.

I don’t know what to make of this statistic.  I believe firmly in run fast, get fast.  I’ve experimented in various training cycles (e.g., this past Spring) with running more easy miles vs. more fast miles, and I find that more fast miles has dramatically improved my average paces in a much shorter time frame.

However, cumuluative fatigue doesn’t make itself apparently on short weekday runs or even necessarily on long runs.  I am not sure if my inability to hold my average weekday pace for 26 miles had anything to do with possible cumulative fatigue or simply that 26 miles is long, hard distance, which leads us to…

No taper, no limits

To say that I failed to taper for this race is an understatement.  Starting three weeks out – October 2 through race day on October 21, I ran lots of fast miles.

In the first week, I ran a total of 48 miles, 36 of which were at sub-8:20 pace.  25 of them were sub-8:00.

In the next week, I ran a total of 40 miles, 36 of which were run at 8:10 or faster, including a 7 mile run on Wednesday which featured 3 sub-7 minute splits and a 10k PR, and 14 miles at race pace on Saturday.

On race week, I ran on Tuesday and Wednesday for 12 total.  All 12 under 7:30 pace.

Technically, in order to fail at tapering you have to be trying to taper.  Part of me knew I should probably do it, but I had those amazing long runs faster than race pace earlier in the cycle without tapering at all.  My fast 21 miles on the canal was happened during a 60 mile week.  I was afraid to taper too much for two reasons.

First, I saw what happened to me after a 7 day hiatus from running while in the hospital.  The opening 8 mile run of this training season was incredibly challenging.  I attribute a lot of my general speed improvement to consistency and I wanted to maintain consistency.

Second, when it comes to yearly goals, running a “decent” marathon was less important to me than cracking 2000 miles for the year.  I am up against the wire thanks to the injury in January and losing a couple of months derping around with 50ks, medical issues, and surgeries.  I have to run at least 5 more 50 weeks between now and December 30 and not under 40 in any of the others to hit 2000 for the year.  It just comes down to priorities.  I had to run at least 40 miles each week.  Maintaining the high level of intensity was probably a mistake, though.

Speaking of mileage…

Earlier this year, I ran my first 50 mile week and my first 60 mile week.  This fall I managed to run 70 miles in 7 days (though not according to Strava since those 7 days was Saturday-Saturday instead of Monday-Monday).

Since recovering from surgery in August , each week I ran no fewer than 40 miles.  5 of the weeks were above 50, one of them was 48 (close enough!) and one of them was 60.  In total, I ran 519 miles before the marathon.

Race day

This year we decided to just bring the kids into the city and stay in a hotel.  My wife booked the Hampton Inn literally overlooking the start line and we had a much better experience than I had last year.  Part of that is due to the much warmer weather we had today.  In 2015 I remember shivering for 40 minutes before the race started.  No such issues this year.  I strolled over to the start at 7:45 and chatted with Louis and Jason a little bit around the 3:25 pace group.

Unfortunately Baltimore did not have a 3:30 group so I had to wing it.  My general strategy was going to be to stick with 3:25 (7:45 miles) through the first hills and then try to keep them in sight until around mile 20 at least.

Miles 1-3

Easy and comfortable.  Slightly uphill but I didn’t notice.  I naturally went out too fast, at 7:34, 7:48, and 7:46.  Sounds relatively close to the 7:45 pace goal except when you consider this is a net gain of around 250 feet so the grade adjusted paces are 7:14, 7:32, and 7:16.

Miles 3-8

If the whole course were like this I would have nailed 3:25.  10k of net downhill through pretty scenery.  In the first three miles I had gotten slightly ahead of the 3:25 pace group and this trend continued on these downhill miles.  I averaged approximately 7:35 on these miles… because they were all dowhill.

Mile 9

I call this mile out because this is when my watch decided to screw me and ring in a quarter mile early, owing to the Strava split of 6:26.  I did not run a 6:26.  Not anywhere close.

From this point on, all of my mile marks were way off, and for the next 6 miles or so, I totally lost any ability to pace myself, because my watch was confused.  Throughout the entire inner harbor, my watch informed me that I was running at an 8:30 or slower pace, which I knew to be false, especially since at each mile it would buzz in at 7:30 despite showing me 8:30 paces the entire time.  I had to use the view that shows the distance/time split.  Oh, I’m 0.62 miles in at 5:30 minutes in?  Is that on pace or too fast?  I’m good at math but not that good.

Miles 10-15

I remember the Under Armor headquarters being the 13.1 turnaround from 2015 but apparently they changed that this year since it was only at mile 12 this time around.  This messed with my head a little.  I felt pretty good here even though the surface was concrete and that was not great.  I was not nearly as confident as I was at the same point at Richmond last year, that’s for sure.  I felt myself starting to lose some steam.  I also started to feel nauseated.

Nausea has plagued me at every long event I’ve done for as long as I can remember.  It reared its head at Richmond.  It totally destroyed my ability to run at North Face.  It affected me at Catoctin for at least 8 miles.

Now guys – I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve vomitted in since as long as I can remember.  I’m almost 35.  I am not a vomiter.  I was traumatized by a childhood experience when I was 5 or maybe 6 when I was having lunch at a neighbor’s house and his younger brother started puking up his grilled cheese.  I was already skeptical because my mom only bought yellow singles and these were made with white singles which in my five year old brain meant they were bad.  Cascades of milk and white american cheese started pouring out of his mouth, on to his high chair tray, and on to the table directly at me.  I jerked back, fell backward out of my chair, started screaming, and ran home.

So this means that no matter how nauseated I feel, I have a very hard time puking.  I can only do it when I’m either sick with a stomach bug or I’ve had way too much to drink.  This means no matter how much I feel like I should puke, I don’t.  I just suffer in a state of nauseated agony.

It also means that feeling like I might puke is probably my least favorite sensation in the world.  The only weird body issue that makes me as uncomfortable as puking is the thought of a kidney stone.

Miles 16-20

“Crap, I went out too fast” is all I could think when I found my pace going from (what Strava claims to be a) 7:04 in mile 14 and 7:21 in mile 15 – both of which were fueled by the crowd support and excitement of joining up with the half marathon group – to 8:00, then to 8:20.

I made a conscious choice to let the 3:25 group pass me here.  I knew I wasn’t going to hit 7:45’s up these hills, and trying was only going to dig the hole deeper.

The elevation gains on these miles is only around 170 feet total.  I run more elevation that that over approximately the same distance every single time I run (well, except on the canal anyway) so I figured this wouldn’t really phase me, but it did.  By now my stomach was a twisted knot of discomfort and I wasn’t quite lurching but I was not feeling very well.  I knew I had to eat or I’d be screwed so I forced some Gus down but that only semeed to make it worse.

At mile 19, we turn a corner toward the lake.  In 2015 this is where my IT band flared up for the first time.  I have a semi-idactic visual memory.  You’d think a non-descript street corner in Baltimore wouldn’t be worth the brain space, but I recognized that thing from a mile away.  Passing it gave me a slight mood bump, but it didn’t last long.

Shortly after this I took my first non-aid station walking break.  It was short, but I was really losing steam from that climb and I needed to get my heart rate down.  Nausea coupled with heavy breathing is a double whammy of awful.

I slogged it up, and then down, to the lake.  Mile 20 was a 9:20.

Miles 20-23

This was the hardest part of the race for me.  They had a clock at mile 20 and I had 50 minutes to make it in to hit sub-3:30.  My napkin math said that was an 8:20ish.  I managed mile 21 in 8:28 but I paid for this in mile 22 with several short walks and a total time of 8:57.  That 8:28 was the fastest I was going to see for the rest of the day.

I was ready to see those tiny little far away neon people dots on the other side of the lake, so their relative size didn’t catch me off guard and get me too down this time around.  I tried to eat a banana here but I couldn’t force myself to swallow even one bite.  My stomach was done.

Mile 23 was the absolute worst.  It’s the last climb out of the lake before the long downhill to the finish ends.

In 2015, I was walking here when Jill Cameron passed me and tried to encourage me to get moving.  I imagined that every time I started walking and tried to actually run this time, since that year I was already so crampy at mile 23 that it was almost impossible.

As an aside, this is also the first place in the course where the really stupid signs started coming out.  You know the ones that say dumb-ass things that non-runners think are so hillarious, like, “4 months ago you thought this was a good idea!”  “It’s all downhill.”  That kind of thing.  I will say by comparison to Richmond, Balitmore was blissfully devoid of these things.  I only saw a handfull of them.  At Richmond it almost felt like the city had a competition for “most infuriating demotivational non-funny sign.”

Miles 24-26

By this point I hadn’t taken much nutrition for at least 6 miles.  I choked down a Gu.  It might have been in mile 23; I don’t remember really.  I had been reduced to running zombie mode, and was a breath away from going full Jeff Galloway.  My calves were starting to fire warning shots.  I was doing that thing where you make deals with yourself: “okay, run to this traffic light.  Run till your watch erroneously tells you you’re at mile 25 when you know you’re actually at mile 24.5.  Then you can walk a little.”

Fortunately, a lot of 24 and most of 25 are fully, and signfiicantly downhill.  I managed a feeble 8:35 on a 96 foot net deficit.  I was way too exhausted, nauseated, and generally uncomfortable to care at the time.

My calves started slightly cramping.  They never locked, thankfully, but they dared to do so any time I thought of shaving a minute or two off my finish time.  Catoctin all over again, except the face-planting was only metaphorical and not literal.

Mile 26

… is a cruel mistress.  After gliding downhill for almost two miles your reward is a couple of sharp climbs.  I really, really wanted to run them.  The mind was willing but the body was not able.  I’d write more about this mile except I really don’t remember it.  It was only better than mile 23 because there weren’t 3 more miles after it.

Mile .2

As we rounded the final corner I caught some neon green out of the corner of my eye.  Is that… is that the 3:35 group?  Why yes it is!  Ruth told me I should run with the 3:35 group.  She was right.

Okay, fine, I knew I lost a bunch of time in the last 10k.  In my “bank time in the beginning” plan which has never worked before and probably never will,  I counted on being able to run “easy 8:40s” for the last 6 miles.  That’s a great plan assuming the first part goes right – namely not losing the 3:25 group until mile 21 (instead of mile 17).  There’s also no such thing as “easy” anything in the last 6 miles of a marathon, a fact easy to forget when you are not in the last 6 miles of a marathon.  Whatever, I’ve got a quarter mile to go, I can beat them across the mat.

Anyway, I started my kick.  That’s when my left calf decided I was not in fact going to start a kick of any kind.  I can’t remember in exactly which position it locked itself but I remember stomping my left foot awkwardly as I hobbled it in.  I watched the 3:35 group hit their own kick.  Turns out they were a little slower than expected so the pacers sprinted to beat the 3:35 gun time, and I just couldn’t keep up with them.

My goals had been:

  • “S” (for secret, but I told everybody because I’m terrible with secrets) goal: sub 3:25
  • A goal: sub 3:30
  • B goal: sub 3:35
  • C goal: don’t bonk
  • D goal: PR

I know most people would probably rank PR higher than a D, but my PR is over 18 months old and I am signfiicantly faster than I was then, so a PR was almost assured assuming I didn’t repeat Richmond (which would have constituted my F, as in for “Finish a.k.a. Fail” goal).

Closing thoughts

What went right:

  • Actual leg pain was not an issue with this race as it has been in previous marathons.  I owe this to fixing my form problems and finding better shoes.  If you’re not running 180+ cadence, start.  And wear Altras.  The Escalantes.  They’re grest shoes.  Much better than those Saucony POS’s I wore for every other marathon.
  • I didn’t quit when I desperately wanted to for the entire hour it took me to ashamedly shuffle the last 10k
  • I bonked but far less dramatically than at Richmond and maybe a little less than at Gettysburg

What went wrong:

  • I overestimated my ability.  I might have been able to run 26.2 miles at 7:55, but not 7:35 which is probably what my average pace for the first 16 was.
  • I can’t take Gus, or Gatorade, or maybe that combination.  I need to figure out what I can eat on runs.  So far Graham crackers have been the best for me.
  • I bonked

I’ve run 4 marathon races now and I can’t say I’ve actually enjoyed them very much.  They are an exercise in pain in a way that shorter distances aren’t.  I will probably continue to run them once in a while but I don’t think I’ll see an “A” race be a marathon next year.  I have shorter fish to fry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Race Report: Catoctin 50k

They don’t call it the pain cave for nothing.

Finishing this year meant a lot to me.  Last year I DNF’d at the turnaround.  I had plenty of explanations but at the end of the day that DNF meant that I just wasn’t tough enough to handle the course.  I was okay with that decision for about three months.  Even swore off trail running entirely.  But when the fall came and I started thinking about the year of running 2016 – a year decorated with so many accomplishments and high points – that one red mark at Catoctin started to bother me and when I thought about my goals for 2017 I knew that completing this course before the time cut off was going to be one of them whether I liked it or not.

Just me and my tumor

As I wrote last time, I discovered in early May that I have a large benign tumor on my pituitary gland.  As you can imagine that month was a bit of an emotional roller coaster and it affected my running significantly and I clocked only 100 miles that month.  June was a little better but I missed a lot of long weekend efforts.   I could have been in better condition for this race.

I am on hormone replacement therapy for the consequences of the tumor, which may be a rest-of-life situation depending on how well, if at all, my pituitary gland decides to resume normal function after the tumor’s out.  In about 40% of cases everything returns to normal.

One of the hormones I have to replace is cortisol which plays a really important role in fat burning and the adrenal cycle.  During long events, it’s just one more thing I have to manage manually, on top of nutrition, hydration, and salt balance.  Bring it on, I say.  Ultras are too easy.  It’s just a 50k right?

I am having surgery to remove this tumor in ten days.  My surgeon is a Boston qualifying marathoner and ultra runner himself with an amazing JFK 50 time of 7:26.   In fact, we delayed the surgery specifically so I wouldn’t miss Catoctin, a detail which helped me tough it out on the course.  I knew my highly talented and successful neurosurgeon to whom I am trusting my very life would ask me how my race went and the last thing I was going to tell him was “thanks for delaying my surgery so I could DNF again.”

Training

Last year, I spent a huge amount of time up on the mountain – every weekend and some week nights for almost two straight months.  I needed to do that to learn the course and to learn trail running.  By the time race day had come along I was so sick of being up there that it wasn’t fun – or even a beautiful forest anymore.  I had a photographic memory of every rock on that trail and tripped on most of them.

This year I decided that my mountain training would be limited.  I only did three long runs in the watershed this year and one short trek up the TV trail, which isn’t part of the course.  I did other trail running on the AT, Little Bennett, and Worthington Farm to get some trail practice but I made sure not to spend too much time on the course itself lest I suffer the same burnout I felt last year.

Two weeks prior to race day, I ran the first full half of the trail with my friends Ruth, Art, and Bill from the Tea Room to Manor, and I ran strong.  The medication I’m taking for the tumor is really helping me stay energized over distance, something that has eluded me for the last couple of years.  I ran the runnable uphills and hit PRs on almost every section of the northbound trail.  I needed a confidence run and I got one.

I started tapering through July, running only around 50 miles in two weeks and came into race day feeling fresh and rested.

The Race

Strava Link

We lucked out with the weather this year.  It stayed in 80s all day and we had a southerly, gentle wind to cool us off in both directions.   I only felt genuinely hot once, during an shadeless climb toward the end.

I ran a strong first half, earning a couple of PRs in that direction.  I made it to Manor at around 11:20 AM, about 10 minutes ahead of my ideal goal.  In hindsight, I hit the first half too aggressively.  The aid station cutoffs were to me a sword of Damocles and I knew that any risk of missing them would demoralize me, so I wanted to make sure I banked a lot of time.

Too much time, as it developed.  I began to feel the first stirrings of cramps between Fishing creek and Manor, so I downed as much salt as I could and kept trucking downhill.

Unfortunately the salt didn’t work, even though I would guess I took at least 20 salt caps in eight hours.  I was never able to get my leg cramping under control for the remainder of the day, so although I did run periodically I did a lot of hiking back to the Tea Room.  For large stretches of the race I could barely straighten my legs.  When I tried to raise my calves to avoid tripping hazards, they cramped.  When I used one leg for the tough inclines too much, I developed a shooting pain in the inside of my thighs.  Even my feet and hamstrings cramped occasionally.

And I fell, a lot.  I had prided myself on not falling on the trails at all this entire training season, but because high feet were cramping my calves, I kept my feet low, caught a lot of rocks, and stumbled quite a bit.  On four or five occasions I took a bad spill which left me on the ground with cramped legs.  I had to grab the nearest tree and pull myself up to get my legs straight.  Fortunately with fewer than 200 runners on the trails over such a vast distance my shame went mostly unobserved.  An innocent bystander helped me up once whose name I regret taking (but if you’re reading this, thanks a bunch!)

Despite this debilitating muscle failure my spirits were generally high. I tried not thinking much about the cutoffs.  I did the mental math a few times and computed that were I to do 20 minute miles from here until Tea Room would I make it and the answer was always yes.  That made it easy to keep moving forward.

A couple of years ago, one of the HURT guys at the C&O aid station said something that stuck with me: on these long mountain ultras, it’s not about how fast you run, it’s about how fast you walk.  I tried to keep this in my head and maintain a brisk pace, and I think I did that successfully.  In each mile I tried to run at least a little and I kept my pace below 16:00 except on climbs.  It’s hard for me to even type that out because it seems so absurd; my 3 year old runs faster than that for our quarter mile runs around the neighborhood, but 16:00 is much better than 22:00, a fact which I reminded myself every time my watch clocked the last mile.

When I got to the final aid station at Hamburg road at around mile 26, Jenny reminded me that if I could make the southbound valley in 1:45 I’d finish under 8 hours.  That would be a phenomenal time for me and way beyond my expectations.  The valley is six miles and though there are some gnarly climbs there are also some gnarly descents so I thought that if I could capitalize on the descents – one of the few grades I could still adequately run without cramping (much) – I might be able to sneak it in.  I’d have to do each mile in around 18 minutes.  That seemed doable.

On the way coming down the steepest part of the valley, I took a nasty spill.  I had to grab a tree to stop my fall and I took rocks to both knees, hard.  I had massive bruises on both, a gash on my left, and somehow hit my left hip as well.  This crash stole the wind out of my sails, and I realized that going for sub-8 was reckless.  I was letting the nickel hold up the dollar.  One more nasty fall like that and I might not be able to get up again.

So I resigned myself to walk it in.  That descent is shouldered by one of the hardest climbs in the course.  It’s long, it’s steep, and it’s at mile 29.  That was the emotional low point for me.  I was hurt and barely cogent.  I kept moving and only stopped when my legs cramped so badly that I couldn’t keep walking.  A few people passed me in this section but I didn’t let it bother me.  I knew that this race was mine to fail now.

finsh line 3When I got to the lower parking lot, Paul and Telly were there taking pictures and beating the cowbell like it owed them money.  Paul mentioned that we only had half a mile to go and relief washed over me like an awesome wave.  I thought I still had a full mile to go.  That last Tea Room climb was tough but knowing how close I was to finishing gave me all the strength I needed.

I crossed the finish line in 8:13.  I went into the day thinking that if I everything went perfectly I might squeak in a little under 8, but I knew I’d be happy with anything under 8:45.  Considering how badly my legs were cramping all day, this is a slam dunk as far as I’m concerned.

The Event

with bill

Catoctin is a special event for the local community because so many of us are either running the race, working aid stations, cheering, or moving around the course taking pictures.  Conservatively, I would guess that I am on a first name basis with at least 50 people out on the trails. Everything is a little less painful when you’re in the pain cave with your friends.

I ran almost 10 miles with Bill who went on to go sub-8 for his first Catoctin at the tender age of … well, I won’t say but he’s a couple of decades older than I am.  Incredible athlete and incredible running partner.

janI ran at least three or four miles with the long lost Jan, the person who is more responsible for instilling both passion for and success in running than anyone else.  She’s since moved to California and actually bought a plane ticket just for this race… and people say I’m crazy.

Jan got me into trail running initially (i..e, declared “we’re training for Catoctin now, meet at Hamburg Rd. 8am Saturday”).  She introduced me to this race.  She taught me the blue trail.  Running with her was just like old times.  When she casually mentioned that she and I were running “faster than last year” I should have wised up and slowed down!

I saw Jenny at almost every aid station.  Her energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement helped me and so many others throughout the day.

But I think what I will remember most about this race was encountering Crys at the Delauter aid station.  Crys is a truly talented ultra runner with a long successful career in front of her.  She’s been training with a local legend with the goal of a top 10, if not podium finish.  The first time I saw her was on her way back up from the manor as I was going back down and she was either in second or third place at that time.

But things change during a race, as I experienced and so did she.  One minute I’m running a banner day and the next my legs are cramping so badly I can hardly walk. And I guess something changed for her, because when I ran into her there, she was in the process of DNF’ing.

I was advised not to ask her questions by her aid station honor guard but I knew what needed to be done.  I asked her one question: “do your legs work?”  Good, they do.  That’s a start.  At that point, my legs barely worked and I had full intention on walking every inch between Delauter to Hamburg which is historically my least favorite and emotionally lowest part of the course.  I suggested to her that as long as she can still walk she might as well walk with me to Hamburg road.  At least she’d be 3 miles closer to the finish line.

So we talked a little bit and I heard her recite all of the thoughts that were in my mind when I quit the race last year.  It wasn’t enough for me to just finish Catoctin, I had to finish really well.  In 2016, I was killing all of my races.  Two months before I had shaved 27 minutes off of my half marathon time.  Catoctin was going to be no different.  And so when I came to Manor and realized that I was not going to finish well, I remember thinking, “I can walk, but what’s the point?”  Since my wife and kids were there, I turned in my number and walked off the course.  And I had 12 months to think about it and regret it.  There are worse things, I told her, than walking it in.  You could always just give up and quit.

We talked a little about Western States.  So many amazingly talented runners ran such amazing races for 70 miles and then lost it.  When you go for it, when you’re running in the red, you might burn out.  It’s a risk you take when you’ve got the pedal to the metal.  You’re never going to know what your potential is if you don’t run that way, but you’re also guaranteed to have days like this when you do.  You just can’t win them all.

crysI was so happy to see her get moving again.  “Let’s run a bit!”  Okay.  I look down at my watch.  11:30.  11:00.  10:30… 9:00… 8:20…. we’re doing 8 minute miles here and I’m dying.  She wasn’t happy to lose me but I promised that if I found her sitting on a log I’d get her moving again.  I didn’t see her for the rest of the race.  She didn’t hit her goal time but she won’t have the regret of quitting.

Learning how to rally in an ultra race is something that Javier has really emphasized to me and I kept hopeful the whole race.  30+ miles is a long time to be out there.  Sometimes you have to walk for five miles before you can run again.  Maybe you never can.  You won’t know until you find out.

As it turns out, Javier had also helped her rally earlier in the day and had said almost exactly the same things that I said to her, even including referencing this year’s Western States race.  We joked that we had a pre-game conference and went over our talking points for “words of encouragement.”

We met up post-race at Tea Room and she expressed some regret that perhaps if she had just kept going she could have hit her goal anyway.  I reminded her that we learn more from our failures than our victories and the next time she’s on a course and she’s in that dark place and thinking about quitting she’s going to remember today and she will be able to draw on that thought.  Maybe if I had just kept going I would have hit my goal.

She also confided in me that when she saw me plodding along through Delauter she had thought to herself, “well if this guy has a brain tumor and is getting brain surgery in 10 days and he is going to finish, then what’s my excuse.”  I’m glad my little tumor actually did a little good in the world before being savagely murdered ten days hence.

Closing thoughts

My second goal for the year is now complete, and I can safely choose to close the book on Catoctin but I have a feeling that I won’t.  This event is an expression not so much of physical fitness but of sheer will.  That I found the mental strength to push through this masochistic suffer-fest will be a feather in my cap for the rest of my life.  Whether I am running it next year or paying it forward as a course volunteer I will be back on that mountain next July with a couple hundred of my closest friends.

 

 

 

So, I have a brain tumor

Shortly before Northface 50k I started taking anti-depressants.  Over the last six months I’ve felt worse and worse and worse to the point where it was affecting my work.  The new meds impaired me during the race, specifically stomach-wise.  I’ve historically been iron-stomached, but not that day.

When I described my life situation to the prescribing GP he suggested that I should also have physiological causes ruled out.  He’s treated depression for a long time and young healthy grounded family men without financial or other substance problems just don’t become depressed out of the blue like this.

One CT and one MRI later, we found this:

tumor3

 

That’s my head… and that golf ball with the red circle is a 3cm brain tumor.

Technically it’s not a brain tumor, as it’s not technically in my brain tissue.  It’s a growth of the pituitary gland, or otherwise known as a pituitary adenoma.

I spent a few hours on the Tuesday after Northface fretting impending death.  I had the initial CT scan at 9 and at 10 the doctor wanted to see me that same day.  The prognosis on brain cancer is pretty bad.  It was a tough day.

A week later I had the MRI done.  I’m not a radiologist, but it’s easy enough to compare pictures like these to the ones on Google.  My GP suspected that this adenoma was “micro” – tiny, like 5mm or something.  The MRI obviously painted a different picture.  That was a tough day, too.

I’ve since been to an ophthalmologist and an endocrinologist, and the results are in.

Other than the depression – which is most likely caused by this condition – the tumor is impacting me in the following ways:

  • The blurriness and lack of peripheral vision in my left eye particularly when running – which I previously thought was my contact lens drying out – is the tumor pressing against my optic nerve, exaggerated by elevated blood flow;
  • I have significant hypothyroidism, reducing my metabolism and causing me to gain weight and sleep a lot.  That I still have a normal BMI is due only to the large volumes of running I do, evidently;
  • I have rather low cortisol despite running 40 miles the week of the test.  Long distance running supposedly tends to elevate cortisol levels.  One of the main jobs of cortisol is to increase the glucose concentration in the blood to make more energy readily available to the muscles.  The impact of chronically low cortisol levels should be evident to training & race performance.

This is all due to the tumor compressing the pituitary stalk and impairing its function.  It is not able to produce its signaling hormones to inform the other glands, e.g. my thyroid and adrenals, to produce their hormones.

On one hand, I’m naturally bummed that I’m afflicted with these problems.  On the other hand, at least some of the inexplicable fatigue I occasionally encounter is now at least partially explained.  I can’t blame ever bad run or bonk on a tumor but I have really begun to wonder.

The bad news is that I am going to need neurosurgery to correct this condition and there’s a non-zero chance of disastrous complications including but not limited to meningitis, partial or total blindness and even death.  I am going to need to find a specialist who has already performed at least 300 of these surgeries to limit my risks.  Fortunately I live within driving distance of Johns Hopkins which has such surgeons on staff.

In addition to the emotional toll this has taken on me in the last few weeks – which has also exacerbated my abnormally long recovery window from NF50k – it is impossible for me to make long-term training plans.   When I have this surgery – and that is a date yet undecided – I will most likely be unable to run at all for at least an entire month; possibly longer, depending on how well I am recovering.

It’s hard to program the next 6 months of the year.  It’s hard to sign up for races.  It’s hard to find motivation to put in the miles each week, and I’ve let it slide.  I was hoping to establish a baseline 5k time this season at Parkway this past memorial day, but I’m not in shape for it and I’m not mentally or emotionally there.

I’m in running limbo and I think that’s worse than the tumor.

 

 

 

 

Spring Report: Up to the North Face 50k

I signed up and ran this race about 3 weeks prior.  It was my “reserve” race, meaning if I didn’t feel ready to run a strong marathon by mid April, I’d defer that until Fall.  But I still wanted to run something big and North Face fit the bill.

The boring part that I’m writing for myself to look back at several years from now

When I rebooted my running career 2 years ago, I needed stability shoes and wore mostly Saucony Guide 9’s.  Last autumn I began to notice growing discomfort in my Achilles during training.  The chickens finally came to roost in December last in response to a “strong start” for the year, and something finally pulled for real.  Some PT was required.

This put me off-kilter in the early months of the season.  I only managed  88 miles in January, 24 month low for me and against a goal of 175.  Between the confidence-shattering Richmond marathon in November and the low mileage my conditioning took a beating.

I spent the entire winter base-building.  In 2016 I averaged around 36mpw.  In 2017, I’d like to increase that to around 50.  In aid of that goal I started training with a heart rate monitor.   One of the clearest signs of over-training is elevated heart rate for same-effort runs.  In other words, running the same course Monday to Monday at same effort should have similar heart rate profiles.  If your heart rate is increasing, that’s a sign to pull it back and take more rest.

Of course it’s not the only sign.  I had to pay very close attention to my lower body.  No repeat injuries.  Jared, my PT, advised against hills, so I worked the flattest roads I could find at a leisurely 9:30.  This is hard for me.  I am very “Strava proud.”  I overcame this problem.  Not that I had much of a choice.

I began increasing my mileage.  I hit my first ever 50 mile week ending on 2/26.

Although PT helped it didn’t eliminate the tightness in my heels, and it was slowly creeping back into my workouts, likely in response to an aging pair of trainers.  Enough is enough, so I made a trip to If the Shoe Fits, now part of Charm City Running.

I’ve felt limited by lower body discomfort especially at distance.  Coupled with that I’m admittedly a bit of a Sage Canaday fanboy and I thought I’d give Hoka One Ones a try.  I test drove the Cliftons on their treadmill and despite being a neutral shoe and a lower drop they felt good, so I took the plunge and drank the Koolaid.

I walked out of the store with them on and proceeded to run a full marathon on the C&O canal towpath in 4:11 moving time, around 4:30 total with time at my car refueling.  Even though this constitutes my slowest of 4 marathon efforts, it is notable because at no point did I bonk and feel like I had to walk.  This was a major confidence booster for me at the time and reinvigorated my training.

No “junk” races

By 2016 I had only raced a half and a full.  I had never really raced any other distance hard.  So I wanted to establish a baseline against which to develop goals to aid in training milestones.  I raced a lot.

In 2017 I had no desire to run winter races just to run them.  Pushing hard efforts just for the sake of racing is contraindicating that goal, and frankly I didn’t want to notch out sub-par performances when I’m not ready.

A note about training paces

Between weeks starting February 21 and April 10, my mileage pattern was 50, 40 51, 51, 61, 42, 60, 47.  This a big step up in mileage and was only possible because I finally wised up and slowed down my pace.

Prior to starting heart rate training I was under the delusion that my easy pace was much, much faster than it actually is.  I have relatively low respiratory rate.  At easy pace I often breathe once every 4 steps or so, and when I’m at tempo it’s not much more.  This gives me the illusion that I’m not working very hard, but my heart rate tells a different story.

My resting heart rate is very low.  I had an EKG four days prior to North Face at my wife’s request so that she wouldn’t worry that I might drop dead on the trails from a heart incident.  My resting heart rate was 36.

But my maximum is probably around 180.  I’ve done a few hard intervals and my heart rate monitor isn’t tracking anything higher than about 175 ever, which means either the monitor tends low, or I have a lower max.

Needless to say, I was running my “easy” runs at around 150, 155.  I now understand that true easy pace is (currently) more like 130.  At the start of this season that was around 9:30, whereas at the end it’s more like 8:45 or 9:00.

How not to taper

One of my 2017 goals was to run a strong half.  I predicted at Army 10 that I could have done a half at that pace.  The week before this race I wanted to do a “short” long run and the last Frederick Half training group happened to be that Saturday.  The weather was perfect for fast running: 55 degrees and lightly raining.  I wanted to take it easy, but the pace groups stopped at 9 not by design but because nobody volunteered to run 8:30 or lower.  I was shooting for 8, so my choices were try to hang with Jenny, Louis, and Conny or run by myself, in the rain, on Schifferstadt.  I went for it.

It was a hard run but when I got to 10 and realized I was only about 45 seconds off my time at Army,  I went for it and ended up hitting a 1:38:45, a PR by about 6 minutes and completing my annual goal.  This was a relief because I didn’t want to try to run a strong half a week after an ultra.  The downside is that this was a hard effort and not the best for a taper week, and I think as with Richmond (running a 5k PR the week prior), this affected my race.  But I look at it positively:  a sub-1:40 was an annual A-goal and has now paved the way for a 1:35 adjustment for the fall, whereas North Face was a backup plan in case I didn’t manage to get in the right speed workouts in time for a marathon and still have time to taper (which I did not).

What was I thinking?

I have suffered from dysthymia most of my adult life, with the added bonus of something called “double depression.”  It basically means that I feel generally worse than normal people all of the time, with bouts of severe clinical depression.

At a particularly low point when I was really struggling, Javier took me up to the Appalachian trail and “invited” me to participate in North Face.  I knew I wasn’t trail ready  – even “easy” trail would not be easy – but at a certain point it’s poop or get off the pot.  No reason to run 60 miles per week and never do anything with it.

4 days before the race I began taking Bupropion to treat the dysthymia, and it worked immediately.  I feel like a new person… but.

There are some side effects which calm down over time.  It’s a stimulant, so it raises heart rate (mildly – I tested this before the race).  It dries my eyes and mouth, but mildly.  Considering that taking it makes me feel like a normal person these are easy side effects to accept.  I liken it to drinking really strong coffee on an empty stomach.

Race Day!

Okay, the good stuff:

  • “A” goal: Finish
  • “B” goal: under 6 hours

Since I had explicitly avoided hills for 5 months and barely run trails I really went into this with a “let’s see how this goes” attitude.  I met Javier at Point of Rocks to carpool into Virginia and we enjoyed the starting area and met up with Nicole & gang at the Steeps tent.  North Face puts on a tight ship.  We took a snap with Dean Karnazes:

18198601_1467096516675160_8429805670403228559_n

Before long we were off.

Miles 1-15

The first 3 hours of the race felt good.  The temperatures were low, the muddy patches on the hard packed soil were sporadic, and I was eating and drinking at the aid stations.  I took 2 salt caps every hour, and ate (as I can remember):

  • A bite of PB&J
  • Banana halves
  • Watermelon
  • Some pretzels
  • A handful of M&Ms

None of these were experimental, it was all real food, and I felt okay.  However, although my heart rate was in the right range for the paces, I had a feeling in my chest like my heart was working harder than it should be.  I think it’s a side effect of the medication that I hope subsides, but it was unsettling.

The only other comment I can make on this section is that I occasionally got caught on a single track behind a rather slow person with no option to pass.  I ran with Bill Duke (who won his age group in his 50k debut – amazing!) and we caught up to Steve and Elaine (who came in 1 and 2 in their age groups, respectively) around mile 5 and ran with them briefly.  I got caught behind another slow train and lost Bill and didn’t see him again until the turn around.  Steve and Elaine dropped me on the first hill.

These hills were crazy.  I expected them to be steep, and although there were only a couple of them they really took a lot out of me.  Without climb experience my quads were not up to the task at all.  The downhills were also so steep that a couple of times I almost lost it and took a dive.  I flew off the trail once and grabbed a sapling to save my butt.

I managed to get through the first half in around 2:45.  I felt optimistic of sub 6:00.  I knew I’d run the second half slower than the first, but….

Miles 15-23

It was only 10:00AM, but it was already getting hot… and humid.  I could feel the heat affecting me, but I historically run well in the heat.  Keyword is historically.  Prior to starting medication I could not function without socks.  I ran cold.  I’d be wearing a jacket in 70 degree weather.  That was then; this is now.  I no longer run cold.  I no longer need socks.  This heat hit me like a ton of bricks.

I began to develop several symptoms of heat stroke, the most notable of which was the nausea and the headache.  I am not sure if my nutrition was off point or whether it was the medication, but it became debilitating.  Any time I began running I felt so nauseous, but I couldn’t vomit.

Around mile 21 I texted Javier to let him know if he needed to dip I’d find another way home.  The fear of holding him up was causing some anxiety that I wanted to do without.

When I finally got to the mile 23 aid station – which clocked me at 9 miles in over 2 hours – I sat down on a log and an EMT reluctantly gave me some of the dwindling ice supply which instantly revived me.  This moment defined this race for me.  I wanted so desperately to quit.  I didn’t know how I was going to make another 9 miles feeling the way I did.  I couldn’t really run, I couldn’t really eat.  But I managed to let the desire to succeed overcome the desire to relieve the pain.  When I walked out of that aid station, I felt like an ultra runner.

Miles 23 to Finish

Early at this juncture I did the napkin math and calculated that as long as I kept moving forward I would finish; time was now irrelevant.  I still felt hot and tired, but I kept the focus on first the mile 26 aid station (and ice) and next the mile 30 aid station.

I ran into a pair of first timers who were also struggling and I know they helped me push forward.  Knowing I wasn’t alone helped me keep the dark place contained.

The hills in the 23-26 section were a bit humbling.  My quads were exhausted and I had to take breaks to get up these steep mountains, a first for me except for the Manor to Overlook slog up in Gambril.  The three of us were looking at each other with that look of dread knowing we had one more.

The last little bump of only 90 feet or something took everything I had.  I was not sure if I was going to be physically able to climb the (now) muddy mountain.  I felt my quads locking a little, but at no point did I ever cramp.

After that, the Potomac River trail was now a muddy slip and slide.  I felt like I was getting a little bit of a second wind once I crossed 26.2 and was making decent time despite what felt like mostly hiking (and probably was).  I still felt very nauseous and wasn’t eating but I was forcing myself to drink (which also caused nausea).  I couldn’t run the mud even if  wanted to, so I consigned myself to just getting it done.

Mile 30 felt so great and felt like it came fast.  I thought the course was long at 32.5, but when they told me I only had 1.5 to go and now I was out of the mud, I was able to alternate 1 minute running 1 minute walking.  I was holding out hope that I might slip through under 7, but I ended up coming in around 7:06, which meant it took me around 4:20 to cover only 15 miles of the back half.

Crossing the finish line was great.  Fantastic course support.  I’ve never been emotional at the end of a race until now.  I almost teared up crossing the finish line, but I didn’t want that to be my finish line photo and kept it together.  I almost teared up again when I saw Javier.

It was a long day.

Thoughts on the course

I loved the smells in the morning.  Wildflowers in the Potomac River trail, American chestnuts along the gravel paths, and that crisp river smell at Great Falls.  The scenery was vastly prettier than Catoctin and I enjoyed the surroundings.  They helped me get through the tough parts.

The trail blazing is the best I’ve seen.  North Face runs a tight ship and the race was really well organized.  At every wrong turn opportunity, they put up a “wrong way” sign and had volunteers at ever junction where any of the various events were splitting off (e.g., 50 mile left, 50k right).

Biggest cons was the use of single track for moments of the race where varying levels of freshness is to be expected – it was very annoying to constantly have to dip into poison ivy to let a relay runner who’s only doing a 10k fly past you.  I couldn’t have listened to music even though it would have helped late in the race.

Second, which is unavoidable in a public park, were the “forest walkers” who were walking a mile an hour up the steep and fast middle hills three abreast.  They didn’t speak english, were totally oblivious to their surroundings, and made that section much harder.  At one point I had to physically move a pair of ladies off the trail because they were about to be run over by guys flying down hill at 10 miles per hour facing a huge crowd coming up.  They were practically screaming “on your left” and they were ignoring them.

Look, I get that it’s a public park, I get that this race is probably ruining your hike as much as you are ruining the race, but at least have some awareness.  They could have dipped to single file, but instead they just ignored everybody and did what they want.  Very disappointing.

What’s next?

My sub-par performance on the hills at this race was highly disappointing and a major limiting factor here.  I was having energy problems due to the nausea but otherwise my legs felt strong.  I was fatigued, but not in pain.

I might be heading toward the dark side.  I might “trail out” and drop road racing.  I don’t know.

I’m skipping the Frederick half.  I am focusing on getting Catoctin done this year.  Last year I didn’t have the mental strength to push through in a similar situation – fast first half, looking at walking the second.  This year I will, and with the right focused hill training (on roads, to take the technicality out of the climbing) and power hiking I hope to be able to beat the race this year.  I doubt it will be hotter than it was at North Face.

The plan is to continue the high mileage weeks and get in doubles on the weekends.  Big day will be trails and hills with lighter day on roads.

 

 

 

 

The week(s) in running – 12/11 & 12/19

I started my use it or lose it vacation on 12/15.  I had great expectations for this block of December as an opportunity to build to my target 2017 weekly average of 40 miles per week before the year began.  This year has been rough at work, so I really needed this PTO.

Naturally, on Saturday I started feeling symptoms and on Sunday my 4 day bout with influenza knocked me on my ass.  I was mostly bedridden for most of the duration, and I am devastated.

For the week of 12/11, pre-flu:

Monday: Rest; we ran long on 12/10 (14 miles), so I needed this.

Tuesday: I ran a 10 mile Tempo Tuesday, with 4 miles easy warmup followed by 6 miles about 20 seconds slower than M pace.  It’s all about building base right now, so I don’t want to risk injury by adding miles and running hard.

Wednesday: 7.2 miles around the neighborhood at an easy 8:45 pace.

Thursday: 60 minutes on the treadmill at a nominal 8:52.  I had a hard time with this run; I was bored.

Friday: rest.

Saturday: Spent the AM on my feet cleaning up the house and then did 10k on the treadmill.  Intent was 60 minutes, but I had to stop at 6.2 miles because my right calf started to hurt in a bad way.  I was also beginning to feel sick.

Sunday: flu begins; no long run for Evan.  Bedridden with fever.

For the week of 12/19:

Monday: Bedridden with fever and major sinus congestion.

Tuesday: Bedridden with fever and major sinus congestion.

Wednesday: Bedridden with fever and major sinus congestion, though I was beginning to turn the corner.

Thursday:  5 easy miles as a test of recovery at 8:36 average with fastest split of 8:24.  My Strava notes were: throat sore; chest affected. Minor joint pain. Significant weakness in quads. Also, left foot (big toe area) numb until mile 2.5, right foot unaffected.

Friday: This was December 23rd and I had to do the shopping I meant to do earlier in the week but had been too sick to do which meant taking the kids out to buy for their mom, so I just didn’t have time to run.

Saturday: 8 really easy miles, bordering on turtle pace with an average of 9:02.  I rarely run post 9 minute miles these days but  I was having some significant trouble with my right calf, and I had pulled a hip muscle getting into the car on Friday and I just felt generally nervous about the state of my lower body so I took it very easy.  There are a few very short, steep inclines in my routes that are more like climbing stairs than running uphill which tend to engage my calves; I walked those to spare my right leg.

Sunday: 7 total miles with 5 at the slow end of marathon pace and two easy ones at the end.  No calf issues.  Fast split 8:00.  Run felt good for a change.  Hopeful that I’m over the sickness hump.  I ran my 1600th annual mile today, completing my goal for 2016.

Over the past two weeks I have been trying to emphasize cadence by shortening my stride.  I’ve had limited success actually increasing my cadence but I have managed to create a painful tightness in my Achilles tendons on both feet and overuse my calf muscles (which I’m fairly certain should not be engaging).  I’m doing this wrong so I am going to hold off on this work until I actually train with a form expert as I’m doing more harm than good.

Stay tuned for my Year in Running report for 2016.  It’s in the works.