Friday, August 4, 2017

Superior 100 cometh, v5.0

Five weeks - thirty-five days - is all that sits between me and my fifth attempt at the Superior 100. A finish gets me a third buckle, a 60% finishing rate at the race, and like every 100 miler, catharsis from a year of training that has had its great highs and miserable lows.

The good of the 2016-2017 running season is my great training in December 2016,  January 2017 and the first two-or-so weeks of February 2017 when I put the treadmill in my basement to good use and did hikes at various inclines, 3 min interval sets, and 8-10 min threshold sets.

And then the week of February 13 came. I was reading a bedtime story to my then-four-year-old, and swung my right leg off his bed when I was done. The inside of my right ankle struck the top of a white wooden step-stool, and it shot instant pain through the inside of that ankle.

My training cratered after that, with two doctor visits and starting a course of PT providing the answer: I likely hit a nerve on the inside of my foot - my best guess is the medial calcaneal nerve - and it set off a chain reaction that messed with that right foot and ankle to some degree even to this day, even as the symptoms slowly lessen. The impact irritated the nerve, causing a protective muscle spasm of the muscles in the area. That muscle spasm - an involuntary tightening of any surrounding muscles - then slightly angled my foot with the inside (medial) side feeling slightly raised as the muscles pulled one side of the ankle, but not the other. This imbalance then caused other issues, such as swelling on the front/top of the ankle to compensate (which started in earnest in early May 2017, in part forced my withdrawal from Bighorn, and has since gone away without returning). Add in my imbalanced pelvis that every once in a while needs to pay a visit to my PT and you get a recipe for no training. That was the bulk of April, May, and June.

But running resumed, slowly, with doctor OK, at the end of June and I slowly worked my way back to a more normal mileage of 50 mpw. July was 202 miles in a month in 24 running days, with four zero days forced by work obligations an stress, and I am on track for and aiming at 250 miles in August. I've had a pair of PT visits so far, two more on the calendar before Superior 100, and two more after the race to deal with the inevitable issues that will rear their head post-event.

Which leaves me looking at Superior.

Unlike in past years, I don't have the bulk of training I would desire or even a bare minimum I would prefer. What I have are my past experiences on the trail, the visualizations and memories of what I should see and feel, and when I should see and feel it. The thought of rounding the corner on the top of Mystery Mountain, seeing the group campsite, and hearing the Poplar River knowing that the finish is a mere 1.5-or-so miles away still makes me tear up. I know I can finish this, I know a smile and positive attitude will be what gets me there, and I know that I will do whatever it takes once 8 AM on Friday, Sept. 9, 2017 hits to get to Lutsen before 10 PM the following day.

Expectations are a mere outcome goal: Finish, preferably in the daylight (Goal A) but I'm not picky (Goal B). I'd like to feel as comfortable as possible under the circumstances of the race, a process goal, knowing that I don't have the training I would prefer and don't want something to go haywire despite that fact that I know, we all know, something will at least once and likely more.

And when in doubt, go into grind mode and manage a brisk walk and minimal aid station time to get it done. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Withdrawing from 2017 Bighorn 100 - best option out of several bad choices

I am withdrawing from the Bighorn 100. Withdrawal is the best of a series of bad options. Withdrawal is discretion over valor, the desire to live and fight another day. 

There are two interrelated, but at this point, independent reasons for this. 

First, I sprained the posterior deltoid ligament on the inside of my right ankle in mid-February. Since then, I have potentially re-aggravated it twice, once by running Zumbro and withdrawing after tweaking it going down Ant Hill (after getting medical clearance twice to run the race, the second time agreeing to pull the plug at the slightest change in ankle circumstances). The second aggravation came on May 5 after I had run a couple days to test the ankle - a kind of "if you're going to run Bighorn, you need XX many hours/wk for X weeks before race day" mentality to see what I could do physically. After 3 days of slow 90 minute trail runs, the ankle did not appreciate me and had swollen in the front - a new location - and I decided to shut training down, do only ankle exercises, and wait for the sucker to heal. 

Second, I have not run consistently since about mid-February. This was caused by issue number one, but I did try several times to consistently hike or otherwise be active. I eventually shut this down on May 5 after a series of three runs left my ankle swollen and stiff in areas not initially injured. 

My plan was before today to shut down training for the rest of May, and see how I felt and wait as long as possible to make the decision to start or DNS. But doing that shows no respect for the course, other runners, or the race directors and their volunteers. Bighorn is a mountain 100 that starts a 3,000 feet and spends much of the race at or above 7,000 ft. I live and train at 900 ft above sea level. It is a qualifier for Hardrock - the board of which having tightened their standards in recent years - for a reason. I have not paid my dues to run this race in 2017. 

Regardless of the condition of my ankle now or on any day for the next five weeks, I am in no shape to attempt toe the line at Bighorn. I lack the requisite physical fitness and preparation my mind demands of me, and that is but one more hole in a 100 mile racer's armor that the course and conditions will exploit with every step. I will not subject myself or my family to a race I have no expectation of finishing (of course, excepting the Barkley Marathons here...). 

What other options were there? 1) Do nothing and race if it felt good on our departure day, the Sunday before the race; 2) Do nothing and pick an arbitrary other day in June or perhaps May by which I needed to make this decision; 3) Train more and risk re-injuring the ankle? None of these are particularly palatable. Throw in my planned family vacation to coincide with this (going to Mt. Rushmore and Black Hills, and in/around Sheridan and the Bighorns etc. in the week before the race), and you add more complexity to this - my decision affects myself and my family, and I don't want them left holding the bag for a DNF. It is a long drive back from Dayton/Sheridan, Wyoming to the Twin Cities metro area.

What other potential outcomes were there? 1) start and finish the race with no ankle complications. This outcome was not viewed as likely; 2) start the race, DNF for ankle injury, or even finish with an ankle injury. This outcome was viewed as much more likely, and it risks throwing out my entire season, or worse, putting me in this same situation for Superior 100 - being healthy, or believing I'm healthy, but without a summer's worth of training to show for it. None of these options was good. 

What's next? Back to the doctor, me thinks after I have taken four full weeks off of this ankle. I fear he'll either a) tell me to do nothing until I can do certain movements without discomfort, however long that takes; or b) send me for an MRI and then who knows what the radiologist will say.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Oh fer cute, Strava

I started using Strava and Training Peaks, having found the charger for my gifted-to-me Garmin Forerunner 405. With one fell swoop I stopped logging my runs in (which requires a manual upload of gps-watch data) and just let Garmin's Connect app sync with Training Peaks, Strava, and my employer's get-fit incentive program handle my data/training logging and uploading.

I'm using both apps' free versions right now, but Training Peaks gives you an initial free trial of its premium edition ($119/year). There is tons to love about the premium version - making it easy to dive into maps, data, its proprietary fatigue/fitness/taper graphs and algorithms (which I loved to view). Planning workouts is wonderful - it's the first app I've ever seen that will allow you to see a) what you planned to do; and b) what you actually did - in a single spot. It's something that I never really figured out how to do well within a single Google doc, for example. And a web app like Logyourrun doesn't allow for such capabilities - it's data entry only, no analysis or planning. 

The basic/free edition of Training Peaks is very stripped down. Gone are the proprietary graphs and algorithms (except their TSS - training stress score) that showed your acute and chronic training load. Gone is the ability to plan workouts in the future (my favorite feature of the app); you can still enter them same-day, but that defeats the purpose of using it to plan out a week, month, training cycle, or an entire season. For some reason I really miss their proprietary graphs, etc. - it was a nice analysis of what I was doing for training. I had been given something which I never had (or really needed?) before, but now it was gone and I wanted it back ROAR!

Strava is an odder duck. It is like Twitter for athletes with its activity feed. It asks users to be and create content in the form of segments, like Facebook. And it contains some analysis tools (at least in its free version) that look similar to Garmin and Training Peaks - mostly maps/graphs of distance, pace, elevation, heart rate, etc. But most of its analysis tools and its propriety measure of run difficulty (Suffer Score - a ridiculous, clickbaitable term) appear in the premium version. 

My biggest gripe is with Strava's segments, however. When used properly, it allows athletes to compare themselves to others in a "who can run from X to Y faster" type of setup. It also allows a runner to compare progress overtime. 


And it's a big but.

The comparison tools are only useful if we're comparing apples to apples - take any athlete, and compare how they run a certain segment at a given intensity, to another athlete running that same segment at the same intensity. I may appear lower on a Strava segment leaderboard - not that I'll ever top one - because I run easy or endurance-pace runs on areas where someone else was doing an interval/tempo/threshold workout. My efforts on those segments will seem artificially low. 

And then there is the constant competition aspect of segments. My twitter exchange with runner Devon Yanko below illustrates this. 
Finally, you have the people who through ignorance or intent, screw with Strava leaderboards. There is a whole Twitter feed dedicated to these shenanigans: @StravaWankers.

StravaWankers is an attempt to point out, ahem, publicly shame, those who log workouts/runs/etc. while commuting to work via airplane, those who leave their workout on "run" when they hope on the bike. But one example: 

Oh, fer cute, Strava.

Friday, September 16, 2016

2016 Superior Fall 50 mile: By the numbers

First the data: my 13 hr pace chart and my splits for the same race, plus analysis is at this link.

A couple notes of the chart. This pace chart was initially created so that I would spend 45 percent of my time in the first half (or so) of the race and 55 percent in the second half (or so) of the race. The aid station at Cramer Road is at mile 26.7 of the 52.1 mile event, so its 0.65 miles past half way. Based on that, I was trying run a 5:51/7:09 split between the halves. 

My actual splits and elapsed time are in the ACTUAL (ELAPSED) and ACTUAL (SECTION) columns. The DIFFERENCE (ELAPSED/SECTION) columns compare my actual elapsed and section times, respectfully, with my estimated elapsed/section times. Negative numbers indicate I was under my estimate, positive means I was over. 

The three columns to the right are a feeble attempt to compare how difficult (in-race, not had each been run individually on fresh legs) each section is by comparing my actual race times as a percentage of the finish time to the section distances as a percentage of the total distance. A negative number means I took less time in a section that its proportionate distance, a positive means the opposite. Note the limitations of this data, as it does not control for elevation changes or terrain. 

With that, some observations: 

I ran a more even race than anticipated, with a 47.7/52.3% split front to back as a percentage of total time. Looking at the first half data, this was primarily a function of my effort to get to Cramer, which was off by a full 15 minutes (almost three minutes per mile slower than anticipated). I went through a rough patch in-race during this section, and hiked more than I would have liked. 

I was about 0:45/mile slower than anticipated in the Crosby/Manitou section, and was pleasantly pleads with that effort. No issues there. 

The second half was run remarkably faster, with two consecutive sections being run a full 11 minutes faster than anticipated, the sections to Temperance (1.5 min/mi) and to Sawbill (2 min/mi). Both of these sections have given me fits in the past. The Temperance section is split into three parts, with the second part traversing the Cross River and the third part climbing out of the Cross River and up and over the hills and down into the Temperance River. This second part is technical and hard to run quickly, and the third part is a climb and descent that is generally exposed and dusty. It crushed my dreams in 2013 when I came into the Temperance aid station incoherent. The section to Sawbill is relatively gentle, but contains the long haul up, around, and down Carlton peak. This section kicked by butt in 2015 because the climb up is exposed. 

The section from Sawbill to Oberg is far and away the easiest section in the entire course (including the 100 mile course), but this year it was full of mud and muck, making the going slow. I was nine seconds off my goal time for this section nonetheless. Finally, the section into Lutsen felt slow in-race because getting up and over Moose Mountain felt like a slow slog, but again I was but a few seconds off (48) for the overall section time. 

Race report coming soon. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cup of stress

I learned long ago that I can only have one hobby. Running is that one hobby, and it is the best of all possible choices. When I can't run, some other distraction percolates up from the recesses of my brain to take its place. Possibilities include chess, reading (which I should be doing anyway), writing (same, whether fiction or this blog, or something professional, like an article), a computer game I have dedicated hundreds (thousands?) of hours to since ~2001ish, or something else that my mind becomes obsessed with, etc.

I also learned long ago that I cannot have more than one hobby. I cannot maintain running while imposing other hobbies. There is only so much time in the day not already dedicated to family (primarily as husband and father - two separate, distinct roles, regardless of however intertwined they are - but there is also son and brother) and profession. 

Occasionally I agree to take on additional roles. I recently was elected to the board of the alumni association for the staff of a scout camp that, in one role or another, I attended/worked at for 13 summers. Some of my closest friends are those who I worked on staff with; they were in/at my wedding, and I was in/at theirs. I threw my name into the hat at the election, time commitment be damned, because of how much the camp gave me. I can give something back to ensure that it is around in the future to do so much good for others like me. 

Every one of these roles - husband, father, son, brother, attorney (trial lawyer), runner, board member, etc. - cause, in their own ways, stress. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. In running, training stresses the body to achieve a fitness response. That three-hour long run stresses every part of the body so as to improve overall fitness. A jury trial stresses the mind and makes me a better advocate. Being a parent and husband stresses every system so as be the best father I can be to my son, however taxing, and be the best spouse I can be to my wife. How the body responds to stress, and adapts to it - whether becoming a more athletic, responsible, or patient person, e.g. - is the benefit of this stress. 

But the body can take only so much stress. We have a reservoir, like a cup, in which to put stress. We add volume to that cup by all of our activities. We take stress out by getting enough sleep, taking appropriate relaxation time, eating real minimally processed foods (not too much, mostly plants) and appropriately recovering from our stress. A banana and a glass of milk post-run does wonders for recovering from said run, for example. 

The cup of stress can overflow. This happens because there is simply too much stress - another activity or stressor has been added, and the input into the cup of stress is too great - or with insufficient recovery - not eating well, not relaxing enough, not sleeping well. I get irritable, cranky. It tends to be a vicious cycle. When I am stressed at work, I tend to wake up in the morning with my calves balled up in knots. My sleep is less restful, and the recovery benefit I gain from it is reduced. My diet goes south, my weight and body composition changes. Etc.

The end result is that one of my roles gets dropped. More often than not, running gets dropped. Why? Without running, I sleep more. No more 4:45 AM weekday wake-ups, or earlier on the weekends if I'm going long at Afton, for example. No more quick runs post-dinner, or being exhausted in an afternoon after a 20-mile jaunt on a weekend. The time needs to be devoted elsewhere.  

This spring, I broke the "one-hobby-at-a-time" rule, and my cup of stress overflowed. I was asked to teach a university course on very short notice, just a few days before the semester was to begin. The course was taught in the evenings twice per week, but given prep time and grading materials, most weeks I dedicated three or four evenings per week to it. Grades were due this past week, and I made a huge push to review submissions, final project sets, and grade finals.

Teaching caused my cup of stress to run over. Running was the casualty. I stopped running in the morning. My evenings were occupied with teaching, preparing, grading, or being a father/spouse to make up/ensure the quality time that I was otherwise missing on the evenings I was on campus or otherwise occupied. Or the non-teaching evenings were spent relaxing, again to make up for the time I was otherwise missing. 

On Saturday, I will toe the line at the Kettle Morraine 100 for the second time. Last year, I dropped at mile 80 after chaffing badly for the previously 30 miles. I have no business starting this race. I have done only a handful of runs that could count as long runs. Two of those were races, each which I finished with relative ease under the conditions but knowing that I was nowhere near my regular fitness level. It reminds me of this: 

That's where I am. Undertrained. What hangs in the balance is not just a DNF, but missing the WS lottery and having to re-set my ticket count back at one for the 2018 race (instead of having two tickets in 2017 and four in 2018, etc.). 

I've faked my way through 50K and 50 mile races before, and I've been running ultras long enough to know how to get it done when the chips are down. So maybe I'll finish - time and ugliness be damned. 

Maybe I won't. Maybe the fact that this is 100 miles will do me in. Hundred milers are completely different ballgames than their shorter cousins. They require purposeful dedication and the payment of one's dues in respect and adoration for the distance. Maybe my mind has written a check the body can't cash. 

"This just is," Ed Sandor wrote in his 100 Mile Lessons. I read and re-read that list before almost every ultra, and also when it inevitably pops up in FB when someone asks for tips on finishing one of these endeavors. It calms the nerves, prepares the mind, and sets the attitude. These races are run in the gray matter between one's ears, not underneath one's footfalls.

This. Just. Is. 

I'll finish, just you wait.