Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summer musings and mini race reports before Kettle 100

A long note before next week's Kettle 100: 

Overall fitness
I am going into this race likely at my best ultramarathon fitness ever - even topping the lead ups to the 2011 Superior 100 and 2012 Zumbro 100. Since re-starting running from the sprained ankle that prematurely ended last year's Superior 100, I will have put in over 1,400 miles and 210 hours of running in the past eight-or-so months. I've hit new highs for peak mileage in a week (outside of a race week) and in a month, and put in four quality marathon-length runs or longer. One of those runs was a PR for the 50K distance at Afton State Park on the race course, and that was now over two months ago. I've also put down some solid tempo runs, and I'm probably in sufficient shape to run a 3:10-3:15 marathon. Taper is going well (that is, I can feel myself losing fatigue as the training runs get less stressful). 

Zumbro Midnight 50
I went into this race coming off of that 50K PR at Afton. I thought that if conditions were right, I could run somewhere between nine and ten hours. I started out trying to set a nine-hour pace. It ended up being too fast, and my right ankle - the same one that I messed with at Superior last year - hurt again and I struggled through the second and third laps nightly. I finished in about 11:15, good enough for 23rd place of 100 finishers. Not too bad for being in 8th after the first lap and being injured. 

The race was planned to test my overnight running skills, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it went. My headlamp only needed to hold out for about 5 hours, which is sufficient on its batteries (the 9ish hours at Superior is a little more of a challenge, but hey). 

I also went into the race trying to treat it like Superior in that I should play the aid stations in a similar position to where there are at Superior. Basically, Zumbro's aid stations are anywhere between three and four-ish miles apart, and if I could skip every other one, it would be a good simulation. The test did not go well. New rule: don't skip aid stations, even if you just breeze through and grab-and-go. 

Lost in the Woods 50K
This was a 29.4 mi jaunt in the woods near Mankato at Nicollet County's Seven Mile Creek Park. The host lived adjacent to the park, and he ran us up and down deer trails (marked by his pink flags, thankfully) in a Barkley-esque run where we ripped out pages, got them punched once per loop, and there was a single aid station. I ran with the lead group until that group splintered halfway through the second of two laps, and then fought like hell to not get dropped. 

I did, and pushed back in full-on #paincave mode. I moved from fourth to second when Ed Thomas and Farmer John Maas missed the third-to-last book and had to go back for it. I struggled to catch the leader but ended up losing time on him and only finishing up by about three minutes on John. He's fast on those dirt roads, he'll tell you. 

The major difference between Zumbro and Lost was that I went out evenly at a steady pace in the latter. I ran functionally even splits (losing just 90 or so seconds on lap two) and was on pace to run negative splits until I got turned around a little bit en route to the last book (needed to make sure I took the right trail). Pleased I was with the result. 

New shoes
New Balance has discontinued the 1010's, my go-to trail shoe. Its last season was this spring, and so it'll likely be unavailable (or from go-find-it outlet stores, a hassle I didn't want to deal with). 

There was a lot to like about the shoe: it had NB's minimus last (i.e. no insole), had a stiff rock plate, had plenty of tread and a reasonably high stack height for a minimalist shoe, and its upper was basically bombproof. I only had to retire my first paid because I wore slits on each side of the ball of my foot and the forefoot gave me too much play. 

Changing shoes is never a fun experience. We are experiments of one, whether we like it or not. And the 1010 worked for me. 

I considered most manufacturer's minimal options. I tried NB's re-issued 101 and didn't like it because of the narrow toe box and 10 mm drop. I tried their Leadville 1210's, and disapproved for similar reasons I didn't pick it up last time: 8 mm drop; medial post; and when trying them on, it was too cushy. 

I thought this would be a good time to consider Hoka's - their Challenger and Speedgoat look intriguing - but I thought it would be weird to run roads with a minimalist shoe and trails with a maximalist one. 

The leading contender turned out to be Altra's Superior 2.0. It had a lot going for it on paper: zero drop; rock plate, al beit removable (essentially it's a stiff and dense 0.5 mm thick insole) wide toe box; secure heal; designed by trail runners for trail runners; flat treaded bottom (i.e. no exposed holes that a rock had pierce you through) etc. I tried it on and it was cushier than I perhaps would have liked - but that will be worn down with use. I picked up a size 9 (I normally wear 8 to 8.5) to accommodate thick socks and swelling in 100 milers, and with the inserteable rock plate, it fit wonderfully with plenty of room in the toe. They'll be my backup shoes at the 100K mark at Kettle (or in case my 1010's blow out, etc.) and will likely be put into rotation following Kettle in prep for Superior, regardless of whether the 1010's survive Kettle. 

On the same note, that have continued my road shoe, the MT10. I've had two pairs each of versions one and two, and the v3 is the new iteration. We'll see if/how it is different. My current pair of v2's has just under 600 miles on them, and these things usually last about 700-800 miles, so we've got a probably less than a full month of training (meaning sometime into late July given the inevitable recovery post-Kettle).

I don't know what to really think of this race. It has ~18K of cumulative altitude change on a relatively mellow course: for reference, Afton 50K has 9K and Superior has 42K. Lost in the woods had 14K over 29.4 miles.

I'd like to run it "fast," but I don't know what fast means. Matt Patten's  6th place finish in 19:30 a few years ago is sticking in my head as a "dream goal" time, and I think a good first tier time goal would be <24 hours, second tier <22 hours, third tier <20 hours. I think so long as I take the first 50K nice and easy (I have somewhere in the 5:45-6:15 range sticking in my head), the pacing for rest of the run will fall into place. 

But really I want to finish, run evenly, stay uninjured, and everything else is just gravy.