Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Blog Post?

Full disclosure: I started this post a year ago. Let it sit, and now I'm trying again. Buckle up. I have a lot to recap. I suggest doses, or caffeine, or not even bothering...

It's been two years since my last post, and my wife has been lightly bugging me to start posting again. (As if listening to me whine and moan in real time isn't enough, she also requested it digitally.) Yet, if I'm writing this, it must mean that I've been missing it as well. And, in truth, I have. Now, there's no way to sum up two full years, but I'll do my best.

So where have I been?

After the 2014 Spring Classic 50k, (my last post) I was in high spirits. And, all along while training for that race, I was seriously considering taking a stab at the TARC 50 Mile. (After seeing the heat and carnage that day, I couldn't be happier to have skipped out on that. I would've died--possibly not an exaggeration.) However, I came to my senses, since the 50k took a lot out of me--more than I would have expected. In hindsight, it took out exactly what it should have based on the training I was able to put in. Ultramarathons--even "easy" ones--are hard. And, I went after it that day.

Jamie showing perfect crew form. #alwaysbecrewing
While I was smart enough to bail on a June 50 mile, I was dumb enough to register for a November 50 mile--Stone Cat. It made sense at the time, but training over that summer never came together for me--physically or mentally. I rolled my ankle at the Bradbury Breaker in August, and I didn't rest enough. It ended up causing calf problems that plagued me into the Fall. Additionally, something wasn't right in my head. All my long runs were a struggle--all of them. Especially, a 7-hour tour of Bradbury during which the 100% humidity and a mid-run, water-bottle-spiking, temper tantrum nearly led me to quit the sport altogether. Running just wasn't fun. It's tough to train for a 50-mile race, when your heart isn't in it, and you have a nagging injury. I'm not making excuses, I'm just illustrating how ego--the same ego that pushes you to success at the finish line--can make it impossible for you to see reality. I should have shut it down and healed up. It took a while longer for me to figure that out. Things got even worse.

What really wasn't fun was my "experience" at the Pisgah 50k in September. The day included a rebelling gut and 30 minutes sitting on a milk crate at the 20-mile aid station. I finished. Why? Because I'm stubborn. I kept listening to my own advice: "There's a difference between hurting and being hurt." But, it was horrible. That horribleness was all my own doing: lack of training, lack of focus, eating terrible the day before, not respecting the race. I crossed the line a few ticks under 7 hours. In my previous two spins there, I've run 5:25 and 4:50. It was that ugly.

That did no go well.
I did manage a solid last long run prior to Stone Cat. I explored some new trails and really enjoyed my time out there. Unfortunately, that run was only 14 miles. That was about the limit of my body. Add to the lack of training, another roll of the same ankle a week prior to the race, and that was that. I went to the Stone Cat start knowing that I wasn't going to finish, but I hadn't admitted that to anyone or even myself. The result was a drop after 25 miles. You can't fake 50 miles. That was expected. What wasn't expected was my attitude post-race: I was pretty happy with my time out there. I'd had fun. Sure the last few miles were a shuffle as my body came to grips with reality, but it was a great morning on the trails.

Coming out of Stone Cat, I was feeling positive. Then, two weeks later I rolled my ankle again: as hoar frost collapsed underneath me on a flat section at Pineland. #pinelandsux. I finally got the message and shut it down. I also contracted a fairly terrible sinus infection that took me out of life for a week, lingered for a couple more, then knocked me down for a few more days later than month. It may have been a blessing in disguise as I stayed mostly off my feet, with a few random runs here and there.

With the turn of the calendar to 2015, I knew that I needed a different approach. Older and wiser, my plan was to have no plan. Specifically, no race plans. I was always chasing the next race and had become the poster child for FOMO--fear of missing out. And, because of that, I was barely showing up or actually missing out. Luckily, the winter was awesome, so I was able to mix in a ton of snowshoeing and cross country skiing. I participated in five snowshoe races (one being a duathlon) and slowly built up my running mileage. Three weeks up and one week down--that was the basic pattern or as close to that as possible.

In short, it worked. In April, I had a test of sorts at the Run the Rock 25k in North Carolina. Aside from the heat and lack of training, it went really, really well. Seriously. With a long run of 10 miles and no run warmer than anything in the 50's prior to that week, I didn't know what to expect. What I really didn't expect was to be leading the race at 10 miles. Granted, it was a small field, but I went out conservatively and gradually worked my way up. However, it was at the 10-mile point that the clouds burnt off. It was close to 80 degrees with 100% humidity--not my favorite weather conditions. The hills near the end and the lack of training took it's toll, and I ended up third overall with a huge smile on my face--my very, very sweaty face.

Southern bling for Team Snowplug!
In the past, after this positive experience, I would've signed up for a host of races. I didn't. I took recovery seriously. And, surprise! It went well. The rest of the summer was a slow build of speed and mileage. I sprinkled in some hill and speed workouts midweek. I increased the distance on my weekend long (or almost long) runs. Now, it wasn't perfect. I had a calf niggle in June and rolled my ankle in July. I took time some time off, and I treated the injuries. I was smart. When I was healthy, I raced. I ran all three races at our summer series. The Scuffle was easily my best hot weather performance ever, and the Breaker went really, really well. The following week, I ran the Falmouth Road Race. It was slower than I had hoped, but I consciously decided to slow it up to avoid heat stroke--it was one of the hottest years on record. I'm not a fan of giant road races, but it was great to experience one of the New England classics.

What is this place?
Falmouth came together as part of our family vacation on Cape Cod, and a few days later D and I ran together at a location known as the Trail of Tears. It was definitely a wake up call. The trails were very New-Englandy style singletrack, so a ton of little ups and downs. On every single flat or down, I would pull a bit ahead, but D would kill me on all the uphills--all of them. In translation: I was soft. Time to HTFU.

In the next few weeks, I put in my strongest training in years. Hills, long runs, hills during long runs. I did it all. I also raced twice. First, the Bruiser, which was solid, and then had an awesome run at the HVNC Run through the Woods half marathon the following week. Things were clicking. My longest run of the year was still the Run the Rock 25k, but I was still performing well and feeling good in these half marathon-type races. Then I did this, this, and this. Things were really clicking, and I started to think about an ultra. Could I get one in 2015?

My options were slim, but I narrowed it down to two: The Hamsterwheel 6-hour on 11/14 or the TARC Fells Trail Winter Ultra on 12/5. It's nearly impossible to pick two more disparate races. The former is a dead flat and smooth on a 2 mile loop. The latter, even though also loops, is relentlessly hilly and relentlessly rocky with hills and rocks on top of that. So, obviously, I chose the Fells. My logic was solid, though. The Fells gave me three more weeks of training, which I felt I needed. Also, I was worried that I might run too far at Hamsterwheel, since I think I could've come close to 40 miles, which I couldn't have realistically handled. Time to run some hills!

I ran a Double Breaker, which is doubly hard. Then, one month before the race, I logged my first 20-mile run of the year. Like I said, I knew I needed more time. I rounded things out with a 20 at Pineland, that actually didn't suck. Was it enough to tackle 32 miles with 4,000+ feet of gain and loss over pointy, rocky nastiness? Nope, but it was what I had.

With a race date in the first weekend of December in New England, weather can be a significant factor, but I got extremely lucky. It was a beautiful day, which is rare for this race. And, other than that, I ran smart, and I ran hard. It kicked my ass. This race is no joke. I ran the first two 8-mile laps comfortably, and then pushed as hard as I could for the last two. My crew, D and Half Bomb, had me in and right back out at each lap, and some college friends who live in Boston came out to cheer me on in the last mile. Their dog decided that I needed a pacer, so I even got that extra boost in the final stretch. Honestly, the race is a blur. Probably in part to the fact that it's all so similar, but also due to the fact that I just put my head down and ran. I was focused. I wanted it. Nearly 6 and half hours after I started, I had completed my first ultra in 20 months. As a bonus, I was 9th overall, and the second old guy. It was indeed an awesome day and a hell of a way to close out 2015.

In fact, it nearly was my final run of 2015, as it took me about three weeks to feel normal after that. But, I wasn't worried. If I learned anything in 2015, it was that I couldn't push it unless my body was ready. It really is that simple. So, I rested. I waited. And, eventually, as I noted in one of my runs on Strava: the pins are coming around.

If you've actually made it through all that, I'd seriously question your sanity. And, with that, I think I'll save the first half of 2016, including a Grayson Highlands 50k race report, for another post. In the meantime, my hope is to put together a weekly-ish training recap. I've looked back on those in the past for reference, so my hope is that they'll help me moving forward, and perhaps you, my limited audience, can see deep into my twisted mind. Onward!


unstrung said...

I have missed reading blogs, yours included. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Looking forward to hearing about the Grayson run. Because ponies. Hope you have a summer etc of fantastic miles ahead!

unstrung said...

I have missed reading blogs, yours included. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Looking forward to hearing about the Grayson run. Because ponies. Hope you have a summer etc of fantastic miles ahead!

Sparkplug said...

Wow. You actually listen to me? ;) Ha. Nice to see you recapping things, and happy to see you feeling strong!

Vicky said...

Congrats on listening to your body and old age. I persevered through the entire blog post, hoping that Maya would be mentioned--it was worth it! She's ready for a run at Wolfe's Neck this summer (and the track reunion), though I'm sure it'll be hot which is not her favorite. Let us know if you're down south and we can all go for a jog. Stay healthy!

middle.professor said...

I was going to suggest the opposite ... forget the 50M and race XC. You're good at it.