Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Monday, May 7, 2012

Are we really sure there's not a recipe book?

John Morelock, a veteran ultrarunner and regular columnist in Ultrarunning Magazine wrote eloquently recently about the lack of a recipe book for how to run ultras. How very true, and how slow I am to learn the only real way we can – by doing. Starting into this in late middle-age gave me a sense of urgency about making the most of it while I can, but no matter how many times I try, I cannot by sheer determination of will overcome the need for patience.

Or maybe it’s the need for caution? Diligent attention to detail? I don’t know. Whatever it is, once again I’m faced with trying to salvage a race on training that fell apart. Mind the Ducks 12-hour is this Saturday in Rochester, NY, and I will be there.

Seven weeks ago I was on top of the world. I’d finished up a 60+ mile training week with a 21-mile long run that I did dead on my pacing plan for MTD – negative splitting the distance and running the second-fastest 5K of it at the end. I felt like a running machine – slow, but steady and unstoppable.

Two weeks later I ended March in full lower-leg meltdown: feet hurting constantly, Achilles pain, PTT flare-up, and the most frightening thing of all – that bone-deep pain in my right shin that I remembered so well from last April that I knew was the beginning of a tibial stress reaction and would only get much worse if I kept running on it (so I suppose I did learn something last year, anyway). On top of that I was just totally systemically run down. Oh, and I had a silver dollar sized blood blister on the bottom of one foot from a stupidly-placed pad I’d tried in my shoes.

I barely ran at all in April – no more than two or three short runs or low-impact elliptical trainer sessions per week. Very low mileage – never two days in a row – just to periodically see how the undercarriage would react. My plans to train to a peak a few weeks before the race were scrapped. Now it was just about trying to get healthy enough to actually make it to the starting line. Apparently I’d had my peak – a month-and-a-half too early.

I think I’m pulling something valuable out of this though. It was just too coincidental that two years in a row I arrived in April with tibial stress issues. What was going on? I’d been building mileage for months, but as slowly and patiently as I ever have. Then, blammo! WTH?

It could have just been the miles. Maybe I should have leveled off my weekly mileage sooner and just trained steadily for a while (that was my plan, but maybe a little late). Then it occurred to me one night while I was out on one of those short runs, “Hey, I wonder what I’d see if I looked at elevation change data on my training?

Even before I got back home to look I was pretty sure I had my answer. Sure enough, there it was – a spike in hilly runs in March that I hadn’t consciously been aware of and managed. Most of my training through the winter in Syracuse was on a flat, one-mile loop in my little neighborhood. It’s easy to do, it’s safe vs. going out on busier roads with poor shoulders in the dark – and this year it was a pretty decent proxy for the MTD course I was training for.

But when spring breaks I’m just itching to get out of the neighborhood and see more scenery when I run. Trouble is, my next-most-common route has a couple of decent climbs on it. I’m feelin’ strong, so I run them.  I do that a couple of times a week and without thinking about it I’ve added hill training. It’s not much, and a lot of runners probably wouldn’t have trouble with it – but I think I do.

So maybe I can take something from this that will help me not fall apart next April. I just hope it doesn’t take two years of disaster to learn every little lesson.

I managed 24 miles last week. I did a 15-miler on Saturday, and the leg is ok today. I’ve been adopting the same modified, baby-the-shins, gait that I had to develop last year. I land mid-foot but then let most of the impact load into my heels rather than rolling it through to the forefoot. It seems to minimize stress on the front of my legs, but wow does it slow me down! And aerobic conditioning is so far gone.

I have no idea what I’m still capable of on Saturday. I think 50 miles is very unlikely, but I’m going to just start and do what I can. I’ll enjoy the day and, hey, I’m learning! All the struggle is just going to make it that much sweeter when it finally all comes together once.

No comments:

Post a Comment