Sunday, April 24, 2011

Don't Try This at Home

Q: Why do I like to run road marathons 3 weeks after big ultras?  
A: I don't.  It just works out that way for some reason.

Apparently I didn't learn my lesson when I tried to run the Rocket City Marathon 3 weeks after the JFK 50 miler last fall.  This time I'm attempting to follow the Mad City 100k with the Flying Pig Marathon with the same 3 weeks of recovery time.  Not that Rocket City went all that bad.  It really went quite well all things considered, but I wasn't in top marathon form, so it kind of hurt...a lot.  When does a marathon not hurt, right?

But, Rocket City is my hometown marathon, and now the Flying Pig is my major local marathon, so I'm going to do it just for fun.  Who knows, I might be able to pull something surprising off.  The Pig has gone as fast as 2:20 and as slow as 2:38 over its 12 year history.  I can guarantee one thing.  I won't be running anywhere close to 2:20.  At the very least, it'll be a good training run.

This will be my 4th road marathon and my first one not at Rocket City.  The Pig is not as flat as RCM and the nearly perfect weather I've enjoyed at the December marathon in Huntsville is not expected on the first day of May in Cincinnati.  The weather is one of my biggest concerns.  I did a 5 mile tempo at marathon pace Saturday - it was 70 deg with 80% humidity and windy - and it was tough.  I'd much rather race in cold conditions.  Everyone's got to race in the same conditions, I know, but I have this mental hangup that humidity affects me more than everyone else.  Stef's got to work Sunday morning of the race, so I'm not sure how I'm going to handle my nutrition situation just yet.  I probably should figure that out soon.

So, here's the plan.  Go out conservatively.  Relax getting up the hills the first 10 miles or so, then start easing the pace down depending on how I feel.  The second half of the course rolls a bit, but it's a net downhill so it should allow for negative splitting.  And stay fueled and hydrated.  Simple right?  It always sounds that way.

So how do you prepare for marathon 3 weeks after an ultra?  I don't have a clue, but I'll tell you want I did this week.  In addition to the previously mentioned 5 mi tempo on Saturday, I did a 5x1600m (5:18 avg w/400m recovery) workout on Tuesday and easy runs every other day to reach 65 miles for the week.  I'll aim for 40-50 miles over the next six days leading into the race and that includes a light workout on Tuesday.  

I am very encouraged that I feel almost completely recovered from the 100k now.  We'll see if I still feel that way after the Pig next Sunday.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mad Recovery

Now that I've had a week to let my race at the Mad City 100k to sink in, I wanted to talk a little about my recovery and offer some more thoughts on my training leading up to the race.  But first, a few things I missed in my race report...

I wanted to say a big thanks to Mad City race director Tim "Timo" Yanacheck and all of the volunteers who helped make the race a great success.  It was a VERY well organized event.  It is obvious that Timo is passionate about the sport of competitive ultra running.  He did everything within his power to make sure all the championship contenders had to worry about was running fast.  I also wanted to thank Bill Thom, webmaster and head timer for Mad City, for graciously allowing us to use the pictures he took at the start/finish line.  Credit for most of the action shots in my race report belongs to him.

Recovery this week has been good, but different from what I consider normal.  I started with 6 miles of shuffling on Sunday and Monday and gradually built up to 10 miles today, and hit 55 miles for the week.  A few days completely off probably wouldn't hurt, but this approach has worked the past 4 years, so I think I'll keep doing it.  As long as you aren't injured in some way, I believe a little very easy running helps clean out and loosen up the legs.  Today (Sunday, 8 days after the race), I finally felt relatively normal as I was able to average 6:50 pace for 10 miles with no unusual aches or pains.  Maybe still a little tight, but nothing to worry about.  While the legs weren't completely locked down like they were after my first couple road marathons, I feel like the total recovery process took a bit longer on the whole and was accompanied by some achiness that I've never before experienced.  I don't guess it's too terribly surprising this is the case considering the road 100k is kind of a long race.

But, I expect to be able to run a little speed workout on Tuesday in an effort to get some turnover back in the legs before the Flying Pig Marathon - which is in 2 weeks.  Definitely not ideal timing, but I feel like it's time to make my Cincinnati road racing debut.  I'll write more about that next weekend.

Back to some thoughts on Mad City.  Well, really thoughts on my training and preparation for the 100k and how that worked out for me on race day.  I mentioned in my race report that my legs never really felt all that great and I battled early cramps in my calves.  I think this is a direct result from going on a ski trip a month out from Mad City and the weeks of running that I bookended the trip with.  

First, let me say that I don't regret the ski trip.  With my wife's resident schedule, we had to plan the ski trip almost a year in advance, well before I knew how the JFK 50 mile would turn out.  And that performance is what led me to the US 100k championships and a chance to qualify for the US 100k team.  Plus, skiing is one of the few activities that I love enough to occasionally sacrifice my running.  So I ran a 100 mile week (in singles) before the ski trip, ran 65 miles during the ski trip with 6 of 7 runs above 8000' plus a visit to Magnolia road, then came back and ran another 100 mile week immediately following the ski trip.  That left me with 3 weeks to taper.  The weekend that capped off my final 100 mile week before tapering began I ran 27 mi Saturday followed by 20 mi Sunday.  Those were my longest ever back-to-back training runs.

In hindsight, that probably wasn't the best approach.  The legs were already stressed from the ski trip and then I tried to pack in some last minute training.  My first two weeks of taper felt more like I was recovering from over-doing it rather than taper.  I also started doing some of my track workouts in my racing flats.  This was just another change that my calves didn't need.  The week before the race, the legs finally started to feel recovered, but some tightness in my hammys and knots in my calves lingered.  I feel like this is what ultimately led to my legs not feeling so great and why my quads seemed to carry more of the load than normal. 

I want to be clear that had my legs been 100%, I still would not have been able to beat Henshaw.  His performance was on another level.  And I wouldn't have taken the risks necessary to even attempt to run that fast.  But I do think I have the ability to run faster than I did.  I am very confident in my aerobic fitness right now, but I feel like my legs need to be stronger to be able to maximize my potential over the 100k distance.  That's what the training plan this summer will be about. 

A couple links of media coverage:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mad City 100k Race Report

USATF Road 100k National Championship - Madison, WI

Me with race director Timo.

There comes a time in some races — some, not all — when you just want to quit.  I mean, quit the sport, not just the race.  You wonder why you repeatedly enter these events where you purposely push your body and mind to such miserable depths.   I would argue that if you've never felt this way, then you've never truly raced.  You've never pushed yourself to your absolute breaking point, the limit of your abilities.

It happens in 5k's and 10k's as well as marathons and ultras, but it's different in ultras.  The pain is short and intense in a 5k; a stabbing pain you must endure for only a few minutes.  The pain is much less intense in an ultra.  It slowly creeps in and gradually drags you down.  The problem with ultras is that you have a lot of time to think about it.  When fatigue sets in and you still have hours left to run, the feeling of despair is nearly overwhelming.  You think, "Why do I continually subject my body to this type of punishment?"  There is no logical answer in that moment.

Splitting 3:26 for 50k, but not feeling as good as I would have liked.

This was the state of mind I found myself in approaching the 50k mark at the Mad City 100k.  While not disastrously fast, I had allowed myself to be pulled through laps 2, 3 and 4 several minutes faster than I had intended.  I was surprised that the pack of leaders went out relatively conservatively, and after running a relaxed first 10k loop, I was lured into staying within sight of a group of contenders.   I had just passed a slowing Zach Gingerich and moved into 4th place when the first signs of trouble appeared.

My crew (dad) and aid station.
As I was coming into view of the start/finish line at 50k, I began feeling a twinge of nausea and a little light headed.  "Whoa, that's not good.  Especially this early."  I could never remember feeling that way in any race so low in intensity.  My dad was there crewing for me and reminded me that I was 4 minutes ahead of goal pace with a 3:26 50k split.  I decided I could afford to burn a minute to stop and use the porta-potty.  I had been avoiding nature's call for a couple laps, but I had apparently underestimated how badly I needed to go.  I spent a good 30 seconds to a minute taking care of business.  It was only after I returned to the course that I realized that I needed to use the bathroom so bad that I was making myself sick to my stomach.

Gingerich had passed me back and put some distance on me, but I felt much better.  I was upset that I had let the situation get that out of hand, and the legs were still feeling more fatigued than I had expected.  Even with thick, low clouds and temps in the 40s, my calves were threatening to cramp very early.  I backed off the pace a little more in an attempt to collect myself.  I also increased my S!Cap salt tablet intake to 2 per 10k loop.  I knew it was important to continue taking a GU energy gel every hour and suck down as much GU Brew electrolyte drink as my stomach could handle.

I spent the remainder of the 6th lap pouting and feeling sorry for myself.  This is where I wanted to quit.  I didn't know why I was running anymore.  I tried to convince myself the self-doubt wasn't rational.  I had been able to repass a struggling Gingerich, was in 4th place, and still ahead of goal pace.  I would just finish the 6th loop, I bargained with my mind.

By the time I finished the that loop I had moved into third place and was only 3 minutes out of 2nd place.  And my pace was still respectable.  "Might as well do another lap," I thought.  The pace correction served me well and the body started to feel much better.  I maintained a good pace and mentally got my head back in the game.  If I could make it to 80k, I knew I would be able to survive the final 12 miles.  Then I started hoping that the leaders went out too fast and would come back to me.  So I just kept moving.

Andrew Henshaw killing it.  He must have been sub 5:20 at 50 miles.

At 80km, I was told that the leader, Andrew Henshaw, had 16 minutes on me.  I knew he was out of reach barring a catastrophic meltdown on his part.  But 2nd place was still only 3 minutes ahead and looking weaker.  I hit the 50 mile mark somewhere around 5:35 and got a little boost from knowing I was 18 minutes faster than my time at the JFK 50 miler.  I put my head down and kept running.  The calves were cramping in spurts now, mostly on the uphills.  I'm glad I chose to wear my Nike Pegasus road shoes.  I brought my marathon shoes (Saucony Fastwitch 2), but ultimately decided to go with comfort and efficiency over the lightweight and low profile option.  At 6:45 pace, I just feel more smooth and comfortable in my regular trainers.  I think my calf cramps would have been even worse had I been wearing racing flats.

With less than a mile to go before 90km, I was able to see 2nd place for the first time since 50km, and he was fading fast.  I caught up to Todd Braje, three time national champion and two time US 100km team member, just as he entered the start/finish aid station.  I don't think he even knew I was coming, so it must have surprised him as I passed when he briefly stopped at the aid station table.   But I also don't think he could have done anything about it if he had known I was closing.  His fight appeared to be gone.  I crossed the timing mats, picked up my last bottle from my dad and began my final loop without stopping. 

I continued to fight cramps in my calves on the uphill sections, but was still moving well for the most part.  My confidence was building that I would be able to maintain my pace and finish as I entered my favorite part of the course; a slightly rolling 2.5 mile section that cut through the University of Wisconsin's arboretum.  For the first time I briefly stopped at the "backside" aid station grabbed an orange slice and a cup of coke.  I think the coke gave me an instant boost.  Looking back, maybe I should have hit the soda more often.  Or maybe I just knew I was almost done.  

With 1.2 miles to go, I realized that I still had a chance to break 7 hrs.  I don't remember my last mile split, but it was quite possibly my fastest mile of the day.  All the pain was temporarily forgotten as I crossed the finish line in 6:59:12.  Second place overall, making me the runner-up to the 2011 US 100km national champion.  

All smiles now as I cross the finish line.

The USATF representative informed me a short time later that my time would qualify me for the US 100km team that will be competing in the Netherlands this fall.  The team won't be officially announced until June, but there aren't any more qualifying opportunities so it's all but certain I've made the team.

And then I remembered why I race.  Why I compete.  Why I put my body and mind through the trials that I do.  Because the harder something is to achieve, the more satisfying it is when you actually accomplish your goal.  That was my goal.  To make the US 100km team.  It would have been so easy to quit at 60km.  I'm so proud I didn't.

Race Results
My Splits
GPS data for a loop I ran the day before (GPS not allowed during the race)

Couldn't have done it without my dad.

Love the USATF logo.  Can't wait to wear it and the US flag.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mad City Preview

The Objective:
The Mad City 100k, to be held April 9th in Madison, WI, is the USA Track & Field National Championship for the road 100km.  More importantly, it serves as a qualifying race for the USA World 100km team.  The 100km World Championship will be competed in September 2011 in Winschoten, the Netherlands.  I would very much like to represent the US in the Netherlands this fall.

How to Qualify:
Qualifying for the team is somewhat involved, but here's the executive summary.  There are 6 slots for the men's team.  Two of those spots and already filled from previous qualifying events/times.  The winner of the Mad City 100km automatically qualifies for the US team.  The remaining positions are filled based on athletes' performances at other qualifying events.  If you want to know the details click here.

Clearly, winning the race would be nice and remove any doubt about making the team.  But a fast time at Mad City could also qualify me for the team.  The third and fourth slots already have pretty fast qualifying times which will make them hard to displace.  That fourth slot is held by a 7:01:36, but there is a big gap on the performance list back to the 5th fastest time of 7:15:11.  To have any reasonable chance of making the team, I'll need to go sub 7:15.  It will more than likely take something faster than that though.

The Course:
Straight off the website: "The 100K Solo race will consist of 10 laps of a 10K loop.  This loop is Madison's most popular 10K race course, which takes runners along the shore of Lake Wingra, through scenic neighborhoods, and through the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. The entire course is pavement or sidewalks."

The Competition:
While the quality is high, the entry list is relatively short, so I've done a little research on the registered competition.  Let me preface this by saying that I don’t know any of these guys.  I haven’t met them or ever raced them to my knowledge.  Everything I’m reporting here was found on the good ole internet.  And I definitely could have missed some results. was very helpful in my research, but it doesn’t include things like road marathon times, so it would be easy to miss that type of result.  There could be late registrations and I could have overlooked a contender as well.  If so, no disrespect was intended.  Anyway, here’s the scouting report:

Todd Braje (34 yrs old)  – Todd was on the World team last year and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.  He’s been on fire lately racking up his 3rd individual USATF National Championship last October at the Tussey Mountainback 50 miler with a time of 5:43 which is a new course record.  He then broke the CR at the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in February with another 5:43.  He finished second at the Way Too Cool 50k in March.  He was also ranked 6th in Ultrarunning Magazine's North American ultramarathoners of the year in 2010.

Zach Gingerich (31) – Zach is an experienced ultrarunner who seems to tend toward the longer races like Badwater, which he won last year.  He also won the Arrowhead 135 mile race, Umstead 100 Mile (13:23), and a 24-hour race last year.   But, he also ran the fastest 50 miler in the country last year with his 5:35 at Des Plaines River.  This guy has great range and will be tough to beat.  Oh yeah, he was ranked third best on Ultrarunning's list last year.

Mark Godale (41) – Mark has a very impressive and lengthy ultra resume.  He went 3:17 earlier this month at the Camusett Park 50k, finished 6th at the Bandera 100k in January, and was 5th at the Tussey race that Braje won last fall.  I don’t think you can pick him as the pre-race favorite, but if the leaders screw up by going out too fast or something, this is the kind of guy that might sneak up and steal the thing.

Andrew Henshaw (25) – The young one has the speed.  He ran 2:26:39 at the Miami Marathon on January 30th.  But he’s also got quite an ultra resume for his age and it includes several 50 and 100 milers.  He ran 5:56 last spring at American River 50mi coming in 2nd behind Geoff Roes.  This guy worries me a bit, because he and I have virtually identical marathon PRs, and I’m used to having the upper hand when it comes to leg speed in these long races.

Chad Ricklefs (43) – Chad’s another guy with a long ultra resume who appears to have focused more on road ultras and what I call “trail lite” type races.   He is the only guy on this list who ran Mad City last year (7:16:52) and went on to run 7:01:36 for the US at the IAU 100k World  Championship race.  He also ran just under 6:07 at JFK 50 mi in 2009.  Chad’s got invaluable experience in this type of event and is sure to be in the mix.

Devon Crosby-Helms (28) – Yes, this is a female and she won’t be directly competing with the boys, but I still think she deserves a mention.  She’s an experienced road 100k runner and holds the female course records at Tussey (6:28) and JFK (6:29).  I'm not as familiar with the women's side of things, but she appears to be the clear favorite to me.  And if I bomb the race, I'll be looking over my shoulder trying not to get chicked.

Me (29) – If you use the same methods I used to research these other guys and try to rank me objectively, I think you can only come to one conclusion:  I’m the least experienced guy on the list.  Really, all I have is a 2nd place, 5:53 at JFK 50 mi last fall.  Sure, I have a bunch of fast 50k’s over the last few years, but everyone knows 50k’s aren’t a “real” ultra.  If you really did your research you’d know that I ran a 2:26 road marathon a little over a year ago.  I think my speed looks as good as anyone on this list, but I am still unproven at the 50mi+ distances. 

Here are the questions in my mind:  Was my JFK race a fluke?  Was it just a one-hit-wonder in my first attempt at the distance?  Can I do it again, plus 12 miles?   Was my training appropriate for this type of race?  How will an all road surface affect me?  What will the early April weather in Wisconsin do?  Can I stay in control early and run a reasonable pace?

The Prediction:
So, what’s my prediction?  Ha.  I have no clue.  This race looks wide open to me.  Anyone mentioned above has a legitimate shot at winning.  If Michael Wardian or Chikara Omine were registered at this point, I’d have to give them the nod.  But they’ve already qualified for the 2011 US 100k team based on their performance at Worlds last year and aren’t currently on the entry list for Mad City. 

The Strategy:
Run my race.  Try not to get caught up in the excitement early, because this is kind of a long race.  It's going to take at least a sub 7:15 and probably faster.  Getting my nutrition right will be important, but thankfully my dad will be there crewing for me and it shouldn't be a problem.  I think that's all I want to say right now.

The race starts at 6:30AM on Saturday.  You can follow my progress on race day via the webcast which will record each 10k split.  You can also follow me on twitter (@rundavid1) for before and after updates.  And I might even try to teach my dad how to tweet for me during the promises there though.