I have returned.
February 21, 2010
Well, it’s been over a year since I’ve blogged about running. Looking back, I think the reason why I stopped blogging was because I injured my tail bone, was in a great deal of constant pain, and didn’t want to drag people down by constantly writing about it. In short, it was a persistent, painful injury that originated from too much downhill training leading up to the Tucson Marathon in ’08. I started to recover from it at the beginning of ’09, training for the Frederick Marathon, but it came back with a vengeance at the start of Spring. I withdrew from the race, and focused on recovery. I did a lot of cross training on an elliptical since it didn’t aggravate the injury. I saw a doctor about it, who gave me a shot of cortisone. This made me feel good for a couple of weeks but then the effects wore off, so I could see all it really did was mask the pain. I then went back to my chiropractor, who performed a series of adjustments. I felt better after the first session, and eventually made a full recovery. It’s yet another personal experience where chiropractic adjustments have proven to be a far better treatment method for injury over conventional medicine/drug therapy. My general recommendation for injuries, based on personal experience, is to give a good chiropractor a try first. You may be surprised what a good adjustment can do. It’s also generally a great deal cheaper. I may revisit this topic at a later time, but first, I’d like to recap some key races from ’09, since it ended up being a great year.
Clifton Caboose Twilight Run 5k – May 30th
Yeah, it’s perhaps a little odd that I’m starting off with a small-town 5k, but I felt pretty good about this race. I surprised myself in recovering from the aforementioned injury, and retained a great deal of speed. I was coming in under 6 minutes in some of my mile repeats, so I thought a short race like a 5k would be ideal. I hadn’t run a 5k race that I was really satisfied with because I generally don’t put a lot of effort into preparing for a 5k; they generally serve as quick training runs. I ended up with a PR: 18:27 (5:56/mile), good for 2nd place in my age group, and 11th overall in the small field of 219.
Rosaryville 50k – July 12th
This may very well be my favorite all time race, both in terms of how fun the course was and how the race went for me. The race started on a major downhill on grass. I took advantage, leaning forward and letting the hill carry me, knowing I didn’t have to worry about roots and rocks tripping me. I quickly found myself in the front pack. I assumed I was going too fast, but somehow foolishly tried to keep up. I knew it wouldn’t last long, that I’d have to let them go, and I’d soon get swallowed up by the rest of the racers. To my surprise, I never got passed after the first half hour of the race.
It was a looped course with a small out-and-back in the middle, so it was easy to gauge where your nearest opponents were. By the first out and back, I could still see the top three racers. By the second I could no longer see them, but still saw members of that initial lead pack. By the third lap, the race had really thinned out. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me or behind me. I still was in a very competitive mindset, and when I saw a group of young mountain bikers, I took it upon myself to pass them. I did – on a downhill section. It took a lot out of me, and maybe was again foolish, but I had to take any motivation at that point.
When I got to the turn around, I refilled my water at the aid station, and could see that my nearest competitor was not all that far behind me. I knew I had to keep running hard to stay ahead of him. In the last third of the final lap, I was starting to run out of gas. I could hear my chaser’s footsteps echoing through the trees. I tried to demoralize him by picking up the pace in more open sections, hoping that I’d just be out of the picture in time for him to not see me, or if he did see me, he’d see me going by at a pretty fast pace. I was struggling to hold him off when I got to the final aid station, so I simply ran through it, back out onto the road straight to the finish. He finished a great deal later, so I assume he stopped for aid. Nevertheless, the motivation helped me finish with a great time. 4:49:37, 5th overall in a field of 40, and again 2nd in my age group. I had never run this distance before, so it was PR, but it’s one I feel pretty good about.
Supernova Track Classic – Aug 7th
I ran the mile here, first time I’ve competed in a race on a track since high school. I came away with another PR, 5:24. Not bad considering my training had been for much longer races, so I didn’t have a lot of low-end speedwork to prepare me. I’d like to break 5:00 in the mile, maybe something I’ll try for this year. I’d like to do more track meets in general; it’s a great way to develop speed.
Blue Crab Bolt 10k – Aug 15
I’m a huge fan of Ex2Adventures and the Backyard Burn trail racing series they put together twice a year. They’ve now expanded their reach into Maryland, adding two 10k races in the summer, a series called the Blue Crab Bolt. I made it out for the 2nd race in the series, hosted at Little Bennet Park. Since it was the inaugural race, I wasn’t sure what level of competition to expect. Usually at the start of a race you can pick out who’s going to be in that front pack. I looked around, and didn’t see a whole lot of sure-front runners. When the race started, I sensed some tentativeness in the whole field. I quickly found myself drifting toward the front, where I still found the pace was a little slow for a 10k. I knew I could run faster, so I got out into the front – first place – for the first time in any race ever. It was early, and I was unfamiliar with the course, so I knew it wouldn’t last, nor did I want it to. I quickly found someone willing to take over the lead position, and settled in behind him. It was a pace I felt I could sustain, and apparently four other runners did too.
The course ended up being hillier than I anticipated, so the initial pace maybe really was about spot on. I got passed by the remaining four runners in the lead pack on a moderate early hill. I was used to taking hills easy from my ultra training. In shorter distances it’s probably better to just charge up the hill, rather than conserving energy by slowing down. Ultra running did, however teach me how to maximize my downhill runs, and I used this to propel me back into 5th place. I again finished in this position (out of 202 finishers) , with a 47:13, and again 2nd in my age group.
Patrick Henry Half – Aug 29th
I managed to squeeze in this race while tapering for my main race for the year, the North Face 50 miler. I had been running well in smaller races, so I was curious how I’d do in a bigger race with more competition. I was also trying to set myself up for a marathon following the North Face race. I targeted a sub-1:30 time, but was unable to reach that goal, finishing in 1:32:54. This was good for yet another PR, 12th in my age group out of 87, and 43rd overall out of 1,271 finishers. The 7:04 pace was well below the 7:15 I’d have to sustain for a full marathon to qualify for Boston.
North Face 50 mile – September 19th
This was the main race I was training for. I had a lot of high expectations and confidence coming in to this race. The Roasaryville 50k went well, I had put in training runs up to 9 hours on the actual North Face course, and had a couple of fast 20 mile runs on the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail. I’ve found that that distance on that trail is a good predictor for road marathons. One run I came in at 3:04:43, starting and finishing at the Centreville end of the trail. A couple weeks later I started and finished at the Fountainhead end and came in at 3:16:49. I felt my marathon fitness was probably somewhere under a 3:20, so I felt a 50 mile PR was certain, and that I should raise the bar even further. My PR was a 10:55 I ran at JFK, but going into this race I thought it was perfectly reasonable that I could break 9 hours.
The beginning of the race was unforgettable: running on a course lit only with glow sticks and our headlamps in the predawn hours. We were running right alongside the Potomac River when the sun rose. My familiarity with the course helped early on, when a lot of runners made wrong turns. I was thirteen minutes ahead of a 9 hour pace fifteen miles into the course, and increased that margin to fifteen minutes after the first of three Great Falls loops. By halfway, I was in the 4:10’s, on pace for a sub 8:30. At the very least it was a wide cushion for a 9 hour run. That’s when it started to unravel.
I could feel some tendinitis acting up in my left knee. It’s a problem I’ve dealt with on and off since high school, but it hadn’t bothered me for a couple of years. When it had, it was something I could work through. Generally the strategy in an ultra is to take the uphills easy and make up time by charging down the downhill sections. With me knee, I found myself reversing that strategy. I could only walk downhill, but found that I could run the uphills without pain, though it was quite taxing. I figured I’d work through the injury, it would go away, and I’d be back to normal eventually in the race. In the meantime, I was losing a lot of energy due to this inefficient strategy.
The trip between Great Falls and the nearest aid station afterwards was the longest between aid stations – 6.7 miles. Beforehand, I knew that this would make or break my race. By the time I got to the aid station, with a little over over 8 miles to go, I knew my dream of a sub 9-hour race were well over. I had resorted to walking for great stretches. My knee was getting worse with every step, and I was utterly sapped of energy.
A few miles after the aid station, my knee finally started to feel better. I could finally handle moderate downhills with some degree of speed. I was desperate to make up time, and knew a big downhill section was coming up. I let loose, flying downhill, only to foolishly deliver myself a final blow to my knee. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, it hurt even to walk. I found another runner as foolish as myself – grimacing in pain at the bottom of the hill, unable to take a step forward. We acknowledged our respective stupidity and determination to continue.
At hits point, I knew if I didn’t keep moving, I wouldn’t even break 10 hours. This was my new goal, and I was going to get there no matter what. Walking didn’t work, limping didn’t work, so I hopped on my right leg. This worked, but was also very exhausting. Runners passed me by asking if I was ok. I told them I was fine. The knee started to have some partial recoveries as I found myself cycling between limping, walking, and hopping. With two miles left in the race, I knew I was close to the 10 hour mark, so I told myself to keep moving. I speed-walked, and eventually coaxed myself back into a slow jog. I was able to bring myself back to a run at the finish, were I came in at 9:55:20. Another PR, 13th in my age group out of 48, 59th overall our of 191 finishers.
I had planned to run the North Central Trail marathon a couple of months after North Face. I had a pretty good track record of recovering from ultras, so I figured I’d recover quickly, and with the kind of shape I’d gotten into, I’d finally have a Boston Qualifier. But alas, in a year where I set 5 personal records (including a distance debut), I would not run a marathon. Oddly enough, my foot hurt a great deal after the North Face 50. My knee continued to be an issue, but my right foot, which I spent a lot of time hopping on in the final 7 miles of the race, was a stronger impediment. It was likely a stress fracture or something similar. I went to my chiropractor again, but alas, there was no quick fix for this injury. I rested/cross trained for a couple of weeks and it eventually went away. It was too late though, as I was not able to recover in time to get back to strong marathon form. I figured my best bet was to just take a few weeks off, then start building toward a Spring race.
And that’s where I stand now, preparing yet again for the Frederick Marathon.