Sunday, January 28, 2018

Jan 2018 Training: Drinking the Koop Kool-aid

For Nathan's birthday last October, he knew to expect that one of his presents was Jason Koop's book, Training Essentials for Ultrarunning. He may not have expected that I would finish the book before he did. This left me in a dangerous situation: I was more excited about training for my next goal race (IMTUF 100) than racing the upcoming one. Fortunately, I pulled it together and had a great race at the Blood Rock 100.

It has been seven years since I truly felt well prepared for a race, with a several year struggle to pregnancy and clinical responsibilities both to blame. After Nathan and I exhausted our affordable options for becoming parents for the second time early in the year, I was ready to move forward and hopeful to break my streak of barely adequate ultramarathon training. I embarked on the FIRST program which I had successfully used for marathon training in college, hoping the high intensity, low mileage plan would fit into my schedule better. Within a week, I had pulled a hamstring. Fast running was not something I could jump back into. Ultimately, I made it to the race with preparation I knew could bring me to the finish line, but didn't permit any loftier goals.

Once I was confident I had fully recovered from my race, I did a couple weeks easy base mileage and then started training based on Koop's philosophies laid out in his book. He recommends starting by optimizing your VO2max with interval training, something I have been scared off since pulling my hamstring. The part I found unique was that he recommends uphill intervals, which means fewer injuries AND better climbing fitness. Work outs are time based, not distance based, but the sample schedule for the interval phase provided in his book was still a bit higher mileage than I was ready to start with, so I adjusted the times downward a bit, with one exception: I'm still planning to build long runs to prepare for the OPSF 50k at the end of March. Here's what my first 2 weeks of this training have looked like:

Yep, that's FIVE interval workouts in two weeks. The first one was a bit of a bust in which I overestimated by own abilities. But then mid last week when I tried the same workout at a more conservative pace, it felt so easy I actually switched treadmills to make sure the incline was functioning well on my machine. I'm amazed at how quickly I am reaping the benefits of the training (I guess I really needed it) and I'll try not to go crazy during the five day recovery period I have coming up next week.

Kool-aid ingested; bring on February!


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Blood Rock 100: Snow Covered Hills

This weekend was the Blood Rock 100 mile (and 50 mile) race in Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama, my 2017 goal race. I would say I trained adequately, but not well, running the 50k distance three times since the end of September and working up to 2600 feet on the stairclimber. What I had planned to be my longest training run had to be cut short at 4 hours. Those 4 hours were miserable, as I was having a hard time coping with the cold with temperatures in high 20s. I was almost grateful a new injury forced me to stop and then take a few days off: Achilles tendonitis. I had never struggled with this before and wondered if it could be related to my Inov8s. I tried running in my new pair with the same uncomfortable pressure on my Achilles when climbing, but decided to go ahead and switch to this pair since it likely had better traction.

Since this was the first year for the 100 (Blood Rock 50 was run last year), it was difficult to predict a finishing time. The course was going to be challenging and cut-off time was 35 hours, so I chose under 30 hours as a goal. I created a pace chart by looking at the elevation profile, and estimated a time of 28:40. However, this was assuming everything went perfectly, which I knew was unlikely. 30 hours seemed a reasonable goal.

As I was driving to Alabama, snow was accumulating in Pelham and particularly on the tops of the mountains I would be climbing. The forecast low for Saturday night was 22 (I’m not sure what it actually got down to). I found myself very anxious about all of this, particularly driving to the race in the morning with wet roads turning to ice overnight.

I needn’t have worried. The roads were fine, and the trails were beautiful. The park was closed but the race was allowed to proceed, so we were the only ones getting to enjoy the snow covered trails. I brought everything Nathan and I could think of to keep warm and never struggled with being cold.
The course is made of 2 50 mile loops. The race starts with a little bit of road and some gentle, flatter trails for a few miles before the tough section begins. There is a series of climbs which are very steep, and everything I wanted to use to bolster myself (rocks, trees) was covered in snow. I had been hoping we would time reaching King’s Chair, an overlook spot, with sunrise (race started at 5 AM), and that is exactly what happened. A fellow runner (Alan/Allen?) kindly took my picture.

It was at this early portion of the race that I diagnosed the problem with my shoes: they were too small. I had a pair of road shoes in the car but they would never make it up these steep, slick climbs. So, I would have to run 100 miles in shoes that were too small.             

The first aid station (other than a jug of water perched on a railing) wasn't until 11.8 miles in. It was advertised as a "minimal" aid station, but let me tell you what the volunteer fed me: a lemon risotto pancake. By far, the best thing I ate all day.

Soon after leaving the aid station, I was told by another volunteer/onlooker that I was the first woman for the 100 mile. Oh brother, it was too early to think about that!

From this first aid station, the course varies between some easier sections and sections with 1-2 significant climbs. Despite the small field (38 were signed up for the 100 and another 20 something for the 50), I found I had company for the majority of the first lap, which was a pleasant surprise. A sign had been moved on one section, causing me to mistakenly omit a short portion of trail, so I made plans to repeat this portion on my second lap. A nasty climb on a powerlines section was heralded by a pop-up aid station from residents of the nearby neighborhood, who probably enjoyed seeing us struggle up the steep grade on a soggy trail from snow that had started to melt and nothing to hang on to. The final section of the race was much quicker and easier that I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised to arrive ahead of schedule in under 13 hours. I ended up being the first woman to finish 50 miles (though was about a 1/3 mile short on my distance at that point).

I was planning to try to take the tough section with multiple climbs easy to save my legs for later, but it was impossible to get up some of the climbs without shooting my heart rate up. This section took me a whole extra hour on the second loop. Now that only the 100 mile racers were left, I was receiving lots of congratulations and encouragement for being the first female. Apparently I had a 5 mile lead on 2nd place as of ~75 miles, which threatened to make me complacent. I did an out and back on the section I had missed, actually doing it three times instead of 2 on the lap. I also got turned around trying to figure out how to repeat the section I had missed and climbed an extra big hill by mistake. So, I more than made up for my omission in the first lap.

It seemed that even if I walked it in, I would likely still win the race, which wasn't helping my motivation to keep moving. My legs were pretty cooked and I had slowed considerably, even though I was still able to maintain a 10 minutes running, 1 minute walking pattern on easy trails. I was on the penultimate section when I realized that if I came into the aid station at 27:30, I could reasonably hope to finish under 30 hours. I was in and out of the aid station quickly and set off for the last 8 mile section. There's a good bit of elevation change initially, so it's hard to make good time. Then, when the trails leveled off, I was disturbed to find my brain didn't seem to be working properly. This is melodramatic, I know, but I couldn't seem to make the connection to tell my legs to run even though I wanted to. I was also hallucinating profusely and couldn't look down the trail because every time I did, I saw a sign that wasn't there. I think I will blame sleep deprivation. I fought to run short portions and accepted that I would probably finish around 30:30. Somehow, I found myself at a sign (a real sign) that said "Cabins," which is where the finish line was, at about 29:53. Could I really be that close? I ran a little faster than I had been and indeed, crossed the finish line in 29:57.

I got some cool swag for finishing and for winning the women's race:

But my feet suffered dearly from wearing too small shoes all day. In addition to multiple blisters, check out my toenails:

Overall, the race was really well done, especially for being a first year event, and the volunteers were so helpful (for this crewless runner) and enthusiastic. The running group based in Birmingham is definitely a close knit group with a family feel.

Now after a few days of work, it's off to Sweden for recovery and time with family. Then training for IMTUF 100 can begin!

Thanks for reading.