Thursday, February 16, 2017

Race Report: Rocky Raccoon 100


It's been almost two weeks since Rocky Raccoon, my first real 100 miler (not counting last year's 24-hour at North Coast, though maybe I should).  I've been struggling with various, conflicting emotions since I crossed the finish line in Texas.  Relief at being finished.  Disappointment at not having achieved most of my goals.  Frustration that, despite excellent preparation and race execution, I was left with a sub-par result, largely due to circumstances outside my control.  Pride at having actually accomplished the task of running 100 miles, still in a relatively respectable time.  Concern and fear over what I might be doing to my body.  Uncertainty as to where I go from here.

I came into Rocky about as prepared as I could've hoped.  I'd had four months of basically uninterrupted training since North Coast, averaging over 100 mi/week for the previous 13 weeks (including recovery weeks!) with a nice mix of track work, hills, tempo, and marathon-pace efforts.  Greg had almost fixed my chronic Achilles tendinosis.  Scott had basically tortured my muscles into balance.  My weight was perfect, right in the 137-lb. range.  Four weeks earlier, I had run a solo 50K in 3:39, feeling completely relaxed; my last 10 miles were easily the fastest of the run.  I had no excuses.  I flew to Houston on the Thursday before the Super Bowl with my great friends Phil and Laura (and Francis Ford Coppola, who was on our plane); Phil would be running his second 100 (after an epic battle with the Grindstone course last year) and Laura would be crewing me and pacing my last 25 miles.
All smiles at the start, with Phil.
photo: Laura Kline
The opening pace was about as fast as I expected.  My pre-race goal was 15 hours (I didn't know exactly how realistic that was, but I knew I could run 16 hours, and I wanted to be mentally prepared to try to run faster than that), and based on previous years I figured that a 15-16 hour performance would have me comfortably in the top 5.  I was anticipating a quick start, though, so I lined up several rows back and let folks go crazy in the early stages.  I stopped to pee around four miles in and was very pleased to find that Phil had been running right behind me (why he hadn't said anything for the first half hour is beyond me).  He was planning on running in the 17-18 hour range, so this pace was a bit faster than he needed to be, but he was happy to run comfortably with me and plan on slowing down later, so we settled in to 9:00 pace and wiled away the miles chatting and making sure not to go too fast.
With Phil at mile 23, cruising along.
photo: Laura Kline
We finished the first 20-mile circuit in 2:58, right on pace (if not place; we were easily outside the top-20, already over 30 minutes behind the leaders; but I knew there weren't about to be twenty sub-15:00 100s out there) and resolved to slow down just a tad over the next lap, so as not to overdo it.  Phil was the pacemaker for most of lap 2, and did a masterful job in guiding us through a 3:02 lap for a 6-flat split at 40 miles.  The course was fun--a mix of singletrack and doubletrack, with a few more rolling hills than I had anticipated, but mostly excellent footing and eminently runnable.  The aid stations were well-stocked and staffed with hilarious, enthusiastic volunteers.  All in all we were having a blast.  I stopped briefly at 40 miles to eat a little peanut butter and chat with Laura for a few seconds while Phil ran through the aid station and opened up a little gap on me, but I had been moving just a touch better over the last several miles and was not concerned about catching back up; by 42 miles were running together again.  I was a few seconds in front when we came to an intersection that had clearly had the markings tampered with; it took us a minute or two to sort out where the signs had been switched around and get back on the right path.  (Where does this compulsion come from, to fuck around with course markings?  How is this fun for whoever is doing this?  I could almost understand it if you were sitting there and laughing at stupid runners getting confused and running in different directions, but why are you switching markings and then just walking away?  What pleasure does that bring you?)

End of lap 2, 40 miles in.
photo: Laura Kline
I kept the pace steady throughout lap 3; I still felt very good, but did not want to go overboard yet, and focused on trying to run the same splits between aid stations as I had on the first two laps.  Phil fell back and I was on my own; I could track my progress to some of the leaders, though it became obvious that a lot of people had dropped out already and I didn't have a clear sense of where I stood.  My splits were not far off, especially accounting for the few minutes we'd lost at the tampered intersection.  The seven-mile Damnation loop between the second and third AS on each lap did become a bit of a slog.  This was the longest stretch between is stations, and also the longest segment that didn't involve an out-and-back section, so it was rather isolating; it was a good hour of basically solo running, with few landmarks, and by the third time through it was starting to feel like a chore.  But I maintained through 50 miles in 7:34 and finished up lap 3 in 9:12, now in sixth place.  Fifth was a good 20-30 minutes ahead and looking strong; seventh was about 8-10 minutes back (Phil was about 10-15 back, in around 10th).  I knew by know that I wasn't going to break 15:00--negative splits are almost impossible in a race this long--but I told Laura that I'd be at the 75-mile mark in 11:45-12:00, and that 16 hours was easily doable.

I pressed on through lap 4.  After running through every aid station for the first 30 miles or so, I had developed a nice AS rhythm: two cups of Coke, half a banana, a few bites of PBJ, grilled cheese, or a quesadilla, and some pickles.  A minute or so, in and out.  I'd been running the whole way with my Orange Mud Hydraquiver Single Barrel, so I had 26-ounces of fluid with me, which I was generally drinking twice per lap starting with lap 2--one time with GU Brew, then refilling with water for the second half of each lap.  My fueling and energy systems felt pretty good.  I'd taken a few salt tablets, but not many.  I had peed probably four times in the first 70 miles or so; it was a little concentrated, but certainly not brown or anything concerning.  The Damnation loop on lap 4 was interminable, though it was only about 4-5 minutes slower than I'd been running on the previous labs, it felt like it would never end.  Still, I maintained a nice pace through mile 72, on target to meet Laura at 75.5 in about 11:50.

In a race this long, things are going to go wrong at some point; how you deal with them is what separates a good race from a bad one.  At 73 miles, things that didn't need to go wrong started to go wrong.  I started feeling pretty tired and was struggling a little bit, when I started bleeding from my right nostril.  This isn't unheard of for me, especially when conditions are as dry as they were in Texas, but it certainly was an issue I didn't want to deal with at that point.  I slowed down a little and managed as best I could, and came in to the aid station to pick up Laura right around 11:53 or so.  (For comparison, my 12-hour split at North Coast was about 76 miles, so I was right there, if not a couple of minutes faster.)  Laura was ready to rock (and freezing cold, having been waiting for about 30 minutes as sunset approached) but I had to sit and manage my issues.  A volunteer pulled up a folding chair and brought me some tissues to pack my nose; Laura brought some Ramen and refilled my bottle.

"What else do you need?" asked the volunteer.  "I've got some whoppies.  You want some whoppies?"

Did I want whoppies?  I didn't know.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Whoppies?  You need some whoppies?"

Shit, I didn't know what he was talking about.  I racked my brain, trying to think of what I was forgetting.  I'd been reminding myself for the past few miles that I wanted to tell Laura to give me a Zofran tablet (for nausea) when we got to mile 80...more as a precaution than anything else, though my stomach had felt mildly queasy...I knew I wanted to drop my vest pack and just use a handheld on the last lap...I couldn't remember what I had decided about whoppies.  Did I want whoppies?  Would they bother my stomach?  Wait, what the fuck was a whoppy?  Why couldn't I remember what a whoppy was?  Laura was back with my bottle, but she didn't seem to know about whoppies either.

"I'm sorry...what are you saying?"

"Whoppies."

"What...oh. Wipies."

Texas accents, man.

Once I had cleaned the blood off my hands and face with some wet wipes (aka wipies/whoppies), we started off at an easy jog.  I led most of the way back to the start/finish, not running the 9-10 minute pace I had been doing earlier, but holding a steady 11:00 pace for the next four miles or so, coming through 80 miles in 12:46.  I needed to run only 10:30 pace to break 16 hours.  Fifth place was over thirty minutes in front, but seventh place was about twenty minutes behind.  Sixth was mine, barring disaster.  I dropped by vest and grabbed my handheld, took the Zofran and, at Laura's suggestion, a caffeine tablet, as my energy levels were starting to sag a bit, and we started off, headlamps blazing, Laura in the lead, running ten-minute miles.

I struggled to keep up as we started off, though my legs felt alright, and tried to keep suffering through what seemed to be a bad patch.  But after a mile or so, I could tell it wasn't simply a bad patch.  My breathing didn't feel right.  I was fatigued, to be sure, but beyond that, I was struggling to keep my breathing under control.  I was hyperventilating on every uphill.  After about two miles, I told Laura I needed to slow down to try to catch my breath.  I wasn't sure what the problem was.  Maybe the caffeine, I thought; though I'm pretty habituated to caffeine, and had been drinking Coke and taking caffeinated gels for the past several hours, maybe the tablet had been too much, and it was causing my heart to race.  We stopped at AS 1 (83 miles) and I sat again to check my pulse.  120 beats/minute.  Nothing out of the ordinary; certainly nothing to cause unusual shortness of breath.  I rested a few minutes, drank some hot broth, and we walked on.

Over the next few miles, I tried to run on the flat and downhill sections whenever I could.  Uphills left me gasping for air and were not runnable.  We decided we'd have to try to just wait out whatever was happening.  I had no chest pain and was still urinating.  My legs actually felt fine; on the sections were I could run, I was holding sub-10:00 pace with any real soreness or achiness.  And maybe the breathing was getting a little better.  I'd just walk the uphills until it went away.

It was on the final Damnation loop where everything went to shit.  I started feeling a rattling in my chest when I was running; I tried to cough up phlegm but nothing would come up.  At first, it was only on uphills; by about 88 miles I could hear a rattling sound even on flat segments.  By now I was starting to freak out a little bit.  I doubted it was my kidneys, as I had peed only a few miles earlier.  Was my heart OK?  All the reading I'd been doing for work and school about ultrarunning and heart disease starting coming back to me.

"Laura, I think my lungs are filling up with fluid.  I think I just have to walk."

So, we walked.  Every so often I'd try running for a bit, but the rattling came back after fifteen seconds or so and I was too freaked out to keep going.  Walking seemed OK, and my legs felt fine, and I was still going to be able to finish, so we just walked.  I felt bad for Laura, who had given up an entire weekend and flown all this way and supported me all day to basically be reduced to walking for 18 of the 25 miles she was pacing, but I couldn't do anything about it.  I was still in sixth, somehow, through ninety miles, but by about 91 folks started straggling by.  Phil and his pacer Mike came past at about 93; he looked so strong I wanted to cry, but I put on a brave face and we just trudged through.  I was able to run for about 15 of the final 25 minutes or so, and finished the last lap with Laura in 5:01, for a 17:48, 12th-place finish.

I went straight to the medical tent, although I felt generally OK, and had one of the docs listen to my lungs, which he pronounced as clear; my heart rate was about 140 when I first sat down, but came down to 90 within the first couple of minutes.  I was still having a hard time taking a full, deep breath without coughing, which would persist for the next couple of days, but otherwise things seemed to be fine.  I'm still not sure what the issue was/is.  My best supposition is that the dry, dusty air caused some bronchospasm and a bit of an asthma-like reaction; several folks, including Phil, commented on how dusty it had been, and I had my nosebleed as evidence.  But I'm scheduled for a chest X-ray and an echocardiogram tomorrow, so we'll make sure everything is ok.  (I'll try to post a bit on the echo, and some various ultrarunning/heart-related issues, next week.)

My favorite existential sign.
This is the next morning.  No, I don't look good.
So where do I go from here?  I won't make any long-term decisions until after the echo results are in. If everything is OK, I assume I'll get back to training in another week or so, and I'll put together a race schedule for the summer/fall in the coming weeks.  I'm glad to have finished, and to have my buckle, and my WS qualifier, and yes, as 17:48 is not anything to sneeze at.  But everything pointed to a sub-16, and my legs were certainly up for it, and my fueling and everything else seemed to be on point.  I'm equal parts frustrated and concerned, combined with the usual apathy/ennui after a major race is over.  It's not a great headspace to be in right now.

I learned that I can prepare for and execute a 100-mile race plan.  I confirmed, after Bandera and North Coast, that I can compete among the second tier of US ultrarunners at long national championship races--I'm not going to win, but after the true elites beat the shit out of each other, I'm certainly in the next wave of guys that are picking up the pieces.  And I learned that bad patches are just bad patches, and that I should recognize them for what they are, and not panic and try to force myself out of them by taking caffeine pills or whatnot; they just need to be endured until they end.  What all this means for me going forward, though, is still a bit of a mystery.

Gear
Patagonia Strider shorts and top, courtesy of Mountain Peak Fitness/Red Newt Racing
inov-8 Race Ultra 290s (discontinued, unfortunately, but really looking forward to the new Roclites)
Orange Med Single Barrel HydraQuiver, Handheld, and trucker cap
GU Roctane gels and GU Brew


Friday, February 3, 2017

Nerve Gliding


I'm currently in the Best Western Inn & Suites in Huntsville (home of Sam Houston, the patron saint of Texas), about 16 hours ahead of the start of Rocky Raccoon, my first official attempt at the 100-mile distance (notwithstanding last year's 24-hour effort at North Coast).  Right now I've literally got my feet up, propped on a pile of pillows, and I'm watching a Law & Order marathon, so I'm about as happy as I could possibly be.  In about an hour we'll head out for a little shakeout jog before dinner.  I feel pretty good.  The last few months of training have gone great.  I'm a man without an alibi.

I've talked before about how much I hate tapering, and this time around hasn't been all that different.  But I've added a new element to the pre-race routine that seems very promising that may give me a bit of an edge come tomorrow afternoon.  Prior to my last effort at Recover from the Holidays, I visited Greg at Momentum PT for a routine called nerve gliding.  Basically, the brain and the nervous system are in control of pretty much everything that happens to you during a long race...and if we can fool the nervous system into thinking we don't feel quite as bad as we think we do, we can actually run faster and longer than our brain would otherwise allow.  I'll let Greg explain it better:

Common issues and complaints related to physical/athletic performance are fatigue, cramps, decreased muscle activation/strength, diminished coordination and good ol' fashioned bonking just to name a few.  This is especially the case when talking about events that significantly test one's endurance or during long periods of exertion.  There is a complex interplay between many systems in the body to cause these issues but it is impossible not to implicate the nervous system with each one since it is still the CEO making final decisions based on the information it receives.

Most, if not all, runners have experienced these issues at some point during training or a race.  One of the main factors is when the nervous system has had enough,  the rest of the body will follow suit pretty quickly making it very difficult to reverse course.  Even if everything else like nutrition, training and rest went according to plan, nothing can defy the limits of your nervous system.  So those muscle cramps at mile 22 in a marathon are probably not a salt or nutrition issue anymore; it's more likely to be exertion-related fatigue of the neuromuscular system resulting in those muscle cramps.  The good news is that the nervous system is not static, but is actually quite adaptable and something that can be trained leading to an elevation in performance.  Who doesn't want that?

Before going any further, a quick (simplified) physiology lesson is in order.  The nervous system runs on a baseline level of sensitivity but this is something that can change.  It can become more sensitized which means it is more easily triggered causing it to fatigue and run out of fuel faster or less sensitized which means it is less trigger happy and runs more efficiently (read: less fatigue).  In essence, a less sensitized nervous system is able to provide a more accurate picture of any sensory information coming in to the brain since it's not being triggered over every little and insignificant type of stimuli.  An accurate picture going into the brain results in a better, more consistent output to your neuromuscular system.  You can probably see where this is going: good info in + good info out = improved performance.

The question, then, is how to accomplish this?  The short answer is through what are known as nerve mobilizations or nerve glides.  In the case of runners, the posterior nerve bundle of the leg, the sciatic nerve, is important to target because it innervates the hamstring and calf muscles which tend to be susceptible to cramps.  You can think of them as very specific and repetitive short duration stretches which  can be done in a variety of ways.  Just like many systems in the body, when exposed to some kind of stress, the nervous system will adapt and become "stronger" and more efficient.  Nerve mobilizations are a way to expose the nervous system to new stimuli and gently push its boundaries so that it becomes more comfortable with more stress.  This can be combined with other desensitization and calming/relaxation techniques to compound the effects of nerve mobilizations.  The end result is a robust and fatigue-resistant operating system that allows you to push yourself physically with fewer issues.  A nice bonus is that recovery tends to be quicker after your race or training session as well. 

Get it?  Just like the musculoskeletal system and the cardiovascular system, the nervous system is adaptable.  Placing it under some gentle stress shortly before the race teaches it that the stress it will experience a day or two later is manageable.  Our perception of the stress, and of fatigue, changes.

The routine takes about thirty minutes and is pretty painless.  Greg does some static stretching of the hamstrings, placing some strain on the sciatic nerve; it's mildly uncomfortable but not bad at all.  Then he places some gentle traction on the legs and moves them back and forth (abducting and adducting them, if you're anatomically inclined) while kind of shaking them around.  It's actually pretty relaxing.

Does it work?  I only have the one anecdotal experience to report from last month...which was awesome.  I ran a very relaxed 3:39 solo 50K, feeling much less leg strain and fatigue than I usually would for an effort like that.  And the next day, when I would normally be pretty sore from a long, hard road effort, I was able to cruise an easy sixteen miles, definitely fatigued but without any significant soreness or discomfort.  Maybe it's a placebo.  But if it's even a 1% advantage, that's at least ten minutes in 100 miles.  Tomorrow, I'll need every ten-minute advantage I can get.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Final 2016 Gunksrunner Ultra Rankings

Men's #1, and UROY, Jim Walmsley
photo: Geoff Baker
I'm still waiting on results from two races in mid-December to officially close out 2016, but I don't really expect either of them to substantively affect the standings, so here are the more-or-less final 2016 GUR.  As noted, I made some tweaks to the formula this year, placing a larger emphasis on level 4 and 5 races, which I think helped.  The question now is whether these races are a little over-valued.  I don't think they are.  Yes, performing well in only one or two level 5 races can really vault someone to a high ranking.  But, it should!  There were only ten level 5 events on the calendar this year; placing highly in one of them really should carry extra weight.  The biggest problem I think I have right now is accurately categorizing overseas races.  Several of them were level 5 this year: Comrades, obviously; UTMB; Laveredo; MDS.  Many others were also level 4, including Transvulcania, Transgrancanaria, Ultravasan, CCC, and several others.  But these races are taking on increased importance, particularly among the North American elites, and I need to be as methodical as possible about making sure these are accurately reflected.  I'm not willing to just accept that any race in Europe is automatically a level 5, as some folks would have you believe--every European field is not Western States, people!--but I need someone with a little more expertise to help out here.  Any volunteers? (Jason Schlarb, I'm looking in your direction.)  I may have to over-rank these races a little bit to account for the fact that the field strength multiplier will not be as robust as it should be (since the multiplier is dependent on the number of top-ranked runners in the race, and these rankings follow North American runners only, European and Asian fields will get some short shrift in this respect).

Otherwise, I'm happy with the balance that the rankings continue to strike between racing a lot and racing just a few big races.  There are certainly multiple runners on both the men's and women's side that obtained top rankings with varied racing schedules.  Some people are higher than I'd like to see them, some are lower.  That's OK, that's what UROY voting is for.

Twenty-seven of last year's top 50 women repeated in the top 50 this year, and twenty-two men did the same.  And allow me a brief moment of bragging to point out that yours truly managed to rank #94 for the year.  I don't know if that accurately reflects anything, really, but I'm kind of psyched about it.

Anyway, here's the final top 50 for 2016.  These runners will factor into the field strength multipliers for every race they run in 2017.  Nearly 4000 men and over 3500 women earned ranking points in 2016.  As always, you can view the entire list here, or anytime using the links on the Ultrarunning magazine site.  Use the CTRL-F function on the rankings sheets to find your own name.


Men
State
Points
Women
State
Points
1
Jim Walmsley
AZ
254.125
Kaci Lickteig
NE
230.9
2
Brian Rusiecki
MA
181.1
Magdalena Boulet
CA
141
3
Ian Sharman
CA
148.5
Kathleen Cusick
FL
121.4
4
Andrew Miller
OR
145
YiOu Wang
CA
119
5
Zach Miller
CO
137.4
Courtney Dauwalter
CO
104.5
6
Dylan Bowman
CA
129.875
Amy Sproston
OR
100.5
7
Paul Terranova
TX
113.5
Caroline Boller
CA
98.3
8
Mark Hammond
UT
106.95
Devon Yanko
CA
93.2
9
David Roche
CA
101
Neela D'Souza
Canada
80
10
Christopher Dennucci
CA
100.725
Bethany Patterson
VA
79.3
11
Jeff Browning
OR
99.4
Cassie Scallon
CO
76.05
12
Alex Nichols
CO
97.375
Julie Koepke
TX
75.875
13
Hayden Hawkes
UT
95
Clare Gallagher
CO
75.8
14
Cody Reed
AZ
87.3
Sarah Keyes
NY
74.5
15
Jesse Haynes
CA
81.7
Alissa St. Laurent
Canada
72
16
Tim Tollefson
CA
73.1
Hillary Allen
CO
71.825
17
Michael Daigeaun
PA
68
Maggie Guterl
PA
71
18
Paddy O'Leary
CA
66.05
Amanda Basham
OR
70
19
Mario Mendoza
OR
65.9
Heather Hoechst
PA
68.75
20
Jason Lantz
PA
64.95
Nicole Kalogeropoulos
TX
68.6
21
Matt Flaherty
IN
64.85
Jodee Adams-Moore
WA
68.25
22
Jason Schlarb
CO
64.8
Kelly Wolf
AZ/CO
66.7
23
Kyle Pietari
MA
64.5
Sarah Schubert
VA
65.8
24
Sage Canaday
CO
63.75
Camille Herron
OK/MI
62.7
25
Michael Owen
OH
62.75
Corinne Malcolm
WA
60.25
26
Tim Freriks
AZ
62.125
Megan Roche
CA
60
27
Jorge Maravilla
CA
61.85
Laura Kline
NY
59.75
28
David Laney
CA
60.8
Keely Henninger
OR
59.725
29
Chris Mocko
CA
60.375
Sarah Bard
WA
59.3
30
Jared Burdick
NY
58.5
Aliza Lapierre
VT
59.25
31
Aaron Saft
NC
58.075
Darcy Piceu
CO
57.375
32
Ed Ettinghausen
CA
57.6
Sabrina Little
TX
54.5
33
Dakota Jones
CO
55.5
Anna Mae Flynn
CA
54.3
34
Tyler Sigl
WI
54.9
Megan Kimmel
CO
54
35
Zach Bitter
CA
54.5
Annie Jean
Canada
52.5
36
Dominick Layfield
UT
52.55
Megan Alvarado
VA
52.25
37
Jorge Pacheco
CA
52.2
Liz Bauer
SC
52
38
Mike Wardian
VA
50.95
Kaytlyn Gerbin
WA
51.875
39
Stephen Wassather
CA
49
Angela Shartel
CA
51.5
40
Brett Hornig
OR
45.4
Amy Rusiecki
MA
50.625
41
Chikara Omine
CA
45.35
Abby Rideout
UT
49.7
42
Masazumi Fujioka
WA
45.3
Pam Smith
OR
49.1
43
Chase Nowak
MN
45
Justyna Wilson
PA
49
44
Patrick Regan
GA
44.5
Beverly Anderson-Abbs
CA
49
45
Anthony Kunkel
CO
44.1
Erika Lindland
CA
48.8
46
Patrick Caron
MA
44
Leah Frost
VT
48
47
Ryan Bak
OR
44
Denise Bourassa
OR
47.425
48
Morgan Elliot
NC
43.2
Katalin Nagy
FL
46.8
49
Olivier Leblond
VA
43
Darla Askew
OR
46.6
50
Clark Messman
CA
42.5
Megan Digregorio
PA
45.4