Monday, March 30, 2009

Things are finally coming together on the trails

There are very few runs where I feel really good as soon as I finish - mentally and physically. I don't get the endorphin rush of 'runners high' that I've heard so much about, nor am I out to find it with any run I may do. If it happens, it happens, but I'm not going to be all "OMG!!" about it.

I've had some ups and downs so far this year with my weekend long runs. There have been a handful of organized VHTRC runs - MMT training runs and 50ks - that I've cut out early on. I won't say I've DNFed them, only that I chose to *ahem* run "the shorter version that was not advertised". I still got in some miles.

And I think that's what's helping me - doing less.

The route was from Moreland Gap (mile 67.7 of MMT) to Signal Knob parking lot (~ mile 96 into the race). We're talking roughly 28 miles. I've had Achilles issues since the National Marathon and only ran twice last week - tabata intervals on Tuesday and another 30 second on/off descending workout Friday night. A total of 20 minutes of running for the week. I spent a lot of time icing, massaging, and foam rolling my calf as well as resting. As I said before - doing less.

I started Saturday's run in the back of the pack. I took the dog with me on this first section and always start slower as to get us situated as well as give everyone ahead of us. Within the first mile, he was ready to run, and I couldn't really argue with a dog attached to my waist. I moved quickly over the rocks through the fog. Visibility was about 20 yards, but it was a nice, cool day out. Upon reaching the top of Short Mountain, within a half mile, we came upon a group of 3 runners. I tagged along behind them, reeling in the dog a bit since he was nipping at their heels. Sensing his passion to run, I asked to pass, and we moved on. Soon after, we came upon another group of 2 runners that we tagged along with for a few hundred meters before I asked to pass, and we were on our way.

It has been awhile since I've been on Short Mountain, and it's a mentally tough section of the course. It is a nemesis of mine, as is the next section from Edinburg to Woodstock. I had an idea of how long it took me to cover this section on other training runs in the past, but I didn't want to treat this as any ordinary training run. The section runs a bit like a scene out of "Groundhog Day" where you pass the same sequence of rocks and turns and short climbs multiple times. It can be grinding and lead you to ask (or shout) "WTF DOES THIS END!?!?". As I said, I had a time goal from previous runs, but I also had some trail cues that I use to let me know when I'm starting to come off the mountain. When I hit that downhill section, I looked at my watch to see '1:30' staring back at me. After missing out on Short Mountain on an earlier training run, I was at Edinburg when the leaders came in at 1:30. I wasn't sure how far I was from Edinburg, but I made it a race, and wanted to get there as quickly as possible now that I knew I had about 2 miles to go. My previous 'best' time was 1:55 which I did at this training run last year. I tried to hang with a group of 4 or so runners and majorly bonked, shuffling the next 8.2 miles into Woodstock and ending my day there. To the surprise of the volunteers, I rolled in at 1:49 into the run. I was moving well and fueled up on cookies and some Gatorade before taking off after a 5 minute pit stop.

The climb out of Edinburg up to Wanoze Peak is grinding. I was without the dog now and tried to move as quickly as possible, but it was hard to get into a rhythm. Thinking about how I suck at uphills didn't help, either, and I was a bit down mentally when I reached the top. I could finally run at a good clip now and used the three trail markers along the way to gauge my pace and how long it might take me to get to Woodstock. Near the last marker, I hit the dirt. My fall wasn't as bad as the one the week before where I landed on some nasty rocks, but it's still a bit of a wake up call. It took me awhile to get going again and I finally reached the last marker at 3:36 - 2 miles to Woodstock. I was on a mission to get there as close to my Short Mountain time, but didn't have my usual 'cues' to feed off of. Because of the fog, I couldn't see the Bends in the distance, and can usually tell when I'm close. I relied on some downed trees that looked familiar and picked up my pace until I reached a section of rocks that I knew signaled the downhill to the road where aid was set up at. I came in just under 2 hours for that section.

I was moving well and feeling good, but wasn't taking in as much water as I should've. At 16.4 miles into the run, I had only drank about 1L of water, if that. I sucked a bunch down and chowed on some more cookies before taking off after an 8:30 layover. I didn't think I could catch the runner ahead of me, but I figured I would try. I needed something to push me to run fast, or to just run at all. That was the biggest difference in this training run - I was running. I've been on the course numerous times and as early as the previous weekend. I have my cues, I have an idea of how long it takes me to cover X section, and I was still feeling good.

I reached Powell's Fort in about 1:15, and started the endless road section. It's easy to walk this, and even easier to walk the entire stretch of road. I was thinking of the runner ahead of me and figured that I would have to run this part if I wanted to make any ground. As I got closer to the reservoir I started walking more and more and couldn't get into a good rhythm. Once around, it wasn't far before reaching the Tuscarora Trail and heading up towards Meneka Peak.

I ran from Woodstock to Shawl Gap the week before, so I knew the number of switchbacks and didn't spend the time wondering "am I there YETTT??". Once at the top, I thought of running with my friend last week and letting him take the lead on this downhill section of 3+ miles. He's a great downhill runner and I'm so-so; always a bit too tentative on the slippery rocks and leaves. This time I tried to be a bit more aggressive and thought of chasing him and of being chased. I hadn't seen any other runners from my group since the pit stop for aid at Edinburg, about 4.5 hours ago, and I didn't want to be caught in the last 30 minutes. I passed a few cue spots - side trails - and knew I had about a half mile left after the last one. It wasn't until then that I finally checked my watch and realized I was close to breaking 7 hours. Did that really mean anything? No, but it got my competitive juices flowing and I continued to run. I might've run harder if I looked at my watch earlier, but I pulled in to Signal Knob parking lot having covered the 28 miles in 7:04.

This was a huge boost for me. I had a few down times, but got through them. My biggest worries were my Achilles, and I had no problems during or after the run. My legs were a tad sore, but only from my Thursday night workout when I did a few mountain climbers as part of a 15/15 (on/off) workout, but no muscle soreness. I've spent a lot of time doing quality workouts aimed at strengthening my lower body, and the results are showing on the trails.

How so?

I'm running. I didn't treat this training run as just that, a chance to get time on my feet to cover the distance while shuffling as much as possible. I've covered this many miles before, I've been on this course, and it's nothing new to me. Being able to run it - to run short climbs, to power up the steeper stuff, to run the flat sections, and to be more aggressive on the downhills is what I needed to do. I had some times per section in my mind that I wanted to meet, and I did that. Most times I'm one of the last people to get to the aid stations. Maybe everyone else was having an 'off' day, but it's the best run I've had since the Reverse Ring on February 21-22.

It's finally clicking, and just in time as I moved up to #5 on the MMT wait list. I expect to move up a few more places after a couple big ultras were held over the weekend and people tend to drop after these 'tests' when they realize they aren't as ready as they had hoped to be at this point.

Training is going well and I'll continue to make adjustments to my running and functional strength training. My nutrition and hydration is horrible, and if I do anything wrong race day, it will be not eating or drinking enough. I will work on it with other weekend runs, as I have a couple more as I lead up to another big weekend. I'm feeling good and just a tad shy of having things running smoothly.


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