Ever since I got into ultra running a few years ago I've felt that mental strength is as important as physical strength when it comes to long distance running. The problem with taking time away from long distance training is that the mind stays strong while the body gets weak. I knew that I could probably push myself around the 10k course 5 times if I really wanted to, but what kind of damage was I willing to risk putting my undertrained body through? There have been a few times (like at the VT100) when I knew I was hurting myself but decided that the end result was worth it. The limping and vomiting passes, but the buckle lasts forever. This Saturday was not one of those times, and the last thing I wanted to do was come away from a long training run with an injury that would set me back as I get ready for my big race of the year, the West Highland Way Race.
Back to the task at hand. I drove down to Topsfield with Trail Monsters Erik and Jamie, and once down there we met TM's Kevin, Nate, George and Ann, as well as many other friendly faces from the New England ultra scene. The temperature had warmed considerably from when I got up this morning, but was still below 20 degrees. With a bright sunny sky I wasn't concerned about the temperature, and since these trails usually receive a lot of foot traffic I wasn't too concerned about conditions.
Early in the first lap with John (of 4x Boston Marathon fame)
It turned out that there hadn't been much foot traffic since the last snow in the area, and it had been cold enough that the snow didn't compact under what little traffic there had been. Instead of packing the snow as our group of 50 or so runners went along we just churned it up. The consistency was like sugar slipping around under our feet and running required constant attention from all the small muslces that rarely get used in "ordinary" running. Don't get me wrong, it was fun, but more work than I was expecting.
With each successive lap the conditions seemed to get worse and as a result my times for each 10k lap got progressively slower:
Lap 1: 1:01
Lap 2: 1:03
Lap 3: 1:07
Lap 4: 1:11
My original goal was to (just barely) break an hour for each lap, but given the conditions and my level of training over the past 6 weeks I'm not disappointed with the way things turned out. Actually by the 4th lap there were some parts of the trail where the snow, rather than getting packed down, was getting displaced and leaves were getting turned up from below. I suppose the conditions may have been "better" on that 4th lap but I was tired enough that picking up the pace was out of the question.
Somewhere in the middle of the 4th lap I started to think about stopping at the end of this one, at 24.8 miles. That's what I did last year and I regret not extending it to the full marathon at the time. That extra 1.4 miles doesn't really make a difference in terms of physical training but I think it means a lot mentally. As I came into the aid station at the end of that lap everyone there assumed I would be headed out for another 10k loop, and I actually thought about it for a moment. But I knew there would be suffering and a long recovery period after this run so I decided to play it safe and headed out on the short loop to bring my run up to 26.2 miles.
To my pleasant surprise the shin splints that had plagued me during a run just two days before were not an issue at all. This pretty much confirmed that I had been doing too much road running at too fast a pace given my level of fitness right now. On my third lap I could start to feel my hip flexors complaining a little bit, and by the end of the run they were pretty sore. Apart from that everything seems to be in good working order.
distance: 26.2 miles
weather: low 20's, clear sky, light breeze
conditions: some packed snow, mostly loose sugar-like snow
gear: Inov-8 Roclite 315 with screws, smart wool socks, tights, long sleeve shirt, t-shirt, Moeben Sleeves, thin gloves, mittens, buff, Nathan HPL #20