Trail Monster Running

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2012 Stone Cat Marathon

Back in August when registration for Stone Cat opened up I think it was a little too soon after the VT100 for me to commit to another ultra. Everything was feeling fine but I couldn’t make up my mind so I let it pass. Of course, once I saw how many of my TMR team mates got in I was wishing that I could be there with them, and thinking maybe this could be the year that I could break 8 hours in the 50 miler. Coming off a fast-for-me Vermont 100 I would, in theory, be in good shape for a 50 mile PR as long as I was smart about recovery and training. As (bad) luck would have it, Christine realized in mid-August that injury would prevent her from being able to run the Stone Cat marathon this year so she offered up her number and I was the first to jump on it. The Stone Cat RDs were nice enough to let me take her place and even let me upgrade to the 50. It was on.

Meanwhile, I was being anything but smart about recovery and training. Two weeks after the VT100 I ran the Breaker, and even though I didn’t run particularly fast it’s still a pretty tough course with some abusive climbs and descents. The following week I went up to Camden for the 9 mile Ragged Mountain Run Around, another abusively hilly race.  After three weeks of “easy” running (with a few long runs thrown in) it was time for the Bruiser and I felt good about putting in a hard effort, however, my body had other plans. Two miles into the race I noticed a dull ache in my left achilles, which progressively developed into a sharp pain with every step.  Shortly after entering the O-Trail my left calf, which had been overworked while compensating for the achilles issue decided it had enough and just stopped working. I stumbled to save myself from falling and when my right foot slammed into the ground my right calf seized up and I collapsed. I lay there screaming while both calves cramped and spasmed and it looked as if there were snakes writhing under my skin. But I needed to earn that Bad Ass hoodie so I got up and finished the race. I could barely walk for the next three days and running was out of the question, until the following Saturday when Emma and I ran the Big Brad Ultra 50k Pounder course in about 6 ½ hours. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it up the first climb, but everything held together and I didn’t feel significantly worse after the run. I did feel bad enough that I only ran once during the following week, until the next weekend when I paced Dave for 42 miles at the Virgil Crest 100.
Over the next few weeks I pretty much said “Fuck You” to my achilles as I attempted to train for the Stone Cat 50. While my weekly mileage wasn’t where I wanted it to be I was still getting out for a lot of technical, hilly trail runs. Certainly not the best way to recover from an achilles injury and the pain continued. By mid-October I started to realize that the 50 miler was not a good idea, even if I could make it to the start line of the race I would be woefully under-trained for my time goal and there would be a high likelihood of either completely destroying my achilles or unearthing some new injury over the course of the race. Certainly not worth it for another 8+ hour finishing time. But the marathon...

Maybe I did have one good race left in me this year. The obvious goal would be to try to beat my time from 2008, the only other time I’d run the marathon at Stone Cat. But wait, if I’m too injured to run 50 miles what reason do I have to think I can PR at the marathon? Shouldn’t this be just about finishing and avoiding more serious injury, and maybe having fun in the process? Sorry body, I can’t let you do that.

Friday night Emma and I met Jim to watch “The Man with the Iron Fists.” The perfect way to prepare for the carnage of a trail marathon. It was my fear, however, that the race course would be the one wielding the sword and I would be the one laying in a bloody heap when the day was done.

Saturday morning I got up at 3AM, met Joe just before 4AM and then picked up Mindy a few minutes later and we made our way to Ipswich, MA. We arrived with plenty of time to register, place our drop bags and hang out with the team. Then wait for the 50 miler start and learn that the marathon would be starting 15 minutes after, instead of starting together as in years past. It was a perfect temperature for running, but a little too cold for standing around outside in shorts for 45 minutes.

The chill that had set in probably lead to a start that was a little too quick but I needed to do something to warm up. My achilles immediately protested at the the sub-8-minute pace of the first mile, but luckily it eased off once I was warmed up. I had positioned myself right behind Julia even though I knew this was a pretty risky move. Julia’s goal was a few minutes faster than my previous time (I had been coaching her to break the course record time of 3:42), and even though I know her training was much more consistent (and pain-free) than mine I couldn’t resist letting her pull me along. Despite everything I should have learned over the years I never can seem to start out at a relaxed pace when I think there’s even an outside chance that I might be able to pull off a decent race. I have just accepted that this is the way I run. Knowing that Julia probably was starting out at a fairly conservative pace I didn’t expect to stay with her for too long, but I was also very curious to see how she was going to do.

By 3 miles into the race the sun was up enough that I could turn off my headlamp, and since we had not yet caught up to the 50 milers we continued to move along at a decent pace.  When we reached the swamp which last year was flooded with nearly-knee-deep water I looked around and marveled at how dry it was this year, practically a dirt road... THUMP! I caught my toe on absolutely nothing, continued my leg turnover and forward momentum in a nearly horizontal position until my right knee slammed into the ground.  With all four limbs flailing I managed to get back on my feet without significantly slowing my pace. I glanced down at my knee, no exposed bone or gaping skin flaps so I just kept on going. But it did hurt.

Julia had started to pull away and Nathan passed me so I refocused on keeping the two of them in sight and tried to ignore the throbbing pain in my knee. Al Cat’s aid station was a welcome distraction with many familiar faces, and even though I didn’t take any aid it was a great early boost and I soon caught back up to Nathan and then Julia. David was out on the course as a spectator, finding all the shortcuts to stay ahead of Julia and we both benefited from his yips and hiyas.

For the rest of the first lap I was feeling good, the pain in my knee subsided and my achilles wasn’t a significant issue. The pace felt like I was working hard, definitely harder than I would have gone had I not been trying to tag along with Julia, but I became optimistic that I might be able to keep this up for a while. At around 11 miles we came to a fork in the trail where the obvious path went left, but the course marking went right. I was just about to call Julia back from making a wrong turn when I realized that she had gone the right way. I surely would have got it wrong. A few minutes later we saw a couple runners we recognized as having passed earlier coming at us from a trail on our left. I recognized the trail we were on from previous years so I knew we had it right, I told these two guys they had gone wrong and they immediately turned back. A few minutes later we came up on another small group of runners and we recognized several of them as people we had passed before, knowing they had inadvertently made the same short-cut, but at this point it seemed like too much work to try and explain to them what they had done wrong so we passed them again and cruised in to finish the first lap.

Mindy, Val, Ryan and Alison were there keeping the TMR camp running and they provided a much appreciated boost, but both Julia and I were focused on moving through as quickly as possible. We picked up fresh handheld bottles and headed back out without actually stopping. 1:49 for the first 13.7 miles. I was psyched for Julia knowing that she was on track for her goal, I just hoped I could hang on.

About a mile into the second lap we caught up to Joe who was walking up the first of the significant hills on the course. We passed Joe but I started to think that his 50 mile pace was much more appealing than the one I was trying to run. I was definitely starting to feel the effects of the distance and the pace as we made our way up and down a series of hills. By the time the course flattened back out my everything had started to ache. Achilles, knee, quads, core, arms (WFT?). I came to the realization that I couldn’t keep up with Julia any longer and by 17 miles she was gone. Along with a mental low that came from running alone I started to get worried that I was on the cusp of turning these aches and pains into a full-on injury if I wasn’t careful. I consciously decided to ease off the pace for a while in hopes that I could pick it back up again for the last few miles and have a strong finish.

The one and only aid station I stopped at was at 21 miles, my water was getting low, but the reality was that I needed an excuse to stop for a moment and get my shit together. I didn’t stop for long but it was long enough for me to have a bit of a reset and assess where I was at. Everything still hurt, and my calves felt like they were on the verge of cramping, so I kept the pace easy for the next two miles. I lost a few places along this stretch and was even passed by a few 50 milers whom I had passed earlier. With each one I wanted to hang on, but I knew it was too soon to make a move. By 23 miles I actually started to feel like myself again and I picked the pace up. Nothing heroic, but it started to feel like I was racing again instead of just trying to finish. With 1 mile to go I began to reel in a runner who had passed me a few miles prior. By the time we hit the field that leads to the finish line he knew I was on his tail and we both ran hard to the line. With the Trail Monster crew cheering I was closing the gap but ran out of course and he finished about 5 seconds ahead of me. But I really wasn’t concerned about the place, just grateful that I was able to get back into the race for a strong finish. 3:44 and a 2-minute PR on the course. 17th out of 216 starters/210 finishers.

Julia was there right after I crossed the line, having come in 5 minutes before me, breaking the old course record by 3 minutes! Unfortunately there were two other women who also broke the course record ahead of her this year, but she had a great race as I knew she would. I put some warm layers on and spent the rest of the day with the Trail Monster crew cheering on the rest of our runners. Danielle was next in, then Nathan, Kevin, George, Rick and Ann in the marathon and Jeremy and Joe in the 50. It was a great day for the team.


mindy said...

Yay a gIANt post! Congrats on a fantastic race and PR. You made it look easy as usual, never would have known you hit a rough patch. Onto the ultras of 2013!

unstrung said...

Incredible. The second paragraph = quintessential Trail Monster crazy/wonderfulness. I hope you can get some righteous recovery happening soon and then who knows what you'll do when you're actually feeling good?! Congratulations on the wicked PR and on the coaching of Julia to the record!

Sparkplug said...

Hurray for a great post!! And congrats on a PR and great race despite the injury and rough patch!

pathfinder said...

great report .. almost felt like I was back out there

pathfinder said...

great report .. almost felt like I was back out there

Jamie Anderson said...

This was a treat to read on my lunch break. Congrats, Ian!!!

middle.professor said...

Congratulations on the PR, especially given the less than optimal training! And, given that list of injuries, it sounds like you should take a few weeks off and ski this winter with James and me!

Jeremy Bonnett said...

Great PR man, especially with the injuries this Fall and all you've been through this year. Really great that you pushed yourself for a while and were able to regroup and kick it in for a racing finish. Super excited for you to kick-ass in snowshoe season!