October 15, 2013

Heartland: Obsessive Progression, Quantified

Previous Results
2011- 10:53:07
2012- 9:01:49

The former was my first ultramarathon, and, if we're being honest, my first marathon as well. I was, to be kind to my past self, undertrained and underprepared. But I was determined to finished, even after a too-fast start led to a too-weak IT band going rogue, rendering me an ambling mess for the final 14 miles. Probably, this is the most important race I've ever run. It laid bare weaknesses in me that I could neither deny nor - my psyche being what it is - tolerate. So I decided to fix them.

That's precisely what I set about doing. 2012 was my first year of truly structured training - having really just taken to running the previous year - and as such, my goal with Heartland was simply to execute a good, smart race. I let the leaders go, ran 4:15 out, but slowed somewhat, returning in 4:46. I felt that the race was an accurate representation of my fitness, but that, as always, my fitness needed to improve.

The Plan
In short? Run as much as possible. No tracking miles. Just get in 1-3 hours, every day, starting in February. Lots of hills. Lots of pavement. Two speedier sessions every week as well. Thankfully, I enjoy training and have basically no other hobby, so this wasn't at all hard to stick to.

I used the common distances of 5K, 10K, and 13.1 miles for the purposes of semi-frequent self-testing, via solo time-trialing (on the track, for ease of measurement). Given that I usually race on trails, I wanted to objectively quantify any improvements I was (hopefully) making. The goal was to get my 5K under 18 (nope), my 10K under 39 (38:19), and my half marathon under 1:25 (1:24:39).

But none of that would matter if my legs couldn't hold up for 50 miles, so I spent three days a week on what I termed "durability work" as well. Aside from some vanity lifting, this consisted of squats, deadlifts, glute/ham raises, side lying leg raises, and all manner of planks. Despite my relatively ambitious running volume, I incurred no injuries (not even a solitary forced day off), so I'd have to say this worked.

My final long run was the Hawk Marathon, at Clinton Lake in Lawrence, KS. Despite my going rather severely off course (To be clear: This is my home course, and it was well-marked. But I'm directionally challenged.), and running somewhere close to an extra 2 miles, I managed to run 3:55:15, and win. My long run ended up being even longer than planned, and I felt fit, so this was a good result.

The Taper
Remember that part about having no other hobbies? Yeah. I didn't run the Friday before. Does that count?

The Gear
A cycling shirt, so that I could use the back pockets, and avoid carrying a pack.

Nike split shorts. Because pants are the law.

A 0.5 L Platypus water bottle. As it's soft, it could fold up, when empty. I planned to run with it that way, and only drink at the aid stations.

Heavily used Saucony Hattori. I'm a devout minimalist zealot, but this turned out to be a mistake. More on that later.

The Race
My goal was to minimize the importance of the race itself, somewhat, by focusing so wholly on the preparation. Simply, I wanted to do the work, show up, and not fuck it up.

Goal 1) As always, finish. Hopefully without an existential meltdown. Goal 2-9) Win. Goal 10) Run a fast time.

Given my priorities, I started at what I felt to be a fairly relaxed pace. One runner came with me, and we ran together for the first 16 miles. They were certainly more pleasant miles, for having the company. (I'm awful with names, but I believe this was Chris Perry, who ended up having a great run, finishing in 8:48:37.)

I reached the turnaround at 3:50, by which time I had opened up a small lead. Unfortunately, last year's muddy race had given me a false sense of of security, regarding the gravel. Simply, my shoes, basically slippers to begin with, were getting shredded. Large portions of the sole were already missing, and they could not likely sustain the return trip.


I asked, not expecting an affirmative, if the aid station had duct tape. Thankfully, they did. My Dad (and crew for the evening) quickly taped up my shoes, and I was off again, with my redneck rockplates.

Still, I ran very conservatively back to the next aid station. There were still a lot of miles to go, and I wanted to be sure that my improvised shoe solution would in fact work. Once there, I ate two figs, and popped a couple Ibuprofen.

With a mild sugar rush and not-so-mild pain suppression fogging my mind, I decided that this was fun again, that my feet felt fine, that this duct tape was working perfectly (it seriously saved my race), and that I should push it, just a little. Get to the final aid station, see where you stand, I told myself.

I cruised in and looked down at my watch, which read 6:48. I knew that I had run to this aid station at the race's start in 1:10, so I quickly downed two cups of ginger ale, and decided I could finish in under 8 hours. Maybe. Possibly. Certainly, I would try like hell.

The 8 miles that followed were some of the most satisfying running of my life. Every time I asked my legs for just a little bit more, they responded, and with very minimal pain. Even my feet felt just short of awful, rather than downright necrotic. Every 100 miler I passed (and their pacers) offered encouragement, and, in a few cases, commented on the daring fashion statement my shoes were making. One pacer (in a pink tutu, I believe) probably best summed up the absurdity of it all when she said: "Holy shit!"

The final 4 miles, by my hazy math, would require slightly sub-9 minute pace. Hills behind me, I thought this reasonable, and found the challenge invigorating. So, I told myself, simply run as hard as you can for 5K. At that point, the finish will be so close that adrenaline will take over. I hoped.

I hoped, and turned on to the finishing stretch of pavement with a little under 3 minutes to go. Fucking sprint. Or, you know, what passed for sprinting, at that point, for someone with basically zero natural leg speed. Still, I sprinted, and in my mind, I was David fucking Rudisha (not his real middle name, sadly), rather than some floppy haired jogging enthusiast with duct tape on his tattered running slippers.

2013- 7:59:59

The Aftermath
Potatoes. A lot of potatoes.

In short? Run as much as possible. No tracking miles. Just get in 1-3 hours, every day, starting now. Lots of hills. Lots of pavement. Two speedier sessions every week as well. Thankfully, I enjoy training and have basically no other hobby, so this won't be at all hard to stick to.

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