Monday, December 31, 2007

Running Again

So, I have been back to running the past couple of weeks and it has generally felt pretty good, though I just can't seem to hold myself back enough.

Last weekend I went for what was supposed to be an easy 2 hour run. It started out easy enough, and I even took the uphills slow. But coming back I was feeling good and really blasted the downhills. And in doing so, I think I re-aggravated my left-ankle/Achilles injury and my left hamstring. Additionally, I think I just ran too much over the last two weeks as my right knee is bothering me a little - feels like runners knee.

I'm trying to ice the left ankle/Achilles and right knee, but have only been successful intermittently. Not doing much about the hamstring though, except light stretching and strength training. Hopefully, I can manage these without having to take any additional time off. My "plan" is to focus on running slow, and flat (as flat as possible considering I live in the mountains, and refuse to run on most of the roads around here as there are too many crappy drivers).

Though I am getting deja vu, since I recall that being my "plan" before I started back running two weeks ago - DOH!

I have been putting together a tentative race schedule for 2008, and hope to post that soon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gettin Back to Running

I am really looking forward to getting back to running tomorrow. I have been taking it easy the past two weeks to give some nagging pains in my left leg a break. I guess if you call doing a couple hour-long elliptical workouts taking it easy than I have been taking it easy.

But no running, and I'm feeling pretty good. My plan is to run easy, and mostly flat stuff for a week or so and see how things feel. Hopefully I'll be feeling good, then I can get back to my regular trail running. I really want to ramp up my running and training this next year to prepare myself for longer distances, at least a 50 miler, as I would like to try to qualify to put my name in the Western States lottery for 2009. There is a track club that meets not far from my work - the Santa Cruz Track Club - and I'm thinking of joining so I can have a group to do some workouts with, and hopefully improve my form and do some speed work.

I also want to continue with the strength training I have been doing the last two weeks, as it really makes me feel good, and I know from past experience that it can help my running overall. I have focused on core strengthening and some light upper body work, but have also thrown in some leg work too. Since my left hamstring was giving me some problems I made sure to use light weight. And I'm thinking about getting a weight bench that will allow me to do leg work on a regular basis, with the hope that some regular, lightweight weight training for my legs will help condition my legs and prevent injury.

Tomorrow morning can't come soon enough! :D

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Science of Sport Blog

I ran across a fantastic blog titled The Science of Sport written by a couple of guys - Jonathan Dugas, Ph.D., and Ross Tucker, Ph.D. - who completed their Ph.D's at the Exercise Science and Sports Medicine Research Unit at the University of Cape Town - where Tim Noakes has been for over 25 years. You may recognize Professor Noakes name, as he is the author of The Lore of Running, a thick book on all things running. I haven't read it, but have leafed through it on many a trip to the bookstore, and covet it.

I have just started to sink my teeth into their work, and so far have found it very interesting and enlightening. Here is a snippet of what it's all about:

Our primary interests are running and cycling, and so we will focus predominantly on these two sports. We try to write articles on sports and sporting analysis that you cannot find anywhere else.

Our goal is to take sports news that you'll read in the sports pages and provide the second, third and fourth level of analysis. You saw the game or match, but we will explore the WHY? HOW? and WHAT? of performance.

I am currently reading a 5 part series on muscle cramps and electrolytes. While I haven't finished it, they don't necessarily prescribe to conventional wisdom on the subject. And I just found out they did another series on hydration/dehydration - both of these are topics I can't wait to read their opinions on, as I had major problems in my first ultramarathon due to dehydration and muscle cramps. At least that is what I think now, but who knows, they may blow a hole in my views if their research on it follows the general course of what I have read so far.

If you are interested in endurance sports, I highly recommend reading their blog. At a minimum it will give you some fodder to discuss/debate with your running friends.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nathan HPL #020 Hydration Vest

I recently started using the Nathan HPL #020 hydration vest. I received it as a birthday gift from my brother and his family. Here is a pic:

I am still getting used to the fit and feel, but so far I like it. It has easy access to the storage pockets up front which makes it easy to access food and other items. The fit can be adjusted pretty easily, and the bladder has a wide opening so you can fill it and clean it easily. You can also dump ice cubes in easily with the wide opening.

I do have a couple of suggestions to improve it, which I emailed to Nathan and just received a reply from them thanking me for my input. The guy who responded - Greg - even mentioned that one of the suggestions I had was already in the works. I like the fact that 1. someone got back to me, and 2. they are willing to listen to feedback from customers. That is good business.

So what are the issues I have with the vest, you ask? Here they are:

1. The bladder is not secured in any way inside the pack, and as such, has a tendency to bounce around a bit. This could be alleviated by sewing in some webbing loops with plastic pieces at the inside top that could be pushed through the holes at the top of the bladder to hold it up, thus preventing bounce.

2. Sew in some elastic in the middle of the side webbing to allow for a fit that is not quite so...confining. A little give, especially in the bottom tension straps, would make for a more comfortable fit - snug but not too tight and confining.

That's it. Really, the issues I have are pretty minor, but they really would improve the overall comfort of the vest. Even though, I am pleased with it and look forward to many miles of running with this thing strapped to me.

Running and Dissociation

The New York Times recently ran a great article on running and dissociation. I know I have used the technique at times, though mostly unconsciously.

According to the article, performance and endurance have at least as much, if not more, to do with the brain as it does the body. By "dissociating," or focusing on something other than what your are doing, you can override your brain's reluctance to push past pain and what you think your limits are.

Give the article a read, and on your next long run try it out and see for yourself. I know I am going to work on this technique more.

Rest, Recovery and Strength Training

I'm in rest and recovery mode right now, giving myself some time to recuperate from a few nagging injuries. This past summer, I rolled my left ankle a couple times and, while not painful enough to stop running, needs some time to rest. I also strained my left hamstring during the Big Sur Half Marathon, which had been more of a problem leading up to my first ultramarathon - PCTR's Woodside 50K on December 1st.

Leading up to Woodside I had to back off my running a bit, not an ideal situation leading up to ones' first ultra, but necessary if I wanted to run. I committed myself to taking at least two weeks off running after the race. So now, I'm a little over halfway through my self-imposed running hiatus.

It's not easy, but so far my hamstring feels pretty good. And so does my ankle. I really want to run, but a few more days will do me good in the long run and I feel it's worth it to complete the time off.

I have also taken this time to restart a strength training program I had been doing regularly during the summer and early fall, but had let fall by the wayside the last few months. I am very happy with that, because I feel that it helps me a lot in my running, especially the core strengthening aspect. The program is not too involved, and I do it at home. It involves only a little weight lifting, using only dumbbells and exercises like crunches, push-ups, and some balance exercises to help build the little muscles in the feet, legs and hips. I have so far skipped the balance exercises as I haven't wanted to push my legs, up until yesterday.

Yesterday, I went to a climbing gym in Santa Cruz as I just needed to do something else. I actually started out my workout on an elliptical trainer, and my left leg felt really good, so I ended up doing about an hour on it. That felt great - I got a good cardio workout in. Then I hit the weight room and did a variety of exercises, including some leg lifting. No problems or pain, which I am very happy about!! I finished off with about a half hour of climbing to get the upper body some work. Overall, I am really pleased with the whole workout, and I hope to continue doing that routine a couple times a month. Especially the elliptical, leg lifting and climbing routines. It will be good to mix it up, even when I'm back to running regularly.

I'm really itching to get back on the trails, running again. Only a few days left and I can get back to it. While difficult, I know the rest and recovery time will help my running in the future.

And, I have a race on my 2008 schedule: the Way Too Cool 50K on March 8th. My wife and I both got in and we are excited. This will be Lori's first ultramarathon, and unless I do a PCTR 50K between now and then (not likely, but I won't completely rule it out), it will be my second. I'm still trying to put together a race schedule for the rest of the year, as I want to do at least a 50 miler sometime to try to qualify for entry to Western States, and I would like to get a number of PCTR races planned too, as they have begun a race series for 2008 that would be fun to take part in. Hopefully, I'll get a good idea of what I want to do soon.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My First Ultramarathon – the PCTR Woodside 50K (actually, 49.6K, but who's really counting...besides me?!?)

A few words can sum up my first ultramarathon experience - mistakes, pain, and hard lessons learned. Pretty much in that order.

The day dawned cold - the coldest yet this fall. I woke early in order to get something to eat early enough to allow proper digestion. I snuck around quietly as my wife and her co-worker, visiting from out of town, had fallen asleep on the couch out in the living room. They had to work on a project that required a midnight - 4am shift, so they would not be joining me for the race. I was bummed about that, but completely understood. I wouldn't want to go to a race if I had to work those hours either. After grabbing some breakfast and a little coffee, I hit the road to pick up my brother and head to the race. Only one problem so far, but a problem I ignored: my morning tinkle was pretty dark. Seems I didn't hydrate well enough the day/evening before. No problem, I thought to myself, I'll be alright. It just means I won't have to pull over every 20 minutes like I have had to on some of my longer training runs.

Mike (my bro) and I got to Huddart Park early - the park wasn't open yet but a line of others had already formed. We waited a few minutes until the gates opened then followed the line down to the parking area. After parking, we stayed in my truck to keep warm and started getting our stuff ready. We made a quick trip to the bathroom, did a little stretching, and then headed up to the start area. Within a few minutes we were off.

We started out at a pretty good pace, and soon enough were headed up the long climb to the first aid station. After about a half hour or so I asked Mike if he had had any water. I drank a little, but still wasn't even thinking much about hydration as an issue. The climb wasn't too hard, and we maintained a good, though comfortable pace. It was cold and it felt good to maintain the pace to keep the body temp up. I was sweating a fair amount pretty early on, a clue that I managed overlook.

Huddart Park, in San Mateo County, is a beautiful park. I had never been there before, but living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I am familiar with the general look and feel - Redwood forest with tall trees and steep hillsides. Lots of little dry creek beds that can turn into raging torrents with a few good winter storms. Soft redwood duff underfoot makes the trails a real pleasure to run on. And the smell - there is nothing quite so pleasing as the earthy, rich, fecund smell of a Redwood forest.

We reached the first aid station (which was also the fourth), at the top of the first long climb, and blew right through it. We both had hydration packs, a little food, and Hammer Endurolytes electrolyte caps so no need to stop yet. On the way up, though, I had some odd feelings in the middle part of my abdomen, almost like a stitch, but across the entire mid section. I chalked it up to "clenching" the muscles, though thought it strange as I had never experienced this before. Again, another clue that I ignored, but turned out to be a precursor of things to come.

Between the first and second aid stations the trail flattened out mostly, with a few rolling sections. We maintained a pretty good pace and both felt good. The trail here ran just below Hwy. 35 - Skyline Blvd. - which runs along a ridge line between the San Francisco Bay area and the Pacific coast. This is another beautiful section of trail, mostly single track. The wind was a bit stronger here and at times really cut through. Good thing we were moving well, or else it would have been quite cold. Cloud cover had moved in up here, so sunlight, even if it could have penetrated the forest canopy, was non-existent.

We made the second aid station (which was also the third) in the top ten, and stopped to refill Mike's water bladder and get some food. We chatted with the volunteers for a few minutes, and a couple other runners passed through. No problem, we weren’t trying to hit any place goal, as this being our first ultramarathon we just wanted to enjoy ourselves and finish. Up to this point I had taken one electrolyte cap and had a little water, along with the food. I was feeling pretty good, though by now I was feeling a little something in a few areas in my legs. Areas I had never felt anything in before. Still, I didn't recognize these as warning signs.

The trail out of the second aid station was mostly downhill until the midpoint of the race, where there was a loop and then followed the same trail back to the second (now third) then fourth (initially the first) aid station. We were now in Wunderlich Park, and it has the same terrain as Huddart. It was here that I started to have issues that I would recognize as dehydration - an elevated heart rate on uphill sections that I shouldn't have struggled with. I had to slow down and walk. Still, I didn't drink enough water. I took an electrolyte cap, and had some water, but not enough. This would prove to be a big mistake that I would pay for big time later.

So we walked, and here and there ran. After a while, I told Mike to go ahead. He insisted on keeping together, and I appreciated that. But a little while later I insisted he go on ahead, as I was holding him back. I assured him I would be fine, and would be able to finish. Or, if I experienced a complete meltdown, would make the decision to drop. He went ahead.

It wasn't long before the trail started to flatten out again, and I was able to start a good shuffle/slow run. I ended up catching up to him at the next aid station as he stopped to get water and some food.

By this time I was having issues in my calves, thighs, neck, shoulders, mid-abdomen, and lower back. My lower back was quite painful, and upon reaching the third aid station I sat on the ground to stretch it some. Immediately my left calf cramped badly. Uh oh, not only was I dehydrated (I had only taken one leak so far, which is unheard of for me), my electrolytes were way off. I quickly got out an electrolyte capsule and took it, then got up, moved around, and had a couple pieces of potato with salt to help further remedy that situation. Unfortunately, I didn't hang around long and force myself to re-hydrate too.

After walking so much I was cold, and being in a fair amount of pain, I just wanted to get to the finish so I could get some warm clothes on and rest. The thought of dropping out had crossed my mind a few times, but I figured I could make it back faster if I continued on and finished. I told myself to just push through the pain and cold - you can do it!

Continuing on, my thoughts were pretty much focused on three things: pain, cold, and finish line. On the way to the final aid station I encountered a few other runners. As is typical of trail runners, we exchanged a few words of encouragement for each other. I love the trail/ultra running community for this. It is such a wonderful thing to know that others will support, encourage, and show genuine concern for you during a race.

I continued to alternate between walking (mostly) and shuffling – if it remotely resembled an uphill I was walking. I tried to drink water, and continued to take an electrolyte cap every so often. The water wasn't going down easy, as my stomach just wasn't feeling all that good and I didn't want to really push it and puke, as I felt that may exacerbate the dehydration issue. Another error in judgment.

I finally reached the last aid station and just pushed through. I did have to stop though, just after, to give myself a bit of a rest and try to stretch my back a little, which was still in a lot of pain.

The final stretch from the last aid station to the finish was mostly downhill, which under normal circumstances I would have blasted down. Not this time. Between my screaming back and my vastus medialis muscles (the muscles just above the knees on the front inside of the thigh), I just couldn't move faster than a shuffle at best, and was forced to walk a fair amount. Occasionally, I had to stop to rest. If I could have rolled myself down the rest of the way, I would have. Anything but walking/running seemed better at that point.

A few fellow runners stopped to check that I was alright and didn't need serious assistance – one even offered me his last vitamin “I” (Ibuprofen). I was again heartened by their courtesy and concern for a fellow runner. We all did a bit of yo-yo on the way down, as they were not in the best condition either, and we continually encouraged each other and checked in to make sure things were not deteriorating too much.

After what seemed an interminably long time, I finally heard the sounds of the assembled people at the finish line. I had made it. I crossed the finish to cheers, and fell to the ground happy to be done. I picked myself up as Mike came over, and we gave each hearty congratulations and a big hug. He had some struggles of his own, with his left knee giving him a fair amount of grief towards the end, but finished in 5:33:58! Incredible! I finished in 6:01:50.

We had done it - persevered through pain and other challenges to finish, and we were both happy and proud to have done so. It was a good day.

I quickly went down to my car to get some warm clothes, water and some Hammer Recoverite mix, to help with the recovery process (I have used this previously after long runs, and really feel it helps significantly with recovery). I hobbled back up to the finish area (of course, there had to be a little hill to climb from the parking area to the finish area!) to get a little food, though wasn’t very hungry. Mike and I talked with Sarah (of Pacific Coast Trail Runs) and a few other people for a little while, all of whom congratulated us on completing our first ultra. PCTR gives out a nice coaster for those who finish their first ultramarathon, so we picked those up along with the race t-shirts. I paid a little extra to get the Patagonia Capilene 1 race t-shirt, as they are really comfortable and make a great running shirt.

I learned some important lessons during this run. Some lessons that I obviously learned the hard, painful way. First of which was – I need to pay better attention to hydration. I thought I had a pretty good handle on how I need to hydrate, and have never experienced the issues I did during this race. The clues that I ignored were plain to see, but in my concern about stopping too often to pee, and overconfidence in my knowledge of my needs, I overlooked the other side of the issue - dehydration and the adverse effects that has on ones' body and performance. I also need to pay more attention to my electrolyte needs. This was my longest run ever, and while I have taken electrolyte capsules during many of my longer training runs (20 - 23 miles), I had never experienced cramping and didn't recognize many of the early symptoms.

I had hoped to finish in the low 5 hour range, and even thought that if I had a good day - maybe finish in under 5 hours. Obviously, the mistakes I made put those goals way out of reach. But I am wiser, and now have a much better understanding of what I need and how my body works. This knowledge will help me to be a better and smarter runner in the future - as long as I pay better attention and put into practice what I have learned (no guarantees there, but I can hope, can’t I???). I also learned that I can do the distance, and can push myself pretty far. Though I am no stranger to pushing myself, it has been some time since I had to deal with this level of adversity.

I feel I left a lot of time out on that course, and if I can take the knowledge gained through the pain and struggles of my first ultra into my next, I know I can improve.

My thanks and appreciation go out to: Sarah and Wendell of PCTR for all the work they did to put on this race - I had a great time even though I hurt like never before; the volunteers who offered encouragement and advice, and themselves persevered through wind and cold, always with a smile; and the many fellow runners who encouraged me, and offered assistance and showed concern for my well being. Thank you all for making this such a memorable experience.


Upon returning home, I expected to have to call my wife to come help me out of my truck and inside the house. But when I got home, my back wasn't sore, and I was able to get out of my car and my legs actually felt pretty good! By evening, most of the pain was gone, and only a little residual soreness was left - truly a sign that my problems were due to dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes. And the next day (Sunday), I actually felt well enough that I could have gone for a run, if I hadn't put myself under a self-imposed moratorium on running for a few weeks in December to allow for recovery of some long-nagging issues.