Sunday, February 16, 2014

OFTM race report

Last year I had pre-registered for the Old Fashioned 10 Miler, one of the staple winter races 'round these parts, only to have it cancelled at the last minute. I felt somewhat guiltily lucky, as I was not in good shape at the time, but I would have shown up anyway to "take my medicine", so to speak.

Cut to this year: off-season training is going well, and I'm in much better shape. Running conditions have been tough the last couple of weeks, and I'm excited to get in a fast run at the OFTM as a stepping-stone toward my half marathon at New Bedford. Only a pretty big weather system rolls in Saturday afternoon, and snow falls late into the night. Email Saturday morning claims the race is on, and there is nothing else by 9pm, when I last check email.

I get up moderately early this morning to shovel out my parking space and then return inside for a slice of bread with peanut-butter (the spartan breakfast I prefer prior to an 11am race), then got my kit together and headed out. I-95 is clear, but most other roads still have a layer of packed snow on them, and I'm already revising hopes of breaking 60 minutes.

The parking lot is almost totally empty, and I head in to the race HQ with trepidation, already beginning to think I should have checked email this morning. Yup; I find the volunteers in a huddle, as the RD relates that his exploratory drive of the 10 mile course showed it was infeasible to run, and they will be substituting a double-loop of the 5k course in its place. Mike Gilio gives me the heads-up that the race is in fact delayed 2 hours as well--d'oh!

I judiciously cadge a 1/4 bagel from the post-race supplies, and consider my options. I definitely want to get a long run in today, and the best thing to do seems to be to do a 7 mile "warm-up" ahead of the race, then run the 10k as a simulation of the 2nd half of a Half. Even with an hour run ahead of me, I've got some time to kill, so I walk the 1.5 miles around the block, then go back to my car for a bit.

My warm-up turns out to be quite nice--the back roads are all snow-covered and traction is poor, but there's virtually no traffic and all is calm and quiet. I focus on good form and try not to slip around too much.

I get back in time to join the pack of runners queuing up on the road. There must be 400-500 people here, the crazy fools. The two races are going off together, so there is quite a mill. Once I find my way to the front, I hear the RD explaining that the course is "actually closer to 5 miles". Good to know!

The gun goes off and immediately all thoughts of running this as a workout or some kind of simulation go careening out of my head, and I am racing. Conditions are TOUGH; I can feel snow spilling out from behind me as I try to claw the ground for purchase through the soles of my shoes (a pair of virtually treadless Nike Frees).

One guy immediately takes command of the race, and no it is not me. I'm third off the front, with another dude not far off my shoulder behind me. We hit the first turn and enjoy a brief respite of clear pavement--it is like putting on rocket boots.

Soon we are back on snow, and then we hit the 1st mile: 5:52, and it is SO NOT AEROBIC. I'm thinking currapp this is hard! A monster strength workout, for certain. We cut the turn onto Baker Street, and the guy in front of me is floating maybe 15 yards ahead. Did I hear him say he was running the 5K? I am pretty sure he said that. I focus on looking for lines of clear pavement and making the most of them (there aren't many).

Getting back onto Fox Hill, we cross our own trail, and the pack has torn the surface up, creating pockets of ankle-deep loose snow along with occasional pockets of opportunity. I can feel the #4 runner still not far behind me. We continue the loop, and soon the guy ahead of me is turning off to finish. The leader is not visible--he might also have been running the 5K, but since he was absolutely killing it I suspect he's running the longer distance.

Now we are picking up runners still on their first loop, and then fun begins. The road is filled with slightly-unstable formations of slow-moving runners and walkers, creating a moving maze to navigate. As the 4-mile mark comes in sight, I realize that my friend from the start is still tailing me. This does not make me unhappy--actually, it's awesome. How often do you get a good head-to-head race, no complacency allowed?

What follows has elements of both strategy and luck. I try to pick lines through the field that will be hard to follow, and lines that will let me monopolize pavement where it shows up. But the available routes are mostly determined by the shifting currents of the crowd. With Fox Hill quickly coming to a close, I see my opponent is still right on my shoulder. "To the finish!" he says. AYE, to the finish! We press on bobbing and weaving for all we're worth, and soon are kicking--if you can call it that--down toward the chute. I finish ahead by about 4 seconds.

It turns out his name is Russ, and we go do a cool-down, along with his neighbor. So ends the highly improvisational 19th running of the Old Fashioned 10 Miler. Props to Jim Morris and his volunteers for pulling off a successful race out of such implausible conditions. Meanwhile, I feel like I'm going to be well prepared for when the going gets tough in the last 5 miles of New Bedford--it won't be any worse than this race was.

Final Results: 5.(2?) miles in 31:52, for 2nd overall.

Total mileage today: 15.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Derry 16 Miler Race Report

I've been pretty quiet on the blog, which is too bad because actually plenty is going on. I closed out last year's season with the Manchester Road Race (terrible), the Gilio ho-ho-ho 5k (won it; competition light), and Charlotte's new years day 5k (17:40, well back from the winning time--I blame the holidays). I joined a new club, and payed USATF dues for the first time. I set a goal of running a fast half marathon at New Bedford in March, and I've started working toward it.

I also decided, late last Thursday, to do Derry again. My history with this race is: 2011; started the race with a "workout" mindset, ran conservatively through the hills at mile 11-12, and managed to survive the last 3 miles well enough to run a decent time; 2012; started the race with a racing mindset, felt great, ran hard, went through the half marathon in 84:53, and then suffered one of the three epic bonks of my running career (and the only one not heat-related); 2013, signed up, was in lousy shape, realized I needed to frantically prepare that weekend for an international trip, DNS.

Most people reading this will already be acquainted with Derry, but for those that aren't, it's a 16 mile road race, run in New Hampshire in January. It's notorious for being hilly and cold (duh), and is theoretically supposed to be a good pace-predictor for the Boston Marathon.

So, 2014. I had one plan for the race, and it was not to repeat 2012. (By the time I finished the 2012 race, I had sworn bitter oaths never to run Derry again, or indeed any distance over half marathon--fortunately you kind of forget that end-of-race feeling).

I car-pooled up with Dan from HFC, and we arrived in good time to get a parking spot at the middle school. Conditions were sunny and windy, with ambient air temperature around 14 degrees fahrenheit. This was fairly warm next to the local Massachusetts temps we've been having over the last week, and would have been down-right pleasant except for the wind gusts. I went with XC skiing tights, tech shirt, nylon vest, mittens and headband, with some energy chews in my vest pocket.

At the start of the race, I fingered the chrono on my wrist-watch, then decided to leave it alone. I would start my chrono at mile 13, the same place I blew up in 2012--that would set the stakes: the first 13 miles don't matter--only the last 3.

I started easily and fell into a rhythm, using the time-of-day mode of my watch to very roughly estimate I was opening at around a 7 minute mile pace. It was a nice conversational start, and I exchanged pleasantries with some of the other runners. Weather was New-England-winter-gorgeous, with white fields glinting under a blue sky, and spindrift snow curling into the air from the banks beneath the deep shadow of the evergreens.

By mile 3, I was clearly running under 7 minute pace, but I didn't know exactly and didn't want to know. I was still running well inside myself, thinking all the time of mile 13--how I would feel when I got there, and what it would feel like to really put the pedal down.

I was mostly, slowly passing people through mile 9 or so. Shortly before the first big hill, two guys caught up to me. I debated chasing them, but decided to keep to my plan: 13 mile workout, 3 mile race. As it happened, they slowed way down on that first steep bit after you take that left turn, and I slipped by them again.

Round about the series of hills at mile 11, another guy around my age caught up. His pace was a hair faster than mine, but I let it pull me along. We grunted encouragement to each other, and reeled in another couple runners.

Coming off the hills, we had a brief conversation. I don't remember exactly what he said--something about this being a good time to go. I said, "yeah--just trying to make it to 13--it's going to be game on from there." He agreed. A minute later one of his friends had caught up with us, and he mentioned in a friendly way how I had been talking some smack about the last 3 miles.

Then the mile 13 marker came into sight. I felt a thrill of excitement. Up until now, even through the hills, I had been running contained, but now the thought I had been patterning in my head, over and over, rose to the forefront of my consciousness: that the mile 13 marker was a start line, that I would hit it and begin to race. I wormed one hand out of its mitten, and with clumsy cold fingers maneuvered to start my chrono.

The mile 13 marker. I hit my watch, and surged forward. Floating behind me, I heard the words, "holy shit, you weren't kidding!". My stride lengthened, and the two other guys in my pack started to fall away. I felt pleasure mingled with doubt, remembering the feeling of being betrayed by my body when the wheels popped off in 2012. Still, there are times when a little faith is called for, and this after all had been the plan all along.

The mile 14 marker came up with surprising speed. The field was sparse here, but I saw ahead of me a girl running (the lead woman?). 6:03 on the watch. I dug in, holding the pace. Gas still in the tank! It was a wonderful feeling. As we rounded the curve onto the 3rd-to-last road, I pulled in the girl ahead of me. She was running hard, but you could hardly tell--very clean stride. I kept pulling. Mile 15, 12:05. In the distance I saw two figures running together and I started to work toward them. The distance closed as I flashed down onto the little cross-street where the race had started, and now I could see (despite vision slightly blurry from the cold), that ahead was the BAA girl leading the woman's race.

I worked the last uphill to the middle school, but despite closing hard I still finished 6 seconds back from the two people I was chasing. I clicked my watch and found I had run 18:10 for the last 3 miles, a bit better, even, than goal half marathon pace.

So here was a run that went perfectly to plan, and sweet redemption for 2012. I had played conservatively with my physiological resources, and come out with a PR. It amazes me to think that in 2012 I was five minutes faster than today at the half-marathon mark, and five minutes slower at the finish. I ran almost an inverted version of that race--slow at the beginning, then slightly accelerating, then accelerating a lot, and ultimately negative-splitting.

  49   694 David Woodruff          M  30 NEEDHAM           MA    8   32:00  6:24    7 1:03:46  6:23    8 1:24:53  6:29 1:51:30  6:59 
   25  5  David Woodruff  M32 Needham, MA   34:12/6:51  1:29:56(est) 1:46:47/6:41

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wayland XC Festival Race Report

WHAT MAKES Cross Country meets so special? Aren't they basically just trail races? I pondered that thought on the way home from the Wayland XC Festival, where I had just run my first XC race since high school. Because, as irrational as it is, there's a huge difference between the two. There are the aesthetic differences (singlets vs t-shirts, trail shoes vs spikes), and the profound presence of team scoring. 

Most of all, there is the start; in a trail race, starts are usually pretty constrained, and the field inevitably has to seed itself. There is an inherent concession in doing so: "I'm not competition for you, please go ahead." The start then tends to be somewhat lackadaisical, as the people who want position the most already have it. In invitational-style cross country meets, everyone takes the line. The crack of the starter's pistol unleashes a furious pell-mell rush for place, as the whole field bolts for some distant marker where the course funnels down and passing becomes difficult. The atmosphere before the start is charged: 150 people all poised and ready, gazes focused in the same direction.

I've done my share of trail races as an adult, but my last cross country race was in the fall of 1998. Doing another was actually a rather sentimental experience. 

When the gun went off, I sprang into motion with everyone else, hurtling toward the course's first little hill. Soon I was immersed in a scrum of runners, a humbling reminder of what's it like to run against a field full of competitive club runners. I was hoping to keep pace with the HFC runner who beat me in the HO HO HO last year, but no sign of him yet. The effect of racing more-or-less mid-pack, breath whistling reedily in my throat, trying to avoid tripping over the flashing ankles of the guys in front of me, was powerfully evocative of many long-gone high school races. 

By the time I made it down the other side of the first hill, Conforto passed me and rapidly disappeared. (Trying to match his pace had seemed reasonable based on results from 9 months ago--I mean he beat me, but I could still see him; not so much today!) We ran around the perimeter of a grassy field, struck out onto dirt road, and then hit the 1st mile marker. 5:24. 

Then up the second hill, steep and then briefly very steep, and lighting along the flat of the aqueduct path. The fast first mile and the ascent told, and I slowed. A few guys slipped by me. A blitzed down-hill, then a sandy up-hill, then rollers--real cross country. Breath clawed at my throat as I focused on keeping cadence and as much speed as possible. 

I missed my 2nd mile split, but soon was back out on the field, reversing the original approach. The last hill (which was also the first hill) loomed large. I don't remember any place changes at this point. Over the top of the last hill, the lead woman caught me (we would change places again in the final stretch). Then down onto the track, and 300 meters to go. I did my best to gather my speed, trying to remember how last Thursday's sprint ladders had felt. In the last 50m, I saw the clock, 17:52, 17:53... I finally found my higher gear and bolted home in 17:59. 

Final results: 30th of 104 in 17:59. 

Commentary: Tough course! Not as much vertical as the old Wickham course, where we ran our state meet back in high school, but more hair-pins, loose sand and bumpy rollers. (Random aside: yesterday was the Wickham Invitational; check out results). I wasn't too disappointed with my time, but I think I could have given more over the back half of the race. Four HFC guys within 18 seconds of my finish--would have been nice to break up their top five. 

Wonderful to be back racing! I neglected to mention it, but I won my race last weekend. Fall is definitely the best time to be a runner round these parts. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

P.F. Injury Postmortem Part 2-3

P.F. Injury Postmortem Part 2: Low Point

Immediately after racing Ironhorse, I drew the following chart in my running log:

The idea was to figure out what was making my foot hurt, and how it responded to the various treatments I devised. In point of fact it was more of a psychological ploy--making a graph made me feel like I was controlling the situation. Unfortunately it didn't work, which is why I stopped--foot pain would increase unpredictably, and not in ways I could easily correlate to what I was doing.

Runners may know what I mean when I say there are two kinds of pain: the pain that "settles out", and the pain that "settles in". The former is usually nothing to worry about: you start a run, something creaks a bit, then it goes away. The latter is a different matter. It's the kind of pain that sneaks up on you, getting worse after every mile. That's the hurt that makes you stop.

The way my PF manifested, there was both: an intense hot-poker style stabbing pain, which was of no account, and a dull pain that would get worse and worse the more I was on my feet.

The dull pain was infuriating. It kept my running mileage close to zero, and it didn't seem to get the least bit better; not even going cold turkey on running, not even while avoiding walking. I couldn't even get any real hiking in over the summer, and I felt pretty damn low about it, to tell the truth. One thing injury reminds me of is how much of a mood-manager running is for me; when I couldn't do it anymore I felt like somebody had taken the happy pills away, leaving me in a deep blue funk.

I wasn't logging anything in my notebook at this time, so I don't have any daily records of my state. I was continuing to ice the base of my foot, and I was keeping an empty peanut-butter jar under my desk at work to help me keep my plantar fascia loose. The pain persisted, however. Until...

P.F. Injury Postmortem Part 3: Recovery

On July 24th I got this:

It's a "Bird & Cronin" Night Splint, aka "boot". You wear it overnight and it keeps your foot dorsiflexed (pulled up toward your shin), so that the plantar fascia is extended. This avoids a period in the morning where the injured tendon tightens up and complains terribly with every footstep. If you run in the morning like I do, this makes a HUGE difference. The night splint didn't miraculously fix my injury, but I do think it made it possible for me to start rehabbing my injury in earnest. Prior to this point, all attempts at resuming running invariably re-aggravated the PF pain (unsurprising, perhaps, since I run in the mornings).

After I started wearing the boot every night, things started to turn around. I was able to begin gradually adding mileage, and my mood improved. I kept icing and stretching, and it finally seemed to pay dividends.

Some log excerpts:

8-4: "Some twinges by E.o.W, but still slightly better over course of week. Trying for 30 miles next week" (after 26 miles the preceding week).

8-11: "I degraded this week. Too much mileage or because I slacked off on boot? So Frustrating!" (In retrospect, I think missing a couple nights wearing the boot was most of the problem)

8-13: "5 miles, cool day into Town Forest, no pain--felt happy"

8-18: "10 in Blue Hills, foot felt great for first 8, then small twinges. Never any major pain; pretty much the best I could hope for. Feeling optimism again."

8-26: "4 miles; some foot pain still"

8-29: "8 (cool, overcast, humid) feel very tired & out of shape. A little foot pain persists, but seems just a faint remnant."

9-2: "Walpole 10K in 45:20. Ugh--super muggy. Basically everything needs tons of work (strength, speed, endurance) Foot was basically OK though--OOS [out of shape] or not, excited to be back in it.

Improvement continued steadily. On September 8th I did 13 miles on trail. on 9/14 I did 14 on roads, which would have been inconceivable two months prior. On 9/17 I did a track workout, and it actually went OK. I was starting to feel like my old self.

And now, am I completely recovered? Well, sort of. Functionally, I'm all the way back. My foot "works"; it can hold up to high intensity workouts, hill sprints, and long runs on pavement. When I get up out of a chair after an hour or two, I might feel some mild soreness, but nothing like the hobbling pain I used to feel. On the other hand, I am still wearing the boot, and missing a night still seems to matter (though less than it did). My left foot feels "different", like it has some permanent mild soreness. With some more time, I am optimistic I can kick these remaining symptoms too.

Final Thoughts on Getting Over a Bout of Plantar Fasciitis

  1. Get a boot. 
  2. Ice the pain. At first I was using a bucket filled with ice water, but for simplicity I just started standing on an ice-pack while making and eating breakfast.
  3. Stretch. Wall stretches and toe touches helped me. In particular, there's a stretch where you put your foot over your knee and pull back the toes toward your shin that directly stretches the fascia--that was quite useful, and when I was in the middle my injury I did it a lot.
  4. RUN. This is tricky, because running injudiciously will make the injury worse. On the other hand, you have to get your foot strong again, and that will never happen if you don't use it. The trick is to stress it just right, so that you're building it up and not reinjuring it. I think any run where you don't hurt after you finish is probably helping. I did very slow jogs on a dead-flat trail, no more than 3 miles total, as my main medicinal exercise.
  5. Be optimistic and don't give up. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

P.F Injury Postmortem: Part 1, Descent

My running year in 2013 has been heavily impacted by a foot injury that settled in in March and persisted as a major limiting factor until at least the end of August. I was more or less completely exiled from running from June 4th to July 20th, in which time I probably ran no more than 50 miles (and those probably unwisely). This is a summary of how I got myself into trouble, and then how I eventually climbed back out again.

Log Excerpts, March--June (Descent)
3-10: "12 into Hale, muddy mess, w/ 1.5 mile progression."  No pain mentioned, but I remember this run, in all its sloppy, early spring glory, with the trails muddy streams and the north face of Noanet Hill still covered in snow. The soles of both my feet hurt by the end of it. Nothing unusual about that following a long run coming out of a winter slump. I ignored it.

3-23/24: "14 w/2 mile progression, 7.5 feet hurt/tired". I ramped up my weekly mileage to 52, continuing to ignore pain following long runs.

3-29: "14 w/ stops @ 4 and 6 to rest feet (soles very sore)". An obvious pattern should have materialized to me at this point--needless to say the fact that my feet hurt intensely after long runs, particularly my left foot, did not seem to register.

4-13: "15 into Hale. Started Progression @ mile 13, but PF pain intense after 3/4 mile. Iced carefully on return, but worried foot isn't steady-state". I remember that moment feet had been hurting moderately, nothing unusual for a long run with a heavy pavement component. I went to accelerate into the progression, and...twang! ow, ow, ow! That was probably the moment I went from mild inflammation and weakness to full-on injury.

I had by this time self-identified the problem in my left foot as plantar fasciitis. All the classic symptoms were there, the pain right under the heel, the sharp, screwdriver-stab when stepping on the foot for the first time each morning. At this point I was about 7 weeks out from my goal Half Marathon in early June. I did not have time to be injured, damn it!

5-4/5: "16 in Blue Hills, all the way into Quincy. Does not get any prettier. Left foot hurt a lot by end, but totally worth it. 8.5 foot surprisingly improved!"  Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

5-11/12: "16, rest. PF is spoiling the pleasure of running, particularly long. I'm going to see if rest fixes it. 6 days mandatory off." This close to my half marathon, this was a miserable decision to make, but I had a desperate hope that I could 'reset' my foot by giving it some time to heal and then come back with minimal loss of conditioning.

5-18: After making it through five days of rest, I wrote: "PF feels better, but not cured. Only minor dull pain in morning w/ rare sharp stabs. Out of patience, back to running." sigh. Rest really did seem to help. It was easy to pretend that I had ameliorated things.

5-21/22/23/24: "7.5 (10x400 in ....) foot hurts again., rest, rest, rest."  No escaping reality now.

on June 2nd I ran the Iron Horse Half Marathon in Simsbury. I had lost a lot of training time due to the PF, and my confidence in having a good day was basically zero. I seriously considered a DNS, but I had DNS'd the same race last year. Come on! I was determined to run, hurt foot or not, and then worry about rehabbing it afterwards. This might not have been the smartest thing, but I'm not sorry I did it--I actually finally had a hot-weather race where I felt reasonably in-control of my own thermoregulation. If I had been totally healthy, I think I probably would have plunged out at suicide pace and blown up in spectacular fashion. Silver linings.

I had by now also made the difficult decision to DNS on what I hoped would be my second appearance at the Highland Sky Ultra. I was majorly bummed about that, but the thought of starting a 40 with a hurt foot (a hurt that gets worse the longer you run on it), was too scary. My only priority after Ironhorse was to rehab my foot.

Part 2: Getting Through the Injury, and Part 3: Recovery, coming soon!