Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Eiger Ultra Trail 51km race report

Thursday of race week: 

Really, Alicia?  Months and months of training, careful shoe and gear selection, lots of course studying, and then you forget to bring your race food to Switzerland?  Not a great start.  Fortunately I was saved by an East Asian market selling sticky rice flour.  Big cheer for globalization!

With the crisis averted, Divesh and I took the tourist train up to Schynige Platte to scope out support zone location and do some sightseeing.  Quality relaxation time!

Friday of race week:

The weather forecast has been confident all week that it will be raining and/or thunderstorming all day on Saturday.  Eeep.

Saturday, race day:

It's intensely sunny and in the high 80s.  *Slight* difference to the prediction!  The race started off with about a mile uphill on the road.  My stretch goal had been to try to win, but when I saw another girl take off up the road at about 6:30 pace whilst looking like she was going for a casual jog, I realized it would be suicide to follow, so I stayed back and did my own thing.

The first climb is not too steep and it's on very non-technical terrain, so you end up on the undulating section above Grosse Scheidegg (8km) relatively quickly.  Shortly thereafter, I ran into a roadblock:  cows.  There was a mother cow blocking most of the left side of the trail, a calf blocking most of the right, and not much room to go around on either side.  I stood around, considering my options and losing time rapidly, until I was saved by two friendly guys who told me to follow them.  "He's an animal doctor!" one of them announced, pointing to the other one.  It was an ideal little train to get behind, since we soon passed through several more cow sections and these guys definitely had their cow-dispersal technique mastered.

This whole section was very runnable and absolutely gorgeous.

The main issue here though was that starting around 14km, we were catching up to the 100k runners and had to overtake maybe half of the 800-person field.  This wasn't so bad while we were on the easy wide trails, but around 18km we got onto narrow singletrack that would continue for most of the rest of the race.  The options for overtaking were either to lose loads of time waiting for a wide spot in the trail or to leap around the 100k'ers on the rocky edges of the trail.  I started off with the latter but after several close calls with my bad ankle, I ended up going more and more for the former.  It was demoralizing though, and I fought with myself (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep the negative thoughts from forming.  I settled on the strategy of giving myself the goal of saying "good job" to each of the 100k people that I passed, but given the altitude and my effort level, I think all I really said to them was "ggghhhhhh."

We passed the summit of the Faulhorn, with absolutely amazing views, and went down a much more technical way than we had come up.  There were two spots for glissading, though!!

From about kilometer 30 on, the race became really only about heat survival.  It was SO hot.  I don't think I thought about anything other than how thirsty I was for maybe 15 kilometers.  I ran by Divesh at 35k and got my sports drink refill, which did provide a bit of an energy boost, but shortly after this the trail went into the woods and turned into a steep, technical, and tree rooty affair.  The trees were trapping the humidity and it was like being stuck in the jungle.  Back to thinking only about how thirsty I was...

With 6km to go, we finally reached the valley floor and started the easy section back to Grindelwald.  This part is a very gradually uphill combination of bike path and road, so my main goal for the race was to put in a solid effort here, and I mostly achieved that.  I passed three naked men (not runners!), stuck my head in a cow trough of cold water, and tried to decide if I had heat stroke.  Just your average day at an ultra, basically.

The little mini vertical wall that you have to climb up to get to Grindelwald was especially brutal in the midday sun, but once that was done, it was just a fun downhill 400 meters to the finish.  I ended up in 2nd place, about 20 minutes slower than I was hoping to go, but the descent sections had been much more technical than I was expecting, and the heat had a definite impact.  It's a beautiful area and I would come back for sure, but for avoidance of traffic jam stress, I think the 100k, not the 50k, is the race to do here!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Coastal Trail Series Sussex 55km race report

After every race I make myself notes of what went well and what I should have done differently. Sometimes the should-have-done-differentlys are on the ridiculous side ("don't, on a whim, triple the amount of coffee in your sports drink") and sometimes they're more substantial ("I needed more hill training for this course"). After the Coastal Trail Series Sussex 55km, I am, for the first time, completely at a loss for what I could write in the errors section of the notes. I've spent the better part of the plane ride home thinking about it and the best I could come up with is that I should have taken only half a water bottle instead of a full one at mile 15, since it was only three miles from there to my next support stop. Not exactly a disastrous mistake!!

prerace sightseeing along the course

Most of my prerace concerns had to do with weather. The race is over exposed ground right on the coastal cliffs, and it was supposed to be around 30mph winds with gusts up to 50mph. It was freezing cold at packet pickup just before the race start. The guy manning the t-shirt desk wordlessly handed me a size medium. When I asked for a small instead, he gave me an incredulous look and asked if I had seen what the small size was like. I was confused for a second, then realized I was wearing 8 layers of clothing and was not looking particularly small at that moment.

Actually I guess I spent most of the prerace period looking ridiculous. While every other runner wandered around stretching and jogging and generally looking professional and prepared, I was the one wearing overly short pink children's sweatpants and scraping hard caked mud out of my shoe treads with a hotel room key card. One day I will nail the not-looking-ridiculous part of racing, but that day was not yesterday.

After the world's longest briefing, we finally started running. The first section of the race is straight into the wind, over the Seven Sisters hills on the coast. It's beautiful but it was like trying to run into a giant hair dryer--there were a lot of runners chasing after lost hats! Fortunately I had been out here for a training run so I knew what I was in for. I took it pretty easy on this section, then sped up to race effort after 5km when we turned inland and briefly got a bit of shelter. And the reward for surviving each headwind section was an amazing tailwind section, or at least amazing until a sudden tailwind gust nearly blew me off a cliff.

we ran past the Long Man.  it was very long.

People were friendly at this race, and getting to talk to a few people made the first third go by quickly. Divesh, my support crew extraordinare, met me at several places for water bottle exchanges, and never being far from one of those also made the miles fly by. I also had a nice half mile or so with Alice, who won the accompanying half marathon.

My first 25 miles were basically spent in suspense, wondering if and when I was going to hit a wall or bonk or possibly go insane from the uncomfortably loud roaring of the wind in my ears. But by mile 25, none of those things had happened. I felt oddly... good. Like really good. I was running up hills I would have thought I would have had to walk. I never got nauseated. The math changed from wondering if I had a shot at the course record to knowing that, absent some sudden injury, I was going to get it by a decent margin. 

And that was it really! Nothing dramatic to report, just a nice steady race with possibly my most even splits ever. I feel like a completely different runner from my pre-injury year.  So what's different than in the past? First, I've sorted out better training through coaching from David Roche. Second, I've put in hundreds of hours of nutrition research and have finally reached what seems like the right answers. Conclusion: it's definitely still possible to get faster when you're old and missing foot parts! 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Peroneal tendon surgery part 3: the end?

I keep waiting for some sort of obvious "finish line" to signify that it's time to write a final wrap-up of the outcome of my injury and surgery.  But since I don't have a good idea of what that finish line would look like--running a race?  not thinking about how much my foot hurts every time I walk anywhere?--I decided that the triple achievement this week of wearing normal running shoes instead of hiking boots for a run, finishing a hard race, and filling out a weekly training log that wouldn't be too out of place in my pre-injury training would be good enough.

Sometime in June I got completely fed up with my situation and was saying to a friend that it had gotten to the point where it felt like I would never get back to normal running.  He replied with the excellent point that it might well not ever go back to normal, but that it might not be better or worse, just different.  And this is exactly what I've found.  Unless I get a revision surgery (more on that below), my ankle is always going to be weak.  This is just what happens when you're missing a major ankle tendon--you can only train the surrounding muscles so much, and you can't train something that's not there.  I may never be fast on technical ground.  I may have to wear my heavy, uncomfortable hiking boots in races for the foreseeable future.  I may be even more pathetic than I was pre-injury on steep downhills, even though my pre-injury standard is a standard that's difficult to fall below!

But...I may have been forced into a decision about what types of races to focus on, which might make me faster in those races eventually.  Since I can't run downhill very well yet, I've started running some uphill vertical races, which I'm not totally sold on yet but may grow into liking.  I am becoming more efficient about making my mileage count, because I can only do a fairly limited amount of miles.  And possibly most importantly, I discovered that there's nothing like being unable to run for six months to teach you exactly what kind of running you missed the most, which is very useful for deciding what type of running to do when you are finally able again!

So, it's different.  If I could choose, I would opt to have not lost a foot tendon, along with vast sums of money spent on medical care, not to mention six months of my life.  And it certainly grates on my mental well-being every time I think about how the outcome could have been improved had I not picked such a lazy and/or money-hungry surgeon.  But given that this is the situation that exists, it's not all bad by any means, just different. 

It's not yet clear whether this is the end of the saga or not.  When I saw surgeon #2 in March, he was somewhat appalled at what surgeon #1 did ("Why did he do that?!" was the exact reaction, which definitely made my heart sink a bit...) but he wasn't particularly positive on the idea of a second operation to try to repair the damage.  His thought was that he might be able to fix what surgeon #1 did by creating a new peroneus brevis out of my FHL tendon, but he felt there was a good chance I could come out of a second operation in even worse shape than I'm in now.  His advice was to only get the second operation done if I were very unhappy with my running ability after 9-12 months of rehab.  This was exactly the same advice I got from another good foot surgeon via email, so it's promising having the two opinions coincide.  I'm currently at 7 months post-op, and given the massive progress my foot has been making the past few weeks, I think it's unlikely I'll go for the second operation, unless running in the mountains proves to be too much for the current repair and it fails.

I'm never one for the whole "just be optimistic" outlook--you don't build new tendons out of optimism.  But I do have to mention one of the big positives that came out of this injury, and that is the people who were a part of my recovery.  That started right from day 1, when two now-friends who I had only known for 12 hours came to rescue me from the hospital on a cold winter night, followed shortly by Divesh rescuing me from my hotel room of doom. Then there was all the help and support from friends and family while I was on crutches, and finally there were the new people I met because of the injury, such as my injury twin Diana, and Jordi, the world's best physical therapist, who is a rehab expert and all-around excellent person rolled into one.  If there is at all a good part of being injured, this is it.

And now?  I've made a list of all of the things I missed out on while injured, and I'm going to be making my way through it over the coming months.  And if all goes really well...I'm entered in the 110km Ultra Pirineu for September 29.  Even 40km is currently a very long way for me, so I'll have to see what my ankle says about the idea of 110km in only a month's time, but if it's possible, I'll be there!