Somewhere in the midst of all the stomach pain was a trip to Scotland to be support crew for Michael and Kenny in their Celtman triathlon (though fortunately for me, and also for Kenny who would have had to put up with me, Liam bailed me out of my pacing duties) and squeezing in a quick climb with Dave.
This is why my JFK training began with three weeks of rest...
With such a large, uninterrupted block of time to train before the race, nearly three and a half months, I was excited to construct the ultimate training plan. I gave myself a solid six weeks of base building with zero speedwork days, then six more weeks with intervals and tempo runs in the mix, then another two weeks to do a final weekend of back-to-back long runs and start easing off for the two weeks before the race. In theory, this was going to be perfect.
In reality, it was almost perfect. It certainly didn't start out perfectly. Halfway through my basebuilding period, I felt awful. My legs were sluggish and my pace for my regular training run heart rate was slower than it had been in about a year. I was also visiting Duluth at this point and struggled with the humidity--and this is coming from summer in Georgia! On one of the days in Duluth I ran with Rasmus at Lester Park and we mixed in a few speed intervals into a ten-mile run. As I wheezed and gasped my way along behind Rasmus, he turned to me and asked, "Do you have asthma??" No, Rasmus, no I don't. Fortunately, being the wise man that he is, he reminded me to trust the training and not to panic and head off to the track for some 800m repeats, which would likely do nothing other than ruin my nicely-planned out basebuilding phase. I repeated this to myself several times over the next few weeks and managed to finish out the phase without abandoning my training plan.
Then, my in-laws came to visit for two weeks. I may or may not owe my mother-in-law a significant amount of credit for how everything quickly turned around for me fitness-wise. My in-laws are Indian and my mother-in-law is not only a great cook but also seems to genuinely enjoy cooking for us when she visits. Virtually everything she cooks is extremely healthy, and since this was at the same time that I started doing twice-weekly speedwork, it turned into an impromptu crash diet. It's hard to say whether the speedwork or the diet had more of an impact, but one day I went for a run on a flat road as a bit of a fitness test--I do this once in a while, run at a heart rate of 150 beats per minute on a flat, straight road and see what pace that gives me. When I'm in shape it's generally around 8:25 minute miles. On this particular day, it was 8:00. I figured it was a GPS malfunction and forgot about it. Two days later I won a trail 10k and felt nice and strong. The day after that, I tried the heart rate/pace test again, this time in a different location. Same result. Hmmm...!
There was one small interruption to my "perfect" training plan after this--the Flagstaff 55k. It was the last race in the US Skyrunning series and since I had done the first race, I felt like I should really give Flagstaff a try to see if I could scrape together a few more series points. The race was entirely at altitude (8,000 to 11,500 feet) and very hilly, so since I had been training on mostly flat-ish ground to get ready for JFK, I had pretty low expectations. And while the results don't show it (my time was super slow because I took forever in the last 5k, even longer than such a hard 5k demanded), the race actually went really well for me. I was running much faster on the flats and downhills than I normally would, all for the same race pace heart rate I would usually use. My new homemade sports drink was working well; my legs felt strong pretty much the whole race and I only threw up once, which by my standards is a 10 out of 10 on stomach quality. And even with the altitude and the lack of hill training I was still mostly passing people on the second-to-last big climb. In that last 5k, though, I was seriously sunburned and overheated and was getting paranoid about heat stroke, so I took it easy and spent lots of time standing in little patches of shade trying to cool down. So while my finish time wasn't very good, I was really excited about having felt so good in the first 50k. I also got to meet some way faster yet friendly new runner friends. And I feel fairly confident that I won't have to worry about heat or sunburn at JFK! For anyone who's interested, Flagstaff was a great course with beautiful views and nice singletrack trail; there's a video summarizing it here.
For added satisfaction, I recovered quickly from Flagstaff, partly through spending four days on the Appalachian Trail with my friend Nick. We were treated to a great show of leaf color, and there's nothing better than doing a totally different type of running to get fully recovered and revived.
After that it was back to JFK work. I had some sections of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia that I wanted to see, and it's only a short hop from Virginia to Maryland, so I managed to get in two long runs on the actual JFK course. These went fairly well although I was somewhat dismayed to learn that the hills on the Appalachian Trail part of the JFK course are nothing to sneeze at, and with a lot of that section being rocky, it's not going to be quite as fast of a 50 miler as I thought it would be. Still, all in all, with 26 miles of towpath and 8.5 miles of road, it's definitely about running fast rather than getting up and down big hills, which is what I wanted.
If the race had been a week ago, it might really have been the perfect training period. But then, the "almost" part of "almost perfect" set in. Two days ago I started having a strange pain in the arch of my right foot. I'm trying to avoid mentioning the possibility of it being the-injury-that-shall-not-be-named, the one that can take months to recover from, but so far that appears to be the most likely culprit. Since JFK is my goal race for the entire season, I'll have no qualms about shutting the pain up with ibuprofen on race day and dealing with the aftermath later, but at the moment even a quadruple dose of vitamin I doesn't sound like enough to do the trick. Fingers crossed. Until then, if you have any thoughts on how to cure the-injury-that-shall-not-be-named in less than 8 days, please let me know...