Friday, July 24, 2015

How I discovered that a DNS is worse than a DNF - TRT 50 Mile Race Report 7-18-15

Every ultra is different for even the most experienced of ultrarunners. The Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile race was no exception for me. It was like no other in my experience. If you are interested in just the race day report you can skip down to that section. But the lessons I learned that day were more about what occurred the month before and the decisions I made about my training approach in the final weeks before the race and during the race itself. I had never arrived at the starting line this way before. This ultra would be different. And so this is a story about starting a race with little confidence that I would finish knowing that the experience would be about getting to the starting line and discovering what I would learn as I ran.

Pre-race Drama
It was the end of April and the only race I had run this season was the challenging Escape from Prison Hill Half Marathon in Carson City. Usually, by this late in April I had run two ultras and had a solid training foundation, but I chose a different training plan for the early spring that didn't include racing. I knew that I would need to bank serious miles in May and June to make up for the base that I didn’t create well enough in March and April. And so I did: modest weekly miles, but with big back to backs - every week.  No usual 10 to 14 day recovery. Instead, only 6 to 8 days of easy running between back to backs. I had paved the road to over reaching my training and risking injury.

Fast Forward to Late June
A long easy run on the TRT left me feeling unusually tired. I had felt pain in my left calf and soreness in my heel when I stood up out of bed in the mornings leading up to this run. Suddenly, the heel pain was so sharp that I winced. I’d been stiff in the morning with soreness, but never like this. I would groan as I limped to the bathroom. Massive trigger points throughout my left soleus and gastroc muscles were the culprit. Foam rolling left me gritting my teeth.
I cut my mileage to nearly a third of what I had been doing the last week in June and continued to foam roll, use ice and cold water soaks, and use trigger point therapy. (see "Recovering from AR50M - Trigger Point Therapy") I had one friend who found trigger points at the head of my gastroc and soleus that sent me through the ceiling! The pain was incredibly stubborn and all I could do was rest and wait for healing.

No Running the First Week in July
A planned back packing trip over Kearsarge Pass out of Independence, CA occupied the first week of July. A group of us packed food in for our friends hiking the John Muir Trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Mt. Whitney Portal (over Whitney summit). Sherpas with an extra 10 to 15 pounds of food in our already heavy packs we labored up Kearsarge Pass – I had about 55 pounds on my back.
We hiked about 30 miles that week and had a nice run during a day hike up Glenn Pass. My foot hurt a little the first day up the pass, but was ok as the week went on.
Hiking up Kearsarge Pass 6-29-15 with
Jason and Rick. Photo by Shannon Hataway

Tapering Continues with a Race on the Fourth of July
We hiked out of the beautiful Kearsarge Lake region on July 3. The next morning, I ran Angel’s Ponderosa Ridge Run which is an old fashioned race that starts at Spooner Summit and finishes 9.5 miles later at the Kingsbury North trail head. It’s mostly uphill and I knew it would be a test for my leg. I finished the fastest I'd ever done the course with minimal pain in my heel and calf at the end. But it was only a two hour race and I knew that this was only a small test.   
The next two weeks consisted of short runs no longer than 2 hours. I began to realize that the only way I could even consider starting the race was to make sure I had no pain and rested as much as possible. I thought about downgrading to the 55K, but just couldn’t believe that my risk for not finishing 50 miles was that bad. And I had never been in this circumstance before. What did I know? My ego told me to start 50 Miles.

Another week went by and the race was only a week away. The trigger points in my leg began to subside and it was easier to loosen up so I could walk without pain in my heel. I was hopeful that I could attempt 50 miles. Instead of thinking I wouldn't start at all I thought I would start and see how far I could get.
Could I put my ego aside and stop if I began to have pain? Or would I tough it out and finish anyway risking an injury, but not wanting to be a “wimp”? I decided to start the race and pay attention to how the leg was doing.

I found this on FB 3 days before the race. Thanks David Stretanski for posting.
Yes, I thought, I think I could be at peace with however this race turns out.
Race Morning and the Questions Go On
I awoke at 3:30 am after tossing for 3 hours. I think I slept maybe 4 hours total that night. I kept dreaming about the different sections of the course. I know the trail very well. I would visualize a section as I lay there half asleep and realize how difficult it would be if I were in pain. Was I crazy to think that I could run 50 miles today?
I was calm at breakfast with my usual coffee with heavy cream, a scrambled egg, toast with coconut oil and some instant oatmeal.
My dad drove me to the start. I breathed slowly through my nose to calm my nerves. Was I trained enough? (So who doesn't ask that question before a race?)
My husband Dave, said he would pace me the last 20 miles. I told him I’d be surprised if I’d make it that far. At the same time I couldn’t believe I was starting a 50 mile race knowing I might quit at 30 miles, or even 12! How could I think that? Of course I could and would finish. This would be at least my 10th 50 mile start. But maybe I wouldn't finish. What if the pain came and I didn’t want to stop running? Would I? Would I let my ego take over and pride keep me going despite the risk of serious injury? Or would I be smart and graciously exit a race I thought I would easily complete a year ago when I signed up.

The day before the race, published a blog about “The Disappointment Muscle” written by AJ Wilkins. I recalled its main message as AJ related in an article he read: “A psychologist friend of mine has spoken about this ‘muscle’ and suggests that too many of us have poorly developed disappointment muscles as a result of too many years of being shielded and protected from adversity in an attempt to stay happy and content. …. we must be aware that our kids need disappointment and adversity in order to find ultimate success.” Light bulb: My disappointment in not finishing could ultimately be my success. I was determined to make my experience be a positive one that would continue to build the foundation that I would need to run and race for a very long time to come. I would learn much from starting a race I was not likely to finish.

The Race
Sorry to take so long to get here, but this is the short part of this report!
Quite simply, I arrived at the start of the race undertrained, but pain free. I was rested, but I could feel in my body the lack of long runs in the past 4 weeks.
My strategy was to start much slower than I ever have for this race and allow the legs to loosen and warm up. It took a lot of patience to climb to Marlette Lake walk / running and holding back.
Running in to Tunnel Creek around 12 miles, my leg felt good and I knew I would tackle the Red House loop. I was fueling well and despite the undertrained feeling I felt strong and able to tackle whatever distance my leg would let me.
A conservative run down the long steep Red House loop hill was also part of the plan. It paid off as I easily ran the gradual climb to the Red House. I pulled a long train of runners through the flats after the climb out of Red House and felt strong climbing back up to the Tunnel Creek Aid Station. The sun began to come out after an unusually cloudy and cool morning and I could feel the first warmth of the day.
The trail up to Marlette Peak, about mile 10, with Ken behind me.
Photo by Sharon Fong
Back up to Tunnel Creek, and about 18 miles, I felt strong, but my heel was beginning to feel the pull from the tightening Achilles/Soleus that had been stretched on all the climbs. The hills were taking their toll and it was as I had expected. I was pretty sure that I was not going to last the whole 50 miles.

I took my time in the Tunnel Creek Aid station chatting with friends and volunteers and coming to grips with the fact that I would probably just make it to Diamond and 30 miles where I would drop. I left the AS with a slight limp having stood and not moved so that the left leg had stiffened. I began a slow jog about a half mile down the trail letting my crew and friends know how I was doing by phone.  I ran with Ken as we headed up the trail to Diamond Peak. It would be his first 50 miler and he was running strong mentally and physically. His joy at running his first 50 kept me motivated and positive. He has been my student of ChiRunning for several years and I was very proud to see him be successful in his first big ultra.

The descent down the Tirol to Diamond Peak was enjoyable. I ran the first part with Ken, but then left him as he slowed to deal with a sore ITB. My heel was hurting despite the two ibuprofen I took and I knew my race was over. Despite my certainty that I should drop I still fantasized that I could finish the 50 miles. I considered several times that I would continue as I cruised through the technical Tirol turns. My fueling and hydration had been good and I knew that if my heel and calf hadn't been a problem I could finish. My mind went back and forth between the decision to stop or continue; acceptance of what was so to hoping for how I thought it should be. 

I arrived at Diamond Peak with little fanfare. No one was there waiting for me but thankfully I knew the volunteers and some runners and crew. I was glad to be done, disappointed to drop, and grateful that I had the experience and wisdom to know it was the right decision.

Lessons learned:
  • I made a race plan and followed it. The slow start and conservative downhill run in to the Red House loop allowed me to have a nice 30 mile training run.
  • Although I didn’t mention it in my report, my ChiRunning skills served me well in keeping my lower legs relaxed and keeping impact to a minimum. I only took ibuprofen to take the edge off the pain once it was there. I paid close attention to how and when the pain was developing so I could mindfully cope with it by focusing on technique.
  • Anticipating an outcome that was less than ideal allowed me to accept it in peace when it occurred.
  • My pride was not bruised. Instead I was proud of myself for listening to my body and making the right decision to stop.
  • I’m so glad that I started the race. If I had not started, I never would have known how my leg would feel, how I would behave and react psychologically, and what actions I would take. I would not have learned that a DNS can be worse than a DNF.
Follow up

As I write this 6 days later, my leg is doing well. My right quad was sore the next day possibly compensating for the left leg, but that was all. I have had nice easy runs this week and my leg is continuing to recover, the pain lessening. I’ve decided not to pursue a 100 miler this year, but may do either Firetrails 50M or Javelina 100K. We’ll see. Whatever I decide it will be what is supposed to be next! And that has left me in peace. 

Peacin out on our boat the next day