2015 Race and training re-cap
I technically still have a few races left this season – the Mount Desert Island Marathon next weekend that I get to run with Jerome because it’s his first ever marathon(!), and the Downeast Double Trouble trail series that I’ll run with my girls at the end of the month. But mostly this season is winding down and it’s been a really good one. You might recall I suffered from plantar fasciitis for most of 2014 – and then it mysteriously healed during my full Ironman race last September. Well I am glad to report that I’ve only had the slightest twinges of achilles pain since then.
Pain-free, I had one of my best xc ski seasons ever, and finished it by winning the women’s 40k Maine Huts and Trail’s race. I also got really strong at skate skiing and was able to skate 12-15 miles at a time around Acadia’s (perfectly groomed) carriage roads. Skate skiing seems to be great physical therapy for me because it helps me strengthen my external hip rotators. I think the peril for runners who skate ski is that it can aggravate and tighten the tibialis anterior muscles along the front of the shin which can definitely be a precipitating factor in plantar fasciitis. This is a good example of why its important to know the cause of your chronic injury – one athlete’s medicine could be another’s poison.
My first long run of 2015 was a huge success, I finished the Antelpe Canyon 55k feeling like I could easily continue another 15 miles and even though it was a slow run with lots of deep sand, I finished in the top third. The race was a great ending to a great family vacation.
I went from that into a few more ski races followed by a couple rest weeks and then straight into a 15 week Ironman training plan. This put me in great shape Memorial Day weekend when I ran the Pineland Trails 50k 45 minutes faster than I did two years ago. Two weeks later I ran 34 miles at the Great Cranberry Island “Great Run”. One of the great things about the Great Run is that it’s a whole bunch of running back and forth on a small island so you end up passing everyone a couple dozen times and by the end you kind of feel like one big happy running family. Seeing Mike Westpahl run past me every half hour was awesomely inspiring, if you haven’t yet watched this video of his incredible run that day, please do. It was also amazing to watch the women’s champion Leah Frost run with such impeccable form right to the very end. I keep an image of her perfect kick in my head when I’m running now and I swear it’s making me faster. (Thanks Leah!) I also had a lot of fun dancing to the music at the end of each lap.
The weekend after the Great Run I headed to South Berwick, ME for the Sea to Summit sort-of-ironman. The night before the race I slept at the start line in my brother’s sedan. I do not recommend this pre-race strategy. Anyway, soon enough I was wading into the murky waters of a tidal river starting the weirdest triathlon swim ever. We ran through mud for a a big chunk of the swim on the way out and then dodged some pretty nasty slabs of slate on the way in. The 100 mile bike ride up to Mt. Washington was nice. I flip-flopped with a fellow female rider which kept me motivated and focussed during the five and a half hour ride and especially up that last mountain climb to Wild Cat ski area where the run up Mt. Washington starts from. I crushed the run/hike up the Lion’s Head trail and though I was hoping to make it up in under two hours I was happy with 2:20. I’m positive I could do under two on fresh legs.
My next race was the Norway Sprint triathlon. Having not learned my lesson I slept in the car the night before the race again. I’ve slept in my car before races for the last 20 years, but I had forgotten why I borrowed my brother’s car the month before – which was because the backseat of my car is broken and doesn’t fold down anymore. Sleep is a generous term for hanging out in a sleeping bag in the front seat of your car waiting for sunrise.
The race went well despite the sleep deprivation. Once again I had a good female competitor in the bike ride and we averaged over 19mph going up and down the hill together. I do have a new bike this season and I absolutely love it but in triathlon world it is still an aluminum clunker and the fact that I can beat a super aero carbon bike is infuriating to high-tech riders. Thus even though I beat my competitor back to the transition she was very relieved when she passed me on the run. We ended up first and second in our age group, and I’m glad she beat me or she might have beat me up!
After Norway my summer was filled with glorious long runs and bike rides. I discovered the Graham Lake loop north of Ellsworth freshly paved and about as scenic as Maine gets. I ran some great mountain loops around Acadia in preparation for the Vermont 50. I hiked Katahdin several times in search of elevation and had my 9 year old daughter join me on one trip. My family also joined me in hiking several sections of the Maine Appalachian Trail which was great fun. I remained injury-free except for some mysterious and sudden low back pain that my amazing chiropractor was able to cure with just one visit. Thus I landed at the start of my last two big races in great shape.
This year my cousin and I opted for the Pumpkinman half ironman in place of the Lobsterman Olympic length race that we’ve done for the past six years. It was a little sad to miss the Lobsterman which was once again blessed with perfect late summer weather. Instead we arrived at the start of the Pumpkinman the following day in a cold gray drizzle. But I thrive in cold wet conditions, partly because I have to bike really hard to stay warm. I averaged 20mph on the 58 mile course and ran the 13.1 miles in 2 hours – my best time in nearly two decades!
Two weeks later I headed to Vermont for what I hoped would be my reward for a great, injury-free, rest-filled, well-nourished training season. I did not sleep in my car the night before even though this fall I finally traded in my decrepit old honda for a Mazda5 with excellent seat-folding capacity (a pre-requisite for any car I own.) I did however sleep in my tent at the start line. I love it when race directors provide start-line camping, it makes everything so much more relaxed. I rolled out of my tent at 5:30, made tea and toast and strolled down the hill for a 6:30 start. Alas, I quickly realized I’d made a fatal error. I was wearing shorts I’d never run in before and suddenly they were giving me a huge wedgie. Panicked, I ran back up to my car, switched out the offending new shorts for my old standbys and sprinted back down the hill to the start line with a minute to spare. Nothing like a little pre-race warm up!
The Vermont 50 was an almost perfect race for me. I still have a hard time focussing on speed on more technical terrain (tight switch backs, rocks and roots) and this is particularly true on longer races when I’m more apt to be alone on the trail. I can practically slow to a walk without even realizing it – I guess I’m still a thru hiker at heart. The other thing that really slowed me down in this particular race was that I had to mess around way too much at the aid stations. I thought I had it all figured out but what happened is this: I had made a cute little laminated card with my projected pace on it that would double as a funnel for pouring Tailwind drink mix into the inconveniently small mouth of my platypus water bottle. This plan worked perfectly until I misplaced the card/funnel at an aid station. I even ran back a few hundred feet to check the aid station trash but gave up in the end, truly confounded about its disappearance (two days later it was discovered in the top pocket of my vest).
The consequence was that at the next three aid stations I had to find some kind of something to roll into a funnel. The volunteers tried to help by ripping up cardboard coke boxes and creatively folding tissues. After a final and impossibly frustrating attempt to get Tailwind into my water bottle I headed out of the second to last aid station on a seven mile section that has been really hard for me the last two years. This year I made sure to bring an extra quart of Tailwind so I wouldn’t crash two thirds of the way through. But then about a mile out I pulled my water bottle hose toward my mouth to take a drink and all of a sudden I felt water pouring down my back. I quickly tore my pack off, flipped it upside down and rescued the remaining quart of Tailwind. It took me some time to get the water bottle hose reattached and there was nothing I could do about my soaking wet, sticky shirt and shorts. Fortunately it was cool enough that a single quart was sufficient to get me through the rest of that section.
The last part of the VT50 a real highlight. I had been passing back and forth with three guys for the last 20 miles and I ended up pacing them the final three miles. This can be a rough section because you basically climb up Mt.Ascutney and run down the ski trail to the lodge to the finish. Most people walk a good chunk of the uphill and often can’t run the downhill because their quads are shot. But I felt strong enough to run the whole thing and the guys refused to pass me, which of course made me run even faster. By the time we got to the final zig-zag downhill I felt awesome! My quads were strong and I was able to really fly down to the finish. Or at least that’s how it felt. The guys all high-fived me at the finish and I though to myself “maybe I really am a runner!”
I had very little soreness the following days and the hardest part of recovering was forcing myself not to run despite feeling “rested”. I know myself and I know that I probably need way more rest than I feel like I need. In the past I haven’t taken that rest and I’m sure that has contributed to my plantar fasciitis and hip arthritis. So I’ve been running easy the last week or so, no more than 6 miles at a time, nice and slow. I feel a little nagging in my heels and achilles and I hope I can get some good myofascial work soon to help break up the adhesions I feel building up in my calves. Incidentally, I’ve learned that stretching does nothing for this issue and strength work while still recovering might be a really bad idea. I’ve also learned that while Tailwind is awesome for preventing stomach issues and keeping my muscles fueled on long runs, I need to recover my gut as quickly as possible afterwards. This means lots of probiotics, fermented vegetables (my favorite is ginger kohlrabi) and as little starch as possible.
Overall it’s been a great season testing out some new training ideas: more intuitive training, less by-the-book schedules, way more strength work, more rest days, more sleep, and little or no food on long runs (just Tailwind). I’m looking forward to another winter of strength and coordination (I love Annie Grindal’s class at the Blue Hill Y!), more slush running and skate skiing. I’m thinking a few 50 mile trail races next season (Antelope Canyon, Cayuga Trail and VT50) and maybe a full Ironman . . . Mt. Tremblant? I hear Ironmen are cheaper in Canadian dollars . . . If any one knows of a good parking lot in Montreal, let me know.