Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bonk

My plan for running the Hashawha Hills 50k was to enjoy a local race with friends from VHTRC and get in a solid early season training run.  As the race unfolded something more- and in some ways less appealing- actually happened.
For starters, the best news: Gaby won the race as first female.  She also came in 5th overall and lowered the woman’s course record time to 4:45.  Hot damn!  The race course consists of two 15.5 very hilly loops, most of which runs over technical to moderately technical woodland single and double track trails.  Despite the icy conditions on the first loop Gaby managed a steady pace, however by the second loop, when much of the ice turned to mud, she became quite tired (having not officially tapered for the race) yet still managed to run well.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.
My experience on the other hand unfolded a bit differently and left me with questions.  After a brisk first loop running in the lead from the start pretty much in lock step with D.C. area local runner Oliver Leblond I bonked pretty bad right at the beginning of the second loop.  As I made my way up the initial hills during the second loop I momentarily considered DNFing, though in better judgment decided against it, and for the remainder of the race managed damage control to keep myself moving. 
Running the first loop with Oliver was a challenge but we managed to keep each other honest.  I pushed him on the down hills and he kept me in check on the climbs.  I could sense the reserved energy he possessed on the climbs with his graceful hamstring lifting running up the hills.  Each hill I ran up however had me thinking when I would be forced to slow my pace.  Last week’s schedule prior to Saturday’s race day, beginning on Monday, included four purposeful ‘training runs’, five runs altogether, for a total of 50 miles, and thanks to the addition of a lightning fast, 30 hour door-to-door trip from D.C. to Los Angeles and back beginning Tuesday evening I was far from fresh by the time Saturday morning rolled around.  In fact, as Gaby and I pulled away from our D.C. abode at 5:15am en route to Westminster, Maryland, site of the Hashawha Hills 50k, I sipped my coffee and commented how I didn’t feel right in the head- as if I were coming down with something.  Instantly I thought back to my back-to-back germ-infested flights a few days prior; I was paranoid about having caught a bug.
Oliver and I finished the first loop together in 2:01 and after a brief stop at an aid station began the second loop in 2:02.  Moments later he began pulling away and I knew this was the time when my pace was forced to slow.  I felt achy, developed slight a headache and felt slightly nauseous.  Eating and drinking was not a problem but it simply didn’t help me feel better; nor did walking up hills.  I’ve never DNFd a race and I wasn’t about to this time either.  I also figured since a second place finish was all but secure, given the proximity of the closest trailing runner, as long as the wheels didn’t completely fall off then I was content with that.  Oliver went on to finish smartly in a course record setting time of 4:09 and I eventually finished 2nd in 4:24.  His second loop of 2:07 makes for a decent split ratio though he commented after the race that he likely would have run the first loop slower if it were not for me pushing the pace.
As a result of the race and of feeling sick the night and day after (maybe I came down with something after all?) my question is this: is it wise to train through a race?  I am talking about a long race like a 50k, not a 5k or 10k.  My focus race for the first half of 2011 is the Massanutten Mountain 100 in May.  Everything up until then is centered on having fun and will be designed to prepare me for that race.  Last week my training runs consisted of base building prep work for Massanutten and running the Hashawha Hills 50k was incorporated efficiently as a component of said training.  The 50k distance is certainly no walk in the park and to reach one’s potential in that distance a taper is an obvious must.  I had the opposite of a taper.  The problem with training through a race is that once the race begins, instead of following through with the initial plan of getting in that training run, my thoughts change to actually wanting to give the race a go.  And instead of competing, because I am tired, I end up suffering.  Is it worth it?  Is it worth only showing up to a race if you’re fresh so you can do just that, and race?  There is likely no right or wrong answer to this question and I imagine there are many schools of thought on the topic.  It does have me thinking about future races however and whether or not I would like to go into an event tired or not and therefore not able to compete, or at least reach my potential.  I’ve done so much of that in the past year and it would be nice to actually train and taper properly for a race, give it my all, and not suffer the emotional distress afterwards knowing that I didn’t prepare properly and, as a result, didn’t perform to my potential (much less suffer).
The tail end of this post may seem negative or a bit narcissistic.  That is my intent.  One of the primary things I like about running is that it is a constant journey of self-discovery.  Every run provides a lesson and an experience. One of the fun byproducts of running for me is measuring improvement.  After all, isn’t that part of being human?  Wanting to be a better person?  Running is no different.  My point is that if race results are in some respects a measurement of improvement for a runner then trying to run well and come away with fast times at each race should be considered important.  For the past few years that I’ve trained and participated in endurance sports, more recently in ultra running, the cumulative annual experiences have all been different.  I am proud to proclaim that each year the experiences have gotten better and better but as time has shifted so has my goal line.  If the goals change the training must adapt and so should the race schedule.  I doubt I’ll make any changes to my schedule this year since I’m already ecstatic about the adventures yet to come but I still plan to let the lessons from the Hashawha Hills 50k soak in and, hopefully, eventually, they’ll make me a better person and a better runner.

On to a rosier topic, the race itself is a good time and I recommend it.  Click here to see why.

8 comments:

  1. Great race Neal! It was nice meeting you. And yes, thanks for pushing the pace in the first half. It was very tough to follow you but in the end, it was well worth it.

    Good luck with your next races!

    Olivier

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  2. Olivier- Hope to see you on the trails again soon. I will keep an eye out for you at the Nation's marathon in a few weeks. I will be spectating the race two block from my house. For electrolytes I use s-caps. http://www.succeedscaps.com/main_scaps.html
    Highly effective, cheap and a great family business.

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  3. Good race report. Always enjoy them! Sorry you had a rough time. It's definitely tough to so enjoy running, have fun running / racing, then suffer through injuries, 'bad runs', 'bonking', not meeting race / training goals. I've been there. I have friends who are there currently. What I've learned is: It is really hard to have such good runs / races, and then have to back off b/c of injuries, fatigue, burnout, etc. It is then that I try to focus on just enjoying the running / racing, understand that I just won't p.r. at that time. I try to be appreciative of the fact that I can run, even though it may not be to my perceived true potential at that moment in time. It's taken me a while to 'come back' after my injuries / burnout / life circumstances. But, I'm enjoying the journey back. It is really really difficult to expect a p.r. or 'perfect race' every time you toe the line. Actually, it's easy to 'expect' it, it's difficult when it doesn't happen.

    And, many many congrats to Gaby! And, to you... 2nd place after such a tough race is stellar!

    Joan

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  4. Joan,
    I think I know what you mean. Because you love it so much it's hard when it's taken away. I work pretty hard to make sure running is never taken away. I've learned how to do that for the most part over the past few years, I think, even throughs injuries and I will always continue fighting to protect it. Injuires are a threat to running. Period. And should be treated as such. Burnout is something different. Regarding burnout, for me running is an outlet for burnout in other aspects of life. But I think I know what you mean there, too. Always look forward to your feedback!

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  5. Regarding the taper- take a look at Nick Clark last year pre-WS http://irunmountains.blogspot.com/2010/06/week-ending-june-6-ws-3-weeks.html

    So he hardly tapered for any races, and it got him a great finish at WS. If you have a big enough race to peak for, don't taper for early races. Or, at most, I sometimes do a 3 day mini-taper (i.e. 40 miles M-T, 15-20 miles total W-F, race Sat).

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  6. Jon,
    No wonder Nick had such a great year! What a huge, consistent build up. I am a believer in consistency as well and using that as my main driver for the first half of this year. I think you are in fact correct about not tapering for shorter races if a bigger race looming on the horizon is the main goal. It just forces the 'aw shucks, coulda done better' mentality. Of which I need to get over. "That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride!" Or at least Marsellus Wallace says so in Pulp Fiction. Anyway, I think I definitely came down with something mid race on Saturday and it forced my bonk. My head is still foggy.

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  7. Big congrats to Gabby and you. It's awesome that she's been able to work past her injury and put in such a solid performance. Hopefully it spells an awesome 2011. And it seems like Hashawha shows your injury issues are overcome too? Rebbecca and I were thrilled to read about your performances.

    I've definitely been there before - wondering what I could have "really" done in a "warm-up" race, but I guess we pick our battles. I expect to go through similar emotions with Potawatomi Trail next month, but I try to stay focused by reading about, thinking about, and planning for Massanutten every single day.

    Speaking of every single day,I hope your 2011 training streak is a sign of good health and training progress and doesn't set you up for overtraining. I fear that flu of yours might have been trying to tell you something.

    But I may be biased because I'm on a Maffetone kick. I've been using his methods for training this year and feel great although I still have some leftover trigger points in my hamstring from some pointless anaerobic work I did at the end of last year. I'm thinking about "dry needling" to try to get it feeling good by May 14th.

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  8. Ooh, this is timely! I am about to "train through" Shamrock marathon in prep for Capon Valley 50K, and have been trying to tell myself "this is a training run" but I have secret plans to race it and so have given myself a little one-week taper. Now of course rather than it being a training run it has become a race and I am having pre-race jitters...for a training run. Darn.
    Love your reports!
    Alison

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