Tuesday, May 21, 2019

McDonald Forest 50K

A couple weeks ago I ran the McDonald Forest 50k for my 6th time.  I hadn't run the race since 2015, so I was excited to get back out there and see how fast I could go.  My training this spring was decent, but I did very few fast efforts or long runs because of a lingering shin injury.  Regardless, I still had high hopes for race day.

The race started out on an easy road climb and right away I noticed my shin.  Actually it was the lack of pain I noticed.  As we all cruised up the road, I kept waiting to feel something in my shin but it never came.  Honestly it was kind of weird not to have any pain because on every other run this year my shin was bothersome to various degrees.
Mile 1
Photo: Patrick Means
Just over a mile in we turned right down a gravel trail and I jumped in front.  I'm typically a good downhill runner so I wanted to be able to cruise down this initial downhill without having anyone in my way.  However, I still wasn't convinced that my shin would be one hundred percent so I took the first few steps on the descent a little easy because downhill usually is more bothersome for my shin.

Rounding the first bend in the trail I knew my shin was good to go!  With no pain on my mind it felt like I was floating down the trail.  I still can't get over how smooth and effortless the descent was.  My legs felt sharp, I was quickly pulling away from everyone else...it was going to be my day!

After the initial downhill, there some rolling trails, roads, and then a descent climb.  I kept moving well through this section focusing on running easy and not giving too much of an effort early on.  I made sure to drink a bit as the day was going to be hot, but mostly I was just pumped to be feeling healthy and fast.

As we reached the next section of trail a couple other runners started to catch up but I soon pulled away again as the trail began to descend.  Not that I was really concerned about other runners this early on.  I was aiming for the race to feel easy as long a possible and then push hard at the finish.

A few more miles of gentle single track brought us to a mile long downhill leading into the first aid station.  As I floated along on this downhill I started to noticed the outside of my quads down near my knees were a little stiff.  Kind of weird, maybe my IT bands were a little tight or something...I figured that was something I should take care of after the race, but no worries now.

I quickly passed through the saddle, aid station 1, at mile 9.7 and started the short but steep climb up Ridge trail.  I ran it all, but did my best to keep holding back.  I was so ready to get rolling, but I knew I should hold back for a while longer.

After a short section of road we hit one of the longer downhills on the course were I began the fast descent down a wide gravel trail.  I was ready to open it up but I could really start to feel my quads now.  I guess that wasn't just some minor issue a couple miles earlier, my quads were already getting beat up.

This was certainly a little demoralizing, but I tried to maintain a solid pace on the downhill.  Maybe I could just run the uphills a little harder and save my downhill legs for the final descents.

I reached the bottom of the downhill and began the climb up to Dimple Hill.  The initial uphill felt a bit tougher than I hoped and seeing the mile 12.7 sign was not too encouraging.  Barely 1/3 in and my legs are already trashed.  I tried my best to push on the climb up to Dimple Hill, but the downhill pounding had taken a little bit of spring out of my legs are I was really struggling to get moving.

About halfway up I stopped trying to move faster and just settled into a steady effort.  I figured that maybe I'd feel stronger later or that the different terrain later in the race would suit me better.

As I crested Dimple Hill I stopped to fill my water bottle at the aid station.  Meanwhile Lindon Powell blew right past the aid station and took the lead.  I left the aid station just a few second back from him and now was trying to chase him down.

Mile 15 or so, with Lindon up ahead
Photo: Patrick Means
I didn't want to work too hard to catch up since I knew the next few miles of the course were a bit flatter which doesn't suit me as well.  Still I didn't want to get too far behind either so I kept pushing a little bit to keep Lindon in sight.

I fell back a little ways on the initial road section, but I hoped that I would be able to make up some time once we hit the trail.  Fortunately that was the case and soon I was just a few steps back.

Near Hydra at mile 16
Photo: Patrick Means

Still feeling easy although my legs were a bit tired
Photo: Patrick Means
Photo: Patrick Means

Photo: Patrick Means
Leaving the trail, there's a long gentle descent on a gravel road.  This section is probably 1.5 mile long and I knew that I'd have to work pretty hard to keep up with Lindon.  He's got way more road speed than I do, so I tried to settle in behind him and not fall too far back.  I did a pretty good job of staying on his heels, but he started to get away on the last half mile of road.  That was okay since I figured I could close the gap as we entered the maze and began the rooted descent down Baker Creek.

It took me a bit longer than I thought to catch Lindon on Baker Creek, but I caught back up with him before we started climbing again.  I wanted to stay on his heel on the climb and was able to do so although it was getting hard.  I hiked a few sections as we neared the end of the maze, but was still able to stay right behind him.  As we left the maze, Lindon pulled away on the short section of gravel road before the descent down Extendo.  That was okay because I knew that I could run down Extendo fast and should be able to catch up.

The top of Extendo, around mile 19, is mostly rolling trail and I started to fall back even farther.  I was struggling a little bit, but still wanted to save enough for a strong finish so it was okay to lose some ground.  Plus, I knew I could run the downhill section on Extendo very well so I planned to catch up there.  But when the downhill came, I struggled to get it in gear.  My legs were shot so I had a hard time running quickly or smoothly down Extendo.  I soon lost sight of Lindon, but didn't think he was too far out.

I left the Extendo aid station probably 30 second or a little more behind, but was still able to see Lindon up ahead.  There are some long sight lines on this road section so it was a little encouraging to be able to see that I was still close.  With about 11 miles to go, I figured that I needed to start to push hard and try to catch up.  I ran well on the climb, but my legs were beat up enough I really couldn't get going very fast.

By the top of the climb, I was well out of sight and didn't really know how far back I was.  I headed into the maze for the second time with hopes of making up some time there.  There is some steeper, more technical running in the maze which I tend to run well on.

On the initial climb I never was able to catch sight of Lindon so I hoped that I'd be able to close the gap on the downhill.  Only, when I reached the downhill I realized my legs were in really rough shape.  I was able to run the smooth gentle sections, but the steeper more technical section were a struggle.  Honestly I was just about walking in spots.

Coming out of the maze, there's a fairly steep climb up a trail called Knucklehead.  It's got one switchback and is there's not much underground so I figured that I'd be able to see a couple minutes ahead.  I had hopes that I'd be able to see Lindon somewhere up ahead on Knucklehead, but once I reached that trail there was no one to be seen.

After climbing out of the maze I did my best to run the downhill to the saddle, but at this point, downhill was pretty rough.  Unfortunately the lack of long runs or fast runs this spring was kind of catching up with me and I was really starting to hurt.

I reached the saddle aid station, filled up my water bottle, and headed out for the final few miles.  The initial climb up Vineyard Mountain wasn't too bad as it's a gentle uphill and I could run decently well.   It was slow, but I was still moving.

After Vineyard, the next couple miles are smooth gentle downhill.  As I hobbled along through this stretch I couldn't help but think that Lindon must have been flying through here.  That's how it goes....at this point all I could do was focus on getting to the finish line.

I love this time of year in McDonald Forest because its just so green
Photo: Patrick Means

Because I felt like crap for the last 10 miles, I had plenty of time to enjoy the the views
Photo: Patrick Means

Shuffling off of Vineyard Mountain
Photo: Patrick Means

No legs at this point, just a sheepish grin
Photo: Patrick Means
As I shuffled along Dave's trail I ran into my friend Emile who was out for a run on the course.  It was good to see him and to share a few minutes on the trail with him.  I'm was feeling pretty demoralized so it picked me up a bit to see him out there.

With about 2 miles to go I saw someone catching up.  I figured I'd get caught sooner than later since I wasn't moving too well and I was curious to see who it'd be.  Turn out it was my friend Doug who was running his first 50K that day.  We hiked together for minute to the top of the last climb then I told him to take the lead on the last downhill.  My only goal was to not walk it.

It was good to be done, but reaching the finish line was bittersweet.  I was glad to be done running, but I really had hoped for a bit more.  I guess that was probably a little unrealistic.  My training really wasn't that great, and I probably went out far too fast for what my fitness allowed.  Still, the way I felt on that first downhill, I thought it might be my day.  That was just pure joy...to feel so effortless and have nothing hurt...it was probably worth running it way too fast.  Thinking how good that downhill felt still makes me smile a couple weeks later.

Well, even though my training wasn't great I don't want to take anything away from Doug or Lindon's runs at the Mac.  They both beat me fair and square and I'm for both of them for having such strong races.  I'm sure they probably prepared better than I did and probably ran smarter races as well, so good on them for putting together such good runs on a hot day.

Anyhow, the best part about a 50K is you can hang out at the finish line and see everyone come in.  I love hearing everyone's stories and unique experiences on the course.  By the finish line, whether you're first of last, you just want to be done, and really that's what it's all about.  Just go out there do the best you can and you'll finish when you finish.

I guess that was a good lesson to learn going into Cruel Jewel 100, which I ran last weekend, because I sure needed to eat a big slice of humble pie as I stumbled to the finish.  But, that another story for another day.

Anyhow, thanks to all the volunteers who were out there on race day.  Seeing you guys out there make it so much fun.  That's why the Mac will always be one of my favorite races.  Also thanks to Mike and Mom for putting on the Mac.  While there's a lot of volunteers who are needed to make the race happen, you two are the ones who make it happen and deserve a special thanks.  Seeing what you guys do first hand really gives me a new appreciation for how hard race directors work.

Also a quick thanks to my sponsors Injinji and Squirrel's Nut Butter.  All the support you've given me over the years is really appreciated.  At the Mac I used some Run Lightweight Crews socks and made sure to lube up with a stick of SNB beforehand.

Want to do the Mac next year?  Here's a link to the website: http://www.mac50k.org
Want to see more of Patrick's pictures?  Go here: https://trailhousephoto.com
Want to run the next local race?  It's Run for the Hills on June 9:  http://gltrunforthehills.com

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Peterson Ridge Rumble

Leading up to last weekend it had been a long time since I raced.  I did Condor 25K in October and the Georgia Death Race in March.  The last couple years I really haven't raced much and that's largely because I've had a few injuries.  While I think everything is finally on the mend, that doesn't change the past.  And the past couple years have left me really missing trail racing.  Not just the competitive aspect, but the community aspect of spending all day on the trails with friend and then getting to hang out at the finish line.  And that's what lead me to run Peterson Ridge Rumble 40M last weekend.  I should say thanks now to Sean Meissner for putting on such great event (and for letting me sign up late).  Also, thank to all the volunteers out there helping with the race because it wouldn't happen without you!

My main goal for the Rumble was to have fun.  Its been a while since I've raced so I really just wanted to experience the race day atmosphere again and get a chance to explore a new place.  My training this spring was decent although I hadn't been able to do exactly what I've wanted due to a nagging shin injury.  If you want to know more about the specific on my shin issues, here's a previous post I made focusing on that issue: https://andrewpaulmiller.blogspot.com/2019/03/early-2019.html  The short version is my shin has been bothersome, but is getting better.  It turns out all the troubles are starting in my back.  Its likely my back in the source of all the injuries I've had over the last couple years.  Regardless, my training wasn't what I hoped for but I wanted to have a fun day none the less so I settled into an easy pace early on and aimed to have a fun day on the trails.

Fortunately I was lucky enough to spend the first half of the race chatting with Ashley Nordell (who went on to win and set the course record) and Dirk Renner, who I met in the early miles of the race.  Conversation flowed easily and we quickly ticked off the miles.  The trails on the east side of the mountain are a bit different that in the Mac, so it was fun to experience some place new.  The gentle rolling nature of the trails lead to easy running, but there were also a few rocky section to keep things fun.  What I was most surprised by was how desolate the forest seemed.  Right now nearly all the flowers are out in the Mac and everything is starting turn green.  At the Rumble, that was not the case.  Chatting with Ashley and Dirk, I found out that there was a lot of snow on the course only a week or so before the race.  Fortunately that was not the case come race day!

By the time we reached halfway, it seemed like we had barely started.  I guess that's what good friends and good conversation do.  Around halfway, the three of us started to spread out so I got to enjoy most of the second half of the race alone.  This was fine with me since I really enjoy running by myself.  Its fun to be alone with my thoughts and just soak up a new place.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy the first half.  Sharing those early miles with Ashley and Dirk was one of the best parts of the race.

Early in the second half of the race there a climb up a red cinder road where I could see quite a ways ahead.  I started to catch sight of a few runners in front of me so being competitive, I started to run a little faster to catch them.  Racing was not my goal for the Rumble, but I knew my competitive spirit would catch up with me sooner than later.  Fortunately, I didn't really get wrapped up in the competition and spend most of the second half just having fun on the trails.  Anyhow, I caught a few people on the climb, passed through and aid station, then entered what I though was the coolest part of the course.

For those who ran the race, this was between the 2nd to last and last aid station.  The course followed an old road bed coated in long ponderosa pine needles.  The miles here were soft and quiet and slowly lead into burned section.  Judging by the trees I would guess the fire passed through there in the last few years since the burn seemed fairly fresh.  However, the road was not at all dusty as one would expect passing through a burn.  The course popped out on a more established road momentarily where I caught my friend Mike Rosling.  We exchanged a quick greeting and continued on our way.  After the short section of road, there was several miles of trail which clearly has seen minimal use.  These trails were coated with long pine needles and offered some awesome running.

Somewhere in here a passed a couple runners, including my friend Yassine Diboun from Portland.  Yassine is a great guys to I chatted with him for a couple minutes before we separated.  He will be running Western States in June and then CCC in August.  CCC is one of the sister races of UTMB, which I hope to be run this year!  Soon I rolled into the last aid station and saw my Dad and my friend Mark Wright who had been following me around the course all day.  It was fun to see them out there!

I continued on to the finish and was surprised how quickly the race finished up.  The last section had some great running in it and I guess I was just enjoying it so much the finish line snuck up on me.  That was fine with me since I already had a great day of running on the trails.

One other point to mention would be my shin.  I guess it will be part of the conversation until the pain is completely gone.  The first few miles I could feel my shin a bit which is not what I was hoping for.  However, my shin improved throughout the race and by the end I could barely feel it at all.  Kind of weird how it improves with running, but consistent with how it's felt all year.  Hopefully I'll be feeling 100% soon!

Hanging out at the finish was a blast.  Its always great to see runnings finishing up and getting to chat with everyone who ran that day.  Out of the many great folks I got to talk with, I should mention that I shared a short conversation with Mario Mendoza who blazed through the race in 4:08 to set the course record!

Anyhow, I'm planning to run McDonald Forest 50K on May 4 and Cruel Jewel 100M on May 17.  My main goal is to get my shin 100% before those races.  My training leaves a little to be desired, but I've been having fun on the trails all year so that's all that really counts!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Early 2019

Well, it has certainly been a while since I've posted anything.  I'm hoping to keep updates coming a little more regularly, but we'll see how that pans out.

Regardless, this year has been off to an interesting start.  Most of the fall I had some very minor pain in my left shin which would not go away.  As 2018 wrapped up, the pain in my shin got a bit worse so I backed off running a bit and started spending a bit more time on the mountain bike.  Early February rolled around and instead of running Orcas Island, I saw a physical therapist.  I must admit, I was somewhat reluctant to see yet another PT since I've gotten rather tired of going to PT over the last couple years.  However, my PT Nate Smith is a local runner and friend so I figured he'd understand where I'm at and where I'd like to be.

Here's what I was told.  The pain in my shin is coming from my back.  Not just this time, most likely all the times my shin has been bothering me.  My hip flexor issues?  That's the back too.  Most likely all the injuries I've had recently have started with my back.

That all sounded great, but I wanted an explanation why it was my back causing the problems and how I could make my shin better.

The explanation was simple.  Lots of sitting puts extra pressure on the lower back, especially if you sit with lousy posture.  The extra pressure on the lower back can affect the nerves.  While there might not be any lower back pain, the pain might just show up lower down on the body.  Additionally, the nerves might not send complete signals to the muscles so the muscles will working at less than full power.  That increases the likelihood of injuries.

The explanation made sense too.  I've been doing more school work the last couple years which means a lot more sitting.  Also, lousy posture?  Unfortunately, that's me.  So far everything was adding up.

The exercise to make my shin better was simple.  Do a pushup keeping your hips on the ground.  Repeat.  Repeat again.  Repeat many times throughout the day.

Essentially this motion would "undo" the sitting posture which I maintain for the vast majority of the day.  Sounds great.  Actually, everything sounds great before you try it.

So I diligently did my back extension exercises day after day.  And guess what?  It worked.  Really, it actually worked.  Instantly pain free?  No.  Noticeable improvement? Yes.

I kept at it and things kept improving.  I started running a little bit more and my shin kept feeling better.  If I slacked for a few days and didn't do many back exercises, my shin might get a little worse the next couple days.

In short, it seems like that was the solution.  I'll admit I'm not 100% pain free right now.  However, I don't think I would have done anything different, running or biking, over the last couple weeks if my shin had been 100% pain free.

So that's where I'm at from an injury standpoint.  Feeling good, but not quite 100% just yet.  However it's not just been injuries that have made the start of the year interesting.  Weather and finding a balance between running and mountain biking have made for a few interesting months.

January was like summer.  Okay, not quite, but not much rain and a lot of sunny days in the 50s.  Then come February.  It snowed.  Then it snowed again.  Then it snowed again.  Every day it rained in town, it snowed on McCulloch Peak.  So there was a solid foot up there for a least a few weeks.  The top was snowy for well over a month.  Initially it was pretty.  Then it was pretty annoying.  Then it was just a pain in the butt since I was ready to go to the top and not tromp through a foot of snow.  Biking up there was right out!

Typically, we only have snow on McCulloch for a few days each year.  A couple days here, a couple days there, and then it melts fast.  This year it did not melt fast.

Then came March and some nice weather.  In the middle of March we had a week of sunny days in the 60s.  We even set a record high, 76, one day.  And now, we're back to 50s and rain with a few days of sun and clouds mixed in.  Finally, it nice for the weather to be back to normal.  And as an added bonus, the flowers are starting to pop out too!

As for training, although I always hesitate to call it that, this year has been interesting.  I started mountain biking this summer and have been trying to balance it in my routine.  In the past I ran every day.  Simple.  Now I've been trying to work in biking too.  I'll be honest, I'm not sure how best to do it, but I certainly want to keep riding since its a boatload of fun.

Mostly, I've been alternating.  Run one day, ride the next.  Typically 3 rides, 4 runs per week.  This seems pretty good.  I've tried running every day and adding an afternoon ride in 2 or 3 days a week.  This just leads to a lot of short outings which I find less enjoyable.  Usually it takes a while for all my troubles to drift away.  I guess I just got to get too tired to care.  Plus, it's a huge time sink.  The reality is between changing clothes, driving, and showering it takes an hour on top of the time I want to run or ride.  If I go twice, I'll get the same total exercise for an hour more time spent.  No deal.

The only reason for me to try to run every day is from an injury standpoint.  I've heard that more consistent running may be better for injury prevention.  People say a lot of stuff and I've learned not to believe most of it, but I do realize that last fall my shin never felt quite 100% when I was alternating running and biking.  Last spring, my shin did feel 100%.  I ran every day.

Hmmm.  It's hard to decide what's best.  Obviously what's most fun is what's best.  However, feeling good is a lot more fun than being injured.  I will probably start to add in some very short runs just from the house on the days I ride.  Maybe 15-20 minutes.  Just a "recovery run" whatever that term is supposed to mean.  I figure give it a week or two and if there no significant difference, forget it.

In the meantime I'll be pumping out some back exercises.  I think my pecs and shoulders are getting stronger from all those press ups.  Hopefully I'll have some more flower picture for the next update.  The fairy slippers are just starting to pop up and I expect the glacier lilies and iris won't be too far behind.

I'm pretty bad about proofreading so hopefully I don't have more typos that the GT.  Haha.