Lessons Learned in the Georgia Hills

Having not spent much time in northwest Georgia, I wasn’t really expecting it to be that much different than running around Greenville. I was so very, very wrong. Although SC certainly has its share of hills, I haven’t been running on anything like what I was faced with at the Georgia Jewel 50k. A lot of that is simply down to spending most of my mileage on the roads, grinding out steady miles at a relatively high pace. When I do run trails it’s usually a recovery run on neatly manicured trails void of any technical footing. Add to the terrain the fact that this was a 50k race and I have learned some lessons about my fledgling ultra running career:

1) I’m good at uphills no matter what the terrain. I consistently passed people on even the steepest of inclines and seem to recover from the effort of a hill fairly quickly. I suppose that’s the one upside to being scarily thin.
2) Relative to many ultra runners, once on a flat surface or road, I’m able to use what little leg speed I have to my advantage.
3)Hey, I still got second. Sure it’s first loser but I was quite pleased given the experienced ultra runners on trail.

That’s where the good lessons end. Now for the bad:

1) Technical downhills may be the death of me. How are these people so completely and utterly fearless? Aside from the fact that I’m convinced my ankles are made of glass, the mere thought of skidding down a gravel and rutted trail face first had me putting on the brakes with each step. I lost so much time and destroyed my quads because I’m a wuss.
2) I’m still not sure about this eating on the run thing. At 50k, I was able to barely get away with gels, water, and a couple of fig bars. However, my aspirations in ultra running are far beyond 31 miles and I’m just not sure how to teach my body to accept real food while on the run. Gut rot is no joke, but at my size I don’t have that much on reserve so I’m going to have to figure this out.
3) Training. Again, at just 50k, I’m able to get away with my usual high-ish mileage routine (60-80 miles per week) with little to no organization to it. I love running, so I do it everyday for a variety of distances, efforts, and workouts. I mean, I have a general idea of what I’m doing just from years of running and coaching but I haven’t followed a true training plan in ages. I’m not saying that I need to, but if I’m really serious about tackling this ultra beast, there is going to have to be a shift in the way I’m training.

I also learned a lot of little things, like when reaching a water crossing “there’s no pussyfooting around, you just gotta go for it.” And that when an overweight ranch hand sitting on the back of a pickup truck tells you to “watch that mud” he means it. Sure he’ll come help pull you out of the thigh deep mud and cow shit hole you are stuck in, but he will laugh and spray you with chewing tobacco spit. After that, the water crossings are welcome.

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It’s Not THAT Bad…Probably

I’ve been loathe to admit this y’all: there’s something…off with my right foot.

No no, not the part where I have the ugliest former-dancer-distance-runner feet known to man, more a stabby but achy and maybe actually injured kind of off. The problem with this sort of injury is that it hasn’t prevented me from running a step. It’s more like a nagging feeling that just won’t quite go away.

At first I thought I’d stepped on a rock funny and had a stone bruise. Then maybe a touch of peroneal tendonitis where it connects at the bottom. Then…stress fracture?!?! Gout??? Foot AIDS?!!!!??

Needless to say, when one runs alone all the time, the mind tends to wander and mine wandered right off the edge trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It’s been hurting on and off for awhile, so luckily the ultra didn’t cause it, and it didn’t seem to exacerbate it either (side note: the bruise pic in the last post on the top of that foot came entirely from the funky lacing system Brooks uses, and this pain is on the outside edge of my foot).

I have had the occasional injury before, but have been largely lucky to avoid them. The thing with past injuries though is that they’ve come on so sudden and forcefully that I’m literally stopped in my tracks. Running is simply not going to happen. But this, this hasn’t done so much as cause a hitch in my stride or anything! It’s just. Always. There.

Common sense would say to figure out what is going on, rest/rehab, and definitely don’t run another ultra on Saturday. Instead, I took the less advised route: frantically looking for ANYTHING that helps lessen the pain so that I can carry on pretending that I don’t have foot AIDS. I dug through all of my running shoes, trying and discarding pair after pair when I stumbled upon an old favorite: Brooks T7 I LOVE this shoe. Unfortunately it isn’t very long lasting as it is designed for racing, so I can’t really afford to replace it as often as I’d need with the amount of mileage I put in. But this shoe is FAST. It just begs to be run in. So I strapped ’em on and despite the fact that they are beat to hell with almost no life left in them…my foot felt fine!

So what is it about this shoe that helped? Although I wouldn’t say the pain is gone entirely, it is markedly improved in the T7s. The best I can come up with is in the heel to toe drop. Minimalist running is all the rage these days, with most lightweight trainers (and I’m obviously going to run in light shoes at my size/speed) showcasing a lower drop (most of my shoes are ~4mm). The T7s, for as light as they are, have a more traditional drop of 10mm. Could 6 measly mm be the difference? I guess so.

(This post is dedicated to the lovely Iris and her jacked up hip injury. Feel better soon darlin’!)