Stone Cat lessons

November 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm 5 comments

Usually at the end of my race reports I like to write down some of the lessons I learned from the race. But that novella was long enough with just the who, what, where, when, and why (well, I still don’t know exactly why but whatever) so I decided to break it. Plus my thoughts after the race were mostly just negative and not really all that constructive so a “what did I learn” post would have been pretty terse and just consisted of “I learned that I suck and I ran a pretty bad race.” Not exactly helpful going forward. Because I’m still pretty new to t racing somewhat competitively each race is a great learning experience; especially race distances I’ve never done before. Stone Cat in particular was an extremely valuable experience on a number of fronts. I learned about myself as a runner, myself as a competitor, abut some of the gear I run in, the in-race fueling strategies, all sorts of stuff. I’m going to try to put it down in some logical order but my propensity for rambling will likely win out.

I’ll start with some of the positives I took away from the race. The first is my gear. I ran in the brand new Brooks Pure Grit, part of their more minimal-focused Pure Project line of shoes. I intend to write a full review of them but suffice it to say these shoes really held up, and exceeded my expectations. The terrain wasn’t crazy, but there were some rocky sections, some twisty rooty sections, there was that stream crossing and a number of other muddy/wet spots, and the Pure Grits worked fabulously through all of them. Light and quick yet adequately cushioned, perfect decision for the race. I was also EXTREMELY happy with my Drymax socks. After years of reading all sorts of ultrarunners plug the brand, I bought a pair at Bull City Running and on the few 4+ hour runs I’ve done, they have been great. This was their biggest test by far, every loop my feet were completely soaked with freezing water and not once did I get so much as a hot spot. By the end of the race, my feet were actually dry. Amazing. My $15 headlamp I bought  a year ago at Walmart worked reasonably well, though I suspect if I intend to get more serious about ultras and just long runs in the woods through the night in general, I should invest in something a bit higher quality. The rest of the Brooks kit worked well, as usual. The only complaint, gear-wise, was my gloves. And it’s not my gloves fault really, it’s my hands. I really ought to invest in some mittens, because my hands get too damn cold in gloves. I’m not sure what I could have done differently, I thought the gloves would provide a bit more protection from the cold water bottle but I ended up running with it like a football way more than I wanted to (which is at all). Maybe chemical hand-warmers? Maybe mittens? Maybe TWO mittens? It’s something I’ll have to continue to research.

Probably the thing that went best was my crew. As I mentioned previously, Katie, Tyler, and Scott were phenomenal and without them I doubt I would have done as well as I did. I’d like to just reserve Katie for all future ultra endeavors as I can’t imagine anyone would be more prepared and just completely on top of things like she was. It saved me time at the start/finish of each loop and precious mental energy.

Like in the 40, I went out a bit more aggressively than I probably should have, but also like the 40, I was feeling remarkably good early. Of course, you SHOULD feel remarkably good when you’re only 25% done with 50 miles! While I may have run slightly faster later on if I had gone out a bit slower (or even if I had just taken it easier on some of the steeper inclines on the loop), I don’t think that was the main factor for my slowdown later in the race. What I DO think was the biggest issue was once again in-race fueling. I didn’t throw up, or even get nauseous at all so at least I learned something from the 40 miler. The coconut water was, I think, a good idea. Katie suggested maybe a 2:1 coconut water/pineapple juice mix. I dunno if I’d like the taste but maybe it could work. I have used both now and both seem to work really well for me AND sit well with my stomach. I think the primary problem was that I didn’t eat enough. Two GuS or one Gu and and a package of Clif shots for every loop was not enough. I could run a pretty good marathon on that strategy, and essentially did. I’ve done 25-30 mile long runs on that or less and been fine. But those are done in four or so hours, not six or seven. I don’t know if I should have frontloaded things more and doubled my intake early on and then tapered off toward the end, or if I should have tried to eat more real food at the aid stations, or what but I know that by the last two loops my energy levels were not where I wanted them to be. What I need to do is get better about trying things out IN training. Too often I go out and maybe have one gel and some water during my training long runs and then I just kind of guesstimate come race day. That’s probably not the best strategy to figure out what works and how much of it I need in situations like that.

I think another issue that negatively affected my performance, but one I don’t have as much control over, is my overall training. Quite simply, I haven’t been training for stuff like this very long. Until May, I hadn’t run much over 50 miles/week in almost a year. Each year that’s passed as been more consistent than the last but that is not saying a whole lot. Finally in May I started getting consistent about running and about increasing volume without getting hurt. I ran almost as much from May through race day as I had all of last year! But seven months does not make someone a good runner. Seven months is a good start, but it’s just that — a start. A lot of the people who ran the race, and who do ultras in general, seem to have been at it for at least a few years. So I have a long way to go. Fortunately, not running much in high school or college probably saved my legs so I’m hoping I have at least a few years that I can push them and continue to see improvements. I don’t think I’m that close to being topped out yet. But I have to continue to be consistent and actually put in the work.

Related, I need to get less lazy. I tell people this and they look at me strangely. It’s true though. I don’t find it very difficult to just go out and run for an hour or two each day (and four or so on the weekends). It’s a matter of lacing up the shoes and getting out the door, the rest is sort of autopilot. But it’s the rest of the things that go into training that I need to recommit myself to, and that I hadn’t been leading up to Stone Cat. It’s going to the gym and lifting a bit to strengthen my legs. Strong legs are beneficial to overall power output when running AND they help you get up the damn hills better, plus at the end of the race, stronger legs will be able to maintain pace easier. I need to be better about doing mobility and flexibility work, particularly with my ankles. This is not the first time this year I’ve sprained an ankle trail running. If I’m intending to do MORE of them, I need stronger ankles and that doesn’t take much, just a a commitment to actually work on it a few days a week. I DID join the Y last week so once I feel a bit more recovered from the race, I intend to be a regular there. The sleep has been better than it used to be but there’s still room for improvement there. The beer, oreos, ice cream, etc etc needs to get SERIOUSLY scaled back. I don’t think I’m ever going to completely cut out beer but the other stuff is just filler. I’m not fat and I’ll never be one of those people who knows he’s not but says he is so other people will say, ‘Nooooooo you’re in SUCH good shape.” Lame. I know I’m in good shape. GREAT shape. But I could be in better shape. How do I know? Because I have been before and it doesn’t even require the borderline-ED behavior I used when I wrestled in high school. Just some discipline and self control.

I need to get the eye issue figured out. Someone suggested (and I kind of suspected) it had a lot to do with the cold, dry morning air. This would explain why it doesn’t happen to me over the summer. Still, I think I may go see an eye doctor just to be sure.

I also think I need to get mentally tougher. There were WAAAAY too many moments during the race where I allowed myself some time to feel sorry for myself. Where I stopped or slowed to a walk when I probably didn’t need to. Yes, I ran at least 20 miles aware that something was wrong with my ankle and some people think that’s tough. That’s mostly just being jacked up on some adrenaline and as long as I kept moving and didn’t stop for long, the real pain wouldn’t set in. I knew that so it wasn’t as big a factor as it might seem. But the fact that I was able to run the last 8 or so miles of the race while I didn’t do that on the third loop indicates to me that I wussed out quite a bit. I’m not saying that if I were just mentally tougher I could’ve held pace for the last two loops but I think I could have run much better than I did. Part of it is just not being used to THIS sort of pain and exhaustion, it’s not the same as running a mile all out on the track. It’s not the same as the last minute of the third period of a wrestling match, though it’s MUCH closer to that than the mile. I don’t know HOW exactly I’m going to work on this except to just be more mindful of it on my long runs, in my workouts, and in future races. I wish I could talk to high school wrestler Mark, he seemed so much tougher than I feel now. I’m gonna try to channel that intensity and focus in my running more.

Overall, I’d give this race a B- because I DID run 50 miles for the first time in my life and I did it in a pretty decent time. Still, there were a lot of mistakes made, and there’s  a TON of room for improvement in the future. Katie said something that really stuck with me – I’m allowed to not be satisfied, but not disappointed. I think I confused the two immediately after the race. I’m not disappointed because I didn’t mail it in, or quit, I gave a full effort and finished a race longer than most people I know will ever think of running. I also got to see my best friend kick some ass too. But I am certainly not satisfied with anything. Satisfaction breeds contentment which breeds laziness. I’m not going down that road. I’m going to take a little bit of time to recover from both this race AND the six or seven months of training that led up to it. And then I’m going to get back to business as smarter runner, with more focus and determination and motivation to improve than I have ever had.

Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!


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Stone Cat 50 mile trail race report Don’t call it a comeback

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Katie  |  November 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Jeez, I sound like quite the guru here! And funny enough I have more suggestions:

    It wouldn’t be very hard to squeeze in a couple eye drops each loop, if it is dryness causing the eye problem.

    I know my toes wanted some chemical handwarmers, so I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Pretty easy to chuck or just take one for the hand holding the bottle.

    You could probably get away with a 30 minute gym session 2x a week and mobility work every other day.

  • 2. The Green Girl  |  November 19, 2011 at 12:24 am

    I’m with you – running isn’t a problem for me either. The strength training is just not as satisfying so I’m not as motivated to do it.

  • 3. David Ploskonka  |  November 22, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Finally got around to reading this (at 4:30 a.m., apparently when I do all of my best work lately :P) First off, congratulations on an awesome first 50-miler. :) Some thoughts:

    Cold hands are a nuisance in races like these. Usually for me, doubling up the gloves solves it. If you can make the outer layer waterproof, that also helps in the event that it’s raining or you fall in a stream crossing (as long as you don’t go all the way under, but then, of course, nothing helps). “Mittening” your hands in the palm of your glove works as a backup plan, but with a hand bottle, that can be tricky. I try to maneuver so that I either wedge my fist under the bottle strap, or pull the strap down to my wrist.

    As far as the cloudy eyes, you might want to try sunglasses or clear safety glasses and see if that helps. There’s a thing called “Hellgate eyes” that some people get running that race as a result of the combination of the cold air and the exertion. Keeping some of that cold air off of your eyes might make a difference.

    Otherwise, sounds like you have a good plan going forward – can’t wait to see how it all works out at Umstead! :)

    • 4. runningmanz  |  November 22, 2011 at 8:30 am

      Thanks Dave!I’ve tried the double glove approach too. I have a feeling I have something like Reynaud’s because even that fails pretty quickly. I think some actual mittens would work best and it’s really inexcusable that I don’t own a pair!

      That seems to be the consensus on the eye issue. Fortunately I DO own a few pairs of clear safety glasses so I’ll probably try that out some morning when I’m back to doing actual long runs.

      I’m still super excited about Umstead, so I guess that means I’m recovered-ish from the 50.

  • 5. Adrienne  |  November 28, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Ahhh-the ‘little things”!! I fight to resist the urge to blow off that foam roller, ice bath, and stretching and have to force myself to think of consequences I’ve had in the past. Not perfect, but wow, these things make such a difference.

    Glad you liked my last post-I SO needed that sticky as I work to get the mojo back. Like you, running 50 miles base is substantial, but may not get you all the way there.

    Stay the course, bro! (and yes, you can steal my line;))


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