Saturday, May 21, 2016

So, I ran a trail ultramarathon.

Ok, so I guess before I get into the nuts and bolts of this I should add some backstory.

After MCM, as you know, I felt simply amazing.  My recovery was next to nothing and I was ready to tackle something else.  My thoughts turned to what I wanted to do in 2016.  Honestly the thought of trying to train for the Pittsburgh marathon was not motivating at all.  I just didn't want to deal with it, plus I have psychological issues with that race weekend.  I also really wanted to do something totally different this year.  Truth be told, running had gotten boring for me.. doing the same old thing it seemed, season after season.  I was also getting stressed with the whole aspect of "needing" to get faster and faster all the time or else it was a "fail".  So, I figured since my last marathon went so well and I felt so damn good then ffs I should just do something daring and run an ultramarathon.  I set my sights on the J.C. Stone 50K in March.  In my mind (then), it was perfect because I could start training early, get a big race out of the way early and then have a nice block of "off time" before starting to train for MCM again in the summer.  The week of Thanksgiving 2015 (a mere month after MCM) I started training.

Another new thing for me this year is paying my hard earned money for a training plan/coaching.  This was pretty awesome (pats self on back) and I loved every bit of my plan because it was so varied.  I did long runs and easy runs, of course, but I also did 1 or 2 workouts a week consisting of hill repeats, tempo runs, tempo interval runs, 800s, fartleks, timed heart rate runs, etc.  Later I would come to be very thankful for the hill workouts, especially.  I also (and go ahead and crucify me, I don't care) run/walked every long run.  I did 20:1 intervals.  Anyway, my training went great!  Most importantly I stayed injury-free!  I blame this on being made aware (well aware) that "canned plans" out of books and on the internet are pretty much crap in the sense that they aren't meant to be followed to the letter by every single person that reads it.  They can be fine guidelines, yes, but when you have a plan that's yours and someone to guide you through it things can (and will) change - and that's fine!  I moved workouts around, changed some pacing, even skipped (gasp) a long run!  And I'm alive to tell the tale!  OMG!  Back to the story - a couple of weeks before JC Stone, I had some turmoil happen in the personal life.  In the midst of all this, I had a heart to heart and a realization that I really didn't want my first ultra to be North Park lake loops.  Now, I'm not bashing that race at all - I still plan on doing it one of these years - but I'm saying for me, myself, and I, that I would do a great disservice to myself if I ran a route that I've run a million times over and am honestly very sick of and said "yep, that's my ultra!"... particularly if it turned into a one-and-done thing.  And so, after much debate and research, I registered for what would be the most amazing race ever, hoping that I could train hard enough to make the cut off time.

My training changed from progression of speedwork to preserving my base (I was back to hovering around the 50 mpw mark) and staying injury free, while working on elevation gain (here's where those hill workouts came in handy).  Fun fact:  I've achieved more elevation gain in the last 2 months than I have in all the years I've been running combined.  No joke.  The North Shore "trail" is a pancake.  Start at Millvale and go to the jail and back (12 miles) and you'll have gained.... 14 feet.  The south side isn't much better but I think you can get 30 there.  North Park lake loop? A whopping 138 feet per loop.  Hardly hilly at all.  I thought Pittsburgh was hilly?  Anyway - Marine Corps Marathon: 562 feet.  JASR 30K? 467 feet.  Still not hilly compared to a race that has about 4000 feet of elevation gain.  So, I had some work to do.  First, I had to get comfortable on trails.  The North shore and other rail trails don't count as real honest to shit trails and I'd only been on real piddly other ones before.  But now I can tell you I've hit up Boyce, North park, Rachel, etc and am always thirsty for anything new and different.  The harder the better, really.  Gimme dem rocks and roots and water! Second, I had to work on that climb.  Trails are where the big hills are and I got to them every chance I could.   My long runs also got, well... longer.  During marathon training I'd get my 20 milers done in 3 hours-ish or less.  This training cycle had me doing long runs of 3 1/2, 4, all the way up to 5 hours!  I also had to integrate hiking workouts (not just slow moseys) into my training to get more time on my feet on more rugged terrain and yes, climbing more hills.

Something else I had to do, and I have to say this really helped me more than you can imagine is cutting off running social media (except Strava).  I didn't use my Garmin for every single workout and only kept a log on my computer.  I also didn't feel the need to mention every strength workout or core training.  No more yammering about my runs everywhere to everyone and especially no DailyMile.  I find DailyMile to be very irritating - kind of akin to being the Facebook of running.  It just really got on my damn nerves so that had to go.  Being free from having to report to people and feel pressured into keep up with everyone really took the stress off my training.  If I had to take a day or two off, I didn't have to qualify it or worry about what everyone thought.  If I was running slower, I didn't feel, again, like I had to qualify it or be ashamed of it, etc.  I also broke my FOMO streak.  There are people out there that really love to run all the races and do all the things.  I think that's great and I totally get it and at times I'd like to as well.  But I really can't afford to pay for race registrations out the wazoo.  I'd rather spend money on other things.  And my work schedule is really limiting to not just my training, but racing.  I work Tuesday through Saturday - night shift.  When most people are getting up and out to do their early running, I've only been home for a couple of hours.  It's tough, but I make it work.  I'm hoping to have a better schedule soon, but time will tell.  Bottom line:  I need to worry about me, not what every other person in the local running cliques are doing.

My "extended" training cycle went great.  Funny thing about trails - they really are better for you than roads.  After road 20+ milers I'd feel it, no matter how "easy" I took them.  5 hours on trail?  I felt tired, yeah, but I was totally fine.  My recovery from all my trail runs was miraculous.  And when I'd get back on the road for an easy run or speedwork in the days after?  That came so easily.  I absolutely loved the trails for how they made me feel.  I can honestly tell you that I am a trail convert.  Roads just don't hold the same thrill or sense of accomplishment.  In fact, I do not have the desire to train for a road race any time in the near future.

So, the long runs came and went and taper seemed to fly by.  And there I was - 24 weeks of training, nearly 1000 miles logged.  I did 17 long runs over the half marathon distance, 12 of those over 16 miles.  I ran the longest runs of my life in time, if not yet distance (my longest run was 24.5 miles).  Most importantly I came into this race INJURY FREE.  It's now over one year since my last injury.  There has to be something to a "real" training plan, "real" trails, and hell, just me finally being "real" with myself.

Speaking of being real, I think I'm going to be real about the fact that my race recap is going to be a separate post.

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