I learned this lesson a few times this summer.
The lesson begins last summer when I signed up for my first 50k trail race. I wanted to challenge myself to commit to the process of training for months, being accountable to the plan and test my body to see if it would hold up during the process. I bought Krissy Moehl’s Running Your First Ultra book and it became my bible. As a PT, I appreciated the emphasis she placed on the injury prevention strengthening plan as well as the mobility piece. (I believe this area is what is missed most often in running training plans.) I wrote out my weekly workouts and stuck to probably 80% of the plan. This 80% got me a first place result in the VT50k. This was an incredible achievement and the first part of the lesson.
In general, I do not race that much compared to many other runners. I like to pick a few races that sound fun or challenging. This spring I was intrigued by the Mansfield Double UP (July 30th) and there was a race near my parent’s home called the Ragged 50k (August 13th) that sounded fun. And of course, returning to the VT50k (Sept. 23rd) was an option in the back of mind. I signed up for the first two in June and in hindsight, should have cobbled together a training plan.
To be fair, I was also working through some L sided low back tightness, glute burning and very subtle nerve-like symptoms in the posterior L leg. I sought out the care of my fellow PT Lindsay and spent June and July as a PT patient (more of that in another blog). This period made my training period a bit muddled and I was a bit confused on how much I should be running, etc. My training weeks were in the 20 mile range for runs.
I did try to do some longer hikes and did my first Presidential traverse 2 weeks before the Mansfield Double Up. It was that time that I realized that I should be trying to run longer runs before the Ragged 50k. OR would good ‘hiking’ shape carry over to running for 5+ hours? I wasn’t sure but knew I would have to find out.
The Mansfield Double Up race was beautiful, really hard and I loved it. It was 11 miles, 5500 vert and took 3 hours. We went in heats of 10 so spent more of this rugged course alone. Trying to keep pushing and pushing. I think I was above my threshold heartrate the entire time. I ended up 2nd – only 50 seconds out of 1st. The chatting at the aid station, getting lost and falling several times were hard not to dwell on after because the times were so close. Leslie O’dell was 8 seconds behind me. Either way, it was rad!
Now to the Faking Fit lesson #1. I ran 12 miles the week before the Ragged 50k – this was my longest run in the last few months and went into the Ragged 50k wholly under trained. But I was excited to see what would happen. My plan was to run ‘easy’ for 20 miles and then keep running (my plan that worked last year in VT). This was a hillier, more rugged course with 6300 vert and ended up being 34 miles. I felt comfortable for the first 14 miles or so and then started to have problems with going up. At mile 19, before a section of big hills and single track, I was starting to get worried that I was about to gas out – and I did. I threw up a few times, sat down at some pretty vistas and thought about dropping at the mile 26 aid station. I was listless and could barely walk on flats. It was scary. I was in first and kept waiting to be passed. I walked for 3 miles, made it to the aide station and wanted to lie down so badly. They told me to stop eating gels, drink a Tailwind they mixed up for me and to keep going - AND that a few women were closing in. I don’t know if it was my competitiveness or the 3 miles of recovery walking but I ran out of that aid station had a pretty solid closing 9 miles considering. I ended up winning but it was ugly. I kind of faked my fitness but had fun in the process.
I had a tough week of recovery. Body felt okay but I was really tired. I did a couple of stand alone 16 mile runs, track work and hill workouts over the next few weeks but nothing like I had been doing the year before. I signed up for the VT 50k 2 weeks before and figured I could fake it again. Oh and we had an 80 mile week of hiking and trail running in Chamonix that I figured would help too.
Race day in VT was 90 degrees. In hindsight, my ego and optimism set me on a crash course at the get go. I wrote down my aid station splits from the year before and subconsciously decided to try to hit those. I would run my ‘forever pace’ and give it go. Immediately the hills were longer, steeper and my legs were tired. I think I was pretending to run my forever pace but I was working harder, breathing harder than it should have been. I ran the same splits to mile 19 and I ran head first into the proverbial wall. I could barely walk again and this time I had weird burning pain down the backs of my legs. Nerve pain which was freaky. The heat and my pace were not realistic with my training but it took this experience to learn that. I walked for 2 miles to the 23 mile aid station, took advil, laid down for 30 minutes (I was in 4th at the time) and let my body recover. I ran/walked the last 8 miles and enjoyed every minute. I ended up 8th, 50 min. slower than last year and was just as satisfied with crossing the finish line.
I spoke with Krissy a week after. Told her about my tale of two races. She said it was good for me to experience the well trained win and the undertrained struggle. It was then that she said, ‘You can’t fake fit’. And she is so right. Either way, the races were fun but now I know that if I want to execute races, I have to be the right kind of fit.