Tuesday 26 June 2012

This Sh*t Just Got Real

Or, 'Just the Wake Up Call I Needed'. 

We've been here before
This weekend saw my second attempt at the Ultra Race 100, the 100 mile road race from Stratford, looping through the Cotswolds. Last year's event ended in disappointment, for me at least. (See my write up here.) My more recent attempt went the same way (another DNF due to ITB) and - in conjunction with my training and preparation for this event -has resulted in a lot of hard-learned lessons and left me reflecting on my life as a runner. Sounds a bit melodramatic that, but if I don't change the way I do things but expect my ITB problems to disappear, then according to Einstein, that would be utter madness. And who am I to argue with him?

Now, when you complete an event like this, the phrase ‘never again’ gets bandied about a bit, but then after a while, the pain and the low moments are forgotten, and all you can remember was the feeling after you crossed the line. When you don’t finish one of these events because you were in pain you tend to think along the same lines, only it now works against you. At the time I knew I was doing the right thing: I couldn’t bend either knee on the ups or the downs, and there was 50mi of ups and downs yet to go. But thinking back now, I’m asking myself if it really was as painful as that; and whether I couldn’t have got back on the road, at least for one more CP and seen where it went from there…?

The mind is a funny thing.

Anyway, before getting into all that, I thought I’d start with some more positive reflection on this weekend's run. 

The Good 

Seemed to work fine. I was having a 750ml carb/electrolyte drink every 10mi, having a quarter every 2.5mi. The first 3 10mi stages I used SIS PSP22, switching to Maximuscle Viper Active later on, hoping the caffeine & guarana would keep me going through the night. In addition, I had made a batch of smoothie (a mix of oats, protein, fruit & veg - I may post the recipe on here separately) of which I was drinking a quarter of a bottle at CPs 1, 2, 3 & 4. Essentially, each 500ml bottle is c750kcal of low GI carbs, protein and fats. I was dipping into a zip-lock bag of mixed nuts, fruits & seeds as I left each CP; a handful or two at a time. Also had a slice of gala pie at CP2 (was getting hungry as opposed to any blood-sugar problems), with the odd bit of (home-made) flapjack & malt loaf for good measure. 

The plan was to continue this pattern through the second half of the race having stashed more of the same in my drop bag at CP5, with a bit of a splurge when I got there: a whole bottle of smoothie, another bit of gala pie, more flapjack, a 150g stick of salami... 

My hip flask (filled with Jura whisky) was intended to be sipped at each of the CPs from CP5 onwards, just to keep my pecker up. As it was, when I finally collapsed on the floor at CP5 I had a good glug! On the way back to my accommodation that night once my Better Half had picked me up, I stopped at a roadside burger van for a greasy quarterpounder cheeseburger. Filled a hole. 

I awoke the next morning with my stomach screaming out for food, so I took my unused drop-bag downstairs to the lounge and just started scoffing, and didn’t really stop all day. 

But, during the race at least, at no point did I feel lacking in strength, or get that dreaded 'bonking' feeling.

I was going to say more generally fitness, but given that my body let me down due to some inherent weakness, I clearly wasn't fit enough. However, at the end of my race, sat in the van, waiting for my Better Half to come pick me up, I didn't feel tired at all, and if it wasn't for my knees I feel I could have kept on for some while after. I had plenty left to give, I just didn't have a body to take me there. I've no doubt, that had I carried on, I would have faced a deficit of energy at some point, but certainly at 50mi I felt I could have carried on for another 20-30mi no problem. 

Adaptability & Sensible Decisions
This is easy (mile 1)
Reading reports of successful and less successful attempts at these sorts of events, one of the key differences between the two is how willing a person is to adapt to the circumstances on the day. My plan, initially was to run/walk 5min/1min until I could run no more, & ‘speedmarch’ the hills (40 strides running/40 strides walking). Once I was reduced to a walk to switch to more comfortable shoes than my inov8 f-Lites (adidas Kanadia – a trail shoe, but the only other running shoe I have with any cushioning, all the others being fell shoes). My target before giving up on the run/walk was 50mi, by which point I thought it would be dark; walk through the night, by which point I would expect 20-30mi remaining; then grind out those last few miles. 

As it happened, I quickly switched to 4min run/1min walk as I felt there was still plenty of time to play with, and decided to walk all the up hills. When my ITB kicked in with an innocuous niggle as I came in to CP1, I did briefly toy with the idea of persevering for as long as I could. I realise now this would have probably seen me retire at CP2 rather than halfway round. Instead, I switched to my comfy shoes, and resolved to walk the rest of the way, sticking to sub-15min/mi pace. 

This was the key decision behind me getting to the 50mi mark in under 12 hours. Otherwise I would have been out earlier, and in much worse shape. 

Despite having to abandon my initial strategy and being in some degree of pain throughout most of my race, not to mention a prolonged period of very heavy rain and spending most of the race on my own, I had a blast! I was able to keep my mind from wandering to the dark-side: singing along to tunes; calculating how many songs to next CP or 2.5mi sip of electrolyte, based on current pace and average length of song; working out likely finish time based on time taken so far and likely pace over each of the next checkpoints. 

Are those...moobs?!
The Bad
Obviously being struck down by ITB so early on that it meant I couldn’t finish. Last year was the first time I had ITB in my left knee, and until an aborted attempt to run home from Leeds along the Leeds Liverpool Canal all my concern – and indeed, my entire ITB history – was with my right knee which had been niggly since upping the mileage in March. I was about quarter of a mile out from the first CP (at just under 10mi) when I felt it go again. And this was pretty much the last I would run again. 

The Ugly 
The only thing that really qualifies as ‘ugly’ was my wandering round Stratford the next day. Because of my severe groinal chafage, I decided to Vaseline up before getting dressed to make getting about a bit less painful. My family took great delight in observing half-way round, that it looked like I had a leaky arse as the Vaseline had gone through my undies and light coloured trousers. Not a pretty sight, but I’m relieved to say that no photo exists (that I know of). 

Onwards and, er, downwards? 

So, what are we to deduce from all this? I’ve recently taken to characterising my problem as having a perfectly workable engine attached to a crumbling chassis. Unless I start to do something about the chassis, all the cardio-vascular fitness in the world isn’t going to get me to the point where I can run more than 50mi without injury. 

Whilst I have been focusing more on lower body strength at the gym over the last few months in an effort to complement my running - deadlifts, barbell squats, explosive box jumps, rowing, etc. – recent work with my new physio has uncovered that these have been falling wide of the mark. Fundamentally, my glutes don’t tend to fire in sequence, so other muscles are taking the strain. Therefore, even doing these exercises that ostensibly work the glutes, aren’t having the desired effect. I’ve got to go back to basics and do some smaller, more concentrated moves to get my glutes firing in the right sequence before progressing to these bigger, compound moves. I’ve been prescribed these concentrated moves before, but they bored me and I thought if I went bigger it would be more interesting (it is) but would still work the required area (it hasn’t, for the reasons above). 

On camera: the last running I did coming into CP1
Finally, I think I need to address my approach to footwear, running style, etc. I moved to minimalist shoes and a more natural running style, all self-taught (what could possibly go wrong, right?): running on the mid- to forefoot, footfall directly under my body, shorter strides/higher cadence. I thought this would address things, but it hasn’t. My feet still have a tendency to over-pronate, causing my knee to track in.

I am quite hippy (in that I have wide hips, not that I hug trees) and have been reading recently about the Q-angle – the angle between the hip joint and the knee. The greater this angle (i.e. the wider the hips) the more likely you are, apparently, to suffer with these kind of injuries. Given my wide hips, and that my footfall does tend to be directly under the centre-line of my body, maybe this is adding to the problem? A wider stance/running gait may be beneficial, looking to keep my footfall closer to the line of my hip joint?

In short there’s plenty of work to be done: things I know and can be doing straight away; other things that require more research and possibly further professional help. My intention now, is rather than persevere with my ultra goals, I am going to put them on hold for a good 12 months or so while I work on these basics. 

When I nail the basics, I will then probably look to build myself up slower to the big distances setting smaller progressive goals – 50k => 50mi => 100k => 100mi+ - giving my body more time to adapt. 

Not a total loss then, I am still pleased with my results from this race. More than that though, it has probably been the kick up the arse I needed to take this stuff more seriously and give it the respect it deserves.

ITB rolling at CP1
*You'll note my time here is 12h20, but i forgot to stop my Garmin at my last CP. The results show I took 12h49 to get there.