Saturday, May 29, 2010

Testing, Testing: A Jemez Mountain 50K Race Report

Last weekend was the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs, which includes a 50-mile, 50K and half Marathon. The GeekGrl and I were registered for the 50K and were planning on running it together but that didn't work out so I ran from mile 6.2 on my own. I had considered signing up for the 50-mile as an early test of my fitness for Leadville but knowing how incredibly tough the Jemez runs are and wanting to run with the GeekGrl I went with the 50K. Of course that turned out to be an excellent decision considering that I have been partially sidelined with a knee injury for the past six weeks. It turns out that my injury was indeed a severe bone bruise and the only thing that would heal it was time so Jemez was really my first true test of the knee on mountainous terrain and over long distances.

So...the knee held out and there wasn't any pain. Yea!

By the time the GeekGrl and I hit mile 6.2 we were a little more than 2 hours into the race and she was feeling horrible and was already somewhat dopy. I knew that she shouldn't continue because we had essentially only completed the smallest of the real climbs in the race and she just would not enjoy life from here on forward. The 6.2 mile aid station is also a particularly good place to take inventory and drop if you are going to because then at least you can finish off the half-marathon and get back and relax without having beaten yourself to death. So, I headed out to finish up the 50K and the GeekGrl ended her day with a half-mary, which is actually 14ish miles.

I was very pleased to see how well I was able to run the downhills and hike the uphills. I know I had lost a step or two due to my limited recent running and the fact that I stayed to much flatter terrain. I also knew that at some point along the trail my endurance would give out but in that first couple miles after the GeekGrl and I parted ways I was flying. By the time I hit the massive climb up Caballo Mountain I was wondering how long it would be before I saw some of my friends that were also out on the course. In relatively short order they came flying down the mountain towards me. The climb up Caballo is and out and back off the main trail and is about 2 miles up to the peak and then 2 miles back down.

I pressed up Caballo and was still feeling good. It was a long slog up for everyone but I seemed to be doing better than most, at least most of the people who were also heading up at the same time as I. I passed several people on the way up and kept on passing people on the way down. Right after departing the aid station at the bottom I passed a couple friends, one who was feeling sick and the other was just staying back with him.

Shortly after the climb up Caballo there was another climb that was much less significant but still pretty painful. At some point around mile 18 or so I had become incredibly sick of the super heavy waist pack that I had cinched around my waist. I was carrying so much crap because I was planning on running with Misty so I had extras for the two of us but after she dropped it just became dead weight that was difficult to manage at my faster pace. The pack seemed to be bouncing more and more and I had to cinch it tighter and tighter until it was just painful so I took it off and tried carrying it slung across my shoulder. That didn't work at all, I couldn't run, but it was nice not to have my guts cinched and bound but after a while I had to put it back on to keep from walking more than the final third of the race.

Everything continued to go well until I hit an area called the wasteland. This is a part of the course that was completely wiped out bu a massive fire about six years ago. By the time I got to the wasteland it was really hot outside and the winds were blowing pretty hard and of course there is not one square millimeter of shade to be found for about 5 miles. The wasteland was a crushing blow. The one thing I know about myself as a runner, I can't do heat. My water was hot, my lips were dry and starting to crack and my throat was parched. I could not force the hot water down my throat so I was unable to drink for almost five miles and several people ended up passing me.

When I finally descended out of the wasteland I was panting like a dog and stumbling somewhat. I was glad to be out of full exposure to the wind and sun but down in the valley in the semi shade of the pines it was still hot and the scent of pine in that heat made it very difficult to breath. I just kept pressing ahead to the final aid station but I was pretty miserable.

Finally I could see the aid station about 100 yards ahead and then I saw the GeekGrl running at me. I could tell she was going to run down and give me a hug but she was running downhill and fast and I knew if she even touched me I would crumble onto the trail so I held up my hand and said “Don't touch me” and she ran off to the side and asked what she could get for me. I gave her my bottles and asked for as much ice cold ginger ale as she could get. I immediately plopped down in a chair while the GeekGrl got me something to drink and eat. The other people at the aid station were swarming me asking a million questions, what do you want, do you want this, do you want that, are you ok, what can I get you was relentless. I didn't have time to think much less respond. I finally told them that I was confused and they were completely overwhelming me and my wife was getting me stuff so please leave me alone. Immediately some guy walked up to me with a five gallon jug and said “I can fill you up with this!” and I just glowered at him and he left.

I love the volunteers out on the course. There is no way we could do the sports we do without them but it really is important to be able to kind of read the athletes as they come through. People who are still leaping around and running fast can cope with the relentless cheerfulness but if someone comes in parched, panting and wobbling they probably just need a friendly face and a little low-key TLC.

I drank down about 40oz of ice cold ginger ale, some cold water and the GeekGrl wiped down my legs with an ice-cold sponge. I sat in the shade for a while and recuperated. Dread Pirate and her hubby were also there lending support. I was really happy when they told me I only had another 1.9 miles to go because I thought I still had another 3 miles but my Garmin was off.

After maybe 10 minutes I started to feel chilled and felt ready to go again so I got up and headed out for the final stretch. There is a moderately steep climb out of the ravine where the final aid station sits but once I was out of that I was back to running again and was feeling pretty good. At this point there was nobody else around so I figured that I would just end up finishing alone but in the past half mile or so I spotted someone out in front of me. The person looked too far ahead but I thought I'd try and pick up the pace to see if I could pass. In the last tenth of a mile there is a steep rock face with a cut in it and you have to climb it in order to get to the road and the finish line. When I turned up that rock face I saw the guy I had seen earlier and he was near the top of the climb. I figured that if he had nothing left I could catch him so I got down on my hands and just scrambled as hard as I could. He must have heard me coming and had nothing left because he just kind of shuffled off to the side and let me go by.

I crested the top, got on the road and jogged it in to the finish. Nine hours and fifty four minutes. I think I could have taken 45 minutes off that had I run alone from beginning to end and maybe a bit more had I been able to keep cool but all in all I had a good run given the recent low training mileage.

Now it's time to try and get back on track with my Leadville training.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Back in the Saddle: A Dog House Sprint Race Report

Last weekend while the GeekGrl was racing the Jay Benson Triathlon I was serving as a referee. A couple weeks before that while the GeekGrl was racing the Atomic Man Duathlon I was serving as the referee. I have not done a single multisport event all year and the last time I got to line up as a competitor was at the Old Pueblo 50-mile Endurance run way back on March 6th and that was only my second race of the year.

Well, last weekend was the last straw. I was tooling around on the back of a motorcycle looking for penalties and thinking “this sucks.” To make matters worse after the race we had our annual Outlaws cookout and everyone has cool stories about their exploits to date, including Ironman St. George that the GeekGrl and I had to bag at the last minute and I wasn't able to really join in so as soon as we got home I jumped online to see what the next race on the schedule would be. It just happened to be the Dog House Sprint in Lubbock, TX run by some of my favorite race directors, Mike and Marty Greer of the Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3.

It has been almost two years since I've been to Texas to race. Last year was pretty much a total loss with the new house and me in the acting chief of psychology position and this year hasn't been a lot better so I was very eager to get out to Lubbock and race. The feature race of the day is an Olympic distance race called the Buffman & Squeaky after Mike and Marty's dogs but the GeekGrl and I opted for the sprint. I reasoned that I couldn't afford to 1)run hard for 6.2 miles if my knee did protest, 2) expend that much energy the weekend before what is supposed to be an exceptionally hard 50K or 3) risk a recovery period that would cost me yet more time away from my Leadville training plan.

So, I think the last time I set up a transition area and pulled on a wetsuit was October 2009. I started off by tearing the leg of my wetsuit about three inches above the bottom with my heal. I was still in good spirits because it didn't ruin the suit and I was getting ready to race...finally. We went down to the waters edge and the water was a little cold but bearable. I lined up front and center and just planned to go all out. I really didn't know what to expect because I haven't really been swimming at all this year. I think I have about 4500 meters total. When the gun went off I just charged in as hard as I could and then swam like crazy. I swam about 95 meters thinking “this is awesome, I am flying!” and then by 100 meters I was more like “Oh crap, I'm going to blow up in about two more strokes.” I evened out my pace a bit and finished the swim in about 7:51, which is actually a swim PR for me by about 10 seconds per 100 meters. I got through transition pretty slowly and onto my bike.

The bike at the Buffalo Springs Lake venue is renowned for the monster climb right out of transition. It isn't particularly long, maybe a couple hundred meters, but it is quite steep. This is followed by a big downhill and another, longer but slightly less steep climb before heading out onto long stretches of flat ground. Same as with my swimming for the year I have very little biking and certainly nothing even approaching a sprint intensity. As with my swim I just went at the bike as hard as I could. The bike course for this race isn't the usual 20K but is 17.6 miles. I passed a few people but I was also passed by maybe four, which at least used to be unusual for me but I did come out of the water pretty fast and none of them looked like they might be people I would be directly competing with. I worked the bike hard and as I approached the end of the course I was pretty nervous that I would have little left for the run. I got off the bike in about 51 minutes and made another slow trip through transition.

For the run I decided to go with my brand new pair of Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats. These little guys weigh a meager 4 ounces per shoe. I think I have socks that are heavier. I wanted to start wearing racing flats for short races because I have grown accustomed to my Vibram Five Fingers and so felt I could tolerate the minimalist attire.

Like the swim and the bike I just hit the run as hard as I could. I left transition with three guys in sight probably 5 to 20 yards ahead of me. The nearest guy was a very fit 29 year old and I just did my best to focus on his back and try and hang on. My whole world was his blue tri suit, my labored breathing and the tsch tsch tsch tsch of my Mizunos on the road. Me and the blue tri guy caught the other two runners within about a quarter mile and put them behind us pretty quickly. After that it was just me and blue for a while. No matter how hard I pressed I couldn't close the gap on him but soon other runners began to come into sight. By about mile 1.25 the blue tri guy started to put a gap on me but there were now a couple other potential targets so I just tried to keep pushing. I ended up passing three more guys before crossing the finish line.

There has never once been a race of any distance where at least one person didn't pass me on the run but this time I did all the passing and finished up the run in about 23:35, a 7:37 pace. It has been a long while since I have actually tried to run fast so I'm glad to have pulled that off at the end of a sprint triathlon. My total time ended up being 1:25:35, which was good enough for first place masters Clydesdale. Actually it was good enough for overall fastest Clydesdale by about 14 minutes and it set a new Clydesdale course record, also by 14 minutes, I was 11th overall and not a single peep from my knee.

Back in 2006 this same course under a different make was my very first open water swim and I was very new to triathlon. My time then was 1:42:59, just a shade faster than the GeekGrl ran it this year so clearly we have both made some serious improvements.

It was an awesome day!

Update with official race results
500 meter swim: 7:30 (as much as I hate to think this I believe the course was a little short)
T-1: 1:27 (not as bad as I thought)
17.6 mile bike: 52:32 (still on par with my best times on this course)
T-2: 1:04 (faster than I thought)
5K run: 23:00 (a 7:22 pace, also faster than I thought)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I Got The Call

Yesterday evening I received a call from my family physician and he said he had heard I wanted the results of my MRI. I told him, with no small amount of trepidation, “Yes, I would like those results.” And his reply...

You have a bone bruise. I was ecstatic! I was so worried that I had a tear of some kind and that I would require surgery and that I would not only be out for this season but possibly the very beginning of next season. My doc's original thought was that I had a torn meniscus but he couldn't rule out a torn or partially torn ACL. He told me how common it is for 40+ year old guys to get a torn meniscus especially the active ones. He said that they meniscus basically becomes increasingly brittle as you age and therefore more susceptible to injury. He said it may just require an orthopedic surgeon to just “go in and clean it up a bit.”

I was contemplating no running until surgery and then the long recovery and rebuilding period that could last up to seven months. I was also thinking about what all I would do with that time. I had to admit that I was at least happy that I may get an excuse to take a couple weeks sick leave from work post surgery and I thought that in relatively short order I could sign up for some Tai Chi classes to help with the knee rehab and maybe improve my balance and flexibility. When life hands you lemons...

Anyway, a bone bruise. I thought “Great!” but said “What exactly is a bone bruise and what are the implications?” My doc started off by telling that he was amazed I had not torn anything at all and that I had only bruised the bone. He said, “You must have really rubbery menisci or something. Most people don't get a bone bruise alone.” I asked how to care for it and he said, “You need to lay off a while, take it easy.” To which I replied, “You mean run at an easier pace, run on softer surfaces, things like that?” and he said, “no, I mean you probably shouldn't run for a couple months.”

Well, my thought is piss on that, it's a freakin' bruise. So, being honest I told him I was going to take it easy but I was still going to run and he said “I know, just keep your appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, have him look at the MRIs and you two can talk about it and see what he thinks.” So that is my plan. I see the knee guy on May 18th and I'll know more from there. In the mean time I am going to see what I can do and just take it easier, slower and pay close attention to how I feel. I did about 8 miles tonight at an 11 minute pace, about 3 minutes off where I had gotten to before the injury, and felt good but then after sitting for about a half hour I stood up and was limping slightly and there was some pain. I think the "see what I can do" part will not be nearly as much as I had hoped.

I also did a little research on knee bone bruising and there isn't actually good stuff out there that is relevant to my cause. I did discover that a knee bone bruise without any associated tearing of anything else only occurs about 19% of the time. I also read an article from the journal Clinical Radiology titled “Magnetic resonance imaging of bone bruising in the acutely injured knee--short-term outcome.” which basically found 10% of their population had bone bruising without associated ligamentous injuries (like me), that the bruise was still visible on MRI after 12 – 14 weeks and that the initial severity of the injury didn't really have any bearing on whether or not the bruise was still visible after 12 to 14 weeks.

I also discovered that it isn't really a bruise per-se it is really a micro fracturing of the head of the femur. The ends of living bones are covered in a fibrous material and in a bone bruise that is what gets smashed. I guess that is what that kind of sickening squish-like sound I heard was.

This all fits with some of the anecdotal evidence I unearthed, basically that a bone bruise heals slowly and continues to be painful until it heals. There is no apparent intervention that will make it better other than time. The enormously frustrating thing is that I didn't find anything about running with a bone bruise, whether it would make it worse or what. I did find one piece that briefly stated that it was important to maintain mobility of the knee during the healing process but that could be just about anything, stretching, walking, Tai Chi or doing knee bends while sitting in your arm chair.

So I guess the overall outcome is still equivocal, I really don't know where I stand. Things look much better than they could but they don't look as good as I had hoped. Leadville is definitely a big question mark and it looks as if everything else I had planned for my season between now and the end of July, which is everything by the way, is also seriously in question.

This is one seriously expensive fall.