Fitnotes: SF10, Injury Updates, Pacing, Racing

A few updates...

Soldier Field 10 Mile
I ran the Soldier Field 10 Mile in Chicago on May 23, now over a month ago.  I didn’t really feel impelled to write a race report, as I wasn’t really racing.  Rather, it was a run (albeit of high quality in my relatively unfit state) and a great opportunity for me to catch up with old friends from the Chicago running community.  I ran just under 59 minutes, matching strides with my good friend Dan’s dad, Dave Walters, who is also my former coach (circa 2008-2009) and an age-group stud (perennially top-3 at Boston, Chicago, New York). 

Running with Dave was a treat for a couple of reasons.  First, rarely do I get to enjoy a race from inside the race while not actually racing.  Second, Dave is one of those infectiously enthusiastic souls, especially when it comes to his métier—running.  (Dan didn’t fall far from the tree.)  His encouragement of pretty much every person we ran near or passed was pretty exceptional.  After four decades of running at a high level, Dave has the pacing thing pretty dialed.  This meant that we were pretty much mowing people down the whole race.  We were gunning for sub-59 and a negative split and had no real trouble attaining that goal.  At 58 years old, Dave revealed he is thinking about the 60+ 10-mile U.S. (or World?, I forget) Record in a few years. 

Passing runners steadily, and being passed by no one, we eventually caught the lead woman, Lauren Kersjes (a young lady from Downers Grove, who appears to have run collegiately at Syracuse), who was stuck in no-(wo)man’s land.  Dave made it his mission to help her dip under 59 minutes.  He used every trick in the encouragement playbook, coaxing her along with lines of the “one more hard mile” or “just 5 minutes of work” ilk; insisting that she stay directly between him and me as we ran three abreast.  This was profoundly cool to see, but also almost embarrassing, as I began to wonder if we were just annoying her.  But this was Dave’s bus; I was just along for the ride. 

True to Dave’s metronomic abilities, we ran 58:49.  Lauren would dip under as well, with a 58:58.  Post-race, while catching up with old running friends, I imbibed some free 312 and some Daisy Cutter (a Chicago favorite of mine) that I had snuck in.  No cool down.  12 miles (with warmup) was plenty for the day.

For some unknown reason, as I rode my bike down to the race that morning, my right ankle had been a bit tight, sort of on top on the lateral side.  An abbreviated warmup and fast-ish run aggravated it, and after a few test runs in the following days, I actually had to take several days off to allow whatever I had tweaked to heal.  This was in addition to planned time off for treatment of my ongoing toe /tenosynovitis /fluid build-up issue and for a family holiday in southern Africa.

A Break and the Injury Saga
As much as two years ago, I had begun planning to run the Comrades Marathon this year.  I had some extended family who were interested in going on a photographic safari in southern Africa, so we decided to plan a trip in conjunction with the Comrades.  The thought was that I would need a week or two of recovery post-race anyway, so the infeasibility of running while on safari would make sense.  As things turned out, I was not able to run the Comrades, but the wheels were already in motion on the vacation component of the trip, so off to southern Africa I went.  It was of course a bummer to not be able to train for several weeks (I did hop on a treadmill briefly once...), right after I had begun building back to consistent running, but all things considered, not a huge deal.  And the trip was really relaxing and rewarding in other ways.

Running on a solar-powered treadmill in the bush.

The trip also afforded a chance to try another treatment option in the healing process for my toe.  Most recently, on April 7, we had drained the cyst-like fluid in my toe and injected platelet-rich plasma (PRP), trying to stimulate healing of whatever was still causing inflammation down there (the fluid is a byproduct of inflammation).  However, once I began running again in early May, the fluid came back in my second toe.  It seemed at least possible that the fluid coming back was a result of the PRP, since that is a pro-inflammatory process.  The PRP may have done some good, but we don’t really know because there were multiple variables in play.

The next option was to drain my toe again, and possibly inject a steroid (not into the tendon, but rather, just next to it, inside the tendon sheath) to shut down the inflammatory process.  The risks with a steroidal injection aren’t too bad, but after talking over options with my doctor, we decided to just drain the toe this time—no cortisone.  I reasoned that we could try the draining-plus-steroidal-injection option next if need be; but if simply draining the toe and giving it a couple weeks off (strategically timed with the trip to Africa) would do the trick, that would be best. 

Unfortunately, the fluid came back in my toe pretty quickly, perhaps aided by some major pressure differentials while flying trans-Atlantic to Joburg.  So now we know that the PRP wasn’t the sole reason the fluid came back.  There is something going on in my toe that is continuing to lead to fluid buildup.  My guess is this is some sort of chronic inflammation that my body is just having a hard time kicking after such a long time (going on a year or so now).

The fluid isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself.  The concern is more-so that if it accumulates too much and/or causes pain, I will start to alter my gait and could develop a compensation injury.  As it stands at the moment, pain is nonexistent when running, and the fluid buildup is manageable.  With some post-run icing, I’ve been able to keep the swelling to a minimum.  My hope is that it won’t get any worse; or in a best-case scenario, just slowly go away. 

Not banking on the latter option, I’ve scheduled an appointment for late July, where I anticipate draining the fluid from my toe again and also getting a cortisone shot to shut down the inflammation in my toe.  With a little luck, that will be the end of this ordeal.  Or perhaps equally likely, I will find myself back at square one this fall, sidelined and unsure of the road forward.  But the only way to know is to forge ahead and control the things I can control.  For now, I can train (and eventually, race) unhindered by the injury, so that’s what I’m going to do!

The next stop on the comeback trail is a fun weekend at the Western States 100 Mile, where I will crew and pace for my Salomon teammate Justin Houck.  I’ll be pacing alongside Jim Walmsley, and we’ll be helping Justin’s wife Claire with crewing.  The Salomon team will also have a handful of others racing, including Aliza Lapierre, Anita Ortiz, Ryan Sandes, and Francoise D’Haene. 

The spectacle that is Western States is always fun from a fan’s perspective.  It’s exciting to follow the race as it unfolds and to see the great community that turns out for this, the pinnacle of the sport (at least in the U.S., anyway).  I keep telling folks that Justin is one of about five guys who has the skill set to win the thing.  He’s a big unknown of course, making his 100-mile debut, but he’s defied the odds thus far and he’s got a wealth of talent and a level head when racing.

I met Justin at last year’s White River 50 Mile, his 50-mile debut (coming just a few months after his first ultra, a 50k that he crushed).  We exchanged a little banter along with Vajin Armstrong and Uli Steidl in the early miles before I stopped to water the flowers (or, rather, pine needles) and never saw Justin again.  Until the finish line that is, which he reached a cool half hour before me.  In doing so, Justin ran the third-fastest time ever at White River, only a minute behind Anton Krupicka’s mark (set in his prime).  And as a course that hosted the USATF 50-Mile Trail Championships for ten years, White River has seen its share of competitive runners and performances. 

Hanging out and sharing beers with Justin and his wife, Claire, post-race (and cheering on Claire’s father to a pretty damn impressive finish), I decided Justin was cool enough for me to recommend him for the Salomon team.   Not that I really have that kind of pull of course; my point is mainly that he’s a cool dude and I was happy to facilitate the connection.  His hard work and performances are what got him on board.

With his eyes set firmly on this year’s Western States, Justin trained for and then crushed the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in late March.  As all Montrail Ultra Cup races do, this race attracted top-flight competition vying for the coveted Western States auto-entry slots.  In a calm and calculated performance—while his new Salomon teammates cheered and followed from afar at a team summit in Sedona, AZ—Justin ran patiently for the race’s first half and then entirely dismantled his competition.  He won the race by roughly a half hour.  This in his 100k debut. 

So you see why the fact that Justin is an “unknown at 100 miles” should be taken with a grain of salt.  There are many things that can go wrong at this distance, but Justin is well trained, focused, and peaked for this.  Hailing from Seattle, he’s been able to hit plenty of vertical gain to handle the many ascents and especially descents at States.  And based on the track (trail?) record of a guy we all know well (who is currently on the Appalachian Trail), I’d say that the mountains outside of Seattle aren’t too shabby of a place to prepare for this race.  I’m looking forward to helping Justin on Saturday and seeing what he can do.

As for my own plans, I’m going to hit a couple of late summer races in Europe come hell or high water.  (What an interesting idiom.  The come hell part makes sense as no matter what, but I wonder about the high water… why that’s so bad—an allusion to a flood I suppose, perhaps The Flood?)  As mentioned above, I really need to train at a high level (and volume) before I know were I stand with my injury anyway, so might as well include race plans in that process. 

First, I’ll be heading to the UltraVasan 90K in Mora, Sweden on August 22.  This will be my first time in Sweden, and the race looks to be quite beautiful.  I believe Mora is Jonas Budd’s hometown (he of 2nd place-at-Comrades, UTMB, 100km WC, etc. fame), and the organizers are bringing in a number of top men and women, including my American Salomon teammate Max King.

Three weeks after the UltraVasan, the 100km World Championships take place in Winschoten, in the Netherlands.  By virtue of my 5:49 Ice Age 50 Mile performance in 2014, I was named as an alternate to Team USA.  But after a couple of folks declined their spots, I recently found out I will be on the team.  Since my toe injury led to a DNF at last year’s 100km World Championships in Qatar, it will be great to have a shot at redemption. 

It’s a bit of a rush to get into shape for these races, just 8 and 11 weeks away, but I’m going to give it my best shot.  As long as I don’t suffer any serious setbacks that require time off, I should be able to run at 95% or so anyway.  If luck prevails, and I remain healthy, they will be good building blocks for some late fall racing, possibly the New York City Marathon and/or the JFK 50 Mile.