Updates: Tecumseh Marathon, UltraVasan 90k, 100k World Championships, and Ekiden

Alright, so like all bloggers do from time to time, I fell a little behind on posting. In particular, I failed to get a post-race recap up following the UltraVasan 90k in Sweden. Part of that was fueled by injury doldrums and a lack of motivation (more on that below), but I've got a variety of things to update, which I'll try to do with relative brevity!

Tecumseh Trail Marathon
1st place, 2:57:54 (CR) (Strava data, race results)

On Saturday, I finally got to race the Tecumseh Trail Marathon. At 14 years old, this is more or less the Indiana classic when it comes to trail races. Running along the Tecumseh Trail (which, in full, is actually 42 miles), the race runs point-to-point from Morgan-Monroe State Forest to and around Yellowwood Lake. I actually thru-hiked the full trail a couple weeks ago, so I had recently seen the whole course. It's deceptively tough, with ~3500' total ascent and a lot of winding trails that slow things down. The trail itself isn't super technical, but with leaves on the ground, it has its moments.

I've wanted to run the race for a number of years, but I haven't been able to fit it in my schedule before (last year, I was racing the NYC Marathon a week later, the year before I was coming off the Les Templiers 78k in France). It wasn't looking great for this year either, as I had initially planned to run the US 50M Road Championships and defend my CR at the Tussey Mountainback 50. But coming off my last race, I had an IT band issue crop up.  It forced me to take nearly 5 weeks off, while I got it sorted (fingers crossed I'm out of the woods!), which led me to bail on Tussey. There was just no way I'd be ready for 50 miles on about four weeks of training.

I started to toy with the idea of Tecumseh as I got back to regular running and started to build my long run.  I ran 13 miles a few weeks ago, then 15, and then after a solid 18 miler run eight days pre-race, I decided to pull the trigger and register. I wasn't sure if there would be any competition, but I wasn't too concerned about it either way. My 18-mile run, which I ran on one of the tougher trails in the area, made me think I could be within range of the course record on a good day, even though my fitness isn't great right now.  (The record was 2:58:00, held by Peter Hogg.)

As race day loomed, that prospect seemed more and more unlikely, given that temperatures were forecasted to reach 80º.  Even so, I made some sweet modifications to my racing vest to help keep me cool, and come race morning, I got after it.  I pushed fairly hard right from the gun and built up a bit of a lead on record pace.  I didn't have Peter's race data, so I didn't know with much precision, but I think by halfway, I was on pace to run in the low 2:50s.

With my Quaff ON! Racing teammates Travis Wheeler and Jeff Yoder pre-race

My excellent crew! 
But with the 10 a.m. race start, it was now approaching noon was now approaching and there was less shade than I hoped for (dang leaves falling!).  I still felt solid through mile 16 or so, but as I struggled through a couple climbs before the aid station (and my crew) at mile 18, the wheels started to come off. My girlfriend Beth and friend Alison helped crew for me (and take photos) and I saw them on the course four times. Since we'd been blasting Taylor Swift's 1989 on the way to the race, I told them I'd sing them a Taylor Swift lyric every time I saw them.

Band-aids don't fix bullet holes 
You can want who you want...

At mile 6, it was "Band-aids don't fix bullet holes!" Cruising on the road as I approached Route 45 at mile 12, I sang "You can want who you want... boys and boys and girls and girls!" Both times in pretty high spirits. However, cresting the Lanam Road ridge at 18, I had definitively entered the pain cave. I muttered, barely in a singing voice, "Are we out of the woods yet?"

Are we out of the woods yet?
 The next four miles were the toughest stretch for me.  In my mind, all I had to do was descend a long ridge line to Yellowwood Lake.  But in reality there was a serious climb or two left and I was really struggling to keep moving.  Baking in the sun and feeling a bit bonky, it was here I began to think that the record had slipped from my grasp.  This stretch of trail seemed to last forever, but finally, mercifully, I descended to the road crossing on the north side of Yellowwood Lake. A four-mile tour of the west and south sides of the lake would see me home. I passed my excellent crew and sang, "Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream!"

Darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream!
The last four miles, while relatively flat, are still tough. It's one of the more technical sections of trail, and you're at a point where every root and rock seems to jump up at you. Finally making it off the trail, I rolled through the 25-mile aid at exactly 2:50:00 on my watch with a road circuit to the finish. I asked how far to the finish, and Miranda Addonizio confirmed it was 1.2 miles. 8 minutes. Shouldn't be too bad...

But cruelly, the last mile of gravel road climbs a relatively significant hill. I tried to increase my cadence, get more lift from my legs, but my hamstrings were threatening cramping and I struggled to move. Cars drove by kicking up clouds of dust. I rounded the corner for the final 150 or 200 meters that circles a camping and picnic area, as my friends Cole Smith and Zane Yeager cheered me on. I glanced down and saw the watch was now past 2:57:30. Digging hard, I eked under the old CR by a mere 6 seconds.

Gutting out the final 100 meters
Sweet relief

It was a very hard effort, and it's crazy to think how close that was after three hours on the trail. I'm just happy I ended up on the right side of that 2:58:00. It was a time trial type of race in the end, with my friend Jeff Yoder running an excellent 3:34:09 for second place. A 16-year old girl named Morgan, who was from Indianapolis and just finished her HS cross country season, won the women's race in 4:36:30, which is pretty cool!

Despite the heat, it was a beautiful day to be on the trails and sharing in the Indiana trail running community.  There were a lot of familiar faces running, crewing, and volunteering.  Thanks to Brian with the D.IN.O. Series and the Hoosier Hiker's Council, as well as all the race volunteers, for maintaining this excellent local race!

A beautiful day for a race!

UltraVasan 90k

12th place, 6:48:32 (Strava data, race results)

Before the Tecumseh Trail Marathon and before my IT band issue, I raced the UltraVasan 90k in Mora, Sweden.  This was my second year going to this race, and I was generally pretty fit and ready to roll heading in.  I'm still not really sure why I ran so poorly.  By contrast, last year I finished 7th in 6:21:05, running on significantly less fitness due to a 6-month injury layoff.

This year, I started the race intelligently, a little back from the lead pack, but nothing clicked all day long and things just slowly unravelled.  I was mostly fine on calories, I didn't pace poorly, I'm still at a loss for what exactly went wrong.  The only thing I can really come up with is that my training this summer was relatively mediocre due to the humid swamp that is Bloomington in July.  I had a heck of a time managing to get in decent long runs.

Given all this, I'm really not sure what to learn or take away from the race, other than the fact that it's just sometimes not your day.  It was a great experience to race in Sweden again, all the same.  I really can't say enough for Peter Fredricson and the UltraVasan race organization.  It's an impeccably run race, beautiful and varied, full of culture and history—one I'd recommend strongly.

Mid-race at UltraVasan—not feeling so great
The trip to Sweden also afforded me the opportunity to visit with family in Varberg (south of Gothenburg), as well as sightsee in Gothenburg and Stockholm with Beth.  Post-race, we rented a car and went to Norway for a week.  This was without question one of the most beautiful places I've ever been—rivaled only by Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia.  I also have a deep love for many places in the American West, but there's something exotic about the fjords and mountains of Norway that is hard to match.

I spent a week just hiking and touring around to recover from the race, and we got to see some really spectacular scenery in Jotunheimen National Park and the Geirangerfjord area.  In a fairly massive country with a population of a mere 5 million, the whole country feels a bit like a nature park.  The mountains are endless.  You get on top of a peak and all you see in every direction is mountains and fjords.  This is more or less true of a very large swath of the country.  I could spend a lifetime here and not get bored of the endless trails and peaks to explore.  I hope to make it back in the near future.

Besseggen Ridge in Jotunheimen NP, Norway

100km World Championships
Coming off the UltraVasan race and my trip around Scandinavia, I had a pretty good plan for building up to the 100km World Championships.  The champs take place in Los Alcázares, Spain—on the southeast coast—in late November.  Three months would be a perfect training block, with one tuneup race at the US 50M Championships four weeks before the WC.  But as mentioned above, things immediately went sideways when I got back stateside.

Really without much warning, my left IT band revolted.  I had a bit of joint pain during the UltraVasan race and maybe slightly more than usual soreness in the week of recovery afterwards, but no real IT band pain.  But as soon as I started running back home, it was really bad.  I tried the standard: give it a day or two rest (along with rolling out, massage, exercises, etc.), try again.  No good... rest a few more days, try again.  Still no good.  Schedule an appointment with Darrell Barnes up at St. Vincent's Sports Performance.  Et cetera.

As basically the whole month of September slipped away with no training, I became resigned to the fact that I wouldn't make the starting line at the World Championships.  I was still seeing Darrell, and we had a good handle on what was going on, it just didn't like it would come around quickly enough.
The basic issue seems to stem from me not using my glute med enough or as the primarily stabilizer in frontal plane rotation.  (Imagine looking at a runner straight on, while in stance—the hips like a steering wheel.  It's the control of rotation of that wheel and making sure the hips stay horizontally neutral that I'm talking about.)  I was probably overlying on my front-ish side—in particular the TFL, lower medial quad/adductors to stabilize in that plane.  That over-reliance on what should be more of a secondary stabilizer (behind the glute med as primary stabilizer) led to an overly tight TFL and adductor on my left leg.  That tightness leads to pulling, which probably caused my knee to track inward a little too much, even if imperceptibly.  This causes the IT band at the knee to scrape on the lateral side, leading to inflammation, which ultimately manifested in me limping and not being able to run.

My best guess is that this issue was latent, under the surface for some time, and then got aggravated running the 56 miles of the UltraVasan course.  But I wasn't really aware of the extent of it until I got home and tried training again.  With the knowledgeable eye of Darrell, we figured all this out, and it seemed like an easy enough fix or correction of the underlying cause through some various exercises.  But we also needed to address the symptom, the back end of the problem, if I was going to get to training.  My concern was that we wouldn't get it to calm down quickly enough for me to make the Champs.  But with some therapy and massage, it thankfully came around at the last possible moment.  It mostly feels good now (fingers crossed!), though it still feels a little iffy and makes me nervous.

My timeline for a final decision on trying to make it back for the World Champs was basically two months out.  I set the following long run schedule for myself in the 8 weeks pre-race:
Week 1 - 12 miles
Week 2 - 15 miles
Week 3 - 18 miles
Week 4 - 24 miles
Week 5 - 30 miles
Week 6 - 18 miles
Week 7 - 12 miles
Week 8 - Race 100km
If I was going to make the line and finish respectably, I needed to be able to build to about 30 miles. The week of the 12 miler, things miraculously started to come around.  I've been keeping mostly to flat surfaces for the sake of caution.  But I finally hit the trails with the 18 miler a week and a half ago that I mentioned further up on this post.  Since I had 24 scheduled for last weekend anyway, I figured why not hop in the Tecumseh and get a really hard effort out of it.

So far so good.  30 miles on the docket this weekend and I'll finally start adding some workouts in these final few weeks.  I won't be in 6:30 100k shape come Nov. 27 like I'd originally hoped, but hopefully I'll be able to better my 7:01 finish from the 2015 Champs.  6:45-6:50 seems like a good A Goal to me.

Back to the 100k World Championships in November! (This photo is from the 2015 Champs.)

Finally, a brief announcement.  After two decades of running curiosity/questioning/study and seven years of coaching runners—the last four as a more structured business—I joined the new coaching service Ekiden last month.  The business was co-founded by Mario Fraioli, a coaching/writing colleague who I really respect.  Mario and his business partners have a great model with Ekiden, where personal coaching is administered through a web-based app.  The training schedule is integrated with Strava for analyzing workouts, athletes get text reminders of the day's workout, and all communication between athlete and coach is handled through the app.

The business is just getting started, and I think there's a ton of cool potential with it.  It will hopefully make the remote-based coaching experience seamless and smoother for both athletes and coaches.  They've got different tiers for different levels of commitment, so there's a good fit for whatever price/level works best for your needs.

 Last week I was a guest on the Bibrave podcast—hosted by my friends (and coaching clients) at Bibrave.com—where we talked about Ekiden, my training/coaching philosophy, and all about personal run coaching from a variety of different angles.  You can check that out here.

OK, that's it for the marathon update session!  Cheers!