Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back in Action

After a less than ideal Spring running season, I think I am finally back in action and ready to get back into training mode. Perfect timing, after receiving my first ever official “elite invitation” to the UROC 100K race in Charlottesville, VA. Dealing with my shin injury that forced me to cut out running completely for 6 weeks has been tough, but I will be stronger for it coming into this upcoming season as my body has had ample time to recover and I will train smarter because of it. Plus I have gotten to spend lots of quality time outside on my new Cannondale road bike and have become a (relatively) bad-ass cyclist J

I started running again in mid-June, but the come-back has been a slow process. At first it felt so great to be out on the trails again, even out on the roads again and I fell in love with everything I had missed about running all over again…for the first 4 miles. Then suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, everything would get a lot harder. Kind of just felt like my legs were just heavy. Just nothing left in them. And then there come the hills. I can’t remember my body ever feeling so heavy. I went on (what turned into) an 8 mile trail run with Steve about three weeks after staring up agianat WCC and I felt like a fat kid as I pushed my hands on my quads in a desperate attempt coming up the steep grassy hill at the very end. I thought that I would drastically drop my mileage cycling now that I could run again, but as cycling is still an endurance event that I can actually do for many hours, I stuck with long rides on the weekends, followed by whatever run I could muster out of my legs soon to follow. It served to be a good training strategy, as it kept me religious with my slow mileage buildup for running while satisfying my crave for endurance and companionship with cycling.
Last weekend I had my first “long” run on the Appalachian trail after I finished off a week of finals and stopped at my parents house to stay for a couple nights on my way to Kentucky, where I will be for the next six weeks of the summer for my first full time internship. I was a bit apprehensive about this run since I seemed to be hitting “the wall” in all my training runs up to this time at around mile 10. But after a couple of inspiring runs that week, I was ready to give it a shot. Tom joined me that morning and we ran 18 miles on the trail, including the first section of the JFK. Minus the crazy steep hills which I power hiked a few miles in (where I still felt kinda like a fat kid) the rest of the run went very smoothly and was rather enjoyable. I got into a rhythm (likely a slow rhythm, but nonetheless) and everything started feeling comfortable again. And I was back out in the woods, in my home territory, and running again! It was a very happy day. Unfortunately Tom wasn’t feeling as great as I was and my brother and I went back to pick him up where he stopped short at Gapland gap. It was the perfect run for me though, because I got company for the first half and then just enjoyed some quality nature time and set myself loose going down some of those hills (also nearly breaking my ankle). And for the first time since I could remember, I felt like I could keep running when I came out of the trail and probably would have if my brother hadn’t been there to pick me up.
My first week in Kentucky could have gone better. It started with what was intended to be a leisurely bike ride around town on my commuter to check out the area when I arrived on Sunday, which turned into me ending up lost in the ghetto for 10 miles, flat tire and phone dying. Next I started feeling sick all week, which brought on a horrible stomach ache that came on at work and during my runs that I couldn’t shake. And although I still attempted, it made any type of physical activity pretty miserable. I only followed one 7-mile running route which I found online around the city through a development, due to my 10-11 hour/day work schedule and fear of getting lost again in the ghetto. I don’t like running through the city, with its uneven sidewalks, traffic lights and unconsiderate motorists. I liked the woods and back country roads and solitude from the craziness. But I worked with what I had.
On Tuesday night I had had enough of the city and was going to do everything it took to find some of these Kentucky horse farms that everyone was talking about. It was a bit sketchy riding my bike on some roads out of the city, but when I found them, they just kept coming. It was beautiful out there. Just endless miles of rolling back country roads surrounded by grassy fields and horse farms. Only horses too; no cows, sheep, goats to be found.  I had a planned route that I had studied on google maps a couple of times the night before, but soon enough, I was just exploring roads, turning whenever something looked interesting or had a cool name. And the roads are unbelievably smooth. It felt like my skinny road tires were riding on velvet.  I saw several other cyclists out there at the time, all looking like they were going not much less than 30mph. When I was headed back in, I saw a group of them in the parking lot of the airport. I rolled up to the group and chatted for a few minutes. That’s how I found out about the Blue Grass Cycling club ride calendar. Then I rode with a couple of the guys, who are UK grad students, back into town towards the university where my apartment is and they took me a much less sketchy way.

On Saturday morning I got up early to meet the BG running club for a weekly group at 6:20am, which turned out to be on some of the same back roads I had ridden on that week. Some of the runners were just introducing themselves to me when a few others ran up and I realized that I knew one of the guys in the group. I could not recall how, but I was sure that I had had extensive conversations with him at some point in time. When I asked how I knew him he replied in a thick Southern inflected tone “Well, I don’t know, I’m from Texas.”
Then it clicked. “BANDERA!!!” This was the guy that had run in the last 20 miles of Bandera with Matt and Alex and then, not wanting to drive the 2+ hours back to his hotel, had come back to our house and hung out after the race. Thrilled that I now had not only seen a familiar face for the first time in a week, but had found a fellow ultrarunner and potential training partner in the weeks to come, I ran 17 miles that morning, the first 7 with the group, then when they left another 10 on my own. I felt pretty decent the whole time. Definitely lost some leg speed and strength up the hills, but minus the chaffing (apparently back to the rookie mistakes of forgetting the body glide). Afterwards I went into my PT clinic to use the gym and do some hip and core strengthening, a part coming-back rehab I am trying to keep honest with. (And if you need a good core workout I have three letters for you: T.R.X. Ouch). After I was finished my run and workout for the day, my instinct was to go home, get out my books and start studying for the next 7-8 hours or until I fell asleep. And as stressful and exhausting as it can be to put in 10-12 hour workdays every day of the week, it is sure nice to go into a weekend with literally nothing to do until Monday morning. I plan on enjoying this luxury to the fullest while it lasts!
On Sunday I got up to meet up the the BG cycling club’s annual “Tour de Pancakes” 45mile ride, which I had found on the ride calendar. I was feeling my legs a bit from the day before, but somehow I was still able to stay strong with a group of about 15 cyclists, averaging nearly 20mph for 45 miles. I really didn’t know I was even capable of such speed, even with riding the wheels of the group, but the rolling hills of the back Kentucky roads are not nearly as steep as those of PA an MD, so the effort didn’t seem like a 20 mph effort. I even pulled for my share of miles, and helped some old guys riding my wheel to catch back up with the group when they fell off. The ride was really fun and I met some nice people, who I will hopefully get to ride with again in the next few weeks. And the crazy lady leading the ride was, well, crazy, but once you got over the first feelings of annoyance as she barked at you to “Delaware, is that all you got?! Pick it up!!” it was almost sort of motivating. Or at least made me pick up some speed to shut her up. And the pancake breakfast afterwards was amazing and I don’t think I have ever seen such a large buffet of breakfast food at a breakfast potluck. I kept things light though, because from there I was going to meet up with Ed for a trail run…
When locating a good single track trail around the area, we settled on Raven Run, one of the “longer” trails consisting of a whole 10 miles of single track. Apparently there are a few good long trails, but they are over an hour drive and since we didn’t get started till the afternoon we decided to keep it local for today and just run the thing twice or something like that. The trail itself was pretty nice for most parts, but we had soon covered all the single track there was in less than 90 minutes, so headed out again for more. I liked Lexington, but it felt so good to feel like I was out of the city, away from all the people and just lost in the middle of the woods again. It was beautiful out there, with the trail running alongside the Kentucky river and a small stream, and mostly in cool shaded areas out of the mid afternoon heat. Even with the shade though, we were both going through water pretty fast and when we stopped around 4:00 we were both pretty tired and dehydrated. 13 miles according to Ed’s Nike chip.

Raven Run training run with Ed.

Running these past few weeks has been tough. It was hard enough to give it up completely for 6 weeks, but possibly even harder to come back from that and feeling like to you are starting from scratch again, especially when you know where you were. To go out for the first few runs and come back completely exhausted after 4 miles, when you know you could run over 40 miles before feeling that way just months ago. But these past few weeks I have been freed from the gripping paranoia of going out for a run and waiting, wondering and dreading what pain would come on next and when. This past spring season, running had stopped being a pleasurable stress relieving activity that brought a sense of achievement to my life and instead turned to a source of stress, dissatisfaction and disappointment. Now, while I am not exactly in the best ultrarunning shape of my life, I am back to running pain free and it makes me so happy that the limiting factor was my own aerobic fitness rather than something out of my control. 

Loving the trails again.

View of the KY river.

I have a lot of work to do before the UROC 100K, but I can feel my running fitness returning at an exponential rate, and I think I will be ready when that date this September rolls around. And starting a clean slate of running while being in a new place in the city of Lexington, where no one knows who I am, I feel freed of expectations and feel better about building from what seems like nothing. While I want to do well in the race, in the end I run for the fun and challenge of the experience. So whether or not I am in the most prime ultra shape of my life in these next couple of months, if I am healthy and strong enough to finish, I plan to give the race a shot and hold back my embarrassment of getting my butt kicked by the other elites at the starting line J

No comments:

Post a Comment