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Monday, May 27, 2013

Iron Knee 2013: Race Report

Race Day: May 26th, 2013

I've been suffering a few niggly injuries in the form of a banged up knee from my femur rotating inwards and was aching for a solid long run where nothing went wrong. That wasn't going to the case on this particular event. The terrible beginning would pale in comparison to how simply awesome things were going to finish.

Gary Robbins, a local runner and elite Ultra runner, who is also the course director for the Squamish 50, my "A race" for the year, and wins more stuff than you can imagine (go read his blog), sent me a video with some rehab he did after suffering a double leg break a couple of years back. I had always ignored run specific strength training but, since February of this year, after my knee decided to revolt and sent March into a downward spiral of hurt, leading to a no-run April, I paid attention to the imbalanced and weaknesses I had generated, and started getting to work.

Massage therapy, some hard ass slow controlled movements and a focus on supporting muscle groups was slowly but surely alleviating some of my pains. KT Tape was also become a fast friend to my legs, if not my bank account. I had found a unique taping method that allowed me to run without stabbing pain, and so my runs ramped up again.

In the end of May, we did a 32km long orientation run in Squamish on the SQ50, and my knee was superb. That run I went out too hard in the first 14 k, overdid the gels in the first hour and became seriously nauseous by km 19 and had no quads left for what was, in essence, the most difficult and challenging long run of my reasonably new running life. I learned a lot on that run, but was not planning on repeating the poor finish and failed nutrition plan.
Now I ought to mention, I love downhill technical trails. A lot. I tend to go too hard down them, and haven't found the balance yet on how to enjoy that exuberance AND make it past plus 30k feeling fresh. I'm still learning and making mistakes on every run. Of course, I'm also listening to the feedback and ensuring it would generate a better performance for next time.

So here we were, the next time. The Iron Knee was intended to be a 24k training race for me, not an "A race" by any means. It was an exercise in seeing where I was, what was working technique wise, and also a bit of an experiment. For nutrition, I was going to run with 20oz Ultraspire handheld filled with NUUN grape flavor and CLIF Shot Bloks. That's it - no vest, no gels, no water, no salt tabs, no solid food. Let's see what happens.

Elaine Fung, a dear friend, fellow martial artist and 'OG' runner of our running group "We Run Mas," and I were decked out in rainbow gear. Compression sleeves, and fluorescent colors. Euro Chic is what we call it. We like fancy wine too.

Elaine Fung and I rockin' it like it's 1986
Our plan was to go out slow and enjoy the course. My personal plan was to run a steady effort the entire race. I wasn't going for a PR or a PB or anything else like that (well I suppose it would be both since I haven't run the course before, but let's ignore the semantics shall we). Sub 3 hours would be great. Sub 2:45, even better and on target. Sub 2 1/2 hours? Probably too fast for a training race, since I'm planning on running for the rest of the following week according to a schedule also. Now to point out I'm a 45'ish min 10k runner for road, which isn't too fast. I've never run a road half marathon, so the trail paces are all course specific. My 5k pace is 4:20 (yea, I know, chuckle chuckle potheads) and that's pushing it. There you go, enough of the math and runner geek stuff, let's get to the start line, shall we.
Elaine and I at the start!

The first climb is a steady run from Cleveland Dam to the base of the Grouse Grind. The gun goes off, and we run up the road for a mile and then turn right on the trail head and follow a rocky wide track that has a slow climb up with a few bends and turns. Calves are feeling tight right off the bat, but that's typical for an uphill start, so whatever, no biggy. Keep running. We were easily in the back of the pack, which is a nice feeling when you're not pushing it as a goal race, but rather using it to develop a strong performance for a few months down the line. You can talk to people and enjoy the scenery on these types of events and figure things out for later. Let's call it fine tuning adaptation.

We reach the single track trailhead together and after a bit more climbing, there's a short descent. I decide to see how the knee is doing, and skip down passing a few people along the way. I like to frolick. We reach the bottom, and there's a girl there at an Aid station in the middle of nowhere. I have a laugh, thank her for hanging out in the depths of a west coast rain forest, and take a few leaps up the trail and wait for Elaine. Uh oh, what's this? My calf is stiff and my right foot is tingly. Whatever, loosen the laces on my Salomon S-Lab XT5's, and keep going, It's technical uphill from here, so steady as she goes. Elaine catches up and we navigate some great roots, rocks and muddy middles. Right foot is still a bother, loosen the patellar strap and loosen the laces. Foot is a full tingle. Elaine continues on and I fiddle with my shoes.

We hit some undulating uphill and are only about 4km in, when that's it: I can't feel my foot. At all. I don't know where it's landing, what it's kicking, how high it is, or anything. From the mid shin down, there's zero propreoception and no feedback. Left foot strike, nothing, left foot strike, nothing, left foot strike, nothing . . . each and every stride. I'm concerned. Balance is an issue and I don't want to wipe out. I slow to a walk, since running on technical is impossible with no right foot. Elaine is long gone.
I walk for another 2 km, still nothing. I can't curl my toes, angle my foot or do any controlled movement below the right knee. Hmm, this could be the first time I DNF. No point in snapping a leg for a training race. My pace is gone. I am being passed by everyone. I mean, EVERYONE. I meet a trail marshall and ask her where the next aid station is as I will be dropping from the race. She says it a couple of kliks away on Old Mountain Highway and she' sorry. "Thanks," I say and plod along. One foot at a time.

What I imagine to be one of the last place runners in the race comes along. I'm likely around position 165 out of 166 runners. Yes, it's that bad. The runner asks if I'm okay and I explain I'm probably gonna pack it in, since I can't feel my foot. She's not overly fast and says she just started trail running 6 months ago. She's sliding all over the place on the slick roots and rocks, but is tenacious in her approach, which I admire immensely. I hold my breath a couple of times on her account but she stays upright and keeps moving forward. I can keep a slow run pace with her and place my feet where she does. She came at just the right moment. I thank her for allowing me to keep pace with her, and follow her footfalls, as it's the only way I can stay upright and run at the same time. We dial in a km or so, and then the first descent down Mt. Fromme begins. The aid station is near, so I might as well run it in before handing in my bib. My run is slow and tempered, careful and deliberate. Not how I tend to run downhill at all, but c'est la vie. Another kilometer and my day will be done. Somehow, I manage to catch up to Elaine and my right foot tingles, as though  it's coming back to life. I'm so excited to see her (really,you have no idea), and shout out as I catch up.

We run into the Aid Station together and lo and behold who do I see?!
Ellie Greenwood, Ultra Runner Extraordinaire
Yup, Ellie Greenwood. Now, if one is going to DNF a race, it doesn't happen at an aid station where Ellie Greenwood, Ultra Runner of the Year, Western States 100 course record holder, basically the elite of the elite Ultra runners in the world, is hanging out. She's offering coke and chips and gels. Big smile. I introduce myself, as I was too shy to do so when we ran (together) at the first SQ50 orientation run in March. She says Elaine and I look "too fresh" and we ought to "run faster". Okay, well, when Ellie says run faster, you run faster. My thoughts of DNF'ing due to club foot start to fade and Elaine and I depart the final stretch of Mt. Fromme heading into Lynn Valley.

Elaine and I drop into the trail head again, a part of a trail system we know very well, and my foot is coming alive. Tingly but giving sensation and feedback! Yes, I can run downhill at last. I shift gears and start a controlled tumble into some watery, rocky single track. The undergrowth holds their leaves out like fans on the side of the road cheering me on.

The steep steps that drop into Lynn Valley road are coming to completion and Elaine is minute or so behind. I see waving hands down below and another lift of spirit is there cheering me on! It's my wife and two boys. They're clapping and waving as I make my descent and greet them. I quickly communicate what happened and why I'm so far behind to which my wife, Simone says, "Don't DNF because of your foot. You have another one!" With a backwards run and a big smile, I give a wave and burst down the road to the next trail connector.
Coming down Mt. Fromme
I come into the Lower Syemour Conservation Reserve feeling great. I've made up a few places I lost and take a coke and some chips at the aid station. I'm about to enter a trail network I haven't run before so "stay conservative and run with a steady effort" I remind myself. There is a big climb ahead . . . somewhere.

I reel in a couple of more runners on a service road that goes downhill. I have modified my technique on this type of terrain in the past several weeks and the refinement is paying off. There's a hurt runner ahead and woman in red assisting him. I stop and she explains his knees are toast. He looks like he's in pain big time and the straight downhill gravel road is killing him. He struggles along and he, Donna (the lady) and I head towards the next climb as we turn onto a single track uphill. Donna and I have a great chat about the course, which she has run about 20 times, and has raced 4 times. I make a mental note of her wisdom and thank her, since now I have a plan in my head on how to run the rest of the race. My foot and DNF woes are a distant memory.

Now I want to know how I can make up some time.

Our injured friend starts the climb with us, I tell him he's doing great and then Donna and I start power hiking up Powerline Hill. It's a 1500 foot climb up single track within a 2km distance. In other words, steep. Last year in Oct 2012, when I did my first (trail) half marathon the climbs were torture. I didn't have the technique or form or muscular set up to achieve any success in them. This climb was a confidence booster. I kept an even tempo and reached the top with a lot left in the gas tank. Two aid station workers hold out a buffet of hydration: coke, electrolyte, water, juice? Coke please. 2 Clif Shot Bloks left and Donna says it's all downhill from here. I take off.

Now, I've had fun running downhills before, but never like this. I am literally flying down the trail. It's the most aggressive and carefree I've ever run downhill. It's gonna be a solid 6k effort, but I've got the quads today and I'm energized to finish after such a brutal start. I'm reeling in the back of the pack runners, and passing course marshalls with a huge smile on my face. It's super technical, rooty rocky, slippery and tacky mud throughout but I'm charging it with a recklessness. Day hikers heading uphill are cheering on the runners and they boost my energy, as I thank them all for giving way on my ridiculous free-fall down Mount Seymour's east slope. My Garmin later shows I peaked at 3:37 pace and averaged 5:15 for this section. Wicked! A couple of small up and downs near the base and the last downhill to the end. THE best final 5 1/2k stretches I've had all year.

Final junction, and I yell out, "How far?" to a course marshall. She says 400 meters, and I see the beach and balloons at Deep Cove. Full sprint. Yes! BAM! No! Calf cramp. My right leg buckles then goes straight. I'm about to go over. Hard. Someone screams, "Come on, it's right there!" I pull my toes up in my shoe, and push to the finish line, arms raised.
2:57:36! Paris, my son and Peter, Race Director

My wife, and boys are waiting for me. I get my medal. Final Placement was 133 of 166 - a full 32 spots up from where I was at km 6 of 24. I can live with that. A strong finish is what I was after.

Mmm, Gold tastes like chocolate

Damn, I love this sport.

The Starting Line

Hi Everybody,

This blog is a record of my journey into the world of Ultra Running (and running in general), hence its title Ultra Inspired. I started running late in my life, having started last year in March of 2012 at the age of 37 in order get ready for Tough Mudder Whistler. Before that point, I couldn't stand running (loathe wouldn't be out of place here) and focused mainly on being athletic through Kickboxing and MMA.

However, something clicked and I really loved it. The whole minimalist movement changed the way I ran and suddenly I could go further and faster than I could before. More on the minimalism thing in later posts.

So, I'll be sharing some tidbits of my journey so far, what made me go from a non-runner to deciding to set my goals on trail running and Ultra distances, as well as the bumps along the way. I certainly hope you find some of what you read insightful and entertaining.

I will also be posting about training successes and failures, race reports, trail reports, nutrition highs and lows and other related topics throughout. One of the great things about trail running is the culture that goes along with it, including the elites who are willing to give you some tips, and the general camaraderie in the woods, including the evolution of our running group "We Run Mas".

It is very much a human-binding experience in my mind, the connection that we feel and develop with others "out there."

Welcome to Ultra Inspired (or U and I for short). Let's go run together.

Ed Kumar