Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Road to Burning River

I've been training for the Burning River 100 Mile Ultramarathon all summer. Whether I've trained enough remains to be seen, but I wanted to write about (and therefor think about) what I've done, and why, as a way to share my experience with others, but also to find out what I myself really think.

I'm a lucky enough to have a job which allows me summers off. I've taken advantage of that by running every day, sometimes twice a day, and doing longer runs. Since I didn't ever think I could run more in one day than, say, 50K, or six hours, I figured the best thing I could do is run the equivalent of what I'll run during the race, in one week. Meaning, either 100 miles in one week, or, since I tend to run in 'time chunks', and since I anticipate the race to take me at least 24 hours, probably more, to run 24+ hours/week. Some weeks this summer I've done more than that.

But I get ahead of myself. One other thing, and actually I did it twice, was to use my trip to Spain, and I mean the actual flight over, as an opportunity to force myself to stay up more than 24 hours. I confess I didn't actually plan that until I was on the flight over, where I was given an aisle seat and just could not sleep at all with my long legs. The return flight was even worse, with a 12 hour layover in Heathrow airport, which I spent wandering around the airport, just trying to stay on my feet and moving for most of it. Both good experiences in seeing how fuzzy my thinking gets without rest.

The most running I did was two weeks in Mallorca, which I discussed in my previous post, but which basically amounted to doing a 4 hour route, three times a week. In addition, I bumped up runs on my alternate days to two hours, and sometimes ran a second time at night. I feel like I kind of maxed out what I could do, training wise, and even overdid it, since my old enemy plantar fasciitis came back. But that gave me the incentive to crosstrain on a bike in my last days there, reminding that I could do that back in Michigan.

And, back in Michigan, I've tried to keep up doing a long run, the 20 miles to Concord and back on the Falling Waters Trail, but I returned back in the middle of a heat wave. The first time I tried it, I used up all my water on the way out, and I got heat stress on the way back. With the humidity, and temps in the 90s, I do not trust myself to go that long, and unfortunately, the hot temps seem to be continuing, making me a little worried about Burning River: Will it be as hot and humid? I hope not. That would be brutal.

So, I've been generally running two hours in the morning, sometimes a little more, and then running a half hour to hour at night. In addition, I am sometimes riding my bike out to Concord and back, 20 miles, which isn't so bad since I get a nice breeze. I've only been back a little over two weeks, and did do my long run twice, which I swear used to take me four hours, but now takes six! That's at least good practice for being on my feet a lot.

Most of my running has been barefoot since I got back, including the long runs, but I plan to run the race minimalist, either with my Luna huaraches or, since I'm thinking I may want just a little be thicker protection for that long of a period, and since I seem to be back banging my toes on roots, my VFFs which will give my feets some extra padding in general. I'm still up in the air about which. I'll bring both with me, and maybe start with the huaraches and use the VFFs when it gets dark and I get groggy.

Is this enough? I have no idea. I would have preferred to have run some more marathons and/or 50Ks in the last couple months, to keep my body used to competition pace, and competition mentality. The last marathon I did was Kalamazoo in May. The longest I've ever been on my feet running is the 50Ks from last year: six hours. From those, I felt I could have kept going to at least 50 miles. I feel strong, stronger than maybe when I ran those 50Ks. So, I'm pretty sure I can get halfway.

I don't feel fast necessarily though. My main concern is getting 'timed out.' That is, being so slow that the officials pull me out as the shut down the course behind the runners (I hope that makes sense-not sure how to explain it better right now). I figure, with my hiking and wildland firefighting experience, that I can at least hike/walk all day and night.

Of course, by the time I get to 50 miles, I should be well into early evening of Saturday. Meaning the hardest part, mentally and physically, will also happen at the worse time: in the middle of the night.

So I don't know. I just don't know. But, I'm looking forward to finding out. I want this to be fun. I know I'll be grumpy while it's going on, but I want to see just what my body is capable of. After running barefoot, and running marathons and 50Ks barefoot, I feel like I'm only now, in my 40s, really pushing my body. That feels great.

On the other hand, all this training takes up a lot of time. Again, I'm lucky to have the summer off. But even with my days free, some days I feel like this much running might not be worth it. If running was all I did, if that was my only 'thing', I'd be fine with it. But, I also like writing, and reading, and playing music, and sometimes (though this heat is a big factor in that) I find either that I'm tired all day, without the energy to really do as much of any of that as I'd like. For example, I've been enjoying my second runs at night, after 9, sometimes after 10, when the air is cool, and the streets are deserted. But by the time I get back, it'll be time for bed. No guitar playing, and when usually I might read for a while, I'll just konk out. I'm ok with that for now, for the next two weeks, but I'm not sure I'd want to sustain that. Especially once classes start back up.

Still, I used to consider a marathon a once-a-year thing. I feel like I could do those once or twice a month, limited only by proximity to any. Maybe an ultra can be the once-a-year thing. Maybe an ultra is going to be as addictive as marathons?!

[Note: This may be my last post before running Burning River. I will definitely write about the experience. Stay tuned!]

Barefoot in Mallorca, part II

Although I'm now back in the U.S., I do want to return to Mallorca for two qualifications on my last post, which ended saying Mallorca is ideal for barefoot running. After I wrote that post, I stayed for another two weeks, and two not-so-great things happened:

First, I had two stepping-on-glass incidents. The first happened on a run down at the east end of the beach, and I should have known better, since that's where all the drunk Germans hung out and party all day night, many of them with glass bottles. Also, there was the the 'bikini factor' meaning I may have been a little distracted (because yes, it's always the woman's fault for wearing something sexy). Since the Rambla, the walkway that follows the length of the whole beach (and goes on into Palma) is made out of stone tiles, there's a little 'dip' between each, which at first feels a little uncomfortable to barefeet, since almost every step, part of the foot kind of sinks down into that dip. Also, the tiles are brown-ish. Well, there was a little piece of brown glass in one of the dips, and the ball of my left foot sank right down onto it. There was an immediate sharp pain, and my foot shot up and I actually took a couple more steps, thinking that, like most rocks, it would fall out or off. But no, when I finally looked, there was the piece of glass, sticking right out. Not a big one, and fortunately a part of it was still sticking out. The worst thing the could have happened is if the whole thing had been buried under the skin. With this one, I just lifted my foot, pinched the glass between my right thumb and pointing finger and was able to pull it right out. Again fortunately, no littler glass particles broke off, the glass came out cleanly. There was a bit of blood, but pulling it out didn't hurt at all. I actually continued my run back to my apartment and the wound closed up fairly quickly.

The second glass incident happened when merely walking barefoot down the Rambla, on the west end, far from the partying Germans. There may again have been a bikini factor, but I was surprised that just walking, instead of coming down harder with my feet while running, was enough to force glass to puncture skin, but again, this happened when part of my foot sank down between tiles. Again, I was able to just grab onto the protruding glass and yank it right out, though this one bled a lot more, which was embarrasing, leaving bloody tracks on the tiles. I finally put on my moccasins and bled into them a bit.

The second not-so-great thing happened towards the end of my stay. The whole time I'd been running every day, sometimes twice, and taking more long runs, in preparation for the upcoming Burning River 100 Mile race. My strategy was to up my mileage and time to one hundred miles, or 24+ hours or running per week.

My long run consisted of taking the Rambla all the way into Palma, to the far side of the port, roughly two hours out, and two hours back. I'd worked my way to doing this run three times in one week. But, remember that the Rambla is made of stone/marble tiles. Well, to my surprise, my plantar fasciitis returned. And believe me, I know it was the old PF: I had it for two years, and couldn't run. It's the reason I turned to barefoot running (See old posts if you want to read more about this). So yes, the throbbing heels returned, especially in the morning.

So, with less than a week to go in Mallorca, I opted to give my feets a break and do some cross-training, renting a mountain bike on the beach every day and taking it on into Palma, where I re-lived my bike messenger days zipping up and down hills and weaving through the old mazy streets.

The good news is that on my return to Michigan, and my old routes, both trails and pavement, the PF did not return. So, I don't know if the hard Rambla surface would be a factor for other runners not insane enough to be training for a 100 Miler. I probably would have been fine if I'd kept my long run to once a week. The weather, and the laid back attitude of everyone there on the beach, still make Mallorca a great place for barefoot running, just be careful on overdoing it!