For the third year in a row, I found myself on the starting line of doing 2.5 mile laps at Pickled Feet. One might think I should be tired of this course by now! But this race still retains certain benefits that remain unique on the calendar – it’s local, it’s a great place to catch up with others over a lap, it has a choice of distances and day/night windows you can parlay into a training calendar, and the details just get better every year. A great tweak they made for 2015 was to move the timing mat on the other side of the aid station. It is hard to explain why, but there is a distinct psychological boost to finishing a lap and checking distance before fueling up.
After Wilson Creek, I had another little reset on the running button as I tried to make some final, definitive progress on the tendonitis (post tib) and fasciitis (that vampire plantar), both in my right foot. The latest tweaks my PT provided seemed to be exactly the right thing at the right time, but it still required some weeks of careful and calibrated attention to ever so slowly return to easy running and something like a baseline. A full week without telltale pain and soreness was cause for jubilation! I eventually had enough running in to try the 12 hour in relatively mellow terrain, where I could stop at anytime without a DNF. Admittedly my longest training run at this point was just over 2 hours…but I knew the 6 hour race might tempt me to run too fast, and I was in no state to attempt the 24. The 12 hour was juuust right.
I started the race at a very easy pace, especially to warm up the tendon as I knew it would take a few miles. In the dark at 6am, this was notably less difficult than the daylight start of the 24 hour. The first few laps unwound themselves in a pleasant state of awareness, feeling out my body, the trail, and observing small changes in the conditions from last year. Most notable was the straight path heading counter-clockwise to the dairy road – it was much wider, smoother, and packed down over the bumpy (and muddy) ankle rollers I remembered from prior years. The two track along the riverside remained the same number and quantity of rocks…I counted and compared my tally to the countless laps before (not). There was also the usual fun complement of old and new signs to keep the spirits up while doing lap after lap…
As I pondered the merits of grabbing a camera upgrade for a lap as the sun was coming up, the wind really began to kick up. It blew in strongly from the west, moving big clouds along with it, but it didn’t quite feel like rain and they weren’t predicting any. While a few sprinkles came down the wind was far more impressive, blowing a huge tumbleweed around the trail, knocking down a large dead tree near the river I heard about later, and wiping out several shelters around the main aid station. As I finished a lap after the strongest gusts, the lid had blown off my box while my table was knocked over scattering the contents. I managed to collect all the stuff – luckily someone had snagged the box lid under their cooler – and secured things up. Others had a tougher time of it, with the wind completely wrecking their shelters. Rich, the timing guru, found his own tent walls practically picking him up and sending him away. After that things settled down.
In this interim I caught up with a few of my fellow runners, including Frank Morris who not only finished the 100 mile event, but won it outright. I snapped his weary finish photo as he warmed himself around the main aid heaters. My wife had arrived to volunteer too. A lap later – lap 6 – I had her record my still fresh state of mind.
I then took the camera out on a slower lap through what was surely the most interesting light of the entire day.
About halfway through the lap the sun beamed through the clouds and warmed us all up. This sign provided further encouragement, especially after so many months dealing with injury:
I chugged along at a steady clip racking up miles. The sights and sounds of birds seemed extra numerous this year, with chickadees, robins, kestrels, and flickers cheering spring throughout the loop. At one point I watched a great blue heron silently glide in its own circles over the river for quite some time before heading north. An osprey also kept busy fishing in the pond near the start later in the day.
Eventually my head targeted the “halfway” point of 10 laps (25 miles), which was a good place to stop and eat a bit. The laps did not seem nearly so unreachable as last year, passing more quickly and my energy level was remarkably consistent. When I stopped at my personal aid station I filled up with my some my usual homemade energy treats supplied by my wife and ate pickles for good measure. My legs were starting to feel the miles, hardly a surprise given how I had not run this long in many months, but it was a very good sign my foot was not bothering me in any notable way. It was still not 100%, but the lack of pain or increased stiffness was simply fantastic given what I was attempting to do. I was feeling pretty confident I could get to 50 miles.
I put down two more laps in the midday sun and decided it was time to refresh the sunscreen and change the shirt. I brought a Hawaiian shirt this time for the occasion to break things up, increase the airflow, and remind myself not to take this too seriously. (It was also entertaining to see who was awake enough to notice.) I realized I had been running nearly continuously, not really thinking about walk breaks or otherwise, and I set aside lap 15 to pull out the camera once again and break the pace up.
A clockwise lap heading to the dairy brought me to the well packed road much improved this year, now laden with the footsteps of many runners on many laps.
When I ticked over 16 laps and 40 miles, I stopped in the massage tent to see if I could get a little release on my shoulders. My legs were sore, sure, but somehow I had a tension slowly ticking up in the middle of my shoulder blades. Tammy Marr freed these up in about 10 minutes or so and I set out to finish 20 laps with improved mental clarity. While my legs needed to warm up a bit again, much to my relief the ankle had not tightened up, another sign I might make it through this particular race in one piece.
Jay Morgan, who was there supporting his wife on the 24 hour and also doing some volunteering, joined me for lap 18. With him giving me some pull, I did my fastest lap of the day – under 25 minutes! He remarked how good I looked at this point, much better than last year (tough comparing to the 24), but also certainly in contrast to many others hobbling around the course. Those on the 100 mile and 48 hour remaining were working. He left me to my own devices on lap 19, and partnered again to complete the 50 mile mark. As I gulped one more glass of Fizz and a handful of potato chips on a slightly queasy stomach, I saw Drew blast by without stopping. Knowing they were about to open the short course and that he was also on the 12 hour, I made haste and took advantage of his moving target to get me through one more long lap for good measure. 52.5 miles then.
Rich changed me over to the short course with about 45 minutes to go. I might have squeaked in one more long lap but I felt mentally done with it. Another advantage of the new timing mat position was that the short course was a little longer, 0.28 miles instead of 0.18, and this added a few more varied turns while spreading us out more – those still moving! I walked a couple laps, one with Dondi, definitely feeling like I had 50+ miles on my legs. Eventually my brain wanted to get to 55 miles at least, and I started running to make sure that could happen. My calves threatened to cramp but eventually settled out once again and I felt the not so subtle pressure of the clock start to tick up my own pace to meet it. Paul Lind noticed and said “Mr. Black has his track shoes on!” I kept working the pace down, lap by lap, now thinking I could possibly crack 56. Finally, they announced 3 minutes to go and I kicked it up through the timing mat for just one more lap. I closed the circle one last time with less than one minute to spare.
Average pace: 12:50 min/mile. 5th overall out of 33!
A full Smugmug gallery is here, including photos of many other runners on the course.
Charting the numbers, thanks to the detailed lap splits:
Observations and Rationalizations
My third year at this race went well, my best yet. It is no direct comparison to the 24, but I now have a good baseline system down in ultra land and can have a very good day even when recovering from injury. Starting easy almost never sets me back.
I took the legs out for a 12 mile trail spin a week later after some rest, looking to see how healed I really was. While I have successfully hurdled the time and rocky ground factors – I can last for 12 hours and even speed up at the end – hills are still a clear extra stressor, especially downhills. I am pain free during the run but it’s the hours afterward that tells me how far I pushed it. My biggest challenge this year will be balancing the running with the progress and not slipping backward. One lap at a time, one sunrise at a time.
Looking back it is now clear to me that when the plantar arose from the dead in my right foot, I took almost the opposite approach of what I did 3 years ago. Back then I had just finished the 20 miler at Wilson, my first foray into this kind of running. I proceeded to take several weeks off, see the PT, doubled up on yoga, and I stepped away from the most minimalist shoes for running purposes. After being pain free in the left heel for some weeks I very, very slowly returned to a baseline run and did my first 50k at Silver City nearly five months later after what felt like a bare minimum of training. It never came back to haunt me (yet) on that side.
Last year at nearly the same time, I believed I could train and race through it, thinking I just had to stretch enough, compensate enough. I convinced myself I was smarter than last time, and this time went to orthotics too. I ran through Wilson 50k, PF 24 hour (nearly pain free), Quad Rock 50 in Colorado, RONR 100k after the post tib lit up in late May (probably compensating for heel pain on the downhill), and then topped it off with the McCall 40 – a very technical and difficult race. It seems obvious now that I pushed it just a little, but the sense of what is normal changed over time and my ego was a little more attached. All those races were unforgettable experiences – often with my wife – so I don’t regret them. I think I have learned something else in the larger cycle…and hope to sustain the running over the long haul. If there is one thing the past months have brought me to appreciate, it is that the simple combination of being pain free and running is a miracle in itself very easy to take for granted. It is even better to have the time and space to savor it fully.