Saturday, July 14, 2012

Post-WS: Afterglow & Aftermath

Meteorological Afterglow. Photo credit:
Has it been three weeks since Western States?  Time flies.  But it also seems like a long time ago.

Recovery from the 2012 edition has been slow and measured; it took at least ten days until the bulk of the orthopedic damage to heal, namely from the perpetual left leg overload.  Indeed, I still feel significant tightness in the left quad when I deep squat.

The neurological fatigue is always fascinating; my energy level in the days post-race was better than the carnage of 2011; however, I still felt tired and "jumpy" until just recently. 

My overall running legs and energy are gradually improving; I've run perhaps 30 miles in the past week (and no more than twenty the week before).  My legs are feeling heavy, which make me hesitant to ramp up miles. 

The relative slowness of recovery is okay; I plan on it.  Western States is the end of my spring season.  Indeed, I don't really have a summer season (which, compared to most outdoor sports, is an odd concept).  Instead, I use this time to rest and reboot - in both body and brain - for the "fall season", which kicks off with Waldo 100K on August 18th.

However, I do feel the tug of "FOMO" when I hear about Jorge running "back to normal" within three days post-race, or when I see the fellas cover some amazing ground outside Silverton.  But I'll be the first to admit, my talents as a runner end at "recovery time"; I just take forever. 

That said, rather than lament the snail's pace of restoration, I lounge in it: more beers, more sleep, more golf (three times in the past three weeks, after zero times in the past two years), more writing, more catching up with non-ultra friends.  I'm also branching out into some other athletic avenues, including my first-ever yoga class at a terrific studio in Eugene.  Felt good to touch my toes!  I've also returned to the gym for the first time in months - in hopes of trying to shore up weaknesses in my core and hips...and to try to reverse the egregious upper-to-lower body asymmetry!

In "Deep Survival", Gonzales talks about the brain's need to "relinquish the survival struggle" for periods of time.  For the acute situation, this ocassionally means sleeping, or self-distraction.  For me, it means a period of time where I'm not logging big miles, where I'm not grinding up mountain trails, and where I'm not thinking a lot about training or competition (or at least trying).

BUT...I do continue to here's some interesting reflections, three weeks out:

...The front guys ran FAST.  Why?  Maybe because conditions were historically cool.  But last year was also cool.  Here are some interesting stats between 2011 and 2012 Western States:

For how much cooler 2012 was - eleven degrees - the sifferences between 2012 and 2011 are relatively small: finishers and rate are nearly the same, the field as a whole ran 25 minutes faster (1.6% improved).  The "fast end" was relatively similiar in the "near-top": 35 vs 29 in the sub-19, 15 vs 14 in the sub 17. 

The most substantial difference was in the top ten: 15:48 versus 16:11 a year ago, 2.5% faster than 2011. 

Why were the top ten 2.5% faster in 2012, compared to 1.5% across the whole field?  Two reason, I believe:

1.) The Montrail Ultra Cup.  Faster folks wanna run WS, and they're being drawn to the MUC races.  The MUC races, themselves, are seeing a surge in competitiveness and depth.

But perhaps more notably:

2.) No one was afraid of each other in 2012. 

Since...forever?...there have been dominant runners at Western States: Jim King, Tim Twietmeyer, and Scott Jurek in the "Pre-Boom" era.  Then there's the "Unbreakable Era":  Hal Koerner, Geoff Roes and Kilian Jornet between 2007 and 2011. 

There were always these guys - only a handful, sometimes only one - that dominated the field, both on the clock and in our heads.  They took off and no one went with.  It was suicide for the rest of the field to try to run with these guys.  So often times, they didn't. 

But in 2012, with the absence of the Unbreakable guys, namely the late DNS of Kilian, blew things wide open.  Though steeped in mutual admiration and respect, there was fearlessness: of the pre-race favorites, Tim Olson and Mike Wolfe didn't fear Nick Clark or Dave Mackey,  Dave, Nick and Ian Sharman didn't fear Tim, Mike or Ryan Sandes.  Of the up-and-comers, Jorge, Dylan, and Zeke laid it all out there, with [only relatively reckless abandon. 

And so it was: everyone ran fast as hell.  That they ran as fast as they did was more a testiment to their pure desire and fearlessness than the weather.  And the numbers tell us that.  If it was just "the weather", you'd see the entire field run an hour faster, and 175 silver buckles. 

I wonder if you would've seen the fast times up front if Killian raced.  If he pushed out front early, would the entire top ten have gone with him, or let him go, out of respect for his abilities and resume?  But he wasn't there, and suddently there were at least ten guys in the field with thoughts, dreams and the ability to win that race, outright. 

I hope that continues, because it made for one hell of a race.

...It pays to DOPE!  "DOPE"...amine, that is!  It's notable that Jimothy listened to music over the last twenty miles this year.  As it turns out, he was doping!  Research has shown that listening to your favorite tunes releases significant boosts of dopamine in the brain, which results in "boosts" to both brain and motor function! 

I've known that music plays an important role in "giving the brain something to do" -- that pattern of neurological "play" that makes "having a song in your head" so pleasurable.  But given this new insight - the research and Jimothy's experience - is highly motivational, and is worth a try in future long ultras.

Moreover, listening to an iPod Shuffle will avoid having to be at the mercy of the "Jacob Rydman iPod", which includes some less desireable tracks (see below). 

...Here was my "playlist" for Western States.  As stated before, I never run with an actual music player; rather, I have my "Brain iPod", where I get certain songs "in my head" that'll play over-and-over - usually with some degree of self-control.  I often have an idea of what songs I want to "listen to", but others will pop in - and get stuck - at random.

Here what was on tap, and when:

Into the Wild - LP# - (Start - mid-Lyon Ridge)
Walking on the Moon - The Police (mid-Lyon Ridge - Robinson Flat)
Payphone - Maroon 5 (Robinson Flat - Foresthill)
Drive-By - Train* (River - Brown's Bar)
Give Your Heart a Break - Demi Lavato* (Brown's Bar - Finish)

# aka "the Jimothy Song"
*courtesty of Jake, who would sing these, on and off, non-stop over the course of our 38 miles together. 

As you can see, some good song, some randomly...not great.  But they all helped, and now, they're all memorable.  Next year, I'll have a Shuffle in the drop bag at Green Gate...

...Putting in a lot of attention and time into my mechanics. can be an experienced physical therapist who specializes in running mechanics, and have such brutal form at the end of the race?  That's a pessimistic view point.  The flip side is:  I've never been "really good" at running, so I've used my amazing PT prowess to "clean up" my mechanics enough to be competitive.

Either way...they sucked at WS.  Here's my laundry list of issues that I have to work on, going forward, and how I plan to work on it:

Lateral trunk shift.  This has been an issue for >4 years.  I've tried a lot of things, but I'm now going to try using some kinesiotape on my trunk (L shoulder to R hip) to see if that'll give me some instantaneous feedback when it happens, because right now it's damn hard to perceive until it's too late.
Michigan Bluff - getting out-run by both Nate and Monnnnnty.  Obvious trunk-left.  Notable that my left quad felt completely trashed out by this point.
Flexed trunk.  I've tweaked a lot of things during the last two years, and one of them has been my overall posture.  Unfortunately I went overboard, from "too arched" to that all-so-attractive "crippled old guy" look.  Sheesh.  I'm planning on doing less "form focus" and more work on my core stability, which really tanked this spring.

Lateral foot strike.  This is Public Enemy #2, behind the left trunk.  Since starting to trail run, I've started to land on the outside of my foot, quite excessively.  It causes a myriad of problems: sore, achy feet, blisters, tib anterior pain, ITB/quad trash, and overall power loss.  I've been making great strides on this in the past three weeks, via: 1.) barefoot running on the fake turf fields in Eugene, and 2.) literally cutting off the outer soles of my running shoes. 

The new Asics "This Little Piggy Gets None"
Both techniques have been effective at adopting a more "whole foot" strike pattern, which should save me a lot of pain and suffering, and hopefully make me faster. 

Floppy arms.  I've had this problem....for ever!  For some reason, I don't move through my shoulder blades; instead, I "flop" up and down at the elbow.  So rather than gain leg power and propulsion with a firm scap plus elbow back, all my upper body energy is lost with a forearm flopping up and down.  I'm trying to correct this with some new exercises in the gym ("runner arm" using the cable pulley) and focus. 

While dismayed at these issues, I'm excited about the idea that, if I can fix even one of them, my potential to run faster is great...

...Looking forward.  Waldo 100K is coming up quick.  I'd love to run well there, and look forward to spending some trail time with Jake again.  Looks to be another barn-burner, with the recent additions of Ian Sharman and Jimothy to a field that already has Hal, Yassine and others. 

Best keep resting so I can start working!  Speaking of...time for a beer...


  1. Hey Joe,

    Are you SURE you can write off a 10 degree difference as not that much of a factor? 10 degrees is a LOT. Dumping core heat is key, especially if you buy into the central governor model of brain-based body regulation.

    And, as you point out, the number of and specific runners from year to year makes "statistics" a bit difficult if not misleading.

    Granted, one tends to believe what they want to believe, and my thoughts on the matter are that cooler weather makes a massive difference. Having run religiously with a HR monitor, and having had to do much of that on dead flats in a variety of temps from cool to very hot, I find after an hour or so that the ambient temp makes a massive difference in my pace at my self-imposed fixed endurance training heart rate. I'm talking like 30+ sec/mile pace difference.

    Thus, in my mind, the cooler temps of WS this year must have had a huge effect. Remember, some people were totally unprepared for the wet weather up top, so that may have similarly contributed to some slower times due to being unshielded from the elements, not the otherwise faster times they would have had from the ability to dump the core heat. Just a thought....

    By the way, I like the analysis and introspection!


  2. Ken-

    Thanks for the comment. I DEFINITELY think that the cool weather was crucial; however, I'm only noting that the Top 10 men ran 2.5% faster than '11 (compared to 1.5% of the rest of the field).

    As they say, there are Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics -- so that my stats however you may!

    I think the one critical lesson learned from WS '12 - and my study of the thermogenics research in "Waterlogged" - is that, when it's cool, one must run fast and take advantage of the cool, and run easier when it's hot.

  3. Hi Joe- First of all, congrats on a great race at WS- 16:13 is crazy fast- and top 10! I'm with you on recovery - I have always found that the benefits of erring on the side of thorough recovery far outweigh the potential loss of fitness (and loss of motivation, injury potential, etc, etc).
    On another note, I saw on irunfar that you are a physical therapist. I am a dedicated ultra runner myself and considering a career change to become a PT. Given our shared hobby and your experience, I'm wondering if there might be a way that I could get in touch with you to hear your thoughts, experience in the field, and suggestions. If that is something you'd be willing to do, let me know and I can respond here with some contact info.
    Thank you for your consideration, and take care. - Forrest Tracy

  4. Forrest-

    Thanks for the comment! Shoot me a msg: joseph.m.uhan "at"