On race morning, I went out a little conservative, holding a judicious pace up the long climb to Corral. I felt good, and took off down the Backbone trail reeling in Guillaume and Seth. Things seemed to be going alright, but as I hit technical patches of trail, my toe winced and caused me to run on the sides of my feet. So, when I hit a fateful piece of rutted out sandstone before Encinal Road, I rolled it damn good, a good 160 degree sprain.
Photo by Billy Yang
To put it in perspective, being a forefoot runner and trying to avoid you big toe is like being a pianist and not using your index finger. You can get by, but you're dramatically held back. So, one might say that this toe injury was the root cause of my ankle sprain today.. But, a quality audit would proceed with the 5-Why statement and then ask, why did I stub my toe?
On the day it happened, I was tired and flustered, and trying to fake a good 20 mile run. Asking why again, I'd have to come out and say that I wasn't focusing enough on my running, and asking why again, I'd say I was taking it for granted. I was achieving fitness last spring that seemed to be indicative of advancement to the best fitness of my life. The kind of abilities that I was proving real talent and prowess to myself.
However, training is like a race, and no one gets points or trophies for being the first to the top of a climb (okay, there are KOM purses, but they're dumb, so stop doing that RD's). So, if I had the endurance to run all day after running 5 hundred mile weeks, then where was the strength training to make my knees tougher, the speed work to make me for efficient in the flats, the rolling and stretching to avoid injuries. Instead, I kept my head down and kept running more endurance miles to the point that my adrenals stopped caring (they were literally like "meh" for the first 50 miles of the biggest race of my life).
I think once I over-trained, I lost momentum and stop trying to innovate and figure out ways to keep going fast. To be perfectly honest, becoming a better runner through running a lot of miles is like painting a picture with just a ton of paint. Yeah, you can paint a picture, but it's going to turn brown. I think initially it's part of the most obvious equation that makes new ultra runners good from the outset. After that, the miles take their toll and they cause a uphill stride to be a little softer, turnover a little slower, and a downhill to be a little more cautious.
For me at 28 years old, 7 years in the sport, 40+ ultras, 50,000+ miles on my legs, I'm not exactly ready to retire and accept injuries. Sure, it makes sense why stuff happens when I'm tired or not focused, but it's not enough to convince me that I won't set much more PR's.
With that, I'm going to bed, getting up, cross training, working on a training plan, and moving on. Motivated.
I like the "becoming a better runner through running a lot of miles is like painting a picture with just a ton of paint" analogy. Will be stealing it. :) Hoping your ankle and toe are healed up very soon.
Good thoughts on over-training and how it might be the reason those new to ultras have success then the miles take their toll.
When I first got into ultras, my thought was that I just needed to run a long time every day and rack up 120+ mile weeks on end. That worked for a bit. 9,700 miles in my first two ultra running years with some decent results and then like you, the adrenal glands started questioning themselves. I'm only 25 and been in the sport 4 years, and not nearly as many races, but I'm already well past the point of only trying to rack up mileage.
PR's and great results are still possible. Just need to reevaluate training and not over-train. There are many other ways to be sustainable.
Down cycles are so hard, keep your head high you will be on the upswing soon!
Sorry that you hurt your ankle. I hope it heals soon. Having run for many years (40+) I can relate to the training issue. After a certain point the efficacy of training more becomes very disappointing. It's like training your car to go faster by putting the pedal to the medal every time out. At the end of the day assuming that something has not blown out, the car is no faster than before. Unfortunately it comes down to dailing in sustainable training which is less that what you think and let patience and nature do its thing. Improvement does come this way and that is how it has worked for me. Also I have found that when you make a training change the benefit of that comes quickly meaning you should do that probably no more that 2 months out before the big event and quit the change about 2 weeks prior. Sorry I guess I am rambling. Wishing you lots of good races this year Dom.
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