Tuesday, March 13, 2012

USA-TF 50k Nationals: Caumsett Park, LI 3/4/12

Last year at the USA-TF 50k National Championship, I had a great race.  It was a surprising performance that I can only attribute to going into it well-rested and dialing into a perfect pace. In 2011, I ran a 4:15 for the 31 mile race and took 8th place.  By April, I was sick with liver failure from a medication that was supposed to help me.  It took a while to recover and my fitness and motivation took a big hit.  I focused on school and work for the rest of the year.  I did very little racing that I was incredibly proud of,  except for winning a 24 hour race after some tornadoes sent most of the field home and surprising myself at a 6-hour race where I managed a 4th place finish.  I spent most of 2011 suffering from my painful plantar fibromas that just never seemed to get better.  After cutting down my training to no avail, I knew the problem wasn’t from running TOO MUCH, it was from running TOO LITTLE.
At the 2011 24 hour National Championships, I ran in great pain the entire way.  At 10 miles into the run, my fibromas felt irritated. I already knew I was in trouble. Just hours into the run, I saw Dr. Lovey and he told me to stop by the med tent to see the podiatrists who would work on my feet. Every 2 hours or less I was back in the tent getting worked on.  They really saved my race, but by mile 85 or so I was done.  Before my compulsion to quit overcame my desire to fight on, I saw Dr. Lovey and walked with him.  He told me about his pain.  He complemented my running form (when I was able to run) and then advised, “Sometimes to get over something like this, you just have to start over from the beginning.”  This was back in September and his words echoed in my mind for months.

On January 2012, I started over with a 5 mile trail run at 11:36 pace. It was hilly.  It was slow.   But later that day, I ran 5 more miles at 10:36 pace.  I like the short slower runs that were over before my feet got a chance to hurt.  The next day, Monday, I got up before work and ran 3 miles, then 5 more that night.  The small goal of 3-5 miles of pain-free running seemed so pleasant.  I did very slow distance runs on the weekends.  Running was becoming fun and relaxing again, instead of a stress.  

My mileage quickly climbed to 60, 70, 80 miles.  Mid-January, I ran the Croom 50k just to see if my feet could tolerate 31 miles if I took it slow.  I wasn’t focused on racing but rather just running about 10-11 minute per mile or slower and taking a break between laps.  I finished in just under 7 hours.  I realized I would need to drop about 3 hours from that time by March to run like I did at the 50k Nationals last year.  That seemed ridiculous, but I didn’t dismiss it as impossible.

By February, I was able to log 50 mile weekends and 85-100 weeks.  All pain free.   Nothing was very fast, so I started adding progressions during some morning weekday runs.  My average pace was still slow, but I was ending most runs at a low to sub-7 pace.  I felt good.

But March 4 would be the test.   I wanted to see what high volume could do, even though I did very few 15-20+ milers at a "helpful" pace.  Most of my LSD was quite slow.  Most of my faster runs were quite short.  On 2/29, I even ended up in the Emergency Room with a serious allergic reaction causing my face and throat to swell.  This did not make a good formula for running an 8 minute pace for 31 miles.  However, I decided I had to take the risk.  I had to go for it. Sub-8's gave me a short at sub-to-low 4 hours for a 50k and that sounded nice.

I met Ray K in the parking lot.  Every one of my best 2011 races had one common denominator:  Ray.  He has been my ultra-guiding light since I meet him at the 24 hour Nationals in 2009.  He knows me.  He knows how I train.  He knows when I am on a roll.  He knows when I am crumbling.  He knows what to say to reverse my internal combustion (or create some internal combustion/? I am not sure.  Do cars run on internal combustion? I will have to ask Ray.)  He has been able to say things to me in the midst of implosion that has gotten me moving well again.  There have been days that even he couldn’t help me.  However, knowing that he was there gave me peace of mind.

The gun went off.  My plan was to run with a mindlessness that allowed me to focus on the moment I was in.  For miles I felt smooth and strong and easy.  Mile 1 was 7:44.  It felt easy.  We got chatty in mile 2 and slowed to 8:00, but recovered by mile 3.  The first lap was 24:50 and it felt too slow.  Each of the next 5 laps I worked on slowly speeding up my pace and did so by seconds per mile only.  I hovered around the mid-low 24 minute 5k for 7 in a row.  At lap 6, I have goosebumps and visions of seeing low 4 hour mark on the clock.  I could feel myself doing something amazing. I knew I worked hard, although not necessarily smart for a 50k.  I thought about how I managed a 100 mile training week earlier than I planned.  My feet felt numb, but not in pain.  My form was still fluid.  I thought if I can just make it to lap 9, I got this. 

But as I hit the back side of lap 7, I started to falter.  I could feel my body weakening.  I took the gel I had in my pocket and hoped it could revive me.  I was still moving.  Only once before had I ever run 31 miles non-stop and it was here.  I wanted that again, but I wasn’t so sure I would make it.

By lap 8 my arms started going numb.  My posture felt contorted.  I couldn’t find a reason to smile except that I knew the first half of the loop was kind to me and helped me recover from the mid-back part.  I cruised along, felt better and then hit the "rolling" section, which beat me down.  Lap 8 marked my first 25+ minute 5k split of the race.  I didn’t care.  I knew they would get worse from here. 

I started lap 9 feeling like I was going to die.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to finish 6.2 miles.  My stride was shrinking.  My legs were cement.  The splits were jumbled in my mind.  I no longer knew what my projected finish time would be, but guessed if I slowed to 30 minutes per 5k for the last 2 laps, I could still finish under 4:20.  I was just not fully confident I could actually run that fast.   I was no longer looking at mile splits, fearing the worst and not wanting proof.  People called my name and I couldn’t find a bit of energy to respond.  I believe I grunted at one guy and he laughed at me.  Ok, that made me smile.  I finished lap 9 as Byron Lane finished his 10th.  I wished I could be him, finishing as the clocked turned 3:45.  I figured if the last lap took me an hour I could still break 5 hours!  I was feeling that low, but I was still “running” although it feel like I was running in mud. 

I hear Ray in the distance, yell out “Come Catch me!”  He was on his way out while I was coming in.  I know I looked in his direction, but everything looked blurry and I was not sure where he was.   As I ran from the start-finish and off into the distance, I felt surreal, overcome with light-headed dizziness, my legs buckled.  I was going to hit the pavement.  I had visions of being scooped up off the asphalt by emergency medical techs.  I had to walk a few steps to get my vision back. No!!! Grrr!!!  I walked.  Damn it!  Even walking a few steps, my legs felt like rubber bands that I could not control.  I felt disappointed in myself for breaking my stride, but after a few second I realized walking was just as hard as running and I found the will to get moving.  I did not walk a single step the rest of the race.

I could barely open my stride, but I was moving.  I made it all the way around the park and heard Ray again call out:  “You are going to PR!  Just 3 tenths to go!  Kick now!”   I really tried to will myself to kick.  I am certain I did not slow down, but I am not sure I really picked up the pace.  I have never felt so bad in a race in my life.  Despite the last two laps feeling slow, one was at 8:48 pace and the other was 9:00.  This was better than I thought it was.  I even managed to barely snag a new 50k PR at 4:13:04.  

I don’t like the feeling of falling apart a race.  It is incredibly painful.  However, I credit the higher volume training for keeping me in the fight.  I have never fought so hard for a finish line.   I was able to tolerate so much more distress that I reached new level of fatigue.  I never did collapse, but I was very close for a moment.  I am incredibly proud that I rediscovered my ability to fight.  Because I made it to that finish line, I earned 7th place in the USA National 50k! What a great day for 10 x 5ks in the park. 


  1. Wow! You are an amazing young lady Shannon! I am glad you are my friend! :)

  2. So cool! Great fight for that finish!

  3. Excellent job on the race! Congrats on a new PR! :)