Friday, May 23, 2014

Whispering Pines 50K Trail Race

Whispering Pines 50K trail race report.  My first ever DNF (Did not finish).

The weather actually turned out close to perfect for mid May in east Texas.  58 degrees and moderate humidity at the start, climbing to mid 70's and a slight breeze when I finished.  It had rained earlier in the week but the trails were in great shape and from that perspective I couldn't have asked for better conditions.

I did have a little bout with a stomach bug on Thursday before the race, everything was going right through me and that wasn't helping the old carbo loading very much at all.  I was feeling poor enough that I broke my running streak of 50+ days and decided to take a break that day.  Friday had me feeling better, but still not 100%, but I was going to be racing pretty much regardless.  Friday turned out to be a pretty hectic day and I ended up not being able to get in a run that day as well.  After a little over a 6 hour drive we got checked into the hotel and were in bed just after 10, but I was wired and couldn't seem to get to sleep.

My training hadn't been perfect with the 3 weeks off completely with the broken collarbone, but I felt like I had pretty much gotten back on track and was still thinking I might actually be competitive even though I was supposed to be focused on not falling more than running fast.  5:30 rolled around way too soon and ate a couple bagels and a banana and headed to the race.  Actually got started a little later than we wanted from the hotel, but made it to the race in plenty of time and packet pickup went really smooth and had about 30 minutes to spare before the race started at 7:00.  Got my drop bag ready and put it on the tarp provided and just tried to relax and enjoy it.  It was a beautiful morning and before you know it the race was ready to start.  

The 50K and 20 milers start 30 minutes before the 10 milers and 7K'ers so there were about 125 runners or so going off the line.  I was thinking about just keeping an easy pace, but I was still also thinking that I might be able to run right around 5 hours so didn't want to go out too easy.  That was just under a 10:00 pace and I just couldn't comprehend how I could run much slower than that, even walking up some of the steeper hills.

Right off the bat the course goes up a small hill, drops back down, up another hill, drops, back down, repeat, then down a big hill and up a big hill, lots of ups and downs.  It is single track so we all kind of got into a spot right at the start and then just kind of held our spot in line for better or worse.  I really felt like I was doing a pretty good pace for me, it felt like a little more effort than I was wanting, but not too bad.  I was hoping that the fact that we were running about 2,500' lower in elevation than where we live would help offset the higher humidity.  I had my phone set to just tell me the time and distance every 5 minutes instead of average pace, split pace and all that fun stuff and as I suspected it was lost as a goose and the GPS was shorting the course about 25% due to the heavy tree cover.  10 minutes in and it said that I had not even gone .75 miles and I knew I was running faster than 10:00 pace.

The trail was in good shape and the tree cover was so thick that it was shaded about 95% of the time.  There were tree roots everywhere and at first I seemed to be doing a fine job not tripping on them.  Just over a mile or so in people started to spread out a little and get some space between us and I started to relax a little and sure enough, I tripped hard and went down.  It happened very fast, and I reached to brace myself with both arms, not able to keep my reactions from working faster than my mind which would have said "don't brace yourself with your left arm!".  I popped back up and was running down the trail before really even thinking about it, but doing a mental inventory for pain, everything seemed fine.  I could still move my shoulder fine, I reached over and felt where the break in my collarbone was and it felt fine, I seemed to have averted total disaster barely a mile into the race.  I pledged to myself to pay more attention and focus on those tree roots even harder.  

Here's a picture that I took off the race website that I think shows what most of the course was like.

Maybe another 1/2 mile or so I think I glanced over at some cows in a nice pasture that we were running by and bam, I was on the ground again.  Again, my reactions were quicker than my brain and I reached out with both arms.  Again, somehow I ended up okay and I didn't re-break my collarbone.  

This was getting borderline ridiculous now, surely I can run without falling on a nice trail through the woods!  There weren't hardly any rocks or anything, just those tree roots everywhere.  With renewed focus and a big sigh of relief I continued on.  Maybe another mile down the road and I was on the ground again.  No idea what happened that time.  I don't think I was able to even reach out to brace myself before I was on the ground, but again somehow my collarbone was still intact and other than a growing number of scrapes and scratches, I was no worse for wear.

About this time I really started thinking whether I needed to continue or not.  The first aid station was at 3 miles and there was a shortcut back to the start on an old road there.  If I continued to fall at this rate it wasn't a matter of "if" I was going to re-break my collarbone, it was a matter of how far I was going to make it before I "did" re-break my collarbone.  The trail actually seemed to be getting a little better and I decided I would continue on, but just focus even harder on not falling.  

I seemed to finally get into a groove and really started making some progress.  My effort level still seemed a little higher than I would have expected, but I was running a pretty comfortable pace and walking on the steeper hills and I felt like I could maintain this level for a long time.  Weather was close to perfect still.  Before I knew it I was making my way toward the 2nd aid station at the 7 mile mark.  I had tripped a few times, but really nothing even close to a fall.  I was getting pretty confident.  

In and out of the 2nd aid station, some nice downhill running on a fairly smooth section of the course and I was feeling even better.  I actually caught up to some of the 7K runners that had made a shorter loop and felt very smooth and things were really feeling good here.  Maybe the best I felt the entire race.  The trail got hilly again and the tree roots showed back up, but I was able to make it back to the start line to finish the first loop without falling again and went through in 1:41 which was just 1 minute slower than I was planning.  3 1 hour and 40 minute loops would put me right at 5 hours.

I hit the hilly section at the start of the 2nd loop again and really focused on my feet and not tripping.  Made it through the first couple miles really well, didn't trip at all.  The hills were all much bigger the second time around and some of the smaller ones that I ran up the first time I walked up this time.  I was slowing down, but I was also focusing on not falling so I still felt pretty good about things.  Right about the time that I was feeling really confident again I went down hard.  Ended up skidding down a hill on my back a little bit.  Okay, that wasn't fun, but guess what?  I still hadn't re-broken my collarbone!!!  I went on with renewed focus on my feet placement and made it into the 1st aid station with just that one fall where I had fallen 3 times in that section the previous time through.  I was getting better!

Just some quick water and a GU and back down the trail.  This goes on a long uphill section for a little over a mile almost and I was starting to feel it.  I did a little bit of walking in here on some areas where the hill wasn't very steep at all.  I ended up matching up with another runner who was wearing sandals and I we chatted back and forth quite a bit over the next several miles.  I had forgotten to put any body glide on and my nipples were starting to rub me pretty good so somewhere in here I ended up taking my singlet off and tucking it into my race belt.  Somewhere around mile 15 or 16 a runner up ahead of us fell and called out to warn us not to trip over something, so of course I immediately proceeded to trip and fall for the 5th time.  It wasn't a bad fall though and I still felt okay about my improvement in my not falling ability.  Continued on to the 2nd aid station at the 17 mile mark and was starting to get tired, but actually pulled away from the guy wearing the sandals and was making a pretty decent pace.

I was taking GU every 45 minutes or so and drinking plenty of water.  In one of my falls I had landed on one of my water bottles though and the cap that only opens up when you squeeze on it was broken and it splashed water out with every step.  That essentially left me with one working 8oz water bottle for the distance between aid stations, then I would use the broken one to drink at the aid stations.  It was working fairly decently but I was getting a little worried about how that was going to work on the last lap with the temperatures were getting a little higher.

I left the 2nd aid station and started to enjoy the nice downhill section with the smooth trail for a bit, right up until I fell hard for the 6th time during the race.  Again, I reacted quicker than I thought and braced myself with both arms as I fell.  Again, somehow I didn't re-break my collarbone.  I was starting to get depressed with my continued falling and I was starting to get tired as well.  Renewed focus and kept going down the trail, but it seemed like I lost some of my energy and the little uphills were getting harder and harder and I was walking just about any uphill I came to.  I was starting to think that maybe I was really pushing my luck and the next time I fell might be the end of my lucky streak.  I was also thinking that as I got more and more tired, the chances of me tripping and falling were probably going to go up.

I was trying to enjoy the trail, the scenery was really nice and trees are just something we don't have many of in Lubbock.  Sure enough I started feeling good again and then found myself looking around and quickly found myself hitting the ground again for the 7th time.  Again my reactions were faster than my mind and I found myself bracing my fall with both arms.  Again I was lucky and didn't re-break my collarbone.

If this is starting to sound like a broken record to you, it was really starting to sound like it to me.  I was running with no music, just my phone telling me the time and distance every 5 minutes and the sounds of nature around me.  I had plenty of time to think and the more I thought the more I realized that I was really pushing the envelope here and not being very intelligent about this.  The whole reason why I took up running in the first place was to get into better shape for hunting and I was lucky enough to draw a once in a lifetime hunting tag this fall and here I was risking re-breaking my collarbone which could put me out for 3 - 6 more months by running this trail race.  I slowed down some more and really decided to just get back to the starting line without falling and call it a day.  I finished the 2nd loop in 2:03 for a total of 3:44 for 20.6 miles for an average pace of 10:54.  

That would have put me in 21st place out of 74 people who ran the 20.6 mile distance, but the race director of this trail race series doesn't allow you to drop down from the distance that you signed up for, so my official results are a DNF.  It was tough to stop, but really the smart thing to do, even though it still wears on me.  I could have just walked that last loop and still would have finished in the middle of the pack for the 50K runners, but I didn't sign up for a trail walk, I signed up for a trail run and I didn't want to spend 3 hours walking that last loop just to say I finished it.  In my mind I would have had to tell everyone, yeah I finished a 50K trail run, but I had to walk the last 10 miles.  Another possibility was that I would start out planning on walking the last loop, but get out there and start trying to run some of the smoother areas and risk falling more and that could have been even worse.

So that's pretty much my race report.  A big DNF.  Here's a picture of me sitting down after I finished.  Not the most flattering picture of me, but I think it really does a good job of showing in a picture how my day ended up.

I was more sore after this race than my marathon last year by quite a bit.  Just got my first run in yesterday and am probably going to just keep running some easy miles for now before I figure out any kind of a training plan.  I really enjoy the trail running, but I'm second guessing myself a little on how poorly I seem to do at it.  Not sure if I just don't pick my feet up enough or exactly what the problem is, but I seem to be better at falling than I am at running when it comes to trails.

 My wife ran the 10.3 miler and finished 36th out of 109 finishers.  She didn't fall one time!

Well, I guess that's my official race report.  For sure a learning experience for me.  The course was MUCH harder than I expected.  I really think I was in 3:40ish shape for a marathon and it took me longer than that to run 20.6 miles on the trail.  

Running with a broken collarbone...

Well, I've been pretty bad lately about keeping my blog updated.  Back in February I broke my collarbone skiing and have been dealing with it off and on since then.  

Not the smartest thing I've ever done, but I was enjoying going over some jumps in a little terrain park at Sippapu Ski resort when I landed wrong.  Not that exciting, but Cathy actually was taking a video of me when I wiped out.  I go over the 1st jump at about the 10 second mark in the clip.

When it was all said and done it just seemed to be one of those freak deals where I landed just wrong and that coupled with the fact that the snow was pretty much 100% manmade snow that had thawed and refrozen many times so that it was pretty much like falling on concrete.

I knew when I landed I hurt myself, I just didn't know how bad.  It was pretty painful, but I got back up on my skis (my skis didn't even come off) and skied down to the bottom of the mountain.  Once down at the bottom I started feeling around to see what hurt the most and figured out pretty quickly that something was messed up with my left collarbone.  There was a huge knot that wasn't supposed to be there.  A quick trip to the ski patrol first aid hut and they confirmed that something was messed up with my collarbone, they rigged up a makeshift sling and gave me an ice pack and sent me on the way to the walk in clinic in Taos which was about 45 minutes away.  The X-ray in Taos confirmed it, I had a clean break of my left clavicle, the only thing left was to decide whether it would need surgery or not.  They gave me a little nice sling and told me to get with an orthopedist as soon as I could.  We ended up going back to Sippapu and Cathy and Eli were able to ski the next morning before we headed back to Lubbock.  I didn't sleep that great that night, but we were there to ski and I wasn't going to be comfortable anywhere so we figured they might as well get to enjoy the skiing while we were there.

I was able to get into an orthopedic specialist that next Monday and he didn't think it would need surgery.  He also said I shouldn't run at least until he was able to verify that it was going to stay in that same position and not move around.  If it stayed in the same position he felt that I would probably be able to start running again in a few weeks.

After 3 weeks, the X-ray confirmed it was still in the same place so he grudgingly gave me permission to start running again (I guess he didn't say that I couldn't run anyway).  I started out fairly slowly and kept my arm in the sling while I was running.  I would actually hold onto the strap with my left hand to keep my arm from jostling around as much.  

5 weeks after I broke it I got another X-ray that showed that it was actually starting to heal a little.  

The Dr. told me to ditch the sling and start working on range of motion exercises.  I didn't realize it, but if you don't move your shoulder for an extended period of time it will really lock up on you.  There is a fine line that they have to run between letting you start using your arm before it heals and possibly re-breaking it and letting it heal completely but then having to spend months and months in physical therapy getting your range of motion back in your arm.    I was surprised at how limited my range of motion had already gotten and it took a few weeks to get pretty much back to normal.  I still wasn't cleared to lift anything heavy with my left arm, and still cleared to run only grudgingly with strict orders not to fall so trails were out of the question, but I was able to get pretty much back on track and started logging a few 50+ mile weeks.

We went quite a while between X-rays at this point and I was feeling pretty confident that things were progressing nicely.  I nearly had my full range of motion back and was even cheating a bit on the lifting heavy things.  I tried to keep things close to my body, but I hoisted a few 50lb feed sacks over my head filling my protein feeder down at my hunting land and a few things like that and felt pretty good.  I figured the last X-ray the week before my goal 50K trail race was just a formality more than anything.  I even went out on the trails a few times although I was pretty careful and thankfully didn't ever actually fall down.

My last X-ray looked pretty good to me, although I'm not a Dr. and the Dr. wasn't near as impressed with it as I was.

You can for sure see that it is making progress, but being almost 3 months since it broke, the Dr. was expecting it to be farther along and nearly completely healed.  There is some calcification showing, but it isn't healed.  The Dr. pretty much told me that I was already pushing the envelope with all the running I was doing and really didn't think running a 50K trail race was a good idea at all.  If I did run it I needed to be really careful and not fall down.  If I did fall down, for I for sure shouldn't reach out to catch myself with my left arm as this could easily cause the collarbone to re-break.

What I went into the checkup thinking was going to be a slam dunk ended up becoming a hard decision.  Did I skip the trail race that I had been training 4 months for?  Do I just run it very cautiously?  I told the Dr. that I was probably going to go ahead and run the race, but I would try my best not to fall.

I pretty much failed miserably on that goal, but thankfully it seems like my collarbone was able to stay together.  I'll update the blog with my race report soon.

Don't take my experience as irrefutable evidence that you can start running again after taking 3 weeks off for a broken collarbone, but that was my experience and so far it seems like I was able to get away with it.  Luck may have as much to do with that as anything though.  

One thing I did find was a relatively unknown alternative to the plate and screws if you do need surgery though. seems like it would be the way to go to let you get back on your feet and active as fast as possible.  I didn't need surgery so it wasn't really something I looked into, I'm sure it is very expensive, but not sure how much more that traditional surgery or anything.  Might be an option for some folks anyway.

That's it for now.  Nathan