Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Examination of a DNF

In my last entry I mentioned my first DNF but didn't really offer any insight into what happened. I have had some inquiries from concerned buddies. So I thought I would delve in and see what I could find. Perhaps writing it out may serve some purpose for me. First off, I must say that beyond a bit of disappointment it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I went to the Turkey and TATURS 50k with pretty much one goal in mind. And that was to run a big time PR at that distance. Something in the 90 minute range, around 6 hours. I was also expecting an age group placing and even a top ten overall finish. Allow me to set the stage for you...

I was coming off of a 38 minute PR in the marathon after Twin Cities. I ran that one hard but felt afterwards that I could have gone faster. Not by much, just a little. So I knew my cardio was good to go. I picked TNT a mere four weeks after Twin Cities. In retrospect that seems pretty close together. Lesson #1, check. Note to self, you are not Superman. You are a forty-something year old guy still getting back into consistent running after taking several years off. I used a Hal Higdon "bridge" schedule I found on line as a guide to my training between events. What had started out as as bridge to the Williams 66 Marathon in Tulsa, a 7 week bridge, turned into the 4 week program after some buddies backed out of Tulsa. So what does one do to train in just 4 weeks between a marathon and a 50k? Well, pretty much 2 weeks of recovery and 2 weeks of taper. When I decided on TNT I was beginning week 3 so I had about 12 days left before the 50k. I hit the trails and did a few runs in the 6-8 mile range on some local routes. My longest run during the 4 weeks was a 13 mile road run at the end of the second week. While my trail runs were short I ran them hard and settled in on a pace that would get me my big time PR. And it felt very doable. I was confident...

Perhaps too confident. Lesson #2, check. Note to self, check your ego at the start line. Never take anything for granted. I had pounded the asphalt all summer preparing for Twin Cities and all but abandoned the trails. Specificity of training and all that. Lesson #3, check. Note to self, a few trail runs is not nearly enough, for me, to prepare for a 50k trail run, regardless of my cardio base. I didn't know the course well enough. I assumed that, being so close to home, that the terrain would be largely like it is around here. Wrong! Lesson #4, check. Note to self, know thy course and plan accordingly. This course was much more technical than I anticipated. Sure I read the description on the event website that mentioned something about being technical but, c'mon, it's Tulsa for crying out loud. For all my NWA friends, let me share something with you. If you plan on going over to a TATUR event at Turkey Mountain be prepared or this big ol' hill on the banks of the Arkansas River will kick your ass. Nice, large rocks stuck in the ground, lots of elevation change, from rollers to that steep power line road and lots of leaves to cover those rocky sections. Despite the technical nature I tried to hold my pace. Lesson #5, check. Note to self, technical terrain is more difficult to run. Thus, a slower pace is in order for a long run. I should have been willing to adapt more quickly and realize the big picture for the day. But I just finished a great marathon so how hard could it be to run a little more distance at a slower pace? I began to feel that "thing" about halfway through the race. You know, that feeling of "Oh shit! This is could be a looonng day." But I pushed on. Note to self, revisit Lesson #2. At the turnaround one of my buddies, Christian (who dominated the 10k and set a CR) asked me how I was feeling. I told him my legs were a little tired but I felt good. I lied. By that point I knew it was going to be a grind. However, in true ultra runner fashion I continued on. At the same pace, hoping to push through this low spot. After a few more miles it didn't get better. In fact it only got worse. By this point I knew I was a in trouble. I had managed to more or less keep a steady pace for 22 miles. One that would have given me that huge PR I wanted at the start despite knowing for the last several miles that I was likely writing a check I couldn't cash. And when Turkey Mountain demanded payment that check immediately bounced higher than Robert Downey Jr. on a dime bag and a can of Tiger Blood. Lesson #6, check. Note to self, allow the PRs, medals and trophies to come to you. Go out and run your race and see what happens. 

I can also say, looking back, that I was likely not hydrating or fueling well enough during the run. I can also say that my diet and sleeping habits were not all that great leading up to the race. I had allowed myself to slip after Twin Cities as a sort of reward. Also, I was on my feet all day the day before at the zoo with the kids. A good time but not ideal the day before an ultra. Finally, I had a crappy hand dealt that day. Not every race is gonna be a PR. Some days it simply doesn't happen. Lesson, check. Blah, blah, blah. I really think it boils down to this: I wasn't ready for this race. I hadn't prepared correctly, I was over confident and perhaps not recovered from Twin Cities. I was greedy with my strategy and unwilling to change anything when I realized it simply wasn't my day. I am still a baby when it comes to distance running. I should be thinking of ultras as more of an event and less like a race. I'm not an elite runner. I am, on my best day, a midpack guy when it comes to distances over 13 miles. Here's a post I saw on the Ultra Runner Podcast facebook page a couple of days after my race that sums it up. The question was "What is the best piece of running/ultra advice you ever received?" Melissa Johnson (who won the Vibram beer coasters in this contest) replied:

‎"Don't be greedy." 
"With what? My time, my body, race entries?" I asked. 
The old-timer's response - "With all of it. It takes time to grow in this sport. Earn your place."

So my DNF doesn't really bother me. I went out with one goal in mind and it didn't work out. I decided, with no regrets, to call it a day rather than go through a 7 mile death march to the finish. I didn't have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I had learned my lessons. Over the last two, dreadful miles I covered they all went through my head. I knew the mistakes I had made. I am not upset about it or overly concerned of some inability to cover that distance. Next year I would like to return to Tulsa, prepared and minus the ego, and see what happens. No expectations, just a long run through the woods with a bunch of fun folks. 

1 comment:

  1. Your opportunity to implement those lessons will come long before next year at Tulsa, my friend.