The long road back

Every race is much more than the stated distance. Ken Chloeber, the founder of the Leadville race series, says it best.

"You will not cross that finish line by yourself [...] You sacrificed time from your job. You sacrificed time from your family..."

Every race is longer than that stated distance too. Miles and miles longer. That's part of the time Ken is talking about —  not just the day or so it takes to run 100 miles in the Colorado Rockies, but all the miles spent training.

Every single one of those miles feels a whole lot longer when you’ve got a chronic injury. Running with an injury doesn’t promote anything close to good form. Training with poor form yields poor results. You end up training yourself to run badly. In my case, bouncing around on an injured foot also caused damage to my hip. Damage that I’ll probably just have to live with. 

 A Local Trail

A Local Trail

Eventually I did see my doctor and then a specialist. The treatment appears to have worked pretty well. I wrote about that experience in an earlier post. Like most runners, I chose to undertake an "active recovery". I swam, biked and lifted weights, but I didn’t run a step for about a month and a half. Well, that isn’t quite true, I did go for an 8 mile run about two weeks in. It was a huge mistake.

Once it was more or less medically advisable, I began running again. At first I did a few miles here and there interspersed with lots of cross training. Once I felt fit enough, I set up a training schedule.

  • Mon: 8-10 miles at medium/high intensity
  • Tue: 8-10 miles at a lower intensity than the day before
  • Wed: Weight training plus bike or swim
  • Thu: 4-6 miles at a higher intensity than Monday
  • Fri: 5-10 miles, any intensity
  • Sat or Sun: Rest
  • Sat or Sun: Long run, any intensity or Weight training plus bike or swim

As you can see, Monday's effort determines the intensity for rest of the week. I stuck to this schedule fairly well. I definitely missed a few days, Strava (the GPS app I use) doesn’t lie. Anyway, I used this schedule to build up a reasonable fitness base. After 5 months, I decided to enter a 50k. It went pretty well. I was 3rd overall. My foot, on the other hand, didn’t do so well. After the adrenaline wore off, it hurt quite a bit. I kept running anyway, and my performance started to fall off over the next three races (6th, 12th and then 17th overall).

 Finishing Rio Del Lago

Finishing Rio Del Lago

I enter the Western States lottery every year. I haven’t been selected since 2013. Every year that a runner isn’t selected they get extra entries for the next year’s drawing. There’s a catch. To enter the lottery, you have to run a qualifying race. If you don’t run a qualifier, you can’t enter. If you don’t enter, you loose all of those extra chances. In my mind, I had to run a qualifying 100 mile race — hurt foot or not. I chose Rio Del Lago. RDL is the last qualifier of the year.

I was more than a little nervous about running 100 miles again, given how difficult 50k races had become. Actually though, it went pretty well. I finished in plenty of time to qualify for the lottery (and wasn't selected). About a month after that, I ran fairly poorly at a 24hour race. The race had an aggressive first six hours or so. That ended up hurting everyone during the night. By morning I was 3rd overall — more through stubbornness than anything else. My foot didn’t feel great. I ended up having stomach problems too. It’s funny how one ailment always seems to bring on more. Anyway, I ran another 50k not long after that. It wen’t badly enough that I decided to stop trying to race and really concentrate on training and rehabilitation.

 Getting My 3rd Place Medal at the San Francisco 24 hour Challenge 

Getting My 3rd Place Medal at the San Francisco 24 hour Challenge 

This time around, I really bought into the idea that I may not be running another race anytime soon. The experience of just running was actually pretty cool. It had been years since I didn’t have a single race planned. I increased the intensity of every training run. I started to set little personal goals for myself. I would run up a particular hill faster, or try and complete a route at a certain pace. Strava's iPhone app became a huge part of my training. Every training run became a personal race made up of several smaller personal races. In a way, I reconnected with the fun of running fast (well, relatively fast) for its own sake.

For those who aren't familiar: Strava is a GPS enabled application that allows runners to track their progress and give feedback about pace, heart rate and etc. It has social features that let you compare yourself against other runners. You can also give and receive encouragement. All in all, it’s a pretty cool app. I found it because Strava was at Leadville the year I finished it. I’m not sure how unique Strava is, but most of its best features are free. Anyway, I like it. FWIW, nobody at Strava knows or cares that I’m endorsing the app.

Running better made me want to eat better. I cut out most of the bread and fruit juices from my diet (beer isn’t negotiable). I even reduced my salt intake. Over a four month period I dropped my average running pace by around a minute.

 Before and during the Lake Chabot 50k

Before and during the Lake Chabot 50k

I’ve completed two 50k runs since then. I was 6th overall in both. I should explain that most of the races I run are local and fairly small. I’d be completely annihilated at a larger national event. Anyway, I do have a big challenge looming. I recently signed up for the Rio Del Lago 100 miler again. I need that “last chance of the year” Western States qualifier for this year. I feel fit, but I’ll know for sure when I cross the finish line.

Heel Spurs: Learn From My Fail!

Heel spurs suck. In my case, the pain is actually from plantar fasciitis and Achilles Tendinitis. The spurs are small bony growths where all these tendons attach to my heal bone. The spurs irritate the tendons, the tendons tighten, causing the spurs to grow, irritating the tendons more...

 My heel

My heel

I put off dealing with this for nearly three years. It took a very slow and painful Tahoe Rim Trail 100 finish to get me to really take this seriously. Over the years I had gotten used to running with some amount of pain and at a slower pace. I jokingly called it "getting older". TRT took everything to a new level.

As it turns out, my heel spurs were also aggravating a groin pull that just wouldn't heal (no pun intended) completely. My doctor described my stride as "pogoing" off the good foot, putting an awkward strain on my hips and groin muscles. Anyway, by the time I lined up for this years running of the SF New Years Eve 24 Hour Run I had already seen a doctor with the intention of scheduling surgery. That run was a disaster, I dropped out after about 30 miles.

 The shockwave therapy machine, the part that actually does the shocking looks like a microphone

The shockwave therapy machine, the part that actually does the shocking looks like a microphone

I was eventually referred to a podiatrist in Stanford's sports medicine department. He recommended Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy. I had a few treatments. They ranged from not bad to fairly painful. It's non-invasive and the recovery time after each session is pretty short.

Did it work? I'm honestly not sure. I never felt "instantly cured" as some claim. I am definitely much better. While undergoing the treatment, I stopped running and increased my cycling and weight lifting. What you might call "active rest". I roll out my calf muscles and my heel a few times a day. I use a frozen water bottle as the roller. I'm not sure which percent of what thing has contributed to my recovery.

 My recovery cocktails 

My recovery cocktails 

Ultra running takes up a lot of time. Time I had to fill with something. I chose mixed drinks. Even slightly buzzed the truth is pretty obvious. Putting off dealing with this injury cost me a few years of quality running and a few months of recovery time. Learn from my fail: When you hurt, go to the doctor.

Leadville Run 100

"The race across the sky." I live at sea level so the altitude was a huge factor in this race. The highest point  is 12,600 feet. The average elevation is 10,200. All that climbing may have been tough, but the views were amazing. This is a race, IMO, where all the usual pacing advice is wrong. You have to haul ass for the first 50 miles & then hang on until the finish.

Leadville the actual town is really cool, with an interesting history. The surrounding mountains are fantastic. This is definitely a destination race.

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

"The world's oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail race." This was one of the toughest runs that I've ever done. The temperature was over 100 degrees for most of the day. It was even warm at night. By the end of the run my stomach and feet were a mess. I did come away with a shiny new belt buckle & an even greater respect for Gordy Ainsleigh.

I intend to run this race again. I want to finish stronger, not necessarily faster (that would be nice), but more "under my own steam". I'd also like 50% less blisters and 100% less vomiting.

The 200 Mile Relay (solo)

It took me two tries but I completed the 200 mile course in 2010. Five of us attempted solo runs of the entire 200 mile course that year. Four of us finished (including 2 of my close friends). At the time, none of us knew what to expect. We'd never met anyone who'd run 200 miles. We knew that Dean Karnazes and Yiannis Kouros (the best athlete you've never heard of) had done it.

The distance was 100 miles farther than I'd ever run before. The last 25 miles took nearly a day of constant effort. In all, I spent just under 68 hours on the course.

My friends and I managed to raise about $1500.00 for Organs-R-UsThe last 4 photos are from the actual 200 mile run, the rest are from training runs along the course.

Healthy obsession: Long-distance running

By Sam Whiting, San Francisco Chronicle. This was written right before my first attempt at running 200 miles.

Anthony Dunnigan, 36, of Palo Alto could be called an ultra ultra runner. His best event is the 200-mile, which he will be running Friday from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, to benefit Organs ‘R’ Us. For more information, go to