Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Horseshoe Lake 50K

Heat training and Oreo lips
On Sunday we did our last long run before the Bryce 100, the Horseshoe Lake 50K. It was a beautiful morning, with saturated light at clear views over the big blue Pacific. The race was sold out and I think there were close to 200 people at the start. I was drawn into all the excitement of "yay running" and went out too fast on the first climb, which resulted in being caught in a faster group for the punchy descents. Not wanting to get mowed down on the singletrack, I did my best to keep the pace by resorting to toe running.

I've done a bit of research on common causes of shin pain. There are a lot of different theories about which motions and/or tight muscles lead to tibial stress. My experiment of one so far shows that braking or landing hard with my forefoot, which is my tendency when descending or accelerating, seems to exacerbate the pain. Subsequently, slowing my downhill pace, shortening my stride, and deliberately engaging full foot strikes (trying to get that heel on the ground) brought quick relief. I was unhappy at mile six and suspected I would need to stop once I reached the first return to the start at mile 13. But at the half marathon point, after seven miles of mitigation efforts, I felt considerably better. I decided that continued experimentation with shin pain management would be more beneficial for my upcoming race than quitting early and hoping this will somehow work itself out in ten days. If it was a full-blown injury, I would certainly be more cautious. But this still qualifies as a minor nagging pain, and it doesn't seem to be worsening. Most sources I found say that shin splints typically take three to six weeks to go away, but it's possible to continue training during recovery as long as pain doesn't get worse.

Beyond that, the run was fairly uneventful. It was warm — probably into the mid-80s — but there was a nice breeze whisking along the ridge to take the edge off the heat. I felt strong, so my purposefully slowed pace caused some frustration and dissatisfaction ("I feel good. I can do better than this. But I shouldn't. But I can. Grrr.") In the aftermath, I feel my stride experimentation was beneficial, but there were plenty of points during the race when all I really wanted was to run faster — or climb faster, because a determined power-hike up a steep grade also involves getting up on the toes. But I dialed it back and finished strong, happy, and essentially pain-free. One week after the 50-miler, the Horseshoe Lake 50K was a good confidence boost in my endurance ahead of the Bryce 100.

I finished in 6:32. I raced this same course back in October and felt compelled to look up my former time, to see how it compared. Also 6:32. Apparently, getting stung by a wasp and minor shin splints cause me the exact same degree of pain-induced slowness.

I'm not planning to do any more running before Bryce. I'm headed out to Utah a week before the race to visit my family, and my dad and I are going to go for a few hikes in the Wasatch this weekend. The whole course is between 7,000 and 9,500 feet, so I could use all the pre-race acclimation I can get. My friends claim this is an unfair advantage, and they're right. But they're also all stronger runners than me, and the 34-hour cutoff looms.

I'm really looking forward to the Bryce 100. These 50K and 50-mile efforts are fun, but there's something intimately engaging about pressing through the night and emerging into a second day. Hundred-mile runs and multi-day bike races have their own life spans, and they always linger in my memories long after these smaller adventures fade into the distance. In a sense, long efforts are my way of extending my own life, because I live so intensely and experience so much in a relatively short time span. I often emerge feeling like I've made weeks, months, and sometimes years of individual progress. Many will argue that these efforts are inherently unhealthy, and they're not wrong. But in my opinion, the benefits of hundred-milers could never be quantified in any tangible way. From an outside perspective, they're nothing but stupid ... but inside, they're an integral part of an invaluable education.

And with that, I missed a week but I am still trying to keep track of my training for the summer. Blogs are good for that kind of tangible nonsense.

Week May 6-12
Monday: Trail run, 6.5 miles, 976 feet of climbing
Tuesday: 0
Wednesday: Road bike, 17.5 miles, 2,553 feet of climbing
Thursday: 0
Friday: 0
Saturday: Trail run, 50 miles, 8,799 feet of climbing
Sunday: 0
Total: 56.5 miles run, 17.5 miles ride, 12,328 feet of climbing

Week May 13-19
Monday: Road bike, 16 miles, 2,143 feet of climbing
Tuesday: 0
Wednesday: Trail run, 9.1 miles, 1,327 feet of climbing
                     Mountain bike, 8.9 miles, 1,844 feet of climbing
Thursday: Trail run, 7 miles, 1,675 feet of climbing
Friday: Road bike, 17.5 miles, 2,535 feet of climbing
Saturday: Mountain bike, 20 miles, 2,740 feet of climbing
Sunday: Trail run, 31.1 miles, 5,671 feet of climbing
Total: 47.2 miles run, 62.4 miles ride, 17,935 feet of climbing


  1. Two comments:

    1) I would be wary of what most sources say on "shin splints" since the term is pretty nebulous and can refer to any number of lower leg maladies. I doubt that most of the cases looked at in any studies involve any running other than on flat surfaces. The "shin splints" I got my first year running track in High School were quite different than that I received during the TDG two years ago. The first was a simple overuse as I adapted to running more often, the second happened during a very similar motion to what you describe, braking down steep descents.

    2) I think not running over the next two weeks will probably help tremendously. You certainly won't lose any endurance between now and the start of the race. Just be careful with your hiking. As I described in my email, if your injury is anything like mine was, simply avoiding the offending activity was the best therapy.

  2. Ever hear of "100 ups"? A good technique on dirt, but it really helped me learn to run on pavement without pounding myslef silly.


  3. I was just telling my husband how fun it would be to run in Bryce. Not 100 miles for me...but still. Looking forward to those photos!

  4. I watched the 100-ups video. It's interesting, because that kind of short-stride, full foot on the ground technique is what helps me alleviate pain. However, these types of "perfect stride" theories do little to help me navigate highly variable terrain — such as down a 30-degree slope over rocks and loose dirt? I'm pushing down hard on the ball of my foot and braking to fight gravity. Good trail runners use gravity and don't fight it, but I don't have enough confidence in my balance to go there. So I'm still learning how to run downhill, and in the meantime I'm managing shin pain that, as Steve pointed out, probably has little correlation to the kind of shin splints that arise from improper body mechanics in flat road running.

    Joe Uhan, a physical therapist who writes for iRunFar, wrote this about the type of shin splints I suspect I have:

    "The posterior tib is also scapegoated for another issue, called “Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome” — which has more to do with issues like foot stabilization and overall running stress (e.g. braking forces, ground reaction forces/vertical excursion). In that case, minimalist approaches might not be helpful.

    MTSS or post tib soreness can be the result of the body having to absorb braking forces. The tough part about all this is, *not* braking while pummeling downhill is very difficult. One thing you may try is to quicken your turnover and work on getting your foot closer beneath you — both on flats, and for sure on the downs."

  5. You will have no trouble with Bryce. Just do take it easy while in Utah.

  6. I'm not a very confident downhill runner and second your idea of taking shorter steps. If I don't do that, my quads get completely trashed.

    Do you always run in the same pair of shoes? Sometimes switching up something as simple as that (like 1-2 pairs in a rotation that are different) once in awhile can make a huge difference.


Feedback is always appreciated!