Running Roller Coaster

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The last 10 days of running have brought both ups and downs. More specifically, a series of blissful days full of miles followed by days of no miles and tightness in the back of my right leg. What makes the title of this post even more fitting was the 100 kilometers of trail at the Kettle 100 this past weekend, which presented numerous changes in conditions throughout the morning and early afternoon.

After I finished the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile, I began to bounce back pretty quickly. In fact, a little over a week after IA50 I started toying with the idea of jumping into the Kettle 100k. I’m hoping to do a 100-miler at some point this summer, and thought a nice 100-kilometer morning/afternoon on the trails would be excellent prep. With this in mind, I set out one morning for a 24-mile long run.

Unfortunately, the tendon behind my right knee began to tighten up after I finished. By the next morning it was difficult to even put weight on my right leg. This being one week out from the Kettle 100k, I pretty much chalked the race weekend up to a loss. However, after two days of rest, my leg felt great! I was skeptical, but I managed to head out for an easy 9-miler with no ill effects. I was pumped! So naturally, I jumped onto the Kettle 100 website and signed up for the 100k. In the back of mind I probably should have better, but in the moment I thought I had dodged a bullet. The next day I scheduled a two-a-day (13mi a.m., 7.5mi p.m.). The running did not aggravate my tendon at all, which was very satisfying.

However, as I often do a couple times a week, I visited the weight room to do some stretching and strength training. It was in the weight room where I was likely a bit too aggressive. I did two sets of Russian deadlifts, and my tendon immediately re-tightened. When I woke up the next morning, the tightness was still there. With three days before Kettle 100k, I thought if I had any chance of competing in the event, I would need to shut it down until Saturday morning.

Throughout the three days of rest, my tendon progressed quickly. As I had done the first time, I pounded NOW yucca root. I love the stuff for tendonitis because it helps with the nasty inflammation without killing the pain like ibuprofen does. This is important because inflammation often sticks around after an injury is healed (when the pain goes away). Getting rid of lingering inflammation is fine, but if you mask the pain with ibuprofen you won't know if the injury is actually healed, and you'll risk further injury. I have had a lot of luck with this protocol with previous tendonitis symptoms.

After about a day I felt no pain walking around. This time I knew better than to test my luck, so I refrained from any exercising that used my legs. On Saturday morning I toed the line at Kettle 100k, fully prepared to drop out if my tendon tightened up too much. It was an interesting day. I could feel my tendon there from the get go, but it was barely noticeable. To be honest there was a general feeling of stiffness from general lack of running the past three days. After about a mile all the stiffness dissipated, and the tendon didn’t worsen.

Before I continue with how the day progressed a bit about the event. The Kettle 100k is an out and back. The course is much like IA50 in topography. However, because of the timing of the event, weather is usually quite different. It was a muggy 78 degrees with scattered clouds by early morning. The prairie sections were quite warm from the sun and humidity, but there was a fairly strong wind, which felt nice at the hottest points of the day. Along with this mixture of conditions were some very sloppy puddles throughout the prairie sections. My feet got soaked in the muck and water, and as soon as they dried enough to feel normal again I'd come across another muddy session. Overall, I'd describe the conditions as tough and varied.

As the race progressed beyond the first mile, I had a chance to run with some great guys: Jason Borst and Jake Hegge, from La Crosse, WI, for the first 35 kilometers or so. I felt pretty relaxed and casual heading into the 50k turnaround at approximately 4 hours, 4 minutes. I knew that despite feeling relaxed for the first 50k, it probably wasn’t in my best interest to continue at that pace. My goal was to get a solid effort in without creating the need for an extended recovery period. I backed off a bit on the return to Emma Carlin (midway point of the return).

Despite backing off, I hit a bit of a rough patch with about 22-23 miles left. I am pretty certain it was due to neglecting proper fueling. I didn’t really focus too much on this on the way out. I grabbed stuff from a few aid stations and tried to stay hydrated on the way out, but that was basically the extent of my fueling plan other than taking a Vespa Ultra Concentrate every couple hours.

It was during this rough patch that my tendon started to tighten up a bit. Possibly some cramping from the poor fueling caused the tendon to act up too? Either way; on the return to Emma Carlin (16mi to go) I was about ready to drop out. I didn’t want my tendon to get worse, and with 47 miles completed I would have been happy with the day as a quality training session for a summer 100-miler.

Before officially deciding whether to drop out or not, I took in a lot of calories at Emma Carlin. I immediately felt great, and thought I would test out my legs for at least a couple more miles. Miraculously, the tendon pain went away completely. In fact, it felt the best it had all day. Even better than at the start (this is why I hypothesized it may have cramped up due to poor fueling). At this point I decided to hit all the aid stations hard for the rest of the way back and, if my tendon felt good, finish out the race. It was an enjoyable final 16 miles for the most part. I stopped a couple times when a good view allowed me to admire some of the prairie sections from a higher vantage point (only a couple times). The Ice Age Trail really does have a lot to offer in terms of beauty. The last three miles included some pretty nasty rolling hills, and mentally I was ready to be done with them, so despite feeling good I was quite happy to be done with a first-place finishing time of 8:39, a course record.

Photo courtesy of Kristen Westlake Photography
I was happy with the quality workout, which will hopefully benefit me later on this summer. As I anticipated, my tendon was pretty sore the following morning. A couple days of rest and another aggressive cycle of yucca root will hopefully get me back on the run.

A huge thanks to all the volunteers, as well as race directors Tim (Timo) Yanacheck and Jason Dorgan. It never ceases to amaze me how much work goes into the planning of an ultra event. It truly is awesome how we can sign up and run these distances without worrying about all the things the volunteers and directors take care of for us.

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