Monday, January 12, 2009

Don't worry, just run! / Training week 1/5-1/11

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my 2009 race schedule and what seems to be the 800-lbs. gorilla on the calendar—the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run. The Mohican has been around for a lot of years and enjoys quite a history, including a stint as a 100-Mile USA Championship event. Past winners include Eric Clifton, Mark Godale, Jim Garcia and Courtney Campbell—all big-time elites.

Me with my pacers, Ted and Kenny, after the Mohican 100. They're holding me up!

Most of my thinking about Mohican happens when I'm alone, such as when I'm in the car going to and from work and our on a run. I think about what went wrong at last year’s race and how I want this year’s training and race to go. I'm a big believer of visualization.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a little worried about how my body’s going to hold up at Mohican. Last year’s race delivered a crushing blow two-thirds of the way through when my knee went south on me. The first sign of pain came at about mile 20 when I was with Bob Pokorny and took an awkward step, but the pain wasn’t bad at all and I kept running strong. Still holding a 17-hour-pace, I took the lead at mile 52 (Rock Point) and held it until just past mile 60, when severe knee pain set in. The eventual winner, Jay Smithberger, passed me as we made our way down to the Covered Bridge, and I never regained the lead. I won’t pretend that even with a good knee I’d have held off Jay or the second-place finisher, Jeff Atwell; they were looking really strong and more than earned their spots.

By mile 70 my knee had gone from bad to worse, but I was still able to run (though painfully) and negotiate most of the hills. At mile 80 (back to the Covered Bridge once again), I changed my shoes and had a few slices of pizza. Within a half-hour not only was my knee killing me, but my stomach gave out--a double whammy. Maybe it was bad pizza, or maybe my digestive tract wasn’t ready for what I’ve given it. For the next 13 or so miles I’d have to make at least a dozen trail-side stops. Afflicted with the worst sort of diarrhea, I’d quickly run out of toilet paper and had to resort to leaves. There was little my pacers, Kenny and Ted, could do except monitor me for bad signs and keep me going. Fortunately, I was still able to pee and drink.

Just prior to the Rock Point aid station (90.4), with my knee now completely nuked, my stomach a mess, and two runners in front of me (Jay and Jeff), the thought of dropping out crossed my mind more than once. I couldn’t even hold a conversation with my pacers because I was so washed out that speaking in complete sentences was too much effort. But I kept going. I remember thinking that at this point in the Burning River 100 I didn't feel anywhere near as bad as now. At this point during the BR100 all I had were just some tight IT bands.

When I saw my wife Anne, along with her dad and Ted’s wife Tami at Rock Point (90.4), the night had just fallen and I felt like my spirit had left my body. I was later told that there was nothing in my eyes--hardly a sign of life. I was so out of it that I refused to take the Pepto Bismol that Anne had very thoughtfully brought. I remember telling Anne, “My knee’s nuked. I’m done. F*ck the Pepto.”

When we came into Landoll’s Castle (mile 95.5), having climbed a few nasty hills on this road section, I felt half-dead and my knee was so painful that I could barely walk, much less crouch down on the side of the road to relieve my stomach without having to hold on to something, such as a small tree or road sign. I also felt rubbed raw from the leaves—like I’d been attacked with sandpaper. Anne forced me to take Pepto Bismol and within 15 or 20 minutes the diarrhea subsided, leaving me with just a shot knee and extreme fatigue to content with as we negotiated the final 5 miles of this God-forsaken race.

Those final 5 miles were dejecting, to say the least. We kept looking back for lights to see if any runners were gaining on us. Sure enough, at about mile 97, Lee Brazel, the proud Irishman and eventual third-place finisher, overtook me. I tried running and holding him off, but my knee was too bad. Lee passed us and we continued.

I just lumbered along, wincing in pain with each downhill. There’s a steep descent (I realize "steep" is a relative term) into the final stretch of Mohican that absolutely brutalized my knee. Each step felt like repeated poundings of a sledgehammer to my kneecap.

On the final stretch, with only about a half-mile to go, Connie Gardner, the well-known elite ultra runner who is also a friend, suddenly came up on us and I knew I was in trouble. Connie’s as tough as they come and I knew she’d do everything she could to overtake me because that's what makes Connie so great. Somehow, some way, I ran the last half-mile, barely holding off Connie when I crossed in 19 hours, 22 minutes and in 4th place--neither happy nor unhappy because those emotions required energy, which I no longer had. After cheering for Connie as she finished, I limped from the finish line to the tent and, unlike Burning River, where I basically cried tears of pride, felt no emotion whatsoever. I was completely spent and in agonizing pain. I couldn't get back to the hotel soon enough.

I hardly slept that night as I couldn’t extend my leg on the bed because of my knee. Oh, and I felt like I'd been run over and dragged for 40 miles by not one, but two, 18-wheelers. For the next few days I limped around the house and at work like a gimp. Eventually, I realized I'd have to see a doctor. Well, the doctor diagnosed me with severe inflammation of the cartilage due to overuse combined with tight muscles. I wouldn’t be able to run a step for two full weeks. I got so desperate that I bought a bike, but I could barely even ride it because of the knee pain. Not until late August was my knee feeling 100 percent again, allowing me to train for the Columbus Marathon (2:59).

I write all of this because deep down I’m worried that my knee is going to once again go south on me at Mohican and I keep fighting with myself over expectations. I’m less worried about my hamstring, which appears to be healed. I’m going to do my best to build recovery and stretching into my training to try to avoid overuse injuries, but ultimately I can’t let the worries of a knee injury get to me, and I can’t let them coax me into anything less than an all-out effort. If I let the worries get to me, I may as well not even show up to the race.

Indeed, ultrarunning is mostly mental and only partly physical. You have to put in the miles to be physically ready, but you also have to be mentally sharp and in the game. When the gun at Mohican goes off, there's a finish line 100 miles away and I have to get to it as quickly as I can.


These next few weeks I’m not going to have much to report in the way of my mileage because January is a time of rest and recovery. I ran 56.8 miles this week, having to resort to my YakTrax on a few occasions to negotiate the snowy, icy roads and trails. It happened like this:

Monday: off/rested
Tuesday: 8.05 miles
Wednesday: 8 miles—freezing ran, had to wear my Yaktrax
Thursday: 8.05 miles—very snowy
Friday: 8.18 miles with some strong bursts mixed in. I felt very good
Saturday: 11.45 miles in South Chagrin Reservation with the Southeast Running Club. Friday night into Saturday morning brought about 8-10 inches of snow to the area, blanketing the trails, which were untouched when we started our run. With the aid of my trusty YakTrax, this was a great run and I realized when I woke up the next morning with sore calves that I'd worked a different set of muscles. There's something to be said for snowy trail running.
Sunday: 13 miles in Solon with the Southeast Running Club. I got very cold the last 4 miles due to the headwind and was glad when I finished. I enjoyed a delicious breakfast with the club at D&R Bagels. I woke up the next morning with trashed calves.

Total miles for week: 56.73
Total miles for month: 104.38
Total miles for year: 104.38

I'm going to continue holding my weekly mileage to 50-60 for the rest of January, before I start ramping it up on Monday, February 2 for my Lt. JC Stone 50K training. Reduced mileage is going to present some mental challenges for me, but I think I really need to scale it back while I still can so I'm ready for an intense training and racing season.


A final thought: If a running event 1) provides bibs to runners, 2) has a timing system/device and 3) records results and lists finishers in the order of their time with the fastest first, then that event is by definition a race. With that said, I wish all the folks who will be out there this coming Sunday morning running in the Winter Buckeye Trail 50K all the best. You will be doing your very best, and please don't let the fact that the race director thinks it's a "fun run," even though you'll be timed and ranked according to your finish, get in the way of your going hard the whole way. Because, after all, you can go hard and have fun at the same time. Whoever wins is the rightful champ and should be invited back to the 2010 race.

Onward and upward!


  1. Wyatt, I applaud your timing, and the vividness of your descriptions of the pain. I'm trying to run my way through knee pain that has been getting worse for about a month, and I just committed to running my first 100 miler. So you decide that now would be a good time to revisit the terrible knee pain you endured at Mohican. My knee got worse just reading this. Thanks.

  2. Frank: Sorry about that! But no worried: Mohican is much harder on the body than the BR100. The last 10 miles of the BR100 are pretty much flat with some technical sections, whereas at Mohican they're hilly. You'll be fine. Definitely build some recovery into your training and be sure to go into the BR100 with a 3-week taper. -- Wyatt

  3. I'm running one of the easy 100 milers? That's reassuring. ;-)

  4. I wouldn't say the BR100 is easy--far from it. Any 100 is very tough. But the BR100 is relatively easy on your body when you need it to be--in the end. O'Neill is challenging, but then you have a long stretch of towpath. The stretch along the gorge requires mental focus. Wyatt