Feeding the Bear: A journey from being unable to walk in June to racing 100 miles in September.

The Injury:

The train came off the tracks at mile 70 of the San Diego 100 on June 9th of this year.  Without warning I felt a sudden sharp pain in my left glute.  I tried to run.  Couldn’t.  Tried to walk, it was agonizing, but it felt easier to go up than down and I was right between aid stations.  Maybe it would get better?  I kept hiking up.  Mile 75.  Doubtful I could make it safely to the next aid nor the finish, I dropped out.  My first DNF.  I wouldn’t be able to pace Paul at Western States.  Strained piriformis muscle.  FML.

16 Weeks until the Bear 100…

The Rehab:

Week one:  Can’t walk to the bathhouse from the camper without a trekking pole.  Netflix black hole week.  Walking attempts still painful.  Lots of gentle PT strengthening and stretching twice a day.

Week two: Tried to hike.  Tried to bike.  Everything hurts and the depression starts creeping in.  PT 2x/day.

Week three:  Hiking still hurts, let’s try that biking thing again.  No pain! Begin gravel biking addiction.  Bye bye depression.  PT 2x/day.

Week 4-6:  I live for the bike!!!  100 miles/week on rough roads and even some bike specific training sessions to maintain my higher intensity fitness.  PT 2x/day.

Week 7:  Epic backpacking loop in the White Cloud Wilderness with Jess, a pain free test run and things are back on track.  PT 2x/day.

9 weeks to the Bear…

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Mountain Biking the Rebecca’s Private Idaho 56 Mile “Small Fry” course outside of Ketchum, Idaho.
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Avoiding the wildfire smoke on an especially bad day while getting my cross train on.
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Backpacking in the White Clouds Wilderness with Jess.
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Jess navigating a sketchy early season pass during the White Clouds Six Pass Loop.

Training Resumes:

Once I was feeling 100% on my test runs it was time to start running again and the final training block began with my coach Paul Giblin’s guidance.  The key sessions included lots of tempo workouts and long days out in the mountains allowing me to get my fitness back to where it was before San Diego.  The long days in the hills also allowed me to get my 100 mile systems dialed, my nutrition plan hammered out and my head back in the game.  Challis, Idaho is situated at the nexus of some of the most spectacular mountain wilderness in the world.  The Lost Rivers, White Clouds, Pioneers, Sawtooths, Salmon River Range, Beaverheads, Lemhis and the Tetons are all within a few hours drive and with time off before work started up for the fall semester and with legs that were finally able to carry me again, it was play time!

Peak bagging, lake tagging, ridge running bliss.  The patience and PT had paid off.

I got a wee bit of racing in at the Standhope 30K and took 3rd place, under the old course record.  Jess signed up the day of the event and had a great day on the course as well.  I originally planned on running the 60K, but with only two weeks of training under my belt the 30K seemed like the safer bet to test my piriformis.

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Finally back in the hills and bagging peaks – Borah Summit #2 of 3 this summer.
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Jess smiling her way across the finish line at the Standhope 30K.
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Talus-schwacking up Hyndman Peak with Mr. Hardrock himself – Kirk Apt.
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Alice-Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooths.  So good!
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Middle Teton adventure running.
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Rompin’ around Mt. Regan in the Tooths.

Pacing at the Wasatch 100:

Earlier in the year my buddy and fellow competitor Cody Draper offered to pace me in his hometown race of the Bear 100, and when he got into the Wasatch Front 100 he asked if I would be able to pace him.  I wasn’t sure until mid-August if I would be able to cover any substantial distance due to my injury but when the day rolled around I had some 30 mile days under my belt, I felt ready, and we had a blast running 20+ miles along the Wasatch Crest.  I left feeling inspired by his effort but still doubting that I would be ready to run 100 miles myself in just a couple weeks.

Cody’s Wasatch 100 Race Recap

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Pacing Cody Draper along the Wasatch Crest Trail in Utah.  He crushed it with a sub 24!

The Race:  A Bear 100 mini-report

Before the race I was fortunate enough to get some splits and words of warning about not starting too fast from Cody.  The first 6 miles of the Bear 100 is a stout 3,000+ ft climb up Logan Peak and Cody told me to go slow, and then slow down some more.  As expected a large pack took off at the start and I found myself settling in somewhere around the top 50 runners.  As we crested Logan Peak on a section of muddy singletrack a small group of cows blocked our path and the group I was running with patiently shuffled behind them until there was a clearing for us to make our move.

Once through the first aid station it was time to enjoy a long downhill and I cruised it passing about 20 people on the first descent.  At the bottom I caught up to my Westslope running buddies James and Chris, and would continue to lose them on the ascents and catch them on the descents most of the day.  Jess met me at the bottom of the first big hill, told me I had to beat them and handed me a perfectly prepared vest as I threw my unneeded gear in her general direction.  I’ll thankfully get to repay my debt to her this year when she runs the IMTUF 100.

Coming into Cowley Canyon Aid I caught up with Luke Nelson and shared some words and silent power hiking miles until I put some distance between us on the next descent.  He looked like he was in a dark place, but I knew he had the potential to rally back strong.

I next met up with Jess after the grueling climb from Temple Fork to Tony Grove where I met her and my first pacer Michael.  Michael and I met very briefly at Speedgoat a few years ago when he took an epic digger off the trail and I stopped to put his bottles back in his hands.  We had stayed in touch a bit online, but we had never run together since.  He saw me through my transition from being able to run, to realizing my quads were shot and took me from the daylight into the night.  He shared great stories, made sure I was eating enough, motivated me with mini-goals and didn’t complain when I couldn’t manage to run the technical downhills anymore.  We made it into Beaver Mountain Lodge Aid after being passed by a handful of runners but my next pacer Cody Draper was all business and we didn’t even go into the warm yurt.

With a fresh vest, and soda for the road we were off.  Every step from Beaver Mountain Lodge Aid was a step beyond where I had dropped at San Diego and a part of my mind was just waiting for the injury to come back.  I needed a distraction and Cody was perfect.  He knows the course like the back of his hand and has at least a couple of stories from previous races and training runs for every section of dirt and every cow patty out there.  He knew where it would be cold and exposed, what was runnable (despite what my shot quads told me) and had splits down for every possible outcome.  He dished out encouragement when I needed it, and didn’t hold back from trash talking me on my inability to run the descents either.  He pushed me to my limit on the final stretch, a monstrous descent from the highest point on the course to the finish line by keeping me scared of runners coming up behind us and making me pretend like I was racing him.  At the beginning of the final descent I passed Mazasumi Fujioka, but was then caught with only a few miles to go by a late charging Luke Nelson.  Running scared by the headlamps on the hill behind us, and trying to catch Luke I ignored the searing pain in my feet, and gradually pushed the pace from 10 min/mile, to 9 min/mile, to 8 min/mile and came across the finish at 7:20 pace.  It was the most satisfying final stretch of a race I have ever run.  Luke Nelson ended up keeping about a 2 min gap between us, but I broke 23 hours and can easily say this was my best 100 mile effort yet.  There is plenty of room to improve my 100 mile performances with training and nutrition, but more than anything I was thankful to be on the other side of my injury, with a new buckle on my belt, ready to move forward.

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Classic fall foliage around the midway point of the Bear 100 course.  PC:  Michael Burke
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Cruising along White Pine Creek before gearing up for the night section.  PC:  Cody Draper
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Enjoying the perfect weather conditions around mile 62 at the Bear 100.  PC:  Michael Burke
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Trying to get one more aid station in before the darkness.  The darkness won.  PC:  Michael Burke
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The bliss of stopping.  22:49, 12th place.  PC:  Cody Draper

Looking at the Big Picture:

While my injury this year was definitely an unexpected set back, by staying motivated and thinking long-tern, diligently doing my PT and strength routines in the short-term and being patient about returning to training so I didn’t go too hard too soon and re-injure myself, things worked out really well and I am positioned to come out swinging in 2018.  A huge thanks to everyone that helped me through this year’s rough patch.   Jess had to put up with the worst of it while I was injured and were were living in a 14ft camper.  Having a coach hold me back when needed and having the entire Pyllon Team’s support and encouragement during the season was invaluable.  My kit from Altra, Swiftwick, Honey Stinger and First Endurance all performed flawlessly through all the cross training and I am looking forward to running with their support in 2018.

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Looking at my 2016/2017 annual mileage, it definitely looks like the wheels fell off the bus after the San Diego 100, but consistency is back on the menu.
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Switch the lens to my annual elevation gain for 2016/2017 and the story doesn’t look quite as bleak.  Once training resumed on July 18th things got steep.  Thanks Idaho!

 

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