December Thoughts

I haven’t written anything since my Western States blog back in July. Quite a lot has happened, but for probably a few reasons, I didn’t make the time to write. So let’s dive back in to where we left off.

My post Western States bone stress injury healed exceptionally quickly. I was diagnosed with a grade 3 stress on my left medial tibia (shin). I took the three weeks post Western to rest, eat, socialise, reflect etc etc. Shortly after getting the MRI results back from my brilliant Orthopaedic consultant (Dr Ian Sinha), I was told that based on the results and his own consultation with me, I was able to start running again. So week four post Western I ran circa 20 kms. My amazing coach Alicia was strict in how I did my first week of mileage, with the first couple of runs being a very restricted (and highly challenging mentally) walk two minutes, run one minute, with five minutes walking either side, totalling about 3km to begin with. I had zero pain, and the prior 10 days my leg had felt as strong as it did before States, so despite my frustrations, I trusted my coaches directions. There are people who’ve had less serious stress injuries than I, who’ve still not been right six months later, so I was thankful to be moving. I had zero issues (or pain) coming back, and that first week I was feeling great. From there, my mileage slowly increased and I was thankful that I didn’t have a single issue with my shin. Remarkable, and as a few people had said, I seemed to be an anomaly who recovers incredibly quickly. As part of my rehab, I was seeing Amy Gasson at Mint Wellbeing, as recommended by Dr Sinha, to just monitor my progress. Whilst it was agreed my injury was not related to poor biomechanics, running gait, diet etc, I was given some exercises to strengthen my left arch, just to close off any possibilities of future issues. Amy was brilliant, and I was so grateful that I had both Dr Sinha and Amy managing my recovery, as they both understood my needs as an athlete, and were of the highest qualification and professional standard. Alongside my regular Osteopath, I had a world class team supporting me. Why did I recover so quickly from quite a serious injury, and how did I manage to return to training so easily? I can only speculate that what I did post States played a big factor. I immediately pulled out of CCC, a race that was eight weeks away and would have been a monster of an effort. Without even knowing what my injury was (or how severe), that removed any pressure to train and push a return faster than my body needed. I ate everything in site (particularly pizza, pasta, burgers & Thai food), drank lots of wine and beer, and spent three great weeks socialising with friends. I shared my story and just enjoyed quality time with those humans that have and continue to support me, and who’s friendship I value dearly. I also ate a lot of Crosstown doughnuts! I slept a lot, rested as much as I could during the day, and other than swimming twice (for movement as opposed to training), and a single yoga class, I did nothing. My body was not stressed or under any form of training stresses, and I was just basking in the glory of my Western States finish, in the fourth toughest year in history. I listened to my coach, my surgeon, and my physio, and trusted in the process. When I was able to start running again, I resisted the urge to go crazy, following the excruciating slow and babied first few runs, and didn’t run harder or further than I was told. Whilst I was fine in this instance, had I pushed too hard, I may have been another statistic who regressed and would spent months trying to unsuccessfully recover. I’m also aware that I may just be lucky with genetics, and other things that may not be quantifiable at this point. Regardless, I learnt a lot from my injury, and became a far better runner and person.

Shortly after my return to running, Nike offered me a last minute spot in the Berlin Marathon. Which in discussion with my coach, I gladly accepted. I also signed up to run a track mile, at the Reading Athletic Club Mile Festival, on the invitation of my friend Anna Boniface (she WON the London marathon this year with a 2:37 from the general start). I also was still going out to UTMB, and had been asked by Sally McRae to crew her. An honour, and as I had been unable to the year before when she asked, I was glad that this year I could.

The day before I flew to UTMB, I was up in Reading to race a track mile. I’ve never raced on track, or raced anything less than a half marathon, so was totally winging it. I had been placed in the top race, and would get my clock cleaned by some fast young talents. The first lap went around in a very slow 80 seconds, of which I was boxed in. I run 400’s in 60 seconds in training, and felt totally out of my usual rhythm being boxed in at such a slow pace. The next lap picked up, and then the field started to string out. By the final lap, I was in the back and ended up crossing the line in 4:50. A sub five mile, in what was more a race than a pure time trial. The other runners clearly knew what they were doing, and as stated prior, totally cleaned my clock! I had fun, and gained a huge amount of respect for racing on track, as I really got to see firsthand how tactics can really affect speed and performance. I know I can run a lot faster, so that was a good boost of confidence, and I relished the opportunity to do something completely out of my comfort zone.

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The following day, I would head to Chamonix for UTMB. I had only a month to train specifically for the Berlin marathon, so being in the mountains wasn’t exactly specific training, but definitely my preferred playground. I love it out in Chamonix, and it was just amazing to be doing big runs in the mountains again, particularly as my shin was feeling great. I’d not had any issues in my recovery, but there was always a chance that bigger runs may expose anything that had not healed up. I had some great training runs, and spent the rest of the week with some of the best people, both new and old friends. I spent a lot of time in the Nike house, with athletes I’d followed and looked up to since I began my ultra journey, and most of the weekend crewing with Celia from GU. It was such an honour to be crewing for Sally and helping the Nike team, and the other US athletes as the weekend unfolded. The lessons, experiences and friendships that I gained from that weekend far outweighed what I would have gained had I raced CCC as originally planned. It was truly a gift to be there. A blessing in disguise.

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Walking to the UTMB start with Sally McRae, Tim Tollefson (3rd UTMB), Zach Miller (9th UTMB), David Laney (13th UTMB) & Ryan Ghelfi (DNF), Billy Yang & Nike Trail Team support
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Helping crew Amanda Basham (17th UTMB) at Champex Lac Aid Station
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Tim Tollefson & Dylan Bowman (7th UTMB) at Courmayeur Aid Station

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Zach, Ryan, Sally, David and Tim just before they headed to the start pen

A few weeks later, I was off to Berlin. I had planned to go to Berlin with my friend Amrit, who had been registered to run Berlin from the start. The Kraft Runners bib from Nike, meant I now was running too. Amrit and I arrived on the Friday, soaked up the weekend, caught up with friends we had met at Nike events prior, and got ready to do our thing. I’d spoken with Alicia and we both knew that I’d only had really three weeks of marathon specific training, with significantly less mileage than I normally run. The shin injury and last minute spot had meant no standard 16 week buildup, so I knew that I was not in prime marathon fitness for my potential. It rained at the start, and I found myself running sub 6 minute mile pace from the beginning. I knew 6 minute pace would not be sustainable, yet it was my goal pace and where I knew my full marathon potential was right now. So I threw my conservative plan out the window, locked into 6 min mile pace, and just resided to the fact that at some point, it was going to start hurting badly, and I’d be all aboard the pain train, holding on for dear life. I was comfortable til around the half way mark, where my body just decided we wouldn’t be doing 6’s anymore. My pace dialled back to what I was more attuned to running, and held fairly steady to the finish. It got pretty tough towards the end, but my splits held reasonably consistently, just not the same pace as the first half. I finished in 2:48, a PR, yet not what I had hoped for (I was ambitiously going for 2:37). I knew sub 2:40 was a massive stretch, and that three weeks of marathon workouts was barely scratching the surface. I learnt a lot, put my shin to the test (it passed with flying colours), and at the end of the day, It showed me that I have speed, and a lot more potential in the marathon. So it was a big confidence boost knowing all that, which propelled me forward. I had a blast that weekend with Amrit, and enjoyed the change of scenery.

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I came off Berlin feeling renewed and refreshed, and the fitness boost from the race had paid dividends. I was focused on the Tarawera 100 miler in February of 2018, so with my shin 100% healed, that’s what my focus has been towards. I’ve since decided to race the 100km, which is the premier Ultra Trail World Tour event at Tarawera and should see a deeper field of competition. Before I do that, I have one last race. Epic Trail Azores; 42kms (ish) across Sao Miguel Island, my final race of the year. I toe the line tomorrow (Dec 2nd 2017), and am as fit and prepared as I’ve ever been. Ive had a great few months of training, as my mileage has grown and my workouts have been pushed. It has been a whirlwind of a few months, and not at all as I had planned the second half of the year to look like. That’s life, and thats what happens when things don’t go to plan. I adapted, overcame and focused on the process (and enjoyed it), without any expectations on outcomes. Tomorrow is also the day the Western States Ballot is drawn, which I am in once again. I will be returning to Western States in 2018, the only question is in at what capacity. So here I am, in Azores, ready to do the final dance of what has been a phenomenal year for me. I’ve had two years of racing ultras in the top races in the world, against the best runners in the world. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I’m only just getting started.

 

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