Damage control

April 8, 2007

To understand how the Mad City 100K (link to results; select “show all results” to see splits) unfolded for me, you only have to look at my 10K split times: 40:09, 40:29, 40:17, 40:20, 41:13, 41:09, 42:06, 45:59, 51:16, 51:33.

Those last 30 kilometers were truly awful. While my legs slowly crumbled beneath me, so did my hopes of a sub-6:50 time and then, a bit later, of salvaging a personal record.

As demoralizing as this experience was, it was also achingly familiar. I’ve now run a total of four 100K road races, and three of them have reduced me to a slow shuffle by the end. The exception was at Houston in February of 2006. In the months leading up to that race, I began doing my long runs at 100K race pace; when I set a 21-minute PR there and then finished strongly at Sunmart later in the year, I assumed I had figured out how to approach these types of races.

I guess I’m not as smart as I thought I was.

Some people familiar with the Mad City course and race-day conditions — temperatures in the 20s, brisk winds, three hills per 10K loop — might think I’m being too hard on myself. But those conditions didn’t prevent the top two women (Julie Udchachon and Devon Crosby-Helms) from posting impressive times (8:09 and 8:16, respectively). The main lesson I’m taking away from Mad City is that I need to do more in my training to prepare my muscles for the pounding they face during long races.

So which training stimuli would be most effective in minimizing muscle damage during these races? More mileage? Lunging and bounding drills? Squats and weight training? Downhill running?

I don’t know. I need to read, talk, and think about this some more.

Anyway, aside from all of the above, at least a couple other things need to be said about Mad City. One is that, from the course markings to the prize money, it was a first-class event, thanks to race director Timo Yanacheck and the local organizing committee, volunteers, and sponsors. Another is that the 10K loop course, which winds around Lake Wingra through the University of Wisconsin arboretum and a few low-traffic neighborhoods, has plenty of local flavor. My favorite aspect of it was the permanent mile markers, each bearing the name of a legendary runner from Wisconsin: Suzy Favor Hamilton (mile 1), Rod DeHaven (mile 2), Gabriel Jennings (mile 3), Pascal Dobert (mile 4), Cindy Bremser (mile 5), and Steve Lacy (mile 6). As the race progressed, I maintained a running dialogue with these markers, pleading for fast split times (e.g., “Low numbers, Gabe! Low numbers!”), berating them when they didn’t appear soon enough (“C’mon, Rod, this is no time to be shy!”), and complaining about the many challenges of the day (“More wind, Cindy? That’s just not fair!”).

Maybe I should have asked them for tips on how to keep the muscle damage under control.


  1. Greg First off congrats on a strong run at Mad City. not what you were hoping for(or even what I was hoping FOR you while watching updates from Egypt) but not awful either. Your question about what to do to prevent the fade interests me. I feel pretty strongly about the body really reacting to a previously established collapse point. IE… the DURATION of your longest effort in training prior to the race. I think even more important than pace is the amount of time you place the body IN MOTION. Your longest run was 4 hours. And I bet the going on Saturday felt pretty decent those first 4 hours, but after that it became a struggle, then after another 30-40minutes or so it became something you could no longer do. Same thing happens in marathons. Most fast folks run a long run weekly of 2 hours and then race day trying to run that 2:20-2:30 marathon they crash out at the 2 hour mark. Obviously nutrition plays a role too. My thinking is that 2 runs of 6- 7 hours at an EASY pace in the 8 weeks before the race would allow someone with your speed the ability to run 6:35….But, then again Dave Dunham ran 6:44 without every running further than 26.2! When you figure it all out let me know for sure and I'll write a book on it.Greg

  2. After all that I think you failed to mention that you WON! Congrats! Sorry it wasn't what you hoped for but gutting it out and winning a national championship anyway is pretty darn impressive. Congrats – hope the recovery goes well!

  3. Awesome work. I ran a 10k leg at the relay and your "slow shuffle" pace was damned near my race pace. Congratulations!

  4. Congratulations on your two recent national championships! I was at Caumsett, and saw quite a bit of your great race there, as you lapped me four times.I hate to be a downer, but maybe you did everything right as far as training is concerned, and just don't have a sub-6:45 100k in you? (or at any rate, require better weather and less hills in order to do it?) Maybe if you went out running 42-minute 10k splits rather than 40, you would have been able to sustain that pace the entire way, and get yourself another sub-7hr. finish?Just a thought. What do I know, I'm a mediocre mid-packer myself…Hopefully you'll find out what adjustments you need to make, and end up on the podium after a sub-6:45 at the world 100k championship. Good luck!

  5. Rob Leder-Excuse me? I don't think that you are in a position to say anything.Greg-You won the race. Congrats! Remember, you are the only male to qualify for the 100K world championships. Job well done!

  6. Rob Leder-Excuse me? I don't think that you are in a position to say anything.Hence my use of question marks, and the disclaimer "just a thought, what do I know".I realize that he is one of the best ultrarunners in the US, but whenever someone (of any level) uses phrases like "legs slowly crumbled beneath me", "demoralizing", and "reduced me to a slow shuffle" to describe the end of a race, the first thing I wonder is if maybe the original target time was a little too ambitious.Ms. Nichols, I apologize for upsetting you by raising this question, so consider it stricken from the record. 🙂

  7. It's the mark of a true champion to scratch your head after WINNING! Makes me look forward to what you will accomplish in the future.Seriously, though, take some time and enjoy your victory. There are a lot of guys thinking about what they could have done to just keep pace with you.

  8. Don't worry, Rob — you asked a reasonable question in a respectful manner. It's important for us all to remember that one's speed is not necessarily proportional to one's knowledge. Personally, I think my goal was reasonable, but I could be wrong. My next road 100K, whenever it occurs, should be instructive.Thanks for your interest and support, everyone.

  9. Rob Leder- Thank you, I appreciate it. I apologize that I came across so harshly.

  10. Hey Greg,I wasn't able to stick around after the race (fr-fr-freezing), but I wanted to make sure to tell you congratulations. You ran a tough race on a tough day. I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from this race, but agree with you on the possible importance of strength training. That is something I am considering at the moment as well. Keep running tough.

  11. You forgot to mention that somewhere in that dreadful race, you WON THE 100K USA CHAMPIONSHIPS. ;-)SD

  12. Great going, Greg! I'm irrationally proud of you since someone you're related to is my best friend. Sorry it was a tough and disappointing race despite the win. I still look forward to your dominating the world.

  13. Congratulations, Doogie! Even if you're disappointed that your time didn't meet you're own very high standards, I do think you should allow yourself to be very proud of your total success as measured by another standard (winning the race!). If your goal remains "world domination", I'd say step 1 ("USA domination") is already accomplished.

  14. Eeks, I think I lost my last comment. Hopefully you won't get 2!Congrats on the win, congrats on fighting through challenging racing conditions, and congrats on gutting out a tough end-of-race physical condition!As you've already been pondering, I'm sure this race will serve as a learning tool for the next race down the road.Here's hoping for a speedy recovery!

  15. First off, what a well-mannered blog population. Second, thanks for posting about your internal struggles. I was wondiering how that was going. Finally, I think you learn faster than me (what an understatement). As my pace started to drag at my most recent attempt to run 100k (I got 50k – 20 minutes slower than when I ran it injured), my mind started reviewing the comments others had made and I decided that (what do you know) they (you and others) were right after all – about practice runs at 60% to 70% of the distance and a 50 mile race 8 weeks prior just doesn't count. Perhaps you all are right about the speedwork too.

  16. Greg: Congrats. Terrific race. Even if those last three 10K splits don't look like they were a lot of fun. I'm very interested in the question you raise: What additional exercises can you do in your training to prepare you for the 100K of abuse? I'm sure you're not going to run 200m a week to get ready, but hope to come up with something else. Be sure to let us know what you decide. I'm trying to figure out the same, only for the 1-mile, not 100K.

  17. Tough conditions call for tough runners. Congratulations on a great, gritty effort!For the "what to do differently file":Review how much fluid and what calories you got down during the course of the race. In the cold, I've found it much harder to get the fluids I need. And once you get low on fluids, you can't get fuel to the muscles and it's all downhill from there. It could be that your muscles are in fine shape for the distance, but the support system broke down. After all, your muscles didn't stop working, they just couldn't work as fast as you wanted them to.Anyhow, you should be very proud of yourself. Enjoy the recovery time with your family!

  18. Jem: Regarding domestic domination, if Howard Nippert had been in the race, he would have squished me like a grape (as Mr. Miyagi would say). I still have a way to go before I achieve Nippert's speed and consistency.

  19. Greg: for analysis' sake what were the splits of the first three women? The second and third men? The data might offer some insight…. Their comments even more…Meanwhile, WD is 100K shorter… goosebumps, just give me goosebumps…

  20. Congrats on the win, albeit with a "shuffle" at the end:) !!! I wonder too what were the splits of Scott and the girls comparing to you, were you hanging for "dear life" with Jurek behind or had a comfortable enough lead with everyone struggling? If marathon pace long runs help marathoners, may be 100k folks would need some kind of that too? May be it just was a day, simply a day in a life, when something turned off, while you could be easily maintaining same pace through last 30k on another day.In either case, amazing time and effort, bask in glory, you deserve it!

  21. Greg, congrats on another championship win! To answer a question of yours from a previous post: no, overexposure cannot be far off. Well done. World domination, here you come.

  22. Hey Greg, great job with yet another win. You and Scott represented our locale wonderfully, as usual.I'm not qualified to comment on any race distance above 42K, but even at my comparitively miniscule race distances, I've noticed that in cold and wet or windy conditions, muscle damage can be a major factor. I suspect that the cold conditions can make you feel like running a bit more aggressively early on (for warmth, if no other reason), then as the body goes into "physiological triage" late in the race, the depleted system withdraws superficial blood flow as much as possible, resulting in the horrible muscle impact and breakdown of the type you describe, especially in the quads. This never happens to me in warm weather, but I've been sore for as much as a week after even a hard 1500m in the cold rain. Maybe muscle damage in the cold is the flipside of hydration issues in the heat. It may be that conservative early pace is optimal in both situations.Maybe if you get some input on Julie and Devon, they might have some insight as to dealing with those particular conditions. Also, what were the conditions on your last two 100K's?Good luck and good running! BB

  23. Patrick Russell gave a great post-race interview and mentions the same troubles with muscle damage. I'm very interested to hear what you guys come up with training-wise to deal with it.http://runningminnesota.blogspot.com/2007/04/patrick-russell.html

  24. Greg -I'm certainly not your level, but an ultrarunner and a serious student of the sport.I recently did a 34 mile training run in preparation for the Ice Age 50. For the first 20 miles, I jogged along and my heart rate bounced from 117 to 121 throughout. Then, from miles 20 to 28, my pace stayed constant, but my heart rate climbed gradually through the 120s and 130s and settled at 145. A little over 145 is a threshold. I can run "forever" at below 145, consuming water, food, etc… For the last 6 miles, my heart rate stayed at 145, but I had to slow by a min per mile. I'm wondering if you had a similar phenomenon. I'm not sure the answer. Did I have to take in more fluids? More carbohydrates? Did the heating up in the day do it? Do I need more 30 mile runs? I need to experiment as well.Anyway… maybe I'm no help, but I thought I'd toss it out there.Congratulations on the win.

  25. All,Great discussions! I think the most interesting thing is how fast people always want to get faster and perform better. I think Bryan maybe on to the answer with his thoughts on the shifting of blood from the working muscles into the core to keep warm as hours in the cold gradually lowered your core temp. Dave's observations are also interesting and probably related to caloric intake shortfalls, but additionally, you can have the opposite effect in a hot envirnonmnent when blood flow shifts to the skin for maximze radiation to shed heat (and thus away from working muscles) this phenomonen causing an increase in HR. You see this running on a treadmill indoors for an hour too…cardiac upward drift. Anyway, I devoted my BLOG to these topics today: http://loomdogruns.blogspot.com/

  26. Loom,Thanks for the comments. On my aforementioned 34 miler, I took in about 1000 calories during the run. I also know I didn't take enough fluid in.Just hoping its helpful for Greg.IMO, it is a necessity to do really long runs. Although some elites may not seem to do so – to really run at one's best, unless you're Yiannis or something, I believe you need to train the body to process food and fluids, train the endocrine system, and train the mind.

  27. … well maybe Greg should also get an ULTRA POSTING award. Is 28 max so far?

  28. Corrado and Olga: Regarding split times, let's look at the first 50K and last 50K for simplicity. I ran 3:22/3:52 (ugh). Jurek did 3:33/3:59, so he slowed down a lot in the second half, but not as much as I did (26 minutes vs. 30 minutes). Third-place Kevin Setnes went 3:36/4:15, which is pretty good for a 53-year-old. As for the top three women, Julie ran 4:00/4:08, Devon was 4:05/4:11, and Carolyn Smith was 4:04/4:31. Looks like the ladies paced themselves better than the guys.BB: Conditions at my previous 100K's were: Silver Comet (Feb. 2005), ideal temperature (40s to low 50s); IAU World Cup (June 2005), hot (70s) and sunny; Houston Ultra Event Weekend (Feb. 2006), ideal temperature (40s-50s) and rainy. All courses were pretty flat, and wind was not much of a factor at any of them.Dave: I do not usually monitor my heart rate, so I don't know if my HR trends are similar to yours. However, I'm sure my heart rate was not particularly high in the last 30K, since my muscles were too chewed up to work very hard, thus limiting the amount of oxygen they needed. In any case, good luck at Ice Age.

  29. Congrat's on your championship win. You say,"But those conditions didn't prevent the top two women(Julie Udchachon and Devon Crosby-Helms) from posting impressive times"I see that Devon ran 3:32 for 50K in Febuary and 8:16 at your 100K. You ran 3:04 for 50K in March. If you performed as she did that would translate to about 7:11, which is about what you did. So maybe you *are* being too hard on yourself.Since those women ran well I wonder what accomodations they made for the weather. Did they do a better job of dressing warmly (esp. from the waist down)? Did they add a bit of cushioning in their shoes to soften the hard, frozen tarmac? [Personally, I ran my 50 mile PR on a day that started with temp's in the '20's and with tight, semi-injured hamstrings. But I wore two layers of tights and managed to keep everything warm.]From the comfort of my arm chair and with 20/20 hindsight, I would guess that such harsh weather conditions are not the right time to go for a big 100K PR and that, if you keep at it, you'll hit your goal when all the conditions are right.Again, congrat's on a big win, and thanks for letting us lazee-bonz enjoy your efforts vicariously.Balto

  30. Balto: It was nice to hear from you (along with everyone else). However, I continue to believe that I should have been ready to run a solid PR. First of all, the 3:04 50K, while certainly a hard effort, was not all-out. I believe that I could have run about 3:00 if I had done a full taper, run hard from the start, etc. Second, my Sunmart 50-mile time from December suggests the potential for a faster 100K time; for example, my time at Sunmart was faster than previous times recorded there by Valmir Nunes, who has run 6:18 for 100K, and Tom Johnson, who holds the American 100K record (6:30). Third, in the training leading up to my 6:59 100K in Houston, I did long runs of 36 miles at 6:40-6:50/mile pace (over flat terrain, mimicking that of the race course). This time my long runs were at about 6:25/mile pace (over rolling terrain, again mimicking that of the race).

  31. Tend to agree with Balto. Cold-related energy depletion can be unexpectedly and unmeasurably high. It is not just a function of fatigue: it is related to survival. It is really draining.And yes, the ladies do/did pace themselves better. Could it be it is because they know themselves better?Say, would have running the first 50K 8 minutes slower have helped you to run the second 50K 22 minutes faster (for an even split race)? As well as the per mile or Km/pace, it seems to me in these super long distances, the half-way fork is an important psychological query point to gauge physical optimization.The conditions were the same for everybody. We all need to find our best.Still (may i call you dude?) you won. That's the bottom line.

  32. Karl Meltzer liked it – http://www.wasatchspeedgoat.com/ – you rated 3 scrapes.

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