What’s my excuse THIS time? (Vote for your favorite!)

April 16, 2008

Let’s get the nice-guy stuff out of the way first.

Thanks to Timo Yanacheck and the organizers of the Mad City 100K for again producing a first-class event. Notable improvements vis-a-vis last year included extra-bountiful goody bags (with three pairs of socks, plus a cheese-filled dartboard from the Wisconsin Cheeseman) and a detailed, reliable webcast.

Thanks to my Kenosha-based aunt and uncle for hosting me again this year. Thanks to Liz for letting me travel to this race. And congratulations to all finishers, but especially those who surpassed the U.S. World Cup 100K team selection standards: Michael Wardian (6:56), Steve Stowers (7:14), Adam Lint (7:19), and Carolyn Smith (8:25).

As for myself, I think I’ve just about hit rock-bottom in terms of racing success and confidence. Of my last four major races — the Western States 100, the World Cup 100K, the JFK 50, and Mad City — all but the World Cup have been unmitigated disasters.

I’ve previously attributed my poor Western States performance to lousy downhill/trail technique and my poor JFK run to the lingering effects of strep throat. Is there an equally plausible race-specific excuse that I should invoke this time? Or is a more general long-term problem to blame for all of these disappointments? Here are some hypotheses.

A. I’m getting old. Undeniably true — and I can’t seem to run 400m-800m repeats as quickly as I used to. Still, I haven’t had any recent injuries and have been doing my physician-prescribed stretches with some regularity. At age 34.9, I can’t already be past my ultramarathoning prime, can I?

B. I’m overtraining. This may have been true at times last year, but lately I’ve taken a more cautious approach to my long, hard runs. I think I’ve become more attuned to my body’s distress signals so that I know when to hammer and when to back off.

C. I’m not fueling myself properly during races. This seems unlikely, since I’ve only made minor adjustments to my nutritional routine over the last year. Also, my JFK and Mad City problems arose within the first 25 miles, which would be awfully early for my body weight/electrolytes/etc. to be way out of whack.

D. My blood and/or hormones are messed up. Could I have anemia or hypothyroidism or something like that? It seems unlikely, since many of my workouts this year have gone reasonably well. In fact, the disparity between workout results and race results suggests another idea….

E. I’ve become a head case. My mental preparation may indeed be suboptimal, as indicated by the fact that I sleep poorly the night before races. Nevertheless my race-day outlook is more flexible and positive than you might imagine. For example, after the first 40 miles of Western States last year, I was in about 13th place — far out of range of the top-three finish I had hoped for — and well behind my goal splits. Yet I was still enjoying myself, more or less. It wasn’t until after I fell apart physically that I fell apart mentally. Similarly, at Mad City I convinced myself that my time shouldn’t be a major concern, given the nasty weather, and that it was OK to let Wardian surge ahead because he might come back later. Only when my body shut down did I abandon my cautiously optimistic mindset.

F. I was sick again. Liz and Phil were both ill during the week before Mad City. I myself didn’t have any symptoms before the race, but afterwards I was quite congested. In fact, my ears were killing me at the end of the flight home. (I was reading the seventh Harry Potter book at the time, and the onset of my ear pain coincided exactly with the death of Voldemort, which was spooky.)

So what’s a once-fast runner to do? I’ve made a doctor’s appointment in the hope of ruling out (D), for starters. Perhaps additional strategies will occur to me in the coming weeks.


  1. Greg,You're too hard on yourself. Period. You have a young child, which in and of itself is a major responsibility (and joy). Big life changes like these (and yes, it could be different with him being 3 years old rather than 1, etc.) take constant adjustments. You've trained like a madman since you were a tyke yourself, and it sounds from your posts that although you set new goals and make some adjustments, it is hard for you to accept race time variations. States, World Cup, JFK, Mad City–all are extremely difficult physical and mental challenges; some years you'll rock 'em, and some years it'll be difficult. Even machines like Jurek, Meltzer, etc. (and I include you in their class) bail out, fail, etc. (ex. Tour du Mont Blanc). As a middle-of-the-pack ultra guy who's new job could be psychoanalyst to the stars of ultrarunning, I urge you to only take the positives from this race and be easy on yourself. You take enough flak from people already (i.e. last year's Western States blogs), so don't bring it on your own bad self. Peace out.

  2. My vote is for F. With a young'en and wife demanding so much attention, along with making trips to Brazil, I think all this is much harder on you than you think. Your body needs to adjust and find a grove with the new activities/changes in your life. It took me a good two years to come back from mediocrity after buying a new house, getting dogs, having a wedding and landing a new job. Just keep running and you’ll find your mojo. It will come back!

  3. Greg,I really enjoy reading your blog. While I am no where near your level I still feel compelled to toss in my $0.02. First, tell me you didn't say that 35 is over the hill! Everybody's different but I'd be surprised if that was it.Looking at your racing schedule I see that you have done like 11 races of marathon distance or farther in the last year and a half. Wow! From the tone of your post it sounds like maybe you've "lost the love" for the moment. Maybe a few weeks or months without competition would get things going again. While the physical challenges of ultras are obvious, I've always felt that the toll on the mental and adrenal systems from frequent HARD racing is much harder to gage.As Chris said, just keep running. No doubt that it is still there.

  4. I also vote for F. With three kids at home, I have had several "mysterious" illnesses appear all of the sudden. With kids, you basically live in a petrey dish.I also agree with Charlie that you are being too hard on yourself. All elite runners (such as yourself) have bad stretches and the races where you have had issues have been arguably the most competitive fields around. Charlie makes a great point with Moount Blanc last year. Hope things turn around for you soon. By the way, I enjoy your blog.

  5. I'm going with F. And next time I run into you in the hallway, I'll bring a mask for you to wear while we speak!Maybe you can put your immune system on a training schedule – like some intervals to toughen it up. Could be a whole new field of study…..take care – both physically and mentally!

  6. I guess F. There myself. Family and life stresses take the focus off of running performance. It will coem back thogh. o worries.Cheers.Joe K.

  7. Sounds like F. I also agree with dezmo's remark about doing 11 ultras in 18 months. The Lore of Running suggests doing one ultra per year (which most ultra-runners would scoff at). Still, trying to truly peak (or come close to it) 11 times over such a short period might be asking for trouble.At 34.9, you've several outstanding performances left!

  8. A) Marco Olmo is 59B) possible, but hard to gaugeC) sound over confident. Nutriotional needs absolutely mesmerize me. From the way they affect calories all the way to mood…D) seems unlikely. That's heavy stuff. Which might not even bring you to the starting line, no?E) "Become" a head case? Take it from a colleague…F) This gets my vote.Feeling out of the petri dish tunnel (mine are 7 and 4), I agree with all posters on the kids issue. I was always tired until at least one of my kids was 3. And think: double kids, double dosage. By the time they've grown up your immune system will be like a bulldozer. And that's way before you become as old as Olmo :-)Go Professor Crowther, GO!

  9. I vote for G, exhaustion due to lugging the 7th Harry Potter book all the way to Wisconsin. ;-)It sounds like F, Doogie. And even if it wasn't, I think you're too hard on yourself. It's just tough to consistently run fast over such long distances; I don't think you (or anyone) have a lot of margin for error. If anything's even the slightest bit off in your preparaton, the cumulative effects over 100K or more are going to be huge. I imagine that you need to have a large reservoir of self-confidence to be an ultramarathoner, because it's just the nature of the beast that you won't always be able to draw confidence from your results.It might help for you to start a blog, so that people could post confidence-boosting comments. ;-)Cheers,Jemp.s. If you were getting old, I'd tell you. That's what friends are for. 😉

  10. I STARTED running when my youngest was about 10. Kids take a lot of resources, no doubt. Wardian looked smooth everytime he lapped me… due credit. You're a great athlete, keep running and don't worry about it.

  11. Greg,I'd say somewhere between B and F, if I had to guess (the two may not be un-related). You have been hitting it pretty hard for the last few years, and even if you've backed off on your training lately, I firmly believe that there can be a long lasting effect from a lot of hard races over a several year time period.Also, as others have pointed out, adding an additional stress (kids) to your life makes it hard to maintain the performance that you're accustomed to achieving. Your body can only take so much total stress – it may be that you're not training as hard as in past years, but you're under more cumulative stress.Best of luck. I know you've still got the wheels to perform at a high level for many years to come. It may be a matter of needing to take a month or so (or more) totally off from running and re-center your self.-Jasper

  12. Thanks, everyone.I'll have more to say about all this in an upcoming post. For now, just a quick note about the 11-races-in-18-months statistic…. I admit that I raced too often between December 2006 and June 2007 (6 ultras in 7 months). However, Mad City '08 was my first serious race since JFK in November. Dezmo is also counting the Bridle Trails 50K (January '08) and Des Moines Creek Park 3-Hour (March '08), but I did not peak for those and did not run all-out, so they shouldn't have set me back much more than a hard training run. And the fact that I could run comfortably the day after those "races" supports this assumption.

  13. Greg,Well, I'm sorry to hear all this, but I suppose last Saturday wasn't your day. (I, too, vote for F)My advice, if it's even worth $0.02, is not only to listen to what everyone else is saying but one thing I would do is to look at your training log for the month leading up to your last successful race (probably the World Cup) and try to emulate that in the month leading up to your next race.Other than that, just persist, persist, persist without exception. You'll get the mojo back-and you've got many years ahead of you to make our jaws drop.-Michael

  14. Greg,A Too old? No!!! This is a joke, isn't it???B. Overtraining? No. Maybe problems in proper training due to some of the travel you've had recently.C. Bad fueling during race? Probably not. But have you gone into the race properly fueled? Have you eaten about the same food and amount of food this year pre-race? Also, what is your weight this year compared to last? If it's the same (+/- 4 pounds) and body fat is about the same, then I'm thinking maybe pre-race fueling.D. Blood or hormones? Possibly. But probably not if you've been eating approximately the same food you ate last year. Maybe screwed up endocrine system if your neck glands swell up when you're training hard, or when sick from the whatever is the latest going around with Phil.E. Head case? Don't make me laugh. You're the most level headed ultra runner I know. Or, is that the problem??? Also, sleep the night before the race is not that important. Sleep the two or three days before is, however.F. Sick again? This can affect training and pre-race nutrition, but you seem to recover relatively quickly from each Phil-induced illness. But, sickness can really have an impact on what I've said in C and D above.BEST WISHES for everything to turn out OK and you're just going through a minor bad patch in your racing career.

  15. […] was a disappointing outcome, to be sure, but it felt different than my past racing failures (e.g., Mad City 2008). This time I was more ready to accept the result, less worried about whether it was […]

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