Seven weeks of purgatory

October 12, 2008

Running-wise, the days from mid-August to the end of September were one of the most frustrating periods of my life.

It’s bad enough to suddenly need an additional 15 to 20 seconds per mile on every run, from speed workouts to easy 6-milers. It’s much worse to not know why.

Most slowdowns of this magnitude are bearable because they have an obvious cause — illness, weight gain, too much or too little recent training, or whatever — which in turn suggests an obvious solution. In the absence of a clear cause, though, one can drive oneself crazy with idle speculation. Is this condition permanent? Will I now be slower for the rest of my life? If so, will I still be able to derive some enjoyment from competing, or will I turn into a non-racing “fitness jogger”?

After a month of pondering the latter question, I decided that I might still try another 100-miler someday, since I could certainly improve upon my one previous attempt at the distance. Much less appealing was the thought of spending shorter races doing a poor impersonation of my former self. In between uniformly bad workouts, I wondered whether to give up my spot on the United States 100K World Cup team that will compete in Italy on November 8th.

After about seven weeks of the sudden-onset idiopathic slowness, I finally started showing some improvement. On Thursday the 2nd, I managed to complete my hilly 3.7-mile Capitol Hill time trial in 21:24 — far off of my personal best of 20:41, but far faster than the 21:58 I had produced three weeks earlier. Then on Monday the 6th, I did 2 x 1530m in Cal Anderson Park in 5:01/4:59 — not completely dissimilar to a 4:55/4:52 effort during happier times.

Thus I appear to be moving in the right direction. I still don’t know what was afflicting me; my best guess is that I had a sneaky, lingering virus that slowed me down without causing any other major symptoms. The whole thing is weirdly reminiscent of the unexplained seven-week slumps that fellow Seattle ultramarathoners Brian Morrison, Michael Sanders, and Ralph Pooler all experienced last summer. (“If I weren’t a runner, I probably wouldn’t have known that anything was wrong with me,” Brian recalls.)

And now it’s time to cram for Italy.


  1. Hey Greg – sorry to hear of your tough times. A while back you mentioned you were going to see your doc to make sure everything checked out ok. Just wondering if you got your thyroid hormones checked, too? Hypothyroidism is being increasingly recognized in intense athletes, though it can be missed because symptoms in athletes aren't textbook.

  2. well, i will definitely come to root for you as well as our own Giorgio Calcaterra…

  3. Pam: Yes, I've been checked for hypothyroidism (as well as anemia) twice in the last year.

  4. I just glanced at this – reference from dpstraining.blogspot.com, I thinkhttp://www.heractivelife.com/women/comment/hypothyroidism-and-athletes-oxymoron-or-reality/

  5. Sorry – you said you had been checked for that and anemia which was my other suggestion.

  6. Hey Greg, you should try Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Texas. There are multiple loops over rolling terrain and you'd kick butt. Good luck at the World 100k, don't think too much about it, just have fun! Tell Liz and baby Phil I said Hi.

  7. Interesting the difference in dilemmas we face for the same activity. Since I only started "running" last year, and have never been competitive for me its all about the run itself. But your arguing with yourself about competing itself not about the value of running in general. I also find it fascinating how small to me the difference is between fast and slow for you. They are miles faster than I ever go regardless 😉 I'd like to enter an 100 miler trail run sometime to prove I could do it vs. to win.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: