Why did I do this to myself? Part of the fear of racing hard is dealing what it will do to your body afterwards. Pre-race taper sucks because you are raring to go, knowing you can run but saving yourself for the big day. Post-race recovery sucks because you’re broken, basically, and can do nothing to fix it but wait until your body heals itself. And you have no one or nothing to blame but yourself.
But it’s worth it, of course, when a race goes well. The physical pain is offset by some serious emotional elation. It’s not quite like a drug, because the body still hurts so damn much and you can feel that, but it is. Think of the endorphin rush that comes from running a marathon, then multiply it by 5, and you get roughly the high that comes from running 136 miles. And unlike a drug high, it’s not something external that you take, it’s something you make. Instead of disrupting, it feels natural and organic and in sync with everything you are and want to be. It’s some heavy shit, I know, that leaves me looking on to the next one.
I’ll admit, I’m not great at actively pursuing recovery. Ice baths, foam rolling, hydrating: I know I should be doing it but I’m either too lazy or too busy. I prefer active bitching and moaning until I can run again.
As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn’t feeling too hot when the 24-hour race ended. One minute I was walking purposefully and happily to the finish, and the next, as I crossed the timing mat for the last time and sat down, I became a spazzy invalid. Things had started hurting a lot at night during the race, as expected. I remember smacking my quads and butt to wake them up, and massaging my abs, lower back and upper arms while I ran to soothe their pain. But afterwards, I was almost immobile, and I knew it didn’t help that I couldn’t eat or drink immediately upon finishing. Instead, I was retching and puking up some nasty brown goo. Once I got it all out, though I felt much better, and on the ride home I actually started feeling properly hungry.
I got home and took a shower right away, just to get it over with, and it felt fantastic. Something I love about going out to my limits is that coming home the simplest luxuries we take for granted every day become a source of great joy. Like a hot shower, flannel pajamas, and a cheese omelet from the diner around the corner, which is exactly what I ordered, with fries and whole wheat toast. My stomach must have shrunk from the lack of food overnight, because I could only eat half of the meal, but it was enough to get me sated and ready for some sleep. I napped, ate a bit of dinner (Peruvian Chinese food: some Lomo Saltado with yellow rice, roasted chicken and fried rice) and tried to sleep some more.
On Monday much of the pain in areas other than my legs had faded and I felt much better than on Sunday, but I was still I hobbling disaster. I literally had to pull my legs in and out of bed, or on and off the sofa, with my hands (a stretching rope works well too, I found). Craving bread, I went to Zabar’s two blocks away and bought half a dozens kinds of loaves and rolls. It took an hour or so. I slept in brief spurts, as if I had jet lag, which I guess I did in a way after shaking up my body clock so severely. During the 24 hours I had drank as much Coca Cola as I could take, alternated my gels and chews with those that had moderate amounts of caffeine, and had shots of 5-Hour Energy around 12 and 17 hours in. I was never sleepy or tired during the event.
On Tuesday I felt slightly better but only by like 10% or so. Now is when the recovery starts getting old. And I know, I did this to myself, so the pity party can only go so far. And the mental elation is still there, making the physical pain pale in comparison. I eat the bread, crave a croissant, go out to buy one and run some errands. “Run” is way too strong a word. I walk a few blocks very slowly, that’s all. There’s still very little walking going on, and seeing other people run looks amazing. Dinner is pizza and beer to celebrate.
By Wednesday I am ready to test myself, so I go for a walk of about 2 miles. Originally, my big goals for this week were to walk one mile and swim one time. As I set out, I am no longer the slowest person on the streets. I’m almost normal. Not NYC-normal speed, but around tourist-normal. This is a vast improvement. I get tired as I approach the one mile mark and consider hopping on a subway for the rest of my journey, instead I stop at a magazine shop for a few minutes and feel up to continue. Half a mile of so later, I stop for a quick bite of veggies and pasta salads, then I walk a little more before catching a bus. My acupuncturist, Russ Stram of Runner Clinic NYC, has generously offered me the use of his Normatec compression boots for several days, so I start using them once or twice a day for 30-40 minutes. It feels very tight at first and I can barely stay at level 4 or 5 (of 7), but it’s a real luxury and I’m very grateful for it.
Thursday I’m pretty tired again from my urban hike, so I take it easy and write up my recollections of One Day. I feel that I can almost walk normally except for some tightness at the front of my right hip/hip flexor, which gives me a peg leg sort of shuffle. I feel like I can start getting back to my life soon, which of course includes running at least 50-60 miles per week.
Then I look up the “Race Recovery” section in the Ultramarathon chapter of Tim Noakes’s Lore of Running (aka the “Runner’s Bible”), which reminds me:
Once you have completed the ultramarathon race to your satisfaction, it is time for a good rest. I suggest that for three months you should do little or no running but concentrate on other non-weight-bearing activities, such as swimming, cycling, or working out in a gym. … A minimum of one month’s near total rest is desirable.
I’m in trouble.
Friday I get most of my routine back. I do loads of laundry and clean house, partly inspired by guests coming on Sunday, and I couldn’t have my apartment looking like a giant aid station. (Although my gang of ultra running friends would totally understand, a feisty pup is also coming over and he’d be likely to OD on all the gels, water bottles and toe socks laying around). I get out for a very short swim and walk back about another two miles and get some grocery shopping done as well. The water felt good but my walking stride was still a bit peg-legged.
I’ve been looking forward to Saturday all week. This day is the NYRR NYC 60K (FKA Knickerbocker 60K), the only ultra put on by NYRR. I was going solely to cheer, though of course some people asked if I was going to run. NO WAY! The course– nine 4-mile inner loops in Central Park, plus a little 1.2 mile out and back– makes it great for spectating, and I would say it is one of THE two great get-togethers of the NYC ultra running community (the other one is Phil McCarthy’s TGNY 100, though that one requires that you pretty much run the whole 100-mile loop if you want to see everyone who’s out volunteering and helping out and stuff). Last year I ran the 60K, and loved the vibe of seeing friends and teammates out all along the course, and especially as we passed by the start/finish area by Engineer’s Gate on East 90th. Even Mary Wittenberg was out on her ElliptiGo cheering us on and snapping photos.
I had told Otto that I would be there early to pick up some brownies that he bought for later (just decadent artisanal brownies from Chelsea market, no funny business there), but I left home a little late, meaning I had to walk/run the mile to the start. The run part was laughable but still faster than walking, and I made it minutes before the start horn blew at 8am. Many friends and teammates were running, from speedsters going for the podium to first-time ultra runners just hoping to finish, while others came by to spectate and cheer. Though cold, the day was sunny enough that the chill didn’t feel awful, at least not to me in my many layers, topped off by my giant NJ One Day sweatshirt (I had asked for a small but somehow wound up with an XL). My One Day podium pals Maggie and Yoshiko came to town from Philly, and we all matched.
Cheering felt like great recovery. We made a lot of noise, stood around for over five hours, and none of it hurt. It was too exciting watching the drama unfold as runners we knew traded first places, set PRs, and struggled through their first or one of many ultras. I would have loved to pace someone too, but even a walking a single four-mile loop would have been too much too soon. Afterwards we walked back the one mile to my place, which felt like a long time. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent partying “recovery-style”: eating and drinking (with Nuun at least as popular as the beer), taking turns in the compression boots and playing with my ever-growing collection of recovery tools, and enjoying/moaning through some of Tiger’s massage techniques. Our puppy guest of honor had a pretty good time as well.
It is one week after One Day, and I wanted to see how I could run. My goal was modest: one loop around the reservoir, plus the return trip to and from home, or about 3.5 miles. I did it, slowly, and with hobbled form. The tightness in my right hip/hip flexor is causing me to lean over to the right side and it looks pretty atrocious. But it felt great. That evening, I fall asleep in the compression boots.
I do a bit more focused recovery today. Some time in the compression boots, an easy half hour swim, some time in the sauna afterwards, and a visit to Runner Clinic NYC to treat the tightness on my right side. I fall asleep at 8:30pm, soon after dinner. Following the days of over-excitability and somewhat erratic sleep immediately after One Day, my body seems to be demanding more quality rest.
Today is the first f’ing freezing-ass cold day of the season and Day 1 in my plan to beat the wintertime whimpyness out of myself. Last winter I gave myself a grace period of sorts, since it was my first year of cold-weather running, which coincided nicely with the Polar Vortex. I focused my winter training on the Boston Marathon in April and ran no ultra distances until late May of this year. I still logged plenty of frigid miles, but I did most of my short, hard speed work on a treadmill as well as easy runs when there was too much snow on the ground. Even though I never ran more than about 3 hours outdoors during the winter, I often found myself getting sick, especially right after racing (I did a bunch of shorter races in the range of 15K-25K). I don’t know if I can train the colds and flus away, but I’ll try.
So even though it was around 30F with a wind chill feel of under 20F, the sun was out and I figured I was good for a trip up to Grandma’s in Inwood. At least the wind was blowing from the west so I’d get it at my side and back as I headed north-northeast. I bundled up: long-sleeve Craft thermal shirt, a singlet and a fleece-lined wind-blocking jacket on top, long tights with fleece-lining on the thighs, knee- high socks, and shorts on the bottom, plus a buff, fleece headband, fleece hat, and super-warm mittens. I did not at all miss really having to think hard about what to wear before each run these last 7 or so months. It pays off though: apart from my frosty nose, I didn’t get too cold keeping an easy pace for 7.5 miles. My hip was still tight, but I have some wacky ideas about the body adapting around its minor aches and pains. I’ve run through so many of them and kept going, with a little more rest here and there, and more treatment when I can get it. Within a few miles today I felt more comfortable, got into a rhythm, and enjoyed the paths full of late autumn’s fallen leaves.
On this Wednesday I wake up feeling sore from the previous day’s run. The original plan was to swim today, but since I didn’t have enough time to go to the pool in the morning so I decided to try for another freezing ass run, just a short 3.5 mile reservoir loop. This never happens, but I didn’t make it. I bundled up and set out, and my tight hip felt worse than ever, and I turned around and walked back home before I even got to the park. I’d rather run like a parentheses than cut a run short, so this was bad.
Later, I got a chance to go to the pool and got a good 45 minutes in, my longest swim in months. Then I sauna’d and started working on some hip strengthening exercise (clams, clams, clams).
As I recover, I am both anxious about my races in the coming weeks and casting about for an excuse to go run another 24-hour race around the end of the year. I’m heading to San Francisco next week for the Quad Dipsea on November 29th and The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco 50-mile championship race a week later. These are not big goal races, but rather a bit of a year-end treat to myself to run some mountains in one of my favorite places and catch up with friends along the way. Still, I’m not sure if my legs are ready for Quad Dipsea in another ten days, and I’m mentally preparing myself to let it become my first DNF if finishing would mean injury. And I gasped to see the company I’m keeping on the “elite” list for the TNF 50-mile race. I had been thinking of doing the sensible thing and switching down to the 50K or marathon distance, but seeing my name up there is keeping me in the game for now. It’s pride and ego, I know, and could well result in a “double-DNF” trip for me.
As for “the other 24-hour,” while running at One Day I remember telling myself to hurry up and qualify for Team USA, otherwise I would have to do it all again in 6 weeks for a final shot to make the team. That was a strong incentive, and in the days right after the race I felt pretty secure that my total mileage would be enough. After all, the only other American woman who ran more in 24 hours this year was right there with me. But I may have underestimated the number of ladies who really want a spot on the team. Last weekend, one ran over 140 miles, and in a few weeks a bunch of motivated speedsters are going to run around a track for 24 hours at the Desert Solstice Invitational. If more than three of them top 136 miles, then I have to think long and hard about whether to go for one of the “last chance” races around the very end of December/very beginning of January. Of course I don’t want to do it, but now that I have the dream and the experience it may well be worth a shot to make what could be the most competitive 24-hour women’s team in history!