Time To Rest

I finished the JFK 50 miler in 7 hours and 57 minutes, 76th out of approximately 1300 starters. Aside from the first 16 miles over the Appalachian Trail, this is a relatively easy run following the Potomac River along a former tow path for almost one half of the race. But its relative ease allows runners to push it faster without the usual and much useful walking breaks to hike steep hills. This, in turn, results in injuries and a whole set of other problems.

The last 1/2 of this race was not easy for me. Unbeknownst to me, I was overhydrated and low in sodium. I was very hot during a cold day, and this should have served as a clue that I was not sweating enough due to low sodium. But because the day was so cold, I never gave much consideration to my total sodium intake. In any event, I learned something new, though I suffered unnecessarily for 4 hours.

I ran this race in 2005 and gave a colorful description of that
race then. It's funny how four years of trail running experience turns a difficult course into a mild one.

It's now 5 days after this year's race, and I haven't run much since. I've decided to take my break now and allow my body to recover fully for a month before I commence my heavy training for Western States. I had a 50 miler and a 100k scheduled for December; I'll probably pass on both.

For now, it's time to eat, rest, and be merry.

Two Personal Bests

Two personal bests: 8 hours 48 minutes (37 out of 234 starters) at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile Race in Castro Valley, California on October 10, 2009 (my friend Eric Vaughan says that my faster finish at the much easier JFK 50 Miler doesn't count as a personal best for a 50 mile trail run) and 3 hours 19 minutes (3,078 out of 44,000 starters) at the NY City Marathon on November 1st.

Also ran the crazy Mountain Madness 50K race in Ringwood, NJ the week after Firetrails 50M and ran the challenging and extremely well organized Mount Masochist 50++M race in Lynchburg, VA 6 days after the NYC Marathon.

Suffered the most at Mount Masochist, as I had two injuries from the NYC marathon and a cold; pushed through nonetheless and finished in 11 hours +.

Frankly, I'm fairly amazed that I can run strong, back-to-back ultras on consecutive weekends at this stage of my training. I hope I can stay healthy so I can dial it up a notch in the coming months.

Test My Blood

Maintaining the levels of sodium, potassium, glucose, and hydration constant throughout a race goes a long way towards a successful run. The body will give you hints, through symptoms, when these are out of balance. Cramping probably means low sodium; lack of saliva points to dehydration; fatigue might mean low glucose, etc. The problem with going by symptoms is that by the time these are manifested your system is already out of balance. Unfortunately, absent a blood test, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what’s going on inside your body. And while it may sound a little extreme, doing my blood work before and after each race is exactly what I am doing now to fine tune my system.

I’ve bought myself an iStat Blood Analyzer. By placing only three or four drops of blood on a disposable cartridge, the iStat will evaluate blood chemistry within a couple of minutes. Disposable cartridges are available for all kinds of test. The cartridges I have purchased analyze the blood for sodium, potassium, glucose, and hematocrit. By comparing these levels immediately before and after each race and knowing exactly what my intakes are during the run, I am discovering what are the right amounts of sodium, potassium, sugar, and water to ingest.

The level of hydration can be determined by body weight. Many ultras will weigh the runners at aid stations to make sure they have not lost or, worse, gained too much weight. But changes in hematocrit can also give you a good sense of hydration. Hematocrit is the percentage of the plasma occupied by red blood cells. If the hematocrit level rises during a race, it means that you have less plasma (i.e. you are not going to produce more blood cells during a race) which points to dehydration. If the hematocrit level decreases, you are probably over hydrated (probably as a result of the body holding back water from lack of sodium).

During the last four races, I have been analyzing my blood immediately before and after every race and recording the exact amounts of sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and water ingested during the race. With this information, I’ve been fine tuning my intake on subsequent races with the goal of finishing each race with the same levels I had at the start. I’m not quite there, but I’m sure I’ll be able to fine tune it within the next few races.

September 09

Three hard weeks and one recovery week.

2 hours per day, 4 days per week during the hard training weeks with weekends consisting of:

(1) Back-to-back, 3 1/2 hour runs on first weekend.

(2) 9 hour, 11 minute, 50 mile North Face Endurance Run in Washington DC. Placed 29th out of 212.

(3) 5 hour, 32 minute Vermont 50k Race in Ascutney on Sunday followed by 1 1/2 hours on Monday . Placed 24th out of 153 and 3rd in my age category. Picture

August 09

August training brought the very tough 6 hours and 50 minutes Catoctin 50K race in Frederik, MD (placed 34th out of 139 finishers) and the easier and incredibly beautiful 4 hours and 34 minutes Green Lakes 50K race in Fayetteville, NY (placed 14th out of 106).

I also ran a marathon while crossing the Bering Strait (on a rocking treadmill) and did back-to-back 33.3K's on the same treadmill while crossing the Arctic Ocean. Also managed to take a plunge at the edge of the polar ice cap in 32.7F degree water, but since it was not after a long run, it doesn't count towards the training.

Each of these runs deserves its own post and pictures; I'll try to do that soon.

Fix My Feet

After running “barefoot” a couple times a week during a few weeks, I decided that the protection offered to my soles by my Vibram-five fingers” was not necessary and thus embarked on a totally barefoot run on pavement. Barefoot running is touted as an excellent way to strengthen the feet, particularly the arch, and Vibram makes a sort of foot-glove that protects the soles without reducing the barefoot experience. I had shed my Vibrams on the theory that I would use barefoot running to also toughen my feet and make them more resistant to blisters, but instead I ended up with a blister the size of a quarter on each of my heels -- five days before I was scheduled to pace a runner at Western States 2009. My wife’s facial expression said it all, “are you really that stupid?”

Not one to pass on the opportunity to learn something about running from the experience, I did extensive research on how to fix these blisters in time for the Western States pacing.

Dan Brendan, a friend and much accomplished ultra-marathoner (fifteen 100 mile races in 2008 alone) recommended cutting the outer layer of skin completely and applying NewSkin directly to the raw surface of the blister. “This will create a new artificial layer of skin but be prepared for it to hurt,” he said.

Gillian Robinson, an expert on the subject and co-owner of the running store Zombie Runner recommended cutting a small hole to allow the blister to drain completely and then to simply tape it with Elastikon. She suggested applying “tincture of benzoine” around the non-blistered surface to create a sticky surface to enhance the adhesiveness of the Elastikon tape to the skin. I had used this technique during my 2007 Western States run but never on such large blisters.

A U.S. Army training manual suggested draining the blister and then injecting tincture of benzoine directly into the blister and immediately pressing the outer layer of the skin to the blister so as to glue the surfaces together. Due to the extreme pain that this would cause for 15-20 seconds (think alcohol applied directly to raw surface and multiply the intensity by ten), a friend told me that I would want to bite on something while doing it. A somewhat less painful alternative involved injecting crazy glue into the blister. While I seriously considered the “military alternative”, I rejected it thinking that it would only provide a temporary solution and perhaps create a bigger problem down the road.

I then read an article by John Vonhof, author of Fixing Your Feet, suggesting a safer overnight alternative using zinc oxide. He recommended draining the blister and injecting zinc-oxide into the cavity. Zinc-oxide is the same ingredient used on babies to keep the wetness of a diaper from chaffing their delicate skin. The idea here is to dry out the blister overnight and then tape it in the morning in order to continue running. Eventually the body creates its own new skin over the blister.

Before I tell you about the blister-repair technique that I ultimately selected, let me tell you about yet another mess I created while draining the blister on the day of the barefoot run. The needle I used must have not been sterile, and I ended up introducing some bacteria into one of the blisters. This created an infection resulting in pain around the blister and red streaks emanating from the blister, surrounding the arch, and going towards the leg. I ended up taking care of this a few days later by visiting the Emergency Room while at Squaw Valley (where Western States 100 starts) and getting an aggressive course of antibiotics.

The night before the race, I cut two holes in each of the blisters to drain them completely. I made sure the holes were large enough to prevent themselves from sealing again and fluid from accumulating. I jammed a zinc-oxide paste into the holes, pushing it with a Q-tip and then spreading it inside by gently massaging it from the outside. I was pleasantly surprised to find the blisters fairly dry by the next morning. I applied some more zinc-oxide in the morning but waited to tape them until a couple of hours before I was to start pacing my runner. I then taped one foot with Elastikon and one with duct tape, to see which would hold better. In both cases, I cut a small "Engo Blister Prevention Patch" a little larger than the blister and placed the smooth surface towards the blister and the sticky surface against the tape. The idea here is to not let the tape adhere to the blister itself and for the blister to have a smooth surface against it at all times. I used tincture of benzoine to create a sticky area all around the taping surface (except on the blister itself), and I cut and applied a piece of Elastikon about three times the size of the blister on one foot and a similar piece of duct tape on the other. I also applied some baby powder over the Elastikon to create a smoother surface between the tape and the sock and thus prevent the edges of the tape from rolling from the friction.

The net result is that I was able to pace my runner for the 22 miles from Rucky Chucky to the finish line without much discomfort and was able continue running for another 13 miles thereafter, for a nice 35 mile run.

The Elastikon held better than the duct tape, but neither failed. While it may sound sadistic, I am glad to have had the opportunity to treat blisters this large. It gives me the confidence going into 2010 Western States that I have my blister-repair technique under control.