Thursday, May 16, 2019

Lhotse 24-hour 2019


For completeness I'm adding my Facebook post about Lhotse to my blog. This is not one of my typical Tolstoy-length posts, with abundant detail and analysis. The only thing new is that I've added my pace chart for reference.
My spring goal race, for which I’d trained very hard, sacrificed a lot, and felt in better shape than Desert Solstice, fell far short of my expectations. It’s ironic that I received this bounteous harvest of hardware (to put it mildly!) for that train wreck of a performance. To begin with I have to thank Wyatt and Julia Hockmeyer for flawlessly organizing the race, all of the volunteers for a helpful and friendly attitude, and Mark Cunningham and Warren Wood for comprehensive, capable crew support. They all gave me every chance to hit my goals. As did the weather, which was near-ideal for big numbers. A rare opportunity, squandered. Yes I won the race, and even set a new course record. I don't diminish the accomplishment. But 123.28 miles is not what I was there for. I was there to defend my #6 US team spot for World Championships, which meant running a minimum of 155.1. Not in the same universe. Because Jon Olsen also had a bad day, I retain my tenuous hold here for now, but after several top-level challengers take their shot at D3 in 8 weeks, I am not optimistic. (You can stop here if you want!) I had four main problems. 1. Bad pacing. I paced for 157.6 miles, which would have put me in the #2 spot and virtually assured me of making the team. Or maybe #3 depending on how Jon did. This was 3.6 miles farther than my Desert Solstice performance, a large jump from a very solid PR effort. Alternatively I could have paced for 155.1, putting me in the #4 spot. But if Jon (a former 24-hour World Champion) ran well too that would be #5, and only two people would have to beat me at D3 to bump me from the team. Tough decision, but I chose to be aggressive. I felt confident I could improve on Desert Solstice. I also had the thought that if I could run 157+ here I could legitimately target 160 at Worlds, a number I have aspired to for years. Now I know 157.6 was not achievable for me today. By the time I realized that the damage was done, and my race was effectively over. 2. Bad stomach. I seem to have become intolerant to my carefully engineered sport-drink mix. I’m not sure what I can do about this. There's a line of thinking that you can never "solve" nutrition in a race like this, because once you find something that works you learn to associate it with pain. 3. Bad mental game. At Desert Solstice I went through a bad patch where, for no real reason, I really did not want to be there, and felt an enormous desire to quit. I persevered and succeeded. Here it was worse, and earlier. I don’t know what to do about this either. There are people who say that you only have so many good 24-hour efforts in you. Maybe they are right. It is a very tough mental challenge, and exacts a cost. 4. Bad body. This was really the clincher. After Desert Solstice, recovery was slow, finally diagnosed as right hip flexor tendinitis/tendinosis. I did a lot of PT, and was diligent with my exercises for the past couple of months. In the last few weeks of heavy training the issue seemed to be completely resolved. It wasn’t. I have no way of knowing whether the tendons would have held out had my pacing been less aggressive, but I suspect maybe not.
Pic by Alicia Campbell
Here’s how it played out: Through 8.5 hours, Jon and I each consistently held to our respective pacing plans, both moving smoothly. I had already struggled a bit mentally as the hip-flexor issue made itself known approaching 8 hours. Fortunately, after the 8-hour turnaround, the pain disappeared. By this point Jon was 17 laps (4.25 miles) ahead of me, lapping me like clockwork every half hour, on pace for 170ish miles… then, surprisingly, Jon started having issues and slowed dramatically. I did not expect the race to get interesting until maybe 16 hours in. But by about 10 hours I had already taken the lead. 

On the one hand, this lifted a mental burden from me – it appeared that, at least, I would not get bumped today. This stilled some of those negative voices, and for a short while I was reenergized and optimistic. But on the other hand, this was not how I’d wanted Jon’s race to end. I’d hoped we could both make it to Albi for World Championships. I’d also hoped we could push each other to solid performances. Instead, with Jon out of the picture, this would become just a time trial for me, and time trials suck. And then, it was my turn. As my stomach and my head faltered, I tried backing off the pace for a bit to regroup. Instead I needed an unprecedented second extended potty stop by 11 hours. After that I walked a few laps to try to reset my stomach and my head, pretty much giving up on my A goal of 157.6. But when I tried to start running again, I couldn’t; the hip flexor would not allow it. Jon regrouped, and retook the lead. At this point I was very close to quitting. But after various forms of treatment and a little more time walking I was able to get moving again, and once more the pain miraculously disappeared. I was now completely off of any coherent pacing plan. My only focus was to stay in the game, by whatever means necessary, on the chance that I’d eventually be able to get back to solid running and still have a shot at 155.1. It’s happened before. This meant just running at whatever pace I felt I could comfortably manage without exacerbating the tendons further.
Becky Cunningham running by Mark Cunningham's comprehensive crew station. With Warren Wood.
As I held this easy pace and began moving well again I retook the lead, and it became apparent that Jon’s race was indeed over. Unfortunately this easy pace never got any faster, and over the next few hours any shot I had at 155.1 slowly slipped away. Maybe, at some point, I should have made one last concerted effort to get back on a successful pace, but I just couldn’t make myself – I was pretty sure that would just end my race. My last thought was to hold solid ’til 100 miles and see where I was. I hit that at 15:51, much later than planned, but early enough to maybe salvage a “good” race. With nothing else to focus on now, I decided to give it one final shot, start running at a pace that would let me hit 150. A somewhat meaningless number here, but one I could still be proud of. No other American over 50 has ever run over 145. But after just a few laps it was obvious that this wasn’t going to happen. Instead it now hurt to walk. I should probably have stopped here, as Jon did. With all your goals gone, sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and save it for another day. But I chose to stay… I think maybe because of all the mental effort to stay in the game earlier, I had gotten myself into the mindset that I was going to stick it out, with whatever goals were still achievable. There was holding onto the win, for one thing. I asked Wyatt what the course record was – 119. OK, plenty of time to walk it in to that if I could get walking again. The last 8 hours were spent alternately sitting by Mark’s propane heater, waiting for the tendons to settle, and walking in the freezing cold, with all my layers on. The slower I walked the colder I was, but the faster I walked the quicker the tendons said no. There was no possibility of further running. It was uncomfortable, tedious, and pretty pointless. But eventually the race was over, and that was that.

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