Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ruminations on Pushing the Limits and Improving Performance. The 2012 Year-End Review.

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt

They say the best way to learn something is to teach it. Perhaps that is why I like to summarize race reports in a blog post. Its the best way for me to reiterate to myself what I've learned along the way.

The 2012 racing year was quite an undertaking full of personal records and many successes. It wasn't without a few snags and obstacles along the way including my first bout of Plantar Fasciitis in May and 2 heartbreaking DNF's at the end of the season, one due to burnout and the other due to undertraining after the birth of my daughter.

Last year I spent the summer months from May to August hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and came into fall of 2011 with the biggest aerobic engine I've possessed. I was fresh physically from several months of no running, and the legs were mechanically strong from carrying a loaded pack for over 25 miles per day for thousands of miles. I got in a lot of miles throughout winter and spring and managed to keep the intensity up as well, getting in quality speedwork for the first time in my career which lended itself to an incredible spring season;
  • An epic battle and PR at Louisville Lovin' the Hills 50K in February.
  • A 50 mile PR of 6:25 on trails at Land Between the Lakes 50 Miler in March.
  • A 15:26 100 mile PR at Umstead later in March.
  • A 2:44 marathon PR on a hilly Derby course in April followed by a win at the Backside Trail Marathon the following day. 

Craig Dooley's money shot at February's Lovin' The Hills which my sock sponsor, Swiftwick has on their homepage now! Chasing Grossman on the final climb to my 2nd place finish. A highlight of the year.

The day it all caught up to me. Half- Iron Tri in Taylorsville. Plantar Fasciitis demanded attention after a fast spring.
Not surprising, in May my body was ready for a break, and during a Half-Ironman distance triathlon my Plantar Fascia screamed in protest and I knew it was time to back off the speedwork for the year and cut my mileage down. This was a blessing in disguise as it introduced me to my PT whom has addressed various areas of functional imbalance like weakness on my left side in the hamstring and glutes. 

Fun times during my "off-season", pacing Traci Falbo to an Overall Win at the Hawthorne 12 hour Run, beating all the guys and setting a new course record. Beast!

In June I focused on PT and crosstrained a lot although I had planned on running the highest weekly mileage of my year to prepare for an undertaking of confounding proportions. In July Eric Grossman, Rebekah Trittipoe, Anne Lundblad, Rob French and Myself attempted the Tour De Virginia. This 600 mile stage race covered the Appalachian Trail through Virginia over a 2 week span. We averaged over 40  miles per day and climbed nearly 10k' daily. The recovery, crosstraining, and PT must have worked for me, because on July 14th Eric, Anne, and I were successful in our attempts. It took me 140 hours total. Temps were between 104-108 degrees every day during the first week. The race definitely pushed all of our limits but every day was beautiful. Each morning involved pushing past the threshold of the of the unknown and possible. Each stage was intoxicating and consuming in all the right ways. The experience was nothing short of euphoric.

En route Tour De Virginia- A 600 mile stage race on the Appalachian Trail. Anne Lundblad, Myself, Eric Grossman.

Done! I couldn't have run with a better group of characters. Possibly the highlight of the decade, the time of my life. 
Following the TDV, I only waited 6 short weeks to undertake my first ultra to capitalize on the aerobic gains experienced from the Tour De Virginia. I won the Iron Mountain 50 Miler on September 1st. I hadn't done speed work since April but my climbing legs were strong from the Tour and I bested my time from the previous year by 10 minutes. I ran what I would consider one of my strongest races. It was also my first negative split 50.

Winning is good, but beating friends is even better! Proud to finally get a win against some fast guys who've spanked me in the past!
My focus race for the year was the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in late September in which I DNF'd because I was fried, mentally and physically. Part of the reason I focused on building road speed early in my year was for a hopeful podium finish at UROC and a bite of the $20,000 prize purse. I was not disappointed greatly to DNF because I was proud to make the right choice so quickly, and bail at mile 8 of the race, enabling my recovery in the following weeks. 
Sitting on the UROC Elite panel. The biggest production of the year.

What should also be mentioned is the birth of my daughter was supposed to be 10 days after UROC. Pushing hard at UROC would have prevented me for being there in full force for my wife and family. Mentally I tend to be wasted for a week or two after a big race. Kara ended up going into labor early and I am proud to stay I was more supportive and patient than my usual self during her 34 hour labor. I was right there the whole time and treated it like the biggest ultra of my life, (and I won as a pacer.) I was incredibly impressed with her strength and attitude an it helped encourage me to be as supportive and present as possible as we welcomed our daughter into this blue spinning planet.

A different kind of "pacing" during Kara's 34 hour labor. Grace I've never known before, being patient and supportive, encouraged by her non-stop positive attitude and inability to complain once.

Denali Ann Shellhamer was born on October 5, 2012.

I have always been of the persuasion that you can't undertrain for a race. Fitness is not lost as much as people believe on the short term. It takes a long time to lose endurance. During the month of October I focused on Kara and Denali, and put running on the back burner during Denali's first few weeks of life with us. I trained when I could, but only got in about 20-30 miles per week during the first half of October and capped my mileage at 45 the last week of October when Kara's parents came to help with Denali.

I guess I truly put my faith in the fitness base I had developed over the year. I went into the Pinhoti 100 on November 5th fully recovered and mentally recharged. I had only run an average of 20-30 miles per week for  6 weeks and my goal was to just enjoy Pinhoti and run 100 miles on a beautiful course. I still wanted a top 5 spot and wanted a 19 hour time which would be a one hour forty minute improvement over 2 years ago. I guess when you're competing at the top level of the sport, small losses in fitness equal drastic drops in comparative ability, because I DNF'd Pinhoti at mile 70 after the heat shut me down. I had been running top 10 most of the day and gaining but after 15 hours my energy levels dropped to zero and I couldn't eat or drink. Even though I was running incredibly conservative, I just didn't have 100 miles in me that day after the low mileage the previous 6 weeks. The good news is that I was fresh mentally and ready to run again the day after Pinhoti. Since I had the opportunity to recover over the previous month my legs felt better than they had in months and my motivation was through the roof even the week after running a mountainous 70.

Now it's back to square one. There is no one formula to success. I pushed myself past the breaking point this year, and was smart enough to know when to call it quits and recover at UROC. Now I am doing that once again. I had planned on running the Bandera 100K in January and now I am altering my schedule for the following year to once again build up my base and work on speed. I'm scratching Bandera and the Montrail Ultra Cup races to avoid that plateau that many runners hit when sticking to the same thing too long.

It's time to start anew. I cant ride on the coat-tails of the previous year anymore like I've been doing since August. Just like after a very successful 2011 spring season when I went out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and build my base, again I now must start fresh and begin realigning reality with ideals.

I'll continue to work on functional strength and be proactive about hip strength and equal hamstring strength and see my PT. Once again I am going to be doing  800m repeats for VO2 improvement and threshold work for another spring marathon PR and improve my 50 mile and 100 mile times like I did last year. I will build and peak and push myself as far as I am capable, and then when the bottom drops out, I will recover.

No matter how many bulls I ride in this rodeo, there is always learning to be realised and improvements to be made. Each year requires recovery and you can't function at 100% all the time. The year has been an amazing and rewarding one. My overriding goal in this sport is to be doing it for decades to come. This year saw progress towards that goal in addressing strength through PT.

Pushing past the limits of what I thought was possible was a theme of the year. I ran the Backside Marathon one day after a 2:44 Derby Marathon PR and won. It was a success to me just to run well, regardless of the win. I wasn't scared of injury or failing during the Tour De Virginia even though training the month prior wasn't what I wanted it to be. Nonetheless, I pushed the limits and succeeded in something I didn't know I was capable of. It was something that had never been done before. I raced the race of my life at Iron Mountain only a month after the TDV and will never forget it even though I figured the TDV would have left me weak and in need of recovery. Then the bottom dropped out, and I needed to recover for UROC and went into Pinhoti refreshed and recharged but not in peak form.

Not being afraid of failure can yield the greatest rewards, and also dish out the most humbling experiences.

I leave the year with the words of Teddy ringing in my ear:

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." -Theodore Roosevelt


  1. Quite the year of ups and downs. Thanks for sharing. By the way, that's an impressively sized kid you have there- wow. And her hair even matches yours!

  2. Oh yeah, and love the name. Apparently you and I must have something for that mountain- my oldest daughter is named McKinley...

    1. lol. Glad you're not mad we stole her name. That's why we used the indian version instead of McKinley, (so you couldn't slap me). My father in law climbed McKinley/Denali so it has a good meaning for us too.

  3. It's hard to believe all of that happened in just 12 months...a year that you will never forget!