Monday, February 12, 2018

2018 ICY-8

To get the year started off right, I wanted to head back down to the ICY-8 race put on by Alex Papadopoulos at Lake Anna. While the race duration of 8 hours and roughly 50 miles is my least favorite type of ultra -- I just cannot figure out proper pacing in that type of race -- the format is one of my favorites. And the location provides a great opportunity for a weekend away in a cabin with the family, which is hard to pass up.

For those not in the know, ICY-8 is an 8 hour loop format trail race on painfully runnable trails. It comprises two separate loops that runners can choose from: an 8 mile long loop and a 4.7 mile short loop. You can run any loops you choose and in any direction you'd like, but you only get credit for whole loops. So it starts getting interesting around halfway through the race when you start paying attention to your pace and how much time remains to try and sneak in as much mileage as possible. And for those intent on pushing the limits, the fact that the short loop is actually around 0.3 miles longer than advertised -- for which you get no credit! -- further complicates things. ... And if you're curious ... yes, of course I have spreadsheets to figure out my best strategies!

I surprisingly won this race in 2016 and kind of figured I'd win it again this time around. But I just wanted to use it as a hard training run to kick-start my training to qualify for the 24 Hour Team USA. My objectives were pretty straightforward:

  1. Run a bit fast to start to tax my legs on the back end of the race
  2. Get the course record by running 56 miles -- 7 of the 8 mile loops
If I could nail 7mph on the trails in an 8 hour race, I figured that'd be a good indicator of how well I could handle that same pace during a pancake flat 24 hour race on asphalt.

Overall, the day went pretty well. The temp was in the teens to start, so I willingly satisfied the role of The Weirdo In Shorts to start the race. I took it out at a comfortable pace with an effort that was borderline unsustainable, just under 8minute miles for the first 3 hours. At one point I started deciding if I should stick with the 56 mile plan or go for broke and push it for 57.4 miles. A couple hours later I was feeling the effects of that pace and began doubting if I could even achieve 56 miles. On the penultimate loop I took a hard fall and my hamstring seized up, which took a couple of minutes to sort out. It was just enough to make me uncomfortable trying for 56 miles, so I instead walk-jogged a short loop to close out my day with 52.7 miles. I still took the win (and a voucher for a free pair of Altras!), but that was more of a consolation prize. It was a solid, hard training run that didn't leave my legs shredded and, despite not hitting my goal of 56 miles, it was a good indication that qualifying for the 24 Hour Team is well within the realm of possibility.

Here's a run-down of my race, loop-by-loop:

Loop One: The Fast Loop (0-8mi, 1:02)

I went out front immediately in an assertive yet comfortable pace. I let the miles come to me, trying to strike a balance between a maintainable pace and something closer to a 50K effort. After a few miles I fell into a groove hitting miles in the 7:30 to 8:00 range. In the last mile or two of the loop, I think I got a little excited and pushed it into the aid station a bit faster than I should have. A quick swap of bottles and I was back out in no-time.

Loop Two: The Why-Am-I-Still-Running-This-Fast Loop (8-16mi, 1:02)

68 minute loops would get me 56 miles, and I had wanted to start out with some 64 minute loops. So having come in just under 62 minutes the first time around, I made a point to dial back the effort. Or at least that's what I thought I was doing. The slight downhill grades and the flats felt completely effortless. And the next thing I knew, I had perfectly repeated the first loop's pace. I was feeling good and already had 12 minutes of slack in my game plan. But I was a little mad at myself for going another hour at a pace I knew was unsustainable.

Loop Three: The Poop Loop (16-24mi, 1:05)

I wanted this loop to be a more manageable pace, but halfway through and I was still chugging along at closer to 50K effort. Oops! Aside from a jump into the woods, it was a fairly unmemorable hour on the trails.

Loop Four: The Hubris Loop (24-32mi, 1:05)

I started loop four in the reverse-direction to compare with the previous loops. I don't typically like this direction as much because there more low-grade uphill miles -- I'd much prefer to climb a steeper hill for a minute than run a slight grade for a mile. Towards the end I started doing some math, figuring if I could knock out this loop and the next two in about 67 minutes each, I'd have a chance at 57.4 miles instead of 56 ... which course record should I go for today?!

Loop Five: The It's All Falling Apart Loop (32-40mi, 1:12)

I finished loop four on a high. I was 18 minutes up on even splits. All I needed to do was run 3 more loops at 75 minutes each. My previous 4 were all 65 and below. This was going to be a piece of cake!

Then the struggle began.

Instead of hovering right around 8:00 miles, I was around 8:30 consistently, and putting in quite an effort to stay under 9:00. Then I finally broke 9:00 on Mile 39. My spirits were crushed! I stumbled into the Aid Station at 5:26, with a loop that was nearly 1 minute per mile slower than the previous. With hands on my knees I took a look at Alex, the RD, and vocalized my fears: I don't think I can make two more loops!

I had 2:34 to complete 2 loops and 16 miles. 77 minutes per loop. 9:30 miles. It was still doable. Alex thought it'd be easy. But I had my doubts.

Loop Six: The Wheels Come Off Loop (40-48mi, 1:18)

I pushed on. But the slightest hill felt impossible to overcome. I stopped a few times in one mile to do some stretching and find an excuse to catch my breath in the hopes that'd jump-start my legs. It didn't work. 10 minute miles ticked by.

Halfway through the loop I had already racked up three 10 minute miles. If I could book the last few miles and manage to come in under 77 minutes, I'd be good. 77 minutes. 77 minutes. Just get this damn loop over with!

Then I caught a rock (bye bye toenail!) and flew through the air. I tried getting up and my right hamstring seized. I collapsed back to the ground. I tried using the other leg, but it too started to seize up. I rolled to my back and tried getting up from that position, but was again thwarted by the right hamstring. After managing to get my upper body up, I slowly tried reaching for my toes to stretch the muscles. When they felt good and ready, I rolled into a side plank and then a regular plank position, and delicately walked my hands to my feet with my knees locked. I was up! Finally! After a bit of hanging and stretching, I hobbled on down the trail.

Tenths of a mile ticked by. The loop would never end! Every time I tried to pick up the pace I felt a sting in my hamstring. I finally finished the loop, checked the clock, and bent over in exhaustion. There was no way I'd be able to squeeze in another long loop without going to the well.

Loop Seven: The Lazy Loop (48-52.7mi, 0:55)

If you run in the reverse-direction, the first 3.3 miles of the short and long loop overlap. It gives you more time to gauge your pacing to decide if you can cram in those extra long loop miles or if you need to pack your bags and bail. So I decided to push for 3.3 miles and see if I could overcome my failing muscles. But first ... I just had to walk the short, steep climb out of the Aid Station. It felt like a walk of shame. Oh, and an 11 minute mile .. fan-freakin-tastic!

My watch beeped at 49 miles and I realized if I kept pushing I'd be able to clear 50 miles in 7 hours, something I'd never done before. At 6:59:30 my watch beeped and I immediately slowed down. 50 miles in 7 hours was enough satisfaction for the day. I was done. 52.7 miles and a short loop for me!

I killed the time over the final miles walking and chatting up a couple of folks, and then picked it back up for the final mile or so ... at which point my legs felt infinitely better already! I rolled in just under 7:40. It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was pretty damn close. All things considered, it was another fun day on the trails! On to Holiday Lake 50K in 2 weeks!