First Race Back! | 12.20.16

A couple of weeks ago the temperatures dropped, cuing me to start gearing up my mileage and quality workouts again for the spring racing season. In the long-term scheme of things, I think it’s really beneficial to take a few weeks of downtime between hard races. I ran over 1,300 miles in training and racing for the Pinhoti 100 mile since August. My body and my ultrarunning brain needed a break!

I have found that it both exciting and frustrating to come back after taking time off. It’s exciting because I am usually chomping at the bit to get back out on the trails for some long hours and getting that feeling of satisfaction that washes over you after a good hard workout. But sometimes it’s also a little frustrating because I know I need to start over, rebuilding myself from the ground up. And, as I discovered from my Pod data during my first race back, this doesn’t just mean rebuilding my fitness, but also aspects of my running mechanics.

The Austin Taylor Challenge (ATC) ultra last weekend in GA, was the perfect race for a fitness test benchmark. The course consisted of a 10.5 mile loop where runners could run either 10.5 miles, 50K (3 loops) or a 3-person relay race where each person runs a single loop. Jeff and I started a relay team and recruited our fast neighbor/friend (and 2:37 marathoner), Connor, to be the ringer. Like me, Connor was coming off of a few weeks of down-time after a big race and just starting training again with a goal of a fast Boston marathon this spring. The race would be a good test for both of us!

The Plan:

  • 1st Leg: Jeff
  • 2nd Leg: Connor (first time Pod user!)
  • 3rd Leg: Jackie

*The goal: sub 4 hour 50k time!

This race was at the Georgia International Horse Park and ran through several farms and fields, creating a cross-country course feel to the race. The race was actually hillier that I had expected! There were several rolling and some short, steep hills in the beginning. Then the course leveled out before jumping into some more rooty and technical single track trails in the last 3 miles.

atccoursemap
atc-elevation-profile

 

Jeff finished the first leg with just over 1:20 on the clock. Connor pushed the pace with impressive effort to run 1:13:50, and I finished in just over 1:22. I didn’t feel completely horrible, but certainly a bit de-conditioned on that run! I pushed the pace hard in the last couple miles and our team finished in 3:58:20, meeting our sub-4 hour goal and setting a new team 50K course record!

 

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Data Insights!

Reviewing my Pod metrics after the race, I found that my pace wasn’t the only thing struggling on that run – so was my rate of impact (ROI)! Connor is a new Pod user, but also found similar patterns in his ROI data. Here is a summary of our data from the race: Connor, left. Jackie, right.

*Note: Difference in mileage between me and Connor is due to the 3 minute warm-up I took a couple minutes before starting.

connor_jackie_dataoverview2

roi_cadence_graphs

Rate of impact. The points where both my and Connor’s ROI was lowest was on the sections of the course that were uphill (see elevation profile). You will also notice that, despite being fatigued, my ROI was mostly low during the last few miles of the race that were on more technical rocky, root-y terrain. Another thing you will notice…Connor is FAST!!

 

 

legswing
High leg swing = good!

 

Leg swing. At least our leg swing data is looking good! Improve your knee flexion angle during swing by using your hip extensors to efficiently push off the ground and, someday, you too may run as fast as Connor!

Lessons learned:

  • Even “fast” runners have gait metrics they can work on to reduce their risk of overuse injury. Just because someone is fast, does not mean that they have “perfect” biomechanics!
  • When you initiate a new training bout, it may be very beneficial to spend some extra time and effort to improve problematic metrics like ROI. Doing this now will help protect from potential future injuries from chronic accumulation of things like high impact forces. I know I have some things I need to work on! Tip: Dr. Steve Suydam has some good pointers on how you can improve specific metrics listed under the metrics section here, such as increasing cadence to lower ROI!
  • Running uphill can reduce high impact forces and, in itself, and could be a good option to increase training volume with less impact forces than running on level ground or downhill (i.e. could perform an uphill treadmill workout). However, what comes up must come down if you’re running outside. As you can see from my data, running downhill increases impact forces, so tread lightly on the descent!
  • Technical rocky and rooty terrain may also reduce high impact forces in some individuals, likely by encouraging you to land more lightly on your feet. You can observe this from my ROI data over the last section of the race. I have also noticed this comparing my own data on technical trail versus nontechnical trail, even when running at the same pace. If you are trying to reduce ROI, you may want to try running on some trails with more rocks and roots and see if this has any effect on your ROI!
  • A variety of foot strike patterns can produce low ROI. You may have noticed that both Connor and I touch the ground with our heels first 100% of the time. Yet, we observed a variety of levels of ROI throughout the race (i.e. the majority of my strides were mid or low ROI even though I landed on my heel). Consistent with previous research, this data demonstrates that foot strike pattern is not the only factor in producing low ROI and that it is possible to have low ROIs even with landing on your heel first. As a PT, I have observed individuals who land mid-foot or forefoot first who can produce high ROIs. It can work both ways. The more likely contributor to high ROIs is “over-striding,” so focus on increasing your running cadence instead of attempting to to change your foot strike pattern! Tip: If you are interested in this topic, Dr. Steve Suydam has a great blog on Heel touch vs. Heel load.
  • If you are thinking that something is missing in this data review, like the data from our third team member Jeff, you would be spot on! Per usual Jeff showed up very prepared [insert sarcasm], forgetting to replace his dead Pod battery. Avoid this pitfall and check your Pod battery when you upload your data after each run!

I also want to say how much I was impressed by the ATC ultra race (http://www.atcultra.org/), both the mission of the race and the seamless execution on race day. All proceeds for the race go to raise money for childhood cancer research and is held in memory of a wonderful little boy, Austin, who loved to run. Race morning brought sub-freezing temperatures and the RD’s had a full bonfire blazing for the runners to stand around before we even arrived that morning. The course was beautiful and challenging, perfectly marked and with good support along the way. Our team had so much fun hanging out by the fire and cheering on everyone! I highly recommend this race to anyone considering a fun 10 mile, 50K or relay race at this time of year.

Happy Trails!

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Author: Jackie Merritt

Jackie is an accomplished ultra-runner and an avid MilestonePod data fan. She has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and a PhD in Biomechanics. She lives and trains in Atlanta with her husband Jeff and the Yeti Trail Runners. When not running, Jackie works as a PT and research scientist at Emory University School of Medicine. Jackie also runs for Hoka One One and NATHAN Sports.