1/3rd of a 24 hour run: thoughts on failure

Pre-race gear

On Dec 31st, I started running the San Francisco One-Day race. It’s a 24-hour race at Chrissy Field, with a great view of the Golden Gate bridge. Runners make ~1-mile loops around a lagoon from 9am on Dec 31st to 9am on Jan 1st, trying to log as many miles as they can.

My goal was to run 100 miles. I ended up running 40 before dropping out. I’ve never dropped out of a race before. It felt miserable. I felt like a failure, and like a quitter, and in some ways, I still do. It will probably take longer than the three days it’s been since the race to come to terms with dropping out.

The race itself: the course was beautiful. The light on the Golden Gate bridge was amazing to see in the morning, and at midday, and at sunset.

As for the running – the first five or ten miles were great. I was trotting along at a pretty good pace, keeping up with some of the top runners in the field. Between miles 10 and 20, I ran by myself, and I had some expected existential mini-crises: “Why are you doing this?” “Wouldn’t you rather be at home, petting the cats?”, but I kept up my pace. I finished 30 miles in six hours, which was right on track with my goal pace. I was also in 2nd or 3rd place for female runners at that point, which felt pretty good.

Around mile 34, my knee started hurting. Yes, that knee, and that same part. It was the injury that took me out for six months in 2012. Last time, it was caused by overuse, and by hitting the hills too hard, to quickly.

This course in SF was a flat course, but I knew what the problem was. I’d gone from running flat in Philadelphia to, before this race, running hills for a few weeks near by parents’ house in California, with no ramp-up time. I’d made the same mistake twice.

In a race, when some part of your body starts hurting, you try to do something differently for a bit. Walk half a lap, change your stride, strike with a different part of the foot, anything that might make the pain go away or allow your body to use different muscles for a bit. I tried a bunch of things, but the knee pain wasn’t getting better. I honestly didn’t expect it to. This particular pain wasn’t one you just worked through – it would just get worse.

I stayed on the course for another hour, mostly walking and occasionally jogging, giving the knee time to change it’s mind. I was hoping it would tell me “Just kidding! I was just messing with you. You can keep running.”

It wasn’t going to happen. Part of me knew it wasn’t going to, even though I was giving it time to stop hurting. I made it to 40 miles at around 8 hours, and dropped out. Spending the next 16 hours on the course, in pain, potentially damaging my knee irreparably, just didn’t seem like a good idea.

I took a shower at a friend’s place and immediately started driving back to Orange County.

The next 9 hours, as the clock turned to 2015, were spent alone in the dark, on the open road, or sleeping in the back seat of my car. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone.

I felt like a complete failure. I’d been looking forward to this race for so long – it had been a race I’d wanted to run for years. The idea of honoring my sport by finishing 2014 and starting 2015 with running seemed very symbolic. Now, I had to get over those sentimental notions. The calendar’s an arbitrary creation anyway.

I’m taking the next two weeks off from running, to let my knee – and the rest of my body – heal. After a year with 17 marathons/ultras, an average of ~50 miles per week, and almost 2,500 miles run in total, and crossing the 10,000 lifetime-mile threshold, it’s probably time to let my body recover for a bit.

However, I’ve had some time to reflect. Ultimately, this is an expected value calculation, where two outcomes were possible. In the first, I would have stayed on the course and finished the race; I most likely would have injured myself even further, which would mean being off of my feet for at least six months, and maybe much longer. In the second, which I chose, I stopped the race, take two weeks off, give my body time to recover, and get back to running slowly after that. Sounds better to me. While I’m not happy with the outcome in the short term, I know this was the right choice for the long term.

Handling this failure isn’t easy, but it’s also a good learning experience.

Also … I’m also now pretty sure I can run 100 miles in 24 hours. Running 40 miles in 8 hours is a pretty damn good start. I think I can do it again … and, next time, keep on running.

First, rest.

Check out the bridge in the background! This was our view all day.

The Game Theory of Weight Loss

A lean runner is a fast runner. While working out helps get there, a lot of being in good shape is about eating right – and it’s something most of us struggle with. I tried out a new strategy over the holidays – read about it below.

Crossposted from GameTheoryNinja.com.

The fun thing about Game Theory is that it can be applied to pretty much anything: buying decisions, Tic-Tac-Toe, traffic problems, etc. That means it can also be applied to dieting and weight loss.

That’s the premise behind DietBet. Here’s how it works: you bet $20 [or some other amount] that you can lose 4% of your bodyweight in a month. Other people also bet $20, and that money all goes into a pot. At the end of the month, whoever loses 4% splits the pot.

Early December of 2012, I decided to try it out for myself. I paid my $20, confirmed my weight, and off we went.

The psychology that’s at work here is called loss aversion: “people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” More simply – I really don’t want to lose that $20.

Throughout the holidays, I thought about that $20. Eggnog? No thanks. Is that extra serving of turkey worth $20 to me? I don’t think so. Delicious, delicious chocolate cake? So tempting … but so is not losing $20.

I also thought about my anonymous competitors. If that guy who thinks a 20-minute workout is good enough wins, and I don’t … well, that would just be silly.

Over the course of the month, I exercised and watched what I ate. Having money on the line made it a much more compelling prospect.

At the end of the month, I weighed in – and made weight. I split the $3,000 pot with several other winners, and got back $52. Not a bad return on investment.

The idea of betting a friend, or a few friends, to create an incentive to change behavior isn’t new. There are a lot of weight loss specific games like this out there – FatBetStikk andHealthyWage.com, just to name a few. I picked DietBet because one of my friends posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve put down money for a January weight loss bet, too. It will be a little more difficult this time around, as the “easy to lose” weight has already come off. But the stakes are higher this time. For January, I reinvested $50 of my $52 winnings. Now, I’ve got $50 to lose.

The pot for this game is obscenely high – around $65,000 (you read that right). So the upside is enormous, too.

That being said, I saw a game with a $300 buy-in. That’s a lot of money to have on the line … it sounds like a good incentive, but maybe too stressful to think about for a whole month!

Check out DietBet at dietbet.com. Post isn’t sponsored – just sharing a fun story. :o )

The Game Theory of Running

[originally posted at gametheoryninja.com]

Running is all about economics.  During a race, every decision is a cost-benefit analysis.

Here is a hill.  Do I run it to shave a few seconds off of my time, or walk it to avoid the risk too much lactic-acid buildup?

Here is another runner.  Do I make conversation over the next few miles, or save my breath for that next big hill?

Here’s an aid station.  Will the marginal Shot Blok or Gu give me an additional boost, or will it mess up my stomach?

Every choice can be modeled as a decision tree.  There’s a rock in my shoe.  Do I take two minutes to retie it and make up the lost time later, by running faster? Or, do I suck it up for the next 16 miles and face the blistering consequences for the next few days?

Every mile becomes a mathematical calculation.  I’m 18 miles in.  I’m running 26.2 miles today.  I’m a little less than two-thirds of the way through this race.  Without a calculator, I’d guess that’s about 60 percent completion.  Either way, I’ve got about eight miles to go.  At this pace, that’s around 75-80 minutes.  Can I keep this pace up for that long?  If I run a bit faster, I’ll finish faster; could I finish in 70 minutes?  That’s still a long time to be running.  How far until the next aid station?  That’s closer; I’ll think about that instead.  Am I at 19 miles yet?  What percentage of the way through is that?

I spent about 300 hours running last year.  That’s a lot of hours.  And that’s only the physical act of running.  This number doesn’t include thinking about running, reading about running, writing about running, or preparing for running.  I don’t even want to know how many hours that would be.

Like any activity, running has an opportunity cost.  What could I have been doing yesterday for five hours instead of running?  What could I have been doing last year for 300+ hours instead of running?  Could I be out meeting new people? Working on a project? Would I know how to speak Russian by now?

Not only that, but I’m a young runner, especially for the distances that I run.  Does waking up at 5am every day have long-term negative effects?  I’m already suffering knee problems; when will I have to get knee replacement surgery?  Next year?  In ten years?

Every so often, I think about finding a new sport, or a new hobby, that would replace running.  But then I think about the value I get form the sport.

On a quantitative level, my blood pressure is low.  My body-fat percentage is low.  My LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” levels are so low that most basic machines can’t even calculate it. My resting heart-rate is low.

Those sorts of numbers are nice, but they aren’t really enough to get a runner through several hours of nonstop athletic activity.  The qualitative, immeasurable benefits are what keep us coming back.

Because I run in the morning, I probably see more sunrises in a week than most people do in a year. I spend time out in nature almost every day – time that would otherwise be spent in front of a computer.  And nothing compares to being alone on a mountain listening to the quiet orchestra of nature: the whisper of waves in the distance, the hum of wind through the grass.  Add in the percussion of your own rhythmic breathing and 4/4 footfalls, and it’s a veritable symphony.  Not only that, but vacationers travel thousands of miles for a view like this.

So, I’ve done the calculations.  Multiple times – I’ve had a lot of hours in which to think about them.  And, at least for now, the benefits of running outweigh the costs. In terms of monetary output and time, I’m happy with running’s return on investment.

See you on the trails.