The starting point:
My first challenge in my preparations was starting my season with a back injury. 1 week after winning the lotteries I was goofing around with the kids and torqued my back. This lead to severe back pain immediately and later into sciatic nerve problems. I was unable to run or do much of anything really for the next 2 months, but at the time I didn't know it was going to be 2 months, I kept hoping each day was going to reveal itself as the day I'd be good to return to training. As soon as I felt things starting to feel better I'd try to run/hike and I'd get pain or a dead-leg feeling in the lower left quad. At the very beginning I did nothing, just waited, hoping it would go away. After a week I realized I needed to do something so I did a course of 3-4 physiotherapy visits and 3-4 Chiropractor visits within a few weeks. After each treatment things started to improve. In fact within a day or two of my first Chiropractic treatment the sciatic pain nearly went away. I still had trouble supporting weight on my left leg, but the pain was mostly gone, it was more a nerve/firing issue, making it hard to run, but day to day life was more or less normal. I was patient and tried to enjoy the extra time this gave me with the family. By the time February came around I was ready to start training. I had lost 2 months, and It sucked but I tried not to dwell on it, but I was worried I'd be plagued with re-occurrence of the back issues as I started the training process. In any case if I was going to have any chance of making it to the races, I had to start building up.
*On a positive note, in November 2018, I ran a 17:23 5k in Nackawick, which was pretty good given I don't typically train much in the late summer and fall, so I knew I had some fitness before the injury, I just had to get it back.
It all starts with a strong foundation:
Even before the injury I had plans to go to a strength training coach to see if I could address some muscle imbalances and weaknesses. After the injury I felt it was pretty much necessary. I met with Reg Bourcier at AthleticOne to kick off my strength program with an assessment. Even though most of the back pain was gone, I still had some problems with my left quad and couldn't put much weight on it. Nonetheless, he gave me a program, and I showed up twice a week, Tuesday's and Thursdays, 5:15 to 7am. I didn't miss a session for 14 weeks. What I noticed was that after 4 weeks I started to feel much better. Some strength was returning, my posture and flexibility were improving, and after 12 weeks I felt stronger than I had in years. The program included about 30 mins of warm-up, with a mix of stretching, agility ladder and plyo-metric jumps and medicine ball throws, followed by the prescribed workout, which was typically a group of 5 exercises performed in sequence, with about 3 sets of each exercise. These varied quite a bit from day to day, but included a mix of quad/glute focused exercises (squat variations, SLDL variations, lunges, glute bridges and such) with a mix of pulling and pushing exercises for the upper body. Many of the exercises were performed while off balance (in-line lunge position, with bands or on foam pads) to increase strength of the stabilizer muscles. It's been truly eye opening to see how a well constructed strength program can really make a difference. At first it didn't translate into my running, or not in a noticeable way, but I also wasn't very fit running-wise so I couldn't match up to any of my usual benchmarks. I did however feel better on a daily basis. Also, since starting the program I have had no back pain related to the injury or otherwise, which was a common occurrence for me. I often triggered a lower back tweak in the morning, or felt spasms forming in my upper back when I was tired and dehydrated from running. My knee pain has been reduced significantly as well, and I just feel a ton better at everything, even just going up stairs at work. I would strongly encourage anyone, but especially ultrarunners, find a good strength coach and embark on a 12-16 week journey like I did. As to whether my running improved, it was hard to tell as I hadn't done enough speed work to really compare to my speed benchmarks, but a few weeks ago I tested myself on a hill climbing benchmark I've been using at Crabbe Mountain for the past 8 years, and my previous best had been 9:50. I managed to do it in 9:26, so a pretty significant improvement. I hadn't been near that mark in years. I set my best on that benchmark the year I was training for Fatdog - 2015. Last year I ran 10:20 as my best effort, so I'd say it's more than likely my strength training helped.
*I intend to continue the rest of the year, and may keep doing it regularly.
Now for the running
In mid-Janaury, I started to walk/run, but it was very gentle. I was aiming for about 50k per week and just trying to get my body moving. My longer run was 10-16k in those early weeks, and I honestly couldn't go any further. My body just gave me grief as I tried to go further and I had zero confidence when I started a run that I could finish it. On Feb 17th, I managed 20k, but it wasn't pretty. I had averaged 5 min/kms, and my Strava notes describe a twitching hamstring, but I was running for real again. I attempted the occasional short workout(short intervals), and started running my longer run with Ryan O'Shea again. He was patient with me and joined me for my slow runs as I re-built. I was attending the workouts, but wasn't pushing overly hard. Once march hit, I was in 27k long run territory, and was doing some 30-40 min tempo runs at a pace that was still quite a bit slower than my marathon pace, but I was starting to feel like I was going to get back to shape before too long. I eventually reached the 37k mark in training at the end of April and was reasonably confident in my fitness. I wasn't as fit as the previous few years from a Marathoning perspective, but I still felt pretty good about my training. My schedule didn't allow for any spring marathons so I added the Wascally Wabbit 50 miler into my training as a tune up race to test myself. That was just this past weekend. I went into it with a stiff left hamstring, and not overly confident in my training, as my mileage was very low this year. According to my log my biggest week was 126k this year, so not great. I did have more training hours weekly on average this year, but fewer miles than normal. In the end I ran a similar time to last year, and overall my physical strength was really good, but mentally I was not prepared for the effort. I had the necessary speed and stamina to get 50 miles in, so I feel I'm pretty confident in my ability to get to the end of Western States.
I've done next to no work here. I eat lots of clean food, but also lots of junk and drink too much beer and hard liquor. This is an area I could improve for sure. My weight was down to my goal race weight of 168 a month back, but after 3 weeks traveling for work I'm now back to mid-170s. Will try to trim some of the junk and get back to 170 for WS.
For the race itself, I know it will be hot and food won't go down great so I intend to use a mix of CarboPro and gels during the race, as those have been pretty solid for me in the past 4-5 years.
Race Strategy and Goals:
Most of my strategies and plans were centered around Hardrock, and so now that that is out of the equation, I'm re-evaluating my race plan for WS. I was intending to run WS very easy saving myself for Hardrock, but now that WS is my main race, I may consider changing my plan, but again, I may not. It's been particularly cool here in NB this spring, so the heat is going to be a big shock to my system, and I don't deal well with heat during ultras generally.
My biggest concern was the altitude at Hardrock, and for that reason we were planning to spend the time between WS and HR in Colorado so I could acclimatize. Had I known about HR getting cancelled I would have planned for Heat acclimation training for 1-2 weeks, but again, nothing I can do about that now. I'll try to wear something I can put ice in, and carry lots of fluid.
At this point, my goal is to run sub 24. I have more ambitious goals as well, but I'll have to see how that plays out. I'd like to be under 20 hours, but that will require me to manage the heat well, and historically, that has not been my strong suit so I think I'll start slow and keep it that way and see if I can get to Foresthill feeling good enough to makeup some ground in the final 60k. The beauty of WS is that I've seen half the course, so I'm at least a little familiar with the terrain and the course, as I paced Bernie Doucet there back in 2015.