Monday, April 7, 2014

Quality

I just wrapped up my first week of training for Leadville under the tutelage of my new coach. This is my eleventh year of running, so it’s a little humbling to basically follow a (personalized) plan set by someone else. Fortunately for me, that someone else happens to be a runner I really respect and admire and a coach who’s gotten some impressive results, making it easier to do what I’m asked to do.

I can already see that my coach is going to ask a lot of me in the way of quality, which is a good thing. On Saturday, I joined AJ, Chuck and Jon for a little over 20 miles with 2,000 feet of vertical in the Castle Pines/Castle Rock area. Then the next day I did a 10-mile tempo run with a thousand feet of vertical (12 miles total if you count warm-up and cool-down) that had me working as hard as I’ve worked in a long time. My coach has emphasized the importance of these Sunday tempo runs, also mentioning that I’ll have a break from them every now and then in order to help keep me fresh, healthy and responsive to the work.

The average weeks looks to include hill repeats, tempo running, intervals and long stuff, with easy days in between the “hard” workouts with the exception of Saturdays and Sundays. I’ll have more rest weeks than I ever would have allowed myself—again, I see that as a good thing since rest weeks are when our bodies repair and get stronger. It’s easy to say you’re going to rest more; it’s hard to truly back that up with actual R&R.

One thing I’ve quickly come to see: I love the structure of this training regimen. It’s nice to know what the plan is every day, even if the plan is just 8 miles at super easy pace. And oh yeah: It used to be that my easy pace was around 7:50-8-minute miles. This morning I did 9-minute miles and it felt great! My new guiding principle is to go hard on my hard days and really easy on my easy days. I’m trying not to get too bogged down on numbers, but I will admit that I was eye-balling 72 miles this past week and I got it. When I’m running 70+ a week, it’s because I’m starting to get serious.

The regimen I’m on now is so different from what I did last summer. Last summer, I had a blast running every day in the mountains. The average week would consist of about 90-100 miles and 15,000-17,000 feet of vertical. But almost all of it was at easy pace. It’s no wonder I got so slow. I feel like the cobwebs are starting to get knocked off as I implement more and more quality. I know that this quality will help me run strong especially on the Hope Pass section and in those final 30-40 miles at Leadville. The key is to recover as best as I can between quality workouts, listen to my body, and take advantage of my rest weeks. The good news is that I’m going to be pushed hard enough on my big weeks/training blocks that I’ll actually want to rest on my rest weeks—they’ll be rewards for working hard.

Last night, I was thumbing through some of my old training logs. It hit me that back in 2008 and 2009 I did a lot of quality—intervals, tempos, hill repeats and long stuff every week. On Saturdays, I'd go long (20+) and then on Sundays a bunch of us in the club I ran with at the time would race to the water stop and beyond (if you're in SERC and reading this, you know what I'm talking about!), making for a great tempo effort within a long run. I didn’t rest nearly enough but I did tons of quality, got results and seemed to recover fast. Yeah, the fact that I was 35 or 36 had something to do with it, but I also think all the quality paid off.

It’s good that I spent the first three months of this year doing mostly MAF running. That solid base I laid is now ready to be built on.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New Coach / MAF Test

I have hired a coach to help me prepare for the Leadville 100 on August 16. This will be my fifth Leadville, and it’s fair to say the race has vexed me every year. Results from my past four Leadvilles:
  • 2010: 24:47 – Overcame hypothermia, vomiting and dehydration at Mayqueen inbound (86.5), as well as a two-mile excursion off-course (missed a turn), to eke out a sub-25.
  • 2011: 22:35 – Fell asleep while running between Mayqueen and the finish, fighting off hypothermia. The final 13.5 miles were an epic slog and, yes, included some chunk blowing (as always).
  • 2012: DNF – Knee injury, blown up legs, whatever.
  • 2013: 22:40 – After a horrible first 65 miles that included a 7-hour Hope Pass double-crossing and puking attack at Hopeless inbound (gotta love barfing 15+ times at 12,000 feet), I came alive and finished super strong. And, yep, Mayqueen inbound once again featured an impressive barfing attack (thank goodness for that aluminum baking dish).
While I’m proud of those results (except 2012), I know I can do better. That is why I’ve hired a coach who really gets this 100-mile racing thing—a runner who has put up impressive results for many years, including a strong finish at Leadville a few years ago. He’s one of those runners who has a knack for showing up for his A race in peak form. He delivers on the big day because of his training, his passion, his great attitude, his good instincts and what’s between his ears. I want to learn from him. Even though I’ve been doing ultras for a few years now, I know I can always learn and improve.
 
Tuesday of this week was day one of my training under my new coach’s tutelage. We’re starting gradually—this morning I did a few hill repeats and on Thursday I’m at the track for some intervals (though the forecasted 1-3 inches of slush might say otherwise). The weekends will see long runs and tempo efforts, and on a periodic basis I’ll have rest weeks--which I'm really bad at including in my training blocks. I’m really excited to see where this all goes.

One thing I’ve asked him to do is reign me in—I’m one of those runners who tends to chase numbers and put a lot of stock in weekly volume. And while this program will include some good volume, I know that at this stage in my running life, with a big base already laid, what I most need are specific workouts that provide the stimulus to reach my potential at Leadville—whatever it may be. He believes I can run a sub-20. I tend to look more at sub-21. We’ll see where this all goes. I don’t want to load expectations on my back—racing 100 miles at Leadville is hard enough.

***

As for what’s next, I’m now a little over four weeks from the Colorado Marathon. This will be my fourth consecutive week of 70+ miles. On Sunday, I ran 19 miles, including a MAF test at the local high school track. I just wanted to see where I am with my aerobic fitness. For my MAF test, which came after five easy miles with my dog, I ran 5 miles at 146 beats per minute (even though technically my MAF is 135-145 now) and averaged 6:43/mile. Last August, before Leadville, I averaged 6:38/mile in a MAF test. I like where I am right now—somewhat fit but not too fit four months from Leadville. My goal for the Colorado Marathon is to qualify for Boston.

After the marathon, I’ll take a rest week and then resume my Leadville training, emphasizing longer runs on mountain trails. By then, many of the trails will be ice-free. That’s when the real fun begins.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Aging

GZ's latest post got me to thinking about aging and what it's like when you're an athlete who has always pushed yourself. I really respect GZ and admire the honesty of his blog. A lot of what he writes could apply to me, as well. Here's what he wrote:
With the [nice] weather, I decided to occasionally push on the gas a bit today. Not too hard, and so maybe not hard enough. I was chewing on this today during one of the push sections of this fartlek. I used to be able to really make myself hurt. I mean, I could drive myself to a point of really breaking. Not actually breaking but really leaving myself worked over. I recall track workouts where I sat in the car for a 45 minutes afterwards unable to do anything. Probably too much (I had races like this too). Now, it seems that I have forgotten how to do that. Not only that, I seem to avoid it, and get a bit scared when I even get within 5 zip codes of it. Or HR zones of it.
Man, where do I go with this? I have always been a very intense person. My intensity has been both a strength and weakness in terms of how I live (just ask my wife) and how I run. I am rarely "relaxed." I love the feeling I get after a super hard workout, when I'm totally wiped out and depleted. Like GZ, I'll push it hard now and then. In races, I'll go deep into the pain cave. And like GZ, I can remember some vicious workouts where I pushed myself to the brink. Mile repeats at the Chagrin Falls High School track back in Cleveland come to mind. Here in Parker, I've put in my fair share of envelope-pushing tempo runs and track sessions. I've tasted blood going hard up the Incline (last summer's 26-minute effort comes to mind) and climbing steep mountain trails. But, over time, the number of intense sessions I put in has gone down--and for good reason. I am afraid of injury. I've been injured enough to know that it sucks big time not being able to run!

These days, as I'm now 40 and only a few months from 41, I know I can still perform at a good level (relative to my abilities) but I have to be judicious about when I put it on the line. Unlike when I was 35 or 36, it's hard now to get in a really intense workout on Tuesday and then again on Thursday (my old formula), on the heels of long runs on Saturday and Sunday, without some recovery issues piling up on me over the course of a training block. Whereas I used to be regimented and force myself to do certain things on certain days (which isn't smart!), these days I keep my running a bit more fluid. When training for something, like now as I'm beginning to ramp up for my spring and summer races, I try to do at least one tempo run and one long run a week. If my body is up for it, I'll squeak in some fartleks or intervals on other days. But, for me, the key now is listening to my body--there are days when I feel beat up and so I run at MAF or even slightly below MAF. These days, I don't even need a heart rate monitor to know I'm at MAF; I just know.

I know that when it counts I can bare down and go into the pain cave. I just can't go into the pain cave as much as I used to because it'll land me on the injured reserve list. And then there's the even bigger issue: What will this do to me in a few years? I want to be able to enjoy life and be mobile. At some point, I know I'm going to have to really scale back my training and start mixing in lower-impact stuff like cycling (I was obsessed with my bike as a kid). The last thing I want is to be a broken down old man at 50! So I have to be smart and avoid risky training practices that could take me down. It's taken me a few years to figure that out. I'm glad I did!

Here's to a healthy 2014 racing season!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Starting to Get Back at It After a Winter of Not Running "Much"

With March here, I'm just now starting to get the itch to ramp up my training and think about my races. This morning, I actually did a tempo run. When you cut through the crap, the two most important workouts you can do to prepare for a long race are 1) the long run and 2) the tempo run. Hill repeats aren't far behind especially if you're an "aging athlete." But I hate hill repeats. I'd rather run intervals around the track. That said, I'm making myself do hills this spring and summer--I need the strength.

All winter long, my mileage has been anywhere from 50-65 miles a week, with one recent seven-day stretch of 72 miles. Honestly, the motivation to bust my ass every day hasn't been there. I've been really busy at work, and we've tried to ski as much as possible this winter (and what an epic winter it's been in Colorado--a fresh powder bonanza almost every weekend of late). Fortunately, my motivation is coming back; otherwise I wouldn't have done a tempo run--and enjoyed it--this morning.

Being able to see the sun rise in the morning, after a winter of cold and darkness, makes a big difference. Unfortunately, with daylight saving time kicking in this weekend, I'll be back in the dark for a few more weeks--always a cruel slap in the face in the early spring. But it's great that we'll have later sunsets--meaning more time outside.

Even though I don't feel old (I know I could still break 18 in a sea level 5K), I know I'm aging. I'll be 41 this June. I'm in good shape according to the metrics we keep at work. My blood pressure is low. My BMI is ideal. My LDL cholesterol is good (though in a recent test my total cholesterol came in a bit high--it's being retested as 18 months earlier my total cholesterol was 162). I've found with age that I'm a bit more judicious with how I use my body and what I ask of myself physically and mentally. It used to be that I wracked up 4,000 miles a year and didn't take much time off at all--because I really didn't need it (or I didn't feel like I needed it). Over the past few years, and especially over the past few months, I've recognized the need to give myself some down time and then, when it really counts, focus on what matters--in 2014, what matters to me is the Leadville 100.

Following so many people on Facebook, on the blogosphere and elsewhere, I can't help but notice a trend I'm seeing. People are racing year-round, running huge miles all winter long, and not really giving themselves any downtime. That may work for a while, but I think over time it catches up to you. In 2010, my foot imploded and my body rebelled on me after putting it through a meat grinder in 2008 and 2009. Back in the day (admittedly, right when I was getting into ultras), there was something of an off-season. Among the first big races of the year were Way Too Cool and Umstead. These days, there's a race every weekend. I honestly think a lot of people (but not all people) over-race because ultrarunning somehow makes them feel good about themselves and they also like the oohs and ahs from non-runners. I get that to an extent. This is my eleventh year of racing long distances, so external validation and praise stopped meaning much of anything to me a long time ago. That said, in a race it's good to get encouragement, especially from your family and friends.

This being March and my conditioning well below where it needs to be by August, ordinarily I'd be feeling a bit freaked out. But not this year. I'm only now starting to get mentally engaged with running after about five months of aimlessly staying somewhat fit and skiing on the weekends (and let me tell you that fresh powder skiing will kick your ass!). Ultrarunning requires such a high level of mental energy (and physical energy, too) that if you're not 100% into it then don't bother. You might as well take up sewing. We're not just warriors; we're kind of like "Jedi Masters"--you have to have your mind into it because the mind is the most powerful weapon for the ultrarunner. My ultrarunning mind is now starting to awaken after a great winter and I'm excited to race soon!

I still plan to run the Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins in early May, but at this point it's hard to see being in great shape going into that race. If I qualify for Boston, I'll be happy. I like to stay qualified for Boston 365 days a year!

Then I'll have the Leadville Trail Marathon in mid-June, the North Fork 50K (or maybe 50-miler?) in late-June and a gnarly half-marathon at Copper Mountain Ski Resort in July--all leading me to the Leadville 100 in mid-August.

My Leadville training will be interesting. Monday through Friday, much of it will take place here in Parker since I work full-time, have a family and don't have the time to run in the mountains during the work week. On Saturdays and Sundays, I'll head to the trails, with Sundays being my big days with lots of vertical. I'll still be able to take the occasional Friday off and head up to the mountains. The most important goal, besides showing up in August healthy, is to avoid peaking too soon.

Onward and upward!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Want to Run in the Sold-Out Mount Evans Ascent?

Want to run in the sold-out Mount Evans Ascent? You can! Just leave me a comment in this blog post and I'll transfer my registration to you. It's an easy process--all online. I've decided to do the Leadville Trail Marathon, which is the same weekend. So I'd love to transfer my Mt. Evans number to someone instead of DNS'ing at Evans.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Top-3 All-Time List; Getting Over a Hamstring Strain

It's February, and that can mean only one thing! It’s time to start ramping up the volume to get ready for the upcoming racing season. For me, that means I'll soon be at 70 miles a week. And then the real fun starts in May. Of course, August is the big month--that's when I line up for my fifth Leadville 100. This will be my eleventh season of racing. Where did the years go?

Unfortunately, for the past three weeks I’ve been battling a pretty nasty strain in my left hamstring. As with all injuries, I took a look at what I did leading up to the issue and, in this instance, pretty easily determined the cause. In my case, it was the combination of running, skiing and lifting heavy weights—all in a single weekend. Simply put, my left hamstring had had enough and decided to shred on me during a routine 10-miler. So, I haven’t done any weights for a few weeks. I’ve kept running and skiing, though. And I do hope to resume weight-training soon, albeit much more conservatively than before.

Fortunately, my hamstring seems to be turning the corner, thanks to slower-paced running and daily icing. I’m continuing to ski almost every weekend—I consider it not only loads of fun and spiritually healthy but also great cross-training, especially when it involves fresh powder. Plus, there's no place that makes me happier than the mountains. I have developed a real passion for skiing, and I most enjoy it when I’m skiing with my wife. Soon, our son will be skiing the mountains with us. He’s still in ski school and progressing rapidly. Seeing him ride the lift freaks me out.
 
With the Colorado Marathon in early May, there’s not a lot of time to work with if my goal is to break three hours. I need to be putting in some good speed and tempo sessions by the first of March. With my hamstring issue, that may not be possible, meaning I will either skip the marathon (and add the Cheyenne Mountain 50K, which would be slower) or adjust my goals to just a Boston qualifier time. We’ll see. This hamstring strain has really thrown the timing of my marathon training off, since it's prevented fast running. There were days when I could barely walk, let alone run, and yet I still grinded out the mileage. Admittedly, skiing has cut into my training a little, too. My hope is that I’m through the worst of my injury, but I also know that hamstrings take time to heal and you don’t want to keep re-aggravating the muscle. Also of concern is that my hamstring tends to go bad on me with zero notice; one second I’m good, the next second I’m hobbled. So I have to be very cautious.

***

I’m looking for a few other races on my 2014 calendar, including the half-marathon option for La Maratona Verticale, a new set of races coming this July to Colorado’s beautiful Copper Mountain Ski Resort. The marathon apparently has 12,000 feet of gain, meaning the half-marathon has about 6K of climb. I think it would be a cool race—and great training for Leadville since a half-marathon with 6K would involve some decent time on my feet. I haven’t yet ruled out the marathon option…. Twelve K of gain over 26.2 miles would be pretty damned hard. Sign me up!

***

I really enjoyed the recent UltrarunnerPodcast.com interview with Ann Trason. Ann is very humble and not at all comfortable talking about herself and the incredible success she achieved during her legendary career (and she apparently hates that word, “legendary”). She seems really comfortable with who she is and I respect that. Now on my bucket list is to run one of her races; she apparently is a wonderful race director who puts a lot of herself into her events. Check out her interview!

Incidentally, here’s my list of top-3 ultrarunners of all time:

1) Ann Trason
2) Yiannis Kouros
3) Bruce Fordyce

To me, Ann gets the nod because she performed at a high level on the road, track and trail. Here’s another reason: When Ann was running, there weren’t many women competing in races. She was mostly running against the men, especially in the earlier years of her career. And in many cases, she was winning outright or finishing on the podium with badass dudes like Tim Twietmeyer. Many of the records she set still stand today. So I think she would be just as dominant today, if not more dominant, than she was 15 or 20 years ago.

Yiannis, on the other hand, was more a road and track specialist. I will say that Yiannis holds the most insane record in the sport, in my opinion—188 miles in 24 hours. As for Bruce, until someone breaks his scorching 50-mile world record, he’s on my top-3 list. Oh yeah, and he won a few Comrades, too.

Who’s on your top-3 list?

***

I just want to clarify my previous post from last month, in which I wrote that too many of us talk too much and don’t run enough. I said there’s too much analysis of the sport, as if this is ESPN. I think it’s great to reflect on and thoughtfully discuss the direction of the sport and where things are heading. But I think it’s human nature to assume everything going on now is the best ever, the biggest ever, unprecedented, etc. I’ve just gotten to the place in my running life where I don’t like to talk much anymore—I just want to run and race. Maybe that’s a product of being a working stiff who just needs a quiet refuge on the road and trail on a daily basis. Or maybe it’s because most of my running these days is solo—as a result of life’s priorities and a rather isolated existence in Parker, which is far from Boulder and Colorado Springs.

I would add, too, that, like many others, I was very turned off by the fallout after the 2013 Leadville 100. All of the criticism being directed at the organizers turned me off. There were many personal agendas at work, and that’s too bad. Leadville’s a great race and it’s awesome that the organizers have taken it upon themselves to call every single entrant for the 2014 race—just to say thanks, field questions, offer encouragement, etc. Those folks who run the race are good people, and they care.

Back to the too-much-talking thing…. It is hard for me not feeling a part of the ultrarunning culture like I used to, when we lived in Ohio and I ran with a group (of good friends) every Saturday and Sunday. It’s hard for me to make group runs in Colorado Springs and Boulder. I would love to run more with Team CRUD, the Boulder groups, Denver Trail Runners and the Incline Club. There are many people in those circles--runners of all abilities--who I really like and respect (hopefully you know who you are)…and who I see far too little of due to distance and competing priorities in life. It’s just not possible right now, and so I spend lots of time running alone. I’m sure all this alone-time has caused me to approach the sport in a much different way than I did, say, four or five years ago. I realize that my approach to and view of the sport may be very different from yours, and that's OK.

Happy trails!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Goals for 2014; What I Think Ultrarunning Should Do in 2014

New Year's resolutions have never really interested me for a few reasons. First, I think we can (and should) make positive changes in our lives any day of the year, not just on January 1. Deferring changes to the new year, to me, reveals shaky resolve.

What I am into is goal-setting. I have a few personal and professional goals for this year, but for the purposes of this blog I'll just talk about my tentative 2014 racing goals. Here goes:

Break 3 hours in the marathon once again. The last time I broke 3 in the marathon was May of 2009 (a month later I won a 100-mile trail race--wow, those were the days). Damn, the years fly by. I tried to break 3 at the Arizona Rock 'n Roll Marathon last January but came up just a little short. This spring, with my 41st birthday nearing, I think I may once again go for sub-3. I have this crazy goal of trying to break 3 in three separate decades: 2000s--done (2008, 2009), 2010s--not yet, 2020s--we'll see. I've written on here before that I believe the road marathon is the hardest distance of all when you're racing with a goal in mind. Every second counts, and success comes down to pacing and having enough in the tank for that grueling final 10 kilometers. Sorry, but trail ultras, while really hard, aren't quite as hard as nailing a fast marathon time (fast being a relative term, depending on your abilities). If indeed I go for a sub-3 this spring, it'll likely be at the very downhill Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins. That will mean I need to start ramping up in the next few weeks, with March and April being pretty heavy. I need to decide really soon if that's what I want to do, because I'm not quite mentally ready to take on big weeks of running (80+) when there's still lots of skiing to be had. (UPDATE AS OF 1/21: I REGISTERED FOR THE COLORADO MARATHON!)

Break 21 hours at the Leadville 100. If you've been following this blog for a few years, you know I've been fixated on breaking 20 hours at Leadville. Last summer, I trained really hard and still came in with a 22-hour time. My problem is that, while I run at sub-20 pace for 80 miles of that course, I tend to lose a lot of time on the ~20-mile Hope Pass section. This year, with the right fueling strategy (going to experiment with GU Roctane), I believe sub 21 is possible. My one hesitation is that I'm pretty well "fat adapted." I try to use calories on runs as little as possible, but at the same time I need to be ready for race-day nutrition.

Stay injury-free. Knock on wood, but I've been free of injury for over a year now, save a foot deal that happened in November of 2012 and carried over into 2013. I think weight training and MAF have really helped me stay healthy. I also think I've found the right shoes for me--Sauconys, especially the Ominis.

Those are the goals for the year. The marathon goal is still rumbling around in my head but I'm feeling pulled to the Colorado Marathon in early May. Deep in my mind, I have this thing where I need to break three hours so I'll feel like a decent runner. Maybe it's an ego thing. When I feel like a decent runner, I have confidence that translates into better performances in ultras.

***

As a fan of the stop/start/continue tool, here are some things I believe ultrarunning as a sport needs to do in 2014:
  • Stop talking about how the sport is growing by leaps and bounds. It's still a very niche sport that, for the most part, operates in the shadows. We've lost all perspective if we think this sport has gone mainstream.
  • Stop beating on the Leadville 100. It got old fast.
  • Stop saying the sport has gone international. There have been badasses from other nations for years. Ever heard of Bruce Fordyce? Yiannis Kouros? How about Don Ritchie or Oleg Kharitonov? Those guys could run circles around many of us today.
  • Stop with the fixation on arranging the sport around the needs of the "elites." This sport isn't about elites; it's about like-minded folks enjoying the road and/or trail together, within the context of a race, and then enjoying a few beers afterward. I couldn't care less what the elites want, but I will say I enjoy watching them mix it up at races like Western States and Hardrock.
  • Start getting more road ultras into the mix.
  • Stop saying that race X or race Y has "the deepest field ever." That got old a few years ago. There have been many deep fields. I know it's hard for many to imagine anything being bigger or better than what we have today. But I think one could argue, as referenced by the international badasses I listed above, that the sport has been strong for a long time. Whatever.
  • Stop talking about prize money. This will not be a big money sport anytime soon, because ultrarunning has little visibility in the "general" market and it's not spectator-friendly. But if it does one day bring in big bucks (which it won't), the sport will go to ruin. Big money=cheating.
  • Start running and enjoying the gift on a daily basis. As a sport, we've come to talk too much (I've been guilty of this, too). We should run more and talk less. 
  • Stop with the ESPNization of the sport. This isn't the NFL. Enough already.
***

I'd love to hear what your goals are for 2014. Feel free to share them in the comments.