Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Doping

Most of us already suspect that doping has infiltrated ultrarunning. To what degree it's infiltrated ultrarunning, we don't know. There are many ways to dope (EPO, steroids, HGH, etc.) and they all have one thing in common: cheating. Oh, yeah, doping can also be very dangerous. So, if you dope, in addition to being a cheater, you’re also playing with fire when it comes to your own health.

There’s no real system for catching dopers in ultrarunning. A few races might test here and there but truly effective testing comes down to a year-round program, including out-of-competition testing. In cycling, they have an impressive “biological passport” system. Almost any doping system is expensive, hard to administer and often fraught with varying levels of absurdity and corruption. There are no perfect systems, and often cheaters go undetected. Just look at the NFL and you’ll see a league bulging with ‘roiders and very few positive tests to show for it. Much of the time, testing programs are a joke—a façade.

That said, some high-profile elite road runners have been busted, including Rita Jeptoo. In the sprinting world, it seems tons of athletes have been caught. So, testing does work now and then. Some people are busted, but many go undetected because they’ve figured out how to beat the system, the system failed or (probably most commonly) they were never tested at all.

In the case of Jeptoo, she’s performing in a sport where prize purses hit six figures and there are sizable appearance fees. Big road racing has big money in it. The testing serves to protect the sport’s integrity and (try to) make sure there’s fair competition in the midst of big money for the top men and women and greedy corporate interest. Plus, you have governing bodies that provide some limited structure to testing programs.

In ultras, you have none of that. You have no real governing body, which means you have no testing system. And you have no money. Some people say money is coming to ultras. Really? In the grand scheme of things, those $10,000 prizes that just went to the top man and woman in race X are a drop in the bucket for big companies who just want to promote and market their brands.

The reality is that most ultras are volunteer-driven and organized by a guy or gal who’s operating on a shoe-string budget and is just hoping he/she doesn't lose too much money when all is said and done.

So what you have in ultra is a Wild West situation in which participants can, in theory and practice, do whatever they want as far as performance enhancing drugs—EPO, HGH, you name it—and get away with it. I do believe the vast majority of us don't dope and instead train and race the right way. But a few do cheat and that's concerning.

And this isn’t just about the "elites”; it’s also about less than scrupulous age groupers who might have good enough jobs to finance their PED use, which comes down to satisfying their own ego and impressing others. People will cheat to impress others. It’s naïve to say people will only cheat to win money or fame. People break the rules all the time and justify it one way or the other. Never underestimate the allure of impressing others. I don’t get it, but there are lots of people out there who want praise. A little EPO might help in that regard.

From where I’m sitting, until the bona fide running elites start racing ultras, there will never be big money in the sport—which means no testing system. What do I mean by bona fide elites? Well, in Kenya they have over 30 men who can run a 2:05 marathon. In American ultrarunning, and maybe worldwide ultrarunning, there’s not a single man who gets even close to 2:05 that I can think of. So in a sport where you don’t have the fastest long-distance runners in the world competing, how can you expect money to make its way into the mix and a testing system to form? Neither is going to happen.

So we find ourselves in a “sport” lacking organization, a testing system and real money to get anything done.

As naïve as it may sound, the best we can hope for is for ultrarunners to train and race with integrity. It’s possible a few high-profile races can implement testing (and that would be great), but the prospect of a comprehensive testing system is bleak unless ultra evolves in ways few of us could ever imagine.

Let’s all be honest competitors and participants with integrity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Awesome Article about the Leadville 100

Here's a link to an amazing article in NowU, a publication of the Gannett Company, about the Leadville 100-Mile Run. The article was written by a fellow runner, Ted McClelland, and really hits on what makes the Leadville 100 such a special race for so many, including me.

Although stepping away from Leadville in 2015, I am already excited about lining up at 6th and Harrison in August of 2016 for #6 (and counting). Maybe Leadman? Whatever I do...Leadville!

Final note: The guy in the top photo is a friend of mine, Chuck Radford, who went on to finish his first Leadville this year (in 20 hours and change). Chuck paced me in 2013 and was with me as I ran up Powerline. Huge thanks to him and to my other pal, Scott Williams, who was the one who gave me that Fig Newton at mile 62. Like almost any ultrarunner, I am fortunate to be surrounded by loving family and supportive, caring friend.

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Things You Can Do to Have a Long Running "Career"

With the Western States lottery gods once again overlooking me, 2015 will feature the Bighorn 100 and hopefully the Pikes Peak Marathon. Taking the year off from any Leadville races has been a tough decision because I've come to love both the marathon and 100-mile run. With the lottery open another 12 days, I'll be the first to admit that I've been tempted several times to put my name in the hat.

I have come to be a bit too obsessed with Leadville. The fact is that I've yet to have the race up there of which I'm capable. In 2013, I lined up in amazing shape and still underachieved. This year, despite really solid training, I went backwards as far as how it all went relative to my 2011 and 2013 results. Whatever is vexing me up in Leadville, I've yet to understand it in the five years I've lined up for that epic 100-mile race. It could be that the biggest barrier to my breaking through is mental. The altitude has no doubt been a factor, but I think it's become a mental thing. Some time away might really help as far as putting Leadville in perspective and regaining some confidence.

Plus, the timing of Leadville (especially in 2015) has come to really suck from a family standpoint. It's right when my son goes back to school (if you don't have kids, you couldn't possibly imagine how busy back-to-school season can be) and all of the training Leadville requires can get in the way of fun family time throughout the summer. I try not to allow running to take priority over family but the bottom line is that training for Leadville requires lots of time away all summer. With Bighorn happening in mid-June, I'll have a big chunk of the summer after the race to relax, maintain fitness for Pikes Peak and, most importantly, do fun stuff with the family (camp, hike, etc.).

As difficult of a decision as it's been, It'll be good to step away from Leadville for a year and give Bighorn a go.

I've been thinking a lot about what I learned in 2014 as far as running. Here are my top 5 learnings:

1) On race day, less is more. Whatever you pack for a 100-miler, you'll use probably 10% of it during the race.

2) At some point in your life, you develop a big enough base that you can start to train smarter and not longer. This is a big struggle for me because I've always been a volume guy. Plus, how do you really know when your base has reached that critical point? Since taking up serious running in 2004, I've put in over 35,000 miles. That's probably a super solid base....

3) There is something to fat adaptation.... If your body has 20,000-30,000 fat calories and only 2,000 sugar calories stored, it makes sense that burning fat is the way to go. Plus, if you can burn fat efficiently, that means fewer stomach-bombing gels during the race--a good thing.
 

4) Masters runners are the guys and gals who made it through their 20s and 30s, avoiding running-related burnout and injuries, and that's why they're now so damned tough and competitive--they're the last badasses standing. It is amazing to me how quality the masters field is in most races. I'm proud to still be going strong at age 41.
 

5) Always ask yourself why you're doing a certain race. My feeling is that many of us do zillions of races a year to prove something that isn't healthy--like maybe impressing others or trying to compensate for personal insecurities. With races, it's quality, not quantity. If you over-race, you won't get to #4 above.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Most Comfy Flip Flop Ever? Yep.

Note to reader: I only do reviews of products that I really like. In this case, today I'm doing a short review of a product that has quickly become a favorite around the house, out in the neighborhood and even in public. 

It's the most comfortable flip flop I've ever worn, and it's quickly taken the place of my Birkenstocks, which cost three times more. It's the OOFOS OOAHH flip flip and it'll make you feel like you're walking on clouds. In terms of comfort, think Hoka One Ones only way lighter, with two straps over the top of your feet and perfect for recovery.

Here's a photo:



Just from that photo alone, you'll notice a few things:

First, it's a super comfy flip flop. When I say super comfy, I'm talking about ultra soft. Every time I slip them on, it feels like I'm walking on clouds. My feet get happy. Where does that softness come from? OOFOS is powered by "OOform" and a patented footbed design. OOFOS says OOform is 37% softer than EVA. I believe it. Slip on a pair and you'll know what I mean when I say they're ultra soft.

Second, it's designed to support how your feet move. It kind of rolls with you. I like that. It's the most natural fit you'll ever get with a flip flop.

Third, it's pretty supportive, especially in the arch area. This level of support is critical for runners. When we're not running, our feet need to be happy and supported.

I have never been a flip flop fan, but I am definitely a fan of my OOFOS flip flops. Ask my wife and she'll verify that I wear them around the house all of the time. I often wear them when I take our dog for a walk (unless it's super cold outside). I'll even wear them out in public, which I normally wouldn't do with a flip flop (Birkenstocks notwithstanding). And of course they're great for after a long, hard run. Bottom line: If your feet need babying (whose don't?), OOFOS is for you.

With the holiday season upon us and Santa coming in eight days, it's still not too late to pull the trigger on some OOFOS for that runner in your life...or maybe for you. They'll thank you every time they slip them on after a long, hard run or or maybe a day on the feet at the office.

Get your OOFOS now by clicking here.

Glad to do other product reviews but only if you have a good product and good company. Do you hear me, Patagonia? :-)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking Back on 2014

With 2014 coming to a close, it's a good time to look back on the year, using the "good, bad and ugly" format.

The Good:
HR Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon.
Photo by Chris Boyack.
Interestingly, my most satisfying race was my last race this year--the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon held earlier this month. On a very hilly trail course with over 1,600 feet of climbing, I finished 12th out of 701 finishers with a 1:34. Had it been a fast road half, I believe I could have gone sub 1:23--it was just one of those great days. I felt super strong from start to finish, paced it just right (especially in the opening miles), absolutely hammered the downs, and finished exceptionally well. It was a great finish to an otherwise so-so year of running.

The North Fork 50K, where I finished fourth overall, was my second most satisfying race. The field for this race wasn't that strong, but it nonetheless felt good to snag another top-five especially when it came as a training run. Despite hot conditions, I was very strong in this race, clicking off the miles in a metronomic fashion but never really feeling "fast."

I'm also proud of my 18:34 at the Scream Scram 5K last month. At age 41, it feels good to bang out 5Ks at sub-6-minute pace while running at 5,300 feet above seal level. At sea level on a good day, I'm very confident I can still go sub-18.

Finally, though I was shooting for another sub-3, I'm proud of my 3:04 at the Colorado Marathon in early May, earning early entry into Boston. Even though I'm not going to Boston next April, I always like to stay qualified for Boston. Maybe it's a pride thing. A lot of people say the Colorado Marathon is an "easy" course. Yes, it does involve a lot of downs, but those last nine miles will definitely keep you honest. In my case, I didn't pace this race very well and simply lost some steam in the last few miles.

The Bad:
The Leadville Trail Marathon was a miserable experience. I really hate it when courses get changed. In the case of this year's race, admittedly they had to tweak the course as a significant portion in the middle was still buried with snow (reportedly over six feet of snow). Coming into this race, I was a bit tired from training and just basically plodded along, never really finding much enjoyment out of the experience. The altitude was also getting to me (a theme that would carry over to the 100). It was fairly disappointing coming in over five hours when the year before I killed it with a 4:19.

The Ugly:
Puking over 50 times, including a fainting episode at Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60), my experience at this year's Leadville Trail 100 was the epitome of ugly. It is still amazing to me that I even finished this race, much less snagged another big buckle. The altitude, muscle cramping and poor nutrition simply kicked my butt. Little did I realize when crossing the finish line with a disappointing 24:09 that this would probably be my last LT100. Due to the new lottery system, which I take issue with, 2014 was indeed likely my last LT100. All in all, it was probably my ugliest finish in a 100-miler, but at least I finished. So long, Leadville.

So, there you have it--2014. Considering my notorious bad luck in even years, 2014 wasn't too bad but it wasn't great, either. I'm getting older but I feel like I've been smart about things and am aging well. For example, in 2004, I ran my first marathon in 3:22. In 2005, I ran two 3:08 marathons, qualifying for Boston each time, and a few years later finally got down below three hours for a few races. Today, at age 41, I'm a 3:04 marathoner--faster than when I got into long-distance running at age 31. While it's fair to say I may have lost a step or two due to Father Time, I can still run pretty well. And I think that comes down to smart training and avoidance of over-racing over the years. I did over-race one year (2009) and paid for it dearly in 2010 when I was seriously injured. Never again.

With lots of luck in odd years, I am excited about 2015! The year's race schedule will be built around either the Bighorn 100 or Western States 100--depends on if I get lucky and am drawn for WS (not counting on it--my odds are like 9%).

In case you're wondering what the deal is with my good luck in odd years and bad luck in even years, here you go (2004-2006 don't count):

2007: Finished 6th at Burning River 100
2008: Knee blew up at Mohican; lost lead and barely finished 4th overall
2009: Won Mohican; 131 miles at the North Coast 24-Hour; best year ever
2010: Barely finished Leadville under 25 hours; serious case of plantar fasciitis
2011: Set current PR at Leadville (22:35)
2012: DNF'd at Leadville with a knee injury; worst year ever
2013: 22:40 at Leadville 100; 4:19 at Leadville Marathon
2014: Barely finished Leadville due to stomach issues

Chime in with thoughts on your race year!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reader Question about Maffetone Method Training

Question: I came across your blog today while researching MAF training. Are you still using this method to train? I read about it a few months ago and just got my heart rate monitor for my birthday so I am just beginning. How long have you used the MAF method? Do you think it has been effective? I am running my first marathon in May 2015. My current plan is to use the heart rate training to buildup my aerobic base for 3-4 months then to begin incorporating intervals for speed. I am hoping that a book or other resource will help me identify better training principles. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. ~ Kristin
 
Thanks for your question, Kristin. I get lots of questions about MAF so I'd like to answer yours on this blog in order to share what I hope is helpful information with other readers.

It continues to feel strange to me to answer questions as I don't consider myself a running expert. I have dabbled in coaching over the years but I feel like there's still so much to learn. I guess I just don't consider myself enough of an expert to really helps others in a meaningful way. And yet I do think I know a few things about MAF (not as much as Lucho), so I'm glad to share my own story and help as best as I can.

I am a big believer in MAF, having taken it up as an official training practice in 2012. I don't have much time to read so much of what I've learned about MAF over the years has come via podcasts, websites and experimentation. I've heard great things about Dr. Maffetone's Big Book of Endurance, and you can also hear from the man himself via Endurance Planet (search for his past podcast interviews or click here). Anyway, depending on what kind of intensity you're going to bring to the marathon in May, about 95% of the effort will be aerobic. That means you really need to build a super strong aerobic base, which MAF can help you do. Use Dr. Maffetone's 180 Formula to determine your MAF range. Or, if you have the resources for it, get your zones tested so you know what heart rates correspond with which zones. Dr. Maffetone would always advocate personalized testing over his formula but, in the absence of personalized testing, his formula is usually pretty spot on. 
 
MAF does a few things for you. First, it helps you develop a very strong aerobic base, which you're going to need in the marathon or just about any endurance activity. Second, it helps you become an efficient fat burner (more on that below). And third, it helps you prevent injuries and over-training. Your body likes to use fat when in an aerobic state. As you develop aerobically, your body will also develop its fat burning--critical to endurance. When you're running at higher intensities (beyond MAF), your body will use more sugar for fuel. But in MAF your body is mostly burning fat. Even the leanest of athletes have 20,000-30,000 calories of fat ready to burn. And yet we have about 2,000 calories of sugar stored in our liver. It's far better to train your body to prefer to burn fat than sugar. That means you can run longer without "hitting the wall." The way to do that is through aerobic training (MAF) and diet (fewer carbs). I have a friend who's a MAF athlete and low-carb guy and ran a 2:50 at Boston taking in not a single gel. 
 
The great triathlete Mark Allen used MAF to win several Ironman World Championship races and also notch a 2:39 marathon split at Kona in 1989--a record that still stands. MAF works for those who are patient and use it at the right time(s) in their training. Patience is critical. It can mean you might have to walk hills at first to stay in your MAF zone. Do it. Be patient. It is so frustrating to see people abandon MAF because they're too proud to walk hills at first. Having to walk hills and run at a slow pace to stay within MAF means you're aerobically inefficient. MAF will make you super efficient IF you stick with it, check your pride at the door, and remain patient. In time, your MAF pace will get faster and faster and you'll be able to run those hills. When I'm in shape, I can average 6:30 pace over 5 miles on the track in a MAF test, losing maybe 1-2 seconds between mile 1 and mile 5. Not to stereotype, but women tend to be more patient than men. In that vein, I've seen MAF work well for women whereas guys get all prideful and abandon it because they want to run "fast." Then they blow up at races and wonder why. 

MAF is super important for base-building and easier days but you want to periodize your training. So, as the marathon gets closer, do some track intervals (staying aerobic, which means 1200s and stuff like that) to build your speed. Also--and this is critical--do tempo runs at about marathon pace or slightly faster. You want to get more and more comfortable at marathon pace. The tempo runs will build strength, helping you stay on pace in that last 10K when so many people's races fall apart. As far as periodizing your training, check out Brad Hudson's book, Run Faster. Renato Canova and Jack Daniels are also great resources. They all use different terms but basically they all agree on the MAF stage and periodized training. Again, it all depends on your goals. Also, check out Lucho's blog (link above) and enter MAF into the search box. You'll pull up tons of great content.
 
I cannot emphasize enough how important patience is with MAF. It is not long, slow distance, as some claim. People who dismiss MAF as LSD are ignorant when it comes to proper training. MAF will make you faster and more efficient. It'll help you build an aerobic fortress on rock, versus a fortress on sand as many runners today do because they lack patience and discipline. As Yiannis Kouros says, conquering endurance is about patience and then doing solid training.
  
You have the requisite 24-odd weeks to go through a proper training cycle to get ready for the marathon and kill it. Good luck!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Talking Honestly About Ultrarunning

One thing we don't do enough of in ultrarunning is talk honestly about some issues facing the "sport." For the most part, the collective view is one of unicorns and rainbows. That's one reason why I really enjoy the Elevation Trail podcast. It's great to see Tim and Gary back, after a pretty long hiatus, with an awesome new podcast about "grilled cheese-gate" at the Arrowhead 135 race and other matters. In this latest show, Gary is truly in rare form, which is saying a lot.

While I sometimes disagree with what Tim and Gary say on their podcast and occasionally their takes even piss me off, Elevation Trail does a great job of stirring the pot and making you think--with lots of good humor interspersed. I have often looked at the "sport" with rose-colored glasses but in the past few months I've come to see that we have some issues in ultrarunning and it's great to see a few of us calling them out. If all you did was listen to the "mainstream" endurance-related podcast shows, you might find what Tim and Gary say to be a bit edgy.

Anyway, go to iTunes and download the new anti-establishment ET show or listen to it via the link above. I personally really enjoyed it, but maybe that's because I'm a bit disgruntled with the "sport" these days. So, if your head is in the clouds or deep in the sand, it's time to get real.

Parting shot: Pumped to make this top 100 list for best running blogs!