Monday, July 27, 2015

Going Back to Leadville, Plus Other Ramblings

Shortly after DNF'ing at the Bighorn 100 on June 20, I decided to return to that race in 2016 and "get revenge." Well, things have changed--in large part because I want to do what I love.

One thing I love is the thought of finally getting into the Western States Endurance Run. So, what does that have to do with the fact that I have registered for the Javelina Jundred on October 31? Javelina seems like a really well-organized, "fun" hundred-miler. Even better: It's a 2016 Western States qualifier. With my Bighorn DNF, as of now I have no qualifier for the 2016 Western States. I really don't want to have to start over in terms of entering the Western States lottery. Plus, I really want to finish a hundred this year. Also, I love the thought of running a hundred that's a bit on the fast side (though my understanding is that Javelina is hardly a "flat" course, and heat can also be a factor). All of that makes Javelina a perfect option for me.

After taking it pretty easy for the past five weeks, my training is starting to ramp back up. I've also incorporated weight training to help address a critical weakness that I've noticed with age--deteriorating strength. As we age, we lose muscle. This is especially true of athletes over the age of 40.

But first things first. I have the Pikes Peak Marathon in three weeks! The goal for Pikes will be a fun day in the mountains. Having never run that race (though I have gotten to the Pikes summit twice), I really don't know what to expect on race day. I think the smart approach will be to respect the mountain and go out at a relaxed pace. From what I have read and heard from a few friends like my buddy, Mike Wilkinson, you can really ruin your race if you go out too hard and run "the W's" aggressively. So, I'll be employing a conservative approach and mostly just trying to enjoy the day on an iconic 14'er. That said, it would be great to finish in under six hourss. A friend I spoke with told me I'm capable of much more but, having never raced Pikes, I'm going to temper expectations.

With my son at the 2014 Leadville 100. This photo says it all.
Another thing I love is Leadville! With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run fast-approaching, my thoughts have turned to that race and the whole "Leadville experience." I didn't enter this year's race because I thought some time away would do me some good. So, for the first time in six years, I won't be lining up on Sixth Street at 4:00 on race morning, but I will be up there to volunteer and pace my good friend, Matt Curtis, over Hope Pass. I guess you could say that, for me, this is a year of giving, not getting, at Leadville.

While I think the year off from Leadville will do me some good, I'm definitely feeling some regret about not being up there to race. I think there are some amazing hundreds out there--Bighorn included--but I have come to see that I'm a "Leadville guy" and those races reflect who I am, what I think is important in life, and what I like to do with my race schedule. The Leadville 100 has made me suffer over the years and it's brought me to my knees on a few occasions, but I've also had some great moments up there. For some reason, I can't stop loving it.

There is something about Leadville and that whole experience that really connects with me. I think it starts with family. My son was two years-old when I ran Leadville for the first time. He and my wife, along with either my parents or my brother and sister-in-law, have been on that course every year I've run Leadville. Given all of the memories that have been made up there over the past five years, it's hard for me to just "walk away" from Leadville and find new races. I do want to run new races and experience different events (like Javelina this October), but I've come to realize that every August I need to be in Leadville running 100 miles, with my family theere with me, because it's really what I'm searching for in life. And it's kind of part of my identity. People are all the time asking me about Leadville, maybe because I love talking about it!

How I feel about Leadville really comes down to how I dress. Every weekend, I can be found in any one of my Leadville race shirts. During the winter, I often wear my race jackets. And I can frequently be seen in my Leadville/Strava hat from 2013. All of that is because I'm proud of Leadville and what I've done up there!



Christopher McDougall was right when he said in his book that Leadville has a lot of "holy shit" power. I mentioned this in a recent interview with a Runner's World writer who's working on a story about the Leadville Race Series and Lifetime Fitness' ownership of it. I also mentioned to the writer that, while it's true ownership has changed hands, the Leadville 100 (and, I would argue, the entire race series) is fundamentally the same as it was when Ken and Merilee were in charge (they're still very involved and the race team, headed by Josh Colley, is based in Leadville). It still has a ton of "holy shit" power and it has an energy and vibe that you won't find at many other hundreds. The town itself is a big part of the whole experience. What Ken says at the pre-race briefing about "digging deep" and "you are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can" really goes to the heart of the Leadville Race Series--those words have a great deal of meaning to me and they have helped me put one foot in front of the other when things turned south.

So, I would say over that the past month or so I have come to peace with the fact that Leadville is just who I am. It makes me a better person and I feel a great void when I look at my calendar and the Leadville 100 isn't on it. I regret not running in this year's race, though I do think the time off has done, and will continue to do, me some good. So, provided the lottery gods allow it, it'll be the Leadville 100 for me from here on out. And 2016 will also feature the Leadville Trail Marathon, another awesome race. And if I get into Western States next year, well, I may take on the big double in 2016!

Now, go run!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bighorn DNF

I DNF'd at Bighorn last weekend. This was my second-ever DNF (DNF="did not finish" or, to some folks, "did nothing fatal"). Here's the overall score of me versus 100s:

Me: 8 finishes of 100+ miles
100-mile distance: 2 (Leadville 2012 and Bighorn 2015)

I decided to withdraw from Bighorn because I could not stop vomiting and I couldn't keep anything solid or liquid down for more than a few minutes. In the wake of the DNF, I would be lying if I said I'm not hurting badly deep down (I am).

I vomited in two aid stations going up to the turnaround point--a 4,500-vertical-foot climb--and it got so bad in one that they kind of hid me from the others so as not to kill morale. Yes, that really is true, but I want to emphasize that the volunteers were compassionate and helpful. Let me also state now that I want no pity and this post isn't here to get people to comment and tell me all will be OK. No pity needed, please.

Over the past few days, I've done some reading on why we vomit in endurance races. I think my issue has a few different layers. First, I probably have a sensitive stomach. I have very valid reasons for believing that and there's no need to go into details as to why. Second, I think I have a tendency to let myself get under-hydrated in races, which can have a domino effect (including GI distress and mental and physical fatigue). I also think I went out too fast at Bighorn. It was very hot when the gun went off at 11am. I made lots of mistakes on Friday but it does no good going into all of them. I think I know much of what I did wrong, like under-hydrating and going out a bit too fast. But what perplexes me is that I used to not puke in 100s and now I'm puking in all of them, with onset of symptoms happening earlier and earlier in each race.

Recently, I heard a prominent ultrarunner who I greatly respect say that puking in an ultra is akin to hitting the reset button and that we should embrace it. That may be true for some people, but what happens when you can't stop puking? What happens when you completely bonk because you can't keep anything down? That's where I was on Friday. And, frankly, it's why Bighorn in 2016 (next year) may be my last ultra. I'm planning to go back to Bighorn next year and, come hell or high water, I will finish it--even if it means a 33:59:59 result and hundreds of vomit stops. I cannot let a race beat me without me hitting back. But I also can't keep putting myself and my family through this. I like running long distances and I expect to suffer along the way, but I don't like losing huge chunks of time to vomiting and genuinely worrying about my own health and safety. Last year at Leadville, I lost easily two hours to vomiting and related issues.

After withdrawing at the turnaround at Bighorn, I went back to our cabin and slept. The next morning, I felt resolved that this was probably my last 100. But then we went to the finish to cheer on my two pals, Mike Wilkinson and Mark Thompson, who ran the first half of the race together. Quick background: When I withdrew at the turnaround, I asked my pacer, Scott, to pace Mark into the finish, which he did (Mike already had a pacer lined up). So we got to the park in Dayton on Saturday afternoon and watched both Mike and Mark come into the finish within 15 minutes of each other and both under 28 hours--very solid times for Bighorn. I was so proud of these guys, and watching them cross gave me a little unexpected fire to come back to Bighorn next year and "get revenge." Plus, it just hurts knowing my son cried at the turnaround when he heard I was dropping. I have to come back and show him that you can't give up without a fight--even though I did DNF this year, I feel I must confront Bighorn next year and close the deal the right way. And then that may be it for me.

Where is all the fun in this? I love being in the wilderness and running. Bighorn is probably the prettiest course I've ever seen. There is a section ("the Wall") where you're surrounded by towering canyon walls--breath-taking. But it's hard to have fun when you're puking going up a 4,500-foot climb. I also think I'm now psychologically damaged from all these vomit episodes in 100s. I honestly think early in the race I was just waiting for the nausea and puking to start--and then it did. A self-fulfilling prophecy? Quite possibly, yes. I guess that means my confidence as a runner is gone. I used to take it for granted that I'd finish a 100. In the very early days, I wanted to win or podium. I no longer take it for granted that I'll finish.

We celebrate elites in this sport. And they are amazing. But let me say this: I have more respect for the folks who run their own races and those amazing souls who grind out the 30-hour 100s. Because finishing 100s is super hard. It's easy to forget that.

Having said all of that, what I'm about to write may seem contradictory. Here goes.... On the one hand, I'm not sure I'll do anymore races for the rest of the year. Right now, as I type this, I have no desire to race. That would mean no Pikes Peak Marathon and no Western States qualifier, which means my WS dream will likely come to an end because I'd then go back to zero tickets. And, honestly, that's OK because all it does is create pressure. And I need no pressure right now.

On the other hand, what I need is a good, drama-free finish in a 100. So, while I am considering taking the year off, I am also considering lining up at Javelina in late October and going for that WS qualifier and having a good experience on a course that, while far from easy, doesn't involve mountains. I'm not sure yet what I'll do. At this point, the thought of running an ultra is enough to make me start vomiting again. I need some down time. I need time to think, reflect, lift some weights (I love lifting), joy run, camp and bike with my family, get some home improvement projects done, and generally have no races to think about. I see this is a rebuilding phase, or perhaps the end of the line in terms of ultras. In 2012, I was burned out but came back quite inspired in 2013 and 2014. So it's possible this will pass and desire will return. Only time will tell.

Again, please, no pity. I'm not looking for it. We need to save our pity for people in this world who really need it. But please do chime in if you have any helpful advice.

Now, go have a good run.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Taper

Well, after months of training, the taper for the Bighorn 100 is here.

My last big effort (unless you count this morning's 400s) was Sunday. I ran a little over 24 miles on one of my favorite routes--Waterton Canyon and Section 1 of the Colorado Trail. A lot of people hate Waterton Canyon--a seemingly never-ending dirt road outside of Denver--but I like it because the 6.7-mile return trip can be mentally daunting. We often train our bodies but forget about the mental aspects of preparing for a big ultra. That's why I like to test myself in places like Waterton Canyon; the return trip can put me in the mental pain cave and I like that. On Sunday, I had another strong finish, which has become the hallmark of my new training approach. Lately, I almost never finish a long run feeling depleted; I finish a long run feeling like I could do it again if I had to.

Overall, with more than handful of 80+ mile weeks in the bag and lots of quality, I feel like I'm ready for Bighorn. These last five weeks of training have been super solid. I've also gotten out there for some groups runs with guys like Mike W., Scott S., Mark T., AJ, Chuck, Matt, Jon, John and others, which have made a difference. The group element has been huge for me.

As far as the nuts and bolts of training, going hard on hard days and easy on easy days has allowed me to execute when I need to and get the rest my body requires between quality sessions in order to promote recovery. I cannot emphasize enough how important it's been to me to go easy on easy days. We often stress ourselves to the breaking point because we tell ourselves, the more we run, the better. But, in actuality, we get better on the days that we rest. That has been my mantra for the last five weeks.

The taper has always vexed me. But not this time around. I feel like I'm entering my taper feeling good overall, not depleted. Over the next two and a half weeks, the key will be to keep mixing in some quality while also reducing overall quantity of mileage and time on the feet.

If there is one vulnerability I have, it's that I may not have done enough sustained climbs. I've done some good climbing overall, but with a very wet spring it has been hard to get to the mountains for big climbs and descents. That said, I've gotten to the trails and have logged quite a few climbs of 1,500-2,000 feet. And, honestly, I'm feeling good on the climbs. Not sure what's given me this little bounce--hill repeats, intervals, tempos or all of the above--but something seems to be working for me. I would be remiss in not also saying that Tailwind, Honey Stinger Waffles and Justin's nut butters been great on long training runs. It's critical for me that I stay within my hourly calorie and carb zones, give or take.

So, while I'm feeling strong, I also know that my goal for Bighorn is a respectable finish. I actually don't really care about my time; I just want to have fun and enjoy a 100-miler. If my body is working for me (and not against me as has been the case at Leadville), then it may just be a good day.

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Working (At Last)

I wish I'd known (read: believed) two years ago that the junk mileage I was putting in between workouts wasn't helping me get fitter; it was actually hurting me by hampering recovery and putting me in an ever-deepening hole. Over the past four weeks, I have completely eliminated junk mileage from my training. No more little 3-4-mile runs between workouts to boost my numbers. No more "gray-zone" runs. The days of number-chasing for the sake of a nice weekly total are over. And it's for the better because it was an unsustainable course that was making me hate ultras.

My training is now a lot more planful, purposeful and quality-based--and it seems to be paying off because I'm feeling fit and I'm finishing my workouts strong, whether it's a 25-mile mountain run or a track, hill repeat or tempo run session. Rather than fixating on mileage, my greatest focus now is on A) fully recovering between quality workouts (cannot overstate the importance of this), B) executing true quality on my "hard days," and C) going very easy on easy days, including a complete day off (or at most cross-training) on Mondays. It really all comes down to training hard on hard days and recovering on easy days so my body (and mind) achieves adaption--the key to getting fitter. That's in contrast to what I've been doing when training for 100s the past few years--grind it out every day, run as many workouts as possible in a single week (for "practice"), sprinkle in some speed here and there (with no real purpose behind it) and largely ignore fatigue.

Here's an example of what my new training looks like--this is from my plan for this week:

Monday: Off/cross training
Tuesday: 6x800M intervals w/ 400M recoveries - increase speed with each
Wednesday: Recovery run/super easy pace (60-70 minutes)
Thursday: Hill repeats - 7-8 reps of 2-2:30 each
Friday: AM: Easy 6-7; PM: night run of about 15 miles with the guys
Saturday: Recovery run/super easy pace (60-70 minutes)
Sunday: Long trail run of about 22-24 miles

Ordinarily I'd have a tempo run on Saturday but, with a night run the day before, no tempos this week. The average week, though, has intervals, hill repeats, a tempo run and a long trail run.

Over the past three weeks, especially this past week, I have noticed a significant boost in my fitness. I'm able to finish my long runs feeling strong and good (versus tired and wiped out) and my turnover, speed and power are all noticeably better than they were in April (when I actually debated abandoning the racing year altogether). It is too soon to say whether or not this new approach will pay off at Bighorn in the way of a "good time." I think it will but, even if it doesn't, that's OK because this new way of training is more satisfying. When I'm done with a workout, I don't have to worry about getting in a few more miles that day; I have nothing hanging over my head and can instead live my life.

Also, I think I've discovered some great nutrition products. Again, it's too easy to say how it'll all pay off at Bighorn, but in my long runs over the past few weeks I've been very happy with Tailwind Nutrition (I mix about 125 calories per bottle), Justin's Nut Butter packs, and Honey Stinger waffles. My nutrition plan for Bighorn, mirroring how I've trained, will be a combination of the above, plus some typical aid station fare, with the overall goal of consuming about 150-200 calories and--most importantly (for GI health)--no more than two dozen grams of carbs an hour.

Overall, this new approach to training is more fulfilling, conducive to the responsibilities I have as a husband, dad and employee, and purposeful. I cannot predict how it'll play out at Bighorn. Bighorn will be the most challenging 100 I've ever done and so I'm going to need to be at my best. But I know that when I'm running 20 and 25 miles and feeling great in the end that that's a good sign. When I feel powerful and efficient going up hills and my tempo pace is dropping like a rock, those are good signs.

Bottom line: I remember a few years ago being told by a few older guys, like Jay Aldous, that once you have a big base it's a game of quality, recovery and adaption. Only now am I fully realizing that what they told me was 100% correct. Thank goodness I came this realization in time to get in decent shape going into Bighorn---versus churning out junk mileage like a hamster on a never-ending wheel. Never again.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Quality

I'm in week two of my new training regimen. It's modeled on the program Andy Jones-Wilkins had me on last summer. Since last year's Leadville, where I had issues (but still finished sub-25, thank God!), I've come to realize that my problem going into that race was that I never let myself adequately recover between workouts. I was almost always fried. I hit all of AJW's workouts and, between them, I put in lots of junk miles (which I did myself as AJW never prescribed junk miles--his workouts were always very purposeful), leaving me spent by race day. Big mileage worked for me in my mid-30s (admittedly, I did lots of quality back then, too), but all it does now is leave me falling behind in my recovery.

This time around, with Bighorn six weeks away, I have opted for very purposeful training. Every day has a purpose, whether it's recovery, cross-training, hill repeats for power/strength, track intervals for speed/efficiency, a tempo run for strength, a long trail run for raw endurance and specificity, or out and out rest. My new rule is that if I don't know the purpose of a workout, then it's better to stay home. When you add it up, my mileage in an average week is now between 70-80. But, again, every workout has a purpose and I'm getting better and better at measuring progress not by mileage totals but by how I feel after a recovery run day.

This is a big change for me. I've always believed in volume when training for 100s. But, having read a lot of articles and blogs by experts like Joe Friel, Lucho, Jack Daniels and many others, I have come to realize that I have a big enough aerobic base (closing in on 40,000 miles since 2004) to focus more on quality and less on putting in the miles. You go hard on hard days and easy on easy days. You get better not just from the hard days but especially on easy/recovery days when your body is adapting to the stimulus you gave it with those track intervals, hills, tempo miles, etc. If you put in good quality but never recover because you run too fast on easy days (which I was doing) and fill in the gaps with junk miles, then you never adapt and get better. I have always known this but I also told myself that junk miles were recovery miles and "good practice." They are not. Junk miles take away from, not add to, fitness.

So far, so good. Last week, I put in some solid workouts thanks to excellent recovery from the 50K. But then on Sunday a strange thing happened on my 24-miler up and back down Waterton Canyon and Section 1 of the Colorado Trail: I felt good. I felt efficient. I felt strong. And I felt fast. It was fun! As Mike W. and I were running back to our cars, with about 1.5 miles to go, I dropped the hammer and ran it in hard, passing a runner ahead of us. Mile 22.5-23.5 was run in 6:50. I haven't been able to do that at the end of a long run, physically or mentally, in some time.

This week, all is going well so far. I had a solid track workout on Tuesday and a solid hill repeat session this morning. I can feel my efficiency improving and I'm definitely lighter on my feet. The biggest thing I've noticed is an ability to recover better between workouts since I've cut out junk miles like those extra 3- and 4-milers between runs, which are more about chasing numbers than anything. Plus, I'm going super easy on easy days--like 9-minute pace. But I don't really look at my Garmin on easy days because it's not about pace or distance; it's about recovering.

Whether or not all of this pays off at Bighorrn is yet to be determined. I believe it'll pay off and it'll set me up for a great taper and I know my life has improved, as a person and runner, now that I'm more focused and not always feeling pulled by the need to get in "more miles," which is exhausting when you have a lot of other things going in life. And even if my time at Bighorn isn't great, I'm OK with that, because at least now this all feels manageable, healthy and purposeful. Oh yeah, and fun!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

At Last, True Compression Sleeves That Work (Here's a Coupon Code to Get Yours Today!)

Note to reader: I'm not an elite runner or by any stretch "famous." I'm a regular guy who likes running and racing distances up to and beyond 100 miles. Here's a review of an outstanding product I recently discovered. I have been offered nothing by SLS3 but this one free product to test and review. This review is 100% how I feel about these calf sleeves. Now, read on!

I like compression gear because it works for me. In races and long training runs, I often wear compression shorts under my running shorts because they help keep my quads stable and chafing at bay. They also provide extra warmth up in the mountains and when the seasons are changing.

I've also on occasion found calf compression sleeves to be quite helpful and beneficial in the way of preventing soreness, promoting stability, helping with recovery, and keeping warm. But not until recently did I find the truly perfect pair of calf sleeves.

Source: SLS3
A few months ago, SLS3 asked if I'd wear-test some of their calf sleeves and then post a review about my experience. Who is SLS3? They've been around since 2004 (you can read about their story here) and have evolved over the years to offer top-quality triathlon apparel and compression gear. Although I'm not a triathlete (just an ultrarunner who also likes my bike), I am most certainly interested in good compression gear. So, when SLS3 reached out to me, a quick search of their website and a few e-mails with the very friendly rep (her name is Vanessa) revealed that this was a great opportunity. I turn down about 95% of these types of wear-testing opportunities, but this one was impossible to pass up because I believe truly good compression works.

Within a few days, my SLS3 FXC Compression Sleeves (shown to the right, but those aren't my legs, and I got black sleeves!) arrived in the mail. I immediately noticed how durable they appeared. In the past, durability has been an issue with calf compression sleeves, especially when you get on rocky trails. They like to rip. Not the case with my SLS3 sleeves (more on that below).

SLS3 says its calf compression sleeves "boost blood flow by around 34%." I believe it. I've put in a few hundred miles in my calf sleeves and I've definitely noticed a difference. Not only am I not sore in the calves after a hard run, but I'm also recovering better. Maybe that's why I was able to hit the track for quality intervals a few days after running 31 miles at the Cheyenne Mountain 50K?

The one downside to them--and this is only because they offer top-quality compression--is that they can be difficult to take off. Again, that's what you're going to get with good compression; it's part of the deal. Fortunately, they're super durable. I've washed them a few times and they're as good as new. No rips. No fraying. Still as tight as when they came out of the tiny box.

If my calf sleeves are any indication, SLS3 makes really quality stuff. I hope they enter the ultrarunning arena and start making stuff for those of us who enjoy running all day.

The good news is that my calf sleeves are perfect for not only runners but also cyclists, walkers, triathletes and even skiers (hadn't thought about their benefit to skiing but it's true!).

If you're into compression or just want to try it, check out SLS3! You can't go wrong. Use coupon code Wyatt40 to get a 40% discount. Check 'em out!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ditching Junk Miles and Opting for Speed

First off, many thanks to the folks out there who shared support after my last blog post. I appreciated all of the blog comments and e-mails.
 
Saturday's Cheyenne Mountain 50K proved to me that volume-based junk mile training, which I've fallen into this year because I've been lazy and, at times, unmotivated, isn't working. I felt slow and inefficient and my feet were heavy. When you feel that way, it's hard to mentally engage. So Cheyenne was kind of a slog fest for me. With the Bighorn 100 in seven weeks, now is the time to make necessary adjustments.

On Sunday, as I ruminated on my race at Cheyenne (and pulled more cactus needles out of my left hip due to a nasty head-first fall down the trail), I read quite a bit about what happens to us runners when we age, especially when we reach our 40s. I read blogs and articles by Joe Friel, Jack Daniels, Tim Noakes and other highly regarded experts. Here's what I learned: I am doing precisely what a masters runner with a huge endurance base built over a dozen years should NOT do: I am running junk miles, stacking up volume, chasing numbers and neglecting anything that builds speed and strength. That is why I am now weak, slow and inefficient. 

So, it's time to hit the reset button. I did basically nothing on Sunday and zilch on Monday in order to speed recovery from the 50K and give myself the freshest start possible. This morning, feeling re-energized, I headed to the track (life makes sense to me at the track) and did 400s to jump-start things in the right direction. A typical week for the next five weeks might then look like:

Monday - Off or cross-training in order to recover; no more Monday junk miles
Tuesday - Intervals such as 8x400 meters in order to promote speed and efficiency
Wednesday - 60-70 minutes at easy pace on mostly trails in order to recover
Thursday - 10x2-3-minute hill repeats in order to promote strength and power
Friday - 60-70 minutes at easy pace on mostly trails in order to recover
Saturday - 10 miles at tempo or steep trail running in order to promote strength
Sunday - Long run of 25-28 miles on mountain trails, staying at "ultra pace," in order to promote endurance and practice nutrition

In terms of 2015, I'm staying the course and will line up for Bighorn. I want to finish Bighorn but I won't be too concerned about my time. I will be focusing on having fun (and staying qualified for the Western States 100 lottery). After Bighorn, the priority will be to recover, have a great summer with the family (most important of all), enjoy the Pikes Peak Marathon, and hopefully get qualified for the 2016 Boston Marathon at a late summer race like the American Discovery Marathon.