Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Monster in the Rockies: The Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run

In the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains sits the small mining town of Leadville, known as “Cloud City.”

Situated at 10,200 feet, within close proximity of some of the world’s premier ski towns (Vail and Aspen to name a few), Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America. Its winters are brutal and its summers fleeting but epic as the mountains clear of their deep snow, inviting hikers, runners and adventurers to take on some of the finest alpine trails in the world.

Towering over the town, now home to some 2,700, are among the most spectacular mountains in the lower 48 states, including the two highest peaks in Colorado, Elbert and Massive, each at over 14,400 feet and often snow-capped into July. The Sawatch Range features 8 of the 20 tallest peaks in the Rocky Mountains.

Source: Leadville Race Series
For endurance athletes worldwide, the allure of Leadville isn't just the mountains; it's also the city itself. The town oozes its storied history. In its heyday, Leadville was known for its gambling and hard living, once growing to a population of 18,000. It attracted some of the most notorious of characters, from Doc Holliday to Wyatt Earp. In those days, Leadville was among the wealthiest towns in Colorado—a bustling mining community and silver mecca two miles in the sky. Fortunes were made and lost in this “boom and bust” town. This extraordinary history is captured in the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum, established in Leadville in 1977.

The city boasts a beautiful opera house, built in 1879 by Horace Austin Warner Tabor, who was Leadville's first mayor and made millions in the mining business. If you're from Leadville or even Denver, the names Horace Austin Warner Tabor and Baby Doe Tabor are quite familiar. They both sadly died broke. Baby Doe froze to death in their Matchless Mine—emblematic of the town’s “boom and bust” reputation. In 1895, to help breathe some life back into the Leadville economy, local residents constructed a huge ice castle. Standing some 90 feet tall, the 58,000-square-foot ice castle attracted over 250,000 tourists.

Living in Leadville got progressively harder as the 1900s progressed. The repeal of the 1928 Sherman Silver Purchase Act delivered a dagger near the heart of Leadville, where silver mining was huge. But the town, sitting atop highly mineralized earth, offered more than silver. It had lead and zinc, and plenty of it. The Leadville economy survived the repeal of the Sherman Act, with its reputation intact. During World War II, soldiers at nearby Camp Hale, home of the super-elite Tenth Mountain Division, were discouraged from going into downtown Leadville, where prostitution, drinking and general carousing were rampant.

But then in the early 1980s, disaster struck. In 1982, the hulking Climax mine just outside the town started undergoing a closure. The mine was a major source of molybdenum, used to strengthen steel, which was a big need during the Cold War. The Climax mine was the world's largest “moly” mine, supplying about three-quarters of the international supply and lots of well-paying jobs to Leadville residents.

The Climax mine's closure brought economic and social disaster to Leadville. The town faced a dire future. A majority of Leadville residents worked at the mine and now, with the gates closing, faced uncertain—indeed dire—futures. In this small mountain town, employment options were limited, and so the town plunged into economic and social despair, with over three-quarters of residents now out of work. Alcoholism surged. Marriages fell apart. Some residents even fled.

Then, in 1983, an unemployed hard rock miner had a crazy idea for Leadville’s future. His name was Ken Chlouber. Instead of letting Leadville disintegrate into another Colorado ghost town, he asked, why not take advantage of the surrounding rugged beauty and mountain trails and start a 100-mile foot race that could attract tourist dollars? With few better options on the table, Chlouber and Merilee Maupin founded the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run.

The race course Chlouber and Maupin devised would be a monster, taking runners from downtown, through the surrounding high country and past the trailheads for Mounts Elbert and Massive, into the stunningly beautiful village of Twin Lakes, over the precarious 12,600-foot Hope Pass and into the ghost town of Winfield, and then back again, with many climbs sprinkled in for good measure--including the notoriously steep, rutted Powerline. The entire course would be between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. The course, as I have always seen it, represents the journey Leadville has been on for years. (Note: The course has changed a bit over the years, especially in the middle section. For example, runners no longer go through the Halfmoon Campground or Leadville National Fish Hatchery.)

When you consider that the Leadville 100 was only the third 100-miler at the time of its founding, such a course was unprecedented...and seen as downright dangerous. "You'll kill somebody!," the town doctor said to Chlouber when learning of his plans. Chlouber's retort? "We'll be famous then." Consider for a moment that the first 100-mile run, Western States, while breathtakingly challenging with its steep, deep canyons, extreme heat and 42,000 feet of combined elevation change, had a maximum altitude of "only" 8,750 feet. The second 100-miler, Old Dominion in Virginia, while no cake-walk by any stretch, was at sea level. What Chlouber and Maupin created in their "Race Across the Sky" was truly a monster in the Colorado Rockies.

But their creation was also economically advantageous to the town. Because of the depth of the challenge, runners and their crews would have to stay in town, bringing economic benefits to the community and surrounding area in the way of lodging, food and tourism dollars.

The first race was held August 27-28, 1983, with only 10 of the 45 starters finishing what was at the time billed as a "challenge." Skip Hamilton, who would go on to finish--and win--three more Leadville 100s, broke the tape in the inaugural race with a time of 20 hours and 11 minutes. Today, the Leadville 100 is the largest such race in the country in terms of finishers. In addition to putting on every race with Maupin from 1983 to 2010, Chlouber finished the 100-miler 14 times. His son, Cole, has finished the 100 four times, most recently in 2016.

Source: Leadville Race Series
With Chlouber and Maupin at the helm, the Leadville 100 quickly grew into one of the world’s premier ultramarathons, known as "The Race Across the Sky." The Leadville 100 has attracted some of the most famous ultrarunners on earth, such as Ann Trason and Matt Carpenter, both of whom still hold the course records for their respective divisions.

Looking to do more for the town, in 1994 Chlouber and Maupin created the now-famous Leadville Trail 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race. Like the run, the 100-mile MTB race has attracted the world's top talent, including living MTB legend Dave Wiens. More races, including grueling marathon and 50-mile run and bike events, were also added to create a integrated series bringing tens of thousands of people to Leadville every summer. The Leadman and Leadwoman challenges are for those souls brave enough to attempt to complete all of the events in the series...in one summer.

In 2002, as part of their commitment to the people of Leadville, Chlouber and Maupin co-founded the Leadville Legacy Foundation to help support the changing needs of the community, such as through scholarship assistance for graduating high school seniors. In 2010, Life Time Fitness purchased the series. Chlouber and Maupin have remained intimately involved, ensuring an authentic experience for all and supporting the continued growth of the Leadville Legacy Foundation. Maupin is still there at the finish to hug every sweaty runner crossing the line.

Despite the meteoric growth of the Leadville Race Series, especially in past decade, the 100-mile run still represents what Chlouber and Maupin have called "the heart and soul" of the race series. Its motto, “You are better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can,” has long-defined the challenge. Just about anyone who's experienced and finished Leadville knows those words aren't a platitude; they mean something. You have to believe deep down you will finish. Just as with the hard rock miners of years past, if you dig deep enough, you will find silver and gold—in the form of the race’s famously huge finisher's belt buckle. But you'll find far more. Leadville takes you close to the razor’s edge of your limits and then deep into your own soul.

My 2010 buckle. Note the quarter, which is there for scale.
Even when we lived in Ohio until 2010, reading and re-reading enthralling accounts of the course and race, told by legendary mountain runners and Leadville winners like Anton Krupicka, Timothy Parr and Carpenter, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the race and town, dreaming of one day lining up for this legendary challenge. I reasoned that Leadville might be a stretch for a flatlander like me, but I still dreamt of it. (Side note: It is rumored that Krupicka, the night before winning the 2006 Leadville 100, slept in a local public restroom. Not sure if that's true but, if it is, it's hilarious.)

In 2010, my dream became a reality when Anne and I took advantage of the opportunity to relocate to a town southeast of Denver, Colorado, where we lived at 6,150 feet of elevation—more than a mile in a sky. When we arrived in Colorado, it was early spring and I still had time to register and train for the Leadville 100.

Amid my dreams of running this historic race was hesitation. I was scared, not of the distance but of the mountains and the elevation. Day after day I pulled up the registration page on my computer, never quite finding the courage to register. But then one day I got the nerve to sign up. Just like that, I was in. I had four months to get ready.

How did it turn out? Click here.

Monday, January 1, 2018

10 Secrets to Better Durability as a Runner

After learning 2017 marked my eleventh consecutive year of 3,000 or more miles of running (just running; daily dog walks not included), a friend asked for the secret to my "longevity." I guess I've never really thought much about my "longevity" because I've never really felt that what I do is all that interesting or groundbreaking. But I guess I am pretty durable and this is because of specific things I do and don't do.

Before going further, I do want to offer the following context: At 3,018 miles, 2017 was my lowest mileage year of the past eleven years in large part because of a knee injury in March, which plagued me through mid-May. I figure the knee injury easily robbed me of 100 miles. Add to that my DNF at Leadville, mostly due to my knee flaring up unexpectedly descending into Twin Lakes outbound, and that's another 50 miles I lost in 2017. So my knee easily cost me 150 miles. Were it not for that injury, I'm confident 2017 would have been another 3,200+ mile year.

As far as any secrets I may have that have contributed to my eleven straight years of running 3,000 or more miles (which, again, I don't consider all that special), below are 10 that come to mind. I honestly just think I have good genetics as far as my durability, but I am sure by chance I've stumbled upon a few beneficial practices over the years. Here goes: 

#1: Change out my shoes every 400-500 miles and rotate my shoes.
I track the mileage on my shoes and always change them out every 400-500 miles (usually closer to 400 miles). Additionally, I usually have a rotation of 2-3 pairs of shoes and I wear a different pair every day. I never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row unless I'm traveling (in which case I only have enough room to pack one pair of shoes). When you run, you're impacting your shoes. Giving them a "day off" helps them bounce back for the next run. I am sure some of you think that's BS but for me it's standard practice. By the way, my go-to shoe brand since 2011 has been Hoka One One.

#2: Run every day.
Simply put, I don't take many days off. I usually run every single day. Daily consistency, while sometimes feeling myopic, is crucial. I only take a day off if I'm feeling really run-down and/or sick to the point that I have a fever. I feel that moving every day has major benefits as far as injury prevention and overall wellness. Sometimes, if I have a little ache or pain, a run will actually make it feel better. That said, Monday is usually my easy day--I'll log maybe 4-5 miles slow on Mondays without any care for pace. If on a Monday I'm totally trashed from the weekend miles, I may sub in some time on our indoor bike trainer for a run. The key is to move every day.

#3: Avoid concrete and opt for the softest possible surfaces.
Where we live, it is impossible to totally avoid concrete but I make a conscientious effort to opt for the softest possible surfaces where possible. As I have aged, I have found that long runs on concrete will take a toll on me. So, basically, if you see me on concrete, it's because I'm running on it to get to the next section of trail or dirt road. Pavement is also usually okay for me but dirt is the preference.
In my first year if fatherhood (2008), I was known to
now and then partake in Red Bull before a long run. Red
Bull, while beneficial in certain circumstances, is
definitely not close to the source.
#4: Eat close to the source.
I have no real diet tricks and am adamantly opposed to "diet cults." Like most Americans, my diet can be up and down, especially over the holidays. That said, by and large, we eat lots of fresh vegetables (we also eat fruit but mostly during the summer), quality proteins, and organic foods. We absolutely do not drink calories--I only have water and coffee with half and half, though after a tough workout I will partake in a homemade green protein smoothie. I try to avoid too many packaged products but I do eat things like bottled salad dressings (even then I keep it simple like balsamic vinaigrette) and veggie chips. If I buy a packaged product, it has to have very few ingredients and I have to be able to pronounce all of them. Added sugar is usually a deal-breaker. Although it is hard to do, I try not to buy anything made by the big food companies because they absolutely do not care about my health. More on this subject here.


#5: Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Working full-time and being a dad, I wake up every day during the week usually by 4:30 or 4:40 to get in my run before heading to the office. Simply put, Monday through Friday, the pre-dawn hours are the only hours of the day that are truly mine. To ensure this schedule is sustainable, I go to bed every night at 9 'o clock. So that means I'm getting about 7.5 hours of sleep every single night. I never stay up past 9 during the work week because insufficient sleep, over time, is deadly to the runner's adrenal system.

#6: Love running.
This one may seem kind of trite but I love running and I think the positive attitude I bring to running every single day makes a huge difference. It's my passion. Admittedly, there have been some days where my mental outlook was sub-optimal before I left the house but invariably when I'm done with my run I'm in a much better place. Running has had a tremendous impact not just on my physical health but also on my psychological and spiritual health and I think all of that, in turn, has led to my "longevity."

#7: Avoid over-racing.
I think over-racing is right up there with insufficient sleep as a major trigger of adrenal fatigue in runners. In my younger days, I did race a bit more than I do now, but, overall, I have always maintained what I feel is a responsible race calendar in part because my family and work life leave only so much time. There was a stretch between 2015 and 2016 where I finished three 100-milers in ten months (Javelina 2015, Western States 2016, Leadville 2016) and I remember being really worried about what these races would do to me physically. I got through them but not without realizing that it was a bit too much for me. By and large, I race one 100-miler a year and occasionally two.

#8: Maintenance.
When I feel tightness, aches and/or pains, I try to address the problem area immediately. If it's a tight IT band, for example, you'll see me foam rolling and stretching. If my knee is a little flared up, I'll ice it. I try not to let injuries get out of hand. I also try to run through injuries where and when possible. I think you can run through many injuries so long as you're not stupid about it and doing all the right things between workouts. That said, I feel like I have a good sense of when an injury is significant enough to warrant time off. This was the case in 2017 when my knee blew up. I took several days off because I realized that hobbling through runs was just really stupid.

As far as maintenance, I also take NOW-brand vegetarian glucosamine (I am allergic to shellfish) as well as branched chain amino acids every day. During heavy training, I may also introduce First Endurance Optygen. I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with L-carnitine.

#9: Strength-training.
While I tend to be very lazy about lower-body weight training, in large part because it puts me in a recovery hole (I'm sure I overdo it when I train my legs), I am pretty good about keeping my upper body well-conditioned and I'm certain this has contributed to my "longevity." I frequently do push-ups and all kinds of dumbbell exercises to keep my arms and shoulders well-conditioned. I have also always been consistent with core training, though in 2017 this was tough due to what I think was a severely strained and/or torn ab muscle that plagued me for over ten months (still not 100%). But, by and large, I am consistent with my core work, push-ups and dumbbell exercises. 

#10: Incorporate quality.
At varying times of year, I use quality workouts to help with strength, speed and efficiency. This includes tempo runs, hill repeats, mile repeats, track intervals, etc. If all you do is LSD (long-slow distance), you will never get better, and over time will go stale and burn out due to lack of interest. Quality, for me, keeps running interesting. That said, I occasionally get lazy and do LSD runs every day, but usually, through self-awareness, I'm able to get out of the rut and reintroduce quality.

Bonus: Start slow.
In every single run, I always start super slow. Most of time, this is because I run with my dog in the first mile. He's a golden retriever and not too fast, so in the first mile of my run I'm usually going at 10-11-minute pace. Once I bring Nick back to the house, I find that I'm sufficiently warmed up and can then get after it. I think that, when you go out too fast and don't allow for a warm-up, you are subjecting yourself to injury risk.

So there you have it. I'm sure there's nothing in there that's groundbreaking but it's what I do to stay healthy and keep running strong.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thoughts on Harmony and 2018

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a blog post, written by ultrarunner Mark Carroll after the 2009 Mohican 100-Mile Run:

"At this point in the race Wyatt Hornsby must have been running a bit scared. Wyatt had just done something that he must have envisioned on a hundred training runs over the past year. It was bold and it was ballsy and it was unlikely. He had run well back from the frontrunners all day long; keeping them just within range. This was a wise strategy. But just a while ago his patience, alertness, and knowledge of the course allowed him to take over the lead from Mark Tanaka of San Francisco and he was now irrevocably committed to pulling off his goal of winning the Mohican Trail 100 Mile Run. This was the work of a believer. Wyatt was a good runner. In fact he had finished in the top five in a local 50K race on this very course a few months ago. But this was Tanaka’s race and everyone knew it. Well, almost everyone. Tanaka was the genuine deal. He was a member of the famous La Sportiva Mountain Running Team. Wyatt was running ruthlessly. He refused to walk on even some of the steepest climbs and increased his effort time and again over the final miles. Think of Rocky climbing off the canvas for a knockout. Wyatt crossed the line to the delight of all skinny-low-heart-rated Ohioans, in first place in 19:52."

Needless to say, that got me fired up (my report from that race here). It reminded me of a time when I felt I could almost float over the trail. I ran fearlessly in races because I knew I was in such great shape. I knew that I could push myself super hard and still have gas in the tank for a strong finish. A lot has changed since then, and I'm not just talking about age. I realize that I have gotten away from certain training practices that really helped me then and that could help me now. I am working to re-integrate those practices. No need to talk about them here; the important thing is that I am doing them.

***

With 2017 coming to an end, I am starting to think about my race schedule for 2018. It has been a challenging year on a few fronts and I am excited about 2018.  I recently heard a guest on the Rich Roll Podcast (excellent podcast show, by the way) equate the endurance athlete's life to a three-legged stool. One leg is their professional life/job. Another leg is their family. The third leg is their training. If one of those legs is compromised in any way, the stool comes apart and the athlete falters. One's life needs to be in balance--in harmony--for optimal performance on the road and trail. I am looking for harmony in 2018, and I feel that my heart is in a really good place right now, which is a good sign.

With that said, I managed to finish 2017 with a decent performance at the local Turkey Trot 5K. Despite very little speedwork going into the race, I pulled off an 18:48, good for sixth overall in a field of more than 2,200 runners and walkers. The five runners who finished in front of me were all high schoolers, so not bad. But let me tell you: 5Ks hurt! I am confident that, with proper training, I might have a shot at once again going sub-18 for 5K. I've started getting back to the track every single week, recognizing that it'll pay off in a big way in races of all distances in 2018. When it comes to speed, "use it or lose it." I am committed, as in ironclad committed, to running hard at the track weekly from here on out.

Also for 2017, I am on pace to finish the year with a little more than 3,000 miles. This will be my eleventh consecutive year with 3,000 or more miles. It'll be my lowest-mileage year of the eleven but I'll take it as I suffered through a really nasty knee injury in the early spring that had me wondering if I would be running and racing at all in 2017 (it's ultimately what took me out at Leadville this year). That little knee tweak aside, I am so grateful for the durability my body gives me every year.

***

Lottery gods permitting, 2018 will feature a return to the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. If that's the case, I'll be lining up for my sixth finish. I am still chasing the 1,000-mile buckle at Leadville. At this point, it seems so far away. If the 1,000-mile buckle were parallel with the race course itself, I have just gotten to Winfield (the halfway point) and am turning around for the arduous trip back up and over Hope Pass. I am very inspired to get after it at Leadville in 2018.

If I get into Leadville, then I am confident the rest of the 2018 schedule will shape up nicely. I am looking at a potential outing in April to the Grand Canyon, where some buddies and I will run rim-to-rim-to-rim. I have always wanted to run the Canyon and am excited.

So 2018 could be looking like the Grand Canyon in April and Leadville in August. Add to that a potential Colfax Marathon in May and the Leadville Trail Marathon in June and that looks like a pretty good spring and summer schedule to me.

If I don't get into Leadville, I'll likely register for the Never Summer 100K, a grueling mountain race here in Colorado, followed by either Run Rabbit Run up in Steamboat Springs or Javelina Jundred in the hot Arizona desert. I am kind of leaning toward Steamboat.

Would love to hear what your race schedule in 2018 is looking like. Chime in if you'd like.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reader Question: Good Track Workouts for Speed and Strength

Someone asked me a few days ago for help in designing some good-quality track workouts to build speed and strength. This person is an ultrarunner and wants to stave off the effects of Father Time. It just so happens that right now I am working hard to get back to the track on a regular basis--and already I am seeing the benefits--so we had a lot to talk about!

Phot Credit: https://pixabay.com
When I was running in top form, it was because I was committed to executing intense track and tempo workouts every single week. These workouts made me much stronger and faster. They also boosted my economy, which is huge when you're racing distances up to 100 miles.

I remember an old friend of mine once saying to me, "after a while, you find that you need the track workouts." He was right. If you stick with them, you will get faster, stronger and mentally tougher. If you get lazy and quit going to the track every week because of excuses, you will get slower and sluggish and your running economy (and race performance and results) will suffer. 

Slow and sluggish is where I've been for a few years now, but I am determined (committed, really) to get fast again. On Thanksgiving day, I managed a decent 5K time (18:48, 6th overall out of 2,200 runners and walkers) in our local Turkey Trot race but it was anything but smooth for me. I had to go into the hurt locker big time to get it. I believe that with regular sessions at the track, I will see big payoffs in 2018 races of all distances, including the 100-mile distance. So I'm all in. And the same can be said of you, too, if you make the track a part of your training on a weekly basis. Be sure to work into it gradually, or else you elevate your risk of injury, especially if you are a masters or grandmasters athlete.

And let me just emphasize that intervals on the road, while better than no intervals at all, are not the same as intervals at the track. The track allows for comparable results over time, and it's also just really mentally hard for some people to run around an oval. The track makes you mentally tougher and physically faster.

With that, my bread and butter workouts from years ago (I am gradually easing back into these workouts week by week), which I highly recommend for distance runners, are:
  • 3x1600 meters (1600 meters is 4 full laps around the track) all-out. For me, this was about 5:30-5:35/mile when I was in peak form. Very difficult workout that will push you mentally and physically, but it builds strength that pays off late in races, when others are faltering. Do very easy 400-meter recoveries in between (feel free to walk some in the recoveries). Make no mistake about it; 3x1600 meters hard will be quite uncomfortable but the payoff is huge. Sometimes you have to go through hell to get to heaven.
  • 5x1600 meters at 90-95% of all-out effort. For me, this was about 5:48-5:55/mile. This workout builds strength more than speed. It was my favorite workout by far. Again, do very easy 400-meter recoveries in between.
  • 2x3200 meters at 90% of all-out effort. I always shot for under 12 minutes for each, usually coming in at 11:45-11:50 or so. Again, this workout builds strength and mental toughness. Do extremely easy 400-800-meter recoveries in between. This workout is more a "graduate-level" endeavor. Get comfortable with mile repeats before you "graduate" to 3200s.
What I did was rotate these. One week, I did 3x1600s. The next week I did 5x1600s. The third week I did 2x3200s. Then I started over with the cycle.

For each of those three workouts, you want to pace yourself so your last interval set is your fastest. And call me old-school but I feel that you should be pretty gassed when your workout is done. If you're not gassed, you didn't go hard enough.

Then there are shorter workouts that are also great, like Yasso 800s and good old-fashioned 400s run very fast. But, for me, the greatest ROI always came from the three workouts listed above.

One final note: I always run a 2-mile warm-up, along with a handful of 100-meter striders to activate the fast-twitch muscle fiber, before getting after it on the track. Not doing an adequate warm-up will significantly elevate your risk of injury, so be sure to jog a few miles beforehand and bust out some striders before starting the workout. Then cool-down with at least a mile or two and recover with a healthy meal and plenty of fluids.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Reader Question: 10 Tips for Taking Up Running

Dear Wyatt:

I used to run (just a few miles at a time, nothing big) and got out of it when we started a family and got busy. I'd like to get back into it but I'm pretty out of shape and am daunted by it because I'm not in that great a shape anymore. Any tips you can share?

Dan T.

Dear Dan:

Yiannis Kouros.
Congratulations on coming back to running! Running is a big step toward better health and wellness, but also toward self-discovery, new friendships and incredibly meaningful experiences that you'll never forget.

The beauty of running is its simplicity. Unlike swimming, where you have to find a pool, and cycling, where you often have to spend a lot of money and ride time indoors during the winter (note: I am a big fan of both sports), in running all you need is yourself and not much else.

When people ask me for help in taking up running (or, in your case, coming back to running after some time off), I really try to keep it simple--since running is, at its essence, very simple. Just go outside and run. Run as far as you can. Then the next day, run a little farther. Have fun. Breathe in the air. Enjoy the nature all around you. Whether it’s summer or winter, any time outdoors is a gift. Moving over the land is a magical experience.

But I realize that saying “go run and have fun" may not be enough. People want details. Assuming you have seen your doctor and been cleared for a regular exercise regiment (important, especially after taking time off and coming back), here are 10 running tips plus a bonus tip:
  1. Run in quality shoes designed for your foot type. A car is only as good as its tires. It’s the same with running shoes. Visit a specialty running store that will match you up with the right shoes. It's always ideal to start off in new shoes. If your budget is tight, get whatever running shoes you can. That’s what I did in my early years. A word of caution on running shoes: Never buy a shoe just for its looks; buy according to comfort. Running shoes will last about four to five hundred miles. Keep track of your mileage so you know when to replace them. Always replace your shoes if you start experiencing foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain.
  2. Run in socks specifically made for running. Avoid socks that are cotton and instead shoot for socks made from Coolmax fabric, which will help prevent blisters. I've tried almost every brand of sock and know what works for me. Find what works for you.
  3. Have a positive attitude and be patient. As you get in better shape, you'll find that running feels more natural and is less and less of a struggle. Start gradually. If running is new to you, start off with a five-minute walk, one-minute run/jog routine and add onto your running time as your fitness improves. Above all, be patient.
  4. Sprinkle in some cross-training. Cycling, swimming and the elliptical trainer are great non-impact cross-training options. When I'm really in a zone and clicking off big miles to prepare for a race, I often don’t have much time to cross-train. Big mistake. Cross-training works different muscles, helps correct and protect against muscle imbalances and gives your legs a break from the impact. Make time for it.
  5. Drink plenty of water (but not too much). Drink some water before your run (but not too much) and rehydrate with water after your run. Don't force water on yourself; drinking too much water can result in hyponatremia. As a rule of thumb, drink to thirst. Take some water with you if it’s hot. You don’t need sports drinks unless you’re running over ninety minutes and even then you may not need them. Sports drinks are full of sugar. Water is all you need most of the time.
  6. Run on the softest-possible surfaces, which are gentler on your joints. This is especially important for those who are overweight. If you don't have access to dirt trails or dirt roads, run on asphalt in safe areas.
  7. If resources allow, run in breathable clothing. Scandinavians have a saying that goes something along the lines of, “there’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing.” Having run in almost all conditions, I agree. What you wear on a run can make all the difference. Wear breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics like Coolmax. Coolmax apparel for running is easy to find and readily available at your specialty running store, online, and at many big-box retailers.
  8. Work on flexibility. Static stretching (where you hold a position) can be stressful on your muscles when done incorrectly. Before a run, I do some leg swings to activate my hamstrings and hips. I also engage in other dynamic stretches. Stretching between runs is also beneficial. Yoga is a great way to stay limber and protect against injury, but don’t overdo it.
  9. Work your core. For the runner, strong legs are king, but so is a well-developed core that includes the abs, hips, glutes and back. Planks are great for core and overall strengthening.
  10. Set manageable, realistic goals. If finishing a marathon is your ultimate goal, start by setting manageable supporting goals that prepare you for 26.2 miles. Focus on a strong effort at a local 5K or maybe even 10K and then work up from there. Rome wasn't built overnight! Look into local running clubs, where you'll benefit from knowledge, experience and camaraderie. Support from others will help you work toward and achieve your goals.
  11. Bonus: Be safe. If you’re going to run in the dark, please wear a headlamp, reflective gear, and ideally a blinking red light. Also carry identification and a mobile phone. Consider a RoadID bracelet. You can buy the lights and reflective gear at a specialty running or cycling shop.
The most important tip is also the simplest one: Just go run. What are you waiting for? Good luck, Dan!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Jim Walmsley

Disclaimer: I don't know Jim Walmsley. I have never spoken with him. Below are my own thoughts and feelings about what transpired on Saturday at Western States.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard the news of what went down this past weekend at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. The odds-on-favorite, Jim Walmsley dropped out of "the Big Dance" at the American River after what can only be described as a very aggressive first 60-something miles. A year ago, he missed a turn some 90 miles into the race, when he was on course record pace, and lost the lead.

Jim's DNF per se isn't why I'm writing this post. And, honestly, not even his fairly uncomfortable pre-race interview with iRunFar, in which he may or may not have had a few too many drinks and said things he shouldn't have said, is why I'm writing this blog. But let me just say for the record that the iRunFar interview was bad!

The reason I'm writing this blog is the reaction to Jim's failure on Saturday...which I find troubling upon some reflection. On the one hand, there are those applauding his "guts," "aggressiveness" and "balls." I get that--what he did was ballsy and probably a bit stupid given the precarious trail conditions in the high country and the very warm conditions throughout. On the other hand, there are those pouncing on his failure, kicking him while he's down as he really put his foot in his mouth in that iRunFar interview and, as the story goes, got his just deserts on Saturday when he was denied a win and a finish as a result of arrogantly going out too hard. His DNF was karma, some say.

Both sides have some merit to their arguments. But I would submit that Jim is probably living with some regret right now. This is not a bad guy. Despite that iRunFar interview, this is not a guy who lives to put down and disrespect his competition and run recklessly. I think this is a guy who is 27 years-old, a world-class athlete, and a big believer in his own amazing abilities. He over-committed himself early on in Saturday's race and paid the price for it in a race that really doesn't start until after Foresthill (mile 62), when he found himself out of gas.

Just to get right to the point: To some, Jim is the quintessential millennial. Which I think is unfair.

Jim made a mistake, paid for it and is probably now learning from it the hard way. Rather than kick the guy while he's down, we should recognize what he did on Saturday for what it was: a very public learning experience. If there is one thing I've gleaned from more than a few years in this sport, it's that world-class athletes don't think like those of us with regular or even above-average abilities do. They are world-class athletes in part because they have a huge mental edge, and not just physical talents. It might be hard for us regular folks to understand that edge--it may come off in the wrong way sometimes.

Jim's mental edge, which usually serves him well, probably got the better of him Saturday, leading him on a fatally flawed strategy when the best plan would have been what he himself was probably incapable of doing at the time: starting off conservatively, adjusting to the course conditions and weather, and letting the win--and not course record--come to him.

I don't know Jim but when I see things like this, I can't help but think he's a good guy who probably had a few too many drinks before his iRunFar interview and started howling at the moon when the cameras were on. He had a bad moment and things came unraveled on Saturday when all eyes were on him. Simply put, he erred in some critical areas and has paid for it with a high-profile DNF.

Jim Walmsley is one of the most talented ultrarunners this sport has ever seen. He puts in the work and trains super hard. He races all-in (sometimes too all-in), just as Steve Prefontaine did (I do not use that comparison lightly). He is very aggressive and confident in his own abilities. Sometimes he takes it a bit too far, as he did in his iRunFar interview and race. But, as someone who sincerely enjoys this sport and watching new talent come in and take the greatest races by storm, and as someone who has also made some mistakes on the trail over the years, my sincere hope is that Jim learns from this experience, grows from it, reaches out to a few folks who he may have dissed, and comes back next year and gets the win that he has been chasing for a few years. I hope he learns some humility and will get that win next year the old-fashioned way--with his head down and doing what needs to get done from Squaw to Auburn.

I hope he gets it right after getting it wrong two years in a row. Because, as Andy Jones-Wilkins observed, that's what Western States is all about. It's about finally getting it right when maybe you have gotten it wrong.

  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

If You're Running Western States This Weekend, This Could Be the Single Most Important Thing You Do

This morning, I checked the weather for this weekend in Auburn, California (the finish of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run) and saw this:


101 degrees is no joke--and neither is a low of 69! That would tie for the third hottest WSER on record. I have written at length about how my race last year fell apart in the canyons. I am still amazed that I somehow finished that sucker. If you are lucky enough to be running States, this weekend you will get lots of advice. I know I did last year. Overall, I took the advice except for one nugget of wisdom that, looking back on it, might well could have been the difference between my 26-hour-and-change finish and a sub-24, which I was fully capable of achieving.

This weekend you will hear many advice-givers encourage you to take full advantage of the water on the course--the streams, the river, and of course the ice at the aid stations. That is dead-on. But let me take it one step further and make it as precise as possible:

When you reach the bottom of the insanely hot Deadwood Canyon and are greeted by a raging river, do yourself a favor and get in it. 

Last year, when I reached the bottom of the canyon (mile 45 or so), I thought to myself, "I'm not that hot. I did plenty of heat training and am good to go. Skip the river and onward!" Huge mistake. No sooner than a few hundred feet up the nasty climb to Devil's Thumb (and it is very nasty), I was melting from the heat. By the time I reached Devil's Thumb, I was was overheated, leading to major stomach distress at the aid station that ultimately plagued me through Foresthill (and then after that the damage was done). Had I taken the good advice I'd gotten and soaked for a few minutes in the river at the bottom of the canyon, I would have gone into the climb up to Devil's Thumb much cooler and my stomach might have held together. But I didn't and I paid for it...and I believe it was the single biggest mistake I made--a mistake that cost me hours and hours.

So, on Saturday, when you reach the bottom of ridiculously hot Deadwood Canyon and are looking at the wall of a climb in front of you, take stock for a second. The 2-3 minutes you spend in the river might actually save you hours in the long run. Get in the river. Soak for a short bit. Get your head, neck, wrists and entire body in that cold water. You will be glad you did it.

Enjoy the race and get it done! It's an amazing experience.