Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is the End of Ultrarunning as We Know It Here?

"Money talks and bull%&$@ walks."

I recently read a blog post by a well-liked, highly regarded elite ultrarunner who discusses the emerging trend of big prize purses in the sport. As Exhibit A, he points to the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship, a 50-mile race in San Francisco that offers $10,000 to the winner and attracts the sport's best from around the world. In ultrarunning, $10,000 is a huge purse but, to The North Face, it's pocket change. This particular ultrarunner keeps a really awesome blog and always shares a well-informed perspective on things, and so his opinion on the state of things in the sport definitely carries weight. You can read his post here.

Marion Jones, a five-time Olympic medalist sprinter, was busted for PED use during the BALCO investigation. She has forfeited all medals and now lives in disgrace.
First of all, let me admit the obvious: Big purses wouldn't really affect or influence me since I'm not an elite ultrarunner and wouldn't ever be in play for a win at a major race. So my perspective is more from a dude who just loves the sport and wants what's best for it. Now that that's been established....

Ben Johnson, a Canadian sprinter, "won" the gold medal for 100 meters at the 1988 Olympic Games, beating the likes of Carl Lewis. And yet, even though he had just captured the title of "fastest man in the world," he didn't crack a smile or show much joy at all. A few days later, he was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for PEDs.
When I worked in politics many years ago, I witnessed some crazy things. Campaigns are in some ways like long-distance races--lots of peaks and valleys and jockeying for position. But unlike ultrarunning, there is very little honor in politics. It's mostly about money and power. And so there is a reason I left politics behind and entered a new sector (health care) six years ago. Anyway, life experience has made me realize one sad truth about human beings:

At the end of the day, it's usually about money. Decisions, motivations, behaviors--they usually center around money. Why has The North Face put up a $10,000 prize at the San Francisco race? Because  the company sees the race as an opportunity to grow its brand and...make money.
In the past few years, the veil of secrecy has been lifted off professional cycling, baseball, and track and field, exposing the alarming influence of performance-enhancers (curiously, football has somehow evaded this exposure despite the fact that it's plain as day that steroids are a HUGE problem in the sport). Marion Jones. Mark McGwire. Floyd Landis. (Update: Add 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador to the list; he, too, was busted for PEDs and may have his 2010 Tour win wiped from the record books.) They--and many others--have all been exposed as performance-enhancing drug (PED) users. They've been disgraced. But guess what? They're also millionaires.

Few baseball seasons were more magical than 1998, when Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs smashed Roger Maris' single-season homerun record of 61, "saving" baseball. McGwire shattered the record, hitting 70 bombs, while Sosa hit 66 out of the park. There were quiet rumors of McGwire using steroids, and who can forget his unwillingness to "talk about the past" when he was summoned before Congress in 2003. Not until recently did he finally come clean, admitting to steroid use. Today, he coaches for the Cardinals, but, despite his amazing stats, "Big Mac" likely won't be enshrined in Cooperstown anytime soon.
Why did they do it? Well, I'm sure they're all fiercely competitive and, at one time, were in their respective sports for all the right reasons. But ultimately PED use in professional sports comes down to getting paid lots of money...and then more money on top of that. Endorsements. Fame. Big contracts. Sponsorships. "Celebrity" appearances. Speaking engagements. Book deals. What do they all have in common? Money. Yeah, it's about getting paid and, in many cases, greed.

An incredibly talented cyclist who rode with Lance Armstrong for years, Floyd Landis won the Tour de France in 2006, coming back from a rough stage 16 and overcoming a serious hip condition to take and keep the lead. Shortly after the '06 Tour, Landis was stripped of his win and suspended for 3 years for PED use. Like Jose Canseco in baseball, Landis seemed intent on exposing PED abuse in the sport and has more or less been "blackballed" from cycling.
And so, probably like you, I love the sport of ultrarunning. It's been good to me. It's provided me with some of the most meaningful moments of my when, motivated by my wife, I got out of the cot at the Mayqueen aid station at the Leadville 100, having been stricken with altitude sickness, and finished the damn race to get the sub-25-hour buckle. I didn't do it for money--there wasn't any cash waiting for me at the finish. All that was waiting for me were memories, pride, hugs and kisses...and a buckle.

Eddie Hellebuyck was once near the top of the sport of marathoning. A dominant master's runner, he tested positive for EPO in 2004 and for years denied that he took PEDs. But then recently he spilled his guts to Runner's World, admitting to EPO use.
My love of the sport of ultrarunning means it's hard for me to imagine it as something other than what it was intended to be--dedicated men and women running crazy distances, supporting and looking out for each other, forming a tight-knit community...and doing it all for nothing. Maybe just a buckle and some pride, thank you very much.

If big purses invade the sport of ultrarunning, and unfortunately it's already happening, what's going to stop a new crop of unscrupulous individuals--greedy money-chasers like Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, and Floyd Landis--from taking EPO, HGH and whatever to finish first, collect the cash and move on to the next race?

I don't really worry about the current crop of superstars falling prey to PEDs--they're doing it the right way and are good people from what I understand. Instead, I worry about money chasers invading the sport and doing whatever they have to--taking PEDs, cutting the course, etc.--to win the cash. And what would stop them? Ultrarunning doesn't test for PEDs! But let's for a second put ourselves in the honest athletes' shoes. How would they react if they're training the right way and yet being beaten by juicers who can run at a sick pace up big climbs thanks to EPO, and quickly move onto the next race without skipping a beat thanks to the regenerative power of HGH?

It would be the end of ultrarunning as we know it. Or maybe the end is here...or fast approaching?

Put a lot of money on the table and people will do crazy things to get it.

Don't for a second think ultrarunning is above all of this.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"Miners, muckers and mean MF'ers": The story of Leadville & tips on finishing the "Race Across the Sky"

Writer's note: This post has been in the works for a while and I've finally completed it!
Updated: 7.20.2011

So, you're drawn to Leadville and that big silver and gold belt buckle? Let me tell you about my own experience with "The Race Across the Sky" and share a few observations. Maybe that'll help you decide whether or not to take on the big, bad Colorado Rocky Mountains and one of the nation and world's most famous 100-mile foot races.

My El Plato Grande buckle. Note the quarter, which gives
you a good idea of how big the buckle is.

Leadville. It captures the imagination. It captured mine. It still does. In times like these, people are looking for fulfillment and meaning. They feel pulled to a place like Leadville. Only Leadville is more than a place. It's a state of mind. It's an experience. It changes you. Forever.

Not that long ago, the very idea of completing the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run was but a crazy dream because at the time I lived at sea level--Cleveland, Ohio to be exact. Cleveland has some challenging hills and some amazing trails (along with a wonderfully vibrant running community that makes Northeast Ohio a hotbed of ultrarunning), but what it doesn't have are huge, rocky mountains and thin air. The city of Leadville, as many know, is situated at 10,200 feet deep in the Colorado Rockies and is the highest incorporated city in North America. The 100-mile foot race is run entirely between elevations of 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. That's more than 2 miles in the sky, hence its well-known "Race Across the Sky" nickname. Incidentally, the Leadville Trail Marathon tops out at nearly 13,200 feet and is, quite simply, a vicious slap across one's face, but nonetheless a great experiece in and of itself as it's run on old mining roads.

When we decided to move to Colorado in 2009, races like the Leadville 100 and Hard Rock 100, along with dreams of life out West and experiencing the outdoors with my wife, Anne, and our son, Noah, were big motivators. I instantly set my sights on Leadville and, in the longer term, Hard Rock, which is even more difficult. Only a few weeks after arriving in Colorado in early April of 2010, I made the plunge and registered for both the 2010 Leadville Trail Marathon and Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. As chronicled on here, I completed both (4:55 in the Leadville Marathon and 24:47 in the Leadville 100), but not without suffering through miles and miles of thin air trekking up some nasty climbs (also click here for my 2011 Leadville Marathon report). For as long as I live, I will never forget the death marches up 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass (the turnaround point for the Leadville Marathon) and up the backside of 12,600-foot Hope Pass, more than 50 miles into the 100. I'd be remiss in not also mentioning the difficulty of the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb more than 80 miles into the 100.

For this lifelong flatlander turned Coloradan, these struggles weren't about a lack of leg strength or endurance (I have plenty of both); they were about oxygen debt. When you go into oxygen debt, you go into slow motion. You might eventually come down with altitude sickness.

Ultrarunning is by its very nature a noble sport. It requires extraordinary strength of character, a well-trained mind and body, and plenty of determination. It's an up-before-dawn, day-in-and-day-out, blood-sweat-and-tears, rain-sleet-and-snow endeavor. Most ultrarunners I know are very humble, salt-of-the-earth people who would give the shirt off their back to help another. I can't decide if ultrarunning brings out these qualities, or if ultrarunning attracts people with these qualifies. My guess is some of both. At any rate, Leadville is a tangible manifestation of these qualities. In order to complete (note that I'm using "complete," not "attempt") a race like Leadville, you have to be humble and have character, yes, but you also need a little mojo and, deep down, you need confidence. You have to believe in yourself and--I would argue--a higher power far greater than your own abilities. And, you have to believe in the motto of the race:
You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.
Just about anyone who's experienced and finished Leadville knows those words aren't a platitude; they mean something. Because when the chips are down and you're climbing Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass in the middle of the night--with more than 80 grueling miles on your severely trashed legs--you have to dig deep and believe that, yes, you can do it. In the spirit of the hard rock miners, if you dig deep enough, you will find silver and gold--in the form of a finisher's belt buckle. But you'll find far more. Leadville takes you close to the edge (I would guess races like Badwater and Hard Rock take you even further to the edge) and deep into your own soul--places you've probably never been.

It is hard to describe what it was like, and how hard it was, to complete high-altitude races of 26.2 miles and 100 miles, respectively, when for the first 37 years of my life I breathed thick, voluminous sea level air. When you're running or, as often is the case, hiking at 12,000 or 13,000 feet, the very act of eating (if you even feel the urge to eat) is hard work. (LT100 record-holder Matt Carpenter reportedly dissolved PowerBars in water for his raceday fuel.) Your legs are You can't really catch your breath. You feel deflated. Your head may be pounding or, at best, you're dizzy. You're in slow motion. And all the while you're above treeline, where the weather can change in an instant. You're shuffling along a rocky, technical trail that requires your full attention. On my first summit of Pikes Peak back in June, I quickly realized when I was post-holing through 3-foot-deep snow at more than 13,000 feet--and fighting acute exhaustion--that I wasn't in Ohio anymore. The following photo from my Pikes Peak adventure in June (I've since summitted Pikes for a second time) illustrates the point. Yes, those are clouds far below.

It took several months to really acclimate to life at more than a mile in the sky (our home is in Parker, Colorado, which is at 6,100 feet and about two hours from Leadville). I've nearly had to learn to run again; the stress high-altitude running places on your mind and body is enormous compared to that of sea level running. My Leadville 100 training landed me with a devastating foot injury for which I'm still being treated--an injury that stemmed from the ungodly strain of high-altitude training combined with blissful ignorance. I'm hopeful that in 2011, with a year of living at elevation under my belt (and hopefully a healthy foot), I'll see big improvement in both my Leadville Marathon and Leadville 100 times. I don't mind saying that I never could have finished the Leadville 100 had I not had a supportive wife, an inspirational son, an amazing crew consisting of my brother and mom, and inspiring pacers...along with the intangible experience of finishing four races of 100+ miles. Yes, I dug deep.

One of those races was a win at the Mohican Trail 100-Mile Run in 2009. Yeah, on the heels of the Mohican win, I thought I was kind of a badass. And then we moved to Colorado and I ventured to Leadville, where I was humbled and got my ass handed to me not once but twice--the marathon in July and the 100-miler seven weeks later. In the 100, 700+ runners started. Half finished. And of the finishers, only 99 of us earned the big-ass sub-25-hour buckle. About five miles out, I passed a dude who had been trying for five years to get the sub-25 buckle...and valiantly came up short every time. I worked for 24 hours and 47 minutes for that buckle, coming back from the dead at the Mayqueen aid station (mile 86.5), where I was laid up for more than 40 minutes with altitude sickness.


For me, the allure of Leadville isn't just the mountains; it's also the city itself. Leadville has a truly extraordinary "boom and bust" history. At one time, Leadville was among the wealthiest cities in Colorado--a bustling mining town and silver mecca two miles in the sky. It's where fortunes were made and lost. And it's certainly a town with its fair share of colorful characters. Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp hung out there. Lots of outlaws came through town. Maybe this is why the Leadville 100 has such a cowboy feel to it (to me, the term "cowboy" conjures up good thoughts; it is indeed unfortunate that the term has now taken on negative connotations). During World War II, soldiers at nearby Camp Hale were forbidden to go into downtown Leadville, where prostitution, drinking and general carousing were a way of life.

The city boasts a beautiful opera house, built in 1879 by Horace Austin Warner Tabor, who was Leadville's first mayor and ultimately made millions in the mining business. If you're from Leadville or even if you live in Denver like we do, the names Horace Austin Warner Tabor and Baby Doe Tabor are quite familiar. At miles 7 and 93 in the Leadville 100 course, runners may access their crew at the Tabor Boat Ramp, named in honor of Horace and Baby Doe, who sadly died broke. Baby Doe froze to death in their Matchless Mine.

In "Born to Run," McDougall paints a rather animated picture of Leadville. As previously reviewed on here, McDougall is quite the storyteller and, at times, colorful, with a tendency for exaggeration. But I think he does a nice job of depicting Leadville, where in the early to mid 90s the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico's dangerous Copper Canyons fielded some incredible runners including the team that bested the indomitable Ann Trason, contributing to the Leadville 100 legend. (As depicted by McDougall, Trason was a petite "community-college science teacher" who routinely opened up a can of whoop-ass during ultra races, compiling an unparalleled running resume over the course of her historic career.) In many corners of the ultrarunning world, the Leadville 100 is nearly mythical, and I think the city and its people are a big reason why the Leadville 100 and the entire Leadville racing series are so unique.

Although Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp are long-gone, the residents of Leadville nowadays are still pretty tough folks. Living at 10,000+ feet, with the brutal winters of the Colorado high country, is hard living. As quoted in "Born to Run," Ken Chlouber says Leadville is a home to "miners, muckers and mean mother fuckers." Living in Leadville got even harder as the 1900s progressed. The repeal of the 1928 Sherman Silver Purchase Act was a dagger near the heart of Leadville, whose economy centered a great deal around silver mining. But the town, sitting atop highly mineralized earth, had more than silver to mine. It had lead and zinc--and plenty of it. And so the Leadville economy survived the doing-away of the Sherman Act.

But then in the early 1980s, disaster struck. In 1982, the hulking Climax mine just outside Leadville started undergoing a closure. The mine, which you pass on the way into Leadville on Highway 24, was a major source of molybdenum, which is used to strengthen steel. In fact, it was the world's largest "moly" mine, supplying about 75% of the international supply of the metal. The mine is still owned, but it's largely inactive. There has been talk of it reopening, but demand for "moly" isn't quite strong enough right now, and so the mine remains closed.

The Climax mine's closure was a disaster for Leadville. According to McDougall, some eighty percent of working Leadville citizens were employed at the mine. With the closure, the city suddenly faced a grave crisis. With a huge unemployment problem following the mine closing, alcoholism, wife abuse, and other types of violence escalated to alarming levels. What Leadville endured in those very dark years was described as "civic death." It faced a future as a ghost town. Lots of folks left.

Well, a guy named Ken Chlouber, a very tough dude who was a hardrock miner, had an idea. With Leadville's future hanging in the balance, let's see if we can turn this town into a tourist attraction and endurance junkie's heaven--even if the winters are brutal and the city is at a suffocating 10,000+ feet. So Chlouber founded what McDougall calls "a monster": the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. Ken was inspired by Gordy Ainsleigh, founder of the Western States 100. The Leadville 100 just wrapped up its 26th year, and is now a centerpiece of a series of high-altitude mountain races that bring major talent and lots of bodies to the area. The series includes the 100-mile mountain bike race that Lance Armstrong won in 2009 and Levi Leipheimer won in 2010. But when you're talking about the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race, you have to give props to the all-time legend, Dave Wiens.

It's easy to see that the Leadville racing series provides a major economic boost to the city of Leadville. For the most part, the entire town gets behind the races. The events bring in not only the racers themselves, but also their crew and pacers, as well as plenty of spectators. These people eat in the Leadville restaurants, stay in the hotels and lodges, shop in the stores and generally consume a lot, creating a critical revenue stream for a city with a struggling economy.

Sadly, this past summer, Ken and his longtime race partner, Merilee Maupin, sold the Leadville race series to Lifetime Fitness. I ran in the last Leadville 100 "owned and operated" by Ken and Merilee. The series is now owned by a big corporation. Let's hope Lifetime Fitness keeps these races distinctively "Leadville" in nature, honoring the legacy of a great city and its hard-rock mining tradition. Anything less would be a tragedy.


If you're interested in trying the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run, allow me to offer a few observations based on my own experience, what I've learned from others, and mistakes I made.
  • Know what you're getting yourself into. It's clear that McDougall's book is bringing a lot of people to Leadville every summer. I wanted to run the Leadville 100 prior to reading "Born to Run," but I have to say the book raised my interest to an even higher level. When I was coming down Hope Pass, I saw lots of folks struggling badly up the mountain. Most of them were close to the cut-off and probably had to drop. I saw one guy lay down on a rock totally exhausted. If you do Leadville, just know that this race is very different than a sea level event.
  • If at all possible, spend some time at altitude before the race, especially if you've never been to the high country. In training for the LT100, I did three runs in Leadville (including the marathon), had summitted Pikes Peak and did several training runs above 7,000 feet, hard runs--as in 6:50-7:10/mile pace--on a treadmill set at 13% incline (which are likely responsiblee for my plantar fasciitis), along with running 1,500 miles in 15 weeks...and that wasn't enough to compensate for my inexperience at high altitude. Ideally, if you can do the Leadville 100 Training Camp in June, go for it--it's a golden opportunity to experience the course, learn from LT100 vets (which I'm NOT since I'm just a one-time finisher) and meet other runners.
  • Piggybacking off the previous tip, have a plan for raceday nutrition. I didn't realize that what worked for me at sea level wasn't necessarily going to work at altitude. Going into the 2011 race, I'm going to experiment with liquid calories such as Perpetuem and figure out precisely what works for me. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raceday nutrition. Figure out what works for you, but know that for many eating solids at 10,000+ feet can be brutal.
  • If nothing else, for pre-race on-course training do the Hope Pass double-crossing out-and-back, starting at and coming back to Twin Lakes.
  • Work on your hiking, especially uphill hiking. You will hike some of the front side of Hope Pass and basically all of the backside of the pass. You will also hike a big portion of the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb. Training runs are seperate from training hikes, but you could incorporate both into your long outings.
  • I carried trekking poles over Hope Pass and up the Powerline/Sugarloaf climb. Do I recommend them for all LT100 entrants? For some runners, yes. For other runners, no. I will likely NOT carry them in the 2011 LT100 but my crew will have them on hand just in case. My concern about trekking poles at the LT100 is that going up Hope Pass you probably don't want to wear a Camelbak because it's too heavy. You probably want to carry a single water bottle and maybe have a second bottle on a belt. It's hard to handle a water bottle when you also have trekking poles.
  • If your goal is to finish the LT100, I would avoid doing the Leadville Trail Silver Rush 50-Mile Run, which many use as a training run, since it's 6-7 weeks before the 100 and I think that's not enough time to fully recover from 50 miles at altitude. Instead, I would do the Leadville Trail Marathon in early July as a trainer and plan to venture to Leadville plenty in the following weeks for training runs. Basically any race in Leadville is going to be a significant undertaking, so plan some recovery time if you opt for the marathon as a trainer. Disclaimer: The Leadville Marathon and Silver Rush 50-Mile Run are not run on the LT100 course!
  • Hope Pass will likely be snow-covered through June. The best time to train on Hope Pass is July and early August. Otherwise bring snow shoes or just post-hole.
  • If you want a rough idea of what it's like to run at altitudes of 12,000+ feet, get on a treadmill and breathe through a straw or two for several minutes.
  • Do a lot of hill training. If you live in or near the mountains, there's your training ground.
  • If you live at sea level and have the resources, consider buying an altitude chamber.
  • Bring a crew and I would suggest two pacers. The crew will be critical especially from the first Twin Lakes aid station (mile 40) through the end. I would recommend at least two pacers--one who can pace you over Hope Pass and back down to Twin Lakes, and the other from Twin Lakes to the finish. Your Hope Pass pacer could also step in later in the race for relief work.
  • Understand that the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb, which starts at about 78 miles, has many false summits and is an ass-kicker. The good news is that after Powerline/Sugarloaf, the big ascents are behind you!
  • Get your lodging ASAP. Lodging in Leadville during the races goes fast. Reserve yours now.
  • If possible, if you're from sea level, show up at least three days and ideally five days in advance. This will give your body some time to acclimate. If three to five days isn't possible, show up the day before the race.
  • Bring plenty of gear, including gear for rain, snow and sleet. Colorado weather can change in an instant and afternoon thunderstorms are common in late summer.
  • I think 80 percent of Leadville can be run with road shoes. For the other 20 percent, which is the Hope Pass section, trail shoes are ideal.
  • Keep everything as lightweight as possible. At Leadville, muling is allowed. I never took advantage of this rule, to my own detriment. Let your pacer carry your Camelbak and other gear...because later in the race, like going up the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb, carrying yourself is going to be hard enough.
Those are just some suggestions. I'm by no means a Leadville expert. Do lots of homework, check out as many race reports as possible and consider joining the Leadville 100 Yahoo! message board, which is a great source of information. Here's a great resouce (prepared by a friend of mine, Adam Feerst of Run Uphill Racing who is a previous top-20 LT100 finisher) you might want to check out. Here's another great resource brought to you through


Here's a video of Timmy Parr climbing the front side of Hope Pass during the 2009 Leadville 100--a race he won. When you get right down to it, Leadville is about surviving the Hope Pass double-crossing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Shutting down

I'm getting no where fast with this plantar fasciitis and have changed my thinking since yesterday's post. Running is just plain dumb right now, especially when I've been advised to shut down from running at least for a few weeks. So as of today I'm not running a step probably for the rest of 2010. I will only cycle, do the elliptical trainer and weight train. In the meantime, I may take some time away from this blog. Writing about my ongoing struggle with plantar is very difficult as I feel like a shell of my old self and, honestly, I just need to take a step back from this situation because it's causing me a lot of stress. So this will likely be my last post of 2010 as I try to recover. With any hope, the next time I sign on I'll be feeling great and ready for an amazing 2011.

Monday, December 13, 2010

2011 is a big question mark

It has dawned on me that, of the many injuries that can plague a runner, plantar fasciitis has to be among the most serious. It's serious because, as many in the sports medicine field and sufferers alike would attest, it's a very complicated injury. There can be set-back after set-back and some even say you never totally get over plantar fasciitis. Conversely, with a stress fracture--the #1 fear of just about any runner--you take time off and then you're good to go. With PF, you could be looking at 1-2 years of pain. But then after two years PF tends to go away; it's run its course and just kind of disappears. Today, I'm at 6 months with PF.

That's a long way of saying I just don't know what the 2011 racing year looks like yet. There may be few if any races for me. Right now, it's hard to even imagine running 100 miles a week--or even 70-80 miles per week--in preparation for the Leadville 100. I can't run on the roads or trail right now; my foot just isn't ready. So I'm continuing my combination training of treadmill running, cycling and the elliptical, along with weight training. But all I really wish I could do is run!

It's very hard for me to wrap my head around the potential fact that 2011 may involve no big races. No marathon PR. No return to Leadville. How can you do long races when you have a partially torn ligament in your foot? That's what PF is--a frayed (partially torn) foot ligament.

In the hopes that 2011 will indeed involve some big races, here's what I've decided is my immediate course of action:
  • I'm going to continue with my physical therapy because I think it's effective. I just have to believe the stretching, strengthening, ultrasound and iontophoresis are working.
  • For the next few months, I'm going to keep my running mileage at a modest level (no more than 50 miles on the treadmill per week) and will not run if I feel any pain in my foot.
  • If by January 1 (a little more than two weeks from now) I feel like my foot has not progressed at all, I'm going to shut-down from running for 1-2 weeks and only cycle, bike and weight train.
  • If all else fails, I'll shell out $375 for a running orthotic.
Regarding the third action item, I'd be lying if I said I'm not at all interested in getting to 3,650 miles this year, which comes out to 70 miles/week. It's very attainable and I'm close. I hit about 4,000 in both 2008 and 2009 and I'm a little bummed my 2010 mileage has dipped from previous years, but this is what happens when you have a nasty foot injury.

Regarding the orthotic, my hesitation with an orthotic is that my running form is pretty sound. Orthotics are mostly (but not always) for people who have form issues. My physical therapist shares this opinion and actually evaluated my foot strike. He said I have a neutral foot strike and that, quite honestly, I'm built to run long distances and have the form to cover many miles. Again, this is a long way of saying my PF stems not from a mechanical or form problem that would require an orthotic, but rather from overuse (e.g.. moving to Colorado when you've lived all your life at sea level and running 100-110 miles/week training for one of the hardest mountain ultras in the world, placing a huge amount of "new" stress on your body). However, if all else fails, I will turn to the orthotic and hopefully a year with the added support will help get this PF behind me.

But it's not all doom and gloom. This past week I worked out all seven days and my foot was pretty solid. My weight is holding steady and my fitness is good.

In the back of my mind, the date April 1 is huge. I feel that 4/1 is the latest-possible date for me to start my Leadville 100 training. If I'm still down and out by then, I think it might be fair to say Leadville is in serious doubt. We'll have to wait and see.


Maybe this is what I need....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's now physical therapy for my plantar fasciitis

I am now under the care of a leading physical therapist here in the Denver area who specializes in foot and ankle issues and specifically plantar fasciitis. His name is Rob and he's perfect for my situation because he's an Ironman triathlete, a marathoner and an aspiring Leadville 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race finisher (entered the lottery and is awaiting the verdict).

I'm scheduled to see Rob a total of 12 times over a period of 6 weeks and am two sessions into my therapy and seeing great results. Because I haven't satisfied the $1,000 deductible for my health insurance, this will all be out-of-pocket (each session is about $60-$70)! My treatment includes deep-tissue massage, stretches, dexamethasone via iontophoresis, ultrasound and strengthening exercises. It is vital that my left foot, calf and hamstring are stretched a few times per day. To prevent imbalances, I stretch my right foot and leg, too.

I'm able to run on a treadmill with minimal pain and am placing a greater emphasis on cross-training activities like stationary cycling and the elliptical to stay in shape. I'm also weight-training, focusing on high reps. But most of my time is being spent on the treadmill, where I really feel I'm doing zero harm to my foot since I'm on a soft, flat surface in a controlled environment. I think the constant ups and downs of the road and trail would do harm, which is why I'm on the treadmill right now and I'll stay on the treadmill until I think I can handle the road and trail again.

Last week, I was really discouraged about my foot and having serious doubts about the 2011 racing season--even the Leadville 100-Mile Run, which is in August. And while I'm still concerned, I do feel like the physical therapy is working. I've undergone iontophoresis before (for heel bursitis, which I had mistakenly self-diagnosed as Achilles tendonitis) and responded well to it. This is my first experience with ultrasound and deep-tissue massage. I think the cumulative effect of these treatments, along with stretching and strengthening, will work. Rob told me that most persistent cases of PF are in overweight people. The very fact that my weight is beyond healthy (168 lbs.) and I'm in shape is working to my advantage. This, I think, has really inspired Rob to work closely with me and truly help me get back to 100%.

On a side note, I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for PTs to work with patients who have conditions like PF because of excess weight and show very little interest in solving the underlying problem. As someone who's lost over 50 pounds and kept it all off for nearly 8 years and counting (thanks to a sustainable diet focusing on whole grains, good fats, fruits and veges, and lean proteins including cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken), I truly believe maintaining a healthy weight is so critical!

I will continue to post on my recovery and experience with physical therapy for my plantar fasciitis. But in the meantime, if you have foot pain that could be plantar fasciitis, please seek immediate treatment by a specialist. Do not try to "run through" the injury, because you simply cannot train through PF. It is a serious injury for a runner and athlete--an injury that warrants your full attention. The longer you run with PF, the harder (and more expensive) it is to treat. So do yourself and your future as a runner a big favor and seek immediate treatment for foot pain!


Though not Oscar-winning material, the movie "Blood Sport" is a guilty pleasure of mine. It's the story of the ever-badass Frank Dux, who was the first American to win a very intense, underground karate tournament known as Kumite. This was back in the 1970s. In "Blood Sport," Dux is played by Jean Claude Van Damme. Anyway, the final fight scene is quite intense and inspirational. It always pumps me up.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New house, new life...same foot injury

Last Monday (11/22), we moved into our new house. It was quite a busy day. We moved out of our apartment, closed on our new home and--oh by the way--moved in. Anne and I divided and conquered, really pulling off quite a whirlwind day. Over the weekend we got down to our last box and capped it all off by hanging pictures and fine-tuning our new digs.

So life in our new house is...wonderful. We love it. The views of the mountains from our back deck, great room and bedroom are breath-taking. I can't decide what's more beautiful--the snow-covered mountains glowing from the sun rising in the East, or the sun setting "behind" the mountains to the West. The city lights at night are pretty awesome, too. We have a big map of the Colorado Rockies hanging next to one of our windows, along with some binoculars and books about the mountains nearby.

Our new house is situated at about 6,150 feet in the Parker "hills." Our temporary "downtown" Parker apartment, where we lived from April to last Monday, was at 5,900 feet. I have been surprised by the fact that an additional 200 feet this high up can make a difference. I went for a very hilly 13-miler on Sunday and was working pretty hard at certain points. Or maybe I was working hard because I've lost some conditioning as a result of my foot injury.

Which brings me to an update on this incredibly stubborn case of plantar fasciitis (PF). This PF is without question the worst, most complex and unpredictable injury I have ever endured. It will not go away, but it is slightly better. I guess the wonderful effects of the cortisone have tapered off. I've changed back to stability shoes, am emphasizing calf stretching and am wearing my splint every night. I've even cut back my mileage...a lot. I went back to Dr. Ng last week and he wants me to wear runner-specific orthotics. I'm not sure about $375 inserts--I've run almost 20,000 miles without orthotics--but I am keen on the physical therapy he prescribed, so I'll definitely explore that option.

I do think I'll eventually beat this nasty case of PF, but it's going to take time. I just really hope it's over and done with in time for a spring marathon PR and the start of my Leadville 100 training.


"Rudy" is among my favorite films of all time. When you get down to it, "Rudy" is about am ambitious kid with limited athletic abilities who chases his own dream and doesn't let the world hold him back. With a little relentlessness and wearing blinders, he defies expectations and believes in himself enough that he achieves something far beyond his perceived limitations. In the process, he served as an inspiration to those around him. That's the way to live, and "Rudy" in my opinion demonstrates that most dreams are attainable if you go hard after them. It's the fear of failure that aborts dreams and ultimately leaves you wondering what could have been. Better to try hard and fail, having shed blood, sweat and tears, than to never have tried at all. And if you fail, try again! But I believe that if you try, you will succeed. That's what "Rudy" is all about.

And my favorite scene:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Poor Spot

"According to the prosecutor's statement of facts in the case, between 2002 and 2007 Michael Vick and his co-conspirators Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor killed thirteen dogs by various methods including wetting one dog down and electrocuting her, hanging, drowning and shooting others and, in at least one case, by slamming a dog’s body to the ground."

“If you want a friend in this world, get a dog.” -- Harry S. Truman, President of the United States (1945-1952)

Don't you just love Spot, the family dog? It doesn't matter how crappy your day was; when you get home from work, there Spot is with his tail wagging, showing all kinds of love and wanting your undivided attention. Spot's love is unconditional. How lucky we are to have man's best friend.

Now for a disturbing picture: What if someone threw Spot in a ring with another dog trained to mutilate and kill your best friend in the world? And what if Spot were still alive after the fight and electrocuted, drowned, bludgeoned, hanged, or shot to death for not being tough enough?

Spot's fate is horrifying not just because you're a dog lover, but also because you're a moral person.

OK, with that said, I'm going to quickly diverge from running to just get something off of my chest. It seems today a lot of people have forgotten what Michael Vick, the imminently talented quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, did that ultimately landed him in a Virginia state prison only a few years ago. He's playing great football this year and I guess a lot of folks have forgiven him for running an evil dog-fighting ring in Virginia and for personally taking part in the murder--yes murder--of dogs. I've heard people make all kinds of excuses for Vick, like, "Well, we all break the law now and then...." Or, "He paid his debt to society and should be allowed to return to work." Or, "Aren't we a forgiving nation?"

Look, yes, he paid his debt to society. Yes, he should be allowed to work. And, yes, as a person of faith, I do forgive Vick since he asked for forgiveness--even as this is a struggle for me since I love dogs. But no, he shouldn't be allowed to play in the National Football League, where he's going to make millions of dollars once his "probationary," "wait-and-see" contract runs out and he renews, becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL. No one in the real world would be allowed to return to their old job after going to jail for a felony.

For those who think killing dogs is no different than running a red light or double parking, I'll end with the following narrative as told in an LA Examiner column by Kate Woodviolet:
According to the prosecutor's statement of facts in the case, between 2002 and 2007 Michael Vick and his co-conspirators Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor killed thirteen dogs by various methods including wetting one dog down and electrocuting her, hanging, drowning and shooting others and, in at least one case, by slamming a dog’s body to the ground.
Michael Vick didn't make a mistake. He didn't "make a bad choice." Over a period of five years he forced dogs into deadly fights, and he personally killed, or conspired to kill, thirteen dogs. He didn't pick a quick, painless method of killing, but instead chose a variety of means that qualify as torture. Pit Bulls are powerful dogs. Imagine how hard you would have to work to kill a Pit Bull by forcibly drowning him.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reports, "Sometimes [the dogs] were starved to make them more vicious in the pit."
And Michael Vick didn’t confine the abuse and killing to his own Pit Bulls.
Quanis Phillips, like Vick and Peace, "thought it was funny" to place family pets in the ring with trained fighting dogs
According to a November 2008 news story, a report prepared by the USDA's inspector general-investigations division revealed that Vick, Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor also put family pet dogs into the ring with trained pit bulls.
The report, dated Aug. 28, 2008, says, "Vick, Peace and Phillips thought it was funny to watch the pit bull dogs belonging to [Vick’s] Bad Newz Kennels injure or kill the other dogs."
And just think--today Michael Vick is making a hefty living and getting tons of accolades as QB of the Philadelphia Eagles. He's the talk of ESPN and sports-talk radio nationwide. He's the toast of "Eagles Nation." He's said to personify the great American story of redemption.

You can read more about Michael Vick's crimes against man's best friend by clicking here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ryan Hall's New Coach is God

Not that ESPN or the mainstream sporting news would ever report it, but elite American marathoner Ryan Hall recently parted ways with his longtime coach and also left the legendary Mammoth Track Club. He's now going it alone in his training and will allow his Christian faith to lead him down this new path in his storied career.

Hall winning the US Olympic Marathon Trials in 2008.
As Ryan writes on his blog:
I will be using some different sources to shape my training. Over the past 14 years of running I have developed a keen body awareness, which I will use on a daily basis, as well as advice from various experts, and prayer to ultimately shape my training. I believe that operating in this manner will allow me to run with a new level of faith and excitement.
In another blog post, he says:
Running has always been deeply spiritual for me. My desire is to have my training be more biblically designed, which has some very tangible applications and some not-so-tangible applications. Some of the more tangible applications come from verses like: Proverbs 24:6, “For by wise guidance you will wage war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” and Exodus 34:21, “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest.” Obviously, there are no training plans in the Bible, so designing a program is a combination of my knowledge of training that I have developed over the past 14 years of competitive running, advice from others, but mainly through getting on my knees every morning and asking God what I should do. In the past I have found it very difficult for me to make deviations from my training plan once I have one written, so now I don’t have a plan in ink, making it easier for me to hear and obey God. With that said, God has a plan and sometimes He shows me one day, sometimes, a week, and sometimes the type of running I need to be doing in my current season.
Wow! Does that mean Ryan's not running at all on Sundays? It's hard to imagine an elite marathon training program that allows a day off every week. But, I do believe rest is very under-rated in achieving peak conditioning. If in fact Sunday will be a day off, Ryan may just pioneer a new training philosophy.

Prior to these recent revelations, Ryan was training for October's Chicago Marathon and ultimately pulled out before the race because he felt physically not quite up to an all-out effort in the Windy Cindy. Ryan writes quite a bit about his Chicago decision, these challenging past few months and the role of faith in his life on his excellent blog at

Not surprisingly, Ryan's taken quite a beating from many over his decision. Some of what I've read is presumptuous garbage that draws a line between faith and success. Happily, other commentaries have been more balanced. Then you get into message boards, which are mostly rife with nasty diatribes written by people who don't even known Ryan Hall, what was going on with his coach and club, and what's deep in his heart. It's hard being open about your Christian faith in today's world because when you let people know that God is the ultimate director of your life, as Ryan's done, there are those who will accuse you of "losing your mind," being stupid and committing other offenses.

Ryan's an incredibly experienced, talented runner, and an argument could be made that he hasn't quite lived up to expectations even as he's accomplished so much as a runner and--I would argue--as a man in the first 27 years of his life. I wish Ryan all the best and I know many will be cheering hard for him in the spring when he toes the line for his next marathon. Go Ryan!


Congratulations to Highlands Ranch, Colorado, resident Scott Jaime on his awesome win at the Mountain Masochist Trail Run, a 50-miler in Virginia. In the spring I met Scott for a run in Deer Creek Canyon and he's quite a talent. Scott's race report can be found here. With his MMTR win, Scott now has an automatic entry into the 2011 Western States 100.


Last Sunday Anne and I watched the New York Marathon. I enjoyed every minute of it except for when Haile Gebrselassie, 37, the world record holder for the marathon (2:03:59), dropped with a knee injury...only to retire after the race. I'm so glad Haile has reconsidered his decision and will race again in the spring.

For whatever reason, this reminds me.... The Olympics should institute a 100-kilometer road race. I think people would watch in amazement and would honestly be freaked out by the site of guys and gals running 62 miles--hard--on the road. Why the 100K hasn't been instituted by now is a mystery to me.


My foot continues to heal nicely. This past week I ran just under 30 miles, taking Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off per doctor's orders. My strategy for the rest of November is to keep the mileage quite low, especially since we'll be preoccupied with moving into our new house on 11/22 and getting unpacked. In December, if my foot is in good shape, I'll start ratcheting up the mileage again, but the key goal for the rest of 2010 is to get healthy.


Over the weekend I watched the film "W," by Oliver Stone. Not surprisingly, this film took a lot of heat from conservatives. But almost all Oliver Stone films take heat, some justifiably so. His 1991 "JFK," while a good film just on the basis of acting, was full of lies, innuendos and distortions that conflict with solid evidence and known facts. "W" is also quite controversial and takes creative license in many areas. The elder Bushes are certainly cast in quite a negative light. But the fact of the matter is that "W," however much you hate Stone, is a damn-good film and I actually think it's sympathetic to Bush especially within the context of his parents. My take on "W" is this: Even if you love George W. Bush, watch the film because you might just like it. (I have to admit that I think Elizabeth Banks, who played Laura Bush, is very pretty, which is a polite way of saying she's hot.) And if you think the film is a hit-job on Bush, maybe this clip will compel you to rethink that position:

Here's the extended trailer:

In fairness to "W" and because I'm a trained historian, I'm planning to read Decision Points and may just embark on a quest to read every single presidential memoir.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's confirmed: I have plantar fasciitis. Now what?

Yesterday I saw a renowned foot and ankle surgeon, Alan Ng, D.P.M, FACFAS, at Advanced Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Specialists here in Denver. Upon entering the medical office building, I immediately knew I'd come to the right place. This very architecturally impressive building and its design were state-of-the-art, and the same could be said of Dr. Ng's office. He works for a large group practice and I noticed a few other athletes in the waiting room. In my mind, these were all good signs. As an added bonus, I didn't have to wait long!

Upon arriving, I was x-rayed, and then shortly thereafter Dr. Ng looked at the radiographs, examined my foot and made the plantar fasciitis diagnosis. Plantar fasciitis is basically the fraying and inflammation of the fascia running across the bottom of your foot and connecting your heel bone to your toes. It's a rather common injury in runners, women who are pregnant and people who are over-weight.

How did this happen? I've had a few bouts of plantar before but was always successful in managing the injury with ice therapy, stretching and strengthening exercises. With this recent bout, starting in July, I thought I could successfully manage it myself (as I have in the past) but ultimately had no such luck. I think with the long climbs out here in Colorado and all the extra stress put on my body as a result of running at altitude (especially those 100-mile weeks preparing for the Leadville 100), the plantar fasciitis got worse and worse. Finally, in early August, I realized I had to rest during the three weeks before the Leadville 100 or else there was no way I could finish the race. Well, I finished the race and I think the pre-race rest was crucial, but it wasn't enough to heal my foot. I know this because my plantar fasciitis came back with a vengeance when I started running again after Leadville. Through it all, I stupidly didn't see a doctor.

After examining my foot, Dr. Ng recommended a cortisone shot, some stretches and a splint to wear at night. The cortisone, he said, would take care of the inflammation and promote healing. I was a little leery of receiving a cortisone shot because in some cases it can actually weaken ligaments and tendons to the point that they rupture. And while Dr. Ng acknowledged this risk, he also told me that the chances of a plantar fascia rupture were rather remote. So I got the shot! And damn did it hurt!

I am allowed to start light running tomorrow (Thursday) and need to keep my mileage rather conservative for the foreseeable future. That's fine with me. We're moving into our house on November 22 and so between now and then I'm going to be busy and scaling back my mileage will be OK. In my mind, I'd like to start dialing it up on December 1, especially if I'm going to run a spring marathon.

So last night I wore my splint, which is an equally critical part of the healing process. The splint holds the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in a lengthened position overnight so that they can be stretched more effectively--an important part of the healing process. Before getting out of bed, it's important that I do some stretches using a towel. Keeping the Achilles and calves stretched are vital to healing.

So at least now I have a treatment plan under way and can feel confident that my foot is actually healing. And if healing doesn't come as expected, Dr. Ng will fit me for a special runner's orthotic, but hopefully there will be no need for that. I told Dr. Ng I've run close to 25,000 miles in the last seven years and that my feet have always held up pretty well until now.

Now for the call to action! If you are experiencing heel and foot pain, see a foot specialist immediately. Don't delay like I did for nearly five months. I made a huge mistake in assuming I could manage my plantar fasciitis, and now I can only wonder what my Leadville 100 time might have been (a few hours faster? We'll never know!) had I gotten treatment on the front end. I also might have been able to do a fall marathon had I gotten treatment sooner. I've suffered for close to five months and this didn't need to happen. Lesson learned. Tackle the problem now by seeing a specialist!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Time to recover and heal from this plantar fasciitis

After delaying what should have happened four months ago, I have finally scheduled an appointment with a foot and ankle surgeon. My appointment is tomorrow (Tuesday). I can only hope Dr. Ng will help me get this terrible case of plantar fasciitis over and done with. The PF hit me in July and hasn't let up since then. Some days and weeks have been better than others, but through it all the plantar fasciitis has still been there. With November now here and my 2011 race plans taking shape, I have got to get my foot in good shape.

Plantar fasciitis is a very misunderstood condition. People think it's inflammation of a big ligament under the foot, and in a sense it is. But when you get down to it, PF is a partially torn ligament--the fascia--in the foot. I have huge reservations about whether stretches and strengthening exercises are appropriate given the fact that a ligament is torn. It seems to me rest is the key.

And so last week I did something I have resisted for the past few months--I took it easy and ran just 45 miles. I did mix in some nice quality, such as a speedy tempo run on Friday morning, but my thinking has been to keep my mileage below where the pain in my foot starts. It could be that quality will also have to go by the wayside.


Having said all of that, on Sunday morning I met up with Henry and Steve at Green Mountain in Boulder to run some trails and enjoy the beautiful fall scenery. Driving to Boulder, I was really pumped as I've been wanting to get to the mountains lately and there's just something about Boulder that I love. The view of Longs Peak from the highway coming into Boulder was thrilling. It was a tad overcast--rare for Colorado--but I hoped the sun would burn away the clouds. I got really excited when I could see Green Mountain. There is something magical about Green Mountain, Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak.

From Chautauqua, we headed up the Saddle Rock Trail, hooking up with the Greenman Trail, which eventually brought us to the summit at 8,144 feet. Our second mile gained more than 1,000 feet. I was not having a good day, lagging behind and really struggling up the mountain. I'm not sure what my problem was--probably just a bad day--but my respiratory capacity just wasn't there. We hung out at the rocky summit for about 10 minutes, taking in the spectacular views of the Indian Peaks and the beautiful city of Boulder. It was still a little overcast but we nonetheless had great views. Only in Colorado....

Steve lived in Boulder for a long time and knows the trails well, so he led us down the mountain. I wanted to summit South Boulder and Bear peaks (especially Bear--it's the highest of the three), too, but I knew that would be a tad stupid with my foot problems. We ran pretty hard down Green, taking the Ranger and Gregory Canyon trails back down into town. There were some very technical sections, reminding me once again that I really need to work on my trail running skills. It's a game of confidence.

On the way down we passed (going in opposite directions) a group of runners that--how to say it?--consisted of epic talent. It's not every day that you see so much talent right there in front of you--Anton Krupicka (Mr. Green Mountain himself), Geoff Roes, Dave Mackey, Darcy Africa, and Krissy Moehl.


Sometime next month I'm going to write a year-in-review post. What 2010 has meant is still percolating in my mind, but I tend to think this hasn't been a good year of running. In 2008, I set new PRs in basically every distance. In 2009, I won a 100-mile race after focusing on it like a laser beam for about 18 months, put up a decent time in my first 50K road race and surpassed 130 miles in my first 24-hour race. This year, there have been some fairly good moments, like placing fifth at the Greenland Trail 50K (my first race at altitude) and earning the big buckle at the Leadville Trail 100 (though my 24:47 time left a lot to be desired), but overall 2010 has basically sucked.

I honestly think I was in my best condition in early May, thanks to months of focused intervals and tempo runs (which helped produce the good showing at the Greenland Trail 50K), and it all went downhill from there. Once in Colorado, the altitude took a major toll on me. I think living at 6,000 feet and having relatively easy access to mountains as high as 14,000+ feet will eventually make me a better runner. For now, it's just really hard. On Sunday's run at Green Mountain, I felt like I was breathing through a straw. A few weeks prior I felt great summiting 14,115-foot Pikes Peak. At altitude, you have good days and bad days. The bad days are really bad.

I also think my stress level for the first six months of the year was very high. Moving across the country and selling a house in a horrible market can be mentally draining. No excuses, though. This crappy year is all on me, and I do believe 2011 will be a much better year.

In 2010, I never got in a road marathon because our move conflicted with Boston, a race I had entered and so wanted to do. I'm beginning to see that the success of a year is measured quite a bit by the times I log in the marathon. At the end of the day, the marathon is, in my opinion, the greatest measure of a long-distance runner. I do believe that my 2:58 marathon PR is more than ripe for a challenge. And so with my eyes now on 2011, it is so important to me to get out of the gate with a quality road marathon at sea level. I was previously considering the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, but it's in mid-May. I think I'm now leaning toward the Publix Georgia Marathon on March 20 in Atlanta. I can spend time with my family, while also going for a new marathon PR. Frankly, the thought of intervals and tempo running all winter appeals to me. But only if my foot is healed by then.


A final note: I registered for the 2011 Leadville Trail 100. At this point, all I can say is that my goal is to finish in under 22 hours. But before I focus on Leadville, there's a marathon to run.


Here's a song that really inspires me through the miles.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cannot shake plantar fasciitis

Here are the numbers for October:
  • 319.97 miles run
  • 46,500 feet of climbing, 45,000 feet of descent
  • 3,300 miles for the year
On paper, it looks like a pretty solid month, and it started pretty well. Last week I wrote all about how I'd achieved a beautiful rhythm in my maintenance training as the winter sets in and the goal becomes adhering to a solid base until the mileage build-up begins early next year. But, alas, last week my left foot, which has been hit hard by plantar fasciitis since June, took a turn for the worse.  I'm back to experiencing heel pain (but thankfully no arch pain), and I can't break my reliance on KT Tape--my foot needs the support. On top of it all, I battled a nasty virus all week, enduring GI issues along with congestion and fatigue. During Sunday's run, I found myself taking a few short walk breaks. I don't take walk breaks. If I do, it's because I'm sick. Really sick. But I still got north of 70 miles for the week.

I think the time to see a doctor has finally come. It probably came a few months ago. I've decided to scale my mileage back for a few weeks and I'm going to force myself to see a doctor. Runners do not like seeing a doctor.

Update: I have made an appointment with my doctor for next Monday morning.

I've also decided to switch back to stability shoes. I've been wearing neutral-cushion shoes for the past 15 months and in that time I've had two foot problems, including this one. My feet seem to need the support of stability shoes, albeit the lightest-possible stability shoes. You won't see me in any Kayanos that weigh 15 ounces. My rule is no more 12 ounces and preferably under 11 ounces.

The goal now is simply to heal my heel. If I sound discouraged, it's because I am. I think ultimately I'll be OK, but it's the here and now that are so frustrating. I've never had a nagging injury like this.


I've been meaning to comment on the Boston Marathon. To the horror of many runners, Boston filled up in 8 hours a few weeks ago. People were astonished and old-schoolers yet again outraged and saddened. There were many who tried to register but couldn't because of slow Internet service on Boston's end. The days of mail-in registration are over; today, it's online or forget about it. What a shame. Last year, Boston filled up in two months and people were outraged.

Boston needs to get a grip on what's happening to America's greatest marathon. For starters, the standards need to be tightened. The fastest men's qualifying time is 3:10:59 and for women it's 3:40:59. The men's time should drop to 3:00:00 and the women's to 3:20:00 and then go from there for older age divisions. Also, the extra 59-second cushion should be kaboshed. Finally, a reported 5,000 of the 25,000 spots were apparently reserved for charity runners and corporate sponsors. No more. Leave those spots for qualified runners and encourage all entrants to run for charity. The latter recommendation is very feasible.

Bottom line: Every single Boston Marathon entrant should have earned their way in.

Those measures alone would make Boston more accessible to those who've earned it and restore the prestige of this great race. One day, I'll return to Boston for my third Beantown Classic.


I'm loving our new diet without high fructose corn syrup and other super-sweet chemicals. For Halloween, we took Noah trick or treating and so far I've been able to resist all the chocolate candy bars and such that were handed out. As the days pass, refined sugars look less and less appealing. Plus, I'm just feeling better. I think high fructose corn syrup isn't well-handled by the body and so you feel pretty awful after a binge. No more for me; I'm liberated and loving it.

Look in your cupboard and fridge and you'll find that HFCS is in everything from your preserves and mayo to cereal and ketchup. It's everywhere...even teriyaki sauce, the jelly packets you get in restaurants, restaurant ketchup, etc. Of course, soda pop is the worst HFCS offender--the stuff is just flat out poison. Eliminate HFCS from your diet and you will feel better.

Check out the video below. Additional segments are available on the right side of your screen in You Tube.

Monday, October 25, 2010

That beautiful rhythm

I just completed my third consecutive 70+ mile week and am now in a nice baseline training rhythm. This is just where I want to be this time of year--putting in half-way decent mileage, enjoying the beautiful fall scenery and getting in some nice quality.

Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis in my left foot still hasn't cleared up. My foot is definitely better than it was before the Leadville 100, but it is not yet 100%. Some days are better than others and I'm still having to use KT Tape, ibuprofen before bed and ice therapy. New in-soles for my work shoes have really made a difference. I do believe that my foot is healing, albeit slowly, and that I'll be in good shape in a few months. I think I had a pretty wicked case of PF and it's just going to take time and patience to clear up. It's a miracle I got through Leadville with this foot.

I had some very good quality this week. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I ran my usual dirt road loop with plenty of hills at about 7:40 pace. On Wednesday morning I did a tempo run on  the Parker roads, averaging about 6:25 pace. On Saturday morning I did 16 easy miles. Then on Sunday morning I laced up my lightweight trainers and basically flew out the door. My goal was to get from my front door to the end of East Parker Road--6 hilly miles away--in less than 42 minutes. That may not sound too fast--and on the surface it isn't especially when I can do my mile repeats in 5:30--but those 6 miles involved about 1,000 feet of climb from 5,900 feet to over 6,400 feet (ascents and descents in between). I made it in 41:47, including a 7:30 first mile. I then ran back home with semi-trashed legs and added on a little for a total of 15.7 miles.

For a guy who used to go out for tempo runs and average 6:10-6:20 per mile at sea level, running fast at 6,000+ feet is a whole different ballgame. I want to do some tempo runs on flat roads to see if I can get back to 6:10-6:20 pace. I'll do that this week.

After Sunday's run I had major GI issues, which I originally attributed to such a hard effort at altitude combined with mild dehydration (Parker turned off all of its water fountains and I wasn't carrying a bottle), but actually I think it was a stomach bug making the rounds in the Hornsby house.

So, all in all, I like where things are. I should end the year--yet again--with a little over 3,900 miles. This will be the third consecutive year of finishing with 3,900+ miles, averaging about 75 miles per week. One of these years I'll finally surpass 4,000. There is a small chance I may try to go past 4,000 this year but what's the point...really?


Recovery. It's a very under-rated and misunderstood thing that I keep thinking about. I think my 6 weeks of recovery from the Leadville 100--6 tough weeks, I would add--were as much about recovering from training for the event than from the race itself. My endocrine system was pretty shot. Therein lies the problem. Recovery should be from the event, not from the training. With this personal revelation in mind, I have begun to cobble together a 2011 training program. My goal is to be done with my peak mileage (100-115/week) by the end of June, and then cut my mileage by 15-20% in July while doing some races, and then really tapering in August. This is going to take discipline, but I think cranking away at peak mileage three weeks before Leadville is a mistake unless you're name is Tony Krupicka.


Let me tell's been tough making changes to my diet since I discovered the ills of high-fructose corn syrup and other food chemicals. I'm still learning. HFCS and other types of super-sweet corn byproducts are in so many processed foods! Did you know HFCS is in Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki sauce, many yogurts, reduced-fat peanut butter, jellies, and basically every BBQ sauce on the grocery store shelf? Almost every non-organic breakfast cereal--including Total cereal--has corn syrup. It's everywhere!

At the office, we have an endless supply of mini candy bars of all kinds. For a while there, I was out of control, eating 4 or 5 a day and rationalizing it on the grounds  that I'd run 10 miles that morning. I'd go home at night feeling pretty yucky and not at all hungry. Since eliminating those candy bars from my diet, I've felt much better and I go home with an appetite. The candy bars are still very tempting, but I've managed to resist. There is no doubt in my mind that sugar is physically and mentally addictive just as cigarettes, alcohol and many drugs are.

I'm also really enjoying salads with just olive oil and balsamic vinegar (no croutons!). I think at the end of the day it's pretty hard to beat a salad with oil and vinegar. Society wants us to drown our leafy greens in creamy, fat- and sugar-filled dressings but in reality we don't need to. Society also wants us to believe that unless it's deep-friend, covered in cheese or gravy, or layered with fat, it's not good. Not true!

Needless to say, this new approach to diet has been eye-opening and actually an amazingly wonderful experience. We don't realize that everything we eat is sweet--until we start focusing more on eating natural foods. It's no wonder obesity is at epidemic levels in the US today. And tragically obesity is often traced to income. Because quality costs more, the less you make, the more likely it is that you'll be obese and a regular customer of McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, etc.

What does this all come down to? It's simple: When you're at the neighborhood grocery store and you select and buy a particular product--a box of cereal, a pound of ground beef or maybe a jar of ketchup--what you're essentially doing is entrusting your immediate and long-term health and the health of your family to the company that made that product. You are placing your well-being--life--in the hands of the foodmaker. Pretty scary when you think about the thousands of people in recent years who also trusted foodmakers and became ill and even died as a result of contamination, to say nothing of the millions who have died as a result of heart disease, cancer and stroke. Didn't this happen a few decades ago with Big Tobacco?


You can watch "Food, Inc." via the video below and the menu to the right side of your screen on YouTube. Highly recommended. The family featured toward the end of part 5 breaks my heart. I think I've found my life's work....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lies from Big Food and more evidence that high fructose corn syrup is a killer

A few nights ago I saw a commercial aired by the Corn Refiners Association, a group of liars who are trying to rescue high fructose corn syrup's image in an attempt to reverse collapsing sales of their cash-cow chemical found in everything from Miracle Whip, Heinz ketchup and soda pop to cereals, Nutrigrain bars and salad dressing.

In the ad, which is linked here but unfortunately I can't imbed it because it's locked in YouTube, a "dad" is walking along a corn field with a little girl and they're both holding hands. Aw, how sweet. After saying that he consulted both medical and nutrition experts on the health and safety of high fructose corn syrup, the "dad" concludes in rather simple, aw-shucks language that whether you eat corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can't tell the difference. "Sugar is sugar," he says.


As quoted in Science Daily in March 9, 2009, Gerald Shulman, MD, PhD, at Yale University, had this to say about the difference between high fructose corn syrup and regular table sugar in reference to a study in which he was involved:

"There has been a remarkable increase in consumption of high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose is much more readily metabolized to fat in the liver than glucose is and in the process can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease."
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease ultimately manifests itself into hepatic insulin resistance and type II diabetes. Type II diabetes, which usually accompanies obesity, is a huge risk factor for heart attack (#1 killer of Americans today), stroke and other killers of millions of Americans every year. Also, obesity is linked to cancer (it has already been proven that cancer feeds on sugar and many cancer patients are advised to curtail sugar consumption) and is a major contributor to joint pain, arthritis, back pain and other debilitating conditions.

The Science Daily article continues:
High-fructose corn syrup, which is a mixture of the simple sugars fructose and glucose, came into use in the 1970s and by 2005 the average American was consuming about 60 pounds of it per year. Overall, dietary intake of fructose, which is also a component of table sugar, has increased by an estimated 20 to 40 percent in the last thirty years.
It just so happens that "the last thirty years" have directly corresponded with skyrocketing obesity. If you're my age (37), think about it: Were there really this many obese and overweight people when we were kids? Something has happened to people's waist lines...and it's high fructose corn syrup! And it's killing us!

You can read about the esteemed Dr. Shulman here. And it's worth noting that the following other medical professionals were involved in the study:
The researchers include Yoshio Nagai, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT , Howard Hughes Medical InstituteShin Yonemitsu, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT , Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Derek M. Erion, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Takanori Iwasaki, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT; Romana Stark, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT; Dirk Weismann, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT Jianying Dong, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT; Dongyan Zhang, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT , Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Michael J. Jurczak, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Michael G. Loffler, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT; James Cresswell, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT; Xing Xian Yu, ISIS Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, CA; Susan F. Murray, ISIS Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, CA; Sanjay Bhanot, ISIS Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, CA; Brett P. Monia, ISIS Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, CA; Jonathan S. Bogan, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT; Varman Samuel, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT and Gerald I. Shulman, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT , Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
I wonder what the Corn Refiners Association would have to say about that?

But that's not even the most damning evidence against HFCS. Earlier this year, a Princeton University research team reported on a study showing that rats ingesting high fructose corn syrup gained far more weight--and became obese--than rats that ingested just table sugar, even though the caloric intake with both test groups was the same. The rats that had consumed the HFCS put on large amounts of fat, especially in the abdomen, and saw an increase in triglycerides in the blood. Here's what Princeton's very own Bart Hoebel, PhD, an expert in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction, had to say about the study:
"Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests. When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese--every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight."
You can read about Dr. Hoebel by clicking here.

Miriam Bocarsly, a Princeton graduate student who was involved in the study, said:
"These rats aren't just getting fat; they're demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides. In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes."
"Our findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic," said Nicole Avrena, a research associate also involved in the study.

If you want even more evidence of the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, a simple Google search will provide all of that and more.

So really what you have from the Corn Refiners Association and other lobbyist groups are lies, lies and lies. The CRA's ads directly contradict science and are intended to confuse and muddy the debate. But fortunately consumers are the strongest voice in this matter and are already onto Big Food's profiteering shananigans which, like cigarettes, have killed millions of people. Fearful of bad PR, many food makers are now moving away from HFCS (e.g., Heintz ketchup now has "Simply Heinz," which doesn't have HFCS), and this has prompted the Corn Refiners Association's campaign of lies.

When you get right down to it, the soft drink industry is the Corn Refiners Association's last, best hope. Without Coca Cola and Pepsi, the CRA is nothing. Next time you or I drink a Coke or Pepsi let's keep that in mind, OK?

As the downfall of HFCS continues, may Americans and people around the world consuming a Western diet feel better, live longer and enjoy greater quality of life.

The truth will prevail.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I will NOT let Big Food kill me or my family

First, a training update. Since the Rock 'n Roll Denver Marathon (held yesterday) closed out, I don't really think I'll be racing again this year. I would love to do the near-sea level Las Vegas or Sacramento marathons, but unfortunately we have next to no vacation time since we just started our jobs in April, and I hate the thought of flying back to Denver the same day that I race 26.2 miles. So for now, I'm done in 2010.

In 2011, I'll have much more vacation time and greater flexibility!

Physically and mentally, I'm feeling pretty good and have completed my second consecutive week of 70+ miles. My left heel still isn't great, but the plantar fasciitis is much better. It's healing very slowly. The good news is that my legs are pretty much back to normal, and my endocrine system, which was pretty depleted after Leadville, is roaring (as evidenced by better sleep, a better attitude, a better appetite, etc.). I've learned more about my body and running in general in the last 6 months than I have in the 7 years I've been covering serious distances. The altitude has been a huge adjustment. I hate to say it, but running at altitude is WAY harder than running at sea level. It's not the hills or mountains that get you; it's the thin air combined with those long ascents! I think the hardest stages are now behind me.

On Saturday morning, I did a hard 14.5 miler between 5,900-6,500 feet in Parker with tons of hills. It brought just shy of 4,000 feet of combined climb and descent. Then I did 4 more miles that night and then 16.2 miles the next day, finishing the week with 70.

This time of year through the holidays and winter, my goal is 70 miles per week, which I view as sort of my baseline mileage. For me, 70 miles per week is perfect for great quality and also getting healthy, strong and efficient going into the build-up and peak mileage, which will begin next March. Throughout the winter my quality will consist of intervals and tempo running with a possible marathon in April or May. We'll be in our new house in November and I can't wait to have my beloved treadmill back! As an added bonus, our neighborhood has a very nice workout facility with fast treadmills, stationary bikes, weights, etc. My treadmill maxes out at just 6:00 miles, and so I'll be heading to the club for my intervals.

My 2011 racing schedule might consist of:

March: Local 1/2 marathon if I can find one.
April: Marathon--not sure which one
May: Greenland Trail 50K; maybe the Jemez 50 miler in Las Alamos, NM--one of the harder 50-milers in the nation
June: If not Jemez, maybe the San Juan Solstice 50, another brutal 50-miler in Colorado's San Juan Mountain Range
July: Leadville Marathon and Barr Trail Mountain Race
August: Leadville 100
December: Las Vegas or Sacramento Marathon

Except for the Leadville Marathon and Leadville 100, the schedule is totally fluid as of now.


Over the past few weeks, I've attended two lectures by physicians through my work at the Colorado Neurological Institute. One regarded risk factors for cancer, and the other focused on stroke. In both, as in many other lectures I've attended, there was a theme:
People with diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, obesity, etc. are at much greater risk or heart attack, stroke, cancer, arthritis/joint paint and other conditions than those who live a healthy life.
Part of me wonders if the medical community is really leveling with us. It seems the medical community is so busy treating symptoms, conditions, etc., that it hasn't really done what it should to promote prevention and serve as a public watchdog.

Healthy living doesn't make you immune. Marathon runners still drop dead from heart attack and suffer strokes. They get cancer, too. But living healthy dramatically reduces your risk.

At the center of the unfolding health crisis, which is going to cause costs to go up even further, is obesity. As I was saying to Anne a few days ago, there just weren't that many obese and overweight kids and adults when we were kids. Today, obesity is an epidemic. Look at the quality of our food and I think we'll find a correlation between what we're eating and how fat we are. I suspect high-fructose corn syrup, a super-sweet chemical, is a major culprit. HFCS is a cheap "alternative" to sugar and is in nearly everything--from mayonnaise, salad dressing, baked goods (including bread) and juices to ketchup, pop, cereals and granola bars--and has proliferated as foodmakers have sacrificed quality in the name of costs. Sugar is a huge contributor to fat production, and cancer feeds off sugar. We have since eliminated HFCS in our diet and this has meant paying more for higher-quality products. Check out the following video about the dangers of HFCS:

Quite disturbingly, many (but not all) foodmakers are now eliminating HFCS in their products, or offering alternatives. Why is that disturbing? It suggests that foodmakers such as Heinz, Kraft, etc., knew about the dangers of HFCS and are only now curbing its use because they've been exposed! They don't care about our health; they care only about profits! And McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Subway, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, even my beloved Papa Johns, etc.? Garbage! Those burritos at Chipotle and Qdoba (Qdoba is an occasional treat for me)? A thousand-plus calories each! The same goes for so-called "upscale" restaurants like Chili's, Applebee's, etc. Folks, what's going on with food today is the same as what went on all those years with Big Tobacco--denying that cigarettes caused cancer and then finally fessing up after they were called to the carpet...and after thousands had died of lung cancer.

Even more disturbing, the corn lobby, which is just as sinister as Big Tobacco in its PR efforts, is trying to get HFCS changed to "corn sugar," as if a name change will make HFCS safer.

But the most disturbing trend I see is a new type of campaign in which foodmakers brag about using "natural sugar" in their products (versus HFCS), as if natural sugar is good for you. I recently saw this tactic in a Sierra Mist commercial, but, make no mistake about, it's horrible for you.

Starting in 2002, I worked my ass off to lose 53 lbs. and I'm not going to let Big Food undermine my efforts. I'll pay more to stay healthy. I really feel badly for families who don't have much and for whom paying more for quality would present hardship. But should healthy food really be a hardship?
Should one or two organic apples cost about the same as a Big Mac value meal?
HFCS isn't the only enemy.
  • Cows are fed corn when they should be eating grass, and they are also pumped with antibiotics and other chemicals.
  • Chickens are confined to small cages and fed low-quality feed.
  • Milk and dairy products, which are loaded with hormones, are blamed by many for causing kids to prematurely hit puberty.
  • Non-organic fruits and vegetables are laced with pesticides.
  • Sodium is a huge problem in processed and canned foods as well as lunch meats.
The list goes on.

The documentary Food, Inc. is one of many exposes on the food industry. Yes, many people today are hungry for a change.

Are you?