Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2-Week Shutdown

Happy holidays to all my readers! It's hard to believe, but this month marks four years of blogging! Thanks to everyone for your continued readership.

Last Thursday I was diagnosed with posterior tibial tendonitis, affectionately known by runners as "post-tib," in my right leg. I know exactly how it developed. When I was fighting Achilles discomfort, I wore heel lifts during my run, and my heel lifts slipped around quite a bit in my shoes, stressing my right posterior tibial tendon. The posterior tibial tendon runs along the inside of the leg and basically connects the arch to the calf muscle. It is a key stabilizer of the lower leg. When the tendon is inflamed, as mine is, you often feel pain in the ankle and up the inside of your calf. If the injury is ignored, eventually the tendon may fail altogether and the arch collapses, often requiring major surgery. If the injury is treated early, the prognosis is good.

My doctor, who is a foot and ankle specialist, recommended that I shut down completely for two weeks. That means no running, walking, cycling or swimming. The two-week shutdown started last Friday and will end on January 6th. In almost eight years of long-distance running, I've never experienced a shutdown quite like this one. When injured, I've always been able to cross-train. But not this time. I'm set to begin physical therapy sometime next week.

Fortunately, my leg seems to be improving, thanks to lots of rest and icing. The pain in my ankle is subsiding. The discomfort and stiffness in my leg is still there, but it's improving. I'm hopeful that by January 6th I'll be ready to resume running, albeit gradually. I've been in contact with a few runners I know who've had this injury and they all said it gets better with rest, ice and time.

I'm sure to lose a decent amount of fitness during this two-week shutdown, and that indeed is unfortunate. But it's fitness I'll quickly regain with patience and perseverance.

As with many things in life, I see a silver linking in this two-week shutdown. It'll allow my body to heal and hopefully all the lingering issues I've been dealing with--achy muscles, an achy Achilles, etc.--will heal, setting me up for a great 2012 racing season. However, a PR effort at the Georgia Marathon on 3/18 is now pretty much not going to happen. I may still run the marathon, but without any expectations. Ultimately, what matters most to me is being ready for the Leadville 100 in August. I still have lots of time.

Here's to a healthy 2012 racing season!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Running and Family

First things first. A lot has happened lately (none of it directly related to me) that has reminded me of how important it is for dedicated runners to keep it all balanced and not lose sight of what really matters in life. What do I mean by that?

Unless you're an elite with sponsorships and stipends, you run in your free time, while managing responsibilities in the workplace and at home. And if you're like me, responsibilities at home involve, first and foremost, being a loving, supportive and caring spouse and parent. This requires not just heart, but also time! But it goes beyond that. The lawn's gotta get mowed. There's a growing list of odd jobs requiring trips to Lowe's and plenty of elbow grease. Etc. Balancing it all, when each priority is just that--a priority--is very hard. When I'm training for a big race like the Leadville 100, sometimes I feel like I'm maxed out, with nothing more to give beyond the steps I take in my running shoes. Feeling maxed out isn't a good place to be, and yet many of us--maybe you, too--find ourselves there quite often.

Most runners I know have their priorities listed in basically the same order that I do. Still, I've met a few runners who do things differently, and that's their business. Sometimes I hear about runners who have unsupportive spouses and yet they still manage to get in the miles. I can't imagine doing what I do without a supportive wife who's always been there encouraging me.

Running can be a selfish sport--and it's important that we as runners understand and recognize this. Asking family to make time to go to Leadville every August and crew for me seems incredibly selfish. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I'm thinking about running the Leadville 100 in 2012 without a crew and potentially with no pacers except for the last 13.5 miles (hopefully with my pal, Lance). Anne, Noah and others would still be there, but not to follow me all over the course the entire day.

As runners, we often take our sport way too seriously. As the saying goes, "Running is entirely too important to be taken seriously." I often have to remind myself that running is something I do in my free time. I'm not paid to do it. It doesn't help pay the bills (except when I won $300 in 2009 after winning a 100). No one is holding me accountable. And when I'm dead and gone, no one's gonna care that I once earned a 1,000-mile Leadville 100 buckle, was a Leadman and finished Ironman Hawaii. All that's really going to matter is the mark I left on this world. Maybe my running (and even blogging?) will leave a little bit of a mark, but not like family.


I just ordered "Unbreakable: The Western States 100", and am very excited to finally see it. Of the four runners profiled, I've met Anton and Geoff and they both seem like super guys who do it the right way. I've never met Hal Koerner, but I have the utmost respect for his toughness and tenacity. As for Kilian, my feelings on him are well-documented (I love his aproach to running). Stay tuned for a review of "Unbreakable"!


Injury update: Last week I ran 55.6 miles and cycled about 40, putting in just shy of 10 hours of training. While my right Achilles tendon seems to have improved, my right calf and ankle aren't being as cooperative. Somehow, someway, I've developed pain in my inner right calf. My ankle has been a problem for a while. I'm starting to wonder if all those sprains haven't all taken a toll. All that said, I'm confident I'm getting better and will have a great 2012. Big goals for the year:
  • PR at the Georgia Marathon (Atlanta) in March--Current PR is 2:58. A new PR at the Georgia Marathon might be unrealistic due to my current injury. We'll see.
  • Sub-4:20 at the Leadville Trail Marathon in late June.
  • Sub-20 hours at the Leadville Trail 100 in August.
  • 140+ miles at the Across the Years 24-Hour in December/January. Across the Years in 2012 is gradually taking hold as an event I very much care about--kind of like the North Coast 24 in 2009, when I ran 131 miles and left at least 5-10 MORE miles on the course. With my cruising speed, I was built to put up lots of miles in 24-hour races, or so I think. Just sayin'.

Final note: Endurance Planet now features a weekly "Ask the Ultrarunner" podcast with Lucho, aka Tim Luchinske, who lives near Boulder, Colorado. Tim's a former professional triathlete who's finished high in the standings at Ironman Hawaii. These days, Lucho's busy training for Leadman in 2012 and coaching athletes. In 2010, he finished 6th overall at the Leadville 100. If you haven't yet tuned into Lucho's podcasts with Tawnee over at Endurance Planet, you need to--they're packed with helpful information and lots of inspiration for ultrarunners of all abilities. Get over there!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Benefits of Cross Training

This bout of Achilles tendonitis may have been one of the best things that ever happened to me. I've been cycling, running and fast-hiking, maintaining my usual volume as far as hours this time of year (about 10 hours a week). To protect my Achilles while it heals, I've been running the flats and downs and fast-walking the ascents. Both walking and cycling have been great ways to supplement my training, while minimizing damaging impact, during this injury.

Over the weekend I did two two-hour workouts, each with about 30 minutes of cycling, and the rest was running and fast-walking (about 3/4 running, 1/4 walking). I've found that walking engages the hips a lot more than running. Maybe that explains why I'm always sore after a long walk. I've also found that cycling is improving my leg turnover when I run. On Sunday I was effortlessly cruising along a flat section and looked down at my watch to find that I was going at 6:58 pace and not even working remotely hard. It was easy. Maybe it's the rapid pedaling motion while cycling that helps improve leg turnover in running. I do know that one of the keys to running big ascents like the ones we have in Colorado is quick turnover. So I really think there's something to cross-training, especially when I consider what Lee McKinley said in this recent pod cast interview, which is making the rounds.

Back East, I ran 100 miles a week training for big races and it worked well for me. Sure, you have hills back East, but the terrain isn't as demanding on the body as it is out here in Colorado, and so 100-mile weeks back East never messed me up much. If anything, triple-digit weeks made me super-strong. I also think the elevation here in Colorado puts a big strain on the body. When you're in a race like the Leadville 100, you need to be more than just a strong runner; you need to be a strong hiker and you need to have the strength to handle the big climbs and descents. This requires a lot of different muscles. Since moving out West, I've come to realize that my quads and hiking are major weaknesses, which might explain the decline in my race results over the past two years (it's obvious when looking at my results on Ultrasignup). My quads give out on me on long descents and I've never been a great uphill hiker. Hiking has just never felt natural to me. I'm now thinking that a cross-training regimen consisting of running, cycling and fast-walking, along with planks and other core work, will help create better balance in my hips and legs, more effectively preparing me for the challenge of Leadville. Along the lines of what Lee says in his interview, I'm floating a training formula for Leadville that would go something like this:

14-15 total hours a week of training
  • 11 hours running (~75-85 miles)
  • 1-2 hours cycling
  • 1-2 hours walking/hiking (instead of running my usual two-a-days, I would still run in the AM and then fast-walk at night)
"Recovery" weeks
  • 8 hours running (~60 miles)
  • 3-4 hours cycling
  • 2-3 hours walking/hiking
I think if you're a really strong hiker with good muscular balance in your legs, you're going to do well in mountain races. If you're not a good hiker and have imbalances in your legs, you're probably going to suffer. So, if that's the case, I can't help but think that a training plan for a 100-miler that focuses only on running and doesn't also include some walking and cycling is an incomplete plan.

If you have thoughts on this, post away!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ultrarunning as an Egalitarian, Outlaw Sport

I ran my first ultra in 2005 and was quickly hooked. Over the past few years, I've taken to learning as much about ultrarunning as I could. I've read nearly every book about ultrarunning that I could find, including a few--like this one and that one--that are exceptionally good. I've watched several ultrarunning films (this one and that one remain the best I've seen to date). One thing I've learned about ultrarunning--or at least I think I've learned--is that this sport has a long tradition of being egalitarian and outlaw in nature. What do I mean by that?

We all know about the running/jogging boom that swept the nation in the 1970s, during the time of Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers. At about this same time, when many folks were getting into recreational running, modern-day ultrarunning began taking root through the work of pioneers like Ted Corbitt of New York City, Gordy Ainsleigh of California and others. What followed was the development of a sport that directly contrasted with the proliferating jogging movement and big-money road racing. Ultras were held across the nation, attracting next to no attention. The sport largely existed in the shadows, and that was OK to the few who toed the line in races.

Ultrarunning's growth in the 80s was never really about money; it was about people wanting to test their limits and go the distance on trail and road. Even today, most races are still put on by volunteers and operated on a shoe-string budget. In an era of million-dollar professional athletes, the prize for winning an ultramarathon has traditionally been squat, save a buckle if it's a 100-miler, maybe a medal, and in some cases a trophy like the famed Cougar at Western States. Which is to say the sport has traditionally treated its winners (elites) no different than its mid-packers and back-of-the-packers. In fact, many races celebrate the last-place finisher, like at the Mohican 100, which awards a hand-made "Last of the Mohicans" trophy. Another example of the sport's egalitarian nature can be seen in the legendary Hardrock 100. Hardrock makes everyone enter its lottery, with no reserved spots for anyone--not even the best mountain runners in the world--except those who have previously finished the race. A lottery is unfortunate, but I applaud Hardrock for its ability to create a system that favors no one except its own. I think somewhere along the line the egalitarian nature of ultrarunning wasn't an organic, "accidental" phenomenon, but rather an intentional goal.

Most incredible about ultrarunning is the fact that its participants are a humble lot. This is extraordinary. To run distances of 100 miles or more and yet maintain a humble nature says a lot about the average ultrarunner. I think it says that when you reach the depths of your soul, as many of us do in long races, you find out what really matters in life--perseverance, belief in self, family, and, for me, the knowledge that true strength comes from something far greater than I (dare I say God?). As is often the case, after an epic race we're back in the office on Monday morning and say nothing of what we did over the weekend.

I voice these thoughts because they're really on my mind (maybe this is what happens when you're injured like I am right now with Achilles tendonitis). With the steady emergence of prize purses, feature-length documentaries spotlighting elite ultrarunners, and Tour de France-like racing teams bankrolled by corporations, I can't help but wonder if the egalitarian, outlaw nature of the sport is becoming a thing of the past. I hope not. My greatest hope for ultrarunning is that we never lose sight of what makes this the greatest sport of all: the fact that we're all like-minded, united and equal, regardless of skill or talent level, in our love of testing our limits by running a long way on road and trail.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Achilles Tendonitis, Cross-Training and Other Musings

Grant Swamp at Hardrock. No, this isn't Kansas.
Congrats to everyone who got into the 2012 Hardrock 100! Hardrock is a dream race of mine. For me, Hardrock is going to have to wait until I finally achieve some measure of satisfaction at the Leadville 100. Satisfaction at Leadville is a time under 20 hours and maybe 21 hours depending on conditions (as well as a 1,000-mile buckle and Leadman trophy). I'm close. Once that goal (sub-20) is achieved, I will turn my attention to Hardrock...but not before the Bear 100 and/or Wasatch 100. Having done some ridiculously hard mountain races like the Jemez 50-Mile in New Mexico, I have to improve my hiking before any attempt at Hardrock. With the benefit of knowledge from having moved out West to burly Colorado from back East, where the land is flat and the air is thick, I honestly think folks who enter Hardrock without mountain experience are, well, a bit crazy. Do they even know what they've gotten themselves into?

Having said all of that, my plan is to be down in Silverton next July for some pacing and volunteer work.


This is a fantastic podcast with elite mountain ultrarunner Anton Krupicka. As many know, Anton's battled a broken leg and tendonitis in his shin all year, effectively missing all of 2011 save a strong effort at the Rocky Raccoon 100 back in February. He's a heck of a nice guy and so I wish him all the best and hope he busts out a huge comeback at the Bandera 100K in January.

Last Tuesday morning on a 9-miler I felt a twinge in my right Achilles tendon but I got through my run without missing a beat. The next morning I headed out for my usual run in the Parker hills and, about 5 miles in, felt that twinge again. It quickly turned into full-blown pain in my Achilles, with no option for cutting my run short due to where I was on my loop. I almost called Anne to come pick me up, but instead I slowly jogged home, walking the uphills to minimize the damage. Since then, the farthest I've run is about 5 miles flat on my treadmill. I'm now in full-blown cross-training mode and only running a few miles at a time so to avoid any further aggravation to the Achilles.

It sucks that this injury has crept up on me just when my training for next March's Georgia Marathon had started to take off. I was feeling good, logging 70+ miles a week and getting in some nice quality when the injury hit. It's hard to say how long I'll be sidelined--maybe a few weeks, maybe more than a month. One thing's for sure; I will not try to "run through" this injury. Running through just about any injury sounds well and good, but in reality it is a recipe for disaster, as I learned late last summer (2010) when I got hit with a near "career"-ending injury that lasted for five months (plantar fasciitis).

In fact, I would say the #1 mistake most runners make is trying to run through injury. You can often cross-train through injury, as I'm doing now with light jogging, hard walking and plenty of cycling (indoors) but, when an injury hits, the best course of action is to cut back and/or stop running altogether. This is where cross-training can be very valuable in helping to maintain fitness. Fortunately for me, I feel no pain if I jog only a few miles, cycle hard and walk fast.

So with my Achilles inflamed, a PR effort at the Georgia Marathon on March 18 may be in doubt. Only time will tell--only I don't have a lot of time....


Over the past five days I've been cycling on my new Blackburn indoor bike trainer. In the winter of 2009-2010 I used a similar trainer that I borrowed from a friend and really enjoyed it. I'd intended to buy one but have only now gotten around to it (actually, it was a very generous, thoughtful Christmas gift from my mother- and father-in-law that I was forced to open early thanks to this injury). I've really enjoyed my trainer; it's quiet, smooth and a great workout. I've also noticed improvement in my performance. I have to think cycling is a fantastic cross-training activity.

I'm not just cycling. I'm also walking at about 12:30 pace, which is pretty fast, and doing push-ups and core work. I want to get lean and strong for the spring and summer racing season.


Next Saturday I find out about the Western States 100. I really want in but I'm very realistic about the odds. If my calculations are correct, I have about a one in ten chance of getting in. Obviously the math is stacked against me, and that's OK. I'll just keep entering the lottery until I get in :-)

If I get into Western, it will be my big goal race for the summer...and then I'll do my best at the Leadville 100. If I don't get into Western, the Leadville 100 will once again be my focal point and I'll then I'll start penciling in other races, such as the Mount Evans Ascent (want to break 2:20), the Leadville Marathon (want to break 4:30), and maybe the Jemez 50-Mile or San Juan Solstice 50-Mile. I'll know after next Saturday!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Must-Read on Balancing Work, Life and Family

This is a fantastic post by Andy Jones-Wilkins. If you're a runner who faces the ongoing challenge of balancing work, family and the miles, check out Andy's post.

Here's a photo of me running on my treadmill back in the summer of 2008 (when we lived in Cleveland, Ohio). The baby resting next to me is my son, Noah, who at the time was only a few months old. I was training for the Mohican 100-Mile (finished 4th that year) and this was what I had to do to get in my second run of the day. Note the race medals and photos in the background. When I look at this photo, I wish he were in my arms and not next to me as I ran, but oh well....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Losing Weight

I read this blog post by Ben Davis, aka "Ben Does Life," and it got me to thinking (always a frightening thing). I'm one of the few who has lost weight and kept it off. A lot of people, including many I know, have lost weight and then, in time, put it all back on, plus some. I recently read that most of the weight gain people experience happens over the holidays--extra pounds that are often never taken off. If you gain two pounds during the holidays every year, over a period of 20 years you're going to gain 40 pounds, especially as your metabolism slows due to inactivity (a process you can reverse) and you lose muscle due to a lack of exercise. If that sounds outrageous, it's not. It happens to many people. Many of the people I knew in high school and college are now fighting their weight. It happened to me and then, at about age 30, I got control.

I don't pretend I'm now immune from ever being over-weight. I'm going to have to keep eating right, exercising regularly and adhering to healthy habits if I'm to maintain my current weight and fitness level.

Lots of people out there are overweight and unhappy and not sure what to do or how to get started. In many cases, they know changes have to be made, but they're either scared of change or unsure of how to go about it.

If there's one nugget of wisdom I've gleaned from my transformation from a 220-pound "big guy" to a lean 168-pound ultra-distance runner with a few wins on my resume, it's this: Whatever you do to try to live a healthier life, make sure it's sustainable. Slimfast isn't sustainable. The Atkins Diet isn't sustainable. Same with NutriSystem and other unsustainable fad diets (though I do kind of like the Paleo Diet). Many of the ridiculous workout machines and programs advertised on TV (including P90X, which I used to like but have since changed my mind about) aren't sustainable and will keep you interested for only a few weeks before burn-out sets in. So what is sustainable? Activities that are natural and enjoyable, such as running, walking, cycling, swimming (warning: swimming increases your appetite!), horse-back riding (my wife's passion), tennis, ciruit training, aerobics (e.g., Zumba, which my sister-in-law loves), etc.

You have to find what you love to do and then make it a permanent part of your life, starting with your daily routine. For me, it's running (and cycling when I have time). I run nearly 4,000 miles a year and I love every step of it, whether it's a training run or a race of 100 miles. I can't remember the last time running was "exercise." For you, the right fit might be daily tennis or laps in the pool. Find what you love and stick with it.

Exercise is only part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Diet and lifestyle play a huge role. Here are a few sustainable changes I made that really made a difference for me:
  • In bed by 9:00 PM. If you're a night owl, the temptation to eat in the wee hours is often a killer. If you go to bed at an earlier hour (say, 10 PM), the temptation won't be there.
  • Up by 5:00 AM for my run. I have found that as the day goes on and there are more and more distractions, it's harder and harder to find time for my run. I prevent that from happening by running first thing in the morning (and then again at night if I'm training for a big race such as 100-miler). There is no better way to start the day than with exercise. Be sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes and ideally an hour or more.
  • Eat whole grains instead of refined carbs (e.g., whole-wheat pasta, whole grain breads and brown rice in lieu of white pasta, white bread and white rice). Note: I do eat lots of carbs to fuel my running, but I try to eat good carbs.
  • No more sugary drinks. Ever.
  • Less red meat and more lean proteins, including free-range chicken and beef from grass-fed cows (I love a good steak)
  • Greater emphasis on vegetarian foods (e.g., garden burgers)
  • More organic vegetables and fruits
  • Introduction of healthy, gluten-free foods like quinoa
  • Pack my own lunch every single day
  • Bye-bye to fast food. It's poison and never OK to eat. Moderation is not always the right approach.
  • Dine out only occasionally and, when we do, I usually order something healthy like salmon.
  • Less TV
  • No video games. In time, I believe video games will be shown to be destructive to mind and body. Like the Internet, when you sit down to play a video game time flies and, before you know it, hours have passed that you could have spent being active or doing something productive.
As we can see in Ben's blog, he's working hard to get back to healthier ways after falling off the wagon for a while. This happens to many of us. If it's happening to you, don't wait until tomorrow to get back on the wagon. Don't put it off until "after the holidays," or the new year--convenient excuses. Get back on right now. Make the change this very second and put your heart and soul into it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Watching Kilian Jornet Run

Continuing my previous post on "heart" and "head" runners, one of the great pleasures of being a part of the ultra scene these days is watching 24-year-old Kilian Jornet of Spain do his thing. Over the past few years, Kilian, who anchors the Salomon Running team, has accomplished some incredible feats, such as resounding wins at Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, the Western States 100 and many European mountain races. But with Kilian, the incredible goes way beyond his resume and even his freakish talent. The way he runs can be described, at least in my own mind, in the following ways: beautiful, like a child full of excitement, passionate, with his heart.

Watching Kilian run is like watching my son, Noah, or my nephew, Alex, run. They run with passion. With nothing holding them back mentally or physically, Noah and Alex tear down the hallway, down hills and across the grass. They don't hold back; they're all in with each stride and living the moment for all it's worth. There's no jogging with them! That's what I think of when I see Kilian run. His mind and body are both fully engaged--he's a part of the environment. See for yourself:

I watch the many videos of Kilian that are on YouTube and I can't help but think this is the way one should run--and live. For many of us, something happens over the course of our lives that takes the inner kid from us. Maybe it's the stresses of adulthood--a mortgage and bills to pay, schedules to juggle, "stuff" to buy, a house to clean, putting food on the table, job worries, shrinking 401Ks, etc. A lot of that, I think, weighs us down, squelches our spirit and effectively kills our ability to truly live free. Life becomes almost a coffin. I have to think this all spills into running. As I asked in my last post, is going all out--like a child full of excitement--and risking spectacular failure in pursuit of great achievement really all that bad? I think if you asked that of Kilian, he'd say running with unbridled passion, regardless of what happens, is the only way to run. Maybe that explains why he loves it so much.

I think what holds of back isn't the physical or even the environment around us. What holds us back is ourselves--what's in our mind! I'll be telling myself that the next time I'm running up a 13,000 or 14,000 foot mountain and questioning whether I can keep going. I can!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Heart Runners and Head Runners

I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Clifton for my upcoming story about Mike Morton, set to appear in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine. Yes, the same Eric Clifton whose 17-year-old record at the JFK 50-Mile went down over the weekend when David Riddle, 30, of Cincinnati, Ohio ran an amazing 5:40 at the 49-year-old race. Eric, in reflecting on how he and Morton used to train together, said something that really got me to thinking. He said that at the pace they often ran together, a runner either breaks down or breaks through.

Eric also described himself as a "heart runner." Here's how Eric characterizes "heart runners" and "head runners":
"To me, a heart runner runs races for the joy of pushing their limits. Winning is not so important, except for the effort it takes to win raises one to a higher level of speed and performance. Times also are not that relevant. What's important is the run. To run freely, smoothly and strongly: that's what it is all about. They do not go out and calculate a predetermined pace to net them a certain time or performance; they just run their hearts out every race. Heart runners are not consistent with their races, no matter how talented they are, simply because they do not worry about saving energy for later. They are going for broke every race and, if the bodies hold up, they have awesome runs. If they tip over into the red zone for long enough, they have spectacular failures. I think both outcomes are great. Head runners are nice guys (and gals) but I truly love and respect heart runners."
In his prime, Eric was well-known for going out hard and staying at a blistering pace. That's what got him all those course records and wins, including his amazing 5:46 course record at the JFK 50-Mile--a record that stood for 17 years. (Eric is perhaps best known for his prominent role in "Running on the Sun," a fascinating documentary about the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon, which he won. Click here to watch the entire documentary.) But it's also what led to a number of DNF's. From what I've learned and been told, in a race Eric Clifton either did something amazing, or he crashed and burned. There was never a middle ground with him. I admire that.

I think there's a connection between being a heart runner and reaching that point where you either break down or finally break through. This raises a whole bunch of questions. Is it worth it to throw 100 percent of yourself into your runs--every ounce of your heart and soul--even if it means breaking down and/or not reaching the finish line? Yeah, the risk of failure or injury is there, but there's also a huge potential payoff. Of course, you have to put in the necessary training, or else your hopes will be dashed almost every time. But what if we all trained with 100 percent of our heart, never going through the motions, and always went out guns blazing in races? What if we all risked spectacular failure in a quest for the ultimate race? Do we train like zombies and race "carefully" because we are afraid of failure? And is going out hard, only to crash and burn, really failure?

I think to be a heart runner and to run with guns blazing, you have to train hard and believe in yourself. When the gun goes off and you explode out of the gate, running those early miles with the field behind you, you have to believe in your heart that you will succeed--through the good moments and those awful dark moments. If you don't believe, or if you have ever faint doubts, you will fail, or change your approach to a "safer" strategy. But is "safe" really fulfilling?
Are you a heart runner, or a head runner?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Race Weight

My training is going pretty well. I'm at about 70 miles a week, which is quite manageable for me. I've been going on killer marathon-pace long runs on Sundays on the Cherry Creek Trail, which provides a flat, paved surface that is perfect for road marathon training. Last Sunday I went so hard that I was sick as a dog afterward. Or maybe it was a virus. Or maybe running hard for 17.5 miles at 6,000 feet got to me. I'm not sure. I took Noah to breakfast after my run (I was feeling a little woozy but OK when we left for breakfast) and, as we were sitting in the restaurant, my stomach started going south fast. It was a long day that left me exhausted.

I registered for the 2012 Western States 100. I hope to get in, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Lots of people have entered and will continue to enter through November. I'll find out in mid-December if I got in...or didn't. If I do get in, it'll be my goal 100 for the year, and then I'll just do the best I can at the Leadville 100.

Right now I'm reading Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, by Matt Fitzgerald. Why? One of my big goals for 2012 is to set a new personal best in the marathon (which will set me up for virtual automatic entry in the 2013 Boston Marathon). From 2008 to 2009, I had a nice little sub-3-hour streak going but the streak ended in April of this year thanks to 30+ mph winds and hot weather at the Eisenhower Marathon. Anyway, I've registered for the 2012 Georgia Marathon in Atlanta on March 18. Though not an easy course, I'll be looking for a new PR there--especially if the weather cooperates.

Living at nearly 6,200 feet, I've found that I seem to have a huge advantage at sea level when the weather is cool. If it's hot and I'm racing, as was the case at the Eisenhower Marathon in April, I don't feel an advantage. So I'll be pulling for cool weather in Atlanta next March.

Back to the book. I think I need to get down to about 165 pounds to have a shot at a new marathon PR, and to perform well at the Leadville 100. Right now I'm about 170 pounds, so I just need to shed five pounds. Fitzgerald's book has some great information and tips to help you achieve your true racing weight. I need to really be vigilant about the quality of what I'm eating and when I'm eating. I've stuck to three square meals a day and I think it's getting time to start eating more meals but less at each.

The bottom line is that it's hard to run fast for a long distance--and climb mountains--unless you're lean. But there's a difference between skinny and lean. Lean means you have muscle and little fat. Skinny, to me, means you lack muscle. I'm fairly lean but I could be leaner.

Also, I have to get off my ass and start doing some weight training. The more muscle you have, the leaner you'll be. Muscle burns more calories. At 38 years of age, I can't afford to keep avoiding weight training. It has to be part of the mix--high reps, low weight. If only I had the time....

If you're looking to shed a few pounds the right way (read: the healthy way), check out Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ultrarunning Magazine Feature Story / Western States 100 Lottery

If you're a frequent visitor to this blog, you might have noticed I haven't been posting a lot lately. I know, I need to get on it! And I will...now that I'm about done with an amazing feature-length story about Mike Morton that will appear in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine.
I previously interviewed Mike, and that interview provided some great content to build out an enrapturing story. This is the project that I'm most proud of, by far. I'm proud of it for a few reasons. First off, I think it's going to be a nice edition to ultrarunning lore. Second, Mike Morton's story, which goes way beyond that famous 1997 Western States 100 course record, is something you'd ordinarily find in a Hollywood movie--not real life. Yes, his story is that good. Third, the whole process of writing this story was so rewarding and made me feel like a sportswriter. All I was missing was a travel budget!

In telling Mike's story, I've been in contact with the two guys who knew him best back in the '90s--Eric Clifton and Courtney Campbell. Eric, of course, has won lots of races and is still going strong. Courtney, like Mike until a few years ago, has been largely out of ultrarunning for a while, but back in the 90s he and Mike often ran together in--and won--many big races out East. They were once called "The Dynamic Duo."

The story, which is a whopping 4,000 words (every word carefully selected, like grapes for a fine wine), is set to appear in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine--you know, the year-end/stats issue. I couldn't be more thrilled that my story is going to run in Ultrarunning magazine, much less its most popular issue of the year!


Tomorrow the Western States 100 lottery registration opens. Yes, I'll be among the billion people trying to get in. We'll see how it goes. I think the lottery results go out on December 11. If I do get in, I'll be gunning for a time under 20 hours. The max 9,000 feet and the snowy stretches at Western won't be too bad for me, since I'm a Colorado runner and I think this is probably the hardest place in the US to run. What's gonna be hard--actually very hard--is the constant downhill the last half and the hot canyons. I imagine at Michigan Bluff I'll be contemplating life, like the rest of 'em.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Leadmas" Season is Upon Us (aka Why I Love Leadville)

If you've been reading this blog a while, you know I have a love affair with Leadville. The whole Leadville experience has become, quite simply, a huge part of my life and the life of my family. It's not just me running the 100 miles; it's an epic effort that Anne and Noah, my mom and dad, dear friends and beloved members of my family all share in on one fine day in August. For me, though, the process starts much earlier as my training ramps up and I hit the trails--an experience that requires a lot of sacrifice on my part and my family's, too.

Leadville is so important and cherished to me that today at 11:00 AM MST I logged onto the race's website to enter the 2012 100-mile run at the very second registration opened. I simply could not fathom missing the LT100 in 2012, or being locked out of registration, and so I confirmed my entry at the earliest possible time. When my registration went through and I got my confirmation e-mail, I breathed a sign of relief. I truly believe the day will come when Leadville turns to a lottery system due to overwhelming demand, and by then I hope to have enough finishes to earn an automatic entry into the race--kind of like how they do it at Hardrock. Until then, my entry will come in the second registration opens!

Me running up Hagerman Pass. 2011.
Like many of us, the town of Leadville has endured its ups and down and continues to deal with a lot of pain to this very day. If you've been to Leadville, which is situated at 10,200 feet in the Rocky Mountains, you probably know all about the town's boom and bust story and what the closure of the Climax mine in the early 1980s did to its proud, hard-working people. Leadville came within inches of death. The creation of the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run by out-of-work miner Ken Chlouber, followed by the Leadville Race Series (which Ken and Merilee Maupin created together), has helped breathe new economic life into the town, bringing thousands of visitors to Leadville and its glorious mountains every summer. We can only hope the new owner of the race series, Lifetime Fitness, continues Ken and Merilee's wonderful work.

I think we all in some way have dealt with pain and adversity in our own lives. I know I have. And so I find inspiration in a town like Leadville, which has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. In many ways, the town has come back from the dead and reinvented itself as the High Altitude Racing Capital of the World. Like many people out there, I have a special place in my heart for Leadville. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to move to Colorado in the first place.

As for the 2012 race, it feels good to have it penciled into my calendar. As of right now, it's my big event for next summer. If by some miracle I get into the Western States 100, my strategy will shift a bit to a strong finish at Western (sub 20 hours) followed by a "strong-as-I-can-muster" finish at Leadville. That would be two epic 100-mile efforts in a period of seven weeks. For some guys and gals (like this dude or that dude), such a feat would be a cake walk. For me, this will be quite a challenge. In 2009, I finished 1st overall at the Mohican 100 and then about 11 weeks later ran 131 miles at the USA 24-Hour National Championship--an effort that really took a toll on me. So it would be interesting to see how I would do with a Western States/Leadville double. That said, I'm well aware that my chance of getting into Western is very low, which would mean Leadville--and the sub-20 finish there I've been chasing for a few years--would be my only focus. That's just the way the WS100 lottery works these days.

Parting words: You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can. That's the motto of the Leadville 100. Words to live by? Yes, indeed.

And, last, my personal Leadville 100 theme song:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Winter and Mountains

The winter is fast-approaching and, for many, it's the time of year to retreat to the indoors and hibernate. Not me! While winter has never been my favorite season, I nonetheless try to embrace and make make the most of this time of year. I usually hold my running mileage to about 70 a week throughout the winter and am out there every day going at it, unless it's icy or below zero, in which case I run on a treadmill. Over the years I've found that proper apparel is critical to enjoying outdoor winter activities. If you wear cotton on a run in January, you're going to be cold and miserable. Especially with winter gear, it's worth it to buy decent stuff.

This winter I really want to enjoy what Colorado has to offer, starting with our mountains. I'm really excited to join a good friend of mine, Matt C., in summiting Quandary Peak, a notable 14,265-foot mountain near Breckenridge, in a few weeks. Matt is a superior skier and has bagged a few 14'ers in his day, so he'll be great company on this winter expedition. We've literally known each other for about 31 years now and we're also both two-time finishers of the Leadville 100.

Anyway, earlier this year a friend sent me a photo of someone he knew summiting Quandary in the winter. I've never forgotten that photo--it really stuck with me and created this burning desire to do a winter summit. Here's the photo:

Those little dots? Those are people. Yes, when you consider that the dots are people, it really puts into perspective how big these mountains in Colorado are. So long as the weather cooperates, that'll be Matt and me in a few weeks!

There's some gear I'm going to need for our Quandary expedition. First off, I'm going to need a pair of serious gloves that are both warm and wind-proof. I'm also going to need some decent winter boots and socks fit for mountaineering. I've looked on Backcountry.com and REI and have seen a few I like. Matt's going to loan me a pair of his snow shoes (which boots fit into) so I can get a sense of what I like and don't like before buying some for myself. I've heard there's as much as 60 inches of snow up there right now! I already have trekking poles, a ski mask, a nice coat, plenty of high-quality layers, a day pack and other essentials. Let me know if you have any recommendations. Beyond gear, though, the most important thing I will need I already have--desire and fitness!

There is nothing quite like standing atop a 14,000-foot mountain. You've worked hard to get up there and your reward is a view like no other. You feel like you're on top of the world. This is how I felt for both of my Pikes Peak summits and my Mount Evans summit and I'm sure it's how I'll feel when Matt and I reach the top of Quandary. These 14,000-foot mountains we have here in Colorado are the reason I've always wanted to live here--and a big reason why I wake up every day feeling lucky. My dream is to one day summit all of them...and I will! My greatest dream, though, is to hike these mountains with Anne and Noah. Hopefully next year, when he's old enough, we can all ski (but first I need to learn how!) and then in a few years maybe Noah will be ready for some hikes at altitude. 
Here's to the many joys of Colorado living! And here's to YOU embracing the winter and making the most of the many unique opportunities it offers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview with Phil McCarthy

Phil McCarthy is one of the top time-based runners in the world today. A native Nebraskan now living in New York City, he has run almost 70 ultramarathons since 2002, winning a total of 17 races. In 2009 and again in 2011, Phil won the highly competitive 24-hour national championship, held in Cleveland, Ohio along the banks of Lake Erie. He was named to the US 24-hour team from 2007-2011 and has automatically qualified for the 2012 team. In 2007, Phil became the first American man to place in the top 10 at the 24-hour world championship race, finishing fourth. He has run over 150 miles in three different 24-hour races. In May of 2011, Phil broke the American record for 48 hours, held by John Geesler, logging 257.34 miles. He has also finished twice in the top 10 at the Badwater Ultramarathon, a grueling 135-mile race across Death Valley held in July. On the trail, Phil has buckled at the Western States and Vermont 100s. Beyond running, he has a strong passion for music and is a classically-trained pianist.

Phil in en route to his 48-hour record in May of 2011.
WH: Phil, thanks for agreeing to this interview. So far I've talked with mountain ultrarunning specialists Karl Meltzer, Nick Clark and Geoff Roes (note to reader: at the time of this interview, I hadn't yet interviewed Mike Morton). It's nice to shift gears and now focus on a guy who has dominated the 24- and 48-hour scene for a few years. On that note, a few weeks ago you ripped off 153.37 miles, winning your second 24-hour national championship in Cleveland at the very competitive North Coast race. What are your thoughts on the race and what does yet another national championship mean to you personally?

PM: Thank you, Wyatt! I love running the 24-hour national championship. I've run every one since 2006. It's always highly competitive, with the best runners around, and also a great chance to meet up with other 24-hour junkies. Dan Horvath (race director) does a really good job with North Coast. I love the course – 0.9 miles, flat with a couple of gentle hills, and Dan and his team take good care of the runners. I was feeling good going into it, and even though Serge Arbona and Mike Henze and Mark Godale of course have better PR's, I was feeling pretty confident that I had as good a chance to win as anyone. I actually started out shooting for 160 miles and was on pace for quite a while, before slowing down a little as night fell. I didn't reach that goal, and fell about a mile short of a PR, but I stayed in front from start to finish, holding off a strong challenge from Mark in the middle hours, and finished with a good total of 153 miles. 150 miles is a big mark, and I'm not sure, but I think I'm the first American to get 150 miles three different times. But winning the national championship is a huge thing for me—a way to put my name in the books, and not many people have won more than once. That said, big congratulations to Connie Gardner for winning her third! It also gets me on the team to run in the World Championships in Poland next year.

WH: I've found through personal experience that going 24 hours around a 1-mile hard-surface loop is a whole different animal than running 100 miles on a trail. You've done lots of different kinds of ultras, from the Western States 100 and Vermont 100 to many of the big 24-hour races. In your mind, what are the similarities and differences between the two types of events (trail 100s and 24s)?

PM: The similarities are just the basics of running: technique, body position, foot placement, stride, as well as hydration and nutrition, clothing, coping with weather, etc. For the differences, there are two different elements: trail vs. road and fixed-time vs. fixed-distance. I do prefer roads because I can get a smooth, efficient stride going without worrying about the surface. How your foot meets the ground is so important, and on a road you have much more control. The hard surface of pavement doesn't bother me at all – it's possible to develop a technique that minimizes the impact.

Fixed-time races also have a different set of challenges than fixed-distance races, especially point-to-point (Western States) or single loop (Vermont). Running a mile loop over and over can be very tough mentally, for sure, especially when there's no finish line and you're out there indefinitely, as far as distance. But the advantages are that you pass by the aid station and your own supplies every mile, and it eliminates distractions and it's easier to focus in on your own running and what you need to do to keep going. It's something that I've gotten good at, and I guess is well-suited to my personality and way of thinking. Besides that, a lot of the ultras in the New York area are fixed-time or otherwise short-loop repeat courses, which goes back to the beginnings of modern ultrarunning in the 50's and 60's, so I'm very proud to be carrying on that tradition.

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about 24-hour races or other fixed-time races. Runner's World wrote a very derogatory article a couple years ago, and a lot of people think we have a screw loose. Even other ultrarunners sometimes seem to see it as an eccentric fringe of the sport, but I think it's just that to a lot of people it just doesn't sound fun. But fun is subjective, and in the end, it's all just running.

But I loved running Western States, which was my first 100, back in 2005, and Vermont, and I'd love to run more of the big mountain trail 100-mile races, even though I wouldn't be as competitive in them. (But on the flip side, a lot of the best 100-mile runners have crashed in 24-hour races.) But the costs and logistics of traveling to them make it tough. And my priority has to be where my strength lies, especially for national championships, world championships, or other international races or record attempts.

2011 24-Hour National Championship in Cleveland, Ohio
WH: I remember that Runner’s World feature (read it here)—I agree that it was quite derogatory and I almost canceled my subscription. I do think 24-hour races are fun. There’s a whole mystique about them—the closed loop, the tent city, the little community that forms over the 24 hours.

PM: Absolutely. I was just so shocked to see something like that from a magazine that supposedly promotes the sport of running. I think a lot of people dismiss these kinds of events too quickly. They really are a lot of fun!

WH: Indeed. They are fun...but challenging to say the least. That said, it's hard to imagine running for 48 hours straight...much less at record pace. But that's just what you did earlier this year when you set a new 48-hour record with 257 miles, besting John Geesler's record of 248. How much harder was 48 hours than 24 hours, and did you ever take a rest?

PM: This race, Three Days at the Fair, in Sussex County, NJ, was my third 48-hour race, and I was shooting for the record – with John's encouragement – at each one, starting with Surgeres, 2008. I did well there with 235, didn't get the record, but I learned a lot. It was a lot like a 24, but it hurt a lot more afterward, and it was hard to get moving again after a 15 or 30 minute nap. On the upside, I could relax the pace and didn't have to push the speed. My second 48 was Across the Years this past December, and I pulled out halfway through with worries about my Achilles - but I learned from that, too.

So for Three Days at the Fair I was so determined to get the record, I simply put mind over matter and kept my focus on what I needed to do as far as pace, technique, nutrition, all the basics. It took a huge amount of mental energy to stay awake and alert the whole time. I took, I think, four rest breaks when I would lay on the ground (or once on a park bench) for 5-10 minutes with my feet slightly elevated and close my eyes. I didn't dare fall asleep because I didn't have anyone to wake me up, but I just needed to give my feet a rest and to shut my mind down for a little bit. But I came out of each of those rests feeling very refreshed. Other than that, and stopping to put on warmer clothes at night, I didn't stop at all. The best part was it didn't feel hard at all. I was able to even pick up the pace the last couple of hours, and I could've kept going and going! My feet hurt for a while, but joint pain went away quickly and I had almost no muscle soreness at all! I'm very proud of this race, not just because I got the record, but because everything came together, my plan was perfectly-executed, and I came through it not just in one piece but feeling good at the end.

WH: In my only 24-hour race to date (the 2009 North Coast 24, which you won), I saw lots of different strategies. I saw people deploy run/walk strategies. I saw others totally going on feel. A few just wanted to get to 100 miles and then whatever happened beyond that was gravy. When you're in a 24- or 48-hour race, do you have any particular strategies?
PM: I start with a goal mileage that is ambitious but reasonable, for example 160 miles at North Coast. I split that up into 12-hour splits, 85 and 75, then 6-hour and 3-hour splits, measured both in minutes per mile and minutes per lap, taking into account some slowing but trying to keep the middle 12 hours as consistent as possible. For me, the key is to settle into a pace and a routine that I can sustain for the bulk of the race. Of course, once I get off-track and my goal is out of reach, then I go more by feel! I haven't been as disciplined lately about walk breaks, but I think maybe I should get back to that. For the 48-hour, John's record was an even 400K, so I came up with a plan to reach each 50K by a certain time, and I even left an extra hour at the end for safety. That time, everything did work and I broke 400K with about an hour forty to go. Different things work for different people, nothing works all the time, and everyone has different goals, but this gives me a framework to start with at least. It also helps mentally to break it down into recognizable chunks, because if you've been running ten hours and all you can think of is that you have 14 hours to go, it's too overwhelming and you'll drive yourself crazy!

The 2010 US 24-hour team. Phil stands to the far right.
WH: This is great information that I’m sure will be helpful to our readers. When I did the North Coast 24 in 2009, I fell into the trap of drinking every time I went through the aid station, which later caused me to pee an annoyingly high number of times, slowing me down. Big mistake! Do you have a nutrition strategy in time-based races—as far as when, what and how much to eat and drink?
PM: I actually do drink something every lap, at North Coast and at other races with loops of similar length. I think it’s vital to staying hydrated, and I usually require a brief pit stop every three hours when things are running smoothly. But nutrition has been a weak point for me in some races in the past, mostly because I don’t have the appetite for food with enough calories or nutrients to keep me going, all I really want to do is drink. So lately I’m relying more on Hammer drink products and other drinks that give me more liquid nutrition, and that’s helped. I’m also taking a cue from Marshall Ulrich who said that in his cross-country run he didn’t drink any water, only drinks with calories, so I’m moving a little bit in that direction. Basically, nutrition is still something I’m working on and experimenting with.
WH: Does your passion as a musician ever find its way into your running, or are the two pursuits totally separate?
PM: I believe that every aspect of my life finds its way into my running somehow, but my musical training is an especially significant factor I think. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance, so for years I was practicing four hours a day or more, and it required a lot of work that to some might be considered very tedious. But keeping in mind the big picture, what you hope to accomplish, helps give you the patience needed, and when you understand how the long hours of training contribute to your goal, the work is something you’re genuinely happy to do. And the long hours of practicing do require muscle strengthening and pushing beyond a state of muscle exhaustion, just with different muscles. So in many ways it’s a lot like ultrarunning. Besides that, I think the inner, soul-searching nature of creating music has been a big influence on the way I run – more of an inner, soul-searching manner, which could explain why I’m better at short loop or fixed-time races. Or maybe they just both stem from the same part of my personality.
WH: You are on the board of the American Ultrarunning Association. Looking at ultrarunning today and where the sport may be heading—as we see bigger and bigger prize purses, sketchy participation among elites in national championship trail races, the threat of performance-enhancing drugs and other looming factors—is there a role the AUA can play?
PM: Yeah, with prize money I think our top prizes have finally caught up to the sport of competitive eating! Seriously, you’ve brought up a number of important topics. The sport is growing I do think there is a role the AUA can play to help on a number of issues, and we are always evaluating that. I can’t give you any details at this time regarding what we might or might not do. The USATF also has a big role of course, by designating national championship races and selecting teams for world championship races, certifying records, among other things. But you have to remember that a lot of ultrarunners have a very independent spirit and don’t necessarily place a lot of importance on nationwide (or international) institutions. I think a lot of runners don’t even know there is a 100-mile national championship. We can try to do what we can for runners, but we don’t want to squash that spirit either. As the sport grows, I think it will be increasingly necessary to provide a sort of home for ultrarunners and race directors where they can get reliable information, perhaps some guidance, and give them a voice.

WH: As a former East Coaster who moved out West a few years ago, I’ve experienced two very different ultrarunning cultures. A sport that traces its roots to road races and time-based events now seems dominated by the big mountain ultra races. Is this something you’ve observed as well and, if so, what are your thoughts on the cultural/geographic divide in the sport?

PM: I haven’t spent a whole lot of time out west, but I agree that there seem to be two different cultures, or traditions. If there are more people running the mountain trail races, that’s not a bad thing at all, it’s just the way things developed. But it depends on what you mean by “dominated.” What would be bad is if road running or fixed-time races were neglected or overlooked, especially since that is how our sport began. (That’s why I do get a little defensive about things like the Runner’s World article.) As it is, track ultras, which were once one of the foundations of ultrarunning, are now very rare. I think all ultrarunners, especially serious ultrarunners, should know the history of the sport, they should know about people like Ted Corbitt, and races like London to Brighton, the 50-mile national championships on Staten Island, and check out the Ultrarunning Hall of Fame on the AUA web site. I also think everyone should at least try out a type of race outside of their comfort zone (if you can call any ultra a “comfort zone”). I think they would be better-rounded runners for it, and it could benefit the sport by helping to bridge the cultural/geographic divide. That’s why I’m especially impressed by those runners who have really excelled on both trails and roads, people like Michael Wardian and Scott Jurek, Connie Gardner, Jamie Donaldson and Annette Bednosky, among others.

Generally, regarding the east/west road/trail issue, I’ve recently read blogs and forums where people think there should be two versions of UltraRunning Magazine, two Ultrarunners of the Year, etc. But I disagree. We need more unity - it can only benefit us all. For one thing, the trail/road or east/west distinctions are not always so clear. And let’s not forget about the Midwest, the South, Texas, etc. For another thing, most runners, and every single ultrarunner that I know personally, runs both road and trail races, even if they favor one over the other. But it’s a big continent, it’s not easy for a lot of people to travel across the country, the landscape is different in different areas of the country, and there are cultural and societal differences beyond our sport, so there will be differences. The differences can enrich us, as long as there’s mutual respect.
WH: Earlier you mentioned the 2012 24-hour world championship in Poland. Recently Mike Morton ran 163.9 miles at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic and, in an interview I did with him, he seemed to express some interest in being on the US men’s team (if asked and if his schedule allows). You’ll obviously be on the team and I’ve heard Scott Jurek (American record holder for 24 hours) will be, too. That looks like a pretty formidable unit to me. Do you have any ideas who the US will be sending to Poland for the worlds?

PM: Those who have automatically qualified are Connie Gardner and Deb Horn for the women, and Serge Arbona (based on last year’s national championship), myself and Jonathan Savage for the men. The rest of the spots will be filled based on performances from March 2011 to June 2012, so Mike will certainly earn an invitation, but Scott will have to run another race to qualify since his record-setting run was too long ago. Sabrina Moran had an amazing race in Philadelphia this summer, and she’s definitely a young runner to watch. Harvey Lewis and Lisa Bliss had great races at North Coast that might earn them invitations. There are still more races to be run, so we’ll see how it all sorts out. The cancellation of the 2011 world championship was a real travesty and a lot of runners and teams might have missed a golden opportunity. Still, it does look like we’ll have great men’s and women’s teams next year, so I have high hopes.

WH: You’re the American 48-hour record holder. Are you going to gun for the American 24-hour record (currently 165.7 miles)?

PM: Believe it or not, I’ve been gunning for it since 2007! Back then it was “only” 162 and change (Mark Godale’s record), and now Scott put it a little farther out of reach, so I don’t know. I do still think I’ve got a 160 in me, so we’ll try for that. But I seem to do better the longer the distance, so I’ve been giving some thought to the 6-day. That’s another animal altogether, but the Sri Chinmoy race is right in my backyard, so I suppose I’ll have to try that sooner or later.

WH: Phil, thanks again for talking with me!

PM: Thank you, Wyatt!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Random Observations and What I Think about Ultrarunner of the Year

I think it's possible that I'm done with big races for the year. My time off from work for the rest of the year (especially with the holidays approaching) is very limited and so traveling for a key event is going to be tough. Plus, I'm just not motivated to travel right now. I will still do some shorter stuff, such as 5K, 10K and half-marathon races. The only race out there I would drop anything to do is the Across the Years 24-hour, but a scheduling conflict stands in the way.

This video nicely sums out why I love Leadville so much...and why I'll be toeing the line for every LT100 my body lets me run.

Hoka One Ones might be the worst thing that ever happened to me. They're so soft and comfy that they've rendered my other shoes quite uncomfy. So why is that bad? you ask. Well, Hokas go for about $170 a pair. Yikes!

Stay tuned for an interview with Phil McCarthy, who recently won his second 24-hour national championship and is also the owner of the American record for 48 hours.

On Saturday night I paced George Zack for 15 miles at the Boulder 100. This was George's first 100-miler and he did a really nice job, finishing second overall. I had a great time out there and was honored to join many others in helping GZ achieve his goal. The Boulder 100 is a no-fills course that's an out and back along the Boulder Reservoir. The route is a mixture of pavement, dirt and gravel and is pretty flat. I see it as a course built for a fast time. Anyway, the takeaway is this: If you want to do a 100 and have never done one, pace someone before taking the plunge. I had never paced anyone before my first 100 and I wish I had.

Last week I tallied 70.52 miles, including 31 miles on Saturday alone. I'd like to stay right at 70 miles a week for the rest of the year. I'm going to end 2011 with about 3,600 miles--kind of a down year mileage-wise but, then again, my foot injury from last summer and fall had me starting out slow this year.

A few nights ago I dreamed I was in the Western States 100. I've contemplated entering Western for a few years. I knew the itch would eventually need to be scratched and hopefully next June I'll be lining up at Squaw Valley Ski Resort for 100 miles of fun, followed by the Leadville 100 seven weeks later. Unfortunately, the lottery system makes entry in Western pretty difficult, so I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. But right now it's hard not to be giddy by the thought of running in that historic race.

I'm watching the Leadville Race Series website like a hawk, just waiting for LT100 registration to open!

Now for the good stuff.... A lot of people in the blogosphere are talking about Ultrarunner of the Year and who should bring home the honors. This is a North American award, meaning it goes to the top male and female ultrarunners from the US and Canada. Which is to say a guy like Kilian Jornet is ineligible. Whatever. Until the award is expanded to an international athlete base, it is what it is. Looking at the North American ultrarunning landscape, it seems to me Dave Mackey and Ellie Greenwood get major consideration.

In ultrarunning, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't apply. Would Kilian beat Dave Mackey or Michael Wardian in a 100-mile mountain race with altitude? Probably. Would Dave beat Kilian in a 50-mile or 100K race? Probably. Who would win in a 50K or 100K road race--Kilian, Dave Mackey or Michael Wardian? Easy--Wardian. Would Kilian stand a chance against Max King in a 50K trail race? I'm guessing not. If Kilian were in a 24-hour race against Phil McCarthy, who would win? Probably McCarthy. What I'm getting at is that I don't really think one event is superior to another, regardless of mileage involved. I think a 2:50 50K is just as impressive as a 14-hour 100-miler. In ultras, you have specialties. Rarely can a guy or gal do them all really well.

Races that I really want to do before I'm too old to run:
  • Western States 100 (see above)
  • Hardrock 100
  • Wasatch 100
  • Bear 100
  • HURT 100
  • Across the Years 24-Hour
  • Spartathlon (153-mile race in Greece)
  • Comrades

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Trying to Figure Out the Rest of 2011

I've been so busy lately with "journalistic"-style blogging that I haven't really provided any updates on my own running.

Last week I hit 70 miles for the first time since the Leadville 100. Prior to last week, I was at 60 miles per week and feeling pretty good. I'm doing one tempo run a week and am feeling great. My legs are turning over nicely. The longest run I've done since Leadville is only 16 miles and that was last Saturday.

I'm really stuck in the mud as to what big race I may do in the coming months. I'd like to do the California International Marathon on 12/4, but that would require a day off from work and my vacation time right now is very limited--especially with the holidays approaching. So I don't know what I'm doing. This weekend I'm running in another 5K and, while I like 5Ks (and am pretty good at them), they don't really get my engine going. I thrive on racing 100-milers and marathon PR efforts and everything inbetween!

The problem is that I'm not really motivated to travel for a race right now. Stay tuned for whatever is next for me in 2011. Maybe I'll get the itch to travel for a race, but right now the itch isn't there.


My spring/summer 2012 calendar is still a little fluid--due mainly to upcoming lottery results. Here's my dream/optimal scenario for the spring/summer:

January - Ponderous Posterior FA 50K
February - Training
March - Georgia Marathon
April - Cheyenne Mountain 50K
May - Training
June - Western States 100
July - Training
August - Leadville 100
September - Bear 100
October - ?
November - ?
December - ?

I'm not going to count on getting into Western States, which means this might be the more probable schedule for 2012:

January - Ponderous Posterior FA 50K
February - Training
March - Georgia Marathon
April - Cheyenne Mountain 50K
May - Jemez 50M
June - Mt. Evans Ascent
July - Leadville Trail Marathon
August - Leadville 100
September - Bear 100
October - ?
November - ?
December - ?

I really hope I get into Western States!

You may have already read my interview with Mike Morton. If not, click here to read it. I'm really proud of this interview...maybe because Mike is hugely inspiring to me. I have an eye for a good story and, when I saw what he did at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour, I felt like I'd struck gold.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Interview with Mike Morton

In the film “The Natural,” Roy Hobbs is a baseball prodigy destined for greatness. While en route to his Big League tryouts, Hobbs visits a carnival, where he strikes out a mighty slugger reminiscent of Babe Ruth, shocking onlookers. Roy predicts one day people will pass him on the street and say, “There goes Roy Hobbs, the best who ever lived.” Tragically, injury shatters Roy’s dreams before he ever got his shot. Years later, he returns to baseball, a no-body his teammates call “gramps,” and leads them to a pennant, capturing the glory that had once slipped through his fingers.

If the cinematic Roy Hobbs tale seems unlikely or even far-fetched, consider the story of ultrarunner Mike Morton—a story of prodigious talent befallen by injury, of disappearance from the sport, of a jaw-dropping comeback.

L-R: Courtney Campbell, Dave Horton and Mike Morton.
Mike and Courtney had many epic battles back in the mid 1990s.
It all started 14 years ago in Northern California.

June 28, 1997. To those closely associated with the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, that day is summed up with one name: Mike Morton.

Going into the ’97 Western States, it didn’t matter how talented this 25-year-old kid was, or even what he’d done back East at races like the Old Dominion, Massanutten and Vermont 100s. This was the Western States 100, where only Californians won. Or so went the conventional wisdom of the day—conventional wisdom Morton, despite a serious hip injury, stomped all over with near-reckless abandon.

As Morton, a Navy diver from Stevensville, Maryland, blazed through the hot, arid canyons, no one thought the 5’4”, 145-pound speedster, who’d dropped from the previous year’s race, could hold his breakneck pace. Morton will be toast on the California Street trail, they said. When that didn’t happen, they said he’d be done by the river crossing. But Morton wasn’t listening to his naysayers—not on California Street, not at the Rucky Chucky River, not anywhere.

“I was fortunate enough to watch Mike come through highway 49 and then again at No Hands Bridge,” recalls Craig Thornley, who’s been involved in Western States for several years. “He looked so fresh as he pranced across the bridge in daylight. It was beautiful to watch.”

When Morton ran his victory lap at Placer High School and then blew into the finish line first overall at 8:40 PM that Saturday night, he did so in a most spectacular fashion. Not only had he broken Tom Johnson’s course record by 14 minutes with a stunning 15:40:41, but he became the first non-Californian to win Western States.

Just when it seemed Morton had reached the top of his sport, it all came crashing down.

“Morton would never return to Western States again,” Thornley reflected a few years ago. “Where are you, Mike?”
Morton and Campbell in a race back in their primes.

Last weekend, Mike Morton let the world know where he is--and that he's back and maybe better than ever. Now 40 years-old and 14 years removed from his epic Western States record-setting win, Morton ran 163.9 miles at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, a hilly trail race in North Carolina with 16 bridge crossings. He came within 1.8 miles of the American record, held by Scott Jurek, who set the record on a flat, hard-surface course. Morton battled 90-degree heat and heavy congestion in spots. This wasn't his first big 24-hour performance. Last year, he nailed over 153 miles at Hinson, but it wasn't until last weekend that the ultrarunning world really took notice of his return.

I'm excited to have caught up with Mike for this interview.

WH: Mike, thanks for talking with me. I first heard your name in 2007 or 2008, a few years after I took up ultras. During a Sunday morning run with the Cleveland Southeast Running Club, I remember Mark Godale and Tim Clement talking about your legendary 1997 Western States 100 win. On that day, you not only broke Tom Johnson's record, but also became the first non-Californian to win Western States, a once unthinkable feat. What was that day like, and did you realize at the time the magnitude of what you'd just accomplished?

MM: To be honest, the non-Californian stat was not really something I concerned myself with. I didn’t see how it could be such a large factor. It is not like going to altitude or to run an unmarked course. East coast weather is always very humid so I think going West made it easier really. That was an amazing day--one of the rare times when everything just goes well. I had some great folks crewing me and helping and that made it even more memorable. I’m still very proud of that day and the work that went into making it all come together.

Morton en route to his 163.9-mile performance at the 2011
Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic.
WH: My understanding is that shortly after your Western States course record you experienced some injuries that more or less derailed your career. What happened?

MM: I had been having some hip issues that caused some pain. I dealt with it as long as I could but it became very hard to train. I eventually had a bursectomy of the right hip as a last ditch effort to relieve some of the pressure and hopefully resolve the nerves from being pinched. It didn’t work, and still to this day I have to make sure I warm up and not start out too fast. I have issues when I increase my stride length or run at a faster pace. At the time, I decided to accept an overseas tour (in the Navy) and focus on healing and see what would happen.

WH: Now, 14 years after your historic Western States win and at the age of 40, you've busted out an amazing 163.9 miles at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, a trail loop course with some 16 bridge crossings and more than a few hills. I also heard the heat index was around 90 degrees. Tell me about what went down at Hinson Lake over the weekend--because I think a lot of people are quite interested.
MM: About two years ago I decided I wanted to set a goal for myself and pick a race/run to focus on. About the only thing that lined up with my schedule and was close to home was Hinson Lake. I switched from the Navy to the Army in 2001 and have been very busy. I’m gone a lot and, when I’m home, I don’t have the chance to travel much, so Hinson Lake was the perfect venue for me to focus on. Last year I learned a lot about the miles later in a 24-hour run! This year I was able to be prepared mentally for the challenge of telling myself after 120 miles that I still had 30 more to meet my goal. This year I didn’t focus on what was left to meet my goal; I just focused on what was working and keeping me moving forward. Also last year I was over-trained. I had been running 150-mile weeks for about 5 months. This year I didn’t plan on running anything. I came home from overseas and had the chance to enter Hinson Lake again and I took advantage of it. I had been getting in about 70 to 90 miles a week for the last 5 months. I was in better shape last year but on the fine line of being injured due to overuse. I think the body responded better this year later in the run. I think I could train a bit more if I planned another race. Between the two Hinson Lake runs I have learned a ton. I think it was just one of those days where things go good.

WH: You seem to have evolved into a runner who, like Matt Carpenter, excels on just one or two big races a year; whereas many elites are running in six or seven big events annually. Do you plan to stick with this approach or maybe start racing more often?

MM: I would love to make it to races more often! The problem is balancing a military career, a family, and everything else we all deal with. The military has been my priority. It has been a tough decade for our country and that [military service] was and is more important to me. In the near future, my family and I are moving and I will have a more 9-5 job. I think it will give me the chance to look into the future and feel comfortable committing to a race. I dream about doing some of the 100s. I have always loved the challenge of 100-mile trail runs! The guys that are running at the top these days are amazing. I’m always shocked at the depth at races all over and the number of races. Maybe when I retire I will have time to get back into more races, but, until then, I will just take advantage of the chances I do get.

WH: Getting back to your hip injury, was it the result of over-training or an injury?

MM: I fell while at work and that was the start of it all. In hindsight, I should have taken more time to recover from the fall but I got back to running when I thought I was ready. I think there was a lot of compensating going on and it just took its toll.

WH: Were there ever moments when you thought your running career was over? I guess what I’m wondering is if what we’re seeing now is a story about beating the odds.

MM: I never really thought I would come back to a high level. Every time I tried to increase my mileage my hip and back would hurt. I think what helped me was being preoccupied with new challenges and the focus I was giving to the military. I wouldn’t call it beating the odds. I’m at a time in my life when I want to focus on running again. I never thought running would be as fulfilling as it was back in the 90’s, but I now know never to take a run for granted, because you never know when it will be your last run.

WH: If you’re able to at this point, can you tell me where you’re planning to move?

MM: We are moving to Lithia, Florida, which is just east of Tampa. Our plan is for three more years in the Army and then I will retire with 25 or so years of service. We all like the weather there and it is a great place for our daughter to grow up.

WH: Are your best years as an ultrarunner behind you…or ahead of you?

MM: I think it is all relative. It is hard to compare what I did 14 or 15 years ago to anything I’ve done lately. I had it made back then! The Navy was great for having time to train and it was easy to predict when I could go to a race. That is not the case now! I recognize that my obligations to the Army are the priority. So with changes in the near future I think I will have time again and also some control over my schedule. I hope the best years are ahead!

WH: Is a return to Western States on the table? If so, describe what you think it would be like standing on that starting line all these years after the record.

WH: I would love to go back. I can’t tell you how many times I have been overseas in June and tried to convince myself I’m on the course there instead of some .9-mile dirt road or a treadmill. Western States is a special place because it is the father of all the 100’s. I have been trying to work any 100 in but timing has not let it happen yet. The sad thing is I don’t even know what the qualifying requirements are!

WH: All you have to do is just finish a 100 or a 50 to qualify for Western States. With your Hinson Lake time, I would imagine you're qualified! But you have the lottery to deal with--the odds of getting in these days aren't so good! More relevant to your abilities, though: You can also get an automatic bid into Western States through a win at one of the Montrail Ultra Cup races.

Let's talk about racing. When you’re in a big race, what’s going through your head?
MM: I have learned a lot about myself in the last ten years. I know not to focus on the big picture in a race. I focus on what I can affect and control what I can control. Sadly, I have learned to always plan and expect the absolute worst conditions and you will never be disappointed and you will be adequately prepared. I’m sure we all think about the same stuff when we're in the “doldrums”: family, work, guys who have had their last run, politics, humanity….

WH: One last question. Looking at the rest of 2011 and into 2012, what’s your race schedule look like? Would you consider joining Team USA for the 2012 24-Hour World Championship?

MM: I committed to the team last year but the lack of fidelity of when and where brought the support I was getting at work to an end. I’m sure with the position I’m heading to that any opportunity to represent our nation will be embraced. I would make it my mission to prepare for that run. Last year I was very motivated with the idea and that helps when you need to run twice a day and get in 150 miles a week. It is hard to sustain that effort without the motivation of a race, so the two complement each other.

WH: Mike, thanks so much for this opportunity!

MM: I've enjoyed this opportunity. Thanks!

All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced or reprinted without the express written consent of Wyatt Hornsby.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mike Morton, Ultrarunning Legend

>>Go to my interview with Mike Morton!

>>Also see my in-depth story about Mike's life in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine

Every so often an ultrarunner does something that makes your jaw drop. Among the truly great performances/achievements in recent memory:
  • Matt Carpenter's record-setting 15:42 at the 2005 Leadville 100. Legend has it that Carpenter, the Pikes Peak Marathon king himself, ran every step of the course. My suspicion is that only two or three guys today could come close to what he did on that August day in the unforgiving Rocky Mountains.
  • Scott Jurek's seven straight Western States 100 wins from 1999-2005.
  • Ann Trason's 14 straight Western States 100 wins from 1989-2003. I doubt this record will ever be matched, much less surpassed.
  • Karl Meltzer's six 100-mile wins, including four course records, in 2006 (HURT 100, Hardrock 100, Wasatch 100, Bear 100, San Diego 100 and Javelina 100)
  • Bruce Fordyce's world record 50-mile time of 4:50, set in Chicago, in 1984. Folks, that is insane.
  • Don Ritchie's world record 11:30 for 100 miles, set on a London track in 1977
  • Yiannis Kouros' world record 188+ miles for 24 hours, set in Adelaide (Australia) in 1997. This record will stand for generations.
  • Kyle Skaggs' record-setting 23:23 at the 2008 Hardrock 100. People were stunned.
Those are just a few that come to mind.

Legends, indeed. L-R: Courtney Campbell, Dave Horton and Mike Morton, apparently at the Rattlesnake 50K in 1997. From http://www.extremeultrarunning.com/album.htm.
This past weekend, we saw a remarkable performance at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, a trail race in North Carolina with 16 bridge crossings. As a historian by academic training, I feel obligated to write about this performance--because it was truly legendary.

Details are still a little sketchy, but apparently 40-year-old Mike Morton, a Navy diver from Maryland, covered 163.9 miles, running about 108 laps around the 1.52-mile trail loop. That's about 2 miles under the American record, held by Scott Jurek, who set the record on a flat, hard-surface course. Apparently, Morton battled 90-degree heat and course congestion in spots. Oh, and by the way, he nailed over 153 miles at Hinson last year.

Here are Mike Morton (L) and Courtney Campbell (R) at the 1997 Trail Run Across the Commonwealth. From http://www.vhtrc.org/events/trac.htm.
Folks, this is remarkable.

That's only part of the story. Here's the rest. The name Mike Morton may not mean much to newcomers to the sport and/or those who haven't studied the history of ultrarunning, but to those who have been around a while and those who have read their ultrarunning lore, Mike Morton is a legend. Here's some history from former Western States 100 race director Norm Klein:
The Morton Comeback
The only words necessary to describe the 1997 [Western States 100) race are "Mike Morton." A U.S. Navy diver from Maryland, Mike had a difficult time in the 1996 race, withdrawing after 86 miles. Certainly no stranger to ultramarathoning with victories at the Old Dominion 100 and the Vermont 100, Mike returned to Western States with just one thought in mind: make up for 1996.
It has been repeated a thousand times over that no runner can win Western States without having the advantage of training on the Western States Trail. Most experienced runners will contend that knowledge of the trail is worth at least two hours off the total time. Further proof of this is that in the first 23 years of the race, there had never been a men's winner who didn't live in California. And furthermore, every winner since 1987 had lived in Northern California. Well, Mike Morton apparently wasn't privy to the prevailing knowledge.
Fortunately for everyone involved, weather conditions on raceday were the finest in the history of the race. Temperatures never topped 80 degrees, and the night was very cool, although by the time Morton arrived in Auburn, the sun hadn't even had a chance to go down.
Mike took the lead at 17 miles, and when he arrived at Robinson Flat (30.2 miles), everyone felt he would "lose it in the canyons." All he lost when he hit the canyons were the runners who were pursuing him. At Foresthill (62 miles) people said, "he'll crash and burn on California Street Trail." The only things Mike burned were the rocks as he blazed over them. At the river crossing (78 miles), the sentiment was "he'll never finish at that pace!"
Not only did Mike finish at that pace, but he also became the first non-Californian to win the race, defeating Tim Twietmeyer (who finished second) by an hour and 33 minutes. To those who thought he'd crash and burn, instead Mike burned Tom Johnson's course record by 14 minutes. Skeptics felt that if an "outsider" won, he wouldn't be accepted by the "Western States family." I've been involved in 15 Western States awards ceremonies, and Mike Morton received the loudest and longest standing ovation I've ever witnessed.
That was taken from a May/June 1998 Marathon & Beyond article, which you can read here. Apparently Morton, who also won the Vermont 100 in 19955, the Massanutten 100 in 1996, and the Mountain Masochist 50M in 1997, soon after endured a rash of injuries that more or less derailed his career. When I searched his results, it looks like he didn't do much, if any, racing from 1997 to 2009. (Update, thanks to Footfeathers' investigative work: Morton ran in the 2007 JFK 50M, finishing 26th overall with a 7:15, and finished second overall at the 2010 Weymouth Woods 100K with an 8:57). From what I've seen, Morton seems to have evolved into a once-or-twice-a-year racer who has a penchant for opening up a can of whoopass when he shows up to an event. When Mortons' toeing the line, you better be wearing your fast shoes.

Morton at the 2011 Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic. From http://lowmileageultra.blogspot.com/.
I wonder what my own performances would be like if I raced only once or twice a year, instead of 7 or more times like I've done so far this year with the Eisenhower Marathon, Cheyenne Mountain 50K, Jemez Mountain 50M, Mount Evans Ascent, Leadville Trail Marathon and Leadville 100M....

The Hinson Lake leaderboard at 23 hours. From http://lowmileageultra.blogspot.com/.
Anyway, in my book, what Mike Morton did at Hinson Lake over the weekend is Performance of the Year. When you consider the course and the conditions, it's a slam dunk in my book. When you consider the runner, it's the stuff of legend.

Norm Klein wrote of Morton's 1997 Western States as a comeback. Fourteen years later, at the age of 40, are we seeing yet another Morton return to domination?

>>Go to my interview with Mike Morton!