Monday, March 26, 2012

Week Ending 3/25

Here's how the week went:

AM: 40 minutes on the indoor bike trainer at easy pace. This was about proactive recovery from a nearly 37-mile weekend.

AM: 9.6 miles in 1:13 on the trails near my house. 700'. I felt very good for a Tuesday. My legs were fresh and responsive. Cross-training yesterday paid dividends in how I felt today.

Wednesday--tempo run
AM: 10.65 miles in 1:14. Another very strong tempo run. 600'. Everything clicked, even as it was quite cold and dark. Every single tempo split was an improvement over last week: 1) 8:25 (warm up), 2) 6:30, 3) 6:09, 4) 6:08, 5) 6:23, 6) 5:53, 7) 6:28, 8) 7:58 (begin cooldown), 9) 7:31, 10) 7:52, 10.65) 5:13. I really like my splits for miles 3, 4, and 6. Mile 5 would have been low 6's had it not been on an incline.
AM: 5.1 miles in just shy of 41 minutes on the treadmill. I had an early morning meeting so this was all I could muster. Ran at super easy pace.
AM: 9.35 miles in 1:11 on the Tomahawk loop. 600'. Very tired from another crappy night of sleep. TGIF.

PM: 5.65 miles in just shy of 44 minutes during lunch at work. 200'. Ran the single track along the Cherry Creek Trail and then followed up with 5 minutes of barefoot running in the field in front of my office building. At nearly 80 degrees, it was quite hot! This was my first lunchtime run in about 2.5 years and the first barefoot run in over 3 years. Running barefoot in the grass was a lot of fun.

AM: 11.6 miles in 1:30 on the trails and dirt shoulders near my house. 800'. I felt a little flat, probably from not sleeping well this week. Finished up with 6 minutes of barefoot running on a nearby soccer field. I really love barefoot running. Not only is it fun, but it also strengthens the feet, improves your form and basically works muscles you wouldn't normally work while wearing shoes.

AM: 22.45 miles in 3:40 in Waterton Canyon and on section 1 of the Colorado Trail. 3,005'. The group included George Zack, Brownie, Sean O'Day, Jim Petterson, Wes Thurman, Ryan Kirchner and about 20 other folks. Due to time constraints, I turned around after about 1:50 and 11.2 miles and ran back with Wes. Photos here.

Weekly totals:
  • 74.5 miles run
  • ~6000' of climbing
  • 11 miles on the cycle
  • Total training 10:55
  • 7 total runs
  • 11 minutes of barefoot running
  • Averaged 8:16/mile
  • Push-ups and core work

Year to date mileage:
  • 729.7 miles run
  • 107 miles biked
  • 2.6 miles walked

All in all, this was another solid week of training, with two really great workouts--Wednesday's tempo run and Sunday's long run on the Colorado Trail. This week I'm going to play it by feel. I'd like to once again crest the 10-hour, 70-mile mark but may ease back a bit and recover. One thing I DO want to accomplish is getting to the track on Friday morning if there's enough sunlight to work with and if the weather cooperates. I really want to once again structure my weeks around one tempo run, one track workout, a long run, and a medium-long run, with everything else being easy.

Speaking of weather, it has been an unusually mild March here on the Front Range. We've had basically no snow all month, which is rare. Combine the super dry conditions with high winds and it's no surprise we're on alert for wildfires and brush fires. As much as I've enjoyed the mild conditions, we really need some precipitation. So you won't hear me complaining if it snows. What I'd most like are a few rainy days. I miss the rain.

On Saturday, April 7, I'll be venturing down to Manitou Springs to participate in a portion of the Inclinathon, a Fat Ass-style event that will showcase a train wreck in the making. I won't be doing 13 laps on the Incline (for a total of ~27 miles and 26,000 feet of vertical), as others may be, but I'll be going for 3-4 laps on the Incline and Barr Trail. Four laps would come to about 17 miles and 8,000 feet of serious, lung-burning vertical. That's a walk in the park compared to 13 laps up and back down the Incline for the most brutal marathon imaginable. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Waterton Canyon/Colorado Trail-Section 1 Group Run

It's not often that I get out for group runs, mostly because of limited time. Today I jumped on an opportunity to run with an excellent group at Waterton Canyon and on section 1 of the Colorado Trail. The group included George Zack, Brownie, Sean O'DayJim Petterson , Wes Thurman, Ryan Kirchner and about 20 other folks--from Boulder and Colorado Springs to Evergreen and here in Denver.

Due to time constraints, I turned around after about 1:50 and 11.2 miles and ran back with Wes, who is training for his first Western States 100 (lucky him--he got in on his first entry!). Stats on the day: 22.45 miles, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 3005 feet of climbing and the same for descending. I ended the week with just shy of 75 miles. I felt good on the trail, especially on the climbs, and had a great time. Section 1 of the Colorado Trail is beautiful, with great running, though you don't get "that" high (about 7,500 feet). Below are some photos from today's adventure, and be sure to also visit George and Sean's blogs (links above) for addition shots:

Gathering in the Waterton Canyon parking lot.

Starting from the Waterton Canyon parking lot.
Heading to the Colorado Trail trailhead. I'm to the far right. Photo by George Zack.

Here I am making my way up one of the climbs. Photo by George Zack.

Me on another climb. Photo by George Zack.

A few sections were laced with snow. Brownie is in the red shirt.

This photo doesn't do the view justice.

Another shot of Brownie battling the snow.

We're hanging out not far after hooking up with the Colorado Trail.
After about 5 minutes of chatter, I said, "Are we gonna talk or run?"

The dam at Waterton Canyon. It's bigger than you might expect.

Another shot of the dam.

This photo was taken accidentally but, honestly, I think it's pretty cool.

Again, the view here was beautiful but the photo doesn't really reflect that.
This was taken from Waterton Canyon Road inbound.

Friday, March 23, 2012

5 Mistakes Ultrarunners Make

Note to Reader: This is the third article in a series that challenges various assumptions in ultrarunning. In some cases, we may find that certain assumptions are correct; while in others we may find a new and better viewpoint. Please contribute your insights in the comments section. Enjoy!

In many ways, I feel like I’ve learned more about running in the past three months than in the previous eight years (I “started” running “serious” distance in 2004 at the age of 31). A rash of injuries over the past two years has forced me to rethink many assumptions I've always had about how to train properly for ultras and get into peak shape. Here are five concepts I’m only beginning to fully understand:

Weekly mileage is over-rated and arbitrary. Did I just say that? Yes, I did. A year ago I never would have even remotely entertained the notion that weekly mileage is over-rated. But the truth is that exclusively measuring your training according to a constantly revolving 7-day week starting on Monday and ending on Sunday is a faulty approach because it’s based on an arbitrary timeframe. When you're caught in the mousetrap that is the 7-day week, you can become obsessed with mileage to the point of risking injury. Here’s an example of why the 7-day running week is faulty: You can run two consecutive weeks of 70 miles and, in your log, that’s what it says—you ran 70 miles each week, end of story. But within those two weeks you have 14 days, and within those 14 days you might find a 7-day stretch where you ran 90, or maybe even 100, miles. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Week 1
Monday – 7M
Tuesday – 10M
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – 10M
Friday – 8M
Saturday – 20M
Sunday – 15M
Total: 70 miles

Week 2
Monday – 10M
Tuesday – 15M
Wednesday – 15M
Thursday – rest
Friday – 7M
Saturday – 13M
Sunday – 10M
Total: 70 miles

Note that in the above, 93 miles were run between Thursday of week 1 and Wednesday of week 2. It would be hard to pinpoint--and maximize--that excellent 7-day cycle if all you thought about was weekly output. You just ran 93 miles in 7 days and you may not have even known it.

Personal example: Last year I didn’t log a single 100-mile "week" (I came close a few times), but in April I had a 7-day stretch where I ran something like 107 miles, including a 50K race. It’s better to structure your training around cycles than weeks. If you structure around cycles, you’re more likely to schedule rest and cross-training days (those days constitute "rest cycles"), because then you won’t be obsessed with getting in a certain number of miles in a single week come hell or high water. In other words, you have different types of cycles, rest being among them. Make your cycle what you want it to be--7 days, 10 days, etc., and be sure to schedule some rest! All that said, I do look at weekly mileage as one of many measures, but my greater emphasis is on cycles—because cycles are more accommodating of recovery.

Mileage in general is over-rated. Again, this is another statement I never thought I’d make. In ultramarathon training, especially out here in the Mountain West, mileage often doesn’t tell the full story. If I decide to train on Hope Pass for the Leadville 100, on paper I’m doing a 21-mile “run” (it’s 21 miles from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back). But that doesn’t tell the full story—far from it. Those 21 miles, which bring 12,000 feet of elevation change between 10,200-12,600 feet, are going to take me upwards of 5-6 hours—that’s 5-6 hours on my feet in the mountains. On flat road I can pretty easily run 21 miles in 2:30 or less, but no one would argue 21 road miles is equivalent to 21 miles in the Colorado high country, just as 100 miles at sea level isn't equivalent to 100 miles on, say, the Hardrock course (I might catch hell for saying that...). Another example: It takes most well-conditioned athletes 30 or fewer minutes to complete the 1.3-mile Manitou Incline, which brings 2,000 feet of climbing. But there’s far more to the Incline than a distance equivalent to five laps around the track. The larger point I'm making is that time on your feet and terrain are just as relevant, if not more relevant, than mileage. I know guys and gals who run 60-70 miles a week in mountains, but they’re finishing top-10 in big races like Leadville, Hardrock, Wasatch, etc. Just as I know folks who run 100 miles a week on the road and crash and burn in mountain races. Now, let the arguing begin....

LSD is overrated and quality is under-rated. If all you do is run long, slow distance (LSD) in your training, you’re not really going to get faster or better. It’s far better to incorporate some quality into your training—like tempo running, intervals and/or fartleks—to improve your efficiency so that you’re able to cover the miles with less energy expended per step. If you’re not able to do much quality because you’re often too tired or beat-up from your training (a situation I have found myself in on occasion), you need to cut back on your overall volume and incorporate enough rest in order to allow for faster stuff. Eighty miles in a 7-day cycle with track work and tempo running is far more beneficial than 110 miles with zero quality in that same time span.

An ounce of recovery is worth a pound of peak performance. Lots of ultrarunners shun recovery because they think rest is counter to the gritty nature of the sport. The conventional wisdom is that ultrarunners grind out the mileage because that’s the only way to train properly for a race. And there is some merit to grinding out the mileage now and then, like on long back to backs (one of my staples). But recovery allows your body to heal, strengthen and improve from your training, so that you can move to the next level of fitness rather than remain in a plateau. If you never allow time for recovery, you’re going to eventually experience a deficit and actually go backwards. Believe it or not, but you can arrive at the starting line of a race in worse shape than when you began your training, even if you had grinded out mega-mileage for 18 weeks straight. Incorporate recovery—via days off and/or cross-training—and you’ll find that you are stronger in your long runs, are able to get in some good quality to maximize your efficiency, stand a much greater chance of avoiding injury, and will arrive at the starting line much more physically and mentally dialed in. Bottom line: Training serves to strengthen your body; recovery allows you to benefit from your training. Zero recovery = zero gain.

We too often over-race. Back in the day there were few races between November and March, leaving ultrarunners with 4 or 5 months to rest and recover. I was recently reading about how the Way to Cool 50K in Cool, California (a race I really want to do one day), held in early March, used to serve as a kickoff event for ultrarunning out West. No more. There are now races year-round. This presents some dangers to us ultrarunners because we too often convince ourselves that more is better. If you race year-round, without any time for recovery, you place yourself at risk of over-training and injury. You need a few months "off" (and by off I mean easy training and no racing) every year to regenerate. No runner can remain in peak shape all year. Better yet, within those few months of rest, take at least two weeks completely off from running and instead cycle, swim and/or walk. You would be shocked how much a few weeks completely off from running will help you.

Where am I on the right track? Where am I on the wrong track?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Week Ending 3/18

I haven't done a weekly wrap-up in a long, long time. Here goes nothing (keep in mind that this is ALL at 6,000+ feet and much of it between 6,200-6,400 feet):

AM: 6 miles on the treadmill, averaging 8:00 pace. Legs a little tired from the previous weekend's running.

AM: 9.45 miles in 1:13 on the Tomahawk loop. FYI, the Tomahawk loop is a moderately challenging dirt-road loop up in the Parker hills.

Wednesday--tempo run
AM: 10.35 miles in 1:13. This was a very solid tempo run. The goal was 6 miles at tempo pace. My splits were were: 1) 8:24 (warm-up), 2) 6:36, 3) 6:12, 4) 6:17, 5) 6:29, 6) 5:55, 7) 6:33, 8) 8:01 (begin cooldown), 9) 7:45, 10) 8:15, 10.35) 2:43.

AM: Had a 7:30 AM meeting so all I had time for was 4.3 miles and 35 minutes on the treadmill. Super easy pace. Woke up at 4:30 AM for this one.

AM: Argh, once again another 7:30 AM meeting, leaving little time for more than a short run. Ran 5 miles in 36 minutes, running miles 2-4 at about 6:45 pace. Woke up yet again at 4:30 AM for this one.

AM: 18 miles in in 2:17 the Parker hills, averaging 7:38/mile. 1150'. I ran mile 17 in 6:26. Unfortunately, none of Parker's trail loops are really connected so what I did was run the loops and then the roads in between, trying to stay on dirt the whole time. This was an excellent long run--I felt strong and steady the whole way.

PM: 3.3 miles easy. These may look like junk miles but they weren't. I focused on holding good form with tired legs.

AM: 11.8 miles in 1:32 in the Parker hills, once again running on the trails and dirt shoulders. Estimating 1000' of climbing (GPS battery was dead due to a PC glitch and I didn't have time to recharge it before my run). I was glad I got in this run in before the high winds came later in the morning. Despite the 21.25-mile effort the previous day, my legs were surprisingly functional and even responsive. I didn't push it and instead just held an even, steady pace. I would have liked to run a bit longer but we had church at 9:30 and so I had limited time to work with.

PM: 3.3 miles easy. Once again focused on holding good form.

Weekly totals:
  • 71.4 miles run
  • 9 hours, 10 minutes
  • 9 total runs (7.93 miles/run)
  • Averaged 7:43/mile
  • Push-ups and core work
I love the way my core is developing now that I've incorporated a few new exercises.

Year to date mileage:
  • 655.2 miles run
  • 96 miles biked
  • 2.6 miles walked
My cumulative running mileage is down a bit from previous years--a result of starting 2012 with a fairly significant leg injury. But my health is good right now and, despite VERY limited time on Thursday and Friday, this was a solid week, for March anyway. The reduced mileage on Thursday and Friday, though keeping me from an 80-mile week, seemed to translate into strong runs on both Saturday and Sunday. Also, I hate that I didn't get to the foothills/mountains over the weekend. I've been making it a point to get there at least once a week, but this weekend time just wouldn't allow it.

My goal for the coming week is to inch toward 11 hours of training, how ever that may come.

Monday: Cross-train (probably cycle)
Tuesday: Easy run
Wednesday: Tempo run
Thursday: Easy run
Friday: Two runs
Saturday: Long run, maybe on the Highlands Ranch network
Sunday: Longish run with some quality power-hiking in the mountains, preferably the Incline and Barr Trail

Once we get some light in the mornings, I'll be heading to the track for some 800s, 1200s, 1600s and, oh yes, 3200s. This is the first time in more than two years that I've felt motivated to get to the track. Here are a few of my favorite workouts from years past:
  • 3x1600 at just slightly better than 5K pace (back East this was at about 5:30 pace). This is my mainstay.
  • 2x3200, each at about 11:55. I haven't yet done this workout at elevation.
  • 10x800 at about 2:45 pace, also know as Yasso 800s.
  • And my favorite: 5x1600 at 5:55 pace. I love this workout but, again, I've never done it at elevation.
I always do 100-meter striders before my track workouts.
    Unlike in previous years, I'm not killing myself to do mega mileage in March, with my goal race (Leadville 100) being five months away. Running 70 miles a week right now, with some good quality mixed in, I'm establishing a very strong base and protecting my good health in advance of a progressive ramp up in May, June and July.

    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Staying True to the Dream

    Ever since I started my awesome new job, my life has gotten quite busy and even more exciting. We have a busy March at the Foundation, and then an even busier July. It's becoming clear to me that life is changing--mostly for the better, I might add. With this change I may have to be more creative in getting in my mileage and time on my feet as I train for the Leadville 100, while also incorporating recovery to help my aging body stay healthy.

    That said, I like where my training is right now. I'm getting in about 70 miles and 10+ hours/week and have been seeing awesome results (anywhere from 5:55-6:20 pace) with my tempo runs. When we get more sunlight in the mornings, I'll be heading to the track for some fast stuff. By July, my training will involve weeks of 15-18 hours of running and power-hiking. With the benefit of having lived and trained at 6,200+ feet for a little over two years, I intend to show up at the Leadville 100 on August 18 in the best shape of my life--from head to toe. That's saying a lot--I was a beast in 2008 and 2009.

    I have been mulling a major tweak to my 2012 schedule (technically 2013 schedule). I had originally planned to run in (and go for the win at) the Across the Years 24-Hour, which is in late December in Arizona. But I'm now leaning toward a PR effort at the Rock 'n Roll Phoenix Marathon on January 20. Technically that's 2013, but the training for it will all be in 2012. I have so much unfinished business with the marathon--mostly because I've underachieved at the 26.2-mile distance. My PR is 2:58 and I have two other sub-3's under my belt, but I think I'm fully capable of taking 5-10 minutes off my PR especially at a sea level race. Last April I was a victim of high winds and scorching heat at the Eisenhower Marathon, which deep-sixed a PR effort there (but, honestly, just coming off a serious injury at the time, I'm not sure I was in PR, much less sub-3, shape for Eisenhower). So, while I still have some relative youth to work with, I'm thinking a new PR at the Rock 'n Roll Marathon in January 2013 will be the big objective following the Leadville 100.

    Other goals for the next 1-2 years:
    • Break my 3:46 road 50K PR
    • Do a 100K road race
    • Break 1:20 in the half marathon
    • Return to the Boston Marathon and break 3 hours there
    • And of course break 20 hours at the Leadville 100!
    More immediately, my goal is to get in awesome shape for Leadville!
    When I train for 100s, it's not to finish, though that's always the over-arching goal. I train to achieve a dream--in the case of the Leadville 100, finishing in under 20 hours (which I used to always do in 100s back East but haven't been able to do at Leadville yet, mostly because Hope Pass kicks my ass every time). I sometimes visualize myself crossing the finish line in under 20 hours and telling my son to never, ever give up on his dreams, no matter how old he gets (visualization works). Dreams are about persistence and never giving up. To steal a quote from John F. Kennedy, I'll pay any price, bear any burden and meet any hardship when it comes to ultrarunning and achieving reams. I often recite those words when I'm out running in the cold and dark in the pre-dawn hours, when most folks are asleep or sipping on their coffee.

    When you become an ultrarunner, you're taking on a lifestyle. Ultrarunning, unlike knitting or painting, isn't a hobby. It's not exercise, either. It's a way of life and, by that, I mean it's who you are. Ultrarunning, unlike recreational jogging, CrossFit, etc., permeates not only your life, but also the life of your family. I know few who are able to stick with this sport if they have an unsupportive spouse or apathetic family. I am fortunate to have a supportive wife. You have to be all in. Anything less and you're not going to make it. In today's world, where everyone wants to be comfortable and expects things to come easily, ultrarunning is quite rebellious.

    I know some folks who've dipped their toes in the ultrarunning waters--maybe because they read an inspiring book--and didn't last long, because they weren't willing to make the sacrifices. And that's OK. People who stick with this sport do so because, well, running long distances defines who we are as individuals. It's hard to explain, but I believe I'm meant to run and that my running has a purpose I'm only now beginning to understand (to inspire people?). We're willing to make the sacrifices few others would make--going to bed early, getting up before dawn, running through rain, sleet and snow, enduring crushingly hard back to back runs, eating right, and gutting out the daily grind. We are runners who have a passion for traveling long distances on road, trail and, yes, track. We train hard because we love to race and we love the community of ultrarunning.

    Now, let's go for a run!

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Finishing Strong

    My February totals:
    • Running: 260.8 miles; 35 hours, 23 minutes; average pace: 8:09
    • Cycling: 36.0 miles; 2 hours, 8 minutes
    • Walking: A few miles….
    FYI, in January I ran "only" 204 miles.
    My commitment to cross-training is already beginning to wane. I cannot let that happen!
    All in all, I’ve started 2012 much more conservatively than in previous years, in part because of my leg injury, which got me off to a slow start (the injury is, for the most part, behind me). In March, I’ll probably surpass 300 miles. Mileage is important to me, but I’m really trying to also focus on time on my feet. I think it’s easy for ultrarunners to obsess over mileage and forget just how important time on your feet is to preparing for a race.
    For the past two years I’ve been quite aggressive (by my own standards) in ramping up my mileage in preparation for the racing season. Although I was relatively strong throughout the spring and summer of 2011, after the Leadville 100 in August I pretty much found myself out of gas and useless except for a few decent 5K races in the fall. Then right after Thanksgiving, when I began ramping up for a March marathon, my Achilles went south, leading to a nasty case of posterior tibial tendonitis. Essentially the same thing happened in 2010—only worse as I battled a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that sidelined me after Leadville for essentially five months.
    I am determined to stay healthy all year! One of my goals for 2012, besides a sub-20-hour effort at the Leadville 100, is to go for a win in a 24-hour race late in the year—probably Across the Years in Arizona. I think I can win at the 24-hour level in 2012, provided I get through Leadville in one piece and avoid overuse injury. Easier said than done. Unlike in previous years, 2012 will include some bonafide recovery weeks that will hopefully prevent injury and keep me fresh.

    In ultras, there are many ways to run a race. Some folks go out hard and try to hang on, sometimes flaming out well before the finish. Other runners go out conservatively, gain strength with every passing mile, and finish strong. There are merits to both approaches. For me, the best approach is to go out conservatively and try to finish strong. That approach will guide my 2012 training and racing strategy and hopefully keep me on track for success.

    So in a nutshell, my goals for 2012 are to be at my strongest on August 18, when I toe the line at Leadville, heal in September, and then go for a 140+ mile 24-hour effort later in the year. 


    The Manitou Incline is going to be a huge component of my Leadville 100 training. I’ve already done the Incline three times in the past month and plan to keep at it from now until Leadville. Honestly, I think I’m pretty good to go on all parts of the Leadville course except Hope Pass. I have crunched the numbers many times and the bottom line is that, to break 20 hours at Leadville, you need to complete the Hope Pass section, a 21-mile stretch with 12,000 feet of combined elevation change, in no more than 5.5 hours. At the 2011 race, the Hope Pass section took me a little more than 6 hours, with the inbound really taking a toll on me. Last year’s Leadville 100 showed me that I have to get stronger on big climbs. That’s where the Incline comes into play.

    What I most like about the Incline is the fact that it doles out killer vertical (about 2,000 feet of gain in a little over a mile) and offers a number of fun options when you get to the top. You can take the Barr Trail back down for a “quick” loop; you can head up the Barr Trail for some more vertical (maybe even going for the Pikes Peak summit), or you can do multiple loops. This summer I want to work up to an Incline quad—that is, four Incline/Barr Trail loops, which would bring about 8,000 feet of climbing, 8,000 feet of descent, and 16 punishing miles. The only thing an Incline quad lacks is high elevation. The highest I’d get is about 8,500 feet—not bad, but not quite 12,000 feet, either. Another run I’d like to do is to take the Incline up to the Barr Trail, go on to the Pikes Peak summit, and then run back down.
    My current PR on the Incline is 27:29, set last Sunday. My goal is to break 25 minutes this summer. How I do on Mosquito Pass at the Leadville Marathon on June 30 will be a good indicator of my fitness on climbs and whether or do not training on the Incline is paying off.