Tuesday, October 29, 2013


It seems like at this time every year, with the racing season pretty much over (or maybe not?), I get in this super reflective mode and start challenging every assumption I've ever had. One assumption I've been questioning is this one:

To be a better runner, you need to run more.

With a pretty huge base of mileage accumulated over a ten-year period, I’m rethinking how I train and how I often chase after numbers, and challenging the wisdom of a program that involves very little outside of running. In 100-milers, invariably there comes a point when I experience muscle failures in places other than my legs—namely my back and core. In fact, sometimes my back goes tired on me before my legs. Because 100-milers tap almost every muscle, I’ve been thinking about the usefulness of better total body strength as a complement to putting in the miles to get ready for a big race. On Saturday, I got started with an excellent CrossFit instructor here in Parker and I plan to stick with him through the winter, doing 2-3 sessions a week. If Saturday is any indication of what’s to come, I think it’s fair to assume I’ll be making some good strength gains over the next few months--strength gains that I believe will make me a better ultrarunner and more well-rounded athlete.

With CrossFit likely to be a part of my winter program, I plan to hold my running mileage to about 50-55/week for the next few months, with lots of short-distance, aerobic speedwork thrown in there to build top end speed. For me, such mileage is super manageable and pretty low-impact and will allow me to realize gains from my CrossFit workouts.

I think many of us runners fall into the trap of just running, which ultimately can cause us to be rather one-dimensional athletes. It’s a trap I’ve allowed myself to fall in for years as I've chased after numbers--and this is mostly because I just love to run. Over time, our bodies become very efficient at running and this can mean other muscles and areas simply get neglected...to our own detriment (for example, many of us runners simply don’t engage our hips the way we should). Then we find ourselves in long ultramarathons dealing with potentially preventable muscle breakdown and imbalances in areas of the body other than just the legs. I can say this from personal experience: powerfully climbing Hope Pass in both directions requires a hell of a lot more than what running and altitude training will give you. What it requires (sheer strength from head to toe) is something I haven't yet fully developed. And so here I am experimenting with CrossFit. I have come to believe strength training, as a complement to running, can help us develop better total body conditioning that may just get us over mountains and to the finish line in better shape--and maintain better overall health. Or so my theory goes.

All that aside, when guys hit age 40, it’s a scientific fact that we start to lose muscle mass. Running may help slow that process, but it will do only so much. Resistance training has its place in helping guys preserve and develop their muscles—critical for us ultrarunners if we want to avoid injury. I did some limited weight training this past winter and I think it benefited me in huge ways this spring and summer--I've been injury-free in 2013! Think about it this way: If you’re losing muscle because of age, isn’t it fair to assume your bones and connective tissue will take a bigger beating? Resistance training can help protect us from such injuries. Or so my theory goes.

I used to think CrossFit was kind of dumb. But no longer do I hold that viewpoint. On Saturday, as I was squatting with just a bar (working on technique) and rowing 300 meters at a time and doing all of that with no rest in between four intensive rounds, it really hit me that this program can benefit ultrarunners if used properly. I view CrossFit as a way to be a better ultrarunner--to prepare me for the big miles that will come in 2014 as I prepare for my races (Western States? Leadville?). I have no plans to become a competitive CrossFit athlete; I'm a runner. CrossFit is there to help me build better strength and speed and protect myself from injury.

So over the next few months I’ll be sharing with you my experience with CrossFit. Many of us talk about trying new things but oftentimes we stick with the same old routine because change is scary. CrossFit is a new thing for me--an experiment over the winter--and I’m excited about where it may take me as a runner and--dare I say--athlete. And I’m equally excited to share my experiences with all of you.

For me, there is no greater desire than to continually improve and be the best I can be. Probably like you, I enjoy trying new approaches, new methods and new techniques. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't.

In my next post, I'll share some thoughts I'm having about chasing numbers in training and the oftentimes contentious relationship between quality versus quantity.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Plan for Getting Stronger and Faster

Three days have passed since my last run and I don't really miss it (yet). After taking Monday and Tuesday completely off from everything, this morning I headed to the gym (jogged 0.3 miles to it, actually) and did some lower-body work along with push-ups and core work. The workout was:
  • Single-leg extensions - 4x12 reps (just to clarify, I did 4 sets for each leg)
  • Single-leg curls - 3x12 reps
  • Single hip abductor stuff - 3x12 reps (not sure how to describe it but I use a pulley from the ground and extend my legs outward/to the side, pulling light weight. I will eventually add adductor stuff.)
  • Squats - 3x12 reps
In between each I did push-ups and core work. I plan to keep adding exercises as I get stronger. The squats are an emphasis. Every week I'm going to add some weight (if I can handle that) and see what happens.

I'll probably start doing some type of running again this weekend, but the volume is going to be down a bit for the next few months as I try to build some strength and raw speed and just basically allow my body to come back. This stage is foundational. It's amazing how weak (and slow) many of us ultra-endurance people can get even as we can run 100 miles. I'm planning short, fast stuff, like 100s, 200s and maybe 400s. I've lost a lot of speed over the past few months. All of the fast stuff I'll be doing over the next few months will be pretty aerobic, except when I'm in the weight room.

The overall plan is to get stronger via weights and faster via short, hard sprinting. In between, I'll do easy runs at MAF with some fartleks mixed in. Again, this is about foundation-building--and it'll help keep me once again stay healthy (injury-free) in 2014.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Overtrained, Burned Out, Whatever

I think I've dipped into overtraining. Ever since the Highlands Ranch 1/2 Marathon two weeks after the Leadville 100, I haven't felt great, save a few decent runs here and there. A nasty cold made its way through our house, leaving me with a hideous cough and a host of symptoms that lasted 3+ weeks.

Then, on Friday night, I lined up for the Scream Scram 5K, a great Halloween-themed event in Wash Park in Denver, and ran a decent time and was first master. But today, when I went out for my run, I felt horrible, mentally and physically, and packed it in after 6 miles--something I'll rarely (read: never) do. I'm a warrior--I battle through tough workouts. But not today. After my aborted run, I headed to the gym and did a decent lower body workout--my first time in the gym since March. And I enjoyed pumping iron. At this point, anything that isn't what I've been doing for 10+ years (running) interests me--even this (mostly after I read this awesome interview with a runner I very much admire).

So how did I get here? Over the summer, while out of work, I consistently put in 15-17 hour weeks with over 15,000 feet of climbing--all while dealing with the stress of being out of work and looking for a job. Thankfully, I was sleeping well every night and so I was able to recover between workouts pretty well (or so I thought at the time). But it's now clear to me that the Leadville Marathon in late June, when I ran a scorching time by my own standards, was the high-water mark of my fitness. By the time I lined up for the Leadville 100 in mid-August, I was on the downside of my fitness--mostly because I'd been pushing myself so hard all summer and once again missed peaking for my A race. And so now I find myself fried mentally and physically and not at all interested in running.

I know this is a temporary thing. In time, my love for running will return (it always does). I'm even burned out on my iPod music. Last week, with no new podcasts to listen to (I'm an avid podcast listener), I just ran in silence with my dog, Nick. Whenever I turned on my music, I immediately got irritated and then turned it back off. Such irritation tells me I need a break.

And so I'm now in a break. I don't know how long it'll last--a week, two weeks, who knows? I plan to lift weights, walk my dog and maybe bike a little. Hell, I might even get on that damned elliptical trainer. Anything but run.

All in all, I've had a good, injury-free year of running.
  • I re-qualified (by more than 10 minutes) for the Boston Marathon at the Arizona Rock 'n Roll Marathon.
  • I set a PR at the Leadville Marathon that will be tough to beat in future years.
  • I had an incredible final 35 miles of the Leadville 100, earning another finish at the Race Across the Sky despite puking 25+ times during the race (food poisoning?).
  • I stayed healthy throughout the year, except for a nasty sprained ankle that seemed to patch back together pretty nicely.
I have every reason to look back on 2013 with happiness and fulfillment. I am grateful for my good health and grateful to have enjoyed some awesome races. I'm excited about 2014, especially if it means the Western States 100 (and Leadville!), but at this point I need to call it quits for this racing season and kind of rest and rebuild.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Training Update; Reviews of Fitness Confidential and the Suunto Core Military Edition Watch

Not much to report on the "training" front. I'm running about 55 miles a week, much of it with my dog, Nick. I'm very motivated to run every day and I'm motivated to go hard now and then. But I don't seem to be motivated to do any races. That said, for a while I actually considered lining up for the Boulder 100-Mile next weekend, but family scheduling stuff won't allow it. I honestly don't know why I want to do the Boulder 100. I think running is just "what I do"; I'm hardwired to run and I love going the distance. Plus, while there's nothing better than an epic course like the Leadville 100, I'm also attracted to loop courses like what you'll find at the Boulder 100--fourteen laps of a 7.14-mile course that is pancake flat. I like that. I doubt I'll be lining up this year--maybe next year?

It's hard to say what the rest of the year may bring, except that I'm entering the Western States 100 lottery and hoping I get into the big dance. If I don't get into Western States, which I fully expect will be the case due to the sheer odds of being selected in the lottery, then I'll be back at Leadville next August. Leadville is just what I do. Speaking of Leadville, there's an awesome interview with Bill Finkbeiner, who's finished the race a record 30 years in a row (!), in the latest issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. Check it out!


I recently got a new Suunto Core Military Edition watch, compliments of The Watch Company. I've always known Suunto makes great watches and this one delivers. In addition to all the standard features you'd find in watches for active people, the Core has an altimeter, barometer, digital thermometer, Weather Trend Indicator and digital compass. About the only thing it doesn't have is a GPS. Anyway, I love this watch and I'm still learning about all of its features. I know it's going to be great next summer when I'm back up in the mountains training, and I think it'll also be really useful this winter for snowy trail runs and ski outings. Highly recommended!


Every so often, you come across a book that really speaks to you. That's the case with Vinnie Tortorich's new book, Fitness Confidential: Adventures in the Weight Loss Game. Tortorich, who was born and raised in Louisiana and went on to earn his physical education degree and play football at Tulane University, has been a Los Angeles-based personal trainer for decades, working with corporate executives, actors and other "notables." Now, he's come out with a book in which he tells the truth about losing weight and getting into great shape. Along the way, he reveals his own interesting story.

We all know people who have struggled with their weight for years. Like you, I've seen photos of former high school and college classmates who were healthy weight back in the day but are now obese. Hell, that almost happened to me! It's kind of sad, and Vinnie compellingly makes the case that it's because the Standard American Diet (SAD, as I like to call it) now revolves around grains and sugar. You can hardly find anything without sugar or grains in it. The USDA's "food pyramid," he says, is bullshit, which is really sad to me because it dictates things like school lunches. Making matters worse, we just sit on our asses too much--kids and adults alike. As a nation, we're fat, soft and unhealthy!

In his book, Vinnie reveals the surprising simplicity of losing weight and getting into shape. Avoid sugar and grains--yes, eat that steak!--and do a few simple exercises, like jump roping and some basic weight training. He also exposes the seedy underbelly of the American "fitness" industry and practices employed by the big gym companies. They're not in the business of getting you healthy, he says. They're in the business of making money off of your desperation. That said, he does concede that gyms can be beneficial to those who know how to use them properly.

Vinnie isn't just about promoting himself; he praises Joe Friel, Hal Higdon and other experts who actually know what they're doing and he refers the reader to these guys. He clearly doesn't have much love for snake oil salesmen like that clown on TV with the pony tail. Why? Because Vinnie tells the truth; you have to work hard in the gym. It's not going to come easy. That may not be a highly marketable message, but it's the truth!

Vinnie also goes into detail about his battle with leukemia and his multiple attempts to finish the grueling Furnace Creek 508, an epic bicycle race in Death Valley, California. Vinnie isn't just a personal trainer; he's also an accomplished ultra cyclist.

Despite the fact that there's much I don't have in common with Vinnie, he and I think very similarly when it comes to diet and fitness. Contrary to what the "experts" would have us think, getting lean and in good shape isn't rocket science. Eat the right foods and exercise several times a week and you'll get in shape. Avoid quick fixes because they don't work, and understand that you may have to make sacrifices to be healthy--a message you never hear from the snake oil salesmen. Keep it simple.

You can learn more about Vinnie at his website, and also be sure to check out his podcasts. Also, you don't have to read the actual book; it's available on iTunes (how I "read" it). Best of all, the audio book, which is just over seven hours in length, contains a lot of extras, including some stories Vinnie doesn't tell in the hardcopy book. Fitness Confidential is a great book and I highly recommend it.