Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking Back on 2014

With 2014 coming to a close, it's a good time to look back on the year, using the "good, bad and ugly" format.

The Good:
HR Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon.
Photo by Chris Boyack.
Interestingly, my most satisfying race was my last race this year--the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon held earlier this month. On a very hilly trail course with over 1,600 feet of climbing, I finished 12th out of 701 finishers with a 1:34. Had it been a fast road half, I believe I could have gone sub 1:23--it was just one of those great days. I felt super strong from start to finish, paced it just right (especially in the opening miles), absolutely hammered the downs, and finished exceptionally well. It was a great finish to an otherwise so-so year of running.

The North Fork 50K, where I finished fourth overall, was my second most satisfying race. The field for this race wasn't that strong, but it nonetheless felt good to snag another top-five especially when it came as a training run. Despite hot conditions, I was very strong in this race, clicking off the miles in a metronomic fashion but never really feeling "fast."

I'm also proud of my 18:34 at the Scream Scram 5K last month. At age 41, it feels good to bang out 5Ks at sub-6-minute pace while running at 5,300 feet above seal level. At sea level on a good day, I'm very confident I can still go sub-18.

Finally, though I was shooting for another sub-3, I'm proud of my 3:04 at the Colorado Marathon in early May, earning early entry into Boston. Even though I'm not going to Boston next April, I always like to stay qualified for Boston. Maybe it's a pride thing. A lot of people say the Colorado Marathon is an "easy" course. Yes, it does involve a lot of downs, but those last nine miles will definitely keep you honest. In my case, I didn't pace this race very well and simply lost some steam in the last few miles.

The Bad:
The Leadville Trail Marathon was a miserable experience. I really hate it when courses get changed. In the case of this year's race, admittedly they had to tweak the course as a significant portion in the middle was still buried with snow (reportedly over six feet of snow). Coming into this race, I was a bit tired from training and just basically plodded along, never really finding much enjoyment out of the experience. The altitude was also getting to me (a theme that would carry over to the 100). It was fairly disappointing coming in over five hours when the year before I killed it with a 4:19.

The Ugly:
Puking over 50 times, including a fainting episode at Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60), my experience at this year's Leadville Trail 100 was the epitome of ugly. It is still amazing to me that I even finished this race, much less snagged another big buckle. The altitude, muscle cramping and poor nutrition simply kicked my butt. Little did I realize when crossing the finish line with a disappointing 24:09 that this would probably be my last LT100. Due to the new lottery system, which I take issue with, 2014 was indeed likely my last LT100. All in all, it was probably my ugliest finish in a 100-miler, but at least I finished. So long, Leadville.

So, there you have it--2014. Considering my notorious bad luck in even years, 2014 wasn't too bad but it wasn't great, either. I'm getting older but I feel like I've been smart about things and am aging well. For example, in 2004, I ran my first marathon in 3:22. In 2005, I ran two 3:08 marathons, qualifying for Boston each time, and a few years later finally got down below three hours for a few races. Today, at age 41, I'm a 3:04 marathoner--faster than when I got into long-distance running at age 31. While it's fair to say I may have lost a step or two due to Father Time, I can still run pretty well. And I think that comes down to smart training and avoidance of over-racing over the years. I did over-race one year (2009) and paid for it dearly in 2010 when I was seriously injured. Never again.

With lots of luck in odd years, I am excited about 2015! The year's race schedule will be built around either the Bighorn 100 or Western States 100--depends on if I get lucky and am drawn for WS (not counting on it--my odds are like 9%).

In case you're wondering what the deal is with my good luck in odd years and bad luck in even years, here you go (2004-2006 don't count):

2007: Finished 6th at Burning River 100
2008: Knee blew up at Mohican; lost lead and barely finished 4th overall
2009: Won Mohican; 131 miles at the North Coast 24-Hour; best year ever
2010: Barely finished Leadville under 25 hours; serious case of plantar fasciitis
2011: Set current PR at Leadville (22:35)
2012: DNF'd at Leadville with a knee injury; worst year ever
2013: 22:40 at Leadville 100; 4:19 at Leadville Marathon
2014: Barely finished Leadville due to stomach issues

Chime in with thoughts on your race year!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reader Question about Maffetone Method Training

Question: I came across your blog today while researching MAF training. Are you still using this method to train? I read about it a few months ago and just got my heart rate monitor for my birthday so I am just beginning. How long have you used the MAF method? Do you think it has been effective? I am running my first marathon in May 2015. My current plan is to use the heart rate training to buildup my aerobic base for 3-4 months then to begin incorporating intervals for speed. I am hoping that a book or other resource will help me identify better training principles. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. ~ Kristin
Thanks for your question, Kristin. I get lots of questions about MAF so I'd like to answer yours on this blog in order to share what I hope is helpful information with other readers.

It continues to feel strange to me to answer questions as I don't consider myself a running expert. I have dabbled in coaching over the years but I feel like there's still so much to learn. I guess I just don't consider myself enough of an expert to really helps others in a meaningful way. And yet I do think I know a few things about MAF (not as much as Lucho), so I'm glad to share my own story and help as best as I can.

I am a big believer in MAF, having taken it up as an official training practice in 2012. I don't have much time to read so much of what I've learned about MAF over the years has come via podcasts, websites and experimentation. I've heard great things about Dr. Maffetone's Big Book of Endurance, and you can also hear from the man himself via Endurance Planet (search for his past podcast interviews or click here). Anyway, depending on what kind of intensity you're going to bring to the marathon in May, about 95% of the effort will be aerobic. That means you really need to build a super strong aerobic base, which MAF can help you do. Use Dr. Maffetone's 180 Formula to determine your MAF range. Or, if you have the resources for it, get your zones tested so you know what heart rates correspond with which zones. Dr. Maffetone would always advocate personalized testing over his formula but, in the absence of personalized testing, his formula is usually pretty spot on. 
MAF does a few things for you. First, it helps you develop a very strong aerobic base, which you're going to need in the marathon or just about any endurance activity. Second, it helps you become an efficient fat burner (more on that below). And third, it helps you prevent injuries and over-training. Your body likes to use fat when in an aerobic state. As you develop aerobically, your body will also develop its fat burning--critical to endurance. When you're running at higher intensities (beyond MAF), your body will use more sugar for fuel. But in MAF your body is mostly burning fat. Even the leanest of athletes have 20,000-30,000 calories of fat ready to burn. And yet we have about 2,000 calories of sugar stored in our liver. It's far better to train your body to prefer to burn fat than sugar. That means you can run longer without "hitting the wall." The way to do that is through aerobic training (MAF) and diet (fewer carbs). I have a friend who's a MAF athlete and low-carb guy and ran a 2:50 at Boston taking in not a single gel. 
The great triathlete Mark Allen used MAF to win several Ironman World Championship races and also notch a 2:39 marathon split at Kona in 1989--a record that still stands. MAF works for those who are patient and use it at the right time(s) in their training. Patience is critical. It can mean you might have to walk hills at first to stay in your MAF zone. Do it. Be patient. It is so frustrating to see people abandon MAF because they're too proud to walk hills at first. Having to walk hills and run at a slow pace to stay within MAF means you're aerobically inefficient. MAF will make you super efficient IF you stick with it, check your pride at the door, and remain patient. In time, your MAF pace will get faster and faster and you'll be able to run those hills. When I'm in shape, I can average 6:30 pace over 5 miles on the track in a MAF test, losing maybe 1-2 seconds between mile 1 and mile 5. Not to stereotype, but women tend to be more patient than men. In that vein, I've seen MAF work well for women whereas guys get all prideful and abandon it because they want to run "fast." Then they blow up at races and wonder why. 

MAF is super important for base-building and easier days but you want to periodize your training. So, as the marathon gets closer, do some track intervals (staying aerobic, which means 1200s and stuff like that) to build your speed. Also--and this is critical--do tempo runs at about marathon pace or slightly faster. You want to get more and more comfortable at marathon pace. The tempo runs will build strength, helping you stay on pace in that last 10K when so many people's races fall apart. As far as periodizing your training, check out Brad Hudson's book, Run Faster. Renato Canova and Jack Daniels are also great resources. They all use different terms but basically they all agree on the MAF stage and periodized training. Again, it all depends on your goals. Also, check out Lucho's blog (link above) and enter MAF into the search box. You'll pull up tons of great content.
I cannot emphasize enough how important patience is with MAF. It is not long, slow distance, as some claim. People who dismiss MAF as LSD are ignorant when it comes to proper training. MAF will make you faster and more efficient. It'll help you build an aerobic fortress on rock, versus a fortress on sand as many runners today do because they lack patience and discipline. As Yiannis Kouros says, conquering endurance is about patience and then doing solid training.
You have the requisite 24-odd weeks to go through a proper training cycle to get ready for the marathon and kill it. Good luck!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Talking Honestly About Ultrarunning

One thing we don't do enough of in ultrarunning is talk honestly about some issues facing the "sport." For the most part, the collective view is one of unicorns and rainbows. That's one reason why I really enjoy the Elevation Trail podcast. It's great to see Tim and Gary back, after a pretty long hiatus, with an awesome new podcast about "grilled cheese-gate" at the Arrowhead 135 race and other matters. In this latest show, Gary is truly in rare form, which is saying a lot.

While I sometimes disagree with what Tim and Gary say on their podcast and occasionally their takes even piss me off, Elevation Trail does a great job of stirring the pot and making you think--with lots of good humor interspersed. I have often looked at the "sport" with rose-colored glasses but in the past few months I've come to see that we have some issues in ultrarunning and it's great to see a few of us calling them out. If all you did was listen to the "mainstream" endurance-related podcast shows, you might find what Tim and Gary say to be a bit edgy.

Anyway, go to iTunes and download the new anti-establishment ET show or listen to it via the link above. I personally really enjoyed it, but maybe that's because I'm a bit disgruntled with the "sport" these days. So, if your head is in the clouds or deep in the sand, it's time to get real.

Parting shot: Pumped to make this top 100 list for best running blogs!