Thursday, May 11, 2017

Want to Get In Shape as a Runner? Here's Step 1.

One of the athletes I'm coaching has experienced a full 4-minute drop in his average Maffetone Test pace since February. What's Maffetone? Keep reading!

Yiannis Kouros said that, "you must be patient and then do
solid training. Without patience (read: aerobic base building),
you will never conquer endurance."
He went into his training for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run having not trained consistently but having tried his hand at the 50K distance, where it took him 7+ hours to finish. When he came to me for coaching services back in January, I asked him a bunch of questions and out of that experience came the realization that this was an athlete who had the desire but required at least 3-4 months of nothing but aerobic base training. So we created a program that revolved around the Maffetone Method. For him, based on his age, this meant all runs were in the 145-155 beats-per-minute range (never going over!), as I'd determined exclusive aerobic training was a fundamental area of need early in his development.

Essentially, the Maffetone Method is a personalized program, using the 180 Formula, for developing a solid aerobic base and optimizing the athlete's health and well-being. It's what made Mark Allen into...Mark Allen the Ironman legend. But I believe the Maffetone Method, while brilliant, will get an athlete training for a mountain race only so far. So my approach is to then build on the aerobic base, after it's been carefully developed over the course of months of consistent running, with some specific types of workouts that achieve specific things. For this runner, because he's training for the Leadville 100, we started to gradually introduce fartleks, intervals and then hill repeats and 20-25-minute tempo running, in addition to long runs on trails and roads, after he'd put in 3+ solid months of MAF. He was ready for this.

What is so great about this athlete's progress isn't just the steady improvement in his MAF Test results. To be sure, that's very exciting! But what's so gratifying at this stage is the fact that he's steadily increased his weekly mileage (now at 55 per week) and increased his long runs, while also gradually implementing quality workouts and staying healthy, injury-free and mentally engaged. He is now ready for the peak period of his Leadville training. And I think this all goes back to the aerobic base he built for those first three months. Without a solid aerobic base, an endurance athlete has built his or her castle on sand and not rock. If the former, the castle will crumble come race day (if not sooner). If the latter, the athlete will have what it takes to cover the distance--he has the requisite aerobic engine to more than cover the distance.

What's next for this athlete? The buildup for Leadville will continue with increasingly longer runs, many of which will be on mountainous trails, tempo runs to countinue building strength, hill repeats to continually develop speed and efficiency, and nothing but MAF pace on easy days.

If you, too, are an athlete looking to get in shape and maybe try your hand at the marathon or even ultramarathon distance, consider the Maffetone Method! It works!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Being "All In"

Last night I showed the short video below--already a classic in the growing collection of ultrarunning documentaries--to my almost 9-year-old son. At varying times, he and I have talked about what it means to be "all in"--totally dedicated to the moment at hand, doing it right every step of the way, and stopping at nothing to get the goal achieved. In this video, "Miller vs. Hawks," with The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in San Francisco as the backdrop, we see two athletes who are "all in."

But the athlete who most strikes me is Zack Miller, winning the hilly race despite a ferocious challenge from the young Hawks. You can see Miller's "all in" dedication throughout (and Hawks' too) but especially in the end as he is looking to put time on Hawks, who is trailing in second only a minute or two behind. Miller's breathing in the last 3+ miles says it all. Miller's raw talent is exceeded only by his heart--he runs with the heart of a lion.

Also striking is the sportsmanship between Miller and Hawks. Miller, after celebrating his win, waits for Hawks to finish and then helps the exhausted Hawks to the ground, even assisting him in stretching out his legs. The two congratulate each other after a hard-fought race. These two guys are champions.

At a time when there are a dwindling number of athletes to look up to, I was proud to show this video to my son and point to how these two athletes ran the race so hard and showed what it means to be "all in."

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Spirit of Ultramarathoning

Yesterday I got this e-mail (which I slightly edited for better clarity) from a reader. I've responded below.

Dear Wyatt:

I really enjoyed your last post, especially the thoughts on Anton Krupicka. It got me to thinking about what my running friends and I call "the spirit of ultramarathoning." We're so wrapped up in the elites and what they're doing that we forget what the sport is all about, and that's the folks out there doing it because they love it no matter where they finish--back of the pack, middle of the pack or barely making the cutoffs.



Tim Twietmeyer won Western States 5
times while holding down a full-time
gig at HP. Source: here.
Thanks for your e-mail. I couldn't agree more. While it's exciting to watch the elites and see and read about their amazing feats (like what Jim Walmsley was on the cusp of doing at Western States last year, before missing a turn--unreal), I agree that the spirit of ultrarunning is on full display in ordinary people out there running crazy distances and finishing races because it's what they love to do.

I saw this firsthand at the Greenland Trail 50K last year, when I was manning an aid station. I felt such love for the trail and the community from everyone who came through my aid station, especially the back-of-the-packers who were so easy-going and just happy to be out there despite the fact that we were experiencing a full-on blizzard. And I felt it at Western States last year when I saw a second sunrise while still on the course (it was a tough day-plus for me).

There was a time in my ultrarunning life when I was driven to win, podium or, at the least, finish top-5. When I stood at the starting line, that was what was going through my head. I didn't always have fun in these kinds of races--a lot of times I felt pressure that, looking back on it, I put on myself. It is amazing I didn't burn out, and I think the reason I never burned out was that beneath it all was a love of simply running in nature.

Now that I'm a bit older (and slower), I look at why I'm still doing ultras and it's because--probably like you and thousands of others--I love to run and I love the community. People like us have demanding jobs, families, lawns to mow and unending competing priorities, and yet we make the sacrifices to train for and finish ultras...because we love it and it's who we are deep down. And, honestly, that's how it was back in the day even with the elites. The guys and gals who were dominating in the 80s and 90s often had full-time jobs and families. Paid sponsorships? Pfft. They were punching the proverbial clock like the rest of us.

Which is to say being an ultrarunner has been, and probably always will be, about making sacrifices out of love for the sport that most people wouldn't make--waking up at 4am on a Saturday or Sunday to go for a long run, training when most people sleep, saying no to that second beer or glass of wine, going to bed at 9pm. No one is paying us to do this. We have no sponsors pressuring us. It's all about love and the community...and sacrifice. So, yes, I agree 100% with you: While I do think the elites embody the spirit of ultrarunning (they, too, love it), I feel that the spirit is truly sustained in ordinary people like us getting out there in nature and putting one foot in front of the other with like-minded folks, whether it's in a training run, at a local fat-ass event, or in an organized race.