Wednesday, June 8, 2016

North Fork 50K Race Report

I showed up at North Fork 50K confident, but without much idea how it would go. When I decided to focus my Winter training on a marathon, multiple veteran ultra runners told me that was a brilliant idea and that they had good trail seasons after marathons. Bottom line, I knew I was fit, just not sure how trail fit I was, having only a few weeks of concentrated trail training.  The plan was simply to go out hard and see what I could do.  (I did have rough guidelines of 10:15 overall pace and sub-5.5 hour finish).

Fortunately, I have raced and trained on the North Fork course many times, so I was able to put together a decent mental strategy. The initial climb is one of the three toughest of the day and will certainly send your work rate quite high early. But, the 12 miles after that are pretty darn benign and very runnable. That said, I expected to be ahead of that 10:15 pace by the midway point. I took off hard enough to earn a PR on the initial climb and found my place in the field. I am guessing I was about 10-12 runners back early on. I arrived at the top of the climb feeling pretty good and running much of it. As expected, I ran pretty hard to the midway point where my average pace was under-9:30, well under my goal. Again, I knew that'd be the case based on the course, but still I wondered if I could maintain. With my nutrition plan being so simple and refined after multiple seasons now, I spent almost zero time in aid stations, which helped tremendously. I would get wet, fill my water bottle and leave. In total, I think I ingested about 400 Kcals on the day, mostly from Skratch Labs, two gels, and a few Mountain Dew shots.

After splitting from the 50 mile runners and starting the second big climb of the day, things slowed quite a bit. I had passed a few runners in aid stations and now had a few directly ahead of me. One was struggling and the other (a woman, I believe Leila Degrave) was literally floating up the climb. My breathing was labored and I tripped, letting out a huge moan. She looked back, I think concerned I might die. I didn't go all the way to the ground, but I put my hands out to brace the fall and smashing my water bottle on the ground. About a third of my water went shooting out of my water bottle. The second time at this race I've done that (this first time I lost it all!). The part that really sucked was that this was the one section that I was concerned about not having enough water for -- 5.5 miles of mostly uphill from Buffalo Creek to Shinglemill. Sure enough, I was short of water and dry by the time I arrived at Shinglemill. I took my longest stop of the day here to rehydrate, eat a cookie (I was starving!!), and cool off. The goal with a long stop was to be ready to get after it on the decent back to Buffalo Creek.

I passed a few runners between aid and on my way down to Buffalo Creek, running hard but not quite all out. I made sure I passed hard enough that they didn't have the motivation to pass me back. Just before I arrived at Buffalo Creek, I passed one more runner who was walking. Another quick stop to get wet at aid and I was on my way up Baldy. I felt sluggish on the climbs all day, but managed a PR on every one except Baldy. I was grinding hard and my overall pace slipped over 10 for the first time all day. Nonetheless, I kept making deals with myself and would run for at least 60 seconds at a time and began catching another runner -- key to motivation. Finally, I got close enough to the other runner that I let him pace me the remainder of the climb. At the top, heading toward Strawberry Jack, I overtook him, unsure of whether I could hold on.

He stayed with me but didn't try to pass before we arrived at Strawberry Jack. At aid, I had a bit of Mountain Dew and cooled off. I rarely ever ask aid station volunteers my place, but I thought I might be doing well and went and asked. They said I was 6th overall and 5th male. Honestly, I was quite happy with that and prepared to do just enough to keep the last runner I passed from passing back. The problem was that I found 4th and 5th place were right in front me within 100 yards of leaving aid. So, I started pushing the decent hard, hard enough to log a PR on the Strava segment. I finally passed 4th place a half a mile down the trail and then had to keep the effort as he was running well. Unlike 2014 -- when I coasted in the final few miles satisfied with my time and place -- I continued pushing the downhill and the final stretch to the finish, crossing the finish line in 5:15 and 9:50 average pace and 4th place. I was totally exhausted and immediately sat down and began drinking gallons of water.

I've been joking with friends that past few days that I am "on a hot streak" with what I'd say are five consecutive great races and eight of my last eleven -- Bear 100 the notable exception and a few "B race" in Indian Creek Fifties and Golden Gate D30. I suppose I could spend a lot time analyzing this, but the short answer is that I am likely in the "sweet spot" of age, cumulative training miles (what I call momentum), experience, and overall health. All those things have played a role in my success, but the catalyst that unlocked lots of this and started my hot streak was changing my diet to LCHF. I would say that this has made my body more metabolically stable: I recover better and I have fewer energy highs and lows. And, it has made my nutrition approach to races quite simple -- 100 kcals an hour and water. I really don't care that much how I get those 100 Kcals either: solid food, beverages, even sugar! I use a few supplements to help fat burning and to minimize central nervous system fatigue, but that's it. I spend more time think about shoes and race shorts than I do nutrition.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Update: Marathon and Beyond

The Colorado Marathon has come and gone and I didn't write a race report.  I will leave you with these words from my Strava activity:

"The story of the week was weather and we drove up to FoCo in a steady rain, which had me quite worried and unsure of what to wear. But, we woke to dry streets, low 30 degrees, and a very light snow fall -- perfect! The bus trip up the canyon took an hour and we sat in the bus until almost 6:10 am (race started at 6:30).

Miles 1 - 10 were pretty uneventful as I tried to find the pace/effort I though I could sustain and broke free from the crowd. Chuck and I only chatted intermittently, mostly just focusing and listening to iPods. He did occasional 'fartleks' to pick items for people, run ahead to pee, etc.... I just kept going straight ahead, eclipsing every split I had intended.

Miles 11-17 where quite a bit more difficult and I started to wonder if I was in over my head. Nothing wrong, just that no-mans-land of so many miles to go and fatigue starting to set in. Coming out of the canyon is hard as you go briefly uphill and realize there is a lot of hard work to go. I was sick of the cambered road and ready to move onto flatter ground.

Miles 18 - 22 I had a surge of energy and felt strong, passing people quite frequently. I even ran a sub-7 minute mile in here and realized I was going to be able to get it done. Chuck would tell me each lap split and began to run slightly in front of me to motivate me, I assumed.

Miles 22 - Finish were just pain, mostly. I could smell the finish and just kept giving all I had with lots of self talk. I knew 3:10 was in play (minus 5 BQ and possible Wave 1 qualification) so I fought hard to keep working for that. When we turned the corner into to town, I had to give all I had to get sub-3:10 and was glad I did. I ran most of this section in Z4 and felt every step."

Long story short, I crushed it. These are the days we live for as runners -- everything went my way. My first and half splits were near identical.  My eight 5k splits were within 15 seconds of one another. Basically, I ran a perfect race. What's funny is that I am the same guy I was in 2012 (and probably was just as fit back then). But, you tell people you qualified for Boston and they view you as special. I don't feel special, but I am looking forward to one helluva a party in Boston 2017!

As for what's next? I am slowly running out of matches to burn. I have enough residual fitness that I plan to give it a go at North Fork 50k next month. Then I hope to enjoy more of summer than normal with my family. My kids are nearly grown and opportunities to hang with them are growing smaller. I don't even know what to expect at Wasatch 100, but I fill find a way to get it done. If things go as planned, I'll spend some time in the mountains with my kids and maybe climb a few mountains. Perhaps I will finally stop and reflect on this journey? We'll see.

I am losing the desire to blog, feeling like I have fewer and fewer new things to add. I am not a controversial guy, so you won't find much editorial or opinion stuff here. Just the facts. This blog has been about my journey to health and discovering my potential. That road is nearing an end and I am savoring every moment left. There are a few goals I have left -- Leadville "big buckle" and another trip to Western States, maybe even Hardrock. I plan to keep after it. But don't be surprised if I blog a whole lot less. Thanks for following along and keep in touch!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Thoughts and Views on Training

Every now and then I get a bug to share my thoughts on training. I write these posts knowing full well that training is an individual thing. However, I also write these posts also knowing that the majority of recreational runners (aka weekend warriors) don't understand how to train properly and defer to doing things younger, professional athletes do because they are winning races. I almost always seek to do the most with the least and have a purpose with my training. (Though, I do occasionally lapse into "just log miles" mode.)

Recently, I've started following Jason Koop as he is a rising star in the ultra coaching circles. I even used some workouts I heard him describe in a podcast before Western States last year. (I also used his tips on heat training to turn heat running into a strength!) I've long followed Eric Orton of Born to Run fame. Ironically, Outside Magazine posted an article about the two of them and their philosophy that got me intrigued about writing some more thoughts on training and to continue following both of their work (and read Koop's book). While I haven't read Koop's book yet, the one thing I can say that I love about Orton's book is his focus on the "fundamentals". I think athletes of all ages and types can get lulled into forgetting to work on the basics and runners are no different.

So, if I were to coach an athlete, what factors would I emphasize and in what order? Before reading on, please know that each of these factors should be personalized into a specific plan based on your experience and desired race. This isn't a full coaching plan, just some tips and guidelines on how to improve. Disclaimer aside, here are my thoughts....

Consistency

Nothing ruins a runner's potential like intermittent training. If you cannot commit to at least 5 days and 5 hours a week of exercise of all types (running, XT, etc....), then I think you are going to have a tough time finding much success as a competitive or age-group athlete. It doesn't much matter if you are planning to use a high intensity minimal plan or an aerobic based high volume plan, you must be able to keep steady stimulus to the body to see steady gains, pretty simple. What's more, if you take time off due to injury or "life", you must be willing to rededicate to getting back to a routine that fosters consistent exercise.

I won't lie, consistency comes with a price. I rarely go out for beers my friends any more. I gave up golf (another time consuming sport) to dedicate that time and money to running. I diligently watch what I eat and how much I sleep. Those are the costs of consistency and I realize they aren't for everyone. As a family guy, I have to spend my hobby time wisely....

Life Factors

Before going any deeper, you must evaluate your life factors. Do you often feel short of sleep? Do you have a stressful home life (young kids, marriage problems, family problems)? Is your job stressful or do you work a ton of hours? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you must carefully consider your volume. Doing too much volume (or too many hard workouts) with other stress factors is a bad recipe. Our bodies cannot tell the difference between the sources of stress and you'll be "burning your candle at both ends", a major risk for injury or even de-training.

Another major consideration here is your age and experience as an athlete. Are you a life long athlete turning to running as a new endeavor? Or, perhaps you are a middle aged individual hoping to lose weight running. It is essential that you match your goals and training plans to your background. There is a great expansion of this topic in Brad Hudson's book.

Volume

Now the tricky topic, volume. I think consistent volume is an excellent predictor of success until it isn't any more. There is no perfect rule here, but a guideline for most people is that diminishing returns likely live between 8 and 10 hours per week of running. Unless you can make the jump to 100+ miles per week -- in which case you likely aren't reading my blog! -- then time spent beyond 10 hours is probably better served in other places like recovery, cross-training, or even just rest. Don't underestimate the value of a nice walk with your spouse and dog.

One of the most talented runners I know consistently crushes races and easily wins age group awards on way less volume than you'd think. If he can run 18:43 at the Leadville 100, then I don't think you need to run 100 mile weeks or 30 mile long runs every weekend to accomplish your goals. Please don't mistake what I am saying, Chuck trains very hard. But, he also follows a set of principles very similar to what is contained within this post and has learned how to train smart.

Variety

Once you've established a level of volume that fits your life and that you can do consistently without getting injured, then variety becomes essential. In other words, it isn't how many miles you run but what do you do with those miles? Do you do enough of fundamentals (hills, strides, etc...) and enough run variations (tempo work, speed work, etc...)? A trap I frequently fall into in the Summer is only wanting to do trail runs. That ensures that I overdo specificity training and don't do enough of the above workouts. If your goal is to be a better runner, then you should strive to improve at all types  of workouts and distances and do just the right amount specificity to be race ready.

Experience

Want to do well at a marathon? Run more than one! Our bodies are extremely good at adapting to stress, but change takes place slowly. Consistency and experience are huge factors because of the element of time. I once heard Lucho say that it takes three years to become good at the marathon. I believe him. Running excess volume or too many hard workouts before you are ready is not the best way to get prepared for a race. Instead, focus on steady, consistent progress and allow your body to adapt at its own pace.

More resources

If you are brand new to running, I think I would start with Eric Orton or Dr Phil Maffetone as starting points for additional learning and sample plans. More experienced runners should consider Hudson and Koop in addition to the first two.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Colorado Marathon Training Update

Wow, I've had zero motivation to blog lately. I started writing this blog to document my journey through training, experimentation, and lessons I learn along the way. Perhaps I am just running out of things to learn? With each passing year I am certainly experiencing fewer journeys, instead focusing on spending more time around the house. I think that is a normal pattern for an endurance athlete. Or, maybe I am just lacking motivation right now as I wait for Winter to pass and Spring to begin in full? Eh, time will tell...

Anyway, the one thing I have been doing is training hard for the Colorado Marathon. I've run half a dozen marathons (counting "races" only) and this is the most I've stayed with a plan and consistent training yet. I typically get bored and run out of motivation to put in the hard work each day. This goal (3:12) feels so large that I cannot afford to slack. And, I had a rough patch that lasted three weeks due to a nasty, long-lasting illness. While I kept my head above water during that period, it definitely heightened my sense of urgency after getting healthy.

I am averaging around 60 miles a week these days without much vertical gain, but with tons of structure. A typical week has me doing 2 workouts (intervals, Fartleks, or tempo variations) plus a long run, of course. I've used my long run to do way more pace work than previous training cycles. Being so far out of practice from running hard for that long, I feel very adamant that I need that type of work. My long runs are far from fun -- I much prefer adventures at places like Indian Creek or Deer Creek -- but I am committed to my goal. Three more of these long runs and then I can see if it has all worked.

One thing that has stood out about this cycle is the number of times per week that I run between eight and twelve miles. About five days a week I run eight miles or more. While some of that is with pace and a bit faster than when I ultra train, each day is a pretty big commitment to running, rarely squeezing my workouts under an hour. When I consider what it takes to apply the appropriate stress and get to an appropriate weekly mileage (without B2Bs to rely on the weekend), this makes sense. But it isn't easy! I have enjoyed my journey back to the marathon and experiencing the contrast in training, but it certainly isn't the type of training that stimulates me over a long period of time. I'll be happy when trail season is officially here. In the meantime, I'll continue attack this marathon the best I know how.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

2016 Update - Wasatch Front

The Wasatch Front 100 lottery was held on Saturday and I got in. It was truly unexpected -- though I found out later the odds were better than 50% -- and it has caused me to finalize plans for 2016. Prior to the lottery, I had almost made up my mind I was taking the year off 100s. All I really know about the race is that it is stinking hard, alleged to be beautiful, and they are changing the course in 2016. Should be fun! The good news is that I do not project favorably as a 24-hour finisher, so I can approach the race and training with perhaps a little less stress and see if I can figure out a way to enjoy the journey a bit more this time. I love trail ultra running, but I simply must come to a place where I can enjoy them more and "compete" in them less in order to continue on this path. The training takes a toll on my body and feels like it puts me at odds with home life more than I'd like.

Marathon training is going well and I am extremely happy with my decision to do this. In fact, I am somewhat disappointed that I haven't done more structured workouts the past four years and have allowed myself to be too specific in the trail and ultra world. I love that world, but you can have too much of a good thing. Anyhow, there is an argument to be made that I this is the hardest I've trained for any marathon -- extremely focused and disciplined workouts day after day. Previous marathons plans more informal, jumping around between ultra plans, Pftiz plans, and Hudson plans. Recent workouts have given me confidence that a 3:12 is possible. However, my acceptance into Wasatch means this is a one shot deal, at least for 2016.

I am eagerly awaiting Spring and dry dirt to get back out on the trails. This year, I hope to do it much fitter and keep an edge of "quality" to my training, which likely includes taking a step backwards in volume (both miles and vertical gain).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Where Have I Been Lately?

.... or maybe more appropriately, where am I going?! I guess it isn't all that unusual for me to go quiet blogging this time of year. Anyway...

2016 planning has been totally unlike the last 4 years where I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Having run Western States last year, a major life goal was accomplished and my thirst for continuing down the 100 mile path was quenched, at least a little bit. The lotteries were a total bust and everything I'd care to do in 2016 has filled up lightening fast. On something of a nostalgic whim, I entered the Wasatch 100 lottery and now await the results of that on February 6th. Should that go bust, there is a very real chance I am taking a year off of running 100s. It might be good for me, possibly exactly what I need to recharge the batteries. I have zero idea what I'll do in that instance. It will likely involve some type of trail ultra, but likely something short(er) and scenic. The thought of it kind of excites me, particularly since I am already training for speed anyway.

In the meantime, I am marathon training. My hope is to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2017, a pretty ambitious goal as well as one of my few remaining running goals. I am not taking this challenge lightly and far from certain I'll pull it off. The qualifying standard is 3:15 and I have once surpassed that, but I think it will take something closer to 3:12 to actually get into the race, which would be a small PR for me. Considering that was four years ago, it might be a BIG PR for me. I am quickly remembering how hard marathon training is and why I gave it up! The biggest difference is that there aren't B2B long runs to lean on for padding weekly mileage, the result is a lot more midweek mileage. That means less sleep and more cold, dark runs. Of course, there is also a lot more structure as well -- intervals, fartleks, tempos, progressions, etc... Honestly, I kind of enjoy that part. Once I gain the confidence to get out the door, the structure keeps me engaged and the miles pass quickly. Plus, I am a data geek and that gives me lots of things to consider later.

Another unique aspect of the marathon is the structured, hard long runs (aka specificity!). Most ultra long runs are not as challenging as a marathon pace long run in terms of recovery. I can run for three hours easy in the mountains and bounce back relatively quickly. But a 2-hour long run with pace has left me pretty wiped out on several occasions this cycle so far. Of course, over the course of the last four years I have optimized my body for that type of mountain running, so it makes sense that changing has confused my body.

One thing I have not changed is my diet. I continue to be disciplined in following a low carbohydrate regimen. The only difference between now and ultra training is that I have used a bit more Generation Ucan for fueling before some harder runs -- maybe six times now in six weeks. So I am not abusing it, but using it strategically when I have to hit a hard run or feel a bit low.

In short, I am in a bit of a waiting pattern on the trail and ultra front, but I am busy working my butt off for another goal. It has been a nice change of pace and maybe more of a challenge than I expected. It is a struggle to run 10 miles at 7:30 pace right now, I cannot fathom running 26.2 miles faster than that. The reality that I once did that blows my mind.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year In Review

Wow, a Year End post can take so many different directions. Like many runners, I tend to focus on the stats and the work that I accumulate over the year.  (It really is impressive what a person can accomplish if they apply consistency and discipline to anything in their life...) I'll get to the stats, but I think I'll start this post with the things I am thankful for:

Health.  Running has always been about getting healthy for me. I've now gone 2 years without an injury that required any meaningful time-off or attention.  I am quite proud of that.  Some of that is due to the slower paced nature of trail ultrarunning -- my focus the past 2 years. But, trail running also comes with tremendous amounts of vertical gain, which can cause injury in excess. In addition to physical health, I am happy with my metabolic health. Two years on LCHF and I have never felt better: I've barely been sick. My blood pressure is lower. I sleep better. I am running better. My body composition is leaner.

Friends. Running has also become a large part of my social life -- how can it not when you devote 12 hours a week to something? I am so thankful for my group of running friends that help to keep me motivated and show up to support me on my crazy adventures. The social aspects of running come with some challenges, like any social circle, but it is a very positive influence in my life overall. Some of the biggest highlights of 2015 were seeing my friends have success -- Chuck destroying Leadville and Jon nailing his first 100. I guess I like to think I had something to do with helping them succeed...

Racing. I enjoy racing as a way to test my limits, test the things I learn and want to implement along the way, and really just to add adventure to my life. 2015 was incredible as far as races go, by far my best year racing trail ultras. Of course, it will always be remembered for Western States, but 8th and 9th place finishes at Javelina and Bear Chase 50k respectively is also an accomplishment I am quite proud of.

Now for some stats.... I finished with PRs in mileage (2852) and vertical gain (300k), both are 10-15% improvements on previous PRs. I don't train to accumulate stats; in fact, I believe in doing the minimum necessary to be prepared for racing. And, I believe in being a complete athlete, which means time in the gym and sometimes pushes running to the back-burner. Nonetheless, this year was a big year in stats, primarily because I raced on both ends of the calendar (D30 in May and Javelina on October/November). Interestingly, I accumulated another 350 miles and 30K of vertical gain walking, mostly with my spoiled dog! I have never tracked that before, so it was kind of fun to see how that turned out.

2016 is still a bit up in the air. I am committed to the Colorado Marathon and actually quite nervous about it. The primary motivation is break out of the ultrarunning mindset a bit and re-develop some of the systems I've neglected by doing so many slow, heart-rate-driven miles. That's exactly what scares me, the unsureness of how quickly those systems can come back. The last time I raced a marathon, I was on a streak of 5 straight marathon PRs. Now I am coming off a 4 year break.

Beyond that, things are very much up in the air. I've struggled to find the motivation to do a 100, but I need to requalify for both Western States and Hardrock. I never thought I'd do Hardrock, but it is slowly emerging as a potential endpoint to this crazy ultrarunning life. I am basically considering every race other than Leadville at this point.

No matter what I do, I am positive it will be fun and full of adventure. Thanks to all of you that were a part of my 2016. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't include my family and say thank you to them for all of their support. Hopefully I contributed something positive to your journey as well.