Friday, December 2, 2016

Running with Power

Being the tinkerer that I am, I bought a Stryd Power Meter recently to mess around with power and get an idea what it is all about. Unfortunately, I adopted a little to early and got the chest strap version. They recently released a footpod version that I would MUCH prefer.

To start out, I'll explain why power appeals to me. I began seriously training in 2010 and mostly trained by goal pace. Based on my marathon goals, I would find my target training paces (easy, tempo, 10k, etc...) from the McMillan calculator and work backward in training. For example, a 3:30 marathoner should be able to run sub-45 min 10k, or about 7:12 pace. If I encountered a workout that called for intervals at 10k pace in training, I'd aim to hit or exceed the pace given by the calculator. Easy enough, and relatively effective. I collected heart rate data on and off in these years and mostly used it to guide my pace.

Fast forward to my ultra years and I fell in love with volume, as do most ultra runners. In an effort to squeeze in volume, one typically has to give up on doing much intensity. I turned to Maffetone and an extreme focus -- I think obsession really -- on heart rate training. I gauged every run by heart rate intensity to the point where I was doing my hard sessions with heart rate targets in mind and graded every run by what my heart rate data told me. The most common thing my social group talks about on Strava is heart rate. I even tinkered with the idea of racing by heart rate. Fortunately, I quickly realized that wasn't such a great idea for me as it is extremely hard to predict with the terrain variation in mountain ultras. (I do think heart rate is a paramount thing to observe and measure in terms of fitness and health, but using it for the in the moment the decisions and to guide your training is a bit trickier.)

In 2016, I decided to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon and realized I'd need something a bit more solid than heart rate if I was going to narrow in on such a specific time goal and returned to training more by structure and pace. I continued to track heart rate of course, but tended to analyze it after the fact and less in the moment. Then I read Jason Koop's book and it changed the way I viewed ultra running -- it didn't need to all be LSD and Maffetone! His book encouraged me to change the focus back to training and fitness and not just volume. A return to pace and structure treated me well in 2016 as I did qualify for Boston and had a great year overall.

So, the reason to consider power? Other than wanting to tinker, I considered it primarily because I see the disadvantages in heart rate training. Heart rate training is only valuable if you have a very accurate understanding of your heart rate zones. And, truthfully, I find very few people do. This requires some good sample data -- threshold data the best -- and lots of experiments. Using heart rate guidelines like 180-age and such confuse the issue and remove any individuality. Another problem is that heart rate data can be influenced by lots of things -- life stress, caffeine, fatigue, alcohol, diet, etc... This can be a positive or negative, but definitely skews the definition of work. Finally, heart rate data tends to lag effort, so if you aren't paying attention to perceived effort, you can "blowout" your heart rate easily. Depending on the workout and your fitness, a heart rate "blowout" may be unrecoverable without full recovery, which I am not a fan of.

Power data aims to improve upon heart rate data by changing the definition of work being done. Instead of thinking of pace or heart beats, you think of force and work rate. However, by using power you can also analytically measure other areas like efficiency, training stress, and such with more precision. Power can actually measure the force you apply on multiple planes, which is valuable because any power applied any where other than forward is theoretically waste. Truthfully, it is just a more analytical, and perhaps accurate, way to measure what heart rate and pace already tell you. The difference is subtle because all of the metrics in this post measure work and stress, just in different ways. (And, TrainingPeaks is capable of using all three when analyzing fitness.)

The other advantage of power is that it isn't lagging like heart rate. If you start going uphill, power instantly increases. Of course, the reverse of that is that it can literally change with every stride, meaning you have to use a smoothed number (like 10 or 30 seconds) to avoid the noise. And, like heart rate or pace, you must know your threshold to properly set zones. So, testing and tinkering hasn't been eliminated. Like heart rate, power zones can theoretically change through the year with fitness.

So, enough with all the background and theory, I've used power data on a few dozen runs and finally am honing in on my "zones". My initial trial for threshold power was a bust due to training fatigue and wind, so I have reverse-engineered my zones by more experimentation. Someday soon I'll do my zones with a threshold test again, but those aren't very fun!

Advantages that I have found:
- I think the primary advantage I have found is in using it on a treadmill where I am often not sure if the machine is calibrated properly. Also, I prefer to run on treadmills with a slight grade, making a read on pace even more perplexing. Running indoors also wreaks havoc on my heart rate, due namely to heat, I think. So, power offers a more unbiased view of effort in these situations. You can see a slight increase in power after the first two intervals in the display below as I slightly increased the pace. Interestingly, power peaked in the fifth interval even though the 6th was my fastest. While though I wasn't looking at my power on my watch, I was making an effort to be efficient on that 6th interval.

Power data from a recent treadmill interval session I did. The data was captured in Movescount.

- Power data is measuring power in all planes, so any loss of form due to fatigue will show up as an increase in power, meaning the runner needs to slow down or improve efficiency. Slowing down on a treadmill may be difficult whether due to a drastic need to button push or admit to yourself you cannot handle the pace. However, on a track, if you only had a smoothed power measure shown on your watch, this could be quite a good way to measure and target your effort.

- Related to the above, I think the efficiency measures that could be derived from power and loss of data on different planes could be quite powerful. However, I think the individual would need either a coach or be extremely geeky to enjoy this. And, other measures like stride rate, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time already exist.

- The integration of data with TrainingPeaks and their variety of other analytics is very useful.

 Disadvantages that I have found:
- To use power, you must re-orient your entire view of how you train to power. This shouldn't be that complicated, but I equate it to someone learning a foreign language and only thinking in one language and translating to the other. A runner used to thinking in pace or heart rate will find themselves doing a lot of translation until power becomes second nature.

- The data is so accurate to the moment that it can be noisy, requiring the use of smoothed values to be useful. This calls into question which smoothed value is most useful -- 10 secs or 30 secs?  More?

Power data from an "easy" non-structured run collected by Movescount. See how "noisy" it can be? But, my hill sprint stands out really well at the end! 
- Many runners want to just run and this level of data an analytics won't appeal to everyone. Having to consider stride rate is complicated enough, but loss of power to alternate planes may blow some minds!

- *Data collection is only supported by a few watches and, at least for my Ambit 3 Run, you only get the power number, none of the other cool metrics collected by Stryd. Power is the most important number, but some of Stryd's advanced analytics would be useful as well. I don't like carrying my iPhone around when I run. Hopefully future versions of Ambit are able to capture all this data from Stryd. (The Stryd does support offline data caching so I can capture my data within the device even if not on my watch and sync with my mobile phone later.)

- *Likewise, only a few software programs allow you to dig deep into the analytics of power. Movescount collects the data, but only to graph it and display back the point values, which are quite noisy. Strava doesn't support power in their run profile yet. TrainingPeaks does support power and has quite a few good displays of the data. But, I'd like to see all the other data points the Stryd collects integrate in one place.
A comparison of power by zones and heart rate by zones from Training Peaks

In summary, I like having power as a training tool and will continue to experiment with it. I will also likely get the new version at some point. But, I think I am a little ways away from exclusively training with it. I'd like to see the software and watches catch up quickly to really make this data more powerful! If inclined, I think a runner could gather very valuable information in regards to efficiency using this tool.

*Note to the reader: With the new Stryd footpod, it does sound like most of the data may actually make its way into Garmin Connect. Also, it stores the data on the pod so you can load it to their power center later.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Lessons Running 100 Miles Has Taught Me

Expectations Are Killer

The first time I ran 100 miles, I was just happy to be there, literally. I was the only friend I knew that had done it and I got injured in the final weeks of training, putting doubt into my ability to finish the race. As a result, I kept a pretty positive attitude the entire time and just enjoyed the journey and worked as hard as I could. My second hundred miler was my worst, because I had become a decent ultra runner and wanted something way more than "just finish". I had a vision of how my day would go -- my nutrition, my ability to move in late miles, etc.... My body went south, then the weather, then my attitude. I walked the final marathon. My sister recently told me that was the only time she's wanted to choke me as a crew member for all my 100s. The big difference was the expectations I heaped on myself and communicated to others about how I was going to do in that race. I let those external factors influence me and my attitude. I've since realized that 100s are unpredictable and the best you can do is take it in phases, one aid station at a time.

Attitude Is Everything

Building on the above, I have taken the approach that keeping a positive attitude makes all the difference. 100 miles is a long time and things will go wrong. If you are trained, and experienced in particular, the things that go wrong are almost always not the thing you've considered. You choose whether you let that influence your attitude or take it in stride and keep moving. This is a crazy endeavor and most of us are just fortunate to have enough health to even complete it. Without a good attitude, you cannot give your best at anything you do in life as excuses and disappointment will creep in.

Focus On What You Can Control

The best way to overcome expectation and attitude is to focus on what you can control. You don't control the weather, a very common reason for poor attitude and results. You don't control your pacers, crew, other racers, etc... You control the decisions you make and when you make them. Stop to take care of problems that come up before they become major issues.

Grit And Mental Toughness Can Carry You

Long after your body has gone, your mind can carry you. My buddy ran the last 30 miles blind because he just kept moving and focusing what he could control. I paced a runner that ate about 400 calories over 10 hours; he had nothing in the tank, but he kept moving. If you are committed to it and you decide you are going to finish at nearly any cost, you can do it. It isn't easy and it will test you down to your core, but there is a path through the pain and the disappointment if you don't quit.

You Can Do More Than You Think You Can

This is famous Ken Chlouber mantra, and he's right! Most people I talk to are floored at the concept of running 100 miles when they find out I do this for "fun". I always tell them, "if you are prepared for the challenge, you can do it". Honestly, it is more about avoiding problems like dehydration, blisters, bonking, etc... and keeping an attitude of grit and determination than anything else. Sure, fitness plays a role and I am not discounting that, but you don't have to train 100 mile weeks to run 100 miles. You simply have to be willing to go through the pain and fatigue.

Focus on Small Goals and Gain Momentum

The simplest way to approach a 100 is to not think about it! Every time I think things like "50 miles to go" or "15 hours left" or "I'm so tired and I am only half way done" or "that climb at mile 60 is going to suck", I get overwhelmed by the challenge and remove myself from the moment I am in. I simply remind myself to focus on getting to the next aid station or getting over that climb and celebrate that. On a big climb, I give myself a verbal congratulations after some interval (depends on how large the climb is). It is impossible to never think about it, but I keep those thoughts to a minimum with self talk.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Innovation and Preliminary 2017 Thoughts

Here I am at the end of an exceptional three year stretch of running and racing and on the eve of my fortieth birthday. And I keep thinking about large topics like "do I want to continue to race?", "what are my goals?", "is training at this high of a level healthy?", "how much will age start to impact my performance?", etc... While I am certain that age is going to be a factor sooner or later, I certainly don't want to give into too easily either. I have always tried to approach this entire journey in running with a view on sustainability and total health.

With all that in mind, the one thing that definitely stands out is constantly finding the balance between rest/training, racing/fun, and running/life. And, perhaps more importantly, how do I continue to improve as I strive to achieve balance. I won't pretend to have answers for everyone. Each of us is at a different point in our journey. For me, a guy that has excelled the last three years and consistently done "more" each year to get there, I think I am reaching a breaking point. Ironically, I reached a similar breaking point after 2012 (my first 100 miler) when I realized that I couldn't continue down that path -- chasing miles, eating 10,000 calories of sugar to finish a race -- and decided to innovate in 2013. As luck would have it, I missed a huge chunk of that season to knee surgery. We loath downtime as runners, typically viewing the loss of training as unrecoverable and the end of the world. Ironically, I came back with a new diet and a new perspective in 2014 and haven't looked back. It is quite possible that break in 2013 was a stepping stone to my recent success thanks to the amount of rest I finally took after three years of growing volume and lagging recovery.

As I just mentioned, the major change I made in 2014 was to my diet. I believe quite strongly my diet has changed my training and my racing. My weight is stable. I recover better. I eat less crap (in general and on the run). I am physically leaner, healthier and overall happier.

So what's the next change? Runners tend to take a simple view on running: "if want to get better, then run more." But is this always the way? Other concepts runners over-simplify and throw at the issue are "periodization" and "workout confusion". All those things could be the answer, if there is a higher-level plan in place to objectively measure progress and account for individual factors. However, none of those takes into account the larger picture -- total health. My goal is to continue running for as long as I have the motivation, not to beat myself into a pulp to excel in races. More importantly, I have always viewed running as a conduit to total life health and, hopefully, life longevity. LCHF works for me because it improves my race results AND has made me healthier as a non-runner. Eat to run, not run to eat.

So the first thing that struck me is that I haven't taken enough recovery in 2014 - 2016. 2015 in particular I book-ended my year with races and hit PRs in almost every major volume category. With that in mind, I am going to try and limit my miles the remainder of 2016, hoping not to exceed 2500 for the year. That would be a 300+ mile step down from 2015. (I'd like to drop to 2400, but that seems like a really small number considering I am already over 2,000 for the year.) I don't have a race on the calendar for at least 6 months -- and that will be a "B race", so there is no need to pound unnecessary mileage. In fact, I am convinced I could be as good a runner next year as I am this year training only 2,000 miles.

The second thing I want to focus on strength, like serious Olympic movement barbell strength. I wouldn't necessarily say that improving my strength is going to improving my running, ultimately runners improve by running. But, I feel strongly that ignoring strength training into my 40s would be a huge mistake. When I get into the gym now it is quite embarrassing how little I can do on a good-form, deep squat. Again, focus on total health and sustainability. Strength training will provide a platform to continue training and keep my body strong and balanced. And, it will be a good distraction as I find something positive to focus my typical running energy toward. Plus, I enjoy it! The sad thing is that many runners view strength training as a risk for gaining unwanted muscle mass and weight. That's simply not true. Bodybuilders use a specific regimen of high repetition exercises and diet to achieve those results. Getting into the gym to improve your strength using low repetition, high weight movements is not a risk for significant weight gain. However, like running, the best results will be seen with consistency and time, likely 12+ weeks of focused work.

Since I the title of this post implies a promise of what is to come in 2017, I guess I should provide answers. The only thing I know for certain is the Boston Marathon in April. While I wasn't so certain a month ago, I am becoming quite confident I'll do a 100 miler again in 2017. I am almost certain to enter the Hardrock 100 lottery and growing less and less certain about continuing to chase Western States. However, I think my dream scenario would be to have a group of buddies all enter the Leadville 100. It would be a blast to hang out, celebrate, and support one another. And, it'd be great to have my family be a part of a 100 miler. My son is becoming a damn good runner and seems like he may want to pace me for 10 or so miles at night. How cool would that be?

For now, I'll hit the weights, run easy, and wait for the lotteries to unfold...

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wasatch 100 Race Report

I signed up for the Wasatch 100 lottery mostly on a whim and in hopes I could convince my sister to join me one more time. (And I heard it was beautiful!)  However, I've had a bit of a love-hate thing with 100s lately. I fear them. I've seen both sides of the beast. At one point in training I wrote this on Facebook:
"I've run a lot of different races and the thing that always brings me back to the 100 miler is the richness of the experience. Words cannot describe to someone else what is like to go through it. You must either do it, or, at the very least, witness it to understand. At some point, you are going to be stripped raw of everything except the most basic things: food, water, and the strength/desire to keep moving forward. At times, the desire to move forward wanes and the fatigue feels unbearable. Perseverance is what it boils down to and there is no better character trait in life. I get a great sense of angst before a 100 miler because I know of the struggle. I know the pain and the fatigue will come, but I also know I will find the strength."
Heading into the race I settled on three goals for the day as a way to focus my pre-race anxieties: Patience. Grit. Gratitude. Patience to do the little things right during the day and give myself a chance to finish strong. Patience to not panic and make hurried decisions that might lead to a spiral of negative thoughts. Grit to work hard when the task seemed impossible. Grit to push through pain and fatigue and finish the fight that I picked. Gratitude for health. Gratitude for all those that have sacrificed so I can do these adventures. Gratitude for the volunteers that show up and treat me nicely in my grumpiest moments.

The first mental hurdle to overcome was a series of course changes in 2016. Those changes made finding information on the course via Internet a challenge. I heard/read estimates that the course was 1 or 2 hours harder than previous years. Then, two weeks before the start, they announced the removal of a critical crew station (Lamb's Canyon). The race is already very limited for crewing and I had a bit of a freakout and nearly called off my crew altogether. Cooler heads prevailed and we adapted. Actually, we wound up getting a nice condo Friday Night for my crew (since they weren't able to see much of me) in Park City that wound up being a real treat. Patience. Sometimes good comes from change.

On our way to Salt Lake City, my car started acting funny so we parked it in Park City to avoid the potential headache of a race day break down. Then we made an hour long drive in traffic to Layton to spend the night near the race start. We ate dinner in our hotel room, watched the Broncos game, and finalized a game plan for Friday. We got a bit turned around on the way to the race start and I literally got out of the car in time to get into the crowd and start the race, maybe 3 mins to spare.

Just before the start: look how clean the clothes are!

Start to Big Mountain

After the start, there is a mile plus section of pavement before the big climb. I took that really easy, trying to settle in after the hurried start. From previous year's race reports, I was under the impression you could pass early in the race. But the climb this year was new (a vertical mile to start!) and it was a total conga line, no where to go. I got a bit frustrated at the slow pace and long stops at logs and such. One woman kept saying "patience" to me. Finally, near the final steep stretch, I made a move and passed a few really slow hikers and made my way to the top. I was in about 150th place at this point.

Arriving at the ridge, I began running the gradual jeep road that turns into nearly pristine dirt road on my way to Bountiful B. My race shorts and vest were loaded down with food since it would be half a dozen more hours until I saw my crew. Carrying the extra weight was plenty of motivation to eat and eliminate items. Before arriving into Bountiful B, I made a mental checklist of things to do, the biggest being to tighten my shoes. This type of checklist was an asset all day as I stayed on point and executed my plan and exhibited patience. One thing I was disappointed with was that none of the aid stations had sunscreen. Considering the huge gaps without crew, I thought sunscreen was a no-brainer. (I did find a volunteer willing to sacrifice some of his at Sessions.) I thanked every volunteer I saw, gratitude.

Other than going off course for a very brief section after Sessions, the stretch between Bountiful and Swallow Rocks was uneventful. I was passing quite a few runners on the climbs and talked to a few race veterans to get course knowledge for the day. The key thing I learned... don't miss the turn after Dog Lake! Unusual for me, I even stopped a few times to take in the sights of the course, marveling at the beauty of the Wasatch Mountains. I expected The Bear and it was so much more. The course was quite rocky -- particularly downhills -- and starting to be exposed a bit.

Crews are required to wait at a staging area before heading to the Big Mountain aid station. Once the runner leaves Swallow Rocks, they can proceed. As I checked out of Swallow Rocks, I double checked to make sure the aid station radio operators made note of my bib so my crew would be cleared to leave Little Dell and meet me at Big Mountain. The volunteer said "as long as there is no traffic, they'll be waiting for you". What?! No one mentioned that was a possibility at any point!

I pounded down the trail from Swallow Rocks to Big Mountain, now totally exposed in the heat along high ridges as I made another mental checklist for my aid station: change shoes, gel on my feet, Vitargo for calories, Bio Steele for some amino acids, Vespa, re-stock food, pick up a pacer, and sun screen. Whew! The final stretch down to Big Mountain is a pretty steep decline and I kept it easy, while trying to keep from having runners chase me down. I arrived in the aid station and found no one waiting for me. Standing like a lost dog, I finally just filled my own water bottles and wandered around for a minute until my crew finally recognized their stray. We nailed everything on the checklist, but it wasn't quite as systematic as I planned because I had three of them taking care of my needs and things felt a bit frantic. Nonetheless, a continued display of patience on a long stop. The only slight mix up was two scoops (280 kcals) of Vitargo instead of one. Hello gut bomb!

Drinking 280 Kcals of Vitargo at Big Mountain

Big Mountain Aid Station
Little Dell Reservoir, where my crew waited for me

Big Mountain to Lamb's Canyon

Leaving the first big aid station of the day with my first pacer was a nice boost. Steve was marveling at the beauty of the course and we chatted about what they'd been doing for eight hours, ESPN's reaction to the Broncos game, and his traffic warning on the drive up from Arizona. Other than Steve's company, this section was only really memorable for the heat. The weather was about as perfect as a hundred mile runner can ask for (70s as highs and 40s as lows), but the heat of the day was fully exposed and I baked a bit. Steve did what a good pacer should and kept checking on nutrition. On track, spot on in fact. I nibbled my way toward my 3500 calorie goal for the day. I felt strong and ran steady the final double track stretch into Lamb's Canyon at a good clip and found my second pacer, Chuck, waiting for me.

Getting ready to leave Lamb's with Chuck

Lamb's Canyon to Brighton

Chuck and I took off out of Lamb's and right onto pavement for almost 2 miles before turning onto the Lamb's Canyon trail. This is when the course really showed off its beauty. Wow, one of the most beautiful climbs I've ever done. Chuck would stop to take photos and then run to catch me. Better, the trail was benign single track, a nice reprieve from the rocky track I'd faced much of the day. Thanks to the uplifting scenery, the cooling temps, and my new pacer, I began pushing the climb and catching runners with ease. But, just after the summit, Wasatch showed her teeth as Chuck and I endured one of the many very steep, rocky declines. I'd much rather go uphill than down those things. (I pretty much go at the same pace down something like that anyway.) I took this opportunity to whine to Chuck that I'd been facing these types of descents all day.

Following the nasty decline, we found ourselves on Mill Creek road, another stretch a 3-mile stretch of pavement. Once again, I enjoyed the reprieve and worked a run-walk up the hill toward Upper Big Water. Chuck and I talked about the possibility of future 100 mile races, but the topic wasn't super pleasant as the enormity of this task was just setting in... so many miles done, so many to go. The negative thoughts started swirling. Chuck's upbeat comments about my race were met with negative comments from me: "it always changes at night". And nighttime was coming for me. We had a brief stop at Upper Big Water as I took in some broth and a gel and we moved on to the Big Water trail. This was the first time I saw Aime Blackham, whom I'd trade positions with all night. She was hiking well. I'd push a bit of running. We played leap frog now and for hours to come.

As we made our way toward Desolation Lake, one giant positive was the light. We would pass Dog Lake in the light, something none of the vets I was running with 40 miles ago thought possible. I was moving well and making up ground and we ran nearly 60 miles before sundown. We found Dog Lake (and a dozen or so hikers along the way). Then we found the confusing turn the race vets had warned me about. The course remained unbelievably beautiful through this entire section. I could definitely see why there were so many hikers in the area. Finally, just before arriving at Desolation Lake, Chuck turned on his headlamp for us both. I would wait to turn mine on at the aid. Desolation Lake was when I really started getting low. Nighttime was here; the real work was to begin.

We headed out of aid and down some good trail, then some Jeep road, then some pavement on our way to Brighton. I didn't even stop at Scott's Peak aid station, not needing much and wanting to get to Brighton. But, things were starting to spiral. I was tired, needed to use the bathroom, and my thoughts turned negative. I didn't even enjoy the easy section of pavement into Brighton. (I was happy that Chuck had 7 or so miles of easy pavement in his 22 mile section because he has to run 100 miles a week later!)

I immediately went into the Brighton Lodge with a similar checklist to that which I had at Big Mountain. But, sitting in the back of the lodge (the "morgue" as they call it), I was yawning. "I want to go to bed. What am I doing here. Why do I do this?" My crew could see the lack of energy. My sister was concerned. Chuck tried to be nice and helpful -- in between his mouthfuls of snacks -- but I just gave a snarky goodbye as I walked out into the night. This was close to as low as I'd ever been in a hundred. Despite my constant complaining about my Ak race vest, I made the decision to keep it on to carry cold gear and food. Patience.

I walked out of the lodge and instantly began shaking. Five minutes ago I was totally fine, but sitting in that warm lodge warmed me and now I was cold. I had my sister go get my gloves from the car. Without much hesitation or any mention of quitting, I headed up the hill with Steve once again pacing me.

Just after Dog Lake

View from Lamb's Canyon Climb

Brighton to Top of Wall

The climb up Catherines Pass was nasty: technical, steep and cold. Making matters worse that the backside of the summit was one of a few famous descents on the course. The descents at night were awful and the dust made it impossible to breath or see. I would often pass Aime uphill only to be passed by her downhill, in a trail of dust from her and her pacer. Fortunately, my energy was better and my self-talk was overcoming the negative thoughts: "don't be a wussy" (clean version), "you picked this fight, finish it", "runnable trail will come". Grit. Despite the improvement in outlook, we were moving at a snail pace, way off target for my overall goal thanks to Catherines and the quad blasting descent. I didn't let it bother me much, taking comfort in the knowledge that I was moving as well as I could and was still chasing down runners, something Steve smartly kept pointing out to me.

Steve and I arrived at Ant Knolls aid station and I sat down briefly. This was yet another thing I hadn't done much of in previous hundreds. Patience. Thanks to a couple of Tylenol at Brighton, my legs weren't overly stiff and I took a short break to rest. The aid station was quite a scene all lit up at night with a red carpet leading in.  I ate some solid food, mumbled to Steve and just left, forcing him to chase me down the trail a bit later.

I started to run for 2-3 minute spurts whenever I could and we began making up time, bringing the average pace since leaving Brighton toward 20 min miles. There was some up, some down, and a ton of rocky single track. Pole Line Pass was big because the 75 mile mark was a major mental milestone -- only a marathon to go. I once again briefly sat down and had some broth. A volunteer told us that we'd have to cover 10 miles before another real aid station. "What?! What about Rock Springs?". "Rock Springs is barely a trickle, you'll have to go 10 miles". Ugh. Steve encouraged me that the good news was that would be mile 85 and the home stretch. "Three hours and you'll be to mile 85, AJ". Off we went down more rocky single track.

Steve and I both thought it was kind of eerie that we could feel the vastness around us but could see nothing. Somehow I wasn't cold, long ago shedding all my layers of clothes and now in a t-shirt and shorts. I chugged a Redbull as I ran for some energy and calories and we continued to pick up pace, running as much as I could. We found Rock Springs and it was a (limited) aid station! Sweet relief. I filled my water bottle, mumbled (like a jerk) to the aid station volunteer "bib 97 out". Gratitude fail. Rock Springs volunteer, if you are reading this, I am sorry!

Our relief for finding the aid station turned to disbelief as we were greeted with two steep sections of down hill, "The Glide" and "The Plunge". The Plunge is a steep, slippery, dusty, rocky descent and complete torture on 80 mile quads. It is 23% grade down and I mostly walked it and tried to keep from sliding or falling. Aime and her pacer came flying by one last time, leaving Steve and I choking on her dust. Literally.

We arrived at Pot Hollow and I had to empty all the dirt from the dusty descents out of my shoes. I ate some solid food and put on my arm sleeves as I was finally cold. We walked out of the aid station onto a smooth jeep road. It was such a relief to be done with those descents! Then the road turned down and we began to run/walk. Our section pace (approaching 20 miles) was now heading below 19 min pace. It seemed a struggle for Steve and I both, but I kept pushing more and more running. It would be light soon and I'd have my sister to pace me the final stretch. It was obvious now the jeep road, while becoming rocky, would last all the way to Stanton aid station and we took advantage. A short stay at Stanton to fill water and Steve texted my sister to tell her we'd be to Top of the Wall soon. The last bit of jeep road was rocky and we didn't run as much as I would've liked, but we did enough. The exchange point was a little confusing and we searched around until we found my crew and I changed pacers for the final 8+ miles.

Ant Knoll Aid Station in middle of night

Top of the Wall to Finish

Leaving Top of the Wall, I wasn't sure what to expect from my sister as a pacer, but I did have a pretty good idea about the course. At Western States last year my sister pushed pretty hard to run. One of the bits of knowledge I picked up from course veterans earlier in the day was that the first section down from here was steep and rocky. I warned her that I probably wouldn't run much of that initial portion but planned to run some after. We settled into a wog and moved efficiently -- but not overly fast  -- while we caught up on the craziness of the last 24 hours and laughed a bit. We'd run here and there and she pointed out every rock. The light was starting to come up and I was energized. A little over a mile later we arrived at the final aid station. I took a bathroom break and re-grouped for the final stretch.

As we left, the aid station volunteer told us there were 5.8 miles to go and told my sister it was "runnable", confirming what I'd heard earlier in the day. We started jogging and I asked her for the time of day. "6:50 am", she responded.  "If I make it to the finish by 8 am, I could break 27 hours", which I always felt was a worthy goal. My sister responded to my thinking out loud, "let's do it, you just have to average 10s". Tens after 94+ miles? We'll give it a shot.

I accelerated and the first mile was 9:41. It felt like tempo pace, but maybe I could hang in there for a few more miles. The second mile was 9:37. Now it was starting to hurt. "What time is it? Maybe I can just average 11 min miles and get it". "Just keep running, you're doing great", she said. A little hill and the third mile was gone in 10:37. It was really starting to hurt now. My knees were screaming at me. Both hips were on fire. Burning up in arm sleeves, I actually started to drinking water again. My sister slowed down to take a text and was having trouble catching back up to me on the uphills. The fourth mile came and went in 10-flat. "I must have it in the bag now, right?" My sister was no longer with me, getting just to within shouting distance to tell me the time. Without complete confidence, I kept running because I was not 100% sure how far I had left. There was some more uphill and the pain was becoming intense. I started crying, but I didn't want to stop until it was done. I prayed for the strength to keep running. I prayed in thanks for the amazing day, my friends, and the gift of running. The fifth mile went by in 10:12 and we arrived in a picnic area (Soldier Hollow Train Station) and I was sure we were at the finish. Nope, we had to run on the road and to the park. My sister was now back ahead of me and encouraging me but I couldn't see the destination on the horizon. Finally, I could see the finish line and I asked her "is that it?". "Yes!" One last time I accelerated and left her on my way to the finish, crossing the line at 7:48 am (26:48). I immediately covered my face in a rare display of emotion and then bent over exhausted.

Emotional (I think?) at the finish

Exhausted and thankful to be done

The A-Team. I've been fortunate to assemble an talented group of running friends.

My sister: master crew chief and hard ass pacer
The dust!!!
We posed for some finish line photos and then headed back to our ski condo to eat, sleep and catch up. Later we went to the awards ceremony and enjoyed the picnic put on by the community. That is the kind of thing I love about old school ultra.

I feel very satisfied with this race, possibly my best 100 ever (Ultrasignup agrees). I suppose I subconsciously always wanted this race to turn out well to redeem my lousy attitude at The Bear. I settled that day and took the easy way out, walking the last 25 miles while pouting. Today, I battled to the finish. I am exhausted from the years of training and racing and really not sure how many (if any) hundreds I have left in me. However, this is the worst time to really think much about that. I'll wait for those decisions until lottery season comes. For now, I need to register for Boston and celebrate another great year of racing, perhaps my best ever. And, I need to just be dad on the weekends.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wasatch 100 - Race Plan

This blog will serve as more of an itinerary and basic plan for the crew for the four days of the race. For a more detailed information on course splits, go here.


Chuck and AJ to depart about 6 am, expected to be in Salt Lake by 2 pm
Race check-in starts at noon Pre Race Meeting is at 4 pm
Steve and Heather expected between 5 and 6 pm
Staying at Home2 Suites by Hilton
803 Heritage Park Boulevard, Layton, UT 84041
Broncos play at 6:30 pm (will find dinner and a place to watch)

Race Start

When: 5 am
Expected temps: 60 degrees with sun up at 7 am
Gear: AK Vest, race shorts, Omin Freeze shirt, small headlamp, Superior 2 w/ gaiters
Food: 4 bars, 5 packets of Skratch
Other items: sun screen, sun glasses, medical items, smaller headlamp, 3 water bottles
Breakfast: eggs, coffee, Vespa

Big Mountain *

Where: mile 32
When: 1 - 2 pm
Pacer: Steve for the next 13 miles
Expected temps: 70+ degrees, the heat of the day likely to be next 30 miles
Special notes: Vespa, water bottle with Bio Steele
Food: 2 bars, 3 packets of Skratch

* Big Mountain is a limited crew area.  You are not allowed to hang out.  You'll have to check in "Mountain Dell" (aka "Little Dell") info point and wait until I have cleared Swallow Rocks (mile 27).

Lambs Canyon **

Where: mile 45
When: 4:30 - 5:30 pm
Pacer: Chuck for the next 22 miles
Special notes: Vespa, gear for night and cold, good headlamp, drop bag
Food: 2 bars, 3 packets of Skratch

** Lambs has been removed as a crew station.  If Steve paces from Big Mountain to here, then you'll have to pick him up *after* I have left the aid station and after having dropped Chuck off.  Once you've picked Steve up, you can go check in at the hotel in Park City.


Where: mile 67
When: 10:30 pm - 12 am
Expected temps: 30 degrees (possibly colder) with sun down at 8 pm
Pacer: Steve for the next 24 miles (expect it to be cold w/ lots of hiking)
Special notes: Vespa, water bottle with Bio Steele, maybe a Redbull (?)
Food: 2 bars, 3 packets of Skratch

Top of the Wall 

Where: mile 91
When: 4 - 6 am
Pacer: Heather for the next 9 miles

Night of and after Race

Stay at Silver King Hotel in Park City, UT
1485 Empire Ave. Park City, UT 84060
Driving directions to and from aid stations

Other items to bring

Borrow Tim's jet-boil
Starbucks instant coffee
Borrow Chuck's medium size cooler
Camping chairs
Small tent

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Topo Magnifly Review

I rarely write shoe reviews. This is in part because my taste in shoes has changed greatly over the years and really become quite narrow these days -- mostly down to shoes with generous toe boxes.  I also don't write them because I don't have elaborate "geeky" things to say like many shoe experts. But, once in a while a shoe so great comes along that it deserves my praise. The Topo Magnifly fit that category, easily one of my 2-3 favorite shoes of all time (nearly 20k miles now).
Topo Magnifly
I acquired my Topo Magnifly in the fall of 2015 with high hopes. My thought was to get a shoe similar to the Brooks Pureflow that I once loved so much (until I became fond of wide toe boxes). The shoe has been an instant hit and a regular in my 10-or-so-shoe-rotation. I have worn the shoe on trails, easy days, long days, speed workouts, and a for a PR (3:09:55) marathon. It is quite versatile and always a joy to put on my feet. Here are the things I love about the shoe:


I have been a fan of minimal type shoes for many years -- sans getting sucked into Altra's movement to take on Hoka. Of all the minimal features I enjoy in a shoe, weight is always the key. The Magnifly feels much lighter than the 9 oz rating because the there isn't much wasted elements in the upper. It feels nimble and speedy, despite not even being the most minimal shoe in Topo's line up. It appears most of the weight is in the outsole, which is well done and where a shoe should shine.


For a good part of the last three years, I have been running in zero drop Altras and grown to enjoy that sensation. But, it is nice to have a shoe with a moderate amount of drop for longer and slower effort, which have become a staple for me during my ultra years. The shoe feels efficient and plenty cushioned and supportive for runs of 20+ miles.


For me, the Magnifly fit true to size (11.5). (I wear light weight socks to enhance the feel of both the wide toebox and the ground.) My toes have plenty of room to splay and wiggle without ever feeling "sloppy" like some of Altra's wider toe boxes. The heel is comfortable and snug and the midfoot feels good with standard lacing. And, I can lace the shoe tight even with the relatively light weight tongue.


The one thing besides a wide toe box that Topo consistently does well is their rubber outsole. Their road shoes in particular always feel like they have aggressive traction for gripping the ground. In addition to being useful for running fast and natural, this traction comes in handy in bad weather and on trails. It is quite surprising to me that a shoe at this weight can have such a durable, grippy outsole. Also, I like the bevel in the lateral side of the heel where I sometime rub shoes. Finally, the outsole material has softened up over the miles to have a slight spring/cushion to it, just as I'd hoped when I purchased it. The cushion is subtle, but just enough without sacrificing ground feel or performance.


I am not a fan of a flashy shoe for the sake of flash. I find the Magnifly quite vibrant with a wide variety of color schemes that are catchy without being obnoxious. They have  recently added several new colors as well. Double bonus, they added colors without redesigning an already great shoe -- like many companies are tempted to do these days.


I cannot say enough about the durability of this shoe. At 400 miles, it looks like I have run only about 200 miles in them. The outsole has held up well, even in the heel where I sometimes wear my slow, long running shoes. The outsole on this shoe could easily go another 200 miles, which would make it the longest any shoe has lasted in my rotation by a wide margin. Additionally, there is almost zero wear in the upper: no fraying spots, no broken overlays, and hardly a scratch. I did once have the toe cap collapse on me, but my wife easily fixed that with a hair dryer. The durability of this shoe is quite a treat considering the bad luck I have had with my other shoe company recently.

Close up of the outsole after 400 miles

Close up of upper after 400 miles
I'd be hard pressed to say a negative word about this shoe. If I had to knit-pick, I suppose I'd say that the versatility makes it not quite a "perfect" shoe for any particular type of run such as speed work, trails, or longer races (though I did run a marathon in it). And, I find the sizing just slightly off -- an 11.5 feels good with a nice light sock and a bit too snug with a thicker sock. But both of those are very minor complaints. I've enjoyed this shoe so much that I already have another pair waiting in the wings (maybe for a long time!). And, I acquired a pair of Ultrafly because they appear to have been built on the same last. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can say is that I am enjoying these twilight miles in the shoe when I am typically dying to retire a shoe at 400 miles, dreading each run.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Wasatch 100 - Crew and Pace Chart

First pass at a pace chart and plan for Wasatch 100. This isn't meant to be too detailed but to offer some high-level insight into what the day will look like. Here are a few things that stand out right away:

  1. The race starts with a monster climb, experience tells me I should be able to do that in roughly 3 hours.  I will start with 3 water bottles.
  2. First time I can see crew is about 8 hours into the race and it is also the first time I can get a pacer. But, I don't currently plan to add a pacer until my second crew stop, Lambs Canyon.
  3. Big Mountain to Lambs Canyon is likely to be the hottest part of the day.
  4. Right after leaving Lambs Canyon is the second toughest stretch of the day and will require careful planning, likely headlamp and cold weather gear.
  5. As this is laid out, Chuck is going to get a lot of climbing time in.
  6. At Brighton, I think I can probably drop down to two water bottles in my pack.
  7. Looks like I can drop my headlamp at Top of the Wall, which is a pacer exchange only, not an aid station.

Course Elevation Profile

Destination  Miles Cum Miles Ascent Fast Time Slow Time Cutoff Time Notes
Grobben's Shed 11 11 5400 - - -
Bountiful B 5 16.5 1500 9:00 am 10:00 am - Drop Bag
Sessions Liftoff 5 20.7 1200 - - -
Swallow Rocks 6 27 1800 - - -
Big Mountain* 5 32 800 12:30 pm 2:30 pm 5:30 pm Pacing Starts
Alexander Ridge 8 39.5 1800 - - -
Lambs Canyon* 5 45 1000 4:00 pm 6:30 pm 10:30 pm Chuck to Pace
Upper Big 9 54 3300 6:00 pm 9:00 pm 1:30 am Drop Bag
Desolation Lake 5 59 2150 - - -
Scott Peak 4 62 1200 - - -
Brighton* 5 67 700 9:00 pm 1:00 am 6:30 am Steve to Pace
Ant Knolls 4 72 1600 - - -
Pole Line Pass 4 75 1100 11:00 pm 3:30 am 9:00 amDrop Bag
Rock Springs 4 79 1700 - - -Water Only
Pot Hollow 5 85 1300 - - -
Staton 4 89900 2:30 am 7:45 am 2:00 pmDrop Bag
Top of the Wall* 2 91 0 - - -Heather to Pace
Decker Canyon 2 93 0 - - -
Finish 7 100 560 5:00 am 11:00 am 5:00 pm

Crew Note (denoted by *):  Aid Station Driving Instructions