Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Year in Review

Writing one of these is always a little hard because there are lots of ways to look at the same picture. After reading this incredible post by Joe Grant, I've decided to look at the positives, big and small.
"At first, when I process the past year’s events, I immediately jump to the bigger picture, of performances and race results, of what I did or did not produce, and I am dissatisfied. I want more, I want better, and I compare myself vainly. What I fail to acknowledge, with deeper, more astute observation is the quality of the experiences I have had, which is where their depth and meaningfulness truly take shape." -- Joe Grant
Running is an individual sport and it is easy to get caught feeling insecure or unworthy... the clock doesn't lie. I think the issue is compounded by the fact that you start off climbing a steep curve, getting faster, learning more, and generally just eager to do it all. Then, at some point, the race performances plateau and the goals start to dwindle. It becomes much harder to find success and to be satisfied with results. Former NFL players and coaches often speak of how the loses hurt more than the wins satisfy them, particularly as their career winds down. Running has a parallel where you invest yourself so much in a race and it is over in a fraction of the time it took to get there. The highs only last a few days or a week and the lows seem to last for months. But, if we step back and analyze the place running occupies in our lives, it is so much easier to find the good. With this in mind, I analyze my 2014.

At the beginning of 2014, I wasn't sure what my year would look like having had surgery in August of 2013. If you had asked me back then, running at all would have made a successful year. And boy did it turn out better than that. First, I crushed all my expectations at Quad Rock 25. I am still astounded thinking about that day because I didn't feel prepared at all. And, that course just doesn't suit me all that well -- tons of vertical and technical trail. I felt so strong the last half of that race. Finishing a race strong, regardless of the distance, is one of the purest joys of running. That sense of feeling prepared and that you have run the perfect race is easy to soak in. I have had that feeling only three or four times and it brings me a deep sense of accomplishment for all the effort put into a goal.

In June, I surpassed my 50 mile goal time. That was my primary race goal to accomplish in 2014. There are so many emotions thinking about that day. The primary thing is satisfaction, knowing that my own confidence in myself was justified.  Thanks to Jon, I took a big leap and started way faster than I thought I could maintain. I once again finished the race so strong and feeling like I could run forever that day. But, I am also grateful to all my friends that ran that day and the role each of them played in helping me get to that point. And, I am grateful to my family that continues to support more my racing adventures. We had a BBQ at my house that evening and celebrated as a group, which was quite fitting. It was really a celebration of the group of guys I run with and the things we have accomplished together.

Cruisin' Early at North Fork 50, on my way to 4th place!

I won't lie, I was disappointed with my performance at the Bear 100. It wasn't hard to predict that it would be a tough day, in hindsight anyway. I wasn't fully prepared for that race and insanely hard race day conditions only made a good performance less likely. More importantly, I lost my perspective and love of what I was doing. It is a privilege to run, something I often forget. And, I trail run to be out in nature and for the adventure. The Bear delivered plenty of both that day. One of my lasting memories of that day -- other than mud -- is my buddy Steve high-fiving and fist bumping people as he ran to the finish. He found joy in the beauty of the accomplishment. It was really special to line up that day with two good friends. And, I take great pride in the fact that we all three finished in the worst year of that race (50% DNF rate). Another lasting memory of that day was being paced for 50 LONG miles in horrible conditions by Chuck. If you know Chuck, he hates to be cold. But he had a steely resolve that day and refused to let me quit.

The Three Amigos for Bear 100.

It was a real pleasure to watch many of my friends continue to take on new challenges. I like to believe I have touched all their lives in some way and I know they have all touched me. Each race has a unique story and group of guys that made that day special. That is the real reason I run. Even if 2015 only gives me more of that, it will be a good year.

In my running goals for 2014, I mentioned wanting to be kinder to myself and that is an area that I made some strides, but still an area I can continue to improve. I have an idea about what perfect training looks like and I don't always deal well with interruptions and changing conditions. I must say, it is hard to do this day in an age when you see so much information on the Internet. It is impossible not to compare yourself or somehow feel like you are falling behind even when not running is truly the right thing to do. In fact, some elite runners, like Rob Krar, prefer to keep their training private for this reason. I just need to get over it... I need to find flow in training and racing. If I am to tame the 100 mile distance, I must find more patience and presence in the moment.

2015 hasn't even started, but it has the makings of an epic year. Thanks to good fortune in the WS100 lottery, my buddy Steve and I both got into the race. Steve lives in Arizona, but somehow our trail running "careers" have been inter-twined for 3 years now. I think I have contributed a lot to his success through traditional coaching aspects -- plans, specificity, nutrition, etc... And he has taught me a lot -- and continues to do so -- about perspective and enjoyment. It is fitting we will be lining up together that day. There are a lot of days between June 27th and now, but I am confident I am meant to be there. I will be ready and what ensues will be one hell of a ride.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Western States 100 Training

Well, this could be long, better grab coffee if you plan to follow along.

A few general notes first. Obviously, like all training plans, I will not follow this day in and day out. Rather, it is a guide to get me to my goals below. Lots of the goals and ideas I have will require flexibility and adapting to how life (and the weather) unfolds. This is particularly true of heat, night, and long run training. For example, last year we didn't get any heat until late June, after WS100 was over. That will make it tough to train for heat if it happens again. I have also tentatively outlined a few events that I'll do. Most of the events are just organized long runs that help me to get to my fitness goals. I noticed that short tune-up races were a big advantage for me in 2014, so I hope to repeat that. In particular, I enjoyed running the Colfax Marathon as a structured long (with no calories).

My plan is roughly based on mileage from the book Relentless Forward Progress. However, it will be easiest to explain this in terms of my training goals. Here are those goals:

2-3 good night runs on trails 

As I noted after my Bear 100 run, I just don't feel comfortable at night running. There are obvious things like footing and ability to see. But, there are subtle things like changing temperature and non-fasted state that cause me issues as well. I hope to spend a few evenings on long-ish trail runs (3+ hours) to try and work through some of these comfort zone problems.

8-10 heat runs up to 2 hours in length 

I have a few place in the plan where I put "heat?". As I mentioned above, I will try to remain flexible. The easiest and most obvious thing will be to throw on a long sleeve shirt at lunch and go run something flat and short. That serves a double purpose of heat and added mileage (to get me closer to my weekly peak below). But, if the weather doesn't cooperate, I may take my heat training inside and use the treadmill at the gym and/or sauna. I don't plan to go crazy with my heat-specific work, making only those runs that are specific in nature about an hour on average. However, there are a few trails in Colorado where I can get some exposed climbs and stagnant, hot conditions, which I will try to tackle a bit more in the Spring.

***UPDATE***: I decided against heat runs and used sauna training instead.

Consistent mileage above 55 

For me, good mileage is 5 days a week and about 50-55 miles total. This is "base" fitness for me. While my plan only has 5 days a week, I will probably try to get more like 6 days a week on average, using that extra day to get some free mileage and possibly some heat work.

Peak mileage at 70+, 4-6 times 

In reviewing my logs, I feel I reach peak fitness about 65-75 miles per week. So, my goal will be to get to this level about 4-6 times, clustered mostly toward the back-half of training. Again, the plan only has 5 days and I plan to add to that when I can. Some of the days on the plan have huge morning runs (like 14 miles) and I don't know that I can do that frequently. I may utilize some doubles on those days as well.

Lots of "light quality": Fartleks, Progression 

Another topic I have covered at length on this blog is my belief in "light quality". These are structured runs with a purpose but don't push me too deep in the red. I will utilize LOTS of these types of workouts in addition to my typical Maffetone/easy-aerobic workouts.

Modest amounts of true quality: tempos/threshold, intervals, hard longs

I definitely see the benefits of "true quality workouts", even to ultra runners, but I think there are diminishing returns on those workouts for ultra runners. Therefore, I plan to do a workout like this only every 7-10 days. Of course, some people will argue that any long run is a quality workout, and I tend to agree. For these purposes, I am only counting the workouts listed above.

Don't over-do trails and vertical 

This is self-explanatory. If you know me, I am a more is better kind of guy. Once I start training for a particular type of thing, I can really go bananas doing just that. In the context of trails, that is fine if it accessible and you love it. But, my kids are at an age that makes getting away tough. We have family plans nearly every weekend and time is short. The best trails around are 35-45 minutes away. It just isn't convenient to do that everyday, or even every weekend. I do live in an area with some modest trails and decent vertical (75-85 feet of vert per mile) just running around my home. My plan is to be generally fit and just specifically fit enough to finish the race well.

Don’t fight winter 

This is a tough but obvious reality living in Colorado. Most of my favorite trails will be covered in ice and snow until April, at least. Trail running really gets good in the Front Range about May. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a nice fresh powder run in the serene environment of a nice trails. But, last winter, I spent a ton of time running on ice and snow and was largely negative on many of those runs. It just wasn't fun, particularly the ice. So, my plan this year will be to not fight that. If we have a tough snow year, I'll stay close to home and work on "general fitness" until the trails are ready.

Emphasize body weight training for XT

And, finally, I want to continue my cross training regimen. In 2014, I managed to average about 1.5 - 2 sessions a week of cross training. I plan to carry forward that plan in 2015, but adapt to a bit more body weight training and less weight training. Instead of weights, I'll do more body weight exercises (bridges, single legged dead lifts, push-ups, and pull-ups for example), tons of core, and lots of balance work. The double duty on my legs of strength training plus lots of vertical took a toll in 2015.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Western 2015

Wow, I am still shocked I actually got in! After the disappointment of missing out two years in a row, I wasn't really even letting myself think about it. What was funny was my phone blowing up before I ever even knew I was selected -- apparently some folks were watching the Webcast. And, I got selected twice!!! Of my four tickets, they pulled two! It was definitely my year... And, my buddy Steve -- Salsa Steve, as my daughter likes to call him -- also go in.

The truth is that this is exactly the kind of jolt I needed. Training the last six months has become mundane and I was feeling the spark start to fade. Western States is one of the few remaining goals I have in ultra running -- the kind of goal that gets you going at 4:30 on a February morning. I really hoped all along that it would happen because I didn't really want to half-ass another hundred like I did at Bear last year.

Time for the Rocky quotes.... This is what I need, to get that look back. I had it at LT100. I could never find it for Bear 100. I tried to make Bear special and I couldn't do it. And, predictably, when it got hard, the race got the best of me. Fortunately, I finished and kept the Western States dream alive!

So what has changed? And what will change? Well, this is all preliminary, but here are a few thoughts I have about changing things to be prepared for my best shot at sub-24 hours:

1) My ideas about training are pretty well cemented at this point. I know who I am and what my body can take. I have written about this in the past, but I am not a mileage junkie. I believe in mostly MAF/aerobic work with some light quality (fartleks, hills, strides, progression) and just enough true-quality (lactate threshold runs, intervals, hard longs, long-longs).  Typically, I race best between 65-75 miles per week as my "peak" weeks. I will do a few more B2B longs this time than I did for Bear. However, for the most part, I will try to get my mileage through consistency and, likely, 6 days a week of running.

2) This time out I will emphasize more night running, hopefully doing 3-4 quality night runs. While I am not looking to burn up the track at night, I do need to get more comfortable running on trails at night plus all that encompasses (non-fasted state nutrition, temperatures, changing light, etc..). To aid in my cause, Santa will be bringing me a Petzel NAO headlamp. What a nice guy!

3) Being Western States, I will obviously have to train for heat like I never have before. I am not totally sure what this means yet, but I do know runners typically use saunas and midday runs with layers on to aid them in preparation. The good news is that most events I have raced in the past were hotter than normal (Leadville Marathon 2011, Silver Rush 2011, Leadville Trail 100 2012, Bear 100 2014) and I typically handle it pretty well. And, the one event that I have done in the past that I think will most mimic Western States conditions is North Fork 50, my best race ever. North Fork isn't as hot as WS, but it is an exposed, dry track with overall trail conditions like what I expect. And, it is a fast, runnable course, like Western States.

4) I won't go crazy for vertical gain. When peak trail training, I typically land between 30K and 35K per month in total vertical gain. That number is comfortable for me and a reasonable estimate of what I'll be doing March - May.

5) This is TBD, but I am unlikely to do any tune-up races. There aren't a ton of good Colorado trail events prior to early June. Plus, I don't want the risk of training and preparing for more than one thing. Eye on the prize. I want to be all in on this event.

6) Nutrition continues to be an on-going experiment. I suppose that is true for everyone. I am super happy with my LCHF approach, but I need to figure out in-race nutrition for the 100 mile distance. I gave up way too early on my plan at Bear 100 and paid for it late in the race.  TOO MUCH SUGAR!!!