Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March Training Wrap

Let's just start with the raw stats:
  • Miles - 280 Miles (2nd most all-time, 309 in July 2012)
  • Time* - 45 Hours (2nd most all-time, 55 hours in July 2012)
  • Vertical** - 22K (very pedestrian number, around 10th all-time)
* I didn't count race months in this because it skews the training data. For example, in Sept of 2014, Bear 100 was 30 hours in just one day!

** A quick note about vertical gain: I bought a Suunto Ambit 2 this year and am now able to track my vertical gain with altimeter data. Previous years gains were tabulated by Strava, which appears to be generous by roughly 15-20% for the routes I typically run.

My biggest training month ever was July 2012 as I peaked for LT100. I have never taken on another goal with the same gusto as I took on that race. However, I also wound up injured the week of the race. I have been in sort of a rut the past few years of constantly being worried about that happening again and unwilling to push as hard, constantly seeking the perfect balance between training and recovery (like anyone knows where that line is!).

My big picture thoughts for this month were shaped by reading an interview with Matt Carpenter and re-reading Lucho's famous Quality vs Quantity rant. First of all, I really like Matt's idea of not tinkering with things for 5 weeks. That sort of works well with my idea of starting to only look at my training by month (instead of weekly). The one comment that always stands out for me after reading Lucho's post is this: "Once you have built an adequate base then quality is king!". (Of course, he goes onto qualify that as quality is never always more is better.)

To summarize, the first 12 weeks of training now have been mostly about build up and easy volume. I have been doing lots of hilly, low intensity road running with just a little bit of quality and trails thrown in. I am something like 200 miles (40%) ahead of my intended volume for the year. That leads me to believe that I have done a good job of base building (almost 90% of my miles in Zone 1 or Zone 2) but that I may be reaching the tipping point of falling in love too much with volume as a metric for training. I am certainly getting good HR feedback and know that I am at a level typical for me after a true base-building period.

Now comes the crucial question, how do I spend the last 12 weeks of training before the most-hyped event of my life? When looking for clues, I try to see what has worked well in previous training cycles. Last year, when training for the North Fork 50 miler, my "A" race for the year, May was a monster month for me. I raced three times that month, twice as part of a back-to-back weekend. Considering that was my best ultra result ever and the same weekend as WS100, I think the lesson is to do plenty of quality in May! The risk is that I was never right the rest of the summer, clearly spending everything I had in May and June. So, it must be timed right.

At this stage, I think it would be best to ease off the miles just a bit and force myself to take one day a week off. And, I need to really make a focus on adding one or two quality/structure days per week. Finally, I need to start getting out to the trails a bit more as I increase the focus on my B2Bs.

Before I go, here are a few updates from my goals:
  • I have definitely started to incorporate some heat training into my runs, mostly just by mixing it up and getting out midday on hotter days. I won't count this as true heat training, but definitely working in that direction.
  • Night running has become a good focus and something I am ahead of schedule tinkering with. I have now done two night runs and one early morning run (with a headlamp) on trails. It definitely feels like it is paying dividends.
  • Volume, as I mentioned above, has been a slam dunk.  I am averaging close to 60 miles a week for the year, well above my intended 55 mile per week goal. And I already have two 70+ mile weeks in the bag.
  • I still haven't quite nailed the "light quality" or true quality workouts the way I would like. I've spent quite a few days just logging miles.
  • Winter is over, so I think it is fair to check off "Don't fight winter" from my list. It is April (tomorrow) in Colorado, so there are likely still some challenging days of weather ahead, but nothing like January and February!
  • Cross training is something I always feel I need to work more on, but somehow I always cobble together 2-3 sessions a week, so this is a pass, I think.
  • Trails and vertical is definitely an area I suddenly feel lacking. The plan was to not overdo it, but I definitely feel an urge to get out there more and get prepared for the specificity of doing a trail race.
One additional note, I've been tracking my time walking my dog. This is somewhat silly, but it is does add up to about 40 extra miles per month. I like to do this as a cool down after my long runs on the weekends, when it is convenient that is. It is also a good time to just hang out and chat with my wife!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lessons from B2B2B

A few weeks ago I posted an article on Brain Training and I theorized that a B2B2B (Morning, Night, Morning) run might be a great way to train for a 100. I posted that I intended to do my first one on Facebook and it started a conversation on the merits of training this way, namely comparing one single long run versus similar mileage split over multiple runs. Now that I have completed my first one, I thought I would post some details about what I did and what I learned (thanks to some encouragement from Wyatt).

To begin with, here is what we did with some details.

Saturday Morning we woke early and started at Deer Creek. I only slept 4-5 hours the night before, typical of restless sleep before a big race. For breakfast, I ate what I would eat before a race: a serving of Ucan and an Epic Bar. We started at the trailhead at 5:35 am in total darkness, which meant we had to manage the first hour with headlamps. Deer Creek is a moderate climbing trail with some technical elements, so it was a good challenge. My heart rate and effort were pretty easy all day, but it was definitely harder mentally with such an early start. I am NOT a super early morning runner any more. And, I almost never start a morning trail run in the dark. I wore my Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and found myself tripping a ton, even at an easy effort. Along the run, I tried to mimic a typical early race nutrition strategy for me with a pretty rough goal of 200 Kcals per hour. I managed to eat a Hammer Bar, some Fuel 100 Bytes, and a serving of Skratch Labs. By the end of the run, my legs were stiff and I was tired.  Total was 14.1 miles and 2400 feet of vertical gain in two hours and forty-five minutes.

In between the morning and night run, I didn't rest or sleep. I ate a big breakfast and a small lunch. After lunch, I ate only food I would typically eat on race day, mostly Lara Bars and Epic Bars. I did a few hours of yard work and sat and watch soccer in the afternoon sun for a few hours. After soccer, I felt nauseous from the heat, easily the hottest afternoon we've had so far this Spring. I drank cold fluids and some electrolytes to try and tame this.

Saturday Night we met at the Green Mountain trailhead at 8pm, this time with two extra runners (five total). Before starting the run, we toasted by splitting a few PBRs. Tony was our guide for the evening as he knows this trail system the best. We put on our headlamps and headed uphill, straight uphill!  I definitely wanted to keep the run easy, but also just kind of wanted to "just run" and use Tony as a simulated pacer, only slowing him down once or twice. The trail was way more technical than we were expecting, which is a positive because that is typically the case in an ultra for me.  (It wasn't that technical, but we were expecting almost nothing.) We were treated with some gorgeous views of Denver lights and we bobbed up and down across the mountain. The trail reminded me very much of part of Bear 100, which is kind of ironic since that was the night I decided I need to train more at night! Overall Green Mountain is not a difficult trail system, but it provided some reasonable vertical gain and technical elements that challenged us just enough. I definitely felt stronger than when night comes in a 100 and also stronger than my last night run a month ago. My heart rate was low the whole night, lower than my perceived effort for sure. I switched shoes to my Altra Superior 2 and had no issues with tripping. But, my feet got a bit beat up on the underside from the lack of protection those shoes provide. Once again, with experience at the 100, I switched to a more typical nutrition strategy for me this late in a race: watered down Redbull and gels. I was quite surprised my stomach didn't get rotten from that. Total was 10.5 miles and 1500 feet of vertical gain in two hours.

After the night run, I had a decent dinner (5 eggs) and slept for about 6 hours.

Sunday Morning we met at my house for the last leg. We discovered on our way home from the night run that the local Highlands Ranch Open Space trails had re-opened and we switched our plans to go there instead of Ridgeline. We also changed our plans to meet at 6:30 (instead of 6:00) so we could leave headlamps at home. The three runners (only three of us did all three legs) remarked at how fatigued we were and just wanted to get this over with. But, we were able to keep a respectable pace as we jogged our way around the local trails, which are very much runnable trails with only a little vertical gain and few technical elements. I switched my nutrition to watered down Redbull and another handheld of plain water, again typical of the late stages of a race for me. The heart rate was once again much lower than the perceived effort, though we did manage to push the final few miles a bit to finish strong. Total was 10.1 miles and 900 feet of vertical gain in one hour and forty-five minutes, yielding a total of seven and a half hours, 35 miles, and almost five thousand feet of vertical in the three runs.

So, what did I learn?

My buddy Chuck summed up the pros and cons pretty well in his Strava post:
Pros: Night/dark running and getting familiar with technical terrain and headlamps, running fatigued, pre-run and in-run nutrition practice (although it was weak today), mental toughness preparation.  Cons: I can only say that I was never physically as tired as I might be if I did 2 Long B2B's,
I totally agree that the biggest benefits were night running and running with mental fatigue. I also liked the nutrition and gear switching as the day changed to simulate how I know that typically goes in a race. It is great to have a nutrition plan to start, but anyone that has done a 100 knows it typically goes off the rails at some point. Working with different combinations and experimenting with the switch through the day is helpful, particularly to someone without experience. One of my goals for this was to prepare for the challenge running all day long. While I would be naive to say we accomplished that, I think this was as close as we could come without doing a run that was 12 hours in length.

Also, it was nice to feel totally engaged for a weekend. I have done so many 20 - 30 mile runs over the years that it can sometimes feel like work and just go through the motions. This weekend we were totally engaged in every aspect of training and totally resolved to get it done. That is always a nice oasis twelve weeks into training.

If the critique of this approach is that it isn't the same as one long run (or two long runs) to really push into the red and find lows, then I would agree. It isn't the same. But, I would add that going into the red frequently probably isn't the best training strategy. I did a 38 mile run just two weeks ago and it really takes a lot out of you. An advantage of this strategy is the ability to recover a bit in between runs and pile up mileage/time plus other specific elements of an ultra without going that far into the red. Ultimately, as I said in my post, I am not sure there is any realistic way to be 100% ready for a 100-miler other than to run a few of them. Training should encompass lots of ways to be as specific as possible and stretch your comfort zone and harden your mind. This weekend definitely stretched my comfort zone and I feel I am more prepared for the 100 mile experience as a result. However, I won't be making the B2B2B a staple of my training, mostly because it just takes the whole weekend.

My only regret was not putting some cushioned shoes into the rotation for one or two of the latter runs. I have a few blisters that need tending too. However, I did get to test my new Petzel NAO headlamp under realistic conditions and was quite happy with both the battery and the brightness. That was a good purchase as part of my previous unhappiness with trails was just having an inferior lamp (I think).

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Training Update: 3/9 - 3/15

Huge week last week, only my second official 80 mile training week. Of course, a 38 mile run on Saturday helps to really push the numbers higher. And, I won't lie, I ran Sunday primarily to push the number to 80. It is a tough balance sometimes, fighting between chasing numbers and recovering properly. I often tell my buddy Chuck not to be afraid to train when it is time, but only when the time is right. That's thing, this is almost the time, but not quite. I am 14 weeks from a race I have been training for the past three years. Soon the trails will be in a good shape and I need to be ready.

In addition, to good volume, I had good structure and a high-quality workout on Thursday. I even managed 3 cross-training sessions.

Day Miles Notes
Monday 9Easy Lunch Run
Tuesday 10Fartleks
Wednesday6 Recovery w/ Strides
Thursday9Bluffs Progression
Friday5 Recovery
Saturday 38HPRS - Fat Ass - Highline
Sunday 5Recovery
Total 813,800 feet of vert

I am trying to figure out the best way to approach next week given the large spike in volume last week. This period of training is about building volume and continuing to extend my B2Bs. I need to be vigilant that Saturday's effort doesn't have long standing recovery needs, so I won't do anything too hard for a few days. The good news is that the vertical gain has been really modest considering the trails are still full of snow and ice. So the stress level isn't as high as normal for that amount of miles. My knee and the rest of my body are feeling as good as they have in months. I am finding that my appetite has increased pretty dramatically the past few weeks as well, so I need to keep a conscious eye on keeping my calorie intake at the proper level.

The goals for this next week will be to cutback and only a bit of "light quality" (no true quality). Most importantly, I need to be completely honest with myself about how I feel and take a day off if I feel excess fatigue creeping in. Big trail miles lay ahead and there is no use spending up my motivation and energy in March!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

February Training Wrap and Training Update

Historically I have used this space to regurgitate my weekly training with some periodic updates and random thoughts, much of which anyone that cared could get just by following me on Strava. So, I think I am going to try to use this space as a space to "reset" every few weeks instead. I am self-coached, which is both great and confusing at the same time. Instead of week-to-week thoughts, this space would be excellent for grading my past few weeks of training and planning my next few weeks. You see, planning an entire training plan 20+ weeks in advance is crazy. Life happens. Things change. I get bored and think of new run concepts I want to try. By week three of a twenty week plan I am really just ad-hoc. Of course there is a main theme (specificity) and general direction (namely weekly time/mileage), but the specifics can and do change week to week.

So, a brief catch-up....

Back in December, I wrote down my goals for my WS100 Training Plan. Those high-level goals are as follows:

  • 2 - 3 good night runs on trails
  • 8 - 10 heat runs up to 2 hours in length (Update: I used sauna training instead)
  • Consistent mileage above 55 miles (8-9 hours for me)
  • Peak mileage of 70+ miles, 4-6 times (10-14 hours for me)
  • Lots of light quality: Fartleks, Progression
  • Modest amounts of true quality: tempos/threshold, intervals, hard longs
  • Don't over-do trails and vertical
  • Don’t fight winter
  • Emphasize body weight training for XT

January Training

212 Miles
16K of vertical gain
33 Hours

I started January pretty unfit, having been injured and really demotivated as a result. The injury turned out minor and I am on a path to healing. Nonetheless, the lack of fitness is always hard to start from and figure out how to get going again. As is typical, I started out feeling really eager to get going and follow a well-thought-out-highly-detailed plan that was a fusion between Relentless Forward Progress mileage and structure borrowed from Eric Orton's book. As a result, I did quite a bit of quality for such an early month in training -- 29.3 miles of short intervals (workouts, not the intervals themselves). The structure was nice so I had some options for the treadmill when the weather sucked. I still spend well over 50% of my miles on "easy" runs.

As I look at the above goals the things that mostly stand out is getting my mileage back to 55 miles a week, which I accomplished the last week of January. Not surprisingly, my fitness made a huge leap too -- from 10:15 pace to 9:30 pace on a typical recovery run (by HR). Given that I was so early in training, not many of the above goals really applied.

February Training

223 Miles
20K of vertical gain
36 Hours

You can see there was a modest increase in all the stats from January to March. This is slightly more impressive given that the month is three days longer. The month was shaped by my review of Dr Maffetone's work and a return to some base building. (See what I mean about my attention drifting...) This wasn't just a coincidence though; the weather was good the first few weeks of the month and I was able to spend lots of time outside, where it is much easier to go easy. I even managed a few almost dry trail runs -- a win in the "don't fight winter" category! Another positive was spending most of the month near 60 miles/week and several long runs and mini-B2Bs. And, I did my first night run of the cycle. That night run was a real struggle, reminding me why I made that goal. Overall I am really happy that I was able to get back to a reasonable mileage base and continue to improve my overall fitness and health.

In the context of my goals, I think the biggest negative was going 180 degrees from January and doing almost no structure. I need to find a happy-medium with the light structure and periodic true quality days (every 7-14 days). And, while I would give myself a passing grade in the cross-training department, I would say that I can improve slightly in this department.

So, recognizing that it is still winter and too soon for some of my goals, the mini-goals for March are:

  • Continue consistent mileage and weekly build up of B2B long runs
  • Add more "light quality" to my routine
  • Refocus on cross-training
  • Seek opportunities for Night Running and possibly B2B2B runs