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...