Monday, August 19, 2019

Update on Quality

So just when I thought my "speed" was gone for good, I went out on Saturday morning for my run and set a new PR on a pretty locally competitive course.

The course is a hilly 1.5-mile trail loop near our house and adjacent to our local high school. It's frequently run on by the high school cross country team (which is a strong program). I've been running this loop for literally close to 9 years and have had a few really strong performances on it. I used to own the CRs on this loop (in both directions) but then a few young hot shots in their teens staked their claim of the #1 and #2 spots for the counter clockwise direction--the fastest time being 8:53 for these hilly 1.5 miles of trail--all above 6,150 feet.

On Saturday, after about 5.5 miles of feeling fresh, I decided to head to this loop and go hard and see what the legs could give me. This was a 10 out of 10 effort for me and I went deep in the pain cave, especially for the last 5 minutes. My legs were burning in agony and I was breathing hard! To say I was going all-out is an understatement. This was the hardest I'd run in months.

And it was getting warm, too. The sun was out in full force the temperature was in the 70s. I had major cotton mouth by the end.

Not until I got home and uploaded my data did I see that I'd run the loop in 9:22--good for third overall on this very competitive loop. I'd improved on my previous PR on this course, set in 2013 when I was but 40 years-old and coming off a pretty strong Leadville 100 performance, by 9 seconds.

To say I was surprised that I'd beaten my 40-year-old self by 9 seconds would be an understatement. In all honesty, it made my day...actually my whole weekend!

Going into Saturday, I'd done two track workouts in two weeks and already I was feeling a performance bump. My approach thus far has been--and will continue to be--to add a 400-meter interval every week as I work to improve my speed. So on week 1, I did four 400s. On week 2, I ran five 400s. This week, I'll run six. Simple, straightforward and hopefully "safe."

As my speed improves and my recovery from the 100-miler back in July continues, I'll start transitioning into other types of intervals, including 800s and the mighty 1600. But, right now, it's all about the 400.

I was thrilled to see such an exciting result on Saturday. I knew when I was done that it was a solid result but never did I think I'd beaten my previous PR by 9 seconds, especially when I recall some previous runs on that loop where I went all-out. It was very encouraging and more proof that I need to run hard a lot more if I want to get better. Less focus on quantity and more focus on quality! And the nice part of more focus on quality is that it'll ultimately make your longer runs more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Thoughts on Quality v. Quantity

I’ve thought a lot about my race and finish at the Burning River 100 in Northeast Ohio and some conversations I had with old friends in Cleveland, where weekly track workouts are part of the running culture.

It hit me then--when I was in Cleveland--and I continue to ruminate on it that my training since we moved to Colorado from Ohio back in 2010 has changed significantly, especially over the past few years. While in Cleveland a few weeks ago, I was with old buddies who are still running marathons, getting after it on the track every week, gunning for Boston every year and maybe running a few ultras here and there. Typically, their ultra training is built on the solid foundation of marathon training they are doing for their spring and fall pushes.

When you are truly fit for a fast marathon (meaning you're nailing it at the track, in tempo runs and in your long runs), I have always believed that it only takes a few tweaks here and there to transition into being fit for 100 miles. That is how I used to approach my training in no small part because it's how the club I was a member of trained. It was our norm. If you were bagging the track or your tempos, you got razzed.

I really don't recall ever waking up back in those years and saying, "Oh crap, I need to run 30 miles today so I'll be fit for Mohican." My focus was more on a fast spring half-marathon followed by a big push in the marathon (usually for under 3 hours) and then some tweaks to the training to be ready for my summer 100.

At the finish line and happy!

I am not saying that formula would still work for me. I am older and if I did such a big push in the spring now I would likely find myself in the recovery hole and unable to absorb it all. What I am saying is that my training over the past few years has changed...for the worse. One thing I do think I miss is a club I can train with weekly. No such club in my part of Denver exists (that I know of) and I don't have time to drive a long way to train with the clubs we do have. But I don't need a club to train well (it's nice but not required).

I’m proud I finished Burning River but, man, was my training off—certainly a product of a busy life but that’s no excuse. The race showed that I had more than enough endurance to run the full 100 miles. Despite stomach issues that zapped my energy (nothing new there) and surprisingly trashed quads, I was still running at 90+ miles. My aerobic fitness was excellent. Where I failed in my training—and have been failing the last few years—was in over-emphasizing mileage/quantity and not doing enough quality to boost economy, strength, speed and turnover. Simply put: I could run a long way but I was slow compared to where I should be.

I have fallen into the trap of making my training revolve around 100s and then obsessing over making sure I can cover the distance and not around enhancing performance through structured intervals, hill repeats, etc. that create great fitness. I did some "quality" going into Burning River but it was never intentional and it seemed to happen only when I was feeling up to it. I was running too many miles, which was wearing me down to the extent that I was not able to bring my best self to the quality I needed to be doing, and as a result I got stale, never really getting better.

Even on my days off, I never really was able to recover.

I really think where I need to shift things is around structuring my training in a much smarter, more confident way, recognizing that I'm aging and recovery is now crucial. In the months leading up to the 100, I should have dedicated specific days to intervals (mile repeats are the King of Intervals, in my opinion), hill repeats and the long run instead of waking up every day with the goal of running "as many miles" as I could with the time I had that morning/day. With such a structure, I should have then used the other days (the days I wasn't doing quality) to run super, super easy or cross-train and emphasize recovery. The crappy trap I've fallen into, as a busy guy with a ton going on with my job and family, is to just put in as many miles as I can on a daily basis. I've lost structure and I don't train with confidence even though I have a gigantic base that I have been building for 15+ years and that doesn't go away when you train consistently like I do. You have to build on that base with quality--that's where I've gotten complacent.

At Burning River, I found myself unable to keep up with runners who are my age (some a little older) and who I used to not only keep up with but beat now and then in ultras of all distances. They are now more than a few steps faster than I--it was eye-opening to me.

My speed across all distances has deteriorated and no longer can I expect to run “fast” unless at my age I’m willing to pay my dues at the track and on steep hills the way I used to do. This was apparent early on when in May I ran a 19-minute 5K--really slow. I should have addressed the issue then and there. Instead, I told myself to run more.

For me, I need to trash the self-talk about training to "cover" the full 100 miles. Having run nearly 50,000 miles and counting with no significant pauses in my training (a gigantic base), I need to remember that being ready for a big race is about much more than volume—especially at my age and with my base. It's about building total fitness and that requires a structured approach that puts quality at the heart of it all.

Over lunch a few weeks ago, one of my old friends from Cleveland, who shall remain anonymous, told me that before one of his big races in 2008 he ran 20--yep, 20--mile repeats in one go at the track and all of them were under 6 minutes. He did quarter-mile recoveries. He knew when he could execute that workout that he was ready. He went on to win his big race...at age 47. Disclaimer: I am not so sure 20 mile repeats is the best approach; I'm merely making a point here that quality can have huge payoffs.

So I will probably do another 100-miler and go into it knowing my stomach will give me fits but I will also go into it "marathon fit" and having put in structured training that has quality at the heart of it all.

That said, if you asked me if I'd rather run a sub-3-hour marathon again or a sub-20-hour 100-miler again, I feel confident I would say the former. So I am confident that on the horizon will be a marathon push. No rush to do another 100--definitely not this year.

The important thing for me is this: I want to get better. The desire is there. The commitment is there. I've gotten to the track twice since Burning River and look forward to gradually improving.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Ready for Burning River 100

It's hard to believe but I'm now under three weeks out from the Burning River 100 (in Cleveland, Ohio), and the taper has commenced!

Overall, my training has been solid, though it had some rough patches as I battled occasional fatigue, an ongoing piriformis issue (which I am treating now with some interesting stretches, thanks to a Joe Uhan video a friend sent me), and the overall demands of life and work. Nothing unusual there as training for a 100-mile run is not easy; it will bring peaks and valleys.

When you add it all up, I logged five weeks of 70+ miles and an additional two weeks of 80+ miles. The two 80+ mile weeks were my final two weeks of training before the taper started, so I wrapped up my training on a strong note and got in some miles on the trail. Within all of the miles I ran are a few 7-day stretches of 80+ miles as well. I really believe that volume of training is critical. Call me old-fashioned but you have to put in the miles. That said, I do think I was smarter this time around with my recovery, and I also took some zero days.

All of my training was at "altitude." I quote altitude because it's really quite a relative term, but, to clarify, my training was all at 6,000 feet or higher, which I guess constitutes "altitude" and may be beneficial as I race my 100-miler at sea level.

I managed to stay relatively committed to quality with hill repeat and tempo efforts. Overall, I would say my quality could have been better but it was still there. My quality suffered during weeks that I battled fatigue.

I had solid efforts at the NORAD Trail Marathon in May and the North Fork 50K in early June. At no point in those races did my endurance ever fail me.

Also, I have been putting in solid efforts with core conditioning and upper body strengthening.

My endurance is there and I feel like through my training I got my body and mind ready to run "all day." That is what this crazy endeavor called ultrarunning is really all about: transcending self as you run "all day."

In the next two weeks, the goal is to keep up with my stretching in order to help my piriformis improve, get my legs fresh, continue with my core and upper body strengthening and hone my walking game. I am a good walker but life has been so damned busy that I haven't had the time to walk as much as I'd like.

I will also start thinking about my drop-bag strategy. Honestly, as this race isn't in the mountains, I won't have to worry about insane weather and drastic temperature changes--really all I'll need out on the Burning River course are the basics: back-up shoes, back-up socks, a long-sleeve tee in case it gets chilly at night, some basic first-aid supplies, and some simple nutritional items. Over the years, I have developed a pattern of not using my drop bags very much. At Javelina a few years ago, I raced all 100 miles in the same shoes and socks and never changed any clothing. I think it's better that way. Just run.

It has been a few years since I last finished a 100-miler, so I am truly going into Burning River with the goal of finishing. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake.

Do I think a sub-24 hour is possible? Yes, if everything goes well and my stomach holds.

Do I think a sub-22 hour is possible? Maybe, if it's a good day.

Do I think a sub-20 hour is possible? It could be, but it would have to be a special day.

Ultimately, I just want to finish and get back in the Western States lottery pipeline.

Burning River is a beautiful course and I'm relatively familiar with several sections of it, having lived in Cleveland for five years. Burning River was my first-ever 100 in 2007 but that was a different course, though there are a few sections that are the same. The course this time around brings about 102 miles and over 8,000 feet of gain.

Having lived and raced here in Colorado for 9 years, and in that time collected 5 big buckles at Leadville, it is hard for me to imagine a 100-miler where I won't have to worry about going over big mountains and up 3,500+ foot climbs. But that doesn't mean Burning River will be easy. Far from it! The course will offer few areas where it'll seem obvious that I need to walk, which can be a silent killer. It may all seem/look runnable to me, which could get me in trouble. So I need to approach Burning River with a careful eye toward pacing myself and finding good spots to slow the effort and walk to conserve energy--I'm referring to the up-hills. The key with a race like this is to run as much as possible (hence my focus on training myself to run "all day," which I have done before) and choose your walking "breaks" carefully (the hills) so you don't lose too much time but yet are allowing for some recovery. And then on the downs I will let my Colorado-strong quads be an advantage.

Another variable will be the humidity. Not much I can do there except deal with it. We have very little humidity here in Colorado and so I'll just need to cope with it. I lived the first 37 years of my life back East, in some insanely humid areas. I am familiar with humidity and will be ready.

Other than all of that.... I will go into the race with no goal splits at any point. This will be good for me. At Leadville, it has been hard for me not to race against my best splits over the years. As you age, you start to see that it's not a good idea to race against your younger self--that is something I continue to struggle with. Though I am familiar with parts of the Burning River course, I am not so familiar that I'll have goal splits. It'll for the most part be new to me, especially as I have not stepped on those trails in over 9 years. I am actually very excited about running a 100 with no goal splits.

One final note that is of great importance to me: I will see many old friends, who I can't wait to see. I still miss my old running buddies in Cleveland and the incredible running community there. Reuniting with old friends will be special. I can't wait!

Monday, May 20, 2019

NORAD Trail Marathon; Back on Track?

Had a very solid race on Sunday at the NORAD Trail Marathon at Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs. Put on by Mad Moose Events, it's a figure-8 course with 4,000 feet of climbing that you run twice. Cheyenne Mountain is where NORAD is located--hence the race's name. So a pretty cool location.

I know the course quite well as I've run several races there over the years (including the Cheyenne Mountain 50K and the Xterra Trail Marathon), meaning going into Sunday I knew where to press it hard and where to take my foot off the gas pedal. Experience was on my side in spades. That said, I've kind of tired of the course over the years--there's just nothing on it that is new to me. But it is beautiful and on Sunday I really tried take it in.

My decision to enter the race was pretty last-minute...as in I registered at the table the morning of the event. I had checked with the race directors a few days earlier and they confirmed I could register on-site. That said, when my alarm went off at 4:30 on Sunday morning, I decided right then and there to bag the race and get some more sleep. It had been a busy week at work and I needed more rest. So I turned off my alarm and closed my eyes.

But then regret crept over me and I got out of bed and went through the motions of getting ready. I ate breakfast and had my coffee and then out the door I went, driving to Colorado Springs with very low expectations and, quite honestly, not a great attitude. The temperature on the drive down was in the high 30s. That's what I call "no excuse racing weather."

In truth, what was really holding me back was my flagging confidence as a runner. It has been a tough two years, and the last thing I wanted on Sunday morning was to drive down to Colorado Springs and endure a 26.2-mile death march where I hated every step because I can't race the way I used to race.

I am so glad to ran the race! Right out of the gate--trying to use my experience to my advantage--I opted to keep my effort at MAF and only allowed myself to exceed MAF if I was toward the top of a climb and knew I'd soon be on a descent. I was quite strong over the entire race, actually running the second loop stronger than the first. I lost no strength; in fact, I got stronger with the miles. I was especially strong on the descents and I was quite surprised by my climbing. My average heart rate for the entire race was 138. On a few climbs, I allowed by HR to get into the 150s but only near the top when I knew I was able to level off.

Running the whole thing at MAF was a good decision. Back in my 30s and early 40s, I had the fitness to go out hard and know I could hold it. I am still fit but not like I was in my 30s and early 40s. So it's better to go out conservatively, hold the effort at MAF and let the race come to you--which is what I did on Sunday. I passed several runners during the second loop.

I finished 6th overall out of only 38 starters, with a time of 4 hours and 20 minutes. Not bad for a course with 4,000 feet of climbing on rocky trails! I even got a 90% finish on Ultrasignup! Good to be back into the 90s!

Just like that, I'm feeling good about my fitness with the Burning River 100 now about two months away. I just put in my second consecutive week of 70+ miles. I just started Optygen and it seems to be kicking in. I am confident that, going into June, a couple of weeks of 80+ miles and at least one week at 90+ miles is all feasible. Hell, I might even be able to squeeze in a 100-mile week if I play my cards right (not counting on it).

That should set me up nicely for a Burning River 100 that I can run with confidence...and at MAF :-).

Friday, May 17, 2019

Aging

I am going to admit that I'm struggling with aging. I have friends who seem to be aging like a fine wine and yet here I am really struggling with it.

A few weeks ago, I ran a 19:07 5K--the first time in a LONG time I have not broken 19 minutes in a 5K. Admittedly, my 5K was run in Atlanta and it was super humid that day. Plus, the course had some rollers to it. But I always break 19 minutes and it wasn't that long ago that I was consistently breaking 18 minutes. Now here I am running 19 and change, barely able to hold sub sub-6-minute miles. It's hard to deal with...even though in that 5K a few weeks ago I was top Master's Runner and finished 3rd overall and walked away with a nice medal. Three or four years ago, it would have been an outright win as the winner, who was a teenager, ran mid-18 (which is slow for a 5K winner).

I definitely think I can break 19 again. I've restarted hill repeats and tempo runs--gotta use it or lose it as you age, as they say.

And then there is the Burning River 100 on July 27...... Ten years ago, I would have been thinking about winning or podiuming this race (I was always very ambitious and sometimes it paid off). In my head, I still feel like those are realistic--and yet in actuality they are not. Some guy who runs 100+ miles a week and is 28 year-old will win. I will be in the mid-pack. I am 45 and slowing down. In 2009, one of my closest friends, Tim Clement, won Burning River at age 47. I am not Tim. If I break 24 hours at Burning River this year, I will be thrilled.

My biggest regret in life is working too hard in a "real job" and being too responsible when I was in my 20s. Knowing what I know now, how I wish I'd gotten into ultrarunning when I was 24 or 25. When you are that young and training hard, it is amazing what the body will give you. Even at ages 35 or 36, my body gave me so much. It almost never failed me and it responded so well to the training load.

Jim Walmsley is on another planet as far as talent but, when I watch him run, I see the beauty of youth. Jim is 29 and he runs like a gazelle over distances of 50 or 100 miles. It is incredible to watch.

So I am struggling with aging. It's not easy. Oh, it has its benefits. I'm so much wiser than I was...more wise in life than on the run. When I see a "young person" making a mistake, I want to help them and usually I can if they are receptive to it. But I have not (yet) reached the point as a runner where I can use my wisdom and experience to compensate for my physical decline. Which is a nice way of saying I'm a bit of a head case at current.

I hope my ability to use my life experience in positive ways on the run comes. Right now, I'm in transition. Mentally, I still feel like a fast young buck. I need to accept what is happening and leverage my experience as a runner and recognize that experience has pluses to it just as fresh, young legs have pluses to them. I feel that experience can be leveraged to compensate for aging, to an extent, but I have yet to figure that out.

I am excited about Burning River and overall my training is going well. Come Memorial Day weekend, I'll have a little more time to train, giving me about 6 solid weeks to hit it hard and get ready.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Training Update / Inspiration from Yiannis Kouros

Training for the Burning River 100 (July 27) is going well so far. This week marked my third consecutive 60+ mile week and third consecutive Sunday with 20+ miles. Building the base....

Plus, I've dropped a few pounds, which is nice as over the winter I got up to about 173 pounds. As you age, the battle of the bulge is real! I think the pounds have come off for two reason: I'm running more, and I'm watching what I eat. Hummus is now a go-to staple. Back when I was running competitively, I ate a ton of hummus.

Also, I'm back to daily planks and I can tell they're working!

All in all, I'm feeling good.

I anticipate I'll be at 70 miles/week next month (May) and 80+ in June. I am hoping for at least one week of 100+ miles, which I feel I can do but it'll require some lunch-time runs at work and probably a day off (not easy with my schedule). I'm gradually introducing quality into the mix. All of this should be enough to have me ready for the big race on July 27.

I really believe that I can finish Burning River in under 20 hours...if my stomach holds together.

It's nice knowing I can train for Burning River off my doorstep! But I am getting the itch to hit the trails in a week or two. It's mud season in Colorado and we're still getting snow now and then, leaving the trails nasty. I'm not much for mud running so I imagine it'll be May before I'm hitting the trails with decent frequency. I'm envisioning some great runs in my favorite locations--Mount Falcon, Deer Creek Canyon, Roxborough State Park, Indian Creek loop and various sections of the Colorado Trail. But since my big 100 is flat and fast, no pressure to train in the mountains. Just go when I want/can.

It's not easy training for 100 when I have a full-time job, a family and ever-increasing responsibilities on the home front--I feel pulled in many directions every day. As children age, life becomes more complicated and problems more consequential. For the most part, it's easy when they're little. Not so easy when they become pre-teens about to enter middle school. It's because of all of that and more that I decided last summer that I can't run Leadville anymore--or at least for the next few years. It requires too much time away from home.

Last night, I watched "Forever Running," a super inspiring documentary about Yiannis Kouros. It has been a while since I'd watched it. Says Yiannis in the documentary: "The verb ‘endure’ is not a physical verb, it's a spiritual one. Endure means to withstand…you must be patient and then do solid training. Without patience, you will never conquer endurance."

So true...and so inspiring:

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Burning River 100, Here I Come

Yeah, I realize I fell off the wagon with my daily run updates. This happened for two reasons:

1) I have been really, really busy and posting daily updates just hasn't been a priority. Plus, I've been traveling a fair amount but am back home and, wow, does it feel good.
2) There were few clicks on my daily updates. No one, it seems, reads blogs much anymore, which is sad. That said, my Syncroblogger entry got tons of clicks.

So I signed up for the Burning River 100, which is July 27. Burning River was my first 100 in 2007. Except pacing some friends in latter years, including my old pal Tim Clement to his overall win in 2008, I have not raced an inch of that course since 2007. Due to some construction going on in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, some major changes are coming to the course this year--changes that are not ideal as the course temporarily goes to out and back versus point to point. Yeah, sucks. Then again, Burning River just "feels" right and I can't explain why. I'm sure it has to do with going back to where it all started for me and at the same time seeing old friends. I weighed it against Javelina and Tunnel Hill and Burning River just feels good and the timing is perfect.

To say my training since January has been inconsistent would be an understatement. I have gotten out and run every day but I've been "consistently inconsistent" in terms of how I feel on a day to day basis--a product of aging. So we'll see how my training for Burning River goes. I tend to start feeling consistently better once spring is upon us and the weather warms up. As of now, I am not prepared for Burning River. But, I have a very deep base and something to work with.

I have 3 months of solid training I need to get in! That is not much! But, as Burning River is a "flat and fast" 100 (with very little technical terrain compared to what we have here in Colorado), I feel like what I need to do with my training is attainable. No pressure to go to the mountains to run. No pressure to hit the hills. Yeah, I'll be doing all of the above but only for pleasure within my training--not because it's "required." To execute a solid day at Burning River, I will need two things:

1) Lots of endurance
2) Economy

Oh yeah, and enduring heat and humidity.

On a course as flat at Burning River, there is going to be a lot of running required. There will be some hills but not many--really just speed bumps compared to what we have in Colorado. This will be about who can run 100 miles. I have done that before but it requires a lot of conditioning--a lot! So, time gods on my side, I plan to get my volume up to over 90 miles per week on peak weeks. If the time gods really cooperate, it would be awesome to get in at least one 100-mile week.

Currently, the only race I have signed up for between now and Burning River is North Fork 50K on June 1. I may up it to 50 miles--we'll see. I may also add Cheyenne Mountain 50K in late April. Both of these races involve way more climbing than Burning River but finding flat ultras in Colorado isn't exactly easy. They will help condition me and I will make the best of them.

Although I have struggled mightily with the 100-mile distance in the past two years, I really believe I have a few more decent 100s in me. I just have to pick the right courses and do the work to be ready. Burning River feels right.

So it's on!