Monday, June 25, 2012

Interview with Dean Karnazes

There have been faster ultrarunners, but never has an endurance athlete (not named Lance Armstrong) come even remotely close to achieving the fame, fortune and "cross-over" appeal of Dean Karnazes.

Courtesy of Dean Karnazes

Dean's meteoric rise started in 2005 with the release of a memoir he never envisioned as a New York Times best-seller. But Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner sold big, catapulting the self-described "bored" San Francisco working stiff, who had already achieved notable success as a runner, to unprecedented worldwide fame. In Ultramarathon Man, Dean shared the personal story of his colorful entrance into super-distance running. Garnering a legion of inspired Dean followers, the book shined a bright light on a freakishly blood and guts sport that, until that time, had largely existed in the shadows.

Just like that, Dean became somewhat of a household name, following up his memoir with 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days -- and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance!, which chronicled his 50 marathons/50 days/50 states challenge dubbed the Endurance Challenge. Along the way, Dean, who is sponsored by The North Face and is a "yes-I-can" poster boy for fitness, landed on Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list, attempted the 48-hour treadmill record, won both the Badwater Ultramarathon and Vermont 100, founded his own charity (Karno Kids), quit his day job to run full-time and motivate people, adopted children's health as his #1 cause, and otherwise took his celebrity to unheard-of levels.

Courtesy of Dean Karnazes

With his growing fame, Dean became a polarizing figure in a sport that, nearly overnight, had gone from underground to exposure in places like airport bookstores. All of a sudden, many men in their thirties, after years of neglecting their health, felt inspired and saw a way to a better place in life. As some claim, many of the top races, such as the Western States 100, started selling out and had to hold lotteries because so-called Dean followers flooded registrations. Once viewed by many as a fad, it's clear that Dean, like his idol, the late, great Jack Lalanne, is here to stay.

Last year, Dean released his third book, Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss, that once again landed him on the best-sellers list, as well as seats on Letterman and Leno (he'd already visited with Regis and Kelly). Only this time, Dean, who had clearly been hurt by the criticism of his own community, came across as slightly more guarded than the guy with nothing to lose back in 2005.

Today, the 49 year-old Karnazes, who lives in San Francisco with his family, is a vocal champion of healthy living and works hard to raise money for childhood obesity. He's run across the country to bring attention to this vitally important issue and is now planning a feat that is, to say the least, logistically daunting (more on that below). In just a few weeks, he'll attempt his tenth finish at the Badwater Ultramarathon.

A final note. Some people think Dean is insulated from "the rest of us," that he has high-paid PR types hovering around him to manage his "brand." I sensed none of that from the man. In fact, less than a day after e-mailing him via Facebook to request an interview, Dean personally responded to my inquiry and said yes, of course he'd answer my questions. Though he is famous, Dean's just like the rest of us--he loves running and he enjoys spreading the joy of putting one foot in front of the other.

WH: Dean, thank you for coming on The Running Man for this interview. It's an honor and I appreciate your time. Let's get right down to it, and I'd like to start off with an issue that's near and dear to both of our hearts. Today, about a third of kids and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Through efforts like your 50-marathon challenge and trans-continental run, you’ve worked hard to combat obesity, especially among children. Coaching people on the need to choose the right foods and stay active is one thing, but winning over their hearts and minds and actually changing behaviors is another challenge altogether. Are we moving the needle on the obesity epidemic?

DK: I think we are chipping away at the problem. The level of awareness is higher now than ever. However, as you pointed out, getting people to actually change their behavior is the hard part. Programs like “Couch to 5K” are helping. Running or walking a 5K is something most people find approachable, no matter how badly they’ve let their health slip. Baby steps, I like to say.

Courtesy of Dean Karnazes

WH: In a recent podcast interview with Endurance Planet, you said too many runners just run and don’t cross-train, which can help prevent injury and burnout. As someone who’s recently implemented fast-walking into the mix, I’m eager to learn what kinds of cross-training you suggest for runners.

DK: Specifically, upper-body and core strength are important for injury prevention. You don’t need to go to the gym. Doing sets of push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups will do the trick. Also, as runners, most of us spend the majority of our time moving forward in a straight line. Consequently, the muscles deployed during lateral movement are underdeveloped. Conditioning these muscles will help, too.

WH: Your first book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, was a national best-seller and inspired thousands to start running. But it still seemed to irk some old-schoolers who felt you came off a tad bit immodest. Yet those who know you best say you’re a humble, self-effacing guy. If you had a “do-over,” would you change anything about that first book?

DK: When I wrote that book, I thought that I’d be lucky if ten people bought it (mostly family, at a discount). When the book landed on the NY Times bestseller list I was shocked. Had I known the book would be so successful, I probably would have approached things differently. Hindsight’s always 20/20. I’m sorry if I came off as immodest to some old-schoolers--that was certainly not my intention. I’m not a very boastful person by nature. In fact, like many runners, I’m a severe introvert and don’t like being in the spotlight. It makes me feel uncomfortable.

Courtesy of Dean Karnazes

WH: You’ve accomplished a lot in life. You’ve won the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon and Vermont 100. Four times you’ve finished in the top 10 at the Western States 100. You’re easily one of the top multi-day racers. You’re among the first—or maybe the first—to actually make a living as an ultrarunner, thanks to three best-selling books. And you’ve given back through your foundation and other charitable endeavors. How do you handle the criticism you still get from the few who question your credentials and motivations?

DK: No matter what you do, some people will always find fault in it. It’s a harsh reality I’ve had to learn. That said, I’ve received tens of thousands of letters from individuals across the globe telling me how much I’ve inspired them to start running and to become more physically active. Enduring the criticism of a few is worth it when you consider the upside. My father always told me that if you have a problem with someone, at least have the decency to tell them directly. I’ve never had a single person tell me to my face that they have a problem with me. When I read criticism online by someone who hides behind the moniker, “toe jam,” I try to keep it in perspective. Frederick Douglass may have said it best: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence."

WH: Recently, you announced your plans to run a marathon in every nation in the world within a one-year period. By my count, that’s something like 200 nations. What’s motivated you to tackle such a daunting and logistically difficult challenge?

DK: One of my main sponsors, The North Face, has this terrific saying: “Never Stop Exploring.” I love the spirit of exploration more than anything else. The challenge of running a marathon in every country of the world in the span of one year ignites my passion. I think the world could use something like this right now. There are so many things that divide us and tear us apart. Running unites people. Regardless of race, creed, religion or socioeconomic status, we can all run. It’s something we humans share together. There is power in focusing on what we have in common rather than on what separates us. That’s a major part of the reason I want to undertake this endeavor.

Courtesy of Dean Karnazes

WH: How do you battle through a dark moment in a race, or in a training run?

DK: I try to stay in the moment. I try to be present and to not get ahead of myself. Many times a low point comes as a result of suffering and thinking about how much more suffering is still ahead. I try to remain in the moment and just put one foot in front of the other to the best of my ability and not to think about anything else except for each individual forward stride.

WH: One night, while out drinking with friends on your thirtieth birthday, you had a “midlife crisis,” left the bar, and ran 30 miles on a whim despite the fact that you hadn’t run in years. What was going on in your life that led to the events of that fateful night?

DK: Boredom. I thought that if I went through college and then business school and was then able to land a cush corporate job, I would find happiness. Instead, I found drudgery. I didn’t like being in the corporate world. It just wasn’t me. So I ran away from it all (quite literally).

WH: How do your motivations today differ from your motivations when you got into ultrarunning in the mid-1990s?

DK: They’re the same, really. I’ve never been highly competitive with anyone but myself. Sure, I enjoy competition, but I don’t live for it. Too many of my friends that were zealous racers burned out on the sport. To me, I just love running. That might be at a race like the Badwater Ultramarathon, or it might be running across the country. The passion is there either way. All my trophies and medals are stashed away in boxes in my garage--they really don’t mean that much to me. I just love to run.

WH: I can certainly appreciate that! A lot of elite ultrarunners today feel they should be paid like professional athletes since they’re the fastest among us. Yet this has always been a sport in which even the best worked day jobs. For example, Tim Twietmeyer (one of my ultrarunning heroes) won Western States five times while holding down a full-time gig at Hewlett Packard and having family responsibilities. Do you think ultrarunning will—or should—get to a level where elites are well-paid?

DK: I think if people can make a living doing what they love to do, it’s a good thing. That said, one of the greatest elements of ultrarunning is that no matter where you cross that finish line, first or last, everyone gets the same belt buckle. There’s a sense of shared struggle, and that’s part of the magic of our sport. I’d hate to see prize money and big salaries change that dynamic.

WH: What is it about ultrarunning that fascinates people so much?

DK: Ultrarunning is a step into the unknown. It’s an exploration into the potential of self. There is a deep human yearning to be the best you that you can be. Ultrarunning is symbolic of testing how far one is capable of going.

WH: Do you ever miss your life before fame?

DK: Sometimes, but I can always go for a long run in the wilderness to regain my soul. I have been blessed by meeting some of the most inspiring people imaginable, and for that I will remain forever grateful. The modest fame I’ve achieved has been worth it because of the people I’ve met along the way.

WH: How do you want to be remembered?

DK: Wow, that’s a heavy question. I guess I’d like to be remembered as a simple guy who followed his own path and tried to always do his best. In the end, I’m just a runner. I’m no one special. I'm just a humble guy who loves life and loves to run.

WH: Dean, this has been an honor. Thank you for the opportunity to interview you. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors! Is there anything you’d like to add for our readers?

DK: The honor’s all mine. Thanks for having me. Maybe I’ll end with a quote from my first book, that seems fitting: “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up!”

Best wishes to you and all who are reading this interview.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

2012 Mount Evans Race Report

A quick recap of today's Mount Evans Ascent, an challenging 14.5-mile race to the top of Mount Evans. Evans is a glorious 14,265-foot peak just outside Denver. The race is on all road and is a 3,500 vertical-foot climb with no super steep sections but a fair number of switchbacks with which to contend. The last three miles are pretty challenging.

Makes Heartbreak Hill look like a parking lot speedbump, eh?
All photos by Jim Petterson.

First off, all things considered, the weather today was great. The temperature was maybe in the 40s up top and the wind was no where near as bad as last year. I finished 22nd out of 369 finishers (top 5%) with a 2:17:19, which breaks down to 9:34 pace. That's a 24-minute improvement over last year, when I averaged 11:09 pace. I'm pleased with the improvement, especially considering my goal was break 2:30 today. But I'm also aware that the conditions today were far better than last year, and so I should have improved if for no other reason than I wasn't running into 30-50 mile-per-hour winds.

Taken at about 14,000 feet.
Still, I feel like today I took a step forward in learning how to run mountains. I went out conservatively, maintained even splits, and used my new heart rate monitor to stay within the right zone (for me) for the first 12 or so miles. If my heart rate started to get too high, I slowed the pace until I was back in the right zone. If my heart rate was lower than necessary, I sped up. As you'll see in the attachment below, my heart rate never went over 156. I stayed right in the 150-155 range and ran strong pretty much the whole way up, except for walking (really fast) through the aid stations and on some short stretches above 13,000 feet. The last two miles, when it pretty much comes down to desire, I ignored my HR monitor and just ran as hard as I could. I felt strong and confident and I'm happy with my time, especially as I'm training for a 100 and am not exactly Mr. Fresh Legs.

  • Heart rate monitors work in high-altitude mountain races--if you allow them to guide you. I'm going to use my HR monitor to keep myself in check for the first 13.5 miles of the Leadville 100, when I tend to go waaaaaaay too fast, and maybe also for the Hope Pass section.
  • Going out conservatively in a high-altitude race pays off big time in the end. I never got into oxygen debt and was able to move strongly all the way to the top, though of course the last 1.5 miles were a struggle (as they are for almost anyone).
  • Hill repeats pay off. I've been doing them and today felt strong on Evans. There were a few climbs above 12,000 feet where I felt like someone was pushing me.
  • I also think all this walking is paying off. I just seem to move better and more efficiently.

2012 Mt. Evans splits

2011 Mt. Evans splits
(Note: Last year's time was 2:41, but in the splits below it says 2:47 because I missed stopping my watch at the finish)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Week Ending 6/10 / The Most Overlooked Component of 100-Mile Training?

This was, without question, the best week of training I've had all year. I decided to mix things up a bit and incorporate some fast-walking. If you've never fast-walked, let me tell you, it really works your hips to the degree that you'll be sore for days.

For the week, I ran 70.7 miles and fast-walked 19.3 miles, covering 90 miles total in 14 hours and 25 minutes. I hit some good quality on Wednesday with hill repeats, Friday with a strong tempo run, and Sunday with an outing to Pikes Peak with 5,200 feet of climbing. When I went to bed on Sunday night, I slept well knowing that I'd just completed a hell of a training week.

When we lived back East, I ran every step of my training, because in most 100-milers at sea level the entire course is completely runnable. Sure, there may be a few nasty hills where walking is appropriate, but for the most part 100-milers out East are almost entirely runnable (except for a few, such as Grindstone, Massanutten, Barkley, etc.).

Not so with 100-milers out here in the Mountain West. At Leadville, a time of 20 hours comes down to 12-minute miles, and that includes aid station stops. There are sections of Leadville, such as the Hope Pass outbound and inbound climbs, where you're walking regardless of how well-conditioned you may be. Yeah, I mean that. Most Leadville entrants also walk the inbound Powerline climb, a 1,500-foot climb that comes very late in the race. If you're not a strong walker, you may suffer badly at Leadville and come up short in achieving your goal.
So last week it just kind of hit me. To be in optimal shape for Leadville and truly race this epic event, I need to be not only a good, efficient runner, but also a damned-good hiker. I need to think not as a runner, but as a Leadville racer. Specificity! With my new thinking, this week I started incorporating quite a bit of fast-walking and, as the days progressed, felt it in my hips (in a good way). Walking/hiking really fast engages the hips in ways running doesn't. And believe me: walking fast is totally different than just walking at a leisurely pace. I actually think walking at 11:30 pace is harder than running at 8:00 pace (maybe because my running efficiency is far better than my walking efficiency). When you're hoofing it on a fast walk, it's hard to move efficiently, but with practice your walking efficiency improves and it becomes a more natural form of movement. My goal is to be such a good walker that I can use it to my advantage at Leadville, versus seeing walking as a form of defeat.

Here's how the week went:

Monday: fast-hiking
AM: Fast-hiked 4 miles in 45 minutes on the trail loop behind my house. Used my trekking poles for practice. Legs felt decent thanks to Sunday's layoff.

PM: Walked 2 miles in 26 minutes in the neighborhood just to keep my muscles loosened up.

Tuesday: easy
AM: Ran 8.75 miles in 1:10 on the Parker trails.

PM: Fast-hiked 3 miles in 38 minutes on the trail loop behind my house. Used my trekking poles.

Wednesday: fast hill repeats
AM: 9.3 miles in 1:14. Met Scott on Canterberry Trail for some fast hill repeats. Felt he Golden Gate Dirty Thirty in my hips but still managed five hard intervals, each at about 1/4 mile. Splits were 1:36, 1:33, 1:38, 1:39 and 1:41 (yeah, not great). Jogged back down between each. These were hard with a headwind coming down Canterberry Trail and my hips feeling quite tired. Will increase the number of intervals on a weekly basis leading up to Leadville, as I definitely believe these improve strength and efficiency. Will also continue to eek out a few intervals at the track.

PM: 3 miles in 33 minutes on the treadmill. Every 1/4 mile alternated between fast-walking and running. Transitions not easy! I had to do this workout indoors due to the horribly violent weather blowing in (severe thunderstorm with damaging hail and winds).

Thursday: easy
AM: Ran 8.35 miles in 1:08 on the Parker trails. Saw some bad destruction from last night's storm and hail. Lots of erosion and many of the trails I run were severely damaged. Took it easy and didn't push myself at all.

PM: Fast-hiked 2 miles in 26 minutes in the neighborhood just to stay loose.

Friday: tempo
AM: 10.1 miles in 1:11. This was a very solid tempo run, though I would have liked another fast mile but decided to stop after. Splits were: 1) 9:14 (warm-up), 2) 6:19, 3) 5:54, 4) 6:06, 5) 6:17, 6) 5:56, 7) 6:26, 8) 8:04, 9) 7:54, 10) 8:54 (included some fast walking toward end), 10.1) 0:33 (all fast-walking). Really like those two sub-6:00 miles.

PM: Fast-hiked 3 miles in 34 minutes down Club Drive and then back up the Sulphur Gulch Trail. Pretty warm.

Saturday: long run
AM: Ran 15 miles in 2:01 on the Tomahawk and Legend High School trail loops. Very warm. Went pretty easy pace so to avoid blowing up in the heat. Held up well.

PM: Fast-hiked 3 miles in 32 minutes down Club Drive and then back up the Sulphur Gulch Trail. Saw improvement over yesterday's time, despite extremely warm (read: hot) conditions. How does 96 degrees sound? Carried a water bottle. I thought of all the Denver-area Western States entrants and how Saturday's conditions were perfect for heat training.

Sunday: long run/mountains
AM: Ran 15.3 miles in 3:08 on the Manitou Incline and Barr Trail heading up Pikes Peak. Felt strong on the 2,000-vertical foot, one-mile climb up the Incline, setting a new PR of 27:18. Would have broken 27 minutes were the Incline not super crowded. I passed a ton of people, a few of whom were so out of it that they were slow in accommodating me as I went by. After the Incline, I dropped to the Barr Trail and then took it up to 11,415 feet. Man, I was so tempted to go for the summit but, because of limited time (and a lack of warmer clothing on hand), turned around and just absolutely cruised back into town. Very strong, confident descent, passing several runners on the way down (wore my Salmon Crossmaxes, which are perfect for aggressive descents). 5,208 feet of climbing. Planning a Pikes summit in the next few weeks--will have to wake up before dawn, though :(.

PM: Fast-hiked 3.3 miles in 36 minutes down Club Drive and then back up the Sulphur Gulch Trail. Legs and hips slightly sore and tired.

Totals for the week:
  • Training time: 14:25:40
  • Running mileage: 70.7
  • Fast-hiking mileage: 19.3 (included some brief running)
  • Total climbing: ~11,000 feet
  • Total outings: 14
  • Pace per mile: 9:37
  • Push-ups, weights and core work
Totals for the year:
  • 1,531.35 miles run
  • 25.7 miles fast-hiked
  • 116.5 miles biked

So, yeah, I'm going to stick with the running and fast-hiking thing through Leadville and then get back to running 100% of the time when I start training in October for a 2:50 at the Rock 'n Roll Phoenix Marathon.

This week I'm going to scale back my mileage with the hopes of feeling fairly fresh for Saturday's Mount Evans Ascent, a 14.5-mile run up to the summit of 14,265-foot Mount Evans for a total gain of about 3,500 feet. Last year's ascent featured absolutely hostile weather with extremely strong winds and frigid conditions up at the summit. I'm going to assume this Saturday's race will be equally as hostile and will pack for all kinds of conditions. The key to the Mount Evans Ascent is to dress for worsening conditions without carrying so much that you're weighed down. It's a delicate balancing act. For me, the perfect items are things like mittens, a skull cap, a thin vest, arm sleeves, calf sleeves and multiple upper body layers. Anyway, I just want to break 2:40 and get the trophy. Last year I came in at 2:41, having struggled quite a bit because of the wind. I am very confident that all of this fast-walking will pay off big time when I'm at 13,000+ feet this Saturday.

Planned schedule this week (a slight taper/race week):

Monday: Off or some light walking
Tuesday: 1) Hill repeats, 2) fast-walking
Wednesday: 1) Easy run, 2) fast-walking
Thursday: 1) Tempo run, 2) fast-walking
Friday: Off/taper
Saturday: 1) Mt. Evans Ascent
Sunday: 1) Deer Creek Canyon (easy), 2) fast-walking

Projected mileage: ~60-65

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

It's Not Working Anymore: Confessions of an Insecure Runner

Only a few years ago my 100-mile training routine seemed to work. It really wasn't that complicated:
  • Run 100-110 miles a week, including lots of doubles
  • Train through races before my goal event
  • Do some hard mile repeats on the track every week
  • Do a hard tempo run two days after the track intervals
  • Resist rest
  • Repeat
Since moving to Colorado, I've cut back on my mileage and now max out at about 90-95 a week. This cutback is due in part to the fact that running at elevation is so much harder than running at sea level. I've found out the hard way that doing tons of volume here places me at great risk of injury and exhaustion.

But, alas, I'm finding that even my "new" routine doesn't seem to work. I'm not getting the results I should, which leads me to the conclusion that I overtrain and am experiencing diminishing returns. I'm even open to the fact that back in the day, maybe I wasn't getting the results I should have and was operating on diminishing returns despite one PR after another. Let me explain.

Running 55 miles a week from 2004 to the spring of 2007, I consistently clocked marathons of 3:05-3:08 and rarely got injured. I don't ever remember running being a huge commitment of time, and I usually took one or two days off a week. But then in the spring of 2007, I got into 100-milers and, on the advice of a few who I trusted, jacked up my mileage to triple digits (breaking many rules but somehow averting disaster) to build a body strong enough to go insane distances. But I was still doing marathons and found myself perplexed by the fact that my marathon PR dropped to only 2:58. Yes, it's true, I did win a few ultras in that time span. But does it make sense that a near-doubling of my mileage would result in only a 7-minute reduction in my marathon time? One would think that, by doubling my output and doing good intensity, my marathon time would drop far more than 7 minutes.

I used to get ribbed for having only a 2:58 marathon PR when my half-marathon PR is 1:22 (set in the midst of a 100-mile week, I would add) and my 5K PR is 17:39. A 1:22 half PR and 17:39 5K PR should translate to a marathon of about 2:53. Still, a few guys I knew back in Cleveland were convinced I could go sub-2:50. Obviously, I've never come close to that (but hopefully will in January when I run in the Rock 'n Roll Phoenix Marathon).

So here I am today, an almost 39-year-old runner who hasn't set a PR in a few years and is now questioning everything I'm doing. Granted, it's not like I've done PR-friendly races lately. No, I've signed up for some monsters like the Jemez 50-mile, the Leadville Marathon and, of course, the Leadville 100. But, still, the PRs seem to be in the rear-view mirror. Or, maybe I've just been doing a bad job of signing up for PR-friendly races (geez, are there any PR friendly races in Colorado?). What I now see when I look in the mirror every morning is a guy who used to think he had it figured out, but who is now clueless.

But that's not all I see. I see guys out there breaking 20 hours at the Leadville 100 on 60 miles a week. I'm doing 25-30 percent more than that and last year I finished in 22:35, still a very solid time but, like many of my results over the past few years, a time that was out of whack with how I trained.

Confession: Saturday's race up in Golden Gate State Park has forced me to think a lot about how I train (volume-based approach). But even before Saturday I was kind of in the wilderness. Only now am I admitting my cluelessness. Right now I desperately want someone to help me figure this out. Last Sunday I thought about driving down to Manitou Springs to see if Matt Carpenter, if he had a moment at his busy custard shop, would help give me that Yoda insight I want so badly. Of course, I didn't do that (thank God--I'd have made a fool of myself) and, even if I did, how (or why?) would a guy like Carpenter, who I consider one of the giants in this sport, help a dude like me, who has 1/100 of his ability in the mountains?

So instead I just stewed and was a cranky bastard.

I know what you may be thinking: Wyatt, why are you taking running so seriously? You should do it for enjoyment. I take running seriously because it's who I am. I'm not out to finish; I'm out to achieve bigger and better things. That's the story of my life, for better or worse. And you know, I love that part of it, even as it brings me to the situation I'm now in.

Even as I don't know the solution, I think I know the problem. And here it is: I'm a volume guy who pushes it hard--too hard. Every single weekend I do back-to-backs and rarely do I take a day off. I'm always going for it, because, deep down, I'm an insecure runner who "finds" (false) security in pressing the pedal to the medal. I convince myself that I'm doing the right kind of training so long as it's heavy in volume. Big miles=big glory. Wait, no, it doesn't. What I now see is an equation I can't figure out (yet). And it goes something like this: X+Y+Z-A=goal achieved. In that equation, I don't know what X, Y or Z is, and I sure as hell don't know what that A is (rest? but how much?).

So in my clueless state, I'm questioning everything, including whether or not I'm consuming enough calories on a daily basis. Maybe I'm not eating enough to support how I'm training. Should I be in minimal shoes, or are Hokas and Salomons the ticket? Is 7.5 hours of sleep every night enough? Should I take one tablespoon or two tablespoons of Udo's Oil? Is a day of rest every week a requirement?

Beyond that, I'm struggling to find my new "sweet spot." What's the maximum amount of miles I can run while still improving? Is it 65 a week? 70 a week? More? Less? What about intensity? For races like Leadville, what's going to get me into the finish in under 20 hours: Track intervals? Hill repeats? Tempo running? Jump roping? Mountains? All of the above? None of the above? Ah, the 800-pound gorilla question: Am I even capable of doing Leadville in under 20 hours, especially as I live in Parker and can get to the mountains only 1-2 times a week because of family and job stuff? What about long runs? What's better for ME: back to back 20s? Or 30 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday? And here's a big question I'm dealing with: What about walking as part of my training? Since to break 20 hours at Leadville I have to average 5 miles per hour (not easy, believe me), should I also be focusing on walking? Is walking just as valuable as running, or is it just a big waste of time? Another 800-pound gorilla question: Why does sub-20 at Leadville even matter?

I'll do what it takes, but what does it take? Yeah, we're back to that mysterious equation. Hopefully I'll find the answers. This week I've incorporated some new practices. On Sunday, the day after the 50K, I rested. I walked hard and on the trail for 4 miles on Monday and then that night walked 2 miles on neighborhood streets. Then on Tuesday morning I ran nearly 9 miles and that evening walked for 3 miles hard and on the trail. This morning I did hill repeats on the road, and tonight I'm going to get back out and walk hard and on the trail. This weekend I'm going to hit the Incline and Barr Trail.

I'm taking it day by day, not sure of what will work but open to the fact that I have to try new things to see if they do work.

Because this I know: I can't keep doing what I've been doing--since it ain't working.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with Tim Long, a.k.a. Footfeathers

He's known as "Footfeathers." Tim Long has been involved with endurance sports for 24 years, beginning with competitive road cycling.

Photo: Tim Stahler

Tim began running in 2002 and entered his first ultra in 2007 (Rattlesnake 50K in West Virginia). Since then, he's never looked back. Over the last three years, he’s racked up over 40 ultra races around the country, including several mountainous 100 milers. In 2011 alone, he finished five 100-mile races, including some of the toughest of them all: San Diego, Hardrock, Grand Mesa (which he won), Leadville and Bear. This year, Tim's off to very strong start, winning five races as he prepares for a demanding 2012, including a return to Hardrock and a possible unsupported attempt at the fastest known time on the Tahoe Rim Trail. In just four days, he's toeing the line at the San Diego 100.

Tim's passion for event management and running has driven his involvement as both participant and race director in trail, ultra, and mountain running for the last 10 years. Tim's interest in the sport runs so deep that he has often been teased for being an “encyclopedia of ultrarunning.” His greatest influences in the sport are Karl Meltzer and Dave Mackey.

Tim, 44, was born in Michigan and worked for Buick Motor Company after college--a job that left him feeling empty inside. He eventually stumbled upon the works of Dr. Wayne Dyer, whose books he read during his lunch hour. Dr. Dyer inspired Tim to focus on a passion. That passion would ultimately become endurance sports.

Today, Tim lives in San Francisco, where he and Tim Stahler run Inside Trail, a race management company. He formerally lived in Boulder, Colorado. He's sponsored by La Sportiva, Rudy Project, Hydrapak and Udo's Oil. You can learn more about Tim over at and, but before you click on those links, sit back and enjoy our little conversation.

WH: Tim, thanks for agreeing to this interview. You had a heck of 2011, completing five races of 100 miles, including San Diego, Grand Mesa (which you won), Leadville, Bear, and--the toughest of them all-- Hardrock. Oh, and you also found time for a few quality 50-milers and 50Ks, placing well in all of them. This year you're off to a great start, with five wins under your belt. With a decent amount of racing already in your legs this year, how are you feeling with so many 100s coming up?
TL:  Thanks for thinking of me to do this interview. I'm honored. Last year was more about putting myself through the ringer with a stacked three month period of five 100 milers. I had only run one 100 (Bear) in September of 2010, so it was time to push it to the next level.  2011 was a mixed year with a couple of sharp performances and a lot of slogging through races without much quality. I was pretty dull by the end of the year.

Photo: Brazen Racing Photographer

I made a commitment to myself last fall to improve my climbing ability, so I've focused on it and long, fast tempos, which has paid off. I also realized this year that I can push myself harder than I believed possible in the past. This is a breakout year for me (finally). Granted, I'm aware that the wins I've had aren't very competitive races but I'm pleased with my times and the efforts at both Way Too Cool 50k where I was fairly sick all week and Miwok 100k where I ran dead even splits the entire 64 miles. So much of the sport of ultrarunning is mental and the challenge to learn and control your fears and strengths is one of the aspects I love about it.

With all the trail half marathons I've run this year (six), it seems like I've raced a lot but in terms of shear milage, it's only been around 270 miles of racing spread out over 11 races so far.  I'm almost peaking right now and feel set up well for the rest of the year.

WH: Before we go any further...what’s behind your nickname (Footfeathers)?

Footfeathers. A guy I used to race against in trail duathlons (run-mountain bike-run) would kick my butt in the MTB portions and I'd beat him in the runs. After one race he mentioned something like I looked like I was floating over the trail (must have seen me falling) and that it was like I had wings or feathers on my feet. He said a few names and Footfeathers was the one that stuck.

WH: What's your big goal--or goals--this year?

TL:  Well, without going into specifics, San Diego 100 this week is a big race for me.  I ran it poorly last year and feel I have a good shot at improving on that performance.  Hardrock is in my heart and mind constantly.  I owe that event a great race and plan to do everything I can to deliver whatever I can for it.  She tested me to the core last year and I passed, barely.  After that, I'm messing around with the idea of running the Tahoe Rim Trail (165 miles) unsupported FKT in August and some other 100s and shorter distance events.  I'm very focused on Hardrock.

WH: How were you able to stay fresh through all those 100s last year? It's not like you just went out there and stayed ahead of the cutoffs, or did “easy” courses. No, you raced some of the toughest 100s on the planet. What I'm most thinking about was that 44-hour Hardrock--a difficult race for you, as you wrote in your blog--but you were able to follow up it with a win at Grand Mesa two weeks later and then a very strong 20:59 at Leadville.

TL:  I wouldn't say I was able to stay fresh. I felt very dull and, ironically, out of shape by the time Bear 100 rolled around in September. Hardrock was far and away the most difficult thing I've ever done, physically, in my life so far. I had a bit of a coughing fit when I semi-choked on something I was eating while descending into Telluride at mile 72. I was “only” about 24 hours into the race, so still on pace for a decent 33-34 hour finish. After that, I started having trouble breathing. I think my throat swelled a bit from the choking and that, compounded with a little high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), made it very difficult to breathe. I was literally suffocating and couldn't go more than ten steps at a time before I'd start to black out from lack of oxygen. The last 28 miles took me (and my amazing pacer, Jon Teisher) nearly 20 hours to finish. I'm not sure why I kept going. I tend to go into races knowing I'll finish; you need that attitude to get into 100s. At Hardrock you have to purchase your finisher buckle separately (it's not part of the registration fee). I haven't told anyone other than my pacer but I bought the buckle BEFORE the race. The thought of seeing that buckle after not finishing was crushing. There were two distinct times when I was certain (and almost hoping) I would die. I was mentally shaken for weeks after that experience.  That race put many things into perspective for me. (Note to reader: click here for a post Tim wrote on his Hardrock follow-up thoughts).

The funny thing is that since I went so slowly at Hardrock, it didn't take much out of my body and I rebounded quickly for a couple of stronger 100s at Grand Mesa and Leadville after that.  I've always been able to recover quickly from races, for which I'm thankful because I love to race.

WH: Unless I’m mistaken, Karl Meltzer, the King of Hardrock and Wasatch Speedgoat, was your coach last year. What did Karl bring to the table as you prepared for and executed what was, without question, a very impressive year?

TL: Though Karl isn't my official coach, I consider him my mentor. I admire him tremendously and have learned a great deal from him, both through his instruction and my observation. He doesn't necessarily teach me how to train but how to race 100s. I guess you could say he “soft coaches” me when I need it.
WH: You said you are “very focused on Hardrock”? Are you going to do anything differently for this year’s race, or just “go with it”?

TL:  Yeah, you could say that.  I didn't get into the race until about 36 hours before the start last year, so I wasn't certain I was even running it until just before the start.  I didn't do any training specific to prepare for it.  This year is much different.  I've been focused on Hardrock and training with it in mind.  It will be different this year.

I tend to appear to take things regarding racing (and life in general) lightly sometimes but there's always a purpose to every day.

WH: You mentioned going for the fastest known time on the Tahoe Rim Trail. What’s the record and what kind of strategy will you use for supporting yourself if you do, indeed, go for it?

TL:  The current record is 63:54.  With it being unsupported, I have to carry everything I'll need right from the start and obtain water from natural sources along the way.  I'll be asking several questions from guys with experience.  I'm good on little sleep and can hold a decent pace for long periods.  I think sub 56 hours is a reasonable goal.

WH: Let’s talk about Inside Trail. You co-founded Inside Trail as a kind of ultrarunning news website but now it’s so much more. You and Tim (Stahler) put on a fair number of IT races in California (hope to make it to one in 2013), have a racing team and even sell branded gear. Kind of like Bryon over at, it seems like you’ve gone head-first into trying to make a living in this sport, which is ballsy and inspiring to say the least. How are things at Inside Trail going and what does IT’s future look like?

Photo: Brazen Racing Photographer

TL:  Yeah, Matt Copeland and I started Inside Trail last year providing new commentary on the sport of trail and ultrarunning.  We felt that there were many angles not being covered and were both interested in exploring them.  Matt is an exceptional writer and has tremendous insight.  He's still by far my favorite person to dissect the racing scene with and we talk often.  We peeled away from that venture to take care of our own personal life responsibilities and Inside Trail and its readers suffered (I did too!). 

Then, in November of 2011 I was hired to direct the races for PCTR.  That didn't really take off in a positive direction at all, so Tim Stahler and I formed Inside Trail Racing.  We are putting on approximately 24 events this year.  The events vary in distances and location but most offer four distances from 10k, Half Marathon, 30k, 50k to 50 miles.  Check out our full calendar at We've put on nine events so far since January and things are progressing well. We've established some solid partnerships with major companies and individuals, including La Sportiva (best shoes on the planet) and Julie Fingar, who organizes and directs several races, like Way Too Cool, American River, and others. We custom design every course to showcase the beautiful trails along the California coast and inland.

WH: Tell me about your training. How many miles a week do you run? Or do you focus mostly on time on your feet? How about quality—I know you race a lot, but do you also do tempo runs, intervals, etc.? Also, I once read on your blog that you do a lot of hiking to prepare for 100s. Seeing you at Leadville last year, it was obvious you’re a very strong hiker, which will obviously come in handy at Hardrock. How much of your training is spent hiking?

TL:  Lots to answer in that question! My training is very organic. I've found that strict plans don't work well for me and, like in a race, I tend to take advantage when I feel good and back off a little when I don't feel up to hard training. A typical week is roughly 60-70 miles. All but maybe one or two runs per week are quite hilly and I focus one day on a hill or stair workout. I focus another day on a long tempo, which can be anywhere from 8-22 miles. The rest of the runs are merely maintenance runs of 60-70 minutes in the low 7 min/mile pace effort. I use a lot of races for training. Many people feel racing too much is not good for reaching your goals at key events. I feel the opposite. Practice racing and you get better at it. Through doing it so much, I rarely even get the least bit nervous for races anymore, which allows me to focus on the race more.

Hiking fast is important. I regularly can either keep up or pass people who choose to run steep climbs and I'll just be walking. I work on the technique a lot. I practice shifting between running and walking. The goal is simply to find the highest even effort I can maintain while climbing without going anaerobic. Over the course of a 5 minute climb I may shift between running and fast walking 20 times. It just depends on the hill.

WH: Where does nutrition fit into your training and racing?

TL:  I have some diet staples but I also allow myself to enjoy whatever I feel like eating. I have no problem eating a bacon cheese burger and onion rings if my training justifies it. It's not that often. A couple things that I eat EVERY day are my breakfast of salmon, cottage cheese, avocado, and two tablespoons of Udo's Oil mixed together, and I eat a lot of Clif bars, mostly the protein ones. The rest of the meals are things like big salads, chicken breast, veggies, and beer.

WH: OK, I can't resist asking this. Do you have a favorite beer?

TL: Lagunitas IPA, Dale's Pale Ale and Coors Lite (yikes).

WH: Yeah, I recently discovered Dale's and it's great! OK, back to running stuff. In your view, what is the #1 mistake most ultrarunners make in their training and racing?

TL:  Mental weaknesses. A lot of my coaching revolves around the mental aspect of racing and running long. I see people with pre-conceived notions of their current abilities, weaknesses, strengths, goals and a lot of the time these notions don't match reality. This goes both ways. Some people want to achieve too much too soon. They read about people sprinting up Mt. Fuji or knocking out 14 hour 100 milers and think they're ready to take on a 100 miles after only running one 50k just under the cutoff. Other people don't recognize their own strengths and hold themselves back either in the events they choose to run or in races themselves. It kills me to have one of my athletes finish a race and tell me they felt great at the finish and feel fine the next day, especially when they missed their goal(s) in that race. It tells me they held back too much. I'm big on even effort and not going out too fast but you need to have the mental toughness to push your effort to the tipping point and hold it there. 

Other, more pragmatic mistakes I see are fueling and the hydration/electrolyte balance, people not recognizing problems early enough in races, e.g. hot spots leading to blisters, cramping, stomach upset, chafing, and dehydration. By the time they try to address the issue, it's either too late or will take 3x longer to fix now that they waited.

WH: I recently saw that you’re opening up some additional slots for your coaching service. If folks are interested in your coaching, how can they contact you?

TL:  Yep, I've been coaching people since 2003. I never really promoted it but I've had a steady stream of athletes for nine years and recently decided to devote much more time to it, so I opened up twelve slots for new athletes and have filled six of them over the last 24 hours. I've worked with high school cross country runners and veteran ultrarunners, all abilities. I make people not only physically prepared to run and race well but build the mental capacity to work with the physical. It's been a successful program that I customize for each individual athlete and it morphs over time as the athlete improves. I can be contacted at tim at footfeathers dot com or just friend me on Facebook and reach me there.

WH: Tim, thanks so much for your time. Like a lot of ultrarunners out there, I really admire how you live this great sport, both in your running and in your work at Inside Trail. Is there anything you’d like to add for our readers, such as a friendly insult lobbed at BrownieJ?

TL:  Thanks much, Wyatt. I love the sport and the people I've met through it, like you. The only insulting I'll do to Brownie is at Hardrock next month (if he happens to beat me, you have to promise to go back and edit this comment after the race!). Thanks again.

Note to read: Tim finished 3rd overall with a 19:01 at the San Diego 100. Go to for his race report.

Click here to read more interviews with interesting ultrarunners like Karl Meltzer, Geoff Roes, Mike Morton, Phil McCarthy and Nick Clark.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Week Ending 6/3 (Golden Gate Dirty Thirty)

Monday: mountains
AM: 7.45 miles in 2:06 at Mount Bierstadt, a 14,060-foot peak outside of Denver. Very cold and windy. Had a great time with Bob and Scott. A few snow fields here and there but nothing bad. Pretty strong on my descent (wore my Salomon Crossmaxes), though my quads did tire just a little about halfway down. Awesome adventure and the views from the top were spectacular. 2742'.

Tuesday: easy
AM: 7.8 miles in 1:02 on the local trails. Legs a little tired.

Wednesday: easy
AM: 7.1 miles in 55 minutes on the local trails. Legs still tired.

Thursday: easy
AM: 7 miles in 55 minutes. Legs a little better, but still not 100%.

Friday: very easy
AM: 4.85 miles in 40 minutes on the local trails. Legs much better.

Saturday: Golden Gate Dirty Thirty
What else to say except this was an off day for me, even as my intent was to cover the 31 miles as a training run and not a race. I finished 34th overall with a 6:06. Not good; I really wanted a time under 6 hours (by comparison, the winning time was 4:47). This course is no joke; you're at over 9,000 feet for much of the way and are constantly climbing or descending, often on rocky trail. The total climb is about 7,000 feet--not exactly a walk in the park.

From the moment the gun went off my mind just wasn't into it; I actually wanted to DNF when I got to the first aid station, having taken a nasty fall that took a chunk out of my left palm, but I stuck it out in the name of finishing what I start. My legs were tired and flat and lacked speed. I didn't feel motivated to attack any of the climbs or bomb any of the descents. Descents were a major problem for me--not because of skill, but rather because my Hoka Stinson Evos just didn't work well for me on rocky downs (good to find that out now versus at the Leadville 100). They're too high profile for a tall dude like me (6'2") and I found that my ankles were very unstable on the downs, causing me to hit the breaks and run the descents like an amateur. Yeah, I was really missing my Salomon Crossmaxes, which I wore at the Cheyenne Mountain 50K, where I ran the downs very, very well and finished 5th overall with a time I was/still am proud of. You live and learn.

On the good side, I finished pretty strong and never felt really that tired, though the altitude did get to me in a few areas, like the climb up to Windy Peak. More thoughts below.

Sunday: off
Took the day off completely. The most I did was walk to and from the pool with my family and wash both of the cars.

Totals for the week:
  • 65.1 miles
  • 11 hours, 45 minutes
  • 11,500 feet of vertical
  • Average pace: 10:50
  • 7 total runs
  • Lots of core work, push-ups and upper body weight training
Totals for the year:
  • 1,460.7 miles run
  • 118 miles biked
  • 6.55 miles walked

The Golden Gate Dirty Thirty left a bad taste in my mouth. It was a mistake to even enter that race. The course is hard enough to totally kick your ass if you're not feeling into it. I entered via the waiting list four days before the race, which means I had no time to mentally prepare. I more or less just showed up with tired legs and struggled mentally and physically for the entire 31 miles. Not very often are the letters D-N-F floating around in my mind five miles into a race, but on Saturday they were. Two-thirds of the way through I was dehydrated, unmotivated and pissed off, but I put my head down and got through it all, somehow managing to finish strong. Oh well....

Taking Sunday off was a good decision. I didn't miss running and instead had a great time hanging out with my family and doing stuff I rarely have time to do, like wash our cars and sit on the front porch with Anne sipping lemonade. We also went to our neighborhood pool and had a nice time together.

For whatever reason, my ability to recovery after workouts has diminished. I saw this with my bad tempo run last Thursday. I saw this in my tired legs after the Bierstadt summit on Monday. And, of course, I saw this at Saturday's (shitty) 50K. Bierstadt should never have done to my legs what it did--it's just 7.5 miles and 2,700 feet of climbing. So what does this tell me? It tells me that I'm flirting with over-training, which is why I took Sunday off completely and will kind of go easy this week with more emphasis on cross training over the next few days (cycling and walking) to get myself back in good shape and ready for the next nine weeks of training.

As for my Hoka Stinson Evos, they're great on smooth trail. But when I'm descending rocky trails, like what you have at the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty, they're freaking awful (for me, at least). I've now had two bad rocky trail experiences with Hokas. Never again will I wear them at a hardcore trail race. Do I still love Hokas? Yes, they're great on smooth trail and road. But for me they suck on technical downs. With my height, I need low-profile shoes for technical descents. Period.

Now, I'll quit my bitching and move on, with my goal still being to crush it at the Leadville 100. It's good I had this opportunity to vent. Thanks for "listening," and please feel free to offer feedback if you'd like.