Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MAF Test Results

This morning, I went to Legend High School in Parker, which is about a mile from my house, to run a MAF test. The track is at 6,200 feet--not exactly sea level. I wanted to get a precise handle on my aerobic fitness going into Leadville, because aerobic fitness is hugely important in ultras. First, the conditions:
  • Temperature ranged from 68-72 degrees
  • Abundant sunshine, making it fairly warm
  • Breeze from the east, making me work a tad harder when running against it
My MAF zone is 136-146 beats per minute per the 180 Formula (I just turned 40 but this year I'm sticking to 136-146 and will go down to 135-145 per my age on 1/1/2014). In MAF tests, you run 4-5 miles (ideally on the same course so you can measure your progress) at your top MAF number. So, for me, that means I needed to run 4-5 miles at 146 beats per minute--the top end of my aerobic zone. Just to make things interesting, I decided to tack on an extra mile and make it six miles at MAF.
After an 11-minute warm-up via a jog from my house to the track, I got right into my MAF test. My splits were:
  • Mile 1: 6:22
  • Mile 2: 6:34
  • Mile 3: 6:36
  • Mile 4: 6:41
  • Mile 5: 6:45
  • Mile 6: 6:48
The 12-second difference between miles one and two probably indicates that I didn't allow myself enough of a warm-up. There shouldn't be that much drop off after mile one. Lesson learned. Next time I'll warm up for about three miles. Anyway, all of that comes out to an average MAF mile of 6:37. My effort level was fairly low, especially in terms of breathing (as it should have been). I then did a 26-minute cool-down, feeling good the whole way back home.
I'm fairly pleased with the results of today's MAF test.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leadville Taper is On

With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run just 20 days away, my taper is now on. This morning's 21+ miles put a wrap on another solid week: 103.5 miles, 16 hours and 15,300 feet of vertical. While my mileage in the Leadville run-up hasn't really been that much higher than previous years, my vertical and time on my feet are way up. In fact, I'm putting in, on a week basis, about three times the vertical I put in going into my previous three Leadville 100s. That includes 2011, when I finished in 22:35.

All in all, I feel like I've done the necessary work to give Leadville my best. Having the entire summer off from work (even if it wasn't on my own terms), I took full advantage of the time and trained harder than I've trained probably ever. I hit the trails pretty much every day and, in the process, I asked a lot of my body and mind. Honestly, I feel like there were times when I played with fire, as I didn't really allow for much recovery, but every day my body kept delivering for me--and I think that's because I laid down a super-solid base earlier this year (more on that below). Here's to hoping I remain injury-free going into the race. During taper time, aches and pains have a way of creeping up on you.....

In looking at 2013, my plan through April was to build a solid aerobic base by adhering to the Maffetone Method while also weight training (disclaimer: weight training technically violates MAF, but I felt it was critical to improve muscular strength in my legs and hips). Coming off a Boston-qualifier time at the Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon in January, clearly I was building on what was already a decent base, but I felt I was aerobically weak relative to where I needed/wanted to be. I believed my aerobic weakness, which was compounded by the effects of living at 6,200 feet, was at the heart of my many injuries and declining performance over the past three years.

That's where MAF came into play. For four months, I ran 70 miles a week at my MAF pace and I never, ever strayed from my target heart rate zone. It was an enjoyable process, actually, and it helped me develop a good aerobic base and better fat-burning capacity during running. I routinely run for three hours on hilly trails without needing a single calorie. That's because my body has learned to better-utilize fat as energy. Even the leanest athletes have plenty of fat to burn. These days, we're told (by companies wanting to make a buck) we need X number of calories every hour to keep going. While calories are necessary during long races--as well as faster races like marathons--they're not always necessary during training. One benefit of being a better fat burner: I've lost about 7 pounds and am down to a lean 159-161 pounds. I'm sure I'll put on a few pounds during my taper, and that's okay.

My performance at the Cheyenne Mountain 50K in late April, while respectable, wasn't quite where I wanted it to be, and I think that's because I was a bit weak in terms of anaerobic strength (a side effect of MAF). That started to change in May. With the loss of my job (FYI, I just landed a new gig and will start in early August!), I quickly shifted gears to trail running, with a particular emphasis on hilly, mountainous terrain that gave me plenty of opportunity for strength-building. And so I've made daily trips to the trails and, for the first time since moving to Colorado, learned to run up and back down mountains. Deer Creek Canyon and Mount Falcon have been go-to places for my training, though I've ventured to many others places, too, like Grays and Torreys peaks, Hope Pass, Bergen Peak, the Barr Trail, etc. My time at the Leadville Trail Marathon in late June signaled that my efforts were paying off.

When I look at the numbers behind the work I've put in this summer, I'm really happy with what I see.

339 miles
51 hours
45,000 feet of vertical

373.2 miles
59 hours
61,000 feet of vertical

July (through 7/28)
371.4 miles (will probably get to 400 miles in July)
59 hours
57,000 feet of vertical

As far as the taper, I'll probably cut my mileage by 30 percent next week, and then another 30 percent the week after, and then just do very light running along with some short striders the week of the race. I'm going to continue to hit some vertical and I'm going to get as high up as possible, but on a reduced basis, and also work in some short, fast stuff to keep my legs feeling strong and lively.

If there's one area I've neglected, it's been faster stuff. I have gone on some tempo runs (and can run within my MAF zone at 6:15-6:30 6:30-6:40/mile for 6-8 miles), but all along I've felt the priority had to be volume and vertical. In 100-milers, the guys and gals who do best are the ones who slow down the least in the last 25 miles of the race. I feel that what I've done this summer positions me for a strong finish at Leadville. I know what it means to finish a 100 strong. I've done it before, but not for a few years.

I'm not really thinking (yet) about my race-day approach and all the details, mostly because I'm still processing what I've done over the past three months and what it really means. I feel like I'm in a great place mentally, spiritually and physically. I've really enjoyed the journey and I've had fun every day, but I need to figure out what it means to my Leadville readiness. What I can say is that it's been fun and fulfilling. That said, I do have a few loose race-day goals I'll keep in mind once the gun goes off. I'd like to get into Winfield, the halfway point, within 9 hours--but only if that pace feels good to me. I'm not going to force any pace. If I can get into Winfield in 8:45 or 8:50, feeling good, then I'll be positioned for a time under 20 hours. But the real work doesn't begin until the second half, particularly after Twin Lakes on the return trip. That's where the race really begins.

Congratulations to all Leadville 100 entrants who have put in the hard work this summer and are now tapering. The taper isn't always easy to handle, but in my case I've put in some good work and can now rest up and get ready.

Monday, July 22, 2013

One More Week of Leadville Training and Then the Taper Begins

First things first: I have a job! I'll be starting in early August. To say I'm excited would be an understatement. This is a great job and the work will be rewarding. It's been tough being out of work this summer, but I've tried to make lemonade out of lemons and spend more time with my family, (re)evaluate my career goals, and get in awesome shape for the Leadville 100.


It’s hard to believe, but I have one more week of Leadville 100 training and then the taper begins. I’ve fallen behind in regularly updating this blog…mostly because I’ve been focusing on getting ready for the big race. The week of July 8-14, I nailed 101 miles, 15.5 hours and 16,000 feet of vertical. That was my first 100-mile week in a few years (though I’ve had a few 100-mile seven-day stretches). The week that just ended saw 85 miles, 14.5 hours and 15,000 feet of vertical--a bit low but I had my reasons (more on that below). On Tuesday, I set a new PR at the Manitou Incline with a 26:04, and then ran up to Barr Camp and back down into town, gaining 4,200 feet. On Friday, I ventured to Grays and Torreys peaks, two notable 14’ers that aren't far from Denver and sit along the Continental Divide, and bagged both mountains in about 2.5 hours, logging just shy of 4,000 feet of vertical and battling through what was clearly an off day for me. Grays and Torreys sit right next to each other, with a runnable saddle connecting the two. The trails on Grays and Torreys are extremely technical.

View of Grays Peak, elevation 14,267 feet, from Torreys. I'm standing on top of Torreys and had just summited Grays. To get a sense of how big the mountain is and how small we humans are, note the trail to the top and the small specks of black (people) near the snow.
View from Grays Peak.
Spectacular view from Torreys Peak.

Unfortunately, on my way down from Torreys, I experienced some stomach issues stemming from a virus I “caught” from my son. This bug has been kicking my butt over the past few days. On my run at Deer Creek Canyon yesterday, I really struggled and didn't have a lot of energy or strength. Today, I’m taking it easy and may not run at all. I plan to be back in action tomorrow and will have the pedal to the medal through Sunday as I put in one final big week.
This week, I’m going to try to get up to Leadville and do the Hope Pass double crossing once again. It all depends on how I’m feeling from this bug. If I’m still feeling compromised but can run, I may instead do Twin Lakes to Pipeline and back--a fairly "easy" run. We’ll see. I’m planning to attend Brandon’s annual night run in a few weeks. That’ll take us from Fish Hatchery to close to the finish—a critical section that most runners complete amid exhaustion in the dark or early morning hours.
In working on my goals for Leadville, it’s apparent to me that I need to be strong on Hope Pass. It’s easy to lose time on Hope, especially the “backside” coming from Winfield. The backside of Hope is steep and has some rocky, technical sections that require careful navigation. It comes down to focusing and refusing to give up. A lot of people get fixated on the front side of Hope, which brings 3,400 feet of climbing, but it’s really not that bad because it’s not that steep or technical. The backside is without question the hardest-core section of the entire Leadville course.
I’m fortunate that I’ll have some great pacers out there. Chuck R., who just recently finished sixth overall at the Leadville Silver Rush 50-mile run, and Scott W., who has completed some 50Ks and 50-milers and is looking to eventually add the Leadville 100 to his list, will be helping me make progress toward my goals. My crew will consist of my mom and dad, Anne and our son, and AJ, who is a Leadville 100 finisher and one of the tougher dudes you'll ever meet (assuming AJ can be there).
As far as nutrition, I’m trying not to overthink that element of the race. All summer I’ve been training with water and the occasional Hammer gel and wearing my Camelback on every single run to get used to it. Unless I’m going over 2.5 hours, I mostly rely on just water. I know on raceday I’ll need more than just water. I’m planning to carry water in my Camelback, take gels on a regular basis, and properly refuel at the aid stations with whatever looks good. I may carry a bottle or two of Perpetuem (which my crew will have) or Coca-Cola. The larger point is that I’m not going to overthink nutrition and logistics; I'm just going to run and enjoy the experience.  The good news is that all summer I’ve responded well to altitude (versus last summer when altitude runs made me sick), and so I’m hopeful I can execute a good nutrition plan on race day.

My weight is holding steady at 159-161 pounds (which is 6-7 pounds below my usual race weight), even as I'm eating like a horse and enjoying a good beer every single day. I also just went over 200,000 feet of vertical for the year, which is insanely high compared to previous years. I may go over 300K this year. As far as mileage, I'm now over 2,000 for the year--similar to what I did last year at this time--only my total time on my feet is way higher. So, in a nutshell, I'm running good mileage, putting in excellent time on my feet and climbing a ton.


I don't care who you are; it doesn't get any better than Bob Seger! The man is as authentic and American as they come. No one has been able to replicate his sound
'cause they know it's untouchably unique. This has been my theme song for my Leadville 100 training this year.

Keep rocking!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ankle Update, Leadville and Elevation Trail

My ankle is improving by the day, though it's still maybe 60 percent. Last week, I kind of took my foot off the gas pedal but still got in 83 miles, 12.5 hours and 11,000 feet of vertical--not bad. This week, the foot is back on the accelerator as I gun for 100 miles and 17,000 feet of climbing. It's hard to believe that the Leadville 100 is now a little over five weeks away. What's even harder to believe is that this will be my fourth Leadville 100. There's no doubt that I'm in far better shape than I have been in at least four years.

Overall, I feel good. I'm noticing a bit more tiredness but nothing that concerns me. This is what you should expect this late in your training. I have two more weeks, after this one, and then the taper begins in earnest. Interestingly, I have jury duty next week (they must have heard I'm out of work and have the time?). Who knows what that will bring. Knowing my luck, it'll be a murder trial and I'll be sequestered through Leadville.

Anyway, my recent performance at the Leadville Trail Marathon has given me some good confidence. Had I not messed up my ankle with 3 miles to go, I know my time would have been 4:15 or 4:16, but I'll take my 4:19 and be happy with it. The best part of it is that the race didn't seem to take a toll at all on me, except for my ankle. I had zero soreness afterward and I was 100% honest when I said I could have done it again. That's a sign of being in shape. It seems to indicate that I'm in potentially sub-20-hour Leadville shape. For that to happen, I have to kill it on Hope Pass. There are no two ways about that.


Training for 2-2.5 hours a day, I sometimes turn to my iPod for entertainment. Though I love to run mountain trails while listening to music (AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Seger, etc.), I often find myself downloading the latest and greatest podcasts, which help keep me abreast of what's happening in the endurance and ultrarunning worlds. While many of you are quite familiar with Endurance Planet (namely "Ask the Ultrarunner" with Lucho), Ultrarunnerpodcast.com, and of course Talk Ultra, you may not know about a new podcast called Elevation Trail. It's produced by Footfeathers (also known as Tim Long), who is entered in this year's Leadman competition.

In a recent Elevation Trail podcast, Footfeathers and his sidekick, sociology professor Gary David, discuss concepts of freedom in trail and ultra running. As we all know, ultrarunning is changing. What used to be an outlaw sport that operated underground and far from "civilization" is now becoming more known, recognized and approachable. Even since my entry into the sport in 2005, there have been many, many huge changes.

One of the things I most like about Elevation Trail is that Footfeathers and Gary dive deeply into issues and sometime meander into other sports, like pro cycling and mountain biking, in order to better understand the topic at hand. Footfeathers' dry humor and experience in endurance sports add a lot to the show. As for Gary, I say this as a compliment: listening to Gary makes me feel like I'm using my brain in ways I haven't used it since graduate school (which is kind of pathetic, when you think about it). Gary is clearly an academic thinker, but he's also an ultrarunner, which makes his thought processes interesting. Gary reminds me of a few grad school professors who I'd hang out with in Hillborough Street saloons, like Mitch's Tavern, drinking pitchers of Bass Ale while discussing history and how the sixties turned everything we thought we knew on its head.

But I digress. In their podcast about freedom and ultrarunning, Gary and Footfeathers take on some big issues. Is the sport's freedom being sacrificed at the alter of corporate sponsorships, rules, explosive growth and other factors?  Check it out for yourself. And you can download other Elevation Trail podcasts (for free, of course) on iTunes.