Thursday, May 11, 2017

Want to Get In Shape as a Runner? Here's Step 1.

One of the athletes I'm coaching has experienced a full 4-minute drop in his average Maffetone Test pace since February. What's Maffetone? Keep reading!

Yiannis Kouros said that, "you must be patient and then do
solid training. Without patience (read: aerobic base building),
you will never conquer endurance."
He went into his training for the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run having not trained consistently but having tried his hand at the 50K distance, where it took him 7+ hours to finish. When he came to me for coaching services back in January, I asked him a bunch of questions and out of that experience came the realization that this was an athlete who had the desire but required at least 3-4 months of nothing but aerobic base training. So we created a program that revolved around the Maffetone Method. For him, based on his age, this meant all runs were in the 145-155 beats-per-minute range (never going over!), as I'd determined exclusive aerobic training was a fundamental area of need early in his development.

Essentially, the Maffetone Method is a personalized program, using the 180 Formula, for developing a solid aerobic base and optimizing the athlete's health and well-being. It's what made Mark Allen into...Mark Allen the Ironman legend. But I believe the Maffetone Method, while brilliant, will get an athlete training for a mountain race only so far. So my approach is to then build on the aerobic base, after it's been carefully developed over the course of months of consistent running, with some specific types of workouts that achieve specific things. For this runner, because he's training for the Leadville 100, we started to gradually introduce fartleks, intervals and then hill repeats and 20-25-minute tempo running, in addition to long runs on trails and roads, after he'd put in 3+ solid months of MAF. He was ready for this.

What is so great about this athlete's progress isn't just the steady improvement in his MAF Test results. To be sure, that's very exciting! But what's so gratifying at this stage is the fact that he's steadily increased his weekly mileage (now at 55 per week) and increased his long runs, while also gradually implementing quality workouts and staying healthy, injury-free and mentally engaged. He is now ready for the peak period of his Leadville training. And I think this all goes back to the aerobic base he built for those first three months. Without a solid aerobic base, an endurance athlete has built his or her castle on sand and not rock. If the former, the castle will crumble come race day (if not sooner). If the latter, the athlete will have what it takes to cover the distance--he has the requisite aerobic engine to more than cover the distance.

What's next for this athlete? The buildup for Leadville will continue with increasingly longer runs, many of which will be on mountainous trails, tempo runs to countinue building strength, hill repeats to continually develop speed and efficiency, and nothing but MAF pace on easy days.

If you, too, are an athlete looking to get in shape and maybe try your hand at the marathon or even ultramarathon distance, consider the Maffetone Method! It works!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Being "All In"

Last night I showed the short video below--already a classic in the growing collection of ultrarunning documentaries--to my almost 9-year-old son. At varying times, he and I have talked about what it means to be "all in"--totally dedicated to the moment at hand, doing it right every step of the way, and stopping at nothing to get the goal achieved. In this video, "Miller vs. Hawks," with The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler in San Francisco as the backdrop, we see two athletes who are "all in."

But the athlete who most strikes me is Zack Miller, winning the hilly race despite a ferocious challenge from the young Hawks. You can see Miller's "all in" dedication throughout (and Hawks' too) but especially in the end as he is looking to put time on Hawks, who is trailing in second only a minute or two behind. Miller's breathing in the last 3+ miles says it all. Miller's raw talent is exceeded only by his heart--he runs with the heart of a lion.

Also striking is the sportsmanship between Miller and Hawks. Miller, after celebrating his win, waits for Hawks to finish and then helps the exhausted Hawks to the ground, even assisting him in stretching out his legs. The two congratulate each other after a hard-fought race. These two guys are champions.

At a time when there are a dwindling number of athletes to look up to, I was proud to show this video to my son and point to how these two athletes ran the race so hard and showed what it means to be "all in."

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Spirit of Ultramarathoning

Yesterday I got this e-mail (which I slightly edited for better clarity) from a reader. I've responded below.

Dear Wyatt:

I really enjoyed your last post, especially the thoughts on Anton Krupicka. It got me to thinking about what my running friends and I call "the spirit of ultramarathoning." We're so wrapped up in the elites and what they're doing that we forget what the sport is all about, and that's the folks out there doing it because they love it no matter where they finish--back of the pack, middle of the pack or barely making the cutoffs.

Thanks,
Joey

Joey:

Tim Twietmeyer won Western States 5
times while holding down a full-time
gig at HP. Source: here.
Thanks for your e-mail. I couldn't agree more. While it's exciting to watch the elites and see and read about their amazing feats (like what Jim Walmsley was on the cusp of doing at Western States last year, before missing a turn--unreal), I agree that the spirit of ultrarunning is on full display in ordinary people out there running crazy distances and finishing races because it's what they love to do.

I saw this firsthand at the Greenland Trail 50K last year, when I was manning an aid station. I felt such love for the trail and the community from everyone who came through my aid station, especially the back-of-the-packers who were so easy-going and just happy to be out there despite the fact that we were experiencing a full-on blizzard. And I felt it at Western States last year when I saw a second sunrise while still on the course (it was a tough day-plus for me).

There was a time in my ultrarunning life when I was driven to win, podium or, at the least, finish top-5. When I stood at the starting line, that was what was going through my head. I didn't always have fun in these kinds of races--a lot of times I felt pressure that, looking back on it, I put on myself. It is amazing I didn't burn out, and I think the reason I never burned out was that beneath it all was a love of simply running in nature.

Now that I'm a bit older (and slower), I look at why I'm still doing ultras and it's because--probably like you and thousands of others--I love to run and I love the community. People like us have demanding jobs, families, lawns to mow and unending competing priorities, and yet we make the sacrifices to train for and finish ultras...because we love it and it's who we are deep down. And, honestly, that's how it was back in the day even with the elites. The guys and gals who were dominating in the 80s and 90s often had full-time jobs and families. Paid sponsorships? Pfft. They were punching the proverbial clock like the rest of us.

Which is to say being an ultrarunner has been, and probably always will be, about making sacrifices out of love for the sport that most people wouldn't make--waking up at 4am on a Saturday or Sunday to go for a long run, training when most people sleep, saying no to that second beer or glass of wine, going to bed at 9pm. No one is paying us to do this. We have no sponsors pressuring us. It's all about love and the community...and sacrifice. So, yes, I agree 100% with you: While I do think the elites embody the spirit of ultrarunning (they, too, love it), I feel that the spirit is truly sustained in ordinary people like us getting out there in nature and putting one foot in front of the other with like-minded folks, whether it's in a training run, at a local fat-ass event, or in an organized race.

Thanks,
Wyatt

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Mountains Are Calling; Thoughts on Anton Krupicka

It has been an up and down spring. Through mid-March, my training was going super well. I had put in a few 20-milers and had started to get to the Foothills trails (which at the time were crazy dry) for some long runs. Speedwork and tempo runs were coming along, too. But then on a 20-mile run up through Waterton Canyon and into Roxborough State Park on Sunday, March 19, it all came apart...my knee, that is. Oddly enough, my knee only hurt a little on the back half of the run but then the next day I was barely able to walk.

Having experienced this injury before (back in 2008), I know exactly what is it: patella femoral pain syndrome, also known as "runner's knee." Although painful and aggravating, it's not a serious injury as it involves no structural damage. It mostly just requires time and patience. And that is what I'm giving it...time, patience and lots of KT Tape, foam rolling and ibuprofen! My knee gives me good days (like yesterday and today) and not so good days (like on my run on Friday in Topeka, Kansas).

The most aggravating aspect of the injury is that it interrupted what was shaping up into a really strong spring buildup...with a Boston bid at the Colfax Marathon in sight. Not sure that's going to happen as I have done no speedwork, no tempos and no 20 milers in the last 6 weeks...meaning my fitness has taken a hit. So, as of now, Colfax is a question-mark.

My main focus is getting my knee back to 100% so I can line up with a reasonable amount of confidence at the Leadville 100 in August. As of now, it is not ready for big descents in the mountains. Far from it. But the good news is that it's getting better and over the past two weeks I have gotten in 126 miles, which isn't great but it's progress toward what I'm hoping will be weeks of 80-90 miles going into my taper. So we'll see how things shape up. I am really hoping my plans for the Leadville Trail Marathon and Chase the Moon 12-Hour, as well as some Fridays I'll be going up high, hold up because they're there to get me ready for the 100 in mid-August. To say the mountains are calling would be an understatement. I am so ready to get up high and do some epic stuff this summer.

***

Life has been so busy. Last week, I spent four days on the road (two in Albuquerque, NM and two in Topeka, KS), leaving me feeling pretty tired (read: exhausted) going into the weekend. The good news is that there is no travel in the immediate future but right now I'm feeling like my life is so dominated by everything not called running. Running is like this little thing in the back of my mind and I have to remind myself that I have this big race in August called the Leadville Trail 100-Mile. I was starting to get into it when my knee blew up but, over the past 6 weeks, I've felt distracted, a bit stressed about the injury and overall insecure. Take away my physical prowess as a runner (leaving me with a bum knee) and I'm left a bit exposed and vulnerable. It's that way with every runner I know--we're an injury away from being a basket case. I have not been a basket case, but I'm not at my best when I have a bad wheel.

Which means I'd better have a good backup plan when I "retire" from this sport due to old age, if ever. It might be then that I take up being a race director, a career aid station volunteer...or something like that. I can't imagine a life not involving ultras. A few weeks ago, I watched the new documentary about Karl Meltzer's record-setting run on the Appalachian Trail and I have to say I was struck by Dave Horton's efforts to keep the Speedgoat going. As I watched the movie, I thought to myself, "Someday I can see myself doing that...being the older, grizzled veteran out there helping the younger guys get it done." Except I'm no Dave Horton. There is only one Dave Horton.

***

There's an article on Trail Flow about ultrarunning in the "post-Krupicka climate" that's got a lot of people talking. The reason is that it's a rather strange article in its nauseating fawning over Anton Krupicka. The author basically says Anton represented the end of an era for mountain trail running and that the sport is now impure, soulless and dominated by fast guys, like Sage Canaday, who aren't "true" mountain runners like Anton was. The author doesn't even know Sage and yet kind of attacks him, saying he has a "stupid haircut" and would rather run intervals than up mountains. Hmmmmmm. As I read the article, it occurred to me that the author is new to the sport (he admits his inspiration came from "Born to Run") and doesn't really know much about its history, let alone the fact that Sage is one of the nicest guys in all of ultra (saw it firsthand at Run Rabbit Run last year).

What I think about Anton doesn't really matter but I have always felt some people don't fully understand the kind of runner he actually was/is. When you look at Anton's best races, most of them were on runnable courses...like Leadville, Miwok, White River, Western States (where he finished a very strong second), Rocky Raccoon, etc. He is indeed great in the mountains--one of the best--and I really hope he finally gets a crack at Hardrock, but Anton is first and foremost an awesome runner. I would not put him in the category of Kilian Jornet, the most dominant mountain runner on planet Earth. Anton in his prime was a great runner who performed brilliantly on very challenging but mostly runnable courses, some of which involved mountainous peaks. But every day he tagged Green Mountain or did some epic run in the Rocky Mountains--all of which he recorded on his well-trafficked, amazing blog (which has since been replaced with a fancier website)--and over time this became how people viewed him...as a mountain running god and living legend. It brought him mythical status and a cult-like following, as exemplified in that aforementioned trashy Trail Flow blog that made many people queasy.

Anton inspired many people, myself included. His prime coincided with a magical era for the sport, and this era was beautifully captured in his blog (Anton's old blog was in a league of its own). I remember in 2010 going up Hope Pass during the Leadville 100 and seeing him come barreling down the mountain in the lead and near course-record pace (alas, he would later crash and burn going up Powerline). It was quite a sight.

I think for working guys, the thought of living in your truck all summer, bathing in mountain rivers and basically bagging peaks all day and everyday--as Anton does/did--has some major appeal, because all of that seems so much better than being a working stiff with a lawn to mow. What this appeal comes down to can be summed up in one word: Freedom. We humans yearn to be free and Anton embodies freedom. He lives by his own rules and basically is a professional runner and peak bagger. This really resonates with guys.

And so a lot of people live(d) vicariously through Anton. Yeah, while Anton is still around, mostly doing non-running stuff like biking, climbing and backcountry skiing--and hopefully plotting a comeback to ultras--the sport is definitely missing him. But life goes on. Just because he isn't racing right now (I think he is young enough to come back very strong and win again, if he can stay healthy) doesn't mean the sport is impure, as the author of that crappy blog suggests.

With that, a final point: In almost all facets of life, there will always be tension between old school and new school. The only constant in life is change. The young and fast guys in ultra--guys like Jim Walmsley--represent a new breed of runner. Doesn't mean they're better (or worse) than the guys before them. It just means they're a different breed of runner in a sport that's always evolving. I am excited to see what these young and fast guys do (so long as they do it the right way), just as the older guys probably said about dudes like Scott Jurek back in the 90s. I for one will be pulling for Sage at Western States this year as I think Sage has struggled in 100s and is due for a big one (he's not quite as young as Walmsley but he's still a kid in my eyes).

I don't ever want to be that guy who trashes and immediately discounts the new it because it's not what it was like "back in the day." Like Dave Horton, I want to be around the sport for years to come, surrounding myself with people of all ages and celebrating what makes ultramarathoning so unique and special: a community of like-minded folks out there putting one foot in front of the other in nature.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Colfax Marathon

After almost 3 years of no road marathons, I have signed up for the Colfax Marathon, which is May 21 here in Denver. The last time I really focused on a road marathon was the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in Phoenix in 2013, though I did run a 3:04 at the Colorado Marathon in 2014 (was not a focused effort). I am excited to lace 'em up and give Colfax a go.

At this point, I have some tiered goals for Colfax, each of which gets me to the BIG goal, which is to qualify for Boston in 2018. I am not 100% certain I will go back to Boston (last did it in 2007), as I really enjoy skiing and not training hard over the winter, but it will be nice to have the option. So, the tiered goals are:

1) 3:10 or better - would mean I beat my BQ by 5 minutes, virtually guaranteeing me a spot in Beantown next year.

2) 3:05 or better - this has been my typical road marathon time over the past few years.

3) Sub-3 - the last time I ran a sub-3 was 2009!

Between now and then, I will be focusing on mile repeats and increasingly long tempo runs. Game on!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How I'm Going to Be Ready for Leadville

My race schedule for 2017 is firming up quite nicely. Going into 2017, I kind of wanted to run a road marathon and go for a Boston Marathon qualifier time but I didn't know how that might fit into the mix, or if I was willing to put in that kind of training. But over the past few weeks, I have been doing some quality workouts, like track intervals and tempo runs, and I plan to keep it up as it seems to be improving my turnover. I've also gotten in a few 20-milers and plan on another one tomorrow. My weekly mileage is between 60-65 right now...a nice early season base. As this process has unfolded, the road marathon has entered my mind. I do want to go back to Boston.

Top-end speed has always been an asset of mine as a long-distance runner. I can think back to several races where I was in a sprint finish against another surging runner and managed to cross first (my banner photo captures one of those moments). And yet, over the past few years, I have definitely felt it slipping due to aging. And not just top-end speed. I am losing speed all the way around. Use it or lose it. So I am working hard right now to get some speed back.

I still have a long way to go before I consider myself ready for a Boston qualifier effort on the road but things are coming together and I am eyeing the Colfax Marathon on May 21. I would be thrilled to cross the finish line in under 3 hours and 5 minutes.


People say to me often, "a marathon must be easy for you!" My response has always been that if all I had to do was run 26.2 miles at a slow pace, then, yes, it wouldn't be that hard for me or nearly any ultrarunner. But to "race" that distance in pursuit of a goal time...super hard. When you are racing 26.2 miles on the road, every second counts. It hurts and the pressure is on. I kind of like that!

When I was on a nice run in 2008-2009, breaking 3 hours in three consecutive marathons, the effort I put into those races was significant but, being in my mid-30s at the time, I recovered pretty quickly and moved on to the next thing. When I look at 2009, for example, I am shocked by what I was able to do within my own abilities. Now that I'm 43 years-old, I am well-aware that, after a potential BQ attempt at Colfax this spring, I will need some recovery. That's what First Endurance Ultragen is for! But the recovery window will need to be limited because Leadville is on the horizon.......

From Colfax (haven't yet pulled the trigger on it, but it's likely), it's going to be the Leadville Trail Marathon on June 17, the Chase the Moon 12-Hour on July 7-8, and then the big one...the Leadville Trail 100-Mile. I will use the Leadville Trail Marathon as a long training run up high. It will not be a race effort. Same with Chase the Moon, where the goal will be 50 "easy" miles in 12 hours, which I feel is quite doable. I had considered making the Silver Rush 50-Mile Run up in Leadville my 50-mile training effort going into the 100-miler but I feel that Silver Rush might put me in a recovery hole given that it's 50 miles above 10,000 feet in the mountains. Chase the Moon, which is hilly but not mountainous, seems a bit "smarter." When I look back on my running "career," all of my best 100s were preceded by 50-mile runs. So I feel strongly that I need a 50-mile effort and Chase the Moon fit the bill perfectly. Doesn't hurt that it'll be logistically easy to pull off, given that it's just up the highway from me.

Throughout the summer I will be making a point to get up high and train above 10,000 feet and ideally knock off some 14'ers. The name of the game is steep and high. On the list as of now are:
  • Grays and Torrey's Peaks - did these in 2013 and want to go back, but this time I will start from the lower parking lot right off I-70.
  • Hope Pass double crossing - required!
  • Longs Peak - will be logistically challenging to pull off but it's on the list. Backup would be Pikes Peak.
  • 20-30 mile effort on the Colorado Trail starting at Kenosha Pass.
  • A few new sections of the Colorado Trail, such as the section from Copper Mountain up to Camp Hale.
I feel that if I can get in several efforts above 10,000 feet, where the terrain is steep and nasty, I will be ready for a good crack at sub-24 at Leadville. I have two efforts of 22 hours and change at Leadville and would love to make a run at that kind of time but for 2017 I am gunning for sub-24. I know my stomach will go south, so it's really a question of how I minimize the impact. And I think that more training on steep terrain up high, all within weeks of 80-90 miles, will hopefully better condition my stomach for what will come on race day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Going Back to Leadville, the "Race Across the Sky"

Yesterday I got the absolutely awesome news that I've once again been selected in the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run lottery. I was super nervous! Many Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run qualifiers have sold out, which meant my list of backups (were I not selected for Leadville) was shrinking.


Even with five finishes going into the Leadville lottery, I just didn't know what my odds were. Were my odds the same as someone with no finishes, or did I have extra tickets or some other consideration that increased my chances? I just didn't know. Lifetime Fitness has the right to run the lottery how they see fit (so long as it's fair, which I'm sure it is), so I am not here to tell them what they should and should not do. But this I will say: Good on them for having a public event where the results were announced.

Actually, I do have one suggestion. Given that so many races quickly sell out these days, I might recommend that Lifetime move the lottery up a month, so it happens maybe right after the Western States drawing.

At any rate, I am so glad I'm in. The work to prepare begins now! I have my eyes on the 1,000-mile buckle, which hopefully will come in 2021. I am committed to it. But that'll be a topic for future posts.....

When I look at my Leadville finishes, I am well aware that my results are getting worse. I am sure aging is a factor, but so is my stomach. While, at this point, there is nothing I can do to stop the aging process or make my sensitive stomach ironclad, I am sure I can improve on things a bit. For starters:
  • I am going to increase how much time I train at elevations of 10,000 feet and more. This will require some short-term sacrifices, for sure, but it should help get me better-prepared for the Leadville elevations..... 
  • I am going to put a greater emphasis on vertical gain so as to reduce the stress on my body (and stomach) of the big ups and downs that Leadville brings. This will mean a somewhat smaller emphasis on pure volume.
  • On big outings to the mountains, I will practice raceday nutrition. This one is a no-brainer.
  • I'm going to have fun. There are some runs that I'm eager to finally do this summer....
I am not so naive to think all of the above, plus a few other things like using Ultragen for recovery and Optygen to boost performance, will result in a race without stomach issues. I will have stomach issues; the key is to minimize their impact as much as possible. But if I do what's listed above, it will help, especially on the Hope Pass section, which has cost me a ton of time in recent years.

So the 2017 schedule is now shaping up nicely. I am in the Leadville 100 (August 19) and also the Leadville Trail Marathon (June 17). I am looking to add in a spring road marathon (maybe Colfax on May 23) and potentially a summer 50-miler, such as Silver Rush. Silver Rush is about 6 weeks prior to the 100, so really good timing.

Congrats to all who got in! It's going to be an awesome 2017!