Monday, September 3, 2018

Turning the Page

Suffice it to say, my Leadville 100 run a few weeks ago didn't go as planned. After a really smooth first 40 miles, my race fell apart on Hope Pass. Coming into the outbound Hopeless aid station, I was told I had low blood pressure, likely from dehydration. After a few drive heaves and lots of shaking, I was on my way, over the mountain and down into Winfield.

In Winfield, I was told my core body temperature had dropped to 92 degrees. The medical personnel treated me for about 45 minutes, getting fluids in me. I got out of Winfield with my pacer, Harold, and barely got over the mountain and into Twin Lakes inbound (mile 64), where I called it a day as I was quite certain that in my condition the cutoffs would soon claim me (an unthinkable thought going into this race). I could no longer run and could barely walk. The best way to describe how I felt was...physically broken to the core.

In the wake of my failure to finish what I had hoped to be my sixth Leadville 100, I received many messages of support from friends--all of which I deeply appreciated. A few sent that famous Teddy Roosevelt "Man in the Arena" quote:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

So in this latest Leadville, I admit defeat. But that's not all. I will never return to Leadville to run the 100 again--all good things have to come to an end and that's OK because I need this chapter of my life to close. I earned five big buckles up there, fighting and winning some deeply personal and physical battles in that race going all the way back to my first "Race Across the Sky." I endured and in a few races came back from the dead to score some fast times of which I'm proud. But it's time to call it a day and move on. We all age differently and I have come to the place where I realize that I can no longer run Leadville the way I want to run it, in part because I'm getting older but also because I can no longer train the way I need to train to be ready for that altitude and those mountains.

I don't know what's next for me. I can see myself running another 100 but barely. If I did, I would pick a fast 100. I like to run fast--always have. I get frustrated running in the mountains because of the slow pace. At age 45, I can still run well below 19 minutes for 5K and I love that...I love hammering it. If you told me I could pick between a fast 100 where I could potentially go sub-18 hours and a mountainous 100 where I might be able to go sub-24, I would take the fast 100 any day of the week. As runners, we all have our own truths, and mine is that I was not built for the mountains--I was built for the road.

And that's OK.

There was a moment in the Tour de France this year that really stood out to me. It was the mountainous stage 11, where many of the sport's top sprinters, including Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, timed out after missing the cutoff. Mind you, these are two riders who have a whole bunch of TDF stage wins between them. They're amazing athletes with extraordinary closing speed. And while they're able to grab wins in the faster stages, they're unable to compete at a high level in the mountains. As athletes, whether elite like them or amateur and age-groupers like me, we all have our truth.

What's next for me is a question I really am not thinking about. I'm quite burned out on running in general and ultramarathons in particular, though I am still getting out almost daily for some miles and I've also been spending time on the bike. I started in this crazy sport 14 years ago and it's been a fun, fun ride with some amazing moments. It may be that I come back to ultras but at this point the thought of running that far has no appeal at all. I still feel that I love to run but the life tradeoffs that are required to train for really long ultras are, quite honestly, a mental non-starter for me. I'm increasingly resistant to the tradeoffs and don't want to one day look back at these years and have regrets.

My hat is off to all those who finished Leadville, including Rob Krar, who became only the second runner to ever go sub-16 on that course. To finish Leadville is an incredible feat.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Quit Researching

This time of year I get lots of questions from folks interested in taking up running. It is exciting to see folks interested in running. Many have done "research" and are gathering information before they actually start running. Questions are often about shoes, frequency of workouts, how to balance the demands of life, etc.

Here is my straightforward advice based on 10 FAQs I get. As you will see, I am trying to keep this simple.
  1. What shoes should I wear/get? Whatever you have and whatever feels comfortable.
  2. How should I build up my fitness? By going for a run today. Then tomorrow. Then the day after tomorrow. And so on. Keep repeating.
  3. How often should I run a week? As often as you want.
  4. How do I balance the demands of life if I start running? I try to make my life simple and I also wake up before dawn to get in my runs. Anyone can do this.
  5. How do I wake up before dawn every day and keep that sustainable? By getting out of bed when the alarm goes off and then going to bed by 9 so you can get in adequate sleep.
  6. What do I do if it's super cold outside? Wear layers. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad weather; only bad preparation.
  7. What if it's dark outside? Bring a light.
  8. Should I stretch? If you feel tight.
  9. What should I eat? Fuel that is close to the source.
  10. What should I drink? Water.
That is all.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Going Back to Leadville; Dispelling Some Myths About Leadville

Well, 2018 is off to a great start on many fronts for me, including getting a ticket to this year's Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run!

As is evident from this blog, Leadville is very special to me, and I'm thrilled to get the opportunity, yet again, to answer the epic challenge of racing 100 miles up in the Rocky Mountains this August. Last year's race was such a bummer on many levels, including my bad knee, and I am eager to get back at it and get another hard-earned finish.

My goal all along has been to finish the Leadville 100 ten times and earn the 1,000-mile buckle. At this point in my life, I am more inclined to take things year by year versus making big personal declarations. I would love to earn the 1,000-mile buckle one day but I would rather focus on the journey instead of the destination. Right now, I'm focused on finishing Leadville in 2018, which would bring me six finishes.

This is going to be an especially busy year on the work front, so I don't anticipate being able to get to the mountains a whole lot to train--definitely once a week and, if I'm lucky, twice a week. I will do what I can and make do with what we have here in Parker, hills and all, along with life at 6,200 feet. That said, I am confident my mileage will be very solid (as it always is). In the end, if I'm limited in my ability to get to the mountains more than once a week, I will compensate for it by running more miles and keeping a good focus on quality.

Speaking of quality, I have continued to hit the mile repeats every week. I am finding that I can run in the 5:40s range for my first and second mile repeats but then lose some steam on the third. I know in my head I should back off a bit in the first, allowing me to hit the second and third repeats with 100% effort. I am working on that. It's not easy to hold yourself back when you're feeling fresh!

In the early spring, I will start to incorporate tempo runs into my routine, so every week I'll be doing mile repeats and tempos. All of that should set me up well for my core Leadville training during the summer months.

The schedule for 2018 as of now includes the very down-home, old-school-feeling North Fork 50K on June 2 and the Leadville 100 on August 18. Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in the Leadville Trail Marathon or Mount Evans Ascent due to family commitments. I would like to add another event or two--potentially the Colfax Marathon. I might also pace a buddy at the Western States 100 if I can pull it off schedule-wise (big if at this point).


A few days ago, I read a disparaging Facebook comment about the Leadville 100. Someone didn't get into the race and another poster commented--opined, I should say--that it's not a great race anyway since it's "corporate-owned." While it's true the Leadville 100 is currently owned by Lifetime Fitness, the race does not in any way feel "corporate-owned" to me. For starters, many of the aid stations are staffed with volunteers who have been a part of the Leadville 100 for years and, in some cases, decades. These volunteers help make Leadville what it is: an epic race with 35 years of rich, colorful history.

Plus, the race is always well-attended by thousands of supporters, many of them there to crew for runners but others on hand just to take it all in. All of these supporters add an electric feel to the Leadville 100. Unless you have been up to "Cloud City" on race weekend, you cannot imagine the electric atmosphere

Then you have Ken and Merilee, who started it all in 1983. They are still intimately involved, ensuring that the experience remains authentic. For example, just as she always has, Merilee is still there at the finish to hug every runner crossing the line. Ken still gives the always-powerful pre-race pep talk and you learn all about how the Leadville Legacy Foundation is tangibly benefiting the community and especially graduating seniors at Lake County High School.

Also, the town.... What else to say about the town of Leadville except that it's as authentic as it gets. It's the anti-Aspen (not that I don't like Aspen; I do, especially the Maroon Bells) in that Leadville puts on no airs and is the opposite of elitism (though the views of the Sawatch Range are elite in my book). You go there to enjoy a real mountain town with real people...along with world-class coffee and pizza (among other awesome things).

In a very real sense, at least to me, the Leadville 100 today is still just as authentic as it was ten years ago. The cheap skepticism of some because Leadville is "corporate-owned" and the 2013 race had some issues (that have since been addressed) is just that--cheap. Leadville continues to offer runners a very unique experience that they will never forget. It is a world-class race that oozes history and will push you to the very edge of your perceived limits.


Here's to a great 2018! 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Monster in the Rockies: The Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run

In the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains sits the small mining town of Leadville, known as “Cloud City.”

Situated at 10,200 feet, within close proximity of some of the world’s premier ski towns (Vail and Aspen to name a few), Leadville is the highest incorporated city in North America. Its winters are brutal and its summers fleeting but epic as the mountains clear of their deep snow, inviting hikers, runners and adventurers to take on some of the finest alpine trails in the world.

Towering over the town, now home to some 2,700, are among the most spectacular mountains in the lower 48 states, including the two highest peaks in Colorado, Elbert and Massive, each at over 14,400 feet and often snow-capped into July. The Sawatch Range features 8 of the 20 tallest peaks in the Rocky Mountains.

Source: Leadville Race Series
For endurance athletes worldwide, the allure of Leadville isn't just the mountains; it's also the city itself. The town oozes its storied history. In its heyday, Leadville was known for its gambling and hard living, once growing to a population of 18,000. It attracted some of the most notorious of characters, from Doc Holliday to Wyatt Earp. In those days, Leadville was among the wealthiest towns in Colorado—a bustling mining community and silver mecca two miles in the sky. Fortunes were made and lost in this “boom and bust” town. This extraordinary history is captured in the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum, established in Leadville in 1977.

The city boasts a beautiful opera house, built in 1879 by Horace Austin Warner Tabor, who was Leadville's first mayor and made millions in the mining business. If you're from Leadville or even Denver, the names Horace Austin Warner Tabor and Baby Doe Tabor are quite familiar. They both sadly died broke. Baby Doe froze to death in their Matchless Mine—emblematic of the town’s “boom and bust” reputation. In 1895, to help breathe some life back into the Leadville economy, local residents constructed a huge ice castle. Standing some 90 feet tall, the 58,000-square-foot ice castle attracted over 250,000 tourists.

Living in Leadville got progressively harder as the 1900s progressed. The repeal of the 1928 Sherman Silver Purchase Act delivered a dagger near the heart of Leadville, where silver mining was huge. But the town, sitting atop highly mineralized earth, offered more than silver. It had lead and zinc, and plenty of it. The Leadville economy survived the repeal of the Sherman Act, with its reputation intact. During World War II, soldiers at nearby Camp Hale, home of the super-elite Tenth Mountain Division, were discouraged from going into downtown Leadville, where prostitution, drinking and general carousing were rampant.

But then in the early 1980s, disaster struck. In 1982, the hulking Climax mine just outside the town started undergoing a closure. The mine was a major source of molybdenum, used to strengthen steel, which was a big need during the Cold War. The Climax mine was the world's largest “moly” mine, supplying about three-quarters of the international supply and lots of well-paying jobs to Leadville residents.

The Climax mine's closure brought economic and social disaster to Leadville. The town faced a dire future. A majority of Leadville residents worked at the mine and now, with the gates closing, faced uncertain—indeed dire—futures. In this small mountain town, employment options were limited, and so the town plunged into economic and social despair, with over three-quarters of residents now out of work. Alcoholism surged. Marriages fell apart. Some residents even fled.

Then, in 1983, an unemployed hard rock miner had a crazy idea for Leadville’s future. His name was Ken Chlouber. Instead of letting Leadville disintegrate into another Colorado ghost town, he asked, why not take advantage of the surrounding rugged beauty and mountain trails and start a 100-mile foot race that could attract tourist dollars? With few better options on the table, Chlouber and Merilee Maupin founded the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run.

The race course Chlouber and Maupin devised would be a monster, taking runners from downtown, through the surrounding high country and past the trailheads for Mounts Elbert and Massive, into the stunningly beautiful village of Twin Lakes, over the precarious 12,600-foot Hope Pass and into the ghost town of Winfield, and then back again, with many climbs sprinkled in for good measure--including the notoriously steep, rutted Powerline. The entire course would be between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet. The course, as I have always seen it, represents the journey Leadville has been on for years. (Note: The course has changed a bit over the years, especially in the middle section. For example, runners no longer go through the Halfmoon Campground or Leadville National Fish Hatchery.)

When you consider that the Leadville 100 was only the third 100-miler at the time of its founding, such a course was unprecedented...and seen as downright dangerous. "You'll kill somebody!," the town doctor said to Chlouber when learning of his plans. Chlouber's retort? "We'll be famous then." Consider for a moment that the first 100-mile run, Western States, while breathtakingly challenging with its steep, deep canyons, extreme heat and 42,000 feet of combined elevation change, had a maximum altitude of "only" 8,750 feet. The second 100-miler, Old Dominion in Virginia, while no cake-walk by any stretch, was at sea level. What Chlouber and Maupin created in their "Race Across the Sky" was truly a monster in the Colorado Rockies.

But their creation was also economically advantageous to the town. Because of the depth of the challenge, runners and their crews would have to stay in town, bringing economic benefits to the community and surrounding area in the way of lodging, food and tourism dollars.

The first race was held August 27-28, 1983, with only 10 of the 45 starters finishing what was at the time billed as a "challenge." Skip Hamilton, who would go on to finish--and win--three more Leadville 100s, broke the tape in the inaugural race with a time of 20 hours and 11 minutes. Today, the Leadville 100 is the largest such race in the country in terms of finishers. In addition to putting on every race with Maupin from 1983 to 2010, Chlouber finished the 100-miler 14 times. His son, Cole, has finished the 100 four times, most recently in 2016.

Source: Leadville Race Series
With Chlouber and Maupin at the helm, the Leadville 100 quickly grew into one of the world’s premier ultramarathons, known as "The Race Across the Sky." The Leadville 100 has attracted some of the most famous ultrarunners on earth, such as Ann Trason and Matt Carpenter, both of whom still hold the course records for their respective divisions.

Looking to do more for the town, in 1994 Chlouber and Maupin created the now-famous Leadville Trail 100-Mile Mountain Bike Race. Like the run, the 100-mile MTB race has attracted the world's top talent, including living MTB legend Dave Wiens. More races, including grueling marathon and 50-mile run and bike events, were also added to create a integrated series bringing tens of thousands of people to Leadville every summer. The Leadman and Leadwoman challenges are for those souls brave enough to attempt to complete all of the events in the one summer.

In 2002, as part of their commitment to the people of Leadville, Chlouber and Maupin co-founded the Leadville Legacy Foundation to help support the changing needs of the community, such as through scholarship assistance for graduating high school seniors. In 2010, Life Time Fitness purchased the series. Chlouber and Maupin have remained intimately involved, ensuring an authentic experience for all and supporting the continued growth of the Leadville Legacy Foundation. Maupin is still there at the finish to hug every sweaty runner crossing the line.

Despite the meteoric growth of the Leadville Race Series, especially in past decade, the 100-mile run still represents what Chlouber and Maupin have called "the heart and soul" of the race series. Its motto, “You are better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can,” has long-defined the challenge. Just about anyone who's experienced and finished Leadville knows those words aren't a platitude; they mean something. You have to believe deep down you will finish. Just as with the hard rock miners of years past, if you dig deep enough, you will find silver and gold—in the form of the race’s famously huge finisher's belt buckle. But you'll find far more. Leadville takes you close to the razor’s edge of your limits and then deep into your own soul.

My 2010 buckle. Note the quarter, which is there for scale.
Even when we lived in Ohio until 2010, reading and re-reading enthralling accounts of the course and race, told by legendary mountain runners and Leadville winners like Anton Krupicka, Timothy Parr and Carpenter, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the race and town, dreaming of one day lining up for this legendary challenge. I reasoned that Leadville might be a stretch for a flatlander like me, but I still dreamt of it. (Side note: It is rumored that Krupicka, the night before winning the 2006 Leadville 100, slept in a local public restroom. Not sure if that's true but, if it is, it's hilarious.)

In 2010, my dream became a reality when Anne and I took advantage of the opportunity to relocate to a town southeast of Denver, Colorado, where we lived at 6,150 feet of elevation—more than a mile in a sky. When we arrived in Colorado, it was early spring and I still had time to register and train for the Leadville 100.

Amid my dreams of running this historic race was hesitation. I was scared, not of the distance but of the mountains and the elevation. Day after day I pulled up the registration page on my computer, never quite finding the courage to register. But then one day I got the nerve to sign up. Just like that, I was in. I had four months to get ready.

How did it turn out? Click here.

Monday, January 1, 2018

10 Secrets to Better Durability as a Runner

After learning 2017 marked my eleventh consecutive year of 3,000 or more miles of running (just running; daily dog walks not included), a friend asked for the secret to my "longevity." I guess I've never really thought much about my "longevity" because I've never really felt that what I do is all that interesting or groundbreaking. But I guess I am pretty durable and this is because of specific things I do and don't do.

Before going further, I do want to offer the following context: At 3,018 miles, 2017 was my lowest mileage year of the past eleven years in large part because of a knee injury in March, which plagued me through mid-May. I figure the knee injury easily robbed me of 100 miles. Add to that my DNF at Leadville, mostly due to my knee flaring up unexpectedly descending into Twin Lakes outbound, and that's another 50 miles I lost in 2017. So my knee easily cost me 150 miles. Were it not for that injury, I'm confident 2017 would have been another 3,200+ mile year.

As far as any secrets I may have that have contributed to my eleven straight years of running 3,000 or more miles (which, again, I don't consider all that special), below are 10 that come to mind. I honestly just think I have good genetics as far as my durability, but I am sure by chance I've stumbled upon a few beneficial practices over the years. Here goes: 

#1: Change out my shoes every 400-500 miles and rotate my shoes.
I track the mileage on my shoes and always change them out every 400-500 miles (usually closer to 400 miles). Additionally, I usually have a rotation of 2-3 pairs of shoes and I wear a different pair every day. I never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row unless I'm traveling (in which case I only have enough room to pack one pair of shoes). When you run, you're impacting your shoes. Giving them a "day off" helps them bounce back for the next run. I am sure some of you think that's BS but for me it's standard practice. By the way, my go-to shoe brand since 2011 has been Hoka One One.

#2: Run every day.
Simply put, I don't take many days off. I usually run every single day. Daily consistency, while sometimes feeling myopic, is crucial. I only take a day off if I'm feeling really run-down and/or sick to the point that I have a fever. I feel that moving every day has major benefits as far as injury prevention and overall wellness. Sometimes, if I have a little ache or pain, a run will actually make it feel better. That said, Monday is usually my easy day--I'll log maybe 4-5 miles slow on Mondays without any care for pace. If on a Monday I'm totally trashed from the weekend miles, I may sub in some time on our indoor bike trainer for a run. The key is to move every day.

#3: Avoid concrete and opt for the softest possible surfaces.
Where we live, it is impossible to totally avoid concrete but I make a conscientious effort to opt for the softest possible surfaces where possible. As I have aged, I have found that long runs on concrete will take a toll on me. So, basically, if you see me on concrete, it's because I'm running on it to get to the next section of trail or dirt road. Pavement is also usually okay for me but dirt is the preference.
In my first year if fatherhood (2008), I was known to
now and then partake in Red Bull before a long run. Red
Bull, while beneficial in certain circumstances, is
definitely not close to the source.
#4: Eat close to the source.
I have no real diet tricks and am adamantly opposed to "diet cults." Like most Americans, my diet can be up and down, especially over the holidays. That said, by and large, we eat lots of fresh vegetables (we also eat fruit but mostly during the summer), quality proteins, and organic foods. We absolutely do not drink calories--I only have water and coffee with half and half, though after a tough workout I will partake in a homemade green protein smoothie. I try to avoid too many packaged products but I do eat things like bottled salad dressings (even then I keep it simple like balsamic vinaigrette) and veggie chips. If I buy a packaged product, it has to have very few ingredients and I have to be able to pronounce all of them. Added sugar is usually a deal-breaker. Although it is hard to do, I try not to buy anything made by the big food companies because they absolutely do not care about my health. More on this subject here.

#5: Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Working full-time and being a dad, I wake up every day during the week usually by 4:30 or 4:40 to get in my run before heading to the office. Simply put, Monday through Friday, the pre-dawn hours are the only hours of the day that are truly mine. To ensure this schedule is sustainable, I go to bed every night at 9 'o clock. So that means I'm getting about 7.5 hours of sleep every single night. I never stay up past 9 during the work week because insufficient sleep, over time, is deadly to the runner's adrenal system.

#6: Love running.
This one may seem kind of trite but I love running and I think the positive attitude I bring to running every single day makes a huge difference. It's my passion. Admittedly, there have been some days where my mental outlook was sub-optimal before I left the house but invariably when I'm done with my run I'm in a much better place. Running has had a tremendous impact not just on my physical health but also on my psychological and spiritual health and I think all of that, in turn, has led to my "longevity."

#7: Avoid over-racing.
I think over-racing is right up there with insufficient sleep as a major trigger of adrenal fatigue in runners. In my younger days, I did race a bit more than I do now, but, overall, I have always maintained what I feel is a responsible race calendar in part because my family and work life leave only so much time. There was a stretch between 2015 and 2016 where I finished three 100-milers in ten months (Javelina 2015, Western States 2016, Leadville 2016) and I remember being really worried about what these races would do to me physically. I got through them but not without realizing that it was a bit too much for me. By and large, I race one 100-miler a year and occasionally two.

#8: Maintenance.
When I feel tightness, aches and/or pains, I try to address the problem area immediately. If it's a tight IT band, for example, you'll see me foam rolling and stretching. If my knee is a little flared up, I'll ice it. I try not to let injuries get out of hand. I also try to run through injuries where and when possible. I think you can run through many injuries so long as you're not stupid about it and doing all the right things between workouts. That said, I feel like I have a good sense of when an injury is significant enough to warrant time off. This was the case in 2017 when my knee blew up. I took several days off because I realized that hobbling through runs was just really stupid.

As far as maintenance, I also take NOW-brand vegetarian glucosamine (I am allergic to shellfish) as well as branched chain amino acids every day. During heavy training, I may also introduce First Endurance Optygen. I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with L-carnitine.

#9: Strength-training.
While I tend to be very lazy about lower-body weight training, in large part because it puts me in a recovery hole (I'm sure I overdo it when I train my legs), I am pretty good about keeping my upper body well-conditioned and I'm certain this has contributed to my "longevity." I frequently do push-ups and all kinds of dumbbell exercises to keep my arms and shoulders well-conditioned. I have also always been consistent with core training, though in 2017 this was tough due to what I think was a severely strained and/or torn ab muscle that plagued me for over ten months (still not 100%). But, by and large, I am consistent with my core work, push-ups and dumbbell exercises. 

#10: Incorporate quality.
At varying times of year, I use quality workouts to help with strength, speed and efficiency. This includes tempo runs, hill repeats, mile repeats, track intervals, etc. If all you do is LSD (long-slow distance), you will never get better, and over time will go stale and burn out due to lack of interest. Quality, for me, keeps running interesting. That said, I occasionally get lazy and do LSD runs every day, but usually, through self-awareness, I'm able to get out of the rut and reintroduce quality.

Bonus: Start slow.
In every single run, I always start super slow. Most of time, this is because I run with my dog in the first mile. He's a golden retriever and not too fast, so in the first mile of my run I'm usually going at 10-11-minute pace. Once I bring Nick back to the house, I find that I'm sufficiently warmed up and can then get after it. I think that, when you go out too fast and don't allow for a warm-up, you are subjecting yourself to injury risk.

So there you have it. I'm sure there's nothing in there that's groundbreaking but it's what I do to stay healthy and keep running strong.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thoughts on Harmony and 2018

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a blog post, written by ultrarunner Mark Carroll after the 2009 Mohican 100-Mile Run:

"At this point in the race Wyatt Hornsby must have been running a bit scared. Wyatt had just done something that he must have envisioned on a hundred training runs over the past year. It was bold and it was ballsy and it was unlikely. He had run well back from the frontrunners all day long; keeping them just within range. This was a wise strategy. But just a while ago his patience, alertness, and knowledge of the course allowed him to take over the lead from Mark Tanaka of San Francisco and he was now irrevocably committed to pulling off his goal of winning the Mohican Trail 100 Mile Run. This was the work of a believer. Wyatt was a good runner. In fact he had finished in the top five in a local 50K race on this very course a few months ago. But this was Tanaka’s race and everyone knew it. Well, almost everyone. Tanaka was the genuine deal. He was a member of the famous La Sportiva Mountain Running Team. Wyatt was running ruthlessly. He refused to walk on even some of the steepest climbs and increased his effort time and again over the final miles. Think of Rocky climbing off the canvas for a knockout. Wyatt crossed the line to the delight of all skinny-low-heart-rated Ohioans, in first place in 19:52."

Needless to say, that got me fired up (my report from that race here). It reminded me of a time when I felt I could almost float over the trail. I ran fearlessly in races because I knew I was in such great shape. I knew that I could push myself super hard and still have gas in the tank for a strong finish. A lot has changed since then, and I'm not just talking about age. I realize that I have gotten away from certain training practices that really helped me then and that could help me now. I am working to re-integrate those practices. No need to talk about them here; the important thing is that I am doing them.


With 2017 coming to an end, I am starting to think about my race schedule for 2018. It has been a challenging year on a few fronts and I am excited about 2018.  I recently heard a guest on the Rich Roll Podcast (excellent podcast show, by the way) equate the endurance athlete's life to a three-legged stool. One leg is their professional life/job. Another leg is their family. The third leg is their training. If one of those legs is compromised in any way, the stool comes apart and the athlete falters. One's life needs to be in balance--in harmony--for optimal performance on the road and trail. I am looking for harmony in 2018, and I feel that my heart is in a really good place right now, which is a good sign.

With that said, I managed to finish 2017 with a decent performance at the local Turkey Trot 5K. Despite very little speedwork going into the race, I pulled off an 18:48, good for sixth overall in a field of more than 2,200 runners and walkers. The five runners who finished in front of me were all high schoolers, so not bad. But let me tell you: 5Ks hurt! I am confident that, with proper training, I might have a shot at once again going sub-18 for 5K. I've started getting back to the track every single week, recognizing that it'll pay off in a big way in races of all distances in 2018. When it comes to speed, "use it or lose it." I am committed, as in ironclad committed, to running hard at the track weekly from here on out.

Also for 2017, I am on pace to finish the year with a little more than 3,000 miles. This will be my eleventh consecutive year with 3,000 or more miles. It'll be my lowest-mileage year of the eleven but I'll take it as I suffered through a really nasty knee injury in the early spring that had me wondering if I would be running and racing at all in 2017 (it's ultimately what took me out at Leadville this year). That little knee tweak aside, I am so grateful for the durability my body gives me every year.


Lottery gods permitting, 2018 will feature a return to the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. If that's the case, I'll be lining up for my sixth finish. I am still chasing the 1,000-mile buckle at Leadville. At this point, it seems so far away. If the 1,000-mile buckle were parallel with the race course itself, I have just gotten to Winfield (the halfway point) and am turning around for the arduous trip back up and over Hope Pass. I am very inspired to get after it at Leadville in 2018.

If I get into Leadville, then I am confident the rest of the 2018 schedule will shape up nicely. I am looking at a potential outing in April to the Grand Canyon, where some buddies and I will run rim-to-rim-to-rim. I have always wanted to run the Canyon and am excited.

So 2018 could be looking like the Grand Canyon in April and Leadville in August. Add to that a potential Colfax Marathon in May and the Leadville Trail Marathon in June and that looks like a pretty good spring and summer schedule to me.

If I don't get into Leadville, I'll likely register for the Never Summer 100K, a grueling mountain race here in Colorado, followed by either Run Rabbit Run up in Steamboat Springs or Javelina Jundred in the hot Arizona desert. I am kind of leaning toward Steamboat.

Would love to hear what your race schedule in 2018 is looking like. Chime in if you'd like.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reader Question: Good Track Workouts for Speed and Strength

Someone asked me a few days ago for help in designing some good-quality track workouts to build speed and strength. This person is an ultrarunner and wants to stave off the effects of Father Time. It just so happens that right now I am working hard to get back to the track on a regular basis--and already I am seeing the benefits--so we had a lot to talk about!

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When I was running in top form, it was because I was committed to executing intense track and tempo workouts every single week. These workouts made me much stronger and faster. They also boosted my economy, which is huge when you're racing distances up to 100 miles.

I remember an old friend of mine once saying to me, "after a while, you find that you need the track workouts." He was right. If you stick with them, you will get faster, stronger and mentally tougher. If you get lazy and quit going to the track every week because of excuses, you will get slower and sluggish and your running economy (and race performance and results) will suffer. 

Slow and sluggish is where I've been for a few years now, but I am determined (committed, really) to get fast again. On Thanksgiving day, I managed a decent 5K time (18:48, 6th overall out of 2,200 runners and walkers) in our local Turkey Trot race but it was anything but smooth for me. I had to go into the hurt locker big time to get it. I believe that with regular sessions at the track, I will see big payoffs in 2018 races of all distances, including the 100-mile distance. So I'm all in. And the same can be said of you, too, if you make the track a part of your training on a weekly basis. Be sure to work into it gradually, or else you elevate your risk of injury, especially if you are a masters or grandmasters athlete.

And let me just emphasize that intervals on the road, while better than no intervals at all, are not the same as intervals at the track. The track allows for comparable results over time, and it's also just really mentally hard for some people to run around an oval. The track makes you mentally tougher and physically faster.

With that, my bread and butter workouts from years ago (I am gradually easing back into these workouts week by week), which I highly recommend for distance runners, are:
  • 3x1600 meters (1600 meters is 4 full laps around the track) all-out. For me, this was about 5:30-5:35/mile when I was in peak form. Very difficult workout that will push you mentally and physically, but it builds strength that pays off late in races, when others are faltering. Do very easy 400-meter recoveries in between (feel free to walk some in the recoveries). Make no mistake about it; 3x1600 meters hard will be quite uncomfortable but the payoff is huge. Sometimes you have to go through hell to get to heaven.
  • 5x1600 meters at 90-95% of all-out effort. For me, this was about 5:48-5:55/mile. This workout builds strength more than speed. It was my favorite workout by far. Again, do very easy 400-meter recoveries in between.
  • 2x3200 meters at 90% of all-out effort. I always shot for under 12 minutes for each, usually coming in at 11:45-11:50 or so. Again, this workout builds strength and mental toughness. Do extremely easy 400-800-meter recoveries in between. This workout is more a "graduate-level" endeavor. Get comfortable with mile repeats before you "graduate" to 3200s.
What I did was rotate these. One week, I did 3x1600s. The next week I did 5x1600s. The third week I did 2x3200s. Then I started over with the cycle.

For each of those three workouts, you want to pace yourself so your last interval set is your fastest. And call me old-school but I feel that you should be pretty gassed when your workout is done. If you're not gassed, you didn't go hard enough.

Then there are shorter workouts that are also great, like Yasso 800s and good old-fashioned 400s run very fast. But, for me, the greatest ROI always came from the three workouts listed above.

One final note: I always run a 2-mile warm-up, along with a handful of 100-meter striders to activate the fast-twitch muscle fiber, before getting after it on the track. Not doing an adequate warm-up will significantly elevate your risk of injury, so be sure to jog a few miles beforehand and bust out some striders before starting the workout. Then cool-down with at least a mile or two and recover with a healthy meal and plenty of fluids.