Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Must-Read on Balancing Work, Life and Family

This is a fantastic post by Andy Jones-Wilkins. If you're a runner who faces the ongoing challenge of balancing work, family and the miles, check out Andy's post.

Here's a photo of me running on my treadmill back in the summer of 2008 (when we lived in Cleveland, Ohio). The baby resting next to me is my son, Noah, who at the time was only a few months old. I was training for the Mohican 100-Mile (finished 4th that year) and this was what I had to do to get in my second run of the day. Note the race medals and photos in the background. When I look at this photo, I wish he were in my arms and not next to me as I ran, but oh well....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Losing Weight

I read this blog post by Ben Davis, aka "Ben Does Life," and it got me to thinking (always a frightening thing). I'm one of the few who has lost weight and kept it off. A lot of people, including many I know, have lost weight and then, in time, put it all back on, plus some. I recently read that most of the weight gain people experience happens over the holidays--extra pounds that are often never taken off. If you gain two pounds during the holidays every year, over a period of 20 years you're going to gain 40 pounds, especially as your metabolism slows due to inactivity (a process you can reverse) and you lose muscle due to a lack of exercise. If that sounds outrageous, it's not. It happens to many people. Many of the people I knew in high school and college are now fighting their weight. It happened to me and then, at about age 30, I got control.

I don't pretend I'm now immune from ever being over-weight. I'm going to have to keep eating right, exercising regularly and adhering to healthy habits if I'm to maintain my current weight and fitness level.

Lots of people out there are overweight and unhappy and not sure what to do or how to get started. In many cases, they know changes have to be made, but they're either scared of change or unsure of how to go about it.

If there's one nugget of wisdom I've gleaned from my transformation from a 220-pound "big guy" to a lean 168-pound ultra-distance runner with a few wins on my resume, it's this: Whatever you do to try to live a healthier life, make sure it's sustainable. Slimfast isn't sustainable. The Atkins Diet isn't sustainable. Same with NutriSystem and other unsustainable fad diets (though I do kind of like the Paleo Diet). Many of the ridiculous workout machines and programs advertised on TV (including P90X, which I used to like but have since changed my mind about) aren't sustainable and will keep you interested for only a few weeks before burn-out sets in. So what is sustainable? Activities that are natural and enjoyable, such as running, walking, cycling, swimming (warning: swimming increases your appetite!), horse-back riding (my wife's passion), tennis, ciruit training, aerobics (e.g., Zumba, which my sister-in-law loves), etc.

You have to find what you love to do and then make it a permanent part of your life, starting with your daily routine. For me, it's running (and cycling when I have time). I run nearly 4,000 miles a year and I love every step of it, whether it's a training run or a race of 100 miles. I can't remember the last time running was "exercise." For you, the right fit might be daily tennis or laps in the pool. Find what you love and stick with it.

Exercise is only part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Diet and lifestyle play a huge role. Here are a few sustainable changes I made that really made a difference for me:
  • In bed by 9:00 PM. If you're a night owl, the temptation to eat in the wee hours is often a killer. If you go to bed at an earlier hour (say, 10 PM), the temptation won't be there.
  • Up by 5:00 AM for my run. I have found that as the day goes on and there are more and more distractions, it's harder and harder to find time for my run. I prevent that from happening by running first thing in the morning (and then again at night if I'm training for a big race such as 100-miler). There is no better way to start the day than with exercise. Be sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes and ideally an hour or more.
  • Eat whole grains instead of refined carbs (e.g., whole-wheat pasta, whole grain breads and brown rice in lieu of white pasta, white bread and white rice). Note: I do eat lots of carbs to fuel my running, but I try to eat good carbs.
  • No more sugary drinks. Ever.
  • Less red meat and more lean proteins, including free-range chicken and beef from grass-fed cows (I love a good steak)
  • Greater emphasis on vegetarian foods (e.g., garden burgers)
  • More organic vegetables and fruits
  • Introduction of healthy, gluten-free foods like quinoa
  • Pack my own lunch every single day
  • Bye-bye to fast food. It's poison and never OK to eat. Moderation is not always the right approach.
  • Dine out only occasionally and, when we do, I usually order something healthy like salmon.
  • Less TV
  • No video games. In time, I believe video games will be shown to be destructive to mind and body. Like the Internet, when you sit down to play a video game time flies and, before you know it, hours have passed that you could have spent being active or doing something productive.
As we can see in Ben's blog, he's working hard to get back to healthier ways after falling off the wagon for a while. This happens to many of us. If it's happening to you, don't wait until tomorrow to get back on the wagon. Don't put it off until "after the holidays," or the new year--convenient excuses. Get back on right now. Make the change this very second and put your heart and soul into it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Watching Kilian Jornet Run

Continuing my previous post on "heart" and "head" runners, one of the great pleasures of being a part of the ultra scene these days is watching 24-year-old Kilian Jornet of Spain do his thing. Over the past few years, Kilian, who anchors the Salomon Running team, has accomplished some incredible feats, such as resounding wins at Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, the Western States 100 and many European mountain races. But with Kilian, the incredible goes way beyond his resume and even his freakish talent. The way he runs can be described, at least in my own mind, in the following ways: beautiful, like a child full of excitement, passionate, with his heart.

Watching Kilian run is like watching my son, Noah, or my nephew, Alex, run. They run with passion. With nothing holding them back mentally or physically, Noah and Alex tear down the hallway, down hills and across the grass. They don't hold back; they're all in with each stride and living the moment for all it's worth. There's no jogging with them! That's what I think of when I see Kilian run. His mind and body are both fully engaged--he's a part of the environment. See for yourself:

I watch the many videos of Kilian that are on YouTube and I can't help but think this is the way one should run--and live. For many of us, something happens over the course of our lives that takes the inner kid from us. Maybe it's the stresses of adulthood--a mortgage and bills to pay, schedules to juggle, "stuff" to buy, a house to clean, putting food on the table, job worries, shrinking 401Ks, etc. A lot of that, I think, weighs us down, squelches our spirit and effectively kills our ability to truly live free. Life becomes almost a coffin. I have to think this all spills into running. As I asked in my last post, is going all out--like a child full of excitement--and risking spectacular failure in pursuit of great achievement really all that bad? I think if you asked that of Kilian, he'd say running with unbridled passion, regardless of what happens, is the only way to run. Maybe that explains why he loves it so much.

I think what holds of back isn't the physical or even the environment around us. What holds us back is ourselves--what's in our mind! I'll be telling myself that the next time I'm running up a 13,000 or 14,000 foot mountain and questioning whether I can keep going. I can!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Heart Runners and Head Runners

I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Clifton for my upcoming story about Mike Morton, set to appear in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine. Yes, the same Eric Clifton whose 17-year-old record at the JFK 50-Mile went down over the weekend when David Riddle, 30, of Cincinnati, Ohio ran an amazing 5:40 at the 49-year-old race. Eric, in reflecting on how he and Morton used to train together, said something that really got me to thinking. He said that at the pace they often ran together, a runner either breaks down or breaks through.

Eric also described himself as a "heart runner." Here's how Eric characterizes "heart runners" and "head runners":
"To me, a heart runner runs races for the joy of pushing their limits. Winning is not so important, except for the effort it takes to win raises one to a higher level of speed and performance. Times also are not that relevant. What's important is the run. To run freely, smoothly and strongly: that's what it is all about. They do not go out and calculate a predetermined pace to net them a certain time or performance; they just run their hearts out every race. Heart runners are not consistent with their races, no matter how talented they are, simply because they do not worry about saving energy for later. They are going for broke every race and, if the bodies hold up, they have awesome runs. If they tip over into the red zone for long enough, they have spectacular failures. I think both outcomes are great. Head runners are nice guys (and gals) but I truly love and respect heart runners."
In his prime, Eric was well-known for going out hard and staying at a blistering pace. That's what got him all those course records and wins, including his amazing 5:46 course record at the JFK 50-Mile--a record that stood for 17 years. (Eric is perhaps best known for his prominent role in "Running on the Sun," a fascinating documentary about the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon, which he won. Click here to watch the entire documentary.) But it's also what led to a number of DNF's. From what I've learned and been told, in a race Eric Clifton either did something amazing, or he crashed and burned. There was never a middle ground with him. I admire that.

I think there's a connection between being a heart runner and reaching that point where you either break down or finally break through. This raises a whole bunch of questions. Is it worth it to throw 100 percent of yourself into your runs--every ounce of your heart and soul--even if it means breaking down and/or not reaching the finish line? Yeah, the risk of failure or injury is there, but there's also a huge potential payoff. Of course, you have to put in the necessary training, or else your hopes will be dashed almost every time. But what if we all trained with 100 percent of our heart, never going through the motions, and always went out guns blazing in races? What if we all risked spectacular failure in a quest for the ultimate race? Do we train like zombies and race "carefully" because we are afraid of failure? And is going out hard, only to crash and burn, really failure?

I think to be a heart runner and to run with guns blazing, you have to train hard and believe in yourself. When the gun goes off and you explode out of the gate, running those early miles with the field behind you, you have to believe in your heart that you will succeed--through the good moments and those awful dark moments. If you don't believe, or if you have ever faint doubts, you will fail, or change your approach to a "safer" strategy. But is "safe" really fulfilling?
Are you a heart runner, or a head runner?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Race Weight

My training is going pretty well. I'm at about 70 miles a week, which is quite manageable for me. I've been going on killer marathon-pace long runs on Sundays on the Cherry Creek Trail, which provides a flat, paved surface that is perfect for road marathon training. Last Sunday I went so hard that I was sick as a dog afterward. Or maybe it was a virus. Or maybe running hard for 17.5 miles at 6,000 feet got to me. I'm not sure. I took Noah to breakfast after my run (I was feeling a little woozy but OK when we left for breakfast) and, as we were sitting in the restaurant, my stomach started going south fast. It was a long day that left me exhausted.

I registered for the 2012 Western States 100. I hope to get in, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Lots of people have entered and will continue to enter through November. I'll find out in mid-December if I got in...or didn't. If I do get in, it'll be my goal 100 for the year, and then I'll just do the best I can at the Leadville 100.

Right now I'm reading Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, by Matt Fitzgerald. Why? One of my big goals for 2012 is to set a new personal best in the marathon (which will set me up for virtual automatic entry in the 2013 Boston Marathon). From 2008 to 2009, I had a nice little sub-3-hour streak going but the streak ended in April of this year thanks to 30+ mph winds and hot weather at the Eisenhower Marathon. Anyway, I've registered for the 2012 Georgia Marathon in Atlanta on March 18. Though not an easy course, I'll be looking for a new PR there--especially if the weather cooperates.

Living at nearly 6,200 feet, I've found that I seem to have a huge advantage at sea level when the weather is cool. If it's hot and I'm racing, as was the case at the Eisenhower Marathon in April, I don't feel an advantage. So I'll be pulling for cool weather in Atlanta next March.

Back to the book. I think I need to get down to about 165 pounds to have a shot at a new marathon PR, and to perform well at the Leadville 100. Right now I'm about 170 pounds, so I just need to shed five pounds. Fitzgerald's book has some great information and tips to help you achieve your true racing weight. I need to really be vigilant about the quality of what I'm eating and when I'm eating. I've stuck to three square meals a day and I think it's getting time to start eating more meals but less at each.

The bottom line is that it's hard to run fast for a long distance--and climb mountains--unless you're lean. But there's a difference between skinny and lean. Lean means you have muscle and little fat. Skinny, to me, means you lack muscle. I'm fairly lean but I could be leaner.

Also, I have to get off my ass and start doing some weight training. The more muscle you have, the leaner you'll be. Muscle burns more calories. At 38 years of age, I can't afford to keep avoiding weight training. It has to be part of the mix--high reps, low weight. If only I had the time....

If you're looking to shed a few pounds the right way (read: the healthy way), check out Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ultrarunning Magazine Feature Story / Western States 100 Lottery

If you're a frequent visitor to this blog, you might have noticed I haven't been posting a lot lately. I know, I need to get on it! And I that I'm about done with an amazing feature-length story about Mike Morton that will appear in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine.
I previously interviewed Mike, and that interview provided some great content to build out an enrapturing story. This is the project that I'm most proud of, by far. I'm proud of it for a few reasons. First off, I think it's going to be a nice edition to ultrarunning lore. Second, Mike Morton's story, which goes way beyond that famous 1997 Western States 100 course record, is something you'd ordinarily find in a Hollywood movie--not real life. Yes, his story is that good. Third, the whole process of writing this story was so rewarding and made me feel like a sportswriter. All I was missing was a travel budget!

In telling Mike's story, I've been in contact with the two guys who knew him best back in the '90s--Eric Clifton and Courtney Campbell. Eric, of course, has won lots of races and is still going strong. Courtney, like Mike until a few years ago, has been largely out of ultrarunning for a while, but back in the 90s he and Mike often ran together in--and won--many big races out East. They were once called "The Dynamic Duo."

The story, which is a whopping 4,000 words (every word carefully selected, like grapes for a fine wine), is set to appear in the March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine--you know, the year-end/stats issue. I couldn't be more thrilled that my story is going to run in Ultrarunning magazine, much less its most popular issue of the year!


Tomorrow the Western States 100 lottery registration opens. Yes, I'll be among the billion people trying to get in. We'll see how it goes. I think the lottery results go out on December 11. If I do get in, I'll be gunning for a time under 20 hours. The max 9,000 feet and the snowy stretches at Western won't be too bad for me, since I'm a Colorado runner and I think this is probably the hardest place in the US to run. What's gonna be hard--actually very hard--is the constant downhill the last half and the hot canyons. I imagine at Michigan Bluff I'll be contemplating life, like the rest of 'em.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Leadmas" Season is Upon Us (aka Why I Love Leadville)

If you've been reading this blog a while, you know I have a love affair with Leadville. The whole Leadville experience has become, quite simply, a huge part of my life and the life of my family. It's not just me running the 100 miles; it's an epic effort that Anne and Noah, my mom and dad, dear friends and beloved members of my family all share in on one fine day in August. For me, though, the process starts much earlier as my training ramps up and I hit the trails--an experience that requires a lot of sacrifice on my part and my family's, too.

Leadville is so important and cherished to me that today at 11:00 AM MST I logged onto the race's website to enter the 2012 100-mile run at the very second registration opened. I simply could not fathom missing the LT100 in 2012, or being locked out of registration, and so I confirmed my entry at the earliest possible time. When my registration went through and I got my confirmation e-mail, I breathed a sign of relief. I truly believe the day will come when Leadville turns to a lottery system due to overwhelming demand, and by then I hope to have enough finishes to earn an automatic entry into the race--kind of like how they do it at Hardrock. Until then, my entry will come in the second registration opens!

Me running up Hagerman Pass. 2011.
Like many of us, the town of Leadville has endured its ups and down and continues to deal with a lot of pain to this very day. If you've been to Leadville, which is situated at 10,200 feet in the Rocky Mountains, you probably know all about the town's boom and bust story and what the closure of the Climax mine in the early 1980s did to its proud, hard-working people. Leadville came within inches of death. The creation of the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run by out-of-work miner Ken Chlouber, followed by the Leadville Race Series (which Ken and Merilee Maupin created together), has helped breathe new economic life into the town, bringing thousands of visitors to Leadville and its glorious mountains every summer. We can only hope the new owner of the race series, Lifetime Fitness, continues Ken and Merilee's wonderful work.

I think we all in some way have dealt with pain and adversity in our own lives. I know I have. And so I find inspiration in a town like Leadville, which has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. In many ways, the town has come back from the dead and reinvented itself as the High Altitude Racing Capital of the World. Like many people out there, I have a special place in my heart for Leadville. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to move to Colorado in the first place.

As for the 2012 race, it feels good to have it penciled into my calendar. As of right now, it's my big event for next summer. If by some miracle I get into the Western States 100, my strategy will shift a bit to a strong finish at Western (sub 20 hours) followed by a "strong-as-I-can-muster" finish at Leadville. That would be two epic 100-mile efforts in a period of seven weeks. For some guys and gals (like this dude or that dude), such a feat would be a cake walk. For me, this will be quite a challenge. In 2009, I finished 1st overall at the Mohican 100 and then about 11 weeks later ran 131 miles at the USA 24-Hour National Championship--an effort that really took a toll on me. So it would be interesting to see how I would do with a Western States/Leadville double. That said, I'm well aware that my chance of getting into Western is very low, which would mean Leadville--and the sub-20 finish there I've been chasing for a few years--would be my only focus. That's just the way the WS100 lottery works these days.

Parting words: You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can. That's the motto of the Leadville 100. Words to live by? Yes, indeed.

And, last, my personal Leadville 100 theme song: