Monday, April 23, 2012

Week Ending 4/22 - Rediscovering that 5th Gear

At the risk of jinxing myself, I’m in a very good place with my running. I have a way to go in being ready for the Leadville 100 and in sub-20-hour shape, but right now my fitness is progressing well and I’m extremely excited about my first race of the year—the Cheyenne Mountain 50K this weekend. At last year’s race, I finished 15th overall with a 5:25. When I crossed the finish line, I’d run something like 102 miles in the last seven days, so I wasn’t fresh going into the race, but I still finished very strong. In fact, my strength in the last 2-3 miles is my most vivid memory from the race. This year, if the forecast holds (high of 60 degrees) and all goes well, I’ll be looking to go sub-5 hours. With a one-week taper, I think that’s a doable goal.

The Cheyenne Mountain 50K is a two-lap course with something like 5,000 feet of climbing and 5,000 feet of descending. It’s moderately difficult but not super hard—and definitely very runnable. In other words, the course suits me almost perfectly. Breaking from a bad habit I’ve developed in the past two years (a bad habit that can destroy your race here in Colorado), my strategy will be to run the first half (loop one) pretty conservatively and then try to pick it up in the second half (loop two) and maybe climb a few places in the pecking order. I think passing runners late in a race is way more motivating—and will keep you going strong—than getting passed. 


Over the past few weeks I’ve made two changes that have really made a difference in how I feel and perform. The first change was getting back to the track after basically avoiding it for the past two years. Although I’ve only done two track workouts so far this spring, already I’m feeling the difference. It’s like I’ve been running with only four gears for the past two years—since we moved to Colorado in April of 2010. I tried a few track workouts early on but got frustrated by my times and how I felt, as the track I use is at 6,200 feet. So I avoided it at all costs and, as a result, got slower. No longer. I’ve recommitted myself to the track and have adjusted my workouts to the elevation, doing anything from 800s to 1200s with some 100-meter striders mixed in. Eventually I’d like to get back up to 3x1600, my old bread-and-butter workout when we lived back East. With a weekly regiment that now includes intervals and tempo running, over the last week I noticed that my stride feels more efficient and I’m faster—like I’ve got a new fifth gear. I’m not sure why I allowed myself to stray from the track when I knew it would help, but I did—and I’m glad I’m now back at it.

I do believe that success in 100s is as much about efficiency as it is about strength. I see lots of ultrarunners out there (I’ve been guilty of this in the past) just doing long, slow distance—which isn’t going to make them faster or better. To really break through, I think you need to develop good efficiency and leg turnover—which come with a commitment to fast stuff. If you have good efficiency and turnover, you use your energy more efficiently and will be able to cover the miles faster. Or so my theory goes. Anyway, I love the structure my new weekly training plan allows.

The second change I’ve made is cutting my coffee intake by 60%. For the past two or three years I’ve been drinking way too much coffee on a daily basis—a huge cup before my run in the morning, then another cup when I got to work, and then a third cup around 2:00 pm. On occasion the caffeine had caused my heart to go wacky (a benign condition), made me nervous and affected my sleep. Now I’m just allowing myself one cup before my run and that’s it. Instead of coffee the rest of the day, I’m drinking water.


For the week ending April 22, I made the decision to cut volume just a tad to begin my taper for the Cheyenne Mountain 50K. I still got in a little over 72 miles. I’m going to get far more out of Cheyenne (mentally and physically) if I’m well-rested and do well there, versus training through it and not being as strong and fast I could have been. Here’s how the week went:

Monday: Easy/recovery
AM: 5 miles in 41:33 on the treadmill. There is something about the treadmill on Monday mornings that I like. I just get on, run the first mile in 8:50 and then eventually ease into 8:00 miles while enjoying Noah’s rambunctious company in the basement. I was surprised that my legs felt so good a day after hammering it down the Barr Trail.

Tuesday: easy
AM: 9.05 miles in 1:12 on the trails around my house. This was to be interval day, but, alas, I was quite tired and my hips were a tad too sore for fast stuff. So, I decided to just go easy and delay intervals to Wednesday. Saw a beautiful sunrise.

Wednesday: intervals
AM: 10 miles in 1:14. On the heels of a pretty horrendous first-of-the-year interval session the week before, this was a pretty decent track workout. I wore my very flexible lightweight trainers, which help me move more smoothly around the track. After a 1.5-mile warm-up running to the track from my doorstep, I did four 100-meter striders and then went right into my intervals. Workout was 3x1200 at 4:16, 4:16 and 4:20, followed by 1x800 at 2:55 (slow!). Fairly happy with my 1200-meter times but quite unhappy with that slow 800. That said, this was only my second track workout of the season. Eventually I want to work up to 3x1600 at around 5:38-5:42 each—not easy when you’re at 6200 feet. Cooled down on the trail loop behind the high school and jogged home. Listened to Mike Morton’s awesome interview on

Thursday: easy
AM: 6.25 miles in 50 minutes on the treadmill. Had an early morning meeting, so I had to start this run at 5:00 AM and only had 50 minutes to work with. For some reason, I wasn’t motivated to run outside this early, so I stayed in and ran on the treadmill while listening to

PM: 4.5 miles in 37 minutes on the Cherry Creek Trail during lunch. Included 7 minutes of barefoot running. Forgot my socks but decided to run anyway and, consequently, developed a nasty blister on my left Achilles, cutting my run short. Not good! You can develop Achilles tendonitis from irritation, and so I washed the area thoroughly when done and bandaged it up pretty well.

Friday: tempo
AM: 7.85 miles in 55 minutes on the Parker roads. I had another early morning meeting so this was all I had to work with for my tempo run. A solid effort.  Splits were: 1) 8:46 (warm up), 2) 6:37, 3) 6:17, 4) 6:13, 5) 6:28 (uphill), 6) 6:17, 7) 7:54  (begin cooldown) and 7.85) 6:43. Quite pleased.

PM: 5.2 miles in 41 minutes on the Cherry Creek Trail during lunch. Ran the single track and enjoyed the beautiful scenery all around me. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that beyond the banks of Cherry Creek is a bustling urban area.

Saturday: longish
AM: 13 miles in 1:40 mostly on the Parker trails and some roads in between. 1,000’. Felt very strong. Nice weather though slightly windy. Didn’t want to do too many miles with the race just a week away.

Sunday: longish
AM: 12 miles in 1:30 on the trail loop behind Legend High School. 800’. Mile 11 in 5:56 (on the Sulphur Gulch Trail on the way back home). This was an awesome run—I felt strong, fast and light on my feet and could have run much, much farther. A good confidence-booster with the 50K a week away. Again, didn’t want to over-tax myself.

Weekly totals:
  • 72.9 miles run
  • ~3,500 feet of climbing (pretty low)
  • Total training: 9:24
  • 9 total runs
  • 7 minutes of barefoot running
  • Averaged 7:45/mile
  • Push-ups and core work
Year to date mileage:
  • 1,024.5 miles run
  • 118 miles biked
  • 2.6 miles walked
The plan this week is to take it easy and be well-rested going into the Cheyenne Mountain 50K. I'm going to still do my quality, but will cut back on the volume and probably take Friday off. What I do the week after Cheyenne is yet-to-be-determined and really has to do with how I'm feeling after the race. Ideally, I'll be back in action.

Looking more long-term, I'm going to keep my mileage at about 80-85/week through May and then will jump up to 90/week in June, followed by some big efforts in July to help get me peaking for the Leadville 100--including an all-night run of 30+ miles in a location yet to be determined. I'll be sure to take recovery weeks every so often to stay fresh. The ultimate tell-tale of whether I need recovery is if I simply can't get in good quality because I'm so tired and trashed.


  1. i'm curious whether the reduction in caffeine has shown any tangible results. if it was affecting your sleep, obviously there is a clear area you could easily recognize a difference. anything else?

    i drink a lot of coffee and often wonder if i should consider skipping a cup or two... but never end up doing so because i like it so much.

  2. Eric: I don't know if it's a function of aging, but I've gotten quite sensitive to too much caffeine and sugar. Yesterday around 4 pm I had some dark chocolaate-covered walnuts and was up last night with insomnia and then when I did fall asleep it wasn't a restful sleep at all. I've come to the realization that I have to limit my caffeine and sugar intake or else it's going to screw up my sleep patterns. As far as running performance, I don't know if reducing coffee intake has made a difference or will make a difference, but I do know that lately I've been feeling good on my runs.