Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: Fit2Fat2Fit, by Drew Manning

Drew Manning was a militant personal trainer who pushed his clients hard. Like many of us who have worked hard to achieve better health and fitness, the Salt Lake City fitness guru failed to really understand the plight of overweight, out of shape people, chalking up their lot in life to bad choices and lack of discipline.

I suspect Manning’s world view of obesity and poor fitness is quite common among our ilk—those of us who run every day because we enjoy it. Nothing will stop us from getting in the miles—not rain, not sleet, not snow, not even injury and illness. The same could probably be said of cyclists, triathletes, weight lifters, CrossFitters, etc. And yet, paradoxically, many of us, including me, have weight loss stories. Over time, the fat burned away and we developed lean bodies, big lungs, hard muscles...and militant attitudes. As we lace up our shoes for another 20-miler, we wonder why it’s so hard for others to also get it together when our lives prove that it can be done. Yeah, they must be lazy. Too much Judge Judy, too little blood, sweat and tears.

Some of us develop almost hostile feelings about obesity. We self-righteously dismiss people who are obese as lazy, weak and undisciplined. We stare at them, silently judging their appearance, behavior and decisions. While our commitment to health is almost militaristic, the obese, because of what we perceive as personal weakness, make bad choices—from living on the sofa to visiting the drive-thru daily. In a world of rising obesity (two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese), the disdain only intensifies, giving way to righteous indignation.

As told in Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 Lbs. on Purpose, Drew Manning lived in that world daily. Sure, he had his fair share of client success stories—those who overcame their weight problem in discovering better health through lifestyle changes—but too often Manning’s clients didn’t make it. Takes James as an example.

For a few months Manning had been working with James, a family member who was struggling with his weight. James showed progress in the beginning, but soon he began skipping workouts, falling prey to old habits and putting weight back on. Manning was perplexed, unable to understand why James had fallen off the wagon when he had seen encouraging progress. Manning stewed over the situation, pushing James hard. Then came James’ decision to go it alone, effectively firing Manning.

Manning’s experience with James proved pivotal, caused him to question his entire approach with clients. Maybe he’d been doing something wrong all these years. Maybe clients didn’t need a drill sergeant; maybe they needed something more—someone who could truly connect with them in their journey to better health, someone who had been there themselves.

Manning was, he writes, on top of a mountain, and James was at the base, stifled by the fear of having to get to the summit by himself. Manning had failed to understand why James couldn’t get to the top. But then Manning realized it wasn’t the summit, per se, that hindered James; it was the journey through endlessly challenging terrain that overwhelmed him. James didn’t have the support he needed to navigate the pitfalls on the way to the top. “If the start of my trail was at the top of the mountain, enjoying the view,” he writes, “how could I understand what it was like for people to find their way from the bottom?”

That realization ultimately drove Manning to do something few of us could ever conceive. To the shock of his family and friends, he decided to stop working out, stop eating healthy, and put on 75 pounds over the next six months. Green smoothies would be replaced with big bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He'd shop the junk food aisles, avoiding the produce section. Time spent at the gym would now be spent in front of the TV. He would document his journey via a blog that would soon attract legions of followers.

Not surprisingly, the weight came on fast, and soon Manning began experiencing what it was like to live with obesity—shortness of breath, judgmental stares from others, exhaustion, addiction to certain foods, chafing and even problems tying his own shoes. He had trouble keeping up with his daughter. Even his marriage was affected, despite his wife Lynn’s support of the experiment (his wife authors a chapter in the book).

But Manning’s journey to obesity is only half of the story. In his book, he also documents his return to fitness, which didn’t come as easily as he expected it would. A full 75 pounds heavier, he had developed addictions to certain foods, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Mountain Dew. Overcoming these addictions and getting back in shape were a far greater struggle than he anticipated. Early on, he decided to correct his diet, and then eventually he got back in the gym, having to compensate for his weight as he worked out. This part of the story reveals the true plight of the obese in confronting the many daunting obstacles to achieving better health—and it’s what ultimately helped Manning become a better personal trainer and motivator for his clients.

At only 135 pages, not including sections with recipes, meal plans, exercises and workouts, Fit2Fat2Fit is an easy, fast read. In many ways, it’s a touch and go account of Manning’s extraordinary journey. He probes some significant issues related to obesity, like food addiction and troubling grocery store marketing practices, but I would have liked a far deeper dive into his experiences with getting fat and getting fit again, and into the environmental factors related to obesity (like food marketing).

Fit2Fat2Fit: The Unexpected Lessons from Gaining and Losing 75 Lbs. on Purpose, by Drew Manning with Brad Pierce, is recommended.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pressing the Reset Button and Focusing on the Road (for Now)

Sometimes you just have to press the reset button. After nine years of running long distances--six of which have been spent doing mostly trail ultras of the 100-mile variety--it's great to start anew.

I'm back wearing stability shoes and light-weight trainers and, for the first time in months, I can actually feel the ground beneath me. At this point, I don't really miss my Hokas. Yeah, they're super soft, but Hokas just don't give my feet the support I need. I can't help but wonder if Hokas weren't somehow connected to my injuries of late. Instability in the feet often leads to soft-tissue injuries such as tendonitis in the shins, knee pain, etc. I'm not necessarily blaming Hokas; I'm just saying maybe I need more support in a shoe. So I'm going back to the type of shoes that I started out in so many years ago, with particular emphasis on weight (or lack thereof).

I've managed to mostly put my DNF at Leadville behind me. I still have feelings of sadness over what went down that day, and I'm dead set on being ready for next year's race (already booked our cabin). But right now I'm trying to get 100% healthy (free of all of the little aches and pains you develop preparing for a 100-miler) and ready for my Phoenix Marathon training. Phoenix is on January 20. Coming from 6,200 feet to a sea level city known for its nice weather in January (average temperature that time of year is in the mid-50s), I'll be looking for a new PR in the "Valley of the Sun." To say I'm motivated would be an understatement. But right now I'm being patient and allowing some time to heal.

I've always been a road guy at heart. I love the trail, and I love the mountains we have out here in Colorado, but I started out a road runner and many (but not all) of my most memorable races have been on pavement (e.g., Cleveland Marathon in 2008, Lt. JC Stone 50K in 2009, North Coast 24-Hour in 2009). I still believe that the greatest measure of a runner is his or her marathon time. At the same time, I remain hopeful that road ultras will make a comeback.

My last marathon was in April of 2011, when I finished fifth overall and first in my age group at the small-town but very charming Eisenhower Marathon in Kansas. The hot, windy weather that day really posed difficulties, leading to a disappointing 3:11. With Phoenix, I want to get my marathon time back down below three hours, with the added benefit of early entry in Boston in 2014. I figure I don't have many more years to try to best my 2:58 marathon PR.

The last time I was really focused on a marathon was the fall of 2008, when I trained for the Columbus Marathon. A few days ago I looked back on my Columbus training and it reveals the building blocks of a good marathon program--intervals, tempo runs and 20+ milers. Unfortunately, my training was a bit inconsistent, as Noah was just a few months old at the time. A couple of weeks before Columbus I strained my hamstring, but I still came in under three hours. The next spring I ran another sub-three as I was training for a 100-miler, but that marathon (Cleveland) wasn't a goal race.

So this fall I'll be 100% dedicated to Phoenix. I'm having a minor surgical procedure in mid-September, probably requiring a week off from training. But, other than that, I'll be banging out the miles and doing lots of quality. I know what I have to do--lots of 20+ milers, intervals and tempo running. The good news is that I can crank out a 20-miler in ~2:30 or better, starting from my doorstep. I'm super excited and hopeful for decent weather through December. Hopefully I can find a few half-marathons for tune-up runs.

As always, I'll be posting updates on my training. Yeah, it'll be good to put away my trail shoes for a bit and hit the road for some fast stuff, with dreams of a new 26.2 PR.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Returning to Leadville

Over the past few days I've been blown away by the e-mails and blog posts I've gotten expressing support and words of encouragement. I cannot thank all of you enough--you know who you are. Your support has really lifted me in these past few days and put a lot of wind in my sails. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you.

I want to congratulate everyone who finished Leadville this year! That is a huge accomplishment, whether you were sub-25 or sub-30. Believe me when I say I have a new appreciation for finishing a 100!

I've decided to return to Leadville in 2013. I want to run a fast marathon in January, and then I want to transition into a new kind of Leadville training that will have me mentally and physically dialed in next August. I believe I can do it, but, most importantly, I know I can do it. Having spoken with a few people I trust, I know what I need to do. I don't need to start doing it yet (now is the time for recovery and, believe it or not, I need to lose some fitness before I start training with a purpose again), but I know the plan, and a plan is where you start. I have to rebuild myself. I have to start over--and I like that.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

2012 Leadville 100-Mile Run: DNF

I DNF'd at Winfield, which is the halfway point of the race. Coming into Twin Lakes (mile 39.5), I felt some pain in my left knee, but I wasn't too worried. The pain, however, intensified as I was descending Hope Pass on the southside. By the time I entered Winfield, I'd already made my mind up that it was over. To my family's shock, I had one of the volunteers cut my wrist band. I was very fortunate to have Diana Finkel, multiple-times women's winner at the Hardrock 100, there to counsel me through my decision. She was very supportive and my respect for her is even higher now than it was before.

To say it was an agonizing decision would be an understatement. My pacer, Scott Schrader, had driven up to Leadville to help ME finish this race. My parents and Anne and Noah were up there to support ME. I had so much support--so many people behind me--and so to DNF really cut deep. This was my first DNF ever. It hurts like hell--it's the worst mental hurt I've felt in a long, long time. It's going to take a long time to get over my disappointment.

I'm pretty sure what I have is a case of runner's knee. Structurally, my knee seems to be okay, but on descents the pain is very bad and I have very little strength in my left leg as a result. I guess you could say the course won yesterday. But I do think, having gotten the opinion of others, that the very aggressive deep-tissue massage I got the Monday before the race played a big factor in the issues I experienced during the race. Getting such a hard massage was a mistake.

I'm going to think hard about my future as an ultrarunner. Ultrarunning will always be part of my life, but yesterday I felt like my body came apart on me. Not only was my left knee a major issue, but I fought wicked leg cramps going up Hope Pass. I was just having a bad day, and my knee ultimately was the greater decider as to whether I continued or dropped. But, then again, I just didn't have a lot of fight in me at Winfield. I didn't ask to have my knee taped. With 50 gueling miles still in front of me, I was unwilling to see if I could somehow battle through the very bad pain in my knee. If I had just 20 miles to go, I'd have gutted it out, as I always do. Time-wise, I was doing pretty well--I entered Winfield in about 9:30 (9:15 last year but, with the new trail connecting Hope Pass and Winfield, the course is now longer and harder).

I am thinking about focusing on shorter races in 2013 (and by shorter I mean marathons, which are long to most normal people) and seeing if I can finally get a new marathon PR. I'm sure I'll come back to 100s, but at this point it's hard to imagine doing that in 2013. Sometimes you just need a break. For me, I think a year off from 100s will do wonders for my body...and mind. I've been going pretty hard for six years, and have fought some pretty good battles in that time. At some point damage accrues, and you're left with few other options than just healing. That's where I am now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Leadville Night Run

On Saturday, I headed up to Brandon's (beautiful) place in Leadville for his annual Leadville night run. I'll be honest; I was scared going into this run because I've been dealing with this bizarre issue in my right heel for the past few weeks. I had to start my taper a week earlier than expected, hoping that some rest, self-therapy and cross-training would allow whatever the problem was to clear up. But, alas, on Saturday my heel was still aching a bit, causing me to really second-guess attending the run. However, not wanting to miss the opportunity to cover a critical section of the course and enjoy some good fellowship in the process, I ventured up to Leadville.

I arrived at about 5:00 p.m., with a case of Dale's Pal Ale in hand (which I handed to our gracious hosts), and quickly got to work setting up my camp in Brandon's "backyard." Any time I get the opportunity to camp out, especially in a place like Leadville, I'm happy. So, with the capable assistance of Scott W., I set up my tent and got my stuff all situated, before heading up to the cabin to hang out and enjoy a delicious pre-run meal of spaghetti, grilled chicken and eggplant parmesan (which I'd later regret...).

At about 7:30, Brandon convened all of us--about 35 in all--in his driveway for some pre-run instruction, and then we all got into vehicles and were driven to the Fish Hatchery. The hatchery is at mile 76.5 of the course. The planned route for the evening would take us from the hatchery over Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass (elevation 11,100 feet) via a 1,500-foot climb, and then down the pass and the Colorado Trail to the Mayqueen camping area. We would then take the trail along Turquoise Lake and eventually connect with the Boulevard, before meeting back at Brandon's house.

The run started promptly at 8:00 p.m. From the first step (in my Hoka One One Stinson Evos, no less), I knew this was going to be a good run for me. My foot quickly loosened up, allowing me to run with confidence. My legs felt fresh and ready for what was ahead.

Remarkably (for me, at least), I ran up the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb with Nick Clark and a guy whose name escapes me (updated: former 2004 and 2008 Olympic middle-distance runner Michael Aish, who is a 2:13 marathoner!)--he owns (or maybe operates?) the Boulder Running Company store off Arapahoe Road. I'm sure they weren't going at maximum effort, but the fact that I could keep up with these two very capable runners all the way to the top of the pass, even holding a conversation, really struck me as amazing. I haven't run a lot of big climbs this summer, but I have done well with my long tempo runs, so as I ran up Powerline/Sugarloaf with Nick and the other dude all I was thinking was, "Well, maybe this is from those hard tempos?"

So, there we were at the top of Sugarloaf (about 5.5 miles into the run), refueling and waiting for the rest of the group (I'm sure there were others who could have gotten to the top quickly, too, but instead chose a more leisurely effort). I was thrilled that I got to the top so effortlessly, and by effortlessly I mean I wasn't ever out of breath. I could hold a conversation the whole time. And I had barely broken a sweat. This was a great confidence booster since Powerline/Sugarloaf has been such a mental challenge for me in the past two 100s.

Once all of us were at the top, we resumed our run. Boosted by a Hammer Gel, I took off down Sugarloaf Pass, trying to keep good turnover despite pitch-black conditions. Scott blew past me just before the Colorado Trail entrance. Once on the Colorado Trail, Nick took the lead and I settled in behind him, paying close attention to how he moved and handled the fairly technical terrain. Here I was running behind a trail running master and a heavy favorite for the win--a cool opportunity to learn from one of the best.

About ten miles into our run we came upon George and Footfeathers (Tim Long), who had graciously agreed to set up a makeshift aid station on the back of GZ's SUV. I had a few chips and partook in a shot of Dale's Pale Ale. The rest of the crew filtered in and then, after a few minutes of fellowship, we took off for Mayqueen.

I have to be honest--I hate the section of the course from Mayqueen to the finish. It's boring and it seems to take forever. So I didn't particularly enjoy the last 11.5 miles of the run nearly as much as the first 10. I slowed my pace a bit but still stayed fairly close to the lead group. There's nothing exciting at all to report on those final 11.5 miles, except that I hated the thought of having to do it again in two weeks!

Unfortunately, some post-run stomach issues prevented me from really enjoying the festivities afterward. While everyone was inside enjoying delicious soup, I was in my tent on the verge of throwing up. All I got down was some water and orange slices. Maybe I ate too much before the run? I got next to no sleep that night and drove home with the assistance of a big Starbucks coffee purchased in Frisco.

Stats on the run:
  • 3 hours, 32 minutes
  • 21.5 miles
  • 2,400 feet of climbing
This run was a great confidence-booster. I can now enter my taper knowing my foot is okay. In fact, my foot is better since the run--maybe it just needed a little extra bloodflow and movement to heal. At any rate, I'm still amazed that I got to the top of Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass so well. I'm sure those three nights in Keystone (elevation 9,300 feet) the week before played a factor, but I felt a new kind of strength in my legs that I haven't felt maybe ever. I'm positive the long tempo runs have paid off.

I really have no expectations for Leadville, except to (try to) run a smart race starting with the first step. I'll be entering Mayqueen in 1:55-2:00 (last year 1:48--waaaaay to fast) and will look to get to Winfield in around 9 hours (once again). The real race begins at Winfield, but not until the Fish Hatchery inbound do things really get interesting. I'm not worried about Hope Pass; it kicks everyone's butt, especially the steep backside.

Thanks to Brandon and his family for hosting Saturday's run. It was great to get to Leadville and spend time with friends who I don't get to see nearly enough.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Leadville 100 Information for First-Timers

I've been getting a lot of e-mails from first-time Leadville 100-Mile entrants. It's great to see so many folks psyched about what is undoubtedly one of the two or three most awesome 100-milers in the world today.

My two El Plato Grande buckes. Yep, I look forward to adding a third.

Over the past few years, I've written quite a bit about Leadville, including a detailed, two-part course description. Below is everything you might need to know about the big race, and I would encourage you to also reach out to other veterans via the Yahoo group. Also, here are three bits of advice I encourage you to consider if this is your first Leadville 100:
  1. Do not go out too fast, even if a slow(er) start means you're in that epic traffic jam along the lake. Leadville is at 10,200 feet. If you go out fast, even if your pace "feels good," you'll likely pay for it later when the altitude finally catches up to you. Leadville is a race that rewards patience. The true essence of Leadville is from Fish Hatchery to the finish, when most runners are staggering. If you can run/hike those last 24 miles strong, you will pass a ton of people.
  2. Hike the big climbs. Most runners will hike Hope Pass both ways and also the Powerline climb. Hopefully you've incorporated walking/hiking into your training.
  3. The return trip is way harder than the outbound trip, so be sure to have a lot in the tank when you turn around at Winfield. This is a well-established fact. It's very hard to even-split Leadville when you have the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb on the return trip. If your goal is 25 hours, then I would suggest your first-half split be something like 11:30, allowing for a second-half split of 13:30.
Detailed course description
Tips for First-Timers
Here I cover everything from trekking poles and dealing with the altitude to nutrition and pacing.
Also check out Coach Weber's very helpful Leadville Pacing Patterns and Charts.

My Race Reports
  • 2011 (29th overall, 22:35)
  • 2010 (92nd overall, 24:47)
History Lesson
Here I write about the town's history and the aura behind its legendary 100-mile footrace.

More Stuff
Click here for my All Things Leadville landing page.

Also, check out, which is maintained by a friend of mine, Brandon Fuller.

Finally, check out Adam Feerst's Leadville 100 pacing guide.

Inspirational Videos

This video makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. RIP, Micah True.

You really want to know what Leadville is all about? This video of AJW losing his lunch represents the essence of Leadville. Yep, Leadville has a way of making you puke. Last year I barfed while still running, to the shock (and amazement) of my pacer, Lance.

And this video gives you a good idea of what Hope Pass is like. The lakes in the top righthand corner of the screen are Twin Lakes--where you're coming from and have to go back to. Oh, and that's Timmy Parr, an elite, hiking up Hope.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hal Koerner

Ultrarunning is about grit and determination. It's about digging deep when the chips are down, even if that means just putting one foot in front of the other.

Late in a race, when your legs are trashed and your spirit is nearly broken, sometimes all you have is raw desire. At that moment in time, nothing else in the world matters--not your job, not your house, not your bank account, not that stack of bills to pay, not your iPhone, and not even the shoes on your feet. All that matters is that you're here, with so many miles still in front of you and even more behind you, and you have to go deep in the well to finish.

Ultrarunning holds great appeal to me because it allows me to step into another life that is very different than the one I live every day. It strips me down to my core being. It simplifies life to its most basic terms, which is very refreshing because life is just too damned complicated. The primal side of ultrarunning is what draws me to races like the Leadville 100. There's nothing pretty, fancy, comfortable or easy about running 100 miles, and I like that.

Having said that, unless you've been under a rock, Hal Koerner, 36, from Ashland, Oregon, won the Hardrock 100 a few weeks ago with a time of 24:50. Held in the beautiful San Juan Range here in Colorado, Hardrock involves over 33,000 feet of climbing, with an average elevation of over 11,000 feet. The San Juan Range involves some seriously rugged mountains that require your very best.

I've long admired Hal, who grew up right here in Parker, Colorado (his folks are still here) and now owns and operates a specialty running shop in Ashland. When talking about Hal, lots of people may refer to his two Western States 100 wins, or maybe his recent bullet fast times at the Javelina 100 and Rocky Raccoon 100, or maybe even his Hardrock victory. Me? I think back to a race many might consider one of his worst--the 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. I wrote about his performance at the 2011 Mont Blanc a few days after the race and even honored him with my very own "Get 'er Done Award." You see, Hal had kind of a bad day at Mont Blanc and finished way behind the leaders. But unlike many other elites out there that day, Hal didn't drop to save his legs for the next big race. No, he forged ahead, battling through some nasty adversity on the way to finishing one of the toughest 100-mile mountain races in the world. Hal showed true grit and determination.

I would contend, and call me crazy, that Hal's ability to fight through dark times at Mont Blanc later served him quite well at Hardrock. Hardrock isn't a race you're going to get through without some nasty moments. I mean moments that would make the final 10K of a marathon look like Disney World. Hal was prepared for those moments, thanks in part to the never-quit attitude he displayed at Mont Blanc. Granted, he's DNF'd at a few races in his day, but for some reason last August he refused to quit in France--he persevered. And through perseverance you build character--the kind of character that helps you finish (and win) the toughest 100-miler in the world.

It's no wonder Hal is one of the most popular ultrarunners alive today and a mentor to many, including Timothy Olson, who just set the record at Western States. He's kind of an old-school guy who's managed to stay quite relevant years and years after entering the sport. Just when you think Hal might be washed up, he runs 13 and change at a few flat and fast 100s, and then breaks the tape at a hardcore mountain race despite living at 1,800 feet in Oregon (he did use an altitude chamber to prepare for Hardrock).

Beyond his grit, Hal's also very versatile. He's managed to somehow burn up fast courses like Javelina and Rocky Raccoon while also prevailing in a hardcore mountain race like Hardrock. That's what I call versatility, and we see so little of it these days, unless we're talking about the exceptions, such as  this dude and that gal.

I'll be thinking about Hal at Leadville when I'm battling through dark moments going up Powerline and wanting to walk from Mayqueen to the finish.

So here's to a true champion--Hal Koerner!