Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ramping Up for the Marathon / Ultrarunner of the Year Thoughts

Now that I've turned the corner in my recovery from a minor surgical procedure I've been putting off for too long, my thoughts are turning to the Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon in Pheonix on January 20. I've already registered for the race and booked my hotel room. I still need to get my flight. These are important steps in the mental engagement process.

Of course, the biggest factors in preparing for a race aren't getting a hotel room or even registering (though certainly both are vital). The most important things you can do are dedicate yourself to the goal at hand and do the right training. My goal is to run a 2:55 in Phoenix. I've begun running again, after a full week off as I recovered, and have set October 1 as the official start of my marathon training.

My training is going to be much more strategic than in years past. It used to be that I just ran a bunch of miles, including speedwork, tempo runs and long runs, and showed up at the start hoping for the best. Usually, things worked out well (yeah, those were the good 'ole days). This time around, what most matters to me is peaking on race day and being 100% healthy. I'm re-reading Daniels' Running Formula (which I first read in 2006) and am focusing heavily on the build-up stages I'm going to need to do to get in peak shape. Right now, I'm just trying to re-establish my fitness, as I lost a step or two just from that week off. Plus, I'm still not 100% from the procedure.

Contrary to what Paul Ryan might have us think, breaking three hours in the marathon is a challenge for most of us. I know because I've done it three times (in a row). You have to put in the right kind of training, which includes fast stuff and long stuff. Over the past few years I think I've gotten lazy with my long runs, instead going on lots of outings of 18 or fewer miles and then maybe doing a double later in the day so that I could say, yeah, I did 22 or 23 miles that day. But no matter how you slice it, there's no substitute for a good, quality 20-22-miler when you're training for a marathon--just as 30-35-milers are incredibly important to preparing for a 100-miler. There's no substitute for a focused tempo run. And there's nothing quite like hammering it around a track or doing fast fartleks.

As much as I'm excited about Phoenix, I've had moments where I've felt pulled to do another ultra this year. With my DNF at Leadville, I don't meet the qualification criteria for Western States in 2013. That really sucks because I would have had an extra ticket in the lottery. I thought for a brief moment in time about finding a qualifying 50-miler and gettin' it done, but that would just interfere with my marathon PR goal. So, after doing some soul-searching, I've decided not to do any more ultras this year and instead focus on getting ready for Phoenix, which I think will establish a super-solid base for my Leadville training.

I'm also thinking a little about 2013. I know there's Phoenix on January 20 and the Leadville 100 in August. I'm going to race less and instead use the time to train on the Leadville course and get 100% comfortable with every section, mostly notably the entire Hope Pass section (from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back). But I'd like to do a few races. I'm considering the Lt. JC Stone 50K, a road race in Pittsburgh that's run on the old GNC Ultras course, in March. I did the JC Stone in 2009, finishing fifth overall with a 3:46 despite a hideous upper-respiratory bug, and it's a great race. I'd love to go back to the Mt. Evans Ascent--there's something about that race. Then there's the Leadville Trail Marathon in June. We'll see.


Final note: I don't know about you, but in my mind 40-year-old Mike Morton is a lock for Ultrarunner of the Year. His record-breaking 172.457-mile performance at the 24-hour World Championship in Poland a few weeks ago just sealed the deal. Averaging 8:21 pace for 24 hours--and that includes refueling and bathroom stops--is just insane (even more insane: Yiannis Kouros' world record 188 miles in 24 hours). This year alone, Mike's had three 100-milers all under 14 hours (winning each), a near record-setting win at Badwater and of course that eye-popping performance at the 24-hour worlds. I do think Tim Olson should get consideration, especially for Performance of the Year (though here again I think Mike is the favorite with his 24-hour result), but Mike has clearly had the best year of any ultrarunner out there.

For the women, I think Connie Gardner, who logged 149.368 miles at the 24-hour worlds to set a new American record, should get Performance of the Year. Of course, the venerable Ellie Greenwood, who may one day best many of Ann Trason's records, gets the women's UROY.

I guess some may say I'm crazy for not thinking Ellie and Tim should get Performance of the Year for their incredible Western States records. Those were great results for sure, but let's not forget that the weather that day was insanely cool compared to the norm. In areas of the course where the temp usually hits 100+ degrees, people were wearing jackets.

In summary:
  • Ultrarunner of the Year/Men: Mike Morton (landslide victory)
  • Ultrarunner of the Year/Women: Ellie Greenwood (landslide victory)
  • Performance of the Year/Men: Mike Morton, 24-hour worlds (narrowly edges out Tim Olson, Western States)
  • Performance of the Year/Women: Connie Gardner, 24-hour worlds (very narrowly edges out Ellie Greenwood, Western States)
I can't end this post without also throwing out props to a runner who I've admired for years and recently collected his 31st career win at the 100-mile distance. At the tender age of 44, he beat out some seriously fast dudes nearly half his age, and in the process he earned a five-figure paycheck for yet another great day at the office. Congratulations to one of my heroes, Karl Meltzer, a.k.a. the Wasatch Speedgoat, on winning the inaugural Run Rabbit Run 100-Mile. Karl's mojo is legendary and, yeah, for him, "100 miles isn't that far."

Final thought: Karl's win at Run Rabbit Run, because of his age, was every bit as surprising to me as Hal Koerner's amazing win at Hardrock this year (Hal lives in Ashland, Oregon, which is at a paltry 1,800 feet, but grew up in Colorado). The smart money was on guys like Joe Grant and Dakota "Young Money" Jones to win Hardrock, but ultimately Hal, being a grizzled veteran, got 'er done, just as Karl brought it at Run Rabbit Run.

Let me know what your thoughts are on who gets UROY and Performance of the Year!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interview with Jay Aldous, World Record Holder

Jay Aldous is a 51-year-old ultrarunning phenom. Anyone who follows the sport closely will undoubtedly recall his scorching 13:52 100-mile split at the 2011 Desert Solstice 24-hour race, setting a new world record for the 50 to 54 age group. Ultrarunning magazine voters recognized Jay's incredible Desert Solstice performance as the 2011 Age Group Performance of the Year.

Jay has been around ultrarunning for quite some time. He finished the 1980 Western States 100 (at the age of 18) and 1983 Wasatch 100, but then he disappeared from the sport for some 25 years, turning his attention to family, career opportunities and a record-breaking cycling journey around the world. Since his 2008 return to ultrarunning, Jay has been on a rampage with several top-five finishes at high-profile events like the Leadville 100, Javelina Jundred and Burning River 100 and wins at the Devil's Backbone 50-mile, Salt Lakes 100-mile and Pony Express 100-mile, to name a few. In a few weeks, he'll line up at the North Coast 24-Hour in Cleveland to gun for a 100-mile time under 13:30.

Here, Jay shares some of his training strategies, an interesting story about his 1983 Wasatch 100 finish, his thoughts on how ultrarunning has changed over the years, and much more.

Jay's interests beyond running include skiing, snowboarding, cycling and traveling. He lives in Salt Lake City and is chief strategist at Social Capital Partnerships, a fundraising consulting firm based in Chicago. He's previously held senior marketing and communications positions at UNICEF, The Brighton Group and Children's Miracle Network (which I find personally interesting since we're in a similar line of work).

So sit back and enjoy what you're about to read, because these are the words of an ultrarunning master.

Silver City 50K - Photo by Michael Lebowitz
WH: Jay, thank you for coming on the Running Man blog for this interview. I have to say: When people talk about the best ultrarunners out there, names like Koerner, Jornet, Morton, Meltzer and Olson come up. But when I look at your age, 51, and some of the results you’re logging, like that age group record-breaking 13:52 100-mile split at the Desert Solstice 24-hour run last year, I think one could make an argument that you’re up there with the most elite. And I also want to mention you ran a 16:16 at last year’s Burning River 100. As a former Clevelander and Burning River finisher, I know that course and the conditions well, and that’s a hell of a time. And as a Leadville finisher, I'm in awe of what you've done on that course. Congratulations on your amazing success.

Now, let’s get down to it. You’ve been running ultras for a while—and I also read somewhere that you’re a pretty strong cyclist. I checked your results and it looks like you finished Western States in 1980. I also found a 1983 Wasatch finish, but then it looks like you didn't race again until 2008, and since then you've been on quite a rampage. What happened in those 25 years?

JA: I was never really a runner so it’s not like I had an earlier running life. I ran Western Sates on a bit of whim when I was 18. I remember reading this article in Outside magazine about this 100 mile race where if you finished in under 24-hours you got a silver belt buckle. For some reason that captured my attention and I wanted to see if I could do it. Once I got my belt buckle I was done with ultra races until several years later when a friend asked if I would run the Wasatch 100 with him. I thought, “Why not? This might be fun!” This was back in the day when there was no lottery so we registered a few weeks before the race. Neither of us had trained much and the course took quite a toll on me. In fact, I was a wreck when I finished. It took me 32 hours (this was so far back in the day that 32:09 was good enough for 9th place). At the end of the race I took off my shoes and burned them, telling the race director, John Grobin, “I will never hurt like this again and I will never run another ultra.” For 25 years I honored that promise. John claims he has a picture of me burning my shoes somewhere in the Wasatch 100 archives. I need to have him dig that out so I can prove to people that I used to have hair.

WH: Wow, that’s a great story! To finish Western States, let alone any 100-miler, when you’re 18 years-old and not exactly mature is pretty amazing. What did you do in those 25 years you didn’t run an ultra? I heard you’re quite the cyclist and once had the record for cycling around the world. Did you spend those years in the saddle?

JA: In 1984, Matt DeWaal and I bicycled around the world in 106 days (14,290 miles) to set a new world record. That record stood for 14 years I believe. Neither of us were particularly talented cyclists, we just had underdeveloped 20 year-old male brains that allowed us to think we were living the dream sitting on a bike saddle every day, sun up till sun down for three months. In 1989, Matt and I created the “Bicycle Express” where we bicycled the 1,938-mile Pony Express trail from Sacramento, CA to St. Joseph, MO in 10 days – matching the ten-day guaranteed delivery time of the original Pony Express. After that I pretty much concentrated on life – family, career, paying the mortgage…

Salt Flats 100 - Photo by Greg Norrander
WH: It seems endurance is just part of who you are. Did you run (or cycle) competitively as a kid?

JA: No. But, not too many kids could keep up with me on my Schwinn Lemon Peeler.

WH: Given your experience at Western States and Wasatch in the early years of ultrarunning, do you think the sport has changed over the decades? If so, in what ways?

JA: So much has changed. There were no trail shoes back then. We ran in road trainers. There were no hydration packs. We carried Nalgene bottles in fanny packs. Some of the elite runners were using a new product called a bota-belt that was essentially a sausage shaped bladder that went around your waist. We carried flashlights in our hands. There were no energy drinks. My drink of preference was defizzed Coke with ground-up aspirin in it. And, we would eat anything that sounded good. I remember having someone bring me a Big Mac with fries at the Brighton aid station during the Wasatch 100 because I thought it would fuel me through the night (perhaps that’s why it took me 32+ hours and I felt like sh*t at the end).

WH: Let’s talk about your training. I’m 39 now and it’s fair to say I’m beginning to feel the years. I’m finding that I need to do better with recovery, especially between hard workouts, and I need to be more strategic and focused with my training. With incredible results like that 18:42 at the Leadville 100 this year, you must be putting in some serious volume. At 51 years-old, what’s your training strategy like and how do you stay healthy and dialed in?

JA: I’m not a high-mileage runner. Anything more than 60 miles a week and I start to feel all sorts of shakes and rattles, plus I just feel tired when my mileage gets too high. The last two months I’ve been experimenting with only running every other day – with a focus on purposeful, high-quality runs on my running days. I think I may be on to something in that several nagging injuries I’ve had for some time are finally healing, I have more energy, and I think I may be getting faster. My fall races will answer the question of whether this strategy is working.

Desert Solstice - Photo by Aravaipa Running
WH: What do you mean by “purposeful” and “high-quality”? And are cross-training and weights in the mix on your off days?

JA: I select runs based on what I think needs improvement for my next race. Right now I’m training for the North Coast 24-Hour run so I am focused on flat runs on pavement running at a 7:42 pace – no faster, no slower. I want to show up at that race capable of only running one speed. In advance of Leadville I focused on improving my descending skills (I’m not a very fast downhill runner). I try to work on core strength on my non-running days. Weights are in the mix as well as my favorite core workout – cutting, splitting and stacking wood.

WH: That’s impressive! North Coast is a great race that is well-run. I was fortunate to run in the 2009 race (we lived in Cleveland at the time). It sounds like you have a very sound strategy. I just hope you have good weather—tough to predict what things will be like on the lake that time of year. What’s your goal for North Coast?

JA: I’m excited to see what a 24-hour road race is like. It will be my first time. I’m just going to run 100 miles as I’m not sure I’ve got the stuff to run for 24 hours. My goal is sub 13:30.

WH: That's fast, for sure. On the topic of 24-hour racing, what did you think of Mike Morton’s recent 172.45-mile performance at the World Championship in Poland?

JA: Mind blowing. Can’t even begin to comprehend running that far and that fast….

WH: Circling back to your training…what I’m hearing from you is you do a lot of race-specific training, versus just going out and grinding out the miles. When you’re not training for 24-hour races, are tempos and intervals ever a part of the mix? And how far do you run on long days?

JA:. I try to do at least one interval workout on the track each week. And, I try and run at race pace or faster for my other runs. My long runs are seldom run more than 25 miles.

WH: Let’s get back to what you said about maxing out at 60 miles a week. I know you live in the Salt Lake City area, where you have access to some awesome mountain trails. Are these 60 “mountain” miles, or do you mix it up between road and trail?

JA: It’s a mix. I’m lucky in that I’m just minutes from the track AND the mountains and can mix it up depending on my race plans and mood. On average, I’d say 75 percent of my running is in the mountains.

WH: I can’t help but ask this since you live in Salt Lake City. Last week Karl Meltzer busted out a huge performance at the Run Rabbit Run 100—a performance many probably didn’t see coming given Karl's age and the fact that there were some young superstars in the field gunning for that $10,000 winner's purse. Were you surprised by what Karl did?

JA: I wasn’t surprised. I knew he was healthy, hungry and motivated. Plus, the course suited him well. He was overdue for a stellar performance. It’s great to see his mojo back!

WH: I agree 100 percent about Karl. He's not only a mountain goat, but he's also pretty fast and he has mojo like no one else. What’s the secret to guys like you and Karl performing at a high level despite the years? Is it recovery, nutrition, specific training strategies, something else?

JA: Karl is a talented runner, a real strategist when he races, and knows how to be patient. While age may be taking some of his natural speed away, I suspect he'll improve in the other two areas as he ages.

WH: Before we wrap up, I have to ask you a question I ask of everyone I interview: What’s the #1 mistake ultrarunners make in their training?

JA: In my opinion, too many miles. Somehow we ultrarunners got sold the idea that the more miles the better.

Pocatello 50 - Photo by Marge Yee
WH: Last question: What’s on tap for 2013?

JA: I’d like to run Western and Wasatch, Lottery Gods permitting. If somehow I got into Western, I’d want to do the Grand Slam. Knowing that the odds are against me, I’m prepared to be content on a diet of smaller regional races that I can get into.

WH: Well, here's to the Lottery Gods! Jay, thank you for your time. You’ve had incredible success in this sport and I think our readers will really appreciate your insights. Good luck at North Coast and I hope you have a huge 2013!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

UltraRunnerPodcast Interview

My interview with UltraRunnerPodcast.com is now live and you can listen to it here. Scotty, Eric and the crew at UltraRunnerPodcast do a great job of covering the sport, and I appreciate the invitation to speak with them (very unexpected!). While I wish the main topic of our conversation (my Leadville DNF due to a knee injury) were a bit more positive, I think it's great to have the opportunity to share my feelings about the experience. Enjoy!

P.S. There has been some interest in the protein shake I mentiond in my podcast. Disclaimer: I actually got the recipe from a book I recently reviewed, Fit2Fat2Fit, by Drew Manning. Although the recipe doesn't look that enticing, I can promise you this is a very tasty treat you will love after a hard workout. It delivers about 300-400 high-quality calories along with plenty of protein and carbohydrates. Here's the recipe:

Spinach Protein Recovery Shake
1 scoop of vanilla-flavored whey protein powder mix
1 cup of plain almond milk
1 banana
2 cups of raw spinach (pre-washed)
2 tablespoons of peanut butter (I used natural peanut butter)
2 cups of ice

Add ingredients to blender (I start with the whey powder and almond milk and then add one ingredient at a time so the blender doesn't get overwhelmed) and blend until the consistency is smooth. This smoothie packs a ton of protein and also some needed carbs. It's great for after a tough workout.