Monday, June 3, 2013

It's Not About the Mileage... It's About the Vertical

With my current unemployment, I've used my "free" time to look for jobs and run mountains. Most importantly, I've found some extra time to spend with my son and wife. I'm taking my son to school every morning and picking him early. By me cleaning up the house and mowing the lawn during the week, my wife and I can now mostly relax on the weekends and not have to worry about vacuuming, dusting, etc. While I'd rather have a job, certainly I'm trying to make the most of this period in my life.

But, to be honest, not having a place to go in the mornings (Monday-Friday) has taken a toll on my sense of self-worth even as I keep telling myself this is temporary and not a reflection on the quality person and communications expert I am. It's a hard world for the unemployed and it's incredibly sad to me that, every day, people (or, in my case, my position) get discarded for sometimes no good reason. Be that as it may, I am a person who wants and needs to work and contribute for my family's benefit. If anything, this whole experience has made me an even more compassionate, caring person who strives to see the unique abilities and gifts of everyone. We are all part of the human family, and when I am finally back to work I'll lead with my heart and soul because the world needs more of that.


For the first time really ever, I'm now tracking my vertical gain and am placing a greater emphasis on climbing than mileage. That's a huge change in my thought process. I've always been a mileage guy, but I've come to believe that the difference between the haves and the have-nots at races like the Leadville 100 is who spent the most time in the mountains running trails. Right now, my average week is 80-83 miles, 13 hours and 12,000 feet of climbing. Until I'm back to work, I'll be putting in 12,000-18,000 feet of vertical, and how ever many miles and hours that may entail, every week--probably up to 14-17 hours and 85-100+ miles. I may get crazy and make a run at 25,000+ feet in a single week. That's a lot of vertical, unless you're this guy. If things continue, I think it is entirely possible that when I line up for the Leadville 100 I'll be in the best shape of my life.

From the trail at Roxborough State Park.
The good news is that I'm seeing big improvement in my ability to run up mountain trails. Mostly, I'm noticing that I'm far more aerobically efficient on climbs than ever before. Even as I may be breathing hard on a climb, I'm finding that I'm not running out of oxygen. On Sunday, for example, I covered a little more than 17 miles at Mt. Falcon, gaining 3,600 feet along the way, and I ran every step of the way except for a 20-foot section of the steep, rocky Two Dog Trail. It was much the same earlier in the week when I ran at Roxborough State Park and up and back down 9,700-foot Bergen Peak.

I'm also noticing some significant mental gains from increased mountain running. Mental focus and maturity are huge components of running up mountain trails. I find that, when I'm fatiguing, I shorten my stride and speed up my cadence even more, all while focusing on the moment. These are "tricks" I've only recently learned and continue to refine.

View from the summit of Bergen Peak, elev. 9,700 feet, last week.
At this point, I have to say I think the MAF work I did earlier this year has paid off big time. My aerobic efficiency is super good and my weight is down to about 163. However, my speed has really taken a hit. That brings me to my next point....

With Leadville being 10 weeks away and a super solid aerobic base in place, now's the time to start incorporating some tempo runs. Tomorrow I'm going on my first tempo run since my Phoenix Marathon training, and it'll be about 4-5 miles in length, not including my warm-up and cool-down. Every week I'll add some distance to my tempos. My target heart rate will be around 155-160. The tempo runs will really help me improve my speed and strength.

My next race is the Leadville Trail Marathon on June 29. At this point, I think it's fair to say I'm getting in good shape, and so the LT Marathon could go well for me. However, I really need to start getting as high as possible. Between now and the marathon later this month, I have a few big runs on my mind, like DECALIBRON (if the 14'ers ever clear), the Leadville 100 course, Grays and Torreys, and Pikes Peaks.


  1. Decalibron is fun, but it is not that big of a run. 7 miles in the one loop, and really not a lot of vertical (as you start at 12k). But, definitely time up high is all above 12k with most above 13.

  2. Hi George: I was thinking about two loops on Decalibron. Anyway, the allure of it is the ability to bag a bunch of 14'ers while staying high up the whole time. I need as much time as possible above 10K and preferably above 12K.


  3. Drop me a line if'n you make it up to Elk Meadow/Bergen Peak again. That's my home mountain. And, I totally agree that there's a big bonus to be gained by training on trails and grades more closely approximating what one will see in races. Mileage ain't everything, for sure!

  4. I ran the Bryce 100 this weekend and ended up dropping to 100k. Without a doubt, I wish my training had focused more on vertical than distance. Good call on your end.

  5. Hi Jim: I will absolutely let you know when I'm at Elk Meadow again.


  6. I'm thinking your calorie intake might need to rise in direct proportion to your increase in vertical gain.