Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Most of us already suspect that doping has infiltrated ultrarunning. To what degree it's infiltrated ultrarunning, we don't know. There are many ways to dope (EPO, steroids, HGH, etc.) and they all have one thing in common: cheating. Oh, yeah, doping can also be very dangerous. So, if you dope, in addition to being a cheater, you’re also playing with fire when it comes to your own health.

There’s no real system for catching dopers in ultrarunning. A few races might test here and there but truly effective testing comes down to a year-round program, including out-of-competition testing. In cycling, they have an impressive “biological passport” system. Almost any doping system is expensive, hard to administer and often fraught with varying levels of absurdity and corruption. There are no perfect systems, and often cheaters go undetected. Just look at the NFL and you’ll see a league bulging with ‘roiders and very few positive tests to show for it. Much of the time, testing programs are a joke—a façade.

That said, some high-profile elite road runners have been busted, including Rita Jeptoo. In the sprinting world, it seems tons of athletes have been caught. So, testing does work now and then. Some people are busted, but many go undetected because they’ve figured out how to beat the system, the system failed or (probably most commonly) they were never tested at all.

In the case of Jeptoo, she’s performing in a sport where prize purses hit six figures and there are sizable appearance fees. Big road racing has big money in it. The testing serves to protect the sport’s integrity and (try to) make sure there’s fair competition in the midst of big money for the top men and women and greedy corporate interest. Plus, you have governing bodies that provide some limited structure to testing programs.

In ultras, you have none of that. You have no real governing body, which means you have no testing system. And you have no money. Some people say money is coming to ultras. Really? In the grand scheme of things, those $10,000 prizes that just went to the top man and woman in race X are a drop in the bucket for big companies who just want to promote and market their brands.

The reality is that most ultras are volunteer-driven and organized by a guy or gal who’s operating on a shoe-string budget and is just hoping he/she doesn't lose too much money when all is said and done.

So what you have in ultra is a Wild West situation in which participants can, in theory and practice, do whatever they want as far as performance enhancing drugs—EPO, HGH, you name it—and get away with it. I do believe the vast majority of us don't dope and instead train and race the right way. But a few do cheat and that's concerning.

And this isn’t just about the "elites”; it’s also about less than scrupulous age groupers who might have good enough jobs to finance their PED use, which comes down to satisfying their own ego and impressing others. People will cheat to impress others. It’s naïve to say people will only cheat to win money or fame. People break the rules all the time and justify it one way or the other. Never underestimate the allure of impressing others. I don’t get it, but there are lots of people out there who want praise. A little EPO might help in that regard.

From where I’m sitting, until the bona fide running elites start racing ultras, there will never be big money in the sport—which means no testing system. What do I mean by bona fide elites? Well, in Kenya they have over 30 men who can run a 2:05 marathon. In American ultrarunning, and maybe worldwide ultrarunning, there’s not a single man who gets even close to 2:05 that I can think of. So in a sport where you don’t have the fastest long-distance runners in the world competing, how can you expect money to make its way into the mix and a testing system to form? Neither is going to happen.

So we find ourselves in a “sport” lacking organization, a testing system and real money to get anything done.

As naïve as it may sound, the best we can hope for is for ultrarunners to train and race with integrity. It’s possible a few high-profile races can implement testing (and that would be great), but the prospect of a comprehensive testing system is bleak unless ultra evolves in ways few of us could ever imagine.

Let’s all be honest competitors and participants with integrity.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Awesome Article about the Leadville 100

Here's a link to an amazing article in NowU, a publication of the Gannett Company, about the Leadville 100-Mile Run. The article was written by a fellow runner, Ted McClelland, and really hits on what makes the Leadville 100 such a special race for so many, including me.

Although stepping away from Leadville in 2015, I am already excited about lining up at 6th and Harrison in August of 2016 for #6 (and counting). Maybe Leadman? Whatever I do...Leadville!

Final note: The guy in the top photo is a friend of mine, Chuck Radford, who went on to finish his first Leadville this year (in 20 hours and change). Chuck paced me in 2013 and was with me as I ran up Powerline. Huge thanks to him and to my other pal, Scott Williams, who was the one who gave me that Fig Newton at mile 62. Like almost any ultrarunner, I am fortunate to be surrounded by loving family and supportive, caring friend.

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Things You Can Do to Have a Long Running "Career"

With the Western States lottery gods once again overlooking me, 2015 will feature the Bighorn 100 and hopefully the Pikes Peak Marathon. Taking the year off from any Leadville races has been a tough decision because I've come to love both the marathon and 100-mile run. With the lottery open another 12 days, I'll be the first to admit that I've been tempted several times to put my name in the hat.

I have come to be a bit too obsessed with Leadville. The fact is that I've yet to have the race up there of which I'm capable. In 2013, I lined up in amazing shape and still underachieved. This year, despite really solid training, I went backwards as far as how it all went relative to my 2011 and 2013 results. Whatever is vexing me up in Leadville, I've yet to understand it in the five years I've lined up for that epic 100-mile race. It could be that the biggest barrier to my breaking through is mental. The altitude has no doubt been a factor, but I think it's become a mental thing. Some time away might really help as far as putting Leadville in perspective and regaining some confidence.

Plus, the timing of Leadville (especially in 2015) has come to really suck from a family standpoint. It's right when my son goes back to school (if you don't have kids, you couldn't possibly imagine how busy back-to-school season can be) and all of the training Leadville requires can get in the way of fun family time throughout the summer. I try not to allow running to take priority over family but the bottom line is that training for Leadville requires lots of time away all summer. With Bighorn happening in mid-June, I'll have a big chunk of the summer after the race to relax, maintain fitness for Pikes Peak and, most importantly, do fun stuff with the family (camp, hike, etc.).

As difficult of a decision as it's been, It'll be good to step away from Leadville for a year and give Bighorn a go.

I've been thinking a lot about what I learned in 2014 as far as running. Here are my top 5 learnings:

1) On race day, less is more. Whatever you pack for a 100-miler, you'll use probably 10% of it during the race.

2) At some point in your life, you develop a big enough base that you can start to train smarter and not longer. This is a big struggle for me because I've always been a volume guy. Plus, how do you really know when your base has reached that critical point? Since taking up serious running in 2004, I've put in over 35,000 miles. That's probably a super solid base....

3) There is something to fat adaptation.... If your body has 20,000-30,000 fat calories and only 2,000 sugar calories stored, it makes sense that burning fat is the way to go. Plus, if you can burn fat efficiently, that means fewer stomach-bombing gels during the race--a good thing.

4) Masters runners are the guys and gals who made it through their 20s and 30s, avoiding running-related burnout and injuries, and that's why they're now so damned tough and competitive--they're the last badasses standing. It is amazing to me how quality the masters field is in most races. I'm proud to still be going strong at age 41.

5) Always ask yourself why you're doing a certain race. My feeling is that many of us do zillions of races a year to prove something that isn't healthy--like maybe impressing others or trying to compensate for personal insecurities. With races, it's quality, not quantity. If you over-race, you won't get to #4 above.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Most Comfy Flip Flop Ever? Yep.

Note to reader: I only do reviews of products that I really like. In this case, today I'm doing a short review of a product that has quickly become a favorite around the house, out in the neighborhood and even in public. 

It's the most comfortable flip flop I've ever worn, and it's quickly taken the place of my Birkenstocks, which cost three times more. It's the OOFOS OOAHH flip flip and it'll make you feel like you're walking on clouds. In terms of comfort, think Hoka One Ones only way lighter, with two straps over the top of your feet and perfect for recovery.

Here's a photo:

Just from that photo alone, you'll notice a few things:

First, it's a super comfy flip flop. When I say super comfy, I'm talking about ultra soft. Every time I slip them on, it feels like I'm walking on clouds. My feet get happy. Where does that softness come from? OOFOS is powered by "OOform" and a patented footbed design. OOFOS says OOform is 37% softer than EVA. I believe it. Slip on a pair and you'll know what I mean when I say they're ultra soft.

Second, it's designed to support how your feet move. It kind of rolls with you. I like that. It's the most natural fit you'll ever get with a flip flop.

Third, it's pretty supportive, especially in the arch area. This level of support is critical for runners. When we're not running, our feet need to be happy and supported.

I have never been a flip flop fan, but I am definitely a fan of my OOFOS flip flops. Ask my wife and she'll verify that I wear them around the house all of the time. I often wear them when I take our dog for a walk (unless it's super cold outside). I'll even wear them out in public, which I normally wouldn't do with a flip flop (Birkenstocks notwithstanding). And of course they're great for after a long, hard run. Bottom line: If your feet need babying (whose don't?), OOFOS is for you.

With the holiday season upon us and Santa coming in eight days, it's still not too late to pull the trigger on some OOFOS for that runner in your life...or maybe for you. They'll thank you every time they slip them on after a long, hard run or or maybe a day on the feet at the office.

Get your OOFOS now by clicking here.

Glad to do other product reviews but only if you have a good product and good company. Do you hear me, Patagonia? :-)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking Back on 2014

With 2014 coming to a close, it's a good time to look back on the year, using the "good, bad and ugly" format.

The Good:
HR Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon.
Photo by Chris Boyack.
Interestingly, my most satisfying race was my last race this year--the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Wilderness 1/2 Marathon held earlier this month. On a very hilly trail course with over 1,600 feet of climbing, I finished 12th out of 701 finishers with a 1:34. Had it been a fast road half, I believe I could have gone sub 1:23--it was just one of those great days. I felt super strong from start to finish, paced it just right (especially in the opening miles), absolutely hammered the downs, and finished exceptionally well. It was a great finish to an otherwise so-so year of running.

The North Fork 50K, where I finished fourth overall, was my second most satisfying race. The field for this race wasn't that strong, but it nonetheless felt good to snag another top-five especially when it came as a training run. Despite hot conditions, I was very strong in this race, clicking off the miles in a metronomic fashion but never really feeling "fast."

I'm also proud of my 18:34 at the Scream Scram 5K last month. At age 41, it feels good to bang out 5Ks at sub-6-minute pace while running at 5,300 feet above seal level. At sea level on a good day, I'm very confident I can still go sub-18.

Finally, though I was shooting for another sub-3, I'm proud of my 3:04 at the Colorado Marathon in early May, earning early entry into Boston. Even though I'm not going to Boston next April, I always like to stay qualified for Boston. Maybe it's a pride thing. A lot of people say the Colorado Marathon is an "easy" course. Yes, it does involve a lot of downs, but those last nine miles will definitely keep you honest. In my case, I didn't pace this race very well and simply lost some steam in the last few miles.

The Bad:
The Leadville Trail Marathon was a miserable experience. I really hate it when courses get changed. In the case of this year's race, admittedly they had to tweak the course as a significant portion in the middle was still buried with snow (reportedly over six feet of snow). Coming into this race, I was a bit tired from training and just basically plodded along, never really finding much enjoyment out of the experience. The altitude was also getting to me (a theme that would carry over to the 100). It was fairly disappointing coming in over five hours when the year before I killed it with a 4:19.

The Ugly:
Puking over 50 times, including a fainting episode at Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60), my experience at this year's Leadville Trail 100 was the epitome of ugly. It is still amazing to me that I even finished this race, much less snagged another big buckle. The altitude, muscle cramping and poor nutrition simply kicked my butt. Little did I realize when crossing the finish line with a disappointing 24:09 that this would probably be my last LT100. Due to the new lottery system, which I take issue with, 2014 was indeed likely my last LT100. All in all, it was probably my ugliest finish in a 100-miler, but at least I finished. So long, Leadville.

So, there you have it--2014. Considering my notorious bad luck in even years, 2014 wasn't too bad but it wasn't great, either. I'm getting older but I feel like I've been smart about things and am aging well. For example, in 2004, I ran my first marathon in 3:22. In 2005, I ran two 3:08 marathons, qualifying for Boston each time, and a few years later finally got down below three hours for a few races. Today, at age 41, I'm a 3:04 marathoner--faster than when I got into long-distance running at age 31. While it's fair to say I may have lost a step or two due to Father Time, I can still run pretty well. And I think that comes down to smart training and avoidance of over-racing over the years. I did over-race one year (2009) and paid for it dearly in 2010 when I was seriously injured. Never again.

With lots of luck in odd years, I am excited about 2015! The year's race schedule will be built around either the Bighorn 100 or Western States 100--depends on if I get lucky and am drawn for WS (not counting on it--my odds are like 9%).

In case you're wondering what the deal is with my good luck in odd years and bad luck in even years, here you go (2004-2006 don't count):

2007: Finished 6th at Burning River 100
2008: Knee blew up at Mohican; lost lead and barely finished 4th overall
2009: Won Mohican; 131 miles at the North Coast 24-Hour; best year ever
2010: Barely finished Leadville under 25 hours; serious case of plantar fasciitis
2011: Set current PR at Leadville (22:35)
2012: DNF'd at Leadville with a knee injury; worst year ever
2013: 22:40 at Leadville 100; 4:19 at Leadville Marathon
2014: Barely finished Leadville due to stomach issues

Chime in with thoughts on your race year!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reader Question about Maffetone Method Training

Question: I came across your blog today while researching MAF training. Are you still using this method to train? I read about it a few months ago and just got my heart rate monitor for my birthday so I am just beginning. How long have you used the MAF method? Do you think it has been effective? I am running my first marathon in May 2015. My current plan is to use the heart rate training to buildup my aerobic base for 3-4 months then to begin incorporating intervals for speed. I am hoping that a book or other resource will help me identify better training principles. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. ~ Kristin
Thanks for your question, Kristin. I get lots of questions about MAF so I'd like to answer yours on this blog in order to share what I hope is helpful information with other readers.

It continues to feel strange to me to answer questions as I don't consider myself a running expert. I have dabbled in coaching over the years but I feel like there's still so much to learn. I guess I just don't consider myself enough of an expert to really helps others in a meaningful way. And yet I do think I know a few things about MAF (not as much as Lucho), so I'm glad to share my own story and help as best as I can.

I am a big believer in MAF, having taken it up as an official training practice in 2012. I don't have much time to read so much of what I've learned about MAF over the years has come via podcasts, websites and experimentation. I've heard great things about Dr. Maffetone's Big Book of Endurance, and you can also hear from the man himself via Endurance Planet (search for his past podcast interviews or click here). Anyway, depending on what kind of intensity you're going to bring to the marathon in May, about 95% of the effort will be aerobic. That means you really need to build a super strong aerobic base, which MAF can help you do. Use Dr. Maffetone's 180 Formula to determine your MAF range. Or, if you have the resources for it, get your zones tested so you know what heart rates correspond with which zones. Dr. Maffetone would always advocate personalized testing over his formula but, in the absence of personalized testing, his formula is usually pretty spot on. 
MAF does a few things for you. First, it helps you develop a very strong aerobic base, which you're going to need in the marathon or just about any endurance activity. Second, it helps you become an efficient fat burner (more on that below). And third, it helps you prevent injuries and over-training. Your body likes to use fat when in an aerobic state. As you develop aerobically, your body will also develop its fat burning--critical to endurance. When you're running at higher intensities (beyond MAF), your body will use more sugar for fuel. But in MAF your body is mostly burning fat. Even the leanest of athletes have 20,000-30,000 calories of fat ready to burn. And yet we have about 2,000 calories of sugar stored in our liver. It's far better to train your body to prefer to burn fat than sugar. That means you can run longer without "hitting the wall." The way to do that is through aerobic training (MAF) and diet (fewer carbs). I have a friend who's a MAF athlete and low-carb guy and ran a 2:50 at Boston taking in not a single gel. 
The great triathlete Mark Allen used MAF to win several Ironman World Championship races and also notch a 2:39 marathon split at Kona in 1989--a record that still stands. MAF works for those who are patient and use it at the right time(s) in their training. Patience is critical. It can mean you might have to walk hills at first to stay in your MAF zone. Do it. Be patient. It is so frustrating to see people abandon MAF because they're too proud to walk hills at first. Having to walk hills and run at a slow pace to stay within MAF means you're aerobically inefficient. MAF will make you super efficient IF you stick with it, check your pride at the door, and remain patient. In time, your MAF pace will get faster and faster and you'll be able to run those hills. When I'm in shape, I can average 6:30 pace over 5 miles on the track in a MAF test, losing maybe 1-2 seconds between mile 1 and mile 5. Not to stereotype, but women tend to be more patient than men. In that vein, I've seen MAF work well for women whereas guys get all prideful and abandon it because they want to run "fast." Then they blow up at races and wonder why. 

MAF is super important for base-building and easier days but you want to periodize your training. So, as the marathon gets closer, do some track intervals (staying aerobic, which means 1200s and stuff like that) to build your speed. Also--and this is critical--do tempo runs at about marathon pace or slightly faster. You want to get more and more comfortable at marathon pace. The tempo runs will build strength, helping you stay on pace in that last 10K when so many people's races fall apart. As far as periodizing your training, check out Brad Hudson's book, Run Faster. Renato Canova and Jack Daniels are also great resources. They all use different terms but basically they all agree on the MAF stage and periodized training. Again, it all depends on your goals. Also, check out Lucho's blog (link above) and enter MAF into the search box. You'll pull up tons of great content.
I cannot emphasize enough how important patience is with MAF. It is not long, slow distance, as some claim. People who dismiss MAF as LSD are ignorant when it comes to proper training. MAF will make you faster and more efficient. It'll help you build an aerobic fortress on rock, versus a fortress on sand as many runners today do because they lack patience and discipline. As Yiannis Kouros says, conquering endurance is about patience and then doing solid training.
You have the requisite 24-odd weeks to go through a proper training cycle to get ready for the marathon and kill it. Good luck!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Talking Honestly About Ultrarunning

One thing we don't do enough of in ultrarunning is talk honestly about some issues facing the "sport." For the most part, the collective view is one of unicorns and rainbows. That's one reason why I really enjoy the Elevation Trail podcast. It's great to see Tim and Gary back, after a pretty long hiatus, with an awesome new podcast about "grilled cheese-gate" at the Arrowhead 135 race and other matters. In this latest show, Gary is truly in rare form, which is saying a lot.

While I sometimes disagree with what Tim and Gary say on their podcast and occasionally their takes even piss me off, Elevation Trail does a great job of stirring the pot and making you think--with lots of good humor interspersed. I have often looked at the "sport" with rose-colored glasses but in the past few months I've come to see that we have some issues in ultrarunning and it's great to see a few of us calling them out. If all you did was listen to the "mainstream" endurance-related podcast shows, you might find what Tim and Gary say to be a bit edgy.

Anyway, go to iTunes and download the new anti-establishment ET show or listen to it via the link above. I personally really enjoyed it, but maybe that's because I'm a bit disgruntled with the "sport" these days. So, if your head is in the clouds or deep in the sand, it's time to get real.

Parting shot: Pumped to make this top 100 list for best running blogs!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reader Question on Volume vs. Quality and Training for a 100-Miler

Note to reader: Question edited for better clarity.

Hey Wyatt, I'm training for my first 100-miler in June and am curious about your thoughts on volume versus quality as I know you've experimented with both approaches. Do I need to run lots of miles or will quality with some long runs sprinkled in do the trick? - JL

Great question and one I get quite a bit, which is why I've decided to post this question and my answer. The short answer is, there's no one specific approach to training for a 100-miler that works for everyone. There are some tried-and-true elements of training for 100s, such as the long run, but by and large what you do beyond that comes down to what works for you and only you. And you need to tailor your training to the specific challenges of the race (mountains and hills v. flat, trail v. pavement, cold v. hot, altitude v. sea level, etc.). If you're training for Rocky Raccoon, there's not much need to hit the mountain trails. If you're training for Hardrock, you're not doing yourself any favors training on a sidewalk. You get the idea.

I know guys who have trained for and won 100-milers running 140 miles a week with a ton of quality (track intervals, tempos) sprinkled in. Mark Godale comes to mind. Back in his prime, the dude would crank out 5:20 mile repeats and killer tempos every week, all while doing doubles just about every day (an approach I took in 2008 and 2009 and it seemed to work for me). I know guys who have trained for and done well in 100s running half those miles. Lucho comes to mind, though know that Lucho built a huge base over a period of several years as a professional triathlete. And, though I don't know him personally, I have heard Bob Africa takes a less-is-more approach to big undertakings like Leadman.

I have done well in 100s after running 100-110 miles a week for weeks on end (Burning River 2007, Mohican 2008, Mohican 2009). I have run 100+ miles a week training for a 100 and not done well (Leadville 2010). I have tried lots of approaches over the years, rationalizing to myself why each should work, and experienced varying results. Lately, it's mostly been mediocrity. What I have ultimately come to realize for myself, based on trial and error, is that I thrive on volume. I need lots of mileage and tons of aerobic work, with some quality like tempos and hill repeats every so often (a few times a month) just to stimulate different systems. Big volume pays off for me especially in the latter miles of 100s. The best race I've had in a few years (Leadville Marathon 2013) I came into having mostly run in my aerobic zones, with some fast stuff here and there (mostly fast finishes), for the previous two months. The reason I didn't break 20 hours at Leadville in 2013, or come damn close to it, was that my stomach went south and my ankle was still jacked from an injury. But I am convinced that the aerobic stuff I did all summer had me in amazing shape when I lined up for that race.

Anyway, the key, I think, is to listen to your body and train as hard as you can without breaking yourself down. Getting to the starting line of a 100-miler healthy is half the battle. So, if you need it, take Monday off after running 40 miles over the weekend (just an example). Don't feel like you have to go out and grind through the mileage day in and day out even if you're feeling horrible--and definitely don't do fast stuff or go super long if you're feeling crappy (been there, done that and it's a road you don't want to go down, especially when you're old like I am). The key is to adapt to what you're doing with your training. Just remember that your body will tell you how it's responding and rest is how your body gets stronger. The gains come not when you're piling on the miles but when your eyes are closed and you're asleep. You run 30 miles and then the next day you rest/do light active recovery stuff so your body can recover and make gains from those 30 miles. The same goes with tempos, hills, intervals, etc.

As far as quality, I believe quality and volume are what make a great marathoner. I've long been skeptical of quality's helpfulness in training for 100s. But it depends on how you define "quality." Anyway, in 100s, you're mostly aerobic (zone 2, maybe even zone 1). If you "go anaerobic" in a 100 for a long period, that's not good because it'll result in muscle breakdown. You need to stay aerobic and burn fat in 100s. So it makes sense to me to do most of your training in an aerobic, fat-burning state and get super efficient. With that said, I'm not convinced long tempo runs of 12 miles at 6:30 pace (just an example) really have a big payoff in 100s when that pace may be twice as fast as what you're doing on race day. Sure, long tempos will help with strength and speed (huge in the marathon) and they'll induce some adaptations, but in 100s you're running significantly slower, so why not log most of your miles at that pace especially when it's inducing fat-burning--which you need when going the distance? Don't do everything at aerobic effort--you'll go stale--but aerobic efforts are the bread and butter of your training.

In conclusion, to succeed in 100s (and it feels strange to me to be giving this kind of advice when I have a checkered recent past as far as 100s), I think you need to be aerobically fit and efficient and have logged a handful of very long efforts in the neighborhood of 30+ miles with maybe back-to-back 20s run at some point. Log most of your miles in an aerobic state. Do tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, fast finishes and hills a few times a month (but remember to train specific to the course's challenges) to keep the adaptation process going. But the bread and butter are those aerobic efforts. Just know that stress and niggles are to be taken seriously. Stress of life, work, family stuff, etc., doesn't get talked about nearly enough but it will hinder recovery and undermine the quality of your sleep. Sleep is huge, as evidenced by elite marathoners often sleeping 12 hours a day. So if you have a super-stressful week going, maybe back off the mileage. And definitely listen to the niggles--ice them, massage them, rest them.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


With 2014 starting to wind down, I've been thinking a lot about what I'm doing running-wise next year. Over the past few weeks, lots of thoughts have swirled through my brain. I've considered taking the year off from racing and doing my own thing, such as running the Hardrock course over three days at a time of my own choosing. In recent weeks, I've become fairly disillusioned with the state of ultrarunning. When I started running ultras in 2005 (not that long ago, mind you), you could register for most races the day of the event. These days, it seems the sport has been over-run, with demand far out-stripping available supply. Some events sell out in a matter of hours; some in a matter of minutes.

I don't mind saying I wish ultrarunning still operated mostly in the shadows. The sport has garnered attention for years, but not like it does today. Admittedly, I could be a hypocrite. On the one hand, I want ultrarunning to be underground. But on the other hand, I'm a runner/blogger.

Soaring demand for limited spots means a lot of things, including the need for ridiculously advance planning when it comes to one's race schedule. I don't like that. I think when one's decision to enter a race has to be made eight or more months in advance, spontaneity is lost. You may not mind registering that early, but I do. I like flexibility.

Of course, what's happening in ultras is just the product of market forces, so it's a waste of time to whine about it. It's been shown that, in down economies, running becomes more popular. With that, you also have a few best-selling books that have driven enormous numbers of runners into ultras. The Western States lottery has never been a gimme, but in 2014 your odds of getting in were, I believe, a mere 8 percent. With tighter entrance criteria for 2015, it'll be interesting to see what the odds are for the approaching Western States lottery, which I'll once again try for. Will the odds get better, get worse or stay about the same?

Then you have Leadville. I'm not even going to go into where I am with that race right now, other than to say it's an estranged relationship after much thought and soul-searching. Which brings me to 2015. After debating giving the middle finger to racing in the coming year, I have decided to once again take part in the madness. But I like to think I'm being much more discriminating with the races I choose to enter in 2015, opting for events I consider high-quality and genuine, along with hopefully a few "fat-asses." As of now, here's what things look like:

April: Cheyenne Mountain 50K
May: Golden Gate Dirty Thirty (50K)
June: Western States Endurance Run or Bighorn 100 (Bighorn registration done!)
August: Pikes Peak Marathon
October: Columbus Marathon

Obviously, Western States is a big question mark. Fortunately, I'll have a few tickets in the lottery (better than the one I had last year), and so I'll be hoping my name is drawn. Western States is a dream of mine. But if it's not meant to be in 2015, then I have a really sweet backup 100-miler that I'll be stoked to run--the Bighorn 100 just north of here, in Wyoming. From what I've heard, Bighorn delivers a genuine ultra experience and is a very challenging race with lots of vertical, lots of mud, an 11am start that has all entrants running through the night, lots of single track and lots of mountain terrain. Oh yeah, and it's a Hardrock qualifier. That's one of the reasons I loved Mohican back in the day--it was genuine and kind of "down home." I miss genuine.

I think the timing of Western States and Bighorn suits me well. I'm one of those runners who gets the bug in early April, when I start ramping up my mileage. By late June, I'm usually in really good shape. As the summer progresses, I start to go stale. A 100-miler in late June would mean I'd go into it in pretty awesome shape. I've never gone into Leadville fresh. But it seems I always run well in June.

The additional silver lining to a June 100 is that I'll be able to line up for the Pikes Peak Marathon later in the summer. I've never run PPM, but I've run the Barr Trail enough times to appreciate the challenge of racing up and back down that glorious 14'er to the south of Parker. I'm guessing by the time Pikes rolls around, I'll still be somewhat compromised by my 100 earlier in the summer, but I'll nonetheless take part in a race that I've dreamed of running for years.

The year would then wrap up with a go at the Columbus Marathon, where it all started for me in 2004. It's impossible to say what my goals for Columbus will be. The last time I ran Columbus (2008), I crossed in 2:59, hampered by a hamstring strain. It would be great to go back after all these years away--awesome course, awesome event, lots of memories.

Life is one big pendulum. Right now, ultrarunning is growing by leaps and bounds. In time, the growth will start to level off and things will become more manageable. For now, it's a race in and of itself just to get an entry in your favorite events.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Take on the New Leadville Lottery Standards

Over 3,000 hits to the my blog yesterday tells me a few folks maybe wanted to know my take on the new lottery system that Lifetime Fitness is instituting for the Leadville 100-Mile Run. So, here goes.

Just for background: The old system was first-come, first-served. You registered on January 1. The 2014 race closed in, I believe, two days. That was amazing. Just to put things in perspective, in 2010, I registered in April and I believe registration stayed open until May or June. Interest in the race has exploded in large part because of The Book.

With the new lottery system, essentially you pay $15 to have you name put in the hat, and that $15 goes to the Leadville Legacy Foundation, which provides support for all graduating high school seniors in Leadville who aspire to seek further education/training (great cause!). From there, all you can do is hope your name is pulled and that you have a spot at the starting line on August 22.

Many of us knew a lottery was coming at some point. But many of us--myself included--assumed that "race veterans" would have special consideration. That is, if you're a returning finisher or you have multiple finishes under your belt, you'd get multiple tickets in the lottery. Or, better yet, if you finished the previous year's race, you're in automatically if you want it. I have four finishes. I'm not bragging when I say that; my point is that I am (was?) part of the Leadville faithful and I believe I should get more tickets than someone who read The Book and got inspired (and, let's face it, will likely DNF at/by Winfield). That may sound elitist, but it's how I feel and it's how most Leadville vets feel. We feel like we've been forgotten with this new lottery system.

The only folks getting automatic entries, besides those who finish high in the qualifiers, are nine-time LT100 finishers going for their tenth. That's awesome--I'm all for it. But what about the rest of us?

Here's the rub: Human nature is such that a lottery will induce even more demand than what we've seen in previous years. When something becomes scarce or is perceived as scarce, people all of a sudden want it. So, I believe the lottery, which will be open for an entire month, will garner thousands of entries--just as with the mountain bike race. The odds of getting in will be slim.

At Leadville every year, dozens of people come up to me and tell me how helpful this blog has been to their preparation. I don't claim to be some Leadville master, but I appreciate the feedback. I have lined up for that race five times and gone deep into the well each time. I have stood by the race through thick and thin, defending it after the 2013 running that left many in the ultarunning world disenchanted and disgruntled. So, from where I'm sitting, to have to stand in the same line as Born to Run disciples leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I have fought for my four finishes and believe I, along with other race vets, should have some kind of special consideration when it comes to a lottery. If the race organizing staff doesn't want to give us 2014 finishers and vets automatic entry into the 2015 event, that's fine--but at least give us some extra tickets to boost our odds of being chosen in the lottery.

Lotteries suck but they're a necessary evil in the "sport" (not sure this is a sport, which is why I put that word in quotes). Hardrock and Western States have done a great job with their lotteries, though I'd say I prefer Hardrock's lottery when comparing the two. With Hardrock and Western States, as well as the Boston Marathon, you know any tweaks to their intricate systems have come on the heels of great thought, consideration and engagement with those who will be affected. With Hardrock, we're literally talking about rocket scientists who developed the lottery. With Western States and Boston, you have two races that really set the standard for all others. I don't sense that with Leadville's new lottery system. There has been a backlash, confirming that this new system is unfair and faulty. It's not like the wheel has to be reinvented--look at Boston, Western States and Hardrock for models.

I talked with the race director, Josh Colley, yesterday. Josh is a good guy and he's about Leadville. The 100-mile run has to show a positive impact on the community as there's a small but vocal anti-race series community in Leadville. So, I totally support any and all tactics for boosting the Leadville Legacy Foundation. I think he wants a great race and I know the 2013 run inspired him to step it up, which he did because the 2014 running was nearly flawless. I don't know what Lifetime's role is in the race, meaning I don't know how much control the company has over what takes place at the shop in downtown Leadville. The race doesn't make Lifetime a ton of money (probably just a drop in the bucket), but it does give Lifetime a nice boost to its brand. What I do know is that Josh is doing what he thinks is best/right, and I know that as an RD he has to make some unpopular decisions at times (I'm not an RD, but that's my take). I don't agree with the direction that's been taken with the lottery, and for the time being I'm thinking hard about whether or not I return to Leadville. I'm also thinking hard about whether it's time to move on from ultrarunning--too many damned people. I can run in the mountains and do crazy stuff--hell, I can run the Hardrock course if I want.

While the backlash unfolds, here are some ideas to consider.
  • Give automatic entry to 2014 finishers. About 360 finished. Not all 360 would return in 2015 if given the option. Maybe half would return. That leaves plenty of spots (500+) for the lottery entrants, the other automatic entrants, and additional folks such as elites.
  • If the above isn't possible, give runners a ticket for every year they've finished. It is unfair that I, with my four finishes, or my buddy Matt, with his five finishes (just using us as examples), get just one ticket each.
  • Or do what Hardrock does and have separate lotteries--a lottery for vets, a lottery for newbies, etc.
  • Institute a qualification standard. You have to finish a 50-mile race or just about any 100-miler to qualify for the lottery. I know Leadville has a tradition of welcoming all comers, but times need to change when it comes to that. Besides, Leadville isn't a race for newbies. The epic carnage I see every year when coming back to Twin Lakes reveals that the race needs to institute a qualification standard.
  • Institute a service requirement. You need to do at least six hours of trail-related/race-related/outdoor-related service to gain entry. That would thin the lottery field--and it might give the Leadville Race Series some additional volunteers.
  • If boosting the Leadville Legacy Foundation is a key goal (which I totally get and support), institute a surcharge for the fund and/or increase the race entry fee. I would be happy to pay more. As it is, I always give an extra donation to the foundation.
  • Radical: Scrap the existing course and develop a new route that is a big loop starting and finishing at 6th and Harrison. A point-to-point wouldn't work as the start and finish need to be in Leadville in order to keep aligned with the traditions of the race. A loop course would enable more runners and better traffic flow, while keeping the start and finish where they've always been. Then you could have a huge event, but it would also mean you'd need more volunteers because you wouldn't be using each aid station twice. Admittedly, this solution would require years of planning, but there are trails galore, along with old mining roads, in the area and it could be done.
Those are just a few ideas. I'm no expert on this--lots of people know more about lotteries than I do. All I really want is engagement. Runners need to be engaged when big changes are percolating.

At present, I don't know what I'm doing in 2015 as far as Leadville and my race schedule (not that anyone cares). My #1 hope is to get into Western States. But there are a few other 100-milers I'm eyeballing as backups. It may be time to step away from Leadville and do something new. I believe in the end Josh and his team will revisit the lottery and make some changes. For now, to say I'm saddened by this new system would be an understatement. In all honesty, I'm heartbroken over it because I love Leadville--my son has practically grown up on that course. My wife and I have had some powerful moments during that race. I have history there.

I realize this is a "first-world problem," but it's saddened me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

11 Things To Do/Not To Do at Leadville 2015

Here are some mental notes for next year's Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. If I get into Western States, I'll be skipping the 2015 Leadville and will instead crew/pace/volunteer. But if I don't get into States, then I fully expect to be back at Leadville next August, once again believing I can finally figure out this perplexing race. What can I say? I refuse to give up!

1) Don't tell yourself that living at 6,200 feet here in Colorado will get you ready for the altitude in and around Leadville. There is a huge difference between 6K and 10K-12K. Training can't just be at places like Roxborough State Park, Deer Creek Canyon and Mount Falcon, though those places are conveniently close by and certainly offer great trails and beneficial terrain. You need to get higher! You need reps on the Incline and other steep trails to get ready for the backside of Hope Pass. There's also that hidden steep-ass trail at Deer Creek Canyon that AJ and Chuck showed you in the early spring; do it! But, whatever you do, you need more runs above 9K.

2) Keep work stress at bay. In July, you let work stress (getting an ad campaign launched) totally undo your ability to taper effectively in August. Granted, you had a lot going on over the summer and did your best.

3) Take First Endurance Optygen starting on May 1. It'll probably help with the altitude.

4) Don't miss Brandon's night run again!

5) Get a follow-up metabolic efficiency test a few weeks before Leadville so you know what your caloric needs are going to be at the race.

6) Get in at least one 100-mile week, preferably right before the taper begins. Your body thrives on such volume. For you, volume is king. Remember what your ultrarunning mentor, Tim Clement (former multiple-times national champ), told you eight years ago: "Training for a successful 100-miler is about volume, volume, volume." Big volume works for you.

7) Don't worry about getting in tons of quality. Just do some tempo runs and fartleks, along with steep hill repeats, every so often and you'll be fine. What benefits you most in prepping for 100s is volume. You're a volume guy--you used to be able to run 450 miles a month and get away with it. It's what you need. Do most of it at MAF and you'll be fine. MAF is your friend.

8) Eat a balanced breakfast the "morning" of the race, in an effort to "turn on" fat-burning. This might include some scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil, along with some Greek yogurt. Don't eat your usual oatmeal; that'll just make your body crash later on and crave carbs as fuel.

9) Wear Hokas the whole way during the race, except for maybe the Hope Pass section. Your legs need those Hokas! Investigate and try lower-profile Hokas such as the Huakas for the more technical stretches.

10) Don't worry about taking any calories through Mayqueen outbound (mile 13.5). Just run and maybe sip some water.

11) Take Pepto and sit down for at least 20 minutes the second your stomach goes bad, though hopefully that won't happen. By sitting down, you're letting your stomach "catch up" and get some oxygen. Oh yeah, and also keep the S!Caps coming!

Bonus: Listen to Anne when it comes to getting ready for the altitude. She keeps getting on you about that one thing. It's time to do it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Too Many Calories, Too Many Carbs at Leadville

If there’s one theme in race reports I’ve noticed over the years, it’s stomach distress. The longer we go and the more extreme the terrain is, the greater the chance of GI distress.

As I continue to look carefully at my own race day diet, I don’t like what I see. Gels and energy drinks are full of sugar and sugar tends to make me sick.

As previously mentioned on here, my metabolic efficiency test a few weeks ago revealed that I need between 62-187 calories and between 9-27 grams of carbohydrate an hour in a 100-mile race. Over the weekend, I started reading labels of products I used at this year’s Leadville 100—and boy was it painful. It was one of those “I wish I could go back in time and do things differently” moments.

Let’s start with Carbo-Pro, a source of calories I’ve used in multiple Leadvilles (all of which featured puke fests, but nothing quite like this year). A serving of Carbo-Pro, which I used from miles 24-50 this year, has 200 calories and a whopping 50 grams of carbs. Most of those calories come from pretty much pure sugar. So, when you look at Carb-Pro and my test results, can you see that a serving has a few too many calories for my needs—and almost double the carb grams per hour I can handle. Plus, I wasn’t taking Carbo-Pro by itself; I was also taking it with VFuel gels. That means, per hour, I was taking in about 300 calories and almost 80 grams of carbs.

It’s no wonder by mile 50 I was doubled over vomiting. I had put in my stomach way more than it could handle, and the vomiting was its way of saying, “enough, please.”

We are told that 100-milers are eating contests with some running mixed in. The more you can eat, the better, it’s said. But as I’m coming to learn, it’s not a game of jamming as many calories in your body as possible. Success comes down to giving your body what it needs, and what you need and what I need can be two totally different things.

After reading those labels, it started to make sense to me why in training runs over the summer my gut stayed happy but at Leadville it went south. The reason was that in training runs I tended to stay within my limits as far as calories and carbs per hour. I would take a VFuel gel about every 90 minutes or so, usually not starting until the second hour, and all would go well. Yet at Leadville this year I told myself that I needed up to 300 calories an hour, so I forced stuff down my throat that my stomach ultimately couldn’t handle.

The key, I believe, is finding out your nutritional ranges and staying within those ranges. Admittedly, I'm still trying to figure myself out. But at least now I have some data to use.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Leadville Post-Morten; Becoming More Fat-Adapted

A lot has happened since my Leadville 100 race report.

Simply put, it was a rather traumatic experience from the standpoint that I feel like I trained hard and was ready mentally and physically and yet my stomach once again came unglued--worse than ever before. I have said this before and I'll say it again: It is amazing to me that I finished Leadville, especially after literally passing out/fainting at Twin Lakes. Few times have I ever dug so deep and, when you do go that far into the well, it takes a lot out of you. But, despite it all, I resolved to finish--I'd been to the depths before and knew I could get it done. And I did. So, from that standpoint, I couldn't be more proud.

In the wake of the race, I sought the advice of a professional nutritionist, specifically Abby McQueeney Penamonte, who was the top woman in the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in 2013. Long story short: What we've found is that my body likes to burn carbs, not fat, while I run--not good for ultrarunners. We also found that I've been consuming too many calories at Leadville. I don't need 250-300 calories an hour, as I've tried to do over the past years (more is better, right? Wrong!). What I need is between 62-187 calories an hour. What that means is that I can get by on just 62 calories an hour (not ideal but doable), but my max caloric intake per hour is 187. As far as carbs, my current numbers have it that I need to keep my hourly carb consumption during races to between 9-36 grams.

What I've learned is that, even if I keep my calories under that 187 threshold, my stomach will still go to hell in a hand cart if I'm taking in too many carbs. A-ha!

In case you're wondering how we got those numbers, allow me to explain. Basically, I got on a treadmill and ran at 9:22 pace (a super easy pace I would run for much of Leadville, minus the big climbs) with an oxygen mask covering my mouth. It was an easy pace; my heart rate never got above 103 beats per minute. Meanwhile, Abby was measuring the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which produced the above data.

Do I think this data is 100% accurate? On the whole, yes. The data tell me what I need and do not need and where I need to go next with my training and diet. After years of struggling in Leadville, I feel like I finally have some answers.

Which brings me to fat-adaption.

I have always thought of myself as fairly fat-adapted. Every morning, except weekends, I go for my runs with zero calories in me. I can run for over three hours on nothing. Plus, I pretty much ran (and walked) the last 50 miles of Leadville this year on nothing but body fat since I couldn't keep anything down. Contrary to all of that, what the data show is that my body likes to use carbs over fat. Of the 623 calories I burn per hour while running, 360 are from carbs and and 263 are from fat. I need to more-than-reverse those numbers.


At any given time, you have between 1,500-2,000 calories in glycogen stores (sugar/carbs) you can burn. When you run out of glycogen, you slow up considerably and "hit the wall." Meanwhile, even the leanest athlete has tens of thousands of calories in fat they can burn. The key is teaching your body how to use those fat stores efficiently. That's where diet comes into play. If you eat too many carbs, your body gets addicted to carbs and they become the preferred fuel source. But if you eat fewer carbs and more healthy fats, along with proteins, veggies and fruits, your body will learn to use fat as its primary fuel.

What that means is that, if you are a good fat-burner, you need fewer and fewer calories during races, even 100-milers, meaning there's less of a strain on your stomach because it's not constantly getting bombarded with gels, sugary concoctions, etc. I know a fat-adapted athlete who ran a 2:50 at Boston on nothing--he took in not one calorie. That is incredible to me.

For reasons I wish not to go into on here, it will be impossible for me to adopt a truly fat-adapted diet across all meals of the day. Nor do I wish to do so--drinking spoons of oil and adding bacon to everything doesn't appeal to me. However, I believe I can become more fat-adapted through better training practices, more of an emphasis on MAF training (you know me; I'm a MAF disciple), and more careful planning around my breakfast and lunch (two meals every day that I have full control of). There are some things I can do during dinner, but ultimately I am unable and unwilling to impose this way of eating on my family. We like spaghetti and I'm not going to give that up. But there are other things I can do, and much of it I'm now starting to do.

All that aside, in looking back at Leadville, I believe pre-race stress was a major factor. All summer long, I worked my tail off directing an ad campaign, which launched the Monday before the race--as in five days before the big event. My cortisol was probably quite high. That might explain why my taper for Leadville was hideous--I had simply reached the point where I couldn't recover adequately and adapt from the hard training I'd been putting in all summer. I didn't share this with anyone at the time, but I also experienced a few bouts of vertigo the day before the race, including a horrible dizzy spell during the pre-race briefing. The altitude was kicking my ass from the second we arrived in Leadville. It was just one of those years. If I return in 2015, there are a few things I'll do to be ready for the altitude.

I am letting go of the sub-20-hour dream at Leadville. While I am confident I could still clock a fast 100 on a flat course, Leadville continues to vex me. At this point, Western States is my race of choice in 2015. If I don't get into Western, then I'll of course heavily consider a return to Leadville. Whatever happens, I'll be more fat-adapted and I'll be taking in the right number of calories--that's for sure!

Final word: Running ultras is important to me. But over the years I've learned not to take it too seriously. I don't get paid for this (thank God), and there are several other things in life that come before ultras. So, with that, I do want to improve and learn, but ultimately I'm trying not to take this stuff too seriously.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The God's Honest Truth: Leadville 100-Mile Run Report

Note: These are some post-race thoughts that could be characterized as "raw." I'm still processing the entire experience.

I have no idea how I finished the Leadville 100 this past weekend. Between non-stop vomiting from Winfield to the finish, severe leg cramps (the likes of which I've never experienced in my life) and the horrible consequences of those cramps (totally trashed legs), I don't know how I got it done, much less crossed the line in 24:09--three hours slower than my goal time--to earn another big buckle. I think it came down to what race founder Ken Chlouber told us on Friday afternoon at the pre-race meeting: "dig deep."

Noah and me coming into Pipeline outbound (mile ~27)

Leadville is a very hard race as the course is between 9,200-12,600 feet, with two crossings of Hope Pass. The sheer challenge of this event is not appreciated the way it should be. That's partly because a few self-absorbed, elitist, chest-beating mountain ultrarunners, who think Hardrock and UTMB are the end-all, be-all and everything else is "meh," enjoy publicly describing the course as "flat" and mostly road (both of which are untrue) even as Leadville has done in plenty of great athletes over the years. When these ridiculously false statements are made in public spaces like podcasts, people form an impression of the course, and then some of these people, who are now suckers, show up in mid-August and get their asses handed to them. Moving on....

Unless you're super human, it's difficult to put up consistent performances at Leadville every year because the mountains are so fickle. On Monday night, I looked at several regular Leadville athletes' times over the years and they're mostly up and down. That high mountain air sometimes isn't too bad, and then other times it tries to destroy you. Over the weekend, I was stripped down to nothing; the course and terrain tried to hurt me, and they did. But I refused to give up.

When I look back on it, things went to hell in a hand basket when I was on the way to Twin Lakes outbound and experienced at about mile 35 what was without question the most painful leg cramp I've ever had in a race. It was in my left quad and it happened when I stopped to pee. My quad seized up and I just fell to the ground screaming in pain. I couldn't put any weight on my leg for 3-4 minutes. It was awful and a few concerned runners asked me if my leg was broken. One runner put his arm around me, which I really appreciated. It was such a delicate moment that I thought about my mom and dad.

Eventually, the cramp let up and I was on my way to the lakes, only to have another wicked cramp after crossing the very cold, refreshing river and preparing for the big climb up Hope Pass--a climb of 3,400 vertical feet. My legs never recovered from those cramps. The best way I can describe the aftermath is that it felt like my legs had been wrung dry. They had nothing in them--at all. They were drained. Every step hurt. I had been taking Salt Sticks but maybe I hadn't taken enough...or perhaps I was dehydrated? Or maybe my muscles were starved for oxygen?

Between Pipeline and Twin Lakes outbound, about where I got hit with that first cramp.
Credit: Lifetime Fitness

Despite it all, the climb up the frontside of Hope wasn't too bad. I ran into my friend, Scott Schrader, who would go on to finish the race shortly after I crossed--his first 100-mile finish, which is just awesome. And I had some amazing mashed potatoes at the Hopeless aid station. But then when I began to descend the backside, things turned bad. My quads were gone. Nothing. So it was an incredibly slow, morale-killing descent. Despite my dejection, it was amazing watching Mike Aish (with pacer Nick Clark) and Rob Krar (solo) climb the backside as I was going down. Krar looked to be in the zone and he went on to win with the second-fastest time in the race's history. Just want to point out that despite being in the lead and having Krar on his butt, Mike high-fived me and wished me well. I also slapped hands with Nick.

Descending into Twin Lakes outbound (mile 40).

Winfield was a tough spot. I got into mile 50 hot and dehydrated (like most other runners), apparently down 15 pounds (which I still don't believe), so I got right to work with refueling...only to puke it all up right there next to the tent. Hardrock legend Diana Finkel, who is a stalwart volunteer at the turnaround point, was there (once again) to help me through the moment. I cannot say enough good things about Diana. She's supportive in every way and a truly wonderful person. I would hug her if she was here now.

After about 15 minutes of sickness, I was on my way-with my pacer and good friend, Mark T. (who I also work with at Delta Dental), eating some Fig Newtons and a gel before that nasty 2,600-vertical foot climb up the backside of Hope. All in all, I handled the climb fairly well, having to stop and take a few breaks now and then. It was just after cresting Hope on the return trip that a horrible case of puking and dry-heaves happened--episode number two. I lumbered back down to Hopeless and got in some calories, thinking maybe I could turn things around. The descent from there was slow. The quads wouldn't cooperate. I stopped and hugged a woman who was crying as she climbed up the frontside, likely because she knew she'd miss the cutoff. Or maybe because the mountain had crushed her.

It never got better. At Twins Lakes inbound (mile 60), after refueling in the hopes, once again, that I could turn things around, I began vomiting and dry-heaving before crossing the timing mat--right there in front of hundreds of onlookers. After vomiting and dry-heaving easily a dozen times in front of the mat, the lights went out. I fainted, falling to the dirt road. My brother later told me seeing me go down like that scared him. I came to quickly and heard the doctor say, "you're going to need to drop; I gotta put an IV in you," to which I said, "I'm not dropping from this race; I intend to finish." He was irritated, I could tell, but that was how I felt--dropping wasn't an option. As I left Twin Lakes, still tasting puke and my nostrils burning from the vomit, I saw Tim "Footfeathers" Long and Shad Mika and said, "It never always gets worse" (a well-known saying in the sport). And, honestly, it didn't get worse; Twin Lake was the bottom.

Under no circumstances would I drop. I remember the pain of my 2012 DNF all too well to ever drop from a race again unless permanent damage is a real consideration. So I more or less ignored the doctor and went on my way with my other pacer and friend, Scott W., by my side. I left Twin Lakes with zero calories in me. Scott later managed to get some Fig Newtons in me, but they were too little, too late. The magic I experienced in 2013 in those last 35 miles wouldn't happen this year.

So from Twin Lakes inbound on I was running on empty, as my stomach could keep nothing down. It was a game of burning body fat. I actually ran a fair amount, albeit slowly because my legs were shot. And that's how the rest of the race unfolded--eat a little, puke it back up. You may be wondering: What was my nutrition? I had water and VFuel gels for the first half, along with some Carbo-Pro starting at Pipeline. I supplemented all of this with things like Coke, Fig Newtons, potatoes, and Ramen. None of it stayed down. I even puked up watermelon and soup at Mayqueen (mile 86.5). It was one of those days.

With Mark at the finish line. We were friends before the race; now we're even closer.
We went through a lot together. Scott unfortunately missed this photo.

I am so thankful for the support my pacers, Mark and Scott, provided every step of the way. They were amazing. I don't even know what to say to these two guys who gave up time from their busy schedules to help me run Leadville. I am eternally grateful for the love and support of my wife, Anne, and our son, Noah. Without them, I couldn't have finished and that's a fact--they inspire me to be the best man I can be. It was a thrill having my brother, Will, and sister-in-law, Gretchen, there with me. They showed love and support from start to finish, attending to my every need. I thought often about my mom and dad; I knew they wanted to be there. It's humbling to get that much support.

I want to thank my coach, Andy Jones-Wilkins, for his support and encouragement along the way. AJW had me in very good physical and mental shape going into the race. Unfortunately, shit went down despite the great condition I was in. AJW's training plan gave me not only a higher level of physical fitness but also the requisite mental fortitude. In short, I had the tools to grind it out when the shit hit the fan.

I also want to thank the many runners, crew members and volunteers who were out there working hard on Saturday and Sunday. It's just an awesome display. Several people told me how helpful this blog was in their preparation. I appreciate it all. Whatever I can give to others, I will give...moral support, a hug, words of advice, a gel, whatever I can give.

Josh Colley, his team and all of the volunteers nailed it. This was a spectacularly-run race. Every detail was well-executed, though I wasn't a fan of the new Outward Bound grass field, which was laced with random holes (these holes just need to be filled in before next year's race). I loved the surprise aid station atop Powerline (amazingly, I actually ran a little of Powerline). It was obvious Josh and his team took all of the feedback from last year's race and made some major improvements. To those who sought to throw the baby out with the bathwater--in this case, one of the original 100s and a race with more history and legend than 99.9% of other ultras--after last year's troublesome Leadville, I say this: I hope you are now satisfied. Leadville has turned it around. What say you now?

The big buckle--my fourth El Plato Grande buckle.

As for me, I'm not sure I'll return to Leadville next year. I have already booked our cabin, in the event that I do return, but at this point it's 50/50. If I get into Western States, there will be no Leadville for me in 2015. This race has more or less vexed me since I began this adventure five years ago, when I was coming off a win at the Mohican 100 that made me think I was talented but, in reality, out West I'm just a schmuck. I've never figured out fueling at Leadville--what works one year fails the next--and to this day I'm unconvinced I've run my own perfect race there. Maybe I never will, or maybe I will. The altitude and my stomach seem to do me in every time. I am seeing a nutritionist specializing in fueling in ultras next week. I need help. My daily diet is pretty clean; it makes me think that I'm just not used to the sugary crap I consume on race day, though this summer I did train with VFuel and had pretty good results.

One lesson learned: The next time I run Leadville, I will wear Hokas for every mile except the Hope Pass section. I'm getting old and I need the extra cushion. This year, I wore New Balance 1210s for the first 60 miles and they didn't do me any favors. I needed my Stinsons. I didn't switch to my Stinsons until mile 60; by then, my legs were shot from the cramps, though my feet were in good shape (one small blister) and I had no joint pain whatsoever.

Huge thanks to all who made the weekend a special one.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

If You Want to Finish Leadville, Here's the #1 Most Important Thing You Must Do

Damn, I love provocative headlines!

With the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run now a little over two weeks away, those of us entered in "The Race Across the Sky" are undoubtedly in our taper or about to begin the taper. Leadville is a fairly unique race in that it's between 9,200 feet and 12,600 feet the whole way. One hundred miles is hard enough; throw in some high altitude and mountain passes and the challenge becomes even tougher.

If this is your first time toeing the line at Leadville and you're unfamiliar with what it's like in the high country and Colorado Rockies, this post is for you (as is my two-part Guide to Finishing Leadville)!

A lot goes into successfully finishing Leadville. You don't want to go out too fast. You need to stay hydrated and fueled. Your stomach needs to stay happy, though you can almost bank on a few queasy moments (or worse). You need to show grit when you're doing the big climbs and thoughts of hopelessness (pun intended) are swimming through your brain. All of that is important, and it's what you'll hear about on Friday afternoon when we all gather for the very motivational pre-race meeting, which I highly recommend.

But there's one thing you may not have thought about, especially if you're coming from sea level. Hell, I even know a few Coloradans who have overlooked or forgotten about this one super-important thing. It's something that can totally end your race.

Are you ready?

Me in the finisher's tent after
crossing the line last year. Note the hat,
sweatshirt and vest. I also had gloves--
and I was still cold.
Stay warm and dry. There's a saying here in Colorado and it goes something like this: "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, give it five minutes."

At Leadville, expect everything from sunny skies and temps in the high 70s during the day to hail, rain/lightening storms of the biblical variety and, yes, snow, especially when you're on Hope Pass. Even if during the day the temperature is in the 70s and the sun is out and life is beautiful, you can expect the mercury to plummet into the 30s after sunset. Cold nights in Leadville are the norm. It's especially cold around Turquoise Lake, which you'll be running along very late in the race (with no other aid stations before the finish). If you aren't in warm clothing after the sun sets and especially along the lake, you will risk hypothermia. And, if you go hypothermic, your race is pretty much over.

So, be sure to have:
  • Rain gear. Get a waterproof jacket and hat--maybe some waterproof gloves, too.
  • Warm clothing that will keep you toasty in temperatures as low as 30 degrees. Usually when running in cool temps it's OK to dress on the light side as our bodies heat up with movement. Not so in Leadville after night fall. Dressing on the light side after sunset will get you a DNF.
  • Emergency poncho. I highly recommend you carry one at all times, especially if we have cloud cover.
One final note: Under no circumstances is littering acceptable on the trail or anywhere on the course. Sometimes stuff falls out of pockets and we don't notice. But it's totally not OK for anyone to intentionally throw trash, such as an empty gel package, on the trail. That is not cool and it will result in a disqualification.

As for me, well, I'm in shape (I think). Those long tempo runs and long trail runs seem to have me ready even as I dropped my peak weekly volume buy 15%. I did a MAF test yesterday morning and averaged 6:30 pace for five miles, with a one-second drop in time when you compare my mile-1 split with my mile-5 split. Not bad. It's my best-ever MAF test result. But MAF tests don't mean much when you're climbing Hope Pass or Powerline. So, we'll see how things shake out. But I do think I have experience on my side and I also think my nutrition plan is solid.

Have a great taper and race. I hope to see you in Leadville!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Five Weeks Until Leadville; Thoughts on Leadville Being Described as "Flat" and Kilian's New Hardrock CR

Five more weeks and then the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run is here. My training is going really well and--so far--I'm healthy (it's not easy showing up at the starting line healthy), though this morning I endured a 24-mile sufferfest due to the heat, beat up legs from a Pikes Peak outing on Friday, and inexplicable stomach issues. While my overall average volume is down just a tad to about 80-83 miles/week, I'm doing much longer runs than ever before--and I imagine I'll hit triple digits before tapering. On the weekend, it's not uncommon to do a 30-miler on the trail. Forty-mile weekends, which include long tempo runs, are the new norm (through Leadville).

The week that just ended was pretty solid: 87 miles, 13.5 hours and 10,000 feet of climbing. Next week should be about the same except hopefully I'll get more vertical in. I'm planning a Hope Pass double-crossing--always a good idea in the lead up to Leadville. The backside of Hope Pass, which has a few very steep sections, has always vexed me. I lose a lot of time there, and it doesn't help that there are usually hundreds of runners coming down the mountain in the opposite direction (I'm coming from Winfield, they're going into Winfield).

The North Fork 50K on June 28 told me my endurance is developing nicely--probably from those long runs on the weekends. Although the 50K race didn't have a lot of fast guys or stiff competition (except the guy who won, Chuck Radford, a friend of mine, is a burner for sure and could beat lots of other fast dudes on any given day), I was quite pleased with my fourth-place finish. I felt like I handled the 32 miles and 5,000 feet of climbing quite well--mentally and physically. The altitude wasn't really a factor--we topped out at 8,000 feet a few times but over the years I've come to handle 8K pretty well. What left a lasting impression on me were the exposed burn areas we ran through as a result of several fires in the North Fork area over the years, including the very awful Buffalo Creek fire of 1996. So, all in all, North Fork was a success and I loved the fact that the race had a down-home vibe. I (now) hate the term "old school" but North Fork was just that.

It'll be interesting to see how things at Leadville go this year. My feeling is that LifeTime Fitness has learned--the hard way--what the course can and can't handle. Leadville will likely always be a big race; it's just a matter of fielding the right number of runners. I think the right number is between 600 and 700. This year, I've heard we'll be looking at 800 starters. I think 800 is manageable. I think anything beyond 800 is too much. That's just my opinion based on four Leadville 100s.

Honestly, there's no section of the course that really scares me anymore except for the backside of Hope Pass. It used to be that the Powerline climb got to me but I pretty much slayed that dragon last year as I ran up the climb. Don't get me wrong; Powerline will always be hard, but I've come to mentally understand how to handle and approach it 78 miles into the race. Conversely, the backside of Hope isn't just a mental challenge; it's physically punishing. If I can somehow minimize the damage and stay positive on that very steep, gnarly climb up to the pass and run well back down to Twin Lakes, I think I'll be in good shape for a decent finish. If you can get to Twin Lakes inbound (mile 60) in good shape, that's huge.

Speaking of which, there are still some (including someone who just did a podcast interview) who continue to refer to Leadville as a "flat" race. To me, it's just plain inaccurate to describe Leadville as flat. With 17,000 feet of climbing, is Leadville on par with Hardrock or UTMB? No, of course not. They are different races altogether, as in apples and oranges. But it's still a challenging course between 9,200-12,600 feet, with a double crossing of a legit mountain pass that will eat your lunch if you're not prepared for it. So, I think it's just ridiculous to describe Leadville as "flat." If it's so flat, why have so many great mountain runners struggled there when you look at their times at other races versus their time(s) at Leadville? Should I name some of these great runners?

Finally, a word on Kilian Jornet's new course record at Hardrock (full post-race coverage here). It's easy to cheapen Kilian's amazing career on the grounds that he's probably the richest ultrarunner (in terms of sponsorship support) on the planet thanks to his relationship with Salomon. That's the world we now live in--cheapen and marginalize the accomplishments of the successful ones. Some describe him as the "Tiger Woods" of ultrarunning, which I see as a compliment and veiled insult. Fact is, he obliterated Kyle Skaggs' course record and clearly did so with time to spare. This was a great performance and my suspicion is that his course record will stand for a long time. So, as much as I was rooting for Scott Jaime, who finished fifth overall and, to me, is someone I can identify with much easier than a dude like Kilian (although Scott is way faster than I am), I'm really happy for Kilian. He seems like a good guy and I love his passion for the mountains and his bond with other runners (during his Hardrock course record, he stopped a few times to take photos of the scenery and wait for Julien Chorier). Hats off to the great Spaniard; he's a mountain running legend.

(By the way, does anyone in the sport have a cooler name than Julien Chorier? That dude has a badass name.)

Here's a great video of Kilian, Timmy Olson, Chorier and Dakota Jones descending Grant Swamp. Watching Kilian go down the mountain, I just don't know what to say. Except wow.

Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Leadville Trail Marathon Report

Saturday marked my fifth Leadville Trail Marathon. It seems like yesterday when, one Saturday in early July 2010, I lined up in front of the Sixth Street Gym full of excitement as I was about to take on my first Leadville race.

The scene on Saturday morning was exciting. The marathon kicks off of the annual Leadville Race Series, which includes the always-competitive Leadman and Leadwoman competition. I can't possibly describe the excitement I felt as I drove into town for the race, knowing I'd not only run an awesome race but also camp out at 10,000 feet above sea level.

One might look at my result on Saturday and mistake it for a "bad race," especially given my time last year of 4:19 (which placed me 12th overall). Here's how the numbers on Saturday shook out:
  • 5:04:51
  • 55th overall out of 434 finishers
  • 6th 40-49 male out of 104
The plan going into Saturday was an 80% effort. That's what my coach and I both determined would be the soundest approach. An 80% effort would allow me to train through the race and also do something productive the next day in Leadville (like run up Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass and back, which I did). At my age, I can't afford to "race" every race; I need to pick my battles. So, this was about a long run at elevation. As my coach often says to me, "keep your eyes on the prize (August)!"

On the week, I got to 80.1 miles and logged almost 12,000 feet of vertical. So, it was a good week and the Leadville Trail Marathon and my Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass adventure the next day helped get me there.

A few thoughts on the race itself. First off, because of the deep snowpack up in the mountains (Ball Mountain reportedly has six feet of snow on it), we ran a modified course.This modified course was harder than the standard route and threw in an extra 800 feet of climbing, to bring the total on the day to about 6,300 feet. My climbing was solid; where I suffered the most (no surprise) was running downhill. I also felt the effects of the altitude at times. There was a nasty climb from mile 20 to mile 21 that got to me a bit more mentally than physically. Still, because this was an 80% effort, I didn't worry too much and instead focused on good practice at elevation. I even helped a few other runners out, giving them Salt Sticks.

My fuel of choice was VFuel gels, water and Coca-Cola. Except for a few swigs of Coke, I was entirely self-supported. Looking back on it, I probably should have had more aid station fare, but I really wanted to test out VFuel. So far, so good.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well I did on the Powerline/Sugarloaf Pass climb and descent the next day. This is a critical section of the return trip during the 100-miler and it can break you (not even joking there; this section can destroy runners). So, it was good for me to hit this section while up in Leadville. I had hoped to summit Mount Elbert but I didn't want to tangle with the snow, so Powerline it was.

In summary, LifeTime Fitness did a nice job with the race. It was well-organized and the modified course was a great fix.

My next race is the North Fork 50K in two weeks. That will be more a race effort.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Kindred Spirits

"Many of the world's problems could be solved if we just ran trails together."

One of the things about society today that is most troubling is our penchant for labeling people and creating divisions amongst ourselves based on things like skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, religion, etc. My experience as an ultrarunner is a big reason why all this labeling and dividing troubles me so deeply.

Let me explain.

Errol "the Rocket" Jones
Last night, I sat down and read the most recent issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. It includes a gem of a column by none other than Errol “the Rocket” Jones. Errol has been a part of this sport for decades – since the early 1980s – and has seen it all, from the Western States Endurance Run and Badwater Ultramarathon to The Bear and many other iconic races. In his column, Errol chronicles the big changes that have taken place over the years (gear, nutrition, number of races, etc.), adding in the end that the one thing that hasn’t changed is the community aspect of the sport.

Almost any ultrarunner, especially those who have completed races of 100 miles or more, will tell you that the distance eventually strips you down to little more than the marrow of your very being. This would explain why at various times in races I can get emotional, especially when I think about my family. Sometimes I have long conversations with God. At that moment in time, you are a stripped-down, naked human soul moving over the land in pursuit of one goal: to finish. You’re surrounded by dozens or maybe hundreds of other runners involved in that same pursuit. When you have that kind of dynamic, all we see in each other are kindred spirits.

And when you have kindred spirits in nature, you have love, friendship and true community. This is why in our sport the best of the best will drink beer at the finish and trade war stories with the back-of-the-packers. In large part because of what we experience on the trail, we all know none of us is better than the other, whether you finished in first place or last place, whether you are black or white or some other “race,” whether you are from “here” or “there,” whether you prefer the opposite sex or your own sex, whether you're a "conservative" or a "liberal," whether you're a doctor or a drifter living in the back of your truck. That stuff is immaterial on the trail—and it should be immaterial in life. Alas, it isn't that way in the real world; that stuff creates divisions in families, among friends and among strangers.

Because of the many powerful experiences I’ve had in races, over time I, like probabaly you and many other ultrarunners, stopped noticing skin color, sexual orientation, political beliefs, ethnicity, etc. and started focusing on what’s inside a person. Because we’re kindred spirits, we look out for each other; we help each other out, even if that means giving another a gel or half of one's water; we encourage each other, even if that's at 12,600 feet on Hope Pass. Even as many of us are out there to compete and achieve a given result, at the end of the day this is about like-minded folks enjoying nature together while puttting one foot in front of the other. When you have that, nothing else—not skin color, not sexual orientation, not politics and, in some cases, not even one's time—matters.

All that matters is that we’re in this together, doing something we all love.

If only that were the way of the world in which we live. We can only hope.

For more on Errol "the Rocket" Jones, check out this podcast.