Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Working (At Last)

I wish I'd known (read: believed) two years ago that the junk mileage I was putting in between workouts wasn't helping me get fitter; it was actually hurting me by hampering recovery and putting me in an ever-deepening hole. Over the past four weeks, I have completely eliminated junk mileage from my training. No more little 3-4-mile runs between workouts to boost my numbers. No more "gray-zone" runs. The days of number-chasing for the sake of a nice weekly total are over. And it's for the better because it was an unsustainable course that was making me hate ultras.

My training is now a lot more planful, purposeful and quality-based--and it seems to be paying off because I'm feeling fit and I'm finishing my workouts strong, whether it's a 25-mile mountain run or a track, hill repeat or tempo run session. Rather than fixating on mileage, my greatest focus now is on A) fully recovering between quality workouts (cannot overstate the importance of this), B) executing true quality on my "hard days," and C) going very easy on easy days, including a complete day off (or at most cross-training) on Mondays. It really all comes down to training hard on hard days and recovering on easy days so my body (and mind) achieves adaption--the key to getting fitter. That's in contrast to what I've been doing when training for 100s the past few years--grind it out every day, run as many workouts as possible in a single week (for "practice"), sprinkle in some speed here and there (with no real purpose behind it) and largely ignore fatigue.

Here's an example of what my new training looks like--this is from my plan for this week:

Monday: Off/cross training
Tuesday: 6x800M intervals w/ 400M recoveries - increase speed with each
Wednesday: Recovery run/super easy pace (60-70 minutes)
Thursday: Hill repeats - 7-8 reps of 2-2:30 each
Friday: AM: Easy 6-7; PM: night run of about 15 miles with the guys
Saturday: Recovery run/super easy pace (60-70 minutes)
Sunday: Long trail run of about 22-24 miles

Ordinarily I'd have a tempo run on Saturday but, with a night run the day before, no tempos this week. The average week, though, has intervals, hill repeats, a tempo run and a long trail run.

Over the past three weeks, especially this past week, I have noticed a significant boost in my fitness. I'm able to finish my long runs feeling strong and good (versus tired and wiped out) and my turnover, speed and power are all noticeably better than they were in April (when I actually debated abandoning the racing year altogether). It is too soon to say whether or not this new approach will pay off at Bighorn in the way of a "good time." I think it will but, even if it doesn't, that's OK because this new way of training is more satisfying. When I'm done with a workout, I don't have to worry about getting in a few more miles that day; I have nothing hanging over my head and can instead live my life.

Also, I think I've discovered some great nutrition products. Again, it's too easy to say how it'll all pay off at Bighorn, but in my long runs over the past few weeks I've been very happy with Tailwind Nutrition (I mix about 125 calories per bottle), Justin's Nut Butter packs, and Honey Stinger waffles. My nutrition plan for Bighorn, mirroring how I've trained, will be a combination of the above, plus some typical aid station fare, with the overall goal of consuming about 150-200 calories and--most importantly (for GI health)--no more than two dozen grams of carbs an hour.

Overall, this new approach to training is more fulfilling, conducive to the responsibilities I have as a husband, dad and employee, and purposeful. I cannot predict how it'll play out at Bighorn. Bighorn will be the most challenging 100 I've ever done and so I'm going to need to be at my best. But I know that when I'm running 20 and 25 miles and feeling great in the end that that's a good sign. When I feel powerful and efficient going up hills and my tempo pace is dropping like a rock, those are good signs.

Bottom line: I remember a few years ago being told by a few older guys, like Jay Aldous, that once you have a big base it's a game of quality, recovery and adaption. Only now am I fully realizing that what they told me was 100% correct. Thank goodness I came this realization in time to get in decent shape going into Bighorn---versus churning out junk mileage like a hamster on a never-ending wheel. Never again.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


I'm in week two of my new training regimen. It's modeled on the program Andy Jones-Wilkins had me on last summer. Since last year's Leadville, where I had issues (but still finished sub-25, thank God!), I've come to realize that my problem going into that race was that I never let myself adequately recover between workouts. I was almost always fried. I hit all of AJW's workouts and, between them, I put in lots of junk miles (which I did myself as AJW never prescribed junk miles--his workouts were always very purposeful), leaving me spent by race day. Big mileage worked for me in my mid-30s (admittedly, I did lots of quality back then, too), but all it does now is leave me falling behind in my recovery.

This time around, with Bighorn six weeks away, I have opted for very purposeful training. Every day has a purpose, whether it's recovery, cross-training, hill repeats for power/strength, track intervals for speed/efficiency, a tempo run for strength, a long trail run for raw endurance and specificity, or out and out rest. My new rule is that if I don't know the purpose of a workout, then it's better to stay home. When you add it up, my mileage in an average week is now between 70-80. But, again, every workout has a purpose and I'm getting better and better at measuring progress not by mileage totals but by how I feel after a recovery run day.

This is a big change for me. I've always believed in volume when training for 100s. But, having read a lot of articles and blogs by experts like Joe Friel, Lucho, Jack Daniels and many others, I have come to realize that I have a big enough aerobic base (closing in on 40,000 miles since 2004) to focus more on quality and less on putting in the miles. You go hard on hard days and easy on easy days. You get better not just from the hard days but especially on easy/recovery days when your body is adapting to the stimulus you gave it with those track intervals, hills, tempo miles, etc. If you put in good quality but never recover because you run too fast on easy days (which I was doing) and fill in the gaps with junk miles, then you never adapt and get better. I have always known this but I also told myself that junk miles were recovery miles and "good practice." They are not. Junk miles take away from, not add to, fitness.

So far, so good. Last week, I put in some solid workouts thanks to excellent recovery from the 50K. But then on Sunday a strange thing happened on my 24-miler up and back down Waterton Canyon and Section 1 of the Colorado Trail: I felt good. I felt efficient. I felt strong. And I felt fast. It was fun! As Mike W. and I were running back to our cars, with about 1.5 miles to go, I dropped the hammer and ran it in hard, passing a runner ahead of us. Mile 22.5-23.5 was run in 6:50. I haven't been able to do that at the end of a long run, physically or mentally, in some time.

This week, all is going well so far. I had a solid track workout on Tuesday and a solid hill repeat session this morning. I can feel my efficiency improving and I'm definitely lighter on my feet. The biggest thing I've noticed is an ability to recover better between workouts since I've cut out junk miles like those extra 3- and 4-milers between runs, which are more about chasing numbers than anything. Plus, I'm going super easy on easy days--like 9-minute pace. But I don't really look at my Garmin on easy days because it's not about pace or distance; it's about recovering.

Whether or not all of this pays off at Bighorrn is yet to be determined. I believe it'll pay off and it'll set me up for a great taper and I know my life has improved, as a person and runner, now that I'm more focused and not always feeling pulled by the need to get in "more miles," which is exhausting when you have a lot of other things going in life. And even if my time at Bighorn isn't great, I'm OK with that, because at least now this all feels manageable, healthy and purposeful. Oh yeah, and fun!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

At Last, True Compression Sleeves That Work (Here's a Coupon Code to Get Yours Today!)

Note to reader: I'm not an elite runner or by any stretch "famous." I'm a regular guy who likes running and racing distances up to and beyond 100 miles. Here's a review of an outstanding product I recently discovered. I have been offered nothing by SLS3 but this one free product to test and review. This review is 100% how I feel about these calf sleeves. Now, read on!

I like compression gear because it works for me. In races and long training runs, I often wear compression shorts under my running shorts because they help keep my quads stable and chafing at bay. They also provide extra warmth up in the mountains and when the seasons are changing.

I've also on occasion found calf compression sleeves to be quite helpful and beneficial in the way of preventing soreness, promoting stability, helping with recovery, and keeping warm. But not until recently did I find the truly perfect pair of calf sleeves.

Source: SLS3
A few months ago, SLS3 asked if I'd wear-test some of their calf sleeves and then post a review about my experience. Who is SLS3? They've been around since 2004 (you can read about their story here) and have evolved over the years to offer top-quality triathlon apparel and compression gear. Although I'm not a triathlete (just an ultrarunner who also likes my bike), I am most certainly interested in good compression gear. So, when SLS3 reached out to me, a quick search of their website and a few e-mails with the very friendly rep (her name is Vanessa) revealed that this was a great opportunity. I turn down about 95% of these types of wear-testing opportunities, but this one was impossible to pass up because I believe truly good compression works.

Within a few days, my SLS3 FXC Compression Sleeves (shown to the right, but those aren't my legs, and I got black sleeves!) arrived in the mail. I immediately noticed how durable they appeared. In the past, durability has been an issue with calf compression sleeves, especially when you get on rocky trails. They like to rip. Not the case with my SLS3 sleeves (more on that below).

SLS3 says its calf compression sleeves "boost blood flow by around 34%." I believe it. I've put in a few hundred miles in my calf sleeves and I've definitely noticed a difference. Not only am I not sore in the calves after a hard run, but I'm also recovering better. Maybe that's why I was able to hit the track for quality intervals a few days after running 31 miles at the Cheyenne Mountain 50K?

The one downside to them--and this is only because they offer top-quality compression--is that they can be difficult to take off. Again, that's what you're going to get with good compression; it's part of the deal. Fortunately, they're super durable. I've washed them a few times and they're as good as new. No rips. No fraying. Still as tight as when they came out of the tiny box.

If my calf sleeves are any indication, SLS3 makes really quality stuff. I hope they enter the ultrarunning arena and start making stuff for those of us who enjoy running all day.

The good news is that my calf sleeves are perfect for not only runners but also cyclists, walkers, triathletes and even skiers (hadn't thought about their benefit to skiing but it's true!).

If you're into compression or just want to try it, check out SLS3! You can't go wrong. Use coupon code Wyatt40 to get a 40% discount. Check 'em out!