Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thoughts on Harmony and 2018

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a blog post, written by ultrarunner Mark Carroll after the 2009 Mohican 100-Mile Run:

"At this point in the race Wyatt Hornsby must have been running a bit scared. Wyatt had just done something that he must have envisioned on a hundred training runs over the past year. It was bold and it was ballsy and it was unlikely. He had run well back from the frontrunners all day long; keeping them just within range. This was a wise strategy. But just a while ago his patience, alertness, and knowledge of the course allowed him to take over the lead from Mark Tanaka of San Francisco and he was now irrevocably committed to pulling off his goal of winning the Mohican Trail 100 Mile Run. This was the work of a believer. Wyatt was a good runner. In fact he had finished in the top five in a local 50K race on this very course a few months ago. But this was Tanaka’s race and everyone knew it. Well, almost everyone. Tanaka was the genuine deal. He was a member of the famous La Sportiva Mountain Running Team. Wyatt was running ruthlessly. He refused to walk on even some of the steepest climbs and increased his effort time and again over the final miles. Think of Rocky climbing off the canvas for a knockout. Wyatt crossed the line to the delight of all skinny-low-heart-rated Ohioans, in first place in 19:52."

Needless to say, that got me fired up (my report from that race here). It reminded me of a time when I felt I could almost float over the trail. I ran fearlessly in races because I knew I was in such great shape. I knew that I could push myself super hard and still have gas in the tank for a strong finish. A lot has changed since then, and I'm not just talking about age. I realize that I have gotten away from certain training practices that really helped me then and that could help me now. I am working to re-integrate those practices. No need to talk about them here; the important thing is that I am doing them.


With 2017 coming to an end, I am starting to think about my race schedule for 2018. It has been a challenging year on a few fronts and I am excited about 2018.  I recently heard a guest on the Rich Roll Podcast (excellent podcast show, by the way) equate the endurance athlete's life to a three-legged stool. One leg is their professional life/job. Another leg is their family. The third leg is their training. If one of those legs is compromised in any way, the stool comes apart and the athlete falters. One's life needs to be in balance--in harmony--for optimal performance on the road and trail. I am looking for harmony in 2018, and I feel that my heart is in a really good place right now, which is a good sign.

With that said, I managed to finish 2017 with a decent performance at the local Turkey Trot 5K. Despite very little speedwork going into the race, I pulled off an 18:48, good for sixth overall in a field of more than 2,200 runners and walkers. The five runners who finished in front of me were all high schoolers, so not bad. But let me tell you: 5Ks hurt! I am confident that, with proper training, I might have a shot at once again going sub-18 for 5K. I've started getting back to the track every single week, recognizing that it'll pay off in a big way in races of all distances in 2018. When it comes to speed, "use it or lose it." I am committed, as in ironclad committed, to running hard at the track weekly from here on out.

Also for 2017, I am on pace to finish the year with a little more than 3,000 miles. This will be my eleventh consecutive year with 3,000 or more miles. It'll be my lowest-mileage year of the eleven but I'll take it as I suffered through a really nasty knee injury in the early spring that had me wondering if I would be running and racing at all in 2017 (it's ultimately what took me out at Leadville this year). That little knee tweak aside, I am so grateful for the durability my body gives me every year.


Lottery gods permitting, 2018 will feature a return to the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run. If that's the case, I'll be lining up for my sixth finish. I am still chasing the 1,000-mile buckle at Leadville. At this point, it seems so far away. If the 1,000-mile buckle were parallel with the race course itself, I have just gotten to Winfield (the halfway point) and am turning around for the arduous trip back up and over Hope Pass. I am very inspired to get after it at Leadville in 2018.

If I get into Leadville, then I am confident the rest of the 2018 schedule will shape up nicely. I am looking at a potential outing in April to the Grand Canyon, where some buddies and I will run rim-to-rim-to-rim. I have always wanted to run the Canyon and am excited.

So 2018 could be looking like the Grand Canyon in April and Leadville in August. Add to that a potential Colfax Marathon in May and the Leadville Trail Marathon in June and that looks like a pretty good spring and summer schedule to me.

If I don't get into Leadville, I'll likely register for the Never Summer 100K, a grueling mountain race here in Colorado, followed by either Run Rabbit Run up in Steamboat Springs or Javelina Jundred in the hot Arizona desert. I am kind of leaning toward Steamboat.

Would love to hear what your race schedule in 2018 is looking like. Chime in if you'd like.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reader Question: Good Track Workouts for Speed and Strength

Someone asked me a few days ago for help in designing some good-quality track workouts to build speed and strength. This person is an ultrarunner and wants to stave off the effects of Father Time. It just so happens that right now I am working hard to get back to the track on a regular basis--and already I am seeing the benefits--so we had a lot to talk about!

Phot Credit:
When I was running in top form, it was because I was committed to executing intense track and tempo workouts every single week. These workouts made me much stronger and faster. They also boosted my economy, which is huge when you're racing distances up to 100 miles.

I remember an old friend of mine once saying to me, "after a while, you find that you need the track workouts." He was right. If you stick with them, you will get faster, stronger and mentally tougher. If you get lazy and quit going to the track every week because of excuses, you will get slower and sluggish and your running economy (and race performance and results) will suffer. 

Slow and sluggish is where I've been for a few years now, but I am determined (committed, really) to get fast again. On Thanksgiving day, I managed a decent 5K time (18:48, 6th overall out of 2,200 runners and walkers) in our local Turkey Trot race but it was anything but smooth for me. I had to go into the hurt locker big time to get it. I believe that with regular sessions at the track, I will see big payoffs in 2018 races of all distances, including the 100-mile distance. So I'm all in. And the same can be said of you, too, if you make the track a part of your training on a weekly basis. Be sure to work into it gradually, or else you elevate your risk of injury, especially if you are a masters or grandmasters athlete.

And let me just emphasize that intervals on the road, while better than no intervals at all, are not the same as intervals at the track. The track allows for comparable results over time, and it's also just really mentally hard for some people to run around an oval. The track makes you mentally tougher and physically faster.

With that, my bread and butter workouts from years ago (I am gradually easing back into these workouts week by week), which I highly recommend for distance runners, are:
  • 3x1600 meters (1600 meters is 4 full laps around the track) all-out. For me, this was about 5:30-5:35/mile when I was in peak form. Very difficult workout that will push you mentally and physically, but it builds strength that pays off late in races, when others are faltering. Do very easy 400-meter recoveries in between (feel free to walk some in the recoveries). Make no mistake about it; 3x1600 meters hard will be quite uncomfortable but the payoff is huge. Sometimes you have to go through hell to get to heaven.
  • 5x1600 meters at 90-95% of all-out effort. For me, this was about 5:48-5:55/mile. This workout builds strength more than speed. It was my favorite workout by far. Again, do very easy 400-meter recoveries in between.
  • 2x3200 meters at 90% of all-out effort. I always shot for under 12 minutes for each, usually coming in at 11:45-11:50 or so. Again, this workout builds strength and mental toughness. Do extremely easy 400-800-meter recoveries in between. This workout is more a "graduate-level" endeavor. Get comfortable with mile repeats before you "graduate" to 3200s.
What I did was rotate these. One week, I did 3x1600s. The next week I did 5x1600s. The third week I did 2x3200s. Then I started over with the cycle.

For each of those three workouts, you want to pace yourself so your last interval set is your fastest. And call me old-school but I feel that you should be pretty gassed when your workout is done. If you're not gassed, you didn't go hard enough.

Then there are shorter workouts that are also great, like Yasso 800s and good old-fashioned 400s run very fast. But, for me, the greatest ROI always came from the three workouts listed above.

One final note: I always run a 2-mile warm-up, along with a handful of 100-meter striders to activate the fast-twitch muscle fiber, before getting after it on the track. Not doing an adequate warm-up will significantly elevate your risk of injury, so be sure to jog a few miles beforehand and bust out some striders before starting the workout. Then cool-down with at least a mile or two and recover with a healthy meal and plenty of fluids.