Running should feel natural

Running should feel natural

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Whole30 Challenge: no grains, no sugar, and no booze for 30 days

"Let us change your life"

Thats a pretty bold claim, but I like a good challenge, and after trying vegetarian and vegan diets out in the past I was up for trying something new.

The program and many of its followers who completed it have some impressive testimonials.  The program makes claims of improved body composition, higher energy levels, better sleep, improved athletic performance, and eliminating generally unhealthy food cravings.  As a born skeptic, I take the sparkling testimonials with a grain of salt.  People who want to get you on board with their ideology typically only provide positive testimony from its followers.  Apparently there is a science to back it up which I didn't read too far into, but people can use science to "prove" almost anything, and it seems like every fad diet has a study that qualifies it as the best.

The biggest endorsements however came from some fellow Ultra-runners I know who generally follow a no-grain no-sugar diet, especially one gal I know how has a knack at the 100 mile distance. So why not? I took the plunge and committed.  I like to think I'm stubborn (in a good way), and that once I commit to something I do not ever back down unless I have justifiable evidence its wiser not to continue.

I was also prepping myself for a month of constant food preparation, not eating out, not socializing, often having to sound like that annoying "food restriction" person, and dealing with over the top pretentious advice and behaviors.  This program looks to reshape your "long-standing, unhealthy patterns related to food, eating and your body image" and rethink the "Standard American Diet - or SAD for short".  I like how the acronym has to sound negative of course.  What about the RAD (Regular American Diet)?  Prepare to be judged!!

These are whats in that powdered coffee creamer in the break room.  You
will not be eating this.  Then again, no human should ever consume this!

Anecdotes aside, this program sounds legitimate and the theories just make sense.  Basically, you are eating actual food, not processed crap that sits on the shelf and never goes bad.  Stuff you could actually go out and hunt or gather.  Ingredients you can actually pronounce!

What is Whole 30?

Taken straight from the website:

"Established by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig (of Whole9) in April 2009, the Whole30® is our original nutritional program designed to change your life in 30 days. Think of it as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.

Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it. Are your energy levels inconsistent or non-existent? Do you have aches and pains that can’t be explained by over-use or injury? Are you having a hard time losing weight no matter how hard you try? Do you have some sort of condition (like skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies or fertility issues) that medication hasn’t helped? These symptoms may be directly related to the foods you eat—even the “healthy” stuff.

So how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you? Strip them from your diet completely. Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you've been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health."

I'm about to rethink everything I knew about giving your body energy.  As a big runner, I have been surrounded by pseudo-science on "carbo-loading" for endurance events.  I do not plan on taking any time off and instead getting a lot of miles in for my spring races, while at the same time eating no pasta, rice, or breads.

I also will not be consuming any alcohol for 30 days.  This is a challenge I have been meaning to undertake for awhile now.  While I by no means feel dependent on alcohol (beer is my beverage of choice), sometimes its good to give yourself a break and remember that there is life (and nightlife) outside of bars.  This should save considerable money too.

Its should be understood that Whole30 really isn't a diet, its a lifestyle change in the way you eat.  Seriously! Its not about your weight, calories, or portion sizes.  They even tell you not to weigh yourself or play the numbers game.  You are getting rid of bad habits and rethinking how you buy, cook, and consume.  You just: Eat. Good. Food.

What you can eat

The program's creators like to focus more on what you can eat than what you can't.  This is valid, and the food you eat is actually really good.  There are tons of recipes and resources out there, stuff like breakfast skillets, bacon & eggs, skillets, stews, steak, burgers, etc. (just be sure all the ingredients are compliant). Really tasty food, that is surprisingly easy to make and comes out looking like a work of art.  Lots of veggies, seafood, fruit, and sources for good fats.  Nuts are a great go-to snack (typically almonds, cashews, and pecans), as are olives.  Avocados are another versatile food that can top just about anything, and are a great source of the "good fat".

They even provide a handy shopping list on their website to get you started.

What you can't eat

While they do like to stress what you can eat rather than what you can't - Lets be realistic, there are a ton of can'ts involved.  Way more than the obvious stuff.  They sum it up well on their website.  It may sound stringent, but its not to be mean, its the result of a science.

  • Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products in ways you might not recognize.
  • Do not consume alcohol in any form, not even for cooking. (And it should go without saying, but no tobacco products of any sort, either.)
  • Do not eat grains. This includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains and all of those gluten-free pseudo-grains like quinoa.
  • Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).
  • Do not eat dairy. This includes cow, goat or sheep’s milk products such as cream, cheese (hard or soft), kefir, yogurt (even Greek), and sour cream.
  • Do not consume carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. If these ingredients appear in any form on the label of your processed food or beverage, it’s out for the Whole30.
Yes its not going to be "easy".  But then what is really worth doing thats easy?  They make a good point that if you think this is hard you should put your life into perspective.  There are really hard things out there, like battling a terminal disease, going to war, living below the poverty line, etc. - this is more of a minor inconvenience.  Who knows, maybe by the end of the month I'll like it!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Running and Adventure Tales to Inspire and Train you

The following are some great books and movies related to running.  Some are for training purposes, while others should just inspire you.  Though the training books are very literal, the inspiring stories (as I call them) tend to be better motivators.  Motivators to push yourself further, try something new, and follow in the footsteps of those who went before.  There are more out there if you look (The movie "Spirit of the Marathon" or the book "Relentless Forward Progress" come to mind) but I probably didn't like them as much.  I have yet to read or see all of these, but these are my favorites or at least are on my short list to read next.  I will continue to update these.

Inspiring Books:

Ultramarathon Man - Some runners have mixed opinion about Dean, but his book about running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days is an inspiring tale that relates well to the every-man.
Born To Run - personal opinions aside, this book sparked a new era in running and shook up a stale shoe industry.  Though enthusiast runners can punch holes in its theories, its as entertaining as it is inspiring and sheds light on ultra running to the masses.
Eat and Run - Scott Yurek, America's greatest ultrarunner and arguably the worlds best, describes his life growing up in the fast-food ridden midwest and his shift to a vegan diet while racing (and winning) ultrarunning's toughest events.
Marathon Man - The bio of Bill Rodgers and his journey from unknown grad student to winning the 1975 Boston Marathon.  "Boston Billy" helped launch the modern day running boom.

No Shortcuts to the Top - Not a running book, but the lifelong quest of Ed Viesturs to become the first American to climb the world's highest 14 peaks - all without bottled oxygen.
Once a Runner - A fictional novel about a runner's lifelong dream to run a 4 minute mile.  An inside account of the chaotic lives of elite distance runners.
The Perfect Mile - Throughout time a sub 4 minute mile was thought impossible to obtain with the human body, but 2 runners in the early 1950s set out on both a physical and spiritual quest to prove this wrong.
Running with the Buffaloes - An NCAA season running along with the University of Colorado cross country team as they devote themselves to excellence.
Unbroken - A story of impossible resilience and determination about a teenager who channeled his defiance into running and landed a spot in the Berlin Olympics.  He was soon sucked into World War II and had to endure a harrowing experience, first adrift in the Pacific Ocean and then in a Japanese prison camp.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the PCT - Cheryl Strayed's retelling of her adventure on the Pacific Crest trail as an inexperienced hiker grieving over the loss of her mother while recovering from substance abuse.

Training Guides:

A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning - As the name implies, this book is an encyclopedia of knowledge about ultra running.  Over 500 pages of on training, nutrition, physiology, race summaries, even humor on the sport.
Advanced Marathoning - A science based approach to get you in great shape for the marathon, with advice on how to compliment your training with strength, flexibility and form.
Daniel's Running Formula - Running coach Jack Daniels, PhD, has a plan to get you into the best shape of your life with his VDOT based training approaches (VDOT is short for VO2max, the maximum rate of oxygen consumption your body can sustain).  With plans from the 5k up to the marathon, the workouts are brutal but will elevate your fitness to a new level.
Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide - Hal Higdon's often anecdotal guide to marathons, great for your first or 50th race (really!).  While beginner friendly, I still pick it up and read random parts from time to time.


Apocalypto - A midst a declining Mayan Kingdom, a young man is sent on a death march to await his death, but instead flees his fate.  A deadly footrace ensues through the jungles to try and reach his family and his freedom.
Chariots of Fire - The classic running film about 2 British track stars and their desire to compete in the 1924 Olympic games.  Contains some familiar music as well.
Forest Gump - Everyone's favorite movie about the life of a challenged man who also happens to love running.  We all loved his fictitious run across America, not to mention some classic quotes like when asked why he was running across the country his response of "I just felt like running", or at the end of his journey where he bluntly states "I'm pretty tired...I think I'll go home now", and don't forget: "Run Forest Run"!
Indulgence: 1000 miles under the Colorado sky - a summer of running in the Rockies with Anton Krupicka.
Prefontaine - the 1997 movie about the Oregon running phenom and Olympic hopeful Prefontaine who died tragically before his peak.
Run Fatboy Run - 5 years after leaving his pregnant fiance, out-of-shape Dennis commits to running  a marathon to show his ex that he isn't a quitter.  Fatboy puts a comedic spin on training for your first marathon and a great visual representation of how to break through "the wall".
Run Lola Run - A fast-paced German thriller about a woman who must frantically run across town to find money to bail her boyfriend out of a crime ring.  Its told in three distinct "running" episodes.
The Runner - profiling ultra-running pioneer David Horton's speed record of the 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail.
Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135 - a documentary about the infamous Badwater 135 mile run and some of the participants, which takes place in one of the hottest places on Earth.
Ultramarathon Man - the very watchable film adaptation of Dean Karnaze's aforementioned book.
Unbreakable: The 2010 Western States 100 - 4 top ultra-runners all eye a win at Western States, one of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile races in the world.  Only one man will stay "Unbreakable"!
Without Limits - another great movie from 1998 about the life of Steve Prefontaine, chronicling his life and Olympic experiences.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflecting on the Beast, staying healthy, and looking forward to 2015

The Beast

The final standings for the Beast have been released.  It took me 77 hours 47 minutes and 35 seconds to finish it.  It was over 315 miles of racing, and countless more time and miles in training. To recap the 6 races that make up The Beast:

Start of the Mountain Masochist 50 miler (courtesy of Mykkah Photog.)

The biggest irony here is that I didn't even mean to sign up for the Beast initially. I had thought about it, debated signing up for the shorter Lynchburg Ultra Series, or just making the Grindstone 100 miler my only goal for 2014.  Thanks to a few drinks and a persistent runner friend I went ahead and took the plunge last winter by signing up.  I was committed.

The Grindstone 100 Starting Line (courtesy of Mykkah Photog.)

The Beast has been a journey into being a real mountain ultra runner.  I had only done a few Ultra-distance races before 2014, and they were mostly flatter ones, the longest being a 50 miler.  My road marathons help lay the groundwork with fitness and speed, but they aren't comparable to mountainous ultras.  The Beast is a grinder, and when you come out of it you feel ready to tackle even the hardest, steepest, Ultras out there.  It teaches you what you are capable of and how to get yourself to what you aren't sure you can handle yet.

Staying Healthy

Tip-toeing over a stream.
I am really excited about 2015.  For the first time basically ever since I started running I have been putting in consistent miles and showing up for my races as planned.  The big key has been not being injured.  There might be a little luck involved with that, but I attribute it to a few key factors:
  • No "red-lining" - While I still get in some speed work and shorter races, I never really go "all out" or push it to an uncomfortable level.  This may be what it takes to PR in shorter races but its bad for longevity.
  • Less Pavement - Running on pavement is tough on your body, or at least on mine.  I try not to ever run more than 16 miles on pavement in training.  I'll feel more sore after an 18 mile training run on roads than a 50km run on trails.  Some people can handle high mileage strictly on roads; good for them.  Its a high risk of injury for me  as well as general burn-out and boredom.
  • No "hard" marathons - this is kind of a combo of the previous points.  While a road marathon is fine every now and then, running lots of them or trying to PR carries a high risk of injury and the need for significant time off after.
  • Shoes - I've figured out what works for me and what doesn't. Hokas seem to be working well.  I'm also losing my belief that you should be fitted for stability shoes to match your pronation level.  I used to run solely in Motion Control shoes and got injured all the time.  I've been running in Hokas which are considered neutral (with Orange Superfeet) for the past year and have felt great.  I have become more of a believer in developing your own personal natural running technique and less in shoes and other off-the-shelf equipment.  Shoes can help, but they are really a stop-gap solution.
  • Resting when needed and recovering right - I am finally not doing stupid stuff like running while injured, running back to back road long runs, doing speedwork on consecutive days, and other obvious bonehead moves that I used to do.  Even if im not feeling sore after a goal race I'll take some time off (as in no running for a week), and then a few more weeks to ease back into it at a low mileage level.
  • Skipping races or big training runs - I hate skipping races, but if I'm feeling really banged up or burned out I will forego a training run or even a non-goal race.  Sometimes I'll substitute a big cycling ride or I'll just completely rest from physical activity.  Its better to be conservative and get to your true goal races healthy and full of energy.
  • Finally used to being a runner - all these factors, all the training runs, races, and recovery periods just add up to your body being adept at running a lot.

Up Next

So while I have a slew of races planned for 2015, included a few goal races, one event stands alone:
The Big Horn 100 miler in Wyoming.

The Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, site of Big Horn 100.  Pictures and a great race write-up from Asymptotic Running!

Here are the rest of my "A" and "B" goal races.

  • JFK 20k & MLK 5k, Jan 17
  • Elizabeth Furnace 50k, March 14
  • Terrapin Mtn 50k, March 21
  • Bull Run 50 miler, April 11
  • Big Horn 100 Miler, June 18
  • Reston Century 100 mile bike ride, Aug 30
  • The Ring 70 miler, Sept 5
  • Everything else I'm doing I try to consider more of a training run and therefor tentative if push comes to shove.  You can check the "2015 Races" sidebar for the rest of my planned outings.  I haven't really got anything planned past summer - its way to early to think about what you will want to be doing in Fall anyway.

    So here's to another year of miles in the books!

    Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    Hellgate: the 66.6 mile mountain run that starts at Midnight

    There will be no pictures here. No selfies or over-enthusiastic thumbs-up.  No iPhone panoramas.  And certainly no instagramming, hashtagging, or tweeting.  A lot of races try to advertise a "fast and flat course" or a "scenic course" to sugar coat what lies ahead.  Hellgate sounds hard; its supposed to be hard.  Its a special race and while you have to run it to understand, I will do my best to sum it up with words.

    Finish Time: 15:24:58
    Starting Time: 12:01am, December 13th, 2014

    That Friday didn't really go as planned, but does it ever?  My plan was to sleep in and go in for a short day of work, but I ended up with an early meeting so that wasn't possible.  I was able to come home around 11 and snooze for a couple hours though before I headed out.  We got down in great time, ate at the pre-race dinner and shortly after snuggled up with 140+ other runners for the pre-race briefing.  Somehow Dr. Horton manages to infuse enough humor into his briefings to keep even the most fidgety of runners interested.

    The briefing ended around 8:30pm, but we weren't headed to the start until 10:45, so we had a couple hours to sit around (yay...), lay-down, and prep our gear.  The weather was great by Hellgate standards, we had temps at Camp Bethel in the 40s, clear with very little wind.  I brought clothing for 3 different weather conditions, which are hard to predict until the night of.  The challenge is to be warm enough that you won't freeze up on top of the mountains at 4am, while not getting too warm at the lower elevations earlier on.  Once the sun comes up you can always shed layers in a drop bag or carry them on your pack.  I ended up wearing light-weight running pants with shorts on top (so I could shed the pants later if needed), a long-sleeve tech shirt, a light shell, gloves and a hat.  This ended up being the perfect choice; I was a little hot at the start but once we were into the coldest part of the night I was glad to have everything.

    Hellgate has seen conditions ranging from the 50s at the start during warm years, to having starting temps in the 20s, with lows in the 0s, often complimented by sleet and snow.  Though harsher elements provide for a "true" Hellgate experience, I was happy to have relatively nice weather for my first running.

    I attempted to lie down a bit and sleep.  While most people aren't actually able to sleep it does feel good to just kind of get off your feet and medicate before your hectic final preparations.  At 10:45pm I met up with my ride and we followed the train of cars on a 30 minute drive to the start.

    A more accurate representation of the course elevation and aid station locations.

    The Prologue

    After lining up at the official Hellgate gate we sang the national anthem, counted down to 12:01am and we were off!  Into the night, into the unknown, with our paths lit by dozens of bobbing headlamps.  The first few miles are fairly easy, mostly grassy jeep roads with a few ups and downs.  There are a few minor creek crossings that you can hop over, and a more substantial creek crossing that you are wise to just walk through.  While it might be possible to tip-toe around it, the rocks are slippery and one wrong step will put you on your ass in the rock-filled creek.  Not a good way to start your day, er, night.

    My feet dried out fast; within a mile I forgot had just waded through water.  I was getting a little warmer so I shed my outer shell and felt fine.  Aid station 1 only had water, most people skipped it but I did grab a quick sip.

    Forest Serivce Road 35 (AS 1: mile 4)

    The next section was both boring and inspiring.  It was a long march up a gravel road, runable in some spots and speed-hikebale elsewhere.  There was only about a half-moon that night but it was still enough to let you turn off your headlamp and gaze out over the mountains.  Soon you could see a trail of headlights further down the mountain.  Coming into Petites Gap aid station I got another sip of water and pushed on.  I knew it was only about 5 miles to the next aid station so I wasn't too worried.  However, the distance between AS 3 and 4 is closer to 9 miles so I knew I would need to refuel there.

    Petites Gap (AS 2: mile 8)

    Soon after leaving Petites Gap we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and got back onto a single track trail heading downhill.  I was looking forward to getting to open up my stride downhill, but the trail is fairly rocky and has lots of little turns which, combined with the darkness of being back in the forest, meant a fairly cautious pace.  We emptied out onto a grassy jeep road which was a nice change.  You soon take a right turn back into technical trails.  Apparently this is a turn people have missed, though it was very obvious to me.  After the trails we had another uphill to aid station 3 Camping Gap.  I knew we had a long section ahead of us, something like 9 miles which could take upwards of 2 hours.  I took a real stop here, refilled my bladder, ate some real food, and grabbed some more to eat on the way.

    I had a slight hold up here as well.  My bladder ended up not getting screwed on correctly, and when I tested it (as I always do before leaving an AS) it was spilling everywhere.  I had to refuel it again as well as deal with a pack soaked with cold water.  It dried out soon at least.  This is why I try to be pretty insistent that I like to fill up my own pack; I hate coming off as rude or ungrateful to volunteers who are just trying to help, but those bladders are tricky to seal back up and its usually faster to just do it myself.

    It was probably around 3:00am at this point, we were entering into the coldest part of the night but I was still feeling pretty good.  Not as tired as I thought I would be.  Still we were only 13 miles into Hellgate so I could now consider myself "warmed-up".

    Camping Gap (AS 3: mile 13)

    What followed Camping Gap was long in duration, but a lot of it was runable which kept me warm and also staged off any hunger.  This was the highest section of the race in terms of elevation, and run at the coldest time of the night the risk of hypothermia could creep in if you aren't dressed properly and don't keep moving.  It wasn't very memorable, just a mix of trails and jeep roads.  Rather than think about the 9+ miles to the next aid station, I just counted down: 4 miles down, half-way! Kinda... Then 4 more miles down. And  then 1 more mile which is easy to quantify.

    Rolling into the aid station it was very cold out.  There was a lot of wind up here which added to the sense of urgency to get out of this aid station promptly.  We had access to our drop bags here, so I got in mine, took an advil, grabbed an apple, and drank my starbucks coffee drink.  The volunteers here were really helpful, opening up both the advil and the coffee drink for me, as well as stocking me up with warm food.  I refilled my bladder and was off, happy to get running again and warm back up in the woods where the wind was blocked some.

    Somewhere along the way my headlamp was really starting to dim.  This is tricky though because you need a light to replace the batteries so you can see what you are doing.  I saw someone not far behind me on the trail and they kindly shined light on me for enough time to change batteries.  Another lesson learned: its important to plan your battery changes either at aid stations, or by carrying a supplemental light to assist you  This is a great thing about Ultras, your "competitors" are usually eager to help you too.  It goes both ways - I've given out Gu's or sips of water during races to others.  All part of the Ultra feel.  Though I doubt the lead pack is as giving.

    Headforemost Mountain (AS 4: mile 24)

    Coming out of AS 4 I soon met up with my friend Danny Rogers and we got to run together to the next AS.  This helped pass the time and provided some company.  This section saw more single track, some rocky and downhill, as well as jeep roads.  It was still very dark out, probably still before 6:00am.  The night was starting to wear on me.  Hellgate is run close to the longest night of the year, so even though we start at midnight thats still 7 hours of darkness.  Knowing that sunrise was only an hour away did at least help some.

    Jennings Creek (AS 5: mile 31)

    Coming out of Jennings Creek we finally started to see some light and soon the sun was up.  This was a huge mental boost!  Getting out in the open you could feel the sun's rays warming you up.  On the downside I was having some stomach issues in this section.  I was feeling hungry but eating at the aid stations just didn't seem to do the trick.  Energy Gels usually do not help this feeling either.  I was able to eat some tums which helped but my stomach was still churning.  I took a pit stop in the woods which helped some but I was still not feeling great.  I was past the half-way mark (around 34 miles in) which was kind of nice, but also kind of depressing that I was only half-way!  I trudged on up the gravel road to the next aid station.

    Little Cove Mountain (AS 6: mile 38)

    AS6 was smaller, and kind of demoralized me in a way.  My Garmin read 38 miles, but the sign at the aid station only said mile 34.5!  I don't know why but that 3.5 miles really seemed to make a difference.  I know that when you deal with "Horton Miles" the estimates can be off, but I didn't think they would be off that much.  At that point I assumed my watch was wrong.  My stomach wasn't feeling great, but I was able to get some warm food and then after the AS was a downhill stretch which felt good to jog.

    A little later I met up with another runner who had an accurate mileage chart.  His watch read the same mileage as mine and the chart confirmed that we were further than the aid station indicated.  This was a big relief at the time.  Having someone to chat with also helped distract me from stomach and sleep issues and got me into a good running zone to carry me into the next stop.

    Bearwallow Gap (AS 7: mile 47)

    Bearwallow Gap was another morale booster.  It really started to feel like we were close to the finish.  I met my pacer here and was able to dump some stuff off with my pacer's ride.  I had a drop bag here but ended up not even needing it. The aid station was fully stocked, and my friend Danny left a starbucks double-shot behind which I happily utilized.  I wasn't really sure if I needed a pacer at Hellgate, and a lot of people go without, but I took my friend up on the offer and I was really glad I did.  20 miles out from the finish still meant over 5 hours!

    My Garmin 305 was giving me a low battery alert so I ditched it here.  My pacer had a GPS watch of his own and I was able to compile the data from both units after the race.  This ended up giving a very accurate depiction of the race since those units ping about every 4 minutes.  The longer lasting, ultra-specific GPS units ping satellites way less to conserve battery life, but can result in less accurate mapping.

    This section had some ups and downs but nothing long in duration, and a lot of parts were pretty runnable.  One strange effect of the race, being held after fall and with dry conditions, were that a lot of the trails were rutted out, rocky, and filled with leaves (the rocks are hidden beneath the leaves).  This made for really difficult footing even in the flat parts.  Annoying but thats just part of Hellgate.

    Bobblets Gap (AS 8: mile 53)

    Bobblets Gap was another quick refuel followed by a fairly uneventful section to Day Creek AS.  There were some ups and down and some more of the now infamous rocks-hidden-by-leaves ruts, but I was so close to finishing that it was trivial.  It felt great getting into Day Creek; one last quick stop.  I went out of my way to thank the volunteers there too - I recognized them from earlier aid stations, which meant they had been up all night!

    Day Creek (AS 9: mile 60)

    Soon after leaving the Day Creek AS we started our final climb for the day.  I stripped down to shorts and a long sleeve shirt and started power hiking.  This final climb wasn't a big deal, though I did get pretty exhausted at a few points and took some short breathers.  Up, up, up, then we crossed the Blue Ridge parkway and it was down, down, down.  Nice that the final few miles were runnable.  We got out onto a flatter gravel road and another runner started edgeing up on me from behind.  I really didn't want to get passed with a mile to go, so I kicked it into high gear with 1 mile left.

    The Finish at Camp Bethel (mile 66.6)

    I was so in the zone I actually almost missed the final turn into Camp Bethel!  I didn't see the marking, but the entrance was obvious so I made the sharp left into camp, then into the chute and finally done! I kissed the ground at the end.  Hellgate was very difficult.  Finishing at Camp was perfect, after getting my finisher swag and my Beast Trophy I was able to take a shower, put on clean clothes, grab some snacks, and then take a well-deserved nap before my friend arrived to pick me up at like 6:00pm.

    I was worried that finishing The Beast series would overshadow Hellgate.  It didn't - I felt very accomplished at the end of Hellgate, almost so much that closing out the Beast was just a bonus.  This is a special race and now I get to be on the inside looking out.

    During these races I'll often feel like I left a part of myself behind.  A little piece of me got left out there on the mountain in the middle of the night when the wind was blowing, for no one else to see.  Sometimes when I'm sitting at my desk at work I imagine what it is and where it might be.  If things work out in 2015 for me I would like to return to Hellgate to find it.

    Monday, December 15, 2014

    Rising from Hellgate to Slay the Beast

    Just some quick reflections.  Last weekend I finished Hellgate in 15:24:58 and with that completed The Beast Ultra series, my primary goal for 2014.

    Hellgate is a special Ultra.  Its been called a "Spiritual Awakening" before, as well as a "Final Exam" to Ultra-running.  It was very difficult and I had to put everything I have learned into practice.  The race starts at 12:01am, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in December.  You can't register for it - you have to "apply" via a paper registration form and the Race Director (the notorious David Horton) can accept your application if he feels you have a shot at completing it and deserve to run it.  There are only around 145 runners allowed in each year.  Outside Magazine Online even included it in their 10 race Trail Runners' bucket list with other spectacular yet sometimes low-key races around the world.

    The Beast is an ultra series spanning a calendar year.  The prelude is three 50km races in the Spring.  This really ends up being a warm-up to the fall portion, which features a 100 miler, a 50 miler, and lastly the Hellgate 66.6 mile run.  All but one of the races feature very challenging terrain with long, steep climbs and descents.

    Clark Zealand, race director of 3 of the Beast Series Races
    (David Horton directs the other 3) presenting me the
    Beast Series Finisher trophy.  Its a bear, and they mail you
    a plaque with your name, the races, and finish times to affix
    to the front.  I think thats pretty sweet!

    While I am feeling very accomplished, its more of a subtle feeling.  Maybe it just hasn't sunk in yet but its not the jumping-for-joy feeling I've got after getting PRs in shorter distances.  I think this bodes well though with the essence of Ultras, quiet awe over ruckus jubilation.

    I plan on writing up a full race report on Hellgate as well as a recap of The Beast series soon.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    Mountain Masochist 50 Miler Recap

    Only one month removed from my first 100 miler, which also happens to be the self-proclaimed "hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.", I found myself on the starting line of a challenging 50 miler run through the blue ridge mountains.

    The Mountain Masochist Trail Run would actually turn out to be a lot of fun, an effort I'm proud of, and my favorite 50 miler to date!

    Finish Time10:00:53
    Date: November 1, 2014

    Coming off of Grindstone I had no idea what to expect.  I rested a week, and then as I got back to my normal daily running routine I felt surprisingly good.  I did 1 loop of a low-key 50k for a 16 mile training run 2 weeks out.  While my energy levels felt great, my hips were getting a little sore by the end.  1 week out from MMTR I did a 68 mile bike ride called "The Great Pumpkin Ride" out in Warrenton.  It was nice to get back out on the bike one last time for the year, and while I felt strong the whole time those nagging hips did get sore a few times.  The last week before MMTR was just some easy running spooling down in time for the race.

    I'll skip the usual race travel details and get to the race, starting off from the KOA Wildwood Campground in Monroe, VA.  We set off right at 6:30am, into the dark, with our headlights on.  About the first mile was pretty flat and on pavement which allowed the crowds to thin out nicely.  While this first section was not exactly flat, it was mostly runnable and even the uphills were short enough to run up.  We encountered our first water crossing early on while it was still dark, and then a few others.  As is typical, I kind of cringe at the thought of getting my feet wet, but dancing through the streams is pretty fun and your feet dry out fairly quickly.  It was cloudy and took a while to get light out, but probably within 2 hours it felt like total daylight.

    The course is point-to-point and there is a significant net uphill, so yes - you are going up more than you come back down but it didn't really feel like it at the time.  I was also fortunate to have a crew meet me at the Mt. Pleasant aid station and then again at the finish (with my car) to facilitate an easy drive home.  The race buses take you back to packet pickup area in Lynchburg if you need it though.

    While I loved the run it was pretty uneventful.  It had some singletrack trail sections but was mostly on gravel jeep roads.  There were lots of aid stations, most of them only 3-5 miles apart.  Had I been more confident in the weather I would have only carried a hand bottle.  However, I wanted to have my pack to store some extra food and clothing.  I set off with a hat, gloves, and a shell jacket but soon got hot in the misty, 50 degree weather and stowed them.  As the day wore on and our elevation increased it got much colder and windy so I was happy to put my layers back on.  Speaking of, as the day wore on I was getting tired of eating the same typical cold foods and a few of the aid stations started having warm broth or soup.  This tasted amazing and really warmed me up from the inside.

    Up, up, up, power hiking these hills before each subsequent downhill section where I was able to make up time.  I am still getting the hang of the best pacing strategy in the longer Ultras (50 miles and up).  While starting out super slow is a safe bet, I hate the thought of selling myself short and losing time where I would have been running faster.  Feeling great at the start of this race I made an effort to go out a little more aggressive than I normally would.  I seem to do well in the later stages of races.  I don't know if this means I'm going out too slow, just right, or that people around me are fading which is kind of a false positive as far as pacing goes.

    2 hours into the race I was in 94th place of 277 runners and I finished in 68th place.  These numbers sound just about right.  There were about 30 runners who DNF'ed the course (DNF = Did Not Finish).  It should be noted that this just means they did not finish in the given time constraint (12 hours for this one, which is not an easy time limit).  This account both for people who pulled out early, and for those that could finish but did not make it to an aid station in time for the cut-off.

    View from the top of Mt. Pleasant.  Photo courtesy of my
    friend  Sanderson who was there pacing someone.
    A unique part of the course was the loop from miles 33 to 38.5, around  Mt. Pleasant Nat'l Recreational area.  This portion was more of the rocky singletrack trails I've gotten used to in the Appalachian mountains.  While it slowed us down some, it felt good to stretch my legs on the different terrain.  This led to an overlook on Mt. Pleasant where we punched our bibs to prove we made it to the top.  Pictures of the view were inspiring, but today was windy and misty; I didn't have a camera either so I kept it short and immediately headed back down.

    Other moments that felt decidedly different came as we crossed through some open farmland en route to the earlier aid station on Long Mountain with the drop bags.

    After the loop it started feeling like the home stretch - just 12 miles to go.  You have to realize this could be 2-3 hours more depending on the terrain, but the mileage alone makes you feel like you are home free.  The next big section was pretty runnable and downhill, followed by the last few major climbs of the day.

    Early on I had set a goal of around 10 hours for this race.  I felt like that was a fairly aggressive yet attainable goal for my first running on the course.  With about 4 miles to go we crested our last ridge and began a massive downhill section leading to the finish in Montebello.  I was a little behind but still flirted with a 10 hour finish so despite my sore hips and knees I tried to kick it in to overdrive and sprint down the hills.  The last mile was on pavement so I was able to knock out a sub-7 minute mile here.  Though I wasn't able to break 10 hours, I came in at 10:00:53 on the race clock.  Impressively close, though it made me wish I had taken about 5 seconds less time at each aid station!

    After finishing I had a great feeling of accomplishment that I don't often experience.  I know Grindstone was a major accomplishment, but I still get more of out setting a time goal for myself and running a race well, then just being able to finish.  My legs (or rather, my whole body) was sore for the next couple days which told me I ran it to my full potential.

    Its now really sinking in that I will be able to complete The Beast series.  As any runner will tell you, its a lot easier to put an event on your calendar than to actually complete it.  I've put in the training, the check-box workouts, the races, and now I have only the Hellgate 100k++ (and I use the term "only" lightly for this 66.6 mile race) left.  Completing The Beast is a special goal for me, more from a holistic perspective, to complete my transition into Ultra-running.  Whereas last year I was still more at home on the roads or just sticking with flat 50km races, completion of the Beast will give me the confidence to tackle almost any challenge, no matter how steep, remote, or rugged.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2014

    No, really: How do I pace myself in the Marathon?

    Pacing is another aspect of the Marathon that can take some getting used to.  We all expect the end of the race to be hard and challenging to keep up our pace, but the more deceptively difficult part is slowing yourself down the first half.

    After the gun goes off and you get over the starting line, you would be wise to relax and just focus on getting warmed up.  With all the excitement and competitive atmosphere, do not get caught up in the groups of runners that sprint off the starting line.  Just focus on safe, even, splits.  It should still feel "easy".  You will usually get a burst of energy (and confidence) around 10 or 12 miles in.  After being totally warmed up and really into the meat of the race, you might be tempted to speed up, but you need to hold back and stay the course.  Around 16-17 miles in you will start to feel winded but should be able to keep up your pace.  Somewhere between the 18 and 22 mile mark is where a lot of people hit the "wall".  Run a smart pace, train well, and you won't hit it.  You will be tired here, but this is where being tough (both physically and mentally) can carry you through the last few miles on pace!

    Pace Groups

    One of the best things you can do it to utilize a pace group.  Races have these set up where several reliable pace leaders will run an evenly split marathon based on a certain time.  There should be plenty of info available at the race expo, on the website, and if thats not enough the morning of the race the pace leaders themselves will be holding up big signs or balloons with their expected finish time.

    Pace groups at the Chicago Marathon.

    The bigger races offer lots of pace group, some of them (like Chicago) even have an unheard of sub-3 hour marathon pace group.  Smaller races might only start at 3:30.  For instance, the Marine Corps Marathon here in DC has groups starting at 3:05 (the stringent men's under age 35 Boston qualifying time) up to 5:30.  To be precise: 3:05, 3:15, 3:25, 3:35, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, 5:00, and 5:30.
    Pace groups make sure you don't go out too fast, and then have some other people to hang on to toward the end of the race when you are fading.

    What time should I shoot for?

    For newer marathoners, I usually suggest people think of three times.  A "stretch" time, a "goal" time, and a "safe" time.  Maybe your's would go 4:15, 4:20, and sub 4:30.   Now, throw out the first two and aim for your "safe" time.  Trust me, the amount of fade you will experience in the last 6 miles if you go out even slightly too fast for yourself will set you back far beyond what a safer goal would have been!

    Why the "Negative Split"?

    Without going into the physiological reasons, you will simply run a faster race if you run the first half conservative and the second half as fast or faster than the first half.  A Negative Split is just that, running the second half faster than the first half.

    Here is the thing:  if you go out, say, even 10 seconds per mile too fast, this could result in such a fade that you are slow running or even walking the last few miles, losing over a minute per mile.  So, 15 miles at 10 seconds too fast nets you 2.5 minutes.  If you are losing a minute per mile (or more) your last 8 miles, this costs you at least 8 minutes.

    Its always better to have too much energy the 2nd half than not enough.