03 April 2014

A Slice of Ultrarunning Pie

The gym at Placer High School is hot and humid from the mass of humanity squeezed in beneath the old scoreboard and elevated basketball hoops. The electricity in the moist room raises the hairs on Max’s and Luther’s necks as names are drawn in what is, for many, the most important day of their lives.  Their entire existence is hinged on hearing their names announced as one of the few chosen individuals who will be living the ultimate dream in Squaw Valley in late June at the Western States 100 run.

Max and Luther were, in fact, chosen this year for Western States and, in a several part series, Matt and I at Elevation Trail will be covering everything from their backgrounds leading up to the lottery all the way to the drama of the race in a follow up report on their individual experiences during the incredible event.


ET: Gentlemen, let’s start with an introduction.  You’re on the verge of the Super Bowl of Ultra Running, a place hundreds (or a couple thousand) can only dream of; briefly explain where you’ve come from ultra running-wise.

Luther: I have never really been an athlete.  So running is everything for me because I can finally say, “Luther, you’re an athlete!”  This great ultra running culture has accepted me with open arms.  It’s so reassuring to see that at my local 50k or 100miler, I’m surrounded by others who are just kinda new to this and all giddy about their outfit, their shoes, their family and crew excited to help them get through this, just all the smiling faces that have that desire to spend the day breathing in this new identity.  I think about it every day.  It’s more than running.  It’s who I am.

Finishing the WS100 will be a life time achievement even though I just started.  I really feel born-again.  I started this new life August 2012 and since then have completed 13 ultra marathons.   Yeah, that may seem like a lot, but it’s not.  Some of my best ultra running buddies make me look soft (and yeah I’m still working on this belly!).  So, that’s the short of it.  Ultra running found me.  Frankly, I have never felt so invested in anything (not even my marriage).  Ultra has given me so much.  Aside from all of the thought I put into my blog and training program, I’m really trying to think how I can pay ultra back.  Is there a church of ultra I can erect to allow people like me to pay reverence to this incredible sport?  In the meantime, I’m thinking of going semi-pro (working on some cool sponsorships); helping some “ultra” brands to grow might be one way I can give back.  The last year and a half has been insane.  Before that I was nobody.  Just an accountant with a doughnut addiction.  Now it’s me, my ultra crowd and cliff bars!  I hope you’re listening Cliff Bar.

Max: Yeah, even though I’ve finished dozens of ultra distance runs and even won the Southeastern Missouri Marble Hill 100 mile race in 1998, getting into Western States is life altering. Don’t tell my kids but I cried when they called my name. I’ve applied to get in the last 13 years, so I feel really lucky. I plan to up my game with training and even thought about getting a coach to tell me what my heart rate zones are. 30 hours is a tight cutoff compared to other 100s I’ve done but I know, with some speed work injected into my 100+ mile weeks, I’ll crush it. (Eats a Lance Armstrong Honey Stinger waffle cookie while motioning to the issue of Ultra Running magazine on the table).  That’ll be me on the cover sometime. My buddy, Hank, was on the cover, like a PRO, last summer.  He had it framed with a little baggie of dirt from the actual race in the photo.  

ET:  Right.  I can feel the enthusiasm.  Good for you.  Max, you brought -up training and even the prospect of hiring a coach for this run, I mean, race.  Guys, tell us a little about your actual preparation.

Max: I’ve learned a lot from my friends on Facebook. I mean, I knew a lot anyway and have even run a three hour marathon on the road in the Midwest but without my ultra buds on Facebook I would still be wearing Five Fingers and not Hokas now. I never realized that the foot had so many fragile bones. Now with my Hokas and my AK signed ultra hydration pack, I feel as though I could run forever.

Preparation will be key and that’s why I started my third blog:  “myjourneytowesternstates.blogspot.com”. It, along with my daily postings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Strava, Daily Mile, Garmin Connect, Athlinks, and, of course, my family blog “relentlessforwardwalkerandfamily.wordpress.com”, I’ll be able to chronical the experience. Because, when I get that sub 30 hour buckle, I want to not only remember how I did it but I want everyone in my blessed life know what they can achieve through sacrifice. After my first ultra, I got a tattoo on my thigh that says, “if these legs are rockin’ don’t come a knockin’”, which, to me, means that I’m serious about this sport.

Luther:  Sweet tattoo, Max! Oh, and ET, thanks again for interviewing us for this incredible journey.  I practically wet my shorts thinking about things like Hokas, irunfar, Anton, WS100 and Elevation Trail!  Now, as far as my training goes, golly, where do I start?  I love the blogosphere.  No seriously.  I asked my partner to join forces via social media.  From the top of my driveway (I was doing hill repeats), I tweeetered my love, which showed up on my blog (time to plug: cheers2ultrafolk.blogspot.com).  Two days later they said YES!!!  Obviously, I get so much of my life’s inspiration from the web.

I fell in love with my training via the web, too.  I’ve gotten all of my training from reading blogs and Facebook.  After 5 ultras last summer (2 50ks and 3 100ks), somehow I fractured my right foot and developed, oddly enough, an oblique fracture in my left knee.  Crazy stuff.  I actually walked my sixth ultra, another 50k, because I knew any extended downtime would kill my relentless forward progress.  I knew I needed a change.  I knew I needed a coach to help push me further.  This was a big step for me.  Asking around the community, 2 names kept coming-up. I couldn’t decide which to hire, and given the incredible work we have to put-in to be able to finish these huge treks, I hired both. One is a MAF-oriented coach who obviously has his dipstick in the LSD.  The other guy, who also loves ultra, has introduced barefoot speed work to supplement my big mileage.  This has really worked for me so far though I’ve only been with this program for about ten days: I combine both training schedules.  My first full week of training consisted of 187 miles that included two really tough speed sessions with strides, plyometric work, a tabata work-out and sets of stairs.  I actually just got back from urgent care to record this interview: I have a deep, dull pain in my right shin and sharp pain in both hips.


ET:  Wow. You’re a monster, Luther.  Good luck with, ah, those schedules.  And congratulations on your marriage.  That brings up a great question: how have your family lives been affected by this commitment?

Max: 187 miles your first week, Luther? Pretty good start and I’m sure you’ll get over 200 in no time. Family life for me couldn’t be better. Like jumping into ultrarunning and big training, there were some growing pains. (Luther laughs at Max’s unintentional pun) But as I spent more and more time before and after work on weekdays and every weekend grinding out the long runs, and securing several KOM routes that I have finish in my kitchen so no one else can beat them (Luther laughs again), my wife found other hobbies and new friends to fill her time. She always liked good wine and she really honed her knowledge of it over the last couple years. We’re both quiet people, anyway, so, when I read this great guide on “How to Run the Leadville 100” and it suggested getting an altitude tent, it was a no brainer. I spend what little daylight time I have in it working and then sleep in it every night. I live in the Bay Area at 5 feet elevation, so this is a major training tool for my quest of Western States. I mean, we’ll be at over 8,500 feet for at least 30 minutes! I’ll be ready for it.

As for a coach, I don’t really need one since I’ve learned just about everything I know from blogs, Facebook, and other awesome sites with informative articles. Sometimes the information is a little confusing like whether to eat salt or not, minimal shoes or overly cushioned ones, when to run through pain or when to stop - NEVER, ha ha. Overall, almost like Luther is doing by hiring two coaches, I’ve simply combined all the information and use everything. A typical week for me looks like this:

Monday through Friday - get out of my altitude tent at 3:30am, wipe down the condensation in it, make a green drink, and get out for my first of two daily runs. This is when I can really have some time to think. At 4am the trails in the Bay Area area are at their least crowded and I only usually encounter a dozen or so people per hour. After my run, I spend time in the bathroom; the green drinks often give me diarrhea, which I figure is part of training since diarrhea is common in races. Then I sneak into my kids’ room to see them sleep (Max Jr. and Patricia, ‘Pat’ since she’s in some tomboy stage), then wave to my sleeping wife who usually falls asleep on the sofa overnight after watching her favorite TV shows, and I’m off to work.

I’m not very overly micro-managed at my workplace, so I’m able to catch up on blogs, both writing and reading, and follow what all my friends are doing on Facebook and Twitter most of the day. At lunch I’ll try to sneak in a run or at least do jumping jacks in the Men’s Room for 25-30 minutes. At 5pm I’ll often leave my car at work and start my second - or third - run of the day. I usually get home around 9 or 10pm, have a few IPAs while making dinner, eat a couple pounds of cheese and red meat along with another couple of beers because I’m paleo and training my body to burn fat for fuel, otherwise known as ketosis. At about midnight I’ll do a set of 10-15 sit-ups for core work and zip myself up in my cozy altitude tent for the night.

Saturday and Sunday - look pretty much the same as the weekdays except I’m able to replace the work hours with running. Depending on which time of the year it is, I’ll put in around 28 hours of training per week, which translates into a solid 120 miles. Of course, at peak training I’ll take vacation time from work and strive to get in over 200 miles a week.

Luther: See, that kind of life-style is a dream I am frantically trying to make real.  Speaking of IPA, Max, have you tried that new one from CO or CA or OR, it’s called Musty Butt Muff DIPA, I think.  So good.  I actually threw-up the first couple of sips because it was so strong and bitter, but, by God, I learned to like it.  Finished three and woke-up passed out on my kid’s bed (he was on the floor nearby).  I didn’t have time to console or apologize because I was up early, a little dizzy, to get in a morning 25 miler.  

My family, on the whole, has learned to deal with my ultra ambitions.  Like Max, I am trying to convert to this fat-burning approach, enabling my ketosis?  Whatever it is, the family loves all the butter and ice cream.  I’m also consuming a lot of milk (and as many IPAs as I can), but the kids really enjoy the soda and cakes, etc.  Who knew bacon cheese cake could be so delicious in the morning with my cocoanut butter coffee?  Fat for life.  

As for my lover, there have been some real difficulties on this front, which I don’t really want to discuss in this venue (unless ET has a degree in marriage and family therapy?).  Let’s just say there is some disagreement as to the role ultra should play in my life.  For instance, I chose to spend half of a decent retirement account at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Expo.  Sure, I might have slept on the coach for a few nights (or passed-out on my kid’s bed), or in the garage next to my Nordic Trak (that’s a real bummer, to have such easy access to my training - take that, honey!), but my ultra gear for 2014 looks amazing!




ET: Nice segue, Luther.  It sounds like you both have a handle on your training and how it fits in with family. Let’s talk about some of the gear you’ll be utilizing during your training and actual race at Western States. Tell us about the one piece of gear you can’t live without and, also, we know you both have some sponsors and this would be a great time to talk about them.

Max: Gear! Where do I start?! Nothing gets me fired up to hit some awesome trails like a new piece of running gear. Now that I have a part-time apartment in Boulder, I get to dress for all sorts of weather. With my wife’s responsibilities with her membership in several wine clubs and the time she spends with her new friend, Ricky, she stays in the Bay Area when I travel to Boulder for both physical and spiritual training. I like to lay out all my clothes, pack, food, and accessories neatly on the kitchen table and take an Instagram photo of it before every run - it’s so colorful and cool looking that my adrenaline spikes! 

To pick one piece of gear I can’t live without is tough to do but I would have to say that for winter running it’s a toss up between my insulated Salomon capris-length tights and my Smith Glare Goggles (new screaming flame orange color for 2014). For summer, well, I can’t live without my signed Christophe Le Saux Buff Hankie. It has so many freaking uses. There’ve been plenty of times I’ve had to crap on the trail and not had toilet paper - Buff to the rescue! A quick rinse in the nearest drinking fountain and it’s back on my head, or neck, or arm, or ankle, or wherever!

Of course, I have to to mention my all time favorite piece of gear, my cool Foreign Legion style floppy drape baseball cap. Nothing screams “I’m an ultrarunner!” like it does. I also have an original David Goggins belly shirt but that baby is framed and hangs in my kitchen and inspires me every single day.



As for sponsors, after winning the Marble Hill 100 mile in 28:45 - a PR for the distance, I decided it was time to reach out to some companies. I got snagged up as a Full Ambassador In-Training by Hoka. The new Conquest model is like running on air. The way God intended us to run. Check them out at your favorite running store. They retail for $190, so I’m super thankful for the 50% off Ambassador deal. I also get gaiters for free from my second favorite sponsor, Dirty Girl Gaiters and the lady who makes them is smokin’ hot! (winks and giggles).

Luther: It’s a three way tie.  For this I’ve come-up with a way to talk gear along with the importance of the mind, the heart and the sole in ultra running.  The mind: my Buff headwear is crucial.  The way my lover used to approach scarves for happy hour at Applebee’s, I absolutely covet my various but stylish Buffs. My Ora SS14 Cool Bandana Buff is pretty legendary in my household.  I held-on to finish my fourth ultra at the Zoom Croom 50k in Brooksville, Florida, and the Buff helped me seal the deal.  Flat as a pancake, but pretty darn hot, that race requires a ton of heat management, given the amount of pavement: my Ora Buff was central to an 8 hour finish. Boom.

Of course, I have to mention Buff’s association with my hero, Anton Krupicka.  Bit of a man crush . . .  

ET:  Luther. . .

Luther:  Oops.  Sorry.  Buff keeps my mental game in line for any ultra and any ultra distance.

Next, the heart of ultra.  This might sound a bit bizarre; my hydration system is the heart of any race coordination I undertake, from 5k to 100miler.  For my ultimate commitment to the ultra trail, I take to Ultimate Direction for my hydration gear.  The website says it best: “Designed by the champion of minimalism and a 2014 Trail Runner Magazine Gear of the Year Award winner, the AK Race Vest gives you everything you need and nothing more.”  Enuff said.  There’s a mysterious quality to this vest. I’ve finished races or long training runs with tears in my eyes.  Passersby have wondered if this is from the water bottles repeatedly hitting me in the face while I run.  Ha ha.  Not quite.  In fact, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed with the gear; this vest kinda wraps its “arms” around me.  Between the beauty of the trail, the story of my new life and an affirmative warmth and near intoxication I get from using this AK Race Vest 2.0. . .I feel the support of this ultra community in this one piece of gear!  Add this to the ledger: “We” design our own gear.  Thanks again, Anton!

Last but not least, the sole of ultrarunning.  My shoes.  Ah, I might write a book about this gear.  Ha.  Get it: the sole of ultra running.  I’ll try to keep this to the point.  For my speed work I wear whatever is the next generation of New Balance minimalist shoes, currently the Minimus Zero v2, or a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.  Naturally, for the longer stuff I’m solid with my Hokas.  LOVE MY HOKAS aahhhhhhh!  Sorry.  I’m a little pumped about the direction of Hokas and the way people notice me when I wear them.  The other day some dorks called me a clown and I guess the shoes do look a little clowny.  But I just fired back, “yeah but looks who’s having all the fun!”    

Sorry to go on like this.  Kinda like talking about a new lover or something.  

As for sponsorships, I’m grinding hard to get noticed and picked-up by anyone who wants to support this love affair though I have a little support from the guys at SkinFit and an evangelical church here in town that wants to remain anonymous (but they get pretty involved in my fundraisers throughout the year.).  You can check my blog cheers2ultrafolk.blogspot.com for updates on any new fundraisers or new sponsors.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interviews with Max and Luther...


13 March 2014

21 December 2012

How To Be An Ultrarunner


Before the first idiot scoots excitedly to the edge of his Aeron chair and amazes us with his power of observation that you merely need to run one step further than a marathon to be an ultrarunner, I'll point out that being an ultrarunner is much more than simply running 26.3 miles.  It's a culture, and a humorous culture at that.  There's the terminology, the clothing, the technical gear, the shoes, the realization that you're slow as a banana slug, the failing marriage (and/or relationship), the addictive personality, the disdain for humanity (or the pseudo dark aloofness for humanity that you saw in a James Dean poster image once, that you now covet while sitting at a grey conference table during Friday afternoon meetings in your going-nowhere job).  You look through the running magazines and lust after the 23 year old men and women with glowing, elastic skin and flowing black hair.  You're 40, pasty, a little chubby and have ear hair that would scare a child.  But you transcend your reality through ultrarunning because it's going to be your culture.  You will be in the tribe (whether the tribe has a say in it or not).

You've run a marathon and maybe even broke 4 hours once, so why not give longer distances a shot?  I mean, the cut off times in ultras are more lenient than a stoned 10th grade sociology teacher.  You could actually place in your age group, since most ultra events have more age group categories than participants; it's like a little kids' birthday party - everyone goes home with a treat.  Then you can finally start balancing out that stupid medal rack you bought that has the Dunkin Donuts Suffolk County 6k 3rd place age group medal dangling from one end.  Sadly, as you'll learn, many ultras retain the "old school" mindset, which is just another way to say they're cheap bastards who think flour on the ground is an acceptable finish line and a jug of water next to the trail is an aid station.  The only way you'll take anything good home from those races is by grabbing a slower competitor's finish line bag before he finishes.  Of course, the upside of these cheap ass races is that, well, they're usually cheap.  Per mile the cost is often about 1/5 that of a boring 5k in your town (if you're bad at math like most Americans, that means a $30 5k equates to just $90-$100 for a 50 mile race).

Ultrarunning is so much more than simply running the events.  There are huge numbers of people who run ultras but are cluelessly outside of the culture of the tribe, ostracized like a greasy pimple faced kid at a school pep rally.  So, how do you wedge yourself into the grimy, sinewy circle of ultrarunning?
Throw that shit right in the garbage.  (dude might want to look into a refund for his community college graphic arts degree)

Before you even run a step go to your bedroom with a garbage bag and throw away every t-shirt (and/or cheap road running hat) from every event shorter than a marathon that you've ever saved.  You don't want to be caught dead in a Whirlaway 10k shirt (well, maybe hang onto that one, since it gives a little street cred [look it up] but don't wear it).  The only way it's cool showing up to an ultra run in a short distance shirt is if you're the fastest one of the group (not likely).  Next, pitch all your road running shoes.  This is critical if you're one of those hypochondriacs who wears super heavy motion control shoes with more posting support than the Bay Bridge and resemble white bricks.  And, God help us, if you use $200 orthopedic inserts, wrap those up in newspaper (so even the garbage man doesn't see them) and toss them out.  The goal here is to completely scrape everything having to do with road running from your existence, a cleansing, if you will (which you damn well better).

Resemblance a coincidence or a metaphor (running, weakness, collapsing, support, support group...)

If you're feeling rather naked and exposed after stripping away all remnants of your road running life, good.  Minimalism (or at least the proclamation that you are in fact minimalist) is one of the cornerstones of your ultrarunning foundation (visage).  Don't fret, shortly, you'll be wearing and using more gear in ultrarunning than a Navy Seal Diver who golfs on the weekends.  We'll get to that later.

While you're at it, erase the history on your web browser and wipe letsrun.com from your memory.  The forum is loaded with the upper echelon of mediocrity in the road running world.  And, like most groups who feel a sense of inferiority, they find and pick on groups they deem lessor than themselves.  It's like the stone-dumb hillbilly whities in the South who have ingrained racist hatred for black folks.  They think they've found an inferior group, so they automatically hate them in the hope that it will raise their own sad social status (but I digress... wildly).  Letsrun seems to feel that ultrarunning is where slow road runners go to die.  Granted, paces are obviously slower in many ultras.  You're running 40 times further and over mountains. 

Ultrarunners, of course, counter this attack with uplifting quotes and sayings, albeit sometimes barbs and "witty" (intended strength of quotes around "witty" are off the charts and cannot be measured on the Long-Scale of sarcasm) comebacks.  Some of the more common gems:

"So, you ran a marathon?  How cute." - This is an attempt to belittle road marathon runners, even though they may likely run marathons in 2:30, nearly twice as fast as your plodding ass.

"It never always gets worse." - Yes.  Yes it does in fact get worse.  Right up until you cross the finish line of a 100 miler, each step is a new definition of pain.  Don't kid yourself.

"Any idiot can run a marathon.  It takes a special kind of idiot to run an ultramarathon." - A faint attempt to illustrate and acknowledge ultrarunners have humor and self deprecation.  It's still saying ultras are superior.

I'll leave you to ponder Part 1 of How To Be An Ultrarunner while I fight off death threats and trolling sludge from Letsrun.com

In Part 2 of How To Be An Ultrarunner we will take a look at the dichotomy of minimalistic footwear matched with $900 of gear and attire, pride in otherwise personal hygiene, relieving oneself, and body parts falling off.  And so much more (if I think of anything).  

23 October 2012

Weekly Ketchingup: Racing, Clinics, Great People

Eleven days in the Bay Area shot by like a bald greasy squirrel (yeah, fast).  Packed into that time was a lot, including a 50 mile trail race, three running clinics, good food, many beers, and high quality time with people I care deeply about.

Photos all by the lovely Margaret Gagnon, except the Hill Clinic shot, which was by Emily (I think).

Undivided attention.

Talking about our Leadville adventures the last three years.

Tim explaining how important IPA is for running well.

Alissa snagging a Vi gel.

Victor showing off the features of the Victory Bag.

Eat to Win clinic group.

Hill Clinic.  "Hmm, never had anyone fall off the cliff at one of these before."

Lacing up the La Sportivas for our group run.

This last weekend we held the Eat to Win and Hill Running clinics with good turnouts at both.  Tim Waggoner and I co-hosted the nutrition discussion with great questions from the participants.  The hill clinic was held at Rodeo Beach, high above the surfers where participants braved the chilly wind to learn and practice new skills.  Afterwards, we had a nice group trail run, then headed to my favorite restaurant (sorry, can't tell you; it's too crowded already) along the water where they serve beer in massive mason jars.

Thanks to Kara for all she does.  Thanks to Victor Ballesteros for attending all three clinics and giving out two new Victory Bags!  And a big thanks to Vi Fuel for providing boxes of their amazing gels, all of which were nabbed up at the clinics.  For 25% off Vi, use code TL25Off2012

I'm already looking forward to my next visit to SF at the end of next month.

I arrived home yesterday to my new mtn bike that was shipped while I was gone, so I barely had time to throw my heavy backpack on the floor before I was assembling it.

She's been christened "Hope". 
Hopefully, she'll carry me safely to the completion of the Leadman Series in a few months.

I'm very grateful to Vi Fuel for sponsoring my Leadman Series.  I truly love their product and appreciate their support.

16 October 2012

Race Planning Clinic Re-Cap

Claude, relaxing with coffee and Vi gel in the bleacher seats.
Sunday, we had the Race Planning and Strategy clinic at Tennessee Valley in Marin.  Claude and Margaret were kind enough to bring good coffee and pancakes for everyone and Liana showed up with more baked goods.  So we just skipped the clinic and ate.

Kidding.  We gave out samples of Vi Fuel and drew numbers for a full box of Vi Fuel gels.  I was excited to have Victor Ballesteros join me to host the clinic.  His epic run at the Tahoe Rim Trail (168 miles) in August provided a terrific opportunity to discuss the importance of covering the details and plans before setting out.  He also brought a couple of his Victory drop bags and talked about the idea for them and the design and features.  Victor will be joining us again this weekend for the Eat to Win and Hill Running clinics (and group runs afterwards).  Thanks very much Victor for sharing your veteran experience and for giving us a glimpse of what the world is like at the front of the pack.  With Tim (Lucho) Waggoner and Victor there, I won't have to do any work!

More info on this weekends clinics may be found on the Running Clinics page of this site.

Here are some of the 800 photos from the clinic Sunday.  Unless otherwise noted, they are all courtesy of the prolific photo practitioner, Margaret Gagnon.  Thanks Margaret!

"What in the world am I going to talk about to these people?"

Group:  Liana, Christopher, me, Kara, Pete, Victor, John, Claude (sitting), Vivian, and hooded James


James, Liana, Kara, and Kara's hat.

James with some sort of odd undergarments.


Focused and obviously entertained.  Vivian, John, Pete.

Riveted to every word (or "God, is he going to ever shut up?"): Pete, Pon, Chris.


Obligatory Tim and Margaret photo...

"Y'all calm down and pay attention or I'll pack this show up and vacate."

Victor schmoozing the ladies.  Sheez.

"Victor, I want a drop bag about this big and made out of alligator skin."

On more than one occasion I saw Victor giving me the "what the hell are you talking about" look.

"So, after I killed the bear with my slingshot and finished the race…. "  Victor didn't buy it.

My turn with "the look".  Mr. big shot bag guy.

05 October 2012

How to Travel to an Ultrarunning Race

Why limit the excitement and enjoyment to the activity of running the race?  Finding a way to the start line can be part of the thrill and danger of ultrarunning.

People are getting soft.  Don't believe me?  Look how much you Ooo and Aah at video and pics of normal little runs [hikes] up mountains by skinny, dirty runners with no jobs or homes, sleeping in the back of a 1978 Vega.  You drool over these images in your grey cubicle, nearly sweating through your Dockers chinos, and then burn the mental image into your brain, replacing the main character with yourself, as you bound up the 100 ft mound in the neighborhood park (that used to be a garbage dump).  Jumping up and down like Rocky among the scent of old oil drums buried deep beneath your dancing sneakers.

Sad.  You could be sharing the same giardia filled streams with any of these guys but quickly justify your grassy toxic dump GPS'd hill run with the fact that you actually have a life and, thus, some semblance of responsibility.  But I digress.

Gain back some of that adventurous youthful ability in the travels and accommodations to your next race.  Fly by the seat of your khakis and wing that shit.

You'll want to keep your "plans" to yourself or at least somewhat vague.  I mean, no reason to bother your family with silly details like driving 110 mph through the desert half asleep with one index finger on the wheel or spending the night behind a gas station in East Los Angeles.

"Can you fellas point me to the nearest ATM?"
Transportation.  In the true spirit of adventure, leave that 7 year financed mini SUV in the garage and find some freestyle mode of transportation.  If you don't have any friends dumb enough to be involved with ultrarunning and can't sucker anyone into believing this will be "just like a vacation" to drive you to the race, then post some carpooling posts on local running club boards or on Facebook.  Make sure to be clear about the "NEED RIDE" detail.  Otherwise, you'll end up with two idiots meeting at a coffee shop with all their luggage and gear and neither will have a car, thinking the other was supposed to drive.  Don't laugh, I've seen it.

"You must be here off Craigslist for the ride to that place in the woods?"
Craigslist is an option too.  They have this "ride share" section (at least more dirtbagging-type towns do, anyway).  You're either going to be riding with a business sales guy chugging pepto bismol and listening to conservative talk radio loudly, or you'll be in the back of a windowless van that smells like urine and has what appears to be dried blood on the ceiling.  If you make it to the race with all your orifices intact, then anywhere you end up sleeping won't seem nearly as bad.

Accommodations.  Race Directors will often write on the race website IN BOLD AND ALL CAPS (AND SOMETIMES DIFFERENT COLORS) that you can't camp here or park there, blah, blah.  It's dark at night and no one will see you.  Besides, the parks' budget is smaller than an Arkansas teenager's weekly allowance, so there's like one park ranger covering 5 million square miles of land and the chances he'll catch you (or even be in the same area code) are nil.

Once, when I travelled to a certain race in Pennsylvania, I found an open (or, rather, unlocked) window in a ski hut cabin, so I crawled in and spent the night there before the race.  Some might call this breaking and entering.  I didn't break shit.  I call it a warm sofa.  Oddly enough, that experience ended up as an article on minimalism in Trail Runner Magazine (last time I talk about my travel experiences on a run with an Editor).

Anton slept on a park's bathroom floor the night before a race a few years ago.  That's roughing it.  I'd rather sleep naked on an open boulder field at 13,000 ft in January than be snuggling up with fuzzy feces.  Geoff Roes has got the "roughing it" when traveling to races down to a science.  He's got all the camping gear shit and he's a cook that can turn Ramen Noodles into spaghetti con le vongole (I italicized it to make it look fancier), so he's living it up in the woods while the rest of you soft, 300 series BMW driving, flask water bottle belt wearing yuppies are trying to figure out how to open that child-sized piece of soap in your hotel bathroom.

You're better than this.

If you live to make it to the start of the event, it'll seem like one of the easiest races you've ever run after the hell you put yourself through to get there.

04 October 2012

The "Off Season" for a Runner

Each week I send a group email out to the athletes I coach covering various topics on running and training.  This is a rather bloated one, so I sent it to a few more people and I'm putting it up here for the other three people who visit this site.

When is it time to take a short break from running and racing?

Hi Folks,

Usually, this weekly email is for the athletes I coach.  With my favorite holiday approaching (Halloween), I feel a wave of generosity and thought I'd include others into our little weekly Coach's Corner (aren't you lucky!).  It's a bit meandering and lacks literary cohesion, but hopefully gets the point across.  For my athletes, we will be discussing, and incorporating, time off into your schedules.  Look at it like the "reset" week we now enjoy every fifth week of your training, only on a larger, annual scale...

Oh, and don't forget to register for the next running clinics!  Lucho will be there at them with me with more wildly entertaining stories.  You'll be sad you missed them  Running Clinics

Taking a break.  As runners we are all, at varied levels, OCD about our activity. Some are so “controlled” by running that they run when they're sick, injured, and beyond overtrained (guilty!). Most of them even race all-year-long. The benefits of time off are substantial and often overlooked by many runners.

When I talk about time off I'm not referring to a day off here and there (though those are important as well). I'm talking about a full cycle of your training taken off, or four to five weeks. I'll pause here to allow you to catch your breath from the gasp of astonishment.

After years of doing this stuff (competitive cycling and running), I've tried many variations of “taking a break”. Lucho (those of you coming to the Eat to Win and the Hill Running clinics in a couple weeks will get to meet Lucho) and I spoke this morning about the need to take time off. He solidified my feelings on it that the mental benefits are the most important part of time away from running and racing.

The extremes. During and after college I raced road bikes and it was my life. 300-400 mile weeks would slip by in the form of Tuesday sprints, Thursday intervals, weekend long rides, and miles and miles of flat farmland vistas on the other days. By the time September would roll around I was drained. Physically, I was a monster on the bike by then but mentally I was a 90 lbs weakling and the thought of hard training was like torture when, just 4 months previous, I dreamed about riding every second I wasn't in the saddle. Some years I would train on the icy roads in Michigan all winter. Most years I'd go into hibernation and pack on 15-20 lbs, then emerge in April and swing my fat leg over the saddle and curse the pain for a couple weeks. But loved cycling more than the previous year, which I thought impossible because I loved it more than a fresh NYC bagel (almost).

Not much has changed over the years. Here I sit coming off a lackluster 50k on the last day of September and I'm, well, drained. Physically, I have a deep base of fitness, though I feel stale. And I feel like I'm on the verge of tweaking something in my body with little twinges of slight pain in my muscles and tissue saying, “Hey, I'll snap like a rubber band powered balsa wood airplane if you don't give us a break.” Mentally, running is becoming a chore, like laundry. Unfortunately, unless you are rich enough to keep buying and throwing clothes away, there are no breaks in doing laundry. Running, on the other hand, can (and should be) shelved for a period of time.

So far this year I've raced 632 miles and paced another 90+ miles (Western States and Leadville). By the end of the year (next weekend) I'll have raced 682 miles (782 if counting the pacing). That's the equivalent of 257 5ks... in 9 months. Am I tired of racing? YES. Sick of it, frankly. Am I tired of running? I have to admit I am. The thought of running is appealing but the actual process of it is what I dread.

Lucho feels that it's best to not set a time frame when taking a break. That makes perfect sense. Why stress yourself with a deadline of returning to the thing you're trying to get away from? I like to have something to look forward to, so I usually set a date that I'll go out for a walk/run to evaluate how I feel. Usually four to five weeks (one full cycle of training for me) off is plenty and I'm raging to get back at it. The fitness lost is difficult to deal with at first. 4 mile runs are humbling. But they are exhilarating at the same time. The freshness and eagerness fills the void of lowered aerobic fitness. It's like a new sport all over again. And the fitness returns as you progress into the training. Of course, take your time and don't rush anything. Don't rush the miles. Don't rush the speed. Don't rush the process. The aerobic base is the foundation that you have to meticulously and methodically build. Lots of slow, s-l-o-w running with the only focus being on the enjoyment of the time on your feet.

The time away from running doesn't have to be a pizza, beer, and sofa filled hazy dreamscape. I plan to climb onto my old friend (Not her. She changed her phone number and filed a restraining order for some reason). I'm referring to the bike. Total inactivity is fine. I've done it before during these breaks and lived to talk about it. But, if you have a secondary sport or activity you like or want to try, then why not? The benefit, aside from the obvious one of being fun, is that you'll retain a level of fitness while getting the required mental re-set.  Lucho flip-flopped his MONSTER training last winter between cycling and running in preparation for Leadman. It kept him motivated, fresh, injury free, and well-rounded in terms of overall fitness. He didn't realize he was sick of training until around mile 50 of the Leadville 100 run and his break from running started one second after he crossed the finish line.

So, after Firetrails 50 miler next week, unless something snaps in me and gives me another shot of motivation, I'll be storing my beloved La Sportivas for a while (just a short break). I suggest you do the same at some point. Running isn't like football (thank God); we don't really have a set “off season”. We need to have the self awareness and commitment to assign ourselves an off season. Good luck with yours.

Tim