Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Running Against Cancer 10 Years Later

(2006 Rockingham County Relay for Life)

In 2006, I had been running for just over three years and running ultras for 18 months. As a long time supporter of the American Cancer Society and their Relay for Life events I found it fitting that my first true run dedicated to fighting cancer would be at their 2006 Rockingham County Relay for Life.

At the time, I had lost two grandmothers to cancer, one in 1994 and the other in 2005. I promised myself I would attempt to run 70 miles during the one night event, which would represent 10 miles for every month my grandmothers fought cancer. In short, it was a tough, but incredibly inspirational night of reflection and community support. I met a lot of people, made some new friends, and a few hours after sunrise I completed my 70th mile. It was by far the longest I had ever run and it took 13 hours and 35 minutes to complete, which included walking most of the final 5 hours. My body and feet were beat up for at least a week, but for a cause that made it all worth it. And even though it was a run, it was definitely not about running. That's a motto I would revisit a decade later.

In 2008, I stumbled upon George Nelson's Hampton 24 Hour Run for Cancer and wanted to test myself with the challenge of running for 24 straight hours. In short, I failed, and failed miserably at that. I ran for just over four hours and walked another eight for a grand total of 52.5 miles in 12:15. I didn't even match my mileage from the Relay for Life two years earlier. It was a rough humbling day of stomach issues and learning from a lot of rookie mistakes. Little did I know, but it would be a long 8 years until my next run at Sandy Bottom.

Enter 2016. Exactly 10 years after my 70 mile Relay for Life run from 2006.

(Photo credit Dean Wewetzer)

To be honest, I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to be at the 2016 24 Hour Run for Cancer. On top of that, the previous few months of "training" had consisted of modest 40 miles per week of running and 10-15 miles of hiking. Hardly enough to make a solid attempt at a 24 hour run, no less something like an ultra or even marathon. Given that, I decided to make a short term goal of running 71 miles, which would eclipse the 70 I had run 10 years earlier. The additional one mile would be in memory of my grandfather who passed away from cancer in 2008, ironically only four months after my first failed visit to the Hampton 24 Hour Run.

Needless to say the run was a pleasant surprise and it felt great to finally to put in some bigger miles again. It was my longest run in three years and strangely felt quite effortless and relaxed the entire time. I started out fairly slow and gradually picked up the pace to the point where my last 10 miles were the fastest of the day. At three hours in, I don't even think I was in the top 15 runners, but apparently by the time I had completed my 71.25 miles in 11:09 I had climbed to second place by a fairly large margin. Not that any of that was important, but it was nice to finish a run that had a lot of personal meaning feeling incredibly strong.

As far as performance, not that it was about that, but this may have been the best I have ever paced a run. I ran my first 31 miles in 5:00 and my final 31 miles in 4:42. My 50 mile split was 8:00 and my 100k split was 9:49. I also ran a 3:56 marathon split after mile 45, which was a total surprise, but proved that starting very slow really does pay significant dividends. In fact, my projected 100 mile time would have been somewhere between 16:40 and 17:00, which would have been a massive PR, though I still feel Like I was under trained to go for such an attempt. However, I think with a more appropriate training I may have figured out the best way to pace for flatter, longer races.

That said, it was great to spend some time on the trails with friends and run again for a the cause of fighting cancer. Cancer and running have had been almost synonymous and is one of the reasons I had run and survived some of my earliest ultras. I also think that I might be ready to test myself to run the entire 24 hours at the Run for Cancer and see what I can really do. I realize that yes running 71.25 miles was a solid run, but I also know I didn't come close to testing my body and mind the way it would have to run an additional 13 hours like many others did. In addition, though I have "run" for over 24 hours several times, there is something very different and mental about running as much as you can within the fixed time frame of a single day. That is something to think about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

So You're Saying There's A Chance

.....a chance I may actually make it into the 2017 Boston Marathon. Didn't see that coming.

Basically, in 2015 you had to run 2:28 under your qualifying time to get accepted entry into the 2016 Boston Marathon. I ran 2:01 under my qualifying time last fall, so it looked unlikely I would make it into the 2017 event as it usually gets harder to get in and not easier. Interestingly, many of the runners that recently ran in the 2016 Boston Marathon actually qualified with last year's Boston Marathon. Even though last year's race was chilly and windy, 12,767 runners re-qualified for Boston at Boston. That's 48% percent of the field, and probably made up a good number of returning athletes this year.

However, due to warm conditions in the recent 2016 Boston Marathon, only 4,324 runners qualified, which was roughly only 17% of the field. Basically, that means an additional 8,443 spots are up for grabs for other people who qualified. Granted, runners that didn't BQ at this year's Boston may have run faster BQ's at other races, but it's still unlikely there will be the same number of applicants for the 2017 race. Given that there only a handful of fast marathons, now in the warmer months, before the September Boston application period, it would seem that slower times may get you into Boston in 2017.

Will my 2:01 under buffer be enough? I don't know, and I can only assume it will be a very close call. I don't plan on making any BQ attempts between now and September, but do plan on running another BQ this fall, so that even if I get into the 2017 Boston I can secure a 2018 slot. One day I will run Boston. It's just a matter of when.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Close, But No Cigars

I've been very fortunate to qualify for several big races in the past year; Western States, the Boston Marathon and Spartathlon. However, with the growing popularity of such races, the demand has now greatly outweighed the supply, which means that qualifying can now only guarantee, at best, a partial chance of gained entry.

The Spartathlon lottery for the 2016 event took place last week and I was not selected. I wasn't even close as I ended up 168th out of 172 on the waitlist. There were 21 slots, out of 390 total, reserved for US runners and nearly all 21 of the slots were filled by people who auto qualified. Automatic qualifiers had to run 20% faster than their qualifying standard to get in, so for me it would have required a sub 8 hour 100k or sub 18 hour 100 miler. It won't get any easier next year as the 100 mile auto qualifier will drop from the already challenging 18 hours to 16:48 for men. While my 8:53 100k from last year was a very strong time, the 20th fastest 100k in the US in 2015, it still missed the automatic entry by a lot. Without an automatic bid, my name, along with 12 others, was randomly selected for the US team's wait list.

That said, the lottery gods weren't very forgiving and I was selected 12th American, which means I am dead last for the US waiting list, and nearly dead last for all wait listed runners. In plain English, I basically have zero chance of running Spartathlon in six months. In the bizarre and highly unrealistic scenario I am moved off the wait list it will be far too close to the race date to make last minute travel arrangements, and of course, actually train. I am certainly not going to train my ass off for a 153 mile race I have 0.001% chance of getting into. On the bright side, I will have an extra ticket for the 2017 lottery, so if I don't auto qualify in 2017, my chances in the lottery will be a little better. The downside is that after 2017, I will need to re-qualify with either another 100k, or 100 miler.

As far as Western States, I don't really care that I didn't get selected for 2016. Qualifying for WS is probably the easiest out of the three big races I was aiming to get into, but it still required finishing a 100k or 100 miler on growing list of qualifying races that caters less and less to us East coast runners. Given that I've already completed the race, it's no longer very high on my bucket, other than the fact I would love to run it when fully healthy and in shape. Considering I flirted with a sub 24 back in 2011 when I hadn't been running much and was 10 lbs overweight, my only real desire is to go back and see just how fast I can run it at an optimal level of health. Otherwise, Western States can wait.

The most recent race I qualified for was the Boston Marathon. Though I qualified two minutes under my standard, it also looks like I may miss the cut off for accepted entry. This was made even more frustrating by the fact that I recorded 26.53 miles on the course I qualified on. This was by no means an error in course measurement, but rather my inability to run the tangents more efficiently. I am typically used to getting 26.35 to 26.45 miles for most marathon course, even when not running all the tangents, so getting 26.53 miles may have cost me as much as an additional minute. Given that runners had to run 2:28 under their qualifying times to get into the 2016 Boston Marathon, it seems my 2:00 under, which could just have easily been 3:00 under, will likely miss the mark for 2017. If I want to run Boston in 2017 I will probably have to make another attempt at a BQ this spring and run faster than last fall. Personally, I'm not sure if it's worth the time and effort to pour into the training like I did last fall, only to potentially miss the cut-off again.

So, while I'm disappointed to put so much time and energy into qualifying for races I am not going to get to run, it's still just a first world problems level of disappointed. All the running and training has kept me relatively fit, when I otherwise might not be. I can also honestly say I never thought I would be doing the things I am doing athletically, on the verge of turning 35, that I couldn't come close to doing as a 20 year old college student.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Reflections of 2015

It's hard to believe another year has come and gone. Each time around the sun seems to be more fleeting than the previous one. 2015 seemed to be the year I did a lot, but it felt like a little.

The year started off with a pleasantly surprising 100k run, where I posted a huge PR for the 100k distance. During that same race I also set personal bests for the 50k and 50 mile distances. In addition, my 100k time was good enough to qualify me for the legendary Spartathlon Ultramrathon. I also served as a pace leader for 6 marathons and 3 half marathons, as well as finally qualifying myself for the Boston Marathon. Here and there I snuck in a few small trail races, but I still consider myself semi-retired from ultras and still retired from 100 milers. Yes, the 100k was an ultra, but in terms of races that could take 12-24+ hours, I am still mostly retired. Lastly, I volunteered at quite a few local road races and ultras and was forced to say farewell to one of my favorite races that traveled down the OBX.

In terms of total running, I finished 2015 with 3,127 miles, which is a new one year distance PR and also marks roughly 30,000 lifetime running miles. To be honest, this isn't really a PR I wanted to obtain, simply because I found myself running out of pure boredom much more than I would have liked. I'd honestly rather have a more active local social life and "only" run 2,000 miles per year. So, I guess I made lemonade out of lemons and figured running bored was better than sitting around. Anyway, 3,127 miles tops the 3,122 miles I ran in 2013 and the 3,100 miles from 2010. The strange thing is that it didn't feel like I ran nearly as much, and yet I still ran the most I ever have in one year. I can partially attribute this to a much more efficient and balanced approach to running, where in previous years my mileage would vary from 10 miles a week to over 110 any given time of the year. Needless to say, that approach didn't work.

My highest one week mileage total in 2015 was 95.6, but included a 100k race. In regular training weeks my mileage never went above 85.1, which was a peak build up week for the 100k race I just mentioned. The next highest output week was 76.1 miles, which again was a build up week for fall marathon training. My three lowest mileage weeks were 40, 41, and 42 miles respectively which were either recovery weeks, or taper weeks. The remaining bulk of my yearly mileage came from consistent weeks in the 55-65 mile range, and another dozen weeks in the 65-75 mile range. No real extremes in terms of super low or super high mileage weeks.

I guess I should also point out that about 90% of my total yearly mileage was on paved roads, which meant it required significantly less time to obtain my distances. In other years, the opposite was true when I spent about 90% of my time on trails, but often running a pace 1-2 minutes per mile slower than what I run now. If you factor that 2,700 of my miles in 2015 were run at a pace at least 1 minute per mile faster than in 2013 and 2010, I actually ran about 40 less hours in 2015, but covered more distance. So, I did in fact run more with less. Another common theme from last year. I will also conclude that 3,000 miles per year nearing 35 years of age is probably going to be the high end of what I can do without diminishing returns. While I felt pretty good and fresh up until my 3,000 mile mark in 2015, without fail I started feeling a noticeable physical burn out as I continued pushing my end of year mileage in an effort to break my previous PR.

So, what does 2016 have in store? Well, I probably won't run 3,000 mile again, and honestly I don't want to. I'd love to cut a few minutes off my marathon time, maybe get down to a 3:05, and secure a 2017 Boston Marathon entry. I don't really like being on the bubble for not getting accepted, but I'm not sure how much time and effort I really want to spend training again. It's hard work if you do it right. I'm also entertaining the idea of doing Spartathlon in 2016 or 2017, but there is no way on earth I want to put my body through the damaging training needed to get through Spartathlon's 153 mile course. Still, I can't deny how amazing it would be to represent the US in another country and raise the American flag across the finish line to the statue of Leonidas. It's all still a bit too early to know. I don't foresee doing any 100 milers, though I will likely show up to a few small trail races to get my fix of dirt and trees. If anything, hopefully 2016 will bring some fresh new adventures, life closer to mountains, and an item or two crossed off the bucket list.

Happy trails 2015 and cheers to an exciting 2016.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 Gear Reviews

These are some short summaries on running/hiking gear I used in 2015. A few of the items I have used for a while and intend to continue using into 2016. This list only contains the items I used the most, otherwise it would be a very long list.

First, I will start off with shoes, which are the one thing every run requires. I also incorporated a mileage to cost score. Basically, I've bought shoes for $120 that only lasted 300 miles which is 2.5 miles per dollar. Think of it like a miles per gallon score for shoes. A poor score would be 0-3, 4-6 is average, 7-8 very good, and 9+ exceptional. For trail shoes, expect to get at least 100-200 fewer miles per shoe depending on how technical the terrain is you use them on.

Hoka One One Clifton 1: When I bought my first pair of Cliftons in the fall of 2014, I was uncertain how a maximal cushion shoe could function as a lightweight racer. Those doubts were put to rest in 2015 as I not only ran a 100k personal best in the Clifton, but also a marathon PR. While a weight of 8.1 ounces for a men's size 9, advertised as 7.6 oz, is still a bit heavier than most racing flats, the range of comfort made it suitable from anything to a quick 5k to possibly a 100 mile ultra. I was also skeptical that the lightweight EVA midsole would not hold up over time. However, I was pleasantly surprised to put 500 miles on them before retiring them as a recovery, easy mileage back up shoe. My Cliftons currently have 600 miles on them and the only major wear issues are the upper getting stretched out and some of the light green outsole being worn through on the outer heel. Basically, they have stretched to about a half size larger, but still have enough intact sole material where it doesn't effect mechanics. The 7.5mm offset made each stride effortless and bouncy. I will probably get 700 miles out of them before donating them, which is good because I just bought 2 more pairs. It should also be noted that 100% of my mileage has been on flat roads. Any kind of trails or gravel could cut the shoe's life in half. The Cliftons retail at $130, but can easily be found for under $100 on ebay. I paid anywhere from $75-85 for each of my 3 pairs.

Mileage to cost score: 700/$75 = 9.3

Adidas Energy Boost 2: In an effort to ween myself off of maximal shoes like the bulkier Hoka One One, but also retain cushion for higher mileage road running, I sought the Energy Boost. The 10.4mm heel to toe drop seemed quite noticeable right off the bat, but also noticeable was how the "boost" material seem to make the toe off transition seemless. The one piece mesh upper does a wonderful job hugging the foot, though can get a bit heavy when wet. At 10.0 ounces it is a good high mileage shoe, but a bit too heavy and high off the ground to be suitable for racing. That said, I was still able to get in quite a few solid tempo runs faster than my marathon pace in the Energy Boosts, so you can definitely run faster in them if you wanted to. Plus, after 600 miles, I am very pleased that the Boost material feels the same as it did the first day I wore the shoes, and the outsole has also held up nicely. Though the original $160 sticker price is way too high, it should't be hard to get them cheaper online. My two pairs were both $55, which is amazing considering the mileage I have gotten out of them.

Mileage to cost score: 600/$55 = 10.9

Adidas Adios Boost: These are basically a stripped down version of the Energy Boost. The soft single piece upper is replaced with lighter weight material and tongue. The shoes have a significantly lower stack height, which gives them a good ground feel, as well as the fact they come in at 8.3 ounces for a men's size 9. The Adios Boost felt comfortable and fast out of the box, but also felt a bit long and narrow. I could definitely see these being used as a racing flat up to a marathon, and possibly some ultra distances on flat terrain. The Boost material is still present, but much more subtle than in the Energy Boost. While I don't expect to get the same life out of them as I did the Energy Boost, I suspect 400+ miles to be a strong possibility. Retail is $120+, but I got mine in ebay for $40, which was a ridiculously good bargain.

Nike Terra Kiger 2: I bought these last year for $50 on sale (retail $100-120) so I figured I'd give them a try. Right away I noticed how light they were (8.1 ounces) and how small the heel drop was (4mm), yet without sacrificing foot protection like some lighter models do. The lugs provided great traction on rugged trails, as well as on snow, but the light heel cup material means the potential for a loose fit. I also found that the Terra Kiger was a bit too tight around the top of the foot, despite providing ample room in the toe box. The gusseted "burrito" tongue was a great bonus, and while comfortable for quick trail runs up to 10-15 miles, I have my doubts how comfortable the cramped upper foot space would be for an ultra. Maybe I just have weird shaped feet, or maybe the Terra Kiger is a bit off. Either way, if you run lots of trails and see these on sale, they're worth a shot. I don't live near trails, so my pair only has about 50 miles on them, which isn't enough to say how well they will hold up. So far so good though.

Montrail Rogue Fly: I am on my second pair of Rogue Flies and these are by far my favorite trail shoe. At 7.8 ounces they feel like a racing flat, but have also held up at races like the Hellgate 100k. An added bonus is that they feel good on roads too, which is great when a race has both road and trail sections. The 10mm drop doesn't really feel like 10mm, and the upper is made of a very lightweight and comfy mesh. The only real downside to the Rogue Fly is that it is not meant for really rocky and technical races, and the upper does nothing to protect your foot from kicking roots and stones. I got about 300 miles of hard trail running out of my first pair of Rogue Flies before they started to rip near the top of the foot. Still a great shoe considering you can usually find them on sale for under $60 online.

Mileage to cost score: 300/$40 = 7.5 (not bad for trail shoes)

Saucony Triumph ISO: These are my newest, and yet heaviest pair of shoes I own at 10.3 ounces for a men's size 9. Out of the box they felt lighter than expected and required no break in time. My first run was actually a track work out, which these shoes probably aren't ideal for, but they worked better than expected. The ISO fit reminded me a lot of the Energy Boost and also provided the same nice foot hugging fit. I intend to use these as a high mileage trainer to give my legs and feet a bit of a rest. The heel height is only a few mm less than the Clifton's, yet doesn't feel super high off the ground with it's 8mm drop. While, I wouldn't use this shoe for faster paced runs, it didn't feel terribly awkward running sub 7 minute pace either. However, given the solid foot protection and support, I would consider the Triumph ISO a better option for a road ultra. Retail on these can be a bit steep at $140+, but I got mine at a post Christmas sale for $69 at a running store, so cheaper options are out there.

Now, onto to the rest f the stuff I used a lot this year.

Asics Storm Shelter Jacket: This has been an awesome waterproof jacket with 360 degree reflective paneling. While not super lightweight, it still makes for a great option for hiking and running in the rain, or snow. The layer of mesh on the interior along with the arm pit zippers offers good breathability and also helps ward off some of the sweat and moisture build up that frequently occured in my other rain coat, the North Face Venture jacket. Other great features of the Storm Shelter include a detachable hood, a nice fitted collar with draw chords, draw chords on the waist area, a cell phone pocket, sealed zippers, and also built in thumb holes so you can wear the arm liner like a pair of gloves. Having been caught in massive multi hour downpours in both my Storm Shelter and North Face Venture, I can honestly say it was no contest. The Venture jacket had no draw strings for the neck area, which allowed rain into my collar and rain also leaked through the cuffs. The plastic feeling material of the Venture also means that even when rain is kept out, you will still get wet from sweat and condensation, especially if the weather is very muggy and there is't even rain. While the North Face Venture is still an okay option in case of rain, I now reach for the Storm Shelter when I know there is rain.

Patagonia Houdini: The Houdini is probably the jacket I have traveled with the most. It has served me as a light wind breaker, summer bug shield, and winter running coat. The only negative thing I can say about it is that the water repellent finish (DWR) which kept me dry in quick downpours when I first bought the jacket no longer does anything. Despite using every method possible to restore the DWR, the Houdini lost it's ability to repel water after only a a couple years. Thankfully, it does dry out very quickly, and even when wet it does a decent job blocking wind. The Houdini still makes for a great jacket in cool weather and at just 3 ounces, is wonderfully easy and light to carry as it packs into its own pocket.

Marmot Stride: Another light weight jacket for cold weather running or hiking in temps of 45-65 degrees. The Stride is windproof, but also has mesh side paneling to allow for breathability. The jacket is lined with a nice soft interior which helps absorb sweat and also adds a bonus layer for warmth. The cons of the Stride are that the jacket can get a bit heavy when it starts getting wet and easily stains from things as simple as water. It does not dry out quick. However, it does have a nice draw chord around the neck, as well as waist, to help prevent heat loss. The third cell phone pocket is a nice bonus.

Arc'teryx Atom LT: The Atom LT is one of my go to winter jackets. It is windproof and the water repellent finish has kept me surprisingly dry during the few rain storms I've been caught in. The Atom also has mesh side panels that allow for ventilation, which is a particular nice option when using the jacket during rigorous physical activity. Though lacking a draw string, the hood fits well, despite being sized so that you could wear a helmet under it. The Atom LT has been a fantastic coat for winter hikes in 25-45 degree weather as well as running in sub freezing temperatures with just a single layer underneath. The bottom line is that the Atom LT is incredibly comfortable, functional and lightweight. You can't ask for much more out of a jacket.

North Face Thermoball: I have to admit, when I first saw the Thermoball two years ago, I thought it was a silly attempt by North Face to create a gimmicky fashion statement. A few years later, the Thermoball has become one of my favorite everyday use jackets. The Thermoball material, as advertised, does a surprisingly amazing job at retaining warmth without the added bulk. While it doesn't quite have the warmth of 600-800 fill down, the Thermoball also doesn't take up as much weight and doesn't overheat you as soon as you go inside, or the temperature rises a little. The dozens of small square shaped compartments all over the jacket also means that the material doesn't clump up like down, or even primaloft. This is an especially nice thing to not have to worry about when taking your jacket out of the wash. Hence, the fill always stays equally distributed and warm, and there are no random cold spots whee the fill has gone missing. I will also add that the Thermoball also does a good job blocking out wind and even staying warm in the rain, even though not necessarily advertised as an all weather jacket. My only wish is that the Thermoball had a draw chord for the neck. This is an ideal, and very lightweight, coat for active sports in sub 40 degree weather or casual wear in 40-60 degrees.

GoLite Men's Roan Plateau: This is the warmest jacket I own and it replaced my Mountain Hardware Sub Zero jacket (which I still use). GoLite's 800 fill down is the lightest down jacket I have seen in quite some time. Everything about the Roan Plateau is pretty amazing. The down is well distributed through the compartments and has no cold spots. The lined collar is snug, comfortable, and does an incredible job preventing heat from escaping through the neck area. The down is very windproof, but also about what you would expect as far as when it's wet. Great for temps under 32 degrees and it's even been warm in windy 20 degree weather while only wearing a single layer underneath. Definitely a great purchase for the price if you can still find one.


Nathan Trail Mix: This replaced my Amphipod RunLite belt which I got sick and tired of due to the bottles always sliding around. The Trail Mix offers a nice wide elastic belt that actually stays in place. A extra perk is that the belt stays in place even when wearing wind breaker type material which my Amphipod belt would slide around non stop. The Trail Mix is also relatively light at 10 ounces and the rubber capped soft 10 ounce bottles are much better than the hard plastic tipped Amphiopd bottles. My teeth thank you. Otherwise, the Trail Mix has a large rear pocket for storage as well as two elastic band that you can strap clothing to. Price is slightly high at $45, but I got mine for $25.

Ultraspire Kinetic: This replaced my Nathan packs which had more rear storage, but less front pocket space. As a big fan of NOT having to constantly take my pack off to get things or refill water, the Kinetic was the perfect option. The Kinetic weighs in at 21.8 ounces, which sounds heavy, but feels relatively light, yet made from sturdy materials. The clipless belt system is much better than having a large plastic clip sitting on your belly. However, my favorite thing is the four front pockets that have a wide range of what they can carry. They are strong enough to carry something heavier like a camera or phone, and light and stretchy enough to not squish food and gels. The 26 ounce bottles and their placement take a little getting used to, but after some practice you can get pretty good at grabbing them on the run and putting them back. I also found that you can turn the bottles so our arms don't hit them on the back swing, which was one of my concerns early on. The only real downside of the Kinetic,as stated earlier, is a lack of rear storage for something like a jacket, but then again it's not that big of a deal either.

Raidlight Olmo 20: I finally decided to test out the French designed Raidlight brand. While Salomon and Ultimate Direction have already had front bottle packs on the market for a few years now, I really wanted to try something different. The Olmo 20 is not really a running pack, so much as a hiking pack you can run in. It has the front storage I was used to having with the Ultraspire Kinetic, but also had the rear storage I had with other larger packs. However, at 21 ounces, the Olmo 20 is lighter than my Kinetic while also having 20 liters of capacity. I will admit that finding the correct fit took a bit of time, and I was initially displeased with how much the front bottles bounced around. However, once the fit was secured, the bottles felt snug and running in the pack was quite enjoyable. Speaking of the bottles, they are 25 ounces each with an insulated a pipette so you can drink without having to even remove the bottles. The thing that separates the Olmo from many of the American brand hydration packs is the amount of functionality that decades of European fell running and mountain running have been able to put into its design. There are pockets everywhere and room to carry just about anything you could think of having in the mountains. Even if you don't need to carry much, the light weight material means you aren't lugging around pounds of dead weight to potentially carry things you don't need. Basically, the Olmo 20 is just as good for carrying one 20 ounce bottle and some granola bars as it is carrying 100 ounces of water and a days worth of food and clothing. The pack is retails for about $130-150, but usually can't be purchased in the US.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How to Get Faster Without Getting Faster

These are just some quick thoughts I had about things you can do right now to cut time off your next race. Obviously, training hard and efficiently, as well as losing weight and having a good diet are the primary ways to get faster, but these are a few logistical tips that can help you get to the finish line quicker without gaining any speed.

Carry less:

Having been to a number of races over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how disproportionately too much stuff people carry for the distances they are running. For most folks the big culprit for extra weight is water. Even at 5k and 10k races I see people with hydration packs, despite the fact that water is provided every few miles on the course. Even if you are walking these distances, unless it is extremely hot, you will not need to carry water, or food. For half marathons and marathons, it might make more sense to carry a water bottle and food, but a 70 ounce pack is still overdoing it when you have the option to refill something smaller, like a 20 ounce bottle, every couple of miles. Every extra pound of weight you carry could add 10-15 seconds per mile to your pace. Carrying an unnecessary 3 lbs of water could add 6-7 minutes to a half marathon and 10-15 minutes to a full marathon. Plus, you need to consider how the extra weight will effect your muscles and joints which will be working harder to support it.

The second biggest culprit for carrying excess weight is gear. Now, let me be clear, I've done ultras where you might have several hours between aid stations, or a drop bag. Given that amount of time, you might have to carry gear you may not end up using. I'm talking more about when you have 4-6 miles between aid stations, and likely no more than an hour in between. If you are on flat trails, or not in the mountains, there's a pretty good chance that carrying a flashlight, extra batteries, trekking poles, a spare rain jacket, extra socks, gloves, a camera, a cell phone, a solar charger, 20 granola bars, 5 apples, 4 bananas, water filter, a dead yak, and using a 20-30 liter pack is a bit of overkill. Remember, you are paying for a race to supply you with what you need at the aid stations, so you might as well use them.

Lastly, as far as carrying extra weight, is the small stuff. Lots of small things add up, and even people like myself can be surprised how much it can all amount to. I put this to the test this past summer and fall when I analyzed a breakdown of the items I planned to run with during one of my fall marathons. The first gear list looked pretty minimal on paper.

- 6 gels (6 ounces)
- 10 ounce Nathan bottle with Nathan Trail Mix Belt(21.2 ounces)
- arm sleeves and calf sleeves (6 ounces)
- Standard running shorts and tech shirt (9.5 ounces)
- Standard hat (2.3 ounces)
- Adidas Energy Boost 2 (19.7 ounces)
- iPod Nano (1.5 ounces)
- Garmin Forerunner 310 (3.5 ounces)

Total weight: 66.4 ounces

Notice that this list is all pretty standard stuff for running, but still weighed in at over four pounds! We tend to forget how much we are carrying, especially when the weight is distributed over the entire body like our running gear is. I then modified my gear list, with the biggest changed being that I wasn't going to carry any water. I also chose not to wear any compression clothing, as they would soak up sweat and add weight. The remaining clothing and shoes were swapped out for lighter options, which was a more dramatic weight cut than I expected. Of the original items, I decided to keep the iPod and Garmin and figured it was worth the extra weight to be able to stay motivated with music and know my pace and distance. The new gear list, which is what I ended running with, ended up like this.

- 6 gels (6 ounces, fyi no gels were provided on the course)
- Nathan 5k pack to hold the gels (3 ounces)
- Brooks hat (1.5 ounces)
- iPod Nano (1.5 ounces)
- Garmin Forerunner 310 (3.5 ounces)
- Saucony singlet and shorts (5.3 ounces)
- Hoka One One Clifton 1 (16.2)

Total weight: 37.0

Wow, what a difference! 66.4 ounces dropped down to 37, which is almost two pounds lighter. The big factor here was straying out of my comfort zone and not running with water. The comfort zone is one of the biggest reasons people carry too much stuff, and challenging yourself to run with less and less will help you feel more at ease. Coming off summer training, I got used to running with water, so it felt a little weird going into race day without having instant access to hydration when I needed it. However, race day temperatures were between 40 and 63 degrees, so just a few sips from the water stops every two miles ended up being adequate. When you realize you can carry less and still have what you need, it can be a very freeing feeling, and it also feels awesome to be lugging around less dead weight.

Part two of this post has to do with more with ultra marathons and aid station management. Basically, ultrarunners can be notorious for taking way too much time at aid stations. The longer the event is, the more time people seem to spend at aid stations. I know quite a few runners that are faster than me, but because I take significantly less time at aid stations, I actually finish ahead of them.

- If you have a crew and/or drop bags, proper planning can get you what you need very quickly. Why spend 10 minutes aimlessly clamoring through stuff you did't need, when you could grab and go everything in under a minute? If you did this for a race with 15-20 aid stations, there's a good chance you could cut an hour off your time just by being better organized.

- Beware the chair. This is a regular saying at ultras and it's true. While most of us like to have a few minutes off our feet during a long race, it's much harder to get going once you have been sitting. An object in motion stays in motion. During a 100 miler, I could understand wanting to relax for 5-10 minutes, but even then you have to ask yourself what will keep your momentum going. Is a 20 minute break going to help you mentally and physically recharge, or will it cause you to shut down? Assuming you are feeling good, sometimes it's easier just to grab the essentials and keeping moving forward.

- You can also prep for an aid station before you reach an aid station. This is as simple as getting your bottle/pack ready to refill, or eating something just before you arrive so you can grab more food and go. You can also remove gear you know you will be leaving in a drop bag, so you aren't having to stop and change at the aid station. Also, if there's no need to stand around, it's just as easy to grab food and eat it while walking. Basically, if you can do something just as easily walking as you could standing still, then choose the walking option.

- For races 50 miles and under, stopping for a couple minutes is about the most you will ever need. Again, if you really only require 30-60 seconds to refill water and get food, but instead stop for several minutes, it could add a lot of unneeded time to your day.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Doping and Ultrarunning

I have always hoped that the sport of ultrarunning would stay clean of performance enhancing drugs, but today I can confirm that is no longer the case. Elisa Desco of Italy, a notable European mountain runner, will be toeing the line with other elite women at the 2015 North Face 50 mile championship in San Francisco this weekend. What makes her different, however, is the fact she is coming off a two year ban for testing positive for EPO in 2009. Yes, 2009 was a long time, and yes her ban has been over for two years. However, this is the first time in ultrarunning where a known doper is being allowed to compete, and compete for a $10,000 cash prize at that.

When I entered our beloved sport in 2004, the only things one could gain from a race of extreme distance and difficulty were memories, blisters, a muddy pair of shoes, comradery, a feeling of personal achievement, and maybe a buckle or medal. Running 50 and 100 milers were seen as a way to get out and experience the wild beyond the traditional confines of mundane everyday life. It was the juxtaposition of the outer wilderness and the battle of the inner self. It's where the we sought the intangibles, and while much of this experience is still a very real part of ultrarunning today, some of it feels very lost. This may have been more so the case in the decades before I even knew what an ultra was, all the way back to the days of Ted Corbitt and the ultra(esque) European footraces of the 16th to 19th centuries.

It's a new era of ultrarunning for sure. It's a time when the pros equal the cons in terms of financial growth, sponsorship, and marketing. Deep down, money can be found at the root of all of it. Money is clearly a non factor for almost all participants, and for many elites, it's still not the single motivating factor as to why they run and race. However, it is absolutely a factor as to why they might cheat.

Lucrative prize money and sponsorship are the reasons why so many athletes dope, and it is no different in the world of distance running. Recently, we've seen icons like Lance Armstrong fall from grace after finally admitting to years of lying about doping. Then this past year, news broke about at least 40 Kenyan runners that had tested positive for PED's as well as a large number of Russian track athletes. The US side has also taken some hits, with controversy surrounding Alberto Salazar's methods of prescription and OTC drug use, and possibly more. Then again, we're talking about the world of high payout professional running, so while sad, this shouldn't have been much of a shock. The low profit community of ultrarunning could never have these issues, right?

Well, in the past five years ultra races have started churning out cash prizes of up to $10,000 at races like Run Rabbit Run, the North Face 50 mile championships, and $5,000 for the UROC 100k and Speedgaot 50k. While this is hardly comparable to a $100,000 purse for winning a major marathon (which also have time and record bonuses up to $50,000 each), combined with sponsorship and minimal "fame" it is certainly enough to push people to get whatever small competitive edge they can. It should also be noted that some of these events are at high altitude, which is yet another reason someone might try using something like EPO. Again, where there is money and social status, there is usually a trail to PED use. If there is no reward, there is no risk.

I certainly don't want to stir up any gossip, but my suspicions tell me that PED's have already entered the world of ultrarunning. It also gives me pause when groups like Carmichael Training Systems, which have been tied to PED use in the past, are now coaching elite ultrarunners. I have also witnessed runners improve by leaps and bounds and seen people do things 80 and 90 miles into a race that seem unbelievable. Some could say that we don't yet know the full potential for humans running long distance events, so it's possible that people will only get faster and faster. However, I can still recall all the times I watched the Tour Du France and saw someone relentlessly attacking a climb after two weeks of non stop racing and wondered, how is that possible, only to find out they were doping. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

But, seriously, does it really matter for someone like me who only runs as a hobby? I think so, because we measure a sport by the abilities of all participants from first to last. It's kind of ironic actually, because I remember a race where a unique award was given to the last finisher, so there ended up being a few folks "competing" to be the slowest. A bit of a slap in the face to someone who really is a back of the pack runner if you ask me. The same goes for the front of the pack. Anyway, back to the point. As a participant of any race that gives out prize money, anyone that pays an entry is contributing to that prize. I don't want my money going to a doper, nor do I want to see my elite friends losing to people who have cut corners. It just brings the integrity down a notch and makes you wonder just how far down the grapevine this trend will go. If someone is going to cheat for $10,000, what's to stop them from cheating for $1,000 or $500. Even winning one local race per month could earn someone several thousand dollars for the year.

How about using PED's for no prize money? Why not cheat to get into the Boston Marathon, the Ironman World Championships, or New York City Marathon?

Honestly, if I don't like the fact there are no PED policies in place in ultrarunning, then I can certainly choose to not run ultras with cash prizes. But, I don't like is the principle that someone else's PED use could limit my enjoyment of something, and trust me, this isn't about me and what I enjoy, but instead what other people are doing to damage the sport. But, the time has come. We now have one known PED violator competing for money, and I would be foolish to think she will be the last. So, while I will get my ultrarunning fix by doing small local trail runs, it still ticks me off that the pureness of the sport in general has lost something for the sake of monetary gain.