Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask an Ultrarunner #4

Pooped Out asks: I'm a first 25% of the pack ultrarunner who prepares himself well for the one 100 miler I run each year. At least I think I prepare myself well. Everything goes well until the last 30 miles. At that time my perceived effort is huge, yet I'm barely moving. I can't run any uphills, and even on the flats I struggle. So, my question is how does one prepare for the last thirty of a hundred mile race.

To me, the last 30 miles of a hundred mile race are what make the distance so special and so difficult to predict. From my perspective, running 50 to 70 miles at a crack, while difficult, is not a good predictor of hundred mile success. In fact, there are scores of runners with tremendous talent and ability at 50 miles or 100K who have never realized success at the hundred mile distance.

Why is this?

From my observations and experiences the single best way to prepare for the last 30 miles is to be well-prepared mentally. While this may sound trite, it is, nonetheless, the most significant factor that separates people in the last few hours of a hundred miler. All the training in the world cannot prepare the runner for the intense physical, emotional, and psychological fatigue that sets in after 12 hours on the trail. In order to meet the demands of that feeling the best runners do one (or more) of the following three things:

1. They run quite a few hundreds so that they are accustomed to and prepared for the pain and suffering that they encounter in the waning stages of a race.

2. They have figured out how, in training, to mimic the conditions that they will face in those last few hours.

3. They know how to find the right mental space during the last few hours of a hundred to drown out the pain and suffering and to revel in the experience.

I have only hit all three once, and that was in 2005. Western States that year was my best race ever.

Here I am at Mile 70 in 2005:

The Seed asks: I am a fairly solid 50M runner but can't seem to collect much more than yellow buckles (or, if not States, the particular race's equivalent) when I step up to the 100 mile starting line. I do have one token silver buckle but it is more of an anomaly, an outlier if you will, compared to my standard performances which, among others, include the following: 2 DNF's at AC in '98 & '99 (I mention those for The Jiz's benefit); a 28 hour at Western, wait, I mean, States in '02 where I spent 2 1/2 hours in a beach chair at Hwy 49 aid (mile 93) and it wasn't because the aid station folks were in pear-adorned monokinis serving margis either; and a 30 hour Wasatch in '08 in which I got to Brighton (mile 75) in 18 hours (you do the math on that one). Is there any hope for me to have a 100 mile performance on par with say, a 7 hour High Sierra 50M or should I stick with the "warm-up ultras," as Karl calls them, and maybe try and become a permanent member of The Jiz's crew to make sure he never DNFs (because only Sky daddy the knows the ripfest that would ensue after that).

Seed, tough one. And, seeing as how you've been running these things for going on 20 years I am not sure I can be of any help. Of course, one of my fondest memories of my early ultrarunning career was running the 1996 Holcomb Valley 50K with you, Ben Hian and Tom Nielsen. If I recall correctly, the main focus of discussion during the early stages of that race when we were all suffering in the High Country was whether or not you felt the effects of altitude as much as we did given that you were, how to say, vertically challenged. Anyway, I've always admired you as a runner ever since then. Of course, there was also the time we were out all night on the Wasatch Course on a training run during the Outdoor Retailer show but that's another story.

In short, I think the best thing you can do is keep trying. Clearly, based on your 50 mile speed you should be running WS in 19 and change and WF in 24. The fact that you are not means you:

a. Have not figured out your nutrition routine yet.

b. Don't understand the importance of smart pacing.

c. Are a total and complete headcase.

Of course, it could also be some combination of all three. Sort of like this guy:

And, don't hold your breath waiting for the "ripfest."

Horatio Lovejoy asks: I win almost any race I enter. I'm young, a well established entrepreneur, drive a nice car and have a great fiancee. What else should I be doing?

Horatio, what you should really do is quit this sport. Guys like you belong in the NBA or the NFL. And, if not that, at least in professional cycling or NASCAR. I mean, c'mon, this is a sport for self-indulgent, addicted, anti-social, introverted fruitcakes. Look around the next time you're at a starting line of an ultra (and please make sure it's the starting line and not the finish line:) What do you see? Do you see a cross-section of Middle America out there enjoying a day in the sun? Hell no! Rather, you see a bunch of people one step away from the loony bin. Given how successful and popular you are I can only imagine it is rough to be associated with such a group.

So, do yourself a favor and quit the sport. You've got it all anyway and now you can go out on top. Think about it, it really is the right thing to do.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

TVR -- 2010 Edition

This is what you do after you finish running 14850 meters with 19 equally crazy running friends in exactly one hour wearing your good friend's fish shorts on a track located at 6000 feet above sea level.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Proud Day!

I had the honor of presiding over an all-school assembly at The Community School yesterday during which we honored Morgan Arritola, member of the Class of 2004 and 2010 Olympic Cross-Country Skier, by adding her name to the Olympic Participants banner in our gym.

Not too bad for a 37 year-old school with 300 kids buried in the mountains of Idaho!

Friday, May 7, 2010

50 Days

Now, at last, I am getting excited! If you've done this deal for any length of time you know that at this point you have about 30 days left to finish stacking the hay in the barn and then 20 more days to let it dry so it's good enough to eat. I don't know about the rest of you but for me, the next 30 days are truly what it's all about.

I am tired pretty much all the time.

I eat just about everything in sight.

All jobs not related to preparing for WS (aside from the one the pays the actual bills:) are put on hold until June 27th (although I have promised to clean to garage on Mother's Day)

I ride in the car with the heat on all the time.

I spend more time in the sauna than I do sleeping.

I love every single moment on the trail.

Truly, this is what it's all about!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ice Cream Sandwich - 2010 Edition

For the fourth consecutive year I made the journey down to Michigan Bluff to join Craig Thornley and his crew of Oregon runners for the annual Ice Cream Sandwich Run. This training run, taking place on the same Saturday as the Miwok 100K, has become a training staple of mine and has, for the past few years, provided great data as to my fitness eight weeks before Western States.

This year I tried something a bit different. Feeling the need to race a bit more in an attempt to combat the impact of aging I had spent the Saturday prior to the ICS run racing the Zane Grey 50 miler in Arizona. This run served to tire my legs out a bit prior to the ICS. In addition, I though it would be a good idea to further tire the legs by running a 20-miler on The Course on the evening before the ICS. So, after arriving in mid-afternoon on Friday, I quickly jumped into my running stuff and ran from Michigan Bluff to the Swinging Bridge and back. After getting to the Bridge in 1:53 I managed some good splits coming back. For those of you who care they were:

Swinging Bridge to Devil’s Thumb -- :32:30
Devil’s Thumb to El Dorado Creek -- :38:35
El Dorado Creek to Michigan Bluff -- :41:00

The stage was now set for the Ice Cream Sandwich Run on Saturday.

This workout was essentially “invented” by the legendary Tim Twietmeyer. Born out of the understanding that success at Western States requires one to be able to, among many other things, run well downhill on tired legs with a full stomach, Twiet created this remarkable workout. Here’s the way it works:

Starting very early in the morning from the Cul-de-Sac about 1.5 miles above Cal 2 the runners run down to Cal 2. From there they are to proceed at a leisurely pace all the way back to the Swinging Bridge. This takes about five hours (26 miles and 6500 ft of vert). Then, after pushing the re-set button, the runner returns to Cal 2 attempting to run from the Bridge to Foresthill at WS 100 race pace and then from Foresthill to Cal 2 (7.85 miles) in 1:15 or less. And, prior to that last section while re-grouping in Foresthill, each runner must consume a 12 oz. Soda (Coke, Dr. Pepper and Mt Dew are preferred) and an Ice Cream Sandwich. Every runner who then manages to run sub-1:15 to Cal 2 without puking has successfully completed the run. Puking, in case you’re wondering, constitutes a failure and disqualifies you from future ICS runs.

And so, this past Saturday, a hardy band of six runners, led by Craig Thornley and including Tom Atkins, Rob Cain, John Price, Meghan Arbogast and myself, set out to complete the task of running the Ice Cream Sandwich Run.

The five-hour journey back up the course to the Swinging Bridge passed uneventfully as we stopped to re-fill and Foresthill and to re-fuel at the house in Michigan Bluff. Craig’s wife Laurie was there and presented us with a beautiful array of turkey, avocado and cheese sandwiches which we eagerly devoured in the mid-morning sun. Then, after meandering through El Dorado Canyon and refilling at the Deadwood Pump, before we knew it we were on the Swinging Bridge.
After lounging in the warmth of the sun on the Bridge we began the workout in earnest. Craig led the climb up to Devil’s Thumb and even though he had said he could deliver us there in 34 minutes he managed to get us there in :33. This was a sign of things to come for sure as he was clearly in good shape and a bit frisky on this day.

I took the lead out of Devil’s Thumb and managed to get down to El Dorado Creek in :41 and back up to Michigan Bluff in :43. The others followed shortly behind at which point another feeding frenzy ensued.

You see, the best thing about the ICS run is the fact that we eat a ton. Passing through Michigan Bluff twice allows us to hit the house and chow down on sandwiches, chips, beef jerky, soda, pretty much anything we want. It doesn’t exactly mimic race day but it sure makes for a fun day.

So, after gorging ourselves at Michigan Bluff, we set out on the penultimate segment of the workout, the calm before the storm, if you will, the trip across Volcano Canyon. Knowing what awaited us after Foresthill we ran a pedestrian :22 to the top of the road. After that, I pushed the pace a bit to the creek and got there in :16. After hiking to the bottom of Bath Rd in another 13 minutes I decided to run the road up to Foresthill. When all was said and done I had run a pretty typical race day split of 1:07 from the house to the store. Then, I limped into the store and dropped 30 bucks on sodas and Ice Cream Sandwiches.

The scene out front of the Foresthill Store at that time must have been pretty funny. Six tired, dirty, sweaty ultrarunners gutting down Ice Cream Sandwiches and Cokes and talking about how much it was going to suck to run down to Cal 2 from there.

As we had arranged previously, Craig, running without a watch, was going to lead the way for Meghan and I down to Cal 2. Tom, John and Rob had decided not to make the attempt at 1:15 so it was just the three of us. After stalling for as long as we could, we took off. Right out of the gate, I knew Craig was on fire. His intent was to get us to Cal 1 in 30, the Spring in 54 and then Cal 2 in 1:14. But, when we got to the Dardanelles Creek sign in 19 I knew we were moving. We hit Cal 1 in 27:20 and the Spring in 52 flat. After that, it was time for the 16 rollers on the way to Cal 2. Craig ran it perfectly and Meghan and I held on for the ride. By the end we had run a PR time of 1:11:45 from Foresthill to Cal 2. It felt great! Then, we hiked up to the car, cracked a few cold beers and headed back to the house.

I learned a lot with this workout. Aside from the fact that I learned Craig was in sub-18 hour shape I also learned that I could still withstand the volume and the pace necessary to get to the starting line ready and able to run sub-17. I have no idea whether I can do that and a leap of faith will be necessary but these last eight days have given me reason to give it a try. Considering the fact that I stayed on top of my food and fuel, had no foot issues, seasoned up my quads to withstand some pretty heinous pounding, and feel very good today, the day after, I think I may be in as good a shape as I have been since 2005. Sure, I am five years older but, what the hell, why not go for it.

You see, in the end, Western States is a very mysterious animal. Performing well in that race requires meticulous preparation, intimate course knowledge and a tremendous capacity for pain. In addition, however, it requires a willingness to surrender to what the day gives you. That paradoxical combination of control and surrender is what makes the Western States 100 so special.

We’re less than 8 weeks away, train on!