Monday, June 22, 2015

June 15-21

I suppose I should admit that I'm becoming a grumpy old man because the word that permeated my skull this week was "responsibility". I think there were a few punk rock songs back in the day that shunned the word and made it seem cool to live un-responsibly, but I was too young to grasp the futility of doing anything in life without some small amount of responsibility. It was a catch-22 of, "I'm going to buy this CD about how lame responsibility is by mowing lawns," and I would either not buy the CD because I wasn't responsible enough to follow through with the chore, or I would do it and buy the CD at which point I shouldn't be listening to the CD. The point being, you can't pick up on gimmicks of an easy life and have it all (unless you made your money off lotteries/trust funds/gambling addictions/reality tv/etc).

I think what I've enjoyed in the past week, is the sense of accomplishment coming back around to training well after a slow buildup of mileage through the spring. I've thought long and hard about what type of runner I want to be and all the mistakes I've made along the way, and the overwhelming apparent truth is that I just have to be responsible and take care of myself. If I start to strain a muscle or I am packing for a run, I have to actually take the time to think about the action and consider what else I've learned in my 28 years that might keep me moving towards my goal, rather than hopefully chaotically spinning hopefully towards it.

One big thing was been writing myself a schedule for a month at a time, and following it and thinking through workouts and rest periods on a monthly time frame. There's some adjustment here and there, but there's more re-enforcement that I'm continually engaging in practices that are responsible uses of my time. I might see some Strava CR or beautiful trail in bloom and think I should just go out tomorrow and run it hard, but I also have this sense of responsibility in creating a structure of training for my body to develop and perform at a higher level than just my day by day random training.

For me and all that has transpired thus far in my life, I feel a bit stronger as a runner by stating a goal and doing the empirically proven things for myself rather than being irresponsibly cool. Although it's probably a sign I'm getting old, I'm not going to get a dad-bod.

Monday: Tiny shakeout on the Scenic Mound

Tuesday: 5x10 min, 2 that went well, and 3 that seemed to irritate my ankle a little bit. Went to the Doctor to inspect for a Yucca barb in my ankle, but it turned out it was just a deep wound, and the scab was irritating the top/front part of my ankle. The tendon healed quickly once I learned this.. So I did a recovery run at night with Katie.

Wednesday: Easy 10 with Katie from Will Rodgers, keeping it low key all the way.

Thursday: 7x6min was pretty tough because running with the coyote run made me want to chase down runners I was running circles around. I probably wore myself out good for the weekend, but this would be the time to start pushing my comfort zone in my training cycle.

Friday: Last 25 of AC took awhile in the dark and overgrown trail with Katie. I also realized I hate having too much grip on rocky terrain when I'm sleepy, but lugs can always be chopped down. In general, it was good for Katie and I to have some healthy respect for the course we're be attempting to get Katie a sub-24 hour finish on. When I've ran fast 4:25-ish runs over the last 25, it's made me underestimate it too much.

Saturday: Got to bed at 2:45AM, and woke up at 8:00AM slowly packing for the run to Islip. Once we got underway, it was 10AM and above 80 degrees at 8,000 feet. It was eye opening how much water we went through and how exhausting it was to run uphill. We hiked a lot, and it was a rough first 25 of AC.


Sunday: Slept in and had brunch before we got going around noon (again, another hot day). We got stopped talking to a neighbor for a good 30 minutes (super cool old firefighter who has lived in Wrightwood for 39 years). We eventually got onto the mind-blowing 6x10min intervals up the Blue Ridge Trail/PCT, which was tough in the heat, but much more productive than the alternative of just jogging around easy for an hour. I was proud of Katie and I for finishing off the training block properly.

104 Miles, 20;45, 22,000ft

Hard earned miles in a busy week. The reality of this training style being sustainable and progressive is coming through. Next week is a step back week, but I will be doing quite a few miles Saturday night with the one and only Chivo Loco (Jorge Pacheco) at Western.


Monday, June 15, 2015

June 8 - 14

Injuries are a tough pill to swallow, especially since a lot of them are ultimately self-induced (albeit by accident). It's a complex emotion to know your poor judgement was the cause of your ailment, but sometimes acknowledging that your nature is wild and free is a small (minuscule) silver lining.



Friday night Katie and I went for a shakeout run up Strawberry Peak, which in itself is very scenic and idyllic. The trail from Red Box gradually winds around through two saddles before a single track follows the ridgeline to the peak. Once at the peak, we were treated to beautiful views of the heart of the San Gabriels. Perhaps it was the new proto's on my feet that felt awesome or maybe the freeing feeling of running on a Friday afternoon, but I elected that we inspect the western ridge of the peak, which lead to the north-western chute that was hazardous in almost every sense of the word. After four hours of crumbly rock climbing, getting lost, traversing poison oak, yuccas, and terricula, we emerged hobbling to our car in pitch black darkness.

We're generally responsible adults that pay our taxes, have health insurance, and work hard at our jobs, but on that night I was motivated by know-it-all-ism and proceeded to tear apart our bodies leaving us mostly worthless by Saturday morning. I was so mad with myself that I went crazy for a couple minutes in the middle of a patch of poison oak and added urushiol to the yucca barbs in my leg. We were lucky to salvage a workout on Sunday, but my ankle was not too happy on the downhill, so I'm headed to the Dr. tomorrow to see what can be done about the barbs.

 Monday:
Easy 2 miles, just shaking it out

Tuesday:
4x10min - I tried to run the Sullivan Ridge singletrack and found it exceptionally tough to run well. I know this is part of my development for UTMB, but running up a 30% grade on and off puts the hurt on me. It only lasted two intervals before I ran out of that wild terrain and started cranking it on the fire road. It was nice to finish up on Westridge where it was surprisingly easy to cruise downhill at 5min pace.

Wednesday:
Off, bad scheduling and extra sleep made me run out of time to run.

Thursday:
5x8 min on Los Leones - The legs didn't seem to appreciate the extra day off, as I found it hard to crank out too much speed on the groomed fireroad. Using the Wahoo HR monitor during the workout was interesting, I never expected it to be so hard to keep HR up above 155, but it seemed to want to dip below that if I didn't focus and hold my intensity and form. I think I've probably done too many years of Long Slow Distance.

Friday:
Said adventure/bad decision run on Strawberry Peak

Saturday:
Licking wounds and yard work.

Sunday:
5 1/3 x 10min - Uphill seemed okay on the warm-up, and downhill seemed not too painful to keep me off the mountain. Again, the lack of a significant recovery run made my body feel flat. My lungs worked overtime to keep a running stride on the intervals, which felt satisfying (even if the pace was slow).

54mi, 11 hours, 12,900ft +
I'm not especially happy with the week, but it's just the way it goes sometimes. I'm not a professional athlete, or even a professional person, but I take what I can get to in the training I can get. I'm glad I did all my workouts, but I'm hoping this minor setback lets me run hard in July.


Monday, June 8, 2015

June 1-7



Perhaps this is a boring idea to most, but it's exciting to me: my steady mileage increase feels really good. I've been patiently hanging out below 100 miles a week, and I've been rewarded with the feeling of responsiveness in my legs when I pick up the pace, and I have no nagging injuries headed into July. I'm on a date with maturity and it looks disgustingly cute when we're holding hands and I'm wearing a cardigan sweater, but I don't care when the other guys make fun of me because I get awesome rushes when I do workouts. Even more, I can see other guys in bad relationships with training that leaves them used and abused, and I don't get jealous.

I think a requirement for all ultrarunners to come of age in the digital age is to be able to look at another runner's Strava or social media post, and not feel the need to try to challenge or complain about their setup making it easier to out-train the field. The only way that posts about 5 hour runs or blazing CRs can be detrimental is if you don't believe in your training, and you feel like you're a step behind or you're not good enough. It's all self-detrimental bullshit to want to train more like another high mileage runner, because race results of lower mileage runners like Hal Koerner or Dave Mackey speak volumes of their maturity to wear cardigans and turn down offers for all nighters with loose legs. The only problem is that Hal and Dave aren't on Strava, they're just on ultrasignup with dozen's of podiums and wins.

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 4x10 min on the slight uphill in Sullivan Canyon. Guillaume and Ryan made it a bit more interesting as I ran well the first two in the bottom of the canyon, but suffered a bit on the second two intervals climbing out of the canyon. They were courteous enough to not destroy me after my painful weekend on Baldy, but I still felt like I didn't slow down too much as we leaned into the climb.
PM: Easy 3 miles to shake off the lactic acid.

Wednesday: Easy 9 miles with Katie, in which I defended our weekend plans to forgo sleep between driving back and forth between the San Gabriel and San Diego mountains. I advocated that it was better to be tired once or twice a week to keep the body aware of an impending sleepless night in August, and Katie did not.

Thursday: 6x6 min super early in the morning on Sullivan Ridge. Intervals are fun and all, but doing them with the sun coming up makes it extra invigorating. I called an audible and did a steep and short singletrack climb in the middle of the 5th interval that felt amazing. The run off the backside of it exposed a bit of quad pain from Tuesday, but it felt appropriately hard for training less miles and more quality.

Friday: Went up Mt. Wilson (13mi) at sunset with my z-poles. The whole idea of poles is tough because it's an admittance of shifting gears and mindset from racing to touring. I suppose the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc is an obvious ideal application for poles, so I'll have to get used to them, but it's awkward because nothing in LA is steep and smooth like UTMB (maybe some parts of Acorn). I didn't have much room or soft terrain to plant the sticks on up the Mt. Wilson trail, but I did get to see a beautiful sunset.



Saturday: Dropped Katie off at Chantry and drove to Loma Alta to do Steep and Cheap with the poles and into Idlehour to run the last 11+ with her for 19miles. Poles felt less awkward today, clouds at 3,500ft were beautiful as ever.

Sunday: Did 5x10 from near the top of Acorn over to Inspiration. It felt awesome after using the poles and pack for the past few days to hit some good splits in the most idyllic single track in the San Gabes for fast running. Definitely a good check in the box as far as form, cardio, and health are concerned. I haven't ran those miles that fast with that little pain in a long time. 13 miles.

Weekly Total: 84mi, 16 hours, 18,200ft. 



-A good week of running that felt indulgent without feeling abusive.

Monday, June 1, 2015

May 25-31

One of the most important things I've learned from ultrarunning is sustainability. The sport is far from a sport of tough guys slamming their muscles against the dirt (at least for me). Though there are a lot of people out there that come into the sport for 1-5 years and grind out finishes until they get nothing more out of the sport, there also are calculated, smart, talented, and sustainable runners that avoid unnecessary knuckle dragging. I've definitely made a change in the past couple years from the former to the later.

A perfect example was last weekend when I ran a PR through Cooper Canyon at conversational pace on tired legs. I ran well fueled, paid attention to my breathing, relaxed to a hike when necessary, and felt much less pain than I did on my previous PR. I could have started the segment with an aggressive push down highway 2, short of breathing all the way to the creek, and then struggled up the first climb, unable to pick my feet on the flat sections, finishing with a crawl to the top at Cloudburst. However natural that might have felt, it would've been unsustainable for the day, and I would've spent the next 18 miles cramping, tired, and heavy. Either way, I would finish, but each scenario would've been drastically different for a long term outlook.

What matters in the sport, is the sustainable pace on race day and in everyday training. I started doing 10 minute intervals this week and found them to be a great vehicle for teaching pacing (besides the obvious getting your body in great shape). Running fast for 10 minutes is hard: it's a long time, it's hard to gauge how much longer you can push hard, and it's a faster pace than a simple 30-45 minute time trial.  Even harder, running 3-6 times 10 minutes requires the duality of focusing on the task at hand during the interval and learning where your edge is as far as ruining the workout and finishing it poorly. A time trial is easy and singular in focus: go hard until you reach the top and deal with consequences tomorrow, but long intervals require sustainability to avoid the embarrassment of slowing down a ton on the last reps.

100 mile races aren't just won by the most gifted individuals, and now not even 50 mile races are won by youth alone. The sport demands sustainability in moments like the last 10% of a race when the calculated runner reels in leaders in dramatic fashion. It's not something that always happens in a contrasting fashion, but it is something that appears in heart rate data and segment data when a runner appears "to endure" but is really just pacing themselves better and sustaining a consistent pace with less pain. In the long run, the runners that practice this sustainability best, win more races, enjoy more miles, and become the best at riding their edge with less risk of blowup.

So, with that I'm glad to say that I feel like my training is sustainable right now. I don't feel the need for a rest week of minimal miles, I don't fear the race schedule, and I don't worry about how my fitness is progressing. This is uncharted territory for June.

Monday: 3 miles over the course of a photo shoot on Mt. Williamson

Tuesday: Easy 3 miles on Edison Road

Tuesday PM: Busy day left just a little time in the evening to do the first workout of the tempo phase. Ran 3x1mi just to get the rust off the legs from the weekend and feel out my edge.

Wednesday: Converstional pace up Temescal with PMR, enjoyable morning

Thursday PM: slept in an went for an evening tempo workout. 3x10 min up Sullivan ridge was successful, not too easy but no epic blow outs.

Friday PM: Ran up Mt. Wilson Toll road at sunset and met Katie at Eaton Saddle. No headlamp, no rush, just enjoyed the idyllic night over the city. Dreamed about hitting Sam Merrill at sunset... Someday.

Saturday: Went out with the intent of hiking strong on my long run, but forgot my poles. Everything went fine out to Baldy, but rolled the ankle on Devil's backbone twice. I pushed the 110v3 proto I've been running in to it's very limit (this is why proto's are done before releasing a shoe), and wore out the grip and fit. The next one due in soon should make rolled ankles less likely, but for the time being I had to stumble and hobble down to the Notch and nine and a half miles back over the technical backbone trails, bruising it a few more times in the process. 19.5 miles and 9,000 ft of gain in 5 hours wasn't so fun due to the heat and ankle, but in the end I was happy to be able to look at it as perfect UTMB training (although Baldy backbone trails are probably more technical).

Sunday: Slept in a bit and got out for another 3x10 min workout on the Blue Ridge trail. The Pine Pollen was visibly flying off the trees in big gusts and made the altitude and incline as challenging as it could be. I threw in another 2 minute rep at the end to see if I had some firepower in the legs, but alas the previous day's effort was legit.

Week Recap: 71 miles, 13:45, 20,700 ft.

It felt good to do some longer intervals and get back in the saddle for week 1 of tempo. I am optimistic.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 18-25

Though the 3 day weekend was a good time as ever to up the mileage for the summer training block, I opted to go long on only 2 of the 3 days to take the 3rd day as a rest day (photo shoot) and make sure I was ready for the next block on interval training I had scheduled myself. It seems like my intuition is to delay volume later and later each year so that I don't injure or burn out before my goal race. That said, the two long days on the AC course were good check-ups to see what is working and what needs work.

Tour of California, Stage 7 at Mt. Baldy


Hanging out at the cabin, I had a chance to catch up on the Tour of California replays, and developed some notes on cycling races in the mountains. It's really about figuring out the right time to push based on your abilities and the weaknesses of the field, interpreting breakaways as temporary or permanent, and the belief in one's abilities at a particular moment. 

The breakaway rider has to remember that if they put time on a chase pack, most of the time the differential will start to shrink (unless it's a short sprint at the end of the race). Failure will be imminent if the breakaway rider doesn't make a decisive break and stay out of sight of the chasers for as long as possible. Once caught, the chase pack has the confidence to pass and put you away said rider. Essentially, breakaways that get caught rarely pull away again and win races.

Similarly if the shoe is on the other foot and a rider observes a breakaway in process, then it is in their best interest to make it as hard as possible on them to loose visuals. The longer the breakaway rider has to redline, the more likely it is to make their pace setting a mistake. In 2013, this was essentially what I did against Ruperto. By the time we had redlined for 2 miles into Chantry, he was spent and couldn't hold on for the next duel down the toll road.

The bottom line is confidence matched with the the ability to decipher between discomfort and destructive pain is the key to maximize your chances of winning a duel. If you know the true total time you can spend redlining, have an acute awareness of your counterparts, and maintain the confidence that you can hang tough, then you can pick the best time and place to mount a breakaway or counter one. It won't be a surprise this year on Cal Street when a bearded man starts dropping 16 miles in the 5-7 minute range because it is his ideal terrain and the hardest time for a competitor to challenge him. 

Monday:
Easy and short recovery run with Katie to the north of Shortcut Saddle. 
2.3 mi, 600ft, :30

Tuesday:
Temescal conversational with Elan. I unfortunately slid into a rock shin first on Sunday's run over Pine Mountain and I felt it on the downhill starting to flare up. Luckily it wasn't bad enough to keep me from running uphill, but it was irritated on the long-ish downhill. 
10mi, 2000ft, 1:31

Wednesday:
Off to save the shin from any prolonged aggravation. 

Thursday:
I opted for an easy road run in my Fresh Foam Zante and found the shin to be agreeable enough to be mobile but not enough to be silent.
7.2mi, 200ft, :53

Friday:
Off, decided to give the shin one more day.


Cloud Layer hanging at 7,000 feet on Saturday
Saturday:
There must have been a dozen or more people running the first 30 miles of the AC course. I opted to sleep in a bit and get underway with Peter, Michael, Katie, and Dave with the intent of running section by section at a sustainable pace. Normally I'd like to really test the legs and see what they can handle, but I want to eventually run the race at a sustainable pace all the way to Altadena. I started off with a 1:40 due to a slow crawl up Acorn. I waited a bit and then ran the next segment to Vincent in a casually reassuring 38. Then I waited at Vincent for the rest of the crew for awhile and then finally decided to head up Baden-Powell at an easy pace. Perhaps it was too long of a break in the cold, or maybe I was a little dejected by the initial 1:40, but I ended up hiking the majority of the climb up BP. We stopped at the top and sent a key down to Katie with another runner before continuing on. I didn't feel good on the Dawson climb, and jogged in to Islip with a stop at Little Jimmy, so the time was nothing remotely close to race pace. The bop over to Eagle's Roost was casual as well. I basically found out that I need to keep working on my climbing at altitude to get where I want to be again, but at least I felt like I could run for many more miles all day.
31 miles, 8,400ft, 6:00


Dave and Peter heading off of Baden Powell

Sunday:
Dave and I shuttled cars while Katie started an hour early on the 30 miles between Eagle's Roost and Shortcut. We did a similar casual run, but at a bit more efficient pace then the day before. Usually I would talk and direct turns for the first part of the section, and run a bit faster on the last mile or two. My moving times of 1:27, :42, :58, :37, and :66 were easier than expected, and ideally what I would want to run and feel like in a race: controlled, conversation pace, and ready to suddenly move quickly whenever necessary.
30 miles, 4,900ft, 4:56 

Total: 80.9mi, 16,300ft, 13:55

Overall, a restful and productive week while maintaining a basic level of volume. The legs felt OK on Monday, and I capitalized on the rest to feel light and free this morning (Tuesday). This upcoming week is going to be long intervals that should knock me out cold initially, but hopefully lead to better times in late June and July on AC training runs. UTMB is still the goal, but I will continue to use occasionally use AC point to point runs a check up runs to measure my fitness, since it's been the ruler for the past few years.


Monday, May 18, 2015

May 11-17

Monday: Off, drove back late from Yosemite.

Tuesday: I ran conversational pace heading up Temescal with Elan and Pedro in an attempt to scope out the fitness and body after 3 weeks of intervals. I've had a bone to pick with Green Peak because I ran my time 32:28 route last June, and have felt inadequate every time I've run it since then and can't even break 35 minutes. It got really bad in January when I thought I was getting in shape for Sean O'Brien and I couldn't even break 36. Eventually later in February I got just under 35, but it was definitely a sign that things weren't working. I finally started doing intervals for this last cycle and was pleased that such a lax effort with Elan and Pedro resulted in a 38 minute segment. Not too pleased with rolling my ankle and irritating my peroneus at the start though..
10 mi, 2100ft, 1:24

Wednesday: I slept in and resolved to run Temescal at a tempo pace to see what might happen. The result: 33:32! Still a minute behind my PR, but finally out of my 35 funk. The strange thing was that compared to my PR, I lost time for the first 2 miles, and then held strong for the last 1.6 miles, not loosing any more time. I think this past VO2max period gave me a big boost as far as handling sustained stress, and the immediate hope for pure speed will take another cycle for more development through my tempo phase.
9mi, 2000ft, 1:17

Thursday: Easy run up and down Westridge.
7mi, 1100ft, :58

Friday: Ideally, I wanted to do a longer tempo run on Wilson, but I ran out of time and energy, so I kept it to 90 minutes. I was on the fence about doing a step-back week, but I decided to play it by ear. It was apparent on Friday afternoon that I didn't need any more tempo runs this week as I puffed up to Orchard Camp in 39 minutes. My peroneus started to act up again and the downhill wasn't so pretty. It might be the high collar on the second V3 proto, but that should get fixed in a week.
10 mi, 3,000ft, 1:26

Friday PM: Coaching Katie during her intervals (she hated them, so I know I did my job).
5.5 mi, 900ft, 1:02

PCT east of Three Points
Saturday: I regret to admit it, but I engaged in a bit of self-destructive behavior. Katie and I got up late and slowly made our way to Three Points to run 20 miles of the easier terrain on the AC course. We started just after lunch, and I was dizzy and lightheaded running back towards Cloudburst. I knew it was supposed to be an easy run, but I wanted to avoid drinking the 2 liters of water I was carrying and eating the 1000 calories I had to train my body to run on nothing. Needless to say, it was self-destructive and made the run much less beneficial than it should have been. I eventually started eating and getting my rhythm back, but I was surprised that I had gone into this self-destructive mindset when I had already accomplished so much in the past few weeks. I thought about it, and it felt like it was the most old-school, confusing, unnecessary concept; something from the 1992 movie "The Mighty Ducks" where Emilio Estevez can't get past his self-destructive habits and just use his damn talents to help kids win some hockey games. I have so many challenges and tasks to do on a daily basis, I literally had to ask myself "what the hell is this Self Destructive Bullshit?!". It's a larger concept that ultrarunners fall prey to, as we are out there to do a bit of damage to our bodies, but it's not the sole purpose. It might indicate that we've worked hard, but it's not a sign of progress or ability. I could drive down the freeway in 2nd gear redlining my engine, but it'd be retarded and a huge waste of time and money (and transmission). It's definitely something that will let me progress much more as a runner if I can get past it.
20 mi, 4,100ft, 3:57

Cooper Canyon

Sunday: I got up and stretched a good amount until the body felt back to normal, and I headed up Acorn to attempt a loop over Pine Mountain, and up Cabin Flat. It was a beautiful day in the clouds, but it made it hard to find my way down the ridge without line of sight navigation to my target saddle that I had ran to in January. Eventually I found my way through the briers and made it out alive (very alive). Chalk it up to specific training for UTMB.
14mi, 5,300ft, 4:04

The West Ride of Pine Mountain (at least part of it)

76 miles, 14:09, 18:700 ft in a week isn't huge, but it's good to have consistency. I do need to keep an eye on my peroneus and hip over the long weekend to keep a positive progression going. I'm not afraid to heal myself before I go after the next big training goals.

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 4-10

Two weeks in a row! Wow, this blogging thing is actually happening. I think it’s going to take some time to improve my transmission of thoughts to printed word in this non-professional format, but I’m sure it’ll eventually come to fruition week by week (hopefully along with my running).

This year my only race on the calendar as of today is UTMB. I’m not going to lie and say that was my plan all along: not to do Angeles Crest or Western and to just focus on UTMB, but the powers that be pushed me in this direction and I've come a long ways from “FOMO-itis” to being grateful for the time and space to develop my running structure and slowly transform my body to the level I want it to be. Without the rush of an impatiently fervent racing schedule, I can do proper periodization, schedule in rest weeks, take advantage of trips to run where my heart leads me, and study my week to week performance without rushing into the “I need to be running X miles this week!” self-destructive training behavior.

I do take UTMB training seriously and have the ambition to perform well, but the race doesn't illicit the same insecure response for suddenly running more mileage to remove the possibility of being under-trained for AC or WS. I look at UTMB as a low altitude Hardrock, which is a race that I learned a lot from in 2012. My line graph for training in 2012 went something like:
-December 2011: Getting in through the lottery and going nuts on the drive from SF to LA: Stoke level 100!
-January 2012: Getting super amped to train and hitting 90mi/30,000 ft of vertical (mostly running) weeks in January, stoke level: 90
-February 2012: Ripping my calf on an easy 8 mile run due to over-training, stoke level: 10
-March/April/May/June: Slowly getting back to training and gradually increasing stoke and strength, stoke: 30-80
-July: Suffering from the altitude, but having zero muscle/joint problems and finishing as 2nd sea level athlete (without an altitude tent). Stoke level: 100

Essentially, I understand what a 100 mile/33,000ft+ race entails, and I understand the proper tempering of stoke to keep the body efficient and not anxious in the mountains. I also understand that 20-34 hours for a hundred miles entails hiking and running strong without blowing up or abusing the body too sharply. Dramatic running is best saved for later in the race, and the “magic” of a good performance is having an efficient hiking cadence. This whole structured 100 mile concept is something that can leverage my outlook on a lot of other goals if I do it right in Chamonix.

May 4-May 10:
Monday: Waking up at 4:45 AM isn’t easy, but it’s even tougher when you spend the night tossing and turning with a fever, headache and cough. I haven’t been sick in quite some time, but running to Baldy with not enough water or sleep on Saturday definitely irritated my throat and exposed my body. At any rate, Monday morning sunrises in the high country are epic and make me so grateful to be able to squeeze 4 days of running a week out in the San Gabriels. I am a resident of the mountains and a visitor of the city. 4.5 mi/1,000ft/:60

Tuesday: Maybe I was sick, maybe I was tired, maybe I hate flat terrain, or maybe I just struggle to run in the evening, but the 10x90sec reps around the golf course were pretty pitiful. The body felt heavy and unresponsive, so my lungs at least got a workout and I felt better once I got home to have exorcised a few slow and fat demons. 8mi/230ft/:63

Wednesday: Wow, I’m tired. I’ve been lacking in the quality running department for a while, and the increased VO2Max work really challenges my energy levels. I eventually got out of bed and headed down the San Vicente median for 10k. Listening to the Toro y Moi album “What For” for the 100th time has really been thoroughly enjoyable. Most good musicians are some form of brilliant, but there’s something about the way Chaz arranges his layers to create songs that last for a long time, and don’t get stale. The song exploder breakdown of “Half Dome” is a great example. I noticed all those layers after listening to the track 100 times and get a little bit of boogie in my day each time I hear each riff. The feeling is something of efficient energy that I connect with in my UTMB aspirations.

Wednesday PM: Went out to run Sullivan Ridge with Katie, and got a little active recovery. Katie always stubbornly sets the pace on easy runs at easy (go figure), so it's good to run together and completely forget about the watch. 5.4mi/1000ft/:58

Thursday: 
Woke up and got focused on the workout: uphill 3x2min, 3x1.5mi, 3x1min, without too much of a hitch in my step. It wasn't pretty, but as the sun rose, I got more into the workout and as I focused on my breathing and stride, which appears to have come some ways in the past 18 days. It was fun doing them near Katie as we reviewed our efforts on the recovery, and it helped me see where my stride was lacking. Definitely not anywhere near my peak, but definitely out of the valley of injury. (Oh, and I also got a tick)

Friday: Nothing, traveling to Yosemite.



Saturday: Our Pacific Mountain Running brothers Peter Brennen and Andy Pearson were in Yosemite to attempt to run 100 miles through the parks best trails, so we decided to head up and join them for a few miles and heckle where it seemed fitting. The Thursday storm packed the punch of a decent February storm, and put down a posthole decree above 8,000 feet. Lucky for Katie and I, we only were doing the first 20 miles with them, and enjoyed the idyllic 2-5 inches of snow and warm bluebird day. Yosemite is a place that crams in so much emotion and detail in each mile, that your soul and mind can feel filled to the brim in just a few miles. Thus, the pace isn't usually the chief concern, but goofy CCC trail building still keeps effort high enough to leave you beat by sundown.
26mi/6200ft./6:45







Sunday: We slept in and packed the Volvo to the gills with Peter and Crista's glamping gear, and headed back to the valley. Katie was ready to go but I still had a few things to get jammed in my pack when at the last second, I heard the sarcastic voices of Peter and Andy. We had expected to see them around 3 PM, but they bailed on the full route and skipped the Buena Vista loop to keep it a humane 28 hour/72 miles jaunt. Postholing at 2AM for 3 hours isn't something I'm envious of. Katie and I hit Half Dome up to renew out love for each other and climbing big rocks, which just so happened to start almost 6 years ago in that very place. 
20mi/6000ft/6:00

Week total: 76.7 miles, 16,300 ft, 17:35

Not a lot of miles, but some long days over the weekend left a smile on my face as I transition into tempo work (aka the fun stuff)



Monday, May 4, 2015

April 27-May 3

I’m going to try to be more thoughtful about my running by keeping a regular weekly journal. I don’t think my current state of recording runs by “witty” Strava titles is good enough at helping me locate trends and daily thoughts that come into my mind. With the advent of social media, I (and many other runners) have learned a lot more about running in the mountains, so this blog is public in an attempt to share some ideas and open myself to criticism for the larger goal of moving faster and more efficiently in the mountains. So without further adieu…

April 27-May 3rd

Monday: Woke up early to get in a run before heading back to LA, did a short run up Mt. Williamson from Islip in some windy conditions. The sunrise from the trail packed in a lot of inspiration in 3.4 miles. 3.4 mi/1250ft/:40

Tuesday: It’s the 2nd week of VO2Max workouts, which is also the 2nd week of structured running post knee injury, which means it’s not pretty. I’m seeing progress with my knee by incorporating Active Isolated Stretching (AIS), but it’s tough to get a good stretch in my hamstrings without cheating. My legs have become so tight over years of trail running, that I’m constrained to a very small leg swing and can’t run fast without a fight. I don’t think it’s perfect, but it’s what’s working at taking pressure off my knee, which felt like it would’ve taken months to recover at the outset of pain during Gorge 100k. The 9x90 sec intervals with Katie weren’t too easy, and Katie was startlingly close to me. The 400/800m high school track star is not dead in her. 9 mi/1500ft/1:17

Wednesday: Was going to do an easy road run, but saw Guillaume at Bundy and San Vicente and decided to link up. I tried to keep up with him last Thursday heading up Westridge Drive, but he was charging and I was 4 days back into my training. Today we ran a good pace together and talked a lot about the usual Western/UTMB/AC race hypothesis. Knowing Guillaume, he might over-train for AC, but he’s going to be tough to keep up with early on in the race, which I’ve done successfully before. He’s very thorough in his planning, but ultrarunning is an ever-evolving science that keeps disproving ideals of all varieties. Regardless, I hope the Frenchman pulls off a Ram in August, and finds some personal truths and satisfaction. 10mi/1400ft/1:19

Thursday: I had planned this 5-4-3-2-1 minute interval workout in my schedule to be a fun, gradual VO2Max workout, but I woke up tired and late, and rushed the warm up through Sullivan Canyon. The first 5 min rep was barely faster than my warmup, the 4 min rep made me go to the bathroom, and the 3/2/1 reps were on the steeper exit of the canyon and made my legs complete mush. At the very least I got some ugly anaerobic running in, which felt terrible but was what my lungs needed. The cooldown with Andy and Peter was refreshing, until Andy opted for the singltrack on Sullivan Ridge. The idiot has a bruised knee and still opts for the gnar.. 9mi/1500ft/1:11

Friday: A big project at work was getting exciting, and I wasn’t getting any extra sleep, so when I put my shoes on at the Mt. Wilson trailhead, I didn’t have to remind myself to run easy. I slogged to Orchard Camp and sat down ready to fall asleep. Though the views up top would have been beautiful, I couldn’t dig another training hole this early in the schedule, so I turned around. 7mi/2400ft/1:17

Friday Night: Katie wanted to run, so on our way to Wrightwood, we stopped at Kratka Ridge (Aka Scenic Mount) and headed up the west face of Williamson. Katie was tired too, so we leisurely marched to the summit and took in the view before heading back. 3mi/1100/:47

Saturday: Though I only got a few hours of sleep, a good cup of Tom’s Coffee and a cinnamon roll had me on the trail at 8:30 to link up with Jorge at the top of Acorn. I’d wanted to get more climbing into my week for UTMB aspirations, and the North Backbone trail was in perfect condition. I however was not, and had some rough climbs to endure. We reached the summit of Baldy and talked with people in the bar-like scene of 50+ hikers and runners taking in the views. We glissaded back down towards Dawson and met Katie. One good .9mi/1300 ft climb deserves another and we turned around to head back up and join the summit party. I started to get dehydrated and my sore throat turned into a headache/fever/cough by Sunday morning, but for the day, it was a rewarding 15mi/7900ft/5:00 adventure.

Sunday: Though I was not convinced at all that I should get out of bed and do an interval workout, the sun in Wrightwood was strong and persuasive. I struggled up Acorn, and then did 10x2min on the way to Inspiration Point with Katie. It got more fun as the trail dove and picked up speed, and though Strava wasn’t convinced, I did in fact have a good workout. A 39 minute jog from Inspiration to Vincent Gap was a nice end to the weekend, showing decent mobility after Saturday’s adventure.

Total: 70 miles/20,181 ft./13:47 

I’ve been following all different type of ultra runners, and I think we’re definitely in a completely different era of competition and raw performance. I don’t think there’s much fear in Rob Krar’s mind of “going out too fast” or “burning his quads” or anything similar to the former years’ ideas.  His performance at the Canyons 100k this weekend shows this supreme confidence in his strength, durability, flexibility, diet, etc. etc. The sum of raw power he puts out is hugely inspiring. It’s a display of what humans are capable with a strong mind and capable body.. And I can see him running sub 2 hours down Cal Street in June, which is 25-30 minutes faster than what it took to win two years ago. #sick 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Post Gorge 100k Recap and Summer Philisophy

Well, that was a rough trip to Oregon. I mean, we were in the state for all of four hours before our rental car was broken into, and my knees were healthy and strong for less than 24 hours. I suppose I could have read up more on the thieves of Forest Park, and done some more appropriate training for the undulating and rocky terrain of the Gorge, but I didn't and I learned some valuable lessons.

Going into the race, fitness was approaching mild early season levels that made me confident I could run in the 10 hour range. I had cross trained, mended ankles and toes, hit some good workouts and long runs, and gotten enough rest. It wasn't my best lead up to a race, but it was what I thought was what I needed to be ready to push hard all day.



Race morning came with a 3 AM wake up call, and a 4 AM start time that felt more like 2 AM because despite the large group of energized and talented runners at the front of the pack, I felt tired. Eventually I got into a rhythm and started clicking off a few better miles in the pitch black dark, when my Petzl NAO started giving a warning flicker to let me know that the battery was dying. I had let my head tilt back slightly on the road section, and the lamp was on full blast for 2 miles, which apparently is not good for its battery life. I stumbled along praying for sunrise and made decent time for the first two and a half hours of darkness.

When sunrise came, I was relieved, but it was short lived as I suddenly saw the lead pack 1 switch back above me stopped in their tracks and standing around. We had come to a well flagged dead end, and no one was certain what to do. Yassine came up and thought we were on the right trail, but eventually after climbing and descending the same stretch of trail 3 times, we headed down and took a left at the last trail junction and figured out where the course vandals had tricked us. We re-marked the course and headed on, into the next aid.



I had been running with one water bottle and 3-4 gels for each 9 mile stretch on the course. Though lighter and more efficient than a pack, it wasn't a good call when the wheels started to rattle a bit heading into the turn around. I sat and switched shoes and chewed on a protein bar to get some calories down, and then took off back towards the start.

I didn't have to do much more than maintain a consistent effort, but the ratio of caffeinated to non-caffeinated gels was so high, that I started to bonk hard, regardless of how many gels I ate. The will to finish was still strong, and I tried to fight through the bonk to get to the next aid station ASAP. The feeling of muscles screaming for energy while moving slower and slower wrecked havoc on my legs. The quads felt heavy and my feet felt uncoordinated and slow. I started to get tendinitis in my right knee and hobbled into mile 40, hungry and broken.



I would've quit if I knew what was best for myself, but I was completely focused on finishing and knew if I could push myself out of three more aid stations, I could finish the race. So, after inhaling some corn dippers and ginger ale, I headed west and kept pushing my rapidly deteriorating body along.

Everything hurt on my right knee: the front, the back, and even my shin a bit. I felt like a car losing oil, and it got uglier every mile. The most troubling was at the top of the last climb where I had pushed too hard and couldn't even jog a hundred yards of carpet trail. The course is mostly rocks, roots, twists, and turns, but this was bonafide "take off your shoes" carpet trail... That I couldn't run.

Thus, my finishing time was quite a bit slower than what I had anticipated, but still a finish that left me with a silver lining.


I was banged up for a couple days after, and did little more than walk or sit, which did nothing to nip my problem in the bud (or butt if you keep reading). From my first person perspective, my tendinitis was not simply a matter of not having strong enough stability muscles, but rather a continuation of my glute problem that caused my quads to pull so hard on my knee, that they wore out the tendon.

I've had problems from driving after running causing a knot to form in my glute and keep my right hamstring extra tight. It first became apparent when I went to see my favorite PT, Michael Chamoun who proceeded to engage in some agress PNF on my hamstrings which completely knocked out the knee pain for an entire run.

In hindsight, I would say that my intervals and strength training leading up the race set me up with the power and strength to rip apart my patella tendon due to the fact that I was not getting any effective lengthening of my hamstring after training was causing it to shorten.

I went to Lake Sonoma and watched some great performances play out, and the game I played in my head as I watched was "which are the seasoned ultra runners like me with super tight hamstrings", which coincidentally were runners in the most pain and struggling the most in the last miles of the race. To run well on trails, runners naturally have to develop strong vertical and horizontal body control. This normally creates limited flexibility in the hamstrings over time as the body tries to protect itself. Abnormally, many runners spend several hours a day sitting in a chair that smushes the glutes and hamstrings and shrinks the hip abductors. The end result is not just a shortened stride, but also a high tension environment for the knee.

Over the years, I've relied on youth to complete long arduous races. Being a pure mountain ultra runner for so long has been an enjoyable indulgence, but it hasn't been sustainable in regards to being as competitive as I want to and being healthy. If there's nothing else that this post is about, it's about being healthy and avoiding injury in an world that eventually demands some muscular maintenance.

That said, I'm working on learning Active Isolated Stretching, doing my strength training, and thinking long and hard about my goals for the summer. I feel like I'm on the right track to recovery, but I'm not out of the woods yet (or back in them).




Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why People Run Ultra Marathons

 What's So Great About Ultra Running?



Though many frequenters of this rarely written blog may already be convinced that ultra running is a worthy and wonderful use of time, this entry isn't written for those already enamored souls. Rather, I'm writing to the confused and bewildered runner of reasonable distances, the non-runner, and the general social critic. If I expound on a particular aspect for too many lines, I can assure you (the non-ultra-enthralled readers) that I'm not trying to convert, brag, mentally subdue, or intensify your contempt for said activity, but rather give you a better perspective on why something so hard grabs more people each year and holds on to them for many long miles. So, without further adieu..

1) The Sport is More Competitive Than Ever
Yes, there still are numerous small ultras that have little competition, but there are more true "pinnacles of human achievement" in the big races. What I mean by this, is that in Western States, Hardrock, UTMB, North Face 50, and other top races; there are performances being run that won't be ridiculously trumped by new elite runners. The reason being is that these champions today are the perfect blend of good form, endurance, intelligence, talent, and courage. The saying at these races has gone from "they won because no one faster showed up" to "they won because they were the best".

These runners at the front of the biggest races have marathon PR's in the 2:15-2:40 range, which is plenty of speed for the task at hand. The reason why I make this claim, and the one above, is that ultra running's breath of challenges allows for more of these sub-professional marathon runners to excel in more ways than just sheer efficiency of stride.

The greatest ultra runner on the planet, Kilian Jornet isn't built for speed on the roads. His quads are massive, his stride is short, and he's most efficient in steep and technical terrain. Put him on the roads next to Ryan Hall, and he might actually take two steps for each one of Ryan Hall's giant 4:48/mi strides (I don't actually know that, I'm just speculating with a good amount of confidence). The point is, that the sport demands more than just a gifted stride. It demands long days training in the mountains, spot on nutrition, courage to weather storms of the physical and mental variety, technical footwork, big lungs, strong quads, copious amounts of endurance, route finding, a deep well of competitive aspiration, and patience to deal with all the pain, injuries, setbacks and moments of being utterly lost.

The competitive aspect also plays to the fact that there are way more 2nd tier marathon runners that are good candidates for the sport. If someone can run a 2:30 marathon, they can potentially win Western States but they can't even get in the elite wave at Chicago. If you're tuning in to watch Chicago, you're only going to see really 5 people with a shot of winning in a race of 40,000+ people, because those are the 5 people born with the right pedigree. There are hundreds of runners trying to work to a level of sub 2:10, doing the same 100+ mile weeks, mile repeats, etc. etc. but only a handful even have a chance. Meanwhile, those hundreds of runners can grab a water bottle, do the hard training, study a few ultra articles, show up at a 50 mile race, and pull off a win.

What this means is that winning an ultra isn't like getting a gold star in 2nd grade. It's like studying for years and publishing a PHD thesis on running. Think of it as a physical statement about everything you know about pushing your body for long periods in harsh conditions among competitive people, and this is essentially what a 100 mile race is. That competition makes the typical training and planning cycle for big races, so much more involved, challenging, and rewarding. It's a real community with meaningful races, and far more than just the town weirdos hiking around the woods (but sometimes it is that too).

2) Competition Isn't the Most Important Thing in the Sport

Somehow, the majority of ultra runners get up everyday and run for the sheer joy of being outside and getting their endorphin fix. Pam Smith won Western States in 2013 and noted that she never was motivated to win, just to run the race as hard as she possibly could. Most champions, mid packers, and back of the packers share this sentiment (without any type of conspiracy to deceive the general public). Beating someone isn't enough of a motivation to be out running for hours and hours, but trying to run a tough course as fast as you can is a sustainable motivation.

If winning was everything, the best runners in the sport would make the most money and be the most famous. However, winning is far from a simple barbaric "I conquered the course and everyone on it" idea, and it's not the most impressive story in a race. In other words, stories mean more than numbers to ultra runners. The best stories are the end result of a indulgence of the mind, body, and soul. The runners that find and share that indulgence most eloquently, directly, and effectively, invigorate a powerful emotion in anyone who's had a momentary taste of that special flow. Those runners are the most exciting and interesting regardless of whether they win the race or not.

Ultrarunning centers itself on the golden feeling of being intensely happy. If you're an elite runner hammering out the last miles of a race to hold onto a win, you feel the exact same feeling as the last runner in the race who is running as hard as possible to finish below the race cutoffs. Competition serves as a vehicle to get to the happy place, a reason to push yourself to a limit that means something, but not a definition of who you are.

These ideas are why the sport is so culturally rich. Hanging out at a race may entail some neurotic behavior from runners, but most of the time you'll hear the classic "I'm feeling good!" roll off runners tongues because that's what they're there for. So, though there's more competition than ever, the vast majority of runners haven't stopped running for the pure euphoria of indulgent flow.

3) The Sport's Top Runners are Constantly Humanized

It's tough to get any top runner to seriously say something cocky and confident. You might hear "yeah I want to win" but more of the conversation sounds like "I'm going to listen to my body" or "I just have to focus on my race" and hear more of a conservative tactical plan. Perhaps this lack of pure, brazen bravado doesn't sell very well to the masses, but it's indicativce of how hard it is to really develop an serious ego in the sport.

The fact is that comfort is denied for long periods of time which makes any sort of entitled ego very hard to maintain. Additionally, a winning streak in the top races is really, really hard to sustain. The feeling of soreness all over, a noticeable limp, and sheer exhaustion make even a post victory celebration a humbling experience if stairs or confined spaces are involved.

Thus, a winner or a last place finisher aren't so different when it all comes down to it. Both understand the limits of their body, and both have been humbled by the course. Any ego in between races is nervousness and insecurity about the upcoming challenge more than confidence about a runner's ability. Genuine ego about being "the greatest ever" or "unstoppable" just isn't real.



4) People Care About Each Other

Most races require 2-20 people supporting every runner in the actual race. At a smaller race, it might only take a couple people along the way to get a runner to the finish, but at bigger races, there's literally an army of volunteers, crews, and pacers, spread out with a common mission of getting everyone to the finish the race as best as they can. The volunteers usually aren't conscripts on the course for ulterior motives, but rather genuine race fans out to have a good time.

It's a special feeling to be apart of something so crazy and audacious when you stop and think about it. You're helping a person, with a thoroughly hard goal, sustain themselves all day and all night long. If you are at an aid station, you are apart of tons of inspiring stories of memorable days in strangers' and friends' lives.

On the course, runners appreciate the camaraderie of the experience, and form strong bonds during and after the race. For some runners, the race can sometimes be too difficult to spare any breath to talk, so the post race experience is effectively a roaring reunion. Runners may not see each other for months or years at a time, but once they get back together, it's tough to tell that they live in different states or countries because the common bond of the sport is so strong.

5) It's Fun

This is the toughest to explain, but probably the biggest attraction to the sport. Any other dignified and eloquent explanation of why we run besides "to have fun" is just an attempt to split hairs about different ways and means of fun. The truth is, running up a steep hill really produces a lot of endorphins, and seeing how fast you can do it is interesting and intriguing because no run is ever the same as another. The rush of a good downhill isn't always guaranteed, but it's often so memorable and enjoyable, that you're drawn back to the same trail hundreds of times to get back to that distinct experience.



I still remember racing as hard as I could with Ruperto at mile 71 in the 2013 Angeles Crest 100 mile. It isn't likely that the same moment will ever happen again, but it's something I look forward to in future races because it was such an amazing adrenaline rush. It's hard to explain why something so painful and nerve-racking is so fun, but I think it's something so unique, that you can't find it anywhere else in life.

6) The Trail is Addictive and the Appetite for Life Increases

If you go out of your way to get on the trail and cut your teeth in the steep terrain that burns calves and destroys quads, trip over thousands of rocks that buckle ankles, and weather all the storms and burning heat, then your motivation and ideals start to change permanently. Not everyone gets hooked, but a lot of runners that come in and feel that pure flow loose motivation for any other flow. If there was anything more alluring, then the sport would shrink, but for the time being, it's something special.

When something is really addictive, it's something that changes behavior drastically. If the motive is for flow in the sport, and the sport resembles life so much, then it also commonly translates to flow in life. Personally, as I've grown up in the sport I've changed and matured in response to the demands and rewards of the sport. I've become a better planer, a more attentive boyfriend, a detail oriented engineer, a harder worker, a more patient human, a more passionate runner, and a resident of the mountains.


Maybe this blog might sound like more of the same illogical, pointless ultra jargon (and it probably is), but it isn't any less truthful from the objective position that I attempt to stand in.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Post SOB 100k

The best intentions don't matter much in ultra running, and a course doesn't have any sympathy for a human body. About 2 weeks before the race I had stubbed my toe so badly, that I couldn't run on it for a couple days. Then when I started running again, I stubbed it again, and then again. I rushed through a bit more training focusing on climbing,   hoping it would quiet down for the race.

On race morning, I went out a little conservative, holding a judicious pace up the long climb to Corral. I felt good, and took off down the Backbone trail reeling in Guillaume and Seth. Things seemed to be going alright, but as I hit technical patches of trail, my toe winced and caused me to run on the sides of my feet. So, when I hit a fateful piece of rutted out sandstone before Encinal Road, I rolled it damn good, a good 160 degree sprain.


Photo by Billy Yang

To put it in perspective, being a forefoot runner and trying to avoid you big toe is like being a pianist and not using your index finger. You can get by, but you're dramatically held back. So, one might say that this toe injury was the root cause of my ankle sprain today.. But, a quality audit would proceed with the 5-Why statement and then ask, why did I stub my toe?

On the day it happened, I was tired and flustered, and trying to fake a good 20 mile run. Asking why again, I'd have to come out and say that I wasn't focusing enough on my running, and asking why again, I'd say I was taking it for granted. I was achieving fitness last spring that seemed to be indicative of advancement to the best fitness of my life. The kind of abilities that I was proving real talent and prowess to myself.

However, training is like a race, and no one gets points or trophies for being the first to the top of a climb (okay, there are KOM purses, but they're dumb, so stop doing that RD's). So, if I had the endurance to run all day after running 5 hundred mile weeks, then where was the strength training to make my knees tougher, the speed work to make me for efficient in the flats, the rolling and stretching to avoid injuries. Instead, I kept my head down and kept running more endurance miles to the point that my adrenals stopped caring (they were literally like "meh" for the first 50 miles of the biggest race of my life).

I think once I over-trained, I lost momentum and stop trying to innovate and figure out ways to keep going fast. To be perfectly honest, becoming a better runner through running a lot of miles is like painting a picture with just a ton of paint. Yeah, you can paint a picture, but it's going to turn brown. I think initially it's part of the most obvious equation that makes new ultra runners good from the outset. After that, the miles take their toll and they cause a uphill stride to be a little softer, turnover a little slower, and a downhill to be a little more cautious.

For me at 28 years old, 7 years in the sport, 40+ ultras, 50,000+ miles on my legs, I'm not exactly ready to retire and accept injuries. Sure, it makes sense why stuff happens when I'm tired or not focused, but it's not enough to convince me that I won't set much more PR's.

With that, I'm going to bed, getting up, cross training, working on a training plan, and moving on. Motivated.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pre-Sean O'Brien 100k

Tomorrow is the first race in several months, and it's been very productive to step away from racing for a bit.

I found myself exhausted after this summer, and it seemed like I couldn't get my body to maintain energy levels to train, or mental confidence to believe in my running. If I lived somewhere with an early or particularly brutal winter, it might have gone by faster, but instead I took a month off, and then ran here and there in the beautiful Southern California fall without getting that good runner's high for weeks at a time.

Luckily for my racing aspirations, I found a bit of rhythm in the middle of December, and then took a few days easy during Christmas to begin to capitalize on some new energy and confidence. The lead up to tomorrow's race hasn't been overly extensive, but it's been sufficient to get me to the starting line with some confidence in a few key workouts that got faster each week.

Whatever happens tomorrow, be it great or mediocre, it's all apart of building a more sound and balanced 2015 that lets me reach my true potential in the summer. My humbled goal is a year without any loss of momentum towards a strong performance at UTMB.


Oh yeah, it snows in Southern California.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Value of Rest and Feel

After a generous amount of good running from December 2013 to August 2014, the body finally demanded a long, hard rest.

The thought of how badly I needed a rest really hit home when I was listening to Nick Nudell (head race medic) at the AC race briefing describe the effect of running on kidneys. He explained that we were guaranteed to have some amount of blood in our urine after jarring our kidneys for 50+ miles of mountainous trails. My mind quickly wandered to all those miles I'd done in just the last few months; the strongest thought was the feeling of going out for a 25 mile run on a Sunday night to notch another 100 mile week. I can feel the distinct ache of every step contrasted with the intense relief of finishing at the car. The craving for the bucket seat of my car like was as strong as an exhausted swimmer reaching for the wall.

On several occasions, I had run in Santa Monica Mountains one morning, and again in the Sierra Nevada's 10-24 hours later. The traveling, work, and non-stop running eventually wore out my body and my will to wake up and seek out my flow. Having spent the last 3 months running little to no miles, I really have started to get why things didn't go as well at Western States and Angeles Crest.


Spent, 2014 AC100 Finish, Photo by Alli Castillo Potrekus

I believe it was some time in the middle of May when I hit a tipping point in training: I was drawn more to the post race hotel room, than the race itself. This was a big problem because I had two very easy step back weeks, and I felt guilty about them. So, illogically (but logically at the time) I ran 120 miles for my peak week, and then another 100 mile week. It was like I was a home owner upside down on a mortgage, but too far into the investment to throw it away. It's something that dominated my mind and sent me into the a very critical view of ultrarunning for months.

To be perfectly honest, there were a good 40 miles at Western States and Angeles Crest that I hated running. I was thinking like those people that spend so much time on couches, that they start to look like couches. Those people that ridicule runners for ruining their knees, wrecking their bodies, and accusing the sport of being some barbaric war of attrition for idiots. I would be lying if I wasn't dreaming of hanging up my shoes for good at the bottom of Volcano Canyon and Winter Creek.


Rob Krar, Leadville, Photo from Denver Post

Rob Krar taking three hundred mile wins this summer is a powerful contrast. He was confident and in control of his training, and when he had to summon great efforts on Cal Street, Sugar Loaf, and Steamboat at 3am, he had the energy and strength to do so decidedly. It wasn't like he got lucky or winged anything, he did his homework working on his weaknesses, doing his equalizers, running hard workouts, resting when he needed it, and hammering it home when the moment of truth came.

Running by feel is something that is a bit of an overused and under appreciated term among top runners. Feel means something when you've been to your limits and injured yourself. The little physical and mental hints come across loud and clear like a traffic signal. If you've experienced all the bad moments and realize that they don't always have to be backed up by technical numbers like HR and training mileage (mine were both low in May), then you're experienced enough and talented enough to run by feel.

It's a beautiful thing to be able to breathe and hear your soul speak to your mind, but it's not something a coach can get many runners to do. I think this is the reason over training is so strongly discouraged by coaches that don't want to burn out athletes: there's not always a good way to pick up on the warning signs under the layers of runner insecurities (which are some of the thickest insecurities known to mankind). When a runner writes "Easy run" in their log after a run at 6:50 pace, they're throwing insecurities up to explain that they're capable of going faster, but they're not, and it was "easy" even though their real easy pace is 9+ min/mi. So, one can understand how a coach can get frustrated with athletes that want to always project an ease of everything they do in training, and potentially ignore obvious warning signs. Over training might as well be the devil, and something to constantly scorn upon.

That said, I'm glad all this happened this year, and I got more in touch with my body. It took a few months to get back to it, but this Sunday as I climbed to the top of the Acorn trail in a mediocre 49 minutes from town, I felt really good and happy to be gasping for breath. The joy of getting a rush from hammering a climb was so invigorating that I'm going to go do it again tomorrow. And so, with that.. I'm back in training for 2015 because the stoke to get out and fly over the dirt feels 100 times better than the thought of a lazy day on a couch.



Enjoy this Vacationer Mix, it's a good one for workouts:

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 Angeles Crest 100 Recap


“I’m a lover and a fighter
A worker and a writer
I am a dreamer, woken up by fits of rage”
 
- The Show Ponies “Choppin’ Wood”
 
Relief in Altadena, Photo provided by Rony Sanchez
 
When I think about the Angeles Crest 100, there’s this inevitable emotional trail that my mind starts to wander down. I have confidence that my body is capable of a great performance, but I also have the stress of repeatedly losing control of the situation by being too focused on chasing (relatively) high speed splits on each section. Essentially, I love the potential that’s laid out for a great performance each time I line up to race it, but I hate the way it consumes me and takes me away from thoughtful and cognizant decisions.
 
So when I found myself galloping along the PCT above Wrightwood and throwing up my breakfast from sheer joy and excitement to be in the moment, I had to stop and curse the damn course for rattling me loose so early at mile 6. I wasn’t hungry, and there really wasn’t a pressing need to be attached to my breakfast, so I wasn’t too torn up about it. Chris Price caught up and we ran with Jorge who was equally concerned about maintaining a consistent pace and not getting caught up in the excitement of early splits.

The strange thing about AC is that though your body might warn you about your true effort levels being higher than your perceived effort levels, the trail encourages you on and distracts you from hearing its warning signs. The regurgitation was a warning to focus on my stomach first, yet it would take until mile 47 to remember to do exactly what worked last year.

With Pringles at Inspiration Point, Photo by Sally McRae
 
So, I ran along at a good pace with Chris, cruising along the PCT to Inspiration Point to make sure I hit the unnecessary 1:33 to mile 9.3. I didn’t feel hungry because we were running well, but I made sure to get 2 gels down after inspiration point on the way to Vincent Gap (mi13.7).

Vincent Gap, Photo by Jack Rosenfeld
I’d had a good run up Baden-Powell three weeks before, but that was when I was fresh and fed. However this time, it was 7:11AM, I’d slept poorly, ate 2 gels, ran 13.7 miles, and started to second guess myself. So, I ran very slowly (with a couple hiking breaks) up the lazy switchbacks to the top. A few folks passed me, and I felt dumb, but I started taking in more calories and resetting my body. The penalty was a few minutes at the top, but I was ready to reel in the leaders.
 
It’s important to enjoy as much of the course as you can, and I had no problem enjoying myself on the scenic and fast terrain down to Islip (mi26). I was 8 minutes behind my goal CR splits, but I was focused on being present and continuing on strong.
With Matt, Monica, and Matt at Islip, photo by Kyle Robinson


My crew was caught off guard as I called audibles to change plans, but I got out with what I needed to reel in the leaders (Chris, Jorge, Guillaume, and Michele) a little closer over Mt. Williamson. It was humid and warm, but I enjoyed myself again on the descent and came in to Eagle’s Roost (mi30) in the driver’s seat of my race.

Rapid Cooling, Photo by Hillary Coe
Everything I needed was already laid out and I quickly swapped shoes into my 1400’s for the flatter terrain ahead. I chugged down my protein drink and felt heavy with my pack, ice bandana, and full bladder, but it was necessary to catch up to the lead pack on the climb. Sure enough, I couldn’t see anyone on the downhill, but on the climb out of Cooper Canyon, I caught Chris and Michele near the bathroom and then Guillaume and Jorge a minute later on the PCT climb around to the north rim of the canyon.

Flowing with the Course, photo by Kara Clark
I almost threw up again, but I held my composure and mixed in walking and running to reach Cloudburst (mi37) in first, now 30 minutes behind my goal race. My splits were slower than last year and my thoughts drifted from CR to a low 18 hour finish.

Running out of Cooper, Photo by Hillary Coe
Cloudburst Aid, Photo by Anibal Corsi
 
My crew sprang into action again, and I felt a boost from their energy and the crowd cheering for me. This time I didn’t drink much protein drink, opting instead for a quicker pace over to Three Points. Last year, I had trouble with breathing in the Purple Poodle, and in my pre-race visualizations, I had planned on wearing a dust mask to save myself from the hypoxic-asthmatic-allergic –race robbing-experience of last year. The weather was cooler, and the scent wasn’t thick in the air, but I still slid the mask on each time I ran past a patch of the nasty stuff.


Into Three Points, Photo by Peter McKinney
 
All this focus on Poodle made me forget about how hard I was in fact running, and how far I had come. In hindsight, the obvious action item wasn’t to rush out of the aid station with caffeine and sugar, but rather a little bit of protein mix that would keep me smoothly converting carbohydrates in my stomach like I had from Eagle’s Roost to Three Points (mi42). A mere 10 minutes of gentle running to let the Recovery drink do its work was worth a good 90 minutes. Yet, there I was focusing on trying to race like I was finishing a 50k.
 
Eventually I got to the middle of the section and started to bonk repeatedly. I would take down a gel, and then feel hungry in 5 minutes. I was out of luck because all I had left was a PB&J bar that was much thicker and tougher on my stomach than the recovery drink. I went to the bathroom, ate it, walked, and gingerly ran up the climb to Mt. Hilyer (mi49).
 
I realized I needed my protein stat, and took in 3 cups of broth with ice along with a Ginger Ale. Foolishly, I threw in a salt and the overly salty mixture came back out on the trail after 50 yards. I knew puking usually gave me a 30 minute adrenaline window to run before bonking again, so I took it and made my way down to Chilao. The tiny bump in the trail by Horse Flats had me walking, and I knew I was running dangerously low on fuel again.

Into Chilao, Photo by Hillary Coe
 
At Chilao (mi52), I expected to get caught by Guillaume or Chris. Instead, I saw Chris in casual clothes (his heart was racing too fast, so he had dropped) and Guillaume was nowhere to be seen (still 10 minutes behind). I revised my race strategy to favor the recovery drink, and it started to help me build back more energy as I left Chilao and started running more miles with my pacer, Peter.
 
As good as it was to share some miles with a friend, I couldn’t deny the overall exhaustion in my body as we grinded up to Shortcut Saddle (mi59). Unlike last year when I was moving slow because I couldn’t breathe, this year I was moving slow because my body was really tired and sore. I remember the distinct thought “wow, this feels a lot worse than mile 59.. this feels like 89.” I had tried to blend recovery and taper from Western States and maintain some sort of endurance from my training during the spring, but the ache in my right knee, the weakness in my quads, and the exhaustion kept my turnover flat and slow.


Approaching Shortcut Saddle with Peter Photo by Hillary Coe
 
I focused my crew on getting my recovery drink ready for the 15 miles to Chantry, but they had a hard time keeping track of all my requests. We got passed at the end of the aid station by an exuberant Guillaume as I waited for my bottles to get filled up. Finally we were off, and I worked to reel in Guillaume and share a kindred mile with him talking about the race thus far.
 
Guillaume was psyched and I was happy for him. I openly admitted that I couldn’t take any more risks to try to win the race, but I motivated to get to the finish ASAP where I could sit down freely and partake in luxuries like solid food and not running. Guillaume pulled away, and I started to drop Peter (who was running 15 more miles than he originally signed up for). I ran alone for a few moments until Ruperto ran flying by with his pacer pushing him on. The windy and open fire road exposed the scene unfolding below me: both Ruperto and Guillaume were speeding up, but Ruperto was slowly reeling in Guillaume. The recovery drink started to do it’s job and I got back up to speed. I reeled Guillaume back in and I cheered him on to keep eating to stay within striking distance of Ruperto. Unfortunately, I would later learn that he had more issues (like me) besides just eating enough.
 

Team Unicorn Presents: Adventures at AC100 from peter_in_la on Vimeo.

I hiked and ran up the perfectly graded fire road to Newcomb Saddle. I normally loved this area of the course because it was shaded and led to the first views of the city, but today I just wanted to get through it. I arrived at mi 68 just 3 minutes after Ruperto had left, but I was adamant about keeping my intake of recovery drink going. The descent into Santa Anita Canyon was lonely but I kept moving (except for a bathroom break).

Chantry. Photo by Alex Suchey
At Chantry (mi 75) I was now 7 minutes behind Ruperto, but all I could think about was doing whatever it took to finish (eat, drink, pace myself). Leaving with Matt, I listened to his stories and tried to keep my mind off the pain in my knees and exhaustion throughout my body. After running casually quick over the last 25 all year, I was at the polar opposite: labored and slow. The climb up Winter Creek was painfully slow (something that I should acknowledge is normal for everyone at AC), and it felt awful compared to last year when I ran strong and hard to keep Ruperto at bay.

I gave myself a couple minutes at the bench, and Guillaume came marching by with Christophe. I encouraged him on, and labored up the last few switchbacks to the Toll Road. “Just one last drawn out climb left, I can do this” I optimistically said to Matt. Instead, the downhill beat my body down, and I rolled downhill like a stubborn rock that has just enough momentum to slowly continue.
 
Hearing I was 33 Minutes behind Ruperto sounded awful, but I was more excited about the fact that I only had two aid stations to go at Idlehour (mi82). We refueled in the softly falling rain, and made our way into the canyon. It’s intense darkness reminded me of the first time I ran AC in 2010: OVERWHELMING. There’s something to be said for the layout of the course adding a distinctly tough emotional aspect. It’s more than just physically challenging when you’re vulnerable and tired and have to to head uphill and into the darkness instead of downhill and toward the light.
 
Matt and I talked about great ultra runners, and how somehow they found ways to keep everything together. It motivated me to try and get myself pulled back together, so I kept gulping my protein drink and slurping down gels as I trudged slowly through the canyon. We finally ran the last half mile out of the canyon in 4th place behind Guillaume and Michele who had passed me in the bottom of the canyon. Guillaume was in the Sam Merrill aid station (mi89) getting ready to leave when I arrived. He said his quad was done and he was going to have to walk to the finish, but he still hobbled out of the aid ahead of me determined to do his very best.
 
I refueled and had a rough time getting into gear leaving the aid station. We finally started running and pulled my body down the Sam Merrill trail. I was like a wheel barrow: mobile on my left leg, stiff on my right leg, and running with an awkward transition from left to right as we moved downhill. We finally caught up to Guillaume just before the Lake Avenue Junction with 8 miles to go. Later I would find out that the last 8 miles would take Guillaume a full 2 hours longer than me due to his rapidly deteriorating quad.
 
Matt and I saw lights chasing us, and the muscle memory from running the Sunset Trail so many times finally paid off as I got into gear pushing away from the chasing lights of 4th place Randy Vander Tuig. We took a full minute in Millard (mi96) to get down some broth and soda for the last 4.5 miles to Loma Alta.
 
Randy was still within striking distance, and his presence kept me excited enough to run the Arroyo well enough to minimize the pain. The relief of finally leaving the single track behind and hitting pavement was the sweetest feeling of my night. I ran the last 25 a full 80 minutes slower than last year (70 minutes slower than Ruperto), but I was proud of my resolve to pull my haggard body to the finish line, and earn a proper blood and guts AC100 finish.

20:41 Photo by Alli Castillo Potrekus
 It was in imperfect day, but I was grateful for my crews support and the entire field giving their best effort. Ruperto won the race on his 8th try, and it was awesome to see his efforts over the years come to fruition. All the work that the race family put it was apparent. The energy level at the race was strong and positive, which is the way it should be for a course of its caliber.

The RD's, Photo by Rene Auguilar
Epilogue:
To run as fast as possible at WS and AC takes a bit more dialed in training and also a bit of acceptance of the limited success. Five weeks seems like enough time on paper, but it really felt like this frustrating gap of not enough recovery and too much time to let endurance lapse from pre-WS training. For me, the way I ran and fought to finish strong at WS severely limited the amount of risks I could take and get away with at AC. Simply put, there’s only so much 100 mile magic you can pull out in a few months. If I had accepted my bad day at States more complacently and came in rested, I would have had more in me to fight for another win.
 
One thought that stuck with me in the humbling late night hours in Idlehour, was how I hadn’t had a break from running since December of 2012. I’m taking that break right now and re-evaluating everything about how my summer went, and what I want to do for the next 12 months. I think I’ve identified a genuine risk of overtraining, and a distinct need for more climbing power to help me race smoother through ultras.
 
Avoiding coming over trained is a popular talking point in ultra running, and the specific reason is that the body is going to be asked to absorb a tremendous amount of shock and stress. Any weakness, small injury, lattice tear line, etc. is exacerbated somewhere between mile 30 and 100. Essentially, it’s very much like a car crash: though you might want to hold on tight and fight it, all you really can do is absorb it efficiently. You have to take punches and keep moving. So, in English: I have to be more patient when I get to rough points in training. I can’t ignore speedwork and hill intervals, and I can’t let myself overindulge in long slow runs or neurotic mileage goals when my body is exhausted.
 
As I’m taking this month-ish off from running, I’m realizing that all this was not in vain. All my various adrenal/respiratory/muscular-tory/etc. systems absorbed a lot this year. I think going forward it allows me to worry less about my endurance abilities and focus more on my speed. It might seem like one could argue my bloody end at AC was indicative of a need for more mileage. Honestly, I wish I had done less mileage and avoided allowing for any nagging injuries a chance to come back. This is the big motivation behind taking time off right now: close up as many injuries as possible and give me a blank canvas to start training on in mid-September rather than an inadequate one week recovery.
 
I’m thankful for this experience. It’s actually really positive to be in that vulnerable state for so many miles and to be humbled again to motivate sincere training each year. As well as things went last year, I didn’t admit to really any mistakes. This year, I have a much longer confession..

At Bishop, running too much. Photo by Geoff Cordner
 
Our sport is cyclical: when you start competing, there’s a bit of beginners luck afforded to rookies: an ability to go into reserves, to make mistakes and keep moving. After a few years, there’s a bit more experience in utilizing different tactics to squeeze more fast miles out of the body, but that also comes with the ability to take it to deeper places of exhaustion and injury. The cycle comes full circle with veterans learning when to push and when to rest.
 
Just about everyone in the sport is after finding their limits, which means that this unfortunate low point in the cycle is unavoidable. It might be public or it might be secretive, but everyone goes through an “oh shit” moment when they realize they’ve done too much. It can be constructive with a cathartic realization, or it can be indicative of a destructive addiction with nature, adrenaline, physique, or socializing.
 
I couldn’t say no to a trip to New Hampshire two weeks after AC to run the Presidential Traverse, and sure enough my knees felt awful in the technical terrain. It was positive though because it reinforced my plans to take a solid month off from training. I know exactly what it felt like to run fast and long in early April, how frustratingly exhausted I was in May, the anger I felt with my body not responding at States, and the disappointment in running AC slower than last year. There is ample fuel for the proper fire.

"Enjoy when you can, endure when you must"