Archive for Training

Boulder, CO – Magnolia Road

I woke up for my first full day in Colorado in the running/cycling/hippie town of Boulder. It is residence to ultra greats Scott Jurek and Anton Krupicka. Both of whom will be in Leadville at the weekend; Scott is pacing and Anton toeing the line going for his third W.

I knew where I wanted to do my 10 mile run months before I got here; the famous Magnolia Road which is mentioned several times in the book ‘Running with the Buffaloes’. 12 miles west of our hotel, elevation 5,600ft is the start of Magnolia Road off the main canyon road. Starting at 8,000ft, it quickly climbs to 8,800ft with crazy switchbacks and insane views of Boulder below.

This is the start of the road climbing 800 feet really quickly. I did not run this today unlike the Buffaloes.

This has become a staple training run for many Olympians, worldclass marathoners and the University of Colorado Buffaloes XC team that has produced some great athletes from Adam and Kara Goucher to the Torres twin due to its ideal altitude level.

Slight inclines made it a bit tougher with breathing

If I wasn’t a week away from Leadville, trust me when I say I would have started at 8,000ft. This was not the time to be a hero so I got my personal chauffeur aka Dad to keep driving to drive me to the top where the asphalt turns to dirt path road. We both really enjoyed the drive with some breathtaking views even if it was 7am. I went to do a blood test before I started only to realize it was still in the hotel room! Rookie mistake. Plan B. I was 270 at 6am and did a 1 unit basal adjustment to try and bring me down to 180. I had to assume that was correct so jumped out the car and did a 50/50 split of iced water and Powerade (about 20g of carbs) and was carrying back up gels as usual. I said to Dad see you in an hour and a half predicting an easy 9/min pace. What I didn’t allow for was taking lots of photos with my brand new camera though!

My view after half a mile. Camera pit-stop.

Off I went and soon found open land with nothing but pine trees, a solitary ranch and huge mountains in the background. Click. click. click. The pace just dropped to 10/min miles! Welcome to Colorado, the place is breathtaking.

Talking of such, I then climbed up a few hundred feet and for the first time I felt a slight difference in oxygen, the mountain thin air. A few heavier than normal breaths for mile 2  and I hit my next picture postcard view. Magnolia Road is great because of ideal altitude for athletes to train but also these views!

Another runner on the open road

I got 5 miles out and really wanted to keep on going. I was buzzing with the excitement I knew better, plus my parents would be waiting for me back at the drop off point. I turned and saw a herd of skinny XC guys coming towards me at a nifty 7/min pace. The standard respectful wave took place and I knew instantly I had just seen a pack of University Buffaloes runners. Go Buffs!..apparently. Pretty cool.

I ran back east now watching the sunrise over a different set of mountains. More stops for photos! The old folks would have to wait a few extra minutes for me, sorry!i felt my blood glucose dip the very last mile. I didn’t want to take a honey stinger gel so I decided to wait until I got back to my parents with blood tester and hidden Powerade in the woods. As I had roughly predicted, my level was 70. I took the drink of about 15g carbs in 2 seconds and we hit the road back to Boulder for a big breakfast at Snooze that I highly recommend. My level was back to 150 before I stuffed my face!

Two big errors with the run; don’t leave your blood tester behind and don’t wait to take in more carbs as soon as you start to feel symptoms of a hypo. No errors choosing to run on Magnolia Road.

The road is so cool, they gave it a big sign!

 

 

LT100 Training – 12 hrs Running with the Devil

With just 4 weeks to go until Leadville Trail 100, my phase #2 training plan called for the second 50 mile effort. Without getting on a plane to head west to Colorado, Utah or Wyoming, the most local race with hills was in Vernon, New Jersey. ‘Running with the Devil’ is in fact not a 50 mile race but a 12-hour timed race up and down mountain ski slopes on a 5K loop. See how far you can run in the alloted time. Last year’s winning time was 50.1 miles so I set my goal as just that.

Elevation changes of the 5K loop are extreme allowing little time for “normal” running

To 99% of the world, this seems like well…Running with the Devil. The 1100 foot ascent in 1.5 miles followed by the same elevation drop right back to the start made me fully aware this race was going to be as much mental as physical with the easiness to quit coming every 5K. This was perfect. It would be the longest time running for me no matter the distance covered by almost three hours (Bear Mountain 50 Miler; 9:13).

“Running is simple as it requires just a pair of shoes”….unless you’re running with the devil!

Friday night was spent packing endless food and diabetes supplies, spare shoes, spare socks, spare everything. I had hardly calmed down enough for bed when the alarm woke me at 3 am. I picked up Rui Guimaraes, my running brother and soon to be awesome Leadville pacer. He was tackling the 6-hour version. Nothing wrong with that, this race is hardcore and he is still dipping his feet in the ultra/trail running scene.  We headed through the Vanilla Sky like streets of Manhattan and out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey.

We arrived at Mountain Creek Ski Lodge in plenty of time ready for the 6 am start. After my very early breakfast (bagel and bananas) my blood glucose sat at 160; all good. The goal was to keep it there for the next 12 hours. Race director,  Rick McNulty, sported an appropriate polka dot jersey and gave us the lay of the land. A 5k loop started and ended at the lodge. Towards the end of the race, when time was running out, we could tack on a short 0.5 mile loop but as soon as the clock read 12:00:01 the loop would not count, the race was over.

Mountain Creek, Vernon, NJ

We had 30 nervous but excited starters. I saw a tall guy sporting the Team Type 1 kit so introduced myself. He was Ryan Jones. He had heard of me through the team and we are both doing Leadville. Unfortunately for me he was not doing more than six hours and that also meant our conversation was cut short when we started ascending the first hill. He was running it and it was steep! I let him go, I just knew that kind of output for me was unsustainable for 12 hours.

The start of 1100ft gain!

After this climbing stretch, we turned sharp left through some woods but we were now descending. I was convinced these mountain goats ahead of me were going the wrong way but they were right and we did get a mini downhill recovery. That soon ended when we started climbing in an open field by the ski lift. This hill was long and ridiculously steep. Both of my achilles were in agony and I had to stop at the top to stretch. We hit our second runnable section which was rolling terrain on a rocky trail? Was this the top? I prayed hard. The devil just laughed.

The trail ended and I saw an even longer climb. This was head down, big stride stuff. No running, looking up or talking here. This was really tough and I was just starting.

The last descent; the yellow dot is me!!

It had taken me 35 minutes to climb 1.5 miles. How was I going to hit my goal of 50 miles at that pace I asked myself. Run down hard! Sections of the downhill where steeper than the way up so I had some leaning back to do which meant braking to not lose control. It also meant a lot of quadriceps work. I arrived back at the start in 45 minutes giving Rui the really comforting news that it was really tough! I sat in a chair at the lodge and did my first ‘during exercise’ blood test; a low of 62. This was a surprise. I had taken half of my breakfast bolus at 4am and been 160 only 3 miles ago. I had no time to ponder how now, I had to load up on sugar fast and carry on. Two honey stinger gels went in the system and I carried on. This wasn’t a time to re-test in 15 minutes. I would do so in 45 minutes after loop 2.

Besides, I was fully loaded with gels in case I ran into trouble while away from my supplies. I also had my handheld water bottle full of Gatorade. Now I knew the course, I started to break it down into managable doses of pain; the climbs consisted of three power hiking sections with two runnable trail sections and the descent was just that, just get back in one piece.  My pace remained the same on loop 2; a 35 minute climb, 10 minute descent and 5 minute break for blood testing, food intake and general recovery.

Loop 4 in the books (12.4 miles) and the sun was now out to play.

Now my blood glucose was 82. Only just OK. More gels and some energy chews were digested and off I went. At loop 3 I appreciated the first two more, the sun was now rising. At loop 4 I now found myself suddenly surrounded by another hundred plus runners in the 6-hour and 3-hour events. It was tough to know where I placed in my race, more so now. I guessed top 10. My real focus though was keeping an honest pace of 45 minutes per loop and getting my blood glucose back to near 160. I didn’t want to get sucked into a pace of a guy doing 3 or 6 hours.

I achieved both my steady pace and glucose control for the next few hours. I was on track to run 50 miles; 16 big loops and 1 short loop. At 1pm I changed my shoes and socks. As I entered the rock trail near the summit I wondered how the new trail shoes would do on this section. THUD. Down I went hitting my shin hard on a not so blunt rock. I guess I got my answer! Two women who I had just passed, said they heard the wounded animal and made sure I was OK. After five minutes of hobbling and really thinking I had just ended my 12 hour race at 7 hours I joked to them that as it (my leg) had not fallen off, it was time to carry on.

This was unsurprisingly my slowest loop and also resulted in my highest blood glucose; 188, due to not burning as much carbs as predicted for the loop.  I was now behind schedule. As well as my shin, my whole body was also now beginning to ache more and more with the heavy cement legs on the uphills and pick axes attacking my quads on the downhills.

At 3pm I found Rui sitting down amongst many other 6-hour finishers. I asked how it went as I only saw him once in his race. He won it!!! Only his second ever ultra race and he tore it up with over 28 miles. Whether he knew it or not, this gave me renewed energy. I returned after yet another loop and he told me I was in fourth place. It didn’t mean much as I had no idea how far ahead the top 3 were. All I knew was, it meant a handful who were ahead of me had dropped out at some point. I slumped into my chair at the lodge and did my routine; towel, blood test, can of coke and handful of fruit (it was all my stomach could handle at this point). I tried to imply to Rui I felt bad he was waiting for me to finish hoping he would say he was really bored and we should call it a day. Typical pacer just looked at me and said he was fine and I should keep going! I had two hours left and was really wasn’t feeling it. Finally I got up and went for “one” more loop.

It took a while, almost an hour. I was now walking sections I had run and even sat at the top of the ski lift to drink water. That was a mistake. I almost lay down and was going to have a little nap! That nap could have lasted the rest of the race time.

I returned to base and Rui informed me I was now top 3. Then he kicked my ass and told me the 4th place guy was coming after me! Why? Please just leave me alone! Their was no question of what I had to do. One more big loop to keep 3rd, my 15th loop. I could do that in one hour surely? And surely, I did. It was one of my fastest of the day; 46.5 miles in the bag. I came back to base with 11:40 on the clock. I thought I was catching 2nd place and wanted to round up to 47 miles so I just grabbed some iced water and carried on. The short loop was a steep climb up and a steep climb down. The devil was everywhere!

Now I was definitely done. I sat on a bench by the finish. Rui said well done, 3rd was secured. Then, Rick, the race director started chanting “One more, one more, one more”. Was he sicker than me?! I said no way. He did it again. Rick doesn’t know me but he certainly pressed the right buttons. I made sure to tell him how much I hated him and got up!  As painful as it was, I did it and finished with 47.5 miles in 11 hours 58 minutes. I missed 2nd by three minutes Jason Friedman – last year’s winner) and first by one mile (Tony Carino). Final blood glucose; 112.

My biggest achievement though was not stopping until it was physically impossible to do any more mileage. That was what I ultimately took away from this experience. “Whenever, I had a decision to make to quit or carry on, I ultimately chose the harder of the two” Rui enforced. He was right and this is exactly how I need to function in Leadville. Thank you Rui, thank you Rick. You guys pushed me all the way.

The big W for Rui (now relaxing!) I had 3 hours to go – mental toughness time!

 

Leadville Training – Phase #1 Final Day

I mentioned in my last post that my key training consists of back-to-back workouts. Since getting Leadville training in full swing since February, I decided to divide the 6-1/2 months build up into two phases. Both phases have a 50 mile race incorporated into the plan. Phase one peaked with one such race I had my eye on for a while. I’ll talk phase 2 another time.

On May 5th, I took part in The North Face Endurance Challenge Gore-Tex 50 Mile race at Bear Mountain, NY. A grueling test, exactly the sort of stuff I go after!

Elevation chart for the big bad Bear!

It was my first time back to Bear, a year since I had jumped into ultra running with a memorable 50K (even if I did break my toe). This time around I was going after the biggest challenge possible; 50 miles. It was much the same course as the 50K, just another 19 miles to make sure you were really beat up and deserving of the medal.

I woke up at 3am with a glucose of 231. I ate my bagel, cereal bar and banana on the drive up north from NYC, ironically 50 miles. I lowered my insulin intake for this meal to 75% which helped keep my reading high pre-race. It was 264, 20 minutes before the gun. Technically greater than 180 is perceived as hyperglycemia but with 50 miles of upcoming exercise this would not be an issue.

The 5am start required a mandatory headlamp. I picked up a Black Diamond Storm from REI (think Toys R Us for outdoor adult junkies), the only weatherproof one without breaking the bank or weighing a ton. This headlamp shopping was all new for me learning about lumens and battery life, weight, to wear or not wear a hat as well. This preparation was ideal as the Leadville 100 will require me looking like a miner not once but twice come August.

The 4am start at Leadville with 600+ headlamps

Bear is as technical a course as I have experienced. When you have to use your hands as well as your feet, you know why they label it the Endurance Challenge. I went to The North Face pre-race panel discussion on Friday night to listen to Dean Karnazes, Leigh Schmitt and Tracy Garneau; all three world class ultra runners and dead nice people too. I picked Leigh’s brain afterwards. The best advice he gave me was to walk the uphills, it was going to be a long day and it would pay off.

A common sight of rocks along the course

Although this was not a huge ultra trick, I definitely focused on this more because it was fresh in my head. Other runners would pass me up the hills, breathing heavy only to see me again at the summit when I began my running again and passed them by. I also used the advice of Scott Jurek about hydrating and refueling on the downhills as the body can digest far easier while descending. This scenario played out countless times over twenty miles from mile 5 through halfway. I regained about 30 spots going from 50th to the top 20 with discipline. I continued to run steady for the next twenty miles getting random cramps throughout both legs. I gobbled down saltstick capsules to fight this off praying it wouldn’t cause full on cramping as happened at JFK50 last November.

I was now trotting along keeping my blood sugar in a good place (well I didn’t have any hypo or hyper symptoms anyway). I was consuming about 80 grams of carbohydrates per hour from a mix of gels, chews and Gatorade and also sipping the H20 from my backpack every mile. Just before the toughest climb of the day (Timp Pass at mile 45) I noticed a pacer bringing up the lead woman fast behind me. I was about to lose a place and get “chicked” as Dusty Olson (Scott Jurek’s pacer) likes to say in the process!

My fear however did not really come from her sex. Ultra women are hardcore. I was more bummed about falling out of the top 20. I ascended and descended Timp Pass at a really aggressive pace. As hard as that climb is, the descent is equally tough to stay upright. Any mistake here on the big loose rocks and I was going down hard and collecting some trail tattoos.

@mile 49. Keep on truckin

I came out unscathed and reached the last aid station where a lot of the 50K and marathon runners were taking some stock for the last 3 miles. I had no time for such luxuries, anyway I had my backpack on which still had enough gel and chews stored away to get me another 30 miles if necessary. I ran straight through in all business mode clipping off 8:30’s that felt like sub-6’s.

After all my fears of being kicked out of the top 20, I never did get caught and came in 19th anyway. I had a one spot cushion I never knew about! Over 9 hours on my feet. The longest run of my life by over 2 hours and the best thing about it all was that I felt pretty good! I later found out the woman closing in was a previous Western States 100 champ. My post-race glucose was 147 at 3pm. That was great but I also knew to get a good meal inside me before that kept going south. I happily did just that.

Post-meal, I got the chance to catch up with Leigh Schmitt again and thank him for his advice. He came in 2nd place and seemed remarkably fine about it. A real class act and down to earth guy. He really extended his advice to me by exchanging numbers and putting me in touch with his friend, Hal Koerner (a double Western States 100 champion).

Leigh Schmitt of The North Face and an eager beaver with lots more questions for him post-race

How can you not love this sport when you get to run the same course and then hang out, get advice and share stories with the top guys? How many amateur golfers get to mingle with Tiger Woods after 18 or small talk with Roger Federer in the Tennis Pavilion? Although the Leigh’s and Scott’s are out of sight during the race, the egos of the best ultra runners are just not their and for that, everyone wins.

The North Face really know how to host a trail party

How do you train for 100 miles?

My brain is the orange circle

The question is frequent, my answer is not what is expected. Back-to-back workouts. These are defined as two long distance efforts on consecutive days, the latter one done with muscle fatigue. This type of training simulates (to a small extent) the tiredness of an ultra event be it 50 miles or longer. People expect a crazier answer such as running 80 miles or 90 miles. The fact is that anymore than 50 miles is viewed by most as too much. A 100 miles on foot is conquered 5 inches between your ears rather than physically (I’ll get back to you on that post-Leadville to confirm or deny this).
When it comes to 100 mile training, there is no easy way, no secret short cuts. You cannot go into this half-hearted or without a true passion and love for running. You will simply not make it. Some runner’s brains work like the graph (left). I believe my brain is always repeating the orange circle “go workout”.

The plan. Note the weekend back-to-back focus.

To be stronger, I need to run, a lot. My plan is devised by Bryon Powell (a top Leadville finisher) from his book ‘Relentless Forward Progress‘.  My maximum weekly mileage is 85. I’ve read other athlete’s blogs that state 100, 150, even 200! Like the 99% of ultra runners, I do have a job to pay the bills and just don’t want to go up to the 100 weekly mileage (not yet at least).  I fully believe in ‘training smarter is better than training harder’.

This is why back-to-back workouts are key for me. Just like training for a marathon, the one workout you should never miss is the long run, I cannot afford to miss my back-to-backs for 100 mile training.

I use my weekends to crank out these two workouts. While most people, look forward to a friday night out, I’m busy researching new trails to explore and getting my clothes and gels ready. My weekend mileage is anywhere between 30-50 miles.

A bear at Bear Mountain.

On June 23, I decided to do my biggest back-to-back yet. I boarded the 7:50am train out of Grand Central heading to Manitou train station just north of Bear Mountain. I had researched a point to point route along the famous Appalachian Trail totaling 26 miles ending at Tuxedo train station. It would be a true mountain trail test with technical ascents and descents.

I had a great time, even flying solo. I saw bears (OK they were in the zoo, but still), wild deer and other animals all day long plus of course magnificent views along the famous single track trail. From the top of Bear, you can see the Manhattan skyline about 60 miles south.

Safety never takes a holiday; map, blood tester, Road ID bracelet.

Let me be the first to say, trail running alone is not recommended. Not only did I get lost to add-on 3 miles but I also ran out of water before I hit the main road back to civilization. My sugar supplies were never an issue (my backpack can feed a Halloween party) but dehydration in the middle of nowhere would have been no joke. As promised, a huge thank you to hikers Alan and Chu for topping up my water bottle. Alan was lugging a 5 liter bottle in his backpack and happy to share with an independent explorer like me.

Due to the terrain and stopping to take more photos than I planned, my 29 miles took 7-1/2 hours. It also felt like a 40 mile road run due to the extra output required to go up and down mountain trails all day. My glucose control started perfect at 169 and ended perfect at 145. I was fighting a few early on-set hypo’s throughout the run though, most likely due to the heat.

A view from the AT

I finished at 4:30pm at train station #2. It was hot and i was spent. I refueled with whatever my body could handle. That happened to be not much; a pop ice to cool down, some chips and a cereal bar along with lots more water on board. Onto the bus i got (the train got cancelled!), took a quick nap and I was back in my manic city. I was now on a tight schedule for round 2; pacing duties for my good friend Keila on her NYC 100 mile race put on by running legend Phil McCarthy. I was to pace the last 18 miles from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn into Times Square.

Home for a shower, change of lycra and a recharge of my Garmin and back out. I grabbed two slices of pizza and headed south via the subway. Dinner time had never been so public!  I met my friends at the beach and waited for Keila to arrive with pacer Beck. I had heard she was doing awesome all day via text updates. It was better than anyone had expected, first place by the time Mike, Alisa and myself all jumped in to pace her at mile 83 at 10pm. My sugar was 219 at this point. I had been chomping on some local fruit waiting for her at Brighton Beach and had under calculated the carbs slightly. I took my handheld 20oz bottle of Gatorade, poured half away and added water due to my blood sugar. Let’s roll.

At mile 90, we stopped for a change of shoes and a general refuel. 2nd place Michael Samuels came through and kept on going. At mile 97, I had to stop in desperate need of some sugar. I had miscalculated how much glucose I would need for the last ten miles; I was running mile 45 of my day so it was getting tricky to keep the levels in the right zone (150-200). At 2am in NYC this was not going to be a problem though. I grabbed a Coke from the nearest street vendor and within a few minutes felt better.  I laughed at myself for getting dropped by Keila who had been running for 97 miles.

I picked up the pace as I didn’t want to miss the big finish. I saw second place ahead but this time it wasn’t her. My eyes lit up just as they had done a few weeks earlier in my own race when I saw the top 3 in sight. I ran as fast as I could to catch up with the once again first place speedster. The last mile up Broadway into Times Square was a fantastic experience. Keila sprinted into the bright lights of Times Square and won the race which had a lot of impressive local ultra runners in it.

Team 160Keila! Everyone had run and crewed all over 4 of the 5 boroughs for 21 hours. We will give Keila the most credit though ; )

Far less important, I had logged another back-to-back (it could be argued it was a double as well due to no sleep in between) but 46 training miles over 16 hours into the early hours of Sunday counts. Roll on next weekend if you are anything like this one. Congratulations to the champ 160Keila.

 

 

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