Sunday, November 15, 2015

Low-mileage ultra theory

In 2011 and 2012, I made running a priority. Now it’s not. That’s ok. It’s a conscious decision. I’m doing some other things now that matter more to me than ultra-running.

But I love running. And I miss the competitive landscape. I’ve been running since I was 11. I hit my athletic peak at age 14, when I ran a 5:09 mile and 2:18 half mile. I was decent in high school and then a non-factor in college. I lost the competitive drive in my 20s. I ballooned to 220 pounds and thought I’d never be a real runner again.

But even then, I ran. Not far or fast. Only ten miles a week, maybe. But I ran.

And in 2008, when a high school running buddy bet me that he would run the Leadville 100, I said I’d do the same.

Four years later, I ran and finished the thing. 

That summer, I quit my law job and lived in the mountains, camping in the open air and playing in the mountains. It was great. But that’s not my life now.

My life’s totally different today. Instead of having no work, I have my own law firm with employees and lots of clients. On the side, I’m a co-founder of two startups in the process of raising capital and trying to get traction in the market. The demands on my time don’t stop. It’s ok. I like it. But it’s hardly conducive to running ultras.

Or is it?

I’m a fan of this guy. And I’m always trying to figure out ways to cut the fat. I always wonder if there’s a way to get what I want in less time – to get more efficient. I like to look at processes through the lens of the Pareto principle, which says that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In sales, 80% of revenue might come from 20% of your clients. In playing guitar, 80% of the ability could be acquired in 20% the time. Or so the theory goes.

Does this apply to ultra-running? Or, asked differently, what’s the minimum amount of running you could do to be a decent ultra-runner?

I’ve seen lots of sites dedicated to people who do low-mileage ultras. And I know it’s possible to finish an ultra, even a 100, on low mileage. But I don’t want to just finish. I want to be reasonably competitive.

I’m not so foolish as to believe that I can maximize my ultra-running capacity by running only 4-8 hours a week. But could I be decent? Could I be big-buckle fast (or the non-Leadville equivalent) on an average of 5 hours a week? Could I finish in the top 20% of the field, on a minimal training regiment?

I don’t know. But I’m half inclined to find out.

So here is my plan:

(All times in minutes)

For a minimum of 12 weeks

Week 1

Tuesday – 60 w/ 30 minutes on treadmill, max incline
Wednesday – 30 (80 if you have time)
Friday – 180-300
Sunday – 80

Week 2

Tuesday 60 – high intensity
Wednesday – 30 (80 if you have time)
Friday – 80
Sunday – 80 w/ threshold run


There’s one additional component: Six weeks and four weeks before the race, run back-to-back 180-300-minute days.

That’s it.

This plan requires eleven long runs, plus thirty or so runs of 80 minutes or more.
I think how you allocate time in running is more important than the total running time allocated. One 80-minute run would be worth 10 30-minute runs. One 180-minute run worth five 80-minute runs. Or so my theory goes.

Plus, from the busy-person perspective, fewer runs means less time getting ready for and cleaned up after runs.

I think I could be decent with this much training. Still, the question might be moot. Because with me, there’s a secondary question in whether I can even set aside this much time.

Is it enough?

To be continued…

Friday, February 13, 2015

Weed as a Performance Enhancer = BS

This article has been making the rounds because of its provocative postulating about whether marijuana is a performance enhancer in ultras. I am not a doctor. I am not a pothead. I am not a competitive ultrarunner. But I can say this with complete confidence: The idea that marijuana is a performance enhancer is total horeshit.

Jenn Shelton was quoted in the article saying, "the person who is going to win an ultra is someone who can manage their pain, not puke and stay calm," said veteran runner Jenn Shelton. "Pot does all three of those things."

Hmmm. Ok. While all that sounds plausible, what Ms. Shelton leaves out is that marijuana totally messes with your endocrine system. Dry mouth, inconsistent heart rate, irregular appetite, and, more than anything else, an overall sluggishness and lack of motivation. Do that while ultrarunning, and you're toast. And never mind the fact that marijuana doesn't exactly improve your coordination. Do it at Leadville and you'll be tripping every fourth step around the lake and on the Colorado Trail. Do it at Hardrock and you're likely to end up floating downstream in the San Juans.

Could you have a pot brownie at mile 93 and finish ok? Sure. Just like you could have a beer at mile 93 and finish just fine. Do it at mile 7 and you won't finish or won't finish anywhere near your potential, at a bare minimum.

How confident am I am about this fact? I'll bet anyone - anyone - $1000 they can't finish top five at Leadville this year while high the whole time. I'll be there and I'll be watching the leaders. If you can eat a pot brownie at the start, mile 25, the turnaround,  and mile 75, and still finish top five, I'll give you a $1000. It ain't gonna happen. The idea that you can be high at four in the morning and then go trade blows with Aish, Sharman, Krar, Zeke & Co. for 100 miles is an insult to the dedication and intensity of those athletes. And I don't think anyone who is a serious threat would even consider the challenge, because anyone capable of finishing top five knows how important having all your faculties in tune is to having a good race.

The only runner who is quoted as saying he's done it uses it exclusively as a "post-race, post-run remedy." To that point, in very limited quantities, that sounds plausible. But note how even he talks about levels. In the same way that if you take too much Advil and you could put yourself at serious risk, the same would apply to marijuana as a pain-reliever. Except that in large quantities it would just throw off your motivation and recovery, because your endocrine system would be overly taxed.

Could you consume small amounts post-run and still remain reasonably competitive? Sure. Just like you could have a few beers after every run and it would only have a marginal impact on performance. But to the extent that it's a pain reliever, I don't think its benefits would outweigh its drawbacks. And it could only be used as a pain reliever successfully in very modest quantities, at which point, I don't think it moves the needle. Either way, serious ultrarunners won't be consuming weed to improve their performance any time soon. The rigors of competing at the highest levels simply don't allow it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Old, Fat, & Slow

I ran a 5k for the first time in nearly 20 years this morning, at the Polar Bear 5k in Wash Park. It's been about 2 1/2 years since I've run a race of any distance, and that one was a little longer. So I wasn't sure what to expect.

Well, it was kinda fun. Went out the first half mile in second place, behind one guy who went way off the front. He ended up winning in 16:30-something. Then, a pack of four dudes and one chick passed me before we got to mile 1. At first I thought they were gone, but then I kinda hung on off the back of the pack, and by mile 2, I was able to catch the chick. About a quarter of a mile later, I passed three more dudes with something that resembled a surge. I made half an effort to catch the guy who was in second, but by this time, my lungs were burning something fierce.

Turned the last corner, saw low-18s on the clock, and then did my best attempt at a sprint. It wasn't good enough, as I was out-kicked at the line by some punk 19-year-old kid. (Not really. He was actually very nice.)

Anyhow, 18:31. 4th overall. Good times.

Have the goal of getting down into low-17s and maybe high 16s by year end. Seems kinda ambitious, but I know a guy who knows a thing about speed, and he's already crushing it as a coach (one of his athletes got 2nd at the half-marathon championships in Houston today). He thinks I can do it in three months, no problem. I'm not sure he knows what it's like to be a normal person.

Might do another race or two in the next month. Getting married mid-February, so probably gonna take a month off then. Looking to get back at it full-on come March.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Planting Seeds

I sure do suck at updating this blog. And, well, the main reason for that is that I haven’t done anything worth writing about running-wise.

This summer was a bit of an unusual one for me. From May 22nd to July 7th, I rented out my house in the Wash Park area and went traveling around Europe. As may be obvious from my name, my family is Irish. The primary excuse for the trip was going to go to two family weddings in Ireland. There was one wedding on my Dad’s side in late May and another on June 30th on my Mom’s side. So I figured, what the heck? I’ll go to both. In between I made side trips to Scotland and Spain. Needless to say, it was a blast. But it was a bit spotty on the running front.

The lone exception to that was the Scottish Island called the Isle of Skye.  Holy crap was that a fantastic spot for trail running. I did about eight hours of trail running there in three days and didn’t begin to scratch the surface. If you ever get a chance to go to Scotland and you’re a trail runner, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My fiancee showing off just one of the many views on Isle of Skye
I'm about the world's least attentive photographer, but if I weren't, I could post another 77,000 fantabulous pictures. On google images, check out Nesit Point, Fairy Pools, Quiraing, the Cuillins, and the rest of the Isle of Skye, if you're curious. Perhaps the coolest trail running locale I've ever been.

Anyhow, I came back. And that's nice, too. Long story short, I’ve been pretty consistent about trail running since I’ve been back. I’ve gone on 6 runs in the last eight weeks on mountain trails that have been 2:30 or longer. That doesn’t make me Tony Krupicka circa 2007, but it’s a nice start for me. I’m starting to feel some strength get back in my legs. I have a tendency to injure myself when I ramp up mileage, but suffice it to say that I’m building a wee base.

For what?

I have a few things in mind.
  1. I’d like to do the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim this October/November. I’ve never done it. My fiancee’s never even seen it. So we were thinking of taking the dogs down to Arizona and giving it a go before the federal government declares ultrarunners illegal down there. If that sounds like anyone’s idea of fun, let me know. We’re thinking of Halloween weekend.
  2. Last year, I ran 36 miles around Wash Park on the Saturday before my 36th birthday. This year I’ll probably do 37. If I’m healthy, that’ll happen Saturday, November 15th.
  3. Rocky Raccoon 100 – Jan. 31st, 2015? I ain’t committing just yet. Getting to the starting line fit and healthy is half the battle. But it’s a thought. Not a goal yet. But a thought.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts on the 2014 Leadville 100

I was up in Leadville again this last weekend to watch the Leadville 100 run. For the second year in a row, I was on the crew with Mike Aish as he nailed another podium finish - this time a second-place finish in what was without question the most incredible last ten miles I've ever witnessed in a 100-mile run. It's such a fantastic experience to have a front-row seat to watch an athlete of his caliber do what he does. Can't thank him enough for letting me join him for the ride.

Rather than do a full blow-by-blow like I did last year, I figured I'd just put throw down some random thoughts and put them in a post. Here goes:
  • Mike ran about seven minutes slower from Mayqueen outbound to Twin Lakes outbound this year than last. Other than that, the first half this year played out very similar to last year. By Twin Lakes, he had a 15 minute lead on Rob Krar and about 20 minutes on Ian Sharman and Zeke Tiernan. He left Winfield about 10 minutes up on Krar. Again, eerily similar to last year.
  • Unlike last year, Mike nailed nutrition and hydration this year. He finished a flask of gels between each aid, and alternated between drinking water and sports drink between every aid. At the aids, he took part of a power bar along with a can of soda. Dude probably drank 10-12 full cans of soda throughout the day, including six or seven cans of Orange Crush. He had one Red Bull at Mayqueen inbound. I think that's it. But that's plenty of calories to keep a 125-pound guy moving. 
  • Mike looked decent at the turnaround, but man, Rob Krar looked amazing. That guy had so much bounce in his step. Hard to believe he'd already run 50 miles.
  • Mike said his knees hurt at Winfield. And so it wasn't surprising he had a rough section going back down Hope. But that was a bad section. He had the lead at Hopeless but left Twin nearly a half an hour behind Krar. He lost 30 minutes on Krar in three miles. Finished behind him by 29 minutes at the end. No need to ponder where the race got away.
  • Ian Sharman passed Mike at Twin, too. Then Mike passed him back near the Elbert trailhead. Nick Clark, Mike's pacer at the time, said that Ian looked SHOCKED that Mike passed him back. Given how terribly Mike looked at Twin, frankly, we were all pretty surprised.
  • Mike and Ian leapfrogged each other four times during the race. Each time, it looked as if Ian had beaten Mike once and for all. The last five miles, Mike was so dialed in it was scary. He ran a 7:21 mile at Mile 97 to pass him uphill on the Boulevard. Are you frickin' kidding me?
  • That race was SO. COOL. TO. WATCH. Both crews were driving along screaming at their runners. People drinking at Sugarloaf campground heard the noise and came over to watch as Mike hunted down Ian and were hooting and hollering as well. 100 milers are rarely a spectator sport. That 2nd/3rd place duel was an exception.
  • At every aid station, there were at least 20 people there I didn't recognize who showed up for the exclusive purpose of cheering on Mike. He's a popular guy, and he makes people feel special, and folks were there to support him Saturday.
  • Speaking of Ian, that guy is a true class act. He's a champion of the sport in every sense of the term. Class act while running and a super friendly guy when not running. Can't say enough good things about him.
  • Rob Krar is a mix between an introvert and a robot while running. As a fan of the sport, I cheered for him wholeheartedly every time I saw him. I saw him clench his fist once in a sign of excitement. But just the once. Other than that, no reaction whatsoever. Stone-faced killer.
  • 15:42. Alive and well. I think Rob could get it if he ran a perfect race. He got lost once, had an awful stretch from Pipeline to Twin outbound, and he just ran Western less than two months ago (just as Mike & Ian had). On fresh legs I think he could get there. Big question whether he'd make the race his priority, though.
  • Rob's running RRR 100 in three weeks? Good luck with that.
  • I'd briefly met Nick Clark before, but had never really hung out with him previously. He's fantastic, too. Thoughtful and measured yet passionate in lots of ways. Fun to get to know him a little.
  • I think Mike could break the record, too. He ran a great race Saturday, but by no means the perfect race. His split from Hopeless to Twin was a result of rough patch, but he lost focus, too. We changed his shoes at Twin.  Carpenter didn't change shoes. Mike took off both of his shoes a second time to pop a blister somewhere just before Mayqueen in. Could have been ten minutes there again. He stopped and walked while he drank every one of those cans of soda. Could have drank from a bottle in sips, but preferred the taste from a can. Add the shoes, the stopping, and the lost focus in that one section, and you probably have an hour's worth of time. Given his strong finish this year and his love of that race - it's a long shot, but the record's not out of the question.
  • Almost all of the race's now-notorious flaws from last year were resolved. Outward Bound was smooth. So was Winfield. The smaller field made a huge difference. They recognized their clear errors and fixed the problems.
  • Still, the Leadville 100 run isn't the primary focus of the race series anymore. The bike is. Would love to see a respected ultrarunner like Nick Clark get the chance to take the run and make it his baby. 
  • No iRunFar? Because Squamish had a better field? Whatever. If the top guys from Squamish were at Leadville, they would have been competing for fourth, at best. I can understand that that Bryon and Meghan probably get sick of going to the same races every year. Totally understand that. It's a private business - they can do whatever they want. But I wish they would have said that they just wanted to do something different this year. Saying that Squamish was a better field? Can't speak for anyone else, but that rubbed me the wrong way. 
  • Once again, huge kudos to Mike for pulling out the ballsiest finish I've ever seen. He says he's done with 100s, but I bet him $5 he'll be back next year. We'll see.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Aish joins the blogosphere!

My buddy Mike Aish has decided to get out there and give everyone a little peak into the craziness that is his world.

Check out the new video about him and his new shoe. Yours truly makes a cameo right about the 3-minute mark. I always wanted to be in one of those cool ultra videos!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Return to Ultrarunning?

I’m thinking about getting back into ultrarunning.

A dozen times a year, I’ll be following a race on iRunFar – be it UTMB, Hardrock, Western, whatever. And I’ll wish I were there, running. I’ve never done any of those races – don’t even know the courses. But I feel as if I’ve been to each before. When I initially became interested in the sport, I wanted to run Leadville, because that’s what I grew up reading about as a high school runner. I thought I’d run Leadville once and then move on to something else.

But now I know there’s so much more to the sport. And there’s an itch to do more.

I’ve got a decent bucket list of races I’d like to do: UTMB, Western, Rocky Raccoon, Cavalls de Vent, Tahoe Rim Trail, Vermont, the Canadian Death Race, Pine to Palm, Comrades, Thunder Rock, Miwok. And the list of cool races grows longer by the year. It’s easy to get excited when you’re at home at the computer planning your schedule.

Until you remember how much time, energy, and money you have to put in to get there.

While I love running and I love the ultrarunning community, I don’t want the sport to consume my life. When I ran ultras before, it not only took up too much of my time running, it took up too much of my psychic energy when I wasn’t out on the trails. I was almost always thinking about ultrarunning – checking blogs, obsessing over times and splits and nutrition. It got to the point where I struggled to focus on anything other than running. Running was an escape, and I was constantly escaping. My work product suffered; my relationships suffered. Things that I used to care about, such as music and writing, faded into the background.

I want to be an ultrarunner again, but only if I can do it without having it define who I am. My life is healthier and more balanced now – I don’t need an escape. I have my own law practice. Unlike at the old law firm, I can’t just tune out and let someone else handle the workload. My success is my own responsibility (I suppose that was always true, but the truth now has more immediate consequences).  I don’t want the love of running to overwhelm my other professional or personal passions. If I feel as if it’s getting to that point, I’m going to pull back.

For now, I’m not committing to anything. I’m trying to pick up my volume of running and tough hiking. My training philosophy for ultras is to get as many runs of 80 minutes or more in as possible, building up to three-hour runs and then a handful of back-to-back long runs (four to seven hours). I’m still struggling to manage 80 to 100 minute runs consistently. But I'm seeing incremental growth and small milestones.

In early February, if my body handles the training well, and I’m still feeling motivated, I think I’m going to sign up for the Zion 100 in April.  It’s only 12 weeks away. That’s not much time to go from not-that-fit to 100-mile ready.  But if I handle the training right, 12 weeks should be enough time.  

If I do it, my plan is to go without a watch, without splits, and with no expectations or goals other than to have a great day outside and to finish. The course looks inspiring, and I'd love a long day out there. Not sure if I’ll get there or not, but I’m ok with however it works out. I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.