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.