Friday, October 28, 2011

C25K, How about 5K242K(marathon)2Ultra

I have been thinking about this for a long time.  How would I move from a 5K to running a Marathon to running an ultra?  I would do it just as I did back in 1979 when I ran the Azalea Trail Run, my first 10K.  Oops, I missed the 5K part!  Well, that is what I did.  I started with a 10K.  I ran that first 10K, in April of 1979, followed by every 10K in the Mobile, Pensacola area I could find.  I threw in a few 5Ks too.  I ran an 18 mile race in October and my first marathon, the First Annual, Barq's Root Beer, Panama City Marathon in December of 1979.  I won't suggest anyone try that training schedule.

I ran occasionally after high school, usually for two or three miles and no more.  I might go two weeks between runs then I might run two or three times in one week.  Between 1968 and 1978 I never never ran a road race.  I thought those were for really good runners and I was not a "really good runner."  My final semester at the University of Texas at Dallas I met some people that had a running route out the back of the campus for 3 or 4 miles and back.  The course went across the Texas A&M Experimental Farm, directly behind UTD, then followed Frankford Road to where we turned around.  Frankford Rd. was like running in the middle of nowhere.  All there was along the road were pastures and cows.  I wonder what it looks like today.

I felt like I ran pretty fast, at least faster than most of the others runners at UTD.  I was too busy trying to get out of school and find a job with an accounting firm somewhere along the Gulf Coast to enter any races.  I wanted to move to the coast so I could sail.  (Have I mentioned before that I love sailing - of course, I don't have a sailboat and don't have time to sail if I did.)  Occasionally I do check the internet for a J22 or J24.  At that time we had a Hobie 16 and raced almost every weekend at Lake Dallas (Now known as Lake Lewisville) or at regional races.

I found a job with an accounting firm in Mobile, Alabama and after graduation I was off to Mobile.  Within a few months I found an O'day 25 sailboat, sold the Hobie, and running took a back seat to sailing.  Then my neighbor told me about a race called the Azalea Trail Run in Mobile and he was going to enter.  He was definitely not a runner, so I decided to enter too.  I began training about 4 weeks before the race.

The following is how I trained as best I can remember, but it is pretty accurate because I used the same training pattern for years.

1.  I went out and found a 3 mile loop from my house. (Close enough to call it a 5K.  Good place to start.)
2.  I ran the three mile loop three times.  The first time it was not too hard and, of course, I don't remember how fast I ran but I probably ran about 21 minutes or a 7 minute pace.  Two or three days later I ran the 3 mile loop again at about the same pace.  This time it just about killed me.  (I remember thinking this is pointless.  I could never run six miles.)  Two or three days later I ran the 3 mile loop again and it was even easier than the first time.  (Maybe I can run 6 miles.)
3.  I added one mile to the course and started the process again, still running at the same 7+/- minute pace, and the results were the same.  Run number one of the four mile loop was not too bad.   Run number two - I thought I would die before I got back home.  It was terrible.  I was sure now I would not be able to run he race.  Run number three, what can I say?  It was once again easier than the first time I ran the four mile loop.    Maybe I can actually run the Azalea Trail Run after all.
4.  I added one more mile to the loop and again followed the same plan but I seem to remember that I did not get all three runs in before the race.
5.  A few days before the race I went downtown and ran most of the course.  I was not sure where the course actually went but I think I ran most of it.  I decided I could actually finish the race but I was afraid I would be embarrassed at how slow I would have to run.
6.  I ran the 10K.  As usual, the first mile was way too fast and it scared me to death when I saw how fast I was running.  I think I hit mile one at about a 5:20.  I was sure I would have to walk the last mile or two.   I was able to held that pace for about four miles then began to slow.  Mile four to mile five was the hardest.  Even today, the forth mile is the hardest for me in a 10K.  At mile five I realized I only had one mile to go and psychologically the run became a little easier but it still hurt.  Then there was the final 0.2 of a mile.  It felt like half a mile.

So is this my best suggestion on how to get from a 5K to a 10K.  NO!  Please remember, I ran the mile in high school and continued running "more or less" for the next 10 years.  I could go out at any time and run 3 miles at a 6 to 7 minute pace.  I would never suggest anyone try to advance from a 5K to a 10K that fast.  Over the next few weeks I will give my best suggestions on how someone should progress from "running" a 5K to "running" a 10K and on to a 100 mile ultra.  The quotes around "running" are to emphasize that I mean run the distance, not walk.  If you are planning on running an ultra you have to run.  With very few exceptions, every ultra, whether it is a 50K or 100 miles, will require you to run at least half the distance or you will miss cutoffs and be forced to drop.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How Not to Run a 50 Mile Trail Race.

Rules for Running a 50 Mile Race.
1.  A 50 mile trail race is NOT a long 50K.  It is a short 100 miler.  Plan accordingly.
2.  Decide how to pace the run based on it being a short 100 mile race.
3.  Design a fueling and hydration schedule for a short 100 miler and follow it.

So how should one not run a 50 mile race?
1.  Consider it a long 50K and run at a 50K pace and figure you can bluff your way through the last 20 miles.
2.  Run much faster than you had planned and forget about walking up the hills. Run up all hills and pass everyone you see ahead of you so you move up to about 30th position out of 213 starters by the third aid station.  (I started in the third wave, six minutes after the lead group stared.  The start was divided into three waves of about 70 runners starting 3 minutes apart.)
3.  Fly through the aid stations.  Grab a 1/2 sandwich and 1/2 a banana and refill the water bottle and head out.  Don't mix you Perpetuem Drink, don't add any (Not One) NUUN tablet to your water. Just take an occasional salt tablet if you think about it.  Don't eat any gu's the entire race.  Oh yes, eat about two bites of the banana and the sandwich and throw the rest away.
4.  Be sure to catch everyone in front of you at least for the first 15 miles.  (Did I already say that?)  This was part of the problem.  I cannot stand to see another runner in front of me without trying to pass them.  Of course, then you have to keep going a little faster so they don't catch you again.  After passing about 100 runners, going a little faster each time, you are moving along pretty quickly!

This plan worked really well for the first half of the race.  I started slowing about mile 25 or 26, but not too much.  I was walking up a few of the steeper hills by then.  At the Tower Aid Station at mile 28, I still felt great although my legs were starting to get tired but I was still running up most hills.  About mile 33 things began to unravel.  I started feeling really sick and my legs were zapped.  I started walking more and by somewhere around mile 35 I was no longer able to run up hill and could not eat anything.

By the time I had covered another very slow mile, I could no longer could run at all. The last mile or mile and a half to the Fox Den Aid station at mile 37.5 was bad.  Not only could I no longer run,  I could barely walk and was actually not sure I would be able to reach the aid station without sitting down to recover for a while.  About that time I called Marye Jo to meet me at Mollyhugger aid station (I thought that was the aid station I was almost to) and told her I could not go any further. (Mollyhugger Aid Station is at mile 42.4 but it took me so long to get to Fox Den I actually thought it was Mollyhugger.)

When I finally reached the aid station I realized it was not Mollyhugger and called her back to tell her I was at Fox Den.  I more or less collapsed on the side of the road to wait.  I must have looked pretty bad during the last mile on the trail.  Several people actually asked me if I was all right.  No one ever asked me if I was OK before.  I don't think I ever felt that bad before!  Saturday night I was totally wasted.  I had more energy after finishing the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 than I did after running that 37.5 miles.

When we got back home I was so disgusted and irritated with myself for the ridiculous way I ran the race, I decided I have to redeem myself.  I signed up for the Lookout Mountain 50 mile race in Chattanooga, Tn. in December.  I still intend to run at a fairly quick pace (but no as fast as a 50K) but I will walk up every hill that qualifies as a hill.  I will stop at every aid station and take the time to properly resupply and mix the supplies I need to stay fueled.  I will finish if I have to crawl.

I need to remember Kin Chlauber's words on three signs leading up the back side of Hope Pass in the Leadville 100.  "If you can't Run, Walk. - If you can't walk, crawl. - Just Keep Moving."

I think the picture was taken of Ken at the Leadville 100 panel discussion on the second night of the training camp for the 100 mile run.  I think this picture is from the year I attended.  The people in the background were all there  in 2009 and Ken was dressed just as he is in the picture.  All those on the panel, including Ken had finished the race more than 10 times.  Oh yes, the woman in green is the race director and a very rude person.  I don't think she has run the race 10 times.  I am temped to make a few more comments but, no.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race

For the last week I have been trying to find time to write a report on my experiences at the North Face Endurance Challenge at Pine Mountain, Georgia.  So far I have about a paragraph.  The article will be on "How NOT to run a 50 miler."  I gained a new insight into running a race distance I had never run before.  I will try to finish it this week and share what I learned the hard way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Almost Halloween,

I am sure all my neighbors will understand this.

I will put this out to stay in another week or so.

Ultra runners may have "Traumatic Brain Injury"

The following is an exert from an article in on the Wasatch 100 website.  All I can say is that almost everyone, except other ultrarunners, tells me I am crazy when I try to explain to them about running 100 mile races.  Maybe they knew something I didn't!   (I added the "bold Italic")

Aharon D. Shulimson, Ph.D., M.S.C.P.

In 1997 my fiancée and I (we got married two weeks later) became the rest stop captains for the Big Mountain rest stop. The 2011 Wasatch 100 was our fifteenth race. It has been great fun for us and our volunteers. As a psychologist I often pondered the question of what goes on in the brain of an ultramarathon runner that makes it possible to run 100 miles. There had to be something that separated ultramarathon runners from ordinary human beings.
Two years ago, I began to try to answer this question by recruiting Wasatch 100 runners who were willing to be tested using a quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG). The minimum requirement to be accepted into the study was finishing one 100 mile race. Nine runners, many with extensive ultramarathon experience, came to my office to have their EEGs recorded.
Quantitative EEG is a standardized test of brain electrical activity. The EEG is recorded and then analyzed by a database that compares an individual’s EEG to what is statistically average for one’s age group. QEEG is often used as part of the evaluation process for persons with ADHD, traumatic brain injury, anxiety disorders and learning disabilities. Go to the link at the bottom of this page for a more detailed description of QEEG and to download sample brain maps.
The test results showed that the brains of the runners that I studied are different from the brains of average people in several ways. All of them had elevated levels of slow brain wave activity, elevated levels of fast wave activity, or a combination of the two. In the clinical setting, elevated levels of slow wave activity are often seen in persons with ADD/ADHD and traumatic brain injury as well as other conditions. High amplitude fast wave activity is a common finding in patients with anxiety disorders and alcohol abuse.
How does it help an ultramarathon runner to have elevated levels of slow wave activity, fast wave activity, or both? I have posed this question to several sports psychologists who use QEEG in their practices. They suggested the following: 1) The slow wave activity probably makes it easier for runners to go into "the zone" where they are running but are not fully aware of their surroundings; 2) The fast wave activity probably helps with maintaining energy and motivation over a 100 mile race course.
Thanks again to the runners who participated in this study. Anyone who has questions about the project or wants to share their thoughts about my conclusions can contact me through Facebook, email me at or call me at 801-671-4048.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Thoughts on Preparing for the Next 100 miler.

I read an article in the July issue of Ultrarunning that got me to thinking about all I go through, and I suspect most ultrarunners go through, prior to every 100 mile race.  First there are the months of training, building up to distances and times that other, non-ultrarunning runners don't seem to be able to comprehend. Even marathoners.  When you talk about 8 hour runs with 4 hours of hill repeats they get this blank look on their faces and ask strange questions like "you mean eight miles?"  or "Over how many days?"  I do understand, however.  Back in the days when I ran on roads, I would build up to three hour training runs before a marathon, probably about 20 miles, and I could not imagine running any further than that.  Of course, we run a  lot faster on roads than on trials.

One key to the long training runs, as I have mentioned many times, is to always be training for that next 100 miler or next ultra, no mater how far in the future it may be.  If I am not signed up for any races, I am training for Hardrock.  I know eventually I will get in, maybe - In fact, I am always training for Hardrock, even if I am actually training for another race, like Tahoe.  To be truthful, Tahoe was a training run for Hardrock.  I suppose I am obsessed.

This "always training for the next race" is nothing new with me.  I have always pushed my limits by training for the next race.  There have been a few periods in my life since I started road running in the late 70's where I went for months without entering a race. Usually because I just didn't have time to race or train.  During those periods I found it really hard to make myself go out and run at all.  As you can guess, I really didn't run very hard, when I did.  I have to be working for a goal or I am pretty worthless.  Zig Zigler has a quote I love.  "If you don't have a goal, you are a wandering generality.  You got'a have goals."  (or something to that effect.)  It is certainly true for me.

Next there are weeks of planning race and aid station strategies.  That includes, but not limited to, time between aid stations, water needed between aid stations, supplies needed to reach the next drop-bag, which specific clothes will be needed at certain aid stations, where headlamp and flashlights will be needed, and everything else you could possibly need that you know you will never need unless you don't put it in the drop-bag.  Is that sentence legal?

So why do we go to all that trouble?  I think there are three reasons. First, we don't want to carry anything that is not absolutely necessary.  I have read stories that Mat Carpenter (multi-time winner of the Pikes Peak Marathon and many other mountain races) actually grinds away any part of his running shoes that he does not consider critical.  (That might not be a good idea for most of us.)  Second, you don't want to run out of anything critical, like water or any thing else that you absolutely must have to be able to complete the race.  It would also be  pretty bad to find yourself three miles from the aid station where you stashed your headlamp, and it's getting too dark to see.  In 2010, when I ran the Wasatch 100, I erred on the side of ridiculous on the climb to the first aid station.  After the start, the Wasatch climbs gently for about 4 miles, then it turns straight up the western slope of the Front Range of the Wasatch Mountains for a total gain of over 6,300 feet.  The climb culminates in the infamous, "Chinscraper" climb.  The trail then follows the ridge line to the first aid station at mile 13.35.  I was so afraid of that first climb that I carried 70oz. of water at the start.  I had so much water that I did not need to add any water to my pack until I reached the the Bountiful "B" aid station at mile 24.  I carried 4.35 lbs of water up the hardest climb in the race.  I should have started with half that much.  This is an example of really poor planning. (and Fear!)  Oh yes, the third reason.  We plan to finish "come Hell or high water" and in ultras we frequently get both and still  manage to finish.  Take a look at some of the pictures by Tanner Johnson from this years Hardrock 100.  This is the Mineral Creek crossings

Another example of poor planning, I guess, was an event I witnessed at Tahoe that I mentioned in an earlier post.  I was running with a man along the crest of the Tahoe Rim Trail headed for the Tunnel Creek aid station.  It was well after dark and this is the section that had so many large snow fields.  The moon was not yet up so it was very dark.  It was hard to follow the trail across the snow at night even with two bright lights.  The guy I was following kept getting way off the trail and I would yell at him that the trail was over where I was.  I couldn't understand what his problem was until he moved ahead of me at one point.  His flashlight was going out and he simply could not see the trail.  I always carry extra batteries but his light needed AA and I only had AAA.  We ran along a while and he again got off course.  Then I remembered that I had stuck a spare Fenix LED flashlight in my backpack.  I offered it him and told him to just leave it with the aid station workers at Tunnel Creek because he said he had a spare light in his Tunnel Creek drop bag.  As it turned out, we arrived at the aid station at almost the same time so I got it back.  I like the security of that extra light.  With spare batteries and a spare light, I know I will not be stuck in the dark somewhere on top of a mountain.

This year at Tahoe I did much better with planning except that I failed to consider that it is almost impossible to add an exact amount of water to a backpack.  I encountered this same problem at the Katcina Mosa 100K in 2008 where I totally ran out of water half way up the longest climb, 7 miles, in the race in the middle of the day, on a totally exposed trail, with temperatures reaching 100 deg.  At Tahoe, I ended up really sick at my stomach in the afternoon of the first day and again ALL NIGHT on the second lap.  I got the concentration of electrolytes way too high.  I have learned that if I am using either of my Nathan Hydration Packs, I need to bring a bottle to measure exactly how much water I add.  I will do that in the future.  I also learned I can swallow electrolyte capsules during the latter hours of a 100 mile race.  It is not easy, but I can get them down.

And then there are the gel packs, at Tahoe it was Honey Stingers.  In every 100 mile race I put them in every drop bag.  I plan on eating one every hour.  At Tahoe I probably packed 30.  After the halfway point I don't think I ate one more gel.  All-in-all, I probably ate no more then 10 or 12 in the entire race.  In every 100 miler I have run I came back with about half the gels I started with.  For some reason I keep packing them in drop bags.  Perpetuem drink mix is another story.  This is the "Hammer" product I have used for several years.  I like it and most of the time my stomach can tolerate it pretty well.  Sometimes I can drink them the entire race and sometime I cannot, but I will keep using it.

My new thing this year is Vespa.  Vespa is make of "Wasp" amino acid extract.  I helps you body burn fat instead of carbs during extended exercise.  All I was able to eat the last 14 or 15 hours of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 was a little soup at each aid station.  (And I mean a little.)  Yet I was able to finish strong and actually race Joey Anderson the last 5 miles of the race.  I felt great at the end - relatively speaking.  How is that possible?  I was eating Vespa packs every three hours.  All I know is I was burning something all that time and I certainly did not eat enough soup to do much good.  It is, however, best not to dwell on what it is you are consuming when you drink a Vespa pak!

I am putting the Vespa the test right now.  I ran a 50K, 22days ago here in Birmingham and the Stump Jump, nine days ago in Chattanooga.  The North Face Challenge 50 mile race this coming weekend.  So far, I have been able to run strong and finish strong in both previous races.  Next weekend will be the real test, though.    Right now, I give Vespa a lot of credit for my completing Tahoe.

By the way, there is a great video of the 2011 Hardrock 100 on the first page of the Hardrock website.  It is by Team Salomon and notice that during the night the "Hell" struck.  Here is a link: Hardrock.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thoughts on Preparation for a 100 miler

I know I have written a lot about how I get ready to run an ultra, especially for a 100 mile race.  This preparation process in constantly evolving as I gain more experience.  Tahoe was my 4th 100 miler and I spent less time planning than any other 100 miler I have done.  Tahoe was also the easiest 100 mile race I have run.  When I got home from Tahoe I felt so good I decided I wanted to run another 100 mile race before the end of the year.  Unfortunately there were none within a reasonable distance that I could enter.

In 2009, after The Leadville 100 I had just over two months to get ready for the Florida Ironman.  I had done no swimming or bike riding the entire year so I had a lot of ground to make up on both.  The weather turned out to be really bad and I only got in a few swims before the race. Nowhere near enough for a 2.4 mile ocean swim and I really struggled in the second lap of the swim, but I didn't drown!  After Wasatch in 2010 I had less than two months to prepare for Ironman Florida and I had to do a lot of hurried training.  This time I had thrown in some swimming all summer and I was at least ready for that.

Following both Ironman events in 2009 and 2010, I sort-of backed off my training for several weeks.  When I started back I had lost a lot of ground or maybe I just didn't want to go out an suffer. < (I think that might indicate an attitude problem.)  Anyway, I felt like I was staring over from the beginning with my hill training.  This year was totally different.  Maybe because I had such a good experience running Tahoe, or maybe because I finally had a totally functional heart for the first time in several year.  It could have been going out to Telluride and Silverton and actually meeting so many people involved with Hardrock and doing trail work and trail marking on part of the course.  It was probably some of all of these factors but what ever it was, I could not wait until I had recovered enough to get back into hard training again.

What ever it was I wanted to get right back up to speed and run some more races.  The only two 100 mile races within driving distance of Birmingham are The Pinhoti, here in Alabama (and my first 100) and the Georgia Jewel.  The latter was eliminated because it was the same weekend as my daughters engagement party in New Jersey.  I am helping Todd Henderson with Pinhoti so it is out.  Since I cannot run another 100 miler I am just going to run a bunch of races to stay in shape.

On September 18th I ran a local 50K, the Autumn Equinox Ultra, out at Oak Mountain State Park.  My time was 5:42 and that is the fastest 50K I have ever run.  October 1st, two weeks later, was the Stump Jump 50K in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  (Last weekend.)  That one has over 5,000 feet of climbing an took me 6 hours, 32 minutes.  October 15th I am running the North Face Endurance Challenge in Pine Mountain Georgia.  This is a 50 mile race that I think is going to be pretty tough and I have never run a 50 mile race.  The elevation profile looks like a saw blade, as do most races in this part of the country.  In mid November I may enter the Dizzy Fifties in Huntsville and I will enter the Tashka 50K in Tuscaloosa on December 10th or the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile race on December 17th.  That one is getting really close to Christmas.

The Hardrock lottery in on (or about) December 1st.  At that point I will know if it is time to start building up my training runs to 8 hour of nothing but hill repeats or try to figure out what 100 to run next year.  I will probably enter the Wasatch 100 lottery again, so I can run that last 12 miles with 5,000 feet of elevation loss that I was not able to run in 2010 due to an injured ankle. It will be hard to pass up Tahoe though if I don't get in Hardrock.

A quick note on the StumpJump.  I came in third in my age group, "Super" Grand Master!!  That is a little patronizing, I think.  I missed second by 1:49 and first by 5:15.  If you saw my last post you know I missed a turn along with 8 or 10 others and lost 8 or 9 minutes.  I think I will pay more attention to trail marking at the 50 miler and all races from now on.  At the training camp for Leadville in 2009 I followed a runner right past the turnoff to Twin Lakes and ended up running about 2 miles down the trail.  I knew from studying the course map and Google Earth exactly where Twin Lakes is in relation to the "twin lakes."  It is at the far west end of the upper lake.  I was headed east and all the way to the moraine between the lakes and almost down to the road when I finally turned around and headed back.  I met a group of 5 or 6 runners that argued with me that I was now going the wrong way and should turn around.  I wished them luck and continued back up the way I had come.  Sure enough, after a very long and hard climb back up the mountain I reached the turnoff I missed.  The trail was very well marked with all kinds of flagging tied down the trail we were supposed to take.  I was back on course and out of water and it was hot, but I was almost at the end.  I could not believe it was possible for all those people, and me, to miss that much flagging.

So what is the point in all the?  It now seems to me that the best plan in to jump back into training as soon as you have had a reasonable amount of time to recover.  I did a couple of hikes where we were still in Tahoe and did run up a very long hill but that was it for about 10 days.  That second week I ran an easy 6 mile run on  Wednesday and did a few hills and a little additional trail running at Oak Mountain that weekend for 2.5 hours.  The third week I ran Tuesday and Thursday for 6 miles each day and 3 hours on the weekend.  The fourth week after Tahoe I ran 9 miles on Tuesday and Thursday and 5 hours on the weekend with 6 hill repeats.  The fifth week was the same as week four.  On week six, I ran 9 hill repeats in a 5 hour workout.  I intended to run 8 repeats but I felt so good I ran 9.  Week seven I ran 8 repeats followed by flatter trails to get in 5 hours and the following weekend was the Autumn Equinox 50K.  I think this plan works.