Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A new website - Run Your First Ultra

I am in the process of creating a website with all the information from the "Run Your First Ultra" Blog. The website is called "Run Your First Ultra."  The site will be laid out in index form with the topics in a logical order.  That is, there will be a "Training" Section, an "Equipment" section, "Racing" section, and so on.  It will make finding a specific topic a lot easier.  For example, if you want to read an article on "Night Running,"  look under training and find "Night Running," or the same article will be listed under "Equipment."

It is going to take a while to get everything shifted over to the new site.  I am rewriting some of the articles and updating many of them.  I am also trying to correct some of the "GLARING" errors I made in the original posts.  When I re-read something shortly after I wrote it, I see what I thought I typed not what I actually typed.  If spell check doesn't catch it I am not likely to see it.  It is a little embarrassing to go back and read some of the posts.

Take a look and let me know what you think.
Any suggestions will be welcome.  (and NO!!, I will not hire a proof reader!)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  I still have three hours and 20 minutes.

David and Marye Jo

Thursday, December 22, 2011

C25K, How about 5K242K(marathon)2Ultra - Part II

Back in October I started a post about how to advance from a 5K, to a Marathon, to an Ultra.  I never even made it to the 10K.   .

First, I don't run like most people run.  I always run very hard.  I always run as hard as I can run for the distance I am running.  If I'm running 6 miles at Veteran's Park, (just down the road from my house), I am exhausted at the end of the run.  If I am running seven hours at Oak Mountain, I am even more exhausted at the end of the run.  In other words, I run hard every time I run.  I obviously run much faster when running short distances.

It is not necessary to always run as hard as you can.  You can accomplish your goals faster if you do run very hard,  but many people prefer to enjoy the journey and proceed a little slower.  If you choose to run at an easier pace, you can still follow the basic schedule I will set out below, just advance in smaller increments.  For example, when I suggest adding two miles to the weekend workout, add one mile and so on.  This will work just fine.

I ran a very hard 50 mile race Saturday.  My legs were quite stiff for a couple of days.  I really wanted to run Tuesday as a recovery run to loosen them up, but I  couldn't. I need to run today, but I can't.  My daughter, Mallory flew in from NYC for Christmas on Tuesday and running just didn't fit in.  If I had run today, instead of my usual 23 to 24 minute per lap pace for two or three laps, I would have run two laps at 25 to 26 minutes per loop on the three mile course.  Even though my time would be much slower than usual, at the end, I would still be zapped.  Five minutes later I will be fine, but never-the-less I would have run as hard as I could.

My point is, when you run, run hard.  Don't sprint at the end to get tired, try to run a steady pace that will exhaust you by the end.  That is important.  Anyone in fair condition can go out and run three miles talking on a cell phone and sprint the last 300 yards and be gasping for breath.  That does little or no good.  Run the three miles hard enough that at mile two, you don't think you can hold that pace for another mile, but hold that pace for that last mile.  Do not slow down.  Now it takes some practice to get a grasp on what you are actually capable of but always try to run so that by 2/3 of the way through your workout you are not sure you will be able to finish without slowing down.

The exception:  If you run every day, then you have to run an easy day after every hard day.  If you try to run extremely hard every day you will find  your running times are getting slower instead of faster.  At other parts of this post when I say run hard every time you run, I am talking to people, like me, that work and have a family and have a hard time finding time to run at all during the week.  As I have stated before, I run on Tuesday and Thursday at Veteran's Park here in Birmingham.  (Actually, I try to run every Tuesday and Thursday but it ends up being  more like three out of four weeks each month.)  At least one week a month I just can't fit both runs in.  Sometimes, like this week, I don't run at all.  Almost without exception, I will manage a long run over the weekend.  You can miss an easy midweek run.  You can't miss the big weekend run.  One other note for those of you running every day.  You should also skip one day a week.  Even world class milers, marathoners and ultrarunners take off one day per week.

So, I am going to assume you are running about three times each week and you have run several 5K races recently.  If you have not, stop right here and find three or four 5K's and run them.  Then come back and start reading again.

Your first goal is to run a 10K.  That means you must build your distance, obviously.  You also want to work on speed and developing a feel for how fast you are running.  We will discuss these next.  First, build distance. 

Building Distance:  This is the easy one.  (By the way, I am going to use a 9 minute pace as an example only.  Your starting pace should be based on how fast you can run three miles.  You may be able to run a 6 minutes per mile, or you may run at 12 minutes per mile.  What ever your pace is, that is, that is your starting pace.) First, try to run 2 miles a couple of days during the week.  Run three miles on the weekend.  Run at your starting pace.  If you are already running this much, figure out your pace an skip to the next weekend distance.  For three or four consecutive weeks run this same weekly workout schedule.  The three mile weekend workout should be getting easier.  On the fourth or fifth weekend add a half mile to your weekend run and run 3.5 miles.  The key is to run the 3.5 miles at the same pace as you ran the 3 miles.  Example pace, at 9 minutes per mile.  Repeat this weekly training schedule for four consecutive weeks.  That is, run two miles on Tuesday and 2 miles on Thursday and 3.5 miles over the weekend for four weeks.

On the fifth  weekend raise the weekend mileage to 4 miles.  Again, run at the same pace, 9 minutes per mile, just as you were running the three miles. Repeat the same workout schedule for another four weeks. Add another mile to the weekend run, now 5 miles.  Again, try to maintain that 9 minute pace (your pace.)  By now, it may be starting to get tough to hold your pace.  You probably should add one mile to one of your weekday runs, too.  If you are able to run 5 miles at something close to your pace (9minutes/mile), keep training at 5 miles and enter a 10K within the next month or two.  By the way, it is a good idea to keep running an occasional 5K.  You will find that you will be able to run a faster pace than you could when you started all this.  Even though you may have never run 6 miles in you life, you are ready to try that 10K.  The adrenalin will get you through it.  In fact, be careful.  You may reach the one mile mark and find you are running at a 7:30 pace instead of the intended 9 minute pace.  Don't worry about it.  Just slow down a little and keep going.  You will make it.

If you just can't hold that 9 minute pace for 5 miles, you may need to adjust your pace a little and that is OK.    Just keep your pace as fast as you can and still run every mile at very close to the same pace.  If you are running on a road, go out and mark where each mile is so you can check you pace.  I used to go out with a can of spray paint and spray a small line on the road at each mile.  If you pace drops dramatically when you go the 5 miles, then you may want to drop back to four miles and work on speed.

Building Speed:  If you are finding that you are not able to hold that "9 minute" pace for the 5 miles there is a way to increase  you speed.  It also works great if you wish to increase your pace.  The technique is called interval training.  The purpose is to get your body accustomed to a faster pace.  I like running intervals on a high school track and I would recommend you do the same.  WARNING!  If you have never run intervals, believe me, this is a hard workout.  I like running quarters, 440 yards (400 meters) which is one lap around a standard track.  Some like 220s others prefer 880s.  I would stick with the shorter distances for now.

Using our 9 minutes pace per mile, that means you are covering each 1/4 mile (440 yards) in 2:15.  What I would do is go to the track and pick a starting point and run 8, quarter mile intervals.  You are going to try to hit each 1/4 mile at 2:00 exactly.  That is slightly faster than you have been running in training.  I don't like to walk so I run constantly while doing intervals and I would suggest you do the same.  Start by running a slow lap or two to warm up.  As you start the third lap, pick a starting point and build up you speed as you hit the start line to the pace you want to hold.  Start you watch on "split timer" as you cross the start line.  Run one lap at the 2 minute pace, back to the exact spot you started.  Hit the split timer again.  Now slow down to a very slow "JOG."  (I despise that word)  Most watches display the split time for 10 seconds so check you lap time quickly before it shifts to displaying the next split.  You will immediately know if you are slow or fast and by how much.  The first couple of quarters may seem very easy.  By the fifth or sixth, they will not be easy, believe me.

You will probably be fast. As you come around the track for the slow, second lap, start the watch split time as you cross the line.  Run another fast lap and check you time at the end.  Slow down again to recover and jog a second lap.  Adjust your pace as necessary and run the third interval.  The goal it to run that 2 minute pace every "fast" lap.  You will be amazed how close you can get after a few workouts like this.  If you don't feel you need the entire lap to recover, then alternate starting at the 220 marks.  That is, run you quarter at speed and jog 220 yards and start the fast lap again.  This workout will substitute for one of the mid weed workouts in the beginning.

If you find you can comfortably run the 2:00 pace, then speed up a little.  Try the same workout at  a 1:45 or 1:50 pace.  Next you might try 10 intervals.  You can also vary the distance, running 220s.  Another great way to increase speed in run negative splits.  That is, start the 1/4 intervals at a 2:15 pace on lap one.  On lap two run 2:10.  On lap three run 2:00.  Keep reducing the time until you are no longer to hit the rime.  As you get accustomed to intervals, make the workout an extra midweek workout, say on Wednesday.  You will probably need to take it a little easier on the Thursday workout if you do.

At this point in your training I can almost guarantee that the next 5K you enter you will run a PR. (If  you are a new runner - not if you were a college miler or CC runner that has not run for 20 years.)  Enter another 10K after several weeks of interval training and you will be amazed at how much faster your time is.

You have now been running on this training schedule for about six months, possibly more and you will have have a very solid base and a good sense of your pace.  It is now time to start getting ready for the first marathon.  You will need to start running longer mid week runs as you lengthen your weekend runs.  That's next.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dump the GU's

This weekend I threw out about everything I thought I knew and understood about staying fueled during an ultras.  After the disaster at the North Face Challenge 50 mile race in Pine Mountain, Georgia I decided it was time to try something different.  In that race (Pine Mountain,) I started our running  like I was in a 50K figuring I could bluff my way through the last 18 or 19 miles.  It was the worst run I think I have ever had and by about mile 36 I could barely walk.  I literally imploded.  I honestly was not sure I could make it to the aid station at mile 38.

As soon as I got home I registered for the Lookout Mountain 50 mile race in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a little over 6,300 feet of elevation gain (held Saturday, December 17) and started my recovery from the disaster at Pine Mountain.  The following week I ran 6 miles on Tuesday (3 laps at Veteran's Park) and 6 miles Thursday followed by trail marking 14 miles of the Pinhoti 100 course on Saturday .  The following week I again ran 6 miles on Tuesday and Thursday and did another 4 hours of running while marking more of the Pinhoti course.  The next week I ran 9 miles on both Tuesday and Thursday but volunteered to help Todd Henderson with the Pinhoti 100 on November 5th and 6th.  Since I was up all night I decided to skip the run on Sunday.

The next weekend I did something I have never done before, I ran two races in the same weekend.  Saturday was the Ruffner Mountain 21K here in Birmingham and Sunday was the Xterra 21K at Oak Mountain.  I did pretty well in both although I ran an extra 3+ miles in the Xterra race.  They had a duathlon that started 30 minutes after the 21K and it just so happened that the 21K and the duathlon runners merged on the same trail at the same time, within a few 100 yards of the duathlon start.  Suddenly I found myself in a pile of much slower runners and started trying to pass when ever I had a chance or could create a chance.  While dealing with a jumble of runners I missed where the two races split and I ran the last couple of miles of the duathlon course. (It was also the finish of our race so it had the correct trail marking.)  When I got the finish I asked where the 21K went and someone directed me down the road to the turnaround. I knew something was wrong.  I was pretty far up in the 21K field but there was no one ahead of me.  When I got back to the person that sent me down the road I again asked where to go and she said to the finish.  I knew I was in trouble.  

I backtracked back up the mountain a ways thinking I had missed a turn at the top of the hill but within 100 yards I came to a blue plate with an arrow directing me right back were I just came from.  (Blue plated pointed the way for the 21K)  I then headed to the Start/Finish area to find out were I missed the turn.  I found out where I messed up and headed back up the mountain another way to intersect the trail where I missed the turn.  I was now officially in last place.  I actually got back to within two minutes of the 3rd place finisher and about 16 minutes behind the winner.  It was a good workout.

The next weekend was 4 weeks after the "Disaster at Pine Mountain" and 4 weeks out from the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile and I had to do a very long, very hard run.  I decided to try my new plan for eating during races.  I had reached a point that I could no longer tolerate any type of "GU."  I decided to take real food.  I made a couple of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, a couple of Honey Stinger Waffles and my usual Perpetuem mix.   I ran 7hours, 15minutes with 10 hill repeats on my usual trail plus 2 on a new trail that has just recently been opened.  It was on of the best runs with the fastest hill repeat times I have ever had.  

The following week I started my taper but still ran 10 hill repeats even faster than the week before, for a total of 5:44.  Again I only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, HS waffles and Perpetuem.  The combination was working.  I never had to take an Enervit tablet for cramps, never felt the least bit "queasy," I actually felt great.

So that brings us to this weekend.  I decided to use the same plan for the Lookout Mountain 50K.  Friday I make 4 PBJ sandwiches, cut them in half and wrapped each half.  I filled eight "Nathan 10 oz bottles with two scoops of Perpetuem and grabbed a pile of Honey Stinger Waffles.  I loaded them in the appropriate drop bag and my backpack for the start and I was ready.  

I have learned that if things are not within my reach during the race I tend to not use them.  That is, If I have to pull my backpack off to the get something, I will probably just not bother and do without.  That is not good in anything longer than a 50K.  I still like the NUUN tablets so I put a baggie containing 6 tablets in the zipper pocket on each of my Nathan hand-held 20 oz bottles and I was set.  

The race started at 7:30 AM on top of Lookout Mountain, 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain and it was cold and very windy (and damp) on top.  About 30 or so people were huddled around a very small fire waiting for the start.  I stayed there until about 30 seconds before the start.  We would run 22.5 miles before reaching our first drop bag. The course followed a trail just below the crest of Lookout Mountain for about 5 miles, along some spectacular granite walls.  (There is some awesome rock climbing around Chattanooga.)  We then rounded the north end of the mountain and began to make a 7 mile descent down the west side to a stream at the bottom of the hill. (The stream turned out to be flooded so for about half a mile we followed a gravel road just above the creek.) We then stared back up to the top of the mountain and the start/finish area at Covenant College.

I carried both hand held water bottles the entire race although one would have been adequate most of the time.  The aid stations were 6 to 8 miles apart but it was cool enough that I emptied one bottle between each.  Approaching each AS I emptied what was left in one bottle into the other and added 16oz of water to the empty one.  All I had to do was throw in one NUUN tablet and I was off.   I also did my best to empty the one 10 oz bottle of Perpetuem I had mixed with water between each AS.   Then I would open the next bottle with Perpetuem and add water.  I followed this pattern for the rest of the race.  At each aid station I would eat a few chips, something that looked like "Chex cereal party mix", maybe a salted potato or a cookie.  I even grabbed a few of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the aid stations.  I put one of my Honey Stinger Waffles in my running shorts pocket for later.  At the aid station I would retrieve one of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (unless I ate one from the aid station) and eat it leaving the aid station.  Starting at the Covenant College AS at mile 22.5, I started eating Ramen Noodle Soup at every aid station.  I would grab a cup as I was leaving and walk long enough to finish it.  Sometimes I also grabbed a small cup of coke.  Basically, I ate what looked good, I just made sure I did eat.

My fueling strategy worked great.  Although I started out way too fast (as I always do,) I slowed down by the mile 22 AS and took it easy for the next 20 miles.  I was feeling pretty tired for a while but after slowing in the second 20 miles I began to feel good.  By the final 10 miles I was feeling strong and ran all of the flat and downhill and much of the easier uphill.  I never got sick at my stomach and never had one cramp despite all the climbing.  During the final 7 or 8 mile climb back to the finish I probably passed 15 other runners.  My time was 12:47:49. 

So here is what I did:
  1.  I made four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them in half and wrapped each half in plastic wrap.  
       They were evenly spaced in drop bags so I would always have a sandwich at aid station.
  2.  I placed Perpetuem drink mix in eight Nathan 10oz bottles and spaced them through the course so I            
       would always have at least one full bottle and one bottle with powder to be filled.
  3.  I packed 8 or 10 Honey Stinger Waffles so I would have a couple with me all the time.  (They are very  
       light so I don't mind carrying extras.)
  4.  MOST IMPORTANT, I took the time at every aid station to get out a sandwich or eat some real food,
       mix up my Perpetuem, and add NUUN tablets to my water.
  5.  I drank constantly.  I always drink more when I carry water bottles.  The one down side is you have to
       step behind a lot of trees.  
  6.  I did not eat even ONE Gu the entire day.  And I don't plan to ever eat one again.

When I unpacked everything Sunday I found that I had consumed 5 of the 8 Perpetuem bottles and eaten five of eight, half sandwiches.  Remember, I also ate several aid station sandwiches and other food at every AS.  After mile 22.5 I also ate a cup of soup at every AS.  I don't know exactly how many of the Honey Stinger Waffles I started with but I ate 6 or 8 of them too.

I am getting better at planning and scheduling and I always had what I wanted or needed when I needed it.  I also had extras.  In a final email runners were warned that there was a lot of water on the course, both mud and creek crossings.  And there were.  I had extra socks packed in two drop bags although I never needed them.  After slogging through a few miles of mud puddles you would cross a stream and that would clean you shoes and socks.  Therefore I didn't need to change.  I hope someone took some pictures of the climb up from Lula Falls to the top of the ridge.  Without the ropes someone had strung the climb would have been almost impossible.  (About 60 feet of mud with scattered rocks and limbs at, I would guess, 50% to 60% grade.)  Coming back down in the dark would have been no problem, though.  At least not until you hit a solid object on the way down.  Coming down you just hung on to the rope and slid.  And then there were the Falls.  I wish I had taken a camera.

I did make one planning error.  I did not get a new battery for the headlamp I wear around my waste.  It is the SureFire Minimus Headlamp.  It uses a 123A Lithium battery but I just didn't have time to go get one.  It was still bright although I had used it at the start of the Pine Mountain race a couple of months earlier.  I figured it would make it through two or three hours of dark.  I was wrong.  After about 30 minutes I realized it was pretty dim and tried to turn up the power.  It would not increase brightness.  I did have my backup flashlight in my backpack but I really didn't want to mess with it since I was carrying water bottles in each hand.  I decided if absolutely necessary I would dig it out.  I made do with with my headlamp the rest of the race.

Anyone in the Southeast looking for a great and 50 miler, take a look at this one.  Randy Whorton the RD does a awesome job and course is spectacular.  Rock Creek Outfitters is the major sponsor.  They sponsor the entire Rock Creek Series which includes the nationally known Stump Jump 50K.
Here are a few pictures taken by Jeff Bartelett.
The first 5 are along the trail just below the crest of Lookout Mountain in the first 5 miles.

 The trail near Lula Falls

 The flooded section below the mountain.