How to Run 50 Miles: Part III – Muscular Strength

Read Part I and Part II first.

The second principle I mentioned in my first post is that aerobic fitness is rarely the limiter of speed. Again, I’m not a scientist but just stating what I learn through my own experience. If you happen to know of scientific evidence for anything I’m talking about (refuting or confirming) make note in the comments. Aerobic fitness does matter, it is just isn’t the be all end all.

In the past few months I’ve run the Portland Marathon (flat and on paved roads) and two 50K ultra-marathons (hilly and mostly off road). In these three outings, despite running them after just a few months of training after a long hiatus from running, I was never out of breath. There were a few times during the 50K’s when I was breathing super hard during steep climbs, but those were just a few isolated incidents. The majority of the time my lungs were not the limiter in any way. I was breathing fine, but still my perceived exertion was very high.

In the case of my Portland Marathon experience, after about 16 miles my legs just stopped working normally. I wasn’t aerobically fatigued in any way, but it felt like I just finished a billion reps of squats and my leg muscles just wouldn’t fire. During my 50K’s, I had a similar experience. My muscles were just exhausted, as if I finished a really demanding weight workout, but my cardiovascular system and lungs seemed fine. During The North Face 50K, there were plenty of long climbs on single-track trails. They took a lot of power to muscle up.

I wish I had worn a heart rate monitor during my races to prove this point. I bet my heart rate was right around 140 or so. Not super high. What also happened later in the races was that my form went to hell. I would slouch over and everything would just sag. My core and low back would tire. This would affect my stride and breathing.

My take away from these events is that muscular strength (across the whole body, not just legs) plays a massive part in endurance events. When I say strength I really mean power/weight ratio. Strength with a fairly lean overall mass. Strong core and strong back to support proper form over long distances. Strong posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, low-back) to support overall running form and power. Once a reasonable aerobic base is developed, it makes intuitive sense that working the other energetic and power-building pathways in the body is a smart thing to do.

Weekly Training: Jan 17-23, 2011

This week my training featured more high intensity and cross-training work than I originally planned. I also didn’t get in any long-ish runs. Not a huge deal. Next week I’ll get in my last big long run before Copper Canyon. My legs feel great and a little nagging hip and knee issue on my left side is being kept at bay right now. Taking a couple weeks totally off running during the holiday was just what I needed.

Monday, Jan 17. Running intervals :36.55 (4.6 miles) + 20 KB swings a few hours later.

Warm up, then 6 x 2 minute hard efforts with 2 minutes easy recovery between each followed by warm down.  Ran around Medina neighborhood on flat/rolling paved roads.

A few hours later did 20 kettlebell swings with a 53 pounder.

Tuesday, Jan 18. Running intervals :25:00 (3 miles) + Crossfit workout 30 min later.

Ran around Greenlake at a good clip, with 4 x 100 meter all out sprints. About 30 minutes later did first class in intro series for Crossfit! Did drills and warm up, then did workout for time: 4 sets of 5 burpees, 7 air squats, 9 sit ups, 200 meter run. My total time = 7:33 ….came in first out of the group! Including warm up and warm down the class took only 30 minutes.

Wednesday, Jan 19. Track workout tempo run :31:00 (4.25 miles).

1/2 mile warm up, 3 mile tempo run, 3/4 mile warm down with Eastside Runners. Ran with group #7. Goal time was 20:33 and we finished in 20:13. First 2 miles were right on pace in 6:51 and sped up the last 800 meters. Felt very strong today.

Thursday, Jan 20th. Running easy intervals :25:00 (3 miles) + Crossfit workout 30 min later.

Ran around Greenlake at an easy pace with 4 x 50 meter all out sprints throughout. Crossfit included warm up and then timed 12 minute workout for max rounds of: 3 ring dips (using bands if needed), 5 high box jumps, 7 push press overhead with 45lbs. I did 10 sets….highest were a couple who did 11…I could have done that many but took my time moving between exercises 🙂 .

Friday, Jan 21st. Kettlebell swings :9:00.

3 sets of 20 swings with 53lb. 2-3 minutes rest between each.

Saturday, Jan 22nd. Crossfit + Easy Running :11:00 (1.25 miles) later in the day.

Warm ups then main set =  21/15/9 of  wall ball, kettlebell swings with 53lbs, 50 feet lunge walk. My time = 5:54. Fist finishers were just over 5 minutes.  Rest of 5-6 minutes then “Tabata” sit-ups (4 mins). “Tabata” means 20 seconds of all out movement followed by 10 seconds rest, done 8 times. You score tabatas based on the minimum number of reps you complete across all the 20 second intervals. My score = 8 for the tabata situps given then I completed only 8 reps during a few of the 20 second all-out efforts. The highest score in the class was 12. We finished with 5-6 minutes stretching.

Easy 11 minute run to test out a new pair of shoes…the Inov-8 Roclite 295’s. They were too small 🙁 .

Sunday, Jan 23rd.Easy Run :42:26 (4.75 miles). 5 pull ups.

Easy loop around Medina. Tested out some new gear, the Amphipod hydration belt. I love this thing! Took a while to get used to releasing the bottles from the holders, but it’s very well designed and usable with just one hand, whereas my FuelBelt requires two hands to return bottles to the holders.

Total weekly training time = 4:26:41.(~21 miles running)

How to Run 50 Miles: Part II – Beyond Pure Fitness

Read Part I Here.

I’m going to expand on the first principle I stated in Part I, that I think the outcome for endurance events are more driven by factors beyond raw fitness than of fitness itself. Nutrition, mental focus, pacing, gear and other factors are just as (if not more important) than how high your VO2 max or lactate threshold is.

Let me explain. In my last 50K race, The North Face Endurance Challenge in Marin Headlands, I was never once out of breath on the course. However, I clearly suffered greatly and my result did not reflect my fitness. How could this be? Simple. I did the following things:

  • I went out way too fast, running the first 8-10 miles about 10-15% faster than I should have. It didn’t feel that way during the run, but in hindsight this was the case.
  • I bonked hardcore after 16 miles. I hit mile 16 having consumed a couple gels and a few pieces of banana and boiled potato. This might seem enough calories, but given the course severity it took almost 3 hours to get this far and that was way too few calories. Also, given I was running faster than normal my caloric burn rate was far higher than normal training.
  • I had terrible shoes for this course. I wore Mizuno Waverider running shoes. They are lightweight training shoes, meant for smooth pavement. I also wore them for the Ron Herzog 50K and realized they weren’t great on trails, but I didn’t remedy the problem. I was slipping and sliding all over, given how wet and muddy the North Face course was. Footing was a real issue during the race.  I would slow down my pace at times and it just took way too much mental energy to focus on where my feet were going.
  • I ran carrying a single water bottle. Big mistake, as I slowed down in the second half of the race, I would run out of water/calories between aid stations and just suffer. Rookie mistake. I should have carried two bottles or used a hipflask system. Had I not bonked I would have been fine with 1 bottle, but the slower pace after mile 16 meant I was running/walking slow and needed more fuel between aid stations.
  • I wore a great Gore-Tex running jacked which kept my upper body warm, but my legs were freezing cold given the rain and the fact that I slowed so much. Studies show that cold muscled perform worse – far worse – than warm muscles. My legs were frozen for most of the race. This was of course exacerbated by my bonking and slower pace after mile 16.

Had I addressed these things by wearing appropriate clothing, using proper trail shoes, carrying more fuel and starting out more slowly (and using walk breaks early on); the result surely would have been very different! Live and learn! Addressing the non-fitness related variables has a big impact on race day. The longer you plan to go, my opinion is the more these other things count. Especially, bad footwear can easily take someone out of commission in an ultra-marathon (a bad blister or foot issue can bring down the toughest runner!). Same goes with an incorrect fueling strategy.

Will continue this multi-part post later.

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Going for a 90 minute run on some flat dirt trails today. I trail tested my new Inov-8 Roclite 295’s yesterday. They are too small…back to the store they go!

How to Run 50 Miles: Part I

I’ve never ran 50 miles in one go before, but will at the Copper Canyon Ultra a little over a month from now. The approach I’ve taken to building up to this race is very unconventional. Most running programs are linear in nature. With base miles building and long runs (bi-weekly) building up to a considerable sum every week, then a multi-week taper.

There are clear rules around not increasing long runs more than 10% each time, and in building up to a steady weekly mileage base (that can push 50-60+ miles per week for an ultra runner – with elite runners getting well over 100mpw).

I’m following a different approach because I have other things I chose to do with my time besides run, and I also want to avoid injury. The principles I’m following in my training include the following ideas that I’ve made up based on my own past experience doing marathons, Ironmans and a couple 50Ks:

  • Outcomes for endurance events are more due to mental, nutrition and pacing factors than they are of raw fitness. Therefore, focusing on training the non-fitness aspects will have material value on race day.
  • The limiter of speed in an endurance event is rarely aerobic fitness, it is usually muscular strength and power related (or mental strength related). Training strength and power (mental and physical) is therefore the key once you are reasonably fit aerobically.
  • Biomechanical efficiency is key, the lack of which can result in injury and/or inefficiency that throws any nutrition and racing plan out the window…the longer the event, the more important this become. Learning and using proper technique is critical.
  • If you are too tired from training to enjoy your life and all it has to offer, then you either aren’t training properly or don’t have your priorities in the right spot 🙂

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Gotta run right now (to the Grand Opening of Shakti Redmond, woo hoo!) but will post next some more details of my specific training for the upcoming 50 miler.

New Kettlebell @ 53lbs

Image via Wikipedia

I just got a brand new 53-pound kettlebell to join my 32-pounder. The 32 was getting light. Great for higher reps but now is a good time to upgrade. I ordered through a Dragon Door wholesaler, Kettlebility in Seattle, to spare myself crazy-high shipping costs.

A video of the unveiling:

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This morning I did a trail run at Cougar Mountain, about 4.5 miles at a good clip and then 4 fast repeats up a hill (each repeat was 85 seconds). Nice workout given I haven’t been feeling so hot this week after my return from the insanity that is CES.

Also, I got a copy of Pavel’s book “Power to the People” along with my kettlebell. I almost finished it in one sitting! So much good stuff in there. Can’t wait to start dead-lifting again. I always thought squats were more effective and safer, but Pavel thinks differently.

2011 Race Calendar

This year I am getting back in racing. It’s been a number of years (since 2003 in fact!) since I’ve trained with any kind of regularity and raced while caring about place/time. It’s motivating to have clear goals again, and I’m looking forward to learning from many years of mistakes (I guess we call that experience?) and making this a fun and productive year training-wise and racing-wise.

Here are the primary events I have in the plan for 2011. IMCDA and the Portland Marathon are the major races. Aside from these events I might jump into a few Olympic distance triathlons or some 5K to half-marathon races as part of training efforts.

3/6 Copper Canyon 50 Mile Ultra Marathon (Goal = finish!)
4/30 Wildflower Half-Ironman Triathlon (Goal = finish and test race strategy for IMCDA, <6hours time)
6/26 Ironman Coeur d Alene MAJOR RACE (Goal =  <11 hrs = <1:05 swim <5:45 bike <4:00 run)
7/30 White River 50 Mile Endurance Run (Goal = finish in top half of the field, <10 hours)
9/24 Black Diamond Half Ironman (Goal = top 5 in age group, <5:20 time would be nice!)
10/6 Portland Marathon MAJOR RACE (Goal = <3 hours and qualify for Boston Marathon)
11/5 Ron Herzog 50K (Goal = top 10 finish, <5:30 time)
12/3 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler (Goal = finish in top half of field, <10 hours)

I know many of you who read my blog also race…I’m interested to hear what you have on tap! Leave a note in the comments with your plans for 2011.

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I’m super slow in sorting through all the wonderful pics and vids from my trip to the Galapagos and Ecuador. Hope to get a post up before the end of the year with a recap 🙂 .

Starting to do more strength training and speed-work; on the track, on the bike trainer and in the gym. It feels good! In my longer runs last fall (the Portland Marathon and both 50K races) it was clearly muscular strength holding me back not aerobic fitness, so I hope the heavy squats, deadlifts and track repeats will eliminate the bottleneck.

The Truth About a 4-Hour Body

By now the internet has been set on fire by Tim Ferris‘s media blitz in promotion of his newest book, The 4-Hour Body. I’ve already ordered it and looking forward to learning some new “hacks” to increase my fitness and health.

Just like Tim’s last book, The Four Hour Workweek, the title of the new book implies peak results in little time. This is misleading. Even Tim is clear that the goal is not to just work for a few hours and sit around being bored. The point is to spend less time needing to do stuff and more time doing what you are passionate about.

In the same way, I am expecting The 4-Hour Body to provide great time efficient tips for growing strength and endurance, but the point won’t be to spend the other 164 hours of the week slouching around, sleeping and eating potato chips. The point is to integrate it into a lifestyle that is more active and physically aware. In other words, a 4-Hour Body style approach to fitness will give you the tools and motivation you need to make caring about physical well-being a natural and desired thing and not some tax you have to pay.

I also think that in the midst of all the hype around getting massive results quickly, we can jump to the conclusion that real effort and hard work is not required. This is a big mistake. Even if you only train for 4-Hours a month or 4-Hours a week, the level of intensity (I’m talking about physical and mental focus) needs to great. This is evident in Tim’s “Geek to Freak” experiment, which I also tried a few years ago.

If you are going to be in the gym for a few minutes a day and expect massive results, the intensity will need to be incredibly high. If you are going to go from 5K to 50K run in a few months (I just did this!), you need to be very diligent in how you train and focused in getting proper rest and having tons of mental strength to push through discomfort on race day.

This is the truth about a 4-Hour Body. It will take massive focus and lots of effort, though perhaps not a ton of time. The point is NOT to assume that less time and more efficiency = easy results!

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I’m heading tomorrow to XC Ski camp in the Methow Valley in Washington State. Should be a few fun days of snow-time and endurance training! I then fly to Ecuador for 10+ days exploring Quito, the surrounding highlands, maybe the rainforest and then on to the Galapagos Islands for a 6 days boat tour! I’ll drop a few updates to my blog if I find an internet cafe while traveling.

The Mind is Primary

Running my last few races  I learned that the mind is primary not the physical.

When I bonked after 16 miles at The North Face 50K last weekend there was a physical component but I know that the governor of the whole experience was my own head. There were plenty of times when I could have run when I walked. I walked because it felt better to walk and it hurt to run.

I also notice how when things get tough it can be all too easy to just get down on allow negative self-talk to creep in. Last week I actually got angry at the course for being so ridiculously hilly and muddy! Once the downward mental slide begins it is tough to stop until it runs its course. For me that took about 2 hours and 10 miles.

Mental training is very tough and something we are not programmed to do. We avoid it because it really pushed us past our comfort zone. It mandates that you intentionally do things that are uncomfortable and outside of your normal routine. If you are only doing the type of regular physical training that your are used to doing, then you are not pushing your mental boundary.

Running Clinic with Barefoot Ted from Born to Run

(L-R) Me, Barefoot Ted, Sean, Rashida, Oliver (pic shamelessly pirated from SeanDH.com!)

Had the chance to meet with “Barefoot Ted” (featured in the book Born to Run) for a fun clinic on natural running and a quick tour of his Luna Sandal factory. I’ve met Ted a few times in the past year and he is a great guy. I learned a lot in just an hour of listening to him, asking questions and going through some drills. I’ll distill down a few of the main things I learned, but highly recommend doing your own clinic if you are ever in the Seattle area.

We met in the Luna Sandal “factory”, which is really just  small room where he is making very traditional sandals, akin to the kind of footwear worn by native people for centuries in many locales. He gave a brief talk on his perspective on natural running, the problems we face in a society so fixated on measurement, tracking and “times” and totally out of touch with the natural rhythms of our bodies and the sheer joy of movement. I have no doubt that Ted could talk for days about running technique and history, he really does know a ton.

We then headed out to a nearby park for some drills. I was with a few friends: Sean, Oliver and Rashida. They all wore Vibram FiveFingers, but I just opted to go barefoot for the full effect! It was quite cold out and raining. We did drills for a short while to focus on three main things that Ted things focused on.

  1. Soft landing. We went back and forth along a flat and wide sidewalk, first walking and then slowly jogging; all the while careful to move without making a sound. This is tough to do! Ted’s feet were barely audible as he was landing so softly. Even in my bare feet I could hear a little thud with every landing. The focus was to land on the forefoot and then allow the mid-foot and then heel to lightly land.
  2. Quick turnover. Taking shorter and quicker steps was key. The goal was to have the feet land directly under the body, as opposed to reaching the foot forward beyond the hips and landing towards the heel of foot. Extending the foot too far forward causes a breaking action and excess stress in the knees and hips. It also eliminates the potential for efficient energy transfer from stride to stride. We did some drills of moving quickly with much shorter strides at faster cadence, all the while maintaining more of a fore to mid-foot landing.
  3. Balanced movement. Ted stressed that head position and core stability were super important. The most efficient method of running is to keep the head (which is heavy, at 10-12 pounds) stacked over the shoulders and the shoulders stacked over the hips. Running in this way it is easier to balance, and the feet have a role to play in this as well, with the big toe helping the body to balance. We did some drills walking along a curb and keeping our core slightly tense and moving forward using our core, with head stacked tall (not dropping forward!). Ted says that if you run properly and keep your core active, running will help you build a very strong core.

Next, we practiced jumping.

Humans were built to move in all kinds of ways, and jump and bound for all kinds of purposes. However, adults nowadays hardly ever jump! We practiced simply jumping up steps, focusing on landing without making a sound and with soft knees. The soft knees allow the body to absorb the movement vs  jarring to the body that happens with overly stiff knees and hips. Ted made the point that with proper and natural technique, running and jumping can actually make the body stronger (joints too!). The old thinking of running wearing down the body are only true if you have poor movement patterns.

Finally, we did an exercise where we ran softly up a circular staircase inside a watch-tower in the park. The tower was an echo chamber, making it easy to know if you were pounding the stairs in any way. Ted moved without making a single sound! I pounded more than I though (I had my shoes on for this exercise – Brooks Green Silence).

All in all, it was great fun to do this clinic. Ted is a fantastic guy and I highly recommend checking it out if you are in the neighborhood. I also got measured for some Luna Sandals 🙂 . Will be picking them up in a few weeks.

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I’m finally recovered from The North Face 50K. Did a ~22 mile run yesterday (I ran to and from the Barefoot Ted clinic with Sean! ~11 miles each way). Legs feel good, though knees and ankles are a little sore. A few more short to medium distance runs on tap for this week and then I’m going to take at least 2 weeks off.

The North Face Endurance 50K @ SanFran Race Report

Mission Accomplished! Finished The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K in San Francisco (Marin Headlands)

The race description lived up to it’s billing as a ridiculously challenging but beautiful course. I didn’t wear my GPS, but roughly plotted the course on runkeeper. You won’t find more incredible terrain than the Marin Headlands, site for The North Face Endurance Challenge. They had a 50 mile, 50K, Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, 10k and 5k race. I did the 50K event. Having just done a 50K last month, and the Portland Marathon the month prior, I was a little tired from training and racing but decided it would be a good day of training and a chance to see the Headlands and visit my brother who lives nearby.

In short, I totally crashed and burned. I had similar issues as my previous two races. I bonked hardcore. I went out too fast. I wasn’t wearing the proper gear. All rookie mistakes but that is sort of why I wanted to do this race, to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

At the same time I’ve learned first-hand through the past few races that training is also only part of the story. Mental focus and toughness is at least 50% (and maybe closer to 80%) of the game. All kinds of people were passing me after I bonked (after about 16 miles of running). Older women. Young men. People who looked super fit and people who looked like they just started running. People wearing highly technical gear and people wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Being able to just tough it out and not let your mind get the best of you is a big part of these races.

I arrived at the Headlands on Friday afternoon, and quickly checked into a Hostel, which is conveniently situated within the Headlands. This was an awesome place to stay. $20 a night. It was literally 200 yards from the race start and full of athletes (including a bunch of pro/elite runners)! It was super clean and comfortable. I am already thinking of going back and staying for a few days to explore the Headlands some more. After checking into the place, I headed down to Sausalito to eat dinner. This is a cool little town with very expensive homes and some nice places to eat and epic views of San Fran and the Golden Gate Bridge. I gorged on Indian food and then headed back to the Hostel.

Dinner the night before the race in Sausalito. Indian food!

At the Hostel I spent some time in the living room talking with other runners. Most folks were running the 50 miler, including a few young girls who were just planning to “power hike” the whole 50 miles! I don’t think they had even done a marathon before! Whoa.

I hit the sack fairly early, and proceeded to wake up every 20 minutes throughout the night, looking at my clock and wondering if it was time to get up! The 50 milers started at 5am and 50k racers started at 7am. Around 4am I started to hear some sounds as other runners got up and ready for a 50mile start in the cold and pitch black! These runners spend the first few hours running with headlamps on. Luckily, by the time the 50k started the sun had started to rise so there was no problem seeing the course. Check out the video further below for an idea of what this crazy course is like.

Start/finish area - after the race.

I made my way to the race start area and met up with a few friends from Seattle that were also running. We traded some notes on what gear everyone was going to wear. Was it going to rain? How many layers do we need? I decided to run with a standard pair of running shorts, regular road running shoes, a lululemon running shirt, a The North Face gore-tex running jacket and a hat. I carried a 20 oz water bottle the whole way, and kept 1 Hammer Gel in my jacket pocket. This last part turned out to be a big mistake. I was way short on fuel and aid stations were further apart (time-wise, not distance-wise) than I thought given how long it took to travel a few miles given all the hills.

With 2 minutes to start I gathered towards the front and got ready to go. I had no specific time goal, but thought it would be nice to run faster than my last 50k a month ago – which took me about 6 hours 44 minutes after bonking very bad and having some other issues (the course was long too!). I thought a sub 6-hour time was totally reasonable.

Here is how the race went down:

Mile 1: People went out very fast. This always amazes me for long races! I settled into an easy rhythm and went along the flat course following a paved road and then onto a dirt path. Every minute I would pass someone as they slowed down and I kept my steady pace.

Miles 2-4: The dirt single-track path led to a dirt road that went up a very large climb. This serious climb really woke me up given how early in the morning it was! A bunch of runners who started out too fast started to drop back at this point. I kept running even.

Miles 4-16: The race proceeded through a variety of single-track routes, with some epic views of the Pacific Ocean while running along some high bluffs and plenty of light rain in the cool air. We climbed up and down some pretty large hills. At one point running tight switchbacks along a mud-soaked trail. There were also some up and downhill sections along steps build into the trails. I felt good the whole time, and didn’t stop to walk one bit. There were aid stations roughly every 4-5 miles and I would refill my water bottle and grab an energy gel stuff some banana in my mouth (and some boiled potato with salt).

Miles 16-18: Around mile 16 we hit an aid station, I refueled and kept running. I then started to proceed down a several mile trail downhill. The trail was really twisty and through the woods. It was pretty tough running since I was not super used to running trails like this…I normally just hike them! I was having a hard time maintaining a good pace and people started passing me. At some point I just felt too tired to run and stopped. I was bonking hardcore!

Miles 18-25: All I can say is bonking sucks. I clearly didn’t eat enough early in the race. I walked about 80% of the time between miles 18-25 or so. Sometimes even walking was tough. The climbs were super ridiculous. Long sweeping climbs along muddy and slick trails. I just did my best and kept moving forward. I started drinking coke at each aid station and filling my entire water bottle with coke as well. Coke is amazing when you are late in an endurance race. The thing is, once you start drinking coke, you need to keep it up – or your blood sugar will crash again.

Miles 25-29: I started to feel a little better. There were a few long hills prior to the finish (each climb was a few miles long followed by a long downhill). I run/walked the uphills and ran the downhills. The climbs were super muddy and at one point just getting enough traction on the trail to walk it took a supreme effort.

Miles 29-31: The last few miles were downhill and flat. By this time I actually felt OK and approaching the finish felt quite good.

Finish time = 7:14:28

50 feet from the finish line!

Here is a great video of the course (it follows elite runners doing the 50 miler)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTMcv5rIzl4]

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I learned a ton from the race. It was not at all the finish I expected. I expected to run most of it. I expected to run about 1.5 hours faster than I did. I did not expect to bonk. I also didn’t expect it to be so mentally tough to finish, given that I have just run a 50K and a Marathon in the past few months! I also learned that preparation matters a lot. Nutrition strategy (carry more water and gels than you think you need!) and the proper gear (footwear with traction for a muddy course and proper breathable rain gear).

I’m already looking forward to training again – and getting in more super long runs. I need more 4-5 hour running efforts to get my body used to dealing with that level of stress. I’ll be looking to run another 50K in late January or early February (not sure where yet) and have already signed up for the Copper Canyon 50 Mile Ultra-marathon on March 6th, 2011. Just a few months to get ready for it!

Men's 50 Mile Champions! Miguel Heras (1st), Geoff Roes (2nd), Dave Mackey (3rd)
Women's 50 Mile Champions! Anna Frost (1st), Lizzy Hawker (2nd), Kami Semick (3rd)

Finding and Surfing Your Growing Edge

Friends and I (third from left) several years ago standing on the ferry-boat just moments before we jumped into the 51 degree water and swam across Puget Sound! That definitely pushed my edge physically and mentally.

In yoga class I teach that all the benefits begin to show up when your mind says “it’s time to leave” but you stick with it anyway. This is the growing edge that we need to “surf” if any kind of growth is going to happen, physically, mentally or otherwise. I see so many people leave when things get uncomfortable and that is a shame (in a yoga class, it’s not that people leave the room, it’s that they come out of the pose or back out of it so it isn’t as intense). I see the same thing happen in the workplace.

All the benefits begin to show up when your mind says “it’s time to go,” but you stick with it anyway.

People get fed-up with a job, a boss or some other situation; and find it easier to just switch projects, change roles or leave the company as opposed to finding a way to make things work for the best. In many cases, the issue wasn’t any external factor. It was simply that the person was not willing to put in the effort (and perhaps time) required to come up with the solution. In other cases (less common in my experience), people do lack some skill or resource, but find it too inconvenient to ask for help (or maybe it’s just too humbling to ask for help?) – and instead just move on to something else.

In the course of the past 10 years I’ve been at Microsoft, there have been literally dozens of dreadful times where I totally was not looking forward to dealing with some project or person. In each case I stuck it out and in each case the thing that seemed dreadful at first came to past and everything worked out for the best. I think the ability to endure and see things through is a lost art. We get so caught up on the need for a quick fix (fast promotions, 6-pack abs in 5 minutes a day, etc.) that our own latent skills and capabilities atrophy due to lack of consistent and prolonged use.

If you spend any time in a gym this principle becomes obvious. In order to grow muscle, you must tire the muscle and then go a little further. Only then will growth happen. You could even say that first few reps and sets of an exercise are essentially useless and it is only the final effort hat causes any real adaptation. Instead of running from this place of growth, your edge, why not make it a point to find it and push against it? If growth is an objective then doing this is a necessity. Running away from your edge guarantees that growth will not happen. In fact it guarantees that you will degrade over time as your body adapts to a new and lower state of performance.

We are experts at adaptation. Relax and you will become use to that and your edge will soften. Regularly push up against your edge and over time it will become easy and your growth boundary will move. Use this principle to your advantage. Make surfing your own edge a game. Consciously and regularly pick things that will challenge you on some level. When was the last time you did something that pushed you in a meaningful way? Let me know in the comments to this post!

The Secret to Running Super Long Distances

Here it is. It’s a hidden secret that few people put into practice. It’s the trick to going long in any sport…but works super well for running. I’ll give you this priceless secret for free. To run long distances, all you have to do is:

  1. Get off your couch.
  2. Put on your shoes (unless you enjoy barefoot running!)
  3. Put one foot in front of the other.
  4. Continue step #3 for a few minutes, hours (or days if you like!).
  5. Walk when you need to. Stop when you must.
  6. Eat when hungry. Drink when thirsty. Sleep when tired.

That’s it! No potions, lotions, technical gear or support crews required. Just get out and start moving. Happy running my friends.

Importance of running efficiency

Image via Wikipedia

As I ramp up my own running mileage, I’m becoming more aware of the importance of running bio-mechanics and overall efficiency. A little extra weight or unneeded movement adds up when you are running 20-30+ miles at a stretch.

An article, The Perfect Stride, at The New Yorker profiles the obsessive efforts of distance running Alberto Salazar in training his elite runners as part of Nike’s staff.

His focus on fore and mid-foot strike, faster turnover and lightly touching the ground with the feet are all things that start to come naturally with barefoot or minimalist running. I’m surprised the article didn’t say anything about footwear and the impact on stride and bio-mechanics. That could be one of the easiest ways to educate the body on how to run better vs doing lots of drills and having to focus on how your legs are moving and feet are landing all the time.

Ron Herzog 50K Race Report

Where it all went down at Masonic Park outside Granite Falls, WA

Yesterday I did my longest and toughest run ever, the Ron Herzog 50K (which ended up being around 32 miles, a little more than 50K). I stumbled upon it a week ago while looking for trail runs online and decided to give it a shot. This is a small race and when I showed up it seemed like a lot of the participants knew each other. I think around 50 people were there. The race FREE….with  suggested $25 donation to support the ALS association in honor of Ron Herzog, an ultra runner who died of the disease.

Continue reading Ron Herzog 50K Race Report

Getting lost

I just finished a nice 11 mile run. It was supposed to be about 6 miles. The plan was to run a route I did often when I lived in Kirkland about 5 years ago. There has been a bunch of new construction since then and part of the route didn’t seem that familiar any more.  Turns out I forgot to make a certain turn and was running in the wrong direction at one point for a few miles. I like getting lost (within reason). It makes things fun and turns a routine training effort into an adventure.

How to destroy a perfectly awesome salad

Salads are the single healthiest type of food/cuisine to eat. They are also easy to absolutely destroy. In fact, while sitting here I’m munching on an entire head of organic green lettuce. Some choose potato chips,  I prefer lettuce!

A perfect snack while blogging!

Most restaurants are trained in the art of destroying a perfectly good salad. Case in point are Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad at a whopping 709 calories & 25 g fat and Taco Bell’s Taco Salad tipping the scale at 906 calories and 49 g fat! Can you imagine eating a salad that has more calories and fat that a Big Mac? It’s not just the chain restaurants at fault, practically all places make it easy to ruin a salad if you aren’t careful with what you order. Here are the top methods one can use to utterly destroy a salad:

  • Douse it in salad dressing (a few spoons of dressing can have 10x the calories and infinitely more fat than the entire salad!)
  • Cover it in cheese
  • Coat it in crunchy stuff like croutons, fried onions, etc.
  • Use handfuls of roasted nuts and seeds (full of fat and salt)
  • Put a bunch of fried and roasted meat or other garbage on top of it

I prefer to eat my salads raw. Usually just a bunch of lettuce and some carrots or radishes I’ll munch on before eating dinner. If I am having only a salad for a meal, I’ll sometimes use plain olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a light dressing, and top it with grilled tofu or some beans, bell peppers, radishes and avocado. The amount of avocado and other “heavier” stuff I use depends on how much I’ve been training that week. I use a TON of greens (really, my salads are ginormous – usually a whole large head of organic romaine).

Adapting to more natural running

I’m trying to improve my running stride, and become more of a mid to fore-foot striker as opposed to a heel striker. I run in Vibram FiveFingers every now and then, but since I’m training for another Ironman next year, and my first ultra-marathon in December, I also run in “normal” running shoes for most of my miles. I worry about putting too much load on my feet training in just the Vibram’s.

While running today in my normal shoes (Mizuno Waverider’s) I made a conscious effort to improve and focus on my stride. After watching a series of videos, including this clinic by Terra Plana and some videos by Newton running shoes on Youtube, I’ve decided that regardless of the shoe that I wear, I can be in control of my form if I pay more attention to it. It will take some adaptation time before it becomes second nature. I haven’t purchased Newton’s yet, but here is a good video on some running form basics (ignore the marketing pitch and cheesy music!):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fBh2qH4QbM]

I focused on the following while running today:

  • Taking shorter strides (I’d estimate about 30% shorter)
  • Having a faster turnover of my legs (at least 30-50% faster)
  • Touching down lightly on my forefoot with each step
  • Landing with most of my weight/load on my mid-foot (after the forefoot hits)
  • Using more of my core and hips to move me forward as opposed to calves/legs
  • Gazing forward (about 20 yards)
  • Relaxing my shoulders and pulling them back a little (so my chest is open and not hunched)
  • Slight tuck of the tailbone
  • Slight lead forward at the hips (very subtle)

This seems like a lot to keep track of, but it was very simple. It took some mindfulness, but I noticed a big difference. My feet were more tired than normal and I think in general it took more energy to run like this, but I’m assuming this is just adaptation at work. Once I get all the little muscles in my feet working properly and the posture becomes more natural, I’m hoping that the effort should become more effortless.

Getting better with age

I finished the Portland Marathon last weekend. It was my first marathon in 10 years (not counting the Ironman‘s shortly after). Glad I did it but boy was it tough! Leading up to the race I had a lot of people ask me how I thought it would go. I really didn’t have a clue. I ran 3:10 in my last marathon on a tougher course. This time, running under 4 hours would be nice and I set that as a realistic goal. Having only run 16 miles in training leading up to the race it was really unclear what my body would actually  be capable of doing. I ended up finishing in 3:54.

Here I am - with coffee in hand - talking to a friend who just finished the Portland Marathon as well.

I definitely feel like I am far tougher now (age 31) than I was when I ran my first marathon (age 21). People say all kinds of things about how younger athletes are stronger, recover faster and have some sort of edge. I think it is completely untrue. While science shows that lung capacity and strength do begin to decline beyond the late twenties (some say the decline starts as early as age 25) there are so many other factors at play. I know for certain I am mentally tougher than I was 21 years ago. I know how to handle discomfort and pain much better. I know how to not go out too fast (though sometimes I still do!) in a long race. I focus more on nutrition and hydration strategy. I also have a more well-rounded approach to training. I’m not as fixated on mileage on more on overall fitness. This means I do a ton of cross-training (yoga, bodyweight exercises, hiking, etc.).

I think the biggest distinction that I’ve gained with age is the ability to just endure. For my marathon, the final 10 miles were incredibly painful – not just tiring. My feet were swollen and I was freezing cold (it was pouring rain the entire race). It felt like I was running on stumps due to the swelling (first time I have ever experiences this). My hands were also swollen and hurt. I am still not sure what caused the swelling – the cold, the fact that I was soaking wet or some allergic reaction to something I ate. I slowed down a lot in those final miles but was able to stay mentally clear enough to reassess how I was doing and change-up my strategy. Instead of trying to run non-stop, I decided to walk the aid stations and then jog at a consistent pace in between. I ended up finishing strong and with a smile on my face. 10 years ago I would have definitely pushed it hard and probably ended up with massive cramping (as happened in my last marathon 10 years ago, and at my last Ironman race 7 years ago).

Hydration and nutrition is also another benefit. I used to think that stopping for water and food was lame and just an excuse to take a break. I used to speed up at aid stations just so I could pass people who were slowing down to get some food and water! I take the other approach now. I think it will help me out in a big way as I start racing longer distances – I am doing my first ultra-marathon in December at the North Face Endurance 50K in the San Francisco area Marin Headlands park.

I am convinced that when it comes to endurance sports we improve with age – especially when you count things beyond just finishing time/speed. I don’t know how far this will go….but I do know that when I hiked the Inca trail in 2003 – one of the strongest porters (hiking the entire trail barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt with 70 lbs on his back) was also the oldest. Nobody really knew his age…but it was definitely well over 50. Everyone respected him. All the guides, all the porters, everyone. I want to be like that guy!

The Inca Trail Entourage! Here we are cresting the highest mountain pass on the 4-day journey to Macchu Picchu - "Dead Woman's Pass" at roughly 13,500 ft. elevation. I am squinting from the cold wind and wearing the red winter hat in the back. (Dec 2003)

Epic5 – When One Ironman Just Isn’t Enough

Jason Lester and Rich Roll in their attempt to complete 5 iron-distance races in 5 days!

As if one Ironman wasn’t enough, these two ultra-endurance athletes did 5 Ironman-distance efforts over five days on five different islands in Hawaii in May 2010. Jason Lester and Richard Roll are also fueled by 100% plant-based nutrition. I like seeing people performing at a super-high level on vegetarian or even vegan diets. It just shows what is really possible if you work hard and chose not to take any short-cuts.

So you think you are crazy?

Alex Honnold free-climbs Half-Dome at Yosemite. No ropes, just chalk!

It is inspiring to see people pushing the boundaries of what is possible, even if these guys are totally insane. Enjoy – then get out and start training!

Trailer for First Ascents Series

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adr-RK-ftxo]

Real-life Spiderman

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfjkBrgVGyw]

Free-Base Jumper & Slackliner Dean Potter

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7NcLCC-YNI]

Ueli Steck’s Speed Climbing Records of Eiger, Matterhorn, etc.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWCljD5_Rew]