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.
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.
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.
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
Here is a great video of the course (it follows elite runners doing the 50 miler)
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!
Over at The Huffington Post, they have a link to this video, along with a poll asking for reader opinions on the book. Here’s the results so far (doesn’t show number of completes yet…but the poll has only been open for a few hours so far)
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:
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.
I just finished my first track workout in 8 years. I owe it to a friend for motivating me to go. We did 3 x 1 mile repeats at a pace far too fast than I should have been running – with a 1/2 mile jog between each.
I survived the workout and now feel good having done it. I’ll be back next week.
There is no way I ever would have done this workout at this pace on my own. Having 30-40 other runners suffering with me was a massive motivating force. Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing.
I just completed what was easily the toughest running race of my life, the Pier to Peak Half Marathon in Santa Barbara. 4,000 ft of elevation gain, with hardly more than a few hundred meters of flat road in the entire course. The winning time was 1:38 with most runners coming in around 2.5 hours or more. I finished in 2 hours and 19 minutes (well off my best 1/2 marathon time of 1 hr 22 mins).
I finished the race without walking more than a few steps at the aid stations to help get water down. That was my goal and I was pleased with it. Running a tough race like this really helps focusing on pushing through even when things get tough. No one sets personal records on a course like this (unless it is your first half marathon!) so it really comes down to learning how to suffer and being OK with that. All growth comes when the mind says stop but you push through.
I read some advice from Stu Mittleman – a legendary ultra runner – who said that it is critical to determine the specific conditions under which you will quit before you begin an endeavor. In the heat of the moment it is impossible to make the right decision. You need to be clear with how much you are willing to suffer and deal with that. I came back to that advice often when I was thinking of walking. I knew it would be painful and it was. I’m glad I chose not to take the easy way out.
I’ve started tweeting random tips for improving overall physical and mental endurance. I’ve never been much of a sprinter but tend to do better the longer things hold out. I’ve stumbled upon a bunch of things that work for me relating to health, nutrition, training and mental conditioning – and I’ll be sharing them on my twitter every day. Check it out if you are interested!
I’ve been watching Tim VanOrden’s energetic YouTube videos for a while, but just today ventured over to his website. He’s a Raw Vegan and on a mission to show that that you can achieve world class athletic performance on that kind of a diet, and at an older age.
Tim is 40 years old, setting personal records and beating runners over a decade junior to him.Here’s a taste of his goals for 2008:
2008 – US Tower Racing Champion at the Empire State Building
2008 – US Mountain Running Team – World Championships
2008 – World Record – Mile on outdoor track – First 40 year old to break 4 minutes.
2008 – US Olympic Track & Field Team – 40 years of age
2010 – US Olympic Nordic Ski Team – 42 years of age
I’ve been searching for a top Raw Vegan athlete that managed to improve performance radically after embarking on a Raw Vegan diet. I know of a few Raw Vegans who were top athletes, but they were either super fast before going raw, or stopped racing seriously altogether after cutting out cooked foods.
It looks like his diet is mostly fruits and raw food bars during the day (Lara Bars is a sponsor of his), with a monster salad in the evenings. No supplements either! He’s been doing this since late 2005, after several years as a vegan.
If someone like Tim can achieve significantly improved performance at an age where most would say his career as a top runner is over, then I would have to say there is something to his dietary approach. If this diet can power him to this level, just think about what incorporating more living foods in your diet could do to your energy levels at work or school?