Tag Archives: ultramarathons

Eating, Running, and Burning: How to Break the Rules

RUNNING WORLD, BEWARE! I AM NOMAX, THE BREAKER OF RULES.

Running, like many activities, has well-known “rules” everyone can recite and that the periodicals periodically parrot. Such as, “9 Things You Should Never Do Before Running” and other such click bait implying that breaking them will wreck your training and cause your <insert favorite body part here> to fall off.

Well, screw that.

In the space of a week recently I broke not one, but THREE rules regarding running and racing. I’m not saying they were particularly smart things to do, but I lived to tell about it.

1.  Don’t Stuff Your Face and Then Run Really Fast (#1 of the 9 Things)

Unless, of course, it is Pi Day (3/14) and there is a race involving pie. Really good pie. And you’re stupid ambitious enough to enter the “Eat & Run” division, where you have to eat some pie before running.

Well, seasoned ultrarunners like me are used to eating and running. What’s one little piece of pie before a puny little 5K?

Yep, that’s one quarter of an entire pie. Which you must eat without using hands. And there’s a time penalty for not finishing. So there was nothing for it but to – well, see below.

And hell, if you’re going that far, might as well go all the way, with a “pie in the face” at the finish line.

The result? I finished second. Can’t wait for the Pizza Race!

2.  Don’t Do a Long Run The First Time You Wear New Shoes (#5 of the 9 Things)

Last Saturday I went to my favorite running store and bought me a new pair of road shoes. They fit well, and they felt good in the store. So the next day, I took them on a test run. Fortwentythreemiles.

See, I have some long road races this year, and my lightweight, minimally cushioned shoes weren’t gonna cut it. And the only way to know if the shoes will work for a long run is – to take them on a long run.

Now I did take some precautions. I taped my heels, took a spare pair of socks, and stopped halfway through for a gear check. But everything went smoothly, with much less leg fatigue than I was expecting. I think these shoes will work fine. But I’ll do a few short runs in them just to be sure.

3.  Don’t Run an Ultramarathon in the Desert in the Middle of Summer

(Surprisingly, this is NOT one of the 9 Things. Perhaps it’s too obvious even for this type of article.)

Okay, so I admit that the Badwater Ultra – 135 miles in Death Valley in July – is not a good idea for most people (if anyone). Definitely not on my radar. But a lil ‘ol 50K in Nevada at the end of August? Sure, why not?

And so I will be running the Burning Man 50K this year. This week I took the first step by registering for next week’s ticket sale. Assuming I get one, it is ON! All I need to do is figure out how I’m going to live for a week in the desert with no electricity, only the food and water I bring, and deal with possible 100-degree heat the entire time. And stay healthy enough to run a 50K in the bargain.

Perhaps there are some rules after all that really should NOT be broken. (from the votecharlie.com blog)

Now the karma believers among you may think I’ve stretched the rubber band about as far as I can, and it’s just a matter of time before the inevitable snap back. If and when that happens, I’ll humbly apologize to the universe here on this blog.

But until then, I’ll do my best to not break rule #9 – Doubt Yourself. Running, after all, is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. So go ahead and break some supposed rule now and then, if it makes you stronger in some way. I’ll be the last one to report you!

Advertisements

A Hundred Thousand Moments

This morning I went to the semi-annual Dan (black belt) test at my Aikido school’s main dojo. It was a long test, with three people each testing for shodan (1st degree), nidan (2nd degree) and sandan (3rd degree) rank. But it was also an exciting test to watch. At Dan level you see everything from very basic techniques to advanced series of throws and weapon strikes. Students are also tested in the teaching method and in their understanding of Aikido concepts.

Jo demonstration following the test.

Jo demonstration following the test.

One of the testers (*) had been in a kenshu (special advanced class) with me several years ago. After the test I went to say hello and congratulate him. He’s a reader of this blog, and he told me he’d noticed that when I write about running he sees an Aikido influence, and vice versa.

He’s right; for me, both physical and philosophical elements cross from one to the other. Sometimes it happens consciously, and sometimes it sneaks in when I’m not looking. Either way, I’m pretty sure it’s helped me improve at both.

I have not, however, attempted this during a marathon. Yet.

I have not, however, attempted this during a marathon. Yet.

The most recent instance was at yesterday morning’s run with PR Fitness. I made it a checkup for next week’s 25K Vasa Trail race, upping my usual pace and monitoring my body’s performance. Things began well; I got up the killer hill on the route without problems, and even sprinted a bit afterward. But as I passed through Argo Park with a couple miles to go, I was fatigued and struggling to maintain form. I just wanted the run to be over.

Then out of the blue the thought came: What are you doing? It’s a bright sunny morning, the fall colors are incredible, the temperature is perfect for running, and you’re not enjoying it. What, then, are you out here for?

2015 Richmond half, asking myself that very question.

2015 Richmond half, asking myself that very question.

Here was Aikido speaking. At this point I’d learned what I needed to know for next week’s race. It was time – past time – to just be in the moment. I slowed down, took a deep breath (or three) and relaxed, taking in what was around me and being okay with the discomfort. I reached the studio no less tired or sore, but almost reluctant to stop. All it took was that adjustment in perception.

Okay for a training run, you might say, but how about an ultramarathon? When running continuously for up to a hundred miles, is it really possible to live moment-to-moment? Yes; doing that at Kettle Moraine this year helped me get through some tough and tedious stretches. Now considering that based on my finish time I had 101,700 possible “moments” (assuming one second per moment), of which I managed maybe a few hundred, by no means am I good at it yet. But even that little bit made a difference.

The alternative (thinking about how many miles remain) is not, shall we say, exactly motivational. So much better to think: Here I am in this moment. Another moment is now here, and I’m still going. Perhaps ironically, I often feel most “moment aware” when I approach the finish line; the realization that I’m really going to finish this thing is enough to trigger it.

Yeah, but it's 77 miles and many hours to go before I can ZZZ . . .

Yeah, but it’s 77 miles before *I* can ZZZ . . .

Just to bring things full circle, at the Dan test this morning, Sensei asked one of the students the meaning of a particular Japanese phrase. “It means, ‘live in the moment,'” the student replied, and explained how it applies both to Aikido training and to the rest of our lives. He paused a moment to think of an example. I felt like jumping up and saying, “Ooh! Ooh! I got one!” but I’m not sure I’d have appreciated the moments that followed. I’ll save it for my own test someday.

Today was another perfect fall day, so after the test I went for a two-hour bike ride out there in the color and sunshine. Just to practice the principle, of course.

Great color in downtown Chelsea, MI.

Great color in downtown Chelsea, MI.

=============================

(*) Actually, two former kenshu classmates tested today, as did my current class instructor. I enjoyed their tests very much. Congratulations again! Osu!

Ultra Recovery: How Not to Cut Back on Training

Today makes exactly one month since Kettle Moraine, where I completed my first 100-mile trail ultra. And with no upcoming goal races in the near future, what have I been doing training-wise since then?

The answer in brief is – not much, and too much.

Not much, because I’ve cut back on training volume. Too much, because it appears that I should have also cut back on training intensity.

Just three months ago, my race calendar looked like this:

Date                                 Race                                                    Goal
======================================================
April 9                    Martian Marathon                     Qualify for Boston
April 24                    Trail Marathon                         Test readiness for Glacier Ridge
May 14                 Glacier Ridge Trail 50                 Purge 2015 DNF,, prep for Kettle
June 4-5               Kettle Moraine Trail 100         Finish

Runner youarecrazy

I think most runners would agree that was an aggressive schedule. To pull it off I needed a training regimen to match. Last November I told my running coach and strength trainer of my goals, and once they stopped shaking their heads they came up with a program to get me there.

From December through March I underwent the hardest training I’ve ever had. I ran hard. I ran long. I ran hills. Sometimes I did all three at once. And at Body Specs, Skip and company were relentless, giving me tons of squats, core work, pull-ups, and the dreaded weighted jump ropes.

There were ups and downs during that period; times when I felt invincible, and times when I could barely drag myself through the day. But the payoff became visible almost immediately, as I set personal bests at the Bigfoot Snowshoe 5K in January, the Leap Day 4-miler in February, and the No Frills All Thrills trail 8K in early April. But would these short successes carry over to the long goal races?

Yep.

Finished! Yeah, baby!

All goals accomplished!

I’ve written about the races in previous posts (except for the upcoming account of Kettle), so I’ll just say here that all the training was worth it. Those two months went by so fast it’s still a bit hard for me to believe it’s over. 100 miles done. DNF purged. And Boston, I’ll see you in 2017!

So what’s my training been like in the month since I finished Kettle? Naturally, I planned in recovery time, then to gradually resume active training. My success with this approach has been mixed.

KM100 - My FootWith running, there was no choice but to cut back. My beat-up feet took over a week just to heal enough to walk normally. But on June 14, I went out with PR Fitness for the Tuesday evening six-miler, and I’ve been averaging one run per week, with distances between five and eleven miles with no issues. Good news there!

Body Specs has been a different story. Just four days after Kettle I felt good enough to resume strength training, so I asked them to go easy for a bit. And so they did – for one session. The following week, it was pretty much back to normal. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t running much and felt good enough to complete the sessions.

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

Why is this man smiling? Because training is SO much fun!

This week, however, it caught up with me. I began to feel fatigued throughout the day – a classic sign of overtraining. I had no energy to run, and my performance at the gym got worse during the week instead of remaining steady or improving. Time for an enforced break.

Fortunately, this long weekend was just the ticket. With enforced rest, sleep, and lots of eating, my energy is returning. It hasn’t been easy. I feel like a lazy slug for sitting around, and worrying about gaining weight. As if putting on a couple of pounds during recovery is a bad thing. Just goes to show, you can always find something to worry about if you try hard enough.

It’s not all sloth and gluttony, however. I have gotten in an (easy) bike ride and a (somewhat easy) run. Can’t take the edge off completely, can I?

Happy Independence Day to all!

Flag fireworks

Kettle 100: Sights and Sounds

THE KETTLE MORAINE 100 WAS LAST WEEK and I’m still having trouble believing that a) it’s over, and b) I finished it. At least I think I did; I might still be out there hallucinating. (More on that next time.) I’m putting together a more detailed account, but right now I’d like to share some of the myriad sights and sounds of my 28-hour, 17-minute adventure.

The text in italics was spoken by other runners; where there’s no attribution, I just happened to overhear it.

Mile 2 or so, cruising along with a large group: “Hey! Walk the hills!”

KM100 - Early Hill Climb

“I was running with Nick and he picks up this big rock. He was going to carry it to the next aid station as a gag. He thought it was about a half mile away. It turned out to be over three miles. But he carried that rock the entire way.”

Mile 14 aid station, as I approached the drop bags: “Just take any one you like, they all got the same shit in ’em.”

KM100 - Emma Carlin - Drop Bags

Group of women to another group: “Happy Birthday, to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday, dear — people! Happy Birthday to you!”

“We’re celebrating our third wedding anniversary at this race.”

(To me) “What’s the Scuppernong cutoff? My wife’s worried she won’t make it.” Me: “Nine hours. She’s got plenty of time.” Him: “I don’t know why she worries. She did just fine at her 100 two weeks ago.” Me: “She ran one of these two weeks ago?” Him: “Oh, yeah. She’d do these weekly if she could.”

KM100 - Shirt - Our Shoes Have More Miles

Mile 45 aid station, sunset not far away: Guy 1: “You don’t have a headlamp?” Guy 2: “No, I didn’t think I was gonna need one.” Guy 1: “I have a spare headlamp in my bag. You will take it. Just turn it in at the finish and tell them my bib number.”

Woman ahead, turning to me: “What’s a name of a band that begins with V?” Me: “Um – Van Halen.” Her: “Thanks! Never would have thought of that one. Join our game, please. I’ve gotta do something to keep my mind off this.”

I stuck with running.

“Run, Smile, Drink Water, Don’t Die” – sounds like good advice to me!

Mile 62, as I start the second leg of the race: “100-miler going back out!! Woohoo!!”

Aid station, middle of the night: “What do you need?” Me: “A pizza and a large latte, that’s what I need.” Her: “How about some chicken noodle soup?” Me: “Sounds good.”

"So, like I'm considering swapping the PB&J for peanut M&Ms starting at mile 75. What do you think?"

“So, like I’m considering swapping the PB&J for peanut M&Ms starting at mile 75. What do you think?”

Several people along the way: “God, my feet hurt.” Me: “Yep, mine too.”

And this was *before* things got bad.

And this was *before* things got bad.

Aid station captain at mile 96: “You’ve got 4.8 miles left. You can do anything for 4.8 miles. You could stand on your head for that long.”

KM100 - Leaving Final Aid Station Mile 95

I stuck with running.

Just about everyone who passed me during the race: “Good job.” “Good work, man.” “Keep it up.”

Yeah. What they said.

Yeah. What they said.