Monday, February 25, 2008

Hill Repeats

Well, I think my strategy of simply resting the body most of the week and focusing on the weekend actually worked. I managed to rid myself of the bug and got in as much running as I could fit in the last 3 days.

Thursday I tested the health with 3 miles on the treadmill walking at 12% incline just under a 4mph pace. I followed that with an hour of yoga. My original plan for this weekend was to attempt four repeats of Mission Peak. However, between weather and time constraints, I knew that I was not going to be able to fit in a single long run. I didn't want to try to run through the heart of the big storm that was coming and my son had a basketball game and his 16th birthday this weekend. I decided I would simply head out to Mission Peak whenever the schedule and mother nature allowed and do as hit the peak as many times as I could.

By the numbers, I ended up touching the top 5 times over the course of 3 days, making 4.5 repeats of the full climb which added up to a grand total of 32 miles and over 9500ft of each climbing and descent between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening. The best part is that I felt good the whole time and could have done more had time and conditions allowed. Here's the details.

Friday 3:30pm, 2X MP - 14mi, +/-4300ft
My original plan was to do repeats of my 8 mile, figure 8 Loop, but given the recent rains, I knew that the Peak Meadow Trail would be very muddy and slippery. The last time I ran that route after a rain my ITB was sore from sliding around on the uphill. I also knew that the final bit of the Eagle Loop would be a total mess as the trail gets little use and would likely be ankle deep mud. I decided that I would stick to the main Hidden Valley Trail that has enough gravel to not get too muddy. I would include the Eagle Trail around the back of the peak to make 7 mile "Lollipop Loop" repeats. The overall mileage would, of course, be less, but the elevation gain for the distance would be higher overall with each loop being over 2100 ft of climbing and descent.

My first loop went well and I kept a pretty strong pace; much stronger than I would have had I been planning more than 2 loops. I hit the peak in 58 minutes and completed the whole loop in about 1:25. Not exactly a sustainable pace, but since my run would be spread out over the weekend some increased intensity would help fill the gap. I definitely slowed it down on the second loop, reaching the peak in 1:02 and finishing the last stretch in the dark which really slowed my downhill for a loop total of 1:35 and right around 3 hours for the full trip. I wore my heartrate monitor and was able to confirm something that I have always suspected.

On my second trip up I was heading up one of the steeper hills doing my normal shuffle/jog at about 18min/mi. My HR was staying around 152. I decided to drop it to a power-hike and my pace dropped to 20min/mi, but my HR went up to 154 and stayed there. Just to be sure, I returned to my shuffle and just as my pace dropped, my HR did too. Not sure what to say about this other than that I am simply more efficient at that slow shuffle jog (aka "the shlog") than I am at powerhiking the hills. I have been working on my walking pace and it is possibly that some of this is due to transition and getting the breathing pattern right once I am at the new pace. However, I also actually feel like I am working less when I'm shuffling. I would simply give up on walking and decide to shuffle all the time, but I think my calves would probably explode over the course of a 100-miler.

It was dark on the way down the second time so my pace was much slower. While normally a slower pace would translate to an easier run, on the downhill here it actually meant more impact and a harder run to me. Being a natural downhiller, I usually let the pitch of the trail set my pace. However, when I can't see, I obviously need to be more cautious which mean more breaking on the legs. Also, I have found that it also means that I get much more of a core workout as my stomach muscles are always engaged with those careful foot placements. Just before the bottom I saw what I thought was a hiker coming down a side trail with a flashlight. Then, suddenly the light was next to me. I have occasionally seen hikers who see a runner and decide to try running downhill. However, even at my slower pace here, they don't normally catch me. It turned out to be another runner. It was a guy named Radu whom I have met out on Mission Peak a few times before. He is a wicked fast runner who generally does runs out to Rose Peak and back. He would likely be one of the top ultra runners in the area, but he chooses not to race as he says he doesn't like the injuries that come with pushing himself too hard. We chatted a bit at the parking lot, before heading out.

Saturday 9:00am, 1X MP - 7mi, +-2140ft
The sky was clear Saturday morning even though the brunt of the storm was scheduled to come in later that day. I hit the trail again getting up as early as I could without sacrificing too much of the rest that I knew would be important to keep my body healthy. I was happy to find that I wasn't too sore at all and things loosened up after the first mile or so. I will say that heading up that first mile was tough as I was trying to focus on finding the easy maintainable pace trying to trick my mind into thinking it was in the middle of a long race. Also, the wind was picking up as the there was a pretty serious storm headed our way for the afternoon. I felt good though and kept a reasonable pace hitting the peak in just over an hour (1:01). I am generally lazy on weekends so don't much get up the peak in the morning. There were a lot more runners out there at this time of day than in the afternoon (meaning more than one). I saw a few coming down as I headed up and others heading up as I was coming down. Near the bottom I saw local Will Gotthardt just starting up the hill with young speedster and ultra newbie Ryan Commons. This 26 year old has been tearing it up lately at the PCTR 50K races. I said hi to Will and wished them luck with the weather.

I finished my loop in about 1:28 and managed to beat the rain as well. I didn't have time for any more as Freddy had a basketball game and so I needed to head home. As I was coming into the parking lot, though, I noticed a woman walking down the trail caring a microphone on a big boom. It seemed an odd thing to be taking on a hike so I asked her what she was recording, figuring it was some sort of scientific thing or something. It turned out she was interviewing Ryan as she is doing a paper on "hitting the wall" or some such. Interesting. The rest of the day was spent watching basketball and watching the storm come in. I felt good still, but was determined not to risk anything by running in the rain. In fact, even on the runs I had done, I was bundled up a lot more than I usually would be for the weather. Two layers with my REI Taku jacket on top. While it meant I sweated a bit more, I chose to remain warm and then change into dry clothes immediately after completing the runs.

Sunday 4:15pm, 1.5X MP - 11mi, +/-3220ft
Sunday we spent shopping at the Valley Fair Mall with Freddy and his friend. Afterwards we went for an early dinner/late lunch at an Italian restaurant on Santana Row. It was pretty good food, but Chicken Cacciatore and a glass of red wine aren't exactly the best pre-run fueling options. Ah well. After dropping Freddy off at his girlfriend's I headed back to Mission Peak once more. I knew I didn't have time for 2 full loops so I planned to do one and then add some miles. Heading up, I again felt good and was keeping a better pace than I expected especially since the trails were much muddier after the rains on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. I hit the top right around an hour. It was quite misty up at the peak, but overall the weather was warmer than I expected.

With plenty of time, I decided I would add some more hills heading down the backside of the Peak Trail fireroad to the intersection with Mill Creek Road. It is about a mile, but is almost as steep as the front side so it would be a good workout. Unfortunately, my dinner caught up with me about 1/2 way down the hill (and about 1/2 mile after passing the outhouse). I had to make an emergency pit-stop before heading back up. Note to self, rich food and hard running, not good. As I reached the intersection again at the saddle I checked the watch and saw that it was not quite 6pm yet so I decided I would make one more loop to the peak. However, as I headed around back, the weather started picking up. The rain picked up from a drizzle, and the mist became denser and denser as I approached the peak. I tried to keep my legs moving as it was also becoming quite cold. By the time I started to head back down the visibility was near zero. It was going to be one slow trip to the bottom. I could definitely feel my quads getting there work in as I gingerly negotiated the steep downhills.

Between the mist, the rain and the growing darkness, it was like running blind. It was kind of a spooky environment, but it was also very enjoyable. I took my time getting down enjoying the final run of the weekend and the feeling of fitness that had returned. About half way down the hill I could see the lights of the valley starting to appear. Below the mist the rain let up and the temps were not nearly as cold either. The final mile or so was very enjoyable and reaching the final bottom exactly the type of the sense of accomplishment that I have been missing.

Even without a single long run, I feel like I am pretty close to being back on track. Running multiple trips was certainly not the arduous run that a full 4X MP run would have been. However, it had its own unique challenges. Starting the second and third trips was definitely good training to get pacing and effort levels set when already a little tired or sore. Also, I my overall average pace was higher than it would have been had I done all the trips in one go. This was a trade of higher intensity over extended effort. I can image that a forth trip in a single day might take as long as 1:45-2:00 for the trip with a lot more walking on the way up. While I still need to test my overall endurance level, I definitely think I got in some needed hill work. I will be doing close to 50 miles next weekend at the Skyline Ridge 50K doing extra miles before and after the official race. Based on how I feel after that, I will make a decision on whether or not I want to request an earlier start time at C2M. Right now I am feeling like sticking where I am and simply challenging myself however that could just be the afterglow of being excited to be back to doing some "real" running.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Looking for inspiration

Well, just as the stuff in my chest cleared up and I had, once again, re-imagined my stalled training plan, some new bug decided to attack. This one apparently preferred my head and sinuses to my chest or throat allowing me to believe, for a brief period, that I could just "run through it." Thursday I succeeded; Friday I finished feeling weak and shaky. I knew any plans for a weekend long run were off the table. So instead of running the bulk of the long weekend was spent down at our place on the central coast doing pretty much nothing, but resting which is a lot like just vegging out while pretending it had a purpose. OK, I did run Sunday night, but only a bit over 6 miles and I'm resting again today.

So, with no long run and a weekly total of just over 30 miles, I am just over a month out from the toughest race I have ever planned to undertake and looking for inspiration.


There are few more inspirational athletes, or people for that matter, than 70's tennis star Arthur Ashe. So, with a few key quotes from this great American, I will examine my current situation.

"One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation."

As far as the preparation I had originally laid out for the Coyote Two Moons 100-miler, I am pretty far off. I did manage to complete one 50K race last month so there is still some base fitness there. However, my plans for consistent 60-70 mile weeks and long runs integrating serious hill training have not exactly taken flight. In fact, it has been three full weeks since I completed my last real long run. In light of this, what is the best course of action? Do I simply accept that I am not prepared and unlikely to be anywhere nearly as prepared as I had planned to be come race day? Should I consider dropping the race altogether? Moving to a slower start group? Simply embrace the very real possibility of heading into my first DNF? Can I somehow acquire the necessary self-confidence in absence of proper preparation? Or, is there maybe some other type of preparation that might be even more crucial than simply logging the miles before the race?

As ultrarunners we often hear (and even more often repeat) the mantra that finishing these long races is mostly mental. Preparing oneself psychologically is at least as important, if not more important, than the requisite physical training. So, we say. Is this saying more than mere platitude? Certainly it doesn't mean that one should enter a 100-mile event pigheadedly with no endurance training. In fact, what would it even mean to claim one's mind is strong enough for the task if it has not yet been tested in pushing one's body through a series of tough events. On the other hand, I've often remarked about at how quickly endurance fitness can be regained after time off. Both last year and this I was able to do the Fremont Fatass 50K on very little training. Furthermore, I am convinced that when training for long events there are a few key runs that really matter and the rest is mostly filler. Mind you, if one is aiming for specific performance measures then other types of training may be critical, but in terms of just doing the distance what matters above all else is getting in those few runs where the mind and body work together to convince you that, "yes" you can accomplish your goal.

"Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."

In a sense, my 50K earlier this year may be the only real training I've done so far for the upcoming 100. However, I might also include the barefoot hike/run in Purisima as it really solidified my ability to maintain a consistent pace that was not a run. Finally, I still have a few more weekends to get those other key runs in. I have decided that feeling 100% is more important than all of my mid-week running and so I am aiming this week at only getting well enough to hit some major hills this weekend. I may be out of shape, I will be slow, but I am going to attempt to close in on 30 miles of steep hills. My focus will be quite simply to do what ever I can to complete the distance. I will focus on the mental aspect. Early on I will imagine that I am at the beginning of my race and going very easy to conserve for an all day (and night) effort. If things get tough late in the run then I will imagine that I am finishing the final 30 miles and .

If I can finish that then all my focus will turn to the following week. I'll plan some recovery runs during the week and then attempt something close to 50 miles at Skyline Ridge the following weekend. I will be running a bit over 9 miles to the start of the 50K race. I will then by taking it VERY easy in the race itself before heading back a final 9 miles to my car. My goal is to do the distance feeling good and finish with plenty of fuel left in the tank. I believe that a 50 miler 3 weeks out from a 100 is a good last long run and I am also convinced that if I can finish it feeling good that I will be prepared for the longer distance. These two runs will serve as the check of "where I am" in terms of preparedness for the race. I will wait until then to make any sort of final assessment or decisions. Just like during the race, my mental attitude is one of, "just keep going a little further and see where things are."

"You've got to get to the stage in life where going for it is more important than winning or losing."

One of my favorite parts of the longest and toughest ultras I have done is when I reach the stage where I let go of all my race goals. There comes a point in every event where finish times or place or even the internal measure of how I ran the race no longer matters. Simply moving forward and continuing onward become the only goals. Certainly all the mental games and tricks come into play at this stage, but also there is something deeply liberating about dispensing with one's self expectations. So what if I have to walk the rest of the race, can I finish? Someone else passing me? Good, I will no longer feel that pressure from behind. It is at these times when I am truly running my own race. I'm out there and I'm "going for it" on my own terms. It is really the reason I have an attraction to these long distance events in the first place. With this in mind, I look forward to race day. I look forward to seeing what I can do and how prepared I will be.

I think I've found my inspiration.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Looks like our little spell of winter weather here in the Bay Area has broken. There's nothing like clear skies and temperatures in the high 60's to low 70's in early February. It was the perfect weather for a nice long running adventure somewhere along the ridge encircling the San Francisco Bay. Unfortunately, for me, my health has not returned to the level where that was an option this weekend. My cold/flu symptoms abated about a week ago, but the whatever was in my lungs just didn't seem to want to clear up. By Wednesday I could no longer take it so I hopped on the treadmill in the morning for an easy mile to see if it would help clear the phlegm or make me feel worse. The result: I made an appointment to see my doctor for Thursday. After listening to my chest and telling me that it sounds "bad" she had me take x-rays to assure it wasn't pneumonia. It was nothing so dire and she put me on some antibiotics for the next week. Antibiotics are generally hit-or-miss with bronchitis as it really depends on weather the cause is viral or some sort of infection. Since mine had gone on beyond the other symptoms there was a better chance that it wasn't just the initial virus still at work. The good news is that within a couple days the "gunk in my trunk" was already starting to dissipate. I planned to still take the weekend off to be safe and start things back up in earnest this week. With only two full weeks off, I should be able to ramp things back up fairly quickly this week with a reasonable length run next weekend followed by something more major on the next weekend and then the Skyline Ridge 50K(++) three weeks before C2M. If I can execute on this plan I will feel much more confident about the 100.

Well, this weekend came and it was clear that the weather was just plain going to taunt me. Saturday was simply gorgeous, but I was resolved to keep disciplined and continue to rest. I took advantage of the weather by grabbing a blanket and a recent issue of Ultrarunning magazine and lying out by the pool in the backyard to read. At least I could enjoy the sun and think about running. It was hard to believe, but Sunday brought even nicer weather. Driving my wife across the bay to her office, I decided I just had to get out and do something. After a few errands I would head up to Purisima Creek Redwoods and do some hiking. Since all I had on my feet were my "nubby" sandals, I decided that I would go barefoot. I reasoned that even if I couldn't get a real aerobic workout, I could at least work my feet. Besides, heading down some of the steeper rockier trails such as the North Ridge Trail without shoes on would help me resist the urge to run. It actually worked at first, too!

I remembered the last part of this trail as consisting of three steep hills which I dubbed in my mind as steep, very steep, and "how do the rocks keep from tumbling down this hill" steep. What I didn't remember was that there are actually some very nice, relatively flat little sections of this trail. Furthermore, with all the rain we've had this season they were covered with foliage. I ask you, how can any self-respecting trail runner resist a gentle slop covered in soft grass under his bare feet? Oh, it felt good. So good in fact, that I decided to run easy on some of the slightly steep parts after the turnaround. That first 3.8 miles just sort of flew by and I had all afternoon to kill so I decided that I felt good enough to head down the 2.2 miles of Whittemore Gulch Trail. This gentle downhill covered in soft pine needles was equally as irresistible. I couldn't walk. However, I kept my pace very slow partly forced by my desire not to trip or step on anything sharp. There were a few steeper bits and a few rocky sections that required me to return to walking pace, but mostly I was just enjoying cruising along at a what I would call a slow jog. I was enjoying this immensely. With no goals and no pushing to go fast it was like regaining that sense of "play" that first drew me to trail running. Barefooting through the muddy sections near the bottom made me feel even more like the "wild child" of my youth when I would wonder the hills near our house on Mt. Diablo, often sans shoes.

Once at the bottom, I had to, of course, return back up. I opted to head up Harkins Ridge as it was steeper and a bit shorter to the top. I was supposed to be hiking after all. Well, I felt really good the whole time so I ran what I could and power-hiked the rest. I think I found an even slower running gear. Somehow the steep hills didn't seem as steep or long as previously when I have run here. Perhaps it is the difference in pace or perspective. When running, the steep hills seem to represent a huge slow down and I also have trouble finding the right effort level when switching between such different gears. Since my overall pace was so much slower on this day, the transitions were smoother and the effort of the harder parts seemed relatively easier. Heading up that trail, I can't tell you how many people asked if I had lost my shoes, but just as many simply looked at me like I was crazy and said nothing. This kept me smiling. I made it to the top and got a little more, very slow, running in before the finish. My feet felt OK though I expected soreness later. I did get a few scrapes and scratches, but nothing major. One was a result of my own stupidity in trying to rub some mud off in the tall grasses that ended up cutting the top of my left foot. The other was just before finishing when a lack of concentration resulted in a stick jabbing between two of my toes. Ah well, what's a good trail run/hike without some mementos to bring home.

Looking at the map, my total mileage came to 9.5. It took about 2 hours and 50 minutes to cover those miles. That's pretty fast for a hike, but for a trail run that seemed nearly glacial. Heck, that's not much more than 3 miles per hour. I didn't care. It was progress and I felt great at the end. That made me happy. Then I started thinking about it and realized that at 3 mph it would take a little over 33 hours to cover 100 miles. Wait a sec. Isn't that exactly what I estimated as my finish time for Coyote Two Moons? All I had to do was keep close to that same pace I had just managed for another 90 miles (and stay awake through two nights) to hit my goal. And, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna go with shoes for that one. Maybe it was a good training "run" after all!

Monday, February 04, 2008

False Start

After one great week I thought I was on my way to the mileage ramp-up that I'd planned for the start of this year. However, Monday night after doing some fastwalk work on the treadmill I felt a bit more tired that expected. The next morning brought the answer. Apparently some new bug had it me and it come on hard and fast going right for my lungs. Two days of missed work and not a single mile of running and I am still working on getting rid of this thing. Most of the flew symptoms have abated, but my chest still doesn't feel right and taking a deep breath results in wheezing and/or coughing. Apparently, this bug has hit a lot of people I have talked to. People at work, family, friends, it seems that nobody is to be spared this season. Hopefully, it will not choose to stick around too long as I really need to get my training ramping up. Next weekend was my (revised) plan for a 4X run up Mission Peak. That seems pretty unlikely at this point. I'd be happy to just be able to plan a run of some sort by this coming weekend.

Aside from feeding my general paranoia about not getting better and watching my fitness slowly dwindle away, I think the most frustrating thing is that I've lost my "outlet". Work is pretty busy right now between my missed days and an important deadline coming up and there have been some stressful things on the home-front to boot. Without my lunchtime runs to recharge the batteries or a planned weekend long run adventure to look forward to I let the stress lead my mind to darker places and I allow bad eating habits back in to fill the gap even knowing full well the vicious circle to which that leads. OK, melodrama aside, I'm thinking I should be up for a test run in a day or two. I am going to try walking on the 'mill tonight. I just have to keep reminding myself that the much greater danger is pushing too much too soon and risking greater goals for nearer ones.