Monday, November 24, 2008

Watch this

While I seriously have no problem exploiting my blog for commercial purposes if that's what it took to keep Brooks giving me my discount, this is actually for a more noble cause than saving me a few bucks on running gear. Brooks is donating money to fight breast cancer and all you have to do is watch the entertaining little video embedded below. Enjoy!

For every view of our Dream video from now through Dec. 21, we'll donate five cents--up to a maximum of $25,000--to Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, earmarked for breast cancer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Letter to Beat

In lieu of a Javelina Jundred race report, I am going to simply cut-and-paste my response to an email from Beat Jegerlehner. My main goal for this race was to break 23 hours which I did, finishing with an official time of 22:41:32 for 16th place. Beyond that, I had two other targets on my pace chart. The first was a "fantasy goal" of 22 hours which was also to stand as my lower-bound target or the pace under which I should not be going. The middle one was to better Beat's time from last year. Plenty of good-natured taunting had passed between the two of us on this matter.


From: (email withheld to protect the guilty)
> What happened? Even the certain knowledge that
> you'll never live this one down couldn't make you
> run a little faster? It wasn't even hot! ;)
> Seriously, report!!

I knew this email would be coming. In the end, the truth is that beating your time of 22:38 simply wasn't important enough for me to push any more than I already had. I have to say that running with a pace chart and a real goal is much harder and more stressful than I expected. That said, it is also probably "good for me" in terms of improving my running and racing performance.

I haven't fully analyzed my splits yet, but this is what I basically recall. I went out as conservatively as I could in the first lap, but was still 15 minutes ahead of the lower-bound of my pace chart. My legs were feeling oddly "crampy" from the start so it was easy to slow it down on lap 2. I finished that lap right on schedule of the 22-hour pace. This was pretty much were I wanted to be at this point in the race, but I was a bit worried about my cramps and the potential for a continual slowdown throughout the day.

I suspected that drinking too much water the night before might be the source of my cramps so I upped my electrolyte intake. It helped. It was warm during the day, but not terrible. I managed to keep myself on pace during laps 3-4. Lap 5 also went OK, but I was slowing. Then, at the beginning of lap 6, I started having a lot of trouble. I ended up throwing up a bit which made me feel better, but I just didn't think I could keep my legs moving at a pace that would have me finishing under 23 hours.

I was ready to give up on my goal. About half way through the lap, I was pretty sure it was gone. I then decided to just try and find new ways to move my legs experimenting with different gaits to get me going. I somehow managed to turn a walk into a shuffle into a semblance of a run. At that point I just committed to push it as much as I could with no thought to save anything for the final 8.8 mile loop. If I could just get back to headquarters by 20:30, I might be able to salvage my goal just yet.

I passed quite a few people on the downhill and made it to the aid station right around 20:30. I allowed myself a single ibuprofen, threw down an Ensure and a few bits of food then chased it with a couple of Tums and a piece of crystallized ginger for good measure. I gathered what wits I had left and headed out. It was at this time that I explicitly gave up on the goal of beating your time. I passed a number of runners in front of whom I have no business finishing. I had visions of
blowing up and ending in a death march to the finish like them. The last thing I wanted to do was blow the main goal I had set for myself in chase of some ego-driven goal of having bragging rights over you.

I still pushed at a sustainable pace going up to Coyote Camp. One thing I learned in this race is that the only way to maintain a descent pace after dark is to force myself to run (or shuffle) more because my walking pace will always be slower than it feels at night. I made it to the final aid station and even made it out before 22 hours. I gave only the briefest thought of reclaiming that intermediate goal before heading down the Tonto Trail. Once I was moving, however, my mantra was "no thought of time, only of motion" as all my focus was on keeping my legs moving.

I passed one more runner on the way down and arrived back at the Pemberton Trail intersection at almost exactly 22:28. The thought once again crossed my mind, but I knew there was no way I had a sub-10 minute mile left in me, especially when it would include quite a fair bit of deep sand running, some of it uphill. I set a new goal for myself of just beating my time from last year by more than an hour. Certainly, something of which I can be proud.

So, you are still the superior ultrarunner (not that your finishes at both HURT and Plain left any doubt about that). But, perhaps we now both have a reason to go back to JJ next year. You up for a head-to-head duel in the sun that's actually on Halloween in 2009?


Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Poetry to Pace Charts

OK, so I know the "taper madness" is getting bad when I start composing verse on my blog. Honestly, that post started out as just some random musings spawned on my anticipation of heading into the 5th lap at Javelina. How it morphed into a contribution to the annals of bad poetry, is beyond me. To keep such a thing from happening again, I have decided to direct my focus in a more scientific direction. Get down to business as it were--the proverbial "brass tacks" (soon to be "Brass Tax" [ed. lets not get political here]). Enough! You can see how things can get out of hand when the mind is running circles around the Arizona desert while the body is still sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle in the middle of the Silicon Valley.

I'm not sure how well known the site is. But, they do have a most excellent tool available for calculating splits and printing up a pace chart. It not only allows you to create a custom split chart for your race by defining the aid stations and even apply weighting to them based on terrain or expected slow-down due to night running, it also allows you to set three separate finish targets which I particularly like. It also has some predefined values for popular races. Some of these have weights defined for the splits based on historical data. If you are really ambitious (and have the data) you can use their "Weight Maker" tool to do this yourself. Once you have it all worked out, you can create a nice printable chart to take with you on race day.

Since I don't have detailed split data for Javelina available, I just did some estimates based on my experience and what I think I should run. I could have used my data from last year, but, as mentioned in a previous post, it is a bit skewed by hotter than normal temps and a poorly executed race strategy. I took the mileage data from the large 11x17 map at the park website. The Coyote Camp aid station is basically at the junction labeled "Tonto Tank" on the map and the Jackass Junction aid station is around 1/2 way down the 3.2 mile trail that leads to "Cedar Tank." The Headquarters (start/finish area) is at the "Trailhead Staging Area." The route sticks to the Pemberton Trail (labeled PB on the map) except for the final short loop which returns down the Tonto Trail (labeled TT) after Coyote Camp.

My assumptions for weighting is based first on the ups/downs of the terrain and then adjusted up as the race proceeds. I added an additional 10% after the first two loops and then another 10% to the more technical sections during the night. Normally I wouldn't add this much during the daytime and would expect to slow down much more at night. However, the potential heat at Javelina usually slows things down a bit extra in the middle of the day and at night I don't think you loose as much at Javelina because it cools down, it is scheduled near a full moon and the trail is pretty easy to see. You can look at my weights in the pace chart below. The first section contains my base weights so you can check out how I adjusted them for subsequent laps. The numbers actually came out pretty close to what I am targeting for the individual laps. I entered three goals of 22 hrs (lower bound), 22:40 (aggressive target) and 23 hrs (upper bound).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lap 5

100K down.
Evening descends.
Day's heat dissipates into cool desert night.

Anticipation ends.
This moment envisioned.
The remainder will bring what it might.

Strategy's gone.
I'll take what is given.
It's time to let possibility unfold.

Struggles are done.
The body is able.
Only will can decide what's now to be told.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


OK, maybe it isn't really big or audacious, but I am going into Javelina next week with a goal--and maybe an actually plan as well. When I was into rock climbing there was a tradition where people would often announce their major climbing project early in the season. The idea was that putting it out there in "public view" gave extra incentive to works towards the goal when training went bad or fear set in. I've seen a similar ethic in the ultrarunning community where having stated one's intention to complete a certain race or distance motivates training towards the goal. My hope is that by announcing my goal and plan for this upcoming race it will help me stay on track when I am out there and give me a wee bit extra motivation to push through any bad patches.

Last year, I accomplished my goal of a sub-24 hour finish in this race despite a less than perfect race strategy. I didn't start with a particularly strict plan, I didn't execute it all too well and I even got off course late in the race. Still, I finished with more than 15 minutes to spare on the clock. To give an idea of how my race went, I recently described my spits from last year as something akin to "Goldilocks Runs an Ultra."

Laps 1-2: WAY too fast (~5:40)
Laps 3-4: WAY too slow (~8:00)
Laps 5-6: Almost "just right" (~7:40)
Lap 7: Oh my god, I'm being chased by a bear and need to run my ass off! (2:27)

Basically, I ran my first lap around 2:35(!) and my second just a little over 3. I then slogged through the heat of the day, but still managed some sort of amazing recovery at night. On my final lap, I charged up the biggest hill (about 2/3 the distance) and almost collapsed at the aid station. I was revived by chicken soup and made it down the final hill. I then realized I had plenty of time so I jogged it in easy to the finish. Somewhere within this mess of different paces I hope to divine a more reasonable strategy to a better finish this time.

Let me first state my goal for this year's race: I plan to attempt to break 23 hours.

If things go really well, I would love to better Beat's time of 22:38. Anything in the low 22's or below is my fantasy goal. The one thing that did work in my favor last year is that I had so much "time in the bank" from the first couple laps that I was able to take it very easy during the heat of the day and manage a recovery at night. I have been a fairly strong finisher in all my long races so I am counting on still having something there in the end. However, I plan to execute on a plan that is much more conservative in the early laps while still being realistic in terms of my normal running patterns. Expecting to run even (or even negative) splits would be too much. But, there is no reason the range between my fastest and slowest laps should be expressed hours!

As evidenced by my analysis above, I tend to look at the first 92 miles of Javelina not as 6 loops, but rather as 3 sets of loops. Since each loop is run in alternating directions, it can really be thought of as three out-and-back routes. I like to think of it this way because the clockwise direction is generally a bit faster than counter-clockwise. Also, I find it easier to deal with things in thirds. Knowing how fast I am supposed to run lap 4 of 6 is harder to remember than simply keeping in mind what I am expected to do in the "middle section." In broad strokes, my plan is to target around 6:30 for each section. This puts me at 19 1/2 hours before the short loop. If I were to run that in 2.5 hours, as I did last year, it would give me a 22 hour finish. I expect I will be a bit faster in the early miles and slower in the late ones, but this plan gives me a full hour of slop with which to work. I don't think that is overly aggressive or risky.

Here is a bit more detail on my approach:

- Try to take at least 3 hours for the first lap and then around 3:15 for 2nd to finish the first section in 6:15 (50k)
- Depending on the temps (80s are expected), target somewhere between 6:45-7 hours for section two (13hr 100K)
- If everything holds together at night then plan to be between 6:30-7 hours for the final section (19:30-20:15 at mile 92.4)
- The final 9 miles I should be able to do in 2:30-2:45

The biggest risk in this plan is really the third section. I am confident that a more conservative start and lower temperatures will allow for 7 hours or less in the second section. However, it is really difficult to predict how I will run during the night. I am almost always slower than I expect. I recall having one of my "miraculous" recoveries during the night last year and I still only ran those miles in 7:40. Can I get that down below 7?

I am certainly more experienced now. I have have better leg speed in general. I expect to be more efficient through the aid stations. Finally, I have been working hard recently on knowing when and how much I can push myself. It is this last, that I am hoping to draw on in those final hours as the clock is ticking away and the desert is calling me to stop pushing, relax, and just enjoy the beauty of her night.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Pimpin' the Product

You may notice a new logo below my profile picture over there on the right. I am now a member of the Brooks Sports "Inspire Daily" program. Basically, I receive a significant discount on any online purchases I make and all I have to do is continue encouraging others to run and telling them how great Brooks gear is. Oh, I also had to agree to always wear Brooks shoes and other appropriate apparel at races. Since my closet pretty much already looked like a shrine to the Bothell, WA based company, this was no problem for me. I believe I just started my 6th pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes this year.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

12 Hours of Self-Control

Last weekend I ran the 12 hour event at the San Francisco One Day. Running around a 1-mile (1.067mi for the precision obsessed) circle that is nearly half pavement is certainly not my preferred race format. It is also doesn't make for very interesting race report fodder. Then again, I'm pretty much done with the "race report" as a written format. I'll promise to write more about that in a future post. For now, suffice it to say, I'm still going to write about my races (and other runs); just not the sort of report that necessitates detailing every mile along the way.

So, what's a trail runner to find for inspiration in a fixed time event set within city boundries?

For me, this was about discipline. Having missed Firetrails, I wanted to get a 50-miler in as a final training run for Javelina. I decided that the SF One Day would be a good format to test both my psychological discipline as well as my ability to stick to a plan. The plan I set going into the race was not a strategy for optimal mileage. The goal was to get in at least 50 miles, starting out easy and running as even a pace as possible. I wanted to try to do the first lap at around a 12 minute/mile pace and then keep things around 10:30-11 minute pace throughout. I knew from my experience at Ruth Anderson that I could maintain close to 10 minute miles for 50 miles, so going a bit slower than this would allow me to hit my main mileage goal with plenty of time and energy in the bank.

I didn't plan on doing much walking except through the aid station area. A run/walk strategy would be a much wiser one if I'd have intended a consistent effort throughout. However, I devised a plan that would give me a tough workout by maximizing my running; keeping me at a consistent pace that would feel too easy early on yet require me to push a bit as my mileage goal approached. I would then further discipline myself by winding down my pace for the final hours. The basic idea was to run a 50 miler at a descent clip followed by a couple hours of walking or very light jogging -- a sort of "in race" recovery if that even makes sense. If I ended up with 60 miles that would be great, but I was not going to push it for a goal much beyond that.

I'm happy to say that I actually executed my plan with minimal race-day adjustments. My first lap was completed at around an 11:30 pace. I spent most of the remainder of the day monitoring my GPS to not go faster than 10:30. I entertained myself during the early hours watching a number of people who I believed were going out much too fast. I imagined that I would later go on a "fishing expedition" as I reeled them in with my steady pace. I hit the 50 mile mark at just over 9 hours and 10 minutes. Almost exactly 11 minute pace. I then took about a 5 minute break before deciding I'd continue running a few more easy laps until the 10 hour mark. At 10 hours, I would work on power walking.

I was managing my walking well, keeping below a 15 pace and dropping below 14s at times, but taking it especially easy through the aid station area. Unfortunately, as I finished my lap just before the 11th hour, I stopped to ask Wendell my mileage. At first he could only give me my laps, but he then did a quick calculation and let me know that I was at 56.6. Damn! One lap more and I could cruise to a 60+ mile finish. One lap less and it wouldn't be worth the attempt. With my walking pace, I could just about make it continuing as I had been. However, I'd want some insurance so I'd have to pick it up and run for the last couple laps.

One thing I always do as I am approaching a goal race is to make find meaning in many different aspects of my training runs. These final few laps were me pushing to meet my finish time at Javelina. Not an end-race kick to the finish, but something even more significant. A final push is something your body is either up for or not. However, in the last hours of a long race, being able to find a pace both maintanable and hard is often the difference between making one's main goal and having to settle. I finished with 60.8 miles and over 3 minutes to spare.