…of grief and optimism.

…of grief and optimism.

Besides training log entries, I haven’t made the time to write much on here for quite some time. This is a great time of year, to say the least. Autumn is a time of change and I sit here in a similar state, at a perfect time, in a not-so-perfect situation:

After failing at The North Face 50 in Wisconsin in mid-September, I’ve been able to refocus, reassess, cinch my laces a little tighter, and get back to work with my thoughts and energies aiming at California’s North Face 50 on November 18.

The North Face 50 in California is arguably the most competitive 50-mile trail race in the world, the pinnacle of sub-100-mile US trail racing. A huge contingent of sponsored, seasoned speedsters meet on the same starting line in the Marin Headlands, due north of the Golden Gate Bridge, with a chance to bring home prize money and garner national attention and a fulfilled ego. Ever since I stumbled upon mountain-ultra-trail running two years ago (a future blog entry), I’ve dreamt of competing at this particular race.

As a whole, 2017 has been my most successful year of training. Ever. I’ve been able to run upwards of 120 miles per week with lots of vertical gain in this geographically unattractive area, completely solo, without going insane. I’ve experimented with training methods and pushed myself to heights I never thought achievable.

My love for running has deepened, but only proportionally to my relative level of health. Ever since the Summer of 2013, right before I stepped onto U. of Southern Indiana’s campus for cross country season, I’ve been battling an unpredictable medial tibial pain, surely caused by running too much. It’s most recent bout (Nov. 2016 – Mar. 2017) had me on wheels and planks instead of running shoes.

So, with North Face being three weeks out, the competitive juices have been starting to churn. I’ve planned two more hard weeks of training (125 and 130 miles) before tapering everything back and resting up before my flight.

However, when I thought the injury gods had left me alone for 2017, I was wrong.

On Thursday morning, I was on Trail 2 at Potato Creek doing a 15-mile downhill-specific speed session and I felt a slight tug at my inner left shin area, an ever-so-familair pain. Like usual, I played it off as a general effect of hard training. I shook it off and finished the workout.

Later that night, I headed out to Spicer Lake for another hour of easy running. Same thing: just enough of a pain to notice it but, this time, my stride was being compromised.

With experience, comes wisdom? In the past, I’ve continued to train right through the pain until I was sure I had cracked my tibia and was forced to take time off. This time, I resolved to take some immediate time off and be proactive with self-rehabilitation, with hopes that my tibia can manifest itself in time for North Face.

I plan to fall back in love with my Trek bicycle for the ensuing 2.5 weeks. I don’t plan to run a single step during this period. I’m hoping the cycling will preserve (and enhance?) my running fitness while allowing my tibia to heal. Most of the hay is already in the barn.

The gun goes off at 5am in San Francisco, whether I’m there or not.

I’d rather not have an early off-season.

“Your health is your wealth.”

 

na

 

The Method to the Madness

The Method to the Madness

Since the beginning of the 9th grade (2009), I’ve documented every workout (runs, mainly) in paperback training journals. It’s become a tradition for me. Some of the best moments each year come when I sit down with a calculator and a pencil and sketch out my training regimen for the upcoming season, outlining mileage, workouts, races, etc. If I am to hold myself accountable, things NEED to be in written form, neatly and with a purpose.

Over the years, I’ve been influenced by a number of coaches, scientists, writers, athletes, mentors, etc. Through research and inspiration, then trial and error (backed by some science), I’ve found what works best for me. VARITETY and CREATIVITY. Each season, however, the details continue to evolve, yet, the structure is mainly the same. HARD WORK. I love this variety and I think, along with an utterly dedicated soul, it’s what separates me from my competition. I believe there are no limits to what I can do with my body and, come hell or high water, I will never stop my search to find out.

All in all, I’m a big dreamer and meticulous preparer. I apply a surplus of training methods to my regimen. Below, I share my structure and creativity, a “rulebook” that I often refer to:

 

Mileage

Mileage is almost always imperfect. However, if coming off a Break (injury, recovery, “restart mode”, etc) or end of season, start Week 1 (first full week that includes Jan. 1) at 50mi. Then…

  • Rise 10mi
  • Maintain
  • Rise 10mi
  • Fall 20mi
  • Previous Rise
  • Maintain
  • Rise 10mi
  • Fall 20mi

For any race >2h, taper mileage on Race Week by 30% of race’s previous week (if >75mi) (round to nearest number ending in 5 or 0) but not lower than 50mi. Taper by 30% of THAT number for the next week (but not lower than 35mi). Taper by 20% and 20% for races <2h. If race’s previous week is <75mi, don’t taper, just maintain.

Then…

  • Rise 50%.
  • Rise 30mi
  • Maintain
  • Rise 10mi
  • Fall 20mi

 

Step back weeks (including Race Week) = 75mi max

150mi = max weekly mileage

Doubles start @100mpw on non-workout days: 70% of daily mileage in Session 1 then the rest later

For FKTs, still decrease mileage by 30% for the week of the attempt but return to pre-FKT week mileage for the next week (no workouts). Then, rise 10mi. Fall 20mi.

After last race of season, maintain 50mi per week (no workouts, just additional XT) until end of year.

 

Workouts

L = Long: 25% or 30% of mileage (40mi max)

  • Long Run w/Surges
  • Back-to-Back Long Runs (Part 1: 1/2 total mileage + MTN…Part 2: 1/2 total mileage)
  • Progressive Long Run
  • Ultra Long Run
  • Run (50%) – XT – Run (50%)

H = Hills: 8% of mileage (8mi max)

  • Treadmill
  • Hill Cycle
  • Hill Repeats

T = Tempo: 8% of mileage (8mi max)

  • Cruise Intervals
  • Double Tempo Run
  • Progressive Tempo Run

V = Velocity

  • Half-Time Fartlek
  • Monoghetti Fartlek

M = Medium Long Run: 18% of mileage

S = Special

R = Race

 

Marathon

(18-week Training Program by Jack Daniels):

Two Q sessions per week: Q1 on Wednesday, Q2 on Saturday

6x20sec strides = 2x per week

70-100 miles per week

No XT during marathon block

 

Notes

Post-run strides: 6 x 20sec w/1min recovery (effort-based)

WU/CD at least 0.5mi

For races >2h, no WU/CD.

No Medium Long Run during a Back-to-Back week.

Combine my R + L day for marathon – ultras.

XT on non-100mpw weeks, if not a Race Week.

On Race Week (half-marathon – ultra), do 1 other workout and no Medium Long Run or Long Run. Choose T over H. Choose H over V.

No workouts the week after a half-marathon – ultra.

Sessions can be done in any order if needed.

My Heart

(Below is an excerpt from a confusing time in my life, written by myself, during the semester at Valpo in Spring of 2015.)

[Pulmonary Valve Regurgitation: blood flowing back into the heart before it goes to the lungs to get oxygen…caused by Pulmonary Hypertension (high blood pressure in the arteries)…caused my blood vessels to thicken…hearing a murmur…may need a new pulmonary valve (surgery)]

I transferred from USI to Valpo. I visited the Health Center on campus here at Valpo to get a new physical, as I was changing universities. Everything went as usual until the nurse practitioner told me she may have heard a heart murmur. I was in disbelief because I’ve been healthy and heart-strong all my life, being an endurance athlete. She said I would need to get it checked out.

The next week, I went to a clinic on LaPorte Ave., close to campus. I got an EKG done by one doctor and another reviewed my results. He (the second doctor) noted my EKG (electrocardiogram) results were good, except for a little hitch in my heartbeat waves. He also noted that I had high blood pressure for a young, healthy, athlete, with no family history of this. I was referred to Dr. Shah, at a Med. Center on Roosevelt Rd.

Two weeks later, I did see the young Dr. Shah. He was outstanding. He talked to me about my heart and answered all of my questions. I felt comfortable around him. He seemed the most knowledgable of any of my doctors whom I’d seen so far. He checked my murmur and blood pressure. Each had gotten a little worse over the two weeks. He scheduled me for an ECO (echocardiogram), where they would rub gel in different places on my bare chest and get all different 3-D views of my heart on a screen. This was to be done in two more weeks.

Today, Feb 10, I got my ECO done by a lady doctor. She said my heart was easy to read on the screen because I am fit. However, after the results were sent to Dr. Shah, he concluded this: my pulmonary valves are abnormally thick and have a moderate leakage of blood out of them. They are located on the dorsal side of my heart and lead to my lungs. My result? I will have to go in at a later date and get a TEE test done along with some blood work, in two separate appointments. I will be put to sleep and doctors will stick a camera down my throat and esophagus to get a better view of the dorsal side of my heart, my pulmonary valves. I was born with this. I’ve been active and fit all my life.

This worries me.

na

What It’s Like To Be Injured

14 days have passed since I last took a self-powered, controlled fall forward. A running step.

14 days have passed since I’ve performed any kind of beard maintenance (or deconstruction).

14 days have passed since my clothes have been washed.

Coincidence?

Being married to a training program seems necessary for me to have any resemblance of an ordered daily routine. I thrive off the day-to-day regimen of work, writing, and training…writing stuff down, planning ahead, taking notes, general organization. I think this comes as a product of having written goals, being my own coach, and holding myself accountable.

In Summer 2013, three weeks into my cross country training for the U. of Southern Indiana, I felt sharp tenderness on a specific point of my inner right tibia. Bone scan. Stress fracture. Again, the following year and even leading into 2015 at Valparaiso U., I was sidelined with a inner-tibial stress fracture, this time in my left leg.

That’s right. From mid-June until “four to six weeks” after mid-June (according to the expensive doctors I saw), I was forbidden from running a step. And since I have rarely been accused of being patient or reasonable, my attitude in the month prior to actually cross-training (discovering the freedom of the bicycle) was so bad as to be unrelatable. Suffice it to say that just about anything would be an improvement. I guess what I mean is that it’s never so bad that it can’t get worse, but the thing about attitude is that it’s sort of up to each of us to decide how we feel, which sounds like the kind of uncharacteristically-reasonable perspective that would just piss me right the hell off when my attitude is trending negative. But that’s why I do my best to avoid perspective at all and just grind my emotions into exhaustion. Hence, falling back in love with the bicycle.

Which leads to what I’ve been doing the past two days. Spinning into Lake Michigan headwinds on cold mornings. Fun, fun.

Three race cancellations (Niles 10k, HUFF 50k, Gladstein Invite) have resulted in a zapped competitive spirit due to the dull, cringeworthy, pinpointable pain that reared its ugly head again after a 106-mile week I put in a few weeks ago.

On the bright side, the shin seems to be healing quite well. The first week, I ate stems of wild kale straight from the garden, drank tons of milk and orange juice, among other things.

It’s funny, writing a blog post forces me to become optimistic rather than my usual “All or Nothing” way of thinking. This forced break may be a blessing in disguise. Since the injury, I’ve been able to step back and evaluate my training, what went right and what went wrong. My body now has time to catch up to my training and absorb what I was doing. Also, it’s saved me some money (traveling, race fees, etc.). I’m looking forward to 2017:

Feb. 10 – GVSU Big Meet, 5000m, Allendale, MI

May 13 – Ice Age Trail, 50 miles, LaGrange, WI

Jul. 9 – Whiteface Sky Race, 15.5 miles, Wilmington, NY

Sep. 16 – The North Face Endurance Challenge, 50 miles, Eagle, WI

Dec. 2 – The North Face Endurance Challenge, 50 miles, San Francisco, CA

Thoughts and Graphs

In the past, sometimes, I’ve run my best races/workouts while in the midst of running really low mileage. Some of my best workouts have come just a few weeks removed from an injury or setback, planned or unplanned. Why the hell is that? Recently, I ran an 8mile tempo workout on a treadmill and, after gobs of mileage and fitness, it felt much more difficult to maintain 5:27pace than it did 11 months ago. I’m way more fit than I was. But, my heart rate was higher this time around. Everything felt more difficult. Maybe, it’s because the body is using some blood to recover from the previous day’s workload which makes less available blood for the current work output. I dunno. Here is a simple graph of what I’m talking about in the grand scheme of things (below)…plateauing or becoming stagnant. Hopefully, motivation will rise again and fitness will, too.


On a side note, yesterday I ran a workout on the Thompson’s treadmill and it was great. I call it my “Decline” hill specific workout. I made it up myself. It’s a nonstop 55min workout, constantly at a significant incline, gradually declining in percent grade and time, gradually increasing speed, run in my New Balance Trail Minimus shoes. After a 3mile warmup (and later a 3mile cooldown), here is a snapshot of the workout:


I really love hill specific stuff. I think it’s speedwork in disguise. I was curious, how much vertical did I gain? Here is the math:

15%…15/100 = 0.15…60/4.5mph = 13:20pace (for 10min) = 0.75mi…0.15 x 0.75mi = 0.1125mi vert…x 5280 = 594ft

14%…14/100 = 0.14…60/4.6mph = 13:02pace (for 9min) = 0.69mi…0.14 x 0.69mi = 0.0966mi vert…x 5280 = 510ft

13%…13/100 = 0.13…60/4.7mph = 12:45pace (for 8min) = 0.63mi…0.13 x 0.63mi = 0.0819mi vert…x 5280 = 432ft

12%…12/100 = 0.12…60/4.8mph = 12:30pace (for 7min) = 0.56mi…0.12 x 0.56mi = 0.0672mi vert…x 5280 = 355ft

11%…11/100 = 0.11…60/5mph = 12:00pace (for 6min) = 0.5mi…0.11 x 0.5mi = 0.055mi vert…x 5280 = 290ft

10%…10/100 = 0.1…60/6mph = 10:00pace (for 5min) = 0.5mi…0.1 x 0.5mi = 0.05mi vert…x 5280 = 264ft

9%…9/100 = 0.09…60/7mph = 8:34pace (for 4min) = 0.47mi…0.09 x 0.47mi = 0.0423mi vert…x 5280 = 223ft

8%…8/100 = 0.08…60/8mph = 7:30pace (for 3min) = 0.4mi…0.08 x 0.4mi = 0.032mi vert…x 5280 = 169ft

7%…7/100 = 0.07…60/8.5mph = 7:03pace (for 2min) = 0.28mi…0.07 x 0.28mi = 0.0196mi vert…x 5280 = 103ft

6%…6/100 = 0.06…60/9.5mph = 6:18pace (for 1min) = 0.16mi…0.06 x 0.16mi = 0.0096mi vert…x 5280 = 51ft

Total Elevation Gain = 2,991ft (which would be about 21k’ per week average)

All in all, I wasn’t trying to hit this workout outta the park. I was just trying to get on first base. My AVG HR was 145 (MAX HR was 163) right in a solid fat burning zone, positively improving the efficiency of the mitochondria. Hell of a leg workout, building my climbing legs for four huge ultra trail races next year.
Just good honest work.

na

My Mini Dark Place

I’m not quite sure know how to properly begin this blog post so I guess I’ll just start putting my thoughts into fruition.

First off, you may be wondering what the hell my Mini Dark Place is and why I choose to share such a thing, so, hence, I will explain:

There is a North Face athlete (ultra/mountain runner) from Flagstaff, AZ, named Rob Krar. His motto is, “I run far. 100 miles at a time. I go to a Dark Place and I control the pain.”

Through my running (especially focusing on distances upwards of the 26.2 marathon distance), I’ve continuously been curious as to what this Dark Place is all about. After thousands of miles (without trying to sound spiritual or cliche), I have finally come to a conclusion. This “Dark Place” that Rob Krar speaks of is a state of physical and mental being where the athlete sinks into a virtual hole of continuous struggle (pain) and peace (freedom). The athlete WANTS to be there.

Tonight, April 1, 2016, I finally visited my mini Dark Place. After work in Sawyer, I set out for an easy 11 miles. Upon the conclusion (around 7pm), I downed two pieces of salmon, some sweet potatoes, a kale salad, and a beer from Greenbush. I wasn’t planning on going to sleep until 11pm so I opted to run a few more miles once my food settled. As I was driving to Spicer Lake, I noted the threatening rain clouds approaching from the west. I parked alongside the road, got out, turned on my Petzl headlamp, and started my Garmin as the daylight was seconds away from disappearing. I had no real idea of how long I wanted to be out there.

After about 10 minutes, it started down pouring as the wind picked up. It became chilly and I could see my breath in the glow of my headlamp as the rain pelted my exposed face. I began floating effortlessly, pitter-pattering through the muddy ravines and soaked trails. No music. I was alone (besides the occasional critter). I started unintentionally sinking into the hole, the Dark Place that Rob Krar talks about. I tried not to accept the fact that I was there. The particular effort acted as the kindling to my blog post. I started formulating my intro. However, I soon realized I would not come close to remembering my exact thoughts, which caused me to virtually chuckle. The feeling of being sunk in the hole, the Dark Place, started to wash away but not after eclipsing another 10 miles. It’s funny, I usually pay close attention to staying hydrated and fueled properly but the body can do amazing things when in a primal setting, stripped down to the essentials. It’s in these moments that I realize that few things in this world are more badass, yet simple, than running through the trees at night.

Upon arriving home and sitting down and writing half of this, I came to the conclusion that, during training, I cannot purposely replicate this state of being. I cannot go out for a run and say “I am going to completely and utterly focus solely on this run, every step, every exact foot placement, every breath, one by one, until I enter the state of flow and have this blissful experience served on a platter by angels.” Whenever I have tried that approach, I have failed miserably. The Dark Place can only be entered by chance.

I can only imagine that Rob Krar enters his Dark Place during his 100-mile races because, well, that’s far. And a LONG time to be suffering. I entered a glimpse of my Dark Place tonight during a 10-miler (21 for the day), but I hope I am lucky enough to encounter it during my debut ultra at the Ice Age Trail 50-miler in 6 weeks.

Untitled

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Methinks that the moment my legs began to move, my thoughts began to flow.” This morning, for me, this was definitely the case.

Recently, setting out for a run at 6am has been the norm. A 2-hour (17-mile) run starting in complete darkness seems completely unsustainable, but by turning off one’s goal-oriented brain, it becomes sustainable.  Certainly I can take one more step? Of course, and, little by little, the ground is covered and the absolute presence is experienced. Nothing else even exists but the here and now of making my way through this supernatural environment of glowing, lake effect powder. Over the course of 2 hours, I started off with a headlamp lighting the trail, eventually watching the sun rise and poke its rays through the trees revealing cotton candy-like skies, and, finally, noting the darkening and angering clouds that proceeded to dump more lake effect on me.

To reiterate Anton Krupicka’s description, “Thankfully, running is the one thing I’ve been fortunate enough in this life to find that reliably transports me to that physic/emotional space of living, relentless, rife with effort (suffering?), but somehow, unexplainably fulfilled. Filled with life. As the run commences, I re-enter the world where the mind wanders, thinking of other things than the task at hand. But, that’s okay, because for at least the next 24 hours, my psyche will be nourished by the fact that–for at least some, nontrivial amount of time–I was there, I was in it–life–and nowhere else.”

barn-in-snow-2010-11And although long-distance running can seem like an insurmountable task at times, once flow is experienced, running becomes a sustainable, fulfillable, primal, almost selfish, indulging activity. And that, my friends, is an indescribably beautiful, important thing. It is living. In the end, it’s all there really is.

Embrace and appreciate where you’re from. I feel very fortunate to be in this place at this time. Sitting by a wood stove with my feet up, sipping a hot beverage, watching the lake effect fill the yard, at this exact moment, there is no place I’d rather be.

na