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The Importance of Speedwork

Most athletes that reach out to me have at least one thing in common: They want to get faster. And how do we get faster? By running faster! While that’s a bit of an oversimplification, speed work is an important tool in the tool box you’ll use to build yourself into a faster runner.

The physiology

Shorter, faster speed work such as hill sprints, flat sprints, strides, and 1500 meter to 3K paced intervals is, at it’s core, neuromuscular work. When I talk about “Neuromuscular work” I’m referring to the communication between the brain, the nerves, and the muscles. This includes coordination, proprioception, and chemical changes in the body. This communication happens at all paces, but some of the biggest improvements in neural communication come via specific work that can lead to improved biomechanical efficiency, improved economy, increased power, and improved fatigue resistance across all subsequent paces. Even if you never plan to race anything shorter than 50K, these improvements can lower your “all day” pace dramatically!

Think about this: When racing the marathon, we use less than half of our maximal stride power at marathon race pace. If you increase your stride power with speed work by only 5% the time improvement from power efficiency improvement alone can be huge. This, coupled with a reduction in energy cost and a bigger pool of recruitable fibers can lead to less fatigue, better movement, and more enjoyable running.

While these workouts are done mainly for neuromuscular reasons, they’re also highly aerobic. Which means in addition to the adaptions listed above you’ll also be increasing cardiac output and teaching the body how to shuttle lactate to be recycled as an energy source during faster running. The latter can be achieved by manipulating the workout to include both faster and slower reps within the set to aid buffering (that’s for another post all together).

The application

First we start with a small block of hill sprints working from 2 x 8 seconds all the way to 12 x 12 seconds at a near maximal effort over a handful of weeks to improve power and reduce the risks of injury. Once you’ve completed this phase, you’re ready to find your paces. Choose a race up to 13.1 miles or perform a 5K time trial at a track or on a flat route to assess your current fitness. Plug your time trail or race time into Jack Daniels’ VDOT calculator to get a good idea of what your current quality work paces should be. If you don’t want to use the VDOT calculator you can use Hansons, Tinman, or McMillan if you prefer – they’re all fairly close and will do the trick.

I use Jack Daniels because he is the OG of pacing. Coach Daniels defines short reps as follows: Reps are fast, but not necessarily “hard,” because work bouts are relatively short and are followed by relatively long recovery bouts. Recoveries are to be long enough that each run feels no more difficult than the previous run, because the purpose of Reps is to improve speed and economy and you can not get faster (nor more economical) if you are not running relaxed. If it takes 3 minutes recovery between Rep 400s, then that is what is needed. Reducing rest time between individual work bouts does not make for a better workout, in fact it probably makes for a worse workout because the short rests could increase the stress and lead to poor economy. Think of Reps as similar to current 1500 or mile race pace.”

Here’s an example of a short speed session I did the other day in which the actual work equated to less than 5% of my current weekly volume:

2 miles easy + drills (A,B,C skips,  butt kicks, side skips, and strides)

2 X (8 x 200) meters in 00:35 each with 200 meter walk/jogs in between. 800 meter jog in between sets. Last 200 meter rep as an “all out tag”

3 mile cool down.

If you’re against doing track or road work, that’s ok! A lot of our Ultra athletes tend to shy away from the track for various reasons. For trail runners, something as simple as 8 x 45 seconds hard, 2 minutes easy will do the trick. All you need to do is perform the “on” portions at a pace you feel you could ONLY sustain for a mile. If you’ve never run an all out mile, that’s ok. Simply imagine what it would be like and trust yourself; our minds are amazing governors.

The timing

Timing is important. Where you inject specific work in a block matters. While we use strides and surges throughout a given training block, the majority of your speed work should be done towards the beginning of your plan to elicit the aforementioned adaptations before moving on to more specific work. A very generalized block layout of quality work for a North American trail runner would look something like this:

Base phase // Hill sprints and short reps // Speed work at 1500m to 3K // Work at 5K to 10K // Specific endurance.

This is not an exclusive path. Training emphasis can change throughout your training cycle based on how the athlete is responding. Your week will also include a number of other workouts ranging from easy runs to long runs to lactate threshold. Marathoners and ultra marathoners will have much less speed work and much more specific endurance work, vertical gain, and volume than half marathon an below will, but all runners should include speed work throughout their plan.

Caution

For marathoners and ultra marathoners, once the speed phase is complete, keep this type of speed work to a minimum and maintain the adaptions with hill sprints, strides, and surges. Once you enter the specific endurance phase of training for your race, the goal is to maintain the positive adaptations that you obtained during the speed phase, but to keep the body from relying  heavily on glycogen during workouts.

Also, remember that this type of the work can be hard on the body, especially if this is the first time you’re introducing this type of stress. The impact forces can be extreme and injuries can happen if introduced incorrectly. That’s not to say you should be afraid to implement this type of work into your training, in fact, you should embrace it! However, it’s always a good idea to work with your coach to build safely as you’re becoming a speed demon.

Happy running!

Fall Running Tips

Summer is officially OVER! A lot of our athletes here at Upper Left Distance Training are happy about that, because cooler weather means easier long runs, faster workouts, and less lugging around of loaded hydration packs. With all perks of cooler days though, there are still some things to keep in mind.

Remember to hydrate. Even though it is cooler and you’ll need less water than on those blistering summer afternoons, you still need fluid to perform to the best of your ability. Fluid loss does occur, even in cool climates, so remember to stay hydrated! Your performance and recovery depends on it.

Do dynamic stretches. Muscle activation and increased blood flow is always important before you head out for your run, but especially so as the cool temperatures roll in. With cooler days your muscles may take a little longer to warm up, so prepare them by going through your dynamic routine before you head out the door. This is a good habit to get into regardless of the season.

Wear reflective clothing. I don’t do a ton of road running these days, but when I do I’m always shocked by the blatant disregard motorists have for pedestrians. And with shorter days drivers will be less likely to see you, even at well lit cross walks. Make yourself visible by wearing highly reflective running gear and NEVER cross in front of a vehicle before you’ve made eye contact. Always assume a driver hasn’t seen you until you know otherwise.

Upgrade you shoes. Technology is awesome these days. Go to your local running store and find a shoe with slip resistant rubber for wet roads (such as the Adidas Boston Boost) and don some deeper lugs for the muddy trails (visit your local running shop). An easy way to reduce you risk of injury is by not slipping and falling on your ass.

Remember the 20 degree rule, but be prepared in the mountains. One of my least favorite feelings is being wet and hot. If you live in the PNW you’ve experienced this at least once: you thought it was sub zero out there so you layered up, but it was 45 degrees and raining. Once you shuffled out of your igloo and got moving, it felt like it was 65 degrees and your were running in a parka. In a moment of panic you tried to peel your water resistant shell off, but it wouldn’t budge! OH NO! I THINK IT SHRUNK AND I’M STUCK!!! GET THIS OFF ME!!!!!! That’s a little dramatic, but you get the point. Remember that while it is much cooler outside, it will always feel 20 degrees warmer than it is 15 minutes after you start running.

That’s not to discount the importance of being prepared in the mountains though. Weather patterns often change and shift dramatically, even in low elevation mountain ranges, so be prepared. You need to consider windchill in wilderness environments as well. Always bring a pack with extra calories, a filtration device, an emergency blanket and light-weight rain shell pants and jacket at the very least. Better safe than sorry!

Take care of yourself. With the awesome fall running weather comes flu and cold season, so be kind to your immune system. Take your vitamins, stay hydrated, eat healthfully, get a flu shot (if that’s your jam) and SLEEP! I’m always on top of our athletes about sleep. Sleep is the best activity you can do for your recovery and well being. Even 30 extra minutes per day could change the way you live and run.

 

I hope these tips help you as you move through this wonderful season.

Feel free to reach out if I can help you with anything else!

Cheers,

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Three Killer Hill Workouts

When I ask an athlete where they feel they could use improvement, the most common answer I get is: “I want to be a stronger uphill runner.” Well, don’t we all ?! There will likely never be a point in your running career where you feel you don’t need to improve upon your uphill ability; it’s always a work in progress.

Below are 3 examples of tried and true hill workouts we use here at Upper Left DT to improve uphill strength, power, and economy. It’s important to thoroughly warm up with easy running, drills, and dynamic warm ups before performing any of the following.

 

VO2 Max intervals

VO2 Max intervals are a great way to improve your aerobic capacity as well as aerobic efficiency in an uphill environment. By performing these types of hill intervals regularly you will increase your uphill speed throughout your entire pace spectrum (from easy pace to maximal uphill pace).  You will also increase your ability to tolerate and clear high levels of lactate, which directly compliments your threshold work. These workouts are a key piece to becoming a well rounded trail runner.

Example: 8 x 2 minutes uphill at a RPE of roughly 9 to 10 (Rapid breathing, unable to hold a conversation, only able to speak one word at a time) with easy walk jogs back down for recovery.

Make it more challenging: end with 2 x 10 second all out (100% effort) hill sprints to increase pure power and muscle recruitment.

Threshold

Uphill threshold runs can either be continuous runs from 15 to 25 minutes, or uphill “cruise intervals” of 5 to 10 minutes in duration. These are run at perceived 60 minute race pace, just like traditional Lactate Threshold workouts, but uphill. If you don’t have a hill this long where you live, no worries! Set the the treadmill to 8% incline and get it done.

Example: 20 minutes uphill at perceived 1 hour race pace.

Make it more challenging: 2 x 10 minutes uphill at 1 hour race pace with full speed downhill running back to the start between the 10 minute intervals. *Be cautious with downhill workouts as they put an extreme amount of stress on the lower extremities.

Fartlek

Fartlek hill work is by far one of my favorite workouts. The best part about Fartlek is the adaptability of the workout based on how the athlete is feeling that day and what we’re trying to accomplish. The main systems targeted can easily be changed based on how hard you choose to run each interval, but the main goal here is to HAVE FUN.

Example: 4,3,2,1,3,2,1,2,1 Minutes uphill at a moderate to hard effort with easy walk/jogs back down the hill in between intervals.

Make it more challenging: Run the 4 minute intervals at perceived 10 mile race effort, the 3 minute intervals at perceived 10K race effort, the 2 minute intervals at perceived 5K race effort, and the 1 minute intervals at near maximal effort.

 

Work with your Coach implement any of these sessions into your regular training regimen and see the results for yourself!

 

Should I Run in Wildfire Smoke ?

Much of the west is on fire and it’s still early in the season. These early season wildfires have inundated many PNW towns and cities with visible smoke, and with this new blanket of smoke, many athletes are questioning  the safety and practicality of exercising in these conditions. And rightfully so! Is it safe to run in these conditions ?

Let’s break it down!

First off, what is smoke? Smoke is a mixture of different chemicals, vapors, minerals, and particulate matter.  The levels of these chemicals and matter (nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, etc.) vary depending on many different factors relating to the fuel that’s burning as well as environmental factors. The biggest concern for us humans (and our animals) with wildfire smoke exposure, is particulate matter. These tiny particulates (solids and liquids suspended in the air) can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs causing a plethora of serious health issues. Don’t believe me ? (I’ve seen some of you running around out there without masks).  Read the following excerpt from Page 13 of “Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials” Published by the EPA, CDC, USFS, and California Air Resources Board:

“The effects of smoke range from eye and respiratory tract irritation to more
serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death … short-term exposures (i.e., days to weeks) to fine particles, a major component of smoke, are linked with increased premature mortality and aggravation of pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Children, pregnant women, and elderly are also especially vulnerable to smoke exposure. In addition, fine particles are respiratory irritants, and exposures to high concentrations can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty
breathing. Exposures to fine particles can also affect healthy people, causing respiratory
symptoms, transient reductions in lung function, and pulmonary inflammation. Particulate matter may also affect the body’s physiological mechanisms that remove inhaled foreign materials from the lungs, such as pollen and bacteria.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I’m willing to risk for a few days or weeks of heavy training. So what are our best options to stay fit while our beautiful trails and streets are blanketed in wildfire smoke ? Is it practical to continue training ? Is it worth it ?

The best thing you can do is take your activity indoors AND reduce the duration. When we exercise, our air intake rises 10 to 20 fold over resting levels, which means you run the risk of breathing in 10 to 20 times more particulates while exercising in a polluted environment. But why do we need to reduce the duration of our activities ? Isn’t being inside good enough ? Well, simply because you’re indoors, doesn’t mean you’re not being exposed to the harmful particulates you can see outside. Even in air conditioned homes using recirculated air, particulate can matter penetrate the structure and it’s ineffective filters, leaving humans susceptible to harmful particulates.

Keep in mind too, that moving your strenuous activity into your garage is not going to protect you from the irritants outside. Because of poor insulation and a lack of air filtration in most garages, air quality in your garage is likely to be similar to the air quality outside. If you do decide to continue exercising indoors at the same volume you have been exercising, consider doing so at a commercial gym, in a newer building, with a high quality air filtration system.

If you insist on going outside, wear a particulate respirator rated N95 higher. Covering your face with a bandana, buff, or even a one strap medical mask will not protect you from breathing in particulate matter. You must use a particulate respirator with a rating of N95 or higher; this will capture 95% of particles, but it must fit properly with a good seal – sorry guys, the beard has to go! Just keep in mind that you’ll be transporting less oxygen to your working muscles and brain; you’ll need to SLOW DOWN, take breaks, and listen to your body.

You can find an approved mask here.

And learn how to properly fit and use your mask here.

Before you make a decision to cease, reduce, or bring your activity indoors, it’s a good idea to check the air quality in your local area by using the EPA’s AirNow website here. The Air Quality Rating scale from the EPA is as follows:

AQI

 

It’s important to note too that not everyone will be negatively effected by short term wildfire smoke exposure. Healthy individuals who do experience symptoms are likely to make a quick recovery and will, in most cases, not have long term health issues due to this type of smoke exposure.  Even so, when any of my healthy athletes ask for my opinion on exercising in smokey conditions, my answer is always the same: Don’t risk it. Keep your global goals in mind. Stay healthy, stay happy, and remember that this too shall pass. This is a great time for unplanned recovery.

 

References:

https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/wildfire_may2016.pdf

https://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/acdsumm.pdf

https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/Pubs/334-353.pdf

http://www.bccdc.ca/resource-gallery/Documents/Guidelines%20and%20Forms/Guidelines%20and%20Manuals/Health-Environment/WFSG_EvidenceReview_CleanAirShelters_FINAL_v3_edstrs.pdf

https://airnow.gov

https://wildlandfiresmoke.net

 

 

Three Treadmill Workouts to Boost Your Trail Running Game

I coach a handful of athletes who don’t have access to big hills, especially mid week, but that doesn’t stop them from developing into bad ass trail runners! We work with what we’ve got, which sometimes means treadmill workouts. Like the great coach Jack Daniels said “Don’t waste your time wishing for things you don’t have. Do your best with what you do have.”

The following workouts (depending on how they are executed) can elicit a number of positive adaptions, including: an increase in strength, an increase in power, better uphill efficiency, a higher VO2 max, improved lactate buffering, and extended endurance at a given pace. Work with your coach to modify these workouts based on your current ability and goals.

 

Classic Intervals

 

How it works: Check out the course profile of your upcoming race and determine the average percentage of incline on the prominent climb(s). This will be the percentage you bring your treadmill to during your “on” segments. Warm up with a 20 minute easy jog, then set your treadmill to your estimated race pace for your upcoming event via RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) and perform 1 to 5 minute intervals (depending on your experience level, skill level, and the purpose of your workout) 4 to 20 times at your determined incline percentage with equal jogs at zero percent incline in between for recovery. Cool down with a 10 to 20 minute jog.

 

The Yates Hill Fartlek

 

This workout was suggested by one of our athletes; an army veteran and state worker in Washington who was given similar training while serving in the army. It’s become a team favorite!

How it works: Grab a deck of cards. Remove a set (2 of each) cards Ace through Queen. This can be a total of 4 to 24 cards; adjust accordingly based on your experience and skill level. The number on the card coincides with the percentage of the incline you will be running (Ace for 1% Queen for 12%). Warm up for 20 minutes at an easy jog, then set the treadmill to your estimated race pace via RPE. Pull cards at random setting the treadmill to the percentage of incline that coincides with the card you pull. Perform uphill intervals of 30 seconds to 5 minutes (depending on you experience, skill level, and the purpose of your workout) with equal jogs at 0% incline in between for recovery. Cool down with a 10 to 20 minute jog.

Not only is this a great way to elicit the physiological adaptions mentioned in the introduction of this article, but to learn how to adjust psychologically to changing terrain and discomfort on the fly.

 

Classic Uphill Tempo

 

How it works: Look at your upcoming course profile and determine the longest climb(s). Find an average percentage that coincides with that climb. Warm up for 20 minutes with an easy jog before setting your treadmill to your estimated race pace via RPE. Set your treadmill to the percentage associated with your goal race’s climb(s) and adjust the treadmill speed to maintain the RPE associated with your goal race pace. Run uphill for 10 to 30 minutes (depending on your experience, skill level, and the purpose of your workout). Cool down with a 10 to 20 minute easy jog.

 

A lot of trail and ultra runners aren’t fans of the “dreadmill” but the fact of the matter is that it’s an effective item in your tool box that can aid in your success, especially if you’re unable to make it to the trail head daily due to family or career obligations. Executing these simple and effective workouts as one of your quality sessions each week will change the way you attack hills on race day.

Have fun!

Safely Increase Your Running Volume

Winter can be a tough time to train for a lot of people. The majority of runners I know either had planned down time or forced down time due to a wicked flu season and/or horrendous weather in their region. Any of these things can be a blessing in disguise, as us runners tend to push ourselves very hard year around. It’s important to stay fit year around, but we also need periods of rest and recovery. We can either voluntarily take the time to recover with a reduction in load, or, our body can force us to take that time through sickness and injury.

However, winter is over! With spring comes new light and new energy! The days are longer, the weather is nicer, the flowers are blooming, and summer is on the horizon. Not only that, but the fire is burning HOT for all of those summer races you signed up for.  Now is the time time to see what you’re made of! Now is the time to start your journey towards running or ultrarunning greatness.

As John L. Parker Jr. famously wrote in his novel “Once a Runner” – “You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”

Many Coaches quote this line, but how do you safely implement the “Trial of Miles” ? And without setbacks ? Let’s clarify the latter, first: There may be setbacks. It is foolish to think that anyone participating in this high-impact, repetitive sport will come out unscathed. Don’t let Charlatan Coaches or compression gear companies tell you otherwise: eventually you’ll sustain some type of running related injury. We all get hurt. We can do our best to minimize the risks of injury, but we can’t completely prevent it from occurring. And if we get injured? We also heal. And we achieve even greater things by staying positive in the face of adversity and learning from those setbacks.

But hey! Cross that bridge when you get there.

 

Let’s talk about increasing running volume safely:

 

Run slow.

One of the most common mistakes I see is people running too fast, too often, which leads to nagging injuries, inconsistent training, and subpar results. Slow down! You literally need to run slower to run faster. Unless you’re a nationally competitive athlete or have been running most of your life, the majority of your mileage should be fairly relaxed. This is especially important when you’re increasing volume to a level you’ve not experienced yet.

Be consistent.

Show up! Consistency is key. And it’s easy: you just choose to do it. Don’t skip days. Don’t cut runs short. Don’t make excuses. Consistency leads to better running, less injury, and more speed. 

Baby steps.

The 10% rule for volume increase is slow, archaic, and nonsensical. However, too much, too soon is the number one leading cause of injury in runners. Instead, try increasing your weekly volume by the the number of days you run per week. If you run 4 days per week, add 4 miles. If you run 5 days per week, add 5 miles. Listen to your body and work with your Coach. After a couple weeks of increasing, stay steady and adapt to a given load before adding more mileage.

Light workouts.

When you’re increasing your overall volume, it is a big stressor to your body, especially if the volume is in unfamiliar territory.  It would be too risky to simultaneously increase the duration and/or speed of demanding workouts. Keep strides in your program, or maybe hill sprints, or a set of light surges or fartlek sessions here and there, and every week or two, complete a long run, but keep extremely demanding workouts to a minimum. You’ll have plenty of time for those once you adapt to the stress of your new training load. 

Form Habits.

Get up early. Have something to eat. Drink your coffee. Use the restroom. Brush your teeth. Lace up your shoes. GO RUN. Habits become second nature, and in the thick of training, running should be no different.

Acknowledge fear and then say “Kiss my ass!”

Maybe you’ve never run this much volume in a week before. Maybe you’re nervous to increase your weekly mileage because you’ve heard horror stories of “over-training” or “bad knees” or “heart scarring” from publications looking to capitalize off of your fear. Maybe you have a little self doubt; this is all normal, but to be your best, you must overcome your fears. Believe in yourself! You are capable of amazing things.

Have you been running 30 miles per week ? Take the time to increase to 50. Have you been running 50 miles per week ? Take the time to increase to 70. Have you been running 70 miles per week ? Well… you get it. There is a point of diminishing returns as far as volume goes, so work with your Coach or use common when attacking a bigger training load.

I’m not saying you should go out and pull an Anton Krupicka; running 200 miles per week until you can no longer run at all, but you have nothing to lose by trying something new, and as easy, for your performance as a mileage increase. So long as you are able to balance the stress of running with the stress of your work and family life; push yourself progressively. Build your volume in your program in a smart and productive way with a long term vision. You can be who you want to be. And there’s no better time to make that transition than in the spring time, when the world feels brand new.  

 

“Much is not dared because it seems hard; much seems hard only because it is not dared.” – Prince Wenzel Anton Von Kaunitz

 

Ditch the GPS

GPS is a great tool. I love to use my Garmin for quality workouts where splits matter such as mile repeats on the bike path, marathon pace work, or even for racing Strava segments within the context of on-trail threshold work or race pace simulation. And here at Upper Left Distance Training, we use GPS data integration in your training log to track your runs to the T! This allows me to view your routes, splits, and elevation, which can be very nice for online coaching. But even with all of the benefits, it would do most of us some good to ditch the GPS every now and then.

The problem is that with all of the technology these days, runners are losing their ability to tune into themselves and instead, are relying solely on external feedback such as mile splits and heart rate. While this can be a great tool in certain situations, relying solely on your GPS will limit your potential as an athlete. Our minds (and subsequently our bodies) rely on many cues to regulate our efforts, including our GPS and Heart Rate devices. You will be limited by the feedback from your watch data, so that what you “know” you can achieve will then be based off of the gadgets calculations, instead of your internal data.

I’ve seen this happen in races: “___ is the target heart rate I should be able to maintain for this race.” Great. You’ve just set your bar. Your mind will now act as a governor, not allowing you to break past your self imposed limits. Have you ever seen someone make a kick at the end of an Iron Man before collapsing ? Have you  ever seen someone finish a 100 mile foot race ?  Have you ever heard stories of mothers lifting vehicles off of their children ? Humans are capable of super human feats. That’s a fact that science cannot fully explain. The same holds true, although to a lesser extent, in racing.

Even when using pace per mile to control your easy efforts, we often become reliant on this feedback instead of tuning in to our own bodies. Because of this, athletes will often run too hard in an effort to match up with a pace they’ve been told is their easy pace, when they should instead be listening to their bodies and running even easier for recovery. This is why training by feel can be a far more effective way to train for some athletes. Our bodies are amazing machines and they will provide the feedback we need, we just need to listen. It’s important that you become aware of how you feel at a given effort. The difference between running an 8:30 mile and a 9:30 mile doesn’t matter, so long as the effort was easy and felt easy. The difference between 6:40 pace and 6:30 pace during a threshold run doesn’t matter much, so long as you know what a LT effort feels like.

Past losing touch with ourselves, athletes often get stuck in the data feedback loop with their GPS devices and end up feeling lesser-than by constantly comparing instant external data to their expectations: “This pace is less than what I expected to be able to run”  “I couldn’t run fast enough to get this Strava segment” “My competitors are running faster than me.” “This isn’t enough.” Of course, these are all self imposed expectations that we’re not meeting, but this type of comparison is an unfortunate fact for some athletes who rely too much on technology in training.

The problem too is that when we rely on GPS for every run, we can become stressed by the data: glancing every minute to make sure things are adding up, looking at the split to make sure it was fast enough, wondering why this run felt hard when the GPS and pace calculators tell us it should be easy. This is not conducive to easy, constructive running. We know that stress is stress to the body; it doesn’t differentiate, so why add an extra stressor unnecessarily?  Just as our bodies don’t recognize the arbitrary mileage numbers we’ve given value to in an 7 day period, they don’t always run by the paces in the charts.

It was hard for me to step away from the social validation of Strava, but this is what I’ve been doing for myself recently to reduce that stress:

  1. All easy runs with a stop watch to keep track of time. No GPS.
  2. GPS for any specific pace based workouts (800s, Ks, Mile reps, MP race pace, etc).
  3. GPS with the lap function and pace per mile turned off for tempo and long runs (I then log into Garmin or Strava to see how the splits matched up to how I felt).
  4. At [trail/ultra] races: pace per mile screen disabled. Chrono to keep track of caloric intake. Distance to keep track of aid stations (but don’t do math!).

This is what works for me, and may or may not work for you. Maybe you’d enjoy no watch at all? On a free day when I have nowhere to be, I sure do! Maybe you’re learning to internalize pace and the pace per mile screen is a learning tool at races and pace specific long runs on the road? It’s a great tool that!  Whatever you do, don’t become a slave to technology. Run free once in a while. It will make a world of difference in your training and racing.

Stories Ultra Race Report

By Upper Left DT Athlete Josh-Meyers Dean

The morning started off early with a 3:30am alarm to get myself, and my girlfriend/crew master extraordinaire, Julia, up to make some oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, and maple syrup, as well as a smoothie before we made the ~2 hour drive down to Cheyenne Mountain State Park near Colorado Springs.

JMD1Figure 1 Early on

The drive went by fast, listening to some spooky stories from Dirtbag Diaries “Tales of Terror” podcasts. It’s been a fairly snow free winter out here in the Front Range, but it’s been pretty cold compared to the PNW, which I’m more used to. The drive was spent mostly bundled up and trying to “bank” warmth if that’s a thing? After a while we drove into Cheyenne Mountain via the wrong road and had to back track a bit, it was pitch black as I got out to pee on the side of the road, which it was already freezing but I was stoked none-the-less! We eventually made our way to the actual start and were greeted with Christmas lights, illuminating up the start area and the Human Potential Running Series arch atop the hill we would run up and down the next 30 hours.

JMD2Figure 2 The start for each loop

Checked in around 5:35, changed out of my Luna Oso Sandals into my Scarpa Spins, which I would wear for the majority of the race. We had a pre-race meeting with RD John Lacroix, whom is always full of inspiration and jokes. He’s a really stand up guy and was saying how, as a race organization, he wants to celebrate everyone and not just the elites. He also went on to say that, since cheating has apparently become popular in these endurance races, that if you are caught cheating, you will be shamed on every form of social media he can find, which I appreciated. The meeting ended around 5:55 so we had a few minutes to mess around and chat.

JMD3Figure 3 Happy Happy Happy

The race started at 6am sharp with John just saying, “Well come on, go!” and we were off like a herd of turtles. I stuck with the leader for the first lap as it was darkish and the mud has frozen over to form millions of little ankle breaking walls. The race consists of four different loops following the color spectrum, Red which was about 3 miles, Green which was about 4, Blue which was 6ish(?), and the motherfucking Purple People Eater Loop which was 7ish. The first red loop was pretty uneventful and I was still waking up, thankful to have someone to navigate the perfectly marked course so I could just go autopilot and not have to think too hard for the first bit.

We rolled into the aid station/home base where I grabbed some typical aid station food, probably chips. Julia refilled my handheld for me and I was off onto the Green loop, my favorite loop, in first place. It was still pretty chilly so I was dressed like a gaper with splits over tights, and very thankful to have my Montucky Cold Snacks 80’s style warm headband.

The green loop was amazing as I was greeted with a beautiful sunrise, and as I was cruising some killer downhill, the local military played their bugles, it was a moment of bliss and reminded me how much I love trail running. I got back to the aid station, had some food, and set off on the blue loop still in first. Not much to report on this loop other than seeing a heard of deer and doing lots of walking and smiling. I believe this was the loop that I got passed by Miguel Isaza, but my goal was just to finish all 30 and enjoy some new trails, not necessarily to place.

I’m not sure why but I really dreaded the blue loop, despite it not being the hardest loop. Rolled into the aid station, ate, water refilled, then out again for my first purple loop. Excuse my language, but this loop was fucking rough. It was the longest, and had the most vert, but more so it was just lonely. I didn’t run with anybody for the most part for the entire race, which was kind of a bummer but it was nice to be alone with my thoughts for awhile.

JMD4Figure 4 Aid station fare

The hardest thing about the purple loop was the sticky mud, that clung to your shoes like a parent with a child leash, it was annoying and made my shoes really heavy. But got through the uphill, banged my shoes on some rocks, and started cruising some awesome downhill. I was in a Zen like state that was sharply interrupted by my bowels reminding of how much oatmeal I ate that morning. I gracefully tromped through some sharp branches to find an appropriate spot, dug a hole, and the sweet, sweet relief of sharp ass pinecones (thanks CO). I got back on the downhill, cruised to the main trail, and back up the hill to the aid station finishing the first 20 miles in 4:30.

Not much happened the next few loops, aside from the mud being persistent, until I hit 50km mark (actually 55km) in about 7 hours in first place. At the start of the race you get a question on the back of your bib to ponder for the first 50km and then are interviewed by John about it, which will be put in his podcast series, Ultra Stories. My question was, “Why?” which I really thought about hard, and came up with how I want to find the joy in suffering, talked about my overwhelmingly positive view on life after the passing of my mom, and really just to show myself how much I can accomplish. It was probably a blistering 34 degrees at this point and I was never really warm but I felt really good and fresh. I had a veggie burger then set out on my second blue loop, which was uneventful.

JMD5Figure 5 Home Base

My second purple loop is where things really started to change, I was bonking hard, and really starting to suffer. My nutrition had been on point up to this point thanks to Gu Roctane, but I was really only trained to run a 50 miler at this point, and this race was a last minute decision, but I pushed onward. I’m blessed with an amazing coach, Korey Konga with Upper Left Distance Training, and luckily what I had done in training paid off since the winter was so cold, I had done all my long runs just really suffering. But, during this loop I was hurting and bitching the whole time, alone. I walked pretty much all of this loop, taking over 2 hours to run the 7.whatever miles. I got into the aid station looking pretty rough, but Julia, along with the best pals anyone could ask for, Jake Ryan and Ian Andridge, helped shove some veggie burger with avocado, as well as tater tots down my throat, sat me down for a bit, and set me off for my third red loop.

JMD6Figure 6 I call this, “The Suffer Burger”

On the red loop things really started to hurt and I was struggling pretty bad, doubting if I could finish, it was getting below freezing and the trails were back to their ankle breaking walls. Again I walked and met up with a really nice guy in the 15 hour version finishing up for the night. We shared the last mile of the loop, and it was very refreshing to have some company. That’s the thing about this race, it was so lonely that the minute you got companionship, it was one of the most cherished things I’ve experienced.

I arrived into the aid station slogging up that fucking hill, bitching and doubting myself to my crew. I did not want to go out for another loop, I was adamant that I would not go and here I would DNF. But ultra-whisperer John gave me a pep talk, and we talked about my DNF at his Indian Creek 50 mile race. I went to Jake’s car to lay down for a bit, had an all out bitch fit to Julia, “I can’t do this, it hurts, blah blah blah, bitch bitch bitch” and luckily she wasn’t having it. They bundled me up, stuck a headlamp on me, a veggie burger in hand, and set me off for my third green loop.

JMD7Figure 7 The best of the best

Let me say, I am terrified of running in the dark, which is something I will work on, but it really motivated me to get this loop done faster. It was also just so cold, brutally cold. But I trudged through the loop, alone and scared, in a horrible headspace. I got back to base camp and was set on not going out on the blue loop alone, I was not budging on this. It was decided I would sleep until 2 or 3 am (it was 8:30pm) and then go out. Well, I ended up sleeping until 5:45, which I was okay with since this meant I could pick up Julia as a pacer for the final 6 hours. I woke up convinced I was DFL, which at this point placing didn’t matter, I just wanted to finish.

JMD8Figure 8 Relentless Positivity

Julia and I set out on my third blue loop, and honestly I felt fresh and refreshed, slow but stoked. I was just happy to have someone with me and lucky to have such an amazing girlfriend to pace my slow ass for 6 hours. We ran most of the downs, not a single hill, and some flats. Otherwise, it was a pretty uneventful loop.

Setting off on my last purple loop, we found out I was in third, “It shouldn’t matter but just so you know, you’re in a close top three” said Sherpa John. This lit a fire and we cruised out on the purple loop running a bit more, although naming a series of hills The range of Mount NOPE, as in every time we started running up a hill, I’d exclaim, “NOPE” and start walking. At some point we ended up in second place as we ran into base camp. We didn’t stay for too long because I had a fire under me at this point, but had some pickles, tots (THANK GOD FOR TATER TOTS), shoved a lemonade Gu down my throat, and set off for my final red loop.

JMD9Figure 9 shameless plug

This loop HURT and we walked most of it but got it done and came back to camp, in first place. I was pretty surprised but got a wave of energy! In the last hour there’s the “golden hour loop” which is a pleasant .6 mile loop going down a hill, and then back up one, on new trails which I was very thankful for. Anyone can join you this last hour so Jake, Julia, and myself set for five of these loops smiling and laughing the whole time, hooping and hollering at whatever runners we saw. This one guy, who this was his first ultra and hit 50 miles! Set out on one loop with his dad and that made me pretty happy.

When we got done with all these loops we returned to base camp to discover that I had won, which was pretty neat, but I was more psyched that I didn’t end up quitting. This girl Kate, had a goal of 50 miles and was really struggling the night before, but she pushed through and made it winning her the Purple People Eater Diversity Award! Very humbling to see such perseverance. I immediately cracked open a well deserved Montucky Cold Snack who supported me throughout this race, a company who gives 8% of profits to local causes! Had a good talk and interview with John, hung out with the remaining people, then went on to crush burritos and margs before the drive home.

Very thankful for everyone who supported me through this, from my awesome crew, Sherpa John and all of Human Potential Running Series, Gu Energy, Montucky Cold Snacks, Scarpa, and Korey Konga and all of my ULDT team mates. Ultra running may be a individual sport but without these people it wouldn’t be possible. It was the first ultra I have won too which I’m pretty psyched on! Now time to shift the focus to vert for the rest of the year. (All photos in this race report art credited to Ian Andridge Photography)

JMD10Figure 10 Post race

Basic Return to Running Training Plan

Maybe you’ve had a lengthy injury, illness, a surgery, or maybe you just took a hiatus from running because you needed a break. Perhaps you’re a brand new runner and don’t know where to start! Whatever your story is, you’re here now,  you’re ready to run, and that is awesome! As exciting as it may be though, it’s best to come back (or start) slowly to reduce your risks of injury or re-injury. So get ready for the anticlimactic truffle shuffle back to running greatness.

What follows is a basic, 8 week, get-back-to-running-safely training plan. Many athletes don’t see the value in working with a coach during this time, but if you can afford it, do it! Your situation is unlike anyone else’s. There may be similarities, yes, but no one is like you. This is a great time to work with someone who can support you and help direct you through both growth and set backs as you move forward.

This is also a great time to make strength training not just a priority, but a habit. Work with your Coach and Physical Therapist to devise a weekly strength plan that you’ll be able to stick to as you move forward. And remember to listen to your body. If at any time you experience discomfort, don’t be afraid to step back from your routine for a few days and hit the stationary or elliptical. Whatever you do, stay positive, smile lots, and be thankful for movement.

8 week plan with the “Long Run” on Sundays

Week 1 – 3 to 4 days per week, 21 minutes of 1 minute jog / 2 minute walk

Week 2 – 3 to 4 days per week – 32 minutes of 2 minute jog / 2 minute walk

Week 3 – 4 to 5 days per week – 30 minutes of 2 minute jog / 1 minute walk

Week 4  – 4 to 5 days per week – 32 minutes of 3 minutes jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 40 minutes 4 minute jog / 1 minute walk

Week 5 – 4 to 5 days per week – 30 minutes –  4 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 48 minutes 5 minute jog / 1 minute walk

Week 6 – 5 days per week – 30 to 48 minutes – 5 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 45 minutes 20 minute jog / 5 minute walk / 20 minute jog.

Week 7 – 5 days per week – 36 to 45 minutes – 8 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 45 minutes 20 minute jog / 5 minute walk / 20 minute jog

Week 8 – 5 days per week – 32 to 48 minutes – 15 minute jog / 1 minute walk. Sunday: 45 minute jog.

WELCOME BACK!

 

*This training plan should only be used if you have been cleared to exercise by a qualified medical professional.

How to Avoid a DNF

Recently I went down to Malibu to race the Sean O’Brien 100K in attempt to get a Golden Ticket to the Western States 100 Mile Endurance run. I spent 4 months training specifically for this race, yet 20 miles in, I dropped out. But why?

For most of us it won’t be the weather or the vertical gain or the distance that is the biggest challenge in an Ultramarathon, but our internal battle. It’s unlikely you’ll avoid this battle because it’s natural for the mind to try to stop us from harming the body when you’re doing something that is dangerous and potentially damaging. Our brain is designed to protect us; to be overprotective and to get us home safe. Evolution may not let us avoid the battle completely, but you can certainly minimize the risk of letting negativity overcome you on race day.

My first suggestion? Choose a race that means something to you. You need to have a reason to finish these things. Choose something that excites you and gives you a reason to finish. A good reason. You have to be emotionally invested in what you’re doing or you’ll risk giving up on it. Emotional investment is key to success whether it’s in training, in racing, in a relationship, or at work – you’ve got to care. And not just about shallow things like notoriety, money and success – those things don’t hold up when the going gets tough.

When things do get tough (and they will) you’ll need to stay positive. You’ll feel fear, anxiety, anger, and maybe even a little sadness, but all of those emotions can be overcome with positivity. A good way to do this is simply to smile. Smile at other runners, smile at the volunteers, and if no one is around, smile for the sake of smiling. Studies have shown that smiling releases dopamine, serotonin and endorphins (1). This cocktail of neurotransmitters can help to reduce stress, lower heart rate (2), relieve pain, and uplift mood (3). So, next time you’re racing or stuck in traffic smashing your hands against the steering wheel, give smiling a try and see what happens 🙂

If positivity and your commitment to your “why” are not working, think about consuming some extra calories before you make a final decision. You know those Snickers commercials ? Well, there’s definitely some truth in the saying “You’re not you when your hungry.” Your brain’s primary fuel is glucose. It needs it’s fuel to operate and to regulate emotions. For evolutionary reasons we already have trouble controlling anxiety and anger, but given that some of the same hormones associated with these emotions are released when we’re hungry (specifically when blood glucose levels drop (4))  the feelings are often exacerbated until our brain gets what it wants and needs. This is why you may get “hangry” at the office if lunch is late and it’s also why you might not be thinking clearly a few hours into your race. So, before you make any rash decisions, try eating a few hundred calories at the next aid station, jog for 20 minutes, and then make your decision.

If none of these things are working then you need to be honest with yourself and ask “Is it worth it to continue?” In my case, I ignored the advice I give my athletes and picked a race solely because I had the chance of getting into Western States; a race I don’t really care about, but that would get me noticed by a shoe company and prospective clients. On top of a shallow “why” I’d been struggling with an injury effecting my sciatic nerve for almost a year. It was and is manageable, but once I knew I wouldn’t get a Golden Ticket I wasn’t interested in taking the risks associated with running 40 more miles through the Malibu hills. That was my call in the moment and I don’t regret it. I went home and filled my calendar with races that excite me.

We have this unhealthy “Death Before DNF”  mentality in Ultrarunning that perpetuates unspoken shame in those who do drop out of races. To put it bluntly: it’s bullshit. You should never be ashamed or embarrassed of dropping out of race, whether it’s due to a legitimate health concern or simply because you’d rather spend the afternoon on the beach with your family. And if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re considering dropping out of a race, don’t let the thought of what other people think of you dictate what you choose to do. Do what makes you happy.

Choose your races with passion.

Live your life with purpose.

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(1) http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612445312

(2)https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201206/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345483

(4) http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/7/1618.full