Sunday, November 16, 2014

Southern California Spartan Race: Entry Giveaway

Spartan Race has offed a free race entry for one of its upcoming Southern California races to readers of the Everyday Runner Tips blog.

Have you run an obstacle race? What are your success and preparation tips? 

To enter, leave a comment on this post. On 11/30 I will use to generate a number and then use that number to pick the winner. For example, if there are 100 comments and the random number is 63 then 63rd comment will win the race code.

Race Report: 2014 Chicago Marathon

More than a month ago I ran the Chicago Marathon. My race report is posted on my other blog, Read and enjoy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

0 to 100 in two years!

In 2012 I went on a diet and lost 40 pounds and signed up for my first race,  a 5K. I couldn't even run around the block so started training, and joined a running group for the fall 2012 training season and signed up for a bunch of "long distance" races (half and full marathons) to help me train for ultras. My first attempt didn't go as planned so I tried again six months later and completed my first 50 mile trail race (TNF50). Within a month I was looking for a coach to help me prepare for my first 100 miler.

After a lot of research I found what looked like the perfect race for me. A small, local, Idaho 100 miler near where I previously lived and was very familiar with the area. A true mountain race it ranks among the most difficult in the USA and finishers are qualified for the grand-daddy Hardrock race. 

Very little info could be found online but with fewer than 35 people who’d finished it in the last two years, around a 50% finish rate, that wasn't a surprise.

That should give someone like me a chance to place well in the pack even as a new runner (unlike Southern California) but there must be something to it as only three people had come in under 24 hours. 

I did not want an easy race for my first, no I wanted it to be the hardest I could sign-up for, even if it was not well known so I signed up for the

I also signed up for two 50 milers to assess my fitness along the way and practice some race strategy. Over the summer I made two trips to the course and learned more valuable and humbling lessons. Running in the snow, drinking filtered stream water, and navigating by GPS/topo maps for hours and then training on some of the most remote and mentally challenging sections according to prior runners that had blogged about prepared me for the course.

I’d seen around 80% of the course and had a great sense of the difficulty of each section. After studying the splits from the two prior years I also had a great idea of what people had done right and wrong which combined with great insight into the course after chatting with Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey the RDs, I built my first race plan, with my wife Alaina as crew chief/pacer and my new friend and fellow paramedic (and Western States/etc finisher) Steve Boyenger as pacer. My training tally for 2014 leading up to the race was 1,287 miles for 308 hours across 114 runs.

A few weeks before race day I got some kind of piriformis, sciatica, or SI joint pain. The only real treatment would be rest, so that I did. No running for a couple weeks to give it a chance to heal.

On race day, right from the start I felt a slight twinge of pain and thought to myself “oh no, its going to be a long day” but within 30 minutes that twinge was replaced by a full on lower back spasm.

I knew it wouldn’t last forever (all cramps eventually stop) and pushed through it while the back spasm lasted for a couple hours. When it finally relaxed the glutes and hip flexors started spasming. Then this moved around to my hamstrings, quads, and calves. No matter what I tried to do the extreme pain of muscle cramping would not completely go away. I kept moving, hoping that the muscles would eventually stop - but the pain just moved from one muscle group to another.

The cramps and pain continued for 14 hours… until I made it to the Duck Lake at mile 43.7. I was DFL (dead f*cking last) and was 2 hours past the splits needed to be able to make a 36 hour finish, the final race cutoff. I was getting slower and slower rather than faster. There was no way that I could make the cutoffs, even if I left the aid station under my own power. 

My race was over and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I'd pushed hard, given it all I had, and suffered all day. My muscles were spent far beyond what they should've been at that point.

I made some new and wonderful friends in Idaho who welcomed us like long time friends. The IMTUF course might be a Hardrock qualifier (making it one of the 10 hardest courses in the USA) but it is not for everyone. 

It is a very, very rugged and extremely remote course. There are long stretches with no aid stations, or there is water only aid… or aid packed in the back of real goats (three white ones and a mean old brown goat). There's a reason most finishers are over 32 hours!

The start/finish is held at the rustic Burgdorf Hot Springs and hosted by Jim & Caroline the managers while the race is expertly designed and run by Jeremy and Brandi Humphrey. 

When I say it is “run by", I mean it. The week before they run the course marking it and the week after they finish the cleanup work. They epitomize the very essence of trail running and are amazing in their dedication and care for the course and its runners. 

An amazing group of volunteers spend countless hours in the cold and remote places that make up the aid stations, sometimes very far from any creature comforts in the middle of the night, they take care of the runners throughout the 36 hour event. 

One couple hiked in and camped two nights for a remote aid station at mile 10 & 20, then packed it out before sweeping eight hours through the third night!

The course record holders are local folks and most runners are too. Everyone cares about each runner, down to the last 36 hour finisher. When a runner comes in to the finish line they are sure to get a warm welcome with hot chili and cold beer but there’s not an entourage or a press corp waiting to greet them. Frankly, that kind of finish is not what IMTUF is about and would be out of place at Burgdorf.

First time finishers receive a custom IMTUF leather belt (brown or black) while only second time finishers receive a buckle to attach to the belt. If you are looking for a true mountain race with a marked and well selected course, along with minimal (in quantity not quality) race support, then IMTUF may be for you. If you require a lot of attention and fanfare, this race is definitely not for you.

I'll be back!

Note: some pictures are my own but others were taken by Chihping Fu and Vicki Trees.

Friday, April 5, 2013

What is your Ideal Marathon Weather?

The 10 day forecast is a day away from showing the April 15 weather prediction for Boston, MA and surrounding areas?

Sunday's forecast looks promising. 

Since the weather can have such a major impact on running a marathon I am often asked about my ideal weather conditions for a marathon. 

What is "ideal" marathon weather for you?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Race(s) Report

I'm finally getting around to putting together a report of my first marathon. The delay is really mostly because my first was followed one week later by my second marathon. I had greatly underestimated the impact on my body of running two marathons back to back, at my level of training and experience, and had scheduled a half marathon the following week. At the last minute I decided to be smarter about it and just did a 5K instead.

Race #1: Carlsbad Marathon

My first marathon was the Carlsbad Marathon the last Sunday in January. The race was pretty much a blur, which is saying something considering that it took me 5:32:54 to finish in 1,304th place (out of 1,465).

Carlsbad Marathon Elevation Profile
As you can see in the elevation profile above, the Carlsbad course is mostly flat as it follows the beach between Carlsbad and Encinitas. The single hill is due to the course turning inland for an uphill section which resulted in 1,798 feet of elevation gained. Overall that is not a lot of footage compared to trail runs but it is deceiving because of the long straight and mostly flat stretch.

As most distance road runners will affirm hills are really the most challenging part of any run, no matter the weather or climate. The challenge may be going up or it may be going down, depending on your fitness and the terrain. Early in my training, the 'little' bumps you see between 15 and 22 miles were not so little to me and I'd have to walk at least part of each one. They were my walls to climb... and I did, slowly, over time. Now I barely even notice them, what a difference training makes! This is important training mentally and physically for my ultra-running aspirations where some races exceed 30,000 feet of elevation gain (and equal amount of loss), climbing Mount Everest in a day!

Carlsbad Marathon Course

My finishing time was not remarkable, in fact it is much worse than I hoped for. I'm happy to have finished but it was an amazing experience and one of the first solo achievements I've had in a long time. Getting here was not a solo experience, I owe a debt of gratitude to my running coach, Carla Barnett, and my running partners Judy & Dave Wade, and fellow first-timer Jon. We all met up at the start and were together for the first few seconds of the race but as we settled into our individual paces, we each ran our own races.

Just before the start!

I wore my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition camera for the first time at this race just so that I could show you all, especially those in the middle of the country far away from the ocean, what it looks like here in San Diego county in the middle of January.

What is it like running next to the ocean? Take a look and see for yourself!

What race report would be complete without a finisher's photo?

Race #2: Surf City Marathon
The Surf City Marathon provided a different race experience for me. During the 7 days between races I had a three day work trip to Washington DC that started the day after Carlsbad. I'm sure the walk from my car to the gate... and then at the other end from the airport to my hotel room was good for me in some way. It didn't feel great and I sure was not very fast. I also made sure to wear compression socks and do some light stretches and move around a little during the 5 hour flight.

I did not however do any running or specific exercise during the intervening week. I did not know what my body required and knew that I did not want to push it. In the evenings in the hotel I took the plastic garbage can liners from the hotel room, filled them with ice and packed my elevated knees... and kept the ibuprofen and tylenol levels up as much as I dared. All these things helped, I think.

My wife and I drove the 85 minutes or so to Huntington Beach, drove around a while looking for parking, and made a quick dash through the expo to get my bib and packet. There was a good vibe here with many thousands of people, most of whom were lining up to get their half marathon gear. There was essentially no wait for the full marathoners. We met up with fellow runners and friends at the Dog Pound (a named tailgate party hosted by friends outside their super cool RV Coach/home) for dinner at a restaurant next door. I was still limping 'a little' which was perhaps an ominous sign that I did not know was something worthy of more specific troubleshooting.

Afterwards we made our way to the hotel and quickly settled in for a short night. The 4am (or was it 3:30?) alarm came and it was time to suit up. I had some self debate about whether it was worth showering before a marathon or not, its not like I exerted myself at all since the previous shower a day earlier, but the routine-ness of it was comforting along with the hot water made a good start to the day to ease my nerves.

My wife dropped me off as close as she could to the start but I still had about 1/4 mile walk to the start. It made a good warm-up as it was a little chilly and very humid - I was dressed for the expected weather later in the day (warm and sunny). I had some time to kill so I found a porta-potty and scoped out the beer garden (motivation to make it back here later).

My GoPro Hero3 attracted the attention of a few people who asked me about it (that's when I noticed that nobody else had one, which either meant I was on the cutting edge of a trend or I was the race dork). People were friendly and as the dawn started to break over us I started to mentally shift gears and review my race plan.

I planned to go out at 11:30 pace and hold that until the last 5-6 miles (or last hour) when I could speed up if I was feeling it.

Surf City Marathon Elevation Profile

As you can see in the above graph, this is an extremely flat race with only one small hill to climb in a short out and back section that does a figure 8 through a city park. It was on my way out in this section that things started to fall apart for me.

My left knee started hurting suddenly and was making it difficult to run. So I slowed a little to try walking and that didn't make it any better. In fact it was hard to walk than to run and I found myself having to pull my leg up with my upper quads and avoiding having a bent knee as much as possible. I struggled for the next four miles with this, taking lots of walking breaks because of the pain when running... only to find the pain was the same when walking so I rationalized that if I ran the amount of time I was in pain would be less. This would work for a few minutes until I forgot how much it hurt walking and tried it again... and so it continued.

I'm not really sure if whatever was causing the pain actually lessened or if my body was becoming numb to it but after an hour it hurt less - although I found myself having less energy to run. It was very demoralizing to feel like I was done racing at mile 8 with 18 more to go! We had joined up with the fast half marathoners, first with the 1:20 pace group... who were going twice as fast as me. That didn't help my situation any and I started to experience the frustration and angst that comes with lackluster performance. Eventually the faster pace groups made their way past me and I was now among halfers going my speed (which means they started way to fast and slowed down).

Surf City Marathon Course

This race actually has three legs, each are an out and back, with the second two being basically the same scenery from both sides of a fence. This presented me with the greatest challenge though, as these extensions felt like they just kept going and going. Since I was not having a great race physically, the mental challenges were very trying. I kept on the lookout for people I might know and did see a few.

As I approached the final turn for the last out and back, the halfers were in their last two mile stretch yet they were dropping like flies. There were ambulances and fire trucks responding to calls all along the course as the day progressed. I was too much in my zone trying to finish to stop and render aid, not that anyone I was near looked like I could do anything for them in the few minutes before a local paramedic would be there. I'm ok with that... and I know that had I stopped and tried to kneel over someone I would have great trouble getting back up again and could become a casualty myself!

As I was about to cross the finish my wife was there cheering for me and videoing (I think). I have no doubt it was not a pretty sight and maybe that's why I haven't seen the video. It was great seeing her there knowing I was almost done, just another minute to finish. I finished 7 minutes slower than Carlsbad... and the winners were 10 minutes slower. I could make an argument that I really gained 3 minutes but nobody would believe me.

Pretty much as soon as I stopped going forward my body said it had enough and locked up in one giant spasm. From my belly button down I think every muscle was in trismus - I was a giant ball of cramps and almost couldn't even walk to the car. This of course provided great entertainment to my wife but at this point I didn't care anymore.

The following week I traded my wife, a half marathon for her 5K. This was the San Dieguito race through beautiful hills and homes of Rancho Santa Fe. She finished her first half and scrambled to cover the 3.1 miles which I somehow PRd. It has been about month now and I have not ran more than a mile (twice) since.

I'm now cross training with spin class, strength training, yoga, and even deep tissue sports massage. I'm getting better as I get more familiar with my body and its limitations. I'm focused on starting and finishing the 50 mile PCT50 in May...which means I may have to drop a few other race events before than depending on how things go.

I'm hoping to still finish the sister races (two more each) to both of these to get the San Diego Triple Crown and the Orange County Beach Cities challenges. I can scratch Carlsbad and Surf City off my list of races to do... I'm ready to trade the sandy beaches and occasional dolphin sightings for the mountains!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pain and pleasure the day after LSD

A warning for those Timothy Leary fans that Googled themselves here: you are in the wrong place. This post is not about lysergic acid diethylamide but long slow distance running. Both forms of LSD can produce euphoria; running is generally safer with far fewer side effects then acid, although my current running plan involves some psychotic episodes too – usually the day after I take a dose of LSD running. 

After completing a marathon distance run this fall, my goals turned toward the next challenge. A 50 kilometer run is the next standard distance event after the 26.2 miles race, and the shortest classified as an ultra-marathon. This spring during my 31 mile run with 4000 feet of climbing I anticipate spending about 8 hours pounding my feet and legs into submission while the devil sits on my shoulder telling me to surrender to the fatigue and quit. Hopefully, I’ll have an equally powerful angel sitting on the other shoulder prepared to kick the crap out of the devil.  It is my belief that the key to finishing an endurance event is to strengthen the angel into a devil killing ninja. Also, maintaining good running form while fatigued is important. Under my new plan it isn’t the LSD run that produces these results, but during a short and intense run the next day.  

What makes the day after LSD unique in my plan? Most people rest the day after running long. My plan has me running again the next day. Not only do I run, but I run fairly intensely. My heart rate goal is zone 2 (132-146 beats per minute in my case). I will do this for an hour.
Recovery is important. It is where most training gains are realized. So, why follow a long run with an intense one instead of a rest day? Because, this run develops mental fortitude that will be most important for an ultra-event. It is toughness that hardest to prepare for without actually racing. 

The day after a LSD run, I don’t feel like running. Even after a good night’s sleep I am generally tired. My quads are fatigued and my calves are sore. The siren song of my comfortable home is calling. I whine incessantly. Exactly as I imagine I will feel at mile 26 of my 31 mile race.  By powering through I “teach” my mind to suck it up.  Additional benefits are cardiovascular fitness and improved speed. These secondary benefits are only realized two days after the LSD run. Once I do my Zone 2 fatigue run the resting phase is especially important to bank all the gains I’ve made over the last two days. 

There are a couple potential pitfalls to this plan. It is very import to differentiate soreness from injury. You are going to have some fatigue after a LSD run – that’s the whole point of the training. The difficult assessment is to figure out what is just tired and sore, and what is pain and injury. Creating an overuse injury is counterproductive, but the difference can be subtle.

Another issue is that running intensity and fatigue can produce poor form, again resulting in injury. This is why the Zone 2 run is only 60 minutes. Hopefully, you can maintain the mental acuity to monitor your form for that short period of time. I find that I really need to focus to keep from getting sloppy. This is also exactly what I’ll need to do toward the end of my 50K, so this is another good lesson. 

So far, I’ve been impressed with the results of this strategy. I’m faster and my form is good after just a month. I think it will really pay off in May when I attempt my first ultra-marathon. I also believe it will be helpful in July when I have back-to-back trail triathlons. 

What do you think of this method? Have you tried other strategies to manage fatigue during a long race?  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

January 2013 Training and Racing Recap

January 2013 started with my taper in preparation for the Goofy Challenge (half marathon recap and full marathon recap).

After the Goofy Challenge I enjoyed several weeks of low activity, many trips to the skating rinks with my kids, and a rekindling of my love affair with cycling rollers.

7 Running Activities
64.35 miles

6 Cycling Activities
39.90 miles

February 1 starts my next training cycle as I prepare for the Boston Marathon.

Was January a good training month for you? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Outsource or Local-Source Race Shirts?

Sean Ryan, director of the Cellcom Green Bay marathon, has written an excellent article about why races have "Caps" or capacity limits.

From the Race Director's Desk: What's with the caps?

The entire article is well worth reading, but the section that really smacked me in the side of the head was about pre-ordering race shirts (for all Green Bay events - kids races, 5k, half marathon, full marathon, and volunteers I am speculating this is more than 10,000 shirts).

Ryan wrote:

"PARTICIPANT SUPPLY LEAD TIMES: Not that many years ago, it was customary to give out cotton t-shirts to finishers in distance races. As long as participants registered “in advance,” they would be guaranteed their t-shirt size. Any mid-sized community has a plethora of local companies that can supply custom screen-printed cotton t-shirts on fairly short notice. I’ve put in emergency orders on cotton shirts less than 48 hours prior to an event. When moisture-wicking technical fabric shirts became the standard, all of this changed. These shirts are often cut, sewn and screen printed overseas–most often in China–and shipped to the United States in shipping containers to reduce freight costs. This causes ridiculously long lead times. As an example, in order to guarantee timely delivery for this May’s Cellcom Green Bay Marathon and Half Marathon, the t-shirt order had to be submitted by December 1st, SIX MONTHS PRIOR TO THE EVENT! There are also long lead times on things like finisher medals and gear check bags. All of these lead times forces organizers to set caps on the events well in advance or risk the possibility of over-selling and running out of the perks that runners expect."
I hope there is an apparel vendor in Green Bay (my hometown) or somewhere in Wisconsin figuring this out for the 2014 race.

My list of reasons to run a race is probably much different than yours. My top considerations now are different than my race pre-requisites 5 years ago. Some of my events are "bucket list" races while others are traditions. Some are just to do something different.

I have lots and lots of race shirts. I wear them proudly and often.

Would I select a race because of its sourcing practices for t-shirts? It probably wouldn't be my top consideration but an emphasis on local sourcing and a light race footprint might tip the balance towards one race over another.

How about you? How important is the t-shirt fabric and its sourcing? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vitamins and Supplements for Distance Runners

An interesting "In the News: Athletes and Vitamins" post at the Athlete's Heart blog (a must read in my opinion) got me thinking about why I take a daily multi-vitamin. I am not sure why?

I don't recall my primary care physician suggesting I take a MV. I also don't recall him telling me to stop.

Perhaps I just succumbed to a lifetime of marketing messages about the importance of a daily MV. I am taking the official MV of Major League Baseball after all.

As for other supplements ... I have never even been in a GNC store. Those big containers of powders scare me. I simply don't have the time to understand what is in those containers and why I might want to have a big shake/slurry of supplement once a day.

How do I get vitamins and minerals:

1. Daily multi-vitamin

2. Leafy green vegetables

3. Other vegetables

4. Fruit (I should eat more than I do)

5. Other stuff?

I think there is some benefits to a daily beer ... or so I have heard. I might go test that theory.

Do you use vitamins and supplements to improve your running or to help stay healthy?