Thursday, November 29, 2007

Food, Footwear, and Fashion

Lots of folks ask me what I eat/wear while training every day. Here's a quick Holiday Season posting for those of you who have a runner on your shopping list and want to get them something useful....and by "useful" I mean something to help them run 100 miles. Obviously.

DISCLAIMER: I am not paid by any of these companies. I'm recommending their products simply because I've found them to be the best. Sure, I get free Carb Gel from CARBBOOM!, but that doesn't change my opinion of them at all. I think we can all agree they are the greatest group of people in the history of the world, regardless of their upcoming decision to extend my sponsorship into the 2008 year.

That said, I've separated my recommendations into 3 areas: Food, Shoes, and Clothing. Enjoy!


My regular diet isn't too restrictive in general. I just watch the amount of sugars I take in, and make sure to eat a ton of Whole Grains. Broccoli is easily the best vegetable out there (more Vitamin C than an orange), and a handful of raw baby spinach is great too. As long as I eat some of the above when I'm hungry, I never have a bad run the next day. The real key for endurance running is feeding your body what it needs DURING the long run.

Here's what works for me - Your liquid intake is obviously the most important element when you're out on your long runs. I generally skip the Gatorade/Powerade products for the most part. It's not that they're not great for replacing electrolytes, it's just that they have waaaay to much sugar in them. After a few hours of drinking all that sugar, your stomach will most certainly revolt...and no one likes to experience a Reversal of Fortune while running. Especially when you're in the middle of the woods and very very far away from the nearest toothbrush. I stick with mainly with a semi-underground product called Clip 2 which is made by a fellow ultra runner/scientist named Karl King in what I can only assume is some sort of secret cave/bunker in the mountains of Colorado. Am I certain this stuff isn't just 95% water mixed up with shredded programs from old Denver Broncos games? No, I am not. BUT, I do know it works - it combines the right mix of the nutrients you need to help your muscles repair themselves on the fly during long runs.

Clip 2 doesn't have enough electrolyte content for hot/humid days, so on those runs I'll keep sodium capsules handy in my running belt. I've had mixed results with various brands - some make my stomach upset - but the two best products out there are the S!Caps(also made by Karl King) and E-Caps made by Hammer Nutrition. Keeping your sodium/potassium up is essential on long runs. When those levels become depleted, your body loses it's ability to properly absorb and transfer the liquid you're drinking to the organs/muscles in need.

On long runs of 30+ miles, I usually have a bottle of chocolate flavored Ensure waiting for me somewhere along the route. It's great for runners for the same reason it's great for your grandma: it crams in more dense nutrients into 8oz than just about anything out there. Don't knock it until you've tried it at mile 65...the stuff is great. Just ask your Nana.

As soon as I get back from my daily run, I mix up a glass of Endurox R4, fruit punch flavor is the best. This stuff is so good for repairing hardworking muscles after a workout that Elizabeth calls it "The Clear" in reference to the Barry Bonds steroid of choice. I assure you it is 100% legal and safe, however. It has a great mix of vitamins (tons of Vitamin E) and a 4:1 carb:protein mix to help your muscles repair themselves after a run. Drinking it in the first 30 mins after a run is key since that's the time your body absorbs nutrients the fastest.

To cap off the Food portion of this list, I can honestly say the gels made by CARBBOOM! are with me on all of my long runs. I'll wash one down w/ water every 45 mins or so on runs up to 50 miles. In the Vermont 100, it was essentially the only thing my stomach could handle after that point, and it kept me moving along strong and steady for the last 50 miles. The Vanilla Orange flavor is my favorite, I highly recommend.


Everyone has different feet/strides/weight/pronation, so I can't recommend any one shoe for everyone. I've had success with Saucony (Hurricane) and Brooks (Trance) myself. My opinion of all the top running companies is if you're buying their top-of-the-Line running shoe, it's probably going to work for you. Some might not need as much cushion or support, but there's a reason why it's top of the line: It's the best they make. To keep costs down on these high-end shoes, I usually go to - They carry just about every running shoe out there, and about once a month they hold a 20% Off everything sale (including clearance). With no tax and free shipping, this is always the best way to go. To give you an example, I've picked up my last 2 pairs of Brooks Trance shoes, which retail at $129.99 for $72. You can't beat that.

When it comes to trail races, I try to find a shoe that I feel suits the specific terrain of that course. For trails with less rocks/roots to deal with (Like the Vermont and Umstead 100 milers), I've had success with the Brooks Adrenalin line. For more technical rocky runs (like the Massanutten 100 course), I recommend the Cascadia - sure, it looks like something a clown threw up after night of drinking, but the bottom of the shoe has something called a 'Ballistic Rock Shield' that really helps take the sting out of rocks and roots on a long run in the mountains.

No matter what the shoe I wear, I replace the factory insole with one from Sole. They make heat-moldable insoles for runners, hikers, and really anyone who wants to have a custom-molded sole in their shoe. I recommend these to people with all sorts of foot aches and pains, and they pretty much solve them all. I HIGHLY recommend checking out their site.

I'll include socks in this section and proudly say I've run every mile this past year (over 2,000) in Wright Socks. I should also mention I haven't had a single blister in that time. Is there any question that they make the best running socks?? The answer is no. That was a rhetorical question.


Ok, "fashion" is a term used loosely here since most lines of running apparel consist of short-shorts that would make NBA players in the 70s blush. I can say, however, that Sugoi makes the best shorts for running, and they also leave a little to the imagination when you wear them...Runners and spectators alike can appreciate that. In the last 9 years I've completed every one of my runs of 26.2 miles and beyond in Sugoi shorts and never had any chaffing issues, etc...This is a good thing.

Just about everyone out there makes a 'moisture wicking' line of shirts, and just about all of them are the same. I recommend the ones with the fewest/less noticeable seam lines on the inside to reduce friction burns. Sugoi, Brooks, Saucony all make good ones. In the winter you definitely want to wear a long-sleeve top of the thicker synthetic or "technical" material. Depending on how cold it is when you run, you'll need to find the level of warmth that works best for you. Under Armour puts out about 100 types of these shirts, but you can usually save some $$ by just picking up whatever 'Cold Weather' shirts are on sale - I've found that the brand really doesn't make too much of a difference when you're talking about the same synthetic materials anyway.

One Under Armour product I do highly recommend is their line of sunglasses. They have the best glasses for running I've ever used. Both light-weight and fixed with non-slip rubber on the nose and ear stems. No matter how sweaty you get or how bumpy the trails are, these babies don't move a millimeter.

I'll end this post with one last item which is perfect for folks who have to run long distances in hot sunny weather. The Sun Runner Cap by OR has literally saved me from passing out on the side of the road 3 or 4 times this year alone. Usually hats make me too hot when I run, but when the sun is really beating down, it's a better trade off to cover your head/neck from the direct sunlight. This hat is great because its lighter-than-light material dries super quick, and the neck portion can just snap on/off as you need it while you're running. Sure, you look a little odd to most people when you're out there running 30 miles in it, but since most people can't run 30 miles anyway, why should you care what they think?!

That's it for now...Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The "I" Factor

I've mentioned in previous posts about how training for ultras involves equal parts mental and physical training. Well, I forgot about the most important part, the "Third Half" of training, if you will:


We all find Inspiration in our own ways, and back when I was training for my very first marathon in college, this video of Billy Mills competing at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games turned my inspiration knob to '11'. When I stumble upon "Chill-Factor" Inspiration like this, I'm filled with the kind of energy and motivation that makes me want to strap on my shoes and run for hours on end. We all need something to get our butt off the couch every day to train when we're tired and sore, and this video certainly did the trick for me.

Here's a little background on the race:

No American had ever won the 10,000 meter race in the Olympics (and no one has since). Billy Mills' qualifying time was almost a full minute slower than the favorite's, Australia's Ron Clarke. The pre-race media coverage focused on Clarke and his expected duel with Mohammad Gammoudi of Tunisia. Mills went largely un-noticed, mostly because the field for the final included many Olympic Gold Medalists and world record holders. The video is grainy, but once the race starts you can follow the action by listening to the announcer rather than trying to read the runners numbers, etc. My favorite part is the pure shock/joy of the color commentator when Mills makes his move at the end: "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!". Chills, anyone? I love it!!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Mental Training

Lots of people ask how someone goes about training for a 100+ mile race. My thoughts on this are quite simple: You need to place equal value on both your physical and mental training. Everyone is different, but the best way I've found success in my training is to take a goal that may seem a little crazy at first (for example, the thought of running 30 miles by yourself on a Saturday morning), and repeat it enough times that it simply becomes the normal routine (eventually you find yourself run 30 miles with ease every Saturday).

Once you break through that mental wall of running 30 (or 50 or 100) miles the first time, you've taught yourself that it's not only achievable, but the more times you do it, the easier it will become. ...and everyone likes to go for easy runs, right? It's that simple.

Here's a current example of me applying this training method:

This spring I'll be running two 100 mile races as part of my 'Run 192' training. One of these races, the Massanutten Mountain 100 miler, qualified as "a little crazy" to me the first time I examined the course. Simply put, this is a 101.8 mile race over the worst possible footing I've ever seen. It's not that the rocks on this course are the biggest I've seen- it's actually quite the opposite: The majority of the course looks like someone took a normal hiking trail with large boulders and trees and then put them in a blender. Simply put, there are so many loose/jagged/annoying rocks on this course that if you try to pick your head up to enjoy the beautiful nature around you while running, you will quickly realize your face does not make the best braking device while sliding down the side of the mountain.

When you combine those trail conditions with the nearly 20,000 feet of elevation gain over the course, this race certainly requires special training to go from "crazy" to "normal" in my mind. That said, my training plan to prepare for this race is essentially the same training plan for someone attempting to run their first 10k road race: Get out on there and run the terrain often enough to make it the usual, comfortable routine.

To date I've made 4 training trips to run portions of the Massanutten course (I've run about 40 miles of the course thus far). That initial "No Way!" mental reaction I had when seeing the terrain for the first time has since been lowered to more of a "This isn't so bad, as long as I run in a football helmet" level of thought. After a few more trips out there, I'll have my brain drinking the "I LOVE this trail!" Kool-Aid completely.'s that simple! Now get out there and run!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

...Leading the Blind

Now that the calendar has struck November, I'm reminded of a special moment I experienced while volunteering at the JFK 50 Mile run last November in Maryland. Since I had injured my knee earlier in the year and couldn't run, I was happy to return the favor to so many volunteers who have helped me in the races I've run over the years. When I arrived on race day, the Race Director asked me to find a good spot to help direct the runners in the final 2 miles of the course. This area is where the course leaves the safety of the woods/trails and enters the traffic-filled streets of Boonsboro, MD. I walked up from the finishing area and found a perfect spot - at about mile 48.5- where it looked like the runners might need my help. For about 45 minutes I anxiously awaited their arrival...

It was a chilly day (40s) and I was standing out there by myself, but once the runners appeared, my cold and boredom were quickly replaced with excitement and words of encouragement for the runners. It's always fun to tell one runner:

"He's about 200 yards behind've got him!"

...and then tell the guy behind him:

"You're only 150 yards can catch him, he's looking tired!".

I was certainly enjoying myself out there when I saw a pack of runners wearing Navy t-shirts approach. As I cheered them on, one of them said something to me and motioned to a guy running just behind their pack. I didn't hear what he said, but when I looked back to cheer on that runner, I was startled to see him almost run into me (the course was about 10-feet wide at that spot, marked by orange cones, and I was standing on the *outside* of the cones). I jumped out of the way and heard him say "Where's the course??" as he ran by. I pointed right in front of him down the street which was lined with so many cones it looked like an airport runway. Clearly something was wrong with this guy.

I watched as he made his way down the hill trying to figure out what just happened. Was this guy just tired and confused after 48.5 miles of running? How could he have not seen all these cones and the group of Navy runners just a few yards in front of him? Then, as I watched him weave back and forth inside the cones just a few feet from oncoming traffic, my brain finally deciphered what it was that Navy runner was trying to tell me: This guy couldn't see!

Fearing for his safety (and more importantly, as a fellow runner, fearing for him being pulled off the course by a race official before he finished), I sprinted down the hill to catch up to him. When I pulled up beside him I asked him directly - "Hey buddy, can you see?!"

He proceeded to tell me that his contact lenses had basically fused to his eyes over the first 40+ miles and he could only make out shadows and large images at this point (This was probably a result of the combination of cold, dry weather and dehydration). He was trying to keep up with the Navy guys, but when they pulled away he was left to navigate these last couple miles of dangerous city roads
on his own. As we talked I realized the real crime was this guy was actually still running a *great* race (about 40th overall out of 1,000 runners!). Ignoring the pain in my own knee, I knew I needed to do two things to make sure he finished this race: 1) Make sure he didn't get pulled from the race by an official, and 2) Make sure he didn't get pulled from the race by an ambulance after being flatted by an 18-wheeler.

I told him to take my arm as we covered the final sections of the course. I steered him around pot-holes and drains and told him when to let go of my arm as we passed any official-looking race monitors (it's not legal to "aid" another runner like that). In the final stretch I asked him if he wanted to pick up the pace and finish with a semi-sprint (he did!) so we crossed the line in a flash as I counted down the yards for him ("50 yards to go....25 yards...10 yards...and STOP!").

Once we crossed the finish I quickly found the medical people and let them know this poor guy's situation. We shook hands at that point and I made my way back up the course to help direct the rest of the runners (thankfully, there were no more emergencies during the rest of the day).

....Now that I know some of the crazy things they do for runners, I'll surely appreciate every race volunteer even more!