Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Peak Weeks

It's amazing how time flies when you're training for a big race. With March just a couple days away, my two peak training weeks for the Umstead 100 Miler have arrived. I'll be ramping up the miles both this weekend and next with consecutive 25 milers on Fri-Sat-Sun to really test my level of fitness and teach my legs to run while already fatigued a bit. I'll also plan to run each one faster than the day before to keep me from cruising through any easy miles. This type of push suits me perfectly about a month before a big race, and the reward that follows is my favorite time of the year: Taper time.

I just drew up my taper plan for the final 3 weeks before the race, and I had to smile as I saw the total weekly miles drop each week. My legs will be happy to rest and reload before the big run on April 5. There's nothing like waking up on race morning with your legs feeling like loaded powder kegs ready to blow. ...but I won't get ahead of myself here - I've got one final stretch of hard work these next two weeks. Bombs away!

Monday, February 25, 2008

We Can All Relate to This

Anyone who runs can relate to this...The lady walking downhill speaks to me all too well.


Week Training Log: 2/18 - 2/24

You know those mornings when you roll over and think "There's no way I'm getting out of bed today"? Well, I was fighting a cold last week and when I woke up on Saturday for my scheduled 35 miler, I felt like I had already run 135 - I was wiped out. To add to my misery, my throat felt like it was stuffed with shredded balsa wood...and even though I didn't try to speak, I'm sure if I did it would have sounded something like Kathleen Turner impersonating a screeching cat fight. Not pretty.
Once I finally dragged my butt out of bed (and directly to the couch), I sat there until about 2 or 3pm before realizing there was no way I could cover 35 miles that afternoon. Since I hate missing my weekly mileage goals, I knew there was one option: switch my Saturday long run to Sunday, and run the 8.5 mile "Sunday" run that afternoon. Given my sickly state (and the crappy 35 degree/overcast/humid day), even 8.5 would be a challenge, but it was the best solution I could find - so on went the shoes and off I went. Surprisingly the run went pretty well (although I was D-O-N-E at the finish), and I promptly took a shower and went right back to bed. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day (sunny 40-ish, no real wind) for a 35 miler, and the extra rest proved to be just what I needed. The run went perfectly. Best of all, through 10 weeks of training for the Umstead 100 miler, I haven't missed a workout yet. You gotta love that.

Week Log:
Monday - 8.5 Miles, Hains Point Loop
Tuesday - 8.5 Miles, Hains Point Loop
Wednesday - Off Day
Thursday - 8.5 Miles, Hains Point Loop
Friday - 4.3 Miles, Treadmill Death March
Saturday - 8.5 Miles, Hains Point Loop
Sunday - 35 Miles, Mt. Vernon Trail

Thursday, February 21, 2008

ESPN.com article about Ultra-Running

While scanning the articles posted on espn.com today, I saw this link: "Meet the World's Toughest Athletes". As I clicked it, I thought "This better be an article about UFC Fighters or Ultra-Runners" as they are the two groups of athletes I personally judge to be equal parts tough and crazy. As it turned out, the story is all about Ultra-Running! We don't get much media attention out there (certainly not from mainstream espn-type outlets anyway), so it was great to see this link up on their main page.

I've attached the story here - and for those of you unfamiliar with the elite ultra runners out there, Scott Jurek (who is the semi-focus of this story) is without question the best 100+ mile runner in the world. ...and if you want to debate me on that one, I'll send some UFC fighters your way to convince you otherwise.


Are these runners ultra-tough ... or ultra-crazy?

By Jonah Keri
Special to ESPN.COM Page 2

Updated: February 20, 2008, 3:18 PM ET

While you were still sleeping, Scott Jurek ran 30 miles, up a trail that climbs 3,600 feet. While you shuffled to the kitchen for Cheerios, Jurek spent two hours strength training, working his entire upper and lower body. He's not done yet. A core routine follows, as Jurek works his abdominal muscles until they burn. That's easily remedied by his preferred method of therapy -- jumping into a tub full of ice water to soak away the day. In between, he'll prepare, cook and munch on an array of vegan foods. The day after a peak training session, he'll pound down an obscene amount of whole grains, raw veggies and wheat germ drinks: about 6,000 to 8,000 calories, give or take a lentil or two.

A lack of prize money and endorsements doesn't deter hearty souls such as Scott Jurek from ultrarunning. Just a ho-hum day of training when you're one of the best ultramarathon runners in the world. Jurek is one of a growing legion of (ummm … thrill seekers? masochists?) individuals willing to put their bodies and minds to the test by running extra-long races, often in grueling conditions.

"Winning a race, or even finishing a race, you get this intense high, this great feeling of self-satisfaction," said Jurek, a 34-year-old former Nordic ski racer who ran his first ultra in 1994. "The struggles I encounter throughout a race can sometimes seem insurmountable. Heat, distance, altitude -- you've got to get through all of that. A lot of getting through and feeling good afterwards is ego. But on a deeper level, pushing one's body to those extremes, like in life … sometimes the most difficult times bring the most clarity."

An ultramarathon is defined as any race longer than the traditional 26.2 miles of a marathon. The most common distances in U.S. races are either 50 or 100 miles, with some pushing 150 miles. There are also timed races: See how far you can run in 12 hours, or 24 hours, or six days. More and more people are embracing the challenge of ultra running. According to UltraRunning magazine, 354 races were run in the U.S. and Canada last year, with a total of 25,816 finishes. In all, 14,251 runners of all ages completed an ultra; nearly 30 percent of those finishers were women. Participation in ultra races has jumped more than twofold over the past 20 years.

Some of the world's best-known ultra races have become legendary among runners for the challenges and punishment they dish out. The Badwater Ultramarathon takes racers through 135 miles of hell. The course starts 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley, Calif., at the lowest point in the continental U.S. It ends 8,360 feet above sea level, more than halfway up Mount Whitney -- the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. The race usually happens in July, when temperatures routinely hit 120 degrees in the shade.

At least the ground is softer when it's that hot out. In the Arrowhead Winter Ultra, racers must cover 135 miles in the hinterlands of northern Minnesota, running on terrain that's often frozen solid. Only 27 out of 50 racers completed the circuit this year, yet that was the highest percentage in the race's history. Last year, only 10 finished the race, from a starting group of 46. No wonder. Temperatures in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota can drop as low as minus-60 Fahrenheit.

Then there's the Spartathlon, one of Jurek's favorites. When the Persians landed in Marathon, Greece, in 490 B.C., the Greeks dispatched a messenger named Pheidippides to Sparta, more than 240 kilometers (150 miles) away, to seek help. According to legend, Pheidippides then ran 40 kilometers (26 miles) from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greeks' victory against the Persians, before dropping dead. The shorter 26-mile route became the blueprint for the modern marathon, a distance now regularly run by well-trained athletes and weekend warriors alike. Since 1983, an ultramarathon covering 153 miles has been run in honor of Pheidippides' longer run. But while marathon races are run all over the world, the 153-mile Spartathlon happens only in Greece, along the same Athens-to-Sparta road traversed nearly 2,500 years ago. Jurek has won the race two years in a row, clocking two of the fastest times in history.

The four fastest times on record all belong to Yiannis Kouros, perhaps the most famous ultra runner of all-time. Kouros holds many broader records, running the fastest times for a 100-mile road race, 1,000-kilometer road and track races and a 1,000-mile road race, as well the longest distances covered for timed races lasting 12 hours (road and track), 24 hours (road and track), 48 hours (track), and six days (road and track). Kouros, who turned 52 last week, holds nearly as many nicknames as he does world records. His long list of monikers includes "Running God," "Golden Greek" and "Pheidippides' Successor." Though he's one of the sport's best-known ambassadors, Kouros would be the first to tell you that ultra running isn't for everybody.

"Ultra running is a metaphysical event," Kouros explained. "If you don't have that kind of idiosyncrasy, you will never become an ultra runner, even if you train all your life. I am one of those people who recommend and try to inspire people to get involved with running. But ultra is not a fun-running sport -- it's only for unique souls."

Kouros, like Jurek and other ultramarathon runners, doesn't practice the sport for a living. Originally from Greece and now living in Melbourne, Australia, Kouros dabbles in poetry, songwriting and other pursuits, with two vocal and two orchestral albums to his credit. Jurek lives in Seattle, where he works as a physical therapist and trainer for ultra runners and more casual types. (Full disclosure: I took something called stride-perfection classes with Jurek two years ago in Seattle. I'll still never be confused with someone fast, and the longest race I've run is a 10K, but the lessons still helped a lot.)

Twenty years ago, the Western States 100 and other big-name ultra races gave out prize money to winners. Today, few races hand out cash prizes; the sport has shifted toward a noncommercial slant. That suits Jurek fine. Without a lot of money in the sport, there's much less temptation to turn to the kind of performance-enhancing drugs that have cast a dark shadow over cycling and other sports. Some ultra runners won't even pop an aspirin for joint pain, preferring to keep the sport as pure as possible.

Still, ultra running, like any sport, involves fierce competition and plenty of ego. In 2007, Dean Karnazes won an ESPY award for Best Outdoor Athlete. Karnazes gained recognition for running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days and also was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2006. His ESPY win sparked controversy in the ultra-running community, with some questioning why the award would go to Karnazes instead of an ultra runner with more wins to his credit. Jurek has asked that question himself publicly, sparking what some followers of the sport consider a budding rivalry.

Talk to Jurek or Karnazes now, though, and they'll quickly deflect the topic. Karnazes ran his first ultra-length race under weird circumstances -- drunken circumstances. After having a few too many on his 30th birthday, he decided he'd run 30 miles right then and there. A competitive runner in junior high, Karnazes had launched a career in marketing and hadn't run a race in 15 years. He started raising the stakes from there, setting out to run a 50-mile race, then 100, then whatever else he could find. The first time he ran the 135-mile Badwater race through Death Valley, he trained by doing push-ups and sit-ups in the sauna, anything he could to replicate Badwater's brutal conditions. But about halfway through, he collapsed.

"I failed miserably," recounted Karnazes, author of the book "Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner" and a frequent motivational speaker. "But it also lit a fire in me. I thought, 'I've got to go redeem myself, to prove to myself that I can do this.' It gets in your blood in a big way."

For all the rivalries in the sport, friendly or somewhat less so, a bigger question remains: Who is the world's best ultra runner? In a team sport like baseball or an individual sport like golf, success is easily measured by both statistics and championship trophies. That's a tougher task in ultra running, since racers compete in only a few major events per year, often different ones than their counterparts on the other side of the ocean. There's no uniform point-counting or prize-money system to determine a clear-cut top dog, let alone settle arguments over career accomplishments.

In 2007, UltraRunning magazine named Jurek and Nikki Kimball winners of the men's and women's North American runners of the year awards, respectively. Jurek earned the honor thanks to his wins in the Spartathlon and Colorado's Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run. Kimball pegged her award largely on wins in the Western States 100 Mile race and the Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc, Europe's largest ultramarathon. On the men's side, Jurek is considered one of the world's best current ultra runners. Kouros is widely regarded as the sport's all-time king. By and large, though, there always will be a debate.

Less debatable are the steps top ultra runners will take to keep going in the middle of a race. Karnazes can share some mind-boggling stories from the road. An 81-hour, 350-mile run in Northern California stands out. Karnazes ran for three days and three nights. Exhausted from the effort, he fell asleep at one point -- in the middle of the run. He figures he ran a good 60 feet while fast asleep, without falling or even drifting off course.

A few years ago, Jurek sprained his ankle during the Western States 100 Mile, then ran the race's final 50 miles on it. He went on to win that race, one of seven straight Western States wins on his résumé. Last year, Jurek was slated to run the Hardrock Hundred, a treacherous trek through the Colorado mountains that forces runners to dodge frequent lightning storms while running at nearly impossible upward-sloping angles. Three days before the race, Jurek sprained his ankle during a charity soccer match, this time severely. Having stayed in Colorado for a month, training at altitude and preparing his body for the run, he watched in horror as his ankle swelled to the size of a softball. Leading up to the race, he couldn't even walk, let alone run. Determined to see things through, Jurek toed the starting line and started running, the first 25 miles ranking as the most painful stretch of running he'd ever done. Jurek not only won the race -- he also set a course record.

Many of the biggest ultra races cover long stretches on trails, winding through deep woods and into the wilderness. Racers report having to hurdle rattlesnakes and scorpions during some of the more arduous desert races. Running the Western States in the Sierra Nevada mountains five years ago, Jurek recalls running along a trail, a few lengths behind another racer. Suddenly the runner in front stopped cold. Standing in front of them, no more than 20 feet away, was a brown bear looking right at them. Jurek raised his arms, started yelling, and prayed he wouldn't get mauled. The bear considered his potential lunch for a few seconds, then shuffled away.

"That was scary, but it's also part of why I prefer trail running," Jurek said. "Nature reminds us that there's a greater force out there, and you have to respect that. It makes you feel pretty small."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Week Training Log: 2/11 - 2/18

Who says we slow down in our old age? A week after turning 31 I had one of my most solid weeks of this training schedule. My 40 miler was kicked out at an impossibly even 8:00 pace for each mile. I tried to keep the speed up on the hilly portions of the Mt. Vernon Trail so I could get a little lactate burn going in between the flatter aerobic miles - the result was the even 8 minute pace throughout, regardless of terrain. I finished with my last few miles feeling just as easy as the first few. Something tells me I've found my starting pace for the Umstead 100 (which has a course very similar to the Mt. Vernon Trail). If anyone has any advice for how I should run those next 60 miles as comfortably, well, I'm all ears.

Training Log:
Monday: 4.3 miles - Treadmill Death March
Tuesday: Off
Wednesday: 8.5 miles - Treadmill Run (ice storm outside)
Thursday: 8.5 miles - Hanes Point Loop
Friday: 40.1 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail
Saturday: 9 miles - Colonial Beach run
Sunday: 9 miles - Colonial Beach run
TOTAL: 79.4 miles

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Week Training Log: 2/4 - 2/10

It was nice to change the routine a bit this week and head out to the mountains on Saturday. I ran the final 26.6 miles of the MMT course which I hadn't covered yet. Now that I have all 101.8 miles of fun logged in my brain, I have all the information I need to come up with a solid race plan. One peice of info I'll surely benefit from is to expect to fall at least 3 or 4 times. Hard. I took a couple tumbles this time out, one of which definitely falls under the "spectacular" variety. I was about 8 miles into my run on a very steep and fast downhill...normally I'm an excellent judge of character when it comes to picking out the best rocks to trust while flying across a boulder field...but not this time. All I remember is going really really fast when the rock under my left foot flew out from under me causing my toe to drag and catch a rock in front of it, thus sending me airborn.
As you can see, my left knee got the worst of it on the surface, but lucky for me I'm a pretty good faller (Lee Majors eat your heart out), so I'll escape from this with just a couple bruises in various other parts of my body. One note I think is pretty cool about that picture: You'll notice all the blood that ran down my leg is mixed with trail dirt, but the wound itself is clean and fresh. How'd I keep it so clean while running another 18 miles or so on dirt trails? I tore off a piece of my Clif Bar wrapper and slapped it on the wound. Turns out the semi-waxy covering on the wrapper aheres itself perfectly to an open wound, and when the time comes to take it off, it comes off cleanly. Clif Bars...is there anything they can't do?

One more note about the week before I get to the log: Knowing I'd only be running 26 miles or so on my long day (granted 26 mountain miles are infinitely harder than road miles), I made sure I got some extra suffering in by running my Treadmill Death March the night before heading out to the mountains. Friday night on the 'mill I climbed 4000ft, and then in the real mountain world on Saturday I climbed another 7000ft. Clearly all the suffering I've be putting myself through on the treamill is working because my climbing legs were feeling strong and fresh the whole time. Of course a treadmill climb is nothing compared to a real climb, but since DC is so darn flat, this weekly Death March routine is filling in nicely for me in between mountain trips.

Week Log:
Monday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Tuesday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop (ran this one crazy fast in my racing flats)
Wednesday - 8.5 miles - Haines Point Loop
Thursday - Off
Friday - 4.3 miles - Treadmill Death March
Saturday - 26.6 miles - Massanutten Mountain course
Sunday - 8.5 miles - Hains Point Loop
Total: 64.9 miles

Monday, February 4, 2008

Week Training Log: 1/28 - 2/3

The weeks are really flying by now, and by the results of my runs this week, clearly I'm doing something right in my training. This week's 35 miler was a quick one at 7:48/mile pace. I caught up with a super nice guy on the Mt. Vernon trail and we ran for 3 or 4 miles as we chatted about all things running. That conversation came along at the right time as I always run faster when I'm running/talking with someone. He kept me from falling into that slow-down funk that sometimes hits me around (boring) mile 22 or so on this trail. Once he peeled off to head home, I kept kicking the rest of the way to empty the tanks. It felt great out there, especially since I ran a hard Treadmill Death March the night before and, due to my work schedule, had to burn my day off on Monday (meaning I ran hard 5 straight days leading up to the long run). Clearly my legs are responding to the hard work...

One other note: This was my first week running in my new pair of Brooks Radius 7s. They're a little lighter than the Brooks Trances I've been training in for the past 6 months or so, but there doesn't seem to be any sacrifice on the cushioning (which is all I really care about in my road training shoes). When you consider they run about $30 less than the Trances too, I'd say I think I've found myself a new training shoe for the roads!

Week Log:
Monday: Off
Tuesday: 8.5 miles - Haines Point Loop
Wednesday: 8.5 miles - Haines Point Loop
Thursday: 8.5 miles - Haines Point Loop
Friday: 4.3 miles - Treadmill Death March
Saturday: 35 miles - Mt. Vernon Trail
Sunday: 8.5 miles - Haines Point Loop
Total: 73.3 miles

Friday, February 1, 2008

Run 192 Map!

It took forever to plug in all the turns, etc, but here's the semi-official 'Run 192' running route. Since this mapping program has limitations (as in, the running routes are restricted in length to perceived human limitations), I had to split the distance over two maps. Also, you'll notice the mileage on the 2nd day is a little short - there are some sections of this route that follow trails and not roads, so my guessing where the turns were on this program were exactly that - guesses. In reality, the turns for the course are marked very well with PMC Logo signs pointing you in the right direction the whole way. Excluding days of weather extremes (rain/heat), these estimates of time/distance covered should be fairly accurate.

NOTE: If the mile markers are blocking your view of the route, go to the "Route Marker" area above the map and click on "none".

First 24 Hours: Miles 1 - 110 (appx)

Second 24 Hours: Miles 110-192

I'll keep these links up on the right-hand side of this page for easy reference until the run begins. For those of you who will be in Massachusetts on July 30-August 1, take a look at the map and find a spot to come join me for some of it. Assuming I start at 10am on July 30, the estimated miles for running in the dark will be roughly between miles 60-100 the first night, and miles 150-180 the second night. Again, those are rough estimates - a lot can happen out there in 192 miles - but check out the map and find a spot to join me for a few miles, I'll really need the company!