Monday, January 31, 2011

January Totals...and Their Consequences

2011 kicked off in style with a 50k on New Year's Morning. I kept the pedal to the floor from there and racked up a bunch of two-a-days with a 4,000 ft climb making its way onto my schedule 19 times. Those runs alone added up to 76,000ft. of vertical, and considering I had about 30 other runs as well, I think it's safe to say I had a solid first 450+ mile month of training to kick off the year. Well, it was "solid" on paper anyway. Here's the rest of the long-winded story:

Without conducting an official poll or anything, I feel somewhat confident in saying that most ultra-runners would love to run more than they do if they didn't have real jobs...or bad weather...or other life obligations to deal with every day. This fact holds especially true for those of us trying to get into particularly good shape for a big race or two in the near future. When I rounded the corner of the New Year with my focus on ramping things up for a successful 2011, I thought I had a pretty solid plan to up my training efforts while maintaining a balance in my regular life "stuff".

During this past month I've been handling my office workload well, I've adjusted to the crappy weather as needed, and I haven't had to wear running clothes under a suit in order to sneak in a few miles during any wedding receptions or Christenings. I've even noticed (very quietly, so as to not wake up the Injury Gods) that my legs felt fantastic despite the increase in mileage and effort every day.  So everything has been going perfectly to plan, right?

Of course not!

See, in my grand scheme of "training on paper", I forgot to factor in that I'm human, and as each of us is reminded in our own special ways as we get older, humans have limitations. For me, I occasionally forget that I'm working with a body that, internally speaking, wasn't built exactly at "thoroughbred" level. Aside from the whole cancer thing, I'm one of the lucky folks under the age of 100 who gets to enjoy all the pains and aches from Shingles. As Betty White, or anyone born during the Taft administration can tell you, shingles is like the adult form of chicken pox, only it keeps coming back whenever your immune system is particularly low. In my case, the math adds up like this:

Lack of necessary sleep from 5:00 a.m. workout
Increase on daily mileage from two-a-days
Extended runs in sub-freezing temps
Dan's immune system revolts like the people of Egypt

I'm lucky in that the visible effects of shingles (nasty poison-ivy-looking rashes) have only shown up on me once (after a particularly rough winter hiking trip 10 years ago), but the nerve pain that spreads across my head and tailbone (of all places) is other-worldly. I haven't seen the movie "Grumpy Old Men", but I'm assuming they just threw a camera in front of two old guys with shingles and let the script write itself. This stuff hurts like hell!

The good news in terms of pain management is, if I back off my stress-inducing activities and give my immune system a chance to reload, the pain goes away after a week or so. Of course, the downside to this necessary course of action is I have to back off my training until things rebound internally and my fried circuit board repairs itself.

Don't get me wrong, I can't complain one bit about my situation of being able to run 80 miles, but not 125, every week. Having typed that sentence at all makes me feel like an ungrateful jerk...but still, it's always a bit frustrating when your brain and heart come up with a plan to achieve bigger and better goals, but your body lets you down. Weren't we promised cyborg parts by Hollywood by 2011? I'll take a new Terminator-level immune system for sure...and one of those cool glowing red eyes as well. I figure that would eliminate the need for a headlamp on the trails at night. C'mon James Cameron, get to work!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Wheels are Being 'Greeced'!

 As some of you may know, my top "Dream Race" for many years has been the Spartathlon in Greece. Running this race from the steps of the Parthenon in Athens to the statue of King Leonidas in Sparta would allow me to celebrate my academic interests and physical skills over the course of 153 historic miles. Let's face it, is there a better place for an ultra-running Classics major to be?
King Leo's anger reminds us all that it wasn't easy to replace an arrow-pierced Camelbak 2600 years ago
Here's a brief history of the race:

The Spartathlon aims to trace footsteps of Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger sent to Sparta in 490 BC to seek help against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. Pheidippides, according to an account by Greek historian Herodotus in The Persian Wars, arrived in Sparta the day after he departed. 

Herodotus wrote: "On the occasion of which we speak when Pheidippides was sent by the Athenian generals, and, according to his own account, he reached Sparta on the very next day after leaving the city of Athens." 

Based on this account, British RAF Wing Commander John Foden and four other RAF officers traveled to Greece in 1982 on an official expedition to test whether it was possible to cover the nearly 250 kilometers in a day and a half. Three runners were successful in completing the distance: John Foden (37:37), John Scholtens (34:30) and John McCarthy in (39:00).  For twenty-eight consecutive years since, the Spartathlon athletes have followed the route John Foden and his team defined in an official race.

Of course with work, money, health, and a whole bunch of other stuff you can throw under the umbrella of "life" getting in the way every year, it's been a bit of a challenge for me to find the right time to actually get across the pond to run this thing.  ...and while I'm not ready to announce anything official yet, I am happy to report that the past couple days have brought about some very good news in terms of this being The Year for me to run the race. Lots of other ducks still need to fall in a row, but a couple big pieces are in place and I'm about ready to head down to the photo booth to finish up my application and send it in the mail...
Sure, my running form is just like Pheidippidies' up there
This will be an evolving situation over the next couple months, but I'm cautiously optimistic that things will all work out and I'll be running in the footsteps of the original ultra-runner come September 30.  Oh yeah, and I really want to avenge my failure in France by kicking some major ass in this race for the USA too!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hardrock Could be Stocked!

Just happened upon the current list of folks entered in the Hardrock lottery to date...Holy $#!%!! Granted, only 140 of the 500 (or so) runners on the list will be selected, but still, this could be an amazingly deep and talented field of the ping-pong balls bounce the right way. History has proven Hardrock to suffer in comparison to the depth of the Western States field (with both WS's auto-entry for previous year's Top 10, and the fact that it's just a couple weeks before Hardrock forcing most folks choose to focus on the "Superbowl of 100s" instead), but this could be the year when things possibly start to even out a bit. The two races are certainly very different in terms of terrain, altitude, and time-on-feet considerations, so it will be quite fun to see how the skills of some of the great WS100 runners translate to the insanity of the HR100 course.  I'll tip my hat to any of the top WS guys who decide to skip the Superbowl in exchange for the pure challenge of HR this year. After reading a few blogs and talking to a couple other folks, it looks like this year could mark the start of that trend.

Not to get too excited since they're not actually in the race yet, but here are a just few names that I noted in my quick scan of the list:  Roes, Krupicka, Meltzer, Koerner, Callahan, Clark, Goggins, Jones, AJW, Wolfe...and a bunch more studs too (not to mention the likes of Diana Finkel, Anita Ortiz, and Darcy Africa on the women's side). Talk about the potential for one heck of a showdown!  We all find out our Lottery fate on February 5, which just so happens to be my birthday as well. Hope that means a little extra luck for me!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Break-Up Letter

Dear Hammer Nutrition,

We've had some good times in our relationship, and I couldn't be more thankful for all you've done for me. It's just that...well...this is hard to say: We're no longer going to be exclusive. It's not you, it's me. See, your gels and Perp are great, and I'll continue to use them, but I can't go on living a lie by saying I'm 100% faithful to you.  The truth is there are some really good products out there made by other companies, and I like to mix and match them to squeeze the most out of my abilities. Thanks again for your support in the past, but from now on I've decided to be true to myself and run as a free agent in the nutrition dating scene.

Your Friend,

P.S. - Maybe now you could back off a bit on the 98 letters a week you send me.  While I'm sure you have the lab proof that 25,000mg of Boron, Xobaline, Chromemate, etc. every morning will make us all better athletes, if I spent all day ingesting the dump truck full of pills you recommend, I wouldn't have any time in the day left for actual running.
This package from FedEx reminded me I have a lot of work to do this off-season!
Inside jokes aside, I am thankful to Hammer for their support in the past, and their gels and Perpetuem will continue to be the staple of my training and racing fuel. However, no one can deny the motivational slap in the butt you get from hitting an occasional Roctane every couple of hours...and I will challenge any naysayers to a duel to the death if they think there's a better recovery drink out there than Ultragen.  With the arrival of 2011, I'm happy to have finished my sponsorship obligations to Hammer so I can now sign the praises of every great product I find (Hammer stuff included).

As for actual running, work didn't allow me to run two-a-days every day last week, but I did get enough of them in to start the transition nicely. One thing I think I've learned already is to head out a little more relaxed on my evening runs. The recovery time between those runs and my 4,000 ft. climb at 5:00 a.m. seems painfully short most mornings. I'm sure my body is benefiting from the steady work on tired legs though, and I won't let up too much, I just wish this "benefiting" didn't burn my legs so much!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ringing (and Running) In 2011!

Happy 2011, Everyone!  Even though I'm now stuck back in the working world with my fellow cubicle farm animals, I'm still smiling from the past week I spent living the life of a pro runner: Sleeping in, running 20+ miles every day, napping whenever I felt like it, etc etc. It's not often I take time off from work to simply stay at home and enjoy the running life like this, but I had so much fun I think I definitely need to do it more often!

When I wasn't out on the trails racking up the miles (it was a HUGE mileage week, as you might imagine), Lizzy and I had a blast with lots of quality family time. I'm including this photo of us because I had a dream the night before that I wore this shirt on the podium at the Spartathlon awards ceremony. Could that be the running gods trying to nudge me into finally making the trip out there in 2011? Hmmm...

...and here's a shot of Uncle Dan showing off his Pez collection to Nashville nephew Will. It turns out Will is wise beyond his years: When I said he could pick any Pez dispenser from the pile to add to his own collection, he immediately grabbed the giant Kermit the Frog and said, "Thank you!".

Just to make sure this is the only running blog you'll ever read with two Pez photos, I'll include this one showing the evolution of the Hulk dispenser from the original 70s version to the present-day model. ....I know, I know, Will didn't really care about my Pez history lesson either. He was more interested in asking questions like, "Why don't you have any candy in these things?".

The running highlight of the week was me finally convincing myself to wake up on New Year's morning to run the RedEye 50K which has been a VHTRC tradition for 15 years. Club legend Gary Knipling was nice enough to coordinate the race this year, and 105 runners proved to be hangover-proof and showed up to run through the leafy trails of the Prince William National Forrest. Not knowing the course at all, I hooked up with super-nice guy Jeff Holdaway at the front of the pack around mile 2 and proceeded to chat his ear off for the next 29 miles. As an added bonus, we got to see Jeff's 14 year-old son Matt finish 20 miles of his own out there. Well done, Matt!

As the first full training week of the year kicks off today, I'm officially focused on my races for the spring. In order to get into the kind of climbing shape I want to be in for MMT100 (and possibly Hardrock), I'm integrating two-a-days for the first time. This morning was the first 5:00 a.m. hill workout (I never train in the mornings, so it was a little tough to get the engine going!), and I'll follow it up with my usual evening run (tempo or speed) after work. The weekends will have my usual long runs, most of which will take place either on the Bull Run or MMT course. By including the 4000 feet of climbing every morning, I think I should be able to even the playing ground with some of the runners out there who have the good fortune of living (and running) in the mountains every day. If nothing else, it will at least help me build up my legs to more of a "Current Hulk Pez" size, and that can only help with my climbing speed!