Thursday, March 26, 2015

622 Days, 16,300 Miles, 1 World Record Run

Tom Denniss finished his run around the world in 2013. I just found out about it this morning. He did a tremendous job documenting the journey. Runners World has put together one hell of a website outlining every step. Check it out here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sleep, Rest and Tapering

Sleep cycle statistics
"Rest days are when you become a better runner"

An adage I adhere to, in paradigm more than practice. My volume increases as I march towards Squaw Valley. Rest becomes more and more important. To ensure adequate time in the rack, I decided to add rest as a metric in my training log. In a serendipitous Facebook posting, Bryon Powell of iRunFar mentioned he had been using an app called "Sleep Cycle". I have been using it since the night before Marin Ultra Challenge 50k, and so far it has provided some great information.

To use the app, you set the time you would like to wake up ("weekend mode" allows you to track your sleep without a waking time) and place your phone face down on the corner of the bed. They recommend you place it under the fitted sheet corner to keep it secure, but I have not had problems with it on top of the sheet.

The app monitors your sleep cycle, and as you approach your desired wake up time, it waits until you are in a waking period before it sounds a soothing tone. The result is that you wake feeling more alert and refreshed instead of groggy and tired. It measures your "sleep quality" against your history, and you can tag each night with your days activities, providing some correlation between lifestyle and rest. 

One of my favorite features is the resting heart rate monitor. In the past, my morning resting heart rate proved difficult to measure. I would either have to sleep with my HR strap on, or fumble around putting it on when I wake up. Neither is optimal, and the latter provides data corrupted by the simple act of putting on the strap. The Sleep Cycle app handles this with a novel solution. When you turn off the alarm, it turns on the led flash on the back of the phone. You place your finger over the flash and camera lens, and the phone determines your pulse as you lay motionless. It works pretty good, and provides data within the range I expect to see for my current fitness. A jump of 10 bpm over my average on any given morning would indicate potential over training, so I am watching that trend.

Then there are the other trends I am monitoring. My weight/body fat% and ketone levels:

Wednesday weigh in, March 25th, 2015:
  • Weight: 187.7 (- 1.3 lbs)
  • Body fat %:16.73 (-0.14)
  • Ketone level: 0.4 mm
Despite avoiding carbs all day and during my weekday workouts, I am struggling to stay in ketosis. It doesn't help that I am in the midst of Twirly's birthday week. Yet, I am feeling strong and energetic, and the weight loss continues. I am on track to toe the line in Squaw at least 15 lbs lighter than 2014. That ought to be good for an hour improvement, I figure. The other three hours will have to come from training, grit and efficient crewing and planning.

Another side effect of Twirly's birthday is this week's schedule, which includes sailing our ketch Kuani this weekend. To make room for her party on Saturday (Angel Island from noon to three, if you're in the Bay Area), I put my long run on Thursday night. I hope to get a marathon in along the Bay Trail around our marina, using my truck as an aid station. Oddly, I am looking forward to seeing what kind of time I can put up for the pancake flat course. I look forward to another sunset like this one we enjoyed last night.

Home sweet home

After that, I have a nine day taper to American River 50 Mile. I hope to improve my 50 mile PR (9:49) by a good measure. Maybe sub 9-hour. Time will tell ;)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Word Porn and Suffering

As I delve further into the pain cave, my perspective deepens. Darkness creeps into my peripheral vision. Light dwindles, and hope teeters on a precipice. Occasionally something comes along and frames my new world in a way I hadn't even considered. I found this on Facebook the other day, and it resonated in my heart like a harp string. I'll just leave it here for you to ponder.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Race, Rest, Repeat

Despite blowing up at the Marin Ultra Challenge 50k last Saturday, I feel pretty good this week. The legs are not protesting my recovery runs too much. My hamstrings are a little sore four days later, but an A.R.T. session this evening should have everything ready to resume training in earnest for the American River 50 Mile in under three weeks.

I continue to adhere to a low carb diet all day and during workouts, allowing for some carbs with dinner and no-holds-barred during races. My weight loss continues, albeit at a slower pace than when I was limiting carbs all day.

Wednesday weigh in: March 18th, 2015:
  • Weight: 189 (-1.3 lbs)
  • Body fat%: 16.87 (+0.16)
  • Ketone level: 0.7 mm
I will likely limit the dinner carbs as well in the next few weeks. I'd like to get back into optimal ketosis for AR50. My A goal is to go sub-9 hour. My B goal is to beat my 50 mile PR of 9:49 (set at AR50 in 2013). It sounds good on paper, but with the pain of last Saturday fresh in my mind it isn't low hanging fruit either! I doubt two weeks of speed work will pay very large dividends. None-the-less I plan to begin incorporating tempo runs and fartleks into the plan next week. Hill repeats and hill trail runs will round out the weekly routine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Marin Ultra Challenge 50k
2015 marked the fourth edition of Inside Trail Racing's Marin Ultra Challenge. Runners tackled courses ranging from 25k to 50 miles covering the most beautiful trails in the Marin Headlands. I ran the 50k. In years past I have chosen to run Way Too Cool 50k as my winter race. The MUC course offers more vertical and views, making it a better tune up for upcoming races like Miwok 100k and Western States 100.

I used a couple of volunteer credits to gain entry; Tim and Tonya Stahler put on top notch events and it is always a pleasure to work with them. I spent a Saturday helping out at the Lake Chabot Trail Runs in February to earn my keep. 

After American Canyon 25k I had taken some extra rest to mitigate some tightness in my right knee. I regained my composure via strength training and hill climbing. A final workout on the Wednesday before the race had my confidence high. One of my goals for this year is to experiment with my pacing. Thus far in my trail running career, I have managed to complete my races comfortably. I have been conservative and slowed down whenever I was faced with discomfort. I decided to go out strong and hold on, trying to best my average Headlands-area 50k pace of 12:30/mile. That meant a 6.5 hour finish.

Race morning was warm and muggy. Twirly and I made our way across the Bay, arriving at Fort Baker with about a half an hour until race time. I got squared away with my bib and wandered around seeing who I knew as we waited for the 6 am race start. Due to some technical difficulties we started about ten minutes late. Not a big deal. We all had a long day ahead of us.

 Most of the 50k course

I felt strong from the start, and enjoyed talking with some friends as we climbed to the single track. I got a decent spot in the conga line: not too fast and not too slow. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge made for worthy distractions from the torch lit trail. Switchbacks above and below glowed with hundreds of bobbing LED lights. Sights like that make early morning race starts worthwhile.

I crested the two mile, 750 foot climb feeling great. No niggles and my energy levels were high. A front runner was already hurling in the bushes on the side of Coastal Trail. A little early for that, I thought. He must have really hammered the ascent! I felt confident from the previous training cycle, and I clicked off a few sub-9 minute miles on the dark descent into Rodeo Valley. By the time I reached Rodeo Lagoon, the sun had risen. I could tell I had gone out too fast. Not because I felt worn out, but because runners in singlets surrounded me!

I hit the climb to Wolf Ridge hard, just like I had been in training. Near the top, Kara Teklinski called out my name. She was out cheering on racers. Hearing my name snapped me out of my focused determination. I reeled a little bit, trying to regain my senses and shake off the fog. I had eaten a Clif Shot (the new baby food variety, not the traditional sugar bomb), but I definitely burned a match on that climb. I kept my momentum up through the ridge and on to Old Springs Trail, my favorite descent into Tennessee Valley.

Cruising Pirates Cove, photo by Nate Dunn
I refilled my bottle with Tailwind, dropped my light and I was back on the trail. I kept it easy along the valley floor, eating some MAP and Pocket Fuel. I climbed strong again up Coastal to Pirates Cove. Once there, I found myself racing to keep my spot. Nate Dunn hunkered on the side of the trail with his dog Rosie, snapping pictures. 

Sun kissed Cove, Nate Dunn
I hammered the descent into Muir Beach. The trail there is not technical, per se, but it is rather steep. By the time I saw Twirly at the aid station I was feeling a little spent. Just over a half marathon and about 2000' of climbing in about 2.5 hours left me with little in the tank. If I could keep up the pace I was looking at a sub 6 hour finish. Twirly asked how I was, and "tired" was all I could say. I swapped out Clif Energy Food packets and refilled my bottle for the 7.5 mile loop of Redwood Creek, Miwok and Dias Ridge trails.

Redwood Creek is deceptive. The bouncing footbridges and skinny single track winding through toe-catching grasses make the otherwise runnable trail tricky. About halfway to Miwok, my legs began to scream. I had asked too much of them. They felt like they were full of molten lead. I ate more MAP and soldiered on. My fueling strategy of Tailwind plus Clif Energy Food was working well; I suffered no GI issues. The sticks were running low on muscle glycogen though, and my momentum was flagging when I hit Miwok Trail and began climbing.

I'd never gone up this stretch of Miwok, only run down it in the 2013 Tamalpa Headlands 50k. The runnable grade surprised me. I ran/walked the climb, keeping my heart rate at a reasonable level. I could have run more, but I could feel the wheels coming off. Having only a few 15-16 mile runs this year, I felt my stamina dissipating. Quite a few runners passed me before I topped the hill.

I hit the wall right around mile 18, just before another favorite descent: Dias Ridge into Muir Beach. I picked my way down the climb, gingerly protecting my leaden legs. A fleeting impulse to drop from the race crossed my mind. Then I asked myself what my reasons would be. My legs hurt? Duh. 20 miles ought to hurt. Especially after hammering the first half marathon. Was I injured? Nope. The pain was symmetrical and my gait, while slow, was even. I would have to keep grinding.

Upon my return to Twirly and the Muir Beach aid station, I had shifted into training run mode. I did not want to aggravate any niggles, and I felt horrible. I spent a few extra minutes drinking and eating before I set out for the climb up Middle Green Gulch, the biggest climb of the 50k course. Another runnable grade, I did my best to shuffle until it was over.

Cresting the climb, the course jumped over Coyote Ridge and followed the Miwok Cut-off Trail. I encountered a four way junction with blue ribbons flagging one of the directions. Unfortunately, the other two options had no orange course markings. I knew which way Tennessee Valley was, but without course markings I felt lost. I went the way I thought the course would go, and caught a glipmse of the runner I had been following, confirming I was still on the popular route. Not sure what happened at that intersection. Hopefully those not familiar with the area were able to negotiate the course.

Running down Miwok into Tennessee Valley is tough. Steep, rutted and dotted with hikers, I continued with caution. I was fighting off the apathy and just trying to stay on track for a 6.5 hour finish. Twirly helped me swap out my bottle for one I had pre-filled with raspberry (caffeinated) Tailwind for the final ~8k. I gorged on watermelon and orange slices as a fellow runner was telling the volunteers that he was planning on stopping at 31 miles. Someone would have to give him a ride the final half mile to the finish, because he had only come to run 50k! I assured him the extra mileage was just to ensure his Garmin registered 50k. I left before the volunteers stopped laughing. One more climb up Marincello and steady cruising to the final descent.

A few more runners passed me in the final miles. Once by a man who must have been over 70. He wasn't running in the race, and he kept a steady jog all the way up the trail. I hope to be running that well at his age. My legs were in bad shape. My right leg especially. Cramping hamstring and soleus muscles meant my gait was becoming more and more imbalanced. I walked a few times and tried to stretch it out before the 1.5 mile descent to the finish line, which looked impossibly far away from the ridge line. San Francisco Bay was full of sailboats, and the day was gorgeous, making it difficult to focus on the trail at my feet.

I continued my shuffle long enough to finish in 6:33. I was amazed that I was able to hit my goal despite blowing up. My pace in the last ten miles averaged over 15:00/mile! So kids, that is how you positive split a race and still hit your goal. The lessons I take away from this race are helpful. Despite feeling spectacular in those first ten miles, I was still going out too fast. I let my heart rate creep up into the anaerobic zone too often and for too long. I hope to execute my pacing better at American River 50 mile in three weeks.

Happy to be done! Photo by Nate Dunn

As always, Tim, Tonya and the Inside Trail Racing volunteers put on a spectacular event. Fort Baker is a gorgeous location for a finish line festival. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco compete with acres and acres of green grass. Bob Shebest won the 50k (after setting the 50 mile course record in 2014), and Paul Terranova won the 50 miler. The inaugural 25k had some of Marin's speediest contesting for the win (Galen Burrell took the honor). Some drama arose when local favorite Dylan Bowman collapsed on the course with a mile to go. He required medical assistance for heat stroke or dehydration. Word has it he thought he was running in the North Face Endurance Challenge when asked. Another oddity from the day were the two Tom Turkeys harassing runners in Tennessee Valley. I heard blood was drawn! Twirly and I lounged around and cheered in the 50k runners. We saw Paul win the 50 mile before retiring to my favorite restaurant in Sausalito (fish.) for lunch.

Gorgeous day on the Bay

I've never blown up in a race like that. While it was the most uncomfortable I have ever been in a race (including WS100) I realize that it wasn't as bad as I imagined. With more real estate I may have even been able to come out the other side. I understand how I ended up where I was, and I think I can apply that in future races. Learning exactly how conservative I need to be while still pushing for my best possible pace is something I hope to dial in before June. I have plenty of practice on the horizon. For now I rest and ramp back up to AR50.

FYI, Scott Dunlap took some great pictures of the course. Check them out here.

Here are the deets from Strava:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Tunnel Vision

Wildcat Peak. The summit of my weekly time trial course (see Strava deets at the bottom)
Time accelerates as events grow near. This weekends Marin Ultra Challenge 50k will be the first real measuring stick of my training thus far. I am wrapping up the strength building cycle of my plan with this race; my confidence and climbing comfort are right where I had hoped they would be. Despite scaling back my volume after the American Canyon 25k, I am back on track with my plan, and I feel good at 45+ miles per week. My weight loss has stalled. Not surprising given my continued carbohydrate experimentation. 

Wednesday weigh in, March 10th:
  • Weight: 190.2 lbs (+.3)
  • Body fat %: 16.61 (-2.03)
  • Ketone level: not measured
I am somewhat skeptical of that body fat %, but it will all come out in the wash. After this weekends 50k I will begin focusing on speed. Tempo runs and interval sessions leading into the American River 50 Mile in early April will require even more carbohydrate intake. I may monitor my ketones more often as I try to dial in the right amounts.

A funny anecdote from earlier this week: 

I was enjoying some suds at the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room on Fourth in Berkeley after work, when a flock of Faraday electric bikes pulled up (like, ten of 'em). Before leaving, I asked the group leader (Bridget) if it was a meet-up or something. She was talking with a group of people which included a short guy that looked familiar. After Bridget explained that it was a media outing sponsored by Gu, the short guy gestured to my WS100 vest and asked if I had run it. I explained that I had last year and have gained entry again, and asked if he had run it, to which he replied that he had run it last year as well. I asked his finishing time and immediately regretted asking when his reply started with a "15". I meekly admitted my 28 hour finish, which he congratulated me on. The conversation returned to the Faraday electric bikes, and soon I was on my way.

As I rode along the Bay Trail a few miles later, it hit me. I had just asked Max King (4th place) what his WS100 finishing time was... I'd never really seen him without sunglasses! I felt like a tool. I suppose treating him like an average Joe was better than being a fan boy and snapping a selfie, but I feel like it was a missed opportunity to connect with another of ultra's elite.

Maybe I'll be able to joke about it with him at Squaw...

Here is a link to my most recent time trial in Tilden Park. I have been improving my time on this course over the past few weeks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Time Accelerates as Improvement Continues

I think I have my ITBS under control. Measured increases in effort and vertical have not caused any additional inflammation, and my performances on my routine training routes are improving (thanks for the easy comparisons, Strava). It feels good to be getting noticeably stronger, and I am looking forward to adding in some speed workouts after the upcoming Marin Ultra Challenge 50k.

My adaptation of the ketogenic diet continues to pay dividends. I remain extremely low carb during the day (<30 grams of carbs) and through my afternoon workouts. At dinner, I have been allowing myself a few luxuries; I had my mother-in-laws lasagne on Monday night, and I'll sneak in a beer here and there. My energy levels are fantastic and I continues my cascade towards race weight.

Wednesday weigh in, March 4th:
  • Weight: 189.9 (-2.3 lbs)
  • Body fat %: 18.64 (+0.28)
  • Ketone level: 0.9 mm
I won't sweat the slight increase in body fat %. I use a Tanita scale, and I have always taken those numbers with a grain of salt. Increased mileage in the next two weeks ought to wrangle that trend. Since December 9th, I have lost 19.5 lbs! Amazing how easy it was once my name was drawn at the WS100 lottery.

I am optimistic about the upcoming race. My climbing strength increases every day, and as long as my fueling strategy works out, I should be able to finish under 6.5 hours comfortably. I want to make sure I burn enough calories to justify eating at my favorite restaurant in Marin, fish.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pacer's Report: 2014 Western States 100 (by David Leeke)

David and me at our first ultra, the 2012 Bizz Johnson 50k
With another run at States on the horizon, I have been pondering last years run. Apparently, so has my pacer David Leeke, as he has submitted his pacer's report from 2014. Its timely perspective has reminded me how rich the experience was, and I am grateful that he has provided these words and insight as I train once again for this iconic race.

David has come into his own as a MUT runner, notching a podium finish at Ann Trason's inaugural Overlook 100k (his 100k debut) and a win at the 2014 American Canyon 15k. His 2015 schedule includes the American River 50 Mile, Ruth Anderson 50k, Miwok 100k, Ohlone 50k, Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile and the Waldo 100k.

Here is Davids take on those last twenty miles of the 2014 Western States 100, with minor editing on my part.

 2014 Western States 100: A Pacer's Report

Would I ever pace again? Definitely. Pace and crew? Maybe.

The idea of fun becomes surreal in the arms of sleep deprivation. Déjà vu becomes common-place. The order of events and time get jumbled. Perception turns dreamlike.

“It seems we were just here yesterday,” I say as we leave the finish line.

“We were. Remember seeing Howe finish?” Mackenzie responds sleepily.

That doesn’t seem possible. How could I have just watched Ken finish, after myself running a marathon alongside him, after beginning the day in Squaw Valley? Clearly, four hours of sleep in two and a half days was catching up to me. Sleep would put my pieces back together again.

Let’s back up. To Green Gate aid station.

“Where are the shoes?” Mackenzie asks as we finish the hike down to the AS. They’re behind the driver’s seat on the floor. Right where I put them yesterday.

“Damn it.” I say, absentmindedly patting myself down for the shoes. I contemplate explaining the missing shoes to Ken. The last time I saw him was yesterday (it feels weird to talk about a race in terms of ‘yesterday’, as opposed to hours and minutes) just after sunset.

“I had Jon Vonhof look at my feet in Michigan Bluff, spent over 20 minutes there,” he had said as we jogged into Foresthill.

“How are they?” I asked.

“Some blistering and the start of maceration. Not bad… It’s my stomach. My Tailwind theory didn’t work out. Ann said I need to eat.”

“You want to try a ginger chew?” I asked.

“Too fucking tired to chew,” he said. Then he and Torrey dropped into Cal Street, and I had not seen them since.

I knew his feet were in bad shape. Twenty miles from Green Gate to the finish in wet shoes was not an option. A DNF would be more likely. The thought flashed through my head and back up the hill I ran, tacking on a 10k as a warm up for 20 miles of pacing I was about to do. I met Ken and his first pacer Torrey just as they were leaving the aid station. Ken changed shoes and off we went.

Ken had this look that said ‘I don’t give a fuck how bad I feel, I’m going to finish this race.’ That was good. He also had the look of a guy who had been on a bender for a few days. That was expected and somewhat true. He and Torrey were soggy from the river crossing. Torrey looked pained. He was ready to be done.  Poor guy was so tired before pacing Ken he’d passed out in the poison oak behind the Foresthill porta-potties and it might as well have been a bed at the Hilton.

Over several hours of power walking and jogging, Ken’s hallucinations came and went. At one point, he remarked about a guy lounging in a hammock amongst the trees.

Near Brown’s Bar AS we were on a downhill at a fine clip. I was actually jogging. Sixty miles of stomach issues were catching up with Ken. Chewing on ice seemed to tame his gut to some degree. I poured ginger ale back and forth between cups to kill the carbonation. We were entering the 26th hour of the race, and I was feeling the concerned looks of the volunteers. At Brown’s Bar one put a hand on my shoulder and asked if I was okay as I sloshed ginger ale between cups. I was too tired to explain, but Ken was on it.

“It’s for me, removes carbonation,” he said, throwing the soda down the hatch.

I grabbed some grub and turned to see Ken jogging. No. RUNNING down the hill. I squeezed a gel, spilling half on my shirt, threw down a Mountain Dew and began to take chase. A hand reached out to shake mine at the edge of the aid station. A Hal-ucination? I took the hand, looking into a bright smiling face and smiled back. It took me halfway down the hill to place the face of Mr. Koerner. He really does have a great smile. Ken and I both felt a little bit faster. He was moving; 80 miles into the race and he was running.

There were a few moments of exercise-induced asthma that were worrisome, but being the last bit of 100 miles some problems were to be expected. I did force some slow downs when symptoms elevated.

Crossing at Highway 49 was a landmark moment at Western States, literally and psychologically. This was a surprise for me in that Ken's father (Junior) was there waiting. Seeing the breadth of Juniors smile really helped drive home the pride and love a father can have for their son in a way I was just starting to learn about. That smile represented a feeling that many of us could only hope our fathers had.  We'd be fortunate to ever have anyone smile so profoundly at us during our lives.

“Pick up your feet” became the mantra. Listening and watching for the smallest dragging of the toe… I tried to sound encouraging but demanding. At least, that’s the tone I hoped for. I’ve run with him enough to know his form, and I tried to see it through the miles he had on him. His shuffle wasn’t too bad. I’ve heard of folks falling this late in a race and DNFing, so I just wanted to get him done and finish.

Seeing my friend cross the finish line was definitely one of the great moments of my life. It is amazing that something so hard and painful, full of suffering, can be so rewarding. Clearly sleep deprivation plays a big role in our perception of fun.

Finally, after years of training, the Western States magic glides to a conclusion with 300 yards around the track, proving that helping others achieve their goals can be just as powerful, if not more so, of an experience.