Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring is Actually Here

Another weekend of cool and rainy but the cold days are numbered. Everyday I see more signs of the warmer season being here to stay. I had what I feel to be another promising week of training with lots of time outside. It was the standard 5 hours and 80 miles on the bike. Running is now up to 34 miles with a great 3 hour long run on the rugged trails of Busiek.

This week I actually brought the camera along on the trail to try and capture why I think it is such a great training ground. There was plenty of mud and water from a few days of rain to play in. Even with the temperature Saturday morning at 45, the parking lot was full and there were numerous groups milling about.

From the last couple years of averaging over an hour a day outside exercising, on at least 5 days of the week, I have a pretty good sense of what I need to wear for any given weather condition. At 45, for running, all I need is shorts and a long sleeve technical shirt. I realize, of course, that everyone has a different comfort threshold when it comes to temperature. To me however, 45 to 50 is the optimal endurance training temperature. It's a little cool to start but it warms to be just about perfect while you are on the move. I felt a little odd as I got out of the car to ready myself and there was group of hikers in the parking lot all wearing long pants and winter jackets with hats and gloves! In the end, my experience was right and by the end of the run it was 55 and I was sweating and shirtless.

The week's rain had the water crossings deep and cold! I don't know what the temp of the water was but for several minutes after each crossing my legs were comfortably numb. There was once, with the water approaching waist deep, that my feet were starting slip on the rocks from the force of the water as it tried to push me downstream. I decided to turn back and walk a bit upstream for a better vantage point. Getting swept away would not have meant instant death. I am proficient enough in the water to feel confident I could have swam out. Within a few minutes of running I think I could have even shook off the chill it would cause. The scariest thing to me at the time was dropping my unprotected camera and my mp3 player in the water!

I also learned another valuable lesson about the Five Fingers this week. If there are to be water crossings, I need to wear socks. I decided to go without socks because it was going to be warm enough. However, as the shoes began to fill with sand and rocks, as they inevitably will on a trail, and as my feet got softer from being wet, I found the built up dirt acting like sandpaper within the shoe. I didn't find this to be the case at all when wearing my Injinji socks with them.

Highs in the 70's all week. It's going to be a good one!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Keeping Your Word

May 5 is rapidly approaching. That will be the end of ride my bike to work everyday for a year. I have ridden every single day. Tornado sirens, snow, ice, rain and wind. There are still about 5 or 6 weeks left but its downhill from here. I could still find a challenge in the way of a thunderstorm or tornado but I am quite positive I will complete the task.

In no way do I miss driving to work and I do not plan on doing so, even May 6th, just because I could. There is one thing that I want to do besides ride. I would like to incorporate running to work one day a week. It would be a significant workout. The run would be 16 miles round trip. Even going very slow and easy, I think I could finish the 8 miles one way from my door to my desk in less than 2 hours.

So my problem today is that I don’t want to wait until after the year of riding is up to do this. I think within another week or two I will be up for this physically. Am I bound by my promise to ride everyday or does it really even matter? Truthfully, the only person whose opinion I would care about in the matter is Jakob. Keeping your word, without regard for the challenges in doing so, is a major life lesson I have tried to instill in him.

What do you think?

I was looking for a picture of Jakob to attach and found this old one. I believe he is 8 here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cool Damp Cloth

Yesterday was the last day of winter and it was nearly 70 degrees. I was running at 6:30 p.m. with the sun still up and my shirt off. This morning, the first day of spring, it was 34 and raining steadily. I was scheduled to do my longest run of the week, a 12 miler, and a near freezing rain wasn't going to deter me.

I usually have the most fun on days when the weather is the worst. I think it's some sort of primal, prevailing over the elements, caveman thing. There is a greater sense of accomplishment. Some days, and today was one of them, I have to talk myself out the door. I know that once I get into it I will love it but with it being cold and wet, the excuses were coming to mind easily.

I have sung and will continue to sing praises to my Five Finger shoes. My legs and joints feel stronger and faster than they ever have. They have but one Achilles Heal. They do not offer any substantial insulation from the cold. They also don't keep water out which I normally like in a shoe because feet get wet on trails and if water can get in, then it can get out and let the shoe dry. However with today's temperature, I wondered if it would be an issue. I wasn't sure if I would be able to take two and half hours with my feet drenched in 35 degree water.

Within the first 10 minutes of the run the bottom of my feet were soaked. 20 minutes in they were tingly cold and I thought about turning back to get a regular pair of shoes. Shortly after that though, as my body warmed up and the pace quickened, they warmed a bit and stayed in a cold but not frozen range for the rest of the run. On feet sore from training already it began to feel kinda nice. Like the feeling of a cold damp cloth on your forehead when you have a headache.

I had intended to run Busiek again but didn't feel like getting on the highway and making the drive. I decided to run what I call the Nature Center Loop. I normally stay away from the Nature Center on the weekend but knew on a day like this there wouldn't be the normal crowds. I was right, 2 other runners was all there was.

I'll be happy when the construction on the highway that I must pass under to get there is finally completed. The trail is officially closed but on the weekends, especially a raining one, I didn't expect them to be working. Much to my surprise, as I was cutting through the last restricted area on the way home, I rounded the corner to see a police car sitting on the road next to the trail closed sign! I thought they must have seen me go in and were just waiting for me to come out.

I didn't really want to turn around and run in the other direction. Not only would it have added 5 more miles but I didn't know if he really was waiting for me and didn't want him to think I was trying to escape! He was in his car and didn't appear to be getting out. I decided to just run past and hope he didn't say anything. It worked. I didn't make eye contact to see what his expression was but for whatever reason, I guess I wasn't worth the trouble.

80 miles on the bike and 30 on foot for a solid 11 hours of cardio this week. I still have tomorrow though and may throw another run in for good measure.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Riding a Bike in the House

The beautiful spring temperatures sank away and left us with another cold and rainy week. Not that it was bad, and realistically, there is still the chance for a last rogue winter storm. I guess it might be fun to get a couple more rides on the Snow Bike before taking off the studded tire and transforming it into Spring Rainstorm Bike.

Today was one of those colder rainy days. Since I got in a couple of hours running in the mud and rain yesterday, this afternoon I decided to stay inside and make a cheesy little movie:

It was another promising week of training. I completed 85 miles on the bike and ran for 30. I have been able to maintain my improved form and keep my joints injury and pain free. I have noticed a change in the way workouts feel. They are now all starting to begin with a state of muscular soreness that at first throb make me think I should probably take it easy. The good news however is that about 2 miles in I get loosened up and feel faster and stronger than ever. I'm contributing the early run stiffness to age and training volume. A longer time to warm up and a need for more stretching seems to be necessary with every passing year.

I am still managing to get all of my miles in wearing the Five Fingers. My feet and ankles and knees are still loving them. Though, I did encounter the first problem with them on a long trail run this weekend. Somewhere about 4 miles into a 10 mile run at Busiek, I must have came down perfectly on the point of a very sharp rock right in the very center of my left arch. It caused a dull ache to remain in my foot with every step. For a short time I thought I might have injured it to a point that it was going to be a problem. Luckily, by staying on the softer mud and grass to the sides of the trail and focusing on stepping lightly, it began to gradually get better and within a couple miles I was able to put it out of my mind for the rest of the run.

Today it was still on the sore side and there is a small red spot on the bottom of my foot. While this was really nothing, it does make me ponder the choice to wear the FF's in the race. Will I be able to run off a sore spot like that when I am 12 hours into the race, or even 20 hours? For now I am still sold on them and I am hoping that I will see my feet become even more conditioned to handle tougher surfaces by doing my longest runs on the most difficult terrain I can find. I think I am still learning to use the shoes as well. You can't just blindly stomp down the trail when you get tired. You must be aware of your footing at all times.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dollar Bill Boot

I had some time off to burn at work this week so I have been taking off at noon. Yesterday afternoon I met up with a friend for coffee at the Hub in downtown Springfield. The greatest part about the shop to me was the indoor bike parking! No worries of your ride disappearing.

The friend was Jamie, the guy I recently met who ran the OT 100 last year. This was the first time I have really sat down and talked with someone that has completed a 100 miler. Until now, all of my education on the subject has come from books, magazines and the internet. I feel fortunate to have found a source to ask those questions that the reading hasn’t answered.

He told me about a group that trains together sometimes and there are several members who have completed ultras. This would probably be an invaluable experience for me to learn from others with real knowledge about success in such events. I have never participated in group training though, either in running or cycling. I’m good with one or two others but 99.9% of the time I am alone.

I am not sure what my hesitation is in seeking out a group to train with. While I enjoy friends and group settings, I have a fierce loner streak in me that makes me often prefer to train alone. Antisocial or shy, it could be a combination of both. I also see endurance work outs as a facilitator for a sort of meditation. I can just zone out or work through the days problems. But in the end, I feel it might really be a benefit to my training so I may have to jump into one.

After talking about the running for a couple hours, we set out to ride back home. A couple of miles from the coffee shop I rode through some rocks scattered in the bike lane and blew out my rear tire. The bike lane on Trafficway is absolutely full of rocks and glass. I would avoid it on a skinny tire bike if possible. I haven’t had a flat for several months so I was probably due. They seem to come in sets of 2 or 3, I may get some more in the next week or so.

The rock put a half inch gash in the sidewall of the tire. Took the tire off and put in a brand new tube. I hate patching on the side of the road. After inflating the new tube, we noticed the tube was ballooning through the gash in the tire like a blister waiting to burst. A better blogger would have captured the moment with a picture. To ride like this would mean another flat almost immediately. I used a dollar bill boot to fix the problem. I folded a dollar into a strip and placed it between the tire and the tube where the gash was. It worked! It held the tube in and provided enough strength to get the remaining 7 or 8 miles home.

Finished off the day with a 5 miles to the gym to watch Jakob.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It Never Always Gets Worse

Last night should have been a very slow recovery run. I was still stiff from trail runs on Saturday and Sunday. It was one of those runs where within the first 5 minutes you are hurting and think maybe I should just turn back. There is a however a popular phrase in ultrarunning that you can say to yourself when it gets tough, “It never always gets worse.” On this night, it got much better. Somehow, in subtle ways, I started feeling better and better. 30 minutes later I am running in the muddy ditch on the side of the road, charging up a hill and feeling like I could go for hours. 5 miles later I was feeling much better than when I stepped out the door.

I had a breakthrough moment in my form on this run. I’m always looking for the most efficient form. When you really tune in, you can feel how different movements make running feel more or less effortless. I was envisioning a string pulling my head and spine upright. With a very slight lean forward, I felt my center of gravity being pushed forward and all I had to do was flick my legs forward with the help of my hip flexors. It was a total chi running moment. If you have ever had pain from running or been interested in a healthier form, check this out: Chi Running. The test will be to see if I can duplicate this feeling on my next run.

Because of the fast run last night, today really should be a slow day. Slow on the bike and no running was the plan. Recovery is as important as the workout. However, I noticed as I spun away from the house this morning that the pedals were turning far too easily compliments of a sweet tail wind. It’s hard to ride slowly when it is so easy to get up to speed. Then I found a truck just beginning to accelerate that I could duck in behind and draft. Then there was traffic that held him below 30 and let me stay with him if I just pushed a little harder. Soon my legs were burning and I was gasping for more air and I began quickly realizing I had turned another workout, that should have been recovery, into a full on anaerobic threshold test.

Maybe I’ll slow down on the way home tonight.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

But You Don't Mean All at Once . . . Right?

One of the more frequent comments I hear when discussing the race is, "how many days will it take" or "you don't mean all at once do you?" I sometimes forget how foreign the idea of an ultramarathon is when you first hear about them. To most people, a 26.2 mile marathon is the furthest anyone ever runs and anyone willing to try it is a lunatic.

In truth, there are many races of much greater distance than the marathon and my attempt of one is really quite common place. Any distance over 26.2 miles is considered an ultramarathon. Some of the more common are the 50K (31 miles), 50 mile, 100K (62 miles) and 100 miles. There are a few even more extreme. Like the Badwater 135. 135 miles! It begins at the lowest point in Death Valley and runs to the trail head of the highest mountain in the lower 48. Many runners continue up the trail to the summit making it more like 150 miles. Oh yeah, they hold it in July. Or there is the Leadville 100. It is ran up and down mountain trails in Colorado and every mile is above 9,500' elevation.

Do you run it all at once? Yes, but there are a few misnomers within the words run or race. The vast majority of people do not run the whole thing. For most there is much walking and occasionally, although not recommended, sitting down for a while. There are many strategies used like run 5 minutes walk 1 or walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills. I have tried many of them and don't have one I prefer most.

Also, the only race will be between me and the clock. I've never been a fast runner and harbor no dreams of winning anything. My goal, and most of the other runner's goal, will simply be to finish within the 32 hour cutoff. Many who start a race will not finish. There were 126 starters of the race I'm doing last year and only 56 finished. The winner of this race last year finished in 18:38. The world record for 100 miles is 12:27! This is an 8 minute per mile pace. I can barely manage that in a 3 mile race much less 12 hours straight.

Races will have aid stations every 5 to 10 miles. These are places to replenish supplies and get help if needed. All stations offer a place to refill water bottles and many have food and other comfort items commonly requested. Aid stations range from a 5 gallon jug of water sitting on the trail to a tent full of people ready to help with any request. It's not uncommon to see Coke and potato chips. The more luxurious the station however, the more difficult to leave and get back on the trail. Some of the stations will be accessible by family members
or crews that you bring to help support you.

All but the most famous ultras are fairly small events. Usually only 100 or so people. It's not uncommon in the later stages of the race to go an hour or more without seeing another soul. I love this! To me, there is absolutely nothing appealing about running something like the Chicago or New York Marathon where you are shoulder to shoulder with some 45,000 complete strangers.

Training went well again this past week. 80 miles on the bike and 26 miles on foot. 13 miles was done this weekend on rocky hilly trails. I am still amazed by the five fingers! They handled the sharp rocky terrain of Busiek and were able to shed water and mud from the water crossings quickly. I could however tell that the muscles within my foot are still developing. Climbing a steep hill really flexes the foot!

I'll talk more sometime about Busiek which I think is the ultimate trail running playground in our area. Here is a picture of one of the trails below.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance. So tell me if this situation fits:

I have been passing another bicycle commuter on a regular basis for several months. It is always in the same place, along Catalpa with me heading west and him to the east. After many months of casual nods and waves we finally happened to be on the same side of the road at an intersection so we stopped to talk. His name is Jamie.

It wasn’t enough of a coincidence that we both ride our bikes to work at the same time. Nor that he wears the same style outfit, high viz jacket and black tights. Turns out he is also in his mid 30’s (alright I’m late but same difference). He has also ran ultramarathons. More specifically, he ran the first OT100 last year! This is the race I intend to run.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Barefoot is Better

Last week was pretty good considering the other activities that had to be tended to. The most time consuming being our local gymnastics meet which required volunteer time on Thursday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. I ended the week with 80 miles on the bike and 24 miles by foot.

You can tell spring is on the horizon as two of my evening runs this week were in shorts!

This is the second week of getting all my miles in wearing the Vibram Five Fingers. These shoes are designed to mimic running barefoot but allow you to have the protection of a shoe.

When I first returned to running, I promptly began to have many of the common joint aches and pains associated with running. Following a sprained ankle I developed a chronic knee problem that nagged me for several years. These pains prompted me to do what I always do when faced with something I don’t know much about…head to the internet to research.

Unfortunately if you head to the doctor or most shoe stores, they will most likely tell you that your pain is associated with inadequate footwear. They will say you need shoes to control your foot (which the store happens to sell). You need inserts to support your arch (which the doctor happens to sell). However, it didn’t take me long to find there is a growing number of people who feel that all of these aids may be what is actually causing a lot of the pains.

Our feet were not designed to have their motion controlled by an expensive shoe with an even more expensive after market arch support. Just one of our feet has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles and tendons. They were designed to be used for support and shock absorption! Of course you can’t just strip off your shoes and go. They have been softened and weakened by years of shielding them from impact with shoes. Once you have trained them properly, our feet are more than adequate to run on without any man made support. In fact, many studies are showing bare feet are superior to shoes: Harvard Study - Barefoot is Better.

Amazingly, since using the Vibrams, my knee pains have subsided and I can do my longest runs without a hint of weakness in either knee. My plan at this stage is to do all my training in the Five Fingers and ultimately run the race in them. We’ll see if this still seems like a good idea when I’m 80 miles in.