Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Month To Go

It doesn’t show in my log as I normally track Monday through Sunday but if I had tracked Saturday through Friday last week, I hit a 7 day total of just over 75 miles of running. How elite runners can mange 100 miles per week or more is beyond my understanding. This is the largest mileage I have ever managed without injuring myself. I only put 16 miles on the bike though which has me missing it quite a bit. I have also been walking on my lunch hours and got about 10 miles of that in this week as well.

Usually, far before this amount, I am struggling with joint aches and other problems that make it difficult to continue and I’m forced to rest. I am of course experiencing the normal muscle soreness of a regular workout routine but other than that, I am feeling stronger than ever. I am starving all the time! Even though I never pass an opportunity to eat and don’t deny myself any craving, I have managed to lose about 10 pounds since beginning the journey. The plan is to stay at this intensity for the next 2 weeks and then begin my 3 week taper until the 100 miler.

I would like to do at least one more long run on the trail after dark. I have gotten a couple of 3 and 4 hour runs in starting at 10:00 pm. It is a whole different experience to be alone in the woods and running at 1:00 in the morning. It takes a couple of hours for me not to jump every time something moves in the darkness off the trail. Your world is reduced to the cone of light produced by your headlamp. You can hear and occasionally catch movements in the peripheral but it is covered in a shroud of black. Once I thought I saw someone up ahead standing on the side of the trail!

Week of September 20 – Run 62, Bike 16

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Do You Have The Time?

I took the speedometer off my bike. For some reason when it is there I am enslaved by it. I hold myself to an expectation of maintaining a certain speed. Though it was frustrating at first, I feel like I am riding stronger without it. Of course, that could be entirely false as I don’t have a way to measure how fast I am going, but it feels that way. It has allowed me to focus on other things and has been quite liberating.

I have always been a little obsessive when it comes to measuring time and distance. I’m always counting things. It’s 8 miles and there are 7 lights and 9 stop signs. How many minutes does it take? If I push x amount faster, how will it affect y? I use the numbers as a distraction by trying to calculate in my head different things like exactly what time will I arrive. I also use the measurements to judge myself. As if it really matters if I ride to work in 26 minutes or 29. I can tell you that the difference in effort between those 3 minutes is substantial!

Sure there are some times when actual measurement of time is important. For instance, how long you cook your chicken or what time you get to work. I can’t deny, with endurance sports at least, that paying attention to measurements can help you reach a greater potential by incrementally pushing yourself further. For the most part however, I think I pay far too much attention to the arbitrary units of time and distance. Occasionally I forget and must force myself to remember the joy should actually come from the doing and not whether it took less time than yesterday or not.

It’s possible that I would actually enjoy things more, and perhaps get more out of it, if they took longer. My speedometer is off but I’m still wearing the watch. For now.

“Don’t count every hour in the day, make every hour in the day count.”

Week of September 13 – Run 48, Bike 64

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ebb and Flow

The ebb and flow of motivation through the miles is similar to the ups and downs in daily life. Sometimes you just wake up in a funk. You can’t shake off the sleepiness and nothing seems to go your way. Suddenly the next day you are brimming with a new perspective on life and ready to tackle the world! There is often no visible explanation for the changes but it is very easy to feel. You can be down for a couple days and sometimes only for a few minutes. At least this seems to be the way I experience it in both life and miles traveled. Energy levels during a long run often follow the same up and down cycle but the changes occur more quickly and are more acute.

At one moment I am cruising along enjoying the scenery and then an ache will set in. Before you know it my legs feel heavy and my stride becomes more inefficient. Every step can become painful. This is usually when the strongest desire to stop and rest comes. It washes over your whole body and the voices in your head giving you excuses to quit begin to get louder and even more convincing.

Haven’t you have done enough . . . if you keep pushing you are going to damage something . . . who is going to know if you just take a break for a little while?

Often, if I just persist, like a storm that has blown in quickly and turned the weather upside down but then blows out leaving the air calm, my aches will fade away and the pace becomes easier again. Before you know it you are cruising along again feeling like you might just finish in record time. These recoveries are blissful and knowing they will eventually come is one thing to focus on to help you through.

As I progress through my training cycle and spend more and more time pushing myself each day, I have found these moments to come more frequently and with a greater impact to my system. I have different strategies I use to combat the urge to give in to the rising desire for the sweet relief of rest. Often I take the approach of taking stock of my form and breathing. Spending just a few minutes actively relaxing and controlling your breathing patterns can help you make it through a rough patch. There are times, if the trail is smooth and wide and nobody is near, that I will close my eyes and run 10 or 15 steps collecting my thoughts.

I use my MP3 player a lot to keep my spirit high. This morning was no exception. It was much easier to ignore the voice of weakness when I had Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” pumping in my ears. I believe the more often you place yourself in these situations, and subsequently the more times you overcome these feelings, the better you become at handling difficult scenarios as they arise not only on runs but life in general.

It most likely has something to do with nutrition and the amount of rest I’ve had. There is a fine line between performing the optimum amount of training to reach your potential and burning out before you get there. Along with a higher resting heart rate, lack of ability to recover from exercise and the inability to sleep well at night, one of the symptoms of burnout is a lack of motivation to train. Ideally, you should train just below the point of burnout. If you cross this threshold into burnout you have no option but to rest. Continuing on will only raise the required level of rest necessary to compensate. To make it more confusing everyone’s line is in a different place. You must just listen to your body. I think I’m in the right place.

Week of September 6 – 48 bike, 55 run

Friday, September 10, 2010

That Time I Lied to the Government and Got Caught

I get the standard questions about why I push myself on a fairly frequent basis. I usually give some sort of short sarcastic remark. Something like the “because it’s there” response to why climb a mountain. I suppose to be honest with myself I would have to admit that the truth lays somewhere deeper in my estimation of my self worth. A constant need to prove I’m strong enough, man enough, tough enough.

In elementary school I played football. I played for several years and don’t honestly remember much about it. With the exception of the year I hurt my back. I don’t remember a single catastrophic accident, just an uncomfortable pain that started to set in at practices. It made it difficult to run or be active similar to a pulled muscle in your back if you have ever had such a thing. You use your back and stomach muscles for just about every movement. Any disruption to your core makes everyday living a difficult task.

After complaining of the pain my parents took me to the doctor to be checked out. He did all sorts of x-rays and tests and eventually concluded that I had suffered some fractures to my spine. I want to say in the L4 region. He suggested a surgical procedure wherein they would fuse vertebrae and place metal and such in support. It required a waist to neck brace that would have to be worn for a year after the procedure. Because the brace was paramount to proper healing they wanted to make sure you could handle the brace emotionally and socially so you had to wear it for 6 months before the procedure as well. I was not excited about the prospect of being so limited for a minimum of 18 months at the age of 12.

The surprising thing was that the procedure would not even necessarily end the discomfort in my back! There was a fair chance it wouldn’t help at all and a small chance that it might even make it worse. Because of all that went along with it, my parents allowed me to make the decision. At that time, I figured I might as well wait and see if it got worse. The doctor told me it would be an issue for the rest of my life and military service would definitely be out of the question.

I stopped playing football. I guess overtime the pain diminished because I don’t recall it being much of a problem over the next few years. Of course I didn’t actually push myself that hard as I wasn’t involved in any sports or physical activities. At 16 I picked up the skateboard and did that aggressively for many years but my back didn’t bother me with that.

Perhaps because a doctor had told me it would not be possible, or maybe because the Rambo movies were released during my developing teen years, I had a fascination with the military. I was attracted to the Marines because the advertisements said they were the toughest! The motto even played up the exclusivity of the group by openly claiming not everyone will make it. The Few, The Proud. When I graduated several of my friends signed up.

I wanted to be a part of it. I tried to sign up as well. In their detailed inquiry into medical history the question of my back came up. They sent me to a specialist who took x-rays. He didn’t like what he saw. He said it would definitely be a problem and I would never be able to handle the training. I was disqualified. I remember the devastating let down.

For the next couple of years I was lost. I didn’t know what to do with my life. For a while I thought I wanted to be a police officer and even went to a couple years of community college towards that. I didn’t know if my disqualification from the military would stop me from being a cop but I would cross that bridge when I came to it. I remember my friends who had joined coming home and sporting their Dress Blue uniforms around town. I was haunted by the feeling that, according to the doctor, I wasn’t good enough or at least that is how I had taken it. I would never be one of the few and proud. I was one of the many, broken and unable.

I used the next years to get active. I rode a bike. I ran. I took martial arts and worked out at a gym. I needed to prove myself to myself. My back never did bother me. It was then that I met a recruiter. He told me the military processing center purged their records every couple of years. This made sense to me because it was before the time of a computer on every desk. I thought there is no way they keep all that information easy to access, what would be the point? We hatched the plan to apply to the Marines again but this time I would accidentally leave out the part about having a back injury. The recruiter who had given me this information wanted me to go to another recruiter to sign up though, you know, just in case I got caught it wouldn’t go back on him. What could possibly go wrong?

I lied to the new recruiter. I lied to the doctors. I lied to them in all the paperwork. Have you ever attempted to get in before? Nope! Have you ever been disqualified before? Never! I was on my way. They sent me to the processing center to take the tests and physicals. It was all going smoothly. I passed all the tests with flying colors. And then, they called me into an office and had me sit down. They asked me to read a sign on the wall out loud to them. I can’t remember the exact words but it essentially said:

Knowingly giving false information or withholding required information on any recruiting form is a felony offense, punishable by a $10,000 fine and three years in prison.

After reading it aloud he asked if I wanted to make any changes to my enlistment paperwork. They were just trying to scare me. I’ve seen this tactic before. My mom did this to me all the time trying to catch me in a lie. You look them in the eye and you believe the lie. He doesn’t know. No sir! Absolutely not!

It was at this point that he placed in front of me the package that I had filled out 2 years ago when I was disqualified. My heart sank to the floor and I thought I was going to jail. Now, not only would I never be one of the few, I would be a felon for trying. They told me to sit tight because a doctor wanted to talk to me. A doctor? Don’t you mean the police?

The doctor asked why I wanted in so badly. He asked if my dad or recruiter had coached me to lie. I pled to him how active I was and how I knew I would make a good Marine if they would only give me a chance. I realized I wasn’t going to jail but again was feeling like all hope was lost. To my surprise, he told me if I could get several good references from doctors and people who had seen me active, he would submit a waiver for me! It would be up to a medical board and they would decide based on my records and whatever references I could find. I had my mission.

I wasted no time. I had numerous people write what a hard working person I was and how I had never complained about my back. Employers, doctors, martial arts instructors. I took it all back to the recruiter and then had to wait. And wait. For several months I waited. I heard nothing. The gleam of hope I had experienced was now dwindling. And then it came. A letter from the United States Military saying that I was fit and could join immediately!

In the end, I was a good Marine, I think. My back never did bother me. I learned to take with a grain of salt anyone’s opinion that you can’t do something. So called specialists claimed I would not be able to handle it. I got to show them! Well, myself at least. I always fantasized about finding them one day and saying, you remember me (not like they would), you said I wasn’t good enough and guess what? I was! To this day however, I am often haunted by the voice that screams I need to prove myself. Not to anyone in particular, just myself.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Reference Page

And now I begin my last full month of real training for my run. Getting as much mileage and time on my feet as I can handle without injuring myself will be the main focus. To give you an idea of my intent, last weekend I did a 20 miler on Friday and followed it up with a 10 miler on Saturday. I plan to do back to back long runs for the next several weekends.

Disclaimer: You may find the rest of this post extremely boring if you are not deeply interested in running! Click the links under the pictures to take you to the references mentioned.

You might wonder where I got the information that I use to train myself for such a run. There is actually quite a bit out there regarding running ultras. If you have the internet and the desire to search for it, there is a ton. I thought I might lay out how I came to know about ultras and what I used to develop my plan to run one. My study of the subject began with a magazine article.

I had just been convinced to end my 10 year break from regular working out and run a 5K with a friend who had been pestering me to run with him. It restored my love of running and inspired me to take up running for exercise again. Shortly after this run I picked up an Outside Magazine that we had laying around. Sara had caved to a door to door salesman who gave us a great deal on a subscription. It had an article about Dean Karnazes.

Outside Magazine Interview

There is some controversy within the ultrarunning community about Dean’s marketing of himself but in my mind, Dean has raised a ton of money for different charities and written a couple of books that have inspired many people to get active. I am one of those people. Through reading that article and subsequently his book, Ultramarathon Man Confessions of an All Night Runner, I was set on the path I am on today.

Ultramarathon Man Confessions of an All Night Runner

After reading his stories I was inspired to find out more about the people who run such distances. That is when I found, Running Through the Wall. It is a compilation of stories from runners about the running of ultra distances. Some are famous and competitive and others are more like me, back of the pack and just trying to see how far they can go.

Running Through the Wall

This led me to Ultrarunning Magazine. There is a magazine for every niche of life! This is where I began to learn the finer details that you need to know to run far. Nutrition during exercise, training tips and of course, inspirational stories about long runs.

Ultrarunning Magazine

Another book that I always have handy is A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning. This book can answer most of the questions a person would have. Chapters on nutrition, training, mental aspects, injuries, clothing, anything you can think of.

A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning

One of the books that I often recommend for anyone suffering from an injury or really any aches and pains when running is Chi-Running. You think you know how to physically run. Like anything however, there is an optimal technique that makes running easier. This book teaches you a more efficient way to run. I use the principles it teaches and review it every time I suffer any pains from running.


I get most of my nutritional information from Hammer. Their research seems sound and their products work very well for me. I sampled many sports drinks and supplements before settling in on Hammer.

Hammer Nutrition Products

For inspiration in times of low motivation I have purchased the following movies:

Running on the Sun

A documentary about the Badwater 135. Badwater is a grueling 135 mile race beginning in Death Valley and ascending to 8000 feet by the race's end. Temperatures reach 125 degrees in the middle of the day.

The Runner: Extreme UltraRunner David Horton

The Runner follows David Horton as he runs 40 miles per day for 66 consecutive days in an attempt to set the speed record on the 2,700 mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada.

Finally, one of my favorites is Indulgence.

Indulgence 1,000 Miles Under the Colorado Sky

Indulgence follows Anton Krupicka training in the mountains of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California during the summer of 2007. Anton is known for running over 200 miles per week in the mountains to prepare for a race. He also has won just about all of the races he has entered.

So now you know the things that inspired, and continue to inspire, me to run. I also now have a handy page to send people to when they have questions about running!

Week of August 30 – 64 Bike, 38 Run

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Big Fat Cold Drops

Got to work a little later than usual this morning. Apparently, it would not be cool to show up drenched to the bone from riding your bike to school when you are in the 5th grade.

Sara has been leaving early for work the last couple of weeks so I have been riding with Jakob to school and then riding on to work from there. It has been exceptionally mild weather lately so there have not been any conditions that required a different arrangement. Of course in my mind, there is NO condition that would ever stop me from riding my bike. The only thing that differs is the amount of clothing necessary and the amount of lighting.

As we go to leave this morning it is raining and not just a sprinkle either. It is the big fat cold drops. The kind of drops that when you try to run from your car to the door, even though it only takes 2 seconds, you get completely soaked. I had maintained hope throughout the morning that when it came time to go the rain might have slowed enough to get there. It is less than half a mile to school so we wouldn’t need much of a break to get him there dry. As we opened the garage door and saw it coming down in buckets, hope faded and I knew it was going to be rough trip. I suggested that we just wait a few minutes and see if it breaks. After 10 minutes, it wasn’t getting any lighter.

He still hasn’t complained at this point. I can tell he is beginning to get stressed about showing up late. We decided that if he put on other shoes and wore a large rain coat over the top of his backpack, he could probably get there without getting too wet. We put his dry shoes in his pack and pulled the coat over him. His shorts were still exposed on the bottom but we didn’t think they would get to bad. He got onto his bike and faced the opening of the garage and steeled himself to go. I was thinking he would make it. He might be a little damp but its just a little water so no big deal. The rain began to fall even harder.

Not wanting to show up late he says, “lets just do it,” and then rides out into the rain. Before we reach the end of the driveway, my clothes are wet. I don’t wear waterproof clothing to ride unless it’s below 50. I just dress for the temperature. If I had worn a raincoat, I would be drenched from the sweat within so I just enjoy the cool rain and let my clothes get wet. It’s all technical fabrics and dries quickly. However, I don’t have to sit at a desk in my wet clothes or sit under the scrutiny of school age children who mercilessly tease any sort of irregularity.

We had made it a couple hundred feet down the road and riding behind him I can see that his shorts are completely soaked. I ride up next to him and can tell he is fighting back the tears. He never once suggested that we turn back but I could see in his face that he was absolutely miserable. I imagined him sitting uncomfortably in his class wet and cold and suddenly took pity on him. It may have helped that he didn’t complain about it. If he had I might have held my ground to prove a point but he was fully prepared to finish the ride. I experienced a moment of compassion and told him to turn it around.

Once we got back to the house I told him to put on some dry clothes. I got busy taking the tarp off the Jeep, put the top up and replaced the doors. I have just been covering it with a tarp during the rain and leaving everything open for most of the summer. As I drove him up to the school he thanked me numerous times. In the end he may have been 5 minutes late but with the line of cars still dropping kids off, he would not be alone.

After dropping him I headed back to the house, parked the Jeep, got on my bike and rode to work. The rain never did let up.

Week of August 16 – Bike 48, Run 48
Week of August 23 – Bike 84, Run 23