Thursday, December 30, 2010


Lookout Mountain 50 Miler Race Report-


Troy Shellhamer- 12/2010

I tripped and took a nasty fall in the first mile just trying to keep up with the blistering pace that Josh Wheeler was setting up front. The first ten miles or so, my eyes were watering from the sting of the cold and my vision was blurred. My heart was in unchartered territory for a fifty miler at 170 beats per minute. There were maybe 6 of us trying to keep up, and over one hundred others behind from all stretches of the country. We were failing at keeping up with Josh. As we gasped for air, we managed to chat and BS with one another as we struggled to chase down the leader, who was increasing his 5, 10, 15, 20 minute lead at every aid station. Prior to the race, I watched an interview with him, and he said he usually tries to guage his competition by starting with an unmanageable pace in the begining. He eases into his true race pace after several miles once he's broken some of the field.

The course was beautiful. It was supposed to rain for several days before the race and on race day, but the forecasters were mistaken. The course stayed dry, and although covered with leaves and strewn with rocks, roots, and boulders, the singletrack trail was still in top shape. The course for the Rock Creek Lookout Mountain 50 Miler is the most entertaining and beautiful course I have run. The first ten miles are on the northern side of Lookout Mountain, and you run along and on cliffsides and bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River Valley for miles upon miles. Around mile 16 you start the biggest climb of the race, back up to the start/finish line at Covenant College atop Lookout Mountain. You reach Covenant College around mile 22 and then head to the Lula Lake Land Trust, where you are blessed with the chance to run by Lula Lake Falls.

Troy Shellhamer

After running by Lula, you climb the steepest stretch of trail, which actually has a rope on the climb up to help gain your footing. It's about as steep as any stretch of trail I have ever seen that didn't require actual hand over foot rock climbing. You then twist and turn and climb your way through some tightly wound singletrack near a mountain stream to Long Branch Aid Station. From Long Branch you run a four and a half mile loop, and then return twelve miles to Covenant College for the Finish.

... So, back to the race!

It's mile 22, and we've just finished the biggest ascent of the race. I managed to pass quite a few runners and take third place on the climb despite gastric issues, which forced me off the trail several times to expel various fluids and foods from every hole in my body, I held second place for a moment, but lost it during another explosive excretive episode. My stomach was in great shape though coming into Covenant at mile 22. Stephanie, my crew, had my fluid bottle ready for handoff at Covenant College so I could blow though the Aid Station. This bottle swap was much smoother than the first in which I managed to run off with a full bottle of EFS, but no Powerbar! Otherwise, this race held the fastest and smoothest aid I have ever expereinced in a race thanks to a great crew. While switching bottles and grabbing Powerbars at Covenant I nabbed second place from David Worth whom was at the Aid Station. I had a great chat with David while climbing up to Covenant. We talked about the Appalachian Trail which we had both thru-hiked in previously and it made the time fly. This was shaping up to be one of the most social races I had run in the last few years, and it made it that much more enjoyable. I was also glad to have the chance to run for a few moments with Kevin Boucher from Chattanooga whom I raced with last year as we talked about various Ironman courses to pass the time. This is what trail races are all about! It's always so much fun to go back to races and catch back up with the other runners!

The climb up to Covenant College had finally thinned us out, but it was still the closest race I can recall. I came into the Long Branch Aid Station at mile thirty-four holding second place still. I had closed the gap to Josh Wheeler whom holds the course record. He was now only three or four minutes ahead, and he had lost his 20 minute lead. I didn't care though. Miles thirty-four through thirty-eight were some of the most pivotal miles in the race. Taking it easy for this little four and a half mile loop was the most important aspect of my race strategy. My plan was to take it painstakingly slow and easy throughout thirty-four to thirty-eight and then use my renewed energy levels to pound out the last twelve miles of the race faster than everyone else while they were hopefully slowing down, worn out from their efforts to get to mile 38. I did exactly what I had planned. Coming back into Long Branch Aid Station at mile thirty-eight point five, I felt better and more energized than I had felt since the start, even more surprisingly, no one passed me on that four point five mile stretch. This was very shocking, because only several minutes seperated the top seven guys coming into Long Branch at mile thirty-four.

Near mile thirty-eight I had recovered from the psychotic pace Josh had opened us up with, and it was time to light it up for the last twelve. I blew through the thirty-eight mile Aid Station once again as Stephanie had my bottle and my Powerbar ready for a fast handoff. I realized this would be the first fifty I've run without taking a single minute for a break. I was heading out of the aid station and saw Josh Wheeler. What?!~

Josh had his arms around someone, who was helping him back to the aid station. My face was contorted in shock! How could this be?! What was happening?! Josh was dropping because of gastric issues. He didn't look so hot. Josh had run an unbelievable race last year covering the near 7000' elevation gain in a course record setting time. He is a machine of a runner. He had opened with a demoralizing pace to guage his opponents, but now he was blown and I was taking the lead. I felt good too. Could this be mine?

I forced every climb up to threshold and sprinted the flats, I wanted this race. I imagined my competition closing the gap to me, and envisioned that every climb I could widen the gap if I just endured the pain. Embrace the pain and widen the gap became my mantra. This was supposed to be a training race after recovering from the effort required at The Pinhoti 100, but I was in first and I wasn't going to lose it. I ran back by Lula Lake Falls and experienced its beauty. I knew the way back home, and was familiar with the course. My energy levels sustained and I felt no abnormal aches or hints of injury. I was originally worried about some shin pain I had experienced since Pinhoti six weeks ago and I didn't want to injure myself during this race, but I guess I was recovered and back to 100% post a light training month. Only twelve miles though and I was in first. I was hammering and it would be hard for someone to catch me, and I made sure I didn't ease up. I stayed in the pain threshold.

The beauty and diversity of the course kept me entertained and I found myself at the finish line. I couldn't believe it, my first ultra victory after placing third in almost every run this year! I was wondering if I would be full of emotion, dead tired, or what?! I was just happy and excited. I wanted to call friends and family, but more than anything, I wanted to thank my crew for an awesome job done and cheer on my friends who were about to finish! The finish area at the Lookout Mountain 50 is in grand scale. With the generous sponsorship titles, it is party central, with a large blow-up finishing arch, and many of the sposors have tents set up to show off their product. I waited at the finish line for second place, Chris Petit, to come in and cheered him on. He must have run a wise race because he finished really strong. David Worth came in third, and I was glad to see him finish such a great run, since we had encouraged each other up the Covenant College climb talking about the outdoor industry and the Appalachian Trail. We stood on the podium, and I finally took the top step. A perfect way to cap the race!

For a month before the race I wasn't sure how it would end up. It was supposed to be a training race. I didn't even know if I would finish. I was fully ready for this race to be my first DNF. Training ever since Pinhoti in November had been haphazard at best because my main focus was getting back to 100%. So I ran when I felt good, and took it easy and backed off when I felt sore. My biggest weeks were all less than 75 miles. It all worked out though. I didn't get to train much on the monster climbs at Jefferson Memorial Forest because I was nursing my shin back to health and in place I ran on the easier trails at Cherokee. I didn't get to run my standard 32 mile training runs as my body couldn't handle it after Pinhoti. I focused on Recovery. I changed my footwear too. I went to Quest Outdoors three days before raceday and grabbed my old favorites, the La Sportiva Crosslites, which I hadn't been training in much recently as they are primarily a winter shoe.They performed magically and I'll be sticking with them for the Louisville Lovin' The Hills 50K, sponsored by Quest, which is next on the race calendar. For now though, I'll sit back, relax and recover. There's no sense putting in junk miles and not recovering. I'll relish this first victory for a moment and try to remember how it happened... Hmmnn...and then duplicate it!

Monday, November 15, 2010


The Pinhoti 100

We stood there in the darkness, the woods lit only by our headlamps. It was nearly 6:00am. Stars were overhead, our breath and bodies steaming mightily in the 20 degree temperatures. Over one hundred of us checked our watches, stripped off our warm outer layers, and prepared to run 100 miles through the mountains of eastern Alabama. As we walked to the start I made sure that I was literally toeing the line for the command to "GO!". The course starts off as single-track trail only a foot wide, which is a pleasure to run on, but regulating your OWN pace can be nearly impossible if you aren't in the front for the start. Passing would become nearly impossible in the train of runners snaking their way to Aid Station #1, 6.5 miles down the trail if placement wasn't perfect upon entering the course.

I played my cards right jockying for position at the start and found myself inches from Tim Barnes in third place after several minutes of racing. Ricky George was on my heels in 4th which meant Louisvillians, (and good friends), held 2nd through 4th place, but the race was young. Regardless, the rubberband effect of running on single-track was in full effect as within only minutes the runners were spaced out in groups with sizeable gaps between them. I kept my pacing conservative in these first few miles but balanced that conservative pacing with a continued effort to keep an eye on the runners I felt were my biggest competition. If they wanted to fly by, so be it, this was my race and my pace. However, we all stayed together coming into Aid Station #1 for the mayhem.

The crews for all the runners were crowding the exit of the trail into Aid Station #1 as they awaited their runners. The mayhem ensued like it was a 15 mile race as opposed to a one hundred mile endurance event. Stephanie and Kara were crew extraordinaire for me, asking what I needed and trying to make haste getting me what I wanted. I think they were a little surprised at the craziness unfolding and the hurried nature of the ordeal. The first aid station in most hundred milers is not like the rest, adrenaline is still flying, and runners want to get on their way. It doesn't set the tone for the rest of the race, but you don't want to lose your mark or time that early in the race. You need to get some miles under your belt first.

The second aid station came sooner than the first after more rolling single-track trail in the beautiful Alambama mountainscape. On the ridgeline, we heard a train and it was the talk amoungst the racers that the tracks cross the course. Apparenty, Wayne, the guy who shot off in first like a rocketship barely made it around the train by a yard or two. He did NOT feel like stopping and waiting for a train while his gap to second place shortened! Once again, I was planning on settling into my hundred miler pace later and I was still trying to make haste at the aid stations. I was in a very good mental place, but due to the hurried nature of the aid station stops Kara and Stephanie were growing concerned about my energy expenditure this first quarter of the race. They knew my goal was to take this at my own speed, and I WOULD, and I WAS, I just didn't want to lose time in the aid stations at the begining of the race. I knew I had plenty of time to relax starting around mile 15 once other runners began to settle into a managebale pace. Kara was also concerned that our water jugs would not be enough to supply my bottles later in the race and so she was filling my race bottles at the water coolers instead of already having them ready. Kara and Stephanie were phenomenal during this race and I could not have done it without them! -But for now, we needed to quicken and streamline our resupplys at the aid stops or else my competition would be hedging a lead not only on the trails but in the aid stations as well. Tim, (as the runner I deemed my closest overall competition), was making his aid stops a little faster than I was but I would catch back up to him once on the trails. His stops were faster, and I wasn't trying to catch him, but once back on the trails, I would close the gap and run with him for several miles. Then it all changed.

We were running in a valley, I was probably in about 8th place due to losing some placement in the aid station rush. I closed the gap inadvertantly and found myself gaining a few spots back after runners who hurried through the aid stations needed to stop and relieve themselves on the side of the trail. It was now, Tim, myself, and another runner. The trail veered left and sharply uphill and where the trail turned it appears a lot of runners run straight for several feet before they realize it. This often happens on the trails, you stop for a second, look behind, and regain your course, but all it takes is a second to pass someone. I popped in front of Tim to show him where the course went and then began the small climb up to the gap at the ridgeline. I expected Tim to get back in front at some point but he didn't. This concerned me. Tim always starts really strong, and I DID NOT want to be in front of him this early in the race. I did what my game plan told me to do though. I ran my own pace. I ran like I was the only one out there, and I continued to run alone. No one passed me. I made it all the way to the next aid station. I planned on taking a break for one minute or so. I knew, from here on out, that the race was nothing more than my crew and I going one hundred miles. I didn't care about placement any more, as this was the point in the race where good attitude has to take over. I put in my hard work the first 18 by jockying for position, and now it was time to do my thing, and run. I reached the aid station however, and found my crew absent. Then, upon my departure I saw them walking down the street towards the aid station. They did not find the same hurried runner as before. They needed to see the runner they came to crew, the one who smiles, and this is who they found. This was the plan all along, and they were very relieved to see the person they came to crew, not stressed, just out having a blast on a one hundred mile run. This is the attitude that would rule the next 82 miles, allowing me to finish in the fastest time possible. It is synergistic.

Leaving Aid Station #4 I was entering another strech which had no crew access for quite some time, and I knew it would be awhile before I saw them again. The other runners and I had spaced ourselves out, and I passed the rocketship, Wayne, climbing a hill to the next Aid Station. I had people in the aid stations telling me I was in fourth or fifth, but I didn't care about placement at this point. Rather than saying I didn't care about placement, I suppose it would be much more adequate to say that I did care drastically about placement, and the route to placing myself closest to the top at the end, was by not altering my speed relative to placement this soon in the race! This race was still young and that meant everything. The strongest runners only had to maintain pace throughout the last 25 miles and they would easily blow by anyone who was feeling the effects of the first 70. Running one hundred miles is all about finding a pace, and sticking to it for one hundred miles. Plain and simple. Go out easy, finish strong.

The trail was incredibly beautiful. I was not expecting such grandeur. Pine and hardwoods ruled the environment. The size of these mountains is deceiving. Running along the ridgelines the views were remarkable, vast expanses 30-60 miles out, with rocky outcroppings, amazing water features, and mountain streams with white washed rocks and cascades.

The first monster climb was about one third into the race at mile 32. The course ascends to the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain. The climb probably took about thirty minutes, and I plowed my way up, managing to pass several more runners on the way to the summit. All the while, listening to my Ipod, and trying to zone out as there was a lot more racing to be had. The climb involved relentless switchbacks, however the breeze on the ridgeline, the rocky yet scenic terrain, and the challenging elevation gain kept me entertained to the top. Upon reaching the peak, there was people everywhere, and it really felt like some progress was underway. The legs felt good still, considering that I had just completed the biggest climb of the run, and was nearly 40 miles in, however, the decent off of Cheaha was really the bruiser. You have to downclimb boulders and car sized rocks which eventually lead to a fire road where the course picks back up. Upon the short road run section here, I became gravely concerned for the first time in the race that I was lost because of the lack of markings, alas, every time I would really worry, I would see a course marker confirming that I was in deed, on the course, heading to the next aid. The sun was out and warming my chilled bones from the morning, the scenery was great and I was expereincing my first real high of the day. I felt great and things were underway. Upon entering the deserted Aid Station greeted only by the volunteers and my wonderful crew of Stephanie and Kara, I finally encountered another runner, Mike Cosentino, who caught me from behind. We ran together for several moments talking about the outdoor industry. My wife, Kara is a buyer for an outfitter in Louisville, and Mike owns several running shops in Atlanta. We seperated and I found myself out in front again, running through some of the most scenic terrain of the day- Mostly in a valley, a mountain stream rushed over white washed rocks. The trail was well worn and many backpackers were in the area, some pleased to see the race, some not, as it hindered their wilderness experience. At the previous aid station, I was encountering my first high. I was singing along with my Ipod, (which, as a sidenote, I have NEVER raced with an Ipod before), and things were grand, but this was an Ultra-Marathon. Ultras are known not only for there highs, but for there drastic lows as well.

Miles 45-55 were bad. I don't remember much of them, but I do remember that it was late evening. I was getting tired. My head was pounding. I don't know if I needed sleep, or caffeine, or both. I was also finally starting to expereince some abdominal cramping. Thankfully, my crew would be awaiting me at mile 55. I knew that this would be the first time I would actually sit down during the race. I needed a break and I had to figure out how to alter my nutrition strategy.

I reached Adam's Gap Aid Station and was delighted to learn that I was at mile 55 and not mile 52. While running into the aid station, I thought I was on mile 52, so those extra 3 miles were a boost to my morale. I was so certain that I was actually at mile 52 upon entering Adam's Gap that I didn't even believe the aid station volunteer until they all convinced me otherwise.

My nutrition strategy was mainly centered around Powerbars every hour and a bottle of EFS every hour. I also took a shot of energy gel as needed at every other aid station or so. On many of my 6 hour training runs this worked perfectly, but who knows what would happen after 10 hours, as the only expereince that truly replicates racing 100 miles is actually going out and running 100 miles. The amount of carbs in the Powerbars and EFS were finally giving me some gastric issues once I went over the 10 hour mark. I got to Adam's Gap, and after our discussion of what mileage I was actually at, I decided that peanut butter filled pretzels were a wise option. Getting in calories without much sugar seemed optimal and I forced the pretzls down. I think I ate some chips too which digested easily. All in all, I probably sat for a couple of minutes and then noticed a chill as the sun was begining to set. (Thankfully the chill was from the weather, not the same chills brought on by a sore-throat that scared me the previous day!) I grabbed some warmer clothes and then changed my race plan to follow the master rule of staying in the moment, and running point to point, NOT, 100 miles in one go. I decided that although the original plan was for Kara to pace me in the last 15 miles, I needed a boost, and a boost is what I got. I decided to have Kara run with me for a stretch, and I didn't worry about what that meant for the future of the race. Lucky for me, Stephanie was able to meet us just 5 miles up the trail. We could then adjust race strategy as needed, before mile 68, where the toughest stretch of trail starts. After mile 68 would be the longest stretch of the race without crew access, about 18 miles. It also contains a climb up The Pinnacle, the other "big climb" of the race. As we left Adam's Gap at mile 55, I told Kara about all the single-track beauty of the first 55 miles. The first fire road run of the race is the section she was running with me from miles 55-60. As I talked about the previous course miles, it must have seemed a stark contrast to the well maintained fire roads we were then running on!

Apparently Tim was running strong behind me while I felt like I was fading in and out. True, my spirits were higher since Kara was running with me, but my stomach had settling to do, and I was not fast, considering the brunt of the race lay ahead after mile 68. I couldn't have been happier to have company during that strech. It was fun to chat about the race and get myself back into it. Originally, the plan was for Kara to run with me from miles 65-68, as a little boost into the darkness, and then I would be on my own for the next 18 miles over the other big climb of the race, The Pinnacle. Instead, she ran with me earlier than planned, for 13 miles from 55-68.

Coming into Aid Station at mile 68, I knew that the race was about to heat up, but I wasn't sure how. This was the most important stretch of the race and anything could happen. Once I hit the Aid Station with Kara as my pacer, I knew Tim must be closing a gap on me, because for the first time in a while, Tim's crew was already there waiting for him. I still stuck to my plan, and was proactive. I took a break for a minute at the Aid Station to take off my shoes and place a small bandage on my small toe of the right foot. I could feel a warm spot and I didn't want to deal with any blisters this race. My shoes and compression shorts had been perfectly flawless during the race, and I wanted to continue the streak of no chaffe and no blisters! I ate some boiled potatos with salt and took my time getting out of the Aid Station. I alerted Tim's crew that I wasn't running in top gear and the race was "open". My long break proved a wise decision, because I ran very well out of the aid station. I didn't realize it, but the next Aid was at The Pinnacle, meaning the big climb up it was directly after my long break at mile 68. Even with this break, I was still slow climbing The Pinnacle. I never imagined walking any section of the course, but I had to succomb several times while ascending The Pinnacle. I kept looking back expecting to see Tim's headlamp, along with his pacers. I knew some of my competition had pacers at this point, and upon reaching the upcoming aid stations, some volunteers were surprised to see me without one. I was shocked to see the lights of The Pinnacle Aid Station while slogging up the relentless switchbacks. The station came sooner than expected. The Pinnacle has this reputation of horror, because it can be seen while climbing, and you can hear the cheers, and supposedly, it seems to take forever, so when I saw the station for the first time, I settled into the climb, not expecting to reach Aid so soon. I was glad the reputation was well spoken of and I had prepared for the worst! Nonetheless, I still had to take a shot of energy gel to help me get up the mountain. On the climb I think my energy was still down from the several miles I had to run without eating much to ease my stomach. Lucky for me, it was a little better now and so I gladly accepted a fried egg sandwich at The Pinnacle Aid Station, as well as some chicken soup, and a lot more energy gel to fuel me through the next stretch.

I was eating my egg sandwich at The Pinnacle when I heard the cheers. I knew 4th place was closing in, and that I had better get moving. The following stretch of trail was a treat for me, smooth fire road for a mile or two, and after my good food at the aid station I was starting to feel a lot better. I lit up the gravel and dirt fire road like it was a marathon, not 4 marathons. The single-track was tough once the course left the road again, but I was taking in an energy gel every 20 minutes and my energy levels was growing finally. I knew the time was upon me to dig deep.

There were a few steep and horridly rocky miles to reach Aid Station at mile 78, but I made it sooner than expected. I was surprised to see that I had opened up a gap again, and so I grabbed some gels at the Aid Station, stuffed some boiled potatos and salt into my mouth, and made my way. I was feeling good again, but not on a high- I felt like I had energy that could last to mile 100. I had found my saving grace, and it was energy gels every 20 minutes, and bioled potatos with salt. The more frequent stretches on fire road helped my speed tremendously also. The single-track would beat me to a pulp, and the increasing rocks in the trail made it slow going and painful, but once on the dirt and gravel fire roads, I had enough energy to let loose and crank it up a notch. (cranking it up=a blistering 6 or 7 MPH, which is very slow in reality, but hey- it's 100 miles...)

The sky was black with stars everywhere, and it was cold- maybe about 30 degrees. As I ran down to the Aid Station at mile 85, I knew that Kara and Stephanie would be there, and Kara could start running with me again, but I had different plans. I wanted to secure my placement in this race, and I was feeling phenomenal considering the distance I had just run. I was ecstatic to reach the Aid Station, and I told Kara and Stephanie to both go to mile 90. I felt certain I could hold 7 or 8 MPH and light it up to seal my placement over the next stretch of trail which was all downhill. I saw Ricky's wife

Nicole, and can't describe how happy I was to hear he was having an incredible race after some foot problems a few weeks prior to the race.

I was smiling, content to the core, bounding to mile 90, where I knew I could push through anything. Over the last 20 miles I had hit a few patches in which I was weak, with headaches, and nausea. I rested when I needed to, and pushed on through. Now, after force feeding gels, boiled potatos, and switching from EFS to Heed I was feeling the race come to me, and I actually had the energy to push Kara and Stephanie, my awesome crew to mile 90!

About the time I rolled into mile 90, I was feeling disturbingly normal, listening my Ipod, and just running along. It was getting very cold though, so I grabbed some gloves for the upcoming 10 miles and set out with Kara who would pace me the last 10 miles. We talked about Tim, Ricky, and Cynthia Heady; all friends who were all doing great in the race. Kara finally got to experience a touch of the beauty as the stars were in full force guiding us to Sylacauga, Al.

The trail for the remainder of the race was downhill mostly. I couldn't believe it. I kept waiting for a climb! Our biggest problem was cold batteries in our headlamps. They were even lithium which aren't supposed to be as affected by cold, but we were losing visibility fast! The feeling of overwhelming joy and elation consumed me. The last few months of training culminating to this finish gave me strength and energy renewed so the last few miles were manageable. The trail coming into town was off kilter and rooty and rocky, a beast for sore knees but still, we motored on down. With the dwindling light supply in our headlamps, we lucked out once we realized they had just placed glow-sticks on the course to help us find our way through the woods.

At the final Aid Station Stephanie gave us one last cheer, and said she would meet us at the FINISH. I sat down for several minutes at the Aid Station, mile 95, and I remember the strong smell of some kind of warm wine that sounded tasty, alas I had none. I ate one last boiled potato and a ton of chips and hazily stood up with help from the volunteer to crush out the last 5 miles!

Upon entering town, my stomach finally gave out on the side of the road, (twice!), and I lost my cookies in more ways than one, but mentally I was great and I was running uber-fast, because upon looking at my watch I realized that I might be able to beat 20 hours and 45 minutes if I high-tailed it into town. We made our way to the stadium, and funny enough, the only place I got lost on the entire course was right at the finish. Kara and I ran right past our turn, and a police officer enlightened us of our mistake. Fortunately we hadn't gone much out of our way, and now I can say I ran 101 miles instead of the posted 100.59 miles.

We ran into the Sylacauga High School Football Stadium and we were greeted by Stephanie and a few others, but most of the other runners were still on the course so as usual, the most defining description of the finish to an innocent bystander could be "anti-climactic". I waited around to see Tim and Ricky finish, but realized I needed to go get some sleep, so we parted ways with the course with plans to see everyone and party it up the next morning at the awards ceremony. Imagine that, going to sleep before the awards! I was in heaven.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Run like you’re 5 again, and experience injury free running! (Those Funny Toe Shoes)

For this entry, I'm taking a path away from discussing Pinhoti 100 miler training to discuss the benefits of barefoot / Vibram Five Finger running drills. This is actually a piece I wrote for the Quest Outdoors blog page, but is completely relevant nonetheless...

What's the deal with all those people you see walking around in those goofy toe shoes? Are they wearing shoes, are they wearing socks? What gives?

Want to finally run injury free? Read on, this is for you...

Those shoes are called, “fivefingers", and they're manufactured by the Vibram Company. Lately they have taken the running community by storm, partly due to the runaway success of the book Born To Run, by Christopher McDougall.

Fivefingers were designed to simulate being barefoot.

I want you to try the following exercise; Pretend you are about to run. Stick out your right leg as if you're about to make your first stride. What part of your foot hits the ground first? Chances are, your leg is out-stretched straight, and your heel is touching the ground before any other region of the foot. This is typical running form in our country, and it is also what causes most injuries associated with running. This is known as a Heel Strike.

Heel Striking

Running with the longest stride possible is what makes the fastest runners the fastest runners though, Right? NOPE. It's all about economy. Before we get into running economy, let’s do another exercise.

Go ahead and stick out your right leg again, and point your toe upward with your heel touching the ground. Your leg is straight; your knee is not bent. In this Heel Strike position, the straight knee cannot perform the function in which it evolved millions of years to do, which is absorb shock. The shock that the body experiences while running is therefore transferred to the shins, and to the knee.

Let’s look at modern running shoe design.

Shoes are made to absorb shock and provide cushion. About 50 years ago, sport scientists theorized that longer running strides could possibly equal faster runners, and they thought that by providing runners with shoes which had cushioned heels, they could facilitate this longer running stride. Unfortunately they didn't have the foresight to see the resulting injuries that would occur. During this time, we were taught to run with long loping strides, and we abandoned the Mid-Foot Strike.

An easy way to examine the Mid-Foot Strike is by studying a child’s gait while running. Chances are if you are watching a kid run, they are probably running with a mid-foot strike. Coincidentally, kids learn to run barefoot, in the most comfortable, non-jarring method possible. (Keep in mind this is only an anecdotal example however!) Mid-foot striking is characterized by the ball of the foot and the heel landing at the same time. Landing with a mid-foot strike will usually feel like most of your body weight is actually landing closer to ball as opposed to the heel. In landing with a mid-foot strike, the aim is to land with knees slightly bent, with the upper body still, and leaning slightly forward. This allows the quads and the hamstrings to absorb the shock of landing with each stride, and gravity to pull you forward slightly.

A mid-foot strike, slightly leaning forward. Knee Slightly Bent

There is one other major style of running called the forefoot strike. This strike involves landing solely on the ball of the foot and the heel does not touch at all. Sounds great right, non-jarring? No. When you land solely on the ball of your foot, unless you are running for shorter distances like the 100 meter sprint, this puts too great a stress load on Gastrocnemius, (the calves), as well as the Achilles tendon.

So where does all this get us? It means that to run injury free, we need to re-adopt a mid-foot strike. The best way to do this is by doing running drills, such as running barefoot! Running, although on the surface seems to be the most simple of all sports and exercise, could actually be one of the most complicated!

Running in fivefingers allows the wearer to run “barefoot” without the concern of skin integrity compromise. You can begin to examine what proper form should feel like because without the added cushion of shoes. You will naturally run with “soft” feet, and begin to strengthen the 26 bones, 33 joints, and 20 muscles in the human foot. Shoes are NOT evil, and I am still a wearer of “standard” footwear on longer runs, but fivefingers are a necessary tool which enables runners to focus on form, and run injury free.

Quest Outdoors has an organized fivefingers run on every Thursday at 6pm at Tom Sawyer Park. The run is for ALL levels of runners, and usually we go about 30-40 minutes. This is the perfect amount of time for a fivefingers run, as they are great for these barefoot style drills. Swing by the shop, or stop by a run at Tom Sawyer to ask us more about fivefingers and running form.

Fivefingers come in a variety of styles, from the slip on simple no-frills “classic”, to the backcountry hiker, the “KSO Trek” which even has a kangaroo leather upper. There are many others suited for everything from yoga to kayaking too!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pinhoti 100 Trail Run- 10 days out.

So I had planned on trying to get in one last 30 mile run last weekend, but after a great threshold run on Thursday, followed by a leg mutilating day of running around in the ER for 13 hours @ work Friday, I wasn't feeling 100%. I ran an easy 25 miles, which was not easy, due to my fatigue. I ran decent time, but was not impressed.

Saturday night was my surprise birthday party. That's right...30 years old. I had a blast, and drank a couple beers, resulting in not feeling so great on Sunday. I cancelled my Sunday run to recover from the weeks high quality 75 miles and needed it! I ended up running 12 on monday at a blistering slow pace of 2 hours!


Today I just ran a Siltstone half marathon training PR. I equaled my race pace for the return  from last year, at about 70% effort instead of 100%! ( I was still 15 min slower because my out was slower with headlamp) I couldn't believe when I was finishing up and looked at my watch...62 minutes for a Siltstone back...6.7 miles and a couple thousand feet elevation change...I was ecstatic. The training is reaping major growth due to the allowed recovery.

I wasn't even sure if I was going to run this AM and I am happy I did obviously. I woke up at 5, and thought about sleeping, Did I need more recovery?  I wondered. I lay there and did a mental inventory of the legs and felt pretty good. I decided to go for it. I was out the door for another headlamp session. Little did I know I would be setting a training PR on the Siltstone.

Tomorrow holds more headlamp time out at Jefferson, and maybe a few miles speedwork on pea-gravel depending on the legs.

Last week I didn't hit my 100 miles. But the recovery day Sunday did much more for me than running another stupid 25 miles. I am enjoying training more than ever, and plan on riding this vibe a long as I can. Overtraining sucks! This week I'll probably hit 55-65 miles depending how I feel. I should try to force shorter days on the weekend. Definitely nothing longer than 20 miles on Saturday or Sunday's run.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sun, breeze, and a perfect threshold run.

Wow. I just finished one of the most enjoyable runs in months! (...and I have had A LOT of great runs the past few months)

I ran 25 on Monday @ Jefferson Forest, and then headlamped 13mi @Jef again yesterday AM. Today I sort of planned a PM threshold run, but I was leaving it open to fate.

I woke up feeling like crap this AM. Sinus headache... Took care of some job stuff in the AM, and was feeling sort of stressed. About noon I helped my grandmother with some stuff and then I decided since I had the afternoon clear, I would go tackle the rocks and hills on the 14 mile Millennium trail. I was feeling not so jazzed up about the whole plan though. Instead, I stuffed my belly and did just what I needed. I took a huge nap, and was passed for 2 hours!

 I arose from the nap at 3:30, with all of my food digested, and headed to my normal, "close to home",  boring running spot. The sun was out, it was about 60 degrees, and there was a breeze. The leaves were dry and crunchy. I felt perfect.

My warm up was good, so I stretched it out a few extra miles. Then I felt great on my threshold run, and did 9mph for an hour.

I went back to the car to grab my 5 fingers and do a little cool down run with the IPOD. The music and the sun and the breeze were all too refreshing. I decided to hit the trails, and ran another 6 miles in my 5 fingers, and it felt like I could run forever...

When in doubt, Eat, Take a nap, and reassess!

Today was one of those days when I am almost overwhelmed how much I can love the act of trail running... Setting out and putting one foot in front of the other and living completely in the moment.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Training Recap and Mt Rogers Hike

After one week of rest post Ironman, I began training for Pinhoti. It all started pretty simply, training was lower than 136 beats per minute the first week, then 149 beats per minute the second week. By the third week I was back do doing 35 mile training runs and greater than 75 mile weeks. I felt incredible after a few low intensity weeks. Even during my long runs I was redlining on climbs over 160 beats per minute, and doing threshold runs just shy of an hour at 8.5 or 9 miles per hour. This all began on September 6, which as stated, was one week after Ironman. The mileage was manageable, and I felt stronger every week.

Last Friday was October 8, which neared the closing of my 5th week of training for Pinhoti. I had 4 days off from work, and I wasn't sure what to do...Usually if I have 4 days off, I want to mutilate the mileage and crush every day to truly reap the rewards of long days, however I knew it was time to step back and recover from the hard weeks prior. I decided some cross training at a lower intensity would behoove me more than strong training. In lieu of trail running, I decided to go backpacking in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which would provide 9 hour days, but at only approximately 110 beats per minute.

My mileage for the last few weeks were as follows;

Week Begining- Miles Run/ Hours Run Total Hours (including Mountain Biking/RockClimbing)

9/6- 51mi/9h 12h

9/13- 53mi/9h15m 12h30m

9/20- 45mi/9h 12h

9/27- 77mi/14h35m 15h50m

10/4- 65mi/21h 21h

10/11- 25mi/6h 8h RECOVERY WEEK

As of today, The Pinhoti 100 is exactly 3 weeks away.

Physiological Indicators

My weight for Ironman,(end of August), was 153.5. After the long, low intensity runs of early September, my weight is now lower than ever @147-148 pounds, as is my body fat percentage- 5.0%. Percentage of body water has been near all time highs which indicates the weight loss is true fat loss. Generally over the past two years I have been at 65% H20, and this month I have hovered between 67%-68% which is an all time high. Muscle weight has however, remained constant, which is not surprising considering I have quit weight lifting and swimming, and focused on dedicated ultrarunning training for the next six months.

I am not treating Backpacking 10/08-10/11 as recovery. The days were 20 miles over rocky terrain with 3000 foot climbs abounding. Sure it was at low intensity, but the hours were abnormally high so I treated the following week as my body dictated. In the past I probably would have missed this crux opportunity for recovery and overtrained. However, I felt like resting this week and I did. The only goal at this point is to recover and I am. Pinhoti is 21 days away. It is Saturday and I have only run/hiked 6 hours this week, a miniscule 25 miles. On Thursday I did a 5 fingers run, and it felt good. During the 5 fingers run I felt as though I could have done a decent threshold run had I been wearing adequate footwear. It was a good feeling because over the last two weeks I haven't felt fully recovered. I am near certain that with adequate nutrition and even MORE rest today and tomorrow that on Monday I will be near 100% again. Somehow over the summer I would have stressed that I didn't get in a 40 mile run over the weekend, and I would have pushed through the week, pounding out more fruitless miles in place of recovery and getting stronger. Looking back at my weeks though, the past two weeks warrant this recovery and were placed well. The 77 mile week was high intensity, and the 65 mile week was high duration. Just because I wasn't doing the typical training runs, duration must still be revered. On Wednesday this week I opted to not run more than the 10 miles I headlamped in the early AM, yet another smart decision. I went home, slept, and ate well.

Trip Report

So anyways, the point is, last week I decided to do some backpacking instead of trail running. Here is a quick report of that trip.

I have wanted to do the Iron Mountain Trail out of Damascus, VA for quite some time now. It is the original route of the Appalachian Trail, which now runs through the much more scenic Mt Rogers highlands. A loop can be made out of the two trails for a beautiful 65 mile circuit hike.

I left Louisville Friday morning at 9am and was in Damascus, Virginia by 3pm. Damascus is a very special town to all who have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail as it is the first town in Virginia and it is a huge milestone. After asking around at the outfitters about parking locations for the trailhead, I managed to hit the trail by 4:00, which was fine by me, since I thought it would be hard to get out of town considering the huge to sight see and hang out. The Iron Mountain Trail was rocky, sandy and chewed up from horses and motorcycles for the first few miles. I was managing 3 miles per hour which was good for the terrain and the huge climb out of Damascus. Once the trail hit the ridgeline, the gnarly double-track turned to classic Virginia single-track, a little rocky but well maintained, and conducive to 3 mph backpacking pace. Another interesting thing happened once I reached the ridgeline. I saw signage which indicated I had miscalculated the mileage of my three day circuit hike by ten miles. So I huffed it in to my shelter site for the night, and made it just after dark.

The trail for next day was mostly singletrack, along the Iron Mountain ridgeline. Occasionally it would pass into a logging road for several moments, or onto a logging road. Saturday I was supposed to do 26 miles. Half way through my day, I had already reached my third shelter. Shelters are supposed to be a day’s hike apart, but I hadn’t done 12.5 miles. I realized I should find a shortcut trail to get to my Appalachian Trail connector. Fortunately, there was a connector trail which knocked off a few miles. I dropped quickly off the Iron Mountain ridge and was at the base of Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak. The dicey scenario was that it to do this, it meant I would forced to camp atop Mt Rogers on a Saturday night, near Thomas Knob shelter. Thomas Knob could be one of the busiest and most widely used shelters on the AT, and it was a holiday weekend. I might be in for it regarding peace and quiet. The summit near Mt Rogers is mostly this wonderful grassy bald, which is described as the highlands. I figured if the shelter was full I could just cowboy on the summit since the weather was flawless.

Sunday was another perfect day, more grassy balds at nearly 6000’. I expected to have the shelter to myself on Sunday night, but when I arrived after another 20+ mile day, I was greeted by two old hikers. One of which had just come from a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike attempt. Needless to say, we chatted about the PCT for hours.

My hike out Monday was only 10 miles, and I had perfect terrain and trail too. I grabbed a quick breakfast in town and headed back to Louisville. Monday was the perfect entry into my recovery week.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Building Your Tool Chest- There's no magic shoe.

Magic Shoe? -No Way. Pick from an arsenal.

It's time to think of shoes like golf clubs. There is no magic shoe, but there is a right shoe for every situation. Pick from a variety in your closet to have the best possible run, and take your running to the next level.

I got pretty banged up last week when I ran the Millineum Trail. It's a 14 mile loop which is one of the most scenic runs in the area. It IS rocky though. It seems to be rocky enough that when you finish 14 miles, you feel as if you have run twice the distance if you're wearing the wrong footwear. I'm used to rocks, but this trail is FULL of those little ankle biters that you spend the day dancing over, on, and around. Spending a lot of time on this style of trail can take its toll on your joints, but there IS a way to combat these effects. Picking the best shoe for the terrain can help you have a faster run and allow you to recover faster. Some times, even the most efficient of runners need a shoe that offers some lateral and medial torsional support as well as plenty cushioning for the day spent on hard rocks. It's all about economy. By economy, I refer to the energy spent running. Expending the least amount of energy while running equates to faster times, faster recovery, and less energy. Most people only consider gait, (stride), and shoe weight when considering economy, but movement overall and joint fatigue affect economy greatly. Sometimes a shoe which provides cushioning, although heavier can aid running economy by allowing less extraneous body movements on rough and rocky trails.

Running on rocky surfaces is just one example terrain which demands a specialized shoe. The perfect shoe for rocks won't serve you well on perfectly groomed singletrack. You need a tool for every job.

Basically, there are many options out there to pick from for trails;

I'll start by describing the light and fast racing shoes, otherwise known as minimalist shoes. An example would be the New Balance 100's. A trail runner that weighs in at less the 7 ounces. Yeah, Minimal. I've used minimalist shoes in 50 mile ultras before, and on the flip side, there are 14 mile runs that I wouldn't consider using a minimalist shoes. It's all about terrain. Flawless singletrack, often mountain bike trails, and pea-gravel surfaces tend to cater to minimal shoes.

There are crossover shoes, such as the Pearl Izumi Peak XC, that are basically road shoes with nubbier tread. These shoes work well as road and trail shoes. I like to use these when doing a mixed run involving road and trails in our local parks with well groomed trails. They tend to perform poorly on gnarly trail, and especially in muddy conditions. These models often have poor support in regards to lateral and medial flex. They provide cushioning, which isn't really needed as much on nice trails but is needed on roads.

There is also "all around" shoes, which aren't too light and hopefully aren't too heavy either. Some shoes in this category can do it all adequately. These are what most people own as their one pair of trail shoes. Examples of do-it-all shoes are the best selling Brooks Cascadia, The Montrail Mountain Masochist, and the La Sportiva Fireblades, Crosslites, Etc. These shoes not only benefit runners who are tackling rough trail, but also runners who weigh more than the typical runner.

Start off by picking up an extra pair of trail runners that is the opposite of what you have now, although I still recommend going as light as possible in all situations. My all around performer is a Montrail Mountain Masochist which still weighs in less than 12 ounces.

Adapt to the trail, build an arsenal of shoes, and see where your running takes you!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Training Strategy, Weight Loss, and Long Run of the Week

The week started off with a success on Tuesday when I decided to cancel my 50K training run and just do whatever I felt like. It ended up working out beautifully as I knew it would...

I woke up on Tuesday feeling hungover from a rough 13 hours at work the day prior. This was coupled with a strenuous 20 mile-4 hour training run on Saturday, and another 2 hour 15 minute run on Sunday. Tuesday was NOT the ideal day to put myself in the ground on a 30+ mile training run on the steep trails of Jefferson Memorial Forest. I decided to take the morning easy and get some chores done and then I took a nap at 2. I ate a bit more than usual to abate the hunger which was consuming me, and upon waking from my nap, I decided to hit the trails and run. I ended up doing 14 miles, the first 6 of which were just below threshold, for a great run, and I left the day feeling charged for my 30 miler later in the week. Good work...I still managed to get in everything without stressing about anything. The ground work was laid for a 30+ mile day on Friday.

So for the last few weeks I have altered my diet in hopes in dropping a few pounds to hit a good race weight for the Pinhoti 100 on November 6 and 7th. All through September I have been doing mostly long slow miles, and nothing has been above threshold. I have managed to lose about 6 pounds now, and my body fat percentage is at rock bottom from 6.0% last month down to 5.0%-5.2% this month. I have gone from 154 pounds to 148. It has actually been easy to lose weight, even eating 2600 calories per day.

During long slow distance runs, the body burns mostly fat for fuel, so I have not been outrageously hungry like usual. I am still putting in 12 hour training weeks, but the low intensity doesn't cause the same starving sensation that high intensity workouts do, even during 3 hour runs. I have given up cereal at breakfast, and now just eat my bagel, egg and soy sausage sandwich. I have increased the amount of beans and vegetables I eat daily as well, which has been pretty easy by just throwing a bag of italian veggies, (lima beans, carrots, zucchini, peppers, cauliflower, green beans), in the microwave at lunch everyday. I have stopped eating late night snacks before bed and also bumped at fat percentage to 25% daily calories from 20%, which keeps me full for longer.

During these long slow runs, I have been using EFS First Endurance Sports Drink for carbohydrates to help power the run. I guess you could say this models the "Just In Time" inventory method, of acquiring supply on demand, and only when needed.

So I set off yesterday, (Friday), on my longest training run of the last few months, a 30 mile epic at Jefferson Memorial Forest. The night before the training run, I realized my weight was below 149, even after dinner, so I was responsible and decided that fueling more was the wisest option. I scarfed down some brown rice and broccoli, as well as a serving of oatmeal, regardless of the clock reading midnight. I definitely needed that fuel and burned it off quickly during the start of the run.

My new Montrail Mountain Massochists arrived in the mail on Thursday just in time for Friday's epic. Definitely the most substantial shoe I have attempted to run in during the last few years, I usually opt for more minimalist design, but I have heard many positive remarks about the Massochist and I wanted to try them out. The first few miles I was wondering what the * was I thinking, but by the mid-way point at mile 17, I had realized the reviews weren't wrong. I liked them and decided to finish the run in them instead of swapping out at my car during my one resupply point.

I had a great nutrition strategy for the run, and will set the same parameters next time. I used one bottle of sports drink, (1st Endurance), per hour, and also ate a powerbar each hour. I have chosen Powerbar over Clif Bar due to its lower count of fiber making it easily digestable as well as its lower fat content. This equated to 340 calories per hour, which is right on the science in regards to most studies findings that endurance athletes should ingest approx 300-400 calories per hour. I also drank one 16 ounce bottle of water per hour, and would have drank more had I had the opportunity for more than one resupply.

The day started HOT and DRY, sunny and dusty. I began to feel the effects of the heat about mile 17 when I reached my car to resupply. I took a 15 minute break and chugged a liter of cold water and at that point, I felt better. The dizziness subsided. The sun was overtaken by cloud cover at this point in time too, which added to my comfort and recharged me to finish strong for the last 13 miles.

I ate mostly gels the last section during hours 5 to 6, because I ran of out Powerbars. I felt the effects of my lack of adequate caloric consumption too. In the future, I am going to do several more 6+ hour runs with the Sports Drink, Powerbar, and occasional gel each hour and see how that works due to big successes yesterday. My energy levels stayed strong, and would have been through the roof up to last mile had I not ran out of powerbars the last hour.

This week upcoming is a rest week, so nothing over 1.5 hours is planned, and we'll play it by ear to see what happens.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Training Philosophy- Attitude is EVERYTHING. Enjoy it!

(Prologue- In going back and rereading this, I see it rambles a bit and is choppy. I have still decided to post it however, because it defines how I have truly changed the way in which I am training. It describes how someone may need to alter their training and regard it in a new perspective. Tunnel Vision, OH NO!)

Fool me once- Shame on you. Fool me twice- Shame on me. Here is the story of my learning experiences from yet another summer of pushing myself a little too hard. An incredible awakening not to be forgotten this time around.

I was overcome with emotion. I had just finished one of the hardest races of my life. Finishers were streaming in with smiles on their faces after 13 and 14 hours of extreme endurance racing in 100 degree heat. I couldn't believe it. These men and women earned my respect regardless of their times. Finishing time is irrelevant, finishing was everything. The obstacles one overcomes to reach that line are everything. I had finished in 11:30, which was 45 minutes short of my goal. I took it way too seriously. I was disappointed. It was eye opening standing there watching these incredible athletes finish. The most overpowering emotion I felt was relief however that Ironman #2 was complete and I could take some time off.

Last summer, I opted to not run another 100 miler to focus on Ironman. I managed to dig myself into overtraining syndrome in the process. This year I thought it would be different. I decided to keep an amazingly strict training log, and use every bit of detailed training science to fight overtraining. I would treat April through August as Ironman training season primarily, and would detail every HR zone and build up threshold work to prevent overtraining. I still dug myself into a hole after my strongest spring racing season ever. By June I was cooked after my run in the Mohican 50 miler. My training suffered. I tried to cut back hours. I tried everything, but nothing worked. My heart rate was super low on most of my workouts. I treated it all as a job. I wanted to push myself to the edge and balance there.  I pushed right over that edge. Performance started to decline. I cut back hours again and tried to alter my weekly training plan to just maintain. My overall Ironman finish was still in the percentile that my goal was set for, but I could have been stronger had I realized my training was not allowing enough recovery.

Last year after Ironman I felt better than I had felt in six months. This year routine is king, because September is proving to to be the best month of the last six. I can't believe in retrospect how hard I was pushing myself. I wasn't enjoying training. I wasn't enjoying sitting on the couch, or sleeping. Everything was a job to be completed and there no room for enjoyment. I was pushing myself to the frayed ends of endurance. I was strung out and maybe a little depressed from an honest lack of perspective. I wasn't a professional athlete, and I failed to realize this! The conundrum is however, that upon taking it easier, I would actually become strongest and reach my potential. It is almost paradoxical. Be willing to give up complete tunnel vision training and then, and only then, can you reach your potential!

So anyways, there I stood at 10PM watching everyone finish Ironman Louisville 2010. I resolved to never find my my self-worth in racing and training again. These athletes inspired me as I watched them finish. I fully expect that I will actually reach my highest potential as an athlete by doing so. As well, I also can't wait to train now- only for fun and not anything else! This isn't how I make my living, this is how I have my fun, and therefore I can't wait to get back to it! This is a strange realization. I looked back at my training logs, and my best races have sometimes been the ones in which I didn't necessarily care as much about. Maybe that is because I didn't push myself quite as hard in training and I was able to recover and allow training to make me stronger. The one exception to this rule is my 50 miler at LBL this year. The LBL 50 performance was flawless, because I didn't push it too hard in training. I knew the dangers of overtraining and stayed away. It was an A race, but for the most part, I was only putting in 12 hours weekly of trail running. Quality was A+, as opposed to quantity!

I have a huge race in November. The Pinhoti 100 mile trail race. Only 2 months after Ironman this could have been trouble. I know with certainty however that I will be in top form because of attitude and training philosophy. I decided not to push it too hard in September. I learned from my training log, that I adapt quickly, and I needn't even train at all through September to be ready for Pinhoti. This lack of stress has oddly enough, allowed me to feel great and carefree, and I have actually been having the best running month in over half a year. One aspect that can NOT be overlooked is that I countered my overtraining with cutting my hours in August and July, and so the last two months were actually like base training,  but I am still treating September easily. It has been amazing. On days which I don't feel great, I am not running and I am allowing recovery, and then the following day, I am able to do perfect threshold runs. Allowing recovery is mandatory, and I can see the results instantly. For the first week of September I did nothing but take the dog on walks since it was the week after Ironman. The second week of Sept, I decided to tackle some trails. My one stipulation was that for the entire month of Sept, I wasn't allowed to go over threshold on any of my runs. Here is an example of what I am doing differently. Last week, I had 5 days off of work, therefore I planned on running 5 days. I had an incredible run just under threshold @ 9 miles in one hour which I haven't done since Marathon training in April. Wednesday I was going mountain bike riding with my wife which we had been planning for a while. I planned on doing a run after mountain biking since I had the day off. I decided to cancel my run however, because I felt content with the ride. This would not have been the case this summer. I would have pushed through the run, and Thursday's run would DEFINITELY have suffered because of it. Instead, I cancelled the run, and rested after MTB riding. Thursday's run in turn, was another one of my best runs in months. (14 miles on trails in record time). The same held true last week when I planned on running after a day of rock climbing. I cancelled my scheduled run. I took a rest day, and then the following week I had some of the strongest runs of the year!

Doing what you want, Imagine that as being the perfect training! It is surprising to feel the difference. I am getting stronger and I feel incredible. Mileage is increasing and endurance is growing.  Body fat percentage is down, and I am sleeping more soundly than I could have dreamed of. (pun intended!)

This is the philosophy that will carry me through October to Pinhoti as I run 100 miles again. I am shooting for a strong race, but I am going to take each day as day it comes. Resting HR be damned, training plans be damned! I am experiencing the best training ever, and couldn't be happier. DAY BY DAY. Most importantly, training is fun, and life is better overall. I am sure my loved ones appreciate my improved mood as well! I am sure this attitude is actually getting me more trail time in the long run, it truly is a win-win situation and I am grateful for the two seasons of Ironman training which taught me these lessons. I don't plan on racing another Ironman for a while. I am sticking to what I love, TRAILS. I am sure that whenever and if ever I do another Ironman it will be better than ever, thanks to a new training philosophy and attitude.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

PARASYMPATHETIC OVERTRAINING- Why doesn't it get the same attention?

I just deleted a three page blog entry detailing overtraining and the endurance athlete, because it rambled and didn't cut to the chase. Hopefully the following blog entry doesn't skirt around the issue.

Most of the current information regarding overtraining is referring to a form called Sympathetic Overtraining. There is however, another form of overtraining, Parasympathetic. These two forms of overtraining present differently. Endurance athletes most likely have Parasympathetic, and so if they are trying to determine whether or not they are in a state of overtraining most of the information that they are receiving isn't even relevant to their condition, and hence may lead them astray.

Athletes involved in ANAEROBIC  activities should watch for signs of Sympathetic stimulation. The Sympathetic Nervous System controls the "Fight or Flight" response and other stress responses. This means that their morning heart rates may be elevated.

Athletes involved in AEROBIC sport, should be cautious of Parasympathetic stimulation. The Parasympathetic Nervous System controls "Rest and Digest" functions. This means that the athletes morning heart rate may NOT be elevated at all, and they may be still in danger of being overtrained. I mention HR specifically, because this one aspect of overtraining is the indicator mentioned in nearly all easily accessible information regarding overtraining, but for endurance athletes, their morning heart rate would most likely present in the opposite, not elevated!

The meat and potatos here is that if you are feeling stale, overworked, etc. TAKE TIME OFF. The body cannot differentiate between training stressors and work stressors.

Taking a daily mood and motivation inventory is the best tool research has found to determine overtraining. You may even begin to add to your stress level by stressing about NOT training! TAKE TIME OFF.

The following link is the best article i have read on overtraining to date. It is research backed, and fully encompasses all details of overtraining syndrome. For the most part, it is NOT anecdotal, and when it is hypothesizing, the author states so. Check it out!

Train Hard, Recover Well!

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Trails


As defined by the World Health Organization; Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

How many of us whom focus on eating whole grains, reducing refined carbs, cutting out animal fats, etcetera are truly aspiring to be healthy individuals? In the holistic definition, (holistic meaning dealing the whole sum and not just parts of the whole, mind and body), we generally tend to be unhealthy in our disregard for mental health and peace. Be it goals, self-imposed expectations, financial stresses, kids, or time management, we feel that health can be attained solely from nutrition and exercise. I believe firmly that nutrition and exercise is the first step in attaining health, but the ladder ascends still once those first two steps have been taken. We must climb further towards mental health and happiness.

The mind and body are one. They cannot be separated in regards to health. Our lives are partially governed by our hormonal responses to situations that arise in our day to day functioning. When we are stressed, our brain sends messages to our endocrine system and adrenal glands to pump out hormones to better prepare ourselves for the danger we perceive, these hormones cause us to function at our highest levels during the "fight or flight" response. The "flight" could be escaping a charging bear, in which we need exceptional muscle power and strength. The "Fight" could be functioning at our highest level while explaining the need for a budget cut to board members around a conference table. This stress affects our immune system, our blood sugar levels, and our general feeling towards the world around us. That stress may feel great at times, such as during running a 5K when your muscles are well fed and you excel at your sport, or it might feel horrible, like when you begin to "stress out" over financial obligations, time management, and other aspects causing distress in your day to day.

The brain controls many hormonal responses through its hypothalamus and pituitary glands. There two glands are the major "grand central station" for hormonal messages in the body. They send messages throughout the body, to your adrenal glands, to your testes and ovaries, and throughout your endocrine system. They produce release of growth hormone to repair muscle damage, they control release of thyroid hormones, and even affect metabolism, This grand central station even affects how addicted we become to certain objects in our lives by affecting dopamine response through management of prolactin levels, (prolactin actually determines milk production but affects dopamine receptor sites).

The point I am trying to make here, is that the mind and body are connected. The science sounds very complicated, but we know when we are stressed. We know when we are happy and when we are sad. We need to take a step back to adjust reality and look at the stress in our lives. Stress negatively affects our immune system and our enjoyment of the world we live in. Burning the candle a bit too much at both ends can cause depression and physical pain through a decrease in growth hormone response even causing muscle soreness and tiredness. A lack of stress allows for effective blood sugar levels, proper growth and repair of muscle, peace, and happiness. This is achieved by the body producing, "Rest and Digest" hormones through the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

The beauty of trail running and long distance backpacking is that one learns what really matters in life. You get the beautiful opportunity to cut the extraneous crud out from your existence and examine it from afar. On hikes and long trail runs I usually find that the things that mattered most and were stressing me out in the preceeding weeks and months are the things that honestly matter the least. It is very hard to do this while immersed in the thick of it, especially as we endurance athletes are typically goal oriented individuals. I guess one may say that technically, goals in general cause stress! Ha hahaha. I am not saying to stop making goals, but realize when it is time to take a step back from training, work, etcetera and put it all in perspective.

Sometimes abandoning a goal is necessary, and sometimes that point of abandonment one meets and pushes through is the final crux which makes achieving that goal a remarkable accomplishment. What a challenge to know the difference...What a challenge to stay healthy.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Best Run In Months.

Two weeks ago, I spent nine days in Utah for the Outdoor retailers show. I saw a lot of spiffy gear, but spent less time than usual at the show, to spend as much time as possible in the mountains. This was definitely reflected by my accumulation of less swag than ever, as I didn't score any shoes, watches, etc. I basically came home this trip with a water bottle, and that water bottle is one which I paid for via a race entry fee that I was charged double for! The Wasatch Wobble is a 5k race which my Garmin Forerunner clocked in at almost 4 miles...So as I was signing up for the $10 race, I handed in my $20, and was expecting $10 back, and they just smiled and said thanks! Fortunately it went for charity at least, but then they informed me that the race tee's were all gone and if I wanted they could give me a pair of "Darn Tough" socks, (a brand that is pushing hard to be carried in my wifes retail store, whom have sent us many many free pairs!). Ugh. No thanks, I am trying to accumulate as little as possible in my life, and I don't need your socks! The race tee was a rare find however! I had my eyes on it for a few days, as I saw others who had pre-registered wearing them around town. Unfortunately, due to a communications error between my wife and I, my registration didn't occur 'til they were out, and I missed out on a one and million find of a cool race shirt. Anyways, it was a goofy training race anyways consisting of burnt lungs and dry air.

I got in 20+ hours of training while in Utah, and I slept at 7500'-10,000' each night which should prove beneficial for Ironman in 14 days as red blood cell life is from 90-120 days. I didn't get in any mountain biking as the trail running was too great, literally some of the best trails I've ever seen, especially by Lake Desolation.

An interesting conversation this week with Ricky George about muscle physiology as he noticed an inability to reach the highest heart rates while doing 3-4 minute climbing repeats versus 1000 meter repeats... Wondering if the watts required to run uphill, are overshadowed on flat land by the recruitment of the larger hamstrings and glutes, and that the highest HR would be possible on flat ground even though less watts would be produced? Or would more watts actually be produced on flat ground and the high higher heart rate as well because once again of the recruitment of the hamstrings and glutes on flat ground versus the quads and calves on climbs??? Interesting research opportunities. Taking this to heart, one may be able to train more effectively with heart rate on flats and climbs, for example-the same way in which I know that my threshold on the bike is lower than the run, and I train according while setting heart rate parameters for each workout, i could dive deeper and set parameters differentiating between hills and flat workouts? It'll be interesting to look further into this.

Three days ago was my best run in months. After spending the time at altitude in Utah, and spending the last month tip-toeing the tight-rope of balancing not falling into overtraining, I am finally feeling good again. I did a 3.5 hour ride in 100 degree temps, in which I felt OK, but on the run, I was able to still run a 3 hour marathon pace regardless of the 100 degree temps...Very promising for Ironman in 14 days. It was exciting as my favorite workouts of the year are my 1-1.5 hour runs at threshold and I couldn't do any of them the last 2 months because I my flirting with overtraining! Fortunately, the balancing act worked and for the first time in a while, I think I am going to be at a good fitness level for Ironman  after potentially peaking a month early. I think I played my cards right and I can jump back on the peak week without a second to spare. It was just rewarding to see my heart rate finally at 160 for an entire run, and also in the 140's and 150's during my ride. Last year for Ironman my average HR was 142, and for comparisons sake, during the Mohican 50 miler this year in June, my average HR was at 155. I am hoping this year for Ironman I can maintain a HR on the bike closer to 150 and can hold that through the run, I am after all, a runner. Usually less than 1% of ironmen, including the pros can run a sub-3:30 marathon so we'll hope for the best this week! bring on the second peak week workout tomorrow!


Friday, July 30, 2010

An Intro To Stripping

Huh? Stripping?


Stripping our lives of the unnecessary. I don't do stress. I like simplicity. I like sustainability. In 2005 I hiked the Appalachian Trail, backpacking through the mountains of the Eastern United States for seven months. In the process I met my wife. Extreme? Maybe a little...But no one can live in the woods and mountains forever. I have tried transferring that beauty and simplicity into my every day life.

The core of all simplicity is the human body, and studying the way in which it functions is what I have dedicated my life to. I see the body as our only true possession. Everything can be lost in this life, except the body. Eating healthfully, generally transfers naturally to eating sustainably.

I used to think that eating right, didn't necessarily mean eating organic, living "green", etc. Through clinical research however, my thoughts have changed. In line with sustainable, low impact living, I firmly believe through the proof of clinical research, healthy eating involves eating minimally processed foods.

I am a goal setter. I like to challenge myself. I like to see how far the human body can go. I am not a natually gifted athlete, but through research, hard work, and dedication to goal setting and mission objectives, I have pushed myself farther than I would have thought possible in the endurance athletics arena. I am an Ironman finisher. I have run over 15 ultramarathons- ranging in distances from 50 to 100 miles. Anyone can do these feats. It is not superhuman! One must eat well, and train right.

I hope to share with you my insights into the human body, and help educate myself in the process. This blog is for you and me, that together, we can reach healthier and more sustainable lives, stripped to the core of simplicity and health.