May 23, 2016

Trail Work Somewhere on the PCT

Hiking Up to PCT from Fobes Ranch

"You mean you didn't volunteer just because you wanted to?"

I had a feeling this question would find its way into a conversation last weekend. And sure enough it did, when some of the other volunteers learned that I was doing trail work as part of a requirement to run a certain ultra marathon.

Doug Cutting Fallen Tree

Of course I've been meaning to do trail work on my own time, for my own reasons, not just to satisfy another ultra race application. But I haven't, so there I was, yet again, doing trail work, to "check the box." (seeking redemption now).

I shouldn't feel bad, I guess, because, well, um, I was out there, right? I look at it as a fringe benefit of our sport to those who use trails. We are here to give back, and its part of our sport's culture. But how many of us give back without being asked to? (redemption fleeting now...).

Trail Captain Don in full PCT Recline

It was a great time regardless of intentions. A group of 11 of us met at the Paradise Valley Cafe and drove out to Fobes Ranch. Once occupied by the famous Timothy Leary, the ranch sits inconspicuously in far away canyon in a place known as the San Jacinto Wilderness. We hiked several miles up to a closed section of the PCT where we went to work cutting fallen trees, picking rocks and pummeling rogue weeds. At 6'500 feet, we had stupendous views of the Coachella Valley while we worked.

Selfie to remind myself it's good to give back

I've run on the PCT so many times. It was nice to give something back to it, even if it was just a little bit. And as Bob, my fellow volunteer said, I'm always welcome to give more.

Keep it real runners.

Hiking Out on Public Trail

May 15, 2016

Harding - Joplin - Santiago Loop

Today’s run came to me after waking up and drinking my first cup of coffee. It’s been like this for me this year. I don’t know why. Planning training runs – something I used to obsess over – is like so not interesting for me now. Hell, do I need to plan what kind of sandwich I’m going to eat next week? Or what song I’m going to listen to on my way to work tomorrow? I don’t know, I’m beginning to think planning is a disease of an OCD economy. Is it crushing our inner-bohemian-hunter-gatherer instincts?

Ok, I just watched a two-hour interview with Noam Chomsky so I’m a little stirred up. Lets move on to the run. It started as an out and back. From the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary up Harding truck trail to the top of Modjeska Peak and back. No big deal, something in the range of 23 miles or so, with a healthy climb of about 4,000 feet.

But then I started to think. How boring is that? Run back on the same trail I ran up? Again, it’s been that way for me this year. I’ve started out on a run with a clear idea of where I’m going. Then my inner-gatherer kicks in. A loop is always preferred over and out and back. And an A to B is always preferred over a loop. But A to B’s entail logistics (which can be hard in areas with no cell reception).

So that was the decision. Mid-Harding. Make it a loop. Up Harding, across Main Divide, down Joplin and Santiago truck trail, then back down Modjeska Grade road to Tucker Wildlife location where my Jeep was waiting.

Plan or no plan. Time on foot. It’s all that matters.

May 14, 2016

New Balance 860 - A Review

The Boston Marathon.  Starting line. Sacrifice made. Promise kept. A runner’s dream. No excuses now. No quitting now. Adrenaline. Endorphin. Emotion. Then elation. It can’t be explained. Don’t try. You’re there. So run. Simply. Run.

If I were to qualify for and run in the Boston Marathon again, I would do so using the New Balance 860. Why? It’s one of my favorite road shoes. It passes the taco test. It gives me room and keeps me on my game. Best of all, it goes the distance.

I’ve run in a lot of shoes. Hundreds at least. Lots of brands. Most end up in a Goodwill donation heap after a couple of runs. The best looking ones are usually the worst. Such is life. But then there are the few.

Like the New Balance 860. Like all the shoes I’ve owned and kept around for second, third and even fourth purchases, it passes the taco test and keeps my planter fasciitis from flaring up.  It does this with a T-beam plastic shank in the midsole, which helps give the shoe excellent stability.

Another positive feature of the 860 for me which may indeed be a negative for others is the wide forefoot. I can’t stand shoes with a narrow toe-box because – you guessed it – I have a wide forefoot. Running in shoes with a narrow forefoot and tight toe box not only makes my feet feel like they are being suffocated, it creates breeding ground for developing a neuroma.

As one who has rolled his ankle umpteen times, including during a 100 mile race, the stability of a shoe is critical. It’s like the foundation of a house. If the foundation is weak, it doesn’t really matter what you build on top. Eventually your gonna get screwed.

The 860 has three separate types of foam with varying densities to maximize stability while maintaining a comfortable ride. The shoe also hosts a free moving strap that supplements the lacing system from the base of the shoe at the mid foot. It all adds up to a steady-eddie feel that keeps the ankle rolling visions and episodes at bay.

It’s always a little disappointing when you purchase a shoe as a distance runner and the shoe itself can’t go the distance. You know what I mean. Like when you wear a shoe for a couple of runs and the sole starts to dislodge from the base.  Or the tread pulls a disappearing act after the second or third long run. Not the case with the 860s. I’ve run with the shoe for many months and it has held up quite well. This is my experience with shoes from New Balance in general which I think is an all around solid company.

So, for my seriously finicky feet, the 860 is a keeper that isn’t headed to the donation heap anytime soon. The version I've run in is version 5. Version 6 is now available with some enhancements. Who knows, if New Balance comes out with a trail version of the 860, it could become my sole companion.

PS -
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Will C

April 9, 2016

Fear as a Motivator

The world fears a new experience more than it fears anything. Because a new experience displaces so many old experiences. And it is like trying to use muscles that have perhaps never been used, or that have been going stiff for ages. It hurts horribly.

D.H. Lawrence

Indeed, fear is a great motivator. It will always elicit a strong response in us, more so than, say, happiness, or jealousy, or pride. Maybe that is why, when it comes to motivation, training for and finishing something we’ve never done before seems to trump improving on something we’ve already done before.

Maybe it’s time to get scared again.

Keep it real runners. 

March 20, 2016

Idiocy Becomes Me

In trail running there are moments of grandeur and then there are, well, moments of idiocy. I feel one must keep these in balance to call themselves a real trail runner.

I’ve decided I’m not going to bore you with “grandeur” in this post. There is only so much one can take of this stuff. Then it turns cliché. You know…the running all day under the hot sun while battling pain, fatigue, dehydration, chafed nipples and whatever other peril crashes down on me. So awesome, right? No one cares.

Idiocy is more interesting. Most recently I was hiking up a long hill in thick grass. My head phones were on and I was listening to Loop Guru radio on Pandora. I don’t know, maybe it was the Far East rhythms that lulled me into this foolish act. I must have been in a deep yogi moment because I looked down as my foot was descending upon a coiled rattlesnake.

It was very surreal because I couldn’t hear anything other than the sound of sitar’s and a deep harmonic rhythm so when I finally realized what was happening I kind of just stepped back and watched the snake’s tongue flicker and its body slither.

Why I was hiking in grass with head phones on in the middle of the day after seeing a snake the day before confirming snake season had begun I’m not quite sure.

It’s best to keep these things in balance, right?


March 6, 2016

Interview with Tom Schwartz - Coach of HS Phenom Drew Hunter

Drew Hunter (left) and Coach Tom Schwartz

What do you get when you mix a young runner that has unusual talent with a patient coach that understands the need for hard work and recovery? Answer: break-through performances and national records.

Young and extremely talented, Drew Hunter seems to be breaking down barriers at every turn. Prior to breaking the high school indoor mile record in 3:58:25, Hunter won the high school cross country championship in run away form in December. Then he shattered high school record for 3,000 meters by running 7:59:33, becoming the first high school runner ever to run under eight minutes. He returned to the indoor track in February to set a new record in the mile running 3:57:81.

Will he continue to perform at this astonishing level when he enters the University of Oregon in the fall? Or will he be beset by injury and burnout like other promising runners before him. If Tom Schwartz has anything to say about it, the former will hold true. That is because Schwartz, Hunter’s coach, has a training philosophy that is unconventional, and deviates from the typical “no pain, no gain” or high mileage approach so many coaches subscribe to.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Tom Schwartz, otherwise known as the Tinman, about his unique training techniques, including the methods he has used to develop Drew Hunter, one of the best high school runners of all time.

Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I grew up in a small town and rural community 100 miles West of Chicago. However, I spend a lot of time in Wisconsin at my extended family’s dairy farms too.

I attended Forreston High School in IL. I attended one year at Southern IL University – Carbondale, where I ran unattached under Coach Bill Cornell, a 4 flat miler and NCAA Division I 880 yard champion in the early 1960s. I spent a lot of time in Coach Cornell’s office asking him to share his story about running with me, which was inspiring. I also asked a lot of questions about his training in the early 1960s, for I believed and still do that running 4-flat in the mile on cinders (a slower track by probably 2-3 seconds vs today’s tracks) was very impressive.

Coach Cornell taught me a lot about his philosophy of training. Essentially, he believed most runners in America run too many miles per week. He said often to me (and the team) that he reached national caliber level on 70 quality miles per week. His one distance run per week was a hard, hilly 10 miler on Sunday mornings. A couple of times he said to me that he could have run faster times had he changed his health habits.

Coach Cornell believed that weight room training was important for a miler, but not all the “garbage” that most athletes do. In his opinion, Dumbbell arm swings that mimic arm action of running and Step-ups with dumbbell weights in each hand were what him go from 4:06 to 4-flat in the mile. Also, he said two other factors made a runner faster: (1) being light weight – not carrying extra body fat, and (2) hard hill running during the Sunday morning 10 miler. For 30 years, now, I’ve continued value Coach Cornell’s words and opinions.

After my freshman year at SIU-Carbondale, I transferred to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and stayed there from my sophomore through 2nd year of graduate school.

Following my Bachelor’s studies in Exercise Science, I continued at UWL in Exercise Science, was a graduate assistant, working in the Human Performance Lab and also teaching some courses. I was fortunate to outstanding mentorship at UWL, including Dr. Phil Esten, or cross-country coach, Dr. William Floyd, our exercise physiology expert, and other professors who were also welcoming of students who had questions. At UWL, I was a volunteer assistant cross-country and track & field coach, which was a valuable learning experience.

At UWL, I learned a lot from Dr. Phil Esten, who I considered a second-father due to his fine example of caring about runners and students and mentoring me.  His philosophy about the importance of running as a lifetime activity to the athletes he coached was a key factor in my continued love for the sport.

Phil used a conservative training approach; instead of hammering us with high mileage and brutal workouts, he assigned training loads that were doable. He believed that his job was to instill a love for the sport that kept us running for many years following college graduation, rather than throw our running shoes in the closet, gain weight, and never run a step again. He taught us that running lessons transferred to life and personal relationships too. Like most runners under Phil’s care, I wish that I could go back again, for it was great time in my life!

Recently, I started doctoral studies through Concordia University – Chicago in Health & Human Performance (a.k.a. Exercise Science). To complete a PhD, the program generally takes 4-5 years to finish: 3-years of heavy-duty academic course work and 1-2 years of research, plus dissertation writing and oral defense. As one might guess, I enjoy learning.

Can you tell me a little about your own experiences as a runner. Did you run competitively? What were your greatest accomplishments? 

I started running in middle school and was greatly inspired by our coach who was a really good runner in the early 1960s. He was a great role model. I ran cross-country and track in high school and college. I ran a lot of road races too, and continued to do so for 15 years after college.

By the way, I was a far better all-around athlete than runner. I excelled in baseball and basketball, and to this day I am confident that I would have been a very solid college baseball player (pitcher). I was a decent runner but not stellar. I struggled with lots of lower leg problems, starting at about age 16. I did not understand at the time why my legs ached and swelled so badly, and that problem greatly limited the amount of training mileage that I could run. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that an orthopedist diagnosed my leg issues as compartment syndrome. He said my condition was really bad!

An operation on both calves released fluid, but I had a lot of nerve damage already that persist for years. I’ve never recovered, to be frank, and my legs still ache badly every day. My training limit was about 35 miles per week in college and afterward. I know that was a big limiter in my running fitness. But, the lesson I learned about preventing injuries and doing a good job of scheduling training that is doable vs brutal has become a theme in my coaching.

As a runner, my times for various distances were moderate. In high school, I ran 4:32 (1600) and 2:01. In the summer after my senior year, I ran in a couple TAC meets and ran 4:26 and 1:59. In a road race the following year, I ran 4:23 for the mile. That was my fastest mile, as my leg problems became intense and my ability to train became more and more limited. In college, I was injured so often that my training logs seemed to be more time empty than full.

In my late 20s, I ran 35 miles per week and did water running and circuit training in the weight room. I ran in the low 15s for 5km and ran 4:01 in an open 1500m in the absence of speed work. Those were my best times. Yes, not super times, but it was what it was, given the limited training volume that I did. In retrospect, I estimate that I needed to run ~80 miles per week to reach top fitness.

How did you get started with coaching distance runners?

I started as a senior in college. I needed two credits extra to graduate, so I signed up for an independent course with my college cross-country coach, Dr. Phil Esten. I coached the steeplechasers during the outdoor season and wrote papers describing my methods, physiology, outcomes, and reflections. My steeplechasers performed well at the conference meet (1st, 3rd, and 8th place) and I was hooked. The next year, as a graduate student, I coached too, and that was the momentum I needed for the next 26 years. I coached a couple of years at Concordia University in River Forest IL and my athletes broke 13 school records (sprints, hurdles, triple jump, and distance events).

I’ve been coaching open runners since the 1990s, and I have written dozens of training schedules for high school, college, and national coaches from the USA and overseas. Most of the coaches never let their athletes or parents know that they aren’t writing the schedules, nor advising on race tactics, etc. A small number of coaches let the public know that I’m the one in the background consulting/coaching. Credit therefore goes to the Hunters of Purcelville, VA who tell the public that I coach their son and have been involved in developing Drew for a lengthy time-period. I adore the Hunters. They are like extended family to me.

How many runners do you coach at any given time? How do you interact with all of these people?

Typically I coach 20-25 runners at time, and for another 5-10 people I write their personalized training plans: they manage the details on their own. At present, I’m considering quitting my teaching job and making coaching my full-time job. If that happens, I’ll expand the numbers substantially. It’s a risky proposition for me to try coaching full time because I won’t have a pension if I give up teaching. And, I have a lot of medical bills and student loans to pay off right now, which is quite stressful on my family.

Many masters runners have credited you with renewing their running careers by reducing injury, minimizing fatigue and avoiding sickness. Can you explain your methods?

Yes, Andrew Duncan, Kevin Miller, Joan Hunter, and Tore Axelsson, to name a few, have credited me with reviving their running to a high level. Andrew and Kevin were not, in their own words, fast runners, in their prime, but became multiple national champions at the master’s level under my coaching. Tore did break 30 minutes, barely, in the early 1970s, but he had been struggling for years to compete a good level. I started coaching him at about age 52. By time he was 54 he set several Swedish national records on the track, won championship events, won European titles, and won two world titles in Brazil. For Joan, she reached 2nd place in the USATF Masters Indoor Championships in the 800m, right behind a gal who was a fast 800m runner and Olympian back in the day, as I recall. 

My methods? Hmm, how about unconventional. I don’t use linear periodization (think Lydiard or Daniel’s phasic methods). I don’t use high mileage. I don’t use really high intensity. I use very little goal-pace training. I focus on Stamina, which I define at use of Type IIa (fast intermediate) muscle fiber development, primarily. Most coaches target high mileage (for Type I, slow twitch) or fast reps/intervals for turning fast fibers in anaerobic/power bursts. I think such an approach, though produces quick results in the short-term, has limitations over the long-term. I always use multiple paces in my training schedule designs. I always use Stamina workouts for each training cycle too. I define stamina training as 75-90% of V.O2 max, by the way.

Do you have a preferred diet for runners? Can you explain?

My advice for runners is to eat healthy foods, including protein often but not loads of it at one time, veggies, fruits, nutritious health liquids (diluted vegetable and fruit juices especially). Be sure you are well hydrated before workouts. Replenish fuels and fluids as soon as possible after workouts. Pay attention to carbohydrate consumption: way too many runners have “bad” workouts because they are skimping on carbs / calories. I think this is very important!

You’ve been identified with the concept of critical velocity training. Can you explain what that is and how you have used it with your athletes?

Critical Velocity (CV) training, as I define it, is training at or close to 90% of V.O2 max (about the pace that a runner can typically sustain for roughly half an hour in a race). I assign intervals, such as 1,000m reps, at CV pace. I use math formulas that I created many years ago to derive the ideal CV pace. For the runners I coach, I prescribe CV workouts at least every other week, nearly year-round. Once in the main racing season arrives, CV workouts are assigned weekly. Example workout: 4-8 x 1km @ CV pace + striders, hills, or short intervals at faster than race-pace.

By the way, you can find the CV pace for your race performance level by going to my website ( Simply click on the Running Calculator tab.  Then, select a race distance (preferably from 3km to 10km) from the drop-down menu and input your time. Next, click on the Training Paces tab and voila, your paces arrive. My email:

What tips do you have for those of us competing in ultra marathons?

I coached at one of the best ultra-marathoners in the world, Mark Werner, a professor of statistics. He used to live in Boulder, then a suburb of Detroit, and now he teaches at the University of Cairo. Mark won some big races! Won the prestigious Mount Fuji half marathon race. Was the top runner United States ultra marathon team that competed in Italy.

The #1 suggestion is make your long runs count. Run one or two big workouts per week and everything else should be jogging and not that far. Build up to 3 to 5 hour runs every weekend, and inside of those runs have lots of stamina pace training, from marathon pace to CV pace. 

Simulate the terrain over which you will run in a race. If it's going to be a hilly ultra, train on lots of hills. If you are going to run a race on pavement, you better get used to running on pavement.

Focus on practicing the art of consuming fluid and fuel. Hydrate every 20 minutes, but not so much that you dilute electrolytes in your blood, which leads to hyponatremia. Fuel every 30 minutes, if you can, but not so much that you mess up your gut. Very important!

Thank you Coach Schwartz!

February 26, 2016

"Twas Always Thus"

OK, let's get this out on the table. This is a running blog. And many of you, I'm sure, are wondering how some of the material that shows up here is even remotely related to running. It's a fair question. So I ask you to use your imagination. Follow along with me this time, if only for a little bit.

Do you think for yourself? Or are your thoughts merely a reflection of being in life's trenches. How much of what you believe is what you have been led to believe?  

One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Dead Poet's Society. In this scene Mr. Keating, played by the late Robin Williams (Oh Captain my Captain!), is talking with a fellow teacher. The two men are essentially debating the merits of happiness and freedom. Keating's colleague states happiness can only include the mundane, not the ethereal. "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams, and I'll show you a happy man."

Keating shot back:

"Only in their dreams can man be truly free. Twas always thus, and alway thus will be."

Keep your hearts fettered my friends, and, as Mick Jones once said, stay free. 

February 15, 2016

What's Your Age Again?

Today I stumbled upon this quote:

“Today is the oldest you've ever been, and the youngest you'll ever be again.”

Think you’re getting old? Or are you just forgetting about how young you really are? One word on this. Run. Toe the line and go the distance. Age melts away under the heat of the clock.

Keep moving old and young people. Equalize.

January 31, 2016

Bandit 50k - Time to Play Again

They were only halfway through their pasta when I asked them. I knew the answer before I asked, but I needed to hear it said out loud.

“So, what do you girls like better, playing in a game or practicing?” Their response was unrehearsed, harmonic, and matter-of-fact. “Playing the game, of course! We hate water polo practice. It’s boring. Games are more fun, by far.” My daughters stood up and walked into the kitchen. I just sat there staring at the empty bowl in front of me. I realized, it was time for me to play again.

The last time I ran an official ultra was 14 months ago. The last time I ran in a 50k was over five years ago. I forgot how painful 31 miles can be. I got a refresher this weekend at the Bandit 50k.

Described as “one of the toughest trail runs around,” the Bandit 50k takes place in the Santa Susana Mountains east of the Angeles National Forest. The course is challenging but runnable, boasting 6’500 feet of ascent with a good mixture of smooth and technical single track mixed in with fire road.

I’m not sure what is better, signing up for a race months in advance or showing up at the race directors home to sign up the night before. I think I like the later because any race director that invites runners into their home has this sport figured out in my book. I knew it was going to be a good race when I showed up at Randy and Sarita Shoemaker’s home after 7 pm and they happily gave me my race packet. They even recommended I eat at Hook Burger, which turned out to be a great choice for a pre-race dinner.

Oh yea, the race. It was a fun day! One of my most memorable moments was high fiving 16 year old Felix Lawson near the turn around close to mile 15. As I reached out I saw him slowly remove his water bottle from his hand so he could give me a proper high five. We exchanged a couple of “good jobs.” He went on the win the race. Yes, at all of 16.

As I approached the turn around, I counted the runners in front of me, then made the turn and caught a glimpse of those behind me. I’ve learned not to dwell on other runners when running these races, but it keeps it interesting to watch as things play out. Anything can happen, and it usually does. By this time I was running in 5th place overall. The runners in front of me looked strong, I tried not to think about the runners behind me.

As the first 20 miles ticked away, I felt amazing, and started to muse that I’d found some secret form of training. Then reality set in. My lower back, left IT band, and both feet (Hoka-less) started screaming like spoiled brats to slow down. I came upon my friend and former running coach John Loeschhorn who was running the 30k. At 71, John was running strong as usual passing runners half his age.

The Bandit Ultra races include 50k, 30k and even 15k distances. Despite a staggered start time, runners merge on trail after mile 20. It was several miles after when I gazed upon the top of the long climb in front of me and noticed one runner in the distance who looked familiar. Could it be the one I saw at the turn around? I put my head down and climbed.

When I reached the aid station at the top of the climb, I noticed the runner sitting down. Knowing most of the remaining miles were downhill, I told the spoiled brats to shut up and deal with it. They didn’t, so I tried my best not to listen to them. By the time I reached the finish line, my body felt like it was slowly disintegrating. But I kept it together long enough to finish in 5:07 for 4th place overall and first in my age group.

I guess I found my playground again.

If you have never run the Bandit Ultra Trail Runs, I recommend you give them a whirl. You won’t forget the misty clouds that float over the Santa Susana Mountains near the top of Rocky Peak. The race, which started in 2009, has that old-school ultra charm and is supported by a group of over 100 die-hard and enthusiastic volunteers. It must be why sixty-five percent of Bandit runners are “repeat” and come back to run the course again.