December 14, 2008

Saltwater 5000 - Five Years

On December 13, 2008, seven of us touched the Pacific Ocean then turned around to run to the top of Saddleback Mountain. The fifth annual Saltwater 5000 returned to the original 32 mile course via Modjeska Grade and the favored Joplin trail. The run was held under darkened gray skies that offered not a mere glimpse of the sun.

Saltwater Enters Hollywood

To use a Hollywood analogy, this year's Saltwater could be dubbed a cross between the Andy Griffith Show and the Great Race. I've never been a huge fan of law enforcement, but there's always been a little place in my heart for Barney Fife who couldn't bring himself to stop a crime, let alone arrest someone. This year we were "caught" trespassing in the former mobile-home park, now a construction site, on PCH. A pick up truck rushed up the road to stop us as we were about to enter El Moro park. Yet out of the truck came a Fife-like little man. "You are breaking the law, get over here right now!" he clamored. We explained to him we were just going for a run. After he told us he was a project manager with utterly no law enforcement authority, we simply turned around in front of him, crossed the fence and were on our way.

Yet this run-in with Fife-law took its toll and, ultimately, claimed an early victim in this year's Saltwater. As we ran up El Moro canyon, everyone was feeling a little jacked-up, and I noticed the pace was quicker than usual. Leading the pack most of the way was the returning, original Saltwater runner Bino. In full winter gear amidst a balmy 55 degree morning, the Bean deftly shed a piece of garb at every turn, ultimately carrying more clothing up the hill than a Yukon bag lady. We continued in good form down through the beautiful Marie Calendar trail, under the toll road and made our way to the first aid station at Bake. Call it nerves, pressure, or the just the sheer weight of a breakfast burrito, it became vividly apparent this would not be Bino's day. To my right I only saw remnants of Beano's formal exit from this years Saltwater. Others weren't so fortunate and watched real time. Now six, we collected ourselves and pressed on.

We were not more than a mere 1/2 mile down the road when we had another a Fife-like experience. "Use the cross walk" came the words over a megaphone. As Damron and I were j-running across Bake we glanced over to see an Irvine Police squad car surveying our every step.

We continued up through Sorrano Creek trail to the skate park, our next major aid station. This was a welcome site, with all the support crew on hand. But the sky was growing restless and the temperature was starting to fall. We decided to keep on the move to stay warm and somehow avoid the looming rain. It was at this point that I realized I was bearing witness to Saltwater's very own Great Race. Just like the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dual that pitted the "good" guy against the sly opponent in a race across America, there was a dual to the top of the mountain between our two most senior runners Jerry and Jeff.

The Great Race

Jerry and Jeff usually face off on the favored Joplin Trail, which bring all of us literally to our knees at least every year. In the past few years, Jerry has maintained the upper hand. But this year would see a change of fortune, with an interesting tactic. Breaking a sacred Saltwater tradition of waiting for the other runners at various checkpoints, Padilla made it clear he was not going to wait around for anyone in the cold weather. So as the pack rolled into the aid station at Modjeska, Jeff took off 8 minutes ahead of everyone else.

The rest of us then embarked up this laborious climb, and we started to split up pretty quickly. Thankfully Kevin met us on his bike at the trial head to escort the group up to Old Camp. At this point I kept looking for Padilla, expecting to see him up ahead at every turn, but to no avail. I finally put my head down and took off, determined to catch him before old camp. It wasn't until a mile from Old Camp until I finally caught him. Rob was there with me in tow. When we reached the campground Rob and I decided, by tradition, to wait for the last runner to come in before we embarked up Joplin. Jeff, on the other hand, continued on, not wanting to give up any time (or warmth) in front on this steep and punishing climb. Thirty-five minutes later all the runners had arrived and we began the march up Joplin. Within a few hundred yards I overhead Ramsey ranking Joplin as a negative 8 on the suck list. Shortly after that I tripped as I trod on this trail of stones. Yes, it was good to be back on Joplin.

In all six runners reached the top in the fifth running of Saltwater 5000. Included in the six were four five-time runners (myself, Rob, Jeff and Jerry), one two-time runner (Jeff D) and a first-time runner (Bill R). Supporting us was a host of gracious people, including Al, Rob, Cindy, Trina, Kevin, Marshall and Dawn. Thanks guys and gals for your support, we couldn't do this thing without you!.

Video Blog to follow.

Keep it real!

December 12, 2008

Running - A Flavor of Life

I am writing this post with no agenda, no script, no rant. Yet I feel obliged today to say a few words about running, and why it is more than mere exercise. I'm prompted here because I've been working on a video blog that I am planning on posting very soon. I'd like to capture something in this video that reveals running for what it really is, a flavor of life that I've yet to find anywhere else.

Stay tuned.

November 28, 2008

A Mountain Sunset

Big Bear Lake taken after a run along the Pacific Crest Trail to the top of Bertha Peak at 8'200 ft.

November 25, 2008

Traumeel - A Natural Anti Inflammatory

Have you ever experienced drowsiness, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, or heartburn? If you are an ultra runner, you’re likely to answer yes, because many of these are common symptoms experienced during ultra events. They’re also the most common side effects of Advil and Motrin, known generically as ibuprofen.

Ironically many endurance athletes turn to ibuprofen during long training runs and races. Which begs the question: why would someone take a medication that is known to have the very same side effects as the symptoms you are trying to avoid?

Worse yet, Ibuprofen is known to play havoc on your kidneys. It does this by messing with the production of a certain hormone called prostaglandin. Of all hormones, prostaglandin should qualify as a runner’s best friend, because it keeps the blood flowing through the kidneys. And when the blood flows through the kidneys, endurance athletes are more likely to avoid hyponatremia.

An all-natural alternative

A few years ago a wise massage therapist told me about a product called Traumeel. She described it as a natural, homeopathic, anti-inflammatory product without the side effects of ibuprofen. At the time all I knew about homeopathy was that it was a form of alternative medicine. Despite conjuring up images of tarot cards and witch doctors, I was intrigued.

I googled "Traumeel" and what I found was encouraging. The first thing I saw was a definition by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), an affiliate of the National Institute of Health (NIH). NCI described Traumeel as.…"diluted extracts isolated from plants and minerals, including belladonna, arnica, St. Johns wort, and Echinacea. …Traumeel S exhibits anti-inflammatory activity; the mechanism of action has not been fully elucidated”. Not fully elucidated? My interpretation of this is that the stuff works, but they don’t really know how it works. I needed to know more.

Then I found something that really got my attention. It was a clinical trial published by the US National Library of Medicine and other science organizations. In a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind clinical trial, researchers assessed the effectiveness of Traumeel S in the management of chemotherapy induced stomatitis in children undergoing bone marrow transplantation. Stomatitis causes hideously painful sores that form in the mouth and are a side affect of certain chemotherapy treatments. The study concluded that Traumeel may reduce significantly the severity and duration of this chemotherapy-induced stomatitis. Now that, I thought, was impressive.

In a nutshell, Traumeel is said to slow down the body’s inflammatory process. Data published by the manufacturer reports that “in studies of whole blood cultures, certain plant ingredients of Traumeel S have been found to elevate levels of TGF-ß, an anti-inflammatory cytokine. Unlike ibuprofen, Traumeel has no known side effects. Also unlike ibuprofen, which is taken orally and can cause abdominal pain and nausea, Traumeel tablets are taken sublingually (under the tongue) and enter the blood stream directly by avoiding the GI track altogether. Hmmm…one less thing to upset my stomach during an ultra?

Traumeel comes in various forms including tablets and liquid for internal use. It can also be applied directly on the skin over an injured muscle or joint using the gel and cream applications. I used the gel religiously earlier this year after suffering from a knee injury sustained while snow skiing. It helped speed recovery and reduced the chronic swelling associated with the injury. I’ve also used Traumeel tablets and found them to be an effective anti-inflammatory during bouts of heavy training when I’m really pushing my miles.

So whether you are recovering from overuse injury, combating chronic pain and inflammation due to heavy training, Traumeel can be an effective, all natural remedy. It can be found at local health food stores or at online health stores such as eVitamins.

Post Script: I need your help! As you can see, I don’t write this blog for money…hence no annoying pop up advertising. However I do write to encourage and inspire others. My only way to know I am succeeding is getting feedback from and building a following of readers. If you have found value in this blog post, please leave a comment below and follow my blog by entering your email at top of page or on Twitter by clicking here

November 10, 2008

Running The Grand Canyon -- A Video

Here it is folks! Click on the link above to to view the video of our rim to rim to rim run in the Grand Canyon. This was an incredible day, with amazing scenery, unbelievable terrain, and great camaraderie. The video is 15 minutes long. Enjoy!

November 9, 2008

R2R2R -- Mission Accomplished

Myself and 4 other runners completed the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim yesterday. I have so much footage of pictures and videos I need a day or two to put this uber post together. I promise jaw dropping pics and clips of the epic run! More to follow...

October 28, 2008

Running The Grand Canyon

So its now official. Last Friday I booked my flight to Flagstaff. I'll be joining Kevin, Jeff and other deranged endorphin junkies to run "the big ditch", otherwise known as the Grand Canyon. We plan to start Saturday, November 8 at 4 am to embark on a run from "rim to rim to rim". Our planned route is estimated to be 48 miles and will take us on from the south rim to north rim and back. I'm told the total elevation gain/loss is around 22,600' (down, up, down, up). We'll be taking the Bright Angel Trail which is a little longer than the South Kaibab route. Running this time of year can be cold on the rim (20's in the am) but should warm into the high 60s as we get into the canyon. Clothing will be a focus.

Other than having to run 48 miles up and down 22,000 feet, I'm really looking forward to this event. I've only been to the Grand Canyon once, and it was part of a Las Vegas trip when I won $2,200 cash playing video poker. This was the only thing I've ever won in Vegas. To say the least I enjoyed that trip immensely. The feel of the cash...I mean Canyon...was incredible, as I recall, and I can't wait to see it again, this time while I run.

I promise many photos on this one and possibly a video post. Stay tuned.

October 19, 2008

Taking the Blue Planet Run 30-Mile Challenge

Yesterday I was going through my blogroll and read Peter Lubber's post on the Blue Planet Run Foundation's 30-Mile Challenge. The Blue Planet Run Foundation is a non profit organization dedicated to raising global awareness about the lack of safe drinking water, and funding working solutions today for the billion, yes BILLION, people living without ready access to the life sustaining resource.

Crystal Cove Beach Today

The Foundation's Blue Planet Run 30-Mile Challenge is inviting runners to run 30 miles in the month of October to raise funds for three schools in Tanzania. Runners can do 30 miles all in one day, or spread over many days. As I read this I realized that I was already planning on doing a long run, so I signed up! It took 5 minutes on their web site to complete the form and I'm very glad I did. Today I did the 30 miles and "Made the Miles Matter".

In the spirit of the Blue Planet Run Challenge, I ran up to the top of El Moro and descended into the canyon to the ocean. At mile 14 I jumped in the ocean, yelled out loud (coooold), then jogged to the shower, and was back on the road. Today was my first 30 mile training run since before the Western States was cancelled. I felt good today. The legs were a little rusty, but overall the old system is still in tact. Good to make the miles matter, too.

October 18, 2008

Blue Stillness

Back Bay, Newport Beach, CA. Looking South.

I've always enjoyed running along this side of the Back Bay. The canals are so cool, and on a calm day, smooth as glass. One day I want to paddle a kayak slowly through these canals, and pierce their blue stillness. One day.

October 11, 2008

When to Say Goobye, Shoes

Several years ago I knew of a man who lived in his car. He wasn't a homeless man. In fact he owned a very nice home, in a nice neighborhood. I knew of this man because his house was across the street from my house. In front of his place was his car, where he actually slept at night. Turns out this man was a pack rat, and he packed so much S%&T in his house that he literally didn't have enough room to sleep in it!

I wouldn't consider myself a pack rat, but the other day I had a weird experience. I was trying to get something out of my closet and a mountain of running shoes was blocking my way. Dozens of pairs! As I was stumbling over this mess, a thought crossed my mind - why in god's name do I need dozens of old, worn out running shoes? It was then the visual crossed my mind of waking up one early morning snuggled in the back seat of my car parked in front of my house!

It then occurred to me. I had to say goodbye to this old heap of shoes. Keeping an extra "retired" pair or two of running shoes to walk around Lego Land or a swap meet in is one thing, but having a different pair to wear every day of the month just ain't sane.

Turning the old soles in

I packed a hefty bag full of these sullen soles and carried them off to Goodwill donation center. I recommend Goodwill even for those "green" runners out there. Goodwill has committed to recycle shoes if they can't be sold.

So I ask myself, what's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

Rock it!

October 4, 2008

The Five Training Principles I Live By

When the sun rises at 5:15 a.m. on June 27, 2009, I will be taking my first steps on the Western States 100 mile trail. But those first steps will also be the final steps on a much longer road, the road to prepare for that day. That morning I will have already traveled over 2,000 miles by foot during the previous 10 months. I will have encountered many obstacles. I will have experienced bouts of frustration, self-doubt, and even despair along this road. But these experiences, however difficult, will actually help me during those final steps on that day.

I'm told there are no short cuts on the road to Western States. It is long, and unforgiving. To endure it requires knowledge and planning. It also requires dedication and a lot of training. The road I plan to take to Western States will be similar to the road I took this year, with some variations based on what I learned along this road. Starting in March, like last year, I’ll start building my weekly miles up until I peak somewhere between 80 and 90 miles per week. I’ll try to sustain this until I begin my taper three weeks before the race.

I’m not one to write out a really detailed, daily training schedule. What I have learned in my days as a runner is that if I can set and achieve weekly goals, such as total miles, a long run, interval or hill work, I’m better off not establishing a daily (anal) schedule. I might plan a track or hill workout for the week, but I'll wait to do it late in the week if I have to. This flexibility helps because I can’t predict how quickly or slowly my body will recover from training the previous week or weekend. If I plan on doing a hard run on Tuesday, but I’m not ready to do it

My Girls -- Keep Running in Perspective

until Wednesday or Thursday, my experience tells me to wait until I’m ready, or face injury. I also don’t know what my family and work schedule will allow. Weekly goals give me the flexibility to adapt to the unexpected and the ability to focus on key workouts.

I have always been an avid reader of training philosophies and techniques. Indeed, next to my bed sit dozens of books on how to train for endurance running. Some of my favorite books on training, which tend to be loaded with many types of workouts, include Advanced Marathoning, The Maffetone Method, and the Competitive Runners Handbook. What I have learned through reading over the years is that there are hundreds of workouts one can do, but there are really only a few training principles that I need to follow. Sticking to these principles "in the long run" is more important than focusing on specific workouts.

There are five basic principles in my training program. These are quite simple.

Principle Number 1: build and maintain the aerobic base. In its most basic form this is simply building up and sustaining weekly miles.

Principle Number 2: develop the body’s ability to burn fat for fuel. This requires doing a long run every other week.

Principle Number 3: grow the body's capacity to run faster at a lower heart rate. There are many methods to do this, but running intervals and/or hill repeats are pretty fail safe. As a ultra runner, I'm running these at or below my anaerobic threshold.

Principle Number 4: teach the mind to deal with the adversity that it will face come race day. This requires doing long runs and races on similar terrain and under similar conditions as the race I'm training for. Be it heat or hills or both, training in these elements prior to race day is critical not only to perform well but to be safe.

Principle Number 5: keep smiling while the mind and body want to scream out loud. This is my sanity check. It means to take it easy on easy days, to always recover well after hard workouts, and to simply stop once and a while to look at the sky, the clouds or whatever is around me!

So, come next June, as I pass through the hot canyons, and make my way up the long, sweltering switch backs of Devils Thumb, my mind will begin to drift. It will drift back to the road I took to get there, and the challenges I faced along that road. And as I near the river crossing, and the sun has begun to set, my mind will turn back to the task at hand. It is then that it will encounter familiar signs. Frustration, self-doubt, and despair. But, by then, my mind will know these experiences as old friends. And it will know they are only there as companions to see me along my way.

September 27, 2008

Nature and Clouds

"Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them"

John Updike

Just a few thoughts that worked for this picture which was taken while sitting with my wife under a crisp sky, high on a mountain. A fine moment on our 11th anniversary.

September 15, 2008

2009 Western States Endurance Run -- I'm In

It is now official. I just submitted my entry to the 2009 Western States 100 mile endurance run. Although I was guaranteed an automatic entry as a 2008 participant, I was required to accept or decline the 2009 automatic entry. I accepted, as I expect 90 percent or more of the other '08 participants will do. Who wouldn't accept after being shut out of this year's race due to fires that rose from freaky dry lighting? What runner would train for six months, create animosity between his spouse, develop lingering and sometimes very painful injuries, become single minded to the detriment of his oh-so-important social graces, concoct visions of grandeur in his minds eye, talk excessively of race day tactics with 100 mile finishers, develop the disgusting yet important habit of stuffing TP in his pocket before embarking on early morning trail runs, grow a portfolio of running shoes to rival any Emelda Marcos poser, watch others stare at him with a look of utter confusion and discontent when they hear of his fixation, find ways to work out in the most miserably hot conditions, refuse to unpack a suitcase for a year, identify with terms like "beware of the chair" and "time on foot", write a blog about the absurdity of it all, only to choose NOT to reenter?
I'm looking forward to the next 10 months! I'll keep you posted....

September 1, 2008

Garmin Forerunner 405 Review. 10 Things to Know Before You Buy

I recently upgraded my Garmin 301 with the Garmin 405. I did this for several reasons. First, my 301 was falling apart, and the only way I could charge it was with the USB cord that plugs into my car. The wall charger it came with stopped working altogether. The heart rate monitor also stopped working. I’d seen photos of the Garmin 405 and it looked like it might even pass for a wrist watch, not the black pill box the 301 so closely resembled. I’ve been using the Garmin 405 for over a week now, and here is what I found:

1. This is no simple stopwatch with a GPS. The Garmin 405 is more akin to a body probe with an attitude. It beeps at you when you touch it in the wrong place. Then it barks at you when you yell at it. You must prepare for this one. A tutorial, a seminar, a degree, anything to get to know the software inside. I don’t recommend trying to learn it while running. I nearly tumbled into a bed of cacti tinkering with this thing on a run.

2. Never, ever lose the charger. Unlike the 301 that would take any old USB cord, the Forerunner 405 can only be charged using a custom "clip" that comes with the device. If you lose the custom charger, well, good luck. You will have to buy another custom charger. Gone are the days when you could charge your Garmin in your car on the way to a run. A fifteen minute drive used get me an hour of battery life. I’ll miss that.

3. Don’t be fooled by Garmin 405’s good looks. I was originally interested in the Garmin 405 because I thought it was slimmer than its bulky GPS brethren. Then I saw it. While smaller and sleeker than both the Garmin 301 and 305, this newer Garmin is far from dainty. I would describe it as a GPS in “thin” disguise. Bulky, but with good lines. Still too big to wear around as a watch in most circumstances.

4. This watch functions using “touch” points, not buttons. To scroll though the menu and settings you must “touch” the bezel of the watch. At first use I was worried about this system. I accidentally rubbed the watch on my shirt, and this mere touch caused the 405 to scroll though several screens and left me in the bowels of the settings menu. Fortunately I found the screen lock function to avoid this from happening again.

5. The satellite search time is much quicker with the 405. One of my biggest gripes of my Garmin 301 was the length of time it took to sync with the satellites. I can’t even recall how many times I stood in the middle of the street interminably like an idiot waiting for the GPS to link up. Of course smarter and more anal runners always place their GPS outside several minutes before a run, thereby avoiding the pre run loiter. The Garmin 405 gets around all this by simply linking to the satellites very quickly. It took the 405 eleven seconds to get a link when I tested it, whereas I’ve waited for minutes at a time for my 301 to link. Thank you Garmin!

6. The heart rate monitor actually works. I have to say that I was very disappointed with my old Garmin, the 301, heart rate monitor. It simply didn’t function with the GPS, and continued to give false heart rate readings, often greater than 200 bpm on long runs. Now I’m a pretty fit runner, but 200 beats per minute? I finally stopped using the 301’s heart rate monitor and bought a Polar heart rate monitor to wear on the other wrist. For the last year I’ve run double fisted, Polar HRM on one wrist and Garmin 301 on the other. The Garmin 405 brings a heart rate monitor and GPS together in one package that works.

7. Data is transferred to your computer, automatically. I’m not a big data transfer guy, but I did experiment with this feature. It doesn’t take an IBM engineer to get this started, but it does take patience, one of those old world virtues never bestowed on me. I made it as far as loading the software and transferring the data. When I attempted to look at the information on the computer, I couldn’t find it, let alone load the program to view it. Do I really plan to use this? Hmmm. Move on.

8. Like its predecessors, the 405 has many features that could be very helpful to the techie runner. Auto pause, auto lap, auto scroll, virtual partner, specific workouts, and courses are all included. Again, like the data transfer feature, these are features I generally don’t use often, if at all. One cool thing I noticed however was the “back to start” function. Here a runner, if lost, can ask the watch to navigate him or her back to where they started. Not a bad feature when you’re lost on a mountain. The only down side is you have to make it back before the battery dies (8 hours) or you’re SOL.

9. Limited use when wet. Even the owners manual states that “if he bezel is wet, wipe the bezel dry before using it”. Hmmm, did anyone tell the designers that runners generally sweat when running? Do I have to carry a hanky now? I haven’t experienced a problem with this yet, but I’m not one to mess around with the watch while I’m running. Scrolling between screens is all I need on the run and the auto scroll feature should take care of this. Auto scroll allows the user to design three customized screens for workouts and the watch will automatically scroll through these screens.

10. Limited Battery Life. The manual says the 405 has a full 8 hours of battery life using the GPS. However, I did a 4 hour run with the 405 and within three hours the watch was signaling a low battery. The fact that I was not wearing the heart rate monitor strap could have contributed to the shortened battery life. I tested the 405 again, this time wearing the heart monitor strap. After my two hour run there was 70% of the battery life remaining. My guess is the battery life is shortened when you don’t wear the heart monitor strap because, like a cell phone, the device is constantly searching for signal that doesn’t exist.

Would I recommend the Garmin Forerunner 405? I’m not sure I can make that decision right now. Until I subject the device to more field testing, including some five-plus hour runs, I have to reserve judgment. I will keep you “posted”.

August 31, 2008

Back in the Saddle -- On Saddleback Mountain

Today marked the first day since the Western States debacle I’ve really felt like I’m back in the saddle. Maybe it was because we ran Saddleback Mountain. I was joined by Kevin S, Rob M, and Jeff D on some of my favorite trails on the mountain, including Holy Jim, Main Divide and Trabuco canyon. Much of the Saddleback Marathon is run on these trails.

We started at 7 am. Things livened up right away as we began climbing the ever relentless Holy Jim trial, a 2,200 feet climb over four and half miles. Holy Jim throws a dozen switch backs at you that march straight up the mountain, ending at Bear Springs along Main divide Road. Jeff D turned around close to the top of Holy Jim to finish early enough to write a warm message on the dust of my car. Thanks Jeff, very sweet of you.

Kevin and Jeff -- Holy Jim

From there we ran south for eight miles along the Main Divide road, which serves as the boarder of Orange and Riverside counties. The views along this road never cease to inspire me, and today was not a disappointment despite the hazy smog that hung in the sky. Mt. Baldy, Mt. Gorgonio and Corona on the left; the Pacific Ocean and Orange County on the right.

Me and Kevin -- Main Divide

We then reached Trabuco trail and began the long windy descent down one of the more rock strewn trails on the mountain. Today Trabuco claimed one victim, that being Rob M who slammed his toe into what appeared to be a sword like stone. Stoically he walked, then ran through the searing pain, not to be concerned about the Angeles Crest 100 miler, his next run starting in two weeks. Total trip: 18.3 miles with extra mile back to check on guys at end.

August 20, 2008

Sugarloaf Mountain Redux

Ever since hiking to the foot of Sugarloaf Mt. last June during my Western States taper, I’ve been angling to “run” all the way to the summit of this rounded peak. Indeed, getting so close but not making it to the top last time left me with a lingering motivation.

I started my trek around 8 a.m. The air was a cool and crisp, and the sun was shining brightly on the horizon. I carried two water bottles and no food, thinking the round trip would take two hours or less. Of course, as it turns out, that was “flatlander” thinking. And flatlander thinking doesn’t account for the little things peculiar to running in the mountains. Things like when you run at altitude, say between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, you go a little slower. Or, when you have to deal with 4,000 feet of elevation change over nine miles, or make your way up steep grades that bring you to all fours, things can take a little longer. Ok, I’m still learning.

Trail Marker -- San Gorgonio Background

I ran along the ridge that connects Sugarloaf to the Bear Mountain Ski area. The view is quite stunning along this ridge, and I found myself stopping several times to simply gaze at what lay before me. To my right, Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak at 11,499 feet. To my left, Baldwin and Big Bear Lake, nestled under an eastern horizon that reached a distance far beyond what my eyes have ever seen. Quirky mountain peaks jutted, randomly, from the desert floor that unfolded all the way to Arizona. Joshua Tree, Twenty Nine Palms, Palm Springs lay below me, unnoticeable amidst a painted landscape.

(Click on picture below for full view)

As I approached the end of the ridge, past the location where I turned back last time, I glanced up to see the peak. Tall pine trees covered every square foot of the mountain. But I couldn’t see the peak, only a rounded, seemingly endless forest of Pine trees. I glanced at my watch. Should I turn around? I was already over an hour and a half into this quest, and I hadn’t even started the steepest section. I pressed forward thinking that if I didn’t make it this time, when would I?

Sugarloaf Mt. Elavation 9,952'

Despite a lack of food and limited water, things were going well. The single track trial I'd been following was narrow yet visable, at least most of the way. But just as I was ready to attempt the steepest section, the narrow trail that led me this far had vanished. Gone, just like that! Ok, I was in a hurry to get up the mountain and I didn't really look for it. Instead I decided to keep going straight up the side of the peak, leaving markers behind me to help find my way back.

Disappearing Trail (2E18)

Finally, after crawling over giant, fallen tree trunks, loose rock fields, the steep grade began to flatten. I had reached the top! I walked toward the monument that marked the peak, stopped for a few photos and signed the registry.

Then I stood in the silence. And a light wind blew from the south.

August 3, 2008

A Small Space

This morning my oldest daughter left for summer camp. Gone for two weeks, she confessed she might miss her family "a little bit". But as she boarded the bus, I noticed the tears as we waved goodbye. It was then I knew, as Washington Irving once said, that there is a 'sacredness' in tears. And tears are not the mark of weakness, but of power.

Last week she completed her first year of Junior Lifeguards, a program for kids that mixes ocean safety and a little run/swim competition. On her last day she competed in the vaunted Monster Mile Race. Here kids must run a mile on the sand and then swim a mile in the Pacific Ocean.

Friends on first day of Junior Lifeguards
I don't think I've ever swam a mile in my life, let alone in the ocean, and certainly didn't at nine years old. It’s a big event for the kids, and many dress up in costumes for pre-race reverie. As race day approached I knew she and her friends were getting anxious.

Waiting to Start the Monster Mile

When the whistle blew, she kept with her plan and stayed in the middle of the pack. But as she neared the finish of the run portion of race, she found herself, surprisingly, in the first group. Right next to the faster runners! Since swimming is her strength, she told me later that as she approached the swim leg of the race, she thought she had a shot at a strong finish. Clutching her swim fins she hurried toward the beckoning sea. Then, like fires that rise from dry forests, the waves rose from the darkened sea. Pushed by winds blowing thousands of miles away, the surf had grown so high that the lifeguards wouldn't let the kids in her age group enter the water.

As she stood seaside waiting for the waves to subside, my daughter listened to the instructor explain to her that they would have to cancel the rest of the race. It was just too dangerous with the big waves. It couldn't be, she thought. So much work. So much anticipation. At that moment a tear emerged from her eye. As it rolled down her cheek, she knew she had done her best to prepare for this great race. And as that tear fell from her cheek, it traveled through a small space. A space where dreams grow from hard work, but occasionally give way to greater forces. A space where you can hold the cup of success in your hands, but you just can't drink from it.
Just then, she looked down and she saw her tear, falling. As it touched the ground she felt its power, and then she understood what it meant to be there.

Welcome to this small space, little one. It's not so bad there. I love you.

August 2, 2008

Internet Explorer Cannot Open the Internet Site

To my fellow bloggers who've been scratching their heads because they can't open their blogs or blogs of fellow bloggers, Sitemeter is the culprit.

If you're own blog is affected, simply remove Sitemeter from your blog until Sitemeter gets this worked out. To browse other blogs that havn't figured it out yet, simply add sitemeter to your restricted sites under tools/internet options/security.

July 22, 2008

An Interview with Endurance Expert Dr. Philip Maffetone

It was October 1993. I was standing on the side of Alii Drive watching the Hawaii Ironman. Mark Allen, four-time champion of the event at the time, had just finished the 112-mile bike and was beginning the marathon. As I watched him run by, five minutes behind the leader, I noticed his smooth cadence in the sweltering heat. Could he catch the athlete ahead of him? As the veteran chased his younger rival in the final hours of this grueling race, I knew the real race didn’t begin until the run, Allen’s strongest event. I also knew, despite being nearly a mile behind the younger athlete, Allen trained using what is now known as the Maffetone Method.

The antithesis of the "no pain, no gain" training that emphasizes pushing your body to exhaustion, the Maffetone Method is a holistic, low-stress method of training. Created by Dr. Phil Maffetone this method trains the body to burn fat for fuel, giving the athlete the key to the vault that stores the body’s energy reserves. It essentially teaches one to run slower, in order to run faster, longer. The principles behind the method are designed to maximize the aerobic system that is responsible for 99% of the energy derived in endurance events.

As the race wore on, the younger runner found himself struggling to hold his lead. His early poise slowly gave way to a grim reality. He was no longer the hunter, but the hunted. With every step, Allen’s stride grew stronger, his confidence bolder. After some 125 combined miles, Mark Allen overtook his rival to win the race, setting a new course record. Allen went on to win an unprecedented six Hawaii Ironman Championships using Dr. Phil Maffetone’s training principles.

Dr. Phil Maffetone is described as "one of the most sought-after endurance coaches in the world." He entered the endurance sports scene in the late 70’s. In addition to working with some of the world’s top endurance athletes, Dr. Maffetone has written dozens of books and articles on health, fitness and nutrition, including Complimentary Sports Medicine, Training for Endurance, The Maffetone Method, and In Fitness and In Health. I caught up with Dr. Maffetone this summer while he was traveling through Europe and giving lectures.

Will: First thank you for doing this interview. It is a pleasure and a privilege to interview someone of your stature and to share your insights with my readers. I'd also like to say thank you for the contribution you have made to the world of endurance training.

Exactly how and when did you get started in the field of endurance coaching and training?

Dr. Phil: I’ve always been athletic, especially in track and field, starting in high school. When I first opened my office in 1977, I had gotten out of shape, so I started walking, then began jogging and soon was training for the NY City Marathon. I met a lot of local runners, and many started coming to see me for their injuries. I soon realized that most injuries were associated with various training and lifestyle imbalances. I applied exercise physiology, biofeedback, nutrition and various coaching methods in addressing the needs of athletes who had a full spectrum of injuries.

A key feature of my practice from the start has always been looking at the big picture, the so-called holistic approach. If a runner had knee pain, there was a good chance the cause of the problem was not in the knee but elsewhere – and sometimes not just the foot (which was common), but factors such as nutrition or stress. Often, training was associated not only with physical injuries, but fatigue and poor performance. So it became a necessity for me to consider more than the injured part, but to evaluate a runner’s training log, diet, shoes, and whatever else could affect health and fitness. As a result, I soon began implementing "coaching" as part of my practice.

Will: One of your trademarks is the 180 Formula, which is designed to develop the aerobic capacity of endurance athletes. How did you come to develop the 180 Formula?

Dr. Phil: I started using heart rate monitors in the late 1970s, and all I had as a guide were the old 220 formulas. But training at these heart rates seemed to induce excessive stress after a very short period of time. I tried searching for the scientific rationale for these formulas and realized there were none. So I began evaluating runners on a treadmill using slower paces, attempting to find a less-stressful and more effective training pace. I eventually performed these tests with a gas analyzer (the athlete would breath through a tube so oxygen and carbon dioxide could be measured), which gave me important information on fat- and sugar burning at various heart rates (along with other factors such as VO2 max).

I began using training heart rates based on the highest fat-burning levels before the shift to more sugar burning took place. These training intensities were much lower than the 220 formulas, much less stressful, and I saw much more rapid improvements. For example, athletes could soon run faster at the same heart rate, and even burn more fat for energy (and not just while running, but at all times). I soon realized a new formula would be very useful as most runners were not able to have an expensive treadmill evaluation, and the 220 formulas were unacceptable. By experimenting with the math (I basically worked the numbers backwards), I was able to get a formula that correlated extremely well with what the treadmill tests were providing. This became the 180 Formula.

A heart monitor is a simple biofeedback tool (the hardware), and the 180 Formula (the software) is what makes it useful. Biofeedback can help any athlete because it’s a means of more objectively evaluating progress (or lack of it), impending injury and ill health, and other factors. (I’ve used biofeedback in many other ways throughout my career, including developing various biofeedback techniques such as those for muscles and the brain.)

Will: Mark Allen, six time Hawaii Ironman Champion, and Stu Mittleman, elite ultra runner and world record setter, are two athletes you've written about and that used your training program to become world champions. Now they are coaching and, I assume, using your methods. Do you still collaborate with them or other former athletes that you coached and who are now coaching themselves?

Dr. Phil: Yes, I have kept in touch with many of the athletes I’ve worked with, and some are coaching with programs based on my approach because it helped make them successful. Mark Allen is a great example. I started working with Mark around 1984, and he used my program in what I would describe as the perfect way. The intention of my program is not to give a pre-conceived, cookbook plan, but to help build a balanced body in an individualized way. For endurance athletes, developing the aerobic system is the foundation because it provides almost all the endurance energy for training and racing. It’s also important to continually evaluate our endurance needs and make the appropriate changes to training, racing, diet and lifestyle as we develop, and grow older so we can continually improve both health and fitness. As a doctor and coach, my job is to assist athletes in this endeavor, and Mark Allen was particularly good at putting this foundation, and philosophy, into practice. He learned how his body worked, performed MAF Tests regularly, used his heart monitor honestly, ate right for his body’s needs, etc. His discipline brought him success.

Will: How strict should one be when running at or below MAHR (max aerobic heart rate)? For example, if I'm running below MAHR for an hour workout, and my heart rate creeps up and over my MAHR by five beats for 10 minutes or so, is that really a big deal?

Dr. Phil: It could be a very big deal, especially if it happens often enough. The problem is, you don’t know how often is too much – you may not know it’s a problem until you do your MAF Test and find out you’ve not made progress for the past month (the MAF Test measures how fast you can run at your MAHR). The real question is this: Are you training at the proper max aerobic heart rate? If you are, you’ll get maximum training and health benefits at that heart rate. As you go over that rate, those benefits can start to disappear, and worse, you can do harm. So why risk such rewards by running at a little higher heart rate? This is an important training discipline.

Training at a heart rate higher than MAHR produces real stress. This results in the production of stress hormones that could cause a number of physical and chemical (and even mental/emotional) problems – from mechanical imbalances and blood sugar stresses to reduced fat burning. These are also the foundations of overtraining which is associated with performance breakdowns, poor physical health, depression and other problems (I have a detailed article on my website called The Overtraining Syndrome).
A very common mistake is training at a heart rate too high – and for some runners, even two or three beats too high can have serious consequences. So when using the 180 Formula, be honest. When in doubt, use a lower number as this won’t cause any problems, and the loss of possible aerobic benefits will be insignificant.

Will: Running ultras is usually synonymous with running hills, often long hills. Many runners power walk these hills, which keeps their heart rate down. Yet many elite runners do intervals on hills that are 3 or 4 miles long, running for up to 20 or 30 minutes at anaerobic threshold. Can this kind of training fit into your program?

Dr. Phil: Yes, anaerobic training can be very helpful. But whether it’s hills at higher heart rates, track intervals, or weight training (which is always anaerobic regardless of your heart rate), incorporating anaerobic training before fully developing your aerobic system can be a problem. Consider that in an ultra distance event, 99% of your energy comes from the aerobic system, and only 1% from the anaerobic system. So the more well developed your aerobic system, the more your body is equipped to race long distances. This is the foundation of training that Mark Allen and other great endurance athletes developed.

Only after you build a great aerobic system should you add anaerobic training, if at all. The MAF Test – which measures how fast you run at your MAHR – is the best guide that helps determine when you’ve accomplished this task. As you build the aerobic system, you should be able to run faster at the same heart rate, including the hills. For example, if initially you can’t run up a hill without going over your max aerobic heart rate, eventually you’ll be able to accomplish this as your aerobic system develops. You’ll also race faster – having done no anaerobic training.

Adding anaerobic training to your schedule may improve your pace further, but you risk overtraining; it’s a fine line for many athletes. Three other important features of anaerobic training: 1) it won’t take much to benefit from it, 2) you will need more rest/recovery from it, and 3) if you perform too much of it, the aerobic system can quickly deteriorate. To be safe and still obtain benefits, I often suggest only three or four weeks of anaerobic training to get maximum anaerobic effects, and for many ultra runners, just a single, longer workout once a week. Consider a 10 or 15K race as a very effective way to get an anaerobic workout.

So if you’re going to add anaerobic training, proceed carefully and only after allowing your aerobic system to become well developed, and perform a good aerobic warm up and cool down around it. Be sure to monitor your MAF Test every two weeks or so during this period, and if you start running slower at your MAHR – stop anaerobic training immediately.
Most importantly, anaerobic training is a significant stress, as I discussed earlier. The average person who has a full time job, a family and other things to do in life often has little room for another stress.

Will: Running a 100-mile race places a different kind of stress on a runner compared to a marathon or even a 50 mile race. Depending on the course and the level of the athlete, one can expect to be on their feet for up to 20, even 30 hours or more. Should one use a lower heart rate range when training for a 100-mile race as compared to training for shorter events like 10ks or the marathon?

Dr. Phil: Many athletes enjoy training at heart rates below their max aerobic level, so I think this idea is fine. But it’s not necessary to train slower. Running ‘wear and tear’ is essentially the same at a 140 heart rate, for example, whether your pace is 12:30 or 9:30 per mile. (Perceived exertion, however, is different at these two paces.)

For most runners, training at max aerobic heart rate during all runs (except the warm up and cool down) is most efficient to build the aerobic system, including a high level of fat burning and aerobic speed. Ideally, training should incorporate the full range of aerobic muscle fibers – from those that move us very slow to our fastest aerobic pace that does not exceed max aerobic heart rate. This is easily accomplished when a proper warm up, which begins very slow, and cool down, is a part of all training runs.

In addition, and since the ultra races can be very long, training the body to endure being on your feet is also important. For this I prefer walking, which can be a very important part of building the aerobic system. It also incorporates additional very slow moving aerobic muscle fibers not usually trained when running slow. I even had Mark Allen walk during certain phases of training for the Ironman races.

Incorporating walking into your schedule is easy. For example, you can perform a long walk as part of a warm up, then slowly increase your pace to run at MAHR, finally slowing down to finish with another long-walk cool down. Depending on the event you’re training for, your level of fitness and time, you might make this a long weekend workout with a two-hour warm up walk (getting faster as your go), then a two-hour run followed by a two-hour cool down (getting slower at the end). Add or subtract time based on your particular needs.

For most runners, I don’t believe it’s necessary to cover the race distance, or even the estimated time of the race, during training. The body is quite capable, physiologically, of covering much more distance (and time) than it does during normal training.

Will: I've been reading some of my fellow bloggers who are using the 180 Formula in training, but are racing marathon distances (or less) at a much higher heart rate, in some cases 20 or more bpm higher than their MAHR. They seem to be getting positive results. Should one expect to have a higher "racing" heart rate than "training" heart rate at marathon distances or shorter? What about for longer distances, such as a 50 or a 100 mile runs?

Dr. Phil: When you’re in races of marathon distance and less, you normally run harder than a training run – it’s an anaerobic event. So your heart rate should be much higher in this type of race than a training run. The longer the race, the less difference between the training and racing heart rate. In events of 50 or 100 miles, this may not be the case as your race pace may be similar to your training pace.

Will: One of the biggest challenges in a 50 or 100 mile race vs. the marathon is the need to consume calories throughout the entire event to sustain energy. This is often difficult because the stomach doesn't always cooperate. What advice can you give to athletes regarding nutritional needs in races lasting up to 24 hours?

Dr. Phil: my advice is generally the same for any endurance athlete needing to consume calories during a race: find out what works for you. This involves experimenting during training (not racing). I can make some basic suggestions. The first is water – you’ll usually finish the race dehydrated, so drinking small amounts of water throughout the race, and often, is important.
Carbohydrate liquids can provide both nutrient (carbs) and water. These carbs actually help maintain our fat-burning process. I prefer monosaccharide carb liquids because they don’t require digestion (which uses energy), so there’s no stomach bloating or gas from undigested carbs, and you can absorb the sugar much easier. These liquids include fruit juice (I don’t recommend citrus) diluted with water, and honey diluted with water. Vegetable juices work well too, but I’ve known only a few athletes who used them. (I also like adding sodium chloride to this type of drink.)

Solid carbohydrate foods are important too, but use those that are easy to digest. The best are ripe fruits. While they are in a monosaccharide form and don’t need digestion to get the sugar available for energy, they do need to be well chewed.

I don’t recommend grains (flour products like breads), potatoes and most sports drinks because they contain carbohydrates bound together that must be digested before they can be absorbed. For example, white sugar (sucrose), maltose sugar products (including maple sugar products) and other commonly used carb sources contain two sugars bound together that require digestion. Grains and potatoes are made up of three sugars bound together (called starch) that require even more digestion. Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth and most athletes don’t chew sufficiently for this phase of digestion (especially liquids). During a race (and even training) digestion is normally very inefficient, so give your gut something easy to deal with. Creating digestive stress commonly causes intestinal upset – gas, bloating, and even diarrhea. And, you may not get the full load of nutrients from your foods.

But there’s another issue just as important. The whole idea behind building the aerobic system is to burn more body fat for energy. You’ll also burn more fat during a race, providing a significant amount of your energy needs. This makes the supplemental nutrition part – eating during a race – a lot easier because you won’t need as much. Supplemental carbohydrates are important during and immediately after racing, and very long training sessions, but not before you train and race.

Will: Your book Training for Endurance discusses the "chemical injury" which describes the impact stress can have on athletes. For those of us who work full time, have a family, and try to squeeze in training and racing, how critical is stress if we are also seeking to improve our performance?

Dr. Phil: In the truest definition, stress may be our biggest problem in sports; it’s usually the factor that limits an athlete’s potential. So the more you can moderate stress, the better you’ll train and perform, and the healthier you will be. Stress can be physical (e.g., bad running shoes), chemical (e.g., poor diet) and mental/emotional. Pick each category and do a self-assessment: many stresses can be eliminated by making simple changes, which then allows the body to better deal with those you can’t change.

Those who combine busy lives and try squeezing in training and racing can induce significant stress if not careful. This is another reason why staying strictly aerobic during all training is a good recommendation for most athletes. In addition, reduced training volume can sometimes reduce stress so much that you end up healthier and racing better. Continual and honest self-assessment is the best place to start.

Will: Are there any methods that you can recommend to athletes that can help them deal with stress?

Dr. Phil: In addition to eliminating the unnecessary stress from your life, improving brain function not only allows the body to better adapt to stress, but it can help training and racing. I’ve incorporated many types of biofeedback during my career, including EEG (electroencephalograph), which measures brain waves. The brain’s alpha waves in particular can dramatically reduce stress hormones allowing the body to recover and adapt better. Listening to music can significantly increase alpha waves.

My approach has always been to teach athletes how to do things on their own, and regarding this question, I developed a way to do a form of biofeedback that helps reduce stress easily and without equipment. I call it Respiratory Biofeedback, and on my website there’s a short article called The 5-Minute Power Break which describes this very simple technique. In a 5-minute session you perform on your own, a lot of great brain function can be established which will help reduce the harmful effects of stress.

Will: I've noticed on your website that you are very passionate about music. What are some of your favorite types of music? Who are some of your favorite artists?

Dr. Phil: About six years ago, I woke up and realized I needed to learn music because I had so many original songs in my head that had to come out. So I dropped everything and became a songwriter. Along the way I realized the music I was writing (like other music) had profound effects on the brain. Today, I include music performances in many of my lectures, play out regularly and have just recorded my second album (with more than 200 songs written). I first learned about music therapy in the mid-1970s, but being a part of the process as a songwriter has been quite fascinating.

I like almost all music, and I write what would be called folk-rock, although I’ve written a lot of rock, country and other styles.

In recent years, traveling with the Red Hot Chili Peppers as their doctor allowed me to learn a lot of music theory, and meet a lot of great musicians, many of whom I’ve listen to for years. With my songwriting, I work with producer Rick Rubin, and spending time in LA has brought me to many studios to see other music greats. I also worked with Johnny Cash in Nashville, which was a profound experience.

My favorite artists are many, starting with the Beatles and Bob Dylan. Others include Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Mozart, James Taylor and many others. Also, discovering great but little-known singer-songwriters is a continually wonderful experience.

Will: What inspires you?

Dr. Phil: Things that get me excited. These include music (listening, writing and playing for others), learning (I still read the medical/scientific journals regularly), continually building my health and fitness, lecturing and teaching, and love.

Will: Thank you for the great interview and I look forward to reading more of your articles and books!

Dr. Phil: Thank you, Will. Keep up the good work. Almost all my articles, along with a number of book excerpts, are posted on my website (for free). And, of course, my music is there too.

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