February 17, 2008

First "Official" WS Training Run

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Cleveland anymore!
When I arrived at the first "official" training run for Western States, I could only breathe a sigh of relief. Just 24 hours earlier, I was slogging 5 miles on a treadmill in Cleveland – where it was 14 below zero outside. Oh its good to back in California.

The official run started with a few announcements. First up -- there would be strict enforcement of a "no-pee zone". Translation: board the bus, ride to start, but don’t pee until you get past the no-pee zone over a mile into the run. Local residents apparently don’t like it when bus loads of runners fertilize their lawns. Now I don’t know about you, but after I drink my tall Starbucks, follow up with a bottle of water to ensure hydration, then ride on a herky-jerky school bus for an hour, my bladder begins to self destruct. The first mile of this run was one of my fastest ever.

Today’s run was the first of a series of training runs organized by the Western States race. It covered the last 20 miles of the 100 mile course, with one key difference: on race day this portion of the run is at night and in the dark. We started just above the green gate aid station. The first half of the run was rolling single track, very runable, with several stream crossings. There well over a hundred runners so we got bogged down a bit in places. What I found spectacular was the views along this course—awe inspiring canyons, towering rock walls, majestic green hills, and the ever present American River. I’m very pleased to have run this during daylight because I won’t be seeing – or enjoying – the splendor come race day.

Up next was what I hope is a prelude to race day – the aid station. Is it Thanksgiving today? My god, I’ve never seen such a spread! These people know how to please. M&Ms, PB&Js, Paydays, Bananas, Brownies, Oreos, GU, Succeed, GU20, watermelon, pretzels, strawberries. Need I say more? I grabbed as much as I could hold in my two hands and kept walking, eating as I went.

We were well into the second half of this 20 mile run and I started to realize what I am in for come race day. I had only run some 13 miles at this point. My hamstrings were sore, and my shoulders tight. We came to highway 49 crossing, and then a gradual uphill for a couple of miles, a brief flat section, then the decent onto No Hands Bridge. This marks mile 97 on the WS course, and the beginning of the final climb to the finish. I pushed on thinking that if I’m sore now after only running 17 miles, how the hell am I going to feel after running 97 miles? Note to self: keep training, you still have four months.

Finally I crested the top of the last hill and came to the finish at the sacred track at Placer High School. Waiting for us was more food, including bacon, eggs and pancakes. I woofed down a some goods then realized I had to get to the airport to fly home. With no shower or change of clothes in the cards, had to jump in my rental car a little sweaty. Thus completes a very fun and enlightening run that will, no doubt, keep my expectations in check.

February 11, 2008


Last week marked two milestones for me: my first 50 mile week in 2008 and the beginning of lent, or more specifically, 40 days of sobriety .

Climbing the mileage ladder. While not my only priority, increasing my weekly miles is an important part of my plan to go the distance at Western States. And getting in my first 50 mile week is a small yet important psychological milestone. Its not that I’ve haven’t run 50 miles in a week before--I did ten 50 mile weeks prior to the Helen Klein Ultra in November and many more in my marathon days. Rather, it’s just one step closer toward my goal of pushing my weekly miles into the 70 to 80 miles-per-week range. To get to that mileage though I’m building as fast and as slow as I have to, meaning not too fast as to injure myself (knock on wood), and not to slow as to miss being able to increase the intensity of my runs well before the race. It's been said by many a running sage that you don't increase mileage AND intensity at the same time. Since it is mid February now, and the race is at the end of June, I’ve got 4 months or so before I have to start tapering. I figure I’ll be pushing 60 miles per week by the end of February, 70 miles by the end of March and 80 miles by the end of April. I haven’t been doing any real interval training (purposely avoiding this until I have more weekly miles under my belt), but I hope to begin doing intervals, depending on how I feel, in March, or after I’ve hit 60 per week or so.

What I’ve noticed recently is that my legs are sore for much of the week. Not a big deal, I guess, as fatigue is something I've come to associate as part of training. Yet too much fatigue is the first warning sign of overtraining, so I'm keeping close tabs on my heart rate during my standard weekly runs. My goal during this build up stage is to get through the weeks with decent mileage at a low heart rate (75% or less of max, or 145 bpm or less), and then go into the weekend with some energy for a long run of 20 plus miles building to 40 miles. Its the long run that is the hard workout for the week for me during this build-up stage.

As for the sobriety thing, its my third year cutting out alcohol during lent. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I like being in control of at least some things in my life. This choice gives me the ability to choose another road, even if for a short period. Its interesting, this thing called "control". Recently I had a conversation with my father and we talked about running, and how keeping a schedule, planning your training, even writing down your workouts, gives one a sense of control. How many things in our life can we really control? Running, at least for me, is one of them. That might be why I keep coming back to it.