June 29, 2010

Western States 2010 – Lessons Learned

I came to this year’s Western States with three goals in mind. First, simply get to the finish line regardless of time.  Not too exciting for some but the way I see it anything can happen during 100 miles and nothing can be taken for granted out there.  I also knew my two daughters would be waiting for me at the finish and seeing them was number one for me.  Second, beat last year’s time.  Again, not a huge thing but it was something I was thinking going in.  Third, run under 22 hours. 

My third goal was my stretch goal and I chose it a couple of weeks ago after starting my taper.  I felt my conditioning was very good, my training had gone well and I had no injuries.  This would have been 90 minutes faster than my time last year.  I knew all the key aid station splits I needed to hit to achieve this time, and I hit every one—Duncan Canyon (23.8 miles in 4 hours), Robinson Flat (29.7 miles in 5:20), Michigan Bluff (55.7 miles in 11:23) and Forest Hill (62 miles in 12:56).  There was only one problem.  By the time I hit Michigan Bluff, my legs (quads again, surprise!) were toast and I was reduced yet again to a gimp-like shuffle for much of the last 25 miles.    

As the race continued through the night, and my goal of running under 22 hours was slipping away, the situation started to take toll on my mind.  How can my goal slip so quickly from my grasp?  Why did my quads fail me yet again?  What didn’t I do right in my training?  It was then I realized I was running over my head.  Maybe I should’ve set the bar lower.  Despite my perils, my crew and pacer were outstanding.  Rob (pacer), Jeff, Dawn, my wife Jen and two daughters were all there to get me through some rough spots with words of encouragement, nutrition and supplies. 

Another one of my goals this year was to get to the River Crossing (mile 78) during day light.  When my pacer Rob and I left the Cal 3 aid station around 8:30 pm, I remember asking one of the aid station crew how far it was to the River.  When someone said four miles I thought we had a fighting chance to make it by twilight.  But when we were still running after 5 miles (not 4 miles!) and darkness had set in I started to lose it.  I let a few f-bombs fly. 

The night wore on and eventually Rob and I forgot how to read a watch.  The race started at 5 am but for some reason we both assumed I had to finish by 4 am to go under 24 hours, let alone beat my time of 23:28 last year.  Not only was my stretch goal out of reach but my second goal (mistakenly) was now in question.  Another mental torpedo.  It’s weird what a full moon and no sleep can do to your mind.  Not realizing we were adding an hour to my actual time, we rolled into Highway 49 (mile 93) around 2:15 am. 

Since I thought I only had 1 hour and 45 minutes left, I pulled up a chair, sat down and said to Rob, Jeff and Dawn I didn’t give a damn what time I came in anymore.  I’d decided I’d had it, and that I wasn’t going make it under 24 hours. I invited everyone to sit and bullshit with me for a while...kind of a mini pity party.  It was then Jeff looked at me with a puzzled face and said I actually still had 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish under 24. Rob and I and looked at each other realizing what we had done wrong and just got up and kept moving.  From then on my focus went from just getting to the finish line to beating my time from last year. 

But enough of that already.  I finished under last years time, and I’m proud of that.  But what I’m most proud of is what happened at the finish line.  As I entered the stadium and rounded the last turn on the track at Placer high school, there stood my two daughters, ages six and eleven, waiting to take my hand and run with me through the finish line.  This was the moment I was waiting for.  The moment I kept visualizing in my mind through the race.  The moment that kept me pushing forward, despite the ups and downs.  As I approached my girls I could see them, smiling, knowing they were about to be part of something pretty cool.  When I reached them I asked them to take my hand, and just like that the three of us ran those final, precious, steps together through the finish line.

June 23, 2010

Western States Live Internet Broadcast

For those of you interested in following the race via the internet go to this link. Every runner's progress will be posted throughout the race.  My number is 140.

June 19, 2010

Bands Making my Ipod Playlist for WS 100

Moby, The Chrystal Method, Banco de Gaia, Boards of Canada, Incubus, Blink 182, The Offspring, 30 Seconds to Mars, Foo Fighters, Third Eye Blind, Paramore, Radiohead, Paul Van Dyke, Linkin Park, The Killers, Rise Against, The Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Petty, others.    

Should be enough to get me some ups, and hopefully through the downs.   

Six days....Rock it!

June 9, 2010

To Lift, Or Not to Lift?

Last year’s Western States reduced my quads to petrified stumps from a forest of doom. Have you ever run on stumps? I don’t recommend it. They’re not responsive and they don’t fit well to your hips.

For this years Western States I”ve decided to employ a stump grinding strategy: weight lifting. Fact is I used to lift weights regularly when I was running marathons. It helped me avoid injury from all the pounding on the hard surfaces. But when I started running mostly trails I stopped lifting consistently for some reason. I didn’t think it was that important. I think I was wrong.

This year I’ve started again, focusing only on my quads for downhill running, and my arms for carrying water bottles over the long distances. My regimen is pretty simple and, since I’m defiantly not looking to “bulk up”, stresses high reps with low weights. Here is what I do:

Two sessions per week that last no more than 20 minutes.

Single Leg Squats – Four sets (two sets each leg, alternating) with 20 reps each (stepping backward) standing up using a 50 to 60 pound barbell over my shoulders. I prefer the backward step vs forward lunge because it gives more isolation on the quad.

Traditional Squats – Two sets with 20 reps standing up using 80 lbs barbell over my shoulders. Sometimes if I’m in a hurry (like most of the time) I’ll just use the same weight as the single leg squats and go right into these sets with no break. If I use the lighter weight I’ll throw another 10 reps in the set. These also help with the back and glute muscles.

Single Arm Curls -- Two sets x 100 reps (50 each arm, alternating every curl) standing up using 15 lbs dumbbells. I do these with a good rhythm to simulate the running movement.

Single Arm Tri Extensions -- Four sets x 25 reps of single arm tri extension (over head) standing up using same 15 lbs dumbbell as curls. I like to incorporate these sets in with my curl sets. So, I start with the curl set, do 100 curls (50 each arm alternating), then go right into the tri extension with my right arm and do 25 reps, then move to my left arm and do 25 reps. Keeping the weights in my hands the through all the sets adds another element of fatigue which I believe builds endurance.

In the past I've used heavier weights with fewer reps. However, by doing this I tend to gain size in my arms which is NOT what I want (no Mr. Universe ambitions here!). Ultimately, as a runner, I'm seeking the strength from my weight lifting to go the distance, avoid injury and combat fatigue. I believe I get all of this from lifting weights.

However, with a family and a full time job that does NOT include running, my goal is to be as efficient as possible. To save time I often run from the gym after work and head straight in to lift when I’m done running. Or, if I’m running from home on the weekends where there is a gym 1.3 miles away, I’ll plan to run by the gym toward the end of the run and stop in to lift before I’m done. I prefer lifting after a run because my muscles are warmed up and I feel better doing it.

If you are starting to lift for the first time, go easy with lighter weigths and lower reps until you've been at it several months. Also, there is no "right" weight, or right workout. There can be variation on your workouts, and it is good to mix things up. I recommend working with lighter weights first and focus on increasing the number of reps before you add more weight, particularly if you are in an endurance sport.

So, to lift, or not to lift? If that is the question, I prefer to lift. 

June 6, 2010

Western States—20 Days and Counting

The last few months of training now wind down to a long awaited taper.  With just under three weeks remaining before the race I will be “tapering” my miles down by 20%, 40% and 60%, respectively.  Unlike the past couple of years, though, I plan to continue doing a couple of more difficult workouts per week, namely tempo and hill work. 

Today was a great effort and good indicator of my overall fitness.  I dragged Joe R out to the Cleveland National Forest and we ran to the top of Santiago Peak via the Holy Jim Trail.  This run had it all—a 4,000 foot climb in the first 8 miles, altitude, heat and flies!  I’ve never been buzzed so badly by bugs in my life!  We had to run the last couple miles to the peak waving twigs in front our face just to keep them from getting in our eyes. I actually choked at one point when one got down my throat.

Looking back I think my training has been on target.  My weekly miles have been averaging around 85, with two 90 mile and one 100 mile week, with about 10% of that on the elliptical machine.  What I’m most happy about is that I’ve been injury free.  Recovery has been a big focus for me.  I’ve constantly monitored my body.   If I feel too tired, I take a day off, or run easy that day and ultimately I don’t hesitate to put off the next hard work out.  In this same light, I’ve been consistently stretching and lifting weights. 

In the end, it’s all about the journey.  And so far I’m enjoying the ride!


June 2, 2010

Snow Year at Western States?

After enduring a rather wet winter here in California, I’ve been anxiously watching the snow levels in Squaw Valley. With only 24 days before the start of Western States, its looking more likely, if not certain, that we will be running a significant portion of the first 30 miles of the course in snow. Gulp!

How many miles will we be on snow? Not sure, but race officials sent the following email to race participants…."How many miles of snow should we expect on race weekend? We should have a better idea what the race weekend snow conditions will be by June 19th. We'll share that information with you when we have it. Ultimately, we take whatever the mountain gives us.”

Note: italics provided by this blogger for emphasis. We take whatever the mountain gives us. Doesn’t that sound cool!? Wow, now I feel like the Marlboro man getting ready for an assault on some remote peak in the Punjab province! What I really am is a skinny old man trying to get from a posh ski resort to a quaint town named Auburn.

With 78 inches of snow remaining at the top of Squaw as recently as two days ago, my guess for race day is, well, snow. What does that mean? I’m not quite sure. I haven’t done any meaningful runs on snow, so I’m about to find out. I guess I’ll take whatever the mountain gives me!