April 29, 2017

Into the Weeds

Today the weeds were towering over my head and the thorns were penetrating through my socks. My lungs filled with pollen and the hot wind rapidly parched my lips. Why did I chose this trail? The question kept popping into my head like bad TV theme song….HR puff and stuff, who’s your friend when things get rough. I continued onward, though, through the tree-sized stalks of mustard plant and weeds.

One of my favorite books of all time is Where the Red FernGrows. It’s a children’s novel but I’ve read it multiple times as an adult, including to my daughters. The themes in this story are of youth and nature, life and death, toughness and vulnerability, freedom and exploration. If you have ever harbored the need to explore nature, on a mountain or in a forest, to be in the presence of the wild, off the grid and away from endless distractions, you should read this book. It might inspire you. To do more of what you need to do in life. To be closer to nature.

Emerson said to “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Have you ever sat next to a still lake or in a quite place and just tried to be calm, but couldn’t because hundreds of thoughts kept popping into your head? Tasks, chores, responsibilities, whatever? Sometimes I think our minds have been lulled by society to be permanent waste treatment centers, programmed to process the crap we chose to deal with in life into something meaningful. Unfortunately the GIGO principle applies here. If we are preoccupied with mundane tasks, our lives simply become, well, mundane. What’s at stake? I don’t know. What if you think about it, but don’t do anything about it? Well, then, there goes another hour, another day, another year. A lifetime.

Ok, I snuck off the reservation a little here. Lets bring this back to something meaningful to running or, better yet, ultra running. Tomorrow I’m planning on sneaking onto a trail that will take the better part of 8 hours to complete. I’ve done this run before, but it was five years ago and I was younger and, well, let’s just say less the wiser.

Back then I was hell bent on extracting as much fitness and pride out of a difficult workout. Today I’m looking forward to being on a mountain for 8 hours. I'm also intent on being patient, by adopting the pace of nature. Time on foot. It's not just a slogan. 

--> Keep it real runners.

April 22, 2017

Angry Dog Video

Just when you think you’ve got a spontaneous run down, something rushes at you and wants to bite you in the ass! Hell, all I want to do is finish my damn run.  They always catch me off guard, these dogs. Oh well, what would running be without a little excitement?  

April 16, 2017

Getting Into the Ultra Mindset - Vol. 1

Recently someone asked me to write about the challenges of mental training for ultra marathons. Hah! If I ever write a book about ultra running, I will most definitely dedicate a chapter if not the entire book to this topic!

One of the greatest athletes of all time – Mohamed Ali – said that a man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. Do you get where I’m going with this one? I started running marathons in my late 20s, then switched to ultras in my mid 40s. For better or worse, everything I thought I knew about running has changed.

The term mental training is really a euphemism for teaching yourself to embrace a mindset. For me, when I switched to running ultras it meant teaching myself how to think differently. To abandon the mental shackles that controlled my perceptions and expectations about running and being a runner.

To begin, let me say I’m going to build on this topic over several intermittent posts (hence the Volume 1 above). There is just too much to write on this topic in a single post.

Lets start with preparation. How do you prepare mentally for an ultra marathon? (For purposes of these posts, I’m going to use mountain oriented 100 milers when I refer to ultras. Everything else is just a long marathon :-). Rule of thumb – pace means nothing, so stop obsessing over it. Really folks, especially those coming from a marathon background, throw away any GPS that is tracking your real-time pace or splits. Why? First off, your poor ego will be devastated to learn that your mile pace is very often barely faster than a brisk walk.

Depending on the terrain, altitude, vertical gain, descent, heat, daylight, distance covered, nutrition/hydration – your pace and energy levels will very wildly. Mentally speaking, you have to be prepared to roll with this and not try to control it. The mindset that you control your pace and use a GPS to monitor it is like thinking you can fly the Apollo to the moon with a compass. Your leaving the earth’s magnetic field my friend, it ain’t going to get you there. Think of it this way - when you’re running 100 miles in the mountains, you entering a new stratosphere. What worked at ground level won’t help you up there.

Rather than monitoring your pace, turn your mental focus inward, to your energy output. This is critical in training because you need to teach your mind patience and your body how to move efficiently for long periods. In most cases, the slower you start, the faster you will finish – in workouts and races. As one of my running mentors says, when it comes to training, it’s all about “time on foot.” Yes. It’s more than just a slogan.