Monday, March 25, 2013

The Importance of Race Volunteering

    One of the best ways to give back to the race community is to volunteer.  No kidding, this is shit people tell you constantly...volunteering for anything is giving back....but volunteering at races is also like digging into a book filled with race tips, secrets, and other crap you may not have thought of otherwise.

100 mile racers getting a pep talk from the race director.

    I spent this past weekend volunteering at the NJ Trail Series Ultrafest.  There were distances from marathon, 50k, and 50 mile to 100k and 100 mile.  What is great about this series is that if you are having a rough race day, the director will let you drop down in distance and take a finishing time rather than a DNF.  Same goes for a good race day and a jump in distance.
    This organization has a great following and the people directing, running, and volunteering are like a big family.  It was a great time.  I was able to lend at hand at both aid stations, which I consider pretty lucky.  You get a chance to see runners in all stages of excitement, exhaustion, and euphoria this way.  The race was held on a 10 mile loop, so runners were able to have drop bags in one spot and get anything they needed throughout.  Since I have yet to run a 100 mile race, this was a perfect chance for me to see what goodies people had in their prep bags.  Ibuprofen, moleskin, tape, food of choice...the usual things that I expected and typically carried with me as well. Extra socks, extra shoes, shirts, shorts, notes of encouragement...all great things to add to my mental checklist.
    This was all great to see and use to wrap my head around what lies ahead...within that unknown mileage. To see someone come in at the aid station at mile 40 feeling good and looking strong, and then 10 miles later nearly crushed and struggling was eye opening.  I paid attention to what foods people were switching to as appetites ebbed and flowed.  Encouraging eating and drinking was par for the course, and we made sure to give people broth and noodles when the chilly air seemed to be taking its toll.
So many different food options and preferences.
       I helped cover up runners who were shivering and shaking, refill bottles, make grilled cheese and burgers, and do anything else they were requesting.  Some people took to power walking and found they kept a better pace this way and did it through the finish.  Others kept shuffling, one foot in front of the other, barely being lifted off the ground just to keep moving.
    The cold windy weather turned runners down lap after lap.  As the sun went down and cold weather blew in even more fierce than it had been all day, people made the decision to drop down in mileage and call it a day.  For those that kept plugging away, layers, broth, and anything warm was a necessity.   The sleep deprivation was evident on people's faces and confusion set in for some.  Having people to chat with and get them all the food they needed was the key, and watching those same people later cross the finish line was exciting. Within two laps or so, you are able to remember what the runners preferences are and can get it without questions.  This way you can focus on encouragement and keeping their head in the race.  Soon enough you feel like a part of their race, and the hug at the end of the finish line with thank you's makes it all the more worthwhile.   I learned a lot from the runners and other volunteers and got a chance to peak into what may lie ahead for me; it's an opportunity to be taken advantage of.
   Although I'm still on the fence about registering for my first 100 mile race (I have about a week to decide about the race I'm debating on), watching runners take on the same challenge gave me hope.  Eat often, eat a lot. and keep one foot moving in front of the other.  One thing is for sure, I had a blast; a sleep-deprived, too-much-sugar-and-carbs-for-not-running blast, and I can't wait to do it again.  Mostly the racing part, but the volunteering experience is something that I won't soon forget.

Sun rising on the final morning.

    Get out there and volunteer, especially if you're on the fence about diving into the world of never know what you might learn.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Death to Long Slow Miles??

   There is so much debate these days over whether to use long, slow runs in your training or to run shorter and harder. Many believe that slowing down and running at a lower heart rate is the way to build aerobic fitness, in turn making you faster.  The other side finds higher intensity, more anaerobic-paced activities more beneficial to building power and strength.  So, which is the right way?  Well, it depends on what your training goals are, what you consider distance, and what your base fitness looks like.
     Brian Mackenzie, from the crossfit endurance side, feels long, slow running is useless.  He has completed a number of ultra distance runs in very respectable times and, I believe, trained no more than 12 miles at his longest.  His training was put to the test recently with an article in Outside Magazine. Many have found success in their training and racing under his guidance. While I will admit that this is an appealing scenario given the time commitment of training for ultras, it is not for everyone. Christopher Solomon even states, "MacKenzie isn’t anti-volume per se, but he thinks athletes shouldn’t increase distance until they’ve perfected technique and dialed up intensity."
      Check 99% of the elite and front-of-the-pack ultra runners and you'll see they train through long miles, some never bothering with speed, others incorporating interval work, at the very least. These are the sponsored, podium-standing athletes race after race.  There is book after book published in regards to training slow and long. Think of this like your car...when you ease into speed your rpms drop and the car is more fuel efficient over the long drive; rev too much and you burn gas more quickly.
      However, the two very differing types of training do in fact have a very common base line.Two simple words--proper form.
For Mackenzie, proper form is at the root of all of the work needed to excel as an athlete.  Without it, you will end up broken.  I was given his book Power Speed Endurance this year and, I will admit, I was skeptical at first.  While I was just getting ready to begin a new training season, I decided to dive in and see what it was all about.  I did the drills he recommended and went into my runs with them in mind.  I pay attention to my feet, my knees, and my hips, and not just while running; while bending at work, getting out of and sitting down in chairs, and, yes, in my running.  I incorporate squats, dead lifts, and core and upper body work. I also focus on hip work and keeping my hip flexors from getting too tight.  I notice a huge benefit from having these in my routine.
      While I think there is no better way to start a season or exercise program than from the basics, I do enjoy putting in the miles and spending time on trails.  I also come from the mindset that a good periodized schedule is an effective way to put together a training plan.  While I do continue to go over form drills and focus on those, I like miles and use long, slow distance as a part of my training. Whether it's a mental thing or, again, just enjoying the trails, they are a very important part of my schedule.
      There is a common saying in ultra running that a race is 90% mental and the rest is in your head.  The idea of knowing one can complete a 20 or 30 mile run before stepping up to the start line is a mental comfort.  There may still be an unknown going into the later miles of a new race distance, but you can be confident your body can handle them.  That mental prowess is an important one for many reasons.  Often it is your mind that gives up before your body, so knowing you can handle long days is a mental asset.
     Once you begin putting in more miles, it makes sense to taper down the lifting and higher intensity strength training; these are a part of early base building and the off season.  This is the time to ramp up your total weekly mileage and set the foundation for a long season.  Once you are comfortable with long mileage weeks, including at least one long, slow day (long weeks are individual based on daily schedule and race goal distance), you can drop down in distance and up some intensity.  This could include hill repeats, interval runs, and long tempo runs.  You should always keep a recovery run in your week as well.  The reason behind bringing down mileage for a higher intensity week is to prevent burn out and injury.  However, with a solid prior focus on form and strength the idea of injury should be off the table.
      After a race you can then go back to doing a few weeks of slower distance. Then, back into a few weeks of higher intensity.  Periodizing a training plan in this manner keeps things from getting stale, and it keeps you focusing on form, function, and strength throughout a training and racing season.  It will end up looking a bit like an elevation chart if you were to lay it all out.
      So long story short, No, I don't think the long slow miles are dead. They are a part of training that gets your mind ready to race and take on new distances.  Just listen to your body and don't push it when you're not feeling up to the mileage.  As long as you still enjoy the run, go do it.
    Here is a great conversation between Brian Mackenzie and Rich Roll. You'll be saying "dude" to everyone with how many times it's dropped here.
       So which is better: long, slow miles or only training with intensity?  It is up to the individual and what is effective for one person, might not be for another; but it sure does make for an interesting conversation.

     Go get some miles...or enjoy whatever it is that gets you to the finish line.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Road to 50...

   This was the week that I am really noticing the early mornings payoff.  Last Wednesday we ran the 10 miles route in 1:50:04, Thursday 1:47:38 and Friday 1:45:52.  This week we knocked all those times out and still maintained the mileage.  I'm glad to see the benefits of the miles paying off.

Tuesday 3/5     Trail with Matt

10 miles   1:39:44

avg. hr- 152

2 treadmill miles at book elevation  I couldn't tell you what the elevation is, but it gets me sweating.

The usual early morning route ramped up.  I really lucked out finding training partner well matched in pace, and goals.  We were feeding off each other this morning and just kept a comfortable pace and ended up with 10 min. avg. pace.

Wednesday 3/6      Trail with Matt

10.01 miles  1:36:49

avg. hr-152

I think we were still enjoying the speed from yesterday and came in with a 9:41 avg. pace...this early in training I'm pretty excited to see this progress.

Thursday  3/7   Trail with Matt

10.05 miles   1:42:07

avg. hr-133

We went to this run and the next days as an easy recovery day from pushing a bit the other days.  No snow today, even though the weather was predicting we could see between 4"-8".

Friday  3/8   Trail with Matt

10.08 miles 1:44:37

avg. hr- 156

So the snow showed up today instead!  By the end of the run my eye lashes were completely frozen and Matt's eyebrows were snow covered.  It was pretty cool to lay down the very last fresh tracks of the season.  It also made me realize I am ready for warmer weather.  By the end of the week I was ready for a Saturday rest day (work, not totally lazy.)

Last snowy tracks of the season.

Sunday 3/10   Wiss Run

21 miles 4:17:41

avg. hr-111

12:16 pace for today...I pushed a few  miles more than I probably should have, and came in tired, but it was a great day to be out.  The sun was shining, and t shirt was on.  The trails were pretty crowded though, so I will admit I would rather run early and not have to stop so often to let the mountain bikers pass.  I don't mind though, we all said hello as we passed and are out doing our thing.  I met a fellow ultra runner out doing the same loop.  He was training for an upcoming Massanutten Mountain 100, so best of luck for him!  I always like meeting people out there training and enjoying the trails.  It gives me motivation to keep moving when I get tired.  I tried to eat more today, and at mile 8 I ate a rice ball (Allen Lim Rice Cake) and then a Honey Stinger Fruit Smoothie gel at mile 15, and drank about 20oz. Heed.
Good to see sunny days rolling in.

Weekly Mileage: 63.14

It was another good, high mileage week for me.  It was fun to get one last day in the snow, and then just two days later be out in a t-shirt enjoying the sun and warmer weather.  I feel like I am on my way to 50 after the last two weeks of running.  I think pacing and eating are going to be my biggest challenges.  With pacing I feel like when I feel like speeding up I do; I've got to make sure to keep that in check so I don't burn myself out too early.  This holds true for the 50 miler, and the West Rim Trail FKT attempt the month prior.  Food is the other factor.  I find myself not eating, and in turn eating too thing you can't make up for easily is not getting calories in early and maintaining.  I have my body pretty well trained to handle miles without eating without an issue...but this won't cut it in a race when the adrenaline is pumping and the pace is faster.  All the goodies I'm working on keeping in mind during the weekly runs.

Go get some miles.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chicken!!! And My Longest Running Week Ever.

              This was not only my longest running week ever, but it was a week of damn good runs; back to back to back to back 10 milers, and a long Sunday 21. Our pace has been consistent through the week and with each run, and the 10 milers are beginning to feel like an easy run. Now to just get some more hill training in! Cayuga 50 here I come..and while I'm on it...I've been thinking that maybe it's not a bad idea to just knock a 100 out this year...let's just say it's rolling around in my noggin.
         When I say rolling around, I mean I have the registration dates in my calender and am pretty well set. That's some crazy shit to wrap my head around.  I can't get the idea out of my head though, and with a running partner who has two 100's planned for the season, the idea is fully supported.  For me I know if I do register, I will be putting together a bit more structured training plan once the base is super solid.  I'm excited just thinking about it.

Sun up from the Sunday long run.

Tuesday 2/26   -trail. 

10 miles

I went to bed feeling sick on Monday and thought sleeping in would help, so I skipped our morning run and took an afternoon run instead. The congestion subsided long enough for me to get in the groove. I actually had planned on running about 6 or 7, but it felt good to get going and I ended up with 10.

Wednesday 2/27  -trail with Matt

10.13 miles

Same route as the 10 from last week.  It's easy in a time crunch and we know we can get it done in under 2 hours, get going, and make it to work on time. All the morning runs start with headlamps, so a bit flatter trail has been the way to go in the early morning.

Thursday 2/28   -trail with Matt

10.03 miles

I had a hell of a time sleeping the night before...the sickness is creeping in slowly and settling in my sinuses...shitty.  But, as usual, the cold air and that dirty, gravely sound of my shoes hitting the ground just seems to wake me up no matter what.

Friday  3/1        -trail with Matt

10.02 miles

I'll be honest, I was dragging a bit by this time, but I was impressed I was able to get my feet back under me and get the mileage done.  It was honestly nice knowing that a rest day was coming up, but satisfying getting the miles in.

Sunday 3/3         -trail with Matt

21 miles

Longest run thus far.  We were the first ones on the trail and didn't see anyone else for about 3 hours.  I don't think there is anything better than that. It's so satisfying to go into the afternoon with a long run done.  The trails were pretty dry which was a nice break from my earlier Tuesday run.  Can't wait to keep the long ones going.

Weekly Total: 61.18

This week I learned my body can handle more than I initially thought this early in the game.  I feel good on my runs, but I need to eat more. I have gotten into the bad habit of not eating on our runs. I don't eat in the morning before or during our runs.  On Sunday I drank about 150 calories; I use Hammer Nutrition Heed in my bottles (I'm a fan of the melon). I didn't drink enough water and only ate five Honey Stinger chews through the full 21 miles.  I have to really work on remembering to eat and drink more to get through stronger.  Not eating isn't going to cut it in a 50 mile race; and certainly not in a 100.

Go get some miles.

Delicious Roasted Rosemary Garlic Chicken

Tasty and super easy.
I'm a fan of this chicken, since it's easy and is pretty much a one stop deal when you add the veggies.  Put brussels sprouts, carrots, and baby potatoes with the chicken stuffed with fresh garlic and a sprig of fresh rosemary.  Cover the chicken with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Cook on 375 for about an hour and fifteen minutes.

And a fun quick dessert to go with it.

Delicious grain-free strawberry shortcake.

I used a recipe from the site It was super fast and good. I mixed everything up while I was getting ready to pull the chicken out of the oven.  By the time I had the chicken sliced and veggies on the plate, it was time to pull these babies out.  Perfect timing and still warm enough for dessert.  I covered the shortcake with fresh sliced strawberries and warm coconut cream concentrate.  Enjoy it.  I'm going to try them again for some more savory dishes too.