Monday, September 28, 2015

Starting From Scratch

Whew, definitely need to clear out the cobwebs and sweep away the rat shit in this nearly abandoned place. Not sure why the need to write has gurgled up again, but it has. What led to this? A mid-summer epiphony that something fundamental needed to change, both with running specifically and with overall health generally. Motivation wasn't the problem heading into the summer, which is usually a time I try to keep the weekly mileage moderate and the effort consistent.  But by mid-July I was just feeling shot after every run.  And after a late-July "break" while visiting family in North Carolina, I just couldn't get it going.  Every run left me wrung out and I could tell I wasn't gaining any fitness.  If anything, my runs were slowing down. As a result, the motivation pretty much cratered.

So, I decided to tear it all down to the slab and start again. Having enjoyed a number of podcasts on Endurance Planet []discussing the Maffetone Method, I decided to buy my first ever heart rate monitor (a cheapie Polar model - Chris talked me out of the cool $400 Suunto) and adhere to the tenets of the MAF Method. 

What I wanted - so cool.

What I got - kinda fugly.  But it works.

I did the easy calculation of my MAF HR - 134, strapped the monitor on, and set out the door with a new plan.  And then I was struck by what trying to run at a 134 HR meant - namely, barely moving at all.  Slow as a geriatric fucking snail.  The most pathetic shuffle/jog imaginable.  12:00 min. / mile PLUS slow.  Holy shit.  It was immediately obvious that my prior running must have been well into the anaerobic/near-death zone.  I bet my HR was like 350 or something. 

At the same time, I also overhauled the diet (go big, or go home).  I never thought of myself as an unhealthy eater, but the more I researched, the more convinced I became that I wasn't actually eating that well.  For one, my love of refined carbohydrates (pasta, bagels, oh-so-delicious scones with my morning coffee) was a bad, bad, bad thing. I had it backwards.  Avoiding fats while gorging on carbs - no bueno.  I realized this almost instinctively, so finding the motivation to change wasn't difficult.  Giving up my yummy carbs was.  At least at first. 

Now, nearly two months into this experiment, I can honestly say that I rarely miss any of it. And the physical benefits have been real. No more spikey energy levels, weight loss (without really trying), and sharper mental focus.  The running is improving too. From 12:00+ / min. miles, I've worked down to mid/low 10:00 / miles - enough to feel like a "run" rather than a jog. 

More important, it's made running enjoyable again. Finishing a run feeling fresh rather than trashed makes a huge difference, physically and mentally. Both my mind and body are ready to get up the next day and head out the door. That leads to consistency & for me, consistency is the most important training factor. For the next couple of months, the plan is to gradually increase the volume and then see where things are at. If I'm running 50-mile weeks comfortably at the end of November, then another go at Bandera is possible.  If I'm not quite there by then, I'll look for something a little later in the year. 


Friday, May 9, 2014

April and Miwok Postmortem

Closed out April just shy of 175 miles over 19 runs. The meat of the month consisted of Hell’s Hills and a 33 mile HSP run a couple of weeks later. It was a pretty successful end to a more-or-less successful 4-month training cycle ahead of Miwok. No lengthy downtime meant decent consistency. More hill work would have been nice, but a sore foot and quad after Hell’s Hills shelved those plans.
The good training base instilled cautious optimism going into Miwok. My concerns (in order) were: (1) metatarsal pain in the left foot, (2) trashing the quads too early, (3) nutrition/stomach, and (4) plain old endurance. The foot was at the top of the list both because it was such an issue only a month earlier at Hell’s Hills and because I knew that once it began to hurt, it would not go away. Unlike the other concerns, the foot was a problem that could not be solved during the course of the race. But, knowing that there was essentially nothing I could do about it, I didn’t dwell on “what if” too much.
Race morning started with a 2:00 a.m. wake up, after a surprisingly good 6 hours of sleep (yes, thanks to the time change, I was able to fall asleep at 8:00 p.m.!). The trip to Stinson Beach was easy and I found myself milling in and out of the Community Center with another 400 or so anxious runners. The weather was perfect – cool but not uncomfortably so. I positioned myself in the back 1/3 of the start pack and at 5:00 a.m. sharp, we started. Well, sort of. We rolled forward for about 20 seconds until the pack was force-fed into the narrow Matt Davis trail.
"You want 400 of us to go there?"
This process was not quick, and I found myself standing around for at least a couple of minutes until I was drawn into the singletrack climb. With so many people, the going was very slow, but it turned out to be a nice way to warm up gradually and slide into the day. In fact, being enveloped in the conga line made the biggest climb on the course go down almost painlessly.
After maybe 45 minutes, we emerged above the dense undergrowth of the Matt Davis and onto the exposed hillside Coastal Trail. As I expected, the trail was super thin, cambered, and somewhat overgrown. In short, a real mess. But for whatever reason (maybe because I had dreaded this section for so long), I was pretty blasé about the shitty footing. It was what it was. After about 30 minutes or so, the trail entered the trees, widened, and took a noticeable downhill trajectory. The combination was wonderful, as I was finally able to let the legs open up a bit. That lasted all of 3 minutes before I caught a root and got up close and personal with the trail. Hard. But other than scraped up palms and torn up knees, everything was intact. A few minutes later, we emerged at the Bolinas Ridge AS, where I was a little miffed to find that I was already 30 minutes behind my planned pace. After a brief stop to re-tie my shoes, I was off down the very runnable Bolinas Ridge fire road. Yay!
The joy was cut short by the first inkling of pain in the left foot. Not bad at first, but not even 7 miles into the race, it was enough to cause a lot of concern. And, unsurprisingly, it didn’t fade away. In fact, it just got worse. By the time I hit the descent down to the Randall Turnaround, every step hurt. For a bit, however, the fun of the descent (nothing like it around here) mitigated the pain. I hit the AS 34 minutes off my pace, which meant I had estimated the Bolinas-Randall section pretty accurately in my planning. On the long climb up I noticed that my legs still had pretty good pep. But, oh, the foot. Climbing hurt like hell, as the flexing of my toes exposed the metatarsal heads to full impact. Even the super-cush Olympus didn't help. So, while the climb wasn’t all that bad from a physical endurance perspective, almost every step of it ranged from moderately painful to excruciating.
Back on the ridgeline, I decided not to wait any longer and, in a last-ditch effort to turn things around, downed 3 of the 4 Advil I had budgeted for the race. But an hour or so later when I made it back to Bolinas AS, I couldn’t discern any difference. So I sat down, took off my shoe, rubbed my foot, and waiting for fellow Houston runner, Michael Dino, to show. My plan was to maybe run the long Coastal Trail section to the Cardiac AS with him, both as a way to keep moving and to help distract from the pain with a little conversation. But when Dino rolled in maybe 5 minutes later, he was having stomach issues and wisely was in no hurry to get back out until he solved them (Dino went on to a gutsy 16-hour finish). I decided to take off at a walk and figured that he would catch up at some point. After a bit, I glommed on to a group that was running at a nice, easy clip (interspersed with a bit of walking) and just focused on enjoying what I could. Dino eventually caught up and we continued down the narrow (but beautiful) trail. I knew my day was over, as the foot continued to kill me and, even worse, had led to some overcompensation issues on the right side. While the initial plan was to gut it out to Cardiac and head back to Stinson via the historic Dipsea, when we hit the intersection with the Matt Davis, I made the executive decision to call it a day there. I told Dino I’d try to meet him at Muir Beach, bid him farewell, and hobbled down the steep 1.6 miles back to Stinson.
Back at the Community Center, I officially dropped and was about to begin the trek back to the car when co-RD Stan Jensen told me to hold on while he got my swag bag together. I protested that I didn’t need one, but he wouldn’t hear it and loaded up a quality collection of stuff, including the traditional bomber of Lagunitas brew (this time a mighty fine IPA). Class guy who has done a lot for the sport over the years. Not a terrible way to close out a disappointing race.
So, what to do now. . . . With another Houston summer ahead, the running focus will turn to consistency and quality over quantity. I’d like to be able to log 35-40 mile weeks for the next 4 months, working in some regular harder efforts to improve leg speed. Ideally, I’d like to roll into September in the sort of shape that will provide lots of options for the Fall/Winter racing season. Also, while entering a big race provides motivation, the most satisfying part of the last few months has been the mundane stuff – just getting out there every day and clicking off the miles. For some reason, the last couple of summers have invited that kind of consistency. Hopefully, this summer will be no different. Time to sweat. . . .

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hell's Hills 50K

Leading up to Hell's Hills, it dawned on me that it had been about two YEARS since I'd run an organized ultra.  I was just glad that my re-entry into the "scene" would be at Rocky Hill Ranch, one of my favorite places to race for various reasons.  First, the logistics are fairly easy - about an 1:45 drive down I-10 and up Hwy. 71 to a place seemingly built to accommodate 400-500 runners (easy parking, lots of space to spread out, centralized registration/packet pick up/start-finish).  Second, as with all his races, Joe, Joyce & Co. have this one running like a well-oiled machine.  Third, the trails at the Ranch are a lot of fun, with a little bit for everyone.  Hills?  While there's nothing big, there are plenty of nice 50-75 foot rollers & a slew of short, steep drop-ins.  Rocks?  This is my fourth time at this race, and I always underestimate the rockiness on parts of the course.  Doesn't have the consistent rockiness of Bandera, but brief parts of it are nearly as gnarly.  Buffed out singletrack?  Absolutely.  Some really nice stretches of super-runnable smooth trail.  Flowers?  See above. 
Waited too long to find a hotel room and decided to drive up morning of.  This meant a brutal 2:45 wake up, but once the caffeine was flowing, it wasn't that bad. Made it to the Ranch with just enough time to grab my packet, drop it back at the car, and grab a spot toward the back of the pack. The 6:00 a.m. start meant running in the dark for the first hour, and if I had it to do over again, I would have moved up in the starting gate a bit, because I quickly became boxed into a slow conga line for much of the first 4 miles. I decided to just roll with it though, as I had no intention of running hard early.  Made it to the first aid station in a desultory 1:12, and walked out chatting for a bit with Tim B., who I would run into later.  By about mile 6 or so, a familiar pain began to flare in the left foot - the damn neuroma.  Sometimes it fades after a bit, but not on this day. So began 25 miles of hurty foot running.  Sometimes just a dull ache, other times pure, searing misery. While this did not excite me, it was an opportunity to work on my "mental game" for Miwok.  The "mental game" is basically dealing with discomfort for multiple hours.
After circling through the start/finish (and stopping at the car for some Ensure and new gels), I hobbled back out for the second loop.  The foot was pissed and I wasn't in a great mood, but I just focused on running aid station to aid station.  The section between the S/F and first aid station is a jumble of twisted, sometimes rocky trail, that wasn't all that fun the second time around.  Finally made it to the first aid (nearly 10 minutes faster than on loop 1) and ran into Tim B. once again.  This time around we bitched amiably about the stupidity of the whole endeavor, and combined with the cruiser trail between there and the next aid station, I fell into a pretty solid rhythm.  By the time we made it through that last aid (Henry Hobbs's first-rate "Tunnel-o-Pines"), we were all about just getting it done. And that's what we did - running when it felt okay and walking when we needed to. Breaking into the final straightaway, the pain in the foot took a brief backseat to the joy of finishing.  All in all, a pretty satisfying day. 

Shoes:  Altra Olympus.  Not blaming the shoe for the foot pain, as it can happen regardless of what I wear.  And, man, I really like these shoes.  Once I gained a little confidence, I began just blasting right over whatever rocky shit the course laid before me.  No gingerly picking my way through the ball bearing rocks - at times, I seriously felt like it was cheating. 

Hydration:  Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest with Hydrapack bladder.  Kept an empty bottle in a front holster and used it to camel a bit at aid stations, while I sipped from the bladder in between.  Worked pretty well, although the vest is so wispy that the sloshing from the bladder is somewhat pronounced.  It's a light but noisy mofo.  Storage was more than sufficient.

Calories:  5 GUs, 2 PB&J squares, a quarter of a quesadilla, most of an Ensure Plus (slightly watered down), some Coke, and 2 S-Caps.  Ate and drank to taste and it worked just fine.  Miwok will obviously require something more, but this was a start. 

Monday, March 31, 2014


Although the really crucial Miwok training runs happen in April, as an overall training month, March was hugely important. The goals were pretty straightforward:  no significant injuries; consistency in frequency and effort; and a couple of reasonably strong runs of 20+ miles.  For once, I was able to check off all those boxes.  A 190 mile month isn't all that impressive - hell, plenty of folks do that in two weeks.  But for me, it goes down as the highest single-month mileage evah.  And, honestly, it really wasn't that hard, given the 31-day month and lack of extended downtime.  However, doing pretty much all my long runs solo did become a bit of a grind. 
Looking ahead, the April goals are pretty clear.  First, make it through a couple of longer runs - 31 miles at Hell's Hills and 34 (or so) miles a couple of weeks after that.  Second, get the quads as strong as possible without crossing the line.  Just going to have to be careful about this.  Third, really up the focus on the core and hips - got off to a good start on this last month, but I really need to ramp it up.  Fourth, figure out gear and nutrition.  Think I've got the shoes locked down, but the hydration system is still an issue.  The AK race vest just isn't going to work in its front-loaded form, as I can't adjust it in any way that prevents the bottles from digging into my ribs.  Frustrating.  Likely back to a hydration bladder set up or some hybrid plan.  And, after so long away from the really long efforts, nutrition is something that needs figuring out.  Finally, it should go without saying, but staying healthy is the most important goal of all.  As befits the spring season (regeneration, rebirth, and all that shit), I'm actually looking forward to the challenge of Miwok for the first time since I signed up.   

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


So, Punxsutawney Phil emerged at the beginning of the month, saw his shadow, and thus it was ordained that I would not make it through the month uninjured.  By the numbers:  121 of my 125 February running miles were logged during the first three weeks of the month. I was feeling goooooood. I even ran nine days in a row, such was my hubris.  Then my right knee hurt (seriously, who would have expected that?).  And I barely ran a step the rest of the month.  Less than ideal Miwok training. 
Despite the solid first 3/4 of the month on paper, other parts of my training were less than ideal.  Looking back, it was clear that the diet was meh.  There was too much fire water.  Too little sleep.  No real strength training or core work.  The sad reality is that I'm not young enough to employ the "just run a bunch" training method.  Toeing the line at Miwok in a couple of months is going to require a more holistic approach. That and no more foolish 9-day-in-a-row blocks of running. 

Friday, January 31, 2014


After a mentally trying end to 2013, the idea was to make January all about getting back after it.  The specific goal was just to get healthy and run as consistently as possible.  Feel good about the month overall.  After taking a nasty little spill on the trails that banged up the left shin good enough to force a few days off, the last 2/3 of the month was a model of consistent (albeit modest) running.  Good enough to end the month with 24 runs and just over 131 miles.  If someone had asked how I'd feel about those numbers at the beginning of the month, I would have been thrilled.  So, time to work on a real base over February & hopefully be able hit long runs approaching 20 miles by month's end. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


It's rare that I'd be tempted to post about a massage, but that's what I'm about to do. I had a full 1.5 hour session yesterday with my longtime muscular therapist, Gale.  Never done the "long" session before. Typically, I'll schedule an hour on an as-needed basis.  Say for a sore calf or a tight hip flexor. And, that's pretty much what she'll focus on.  Not the case yesterday. Just left it up to her. While I got a full normal session on the legs & hips, the extra time allowed for work on the back and shoulders. I haven't had anything approaching a back/shoulder "massage" in a decade probably. And, let me tell you, it quickly became obvious that it was long overdue. I lost count of the adhesions throughout my back and neck - issues arising from accumulated stress and poor posture that I had become dulled to over the years. When the time was up, I was little more than a limp noodle, barely able to move off the table. Did it help?  Well, I slept like a rock, woke up without most of my usual aches and pains, and ran my 5.8 mile route nearly 25 seconds / mile faster than the day before. Not a coincidence. 
On a more fundamental level, I find these sessions rewarding for the same reasons I find running rewarding - because during that period (be it an hour or longer), pretty much all the outside interference melts away and I am focused (intensely sometimes) on the absolute present. A common question from non-runners upon finding out that I run is "Don't you get bored? What do you think about?" My answer is "No, not really." I suspect like most runners, I think about how I'm feeling. Breathing. Stride. Aches.  Perceived effort. And a lot of times, nothing much else. Sessions with Gale are the same - the focus is purely on what I'm feeling.  A knot in the calf being worked (usually painfully). Quadriceps kneaded like dough (just heaven). That chronic tight right hip flexor stretched out slowly & progressively. As much as I benefit from the physical aspect of these sessions, they also provide a wonderful mental cleansing.  A form of meditation. Alas, not a cheap form of meditation. If I was a rich man....