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Saturday, June 29, 2013

R2R2R, Part 3 of 3

R2R2R, Part 3 of 3

Having trained for this event specifically since Dec 17, I was ready.  Ready not only to run it, but to run it for time.  I was thinking that 9-12 hours was doable.  I’d head over in 5 hours and see how I felt on the return. Then…

Have you ever studied about how airplane crashes happen? It is never one thing that brings a plane down.  Rather it is a series of small, unlikely events that happen successively.   So it was with how my plans changed on R2R2R.

Just like prior to my Boston 08 marathon, I had been watching the daily weather reports for about a month in advance of the event. I’ve since learned (thanks to Nate Silver) that weather forecasting only beats daily averages up to 7 days in advance.  The daily averages for the South Rim/Phantom Ranch were 30/60 and 50/80.  So I was expecting to start in a nice cool 30 degree temp and run the bottom in about 80 degrees temps. However, as the day drew closer, I could see a heat wave building up.  It was looking to peak on Tuesday 4/30.  With 50 degrees at the start (nice) but 100 degrees at the bottom.  Ouch.  With 6% relative humidity and strong winds (40mph on the South Rim) I began to think this was not the day to go fast.

I flew to Phoenix on Monday early enough that I could do the 3.5 hour drive and still be to the South Rim before sunset.  I had about an hour or so of daylight to check out the South Kaibab trailhead and figure out the shuttle system.  I also learned about other trials in the area; specifically the Bright Angel trail.  The Bright Angel trail is the most popular, shaded, with reliable water about every 1.5-3 miles.  I had read a blog post about a group from Boulder that did the South Kaibab, North Kaibab and Bright Angel loop to make it an even 50 (the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trailheads are about 5 miles apart along the South Rim.)  The seeds had been planted.

Part of my Leadville training was to get in bed by 9pm the night before so I did that here.  It was tricky finding the lodge.  The National Park does a good job preserving the night sky by keeping lighting to a minimum.  However, this can make it hard to find your way around.  To catch the 4:30am shuttle, I set my alarm for 3:45. (Note this time of year I had a one hour time advantage).  It is a very interesting feeling as you do your final preparations: there is switch where you have to go from “preparation “ to “perpetration.”  Perhaps I was stalling a bit knowing that it was going to be a long day, but I headed out about 4:15am with a vest, headlamps etc.  to run the ¼ -1/2 mile over to the shuttle station.

As soon as I stepped outside I realized I did not know which way to go.  I checked out the shuttle station, but not from the direction of my lodge. So I started running down the dark two lane road  in the direction I thought was correct.  Almost immediately self-doubt crept in.  “Is this the right way?” “It shouldn’t be this far” “Why can’t I see a light or a building?” “Is this the road to the park entrance? “ “Damn, that must be five miles long” “Should I head back and try the other way?”
I came upon an intersection which I thought was a small guard station on the way to the entrance.  Damn. I ran a little ways this way and that trying to figure out where I was.  Then I realized I was at the shuttle station.  It was about 100M across and the bus turned on the engine and pulled away from the far side of the lot.   I looked at my watch.  4:32am. 

So, I could have waited 28min for the next shuttle but that’s not what runners do.  I hit the ‘start’ button on my Garmin and said ‘game on’   I started down the road on a 5k warm up to the trailhead.  Even finding the South Rim Trail was not easy in the dark.  And, once I was on it, it wasn’t 100% easy to follow.  What was trivial in the day time became a lot trickier at night.  I made it to the trailhead at 5am having already started my SkratchLabs/HammerGel routine.  If I had caught the shuttle, I had planned to be on the trail by 4:40 because the mules start at 5am.  

I was in bathroom stop number 1 (first of many that day) when I heard the mules go by.  Sun up was coming (5:17) so the headlamp was less necessary, but I kept it on during the early descents with lots of exposure.  Now that I was behind the mules it was slow going.  I caught up to the first group at about 1/3 mile  down.  I had heard that trail runners were getting a bad reputation in the corridor trails so I was trying to be extra careful all day.  So, not knowing how to signal the driver without scaring the mules, I just started walking along behind them.  Fortunately, the driver spotted me at the bend and waved me past.  About a ½ mile later, I repeated the procedure.

So with the late, slow start and searing hot weather ahead, I began to re-think my plan to run for time.  I was also curious to see the Bright Angel trail.  And, the trail itself was not easily runnable for me.   Much of the trail had logs across it, creating ill spaced steps.  It reminded me of running down the steps at Red Rocks amphitheater.  Another bathroom stop (three on the way down, but then good to go the rest of the day.) 

As the sun finally came over the canyon – too beautiful to describe so I won’t try here – I stopped to reflect on the moment with some hikers who had been on the 4:30 shuttle.  They asked where I was headed and they suggested the Bright Angel as the return route.  As I kept descending I thought instead of making this an out-n-back timed run, I’d make it a slow-easy-safe recon run.   To be ready for the heat, I could only think to go slowly and drinks lots of water.  Colorado is a great place to train for hills and distance, but it is no place to get ready to run in the humidity.  I figured I’d scout out the main corridor trails and plan my return visit(s) with friends.

So that’s over 1000 words and we are just at dawn.  I did a .9/.1 run walk pattern on the descent.  The rest was key to save my quads for the rest of the day.  Seeing the Colorado river for the first time gave me a big boost.  The light was incredible; the air cool and still along the bottom early in the morning.  Crossing the bridge, I thought of my rafting friends who had come this way.  On the other side is a very tempting beach, but I remembered one of my rules “don’t go in the water’. And kept running up to Phantom Ranch.  I reloaded water and expected to drop trash (I have been using 2 gels/hour) but in the GC you pack out your own trash.  I was very glad to get to the North rim where I could finally empty my trash.   Heading up to Cottonwood Campground was kind of like running up the Boulder Creek Path. Not too steep and shaded from the morning sun.  I felt great.  The navigation I had assumed would be trivial, but there are a few side trails that can make you pause to check your bearings.  At Cottonwood, I loaded up with 5L of water knowing that I’d have to go 14miles without aid.  And it was getting hotter.  As I ascended, the sun shone on the trail all the way up to the North Rim.  At the North Rim, I was holding up ok , but my low back hurt from carrying that much water weight.  I laid down for about 10 minutes with my legs up on a tree to rest my back and get ready for the descent. 

The descent down to Roaring Springs was great.  Still not too hot, but getting there. Lots of NPS workers out getting the trail ready for the 5/15 opening of the season.
Below Roaring Springs, it was hot.  The sun was shining on the trail—often surrounded top, bottom and left by rock reflecting the heat.  Slow down and cook.  Run faster and cook.  And where was that Cottonwood Campground?

“shhhhhrtt” uh oh That’s the sound of  a camelback running out.  I looked at my hand bottle.  1/3 left.  Dang, where is the Cottonwood Campground?  Every clump of cottonwoods I’d think, it must be here, but no, the trail kept winding down the valley.  Had I made a wrong turn? Should I scramble to the creek below for water? (it’d take 30 min to sterilize it and I was getting close to my 4pm cutoff for additional calories at Phantom Ranch)

I kept going. 

Finally, I pulled into the Cottonwood campground and was able to reload the water.  But how much? After my last brush with running out, I wanted to take plenty.  But, if I take too much, it weighs a lot and that puts stress on my back.  Phantom Ranch was an ‘easy’ 7 miler down the valley.  On a typical day, I could do that comfortably in an hour. So I’d only need one bottle of water.  But I loaded up. I had researched heat stroke and heat exhaustion and had learned that the treatment was to get rest and water.  I thought it might come in handy as the temps were approaching 100 along the bottom of the canyon. 

The 7 miles down hill was anything but easy.  The trail was smooth and easy to follow; it also had a nice 2% type break. However, it was really hot and dry.  If I ran, I generated internal heat.  If I walked, I baked.  I ended up alternating a run/walk pattern.  I’d run the sunny parts and walk the shady parts to try to keep my temp down.  When doing solo events, it is imperative that you keep your head together.  Getting dizzy or disoriented at this point would have been very bad.  By now my batteries had run out on my Garmin, but my external battery for my iPhone kept it charged.  However, along the bottom of the canyon the GPS signals were intermittent and made the mileage counter unreliable. 

I really like knowing where I am, but for this stretch I had to estimate my pace and just use my regular Timex.  I figured I should be able to make 10 min/mile and get down in about 70 min arriving by 3:30.  If I missed the 4pm cutoff, I would not be able to get additional calories and I’d be in real trouble trying to hike out that night. I ended up getting to Phantom Ranch at 3:40.  They had iced tea that was the best thing I’ve tasted in a long time.  I drank a lot quickly.  Too quickly.

With a rush towards the door, I barely made it out to the woods and deposited all of the ice tea I had just drank.  I’ve thrown up before in similar conditions so I knew not to panic.  Nonetheless, losing fluids in 100 degree heat is not helpful.  

I went back inside, ordered more tea but this time I found a shady spot to lie down and rest.  Sipping tea while having my feet up on a tree trunk allowed me to rest my back and getting cool.  I still had a long way to go.   Realizing I was going to be way overdo, I pinged my family with my PLB (personal locator beacon) to let them know I was ok.

From Phantom Ranch, I could go up the direct route (South Kaibab) but it is exposed, hot, deserted, no water and the trailhead was 5k from my hotel.  If I didn’t make it up by an hour after sunset (8:15) I’d have to run back to the hotel.  Or I could take the longer Bright Angel trail.  It had shade, people and reliable water.  And, I hadn’t seen that part of the canyon yet.  I opted for the ‘recon’ run and headed out for the Bright Angel trail a little after 4pm. It was fun to cross the Colorado again on a different bridge and then run along the river for a mile or two. Turning up the canyon, it was like heading up Gregory Canyon.  Steep and rocky, but not too steep or rocky.  I was feeling good after my break at Phantom so pushed the pace up to the Indian Garden ranger station. I had hoped to get up by dark, but at Indian Garden I realized the sun was going down fast and I still had 4 miles of steeper going ahead of me. 

It was nice to chat with some of the others on the trail at the water stops.  Soon the  Mile  house came and went.  Then the 1.5 mile rest stop.  At this point it was quite dark so I put on the headlamp/flashlight.  The final mile or so has quite a bit of exposure, so I was being careful to keep it together until the top.  There were quite a few false summits ( there are two tunnels…) but eventually (8:45 ish) I made it to the top.  Just in time for 40 mph winds.  And cool temps.  This was the first time since 5am I could get a cell signal.  I stopped to text family that I was ok, and then started to make my way back to the hotel.  By my estimate I had already gone 50 miles so I was happy to catch the shuttle from the Bright Angel Trailhead back to the Lodge. 

Ironically one of the most dangerous parts of the trip was waiting for the shuttle.  I had put on every piece of clothing I could find, but my core temp was falling rapidly.  I was concerned about hypothermia while waiting for the shuttle.  The long sleeve ex officio exothermic shirt that kept the sun off and me cool enough during the day was now working against me.  Being wet and getting blasted by that wind was not fun.  Turns out I did have more clothing with me, but I was not able to think clearly enough to realize that.  Similarly, I had 3-4 gel packs in my vest that I was not aware of until the next morning.  These are great examples of how your mind begins to fail you under exhaustion. 

I was able to make it back to the lodge, take a shower and be in bed by ten.  It had been a much longer day than I planned for, but was a great way to see the main corridor trails in a day. 

Driving to Phoenix the next morning, I had a chance to reflect on the trip.  Would I do it again? Absolutely.  In a 100 degree heat? No thanks.  I’d pick a date much earlier than April 30.  Ideally it would be great to have 2-3 days flexibility as to when you actually do the event. Being able to pick the exact day with about 7 days remaining would be ideal.

I wouldn’t mind running in the snow- it’s how I train in Colorado.  It would be great to come back with friends – but they would have to have done the training to make it a fun day and not a death march. Next time, I’d be more careful with my diet.  I weighed 190 and had a BMI >20%.  That is too much weight to be carrying around the Grand Canyon on a hot day.  With a low carb diet during my month of recovery, I was able to drop 6 lbs and a few BMI % points.

Some of the things that worked: being flexible; a liquid-only diet (Skratch Labs in the bottles and Hammergels/Salt Caps); run/walk patterns.  It has been amazing to see that adding 10% walking allows me to double the distance I can cover and dramatically reduce soreness.  Compression shorts, Montrails, DryMax socks, long sleeves; white calf compression wear, Garmin/Strava/external battery, Nike hat for night, sunglasses and prescription, and an OR hat with ear/neck covers for 10am-4pm all worked well.  So did a lot of Glide and a few Prep H towelettes.

If you have specific questions about doing a roll your own R2R2R, please email me jim.h.franklin at gmail.com




Friday, May 10, 2013

Rim2Rim2Rim, Part 2

"It's the journey, not the destination"

Part of why I like doing my own events is all of the planning and logistics that goes into the preparation.  Once I decided to do the R2R2R, I needed help.  And the running community is great at offering help to those who ask.  So I set about meeting with as many people as I could find who were veterans of the event.

Basit has done the run 4 times and was most helpful.  However, he is much fitter than me so I had to calibrate some of his advice.  For example, I require 4 bottles to hike out to the South Rim, whereas I'm sure he does it in two or less. Charles Corfield (of rocket fuel fame) and Vicki Hunter were also helpful.  Vicki is extremely tough, so when she said this is the event that has made her the most sore, I was doubly sure to take it easy on the first descent to save my legs.  Peter Bawkin not only designed the vest I wore, but also gave me great advice on hydration.  Kevin Fonger led me to the shirt I ended up wearing on the big day.  Andy Carlson, David Moll, Mike Stemple, Huybert Groenendaal and many others helped with the PLB's (I used the ResQLink) and other logistics.  Grant Hull provided a helpful trip report just two weeks prior to my own attempt (hint: take more than two bottles above Cottonwood campground or you'll be drinking snow meltwater on the North Rim...)

One of the key issues was when to do it.  April 30th seemed to be an ideal time. Long days (sunrise 5:13am, sunset 7:17), expected temps 30-80 degrees.  Starting at 4:00am would mean headlamps and flashlights, but you'd be ahead of the mules that operate on both the S. Kaibab and the Bright Angel trail (but they don't start till 5am).  Another reason I liked the 4/30 4am start is that it seemed Leadvillian.  For Leadville training, I'd always go long on the last day of the month; and Leadville starts at 4am.  A small cheat is that Arizona remains on Mountain Standard time so it would feel like a 5am start to me.  April 30th also gave me just enough time to do my Leadville-style build up to 40 miles.

I'd assumed that I could park at the trailhead, but no.  There is no public parking so you have to take a shuttle from the visitor center.  First shuttle leaves at 4:30 on April 30th and takes about ten minutes to get to the S. Kaibab trailhead.  My plan was to stay in the national park and take the shuttle. Because spring is high season in the park, (summers are too hot) there wasn't any room at any of the lodges. I booked a room about 9 miles south of the park two months in advance.   Making your travel reservations creates a sense of realism (impending doom?) to the training.  It's a long story, but I ended up getting a room in the park at the Yavapai Lodge.

The NPS site has a lot of good information.  They do recommend a maximum daily hike of 3 mile downhill -- and to never, ever try to go to the river and back in a day.  Someone recommended that I read "Over the Edge" - a book summarizing the 600 deaths in the Grand Canyon.  After reading it, I realized I could maximize my chances of survival by 1) not going in the river, 2), not drinking alcohol and 3) not taking pictures.  It is amazing how many people died either taking pictures or having their picture taken.

I tracked most of the course on my iPhone5 using strava and an external battery.  I used SkratchLabs hydration products.  SkratchLabs is a Boulder start-up that has excellent hydration products.  I used Hammergels (single serving size...lots of trash, but good portion control and a variety of flavors: two per hour at an estimated 12 hours).  And SaltCaps (one per hour cool, more hot).  I planned on using a 100% liquid diet -- just like the first 40 miles of Leadville.

The PB vest holds a 3L bladder. With two ultimate direction bottles on the vest (20oz each) and a 22 oz Specialized bottle in my lefthand (golite), I could carry 5 liters of water.  At 2.2 lbs per liter, that's a lot of weight.  And it's relatively high on the back, causing some strain.  I used the full pack on a 50k training run (about 6 hours ) and had 1/3 or more of the water left at the end. I used the Skratch labs in the bottles and water in the hydration pack. My full packing list was a page and a half long: sun hat with neck/ear covering, med kit, space blanket, headlamp, flashlight, spare batteries, sunglasses/night glasses, signal mirror, whistle, knife, lots of anti-chafing supplies).

The prep was endless.  Reading maps, watching videos of the trail, calculating how much water to carry between water stops, assessing the likelihood that there would be water at the water stops, etc. Reading about the Boston marathoner who died on these trails was a cautionary tale.  Keeping an eye o the weather... I learned (from Nate Silver) that weather forecasting is good about 7 days out; beyond that you are better off just using daily averages.  As the date approached I could see that a heat wave was building and would peak on my targeted day.  Two days before or after and it would be 20 degrees cooler.

The clothing starts with the Montrail waterproof shoes and Drymax socks.  The set up was a little snug, but a proven combination through Leadville.  I used the Nike ProCombat compression shorts with simple soccer shorts on top.  My shirt was an Ex-officio  longsleeve made out of fabric that actually cools when wet.  I ran in Nike running hat (backwards with headlamp) for night/early am running and a full skirted hat for the 10am-4pm session. And don't forget the nipguards.

Many thanks to Boulder Running Company for world class advice, service and products.  And, thanks to ZombieRunner.  Not only for the convenience of keeping me stocked in gels etc, but also for opening your Palo Alto store an hour after closing so I could get a pair of sock I needed for that night's run.

Enough with the preparation, next time onto the run itself.

Friday, May 3, 2013

50M recon run in the Grand Canyon with a Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R)

Short version:
April 30, 2013
50 miles running/hiking
16 hours+
100 degrees in the Canyon; 40 degrees and 40 mph winds on the South Rim.

After Leadville in 2011, I was happy to take many months off of training.  Life and work took over and I found myself unmotivated to go and do 7 mile routine training runs for general fitness and health.  I needed a goal that was scary/challenging but doable.  In 2012, that focused around ironman.  After a DNF  "roll my own" ironman in Hawaii May of 2012, I did one in Boulder in Sept -- mostly to remind myself that I can do that distance.  I'd just much rather do it at altitude in cool pleasant, low humidity rather than in Hawaii's windy, hot and humid conditions (but I look forward to going back to Hawaii in 2014 to complete an ironman on the world championship course.)

So after the ironman in Sept 2012, I found myself unmotivated again and wondering what's next.  I dove into work in Oct/Nov and by Dec I was getting pretty far out of shape.  I had thought about a skiing goal.  The Grand Traverse or the North Routt Coureur des Bois would be great challenges.  But, I was too far out of shape to train for those events and they would require a lot of time on skis.  That would be tricky.

So I thought I'd look for a good goal to do in the spring.  Boston Marathon is a good choice, but I did that in '08.  What I learned from that experience is that it's no fun to do serious marathon training in Colorado from Nov to April.  There are other things to do in Boulder those months, while May to October is ideal for running on the roads.

I've been running the trails around Boulder since 1992.  There have been loosely organized trail runs around Boulder since at least the '60s.  With the web, we've 'organized' under a Yahoo group called Boulder Trail Runners.  This group now has over 2,000 members.  Every spring, I'd see posts from some of the ultra runners who would drive to the Grand Canyon and run the Rim to Rim to Rim.  The run generally starts on the South Rim, goes down the South Kaibab trail, up the North Kaibab trail to the North Rim and back.  It's 42.5 miles and 10,000' of vertical.

Given my experience and Leadville, I thought I could do a solo run in the Grand Canyon.  It was 4 and a half months away: the perfect time to do a Leadville-style build up, get fit and enjoy a nice day in an amazing world treasure.  My plan was to train as if I was building up to Leadville, but stop at the 40M training point.  And work in a lot of hills.

Remarkably, I made almost every workout that I scheduled over that 4.5 months. My culmination was to do a 20M/22.5M double in CA's coastal hills in 75 degree weather two weeks out from start date.  I did the 20M/22.5M double in about a combined 10 hours with 8,500 vertical. I felt I was ready.

In planning to do a solo run, I spoke with several people who have run it.  And that's where we will pick up next time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Nutrition/Hydration for ultra running

The magic formula for going several hours is Hammergel every 30 min, Saltcap on the hour and 5 oz of Perpetuem every 15 minutes.  Making that happen is not as easy as you might think.  After about 40 miles, you can't trust your own judgment.  What was routine in practice gradually becomes a lot trickier.  So you have to have systems set up to make it as easy as possible.   And practice on every run.

I used a GoLite double bottel waist pack with a GoLite hand strap. I used three 24oz bike bottles (Specialized) one Green, one Pink, one Blue.  Different colors are helpful in keeping track of what's in each bottle.  Also, green is my favorite color, pink represented my daughter and blue my son.  These bottles have a clear stripe on the side so you can easily determine how much fluid is left in each.
Measure and mark the bottle in 5oz increments. Since I'm 6'1" and 183 lbs (on race day) with a significant sweat rate, I was takin in 24 oz per hour.  That's a little over 100 cals per hour through the bottle. By using a hand bottle, you can have a visual reminder of your progress against the 5oz every 15min.  It's amazing how much you forget to drink if the bottle isn't in your hand.

Taking a Hammergel every 30 min gives you 200 cals through gels for a total of 300/cal per hour.  Amazingly this is all you need to go the distance. I used the messy plastic packages.  The advantages are you get portion control and a variety of flavors.  I would buy 100 at a time from www.zombierunner.com, pull out the caffienated mochas ones and then randomly draw them from my waist pack.  A fun game is to not look at the flavor but to try and guess it.  I keep the Mocha ones for night runs.  I'm not  a big fan of the banana or mocha flavors.  It would suck to get those back to back on a night run, but then maybe you'll get a Mountain Huckleberry and all will be well. I've since switched to the the 5 serving gel bottles. They are cheaper, cleaner and no trash.  One of those bottles and the Perpetuem routine above is a 'tankful' on which you can go 12-15 miles quite comfortably.  Even 20M.  On one of my 50M training runs I ran out of fuel and was able to go another 2 hours without incident until I could get back to my aid station.  Beware those bottles can get heavy.  I took three with me to Hawaii to attempt a self-supported ironman, and the weight was significant.

SaltCaps every hour keep the cramps at bay.  This rule works well for winter training in Colorado.  When I did a 50M race in warm temps in May, my legs cramped just past 25M.  I had forgotten to increase my consumption in the heat.  I would go to 2-3 per hour and the cramps cleared.  I find this also worked in Hawaii when biking long distances.  In Leadville, I erred on the side of too much salt in the first 50.  My hands had swelled and I even gained a pound or two at the 50M weigh in.  I skipped salt altogether for 2-3 hours until I felt better.  Then it was cool and nighttime so I went back to the 1 per hour until morning.

I found that running with a Garmin 305 was very helpful.  I would use it to track the .9/.1 run/walk breaks.  Also, with the clock I'd follow this pattern: top of the hour was SaltCap, hammergel and drink. by :15 it was make sure I was down 5oz on the bottle; by :30 it was hammergel/drink by :45 it was making sure I only had 5 oz left  and then top of the hour repeat (grab new bottle from the back).  It is fun to practice all of this while moving.  It should go without saying that all of these things are done while moving forward.  When you set up your aid stations, minimize your time there. I think of it like 'hot potato' I want out of there as fast as possible.  That's where failure (stopping) might happen.  Get back on the trial.  Ideally, you'll have a fresh set of bottles at the aid station so you don't have to mix and pour.  This is a great example of something that is easy when you are sober, but not so easy after several hours of running.  Come in, dump your trash, grab your gels and bottles and keep going.

Allen Lim, of Skratch Labs, is a professional at all of this.  I used his hydration formula at the aid stations in clear Nalgene bottles.   This is in addition to the Perpetuem above.  Allen talks about your 'clear rate' that is how much fluid can go from the stomach to your body.  5 oz is a good rule of thumb, but there are ways to enhance it with the right mix.  If you take in too much, it just comes out the top. :)
I thought dehydration was a big risk for me given my sweat rate, so I would drink as much as I could of Allen's formula at the aid stations to make sure that I wasn't getting behind.

Deep into an event, the perpetuem tastes not good.  I'd try using Allen's hydration (which is close to 100 cal); it is much lighter and better tastings.  Or do 50% perpetuem solution and make up the cals with more gel.

Whenever I follow this routine, things go well.  Through 40M of Leadville, all went well.  Then at the TwinLakes outbound station, I grabbed chips, cookie, coke and whatever.  I'm not sure why.  It looked good and I figured, 'couldn't hurt'.  Wrong.  Halfway up Hope Pass, I was in big trouble and unable to continue.  I eventually walked up to Hopeless, got some soup and then the adventure began. :)


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Build up to 100

Deciding to do Leadville as my first 100 ten months in advance of the event had two flaws. One, Leadville should not be your first 100. With the hills and the altitude, you are stacking the deck against yourself for completing your first 100. Secondly, I should have started a full year in advance. With ten months to go, I was already behind schedule.

Ideally, starting in August, I would have built up my fitness to do the Rocky Racoon in Texas in Feb. A flat course, at sea-level consisting of 5x20M loops makes logistics a lot easier. And you can focus on just going the distance. Then you can work on hills, altitude and logistics of an out-and-back course like Leadville.

So, while I had 19 seasons of triathlon and marathon training in my body, I had taken off the previous year. My weight was up, diet poor and training base consisted of a few runs and some mountain biking. And I was about to start running 40M weeks. Even as a marathoner, I was a low mileage trainer and could run low three hours on a peak week of 40 miles, but usually I'd do 25 with some swimming and biking thrown in. I have also found that to go from a cold start to 25M/week is a significant effort on the body. To get to 40, I'd have to add 10% per week to keep from injury. That would have taken 5-6 weeks that I didn't have time for. The key was to start with the .9/.1 run/walk pattern. It was amazing how that allowed me to dramatically increase my weekly mileage without injury. Also, in ultra running, those walk breaks are essential for dealing with clothing, food, navigation and most importantly emotions. When you are feeling good, they calm you down. When you are feeling like crap, the walk breaks are a chance to regroup. If you are having a hard time restarting your run after a walk break, use your hands. Just start with moving your hands as if you are running and soon the rest of your body will follow.

So the annual plan for mileage has you running 40M weeks in Nov and Dec. They are done as follows: 5/10/5 rest 10/10 rest. This gives you two clumps of twenty miles each. The next week is 5/10/5 rest 15/5 rest. This maintains the same weekly total, two days of rest and bumps your long effort to 15. The third week is 5/10/5 rest 20/0 rest. Again you maintain the same weekly mileage, but lengthen the long run and pick up an extra day of rest. Speed does not matter. Do the run/ walk patterns and start practicing your nutrition hydration plan. Repeat the pattern for the next three weeks. By the end of Dec you'll have your second 20M and it will feel a lot easier than the first. A key is to make sure you can run 20 easily at this point.

On race day, you have a half-marathon in the dark to warm up, then a nice trail marathon followed by a 20 mile double cross of Hope Pass, followed by another trail marathon likely in the dark and then a final half marathon after sunup. So you need to start thinking in terms of another twenty is no big deal. With the food and water I was able to carry I could go 15 comfortably. So I started to think of runs in terms of how may times I'd need to reload.  Kind of like thinking of long driving trips in terms of the numbers of tanks of gas you'll need.

Now that you can do 20M comfortably by Dec, the next step is to add ten miles to your long run per month. So by the end of Jan it's 30, Feb 40 and March 50. Stop there. As a general rule, if you can train at half the distance and feel ok at the end, you'll be able to double it on race day. And running longer wears you out more than the corresponding benefit. This makes practicing food and hydration over 60 miles difficult. Just as what works in a 50 is different than a marathon, your stomach may not like your tried and true formula for 50 miles at 75 miles and beyond. I found a chafe free way to run to 50, but had trouble after 70.

To run 30 on Jan 31, run a 15/15 pair on Jan 14th and 15th. On Feb 14/15th run a 20/20 pair so you can run 40 on Feb 28. Similarly, on March 14/15, run a 25/25 pair so you can run 50 on March 31. I would do these runs on these exact dates. Even if it means running through the night and skipping sleep (good practice). I also found that doing them alone makes you resourceful. Although it was great to have Huybert's company on a very cold 30M in icy conditions in Feb.  In between these runs, do the 5/10/5 pattern and lots of rest days.

Once you can run 50 comfortably, add in a 50M race or two, then start adding hills, altitude and specific work on the course. It takes a surprisingly long time to fine tune your gear, learning to run at night over trails, do stream crossings etc.

Many of these lessons I've been able to appy to other adventures (roll you're own ironman) so enjoy.
Next, let's talk about that nutrition/hydration plan.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Running 100: the run plan

To run 100, you need to run. But not nearly as much as you think.

The LT100 is in August and I committed to doing it the previous October. My initial plan was to run at altitude on hills until the snow came. The. I would switch to skate skiing. I set an intermediate goal of Glide the Divide: a skate ski double marathon from Steamboat to Wyoming and back along the continental divide. However, after a few weeks of this plan, I was injured and not at all confident that I would get to the starting line, much less the finish line of the Leadville. In a typical year about 750 sign up for Leadville, 500 start and 250 finish. I've known a few of those runners who DNF - they were very fit, strong and ultimately humbled by the course. So I knew I could not take this lightly and expect to finish.

So I got help. Fortunately leaving in Boulder there are a lot of veterans who are happy to help. And I hired a coach who has been helping others train for Leadville for 20 years.

Lesson 1. To run 100, you run and not ski. In fact, you don't do anything but run. No biking, swimming etc.

Lesson 2. First master the distance, then add hills, then altitude.

Lesson 3. Do run walk patterns. Forget about your marathon training. Run .9 walk .1 from the first mile. Every workout. Even the short ones.

Lesson 4. Only push yourself twice a month.

Lesson 5. Split your week in two and balance the miles.

TBC...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ultra running and work

Ultra running is good for your work life because it gives you processing time.

When I first joined SendGrid I was about halfway through a years' worth of training for the Leadville Trail 100. After having crewed/paced for someone else for that race in 1995, I had been planning on doing it myself someday. I figured I'd do it when I was 'old' for my 50th birthday, but in 2010 I wasn't working so I decided to commit to LT100.

Actually, I was running the Mesa trail one day in the fall of 2010 with Huybert and he suggested that this was my year. Realizing I was out of excuses, I knew it was time to start training in earnest. So on very little base, I ran the Sourdough Trail - all 26 miles - at around 9000 ft. I was tired, but felt ok. Soni rested a few days, then did the Dirty Bismarck (about 14 miles) kinda peppy.
I pulled my calf muscle halfway through. Realizing I had no idea how to train for a 100, I hired a coach and got on a much more rational plan.

I never missed a workout from November through Feb 2011. On Feb 28, I ran a 40 miler, took a shower and went to my first SendGrid board dinner at the Rio. I was hesitant to tell the board about my running project. In fact, I had delayed starting at SendGrid, until March 1, just so I could stay 100% focused on my running plan through the 40 miler.

I had expected my board to resist my pursuing LT100, but their reaction was just the opposite. Not only were they encouraging of my running project, but they offered to crew or help in any way they could. I knew I was joining a special team. The next two weeks I didn't run at all as it took awhile to find a balance between running and work.

What surprised me was how running long stretches made me a better business person. In my normal life, I have a lot of input coming at me from all directions. From what I have learned about how our brains work, we need to balance input time from processing time. Call it unplugged if you will. Running on a trail is perfect because you definitely are not doing meetings/calls/email. Moreover the trail itself requires just enough concentration to preoccupy part of your brain, so they back part of your brain can process all of the inputs it has been receiving. It's similar to the insights you get just after sleeping or in the shower.

I think it's time to go run.