Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the benefits of back-to-back long runs

If there is one golden principal I stick to when training for ultramarathons, it is this: at least once in your season and no later than three to six weeks before your peak race, you need to do back-to-back long runs.

What is a back-to-back (B2B)?

A B2B is doing long runs on consecutive days. I generally run these on weekends. The second run is usually 66 to 75 percent of the first run. Mostly, my B2Bs are 20/15, 30/20, or somewhere in between. By the time I'm done, I've probably run 50 percent or more of my weekly mileage in two workouts.

Why do a B2B?

As an ultrarunner, your bread-and-butter training run is your long run. You maybe run one every week, or two every three weeks. And it is usually a hefty chunk of mileage - 25-33 percent of your weekly total.

But the B2B is a different beast. The idea is to stress your muscles on day two in a manner you're not accustomed to - working them hard by running a long distance while your legs are already tired. The benefits are two-fold. The first is physical. You're introducing a new stressor into your training routine, and from this stress you will gain endurance. The second is mental. By running a long distance when you are already partially fatigued, you simulate the latter stages of an ultra. Your brain takes over, and you train yourself to handle the stress that comes with those latter stages.

If you choose to do a B2B, each run will count as a quality workout. I generally do one or two quality runs per week, and rarely I throw in a third. A week where you are going to crank out 50 percent or more of your weekly mileage in two workouts doesn't need another quality workout. So skip the tempo run and do it another time.

How often should I do a B2B?

I usually do a B2B once every six to eight weeks. In Jack Daniels' training schedules, he recommends using four six-week long training phrases. The latter three of these contain can contain a B2B. If you're following his training emphases, a B2B is proper on weeks where long, slow distance is a focus.

This year, my peak event is the Sawtooth 100. In anticipation for it, I will do a 30/20 B2B six weeks out, a single 20-miler each week for the next two weeks, and then I go into a three week taper where my longest run each week goes from 15 to 10 miles of slow-easy running.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Week in Review 3.21-3.27.11: The 36-mile weekend

I only ran five days this week, both due to a bit of laziness on my part. A temporary lapse in motivation, perhaps. To make up for it, I inadvertently swapped next week for this one, and racked up 35 miles on back-to-back long runs on Saturday and Sunday. Needless to say, my thighs and hamstrings do not like me right now.

3.21.11: 6.8 miles
Fast 7:30 pace. A little too slow for a tempo run, but it was close

3.22.11: 3.8 miles

3.23.11: Zero
Goose egg #1.

3.24.11: 6.8 miles
Slow and sluggish.

3.25.11: Zero
Goose egg #2.

3.26.11 AM: 11.6 miles
With Mankato Multisport/Runner's Edge. Ran up a 2.5-mile hill.

3.26.11 PM: 9.6 miles
21.6 miles for the day.

3.27.11: 14.4 miles
36 miles for the weekend. Thighs ache, likely delayed-onset muscle soreness from Saturday's hills. A PM run wasn't going to happen.

Miles: 53
Time: 7:14:58
Year-to-date: 423.3 miles

Up next: 60 miles with three quality workouts, including a tempo run and a personal favorite: 200 meter repeats - 16 to 24 of them...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Race Plan: Superior Trail Races Spring 50K

A few weeks ago, I put down the money and signed up for the Superior Trail Races Spring 50K. I ran this same race in 2009 as my first ultra, and looking back, had mixed results. I am a wiser, faster runner now and have a better understanding of my body past the arbitrary 26.2 mark.

Like Surf the Murph, I have a few goals - in order of importance:
  • Finish
  • Race hard.
  • Bomb the downhills (and there are a lot)
  • Run even splits
  • Run sub-5 hours
These goals have slightly changed now that I have finished a 50 miler on rolling terrain. As always, finishing is tops, but a well-run race takes precedence over time. The second, third and fourth items go to the quality of the run and the skill by which it is raced. These goals are also in line with the competitive nature of the event. At some point, time becomes irrelevant and you are no longer running against the course or clock, but against competition.

My pace chart is here. Based on 2010 results (and partially 2009, now that I look back), a sub-5 hour finish is likely to put me in the top 20. This year, the races are capped at 250 between the 25K and the 50K and that number was reached last weekend on March 19. I also expect stiff competition near the top. This may push a sub-5 hour finish into the top 25 or 30 spots, but it is by no means shabby. Perhaps even a top-10 finish is possible if I can average 9-minute miles despite all those hills.

I haven't adjusted (nor will I bother to adjust) the paces to correspond to the elevation changes. The SHT travels in and out of valleys and up and over hills. I can't imagine that the elevation gain/loss is much different between the out and back portions. Either way, the start and finish is the same so the gain on one half is the loss of the other and visa versa. I'll run with consistent effort and deal with any differences that way.

I'll have a new crew member, also. A friend of mine from college (who happened to perform my wedding ceremony) will be joining my wife for the race. His support will be welcomed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

900 miles, meet zero miles

I bought new shoes.

900 miles, meet zero miles.

They should look the same. Once again, I went with Asics Hyperspeed 3s. Why fix what ain't broken?

I purchased the shoes at Marathon Sports in Minneapolis, and I was lucky to get a pair. Asics recently came out with the Hyperspeed 4s, and drastic changes can occur between models rending the new version unusable.

The 4s eliminated the seams on the outsides of the toes. As far as I could tell, this was the only change that was made to the updated model and it was the only change the staff person mentioned to me when I asked about differences.

I went with a size 8 instead of a size 8.5. Two reasons - one practical, one functional. First, the store did not have 8.5s in stock; they only had 8s and 9s. Second, I have been running (almost) all of my miles this year in a thin liner sock. It is the only combination of running shoe and sock that I have found that does not give me blisters over any period of time. (Prior combinations elicited blisters in a certain spot and/or after 10 or so miles.)

First impression: the shoes are cushy, a lot more padded than I remember them being two years ago. Nonetheless, I took them out for their first run on March 14. They ran like flats do - midfoot striking and quick, light steps are mandatory. The sizing was a bit of a crunch at the beginning and I worried about toenail fatalities. But the shoes appeared to stretch a little bit as I worked them in and I expect no issues with normal road use. Trails are another story.

Eventually, the padding will flatten and a hard sole will emerge. Such is the state of my current flats, and at that point they will be fully broken in (some would say needing to be replaced.) I plan to run in them one workout per week starting this week, and add one additional workout each week after that. This gives me about 10 weeks or 55 workouts until they are taking over full-time, and by that time I should be running the Superior Trail Races Spring 50K and have 300+ miles on them.

Finally, I expect these shoes to last between 1,500 and 2000 miles - if not more. My current models have 900+ miles on them and the holes in the uppers only appeared in earnest after I ran over snow-covered trails. Compacted snow is sharp, and I believe some of my postholing steps did the damage. I won't be running any such trails with this pair, so I fully expect to finish the season with them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Congested headcold week in review: 3.14-3.20.11

On Saturday, I cheered my wife at the Irish for a Day 10 Mile. She had a fantastic race, beating her PR by several minutes despite running in cold conditions and 30+ mph winds. Smiles abound.

But in the two hours outside in the cold wind, I must have slightly compromised my immune system and/or picked up a bug from someone or something. Sunday the head congestion started in earnest after I returned from a 15 mile run. From that day forward,the week was a bust. I tossed and turned at night, drank water, tea, and consumed more cold meds than I knew what to do with. My mucous factory went into overdrive and shutdown my sense of smell, closed off my sinuses and turned everything else on its head. I'm still feeling a little off as I write this, and hopefully I can kick this thing before my mid-week threshold workout.

I don't regret taking the days off. Better to rest when it is needed than force workouts during illness and prolong the suffering.

3.14.11: 6.8 miles

[Big gap of no running due to head cold, general congestion, and overall miserableness.]

3.19.11: 10.57 miles
Run in sandals and at a good clip, too.

3.20.11 AM: 6.8 miles
Post-thunderstorm trot. No PM run due to congestion.

Miles: 24.17
Time: 3:14:58
Year-to-date: 370.3 miles

Monday, March 14, 2011

Week in review: 3.7-3.13.11

Big week. 60 miles and my first real speed workout of the year.

3/7/11: 3.8 miles
Running with my wife.

3/8/11 AM: 5.1 miles

3/8/11 PM: 5.1 miles
Same route, twice in one day.

3/9/11: 6.8 miles
1.9 warm up and 4.9 miles of threshold-speed tempo running. Into the wind.

3/10/11 AM: 3.8 miles

3/10/11 PM: 7.3 miles

3/11/11: 5.1 miles

3/12/11 AM: 0.9 miles
Ran the last section of my wife's 10-mile race with her.

3/12/11 PM: 6.8 miles

3/13/11: 15.1 miles
A true long run; One quarter of the week's mileage in one shot.

Miles: 59.75
Time: 8:33:27
Year-to-date: 342.35

Up next: 60 miles this week with three quality workouts (hill repeats; 10-mile fartlek; and long run).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Death of a shoe

This is what shoes look like when you've put 865+ miles on them. The soles look remarkably good, but the uppers are shredding slowly. There are at least two holes on the left shoe where I can stick my little finger through. The tread is still there, and I can read some of the writing on the soles (in the heel area) never wore down.

When I bought these back in June of 2009, the salesperson told me that they would last about 150 miles. This back at a time when I was still wearing Asics GT 2140s and still believing that I needed shoes to correct my overpronation (or whatever it was), and that shoes needed to be replaced not when they were incapable of being run in again, but when the interior structure wore down.

And then sometime in 2010, something magical happened. I wore out my GT 2140s and Asics stopped making them. My shoes became the 2140s became 2150s. They got bigger, bulkier and more cloddhopperish. Begrudgingly, I bought a pair.

And I was not impressed. They caused pain in the base of my knee post-run, and my shins never felt right running on them. And for good reason. The shoes were overbuilt, sit many millimeters off the ground, and obnoxiously heavy.

I was forced to do something. I dislike shopping for new running shoes because I see the purchase as an investment. If I can't run in them, the investment was poor and the shoes may be used for general knocking around. But most likely not, because the pain associated with running in the poor investment often translates to walking. So the whole thing becomes a waste of money.

And thus, in the summer of 2010, I did something. I started running in my flats, full time. And soon the miles rolled away. My steps got lighter and quicker because I was no longer burdened with clunky footwear. My form improved, and the phantom knee pain caused by the 2150s went away. Those shoes carried by through my first 50 mile ultra, and I certainly get some weird looks running in tiny shoes all the time. With any luck, they'll last a few hundred more miles and get me through my next 50K.

But my flats are dying. The holes in the uppers will get bigger and shred the mesh. My foot will no longer be neatly encased in them. Feet will slide and cause havoc. They are inching toward retirement, with every mile decreasing whatever distance remains. As of this post, I have run at least 900 miles in them. Who knows how long they will last.

When they are ultimately retired, may they rest in peace.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Week in Review: 2.28-3.6.11

2.28.11: 10.8 miles; 4.4 was up/down hills
First non-easy or non-long run workout of the year.

3.1.11: 4.6 miles

3.2.11: 6.8 miles

3.3.11: 4.6 miles

3.4.11 AM: 5.2 miles

3.4.11 PM: 3.8 miles
Unintentional but exhilarating tempo run. Perhaps a little too early for such speed.

3.5.11: 5.5 miles (approx.)
First trail run of the year.

3.6.11 AM: 5.1 miles
Slow and easy.

3.7.11 PM: 8.1 miles
More slow and easy. In a nice little snowfall.

MILES: 54.6 (goal: 55)
TIME: 7:40:55
Year-to-date: 282.6 miles

Edited 3.7.11 to correct year-to-date miles - ml

Saturday, March 5, 2011

First trail run of 2011

Saturday morning put me at Seven Mile Creek Park on US 169 between Mankato and St. Peter. In the spirit of Krupika running on snow-covered trails, I checked out the trails.

I found the trails well-packed by a season's worth of walkers and snowshoers. I even saw a man riding a mountain bike. The trail was mostly flat with small rolling hills and an occasional climb out of (and decent back into) the creek valley. I put on about five to six miles in about 55 minutes. The first annual 7 at 7 trail run is on May 21, and my wife is running it as her first trail race.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Using snow shelters for extra bonus warmth

Until Saturday night, I had never slept in a snow shelter before. I made it seven winters working at a winter camp for boy scouts and supervised the building of umpteen such structures, but had never spent the night in one. Necessity has a funny way of changing such things.

It all came to be because my sleeping system was woefully inadequate for the actual temperatures experienced.

I really have two sleep setups for cold (winter) weather: a -20F degree down bag and a 20F degree MYOG quilt that I put inside a 30F degree down bag. The former can be used in a tent, under a tarp, etc., while the latter is placed inside a bivy. I used this quilt and bag setup in Montana in 2009 and feel comfortable with it to take it down to single digits above zero when combined with insulated clothing.

This weekend, several forecasts said that the Sunday low was zero degrees, and the temp would rise into the low 30s later that day. Perfect testing for my setup in a controlled environment. And then the cold broke loose.

The weekend temperature plunge started Friday night continued into Saturday morning. It was -14F at sunrise on Saturday, and -9F when my crew left base camp a few hours later. I rarely put on my down coat before about 3 pm. This weekend, it was on by 12:45 pm - just a few minutes after getting to camp.

I assessed the situation - I needed to do something. At this pace, the temp would not get above zero during daylight. Once sunset hit, the temp would plummet 10 to 15 degrees until it bottomed out just before dawn the next morning. I did not want to shiver my way to dawn.

Even with wearing everything I had, I needed to get more insulation into my system. Snow was the only thing available. Inspiration hit. When I did the Hudson Bay Expedition in 2005, I bought Tom Brown's survival guide a few days into the trip and carried it with me. I paged through it in the evenings, making mental notes of interesting ideas.

Small is beautiful Brown advised. With that, I started to make a pile of snow. It was about 3.5 feet high and about six feet long. It rounded slightly at the top as most piles do, and angled off the back. I poked foot-long sticks into the sides for a guides later. And then I let it sit for a few hours. I was to make a quinzee, al beit slightly modified.

When the few hours passed, the snow had settled and digging began. With Brown's words in mind, I took a shovel and excavated a coffin-size tunnel out of my pile. I slid myself in to test: my feet were near the back and my shoulders were directly below the door. Perfect.

With that, I unfurled by bivy and in it went my two sleeping pads (full length and 3/4 Ridgerests). Then went my backpack (GG Vapor Trail) to its spot under my feet, the remainder of its contents sitting in the bivy. Sleeping bags were next: first the bag and then the quilt layered inside. The whole package slid neatly into my tunnel.

Nightfall came, and now came the test. I took off my boots (Steger Arctic mukluks) and changed into dry socks. I then removed the boot liners from the moosehide and canvas shells, and placed them on my feet. As always, the mukluks went into my compression sack (itself turned inside out) and into the bag. I slid into the bag, wearing everything I had with me except my damp socks and insulated mittens. I even put hot water in my camp-issued 16 oz Nalgene bottle and threw it in the bag. Up went by parka hood, and my bag hood went over that. There was minimal space between the top of my bivy and the roof of the tunnel, but my insulation was not compressed.

I have never slept so well in the winter as I did that night. As usual, I woke up to urinate twice (1 and 5:30 AM - right on schedule) but was never cold. My feet were sufficiently insulated, and my nose was never cold. Dawn came at 6:30 am and I rose with the sun. I would later learn that the temp bottomed out at -14F - an impressive 20 degrees colder than I had ever taken that sleep system before. I walked back to base camp comfortable and more knowledgeable than when I left just 24 hours before.

My bags paid the price for this knowledge, though. I did not use vapor barriers, and perspiration condensed in my bag, quilt and down parka. Moisture from my breath condensed on and in the shell of my bag in front of my face and collapsed and severely compromised the insulation there (Andrew Skurka faced a similar problem on his Icebox trek). If I had had to spend another night out, I would have needed to spend an hour or so drying my bag in the afternoon sun.

This was not a situation I intend to repeat, but it was inspirational and informative. I can't think of how I could have solved my problem any better, and I am for the wiser because of it. I do not intend to test this again, but its lessons will be used on many trips to come.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February running totals

February is done, here are the totals.

February totals: 139.5 miles; 19:33:04 hours
Miles/day: 4.98 (February); 4.05 (year-to-date)
Time/day: 00:41:53 (February); 00:34:09 (year-to-date)
Year-to-date: 238 miles; 33:35:37 hours

Also, you an track my running stats on my 2011 training log (also linked in the sidebar at right).