Tuesday, January 31, 2012

If your shoes are dirty, run 10 miles in the snow: week of Jan. 23-30, 2012

Lots of good running this week, just low on volume - which was more than made up for by walking around all of Saturday and Sunday morning with a group of scouts.

Monday: 5.7; 50:00
Lunges, squats, rev. crunches, 4x strides, 100 pushups Week 1, Day 1.

Tuesday: off

Wednesday: 9.25; 1:13:00
Trip around Mount Kato via Indian Lake Road. Counted as long run for the week. Lunges, squats, rev. crunches, 4x strides, 100 pushups Week 1, Day 2.

Thursday: 4.6; 43:00
Up Main, down Glenwood. Slow and sluggish, but got the job done in the early AM hours.

Friday: 6.25; 57:00
Run through the snow-covered trails of scout camp, doing two loops on long ski trail. Mileage conservatively guestimated based on effort. Shoes came back clean.

Saturday: 3.125; 29:00
One loop of course run the night before. Lunges, squats, rev. crunches, 4x strides, 100 pushups Week 1, Day 3. Extra bonus: walking around with scouts the entire day.

Sunday: Off
Lazy - should have gotten in five or six. 

Totals: 28.9; 4:12:00; lots of walking.
YTD: ~119; 16:47:00. (That will be closer to 140 and 20:00:00 by the end of January).

Overall I'm pleased with the week. Mileage was a little low, but I started the strength plan in earnest and made it every day when I had to. Up next is a planned 30-mile rest week which will turn into something around 60 miles with the John Dick Memorial 50K planned for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. More to come on that, including a race report next week.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How to run Sawtooth (well).

Steve Quick recently posted his take on training for Sawtooth. It’s a good read for anyone who is thinking about tackling what is likely the hardest race in the Midwest (Arrowhead notwithstanding). I’ll summarize:
  • Marathon times do not correlate well to Sawtooth finishing times, but you can try. Take your marathon time and multiply by 8.5(!). Using that standard, I should be able to finish in approximately 29:45 (3:26 marathon, ’08 TC Marathon). Conveniently, 30 hours is my best-case-scenario goal for 2012.
  • Once a week, do a timed long run (4-5 hours). Do it often, don’t go too hard, and measure improvement by distance covered.
  • Once a week, do a long hill run (2.5-3 hours), and run it at an even effort. It will boost your strength to handle the 24K +/- of Sawtooth.
  • Run every day. For the other non-long, non-hill run days, run one hour per day.
  • Don’t do speed work.
  • Mileage. With the easy runs, hill run, and long run, that’s about 12 hours per week. For me, that would be approx. 80-100 miles/week, depending on how fast the long and hills runs are.
 I can’t speak ill of the plan, and it is simple, clean and functional. It is lots of easy runs at the magical 60-minute length, a hill run to boost strength, and a long run to stress your body and teach it to handle moving for long periods of time.

I do have disagreements, and these show in my own training program. Namely, I like to have some speed work. It helps boost leg strength, condition your body to handle high-stress training, and increase leg speed and overall speed. I like the hill run idea, even if it is slow, but I disagree with its length. Two-and-a-half to three hours is a long run for me, and I can bang out 20 miles in that time while including hills into it. Finally, the long run is too long to be done weekly or even semi-weekly for me. Four to five hours is looking at 30 miles, and that’s not something I want to do in one shot every week. Maybe three hours at a time (remember, 20 miles at 8 min/mile pace is 2:40:00, plenty of distance for a long run).

My plan

First, let’s look at the basics:
  1. Run six or seven days per week.
  2. Divide your runs into easy and quality runs. Do up to two quality runs per week, the rest are easy runs.
  3. Easy runs are just that – easy. Maintain a conversational pace.
  4. Quality Run 1 (Q1): your long run. Distance is based on a percentage of your weekly mileage. In short, 25 percent early season and it bumps up to 33 percent by late season.
  5. Quality Run 2 (Q2): speed work, or a mini long run. Skip Q2 every fourth week.
  6. Try to do one trail run per week.
  7. Run hills – up and down – during your easy and long runs. Run hills in Q2 if the workout dictates it.
  8. Get a good base weekly mileage down, and increase it slowly.
  9. Run races other than your peak race throughout your season.
  10. Don't just run.
  11. Taper.
 Breaking that all down.

As with everything, the devil is in the details. These details mostly arise in choosing what speed work to do. As a primer, let me preface the following with this: I follow Dr. Jack Daniels’s philosophy of breaking a season down into four phases: Base, early quality, transitional quality, and final quality.

Each phase has its own goals throughout the season. The base is designed to build strength and prevent injuries down the road. Early quality is designed to introduce some faster running into the program by doing fast repetition-pace work and some cruise-type intervals. Transitional Quality, the third phase, is the hardest of the four, and the workouts are designed to be specific to the peak race of the season. The last phase, Final Quality, focuses on training in actual race conditions and includes a taper.  

Dr. Daniels puts these phases in four six-week blocks to make a 24-week, with the first phase lasting as long as possible and thus possibly extending the season beyond 24 weeks.

The following summarizes my training plan, with references to the numbered points above.

1.         Run six or seven days per week.

To adequately train for Sawtooth, you need to run a sufficient amount of miles to build your endurance. Miles equates to time on your feet, and at a certain point you must run more and more days per week to meet those mileage goals. So run six or seven days per week. Take a rest day here and there if you need it, or just get out for a 30 minute jaunt.

2.         Easy runs, quality runs, and how to split up your week.

Now that you’re running six or seven days per week, you need to determine what you’re going to do when.

Quality runs are those which are designed to develop that which is of most importance based on where you are in your season. These runs are generally more structured, with a defined warm-up, workout with specific paces and distances, and then a defined cooldown.

So how to break up the week? Start by filling in when you’re going to run Q1 and Q2. The rest of the days are easy or rest days. Because Q1 is your long run and will take up the most time of any of your workouts throughout the week, most runners do this on a weekend morning. Leave at least two days between Q1 and Q2 workouts. Voila – you have a week (and a season) schedule. 

Getting a set schedule is important to me and maybe for you. Last year, I didn’t have a set schedule and sluffed off 95 percent-plus of my planned Q2 workouts. Missing one led to missing another, lather, rinse, repeat until they are just skipped all together. Discipline is key – start early, and stick with it.

3.         Your easy runs

Your easy runs fill out the bulk of your week, and also the bulk of your mileage. Easy runs are used to build endurance, recover from harder runs, and otherwise build of  base from which all subsequent runs will flow. Their pace is conversational. Easy runs are the default – when in doubt, run at an easy pace.

There are two schools of thought on how to get in your weekly easy mileage, especially when the mileage gets up there: singles, or doubles. I don’t think it matters which one you do so long as you’re consistent about it. I have heard that if you’re going to run doubles, do it three or four times per week (although I can’t find the link telling that anecdote).

4.         The long run.

This is your Q1 workout, every week, week and week out. It is your most important run of the week and if you do nothing else, do your long run. Much has been written on the importance of the long run (e.g. here) that I won’t belabor it here. It is sufficient to say that you need it, and you will severely hamper your chances of finishing if you don’t do it.

Your mileage is determined by where you are in your phases. The benchmark for a long run is 25 to 33 percent of your weekly mileage. Weekly mileage and the long run’s percentage are generally inversely proportional i.e. the less weekly mileage, the more percent of that mileage will be comprised of your long run.

Because as you go through the season your priorities change, early season long runs – phase 2, or Early Quality – are 25 percent. The Transitional Quality phase – TQ – are more demanding, but the emphasis is elsewhere, so the mileage is bumped up to a semi-arbitrary 29 percent. Lastly, in the Final Quality phase, FQ, the emphasis is on long runs, so the percentage is raised to the highest bar, 33 percent or one third.

5.         The second quality run.

Each week, except recovery weeks, do a second quality workout. This is were the most variation comes in, and it is where you as a runner need to determine what you need. Because I follow Dr. Daniel’s season approach, I rotate my Q2 runs based on what areas need to be emphasized during a particular phase. Dr. Daniels conveniently has a chart – one of many – to illustrate this.

During the Early Quality phase, the focus is on repetition-pace running and short lactate-threshold runs. Cruise intervals – if any – are short, no more than 20 minutes at a time. These types of runs do exactly what the EQ phase is for: build mechanics and introduce some faster running to prep for the next phase.

During the Transitional Quality phase – again, the hardest phase – the focus shifts to long threshold runs and marathon-pace running. These are the most important workouts because they teach the body to handle being stressed for long periods of time while building endurance and power for the final phase.

Lastly, the Final Quality phase moves to racing specific conditions. The emphasis here is long, slow distance and hill running (even though hills are incorporated into the easy-pace runs) and trail runs.

Incorporated into each phase is a back-to-back or back-to-back-to-back long runs. I have explained these at length here. Working backward from Sawtooth, I am running one every six weeks.

6.         Try to get in a trail run.

Sawtooth is a trail run, al beit an extreme example of one. Trail running and road running require a different set of muscles and each stresses the body in different ways. The effort required to run an 8-minute mile is vastly less than the effort required to run the same pace on a trail with the same elevation gain/loss.

To that end, unless you live in a place like Boulder where Tony Krupicka and Co. can run up Green Mountain (almost) every single day, you’re going to need to make time to get out on a trail and develop the skills. Learn to handle a technical, rocky downhill. Dodge rocks, watch your foot placement, and take three steps when you have the option to take one or two. Walk the up hills, pound the descents, and understand the effort it takes to run on a trail.

Now, when you run on a trail, keep track of your effort by monitoring a couple variables. Time is likely most important because mileage and pace are more or less irrelevant for the reasons discussed above. Effort is important there, as is elevation gain and loss. The latter is less so if you’re not running mountains.

7.         Run up – and down – hills.

Hill running is so important in ultras that I have focused my training this year to include it on a daily basis . Again, much has been written about this subject: here, e.g. and the vast majority of runners who drop out of Western States do so because of blown quads.

I happen to live in the valley of the Minnesota River, and that means everywhere around me are easily-accessible hills that lead out of said valley. These hills provide everything from short, steep bursts to long and shallow descents. Some are long and steep, and I have made friends with their inclines.

8.         Develop a solid base from which to build.

A final point on this. For the most part, I didn’t run in high school over summer. When I hit cross country season, I can in on green legs and wasn’t ready for the 1,000 meter threshold repeats or other workouts that coach had planned for us. I did them, sure, but they weren’t nearly as fast as they should be and didn’t give me maximum benefit.

This year, my base building is going to be about four months long – November 2011 through the first full week of March 2012. Not a terribly long time, but long enough to get a good 500 or so miles in prior to beginning some reps come the second full week of March.

9.         Run other races.

Run races other than your peak race. The feel of racing, especially when you are being competitive with the clock, another runner, or your own time goal, changes how you run and what you do on that run. The pace is different, the feel is different, and these are all things that need to be trained.

A final note on hydration and food: non-peak races are where you can pin down what you need for hydration and food for your peak race. The earlier this gets sorted out the better – you don’t want to by trying something new on race day and have it (or your stomach or intestinal tract) blow up because you didn’t know how you’d react to it.

10.       Don't just run.

This year, I am re-dedicating myself to do some other strength-training-type items pre- and post-run. These are designed to strengthen essential muscle groups. A couple of examples:
11.       Taper, and don’t go crazy doing it.

Tapering is the act of peaking your training a period of time prior to your goal race and the running less and resting more so you will be fully prepared for that goal race. I have heard that it takes three weeks for a workout to realize its full benefit, so I like a three week taper.

In taper, I cut back my mileage and run less. That doesn’t mean run less days, just less duration and intensity. You’ll get jittery, especially if you’re accustomed to running twice each day. You’ll want to get out and run when you shouldn’t. Whatever you do, don’t. This is a planned rest, so enjoy it.

A closing note

If you’ve read all that, now read see the whole plan, gory details and all, complete with weekly workouts, monthly totals, and rolling averages. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 20 Mile Run

There is something to be said about The 20 Mile Run. Like the arbitrary 26.2, it has become more than itself. It has become the benchmark of training, the standard by which a single run is measured. The 20 Mile Run is the gateway to all which lies beyond it. And there is much that lies beyond it.

Epic trail runs, excursions that are told and re-told 38 miles into a race and on the back of an open Subaru, lie beyond The 20 Mile Run. Hands-on-knees climbs and scree-covered descents also inhabit the spaces for which completion of The 20 Mile Run grants access.

The 20 Mile Run is never conquered, only tamed. It cannot be faked, or done half-heartedly. It is too formidable for such trivialities. When it is completed, it tells you what and where you are.

It is for this reason that I do several 20 Mile Runs prior to an ultra. Consistent efforts, each closing in on three-plus hours (for 20 miles on  road), tell me what whether I have any business running in so-and-so ultramarathon currently scheduled for so-and-so weeks off. (That is, if I listen hard enough. My DNFs at each of my first two attempts at 50 miles were the result of not listening closely or knowing thy self.)

That said, The 20 Mile Run is only partially about the 20-mile distance. At 20 miles, most marathon runners run out of glycogen in their livers and hit the proverbial wall, or bonk. That lack of glycogen makes the last 10K of a marathon a grueling experience. The worry of bonking post-20 miles makes The 20 Mile Run more that it self.

Of course, what The 20 Mile Run is to a runner is relative to his or her peak race. In ultras, The 20 Mile Run more about time on your feet and less about speed or distance. For example, marathoners will find a 20 mile run to be their The 20 Mile Run because of The Wall. Ultrarunners shouldn’t necessarily hit that wall because they are burning fat and protein instead of carbs and stored glycogen. This makes their 20 Mile Runs longer with an emphasis on time. Last year, I did 38 miles at Afton State Park a few weeks prior to Sawtooth. That run, a jaunt of 7.5 or so hours of running, was my way of finding out whether I had any business running 100 miles three weeks time.

So get out there. Find The 20 Mile Run for you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Am I ready for a 50K in 2012?

I had a running funk Saturday. I went out in an attempt to get ready for my upcoming 50K. It had just snowed a few inches, many sidewalks, etc. were not plowed, and the mercury was sitting just above 0 F. The wind was blasting - perfect to condition me to run in whatever the JD 50K can throw at me.

The plan: go out, take it really easy, and be out for two to three hours. Simulate the unpredictable conditions of the race, learn to deal with snow in your shoes and on the path.

I made it 70 minutes, and it threw my worldview into doubt.

It was rough and it made me question what I had planned to do in two weeks. Questions floated in my blood-sugar depleted mind. Am I really ready to run, let alone race, a 50K in two weeks? Will I make it through the inevitable post-holing? I hate running on sand, what if the race is like that? I'll get no traction and want to quit.

Those questions lingered until I got home and replenished. A cup of hot chocolate, a banana and an apple later, I felt better. Tomorrow will be another, better day, I thought. And that was all it took. I will have good workouts and bad ones. The goal is to make it through the bad ones to train another day and not get down on oneself because of a failed training run.

So the answer is yes - even if I'm really not - I just need to adjust my expectations. I'm not sure what to expect, other than to run five 10K loops in the snow as fast as possible. And try to not freeze my toes doing it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Welcome to winter: two weeks in review

Winter finally arrived - a few gnarly snowstorms, cold temps and colder wind. The numbers (sometimes) reflect this.

Jan. 9: 4.1; 33:28
Hill run.

Jan. 10 AM: 5.5; 45:53
Main/Glenwood/Monks/Warren. Solid hill run in the early hours.

Jan. 10 PM: 4.6; 33:39
Main/Division/Monks/Warren. Compact hill run way faster than necessary (7:20/mi), but it felt great. So this is how people run 10 miles/day with (relative) ease.

Jan. 11: 6.6; 54:31
Easy run on RJT out to Mount Kato on a cold morning.

Jan. 12-15: rest.
Went out on Jan. 12 and felt something twingy in my left knee. Looks like the fall I took at Seven Mile mildly sprained or did something and took the weekend walking around at scout camp. Rest, ice, elevation.

Week totals: 20.8; 2:47:31; four days rested/injured.

Jan. 16: 5.4; 45:00
Easy run.

Jan. 17: 7.6; 57:02
Hill run - Main, Glenwood, Warren, Stadium.

Jan. 18-20: Nothing
Work obligations took over everything.

Jan. 21: 7.6; 1:10:00
First real snowstorm of the year dropped 2-3 inches in 'kato. Slow, sluggish, lethargic run in 5 F temps and 20 mph winds. Started out with 2-3 hour run planned, and you see what ended up. Thinking that tomorrow must be a better day.

Jan 22: 15; 2:06:39
Like I said, tomorrow would be a better day. Epic long run with friends, 7.5 miles out into the wind and 7.5 miles back. Set the pace pushing hard but controlled on ups and downs. Had an odd pain near the back right of my right hip. Weak glute/hamstring? Not sure, but it worked its way down my right handstrings and made the last few miles a little difficult. Taking the rest of the day off to work that out so I can hit it hard tomorrow AM.

Week Totals: 35.5; 4:58:41
YTD: 90; 12:34:44.

Next week: Another 40-mile week, and the second week of week 1 of Hundred Pushups. I'm doing each week twice to extend out the program into middle of my second phase of training.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A simple trail-running goal: don't fall

It's not the fall that hurts, its the sudden stoppage.

I generally go into races with a few goals in mind. They generally surround finishing, a time or pacing, and running smart. But I forgot to mention one: don't fall. Or if you like positive thinking, keep the rubber-side down. (The latter is an HBE reference: Todd told us to keep the open side up.)

I have run in eight ultras, finished six of them, and fallen in five of the six I've finished. Quick math: I've finished one ultra in which I haven't fallen. I can't remember whether I fell in the two I DNF's from, and frankly, I don't care.

And falls hurt - at Sawtooth, I felt like I could have broken a finger. At Superior 50K 2011, I sprained my ankle for a second time in the same race due to a fall. At Afton Alps, I could have slid down a ski hill when I foolishly stepped on a tuft of grass instead of the dirt trail while rounding a hill. At Surf the Murph 2010, I fell into the mud and came up a mess. End result: the consequences of falling may one day put me in the same crowd as Tony Krupicka's 2011 season - hobbled and rehabbing for several months all while blowing up the remainder of the season (and maybe part of the next). So it's best to avoid that whole falling thing.

So many things come together to ensure that you keep your soles facing down - foot placement; footwear; roots, rocks, and ruts; terrain; speed; level of exhaustion; etc. I fell once at Sawtooth when I got cocky, and almost fell several other times when I hit the aforementioned roots, rocks, and ruts.

This year I won't fall. I will run smart, place my feet well, and take three steps when I could take one or two.
You watch me. I won' fall, despite the miles and the surfaces and my choice of footwear (I'm wearing sandals at Afton, you just wait.)

(h/t Meghan Hicks)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The "something" that drives us

In every ultra, no one's race or finish is guaranteed. That goes for everyone - elite, non-elite, mid-pack and back-of-the-pack runners. So what happens for those that do manage to cross the line, come home safe and stand tiptoe above all the rest?
There comes a point during every race when ‘something’ kick-starts the lethargy out of you and drives your brain, heart, and body toward the finish-line.
Duncan Callahan, on recapping 2011 and his Hardrock 100 finish.

I wholeheartedly agree,and can't say it any better. If get that "something," hold on to it and let it push you to wherever you want to go.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The ice storm relaxes: Jan. 2-8, 2012

Lots of good running this week as my base continues to (re)build.

Monday: 7.5; 1:10:00
Up and down some hills slowly due to last week's ice storm.

Tuesday: 5.2; 44:00
Up and down Glenwood with a lollipop added at the top. Again, ran gingerly due to ice.

Wedneday: 5.8; 48:00
Stoltzman Drive out-and-back. The hill is a strong competitor for the longest hill in Mankato. Ice still present on shoulders.

Thursday: 7.6; 58:00
Ran across the river to N. 'kato and went up Lookout, around and down Lee via Commerce. Pushed the hills hard, especially the downhill on Lee.

Friday: off
Slept horribly, didn't run in the AM, and evening was unavailable due to house project and guest. I know, results and excuses are mutually exclusive.

Saturday: 4.6; 37:30
Main/Glenwood lollipop. Solid time, pushed up Main easily and took Gledwood at a relaxed pace.

Sunday AM: 3; 30:00
Short trail run at Seven Mile Creek. On the way out, one of the other park visitors warned me it was icy. He was right - I took a fall on the top of a hill on the way down and slid to the base of said hill. My knees broke the fall and I rotated and slid down the hill on my butt. Rest of run went OK, just had to run around icy spots. Drove home with intent to run further, but was stiff, sore and left knee was in pain. So here I sit, a hot bath finished and an ice pack on my left knee and contemplating whether I can/should run again today.

Sunday PM: Zero.
Yeah, I'm not running on sore knees. Best to rest for the remainder of the day.

Week/YTD: 33.7 miles; 4:48:32

Up next: another 40-mile/5 hours running week with some almost guaranteed early AM trail running next weekend.

In my concern for my fitness in preparation for Zumbro, I am taking a serious look at doing the John Dick Memorial 50K out near Waukesha, Wisco. on Feb. 4. Looks like the course - which is determined on race day and depends on weather conditions - is fast (the course record is sub-4:00:00).

But it will all depend on conditions. Last year, the winning time was 5:37, and the guy who won it in 2011 also won the 2009 edition in 4 hours. Microspikes or something similar may be in order to handle a race known for its crusty course conditions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

By the numbers: last week and 2011

And so the year ends.

Dec. 26: off

Dec. 27: 5.5; 45:00
Main Street, Glenwood, Monks, Warren. Only missing Stadium Road and that's all the big hills in 'kato. Maybe the most compact hill-run around.

Dec. 28: 4.6; 38:00
Up Main Street, down Glenwood.

Dec. 29: off.

Dec. 30: 4.6; 38:00
Up Main Street, down Glenwood, again.

Dec. 31: 15.5; 2:57
Afton State Park 25K loop, slow and easy with Steve S. Planned on doing two, but left Achilles said otherwise. I'm still feeling it two days later. Also, lost my hat from 2011 Voyageur 50 Miler and a glove. Likely fell out of waistband of shorts. If you find them, please comment below. I'll pay shipping from you to me.

Jan. 1, 2012(!): off
Ice storm the evening before froze everything. Running outside was a little too dangerous for my liking.

Miles: 30.23
Time: 4:58
(YTDs below)

And with that, 2011 is in the books. Here's what it looked like:

Running days: 207
Days injured: ~ 75 (ankle sprain in May; hip flexor one week post-Sawtooth)
Miles: 1,703
Time: 272:52:54
Miles/running day: 8.23 (skewed about a half-mile high due to by races)
Time/running day: 1:19:05 (skewed about for minutes high by races)

In short, I ran ~600 miles more this year than I have in any other year. I also raced more, knocking down ~210 miles of races (2x 50k; 50M; 100M). I stayed relatively healthy. I had one acute injury, a sprained ankle in May during the Superior Trail Races Spring 50K, and one semi-chronic injury, the pulled/strained/etc. right hip flexor post Sawtooth. I ran through the former, and rested through and after the latter.

I am heading into 2012 with high goals in mind. I'm going to do two 100 milers, likely doing the FANS 24-hour run in early June (with a tentative goal of 100 miles), and the Afton 50K. 2012 will also be the first year I will be carrying forward a significant level of fitness from one year to the next. Last year, I carried only ~250 miles from 2010 into 2011 - this year I'm carrying a much more significant base forward even though I was off for eight weeks post Sawtooth. Once the hip issue cleared up, I was free to run long and hard and have done so.

I'm pleased with the 2011 stats. I didn't run as many days as I wanted to - who does? - and I'll work to improve that. I'm not a fan of running streaks because sometimes you just need to rest, but I value consistency.

Next week is another ~40-mile week. Obviously I fell a little low this week and did 30 miles in four days, but I'll pick it back up. This week has already started off on the right foot.

Finally, Minnesota runner Steve Quick has posited the question: how do you finish Sawtooth (well)? I'm going to tackle that question with a look back at 2011 and how I'm going to train to finish Sawtooth (well) in 2012.