Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hot and Bothered

It's that time of the year again. Running Saturday's Promise Land 50k in 75-degree "heat" affected almost every runner I talked to. In three months, 75 degrees will feel cool -- thanks to the wonderful world of heat acclimation. But as summer waxes toward its dog days, we will need to deal with the heat.

I read recently in the book "Run Less Run Faster" that our running performance degrades 1-2% for each 1.5 degrees F over 60. That means that in Saturday's 75-degree heat, we were facing a performance degradation of 10-20%. That's pretty serious, and it's only 75-degrees! Check out what happens as the mercury rises.

When it is 100 degrees three months from now, we will be running at 50%! Last year at Mike Day's informal gathering he calls the Sweaty Butt 50k, we ran in temperatures in the high 90s. After 20 miles we all got smart and called it quits. This year he is starting the event earlier in the day, and he told me that if it is very hot he will once again give runners the option to cut it short.

Heat acclimation plays a big role in all of this. Surely come August, running in 75 degrees will seem much easier than it did on Saturday. But will it still suffer from a 10-20% degradation in performance? Acclimation allows our bodies to better deal with the heat. says:

When humans move from a cool or temperate environment to a hot, dry desert environment or vice versa, they should spend up to seven days acclimatizing to the change in their environment. This lets the body make internal adjustments (see homeostasis) to compensate for the change in environment conditions. If the acclimatization process is ignored, then the person is at higher risk for heat related injuries (heat stroke, heat cramp, pneumonia).

So our performance will improve as the temperature stabilizes.

And we all know that dehydration plays a role too. I've read in many places that our performance degrades with even slight dehydration. The jury is out on this one as new research is coming out and old research is turning out to have been funded by a company with a lot to profit. Check out Mike's recent post on hydration to learn more about this.

It turns out less might be more after all, says the "endurance running hypothesis," or the belief that human evolution has programmed us to run (a trend that is clearly reversing in my son's generation).

"Humans evolved not to drink much at all during exercise," says Dr. Timothy Noakes, chairman of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town (and author of one of the most informative running books ever). "If they had to stop every 5 minutes to drink, they would never have caught the antelope." He goes on to say that "the best runners in any culture are the ones who run the farthest and drink the least." Noakes' recommendation is to drink just enough to satisfy or minimize thirst. (source: Men's Health, May 2008)

I'll drink to that.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Promise Land -- a quick update

The story of the 2008 Promise Land 50k started with the heavy rain on Friday evening, which gave birth to a very beautiful morning on the trails, which ended up being quite a hot run for those of us out there after around 11am. It was even hotter for those who finished later. It was over 80-degrees in Sedalia, VA as runners were still crossing the finish line.

Tentative results are up.

More later, including a post-race analysis and a look into how heat affects us during long runs. But for now, grab a cold one and read Mike Day's report on heat and hydration.

Stay cool out there...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Promise Land 50k -- learning from lessons learned

After last year's sluggish Promise Land 50k, I wrote down some lessons learned (as I always do as part of a post-race analysis). Lessons learned, however, are only good if you actually learn a lesson from them. So here is my list of lessons learned from last year, and what I plan to do about them.

Lack of training
Last year Promise Land was my first ultra of the year, and probably my first long run of over 20 miles. And I didn't really plan on running (or training for) it until about 5 weeks out. Dumb.

This year I have three ultras under my belt, including two tough ultras in the last two months with elevation profiles that rival or exceed what Promise Land has to offer. I am physically ready for this one. I ran both Promise Land training runs with ease, and I can honestly say that I've put in my time on the trails and the hills.

Poor pacing
Last year I attempted to run more of the first hill (1,400' gain in 2.6 miles) than my body was ready for. This early energy expenditure caught up to me later in the race as I was passed by quite a few runners who were more conservative early on.

This year I have trained much more on hills, and keep reminding myself that run-walking the first long hill in 35 minutes and arriving at the top with energy to spare is really more efficient than running it in 30 minutes and paying for it later. That's how I've trained, so that's how I need to race.

Stomach issues and inadequate calorie intake
Last year's mistake started with too much pizza at the pre-race dinner. I also had a late breakfast last year that included two cans of Ensure and a honey bun. Dumb. I never ever eat or drink that stuff in training, so why start now? I paid for it later when I had trouble tolerating anything that the aid stations had to offer.

This year, after reading The Paleo Diet for Athletes, I plan to take Coach Friel's advice, and take my own healthy dinner and breakfast. That just leaves more pizza for everyone else (they ran out last year). And other than real food from the aid stations, I will be drinking nuun, and eating my beloved Black Cherry Clif Shot Blocks. That's the stuff that has worked well for me so far this year.

Hopefully starting with good pre-race nutrition and not stuffing myself with food and drink that I rarely eat and drink, I will not have any stomach issues and will be able to take in enough calories to keep my energy levels high.

Poor sleeping
Last year I got silly and decided to forgo the tent and sleep beneath the stars. Wind gusts of up to 30mph resulted in a mostly sleepless night. I know I can race on little sleep, but tossing and turning got to me mentally, and I felt sleepy and sluggish getting to the start.

I also stayed in the sleeping bag too long last year, and was still in line for the porta-johns when Dr. Horton was calling us to the line.

This year I will take my Ford Escape SUV and sleep in the back. This has worked for me in the past. I'll take my tent along too in case I decide I need more room.

With these relatively minor modifications, I should have no issues getting to the starting line early, properly rested, hydrated, fed, and ready to race (er, run-walk efficiently) up the mountain.

Promise Land 50k, here I come. See ya'll Friday night.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ironman Champion Tim DeBoom to run Leadville

Here's the article from Inside Triathlon.

(Boulder, Colorado – April 15, 2008) – Tim DeBoom, a two-time Ironman World champion and America’s No. 1 ranked long distance triathlete, today announces his entry in the 2008 Leadville 100 trail race – a 100 mile ultramarathon through the Rocky Mountains of Leadville, Colorado. The Leadville 100 marks DeBoom’s first try at an ultramarathon and is regarded as one of the toughest annual races in the country, with runners climbing and descending a total of 15,600 feet.

“Competing in the Leadville 100 will push and challenge me in new ways both mentally and physically, and I am looking forward to rediscovering how it feels to run without pressure,” said Tim DeBoom. “Competing in triathlons is still my passion and winning another Hawaii Ironman is a top goal of mine, but I’ve conquered it twice before and am excited to try something that I’m not 100 percent sure I can even finish.”

DeBoom is bringing his athletic expertise and champion drive to the Leadville 100. Currently America’s No. 1 long distance triathlete, DeBoom is an avid runner who enters Leadville with both enthusiasm and apprehension. The 2008 Leadville 100 will be DeBoom’s first ultra-marathon and the first time he has competed in a running race over 26.2 miles.

The 2008 Leadville 100, or The Race Across the Sky, is an annual race in Leadville, Colorado that presents runners with a 50-mile out-and-back trail and dirt road course through the Rocky Mountains. Climbing and descending 15,600 feet, runners compete at high elevations between 9,200 and 12,620 feet – making the 100 mile race one of the toughest ultra-marathons in the country.

Consisting of around 500 runners, barely half of the Leadville 100 competitors finish in the 30-hour time limit set by organizers. The race, which begins before dawn, is most known for the grueling trails and the two climbs up the 12,620 foot Hope Pass – encountered on both the outbound and return leg of the race.

The 2008 Leadville 100 will take place on August 16 and 17 in Leadville, Colorado. The race has a start time of 4 a.m. on August 16. For more information on Ironman Tim DeBoom, please visit or, for more information on the Leadville 100, visit

This should be exciting to follow between now and August 17. He says he is "looking forward to rediscovering how it feels to run without pressure." I hope he means atmospheric pressure.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Train fast to run fast

“The most common mistake that recreational runners make is running the same pace all the time. Occasionally making yourself run fast is the only way to make yourself a fast runner.” -- Terrence Mahon, coach of Ryan and Sara Hall.

Ryan just ran a 2:06 at the London Marathon, making him the second fastest American marathoner in history. He'll be fun to watch in the Olympics this summer.

NYTimes has a good article (may require membership) about how Olympic hopeful Sara trains and races at different distances. Maybe she and Ryan will step up to ultrarunning some day.

Chris Carmicheal is training Lance Armstrong for some lofty marathon goals this year. He says:

If your goal is a fast race, do at least one, but ideally two, fast-paced runs a week. ...The most effective workout is tempo intervals: two to four 10- to 12-minute repeats at 10k to half-marathon race pace with five to six minutes of easy running in between. These prolonged periods at hard but sustainable intensity train your aerobic and muscular systems to run faster and longer before fatiguing.

I downloaded a couple MP3 audio workouts from Carmichael Training Systems last year featuring Lance (and some heavy advertising for PowerBar). One is an interval workout, the other is a tempo interval workout similar to what Chris mentions above. Leading up to Hellgate last year, I did one of these at least once per week. The tempo workout is a 70+ minute workout that usually takes me over 10 miles, depending on whether I walk or jog my rest intervals. They are tough and they hurt a little (in a good way). But I think they really helped me run one of my best Hellgates.

It will be fun to watch Lance at Boston next week to see if his speed training pays off. I bet it does.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ultra Training Plans -- uncovered and reviewed (pt 2)

In February I reviewed one of the ultra training plans that I found online. This is the second installment of the series.

Runner's World: The Ultimate Ultramarathon Training Plan (by Doug Rennie).

"You don't have to be crazy to run an ultramarathon. You just have to be ready." Amen to that. At first glance, I was not impressed with this plan, possibly due to its claim to be "the ultimate." But after a more careful review, I like it. Despite what I see as a few flaws, this short-but-simple plan will help you get ready for a 50-miler without requiring you to train for hours every day.

A couple key points:

  • Your long run should be up to about 15-18 miles before starting this 16-week schedule. That makes this schedule perfect for the half or full marathon runner looking to move up to ultras.
  • "Ultra training is not about speed... but rather time on your feet." To accomplish this they recommend the long run sandwich (not long enough, in my opinion -- more on that later), with a day of rest before and after.
  • They add in some interval work to keep us from "settling into a semipermanent slow slog." I am a firm believer in that.

They list 8 "rules of the road," only one of which I really disagree with. They recommend picking the flattest race possible to avoid the "added stress of steep hills..." Some of my favorite things about ultrarunning involve steep hills (walk breaks, beautiful climbs, the relief of reaching the top, blasting down the other side). Plus, most ultrarunners I know prefer a mix of terrain to keep from working the same muscles.

Key "rules" that I do agree with are: train on the terrain that you are going to race on, take walking breaks, and eat/drink whatever worked for you in training -- even if it means bringing your own aid.

The Schedule

Their schedule includes 2 days of rest on either side of the weekend long run "sandwich." The long runs are expressed in terms of minutes and hours, which makes it easy to just get out there and move -- without thinking of pace or distance.

  • Monday -- rest.
  • Tuesday runs are always 10 miles or less, with some 1-mile intervals at 10-miler pace. This keeps speed in the legs.
  • Wednesday is always an easy 5-mile jog. I think this could be turned into an off day or a fast day, depending on how you feel. Training plans have to be flexible.
  • Thursday is a less-than-10 mile run.
  • Friday -- rest up for the long runs ahead.
  • Saturday starts at 1.5 hours, and works up to 4 hours. They don't recommend a pace here, but when I do a long run sandwich, I prefer to run faster on the first day. I think it produces a greater benefit and gets me used to running on tired legs (the second day).
  • Sunday is usually a bit longer than Saturday. A couple of the weeks call for marathon pace in the last hour. Again, I prefer to run harder on the first day of the sandwich. Or both (or neither). Again, train for how you feel.
(Note on their long run days: Their longest sandwich is a 4 hour Saturday followed by a 5-hour Sunday (which they estimate to be 27 miles). In my experience, that is not long enough to prepare you for what will most likely be a 8 or 9 hour 50-miler. I would prefer to see one of those days stretch into 6 hours or more.)

I think this basic plan is almost perfect for the middle-distance runner (10-miles to marathon) looking to step up to ultra distances. The key to any plan is flexibility, which this plan does not specifically allow for. So it is up to you to train according to how you feel. Try to stay at the challenging end of your comfort zone without risking injury. If in doubt, take an easy or off day. If you feel like running a few more intervals or running faster or longer, do it.

I don't visit much, so I was surprised to see that they do have a good bit of ultra content. I especially enjoyed the interview with Tim Twietmeyer (who contributed a chapter to "Running Through the Wall").

Run hard out there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Getting out of the Rut -- High Intensity training and random numbers

I have several lunchtime runs that I do during the week. They have catchy names like "Jefferson + Chestnut," "YMCA Loop," "Jesus Saves," and "Greenway Sewage Loop." The names are based on where the route takes me. "Jesus Saves," for example, takes me from downtown, through the park, and up a steep hill to a church with a big neon sign exclaiming that Jesus does in fact save us. These routes take me just about every direction from downtown. They take me over roads, sidewalks, trails, rivers and in a couple cases, they even summit a mountain. Most of these loops are between 5 and 6 miles.

Even with a selection of routes with catchy names and varying terrain, I tend to get in a rut. Monday is Jefferson. Tuesday is the YMCA Loop. Wednesday is intervals at the park. Thursday is...

To spice up my daily runs, I started supplementing them with a quick high intensity workout. These workouts also have catchy names like "Tabata sprints," "Man Makers," "Death by Burpees," and "Playground Fun." Most of these workouts can be done anywhere along my running route. Some have to be done at a playground (pull-up bar), and some require dumbells and therefore are done in the weight room. (Note: Studies show that short bursts of high intensity exercise improve VO2 max and burn more fat than steady state "aerobic" exercise. The myth of the "fat burning zone" has been busted, but I'll save that for another day.) But it is still easy to get into a rut. My training log was starting to indicate a preference for the "YMCA Loop" and "Playground Fun." Enter the Random Workout Generator.

I listed my favorite lunchtime running routes in one column of a sheet of paper. I added in a couple entries for "Rest" and one for "Runner's Choice." In the other column I listed 15 workouts, including Rest and Runner's Choice. I numbered each of these -- 15 per column. Now all I have to do is use a handy random number calculator to generate 2 numbers between 1 and 15, and I have a surprise workout every time I want one.

The first workout combination I generated was "Jefferson + Chestnut" (a very hilly route) and "Hill Repeats." Oh man, I wasn't expecting that. But I did it. And my Suunto Vector gave me a reading of 1,120' total ascent. Not bad for a one hour lunchtime run.

Today's draw has me running "Over the river and through the woods" followed by a quick set of "Man Makers." That one is going to hurt. In a good way.

Maybe I should add some new entries to the list: Pizza, Sushi, Indian Buffet, Burger-n-Fries...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Stair climbing

I'm in midtown Atlanta this week, where most of my colleagues work. A couple of my buddies regularly do a lunchtime stair workout in the Atlanta office building, and asked me to join them.

Let me give a bit of background: I don't know these guys exact ages, but I believe both are probably 5-10 years older than me. (May they forgive me if I am wrong.) Also, last year we all ran in the "corporate challenge" 5-kilometer race, and I finished a good 3 minutes ahead of these guys.

So I joined them in the lunchtime ritual just to see what it was all about. I was going to show them...

Man, was I surprised.

They kicked my butt from the start.

We started on the 10th floor of our 14 floor building. After a warm-up to the top of the stairs, they gave me some details of how they do this, and we were off. Immediately they dropped me going down. I truly believe that "running" down stairs is something that is learned with practice, and these guys have been doing this 4 days per week for years. But still... They left me in their dust. They reached the bottom while I was probably still on the 3rd floor. As I met them on their way up, I was already spouting excuses. "I ran a marathon last weekend." "I ran intervals yesterday." Pure BS, every word of it. They were beating me, fair and square.

I managed to make up some distance on the first climb, but at a cost that I could not afford. I was winded and already soaking my dress shirt with sweat by the time I completed the first lap. They do three laps, their best in under four minutes. I decided half-way up the first lap that two would be my limit. At least that way I could meet them at the bottom and have my wits about me to talk about what we just did.

These guys have something I don't have. I run ultramarathons. I can run a hundred miles without stopping. Just a few months ago, I beat these guys in a 5k by a minute-per-mile. But today on the stairs they put me in my place. Big time.

What applications could stairclimbing have on the kind of mountain trail runs that I enjoy? How could regular practice on the stairs make me a better trail runner? I hope to find that out as I practice on the stairs in my office building at home. Because the next time I come to Atlanta, I'm not going to let these guys whip me like they did today.

Run hard out there.

With great sacrifice comes great reward. -- Tito Ortiz