Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Old Dominion 100 Miler -- tips from an expert

One of my best running buddies, Jay Finkle, talked me into running the OD 100 coming up on June 7. This will be my first hundred in over a year and a half, so I'm a little nervous about it. Jay and I got into ultrarunning at about the same time, but Jay has taken his running to the next level. He used to tell me back in the day that he wanted to get "super fit" to the point where he could just go out and run 100 miles whenever he wanted. Well, he is there. I don't know how many hundreds he's run, but I know he's run over 100 ultramarathons (as has his equally great running wife, Anita). He's run several hundreds on back-to-back weekends, and the man is indeed, super fit. I take his advice whenever I can get it, and I take it to heart.

This morning Jay sent me a very detailed list of tips and tricks to help me do well at OD 100. I plan to start the run with him, and rely on his crew. My only goal is to finish healthy in under 24 hours. Jay has done that 5 times.

Anyway, here are Jay's tips to running the OD 100.

- don't go out too fast. the early miles, up to mile 32.55, are generally the easist. a little bit of trail, but mostly country dirt roads in the early morning. very scenic and pleasant. but the heat of the day and the hard trails are waiting.

- at mile 32.55, fill up on water and calories and fill your camelback or bottle or whatever you have. this is a good aid station. the hard trails are next and the next two aid stations are small.

- after mile 32.55 you go to camp roosevelt and climb a trail to the top of the mountain and run a paved road back down to camp roosevelt. then you enter Duncan hollow trail. the aid station at the entrance to duncan hollow trail is minimal. I think last year it just had sports drink and i declined and went into duncan hollow with about 20 ounces of water. i bonked in duncan hollow and never fully recovered.

- duncan hollow trail is many a runners undoing. it is long, hot and hard to run. you need to run as much of this as possible without burning yourself out. the race organizers try to set up an aid station halfway through this trail, but the volunteers have to bring water in on motorcycles and usually run out by the time I get there.

- after you get out of the duncan hollow trail, you get to an aid station with the first weigh in. hopefully you didn't dehydrate and lose too much weight in there, because you will have to sit and gain weight at the aid station.

- next you run back to four points aid station again and after that you pass the 50 mile mark. the 50 mile mark is written across the road. you need to pass this no later than 10 or 11 hours into the race to make 24 hours, although i think one year i passed this at 11 1/2 hours and still squeaked under 24 hours.

- from four points #2 to edinburg gap is in the heat of the day, exposed dirt roads. much of it uphill. some people bonk here.

- after the edinburg gap aid station is a bigtime climb. very steep with false summits. but after the summit is a long, fun to run, gradual downhill on a jeep trail.

- next is little fort aid station. good food here and a good place to eat.

- more dirt roads and trails until elizabeth furnace aid station at mile 75.

- you want to get to elizabeth furnace asap because after that is shermans gap and veach gap. the more of these two gap trails you can do in daylight, the better. i usually get to elizabeth furnace at 8:30 pm. this is a weight check in so drink all of your camel back before entering here. get food and drinks here because the hard trails are next. this is also where i get my lights and maybe a long sleeve shirt.

- shermans gap trail is awful. it is steep and long both up and down the other side. then you get on a short but very hilly road to veach gap. veach gap is about 70% as hard as shermans gap.

- after veach gap west aid station, there are no more trails. you do have to cross fort valley and woodstock mountain though. you need to leave veach gap west aid station by no later than 1:00 am to have a chance at being under 24 hours.

- these last 13 miles are where the course marking vandals usually strike. You may want to have your turn sheet directions or run with someone who knows where they are going for these miles.

- the climb up woodstock mountain is torture and the run down woodstock mountain is worse. you have to run down the mountain to break 24 hours. your legs won't want to, but you have to. no one who walks down the other side of woodstock mountain breaks 24 hours.

- once you get to the dam at the bottom of woodstock mountain, you will probably know if you will make it under 24 hours or not. you still must run the course back in. don't go off course. runners have been disqualified in this portion because of going off course. it doesn't matter if vandals took took the ribbons. i think race leaders have been disqualified because of this. this is the root of some bad publicity for old dominion.

- the last part of the course is the 1/2 mile circle of the horse track. Factor this into your time estimates.

- other than the vandals, the course is the best marked, point to point race I have run. you still need to pay attention. it seems like runners go off course each year.

Thanks Jay.

Run hard out there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Lost Weekend

Many ultra training plans prescribe a training methodology commonly known as the Long Run Sandwich. This is a two or three day period of back-to-back long runs, thought to improve fitness better than just one weekly long run. Benefits of the sandwich include:
  • Simulate running on tired legs
  • Simulate metabolic load of longer events
  • Practice pacing
  • Get some serious mileage in
  • Acclimate to conditions
  • Practice eating/drinking

Here's now my weekend sandwich developed:

Friday: I went out on my normal lunchtime run (Friday has become an 800' ascent "TGIF" day for the small group I run with at work). We can get from downtown to the top of the mountain and back (6 miles) in just about an hour.

(view of Mill Mountain summit from downtown area)

Not a bad way to spend a lunch break. Due to the fact that I had been oncall for almost two weeks in a row, I decided to take the afternoon off so I could get a long run in before resuming my oncall duties for the weekend. So after reaching the top of the mountain and running back down with my friends, I said goodbye and headed into the woods to explore some of the trails of Mill Mountain and the surrounding area. Thanks to GPS, I was able to track my distance as I mindlessly ambled through the woods. I discovered a new trail that winds along the Mill Mountain low country -- and 18 miles later I decided to call it a day. 18.6 miles

Saturday: Work woke me up and wasted most of my morning. Then I watched VA Tech softball, mowed the lawn, and pretty much declared Saturday as a rest day. (Wait, doesn't mowing the lawn count for anything? Like 5.2 glasses of wine, or half of a Big Mac?!?!?)

Sunday: Church followed by an afternoon VA Tech softball doubleheader spent on the couch left my legs restless. I left the house around 5pm, and drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway (about 10 minutes from my house). I ran a mile south on the parkway, then galloped along a horse trail that eventually brought me back to the trails that I had explored on Saturday. 7 miles later I decided I'd better turn around or I'd be finishing in the dark. 14.1 miles

Absolutely done with oncall, I decided to get the most out of what was left of the weekend and turn this sandwich into a whopper. I left from the house with my GPS for a long road run. Nothing like an asphalt thrashing to beat the legs into shape. It was a hot one too -- temps around 85, no wind to speak of, relentless sun. Random route out 10 miles (thanks GPS), a stop for a V8 and Dr. Pepper, and mile 20 found me at the local swimming pool for a dip before the final 2 miles home. Just in time to shower, dress, and head out for a family cookout. Nothing like a long weekend of running to build up an appreciation for family, not to mention a real appetite. 22 miles

Now I rest, eat clean, and think happy thoughts. OD 100 is on the horizon. I'm not exactly where I would like to be in my training for a hundred miler, but I've consistently put in 40-50 miles per week all year, and run a few PR times. My fitness is better than it ever has been. If I can rest, recover, and hold this level of fitness, I should have a shiny new buckle come June 8.

Run hard out there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Iron Mountain 50-mile Trail Run

I've not done it, but I have been on a lot of the trails. This is a great run, with great support.

Check it out... See their training plan here.

Deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains there is a man… An Iron Mountain man…

Registration opens June 1st ...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hard days vs. Easy days

I've been reading Lyle McDonald's blog recently because he has some good things to say about interval training, fat loss, etc., all of which are topics that I like to read about. He recently did a series of articles about interval training vs. steady state running that was a real eye opener for me. But that's not the point of today's post. His most recent post is about hard training vs. easy training, and how if we don't do the easy training the right way, easy, then all of our training will warp into medium training because we are too tired to train hard. Did you get that?

The full blog entry is here. But I'm including the meat of it below.

But most people aren’t satisfied doing that kind of [easy] training. They don’t like doing the short duration (an easy/active recovery workout might only take 20-30 minutes). They figure that if they took the time to drive to the gym, they should do a full workout session. So the duration starts to climb.

Then there’s intensity. Proper ‘easy’ training should feel utterly easy, like there’s no effort at all. And the obsessive don’t like that, not at all. It doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything (No pain, no gain, right) so the intensity starts to climb. Where it should be an easy 130 heart rate or lower, it’ll start climbing to the aerobic range or higher. Suddenly, what should have been easy days start becoming medium days.

But it’s even more insidious than that: these medium days end up being too easy to really stimulate fitness, but too hard to allow complete recovery. It’s this weird no-man’s land that doesn’t accomplish anything good.

Which has another major consequence, without the ability to recover sufficiently, the hard days can’t be as hard. Because you can’t do a quality session when you’re tired. So the hard days start becoming medium days as well. And it all goes wrong.

The hard days can’t be hard enough, the easy days are too hard and the whole week ends up being this weird sort of medium intensity across the board.

Get it now? It sounds like a familiar trap to me (not that I, or any ultrarunner for that matter is "obsessive"). I see it with my running friends, and I definitely see it in my own training. Lately I've adopted the mentality that if I'm going to train, I might as well train hard. Every run becomes an attempt at a PR for that course. I push myself to the brink of injury, then wonder why my body and my daily performance suffers. On the flip side, this high intensity training has produced some PRs for me this year. So where is the trade-off?

How many hard days should be followed by how many easy days? That, my friend, is the question that only you and I can decide. I have no problem running three hard days in a row. When I travel to Atlanta for work (once every 2 months or so), I run intervals every day because I have a love-hate relationship with the 0.52-mile track at Piedmont Park. But by that third or fourth evening my body is starting to talk back to me. I'm usually dealt a rest day as I travel back home. But then I hit the ground running, ready for more intensity. As I reflect on my training log, I think three hard days followed by one easy day is what works for me. But as Lyle's blog article states, this needs to be a really easy day. I will always struggle with that, but I will try to try harder... er, make that easier. Whatever!

How much does a taper week before a big event play into this too? If we train like madmen and madwomen leading up to an event, can the taper offset our lack of easy days? I'll try to look into that later as I get closer to June 7.

Run hard out there, but don't forget the easy days.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I mailed it... (Old Dominion 100)

Well, I did it. I dropped my entry for the 2008 Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Run in the mailbox today. Then I jogged across the street and ate a Big Mac.

Today's run was the Trail Nuts 10k (ran the 10k instead of the half-marathon so I could get some volunteer hours in for Grindstone). I managed to get 2nd overall with a slow 46:45, and received a very nice award -- a 10-pound, engraved stepping stone to commemorate the day.

Overall, a very nice day. Then there's that Old Dominion thing looming... More on this later. I need to collect my thoughts.

Run hard out there...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Running Through the Wall -- a review from

I stumbled across this review of "Running Through the Wall" at

The Complete Running Network is a collection of over 1,700 running-related blogs. Man, it's going to take a while to get through all of those! If you have a running blog and are not part of the network, add yours today.

Happy reading.

Monday, May 5, 2008

40-year old aversion

I turned 40 on Saturday. Some people think milestone birthdays like this are bad. Not me. I'm in better shape than I was at 30 and 35, so I say "Welcome 40, bring on 45!" In an attempt to drive this positive thinking home, I ventured out for a 40-mile birthday run on Friday.

I drove about an hour from my home to Draper, VA to run on the New River Trail. The NRT is a rails-to-trails path that runs through the New River Valley for 57 miles, give or take a few. It is a mostly flat, scenic run on a forgiving surface. I love to go there for long, fast training runs.

I filled my 64-oz pack with nuun and took off. I knew very quickly that it was going to be a warm day on the trail. After a few miles, I decided to return to the car, change into lighter (faster) shoes, and drop the pack in favor of a handheld bottle.

With just over 10 miles under my belt, I headed back down the trail, bottle in hand. As the miles started to build, I knew 40-miles was asking too much. I was experiencing a bit of soreness from the punishing Promise Land 50k just 5 recovery days prior. And my mind was just not in it. To make sure I got at least 50k I decided to run out 10 miles from the car, forcing myself to come back 10 miles for a total of 31 on the day. At the time I made this decision, I was drinking conservatively, and although I knew it would be close, I thought I'd have just enough water.

Now that I had decided to cut the run short, I picked up my pace. I was running 7:45-pace down the trail, loving every minute of it. Visions of a 50k PR were dancing in my head as I drank to keep my body fueled. But I was about to get into trouble. By the time I got out 10 miles my bottle was almost dry and I was fatigued from the continuous running. I turned around and began the 10-mile slog back to the car. Within a mile or so I was out of water and bonking fast. Mentally I was okay. But physically, my body was beginning to shut down.

Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink. That was the challenge for the next hour plus as I tried to keep up my pace along the beautiful yet unclean New River. Drinking out of the river was not an option. I did dunk my head a couple times, but resisted the strong urge to gulp it in.

Moderate running turned to slow running turned to walking. I asked myself, "what would Survivorman do?" Slow down to conserve energy and keep body temperature under control. That's what I did. That, plus another dunk in the river (now the upper neck of Claytor Lake), and before I knew it, I was at the car.

I quickly chugged 12-20 ounces from the tepid hydration pack. Then after eating some fruit, I crossed the street and bought some cold water and a Pepsi from the local store. Those were gone in minutes. On the way home I stopped to refuel at ye olde local "Omelette Shoppe" where I chased down two eggs, sausage gravy and a biscuit with 2 glasses of water and 2 cups of coffee (Noakes recommends drinking coffee or beer after a long run to stimulate the kidneys -- beer was out of the question with several driving miles yet to go). When I got home I weighed myself, and I was still 3lbs down from where I started the day. It took me a couple more hours to get my plumbing back to normal, but luckily I suffered no ill effects.

Lesson learned -- Current thinking is that it's better to drink too little than too much, but there is a difference between "drinking to thirst" and "going thirsty for 2 hours." I made an unwise decision to run further and faster than my hydration plan allowed. And I paid for it.

Saturday was a recovery day (very lovely birthday hike with my family), Sunday was a great 12-mile trail run with one of my best running buddies. I was a bit tired for the 12-miler, but nothing unusual for 2 days after a hard 50k run.

On a positive note (I guess), I've just about been talked into running the Old Dominion 100 for the first time. More on that later.