Life on the Peloton

Becoming a morning exerciser took a couple years to figure out. We moved in June 2020 and took new jobs. Knowing I’d be busy but still dedicated to fitness and peak performance, my, now former, superintendent, an avid runner, gave me some advice, “Get a Peloton and do your runs and rides before the school day starts (at 7:50am!). This was a hard pill for me to swallow. COVID shut down most events and I spent the first year generally just losing fitness. I was burnt out on ultra-running training and racing. By late summer 2021, looking again into the fall and cold, dark winter months, we decided to pull the trigger on Peloton. I had to become that guy—the indoor/morning exerciser! As is the refrain in the Disney+ series, Mandalorian, “This is the way.”

Back in my triathlon days, I tried pretty hard to make spin classes work during the off season. I’d set reminders to call the gym and reserve a bike with one of my favorite instructors, three days out from the actual class. Then the day of the class would come and I’d drive to the gym, find parking, walk in and scan my ID, grab a towel, head into the locker room, put on my cycling shoes, clip-clop upstairs to my spin class, wipe down my bike, make the requisite adjustments, clip in and go. From a time management perspective, it wasn’t anything approaching optimal, but I did love the classes. I loved the intervals set to music and it was a fantastic workout.

At Peloton, they’re all about milestones. I don’t mind.

Fast forward to today, August 3rd, 2022. It’s my one year “Peloversary” of the first class I took last summer. I recall being excited to get the party started and trusted that I would certainly get my money’s worth, but underestimated Peloton’s overall positive impact on my quality of life. I’ve always liked the feel of a spin-bike—so smooth; so quiet. You can’t coast so your legs are always moving. I love that efficiency and economy of movement. And if I’m on Peloton, I’m not putting miles on my own bikes, especially the mountain-bike, which can be costly to maintain. I like to joke around and say that my goal is to not ride my mountain-bike! Over the last 365, I’ve ridden 3,000 miles on Peloton. That’s a lot of time not on my outdoor bikes. Also, that’s 3,000 miles of continuous spinning, and at higher average power outputs than I’d be seeing outside where I’m stopping more, descending, and coasting. No driving, no gym, no stupid locker key to keep track of, no distracted motorists, no stopping. Just jump on the stationary bike with a screen, AirPods, warm-up, do hard intervals, cool-down. Recover.

One aspect of Peloton I totally underestimated was the importance of an inspiring instructor; an instructor that is a good fit for not only my style of training but also my personality. It didn’t take me long to discover Matt Wilpers. Matt’s a former Division 1 collegiate runner. He’s a former accountant so loves the numbers and creating structure inside sessions. He’s also a recent age-group champ at the NYC Triathlon. Matt’s a coach’s coach. He does like country music, but I don’t hold that against him. More than anything, he’s a force of positivity. In my opinion, we could all use a Matt Wilpers in our lives. Every time I take a class, I enjoy some food for thought I can carry with me all day.

Overnight, I traded in the heart-rate monitor for the power bar on my touch screen. I soon took my first functional threshold power, or “FTP,” test to calibrate my training zones and the rest is history. Matt excels at keeping the class on task and motivated. I usually set my audio setting to “More Music” but often will switch to “More Instructor,” since it’s during the recovery intervals when Matt likes to drop some good training wisdom, often reaffirming concepts I have employed with success over the years. I do often rely on the music to get me through hard intervals though. It’s one important aspect of the training for me. Peloton’s playlists have gotten better and better over time. Many of the 700 tunes currently on my Spotify “Liked Songs” playlist I first heard on Peloton, like Dom Dolla’s “Pump the Brakes.” When that song plays when I’m out on weekend long road rides, I’ll listen to it at least three times!

A new toy. My first Peloton class on 8/3/2021. Heart-rate monitor?!

After recovering from a hard MTB race a few weeks ago I thought it was time to suck it up and suffer through an FTP test so I could update my power zones. The goal is to put out as much power as you can sustain for 20min. Once you’re done, Peloton asks you if you want to re-calibrate your zones. The idea is that you’ll continue to take power zone classes, with your new zones, and test again, as Wilpers recommends, every 4-6 weeks, or whenever your fitness has changed, for better or worse. Doing the actual FTP test sucks to high heaven, but keeping your FTP up to date really does help you get the most out of your power zone classes. What can be measured can be improved!

In addition to the FTP test, the one occasion where you have no limits to how hard you can go, there are three main classes I’m going to try to hit over the next eight weeks: Power Zone Endurance, Power Zone, and Power Zone Max. Power Zone Endurance is nice because intervals don’t exceed Zone 3, muscular endurance or “tempo,” so you’re never suffering like a dog and want to die. Power Zone classes, on the other hand, can get a little raw. You can preview the intervals you’ll do inside any class (but I never do) and generally see there will be some Zone 4 (Threshold) and Zone 5 (VO2 Max) intervals. Zone 4 and Zone 5 are not nice places to hang out, but they will make you a better, tougher endurance athlete.

Last fall, I was doing a handful of Power Zone classes during the week and less than 25mi running and was able to run a 1:16 half-marathon, mostly off the aerobic fitness I created on Peloton. Truth be told, the half-marathon did have a lot of downhill, but I did have to sustain 5:50/mi pace for 13.1 miles. I tweaked a calf in training, trying to do shorter, intense run intervals. It still wasn’t healed by race day. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve bailed from the race. But voila! I have this secret weapon. Runners are using Peloton more and finding out what huge aerobic benefits they can derive by doing consistent power-zone classes each week in training. I have a buddy that’s doing the Grand Slam of Ultra-running this year and is as religious with Peloton classes as I am as a pure cyclist. After his first 100mi run, he texted me the following, “3 words: Power Zone Classes.”

Hey, I might be a 48 year-old school teacher, but still want to get after it. I want to be as lean and mean as I can possibly be. I’m lighter now than I was as an ultra-runner (and I’m not in pain all the time). I do, however, have a lot going on and I do want to be effective in each of my life roles. Thus, time management is the key. With the new school year about to start up, I’m looking at optimizing my training for an end-of-September MTB race. Most of the these races don’t play to my endurance strengths so I’ll need to fry my circuits a few more times in training so I don’t get dropped at the start and on steep hills.

Early to bed, early to rise and shine. For me and my athletes (and the Tour de France for that matter) Monday’s always a rest day, Tuesday’s a Power Zone Endurance ride, Wednesday’s either a Power Zone or FTP test, Thursday a little longer duration from my standard 60min class; so around 75min Power Zone Endurance class that puts my tired legs back into gear. Friday’s either a shorter Power Zone Endurance ride or total rest in the morning, depending on how shelled I am from the work-week. I want to try and consistently get out for a 60-90min MTB ride after work on Fridays. We’ll see how that goes. Finally, it’s weekend warrior mode starting Saturday morning, bricking together a warm-up MTB ride then jumping on Peloton to fry the circuits one more time with a Power Zone or Power Zone Max ride, depending on my state of recovery. Sunday “FunDay” is my cherished long ride on the road, where I’ll ride 50-100mi depending. So, I have a good mix of sessions. Variety’s certainly the spice of my training life. Peloton encourages quality workouts during the weekday mornings.

If you want to get better at anything you need to do it a lot. For me, Peloton encourages consistency. Getting fit as a cyclist take twice the time it takes to get similarly fit running, running being a weight bearing sport and all. You can do a lot with 10 hours of run training. On the bike, that’s a minimum number to be even somewhat competitive. But, training 20 hours per week on the bike just isn’t in the cards during the school year. This is where power zone classes come into play. I can get concentrated dose of training in a short amount of time. For example, after work this year, I want to hit regular 20-30min power-zone endurance classes, just to decompress from the school day, where I need to be ON, all day. Come home, hop on the bike, process my day in a healthy manner, avoid ALL the distracted PM drivers, stay alive, all while maintaining some nice training frequency. Just a third to half of an hour to feel fantastic for the rest of the evening, and get a good night’s sleep, which is the glue that holds everything together.

Peloton offers a lot of bells and whistles but if you’re into optimizing your precious time and energy, you can’t find a better tool to incorporate into your arsenal of training resources. As my man, Matt Wilpers, says at the end of every class, “Train hard. Train smart. And have fun.” I always say “Thanks Matt,” under my breath, as I’m cooling down. I’ve just earned my feel-good-vibe for the rest of the day. Come at me, world.

Remember to point positive and stay in the flow > > >

Cadence is KING

Good Morning!

I hope the weekend was good! This week’s Coach Tip is fundamental to optimizing run performance:

RUN EVERYTHING WITH A QUICK CADENCE.

Always running with quick leg turnover will do three things for you: you’ll spend more time in the air with less impact forces all while being less likely to take a header and eat dirt. So, it stands to reason you’ll not only save a TON of energy over the long haul ’cause your efficiency high, but you’ll also arrive to the finish line FASTER, wondering why in THE hell you haven’t made cadence center-stage years ago. It’s a little thing that makes a BIG difference.

I define “quick cadence” as something in the neighborhood of 180 steps per minute (spm). That’s 90 left foot-strikes per minute, or like I tell athletes, ~15 left foot-strikes per 10sec. Count how many left foot-falls you’re getting in 10 seconds, sometime. Probably best to measure cadence on a smooth surface. Some GPS watches measure cadence. You can even go so far as displaying it on your watch but after playing around with 180spm and getting a feel for it, I’d have you focus on internalizing what 180 feels like rather than obsessing over a number on a screen.

I’m most interested in cadence after progression runs and RACES. I do check it out after long runs but notice it’s always under 180, because long runs are NOT races! I do want to see ~180 or higher in my progression runs and races at 100k or less. After a 50k in the Marin Headlands last month, my average cadence (according to Suunto) was 186. That DID feel right too, since my goal, even on the climbs, was to keep steppin’—a little above 180 on the downs, a little under 180 on the steepest, most technical ups, and right at 180 on the flats, which had to be less than 5% of that course.

So, if cadence is constant then STRIDE LENGTH is variable. On the flats, stride length is relaxed and smooth. On the ups and downs, all you have to remember is that cadence is the constant and therefore VARY stride-length accordingly. If you’re running down a technical descent, keep those legs turning over! If you’re on a long climb, shorten that stride length to the degree that you’re hitting about 15 lefts/10sec while keeping you’re breathing in check. The fitter you are the more of those climbs you’ll be able to RUN, maybe even going from a 15-18min/mi pace on the ups to a 12min/mile pace or faster. Think of what this optimized cadence is going to do for your run times!

A quick, relaxed cadence will keep you in the air longer and that’s what we’re looking for. We want to maintain momentum and capitalize on the free speed that gravity offers on the downs. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. Inertia, baby!

As it turns out, a quicker cadence actually works to accumulate LESS physical stress on the body. This seems somewhat counter-intuitive, I know. For example, my 186spm over a 5hr 50k with 16,000′ of elevation change, netted me some 56,000 total steps for the event! It stands to reason that leg turnover was something I was clearly focused on throughout that entire race. I’ve also been wondering to what degree my shoe choice affects overall running economy. When you’re committed to a fast run cadence you can go with a lighter shoe (7-8oz) since you’re more lightly striking the ground at the mid-forefoot. Fast cadence + light shoe = optimized human locomotion.

Another BIG bonus for always running with a quick turnover is you will fall LESS, simply because you’ll catch yourself quicker. For example, when you catch a toe, your other leg will already likely to be out in front of you. I’m not saying you’ll never fall again, but I’ve noticed that I fall less when I’m ENGAGED with my running and high engagement means high cadence. You have a big engine. Keep those pistons pumping!

In conclusion, I’d like to remind you to take any cadence data with a grain of salt. Relax. As long as you’re checking in with your cadence regularly, that’s a powerful thing you can do for your running. The fitter you become the more climbs you’ll be able to run, albeit with a much reduced stride-length! In the meantime, we accept the fact that a lot of our runs we’ll see an average cadence under 180spm, especially when we’re trail-running. I know I’m hiking a lot these days on my easy runs. For race-day though?! I’m putting on my dancing shoes and trying to RUN everything I can, especially if the race is 100k or less.

#pointpositivecoaching #cadence #optimal #runningeconomy #grain_of_salt #pistons #runtheups #turnover #keepstepping

San Diego 100 Prep

Seventeen little days now to San Diego 100 and I’m taking a bit of comfort knowing I’ve pulled this off before, that is, preparing for a hundo while in the midst of the school year and juggling all my other life pursuits. Pine to Palm 100 last September came about eight weeks post Tahoe Rim Trail 100 and well into the first month of school; the desire to train was no where to be found and I ended up running that one off summer/100mi fitness. This time around it’s been a lot better. One hopes…

Cinderella 50k - Photo Credit: Foggy Bottom Photography
Cinderella 50k, Oakland, CA (5/9/15) – Photo Credit: Foggy Bay Photos

Gorge Waterfalls 100k in March messed with my head a bit due to the comedy of errors in the final 8mi of that race, resulting in a lost opportunity to qualify for Western States in June. Even though outward appearances suggest a failure, I was quite pleased with my fitness in Oregon, considering I was just coming back from injury. Sucks though to not secure the result you know you’re capable of. Gotta keep movin’ on down the trail…

The heart of my San Diego 100 preparation.
One of my two-week training blocks for San Diego 100 + a rest week. Credit: Strava.com

Setbacks, in my experience, always seem to have a silver lining. Injury forced changes to my training, which have actually made me a more balanced runner. Go figure! All my runs now have purpose. In Oregon, I felt increased power and speed and have kept up with my evolved training program while building up for San Diego, continuing to reflect on each week and make tweaks here and there. Training for a 100 miles though, versus a 100k, I’ve toned down the intensity some for the sake of increased volume and maintaining overall life balance (thank-you Dr. Maffetone). The number of hill intervals have increased and gotten longer in duration. The speed of the tempo run has slowed a bit but has lengthened as well. And the weekends have been dedicated to double long runs, with Saturday being more about enjoyment, leaving Sunday to do a proper long run, focusing on “programming” the mind for the incipient battle that starts at Lake Cuyamaca on June 6th at 0600 hours. “A quiet mind is a powerful mind.”

Hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit:  strava.com
Gritty “Hundo” Hill Session: My 12 x 425′ hill repeats from 5/14/15. Credit: Strava.com

After soaking up some great motivation at Lake Sonoma 50, I put down a high quality two-week training block with lots of climb, then took a rest week to really absorb it. That Friday I found myself feeling good, and with my birthday the next day, I started surfing the web for a race. Why not?! It felt like the right thing to do. It is the Bay Area after all, and I was delighted to find a nice little 50k down in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland.

Checking the entrants list, I saw Chris DeNucci was also racing. So that sealed the deal—get to race on my birthday against at least one competitor who I knew would push me from start to finish. And that’s all it takes—one other runner to keep you honest and working to your potential on the day. As it turned out, there were plenty of guys rocking it on the front, including Chris Castleman and Alex Ho. It won’t be too much longer before I won’t be able to stay in front of these guys for 50k!

Like Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “Without a certain continuity of effort, without a certain duration or repetition of purpose, the soul is never deeply moved.” That right there is why I’m crazy about ultra-running. When I came through the start/finish (for the second time), I knew I had to string together just 4 more miles of continuous effort to complete the final loop to make it 50k. I found myself thinking of Travis Macy’s dad, from the book I just read called, Ultra Mindset. In it Macy talks about what the guys from his Dad’s era of ultra-runners had instead of comfy Hokas and super-fuels like Vitargo—-and that’s grit, plain and simple. And grit is what we need in abundance to run 100 miles. Winning a small, local 50k in course-record fashion on one’s birthday feels good, to be certain, but honing one’s ultra-running mettle for an upcoming hundo is priceless when we find ourselves at mile 80.

The following Tuesday, Amanda and I went down to support Michael Wardian in his 50k Treadmill World Record attempt, where he successfully lowered his own record of 3:03:56 to 2:59:49. Hoka One One made Iron Mike a literal centerpiece at their two-day sales conference held at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland (no pressure Mike!). Hoka folks got to jump on an adjacent treadmill and run “with” Wardian for a few miles (or minutes). Toward the end, I jumped on after Magdalena Boulet, who had the pace set to 9mph, which I found quite brisk! Mike was running 10.4mph at the time. After a mile or so, I briefly bumped it up to match his pace. I quickly felt the effects from my own 50k from a couple days prior. Volunteers started asking if I was okay.  😉

Much respect for Mike’s stout record. He’d just run a 70+ mile race in Australia 10 days prior and just arrived from “down under” that day. Jet-lagged or not, Mike made running sub-6min/mi pace for just about three hours look pretty easy. Smooth and efficient. And talk about “ultra mindset.” Mike said after that in order to stay focused he had to go “somewhere else.” He said he was “in” his basement back home in Virginia. I had a heaping pile of delicious gourmet food and left for the evening with a heaping pile of inspiration. #LetsGoMike

IMG_5451Okay, so I’ve shared the basic components of my 100mi prep:  training, the mental game, inspiration, and what else?… Oh yeah right, strength. I’ve been trying to be consistent with a modest strength circuit routine I can do during the week but that won’t compromise my quality run sessions. It basically encompasses four exercises (which I vary depending on what’s sore that day) that I like to do 3-4 times through. These include some basics like sit-ups and pull-ups as well as some full body stuff with 8lb dumbbells and the TRX. I try to keep it simple and it’s no surprise I’m stronger after a recovery week and less strong when I have a lot of miles in me. My feeling with strength training is that a little goes a long way. That’s my hope here in 17 days—go a long way, strong. Hold form together so you can “fake it until you make it.”  !!!

Looking ahead now, I’ve begun hittin’ the sauna with two 20min sessions in the last few days. I’ll do this all the way up to San Diego. Temps have been way too cool here in wine country so far this spring, so a little sauna training better go a long way as well! This week’s the last structured training week prior to San Diego, which I’ll cap off with the Western States Training Runs this Memorial Day weekend with another Hoka teammate, Paul Terranova. I’m hoping to bank 50k of sweet trail running bliss on Saturday and follow it up with 20 on Sunday. And that’ll do it. I’ll stay sharp with a handful of short runs, work on my race-plan, keep studying the course, strategize, get great sleep, limit my caffeine and alcohol intake, hydrate, stretch, foam-roll, and keep visualizing how I want things to pan out on game-day.

SanDiego100LogoSo, about the San Diego 100 course-record… I’ve been lucky enough to meet and chat with two past SD100 champs in recent months—Jeff Browning and Karl Meltzer—and hear about their experiences on a course that has evolved over the years due to things like forest fires. I contacted RD, Scott Mills, and received a very detailed, appreciated, and fair account on the history of the race, which has helped me create some realistic goals:

The SD course is in its 14th year and over that period we have had 4 major course changes that make records only applicable to the years that it was run over those particular courses.  The first 7 years was the easiest as an out and back on the PCT and it was held in Nov.  Karl holds that record at 15:48. The next two years was a double loop in the Cuyamacas….it too was an easier course and comparable to Karl’s course record so I always considered Karl’s time as the course record for this route as well.

Then 6 years ago the race underwent a major change when I inherited the event and we ran a much tougher and more varied course.  Over those first 4 years, Jeff Browning won the race twice and held the course record of 16:39….a very solid and impressive time.  I feel Browning’s time was pretty much comparable or better in terms of difficulty to Karl’s record on the old course and it was run in June when it is significantly hotter than the Nov time frame of Karl’s.

Then two years ago (just after the 2013 race, a devastating wild fire destroyed our race venue and many of the trails we use so we had to yet again change the course.  Last year’s and this year’s courses are very similar (only a very minor change) and I believe this variation of the course is the toughest of all past variations.  Jeff Kozak won last year’s event in 19:24 and that is the current course record that you would be competing against.

As you know 100 mile course records are so dependent upon race day conditions and in our case upon route changes.  I think this year’s course winning time will be below 19 hours but again, too many variables to predict. I will add…the SD 100 course is “sneaky hard”  By this I mean it looks very runnable for the entire course but there are some very technical and hard sections that don’t appear so on paper.  The dry air, wind and low humidity need to be watched closely as well with regards to dehydration.

I’m looking forward to this special opportunity to execute to the very best of my abilities in this long-standing and challenging event. Hopefully I’ll have packed enough grit to see me through. #seeyouinsandiego

Photo Credit: Amanda Shebest
Parting Shot:  Just hangin’ out in Mike’s basement. Credit: Amanda

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”

Thank you to Julbo Eyewear for the sweet looking, functional, and super comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you guys (and gals!).

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my SAN DIEGO 100 nutrition.

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you! 

Running with Purpose

“If your target is top running performance, then to overtrain means to apply more force than is required to hit that target. In fact, overtraining may literally obliterate your target, or at least leave you without the will to pursue it.”  -Jack Daniels

Well alright! We’re into the swing o’ things here in mid-January. We’ve probably got at least the spring events lined up and we’re now doing the specific work to prepare for that first big race, which is comin’ up fast! >>>

Running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests that every run we do serve a purpose. In 2015, I’m making this idea the centerpiece of all plans I create for athletes, as well as for myself. Since all the athletes I’m currently working must have superior muscular endurance to be successful in their events, then the long run is the most important session of the week. Therefore, we must take great care to arrive to our long runs mentally and physically fresh to accomplish this steady-state effort with a high degree of mindfulness.

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In general, the long run should remain a Zone 1-2 (RPE easy to moderate) effort throughout. The habits internalized in this endurance session are the ones we bring into racing, thus we want to be thinking about our pacing, nutrition, hydration, use of gear that encourages comfort and efficiency, etc. In addition, the long run is the place to create the conditions for “flow,” a state of mind where your running may be described as fluid and effortless. Be smooth, be efficient, and as Matt Fitzgerald writes, “Practice running beautifully.” Beautiful running, as corny as it may sound, is efficient running. Relax, and let it happen on those long efforts…

The next most important session would then be the Tempo run, or perhaps alternated with Tempo Intervals, where we work in Zone 3 to low Zone 4 (RPE mod-hard). Tempo serves a variety of purposes to include the development of leg-speed, which is a critical component, all the way out to Ironman, the 100mi trail run, and beyond (Victor Ballesteros!). Awareness during the Tempo run should be placed on progress from a lower RPE/HR to a nice plateau where you seek to find that place where you are uncomfortable, yet the effort is sustainable. We derive so much quality from training approx once/week at tempo, especially when the long run is conducted appropriately. Lastly, the tempo run gradually develops our ability to suffer (or deal with discomfort—vs. dealing with pain).

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Hills. Generally, the hill session, in my mind, is third in line, behind the long and tempo runs. When we arrive at the doorstep of this session, it’s good to get a nice, long warm-up, get that “Green Light” from the body, before asking our bodies to work in Zone 4-5 (RPE hard). On a side note, hills conquered during our long sessions develop the capacity to climb efficiently. Hills repeats, on the other hand, build power, thus the reason for the relatively short interval (1 or 2min up a steep climb with plenty of recovery between each permits effective recovery.

Begin with the end in mind. When I prescribe a hill session for an athlete, I do so by asking the athlete to run a range # of intervals. It’s their job to be honest with themselves, in the moment, to determine what # of intervals is optimal for them on the day. So, if I write 5-8 x 1min Hard, then they would hit the first interval thinking of the last interval. They should progressively increase in intensity, SEEKING to make the last one their strongest. This doesn’t always happen and some sessions might simply be terrible. Accept it and move on with your day. The next quality session might just be the best you’ve ever done! Our energy ebbs-n-flows. Go with it >>>

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You should always complete any quality session with more to give. Again, be honest with yourself and never judge yourself. Be objective. And that means knowing yourself. Remember the rule: “Never do a workout from which you cannot recover in approximately 24 hours. Doing so will encourage your capacity to string together weeks—and months!—of quality training, where you enjoy the gradual increase in fitness while optimizing health. Recall that presence of mind encourages optimal performance.

Finally, is the active recovery run. We can do a lot with these, including doing a single, easy 30min session, or even two short, easy sessions in a day, to best facilitate optimal active recovery. The purpose of active recovery, is to keep the effort parked in Zone 1 (RPE easy). when your active recovery session are truly easy, then this allows your body to flush the “junk” out of your legs, promoting awesome circulation, and encourages your ability to bring more quality to your long, tempo, and hill sessions. You can’t hear it enough: Keep the easy days EASY so that the hard/quality days actually CAN BE of the highest quality. If your easy days are not easy then your hard days cannot be as hard as they should be, and mediocrity ensues, blending everything toward the middle. No bueno! This phenomenon is an affliction from which a lot of endurance athletes suffer. I have. We all have! Bottom line, give yourself permission to simply enjoy running easy on these days, knowing that doing so could very well be a game-changer for your quality efforts.

Deriving great satisfaction from your quality sessions builds on what Fitzgerald refers to “psychological momentum.” This state of being is the training/racing “sweet spot” in which we’re empowered, excited, and may—from time to time—feel almost like we’re being “pulled” out-of-doors to train, relishing in our movement. Strive for nothing less in your training. Not quite there? Sleep more.

The rest day is an opportunity for the mind and body to absorb the quality training you’ve done. It’s during the rest days—and recovery weeks—where we actually grow stronger. Never underestimate the power of rest! Trust this principle of training. It’s oft misunderstood!

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Cross-training should be based on the individual’s preference for other aerobic-based sports, like cycling or swimming. Triathletes have it easy since they really don’t have time to injure themselves running since the bike demands so much of their time. The bike being a highly effective means of continuing to develop the aerobic fitness they’ll need for the season. Triathlon’s been called a “haven for the running wounded.” That’s how I got into it (and stayed!) for a decade! Cycling, for example can always be done in place of an active recovery run; athletes never have to ask me to supplant an active recovery run with a bike—the answer’s always “Sure thing!”

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Strength. Since running’s the priority (and swimming/cycling for the triathletes) then committing to strength sessions is challenging, since a regular, longer strength session can negatively impact training for our primary sport(s). Thus, I’ve become a big fan of “peppering” in strength as I have energy and opportunity, which, if I’m creative, I have in abundance. For example, I’m now doing short, morning strength/stretching session every week-day morning where I do some combination of yoga, TRX, kettle-bell, and a wide variety of body-weight exercises, including the classics: sets of push-ups, sit-ups, planks, pull-ups, squats, etc. I listen to my body and work on stuff that’s not sore! Some days become all yoga while others are more pure strength. I printed out a calendar from a spreadsheet I made, leading up to my next race and have it up in the garage, so I can hold myself accountable and fill in something on Mon-Fri. Sessions range from 10min to 30min, approx. Experiment and see what works for you. A strong body is more inclined to hold on to good form late in quality sessions and races, leaving us less likely to suffer an injury brought on by some variety of over-compensation caused by muscular fatigue. Again, don’t judge yourself. Strive to be objective and realize, when it comes to strength, less can very well be more. Even 15 ten-minute sessions a month adds up to something considerable. That 2.5 hours goes a long way. Pepper it in. See what happens.

What we do outside of training is more important than the training itself, especially once the overall weekly volume is over 10-12hrs. Sleep, nutrient-dense foods, and plenty of water will truly allow you to consistently perform at your best. As Einstein so famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results.” So, make sure you have explicit plans in place to evolve both your training process and your race-day execution.

Keep the purpose of each session in mind whenever you head out the door. Keep yourself in balance, and above all else, place your health above fitness. I’ll strive to do the same.

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—DEMAND MORE! 

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling my training and racing.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you!

TRT 100 Training – Week I

“Running to him was real; the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.” ― John L. Parker Jr.

In John L. Parker’s book, Once a Runner, the protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, first breaks the 4-min mile at the track, by himself, after sunset. No fanfare, just moving passed an imaginary line in the sand without thinking too much about it. I’ve always remembered that in order for the magic to be there on race-day, you’ve got to put in the work. And if you aspire to go beyond what you’ve done in the past, eventually, you’re going to have to start doing things that my be considered, say, a little unorthodox. One thing’s for sure though, we get out of this running thing just what we’ve put in. No shortcuts. How hard you throw yourself into your training must largely determine how high you peak come race-day.

2014 marks my fourth start at what has become my hands-down favorite race of all time—the Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi Endurance Run. Never have I been more challenged and in awe of an event. And no other distance to date, captures my imagination like the running 100mi, inside such a stunning venue as Lake Tahoe.

trtresults

Albert Einstein famously stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.” Every time I’ve done TRT I’ve gotten a little better at it. God knows I have an intimate appreciation of the race’s motto: A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell.  I know, as I stand before it once more, that I must, indeed, be getting to a point of diminishing returns. But, there’s a fire inside that burns to improve over what I was able to do, just last year, on the hottest day the race has ever seen. So, with evolved training and race process, I’m looking to do in training, what’s necessary to shave another 30-60min off my best. No Challenge. No Change.

Anticipation being the heart of wisdom, I’m essentially duplicating what worked so well from 2013, just beefing it up a bit so that I can expect different—and hopefully improved—results. The body, being like a sponge, should be relatively “dry” coming into a big block of 100mi run training, so that it has a chance to really soak up the volume. Here’s what I did for the last two weeks of May, immediately following Silver State 50miler in Reno (a highly specific event for TRT 100 in July):

twoweeksout

With no real structured training since Jan/Feb, I rolled into the spring with two 7-hour, top-finishes at both Marin Ultra Challenge and Lake Sonoma, just the 3-4% gains I was targeting over last year’s 50-mile race times. Then, life intervened, and sadly, I had to make an unexpected trip back East for my father’s funeral. This, indeed, took the wind out of my sails. With poor motivation, I contemplated not doing Silver State, but rallied and did a hilly, hard 50k at Armstrong Redwoods, two weeks out from Silver State and did not feel great. The one event wasn’t enough to replace two weeks of quality training. Insufficient prep, coupled with experimenting with different fuels and gear, resulted in going from running myself into 1st at mile 27 to getting run down by two better runners that day, for a disappointing 3rd place finish, a full hour slower than my 2013 time. Whatever, I still had a great experience (mostly after the race that is!).

Silver State was, actually, just the reality check I needed coming into my June build-up to Tahoe Rim. To be certain, running a 100 miles is not child’s play by any stretch of the imagination. My respect for the distance was reaffirmed. I used the final two weeks of May to not only recover, but finish my school year, enjoy my students and the relationships cultivated over an entire school year, and generally “dry out my sponge” out for the incipient June training.

Here’s the plan for Week I (I was tweaking it since January!):

theplan

My strategy last year was come into June fresh and do my biggest week first. Last year, I’d just starting using Hoka One One’s Stinson EVO trail shoe and was delighted to discover I possessed (it seemed) some kind of super power in these shoes, namely the ability to recover quickly and put up 150mi with over 30,000′ of gain, and back it up with two more weeks of balanced run training, both over 100mi. So, in Einsteinian fashion, I had to make the plan a bit more robust this year, shooting for a 180mi week with about 35,000′ of elevation gain. With a “go-til-you-blow” mind-set, I just threw myself into it. Here’s what I was able to (somehow) do last week:

bigweek2bigweek3

 Here’s my training log from 02June

As you can see I clearly employ the “Hard-Day/Easy-Day” approach. Hard days defined as developing the muscular endurance needed to not simply run 100mi, but also attending to the desire to be generating a reasonable amount of power over the second half of the event. Recall that the ultra-running contest doesn’t go to the fastest, it goes to the one that slows down the least.

strava_mts1st

Strava adds another layer of motivation to the week, that if existed a decade ago, would have ensured I was constantly injured. Last year, new to Strava, I participated in their “Junedoggle,” a monthly training series that informally pits ultra-runners from around the world against each other by seeing who can rack up the most run volume in a month. Game on!!  I think some folks on there don’t actually race anymore! Sometimes looks to me they just put up big miles to try and stay on top of the MTS (Monthly Training Series). It’s damn addictive, I’ll admit. But, I’m planning to stick with it for two more weeks then drop so I can do a proper recovery week, just as I did last year. My advice for folks using Strava as a motivational tool, is that to remember that’s just what it is—a tool. Make Strava work for you, not the other way around. I thoroughly enjoy it and am aware of the potential pitfalls, related exclusively to my ego.

If you’re going to sign up for a 100mi run, you’re best served by choosing your battle carefully. You want to pick one that inspires you; that alone will fuel your fire in training. In my case, I keep going back to TRT100 not just because it’s such a great event, but also because it’s just a good fit for me as a teacher. I can take full advantage of the month of June, being now out of the classroom, to do the required work that will allow me to see my potential on race-day. For Western States, in the event I ever got in, would present significant challenges, balancing my primary life roles as husband, teacher, coach, and athlete.

I’m fortunate to have both Lake Sonoma 50 and North Face Endurance Challenge in my “backyard,” both events having that star-studded field that really lets me see where I stack up against the best in the sport. With a top-10 finish at Lake Sonoma this April, and the fact that the longer the race, the better I do, I know that given different life circumstances, I could likely top-10 at Western States. But personally, I have all that I need—a beauty of a course in Tahoe, in July, that affords me the ability to test my mettle, against others, but more to the point—against my former self. And, the fact I’m living another athletic life as an ultra-runner is not lost on me. Before ultra-running there was Ironman Triathlon, and the Western States of triathlon is the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii. And having been lucky enough to qualify, go, and finish strong on four occasions, I don’t want the fact I haven’t done Western States feel like some failure. If it happens it happens. I’m just happy to be still improving—at some athletic pursuit—at the ripe young age of 40.

So, in conclusion, here’s a few things I learned last week, running 190mi w/ 40,000′ of elevation gain, a few runs being in some pretty high temps:

1.  Hydration is no joke. Taking in adequate water before, during, and after sessions is HUGE and not to be discounted. You’ll recover for the next session way faster if you stay up on your H2O.

1A. In excessive heat, you gotta keep yourself wet. Evaporative cooling is your best friend when you’re dealing with infernal race conditions.

2.  HOKAS are the bomb. I rotated three newer pair of Stinson EVO trail shoes all week. They take the abuse so my body takes less. Again, it’s ALL about the recovery!

3. Allow your training/racing process to evolve. This week taught me that experimenting with different gear combinations is essential so that things can be both simple and sustainable on event day.

4. Sleep fixes all. Now that I’m out of school, I can wake without an alarm clock. If you want to boldly go where you haven’t gone in the past with your training, I highly recommend you create a context in which you have the time to get the sleep your body needs, understanding that your body will innately sleep more when the training volume is high. That of course is a directly proportional relationship.

5. Being psyched to do the week is key. I purposefully set up my year so that I’d be far removed from any structured training, come June, so that I wouldn’t find myself struggling to get out the door come Saturday, already with 100mi in my legs for the week. By the time this week started, for example, I hadn’t been up to Lake Sonoma—one of my bread-n-butter training runs—since the race there on April 12th.

6. Having a variety of training venues keeps the fire burning. For Tahoe Rim Trail 100, I’m looking for runs that set me up for success, namely runs that have a lot of elevation gain. I also like loop training run courses. At Lake Sonoma and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, for example, I can do 20-26mi courses and bank 5-7k feet in vertical. Plus, they’re both beautiful courses, that I don’t seem to get tired of doing. I believe it’s their challenging, majestic (by Sonoma County standards) nature that keeps me coming back.

7. Finally, I learned that the passion for improvement is still there. And at 40 years of age, my capacity to enjoy and absorb the work, I feel is necessary to improve, is still there. I’m especially grateful to have this opportunity and all-too-aware that, inevitably I’ll start down the other side of the mountain, but having the knowledge that I made full use of my time and did, with my modest gifts, all that I could, without fear, and full of passion.

Let’s see what Week II has in store for me. Looking forward to this weekend’s training runs on the course. Looking forward not to just running on the course, but seeing lots of friends out there too. Always a good time.  😀

Tahoe Rim Trail 2011 074

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job as “First Responder.” Look at my toe!

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their awesome support and producing the best shoe in ultrarunning—DEMAND MORE!    |    Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling my training and racing.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Heart-n-Sole Sports for your continued support. Thanks to Brian and the awesome instructors at Paradise Yoga, a brand new yoga studio, right here in my hometown of Windsor. Yoga’s definitely helping my running. Namasté!   |  Thanks to the folks at Akoia Day Spa for the painful sports massages I get a few days post-event. Bringing me back to life!