The Canyons 100k

It’s 4:50am on Saturday, May 7th and I’m in Foresthill, CA, in my car, with the heater blasting listening to Kati Perry while studying weather.com. It’s forecasting rain to start around 9am. I stuff a super thin rain-jacket in a shorts pocket and jog to the start. At 5am, The Canyons 100k is underway.

SingleTrack Running

Cruisin’ behind Peter Fain in the early miles. Photo Credit: Singletrack Running

From step one I knew it was going to be a good day running. My training told me so. My body told me so. And, since my sub-par North Face 50 back in December, my mind told me so as well. Confidence was high. Excitement was high. And I was bouncing along overjoyed to again be in the mix of another tough mountain ultra.

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Canyons represented the final test to see if my ol’ knee was truly back to 100%. Would it hold up over 10hrs of racing with 15,000′ of cumulative descent? All of my emphasis in training for Canyons was on the flats, ups, and goin’ long, because it was hotdogging it on the downs racing at the end of 2015 that got me into trouble with the knee. Therefore, healed up good, Canyons would serve as a key downhill workout for Western States 100 in late June. And man, am I glad I did this race. I underestimated what that course would do to my quads! Dropping out of both Sean O’Brien 100k and Gorge Waterfalls 100k earlier in the season were tough decisions but I needed the time to both heal up and reinvent my ultra-run training. I still want my cake and want to eat it to, that is, I desired to have at least one ultra in my legs going into States with the objective of toeing the line 100% fit and healthy. In Feb, I felt that was a lot to ask of myself, thus demanding I restructure how I train.

For Canyons I took notes on Rob Krar’s post-race interview with USL.TV’s Jeff Miller after his win here in 2015, and worked mindfully in the first half of the race to try and set myself up for a quick run from Foresthill down to the River, on iconic trails many of which I’ve never had the privilege of running before.

I was coming in at a training peak but without the extra punch having a spring race or two would give me. That punch would come as a function of simply executing an effective 100k here though. My three primary objectives for Canyons 100k:  1.) the knee needed to hold up 2.) I needed to get some good downhill stress goin’ and 3.) I needed to not push too crazy hard up from the River at mile 48 to the finish so that I could limit recovery time and get back to quality 100-mile training as soon as practical since Western States would only be seven little weeks away.

The early miles were enjoyable and my body started waking up with the sunrise. There were four of us on the front including Luke Garten, Peter Fain, and the guy with the Irish accent, which I quickly deduced was Paddy O’Leary. We dropped lamps at Michigan Bluff, cruised up through El Dorado Creek, The Pump, then farther northeast until we heard  URP’s Eric Schranz’ alphorn at Devil’s Thumb. Switchbacks all the way down to Swinging Bridge following Luke and Paddy, where we got our obligatory bracelets and then it was up, up, back up to Devil’s Thumb.

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Paddy back atop Devil’s Thumb with plenty of wind for the alphorn! Photo Credit: URP

The rain started coming down and temps were hovering around 50deg so I put on my wispy rain jacket and was psyched I’d decided to bring it along. I didn’t want to be forced to run harder just to keep my body warm at this early point in the race. Being comfortable keeps me happy, and if I’m happy, I’m moving well.

On the way back down toward El Dorado Creek we were rocking it. With the double out-n-back course layout, it’s fun to see everyone in the race, especially the four guys I’d coached to this event. This section was probably the most fun I had all day since it was still early and the running was effortless. Always holding a little back for that run down to the River from Foresthill though. The anticipation was electric!

And soon enough, it was just Paddy and I making the left on Bath Rd with him hitting the aid station about 10sec before me. As I arrived, I spied my Sonoma County buddy, Christopher Thomas, working the Foresthill aid-station, with my drop-bag. I said, “dump it” and handed him my HRM strap, picked up my two bottles of VitargoS2 and motored on down Cal St at 6min pace. Those tempo runs I did on the road made it feel pretty easy.

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#fastestmusclefuel

So… I’d asked the RD, Chaz Sheya, that morning just how far down Cal St the turn was, in an effort to prevent getting off course since I’d never run this section (and I have a healthy fear of getting off course). Yeah so, during the race, as I’m heading down Cal St. I see two pink ribbons on the left and none any farther down. So I go left, and run down the road a bit lookin’ for pink ribbon. I ask an old-timer on his porch if there’s a trail down here and he replies that it’s a dead end. Awesome. I turn around and run back toward Cal St, see Paddy and we exchange shoulder shrugs and make the obvious decision to run farther down Cal St to the proper left turn, where we quickly regain and follow the pink-ribbon-road down to Cal 1. 6:16 pace… Let’s do this!

Paddy’s been running like a champ all day and all I know about him at this point is that he’s run under 7hr at NF50 so he’s got a big engine and it’s bigger than mine. Later, after some online stalking I would discover Paddy won Inside Trail Racing’s Chabot 30k back in Feb, got 4th at Cool 50k with a 3:27, and threw in a 2:37 at Boston for good measure. Really Paddy? At this point in Canyons though, I’m pretty sure this is his first 100k, and shit can happen.

Without burying myself to try and go head-to-head on the way back up—to preserve something for States—I know my only plays are either open up a gap on the way down, which he’ll work to close by the finish line, or just simply outlast him. I’d have fun with dicing it up until the choice to shut it down became obvious. Until then, continuing to work hard all the way to the River would cap off a great day of strong downhill running. And my quads were really beginning to feel it. Daaaaaamn…

We run into Cal 1 together but since I’d picked up two bottles of Vitargo in Foresthill, I didn’t need anything. I told Paddy I’d see him back on the trail and cruised into the lead starting to think about trying to open up that gap. By Cal 2 I’d opened a 2min lead and then set my mind to the task of running the longest stretch without aid of about 8mi down to the River, to the turnaround at Ruck-a-Chucky.

Less than a quarter mile from the turnaround, as I was dreaming of having opened a 5min lead on 2nd, Paddy passes me on the left and floats away up toward the aid-station ahead. I stay with him. I dropped my bottles and the volunteers and I go on a little easter egg hunt for my drop-bag (an occupational hazard of sorts of running on the front—aid stations aren’t always ready for you). We find it and I grab my fresh bottles and hightail it outta there. About a mile later, Paddy catches me and moves ahead. “Well, kid’s a hellava runner,” I think to myself. “You’ve done a good job here today Shebest. Execution’s been solid, knee’s held up, and your speed’s there. Keep pluggin’ and get this 100k in the bank for States. You’re right where you wanna be.”

As I ran up I was looking at my watch to see my growing split to 3rd place. Expecting to see Luke or Peter, I was surprised (not-that-surprised) to see fellow Hoka One One teammate, Magda Boulet. At that point I only had 40min on her, so I knew I’d better keep a move on.

In damage control mode now, it was nice to have good climbing legs, although I was ready to be done, pretty tired from all the hard work I’d put in running with the kid all day. That made the race for me though. I’m still amazed how being in the flow of racing makes the hours just float by. Magical. Eventually, I ran into Luke and two members of Paddy’s crew, shot the breeze with them for a minute and got back to the task of getting my tired ass back up to Cal 2, by which point, by the way, Paddy had put 15min into me from the River. Whatever.  😉

Between Cal 2 and Cal 1 I ran into a different nemesis, in the form of Eric Skaden and we reminisced about all the times he handed my ass to me in various races like TRT100 and Miwok 100k. It was good to see him out there and get to chat a bit about Western States training and execution.

Thank God it’s not 5 or 6mi from Cal2 back up to Cal St. I was very much ready to be done, though still in very high spirits. Today was just a sweet, sweet day of running and I was so grateful to be healthy, moving, and getting one last race in before my birthday on Monday. Climbing back up Cal St to the finish at Foresthill Elementary School was pretty cool. I looked over my shoulder a few times to see if Magda was going to run me down, which I thought was going to happen at any moment in the final 5 kilometers. I said in jest at the finish line, “Never trust an Olympian!).

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Finish. Whew! Photo Credit: Chris Perillo

Man, it felt good to arrive at the finish. Canyons is one badass race! And if it’s good enough for Magda, going in to to defend her States title, I’m feeling pretty damn good about having done it as well. I’m giving myself about 10 days of no running then really looking forward to a robust 3-week training block for the big dance. School’s out for summer on the 27th, so I’m really looking forward to the singular focus being off from work will afford me to concentrate on simply executing perfectly on June 25th. #noexcuses

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With the winners! Photo Credit: Chaz Sheya

This will be my very first Western States 100. I’ll have just turned 42 years young. I don’t, however, have the luxury of time to eventually “figure it out” like I did with my four Tahoe Rim Trail 100s. I’m lookin’ at it this way—those TRTs were like the four years it takes to get a Bachelor’s degree. Similarly, Pine to Palm 100 and San Diego 100 earned me a Masters. I started my PhD with Run Rabbit Run last September and hope to defend my dissertation in Mountain Ultrarunning, here in my 8th 100-miler at the Western States 100. Believe! Believe! Believe!

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Challenger 2 ATR from Hoka One One. This shoe got 1st and 2nd at this years Canyons 100k. #TimeToFly

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Parting Shot:  Hangin’ with the HRC crew at Scena Performance’s Hood Vertical Challenge a week out from Canyons. Yeah, it was tough not to participate!

Faster than Twitter, 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 beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#timetofly!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive!

Check Engine Light

With three straight ultrarunning seasons in me, one thing’s increasingly clear: I’m at a point of diminishing returns. To continue improving I have to keep working on what I have control over, namely volume and intensity of training while exploring some shorter race distances to help build greater power and speed. In 2015, with two successful 100mi campaigns in the bank, I found myself in early November wondering where my desire to put up big weeks of training had gone. North Face Endurance Challenge… you temptress! Alas, there was little training mojo but in the words of Jack London, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Racing always seem like fun. Why not race more, train less and see if I can’t work on that power/speed development?!!

The overarching plan at the end of 2015 was to “get fast” so I could race my way into Western States 100 at either Sean O’Brien 100k in February or at Gorge Waterfalls 100k in April. All these years of racing, I know how to mix up a good training/racing cocktail to achieve my long-term goals. So I raced fast and often over a 3-week period leading into North Face. I was sure to chop the volume since the intensity went up. It was a lot of fun and I felt like the experience would serve me well in the long-term.

As luck would have it, my golden ticket to States fell into my lap in mid-November as a result of the work I did with Tahoe Mountain Milers at both Western and Tahoe Rim Trail last summer. So I no longer needed to race my in at Sean O’Brien or Gorge. Yet, I still wanted to race those events, and badly. That’s what we do—we sign up for event, train hard, taper, and go big (then repeat the cycle). All the while, health often gets taken for granted.

After North Face at the beginning of December I pretty much shut it down and really wasn’t doing much exercise at all in the weeks after. As a masters runner now, I’m realizing this is a very bad idea; I really need to keep moving. I need to ride the bike more and keep things lubricated. After a couple weeks I went out and did some short trail runs only to find my left knee was givin’ me hell. I experienced an intermittent sharp pain under my patella. It was there. It was not there. Go to the bike. Work it out. Mix the cocktail. Find the solution. Manage it. Run. Pain’s better! Okay, ease back in…

The injury litmus test I’ve always used is if the pain subsides as the run progresses, you’re probably good. If the pain gets worse, you got a problem and you should back off the running and accept you have an issue that needs attention. My knee pain subsided and I chalked it up to a weird niggle that ultimately seems to have originated from racing two tough 30k’s too close together back in Nov; then piling more stress on top of that in order to encourage increased speed and mental fitness for the spring. By mid-January, Sean O’Brien (SOB) training was finally starting to come together:  a 70mi week with 15,000′ of elevation, backed up with an 80mi week with 18,000′ of gain. No knee pain, but… was somethin’ still goin’ on in there??

I wanted to put up one more big week of training before taking a rest week and then sharpening the week into SOB. Monday came rolling around and I noticed some mild swelling. Hmm, not good. After having dealt with a different stress related issue in the same leg a year before, I knew the best path was to take the issue seriously and get some help sooner than later. After a week, the swelling was just about gone and things were looking good again.

I followed through with my promise to myself and went in to see my sports doc and we hashed it out. “The x-ray looks good and I see no need for an MRI, but if you want one we can do it. Are you sure you wanna know what’s goin’ on in there?” We set up the MRI for later that same day. With Western States on the line, I needed to know exactly what I was dealing with, and if racing two tough 100k’s this spring was even in the cards.

This was 10 days out from Sean O’Brien. I had my plane tickets, car, and hotel booked. I was super stoked to race. My 3-month plan to arrive to Feb fast and fit looked like it had worked well. I would use SOB and Gorge as stepping stones to my States-specific training in May and June. Perfect! I asked my doc if I could go out and do my tempo run on the road before the MRI that afternoon. He said, “Why not?” The MRI would be what it was going to be anyway. Since I’d rested for a week and absorbed that last week of training I was on a tapered high starting this run. I zipped through a 14-miler on rolling country roads averaging low 6s the whole way—great! Average HR was in the high 140s—great! Green light for SOB 100k!!

My MRI revealed the following (see below). Everyone keeps telling me that it’s not as bad as it sounds. Well, I’m thinking, it doesn’t feel as bad as it sounds, so…

Moderate marrow edema within the anterior pole and body of the
patella likely representing stress related changes with stress
reaction/fracture. Additional probable stress related change involving the medial
femoral condyle and lateral tibial plateau. Focal deep chondral fissuring of the inferior central patellar cartilage.  Small joint effusion.

My doc went over my MRI results with me and suggested I take some time away from running to allow the knee to heal up. It was a bit counter-intuitive to see there was indeed, havoc going on inside my knee, yet I just had a great tempo run 2 hours prior with no issues at all. Well, what now?

In my early 20’s I drove my dad’s old Isuzu Trooper we got when I was in 6th grade. I put some big miles on that beast. By summer ’96 I don’t think there was a light on that dashboard that wasn’t illuminated. I drove it straight into the ground.

Clearly, ignorance wouldn’t likely lead to the bliss I’m seeking at the Western States 100 finish line in June, so just like that, Sean O’Brien was out (for the second year in a row). And after looking at at least a month away from running, so is Gorge Waterfalls. Trying to “force fitness” for Gorge—not to mention the stress of the race itself—could possibly lead right back to where I am now, or worse. I was bummed about SOB since I was looking to do well there, and Gorge, because I wanted to go back and improve upon last year’s performance. And yeah, it would’ve been cool to Top-2 at SOB and/or Gorge to prove—at least to myself—that I could earn my way in through racing, even if I no longer needed to do so. I’ll have to remain content with what I’ve done at the 100mi distance over the last 3 seasons. That’s confidence enough.

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Rehabbing the knee. Photo Credit: Dave Townsend

We play the cards we’re dealt. I’ve stopped running and have gone in to Santa Rosa Physical Therapy and got some great PT stuff to help balance me out since this is the second stress-related issue on my left side, along with some reassurance that I’m looking good for a full recovery in time to come back right and do a proper build to Canyons 100k two days before my birthday in May. Naturally, I’d love to come into States having raced at least one ultra. And I’m feeling the good mojo with Canyons—100k with 14,000′ of vert. If I can train properly and hit 70-80mi running with 15-20k’ of gain with no knee swelling, it’ll be game-on. Otherwise, more rest could be needed and I’ll have to come into Western not having raced, which though not ideal, wouldn’t be that bad as long as the training’s there in May/June. It’s all about the preparation. Ultimately, knee-be-damned; I’ll baby it now, but come the end of June, it’s go-time.

Things are progressing well. I’m doing the PT every morning along with yoga and foam-rolling. I’m practicing fast-hiking on trail with a 20lb weight vest a few times per week, spinning, strength training, and did my first century ride over hilly terrain last weekend. That was a nice 7-hr effort. No pain during and no post-ride swelling. Yeah, I’m missing trail-running but it’s a no-brainer right now to take the rest given my goals later this year.

In parting, check out this sweet vid from Ultra Muse from last year’s Run Rabbit Run 100. That was a crazy day where I just stayed within myself and allowed the race to come to me. Hoping to be back in September (knee willing!).

Faster than Twitter, 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 beautiful, functional, and comfortable sunglasses. It’s GREAT to be working with you!  |  Thank you to Hoka One One for your continued support and producing the best shoes out there—#LetsGoHoka!  |  Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |  Thanks to Vitargo for the steady energy and SIMPLIFYING my nutrition.  |  Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for all the wonderful support. HRC rocks! | Victory Sportdesign produces the best drop-bags in the biz! | Thanks to Dave Townsend at Santa Rosa Physical Therapy for helping me keep the dream alive!

 

 

 

 

 

TRT 100 Training – Week II

photo(3)Ahhh… back at sea-level now, decompressing from this weekend’s adventures at the TRT Training Runs. Inspired by Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Brain Training for Runners, I continue to build on last year’s TRT100 preparation. In Brain Training, Fitzgerald writes about the essential nature of doing in training—as close as possible to—what you’d like to do on race-day. Okay, so he only offers training up to the marathon-distance, but I’m adapting it a bit for my own intents and purposes. It’s my working hypothesis that, for me, there’s great value in covering the 50mi course at the basic intensity at which I’d like to work on game-day, with the same race process (gear, food, hydration, etc.). Having this experience fresh in my “brain” as well as my body—assuming I absorb all this nonsensical training, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to execute the way I’d like. We’ll see…

Last year at the same training runs, I’d done about 43mi on Sunday, choosing to exclude the infamous 6.2mi Red House loop and keep the day more manageable. This time around I simply threw in Red House for good measure. With the 2013 ultra-running season, as well the 2014 spring race season under my belt, I was excited to cap off my week with these runs up on the course I’ll be racing on on July 19th, confident I could “get away with it,” without significant injury risk. I’ll be honest, these last two weeks I’ve been more than stretching myself in order to create the opportunity to see exactly how fast, i.e., how efficiently, I can cover the entire 100 miles come July. Tahoe gods willing…

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The above was my loosely-laid plan to follow up on last week’s 190mi training week with 40,000′ of gain. Initially, I was hoping to hit 150mi, but I had to go with my gut and ensure I trimmed the fat in order to preserve health. Monday became a rest day and I took advantage of that by using one of the massages my wife, Amanda, got me for my 40th birthday. The massage therapist wasn’t exactly impressed with what I’ve been doing to my body, imploring that I must return to many follow up visits! Thus, it was a fine way to start the week. Then, slowly easing into it with two active recovery runs (to see if the body was going to allow me to continue running).

To address the issue of diminishing leg-speed with all the Zone 2 training I’ve been doing, I added a 100mi-specific tempo run to the mix on Wednesday, again listening to the body, waiting for it to give me the “green-light” to work harder. It took a full 1.5hrs on Wednesday’s run at Lake Sonoma for that to happen. A cool motivator was doing the tempo from Wulfow aid-station on the Lake Sonoma 50mi course back to the finish line. Considering what I had in my legs from the previous ten days, I had to be happy with a sub-9min/mi pace for those 17mi. I’m hopeful that this Wednesday, I’ll see that pace improve a bit, at about the same intensity.

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Preceding Sunday’s 50mi training run, I was pleased to make good time to Diamond Peak on Saturday, arriving there at about 2pm. I’d wanted to stash some water for Sunday and do the big ski-slope climb there a couple of times. Out of the car, I slowly made my way up to the top. I descended back down, had a breather and a gel, and did another ascent at about—what I felt was—my 5k race intensity. Just dying on the last bit that really pitches up, I arrived at Bullwheel having averaged only 13:09/mi for a bit over 26min of work (hey, it’s a ski-slope!). This little bit of intensity, coupled with Wednesday’s tempo, put me in an appropriate fatigued state, to run on Sunday. After all, running on tired legs is what running 100mi is all about, right? The reward for that “all-out” effort up Diamond Peak? Some solid active-recovery running from Bullwheel over to the Tyrolean Downhill, back to my car. An efficient 15mi effort with 4000′ of gain. And I got my water stashed!

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Training Log for 09June2014

Yeah so, pleased that the body is somehow holding up (knock on wood) and I was able to hit almost 150mi w/ just about 30,000′ of elevation gain for the week. The key, for me, surely, was having those training runs on the weekend to look forward to, since my motivation does wane in the midst of this once-a-year, insane, 3-week training block. Now, just one more week to go until a joyous recovery week!

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Strava’s June Monthly Training Series (MTS) continues (for only one more week for this old man). As I stated in my last post, I use the MTS only as a motivating tool, being cautious of the very real tendency of mine to do too much (understatement, yes, I realize that). Still, I like the challenge the MTS presents and getting to follow—and sometimes chat—with other like-legged runners from around the globe. Hey, normally when I participate in any other month’s MTS—if I actually check—I’m in 3,567th position, or thereabouts. Like I’ve said, we want Strava to work for us, not the other way around. Know thyself and above all else, keep it fun! 😀

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Photo Credit: George Ruiz, TRT Race Director

A HUGE thanks to George Ruiz and his awesome crew for again hosting the fantastic TRT Training Runs. The volunteers at the aid-stations and the finish are enthusiastic all-stars! ALL I could think about those last, long 4mi, as I descended from Snow Valley Summit back to Spooner, was the promise of hamburgers and beer at the finish. And within minutes of stopping my Garmin, that’s just what I had. Maybe THIS should be my nutrition plan on race-day…

😀

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.

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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):

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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!):

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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:

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 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.

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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.  😀

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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!

Flying Home… (to Boston??)

usairwaysGreetings from 10,000′ (or thereabouts). Making my way back to Pennsylvania for a funeral this week. Didn’t start the day off well, missing my flight out of Oakland by two lousy minutes, which had me sitting around grading science tests for three hours hoping that I’d snag a seat on a connecting flight in Phoenix on the hot-standby list. If that TSA line just wasn’t so dang LONG checking in in OAK!! Or, if I hadn’t stopped at Starbucks on the way down. ERRGH!!

tsa-cartoon-10I made the 90min flight to PHX so it was back on hot-standby for me for a few more hours while the US Airways guy, Dave, juggled passengers around going to Pittsburgh. It was looking really good there, up to the absolute final moment, and boom, I’m not going anywhere. Stupid stand-by. Stuck in Phoenix?! Steve Miller Band’s “Keep on Rockin’ Me” annoyingly playing in the back of my head.

This day’s like a good ultra gone bad: I’m on-course, then miss a turn, then back on again, but behind. Then Super Dave, tapping away furiously on his keyboard while talking with 26.2 people at once asked me if I wanted to go to Boston, AND if I could run fast.

I had 2min to fly over to another gate (but didn’t have time to sync satellites on my Garmin, so no Strava upload, sadly). I think I had a good sub-6 pace going through the terminal, (kind of like trail-running, with all the bobbing and weaving). I even got some claps, compliments on my form, and a few “Go Runner!” cheers from limping, “Boston-Strong”-clad runners/new arrivals, just off the plane from the Boston Marathon. So that was pretty cool to have that additional support. Could’ve used some cow bell though…

Yeah, so about 800mi out from Boston now I am. Haven’t been there since crossing the finish-line in ’03, the same year I moved to CA. Did not have a good day (the slowest of my three Bostons). Some days are better than others. Like my grandmother used to say when I was pouting about something as a little kid, “Cheer up. Better days are coming.”

Chloe-OBrian-24-Season-8Amanda’s been home, at CTU Headquarters, tracking bags, making calls, booking hotel rooms, and generally doing what Chloe O’Brian from “24,” does for Jack Bauer, (when HE misses a flight by 2min). Sh*t Happens (saying coined by Forrest Gump, you’ll recall).

Flexibility, you may realize, is huge in our training and racing. In fact, it can be THE reason we’re successful or not. As in life, in the middle of a hard training week, or in the middle of a A-Pri event, we sometimes have to adjust our goals to best suit the day, we have to listen to our bodies and effectively deal with issues as they manifest themselves, inevitably, in one form or another.

With the help of our support teams we’re better able to maintain faith that things are going to work out, eventually. I saw a quote on Facebook when I was eating a $250 salad in the Phoenix airport today. It read, “Being positive won’t guarantee you’ll succeed. But being negative will guarantee you won’t.” When I first saw that this morning I dismissed it with a few choice words in my head, while knowing full well how true it is.

bostonstrongMaybe I can run around the tarmac tomorrow morning since I’m staying at the hotel at Logan International tonight. It’d be nice to capitalize on all this “Boston Strong” energy and get a workout up on Strava before catching my flight to Pittsburgh, where of course, I first qualified for the Boston Marathon, all the way back in the 20th century (circa 1999). Things are coming full circle (with a few tangents thrown in for good geometric measure) as I write this forming an arc over the US.

In conclusion, remember that flexibility is key, and remaining positive when under the gun of adversity may ultimately encourage stronger performances in the future. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. Probably made an angry, frustrated sailor, on the way to being skilled.

Also, trust that things are going to workout. In the middle of an Ironman, or an ultra-run, sh*t can look really bad. Listen to that inner athlete in your head, and not what your body’s telling you. The body will always want to quit. Trust things can turn around when/if you get present, take a mental inventory, point positive, and keep on gettin’ down the road, trail, or sky as the case may be.

Plus, always remember that the most challenging days always produce some funny stories we can share with our friends while at 10,000′ (or thereabouts).

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Pump Up the Volume

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Every once in a while it’s fun to throw caution to the wind and just see what you can do. If you’re training for a one hundred mile endurance run, it’s probably a good idea to pump up the volume for a few weeks in training in order to get the body—and mind—ready for the big dance. As my favorite saying as of late goes—No Challenge. No Change.

Last week was my “Run DMC” for 2013, that is, last week I ran the most amount of miles with the most cumulative elevation of any other week of the year. The “DMC” in “Run DMC” stands for Days: Many. Consistently. During a Run DMC, you set a training goal that is “crazy smart.” To the outside observer, they’d be quick to dismiss you and say stuff like, “Dang son, you so crazy” or “Whoa sucka, that’s wack.” These folks think you have a screw loose. Little do they know that you’re a flash endurance sports wizard and can rock a training week jam like there’s no tomorrow. You know how put it together and make it flow, slow and low, and with some tempo.

I conducted my Run DMC last week, the week of June 3rd. Normally, I train in hours, not miles, but during a Run DMC, I like to go old school. So, I set the stage to run 150 hilly trail miles with about 30,000′ of elevation gain. I naturally like running long, that’s what I’m good at so that’s where I have the most potential for improvement. Yeah, weaknesses can be strengthened but we’re always going to grow most in the areas where we’re strongest. Why? Because we like doing stuff we’re good at! Thus, I figured this goal was crazy smart. It might not actually be that crazy to another runner who’s stronger, faster, and/or more talented than I. Likewise, it may not be that smart for a different runner to attempt my specific Run DMC. You have to know yourself and create challenges that excite YOU, and won’t leave you injured on the other side.

I’d come off Silver State 50 miler in good shape. I’d set my year up so that I could essentially rest the final two weeks of May, absorb Silver State, finish the school-year, and enjoy my students. So, I’d come into my Run DMC and find myself with two weeks of rest in the bank, it’s June in Sonoma County, and I’m out on summer vacation. With my teaching schedule, it’s best for me to do my A-Race of the year in later July so I can take advantage of training and weather in June. The Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi/50mi/50k is a battle I pick because it falls at the perfect time of year for me—lots of time for a healthy, fun build and time to fully recover before heading back into the classroom in August.

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The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT) is an especially awesome trail running event, celebrated on pristine trail surface between 6000-8000ft elevation in Lake Tahoe. I’ve run it in 2009 and a little better in 2010. Of all the events I’ve ever done, TRT’s my favorite because of the venue’s astounding beauty and the challenging nature of the distance, terrain, and competition. Now I can’t expect to improve over my 2010 performance if I don’t shake things up and train differently, that is, training crazy smart. My Run DMC last week simply set the tone for the rest of my TRT training this month. Here’s how it played out [see training log below for reference].

Long Run. When doing a Run DMC or any bigger training week I prescribe to an hard/easy approach, keeping the easy days easy so the harder—quality—days can be harder, or higher quality. We want a nice return on our training investment so we gotta go easy when that’s the most appropriate thing to do. Ration energy accordingly. Just as success in a 100 miler is about being steady, so are these long runs.

Mix Master. Variety is the spice of life and I simply must run in different places to keep my sanity. Also, I like to run loops whenever possible. So for my Run DMC I book-ended my weekday running with long runs at Lake Sonoma on Monday and Friday. This loop is not only picturesque and fun, but I’ll bank about 5000′ over the my 26mi loop. These two runs alone account for a third of my Run DMC elevation.

Tempo. I built some tempo into my Wednesday–midweek—longer run at Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park. Sugar Loaf has the most similar terrain and inclines I’ll see at TRT so I’ll be running there a lot during this month. In just a 20mi loop, I can net 6000′ of vertical. Because I was concentrating on volume last week, I didn’t want to do a lot of tempo because too much intensity with very high volume is a recipe for disaster, and I have a lot more running after my Run DMC. Thus, I only had about 40min at tempo effort (1800′) where I pushed it up to the top of Bald Mountain, where I subsequently bonked and could not push to tempo later ’cause I didn’t bring enough calories. Tomorrow, I’m heading back, setting up my own little aid station atop Hood Mountain and see if I can rack up about 10,000′ of vertical. l definitely need a few of these efforts in my legs for TRT, which has about 25,000′ of vertical over its 100 miles. We do reap what we sow.

The Triple. The triple run on Sunday is inspired by fellow ultra-runner Duncan Callahan. A few years back, when I was learning how to prepare for a 100 mile run, I was intrigued to learn Duncan would conduct three runs in one weekend day. I’ve adapted this approach into my own training. I set out to do three 3-hour runs, one in the morning, one in the mid-day heat, and one at night. This way I can most simulate what running all day at TRT will be like without actually running all day. I gave myself four hours in between runs which might sound like a lot but with commuting, ice-baths, eating, and relaxing in between, the time goes fast. It panned out pretty well. The middle run went a little over so the last run didn’t need to be so long. It was kind of nice since I only needed about 10mi on that last run to hit my Run DMC goal. It was also nice to see my wife, Amanda, periodically instead of leaving the house at o’dark 30, run for eight hours and come home and be catatonic for the rest of the evening. Breaking up nine hours into segments throughout the day was really pretty tolerable.

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Recovery. On Tuesday and Thursday, I’d do two shorter runs at an easy pace, to help keep the volume up without all the fatigue from running longer. Normally, I train is Hokas, but last week was special. I did all my running in a totally awesome pair of Adidas Superstar 80’s, which feature premium buttery leather uppers, 3M black stripes and heel tabs which pay tribute to DJ legend Jam Master Jay, complete with 1986 ankle signatures and dookie chain lace jewels. Pretty nice ride but I have to say, I love my Hokas more.

A Run DMC is best conducted during a week where you’re off from work. This way, you can train relatively stress-free. I might be out of school, but I’m still working a few hours everyday talking with and developing training plans for athletes I coach. But still, I can do that from home on my laptop in the backyard. During a Run DMC you want to wake each day without the use of an alarm clock. You want to take ice-baths after every long run. I grabbed a 20lb bag of ice after my second run on Sunday and jumped in the tub with it for 10min. I think it made a significant difference in how my legs felt for the night run. Tip for the ice-bath—fill the tub with cold water. Get in. Then bring in the ice.

I use compression tights after bigger efforts. I try to foam roll everyday and work on stuff that hurts. One thing about a Run DMC is that you’re training so much that you might just find that most if not all of your issues seem to vanish since you’re so loose from training. Of course, this is a temporary state but it’s sure nice while you’re in the midst of it.

Cycling. Saturday was really the day that held it all together. Getting on the bike and just spinning really helped the legs recover and prepare for a busy Sunday running. On Monday, post Run DMC, I was pretty wiped out, and ended up taking a full rest day, as planned. Today, I got in my scheduled two 75min runs and the legs are goin’ okay. Now lookin’ forward to a big day climbing tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes…

Overall, the Run DMC was a success and will surely be remembered when I toe the line next month at TRT in my fly new pair of Superstar 80’s. Game on >>> 😀

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fri-sunRun DMC (Days: Many. Consistently)

Smooth Flow

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Beer is good. And when I was trying to come up for a new blog name I thought “smooth flow” fit the bill, though, admittedly, beer was not the inspiration for the name. From a Google search I learned that smooth flow (also known as cream flow, nitrokeg, or just smooth) is the name brewers give to draught beers pressurised with a partial nitrogen gas blend (source: wikipedia). So that’s great, ’cause I enjoy a smooth, flowing brew from time to time.

Late in endurance events, when the shine’s worn off, and I’m just tryin’ to hold myself together, I often will concentrate on a word or phrase to keep me centered and motivated. So, years ago, I was in a triathlon, just dying on a hot run. I found myself dwelling on smooth. Be smooth. Flow. Flow like water. Smooth. Flow. Smooth.. Flow… Smooth flow.

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Smooth is important in endurance events because in order to be smooth we must have put some forethought into how we want things to unfold. Think Ocean’s 11. We must see it before we do it. Then, when we arrive to the transition in triathlon or the aid station in an ultra-run, we move through it calm, cool, and collected. There is no dilly dallying. We’re smooth. We stay in the flow >>>

Now, flow on the other hand. Man, that’s a word. A gem. One of the most significant reads of my life came to me in graduate school, when over the course of a semester the same book popped up in three different classes. The author’s name is a mouthful, but Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience changed the way I looked at the world. Read the book sometime and you’ll connect with many things like I did, such as:

“Attention is like energy in that without it no work can be done, and in doing work is dissipated. We create ourselves by how we use this energy. Memories, thoughts and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And it is an energy under control, to do with as we please; hence attention is our most important tool in the task of improving the quality of experience.”

Now, as I look ahead at a fresh, new season of ultra-running, I’m reminded that a flow state of mind cannot be forced. But, I try to create the conditions for smoothflow by arriving to my key workouts ready to be patient, present, and positive. I can also use technology in creative ways to encourage flow state. Do you remember the last long effort where time just seemed to vanish, you had a strong sense of well being, felt powerful, fiercely alive? What were the conditions that encouraged that flow experience?

So a new year, a new website. I needed it. Originally, I had a personal blog, which I’ve come to despise for its lack of functionality. Then, I created a coaching site. Then, I couldn’t really find time to post on either (another monkey on my back). So, this site is an attempt at a harmonious marriage of the two. I’ll share personal accounts on events and the like, as well as more didactic posts for athletes I coach. Learning and teaching go hand in hand.

The site will serve as another tool I can direct friends and athletes to when they’re looking for a new podcast to listen to, or an interesting blog to follow, or a race to sign up for, etc. Consider it a resource. I’ve transfered all my old posts from each site into this one. Use the search feature to find something specific (maybe it’ll be there!). The blog component, of course, gives me a forum to scratch my itch for writing, even though, like racing, sometimes I take a wrong turn, or, wander around in circles, whatever the case may be. Thanks for visiting and for reading. Stay in the flow.

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New skills to meet new challenges! Shebest says read it.

Golden Gate 50k + SF Running Co. Visit

“It’s not the age baby, it’s the miles.” -Indiana Jones

Today’s Golden Gate 50k served me up a nice bowl of mental toughness training. So, two weeks of struggling to get over 6th Grade Teacher Funk culminated with 31 miles of stumbling toward today’s finish line at Rodeo Beach. Happy to not have gotten off course, a beautiful Bay Area day, gorgeous trails, and a first place finish (it wasn’t exactly a North Face 50mi field). We went off with the 30k runners so I wasn’t even sure I won it until the finish, and not really then–these are more training races than anything. I was content just to sit down, have some soup, and let the results come to me. Someone megaphoned that the first place 50k runner had taken 30min off the course record! Wow, I thought, I was way behind that today. Anyway, we got a good laugh out of it since it turned out the initial 50k results had a runner from some other distance (there’s four races goin’ on–hard to keep track).


Once they figured out that first place didn’t actually average 6:40/mi on a 31mile course with 6500′ of gain, yours truly slipped in the highly coveted top position. I got my beverage coaster, limped the mile back to my car, and drove up the road to visit with more of my ultra-running brethren at San Francisco Running Company.

Good to see Brett & Larissa Rivers, and Jorge Maravilla at SFRC. I picked up a t-shirt and my fave NF shorts. Their shop is sweet, right off the 101, with great trails right out their door. This will quickly evolve to be the next Rogue Valley Runners, serving up fresh new talent daily. Stop by the next time you’re in Marin and/or go for a run with ’em! I’m gonna try and get down for something longish over my spring break. 

 

 

Congrats to Sonoma County’s Jady Palko and Suzanna Bon, top finishers today. And congrats as well to all the runners that made up today’s largest Golden Gate 50 & 30k fields. Finally, thanks to The Black Keys for providing moral support today via my, shall we call it, “shuffle.” 

2013: Take a Flying Leap >>>

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Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you healthy and excited for things to come. Please contact me if you’re interested in triathlon or running coaching this year. I currently have the bandwidth for a few more folks. In 2012, we enjoyed a ton of success, on and off the race-course. We also continue to learn a lot about metabolic efficiency training, and how to best integrate it into an athlete’s lifestyle to encourage optimum athletic performance. The body and mind only learn what we teach it!

Point Positive athletes continue to push the limits, in distance as well as establishing personal bests across the triathlon and ultra-running spectrum. I know just in two years, I’ve taken almost two full hours off my North Face Endurance Challenge 50mi run time, while enjoying personal bests at many events, including Wildflower, Vineman 70.3, and Full Vineman triathlons. In 2013, I’m going back to my favorite event of all time:  the Tahoe Rim Trail 100mi run. I have faith I can take an hour or more off my best time there, while on a fun and challenging adventure in self-discovery.
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We’re never defined by our results but how we live our lives. Sport brings much peace, joy, and happiness, which naturally spills over into all our other life roles. I look forward to maintaining–and creating a few more–cool connections with more awesome humans in the coming year.
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Take it from me:  being consistent and flexible with an effective training plan goes a long, long way toward achieving what you know is inside of you. So muster the will to take that flying leap of faith, and simply believe in your ability to improve. The greatest contest is always with ourselves.
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It’s all in front of us; let’s go chase it down >>>
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😀


Bob Shebest, M.A. / USAT Level I Certified Coach
Point Positive Coaching
707.331.0571 (c)

“He knew that it made everyone perfectly equal, and that the treasures of the earth were movement, courage, laughter, and love.”  -from “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin