31 August 2012

Run Your First Marathon: The 7 Day Training Program

Run Your First Marathon / The 7 Day Training Program By Tim Long (from 2004)

November 2nd: A Girl named Faith (really) calls the running store where I work to ask whether anyone would like a complimentary entry for the Richmond Marathon which included hotel and the coveted pasta dinner the night before the race. Since I took the call, I say, “Well, how does it work?” She says that she’ll fax over the entry form and someone simply has to fill it out and send it back. “Yeah,” I reply, “someone would probably want to do it.” So I drag the two pieces of paper (fax cover sheet and faxed entry form) in my pants pocket around with me for a few days. On Friday, November 6th, Faith’s boss, Michelle, calls the store to ask whether anyone was going to take advantage of the offer. Side note: I had been debating this in my mind for four days now, and came to the conclusion that it would be crazy to run my first marathon with absolutely no training or distance running. So I say, “Yeah, sure, I’d really like to do it.” Ten minutes later I have fax confirmation that my filled out entry form has reached her. Later that day I have confirmation numbers for my marathon entry, hotel room, and dinner.

Then it hits me; I have to run a marathon in seven days. I start asking myself, “Will I die? What do people mean by ‘hitting the wall’? How much water do I need? Should I walk? Do I need one of those Fuel Belt thingys?” Then I remember, while living in Boston, standing and cheering the runners at mile 23 of the Boston Marathon, watching thousands of runners go by, and seeing lots of men with bloody shirts from chafed nipples. Now I’m just plain scared.

Organization: Okay, it’s day 1 of my training. I’ll do a long run. I think to myself, “That’s what marathon training is hinged on, long runs.” Saturday, November 6th, I do eleven miles, my second longest run in my life (12.4 being the longest). Okay, that’s not so bad. The long run is out of the way. Sunday I am going to rest (I am in the bible belt, after all) but instead do a 35 mile bike ride in the morning, then a brisk 5 mile run at night. “Cross training, lots of marathon runners cross train. ” I say to myself. Monday is a rest day. Tuesday I go out for an easy 5 miles after work at “marathon pace”. At this point I should point out that my goal marathon pace (if I ever run one with the intent to do well) is 6:27/mile (2:49 marathon). Granted, I had no intention of trying to run a 2:49 race. With no training and not knowing what to expect I just wanted to finish so I could come home without being embarrassed. So, when I say “marathon pace” for this run it means 8 mins/mile. Wednesday the 10th, I do another 5 miles. This time a little faster, maybe 6:45 pace. I call this the speed-work of my training program. Thursday I go out and do 2 miles before the weekly Thomas Street Tavern Run, then hang out and watch other folks run. The running portion of my training is done, and now I start the tapering portion of my marathon training program. I rest on Friday mostly because I’m driving 300 miles to Richmond, VA.

It was pouring rain the ENTIRE 5 hours to Richmond. When I get there at 4PM, I’m exhausted. After checking into the hotel and finding a map to the start line (the hotel is a long 4.5 miles from the start line of the marathon), I drive down to the expo to pick up my packet, take in some of the marathon energy, and have my pasta dinner while listening to special guest speaker from Runner’s World, Bart Yasso, who shares a slide show accompanied by entertaining commentary on many of the more memorable races and runs he’s covered, including the Badwater Race, Antarctica Marathon, Kilimanjaro Marathon, and some other interesting places and runs he’s both run and written about. The dinner was first-rate and the speaker matched it with wit and inspiration. I was nervous about the next day and shared my trepidations with the other runners at my dinner table. They offer encouraging words, but I can see in their expressions that they feel I might be either drunk or crazy or both, and that I’ll be lying under a water stop at the curb around mile 14 the next day. I drive back to the hotel and fall asleep watching the Weather Channel, hopping it would stop raining before the race start so my new shoes wouldn’t get wet.

Race morning: The alarm wakes me at 4:55AM, and I realize that I’ll be starting my first marathon in three hours. At that moment I wonder whether anyone would believe that I slept through my alarm and couldn’t make the start. Then a bit of confidence pushes its way in and forces me into the shower. With the image of the bloody nipples I saw in Boston, I had taken the liberty of packing two band-aids for the trip. After applying them I lather myself up in Body Glide. At least if I die, I won’t be chafed. I’m out the door at 6AM.

Being this early, I find a decent and free parking spot two blocks from the start line (though unknown at the time, much further from the finish line which will be a factor later). Knowing there will be Cliff Shot energy gels starting at mile 14, I take three gels in a zip lock bag to cover the first 14 miles. The weather had changed and had stopped raining, but was now 40 degrees with a 20mph wind that took your breath away. I chose to wear running shorts, a long sleeved shirt with my Sharksbite Running Club singlet over it, along with some gloves. At this point I realize I don’t have safety pins to secure my bib number. “No problem” I think. Being a race director, organizer, timer, and participant of many races I’m sure to have four safety pins in my car somewhere. After 10 minutes I can’t even find one, so I give up and head to the start area with my bib number in one hand and my little zip lock bag of gels in the other. The wind is whipping through the hilly streets of Richmond with newspapers and other debris flying around.  

I get to the general start area and realize there is no place to stay warm or to get away from the wind, so I head over to the line of 80 porta-potties and climb into the first one. Since it’s so early no one has used it yet, so the smell isn’t bad. I think to myself how smart I am to be in there keeping warm away from the wind. After about 10 minutes or so, I hear more and more voices outside, and peek my head out to see a line of people waiting to use MY porta-pottie. Once I slink out of that situation, I simply go back to the car two blocks away and wait for the start feeling nauseous. Oh, and I finally find someone who gives me four safety pins three minutes before the race begins. Used to running local 5 and 10ks, I line up at the very front of the start and immediately see that I'm standing between two Kenyans, one being the eventual winner, Rono.  I feel a little out of place so I find a group holding a big sign that says “3:30 pace group”. I assume it’s either a bible passage or an anticipated finish time. I figure an 8 minute pace is ambitious, but possibly doable, so I slip in behind them. The race starts and I am taking it very easy, almost scared to have my feet touch the ground because I have counted the steps it will take to finish 26.2 miles.

The first six miles go by easily enough. I’m very observant of my surroundings, the spectators, the runners around me, the stuff left on the street. I start wondering whether the rest of the 20 miles are this easy. Then I notice that I’m trotting along at just over an 8:00/mile pace. “Should I pick it up?” I wonder. “What would my finish time be if I ran the rest of the way at 7:30, 7:00, or 6:30 pace?” I decide to bump it up to a 7:30 pace. At mile 10 I pull up alongside Jody, a guy from Eastern N.C. who is an Ironman triathlete. He says he’s shooting for a 3:20-3:30 finish time. We run and chat together for three miles. At the half way point (13.1 miles) I’m at 1hour: 38mins. I have to pee, so I lose a couple minutes but feel better. Now I decide to pick up my pace. By mile 16 I’m getting hints of cramps in my legs and doubts start creeping into my mind. My thoughts have gone from noticing the mundane of immediate surroundings to the intangible. I start thinking about my dad, past girlfriends, tough situations I’ve been in before. Now I’m on this long bridge between mile 16 and 17. The wind was bitter and whipping straight into my face. I come up to a smallish woman who’s making fast steady progress. I’m tempted to sit behind her and let her break the headwind for me, but instead I come up around and in front of her. “Should we share the lead to cut the wind for each other?” She kindly asks. “Naw, I’m feeling strong,” I lie. “Just stay behind me.” Surprisingly, helping her get over that mile-long bridge made me feel strong. Funny how the mind works. Now there’s less than ten miles to go, but I’m hurting. The bones in my feet feel like someone’s smashing them with a hammer. The muscles in my legs are getting tighter with each step. I decide to stop at mile 18 to stretch and rub my legs, more lost time.

Now with seven miles to go I know I’ll finish, no matter what happens. I’m determined. The questions now were how much faster can I go, and how much damage will I do to my body. I figure I’ll run the last 10k (6.2 miles) in 40 minutes to make up for the stops I’d made. Mile 20 I have to stop again. This time I really stretch out my legs. When I start back up I pick a guy in a red shirt who’s probably a quarter mile down the road (this is a 2 mile straight stretch of road). I’m catching that guy no matter what. My feet ache, so I run faster and faster until I stop thinking about my feet. At mile 25 I pass the red shirt guy and pick it up to a 6:30 pace. Much of the last mile is downhill with lots of spectators. I run the last half-mile at a sub 6:00 min pace and cross the finish line thinking I wouldn’t be able to stop. But I did, and bent over to take my timing chip off. At that point this lady swings the finisher’s medal into my face bouncing it off my forehead, and then hangs it around my neck.

I wander away from the finish and lie down on the sidewalk like a homeless drunk. I did it. My dad would be proud. He loved hearing and reading about my bike racing and I’m sure he would have made the trip to see me finish my first marathon if he were still alive. I decide that my efforts were for him.

Being at the race by myself, there’s no reason to hang out so I get up off the sidewalk. My legs and feet are hurting, badly. Now I realize that the finish is six blocks from where I parked the car. It takes me twenty minutes to hobble back to it. After I take a shower and have some lunch, I drive the five hours back to Charlotte. Oh, my finish time was 3:13 – decent enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Some final thoughts: DO NOT try running your first marathon with no training. I did it because I like a challenge and doing spontaneous things. I doubt I’ll be selling my 7 Day Marathon Training Program any time soon. My body paid the price the next morning. You will enjoy the experience and perform much better if you train and prepare properly for your race. I’ll probably run Boston, but I’m sure I’ll wait until the week before to sign up for it.

17 August 2012

How to Run the Leadville 100 Part 3: Choice, Buckle or Death?

Go on and get caught up with Part 1 and Part 2 of How to Run the Leadville 100.  My patience is shallow as a puddle, so take your time.

So, now you've made it through the training and have finally arrived in Leadville the week of the race.  Gasping for air while walking to the car concerns you a bit but you hope to acclimatize before race day.  Funny enough, the percentage of oxygen in the air (21%) remains the same up to 70,000 feet.  Interesting…(if you have no friends and thus too much time on your hands and can concern yourself with useless facts).  However, it's the density (or lack thereof) of the air that makes some people feel like they're suffocating.  If panting like a porn star isn't enough of an indication that you're having a tough time with higher altitude, here's a list of pleasant symptoms (nabbed off some wiki-crap page)…

  • Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Pins and needles
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Nosebleed
  • Persistent rapid pulse
  • Drowsiness
  • General malaise
  • Peripheral edema (swelling of hands, feet, and face).

Sounds like side effects of Levitra, "We'll help you get a chubby but your eyes may start bleeding."  Those symptoms above will emerge just from standing in line at the one decent coffee shop in Leadville.  Mix in a little 24 hours of nonstop running and you're in for more suffering than bumping into your insurance salesman neighbor at a bagpipe conference.

The race starts early, like "get your ass out of bed, sailor, you're in the navy" early.  The 4am start means you have to get up around midnight to fiddle with your gear for the 80th time, eat whatever won't make your nervous stomach barf, rub Body Glide on every surface of your body until you feel like a glazed doughnut, and pray that your bowels will release before the start instead of halfway down 6th Street.  It's so early that you're probably better off just staying up all night drinking.  Any lingering sleepiness at the start will be exploded out of your head by the 12 gauge shotgun blast that Ken Chlouber uses to start the race (and wake up half the state).  Now you're off and running at a pace more suited to a 5k.  The start heads down 6th St, which is downhill for about a mile until you're dumped off onto "the boulevard", a rumbling dirt road that last for about 2.5 miles and seems more like 25 miles long when returning to the finish some 20-30 hours later.

You can pretty much predict how people are going to do in the race based on what time they reach Mayqueen aid station at mile 13.  If you see a friend reach that point in, say, 1 hr 45 mins, you yell, "Man, you're killing this shit!" But really you're thinking, "That poor bastard will be a salt caked zombie with diarrhea by the time he hits 70 miles."  "Great job, dude!"

By the time you finally wake up and are conscious by 8 or 9am, you've already covered about the distance of a marathon and think, "just three more marathons to go…"  As mentioned, much of the course is mostly open and runnable and, with over a 1,000 people running, you're never really out there in the wilderness alone like some 100s where you feel like you could be on the wrong end of a snuff movie in the woods at any given time.  In fact, most of the first 40 miles of the course are, well, boring.  Once you reach Twin Lakes at mile 40, that changes.  There are a lot of people, both locals and race related, hanging out, cheering, enjoying the day, and likely thanking God they aren't moronic enough to attempt something as dumb as what you're doing.  If you glance up, you see Hope Pass looming tall in the distance and realize you'll have to get over that thing, twice.  Suddenly, the race has a new meaning and seems much bigger than the 40 miles you've been enjoying so far.

All of a sudden, this doesn't seem like such a great idea.  photo stolen.

To make the climb over Hope Pass (12,600 ft) just a little more interesting, you have to cross Lake Creek (which feeds the twin lakes and is the only point at which you get wet feet, unless you piss on yourself - been there, done that), so you have soaking wet feet before the climb up to one of the weirdest aid stations in ultras.  After about an hour of climbing up a trail that would be beautiful if you weren't brain dead from being asphyxiated, you pop out onto this beautiful meadow and suddenly feel as though you're in some cool dream with flowers, soft music, and girls in light sundresses.  Then you see a fairly large animal that looks vaguely like a camel, then another, then several of them.  Just before you're almost ready to swear off anymore cheap LSD sheets from your SoCal friend, you realize you're at the Hopeless aid station on Hope Pass and those weird animals fucking up your cool dream are llamas.
WTF.  Looks like a humpless camel with a Bob Marley wig.
photo, yep, stolen.
They use the llamas to haul all the aid station gear up the mountain.  You're so messed up from lack of oxygen that you can barely make small talk with the "interesting" folks who manage the aid station, so you just sip the soup broth placed in your hands, wave weakly to no one in particular, and wander off to complete Hope Pass and make your way down to Winfield, the 50 mile halfway point.

If you're lucky enough to have tricked one of your (soon to be ex) friends to pace you, Winfield is where the pacing begins (refer to my pacing guide here).  If you turn around and get started out of Winfield quickly enough, you have a chance of not coming to your senses and just ending the suffering and quitting right there.  Dropping isn't so bad.  It only wears on your mind every day for the rest of your life.  No biggie.  To avoid the guilt a blind Jewish mother would be proud of, you continue on.  By the time you get back to Twin Lakes, the party is pretty much over and you waddle through the aid station, get weighed in, find that you're down about 10 pounds since starting the race, even though you're hands are swollen like you got stung on each finger by killer African bees.  Now that it's night time and cold out, your appetite for certain food changes.  A grilled cheese sandwich cut into four cute triangle shapes and Gold Fish crackers are the best things you've ever tasted in your life, even though normally you consider both of them fit for a four year old child.  In fact, I just realized that aid station volunteers treat you more and more like a child as the race progresses.  Says a lot about the mental state required to sign up for one of these things.

The rest of the run is a painful blur until you get to Mayqueen at mile 87.  Depending on your condition (likely shitty), this last 13 miles can take you anywhere from 2 to 16 hours.  If you hit Mayqueen 20 hours into the race, you have a great shot at finishing under 25 hours and getting the big buckle (the entire point of the race and the last six months of wasted life).  The big buckle is, well, big and, as Americans, we always want big.
Here's my Leadville buckle.  That's right, ladies, the big one.
The smaller buckle isn't worth showing a picture of in this post.  It's like the size of a quarter and comes with a Hello Kitty pink cotton belt.  You get the smaller buckle for finishing in 25-30 hours.  If you finish after 30 hours, you should find another hobby because if you have the 60,000 hours per year of time to spend on a hobby, you could be a kick ass quilt knitter.

Now that you have the big buckle, go back to that holiday party this year and be the center of attention. You will surely lure another idiot who can't talk to women into wanting to run Leadville for the sole purpose of impressing girls with a shiny buckle.  And, really, do we want a girl who is impressed by a shiny belt buckle?  (yes).

Hey, Leadville staff, once again thanks for not allowing me to register late when you let others in, even though you've used my image all year on the main race page of your dumb website.  I'll enjoy the year of ridiculing your race.

15 August 2012

How to Run Leadville 100 Part 2: Pray to God or Train

If you haven't read Part 1 yet, do so here.

Since finding faith in God isn't likely, nor is the chance that he may accept your belated and misguided faith, you need to figure out how to actually train for Leadville.  I'll eventually release the "How to Run a 100 Mile Race" guide that's already written (and pretty damn awesome), just not down in physical words yet, so for now we'll focus on the overview of training for Leadville specifically.

The next six months of your mountainous high altitude training.  Good luck.
See, Leadville is an odd race.  It's an incredibly runnable course yet offers two obstacles, one obvious and tangible (Hope Pass x 2) and one unseen (altitude).  Many of the participants come from Colorado. When I ask them why they run Leadville (when there are so many other badass 100s in the country, I get the obvious(?) response "Because it's convenient."  I've run a few 100s and I can assure you that no 100 mile run is "convenient".  Whatever.  The point is that these Coloradans are used to both the climb of Hope Pass and the altitude of the entire race.  I'm assuming you're from some sea level handicapped, humidity saturated town.  You know, a place where only a tool d-bag would wear a Leadville Big Buckle (we'll get to that distinction eventually) to a cocktail party.  Wear that thing to a party in Colorado and you'll be ostracized to the living room off the foyer (hall/entrance) -you know, the room where no one has ever spent more than three minutes, much less sat down and relaxed.  The sort of room your grandparents would have plastic all over the furniture so if you did sit on it, you'd make constant farting and squeaking noises and smell like a new beach ball the rest of the night.  Wear that buckle to a party in New Mexico and you'll get shot and have the buckle stolen only to be sold for scrap metal with an old radiator and random fence material and your scalp will be spray painted pink and dangling from the rearview mirror of a lowered 1982 Chevy Silvarado.  Regardless, we'll say you're from a coastal state or, sadder even, a midwestern state where you have no idea why the air is so fucking thick and your house is ripped up by a tornado every two years.

Xenia, Ohio tornado.  I lived through this bitch when I was a kid. photo Dayton Daily News
Anyway, you need to figure out how to survive at over 10,000 feet, as well as how to run continuously uphill for 3,500 feet (a couple times), just to impress chicks who probably won't care much because your arms are skinny like a malnourished spider and your feet look like you've been spending nights with Kathy Bates in the movie "Misery".  Whatever, at least you're interested in trying to impress the ladies.  It's a start.

If you're one of those dumb rich guys with a shitty marriage, you could buy yourself a high altitude tent to sleep in like the bubble boy.  Your kids will start doing drugs out of sheer embarrassment.  Or (since you obviously have no sense with your cash) you could fly to Colorado and spend some time in the mountains learning how to breath air with like 2 molecules of oxygen per lungful.  At least there are nice views (and you're not encased in plastic watching your family live like normal people).

Aside from acclimatization, you'll need to run a lot and run uphill a lot.  Easy.

Let's assume you've done all the proper training.  You'll know whether you have if you've lost all your friends, you are so skinny you look like you escaped from a concentration camp, and you are tanner than a lifeguard at a nudest colony.  Now you're ready to race Leadville.

Mining competition, circa 1900-1910.  These guys would kill and eat an ultrarunner.  photo Denver Public Library
The scene in the town of Leadville surrounding the week of the 100 mile run is, well, odd.  There's this town full of mostly unemployed, deep fried food eating, cigarette smokers, who look like they'd just as soon kick your 2010-model-Subaru-driving self in the teeth, than say hi to you.  And then there's you and the other thousand quinoa and kale eating, sinewy appendaged, Patagonia wearing, hipster wannabe, bleach white toothed "health nuts" wandering around the main street shops like you've never seen a silver necklace with a bear claw pendant before.  It's like two worlds colliding in some time warp.  It's really fascinating if you step back from your terribly important life and just observe it.  I often hope something will spark a massive brawl between the townsfolk and the tourists.  I envision the fit runners slapping at the tree trunk fore-armed and walnut knuckled Leadvilleans like five year old girls.  Then they get killed and dumped into Turquoise Lake.  But I digress.

Part 3 of "How to Run the Leadville 100:  Choice, Buckle or Death?" Here

13 August 2012

How To Run the Leadville 100

Here's the scene: you are at a friend's holiday party and some d-bag shows up with a belt buckle the size of your VW's hubcap.  He becomes the center of attention (yes, you're jealous) and proceeds to woo the crowd.  You even start to question your own sexual preferences because you find yourself staring at his belt and crotch area with a half-smile on your dumb, standing-by-yourself, face.  You finally force yourself to wander over to talk to the man with the shiny beacon.  He's skinny, almost puny but has the aura of Midas and animated like a cracked out marionette.  After listening to him tell you, and the cast (look it up) of fifteen women bunched in front of him, the tale of courageous suffering and triumph in the wilds surrounding 10,000 ft Leadville, CO, you brush aside the notion to mention the Melanoma 5k you completed last summer, an uninspiring event at which most of the participants were covered up like Saudi Arabian women in winter.
Melanoma 5k where you took 10th in your age group.
That night your mind is filled with images of yourself running through dark woods, over razor-edged mountain ridges, crossing the Vegas-like finish line of the Leadville 100, and, finally, being smothered by women in cocktail dresses wanting to touch your big shiny Leadville belt buckle, which is conveniently close to the crotchal area of your Rod Stewart tight slacks.  Not being able to sleep and encouraged by the images (and lingering buzz from vodka), you register for the Leadville 100 miler - even though you're not certain where Leadville is actually located.

The next morning the only thing that hurts worse than your hungover, swollen brain is the reality that you are now obligated, at least financially, to run 100 miles at over 10,000 feet elevation.  Upon looking over the race website, your nausea comes to fruition as you stumble across the elevation profile…
At first glance, you find the image sort of cute with the pointy bunny ears in the middle.  Then your gaze drifts down to the diminutive numbers at the bottom and the words "Distance (mi)".  The furthest you've ever run was 20 miles (and that was because you became lost and ended up fighting tears back because it was getting dark and finally getting a ride home from a stranger).  20 miles on the chart looks ridiculously short, so you avert your attention to the numbers on the left and realize they represent feet above sea level.  Holy shit!  Those cute bunny ears go up to 12,600 FEET!  You almost pass out because looking over the rail from the second floor of your shopping mall makes you dizzy.  You almost wish you could impale yourself on the bunny ears and end the imminent suffering.

The Web is such a great place for (some) useful information.  It's like a garden combined with a junk yard.  So, you do a couple of quick searches and find race reports from other sorry bastards who've run the race.  The photos alone are enough to make you finally barf, so you slap the monitor of your laptop closed and begin the mental struggle of acceptance that you are doomed to die at nearly 13,000 feet in a place so harsh that even miners gave up on it.