23 October 2012

Weekly Ketchingup: Racing, Clinics, Great People

Eleven days in the Bay Area shot by like a bald greasy squirrel (yeah, fast).  Packed into that time was a lot, including a 50 mile trail race, three running clinics, good food, many beers, and high quality time with people I care deeply about.

Photos all by the lovely Margaret Gagnon, except the Hill Clinic shot, which was by Emily (I think).

Undivided attention.

Talking about our Leadville adventures the last three years.

Tim explaining how important IPA is for running well.

Alissa snagging a Vi gel.

Victor showing off the features of the Victory Bag.

Eat to Win clinic group.

Hill Clinic.  "Hmm, never had anyone fall off the cliff at one of these before."

Lacing up the La Sportivas for our group run.

This last weekend we held the Eat to Win and Hill Running clinics with good turnouts at both.  Tim Waggoner and I co-hosted the nutrition discussion with great questions from the participants.  The hill clinic was held at Rodeo Beach, high above the surfers where participants braved the chilly wind to learn and practice new skills.  Afterwards, we had a nice group trail run, then headed to my favorite restaurant (sorry, can't tell you; it's too crowded already) along the water where they serve beer in massive mason jars.

Thanks to Kara for all she does.  Thanks to Victor Ballesteros for attending all three clinics and giving out two new Victory Bags!  And a big thanks to Vi Fuel for providing boxes of their amazing gels, all of which were nabbed up at the clinics.  For 25% off Vi, use code TL25Off2012

I'm already looking forward to my next visit to SF at the end of next month.

I arrived home yesterday to my new mtn bike that was shipped while I was gone, so I barely had time to throw my heavy backpack on the floor before I was assembling it.

She's been christened "Hope". 
Hopefully, she'll carry me safely to the completion of the Leadman Series in a few months.

I'm very grateful to Vi Fuel for sponsoring my Leadman Series.  I truly love their product and appreciate their support.

16 October 2012

Race Planning Clinic Re-Cap

Claude, relaxing with coffee and Vi gel in the bleacher seats.
Sunday, we had the Race Planning and Strategy clinic at Tennessee Valley in Marin.  Claude and Margaret were kind enough to bring good coffee and pancakes for everyone and Liana showed up with more baked goods.  So we just skipped the clinic and ate.

Kidding.  We gave out samples of Vi Fuel and drew numbers for a full box of Vi Fuel gels.  I was excited to have Victor Ballesteros join me to host the clinic.  His epic run at the Tahoe Rim Trail (168 miles) in August provided a terrific opportunity to discuss the importance of covering the details and plans before setting out.  He also brought a couple of his Victory drop bags and talked about the idea for them and the design and features.  Victor will be joining us again this weekend for the Eat to Win and Hill Running clinics (and group runs afterwards).  Thanks very much Victor for sharing your veteran experience and for giving us a glimpse of what the world is like at the front of the pack.  With Tim (Lucho) Waggoner and Victor there, I won't have to do any work!

More info on this weekends clinics may be found on the Running Clinics page of this site.

Here are some of the 800 photos from the clinic Sunday.  Unless otherwise noted, they are all courtesy of the prolific photo practitioner, Margaret Gagnon.  Thanks Margaret!

"What in the world am I going to talk about to these people?"

Group:  Liana, Christopher, me, Kara, Pete, Victor, John, Claude (sitting), Vivian, and hooded James


James, Liana, Kara, and Kara's hat.

James with some sort of odd undergarments.


Focused and obviously entertained.  Vivian, John, Pete.

Riveted to every word (or "God, is he going to ever shut up?"): Pete, Pon, Chris.


Obligatory Tim and Margaret photo...

"Y'all calm down and pay attention or I'll pack this show up and vacate."

Victor schmoozing the ladies.  Sheez.

"Victor, I want a drop bag about this big and made out of alligator skin."

On more than one occasion I saw Victor giving me the "what the hell are you talking about" look.

"So, after I killed the bear with my slingshot and finished the race…. "  Victor didn't buy it.

My turn with "the look".  Mr. big shot bag guy.

05 October 2012

How to Travel to an Ultrarunning Race

Why limit the excitement and enjoyment to the activity of running the race?  Finding a way to the start line can be part of the thrill and danger of ultrarunning.

People are getting soft.  Don't believe me?  Look how much you Ooo and Aah at video and pics of normal little runs [hikes] up mountains by skinny, dirty runners with no jobs or homes, sleeping in the back of a 1978 Vega.  You drool over these images in your grey cubicle, nearly sweating through your Dockers chinos, and then burn the mental image into your brain, replacing the main character with yourself, as you bound up the 100 ft mound in the neighborhood park (that used to be a garbage dump).  Jumping up and down like Rocky among the scent of old oil drums buried deep beneath your dancing sneakers.

Sad.  You could be sharing the same giardia filled streams with any of these guys but quickly justify your grassy toxic dump GPS'd hill run with the fact that you actually have a life and, thus, some semblance of responsibility.  But I digress.

Gain back some of that adventurous youthful ability in the travels and accommodations to your next race.  Fly by the seat of your khakis and wing that shit.

You'll want to keep your "plans" to yourself or at least somewhat vague.  I mean, no reason to bother your family with silly details like driving 110 mph through the desert half asleep with one index finger on the wheel or spending the night behind a gas station in East Los Angeles.

"Can you fellas point me to the nearest ATM?"
Transportation.  In the true spirit of adventure, leave that 7 year financed mini SUV in the garage and find some freestyle mode of transportation.  If you don't have any friends dumb enough to be involved with ultrarunning and can't sucker anyone into believing this will be "just like a vacation" to drive you to the race, then post some carpooling posts on local running club boards or on Facebook.  Make sure to be clear about the "NEED RIDE" detail.  Otherwise, you'll end up with two idiots meeting at a coffee shop with all their luggage and gear and neither will have a car, thinking the other was supposed to drive.  Don't laugh, I've seen it.

"You must be here off Craigslist for the ride to that place in the woods?"
Craigslist is an option too.  They have this "ride share" section (at least more dirtbagging-type towns do, anyway).  You're either going to be riding with a business sales guy chugging pepto bismol and listening to conservative talk radio loudly, or you'll be in the back of a windowless van that smells like urine and has what appears to be dried blood on the ceiling.  If you make it to the race with all your orifices intact, then anywhere you end up sleeping won't seem nearly as bad.

Accommodations.  Race Directors will often write on the race website IN BOLD AND ALL CAPS (AND SOMETIMES DIFFERENT COLORS) that you can't camp here or park there, blah, blah.  It's dark at night and no one will see you.  Besides, the parks' budget is smaller than an Arkansas teenager's weekly allowance, so there's like one park ranger covering 5 million square miles of land and the chances he'll catch you (or even be in the same area code) are nil.

Once, when I travelled to a certain race in Pennsylvania, I found an open (or, rather, unlocked) window in a ski hut cabin, so I crawled in and spent the night there before the race.  Some might call this breaking and entering.  I didn't break shit.  I call it a warm sofa.  Oddly enough, that experience ended up as an article on minimalism in Trail Runner Magazine (last time I talk about my travel experiences on a run with an Editor).

Anton slept on a park's bathroom floor the night before a race a few years ago.  That's roughing it.  I'd rather sleep naked on an open boulder field at 13,000 ft in January than be snuggling up with fuzzy feces.  Geoff Roes has got the "roughing it" when traveling to races down to a science.  He's got all the camping gear shit and he's a cook that can turn Ramen Noodles into spaghetti con le vongole (I italicized it to make it look fancier), so he's living it up in the woods while the rest of you soft, 300 series BMW driving, flask water bottle belt wearing yuppies are trying to figure out how to open that child-sized piece of soap in your hotel bathroom.

You're better than this.

If you live to make it to the start of the event, it'll seem like one of the easiest races you've ever run after the hell you put yourself through to get there.

04 October 2012

The "Off Season" for a Runner

Each week I send a group email out to the athletes I coach covering various topics on running and training.  This is a rather bloated one, so I sent it to a few more people and I'm putting it up here for the other three people who visit this site.

When is it time to take a short break from running and racing?

Hi Folks,

Usually, this weekly email is for the athletes I coach.  With my favorite holiday approaching (Halloween), I feel a wave of generosity and thought I'd include others into our little weekly Coach's Corner (aren't you lucky!).  It's a bit meandering and lacks literary cohesion, but hopefully gets the point across.  For my athletes, we will be discussing, and incorporating, time off into your schedules.  Look at it like the "reset" week we now enjoy every fifth week of your training, only on a larger, annual scale...

Oh, and don't forget to register for the next running clinics!  Lucho will be there at them with me with more wildly entertaining stories.  You'll be sad you missed them  Running Clinics

Taking a break.  As runners we are all, at varied levels, OCD about our activity. Some are so “controlled” by running that they run when they're sick, injured, and beyond overtrained (guilty!). Most of them even race all-year-long. The benefits of time off are substantial and often overlooked by many runners.

When I talk about time off I'm not referring to a day off here and there (though those are important as well). I'm talking about a full cycle of your training taken off, or four to five weeks. I'll pause here to allow you to catch your breath from the gasp of astonishment.

After years of doing this stuff (competitive cycling and running), I've tried many variations of “taking a break”. Lucho (those of you coming to the Eat to Win and the Hill Running clinics in a couple weeks will get to meet Lucho) and I spoke this morning about the need to take time off. He solidified my feelings on it that the mental benefits are the most important part of time away from running and racing.

The extremes. During and after college I raced road bikes and it was my life. 300-400 mile weeks would slip by in the form of Tuesday sprints, Thursday intervals, weekend long rides, and miles and miles of flat farmland vistas on the other days. By the time September would roll around I was drained. Physically, I was a monster on the bike by then but mentally I was a 90 lbs weakling and the thought of hard training was like torture when, just 4 months previous, I dreamed about riding every second I wasn't in the saddle. Some years I would train on the icy roads in Michigan all winter. Most years I'd go into hibernation and pack on 15-20 lbs, then emerge in April and swing my fat leg over the saddle and curse the pain for a couple weeks. But loved cycling more than the previous year, which I thought impossible because I loved it more than a fresh NYC bagel (almost).

Not much has changed over the years. Here I sit coming off a lackluster 50k on the last day of September and I'm, well, drained. Physically, I have a deep base of fitness, though I feel stale. And I feel like I'm on the verge of tweaking something in my body with little twinges of slight pain in my muscles and tissue saying, “Hey, I'll snap like a rubber band powered balsa wood airplane if you don't give us a break.” Mentally, running is becoming a chore, like laundry. Unfortunately, unless you are rich enough to keep buying and throwing clothes away, there are no breaks in doing laundry. Running, on the other hand, can (and should be) shelved for a period of time.

So far this year I've raced 632 miles and paced another 90+ miles (Western States and Leadville). By the end of the year (next weekend) I'll have raced 682 miles (782 if counting the pacing). That's the equivalent of 257 5ks... in 9 months. Am I tired of racing? YES. Sick of it, frankly. Am I tired of running? I have to admit I am. The thought of running is appealing but the actual process of it is what I dread.

Lucho feels that it's best to not set a time frame when taking a break. That makes perfect sense. Why stress yourself with a deadline of returning to the thing you're trying to get away from? I like to have something to look forward to, so I usually set a date that I'll go out for a walk/run to evaluate how I feel. Usually four to five weeks (one full cycle of training for me) off is plenty and I'm raging to get back at it. The fitness lost is difficult to deal with at first. 4 mile runs are humbling. But they are exhilarating at the same time. The freshness and eagerness fills the void of lowered aerobic fitness. It's like a new sport all over again. And the fitness returns as you progress into the training. Of course, take your time and don't rush anything. Don't rush the miles. Don't rush the speed. Don't rush the process. The aerobic base is the foundation that you have to meticulously and methodically build. Lots of slow, s-l-o-w running with the only focus being on the enjoyment of the time on your feet.

The time away from running doesn't have to be a pizza, beer, and sofa filled hazy dreamscape. I plan to climb onto my old friend (Not her. She changed her phone number and filed a restraining order for some reason). I'm referring to the bike. Total inactivity is fine. I've done it before during these breaks and lived to talk about it. But, if you have a secondary sport or activity you like or want to try, then why not? The benefit, aside from the obvious one of being fun, is that you'll retain a level of fitness while getting the required mental re-set.  Lucho flip-flopped his MONSTER training last winter between cycling and running in preparation for Leadman. It kept him motivated, fresh, injury free, and well-rounded in terms of overall fitness. He didn't realize he was sick of training until around mile 50 of the Leadville 100 run and his break from running started one second after he crossed the finish line.

So, after Firetrails 50 miler next week, unless something snaps in me and gives me another shot of motivation, I'll be storing my beloved La Sportivas for a while (just a short break). I suggest you do the same at some point. Running isn't like football (thank God); we don't really have a set “off season”. We need to have the self awareness and commitment to assign ourselves an off season. Good luck with yours.

Tim