Friday, December 30, 2011

On the go again

Tomorrow we leave Vail for home in Charlottesville.  We’ll be in Charlottesville just long enough to unpack, sleep, get in a morning run, re-pack and then leave again for Washington D.C. for New Years.  We’ll be home for 12 hours or so.  Two weeks ago before coming to Colorado I was in Richmond, as I usually am a few days each week for work.  I arrived home late on a Thursday night and then we left again the following morning to come to Colorado.  I was home just long enough to unpack, sleep, get in a morning run and re-pack.  When I get home from D.C. after this weekend I’ll soon be back out the door, headed for Richmond.  Then I’ll go back home to Charlottesville.  Then I’ll go back to Richmond.  Then we’re off to California in just under two week’s time to visit family in San Francisco.  And on, and on.  This is how life has been for the past several years.  Never do I sleep in the same bed more than three or four nights in a row.  In fact, when I visit Vail is the only time when I sleep in the same bed each night for longer than a week.  The last time I did this was in Vail last summer.  The time before that was in Vail in the summer of 2010.
It is a challenge being on the go because of work and other things and fitting in a training schedule that I like to maintain.  It takes discipline, time management, etc.  Sadly, it also takes sacrifice.  Deep down I know full well that running makes me a better person but I can’t deny that being on the go as much as I am and running as much as I do hasn’t harmed my relationships with family members and friends.  I recognize that sometimes it’s like I am around but I’m not around, if that makes sense.  I’ve “got to get my run in” or so is how it might go.  As I age I place more and more value on relationships yet the reality and the conundrum is that I seem to involve myself less in relationships due to this schedule.  It is an annoying rub.  Needless to say, as I continue to embrace existing family and friend relationships I understand that I have a weakness when it comes to making new friends.  Time.  It may sound pathetic, selfish or like an excuse but at least I’ve actually learned something from it.  Moving forward, as far as making new friends goes, which is something I do enjoy, I’ve made the conscious decision that it pays to make friendships with runners.  Or with people in woodworking.  Or both.  Bascially, it pays to make friendships with people I can actually do things with (I am a guy after all) that have the same passions as I do.  This way we’re both not trying to squeeze in time to get together outside of work or outside of the already time consuming passions we enjoy.  This is not an original concept, obviously, but for me it kind of is.
Another positive that being on the go so much for so long is that it has actually helped my running.  It has taught me adaptation.  If consistency is the cornerstone of a successful training regimen then adaptation is its mortar.  By adaptation I mean just that, outside of a routine when, where and how to train?  I’ve had to figure this out as I go along.  Particularly when living in D.C. and when I wanted to run in the mountains- D.C. is obviously nowhere near mountains.  Adaptation eventually opened my eyes to other forms of training styles, including the best one I’ve come to know: running by feel.  Many people are familiar with this concept.  I even blogged about it slightly last summer.  When training if you don’t adjust your running to your environment, to how your body is feeling, etc. you might actually be doing more harm to your fitness than good.  I may not have eventually shifted over to this style of training earlier this year had I not more or less been partially forced into it by the actual inability to structure a regular routine.
Part of the reason we moved to Charlottesville was to slow our lives down a bit, which also meant I wouldn’t always be driving around with a backpack full of clothes in my car.  Yet since the move I’ve spent more days away from Charlottesville than actually being there.  On one hand it’s nice to be on the move.  It has its downsides but mostly I feel more productive when my day to day schedule is not exactly like a routine.  Admittedly, I do look forward to a time coming hopefully soon when life takes on a bit more of a routine, or at least a time when I am able to spend more consecutive nights sleeping in the same bed.  It will come soon; I have hope.  In the meantime, I’ll continue running when and where I can: in Charlottesville or the nearby mountains, in Richmond, or in D.C., Colorado or any other place I visit.  After all running on new terrain whenever possible is another good style of training.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Enough

Today was an excellent day for getting out into the snow and on to the trails.  Yes, even on Christmas.  (Especially on Christmas!)  Today the sky was genuine Colorado blue.  The clarity of Colorado’s intense blue sky gives whole new meaning to the red colored rocks, green conifer trees, gray craggy mountain faces or whatever other colored objects might be within eye sight.  It is as if the intensity of the blue sky acts as some sort spice, adding flavor to anything touching its horizon.  Particularly white colored snow capped peaks!  Oh, what a day.

Here are a few [poorly shot] pictures.  Happy holidays to all!

Mount of the Holy Cross.  Christmas enough, indeed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Coaching for Grand Slam runners

Are you are one of the lucky, gutsy, few bright individuals taking on the Holy Grail of ultrarunning in North America in 2012- the Grand Slam?  If so, I salute you.  No one need remind you how monumental a challenge it is to take on the Grand Slam.  What I can only offer is how monumental a feeling it is to finish it.
In the last 14 years only 170 runners out of 390 actually finished the Grand Slam.  That is a finish rate of 44%.  I gleaned this statistic from  Prior to 1997 this data- yearly finishers versus starters- is not available but the same web page points out that since 1986 the Grand Slam has been finished 251 times by 221 people.  (252/222 if you include Pete Stevenson who finished in 2010 in stealth mode.)
The statistic above highlights what you already know: finishing the Grand Slam is hard.  Hard as hell.   I have a solution to make your chances of finishing even stronger.  Hire me as your coach.  Together, beginning in January, we will develop a training program specifically centered on you finishing.  A program that will deliver you to Squaw in June fresh and ready to rip, and then recovered and ready for battle by the time you reach Wasatch in September.  My number one goal for anyone I coach is to help them finish.  Period.  No if's, and's or but's.  I am an all or nothing kind of guy and that is what this coaching service will be all about.  The only requirement I have is that you are registered for the Grand Slam and that you are committed to finishing it.  That you know it in your bones you have what it takes to finish it and finish strong.  No matter what.
Some of you may know I’ve finished the Grand Slam.  I’ve also finished Vermont, Leadville and Wasatch twice each.  I’ve finished 12 100 mile mountain trail ultras in total and have only DNF’d at a race once in my life, and that was at mile three in a 50 miler where I sprained an ankle something awful.  Nor do I live and train at altitude.
In addition to helping you build strength, endurance, speed and mental toughness during the winter and spring months, I will help you prepare in many other ways leading up to each race.  Including, but not limited to, race goal planning, helping with travel, accommodation, pacing and crew logistic ideas, gear, nutrition, acclimatization and- the biggest one of them all- recovery.
How It Will Work:
Once a month for nine months (Jan-Sept) we will talk on the phone or Skype for 1.5 hours.  Or we can meet in person if you live near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Topics of conversation can range from injuries (I’ve had just about all of them…), to speed work, to nutrition, and on, and on.  No topic is off limits.
Pricing and Goodies:
Remember, this is an all or nothing deal.  Nine months of training.  The total for my service is $990, which equates to $110 per month, paid up front via a check or PayPal after the first training session. 
…BUT WAIT…There's more...  : )

In addition to coaching services you will also receive the following goodies from my sponsors.
  • Your very own Salomon products pro discount code that will last through your completion of the Grand Slam.  This code will afford you steep discounts on quality shoes, packs, clothes and gear of all sorts.  After all, I recommend a fresh pair of shoes for each race and you will need cold weather gear for the night running portion at Wasatch.  You can get all that plus much, much more with your Salomon pro discount code.
  • Two pairs of drymax socks.  You will want these puppies on your feet as you burn down Cal Street at Western States!
  • Clif.  I’ll hook you up with a few boxes of gels and blocks from my secret stash.  The gels will come in especially handy as you climb the front and back sides of Hope Pass at Leadville!
…BUT WAIT…There's more!

I am running Western States this summer.  I would like to invite each runner I coach and their crew to lunch on Friday before the race.  We’ll exchange war stories and discuss race strategy while fueling our bodies for the next day’s race.  Okay, okay... this isn't exactly a "goodie" but it will be fun to get together at Western States and shoot the breeze over a meal.

Getting Started:
To kick things off please email me (nealgorman .. @ .. a bit about yourself: your fitness/running history and goals, where you're from, what you do, how much time you're willing to commit to training each week and any other relevant pieces of information you deem important.  From there we will schedule our first training session.

If you’re not running the Grand Slam there are other coaches out there.  Sorry.  I’m not really doing this as a money maker.  I have a job.  I would like to make some money, however, enough maybe to help cover my travel expenses to France in August so that I may run UTMB and in the process hopefully make my fellow ultrarunning friends in the U.S. proud.  I want to earn my trip this way, by coaching other runners, and by giving back in a sense to the running community and to the Grand Slam both of which have given me so much.
Lastly, this coaching service is my idea and my responsibility alone.  The sponsors named above are not involved in any way other than simply wanting to see me help runners finish the Grand Slam.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Tomorrow’s winter Solstice is an important one-day event.  The Solstice, the calendar onset of winter, induces the shortest time in terms of daylight than any other day of the year.  For some the Solstice may portend an unwelcome future.  One filled with gray skies, little to not-enough daylight and, of course, cold, cold and more cold temperatures.  I tend to think of the Solstice in another way.  To me the Solstice and the onset of winter actually signifies the beginning of new light and new life that eventually comes with spring.
I know what you’re thinking.  There goes Neal again banging away at his keyboard wearing rose-colored glasses.  Not so.  Not exactly so, at least.  Winter can drag on for me, too, especially when February has an extra day in it, like it does in 2012.  A few warm days in March send daffodils and tulips reaching for the sky, a true harbinger of Spring’s arrival, yet at times they’re simply shot back down to earth by a late season blast of arctic weather.  It is this back and forth towards winter’s end, with cold temperatures one day and warm the next, which mostly gets to me and has me crying out for spring.  But for now how can I not look forward to daylight getting longer each day, as it will be doing so as soon as Friday?  How can I not look forward to the chance of playing in fresh, pure snow?  Plus, I am often rested and recharged this time of year; I definitely am right now.  It is easier to run faster on recharged legs and in cooler temperatures.  And I definitely intend to this winter.
In Vail, winter arrived long before we did.  The snow everywhere, falling from the white sky even at this moment, is a sight to behold.  Yesterday afternoon I pulled up a pair of running shorts, slipped over a light long-sleeve shirt, shoved my hands into gloves, put on a hat, laced up my sneaks, quickly closed the door behind me so as to not waste any precious indoor heat and made my way up into the mountains of the White River National Forrest on the northern edge of town.  The pavement quickly turned to a gravel forest road.  The gravel road quickly turned to compacted snow and ice.  The compacted snow and ice slowly transition to layered snow, compacted only slightly by the weight of snowmobile tracks.  I continued running up the forest road as my pace eventually slowed to an 11-12 minute per mile, post holing slugfest.  The snowmobile tracks eventually disappeared and the only path I continued following were those left by the giant hoofs of mule deer or elk.  The higher I climbed the quieter and still was my surroundings.  I paused.  Winter was in full affect in the high backcountry, the environment blanketed under a white, puffy silencing cocoon of snow.  There was absolutely no sound.  Not even a flow of wind or a singing bird.  Everything was still.  It’s hard to imagine how few moments in life are filled with actual, complete silence and it is important (I think) to stop and recognize them- and appreciate them- when they come.  It was indeed a perfect moment, one I will not soon forget, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Unfortunately the climb could not go on.  I simply was not dressed enough to continue on as the afternoon grew long.  I turned around and ran down in the exact direction I had come up, chasing the sunset over the horizon.  As the deer hoof prints gave way to snowmobile tracks my paced quickened.  As the snowmobile tracks gave way to vehicular compacted snow and ice my paced quickened even more.  Eventually I found myself running a 5:30 minute per mile pace, surrendering the form of my stride to the gaze of the peaks looming above and the fading glimmer of sunlight to the west.  I placed a lot of faith in the inner lugs of my trail shoes as my legs turned over, carving icy switchbacks.  The descent provided a quality tempo finish to what was at first a casual uphill exploration into the high winter backcountry.  And all in all it was a rewarding winter running experience.  Running in the snow is just so much fun.  Though I doubt it would be as enjoyable were I left with no other option between the months of November and April.
During yesterday’s run and since I have thought a lot about 2012 and what might come of it in terms of running and racing and exploring.  Surely, I like the idea of running fast.  I like the idea of showing up to a race ready to rip.  It feels good.  This, too, is a form of exploration.  I fully understand that it takes a hardnosed, hard-work approach at training, month in and month out, to develop pure speed.  Showing up fit and quick for Western States in June is my main goal for the first half of 2012; therefore, I would like to try my hand at it.  
Tomorrow is the winter Solstice.  The shortest day of the year.  Beginning Friday each new day will deliver slightly more daylight, sliver by sliver.  My intention is to follow this trajectory, infusing light in the form of volume and color in the form of speed into my training, producing more natural turnover in my legs than before, with all of it hopefully, ultimately resulting in a clock that reads 16-something as I cross the finish line at the Placer High School track in June.
Time for work.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Opportunity Knocks

Below is the content of an email I received yesterday.

Congratulations, you have been selected to participate in the 2012 Western States 100.  This email is being sent to all individuals who have been selected via today's lottery, Montrail Cup, 2011 Top 10 runners, special considerations, etc.

Next week we will be processing your payments and will notify you if we have trouble.  Please be patience while we work through all the entries and update the entrant's list online, this may take a couple weeks.

Mark Gilligan

This is good news.  I guess I'm headed to Squaw in late June.  And any lingering, self-imposed-pressure thoughts I had earlier this fall of maybe running a Montrail Cup race in an attempt to qualify for WS, well, they're definitely gone now.  I think I'll keep those travel expenses in my pocket and put them to use elsewhere, like maybe for a trip to France in late August to run around a big mountain, or for running the Grand Slam again.  What a summer that would be.

Up until yesterday I couldn't give a damn about filling my 2012 race calendar.  Now all of the sudden things are flipped and I am thinking hard about what adventures I might like to pursue.  Crazy how that happens.  No matter what, WS is paid for and I would be a fool to turn down the entry; therefore, running in California in late June is a definite.  Sure, I'd like to show up with quick feet, too.  That means a light early season race calendar.  Easy enough.  What about after that?  Should I go for UTMB in August or run the Grand Slam again?  What would you do?

Friday, December 09, 2011

A Lot Going On

The three weeks we've been living in Charlottesville have been most enjoyable.  Where we live is quiet.  It's peaceful.  There are no loud city buses or sirens.  We live temporarily in a very nice apartment and so there has also been no raking of leaves for me, nor will there be any shoveling of snow over winter.  There is even a swanky clubhouse and a gym at our complex with a few treadmills.  (Treadmill climbing workouts!)  Area traffic is light.  Trails are nearby.  And the views are lovely.  In Charlottesville, city-like offerings in terms of culture and amenities are here for the enjoying in what is otherwise a rural setting.  Or so my eldest sister might say.  For us, at least for the time being life it seems has taken a turn on to easy street.  I really, really like it.

On the running front, since my last race- Grindstone, in October- things have been a bit spotty.  I took four weeks completely off after that race, save for running a WUS beer mile event.  That was as super close race, by the way, and I bested Bobby Gill (previous WUS beer mile Champion) by a nipple's distance at best.  A victory no less!  After the four week break I got back into running somewhat slowly, attempting mostly to enjoy the final few weeks of running on the trails in DC's Rock Creek Park amidst the fall colors before making our move down to Charlottesville.  Of course actually preparing for the move, selling the house, etc. took some time so things worked out nicely, timing wise, with regards to the break.  Frankly, I needed a break anyway.  I was pretty much burned out even going into Grindstone.

Last week I began to feel like a runner again and so when I heard of a few local events happening over the weekend I didn't hesitate to sign up.  I ran the Monticello 5k on Saturday and the Three Bridges Half-Marathon on Sunday.  It was nice turning the legs over on new terrain, amongst new competitors and in a new town.  I think I'll try my feet at more local short distance events in the coming months.  It will be a good opportunity to push the pace in training and meet local peeps.

As I look toward the longer running events on the 2012 calendar year I have nothing lined up except for a Massanutten (MMT) lottery entry I was fortunate enough to win yesterday.  (Thank you, Dow Jones.)  I'm most likely going to pay my entry fee and secure an MMT spot but I am not 100% on whether I will run it.  Depends on tomorrow's Western States lottery and a few other options I am considering.  It's been strange not actually having any goal races lined up on the calendar.  Though on one hand I've enjoyed it.  It means I haven't felt forced to jump into any sort of training mode.  I think feeling close to burned out at the end of August and throughout September pushed me in this direction.  I mean, I definitely don't want to burn out.  Not even for a little while.  I loathe the idea of something I love- anything- being taken away from me.  Burn out will do that, I think.  So I will protect what I love.  In this case, running.  Even if that means taking a break for a while.  I guess I'm at the stage now in life where I am comfortable in this mentality and am not interested in forcing things that do not follow a natural, comfortable path.  There is so much peer pressure as it is in our sport to jump from one race, to one long group run, to the next race and on and on.  Ironically, this is something I love about the sport- there is so much going on- but at the same time it can extract a toll.  One must be catious.

With that said, shortly this evening I depart for the Shenandoah Valley to spectate the Hellgate 100k, which begins at 12:01am tonight.  Many friends are running and the event promises to be competitive up front.  In my heart I hope fellow WUS, Aaron Schwartzbard, brings home the victory.  (Again)  However the past few times I've seen Jeremy Ramsey the dude just looks so super fit.  He may take it.  (Again)  Do I wish I was running, too?  Not really.  Not at this point at least.  Though I did think about running Hellgate briefly back in October- Horty even promised to save me an entry.  Had I chose to run it I would definitely feel burned out at this very moment instead of slowly making my way back into running, enjoying it more and more each day.

2012 will come when it comes.  The calendar will fill when it fills.  I was in no rush to move to Charlottesville.  When the house would sell is when it would sell, I thought.  Fortunately for us it sold quickly.  Now that we're here I am in no rush for other things to hurry their course.  Presently, there is enough going on, like enjoying our new home town and the fact that we'll be in Colorado for two weeks over Christmas starting next Friday.  All of this there is to enjoy, plus spectating this weekend's race, clear skies and full moon.  Maybe I should dress up as a werewolf and scare the runners tonight?  Hmmmm...

A moon rising.  Taken at sunset from home.