Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tired but it's all good

This past week I was pretty whipped.  The altitude grabbed hold of me Monday, which I thought it might, and had me tied me down, energy wise, like a petty crook.  I still ran each day, sometimes twice, but it wasn’t always easy to get the legs turning over.  Once going however, particularly uphill, they generally fell in line.  Then after each run, once home again, the legs whined like children until I fed them with long, deep breaths and a comfortable seat, combat position to a war on fatigue.  This past week I’ve also slept a lot, on average at least eight hours per night; sometimes nine.  In civilian life six to seven hours of sleep per night is customary and for the most part seems to keep the body and mind happy.  Sleeping for eight hours or more per night at home often makes me feel tired, ironically.  I don’t think that is the case here, in Vail, because at altitude I think the body definitely needs more rest when acclimatizing.  Plus, when running like animal, which is something I’ve definitely been doing here thus far, and am proud of it, the fatigue border shifts even more.
Yesterday’s morning came as a nice surprise when I felt recharged and actually looking forward to a long day, high up on the trails.  A quick drive from Vail delivered me to Twin Lakes, just outside of Leadville.  I parked the car and moments later was running on the Leadville course, bound for Winfield, sight of the 50 mile aid station and turn around point.  The priority for the day was simple: be out on the feet for several hours, enjoy the surroundings and tack on a few bonus miles if I was still up for it after the double pass over Hope and return to the car.  I was pleased in my casual effort to Winfield and back, never pushing it and hiking a lot, especially on the return trip up the backside of Hope.  I was a bit surprised to realize that when I returned back to the car at Twin Lakes my watch read 4:09, which is a respectable time, I think, even if I were intent on some sort of steady effort/pace.  I didn’t think too much of it, switched up my hip pack bottles to a handheld and, again, ran away from Twin Lakes tacking on 8.5 bonus miles.  When I returned to Vail yesterday afternoon I looked at a training log on my computer from last year and realized I had done the same run, from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back, two weeks out from the race in a time of 4:46.  I don’t remember pushing it then either, as I had also only been in Colorado for one week by that point as well.  Still, all things being equal as they were, 4:46 versus 4:09 is a considerable difference.  Not even taking into consideration the miles I had on my legs from the preceding weeks leading up to yesterday, unlike last year.  By the way, in the very remote chance that anyone runs from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back during the race in 4:09 or less (it won’t be me) that person is going to win handily.  Or blow up.  Also, there were TONS of runners out on the course, doing the same run.  It is very cool that people from this area, and so many other areas within driving distance, have permanent access to such incredible running terrain (save for the winter months).
Speaking of miles on the legs, this is where I am, week wise since Old Dominion, at the precipice of a taper before Leadville:  6.5 miles (OD recovery), 33 (OD recovery), 80, 101, 105, 101, 118, 110.  That equals five weeks in a row of running 100 miles or more, something I’ve yet to string together until now.  Since last Saturday, I’ve run 148 miles at altitude, hence the ‘animal’ reference.  I admit, when in places such as this, coupled with more free time than is usual, what else would I be doing?  I’m healthy- healthier than I’ve been since this time last year.  I’m lean- leaner than I’ve been in a long time.  I feel strong and ready for a hard push at Leadville.  If ever I felt the capacity for a true physical and mental demonstration of shear ability and grit, in terms of my own ability, now is the time.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Jumped right into it over the weekend here in Colorado.  I arrived to Vail late afternoon on Saturday and after a little unpacking and grocery shopping I decided to head up the North Trail just before sunset.  As I briefly wrote about in a previous post, I usually stick to a basic methodology when priming the lungs upon arriving at altitude.  Saturday’s short recovery run was different.  The hills came to me somewhat easily and I ran right on up the North Trail without my lungs correcting the effort, forcing a running stride to a hike.  I didn’t think much of it at the time but was pleased none the less and even more pleased to enjoy an exceedingly stunning mountain run on a familiar trail and in a relatively cool environment- that is, compared to the heat I’ve been used to lately.  Plus, the wild flowers were kicking.  They’re unreal here at the moment.  Colorful, fully in bloom, healthy, beautiful.
Yesterday morning’s run pretty much picked up right where I left off the night before.  I headed back up the North Trail and ran [without hiking] all the way to the western edge of Vail and from there, north, into the White River National Forrest.  The hills came to me well enough once again.  Unless the grade was really steep I ran.  Not that fast, though.  Even at 10k feet and above I was able to maintain a running stride, courtesy of willing lungs.  When the run was all said and done I covered 32 miles under a bright blue colored sky, with wild flowers all around me, plenty of climbs and descents and, finally, at the end a chilling dipping of the legs in the cold stream that flows along the periphery my condo complex.
The fact that the altitude seemed less of an issue for me than I had expected on Saturday night and yesterday is important news because it means, perhaps, while I am here, and for what it's worth, acclimatization will come quickly.  I can think of two reasons why I must feel somewhat at ease in the altitude at the moment.  1) The training in the heat I’ve put in this summer.  Perhaps Bryon Powell was right in his book when he published thoughts on a correlation between excessive heat training at sea level and how it can help prepare an athlete for altitude acclimatization.  2) I’d like to think this is even more of a reason, but it dawned on me after yesterday’s run that I am likely in the best running shape I’ve ever been in.  The 20 days I spent in Colorado last summer pre-Leadville consisted of only one actual week of semi-decent training before a two week taper, and looking back it took me all 20 days to arrive at some sort of acclimatized state, if I did at all.  The two weeks before arriving here I spent recovering from Vermont.  Prior to Western States was the last and only real training I put in all the way through Wasatch; therefore, I did not train as much in the heat prior to arriving in Colorado and I certainly wasn't as in good of shape, much less feeling fresh.  It is easy enough (and fun, I think) to look back and compare in an attempt to understand maybe why this is so, in terms of me feeling good here, now.  But who knows, my tolerance for breathing well on runs, particularly at 10k feet and higher, over the next few weeks will likely ebb and flow anyway still.

I definitely wouldn’t want to show up before a race like Leadville without some sort of acclimatization under my belt.  Weeks and weeks of heat training, great fitness, or not.  There is no substitute for acclimatization and without it one will suffer.  I am glad my friend David Frazier and my brother, Cornbread, both of whom live at sea level on opposing coasts, are running Leadville but they’re not showing up early to acclimatize.  They’re smart however to prepare in other ways.  Each has elected to employ an Alto Trainer device in the hopes it will help to acclimatize their lungs.  Seems like a good choice to me, at least from reading the website.  This is not ‘gearing out’ in my opinion, like a triathlete tweaking a bike component, etc.  Altitude is a dangerous threat; it is wise to prepare.  By the way, I am curious, anyone ever use or know much about the Alto Trainer,  in terms of how you thought the results worked out for you?  I would like to know.  I am sure David and Cornbread would like to know, too.
Lastly, here are a few random pictures from yesterday’s run.
The lovely contours of Vail's North Trail.
Wild flowers and Mount of the Holy Cross.  On tap as a potential outing for next weekend.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Tomorrow morning a whole lot of fun begins.  I leave for the blue skies and cooler temperatures of Vail, Colorado.  Not a moment too soon, too, because the heat wave we’re under at the moment in Washington D.C. is intense.  The same questions that have been on my mind over the past few weeks remain.  Dating back to the inaugural Leadville Trail 100 race year, in 1983, has a runner from outside of Colorado, other than a Tarahumaran, ever won the race?  Much less a runner who lives and trains at sea level?  I know a woman has.  What about a male runner?  Could such a runner win?  Over the course of the next four weeks, as my lungs adapt to the thin air of the Rockies and my grin widens with each morning greeting of the mountains at first light, these questions will remain at the forefront of my mind.  Stuck there.  Like a plunger, haulted mid churn in the butter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Running by feel and the glass ceiling

Understanding the philosophy of running by feel and creating a space in one’s mind to actually go about implementing such a practice are two distinct things entirely.  Running by feel likely means different things to different people.  To some readers of this blog running by feel may be a completely blasé topic, a basic reminder of a maturation having taken place many thousands of miles ago.  For others, it might be something new and unheard of, or signify a possible scary departure from the familiar ritual of scheduling.  For me, running by feel is a philosophy- though still somewhat new- comfortably understood and something I have graduated to employing in my training full time.  The basic premise of this methodology is best explained in Matt Fitzgerald’s ‘Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel’, and a methodology I became most familiar with towards the end of last year after Russell Gill recommended the book to me.  The book was interesting enough.  I enjoyed it and learned some things.  I do not pen this post as a hail to Fitzgerald’s coaching advice, much less as a critique.  What I do pen this post for is to simply share with readers what actually thrust upon me, full time, the practice of running by feel.

The weather.  That’s what.
Weather is a constant contender, and we obviously can’t control it.  It is a glass ceiling, imposing limits upon a laid out summer training schedule.  We have two choices with regards to the weather: we can enjoy it or simply endure it.  Nine times out of ten I generally enjoy whatever weather conditions are present; however, while running, certain efforts are not always best employed in adverse conditions.  Case in point, heat and humidity.  While I have professed to enjoy running in the summer’s heat on this blog- and I have- it doesn’t mean I am out there pushing as hard as I can in the middle of the day under an exposed sun just because I want to or because a schedule dictates.  Quite the opposite.  I am happy to run in the middle of the day under an exposed sun but not for too long and not at a high tempo.  And certainly not without ready water, be it necessary.  The weather this summer, which has been nothing out of the ordinary, has simply taught me to wake up each day and run with what I am given and, therefore, what I have around me, and in me.  Be it cool outside.  Be it hot and sticky.   Also, have I good energy on a particular morning or evening?  Or am I tired?  I think of all of this as a natural maturation in my running progression, a gift from experience and a tribute listening to my body, and definitely something I recognize in many other runners I know personally who have understood this simple philosophy for what seems like forever.  It’s nice to have this in common with them now, too.  It’s real simple, for me,  I’ve learned- mostly from the weather- to embrace running without knowing- necessarily- what, where or for how long tomorrow’s run will be until tomorrow comes.  I’m not going to force a run unless it comes naturally.  And I don’t get upset if tomorrow brings something unexpected.  I also believe that because I choose to run by how I feel, daily, and run at an effort that I am comfortable with in whatever weather is present I have gained a large appreciation for actually running in the heat in the first place- be it hot, or even REALLY hot.  If you think about it, it is amazing how such basic things dovetail.
On to cooler subjects.   Saturday marks the four week countdown to Leadville.  Training is going exceptionally well.  The mileage, intensity, etc. is right where I want it.  I am also at a race weight (177 lbs as of last week) that I have never been, I don’t think, going into a race.  I’m skinny.  177lbs for me is skinny, ok?  But what do I know... I've only weighed myself twice this year and maybe only twice last year.  Saturday also marks my departure date for a retreat to the cooler environs of Vail, Colorado where I will last out the remaining weeks of a fleeting summer, acclimating for the race and exploring backcountry near and far.  In the immediate Vail area there are so many miles of trails splintering off into the White River National Forest- accessible from my doorstep- I have yet to explore on other trips.  Hope the streams are running high because I plan on being deep in the woods quite a bit, and I’ll be thirsty.
This trip, for which I am in awe and immensely grateful, is another example of the gifts provided to me by running.  Literally, running takes me places.  Call me a geek, but I often choose to go places where I can run how I want to run.  And for me the Rocky Mountains offer the perfect running canvass.  I am not ashamed, embarrassed, apologetic or too cheesed out to call such a running trip a demonstration of a lifestyle.  It is simply just that.  As long as desire is the needle and running is my thread, I will continue to weave this lifestyle and run (and race) for as long as I can sustain, or until my cup spills over.  It is a feeling, beyond measure and, mostly, beyond explanation.  Like any passion, for each individual, it is personal.  But wait, there is more: while on the topic of lifestyle, I am excited to announce details are currently in the works for big changes for me and Gaby forthcoming in the fall.  Thanks, in part, to running.  No doubt about it.  More news on this subject in September.
Finally, for some chill, honest-to-goodness real music, and to reflect on your own summer goings-on, please enjoy Ray Lamontagne & The Pariah Dogs’ aptly titled tune, For The Summer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fire it up

It’s hot!  July in Washington D.C.  Go figure…  The hotter it gets the better I’m feeling.  I may not be faster in the heat but I feel pretty darn good, considering.  The one-two punches of heat and humidity is squeezing efficiency from my body and I’m feeling light on my feet and fired up.  Anyone else enjoying their runs in the heat?
Speaking of fired up, good luck sitting still for more than 20 seconds after pressing play on this live version of Foster the People’s Helena Beat, one of Gaby’s current favorite bands.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Enjoying summer running

Just as I had expressed hope for two weeks ago, in my last post, the legs have come around nicely.  And I’m not even that annoyed with coming home soaking-wet-sweaty after each run, thanks to the summer heat and humidity.  Time heals and conditions everything.  Usually pretty fast, too, if one does not super obsess over something.  Simply, it is nature’s way.  Thank goodness is all I can say about that because the year is half over and there is too much fun to be had on the trails before the fall.
Last week I touched 100 miles.  The week before that, 80.  I’m feeling stronger, like I felt during April.  Leaner.  Recovering quickly.  And I’m hungry for more runs, more climbing, more down hills.  Anything involving being on my feet and outside, moving.  Last year immediately following the Vermont 100 I recovered for two weeks, running very little, then snuck in a 75 mile training week before tapering the final two weeks prior to Leadville.  Basically, I wasn’t much trained up or fresh for Leadville.  Leadville is now less than seven weeks out.   I’ve got two weeks of training under my belt, post Massanutten and Old Dominion recovery, and plan to get in at least five more big weeks still.  Plus, obviously, I ran the race last year and have that experience going for me.  All of this is to say that I’m looking forward to the race with a much greater confidence than last summer.  I’m certainly in no rush for the race to get here- the suspense is a big part of the fun.  Nor do I have any clue as to who will show up as the entrants list is not [yet] published.  I imagine the entrants list will be leaked somehow, somewhere before the race; it was last year.  It doesn’t matter much.  Not knowing who is running is also part of the fun.
Another bit of news on the personal front is that two weeks ago I ditched my orthotics.  I’ve worn them for a few years now, even had them re-covered a few times.  I’ve wanted to wean myself from them for about a year and finally did so, cold-turkey like.  I enjoy the sensation of a lower heal drop and more movement of my metatarsals.  I also think that the lower heal drop sensation is helping with my hip and hamstring, which is what I hoped for when I ditched them in the first place.  Hopefully by ridding myself from orthotics and running with a lower heal drop, opening my lower back muscles and allowing my hamstring to stretch out more in the process, I have fully turned the corner on the path to hip recovery but I will pretend as though I am not.  Meaning, not giving up on yoga, stretching, glut work, core, etc.  I’m also now flirting with new trail shoes but, honestly, am very intimidated by the sheer volume of options in the market.  I’ve run mostly in Asics for so long.  Where to begin?  Well, for now I know where not to begin.  Last week I blew the dust off a box of brand new LA Sportiva Fireblades, size 12, I had stuffed in a closest for a year and a half.  One ten mile run on the Buttermilk trails in Richmond, Virginia told me this shoe model is not for me.  The toe box is too small.  Who wants them?  The first person to email their name and mailing address can have them.  I’ll even pay the postage- but only within the lower 48 US states.
Here they are.