Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2-Week Shutdown

Happy holidays to all my readers! It's hard to believe, but this month marks four years of blogging! Thanks to everyone for your continued readership.

Last Thursday I was diagnosed with posterior tibial tendonitis, affectionately known by runners as "post-tib," in my right leg. I know exactly how it developed. When I was fighting Achilles discomfort, I wore heel lifts during my run, and my heel lifts slipped around quite a bit in my shoes, stressing my right posterior tibial tendon. The posterior tibial tendon runs along the inside of the leg and basically connects the arch to the calf muscle. It is a key stabilizer of the lower leg. When the tendon is inflamed, as mine is, you often feel pain in the ankle and up the inside of your calf. If the injury is ignored, eventually the tendon may fail altogether and the arch collapses, often requiring major surgery. If the injury is treated early, the prognosis is good.

My doctor, who is a foot and ankle specialist, recommended that I shut down completely for two weeks. That means no running, walking, cycling or swimming. The two-week shutdown started last Friday and will end on January 6th. In almost eight years of long-distance running, I've never experienced a shutdown quite like this one. When injured, I've always been able to cross-train. But not this time. I'm set to begin physical therapy sometime next week.

Fortunately, my leg seems to be improving, thanks to lots of rest and icing. The pain in my ankle is subsiding. The discomfort and stiffness in my leg is still there, but it's improving. I'm hopeful that by January 6th I'll be ready to resume running, albeit gradually. I've been in contact with a few runners I know who've had this injury and they all said it gets better with rest, ice and time.

I'm sure to lose a decent amount of fitness during this two-week shutdown, and that indeed is unfortunate. But it's fitness I'll quickly regain with patience and perseverance.

As with many things in life, I see a silver linking in this two-week shutdown. It'll allow my body to heal and hopefully all the lingering issues I've been dealing with--achy muscles, an achy Achilles, etc.--will heal, setting me up for a great 2012 racing season. However, a PR effort at the Georgia Marathon on 3/18 is now pretty much not going to happen. I may still run the marathon, but without any expectations. Ultimately, what matters most to me is being ready for the Leadville 100 in August. I still have lots of time.

Here's to a healthy 2012 racing season!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Running and Family

First things first. A lot has happened lately (none of it directly related to me) that has reminded me of how important it is for dedicated runners to keep it all balanced and not lose sight of what really matters in life. What do I mean by that?

Unless you're an elite with sponsorships and stipends, you run in your free time, while managing responsibilities in the workplace and at home. And if you're like me, responsibilities at home involve, first and foremost, being a loving, supportive and caring spouse and parent. This requires not just heart, but also time! But it goes beyond that. The lawn's gotta get mowed. There's a growing list of odd jobs requiring trips to Lowe's and plenty of elbow grease. Etc. Balancing it all, when each priority is just that--a priority--is very hard. When I'm training for a big race like the Leadville 100, sometimes I feel like I'm maxed out, with nothing more to give beyond the steps I take in my running shoes. Feeling maxed out isn't a good place to be, and yet many of us--maybe you, too--find ourselves there quite often.

Most runners I know have their priorities listed in basically the same order that I do. Still, I've met a few runners who do things differently, and that's their business. Sometimes I hear about runners who have unsupportive spouses and yet they still manage to get in the miles. I can't imagine doing what I do without a supportive wife who's always been there encouraging me.

Running can be a selfish sport--and it's important that we as runners understand and recognize this. Asking family to make time to go to Leadville every August and crew for me seems incredibly selfish. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I'm thinking about running the Leadville 100 in 2012 without a crew and potentially with no pacers except for the last 13.5 miles (hopefully with my pal, Lance). Anne, Noah and others would still be there, but not to follow me all over the course the entire day.

As runners, we often take our sport way too seriously. As the saying goes, "Running is entirely too important to be taken seriously." I often have to remind myself that running is something I do in my free time. I'm not paid to do it. It doesn't help pay the bills (except when I won $300 in 2009 after winning a 100). No one is holding me accountable. And when I'm dead and gone, no one's gonna care that I once earned a 1,000-mile Leadville 100 buckle, was a Leadman and finished Ironman Hawaii. All that's really going to matter is the mark I left on this world. Maybe my running (and even blogging?) will leave a little bit of a mark, but not like family.


I just ordered "Unbreakable: The Western States 100", and am very excited to finally see it. Of the four runners profiled, I've met Anton and Geoff and they both seem like super guys who do it the right way. I've never met Hal Koerner, but I have the utmost respect for his toughness and tenacity. As for Kilian, my feelings on him are well-documented (I love his aproach to running). Stay tuned for a review of "Unbreakable"!


Injury update: Last week I ran 55.6 miles and cycled about 40, putting in just shy of 10 hours of training. While my right Achilles tendon seems to have improved, my right calf and ankle aren't being as cooperative. Somehow, someway, I've developed pain in my inner right calf. My ankle has been a problem for a while. I'm starting to wonder if all those sprains haven't all taken a toll. All that said, I'm confident I'm getting better and will have a great 2012. Big goals for the year:
  • PR at the Georgia Marathon (Atlanta) in March--Current PR is 2:58. A new PR at the Georgia Marathon might be unrealistic due to my current injury. We'll see.
  • Sub-4:20 at the Leadville Trail Marathon in late June.
  • Sub-20 hours at the Leadville Trail 100 in August.
  • 140+ miles at the Across the Years 24-Hour in December/January. Across the Years in 2012 is gradually taking hold as an event I very much care about--kind of like the North Coast 24 in 2009, when I ran 131 miles and left at least 5-10 MORE miles on the course. With my cruising speed, I was built to put up lots of miles in 24-hour races, or so I think. Just sayin'.

Final note: Endurance Planet now features a weekly "Ask the Ultrarunner" podcast with Lucho, aka Tim Luchinske, who lives near Boulder, Colorado. Tim's a former professional triathlete who's finished high in the standings at Ironman Hawaii. These days, Lucho's busy training for Leadman in 2012 and coaching athletes. In 2010, he finished 6th overall at the Leadville 100. If you haven't yet tuned into Lucho's podcasts with Tawnee over at Endurance Planet, you need to--they're packed with helpful information and lots of inspiration for ultrarunners of all abilities. Get over there!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Benefits of Cross Training

This bout of Achilles tendonitis may have been one of the best things that ever happened to me. I've been cycling, running and fast-hiking, maintaining my usual volume as far as hours this time of year (about 10 hours a week). To protect my Achilles while it heals, I've been running the flats and downs and fast-walking the ascents. Both walking and cycling have been great ways to supplement my training, while minimizing damaging impact, during this injury.

Over the weekend I did two two-hour workouts, each with about 30 minutes of cycling, and the rest was running and fast-walking (about 3/4 running, 1/4 walking). I've found that walking engages the hips a lot more than running. Maybe that explains why I'm always sore after a long walk. I've also found that cycling is improving my leg turnover when I run. On Sunday I was effortlessly cruising along a flat section and looked down at my watch to find that I was going at 6:58 pace and not even working remotely hard. It was easy. Maybe it's the rapid pedaling motion while cycling that helps improve leg turnover in running. I do know that one of the keys to running big ascents like the ones we have in Colorado is quick turnover. So I really think there's something to cross-training, especially when I consider what Lee McKinley said in this recent pod cast interview, which is making the rounds.

Back East, I ran 100 miles a week training for big races and it worked well for me. Sure, you have hills back East, but the terrain isn't as demanding on the body as it is out here in Colorado, and so 100-mile weeks back East never messed me up much. If anything, triple-digit weeks made me super-strong. I also think the elevation here in Colorado puts a big strain on the body. When you're in a race like the Leadville 100, you need to be more than just a strong runner; you need to be a strong hiker and you need to have the strength to handle the big climbs and descents. This requires a lot of different muscles. Since moving out West, I've come to realize that my quads and hiking are major weaknesses, which might explain the decline in my race results over the past two years (it's obvious when looking at my results on Ultrasignup). My quads give out on me on long descents and I've never been a great uphill hiker. Hiking has just never felt natural to me. I'm now thinking that a cross-training regimen consisting of running, cycling and fast-walking, along with planks and other core work, will help create better balance in my hips and legs, more effectively preparing me for the challenge of Leadville. Along the lines of what Lee says in his interview, I'm floating a training formula for Leadville that would go something like this:

14-15 total hours a week of training
  • 11 hours running (~75-85 miles)
  • 1-2 hours cycling
  • 1-2 hours walking/hiking (instead of running my usual two-a-days, I would still run in the AM and then fast-walk at night)
"Recovery" weeks
  • 8 hours running (~60 miles)
  • 3-4 hours cycling
  • 2-3 hours walking/hiking
I think if you're a really strong hiker with good muscular balance in your legs, you're going to do well in mountain races. If you're not a good hiker and have imbalances in your legs, you're probably going to suffer. So, if that's the case, I can't help but think that a training plan for a 100-miler that focuses only on running and doesn't also include some walking and cycling is an incomplete plan.

If you have thoughts on this, post away!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ultrarunning as an Egalitarian, Outlaw Sport

I ran my first ultra in 2005 and was quickly hooked. Over the past few years, I've taken to learning as much about ultrarunning as I could. I've read nearly every book about ultrarunning that I could find, including a few--like this one and that one--that are exceptionally good. I've watched several ultrarunning films (this one and that one remain the best I've seen to date). One thing I've learned about ultrarunning--or at least I think I've learned--is that this sport has a long tradition of being egalitarian and outlaw in nature. What do I mean by that?

We all know about the running/jogging boom that swept the nation in the 1970s, during the time of Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers. At about this same time, when many folks were getting into recreational running, modern-day ultrarunning began taking root through the work of pioneers like Ted Corbitt of New York City, Gordy Ainsleigh of California and others. What followed was the development of a sport that directly contrasted with the proliferating jogging movement and big-money road racing. Ultras were held across the nation, attracting next to no attention. The sport largely existed in the shadows, and that was OK to the few who toed the line in races.

Ultrarunning's growth in the 80s was never really about money; it was about people wanting to test their limits and go the distance on trail and road. Even today, most races are still put on by volunteers and operated on a shoe-string budget. In an era of million-dollar professional athletes, the prize for winning an ultramarathon has traditionally been squat, save a buckle if it's a 100-miler, maybe a medal, and in some cases a trophy like the famed Cougar at Western States. Which is to say the sport has traditionally treated its winners (elites) no different than its mid-packers and back-of-the-packers. In fact, many races celebrate the last-place finisher, like at the Mohican 100, which awards a hand-made "Last of the Mohicans" trophy. Another example of the sport's egalitarian nature can be seen in the legendary Hardrock 100. Hardrock makes everyone enter its lottery, with no reserved spots for anyone--not even the best mountain runners in the world--except those who have previously finished the race. A lottery is unfortunate, but I applaud Hardrock for its ability to create a system that favors no one except its own. I think somewhere along the line the egalitarian nature of ultrarunning wasn't an organic, "accidental" phenomenon, but rather an intentional goal.

Most incredible about ultrarunning is the fact that its participants are a humble lot. This is extraordinary. To run distances of 100 miles or more and yet maintain a humble nature says a lot about the average ultrarunner. I think it says that when you reach the depths of your soul, as many of us do in long races, you find out what really matters in life--perseverance, belief in self, family, and, for me, the knowledge that true strength comes from something far greater than I (dare I say God?). As is often the case, after an epic race we're back in the office on Monday morning and say nothing of what we did over the weekend.

I voice these thoughts because they're really on my mind (maybe this is what happens when you're injured like I am right now with Achilles tendonitis). With the steady emergence of prize purses, feature-length documentaries spotlighting elite ultrarunners, and Tour de France-like racing teams bankrolled by corporations, I can't help but wonder if the egalitarian, outlaw nature of the sport is becoming a thing of the past. I hope not. My greatest hope for ultrarunning is that we never lose sight of what makes this the greatest sport of all: the fact that we're all like-minded, united and equal, regardless of skill or talent level, in our love of testing our limits by running a long way on road and trail.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Achilles Tendonitis, Cross-Training and Other Musings

Grant Swamp at Hardrock. No, this isn't Kansas.
Congrats to everyone who got into the 2012 Hardrock 100! Hardrock is a dream race of mine. For me, Hardrock is going to have to wait until I finally achieve some measure of satisfaction at the Leadville 100. Satisfaction at Leadville is a time under 20 hours and maybe 21 hours depending on conditions (as well as a 1,000-mile buckle and Leadman trophy). I'm close. Once that goal (sub-20) is achieved, I will turn my attention to Hardrock...but not before the Bear 100 and/or Wasatch 100. Having done some ridiculously hard mountain races like the Jemez 50-Mile in New Mexico, I have to improve my hiking before any attempt at Hardrock. With the benefit of knowledge from having moved out West to burly Colorado from back East, where the land is flat and the air is thick, I honestly think folks who enter Hardrock without mountain experience are, well, a bit crazy. Do they even know what they've gotten themselves into?

Having said all of that, my plan is to be down in Silverton next July for some pacing and volunteer work.


This is a fantastic podcast with elite mountain ultrarunner Anton Krupicka. As many know, Anton's battled a broken leg and tendonitis in his shin all year, effectively missing all of 2011 save a strong effort at the Rocky Raccoon 100 back in February. He's a heck of a nice guy and so I wish him all the best and hope he busts out a huge comeback at the Bandera 100K in January.

Last Tuesday morning on a 9-miler I felt a twinge in my right Achilles tendon but I got through my run without missing a beat. The next morning I headed out for my usual run in the Parker hills and, about 5 miles in, felt that twinge again. It quickly turned into full-blown pain in my Achilles, with no option for cutting my run short due to where I was on my loop. I almost called Anne to come pick me up, but instead I slowly jogged home, walking the uphills to minimize the damage. Since then, the farthest I've run is about 5 miles flat on my treadmill. I'm now in full-blown cross-training mode and only running a few miles at a time so to avoid any further aggravation to the Achilles.

It sucks that this injury has crept up on me just when my training for next March's Georgia Marathon had started to take off. I was feeling good, logging 70+ miles a week and getting in some nice quality when the injury hit. It's hard to say how long I'll be sidelined--maybe a few weeks, maybe more than a month. One thing's for sure; I will not try to "run through" this injury. Running through just about any injury sounds well and good, but in reality it is a recipe for disaster, as I learned late last summer (2010) when I got hit with a near "career"-ending injury that lasted for five months (plantar fasciitis).

In fact, I would say the #1 mistake most runners make is trying to run through injury. You can often cross-train through injury, as I'm doing now with light jogging, hard walking and plenty of cycling (indoors) but, when an injury hits, the best course of action is to cut back and/or stop running altogether. This is where cross-training can be very valuable in helping to maintain fitness. Fortunately for me, I feel no pain if I jog only a few miles, cycle hard and walk fast.

So with my Achilles inflamed, a PR effort at the Georgia Marathon on March 18 may be in doubt. Only time will tell--only I don't have a lot of time....


Over the past five days I've been cycling on my new Blackburn indoor bike trainer. In the winter of 2009-2010 I used a similar trainer that I borrowed from a friend and really enjoyed it. I'd intended to buy one but have only now gotten around to it (actually, it was a very generous, thoughtful Christmas gift from my mother- and father-in-law that I was forced to open early thanks to this injury). I've really enjoyed my trainer; it's quiet, smooth and a great workout. I've also noticed improvement in my performance. I have to think cycling is a fantastic cross-training activity.

I'm not just cycling. I'm also walking at about 12:30 pace, which is pretty fast, and doing push-ups and core work. I want to get lean and strong for the spring and summer racing season.


Next Saturday I find out about the Western States 100. I really want in but I'm very realistic about the odds. If my calculations are correct, I have about a one in ten chance of getting in. Obviously the math is stacked against me, and that's OK. I'll just keep entering the lottery until I get in :-)

If I get into Western, it will be my big goal race for the summer...and then I'll do my best at the Leadville 100. If I don't get into Western, the Leadville 100 will once again be my focal point and I'll then I'll start penciling in other races, such as the Mount Evans Ascent (want to break 2:20), the Leadville Marathon (want to break 4:30), and maybe the Jemez 50-Mile or San Juan Solstice 50-Mile. I'll know after next Saturday!