Starting your year off right

December – The most wonderful time of the year is finally here. What is not to love?  Most athletes are enjoying the fruits of their labor and taking some much deserved time from the pressures of structured training. The entire month seems to be party filled with cheerful music and an over indulgence of those amazing treats you dare not touch during your training cycle. Lets not forget the potlucks, presents and the big party at the end of the month bringing in the new year. If it wasn’t for the cold, it would be my favorite month of all.. but we all know my adversity to snow, rain and cold.

The new year brings new goals and resolutions. Unfortunately, if you don’t at least begin with an outline for the new year; by February it’s easy to fall back into our routine and find ourselves trying to play catch-up as soon as spring rolls around. So, these are some tips that will help you stick to those resolutions and keep you motivated.

Plan it:
During this off-season start planning out next year.. put a few goal races on the calendar. Talk with your coach to ensure that you don’t over commit yourself and that you are setting realistic and achievable goals.  Sign up for races which are structured in a way to help you meet those goals. Once your race schedule is set, just relax, plan a vacation around those races and enjoy the training.

Gear up:
Treat yourself to some new gear. Get rid of those worn out socks and splurge a little. Maybe even get some of those really short running shorts, they will make you fast… or at least feel fast and that is all that matters in the end.  Be safe on dark winter runs and invest in a nice headlamp like the Petzel Tikka RXP with reactive lighting which dims as you approach fellow runners. Personally I find new shoes an amazing treat.. maybe that’s why I have so many.

Get social:
Now is a good time to start doing your research on local running groups.  With a simple online search you will be surprised how many resources are available to you. From fee based, to free groups the choices seem plentiful nowadays. Don’t feel intimidated, just reach out to join them for a run. In no time you will find the group that feels right and will start building lasting relationships. A particular group which comes to mind is The November Project, a free option on a national platform.

Share it:
Strava can be a great motivator for some and keep you accountable for completing planned workouts. Social media sites have dedicated pages for races; somewhere you can share your progress, photos and results. O yea, and don’t forget to Instagram a picture of your finishing bling.

Enjoy what’s remaining of 2015.  Reset, relax and eat all the sugar cookies you want… The next year will be an amazing one.

Easy Run Days

In the last few weeks I have been approached by friends concerned (and mocking) me with some of my weekly run stats posted on Strava. Not because I’m hitting new Course Records, but because they see that the majority of my runs are really “slow”.  We all know that speed is relative, but they are correct.  Depending on the training cycle I tend to do a bulk of my miles at relatively slower pace, and low heart-rate. These “Easy Run Days” are just that, a time to get out and forget about the splits and just enjoy running at a comfortable pace.  Typically, I place these type of easy workout days after a day of intense training as it helps with recovery, “active recovery” would be the best way to look at it. These easy days also build endurance and are by no means “junk” miles.  So, how should you structure your Easy Run Days to get the most benefit? Glad you asked.

Warm-Up:
As with every run, first start with a warm-up and an easy stretch but be careful not to overdo it. I tend to do most of my runs in the early morning, so some leg swings, lunges and a few skips tends to do the trick to wake my body up. It also gets my heart rate up, blood flowing and warmed up enough to take on the San Francisco crisp morning air.

Start Slow:
Depending on the training phase I generally prescribe these runs to be about 2 minutes slower than your race pace. I find it allows most runners to still maintain their form and provide the recovery benefits we are looking to achieve. At first you may have to work on slowing yourself down to maintain your target heart rate, the goal is to be relaxed and to maintain a comfortable pace. These runs are structured to build endurance, strength and at times simulate the fatigue placed on the body during long distance training.

Some Speed:
When appropriate and typically on longer easy runs include a few strides towards the end of your run or better yet some hill repeats. These accelerations should last a few seconds at 5k speed, with equal recovery between each set.  Putting this demand on tired legs helps you build efficiency, strength and will mentally prepare you for when you are tired and need to dig deep.

Stretch/Strength:
It goes without saying that you should stretch after every run. This is especially true as you get older and need to keep your muscles and tendons from getting too tight. Post run stretches should be held a bit longer and concentrated on your weakest muscle group. Also a good time for some focused strength training. I have recently been prescribing my athletes to do some kettlebell workouts post runs. However, it is very important to keep proper mechanics when doing workouts such as Turkish Get-Ups or Double Hand Swings.

As a rule of thumb I like to follow the 80/20 rule; 80% of your workouts at an easy effort and 20% at an intense effort. If you are a self trained athlete make sure your plans incorporate a healthy balance in prevent injury. So, following those simple guidelines will not only help justify your Strava performance to your friends, but also keep you running strong.

Planning your Off-Season

As the race season starts to unwind for the majority of endurance athletes now is a perfect time to reflect on your accomplishments and begin planning for next year.  After months of intense training, it is not always easy to switch gears. As much as some might see the off-season as punishment, it really doesn’t have to be.

So, hit that snooze button a few times; eat some carbs and stay up late… It’s the off-season!!

I know, I know. It’s not that easy. For those of us who need some structure below are some guidelines that should help you re-focus, stay active, recover and primed to enter next season in great shape.

Get some rest: Both mental and physical rest. Sleep in, put in some easy miles at a comfortable pace. Leave the GPS at home and just go enjoy your favorite trails without worrying about your splits.  Maybe even invite a friend along and catch up as you run at a conversational pace. If you really find the need to race, do one of the many short distance holiday “races” around town with friends and family.  This might fulfill your urge to pin on a race bib. But remember, just run for fun!

Set new goals: This is a good time to reflect on the season – highlights and lowlights. It is a good time to consider working with a coach if you are not already doing so. Work with your coach to plan out next year’s races and redefine your goals. With most popular races selling out months in advance the off-season is when you should try to secure those spots. Keep in mind that this is actually one of the busiest times of the year for most coaches as they are doing just this, planning.

Try something new: Get in the pool, on a bike or into a yoga class. Cross-training and strength training should be incorporated into your race season.  However, as life gets busy it is typically the first thing to be put aside in an effort to get in the rest of your training. In the off-season, refocus your efforts and try something new. I recently heard about something called “Yoga Sculpt”, it is Yoga on crack! A fast paced yoga class with weights. The benefits of the deep stretches and lower body workout along with the added resistance is a perfect combination of low impact strength training us runners and triathletes need. Give it a shot, it will make you a stronger and less injury prone athlete.

Taking this needed time off is essential in preventing not only injuries, but also to avoid developing a pattern where your body plateaus and the risk of injury, fatigue and overtraining can quickly set in.  Simply said, continuous racing will eventually break your body down and lead to a perpetual cycle of frustration.  There is a reason why we don’t have the NFL year round, as much as some might like to see that, professional athletes need time away from high performance training. Just like you… So, go sign-up for that yoga class and enjoy your off-season.

The Journey Continues – The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k Recap

I ran 31 miles the other day. OK, 50k if you want to be dramatic about it. Whatever way you put it, it was a fascinating experience. This post is a long one so just sit back and enjoy… as I went to great lengths to get material for this post 🙂

Being my first “Ultra” distance race I was a bit nervous taking a leap into the unknown. Not so much because of the distance as for the multitude of variables an athlete can encounter during 6 hours of running in the trails. Do I have enough fuel? Will it be cold? Am I overdressed? Lets face it, I’m a “tropical” weather kinda guy, I just don’t do well in the cold. So, honestly that was my biggest worry going into this little adventure.

Run

The North Face Endurance Challenge is a series of races which take place in 5 states and Canada. In San Francisco we are fortunate to host the Championship event of the series in the Marin Headlands, about 10 miles from the city. It is a scenic and beautiful but challenging course that puts even the most seasoned athlete to the test. What the terrain lacks in being technically challenging it makes up in elevation. Participants in the 50k take on approximately 6k feet of elevation gain, and those nut cases doing the 50 miler endure over 9k feet. The views up there are amazing.

My plan was to just enjoy the day and experience. Given that the Houston marathon in January is my goal race I couldn’t risk pushing myself too hard. My intent was to use these 31 miles as a training run, no goal in mind – just enjoy the experience and see what this ultra stuff is all about. I was aiming to keep my heart rate under 140 bpm average for the entire race. Doing so would allow me to gain the benefits of a long “easy” run and prevent extended recovery, which I can’t afford given Houston is just a little over a month away.

cove

The Race:
The 50K started at 7am. It was about 45 degrees but thankfully the wind was nice to us. We climbed the first few miles, then around mile 4 descended into the first aid station where I was greeted by my supporting wife. I stopped to say hi and to remove a rock from my shoe (one of many)… then on we went. I would not see her again ‘till mile 25. Not knowing what to expect I was a bit over prepared with a running vest full of fuel and extra socks just in case. After leaving the first aid station we did some more climbing, this time for about 6 miles up to an area aptly named “Cardiac”. Along the way my stomach decided to start acting up and I kept having issues with my shoes causing me to take longer than I wanted at each aid station. I think my stomach issues were due to too much sugar and not enough water. I quickly replaced the electrolyte drink in my bottles with water and took some salt which seems to help settle my stomach.

Departing Cardiac is when the fun began as the trail rapidly descended into a damp, mossy, wooded area which was the highlight of the race for me. A fast technical single track, which felt like a 2 mile descend; the wet ground and lack of sunlight makes this section slippery. One must take extra care, especially as you navigate over and under downed trees. Wrong placement of your foot and you could twist an ankle or find yourself eating dirt. Which is precisely what happened to me as I stepped on a makeshift wooden bridge and slid into a mound of decaying foliage. What a blast!

Moss

I recovered quickly, smiling and enjoying the remainder of this rollercoaster ride. When you reach the bottom you turn right around and you go again. Around mile 20 or so, my legs started to feel fatigued. My stomach had settled down by this point but I kept having a few issues with my shoes. I figured that I just had to deal with the discomfort for a few more miles. Finally, I saw my beautiful wife and our dog at mile 25. Not only did she have an extra pair of shoes, but also a surprise treat of gingerbread waiting for me – delicious! After a quick change of socks and shoes the rest of the run was a lot more enjoyable. Coming out of the aid station we did some more climbing to be greeted by a spectacular view of the ocean and the panoramic landscape of the Marin Headlands. This was about mile 27, the farthest I had ever run. I stopped to admire the views, did a quick self assessment and surprisingly I felt great. My heartrate was getting a little higher at this point, around 150, but that was expected. This was the last major climb, as we descended to the finish I looked at my watch for the first time and wondered if I could make up the time needed to finish in under 6 hours. I tried to pick up the pace a little but honestly my legs were hurting and all I could muster was a 8:30 pace which was not going to cut it. So, I slowed myself down and cruised into the finish line, where I saw my wife smiling and cheering me on as she has done so many times in the past. That is always my favorite moment of every race.

Aside from some minor stomach and shoe issues I had a great race. Finishing with a time of 6:05 (elapsed), running time of 5:42. I was able to keep myself under control by monitoring my heartrate and just playing it smart. I managed to avoid entering the dreaded “Pain Cave” (not a fun place to visit) and going into a dark place as is very common in these endurance events. What helped was not only having trained on the course, but also having put an average of 60 miles a week made for a great base. On the last mile I started thinking about those competing in the 50 mile race. I had just completed 30 miles and the thought of doing 20 more is insane. I have a newfound respect for those athletes. That is a whole other level of crazy which I can’t yet comprehend. Not sure I’m ready to sign up for a 50 mile race just yet… another 50k, yes, absolutely!

Trail races tend to even the playing field for a lot of people and the sense of community is contagious… in the span of a few miles you can get to know a lot about a perfect stranger or help encourage someone who is just having a bad day. It is not about the finishers medal, after party or beer garden; but all about pushing oneself to the limit and welcoming whatever the trail gods have in store for you on that day. I had a great time enjoyed every moment of the race and just took it as it came. Maybe it’s time to sign up for the next one, who’s in?

See you on the trails!

Finishline

The Journey Begins – Ultra Running

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k is three days away.  This is my first Ultra-marathon distance race and my nerves have just set in.  Well, it is technically an Ultra however, I think most hardcore Ultra runners would consider a 50k a warm up, or like I like to call it; a baby Ultra.  My lovely wife refers to my Ultra debut as the gateway drug into the 50 or 100 mile Ultra marathon world. Those guys are the real badasses.  Regardless of what you call it, in the last few months of training I have developed a newfound respect for those dirty, unshaven ultra guys and gals. Those barbarians are NUTS!

So, you might be wondering why anyone would embark on such a silly endeavor.  And to that I ask – Have you ever been on the trails of Marin County? It is a truly beautiful and magical place. The rocky singletrack, rutted fire roads, hidden mossy rainforest and challenging elevation variance make it all worthwhile. And when you reach the summit you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. It is incredible that such a serene place can be found just minutes away from such a busy city.

I have always been into trail running, mostly because we had some amazing trails right out our front door when we lived in Colorado. I would use those runs for easy, low impact training days and would do an average of 8 to 10 miles before heading back home.  I loved my time out on the trails but it wasn’t until I paced a friend through the Leadville 100 that I began to wonder if an Ultra was in my future.  When we moved to San Francisco and I found the Marin Headlands and a great community of crazy trail runners who were very welcoming, even to a triathlete/road runner like myself.  Without judgement; well… maybe just a few jabs, they welcomed me into the fold and began showing me the trails.

“Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.”

In preparation for this 50k I have put in some long miles on those trails. I have spent time (lots of time) with fun people, had some great conversations, spent time on gorgeous trails and even swam in ridiculously cold ocean water all in the name of training.  The journey has really been enjoyable and rewarding. I have made some strong bonds with my fellow trail runners and those trails have made me a stronger runner in the process. So, going into this 50k I feel good physically and mentally. I know I will see a lot of my friends on those trails enjoying the challenge just like me.  (We’re sick, sick people, I know.) I expect the race to be both mentally and physically challenging. With about 6,000 feet of vertical elevation throughout the course some discomfort is to be expected.

Since this is my first ultra, I’m going into this race with the objective to finish. I do not have a goal time in mind as this will be the longest distance I have ever run. I have been practicing my pacing, my nutrition and staying aware of and in control of my heart rate. Racing smart and within myself will make for an enjoyable time out on the trails this weekend. And when the pain and fatigue start to creep in, I’ll just have to welcome it all and use that energy to push one step closer to that finish line and remember, Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.