Monday, April 30, 2012

Adaptation - 2012 Collegiate Peaks 50

Quotes abound to the effect of how you can't control external events, but you can control how you choose to react to them.

First, the facts:

Collegiate Peaks 50 - April 28, 2012
5th place

Collegiate Peaks 50 - May 4, 2011
6th place

Lap 1
I believe I was somewhere around 20th-25th place after 3 miles.  With the 25ers mixed in, there was no need to worry about position.  Every time I got the itch to push, I held myself in check.  We had a little surprise when aid station 4 (at the course high point, near 17 miles) wasn't set up yet.  I had nearly cached my water in anticipation of refilling.  Luckily, 17 to 22 was all downhill, and it forced me to stay conservative.  Turning onto the singletrack at 23.5, I knew I'd get my first look at my position.  No surprises; there were four guys ahead of me.  I estimated the gap between myself and 4th to be pretty big - at least ten minutes.  Melissa did some awesome crew work for me, getting my drink and belt ready for the second lap.  I hit the turnaround in 3:33:30-ish feeling pretty good, which was exactly what I was shooting for.  10 minutes was a big gap, but I kept thinking of how Duncan and Corey had a similar gap on me last year and didn't extend their lead on the last lap.  The race begins at the halfway point.

Lap 2
It was a bit more difficult estimating the gap between me and 6th, as the people I passed on my way back up were a mixed bag of 25ers and 50ers.  I did pick out Benjamin Dunn, who had spotted me maybe 3 minutes.  The 7 miles from the turnaround to the high point would be, at least in my mind, the crux of the day.  Last year, I absolutely wilted through this stretch.  Fortunately, I held together much better this time around.  Still, Ben had closed the gap substantially, hitting the high point aid station just as I left it.  I noticed he went through the station very quickly, which suggested to me that he was putting forth a concerted effort to make contact with me.  Having learned a lesson about skipping aid last year, I had decided that with a decent amount left in the tank, I wasn't going to worry about maintaing that gap yet.  If he wanted to chase, so be it.  I caught sight of him a few times during the 30-40 miles, but it seemed he wasn't gaining.  Aid crew at mile 38 reported that I was still about 10 minutes back of 4th.  I felt decent at this time, but the memory of falling apart in the mid-40's last year stuck.  Instead of pushing to see if I could make a dent in that gap, I stayed within myself to make sure I got to the mile 44 aid station able to run the remainder of the course in.  By the time I hit 44, I learned my gap was still 8 minutes.  Not knowing where Ben had gone, I again decided to run within myself and lock up 5th instead of risking a blowup chasing down 4th.  The last miles felt surprisingly easy - I was in so much better shape this year than last year at this point.  My mind kept looking ahead to August during the final stretch - 100 miles finally began to feel comprehendible.  

The negatives
With more mileage under me, I was hoping to shave more than 2 minutes off my time from last year.  My tier of personal goals going into the race went something like this:
C goal - sub 7:45
B goal - sub 7:38
A goal - sub 7:30
To only shave off a nominal amount was kind of a bummer.  I even have to acknowledge that the conditions were more favorable this year - last year, the heat was much more of a factor than it was yesterday.

The positives
I ran smarter splits - 3:34/4:09 vs 3:30/4:15 last year.
Less 'want to die' moments.
Felt much better post-race.
Dialed into my needs better - nutrition, hydration, electrolytes, etc.

Put it all together, and what do I have? ultimate goal this year is a strong performance in my 100 mile debut.  Once I finished CP last year, I couldn't even fathom doubling the distance.  After yesterday, though...I can wrap my head around it.  I think my training has actually been quite appropriate for the 100, maybe even slightly at the expense of 50.  The focus on distance as opposed to turnover showed yesterday, as I didn't seem to have the ability to hammer...but I didn't have the extended periods of struggle, either.

Collegiate Peaks is a great event, and Burke Kaiser is a cool dude.  It's a bummer that this race and the Cheyenne Mountain trail races fall on the same weekend, as that's another class event.

I choose to be OK with yesterday's result.  While there are lessons to be taken away by yesterday's performance, I do think I'm on the right track for the race across the sky in August.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What to do with a full basket

...I lay my eggs out on the table.  I measure them.  I weigh them.  I feel them.  I shake them.  I do buoyancy tests, acidity tests, symmetry tests.  In other words, I analyze the living @#$% outta them.  What truly separates an "A" race from any other race?  In this post, I will share my answer to that question in the context of next Saturday's Collegiate Peaks 50 miler.

I firmly believe that I only have so much energy to give to this endeavor, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional.  By 'picking my battles' and only expecting to be at my best for finite periods of time, I feel I can stay "balanced" and fresh for the remainder of the year.  In my previous post, I alluded to differences in how people approach their racing.  Post-race at the Badger Mountain Challenge last month, Justin Yates and I were talking.  He's the guy that doesn't like to race much; he just likes to go for long mountain runs.  It kind of blows my mind that anyone could be so casual about it, yet still be faster than the world's fastest Elvis.  Racing motivates me.  It's fun!  If I just ran to run, I may actually get...bored.

On the flip side, there are plenty of guys out there who routinely pull a Bernie.  It's hard to argue with it - Bernie is one fast dude.  Racing a ton works for some.  I just know I personally can't handle it.  Injured, burned out, broke...all symptoms of over-racing.

So what works for me?   I am still a fan of the old periodization plan.  Spring season/fall season/offseason.  Pick a big race for the spring, another for the fall.  Fill in with appropriate workouts and races, each strategically chosen to help accomplish the goal of being at my best on the day of the goal race.  My 2012 calendar has been built around Collegiate Peaks(spring) and Leadville(summer/fall).

So what do I do differently for an "A" race vs. any other?

  • Cut mileage.  Consistent 70-80 mile weeks to 65 to 50 to 40.
  • Maintain intensity.  Tempo/LT/Marathon pace days, 2-5 miles of it, ~2x a week.
  • Focus on the little things.  Strides.  Stretching.  Post-run recovery.
  • Study.  Know the course.  Know the other runners.  If it's a race I've done before, know what I did and didn't do well the last time.
  • Visualize.  Set goals - "tiers" of goals, if you will.  ("A" goal, "B" goal, "C" goal, etc.  What MUST I do, what do I need to do in order to be satisfied, what am I capable of on a good day, what am I capable of if EVERYTHING goes right)

My journey into the ultra world has been slow and deliberate.  Collegiate Peaks has a special place for me, as it was the first ultra I ever ran.  It also is the only race on both my 2011 and 2012 calendars.  That fact makes it my best point of comparison - my best answer to the question, "Have I improved over the past year?"  I do hope that the answer will be a resounding "yes", but it takes more than hope to accomplish one's goals.  This is where data collection and analysis aid in making an informed decision.

The four months leading up to CP last year went fairly well.  I ran 1:18 and PR'd at the Austin 13.1 in February.  My 5th place finish at Salida was a pleasant surprise.  Frequent runs at LT on the Santa Fe trail seemed to have given me the ability to do well at the "shorter" distances.  However, I did have some hip issues throughout the month of March.  This meant that I was nursing it during the meat-and-potato weeks of training.  While I can't say I was specifically trained for a great day, I certainly arrived at the starting line ready.

This year, I changed a few things.  My goals: stay healthy.  More mileage and vertical, more long days.  The tradeoff that I was willing to accept:  less intensity/turnover workouts, shorter "short" days.  With a finite amount of time per day/week/etc to train, one must pick his battles.  Preparing for a mountain 100 is a little different than a mountain marathon.

Above shows the 15 weeks preceding Collegiate Peaks this year vs. last year.  Pictures really are worth a thousand words.  In the early weeks (January/February) I was putting in just a tad more mileage than last year.  The big difference, however, is at the big drop at week 11 last year.  That's where I encountered my hip issues.  By staying healthy this year, I was able to get some quality weeks in during the same time period, logging 300 miles during that crucial four-week stretch (vs. 185 in 2011).  If one accepts the direct correlation between mileage run and race performance to be true, then this would suggest I'm in a better place now than I was in 2011.  Next, I look at a second measure:  vert!

I still find vertical feet climbed to be a strange statistic.  However, it's a very good way of taking into account the Colorado Factor.  I hate to state the obvious, but 70 road miles at sea level comes a lot more quickly than 70 on mountain trails between 6,000' and 10,000'.  Anecdotal data suggests to me that every 1k up here is equivalent to a mile of flat mileage.  Therefore, a 70 mile week with 10k of gain is similar time-wise to a flat 80 mile week.  (furthering this, I would argue that 80 flat miles done at an average of 7,000' is equivalent to 90 at sea level.  Again, strictly anecdotal, but studies have been done to correlate these efforts)

Mile repeats get you ready for a quick 5000.  Long days up and down mountains get you ready for the Hope Pass double-cross.  Therefore, I decided to eschew the Santa Fe for some real trails this winter.  The graph above clearly shows that focus - 11 weeks of 8k+ this year vs 3 last year.  I also notice that much of last year's climbing pre-CP came immediately before the race...the very weeks I was supposed to be cutting back.  What was I thinking?  In retrospect, I believe it was attempt on my part to 'make up for lost time' due to my hip injury.
Another measurement:  number of long runs.  I have made a conscious effort to spend more "time on feet" this year.  I've been to Barr Camp 5 or 6 times already, and most of those runs have originated from my house 4 miles from the trailhead.  I've also begun back-to-backs, where instead of one 30-miler, I might go for 20 flat miles with an hour of tempo at the end one day, and follow it up the next day with a 3-4 hour mountain run.  During the upcoming months, I plan to incorporate frequent back-to-backs into my Leadville training.

The Incline.  12 trips this year vs. 2 last year.  I've never been crazy about its training effect; I know there is a huge difference between Incline shape and running shape.  I have been hitting it more frequently this year en route to other destinations, though.  Seems mentally to be a good Hope Pass primer.

What hasn't been measured?
  • Intensity.  I don't have a good way to quickly pull out the exact amount of time I spent at a "quality" pace this year vs. last year.  I am quite certain though that I've spent less time clipping 6:15's on the Santa Fe in 2012. I think this is OK, but it's definitely an unknown - something had to give, and I'm betting that for 50 miles, this price to pay was worth it, as it allowed me to get in those longer runs.
  • Diet.  Easily overlooked, but definitely a factor I should mention.  Without going into minute detail, I feel I did a better job last year than I have in recent months.  To show for it, my body comp isn't quite where it was 12 months ago.  If things don't go swimmingly next week, I will probably have to unpack this one.
  • Cross-training.  Last year saw me doing a little better on this front than this year.  See above comment on body comp.

Interpreting the Data
Some might skim through this and say, "uhm, yeay.  Just run fast, stupid!"  Yeah.  I don't work that way.  I have come to the conclusion that I'm probably overall in a better place today than I was this time last year.  Centeris paribus,  I think that might be worth 10-15 minutes.  The next step is to look at my race-day execution last year and see what I would have done differently.  Guessing what I was capable of on that day, then applying the 10-15 minutes to that time will help suggest to me this year's pacing strategy.

Following are my splits (per 5 miles) from 2011, rounded to the nearest minute and broken up into the first loop and the second loop.  They tell a story.

  • 41, 45, 41, 43, 41.  I made it to the 25-mile turnaround in 3:30 and change.
  • 51, 52, 54, 48, 45.  It's quite clear that the return trip took me a lot longer - 4:15 to be exact.

I'm thinking that 3:30/4:15 is not the most efficient way to run that course.  No, I don't believe that even splits are optimal at a distance like 50 miles.  But I do think that something like 3:40/4:05 might be the optimal way to run a 7:45.  Furthermore, I think had I been through in 3:40, a 4:00 return trip would have been likely.  Maybe a more realistic scenario may have been 3:38/3:58 for a 7:36 had nutrition, etc, been fully dialed in.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda...but it gives me basis for my 2012 expectations.

ALL OF THE ABOVE is my justification to say:

I visualize coming through 25 in 3:33 or so feeling strong and fresh.  I will then turn around and begin the actual race.  There is no need to verbalize what will happen from 26 to 50, but if I do this right, I think I will be happy with the result.

Simple, right?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eggs, Baskets, and Ogre

I'm really itching for the opportunity to get after it.  More on this shortly.

Blogosphere has been a pretty cool and thought-provoking place lately.  GZ's self-reflective training shift manifesto has had quite the ripple effect.

GZ's series has caused me to do a little self-analysis as well.  Not that I have any answers, but one thing has been on my mind lately...and I'm not even sure what that thing is exactly.

Training cycles.  Racing patterns.  Motivation.  Running as an aspect of life.  Who knows...for anyone who spends a good portion of his free time running, these subjects are all so interrelated.  Attempt to unpack one, and you have no choice but to try and figure it all out.  Next thing you know, you're lying around the campfire trying to discern what it would mean if C-A-T really DID spell "dog".  And that's a lotta work for a petty hobby.

So back to the title of this post and what GZ got ME thinking about.  I raced the Badger Mountain Challenge 50k on March 31st, but otherwise haven't done any other racing since last fall.  Badger Mountain has been one tough pill to swallow.  I fully expected to show up and compete...and it didn't happen.  Doubt has since crept in.  What caused that poor performance?  Was it just a bad day?  Hydration?  Nutrition?  Tired legs?  Unrealistic expectations?  Tactical errors?  Lack of base?  General I-suck-ed-ness?  Lack of ability at longer distances?  As I continue to mull over the race and what it might mean, I don't get much closer to any answers.  At the end of the day, I got rolled by guys that I rolled as recently as last fall.  By guys who just barely beat out guys(and girls) that I've been 15 minutes ahead of at shorter distances.  And it's not sitting well with me.

Everyone has bad days.  Here's the problem.  I have always put all of my racing eggs in one basket.  I believe I only have so much emotional capital, and I want to spend it in the most effective way possible.  This belief system comes from my high school coach, and back then it paid dividends.  We sacrificed entire seasons for the chance to be at our best for one day - the state meet.  Meanwhile, other teams collected trophies at all sorts of other invitationals throughout the season.  In order to do this successfully, it took tons of courage and trust.  We had to forgo all sorts of short-term rewards in order for just a chance at something more long-term.  (we all agreed that our #1 priority was to win the state championship)  Being not at our best and having other runners, other teams beat us early in the season was tough.  Believing that we were better, that we would be at our best when it mattered most...we had to have faith that would be the case.  And it was.  And I have trusted this to be the way ever since.

The problem with the all-eggs-in-one-basket theory is this:  mess up that one basket, and what do you have?

Some folks stuff all their eggs in just one basket.  Others don't even bother with the basket; they just eat the egg straight outta the hen's vent.  Each of us does what we think makes us tick.

Collegiate Peaks is just over a week away.  My entire basket of spring training eggs reside in this one basket.  My training load suggests I may be in for a good day.  My one previous result suggests otherwise.  Had I raced multiple times this year already, I would probably be able to decide which of these competing ideas I should listen to more.

I should listen to more of this.  So should you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

This is what an hour of ultimate frisbee looks like.

Leadville Entries

I've been offline for quite a while - nearly two weeks.  Got a bit to catch up on.

A quick skim over the last week from blogs I follow and I didn't find any mention of the Leadville entrant list being posted.  My apologies if I missed someones post.

I decided to do a little homework to see how the field is looking this year.  Following is a list of those signed up who have gone sub-21 since 2007.

  • Michael Arnstein (17:56 in 2011)
  • Zeke Tiernan (18:25 in 2010, 18:37 in 2008)
  • Charles Corfield (19:09 in 2011, 19:42 in 2007)
  • Lucho (19:19 in 2010)
  • Harry Harcrow (19:23 in 2010, 19:33 in 2007)
  • Garrett Graubins (19:38 in 2009)
  • Jason Koop (19:40 in 2010, 19:43 in in 2009)
  • Bryon Powell (19:54 in 2009)
  • Brooks Williams (19:57 in 2010)
  • Lynette Clemons (19:59 in 2011, 20:58 in 2009)
  • Brian Fisher (20:28 in 2011)
  • Marty Wacker (20:52 in 2009)
  • Patrick Stewart (20:59 in 2011)

In addition, there are a couple other fast guys off the top of my head that haven't done Leadville before...or at least not for a while.  I'm guessing I've missed a few, but hey - gimme a break - that list is like 800 names long.