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?


  1. Just go with the "Fun Camp" shirt and the shorties and you're guaranteed to go sub 7:30.

  2. No doubt the shorties are gonna make an appearance. I've got an order in for FUN CAMP compression socks!!!