“Running is like getting up every morning and shooting yourself. You know that you are going to put yourself through something really painful, but you also know how much strength and speed are going to come with it. The passion of a runner is to force forgetfulness on that pain and embrace the benefits that will without fail make you a better person.” -Mark Wetmore, coach of University of Colorado XC team
They say Everything’s Bigger in Texas. Well it turns out everything is bigger in Chamonix as well. (except the food sizes, I’m convinced the French have stomachs the size of grapes) When I arrived at my Air B&B two weeks ago I was greeted by the biggest Newfoundland I’ve ever seen, a 130 pound pup that looked more like a bear than a dog. Her name was Guaya and judging by her smell, she avoids baths like…well like a dog, who hates baths. Within an hour of my arrival in Chamonix, my teammate Ryan Ghelfi and I were headed out to run the Vertical Kilometer from town up to the top of Brevent (A Vertical Kilometer is a trail that has 1000 meters of ascent in a distance under 5k, the Brevent VK climbes the 1000 vertical meters in 3.8k) Over the course of the week we climbed a ton of vertical, saw massive glaciers and huge, jagged peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif. We got to experience a taste of the suffering we would without a doubt swim in during the following weeks race.
Two days before the race I wrote in my training log, “BATTLE READY. Race of attrition. Hammer last 50k”. When race evening came I didn’t have the usual pre race jitters. I was really calm, relaxed and ready to run a really relaxed 50 miles, followed by a really hard 50 miles. I felt very prepared for the tough climbs as well as the technical descents as I had spent the entire summer training on similar terrain in Mammoth Lakes, The Wallowas, The North Cascades and various other ranges and volcanoes in the American West.
The first 50 miles were really chill, treating it like a training run I was able to relax, enjoy the mountains and stars and preserve my energy for the later stages. The moon was huge, stars were bright and crowds were ecstatic.
At Grand Col Ferret I started rolling a bit, and by Champex-Lac (122 Kilometers in) it was hammertime. With a conservative strategy early, this was the time to take a BIG Texas sized risk. I was focused, hungry and attacking every step. Every climb I was able to hike and run strong, the flats and descents smooth. My summer focus on technical downhill was paying off in a big way. For the first time running steep technical downhill was fun, rather than stressful. I was jumping off rocks and roots, sprinting the smooth sections and charging through rollers. The experience felt more like skiing than running.
Every runner I passed gave me a huge surge of energy. On the final climb up Tete aux Vents I was finally in 4th and both hunting and running scared. I knew I was redlining and it wouldn’t take much to blow up and spend an hour in an aid station. Every time I came to what I thought was the top of the climb it would continue another few 100 meters up. My mind was totally focused on grinding up to the top, and then hammering back down.
At La Flegere I was finally done with the 10,000 meters of climbing, and I started blitzing down the final descent.
When I finally hit the pavement of Chamonix with under a mile to go I saw teammate Zach Miller (Previous days CCC 100k Champ) he had fire in his eyes and was yelling that I needed to sprint to the finish. Finishing any race is hard, but kicking from a kilometer out in a 105 mile mountain race is…Well, I honestly don’t remember. I imagine that it was painful because such an act usually is painful, and it has been 4 days since the race and I’m still sore. So I have to imagine the finish was pretty hard, but I think my brain could only process so much information and I believe it decided to remember the screaming fans rather than the pain. Thanks brain!
Coming down the final stretch was surreal. The crowds, hands outstretched waved us home into the finish line. Huge mountains, dirt, hills, rocks, cows, mud, sweat, sunrises, sunsets, chaffing, blood, coke-cola, and 105 miles make a trail race, but the fans are what make this trail race an experience truly unique and memorable.
Mountains and emotions are bigger here.
Thanks Chamonix. I’ll be back; soon.
Thanks Huge thanks to the amazing fans, volunteers and organizers! You all made it an awesome experience. Thanks to Bighorn Bistro (THE place to eat in Cham) for keeping us well fed all week. Thanks to the Ghelfi Family for coming out and supporting the team, Thanks to everyone back home cheering, and Bryon and Megan of IRunFar.com for being all over the course and providing great coverage of the event! Thanks also to Like The Wind Magazine for hosting two great social events before and after the race. Thanks to all the Nike Running crew who came out to shred the trails and cheer us on! Thanks to Billy Yang Films for documenting the weeks adventures. Finally, huge thanks to Trail Boss Pat Werhane for regulating like Warren G, keeping food in our stomachs and shoes on our feet.
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During the tough parts of a trail race I sometimes think of what I want to do when my feet finally cross that finish line. Usually I think of laying down, curling up in a ball, buying my favorite flavor of NyQuil and sleeping dreamlessly for about a week. Runners often hobble awkwardly around for a few days, drawing stares in the airport, office, or at the grocery store. In an exhausted attempt at recovery we might take some Advil, soak in a hot tub, or get a massage. Slowly the soreness melts from the legs.
Sometimes you need to get back functioning fast. Maybe you have another race in a few weeks, or just don’t want to feel like death for a month. With a little focused effort on recovery I think you can be back on the trails, feeling good before Michael Wardian runs his next race.
The first five points are things that require a little bit of urgency. You want to do these things between one and five hours after crossing that finish line.
*These tips are simply based on personal experience, and stuff I’ve read over the past year. The tips are simple, logical and based in science but this is by no means a sports psychology article. Comments and your thoughts or tips are welcomed!
1) Eat and Drink: Typically when I cross the finish line the smell of even good food causes nausea. Occasionally Gatorade is all I can do, sometimes I am eating a burger within the hour. I don’t think it matters all that much what you actually eat after the race, but eating at the finish line is important. After Bandera 100k last weekend I ate soup, sour skittles, and oreos. On the drive back to the airport hotel I got a milkshake. Before showering I got out of bed and visited the WHATABURGER across the street. After 8 hours of eating GU and drinking Coke the day was far from following the food pyramid but hey, “When in Texas.” The goal is to get in some calories. The day after the race the goal is getting back to real food.
2) Ice Bath: The practice of taking ice baths after hard efforts has been under scrutiny for some time now. Many folks debate if the stimulus actually benefits athletes. Does reducing inflammation actually result in a long term performance benefit? Unfortunately, I take the middle ground on this topic, I believe that using ice baths regularly in training does not lead to long term performance benefit, but I do think that when the focus is recovering as quickly as possible ice baths are extremely valuable. That being said, when the body is struggling to function (as often is the case after an ultra or hard marathon) getting really cold is probably not a good idea. If you are already cold or incoherent, skip the ice bath.
3) Get Clean: Taking a shower is probably first on the list for many runners, but for some of us that hotel bed or sleeping bag looks too tempting. If you can get yourself a little cleaner it will wake you up a bit and probably make you simply feel better. After almost every ultra I’ve run, I’ve been in the nearest natural body of water within an hour of finishing. Warm or cold water on the body just loosens things up.
4) Elevate your legs: After Western States this year my legs and feet looked…round. The puffy swelling of my feet and legs was not only painful, but gave my roommates plenty of joke material regarding my “cankles.” After 10 minutes with my feet up against the wall, well let’s just say there were plenty more jokes, but not about my ankles.
5) Wear Some Compression: Put on some tights or sleeves. Just don’t fall asleep wearing compression product or you might wake up in a sweaty, constricted panic. I’ve done this a number of times. Taking compression tights off in the dark is, well…challenging.
6) Massage/ Foam Roll: It might not feel good at first… well probably worse than “not good” but this is a game changer. That tightness will be significantly opened up with 10 minutes on the foam roller. If you have time, a massage will also flush out the legs and loosen tight muscles.
7) Clean Those Feet: After running a long trail race your feet are usually in rough shape. Typically I just get a tub of hot water and scrub my feet with a roommates toothbrush. Get the dirt out from under the nails, scrub the calluses down, drain and clean the blisters. Having messed up toenails and wrecked feet is often a badge of honor in the ultra community. That’s great if the damage is only on the surface, but if a toenail gets permanently damaged or a blister gets infected, well then for a month you’re just somebody who thinks GU is a food group, and spends too much time on IRunFar.
8) Hibernate: Like a bear. Sleep 10 hours a night, read a book, take the time and effort you usually spend training and spend it repairing the damage you did to your body.
9) Make your crew dinner: If you are lucky enough to have a support team or person at your big race, tell them thanks. In the weeks following your big event you’re probably fighting the post race doldrums. I have found that the best way to try to beat this is doing something nice for someone else. Your support system did a lot for you, do something for them.
Proper recovery takes time, but hey, It’s not like you wanted a social life anyway… right?
Having raced every distance from 100 meters to 100 miles, and I’d have to say 26.2 is probably my favorite event. Elements of both speed and endurance are combined to create a race that is just long enough to get some serious chaffing, but not so long where the chaffing actually scabs and scars. Essentially 26.2 is long enough to destroy you, but just short enough to keep you coming back for more. Here are a few rules and thoughts to keep in mind if you are thinking of graduating to the marathon.
**This is written for anyone, but it is most applicable for competitive minded runners with a background in track and cross country, and who have trained consistently for a few years. Its not so much focused on specific training, rather just general principles. These have been important in my training, and I believe they are applicable in many training programs.
1. Don’t forget the track. Its easy to focus on road running, long runs, tempo and threshold workouts and neglect the speed that is imperative for racing. You don’t really need to be doing 200’s every week, but regular kilometer and mile repeats will undoubtedly help you keep the speed needed to run a competitive marathon. Do them on grass or track or dirt. You may struggle to run as fast as you normally do when training for cross country or track. That’s OK, focus on short recovery rather than blazing intervals.
2. Sundays not for Gossip. College long runs are usually a social hour (or two), recapping the team drama or previous nights festivities. This is great if you are training for a 5k. With your key race being over 2 hours, the long run needs to be a more focused effort. This isn’t to say that talking isn’t allowed, but the long run should be a workout. If I’m running hard enough I usually don’t want to talk. Sunday long run shouldn’t leave you ruined for the upcoming week, but it probably should leave you wanting to spend the rest of the day on the couch.
3. Wear Pants: If it’s under 50 degrees (Fahrenheit), bundle up. The first glimmer of warmth or sunlight usually leads to every dude on the team pulling out the split shorts and running shirtless through campus. This is why so many people get injured during the winter. Wear tights, wear a long sleeve shirt. You don’t have to be sweating profusely, but wearing tights will keep your muscles warm, relaxed, and less likely to get injured. When the temps warm up instead of being stuck in the pool aqua jogging you will be able to run outside…in shorts.
4. Wake Up. Marathons typically start before 8am. Waking up 3-4 hours before the race will make you feel and perform better. I know waking up at 4am sounds ridiculous on a night when you just want to get some sleep. If you give yourself that extra time to really wake up, eat, and warm up you will feel fresh and ready when you finally get to that starting line.
5. Don’t be Stupid. Depending on your fitness and goals a training segment may be 8-14 weeks. During that time you are bound to get a cold, tweak a muscle, have a bad workout, or get stuck in a blizzard. These things aren’t the end of the world, (except possibly the blizzard…) If you respond properly to these blips in training they likely wont effect your race at all. This fall I took a trip to Boulder, Colorado for a Nike Trail meeting. When I left home it was 55 and sunny, when I landed in Denver it was 20 and snowing. I had mile repeats scheduled for the next morning. When I woke up it was 15 and there was 4 inches of snow blanketing the town. I jogged out of the hotel looking for a plowed road or track that might allow me to do the workout I had planned. I quickly realized that running 4:40 pace in snow, ice and 15 degrees was likely going to result in injury. Instead I ran 10 miles easy and called it a day. The next day the conditions were worse and I was forced to do an easy 90 minutes on paved streets. When I landed in Portland I eagerly got my gear together for a hard workout. When I got to the track and finished my warm up my right Achilles tendon was painful and seemed swollen. I tried to do strides but every step was causing it to tighten up. I realized that during my runs in Boulder I had worn long tights and tall socks, covering my entire Achilles and ankle, but the snow had still frozen to my socks and caused the area around my ankle to stay cold while I was running on it. Needless to say I was frustrated. I had missed two key workouts and now was tiptoeing around a potential injury. I foam rolled, iced, pumped anti-inflammatory, got back to sunny Southern Oregon and restructured the training for the week. That Saturday I had the best workout of the segment. I was fresh, and was able to run faster and easier than I had expected. The workout convinced me I could PR in every distance from 10k to the marathon and gave me a boost of confidence going into the last three weeks of the training block before the Cal International Marathon. Its a long story but I think proves a point. Things are bound to go wrong, when they do use logic and reason to adjust your training.
6. Find a Road and Love it. Whether its a bike path or road, find somewhere with little traffic that you can use a couple days a week for your tempo, threshold, marathon pace, or long runs. Having consistency in your training venue will allow you to gauge your fitness throughout the segment. It might be boring at first, but you will probably grow to love it. The Bear Creek Greenway has become my home away from home over the last 2 years.
7. Dial your nutrition. If you take time to figure out what gels work and which ones don’t, you might end up in a porta-toilet at mile 18. You still might end up there, but spending a few workouts deciding between GU, Roctane, Power-Gel, Hammer Gel or Clif Shots can save you precious moments. You’re gonna have to take in calories and fluid during the race. Be comfortable with it.
8. Run a Lot. Mileage isn’t the only indicator of solid training, but going from racing 10k’s to racing marathons will require an increase in something, and part of that something is probably weekly mileage. You don’t have to run 140 miles per week, but also don’t be scared of running more miles than you have before. The marathon is a long race and it takes a lot of training to be ready to race that last 10k. This is where the magic of the marathon happens. Having a massive base of miles in your legs can get you ready to crush yourself, and the last few miles.
9. Learn. I’ve been learning how to run slower and how to run faster my entire life. The trick is doing the things that make you run faster instead of slower. Your first marathon could be amazing, and it could be a total disaster. Most likely it will be somewhere in between, leaving you to feel accomplished but unsatisfied. Learn from your experience. You spent months preparing for this race. Spend a few hours writing down what went well and what didn’t. Use the things you learned to get better next time. I really believe that with enough work anybody can be a good marathoner. In 2 marathons and 19 months I took 5 minutes and 32 seconds off my marathon PR by simply learning from past mistakes and tweaking my training. The learning curve is big. For somebody with a lot of desire the marathon is a good place to race. But, don’t take my word for it. Go do it.
Every December on the eve of the Winter Solstice North Medford High School hosts The Longest Night Mile, an event for runners of all abilities to race a mile, on the track, under the lights. Racing a mile on the track is something many of us haven’t done in years… some of us, decades. The race is a benefit for the local food bank, and the entry is simply 3 cans of food. An entry like that is a pretty great way to directly benefit your local community, especially in the winter months.
There is something gritty, great and pure about events like this. Maybe the race is great due to the fact that I haven’t put on spikes and run under the lights in 3 years, But I think there is something more. The race felt like an old school all comers meet. There were no ribbons, no t-shirts, no timing system; just 4 laps, a crew of runners, some spectators, and a coach with a stopwatch, in the rain.
Bill Bowerman attended and coached at North Medford High School and the Track and Field facility is named after him. I’m pretty sure this is an event that would make the Man grin.
There are a lot of reasons to go running. This is a reason to love running.
Start of Section 2 of the Longest Night Mile (this picture doesn’t quite do it justice as there was a good turn out, lots more people on the infield warming up and some folks in the stands.)
Section 2 of The Longest Night Mile. The horses of section 1 warming up on the infield.
Thanks to North Medford High School Track and Cross Country, Coach Piet Voskes, Southern Oregon Runners, and everybody who came out!
One of the beautiful lies I tell myself every day is, “If you are on the starting line you have as good a chance as anybody to win”. On Sunday I got out of bed at 3 a.m. and did a shakeout in the quiet downtown streets of Sacramento. I ate toast, shot bloks and drank tea, and waited for 4 hours, until the 7 a.m. starter sent us off down Auburn Folsom Road, 26+ miles to the Capitol Building in Sacramento. The first few miles passed quickly, in relative silence, besides the pounding of racing flats on the asphalt. 8 miles in I was surprised at how flat my legs felt, with 18 miles left to run I wasn’t in the highest of spirits. For the past 10 weeks I had put all my effort into the preparation for this day, and for the past 14 years I’ve had this goal in the forefront of my mind. I had trained hard and tapered well, and now my legs felt bad… In a moment of inspiration I decided I just was not going to slow down. My legs may not be able to speed up, but I simply am not going to run any slower, as every mile ticked the pack of runners got a few hundred steps closer to the finish line, and the goal. At 20 miles when the group disintegrated I knew the small time buffer I had accumulated could easily be wiped out over the final mile, as it was last year. I kept telling myself, just don’t slow down. 5:13, 5:13, 5:13, 5:12, the crowds were growing, not slowing down was getting harder. 5:12, I could feel my legs losing the strength I had spent the last year building. The pack of 15 strong, confident machines had dissolved into a scattered string of stiff grimaces. I finally turned onto the Capitol Mall, people lining the final 400 meters I saw the clock reading 2:16:30, 200 meters to go.
Crossing the finish line was great, I’ll probably always enjoy that moment. But watching the other men and women gain Olympic trials qualifiers was unforgettable. The victorious moments, celebrations and emotional faces were inspiring. In the end that will probably be the most memorable part of the day. Congratulations to the 9 other men and 20 women who spent months and years in dedicated preparation for this race. Needless to say I didn’t win this years Cal International Marathon, But I did run 2:17:02, good enough for a ticket to the 2016 Olympic Trials which will be run in February of 2016. I now have 14 months to train hard, race harder and wait.
Thank you all so much for the thoughts, prayers, encouragement and advice. I greatly appreciate all that has been done for me over the years. Thank you to the California International Marathon for a great event, and for creating an environment of success for all runners.
14 months till LA.
Time to find a coach…there is work to be done.
I was a surprise. With 7 years between me and my closest sibling, saying I’m the baby of the family is an understatement. Being the baby didn’t mean I wasn’t going to claw and fight my way into the mischief and general competitiveness of my sisters and brother. Being the baby also didn’t mean I was treated like the baby. (OK, that second part is a lie…)
With older, stronger, taller, smarter, cousins and siblings being my main competitors I didn’t win a lot. But I did learn a lot. I learned that competition is far more about getting back in the fight than the actual act of winning. Learning this lesson was a process. The Inner City Steppers Track Club hosted all comer track meets at Madison High School on Wednesday nights during the summer months. As a 1st grader I typically ran the distance events, the 200 and the 400 meters, yes distance events (as opposed to the 50 and 100m). One evening I lined up for the 200, and the starter sent us off. 50 meters in I found my self in last place, 100 meters in I was far behind, at 150 I stepped off the track… before I could sit down in the grass a small hand firmly gripped my arm and in a tone I hadn’t heard before, my Mom said, “You never quit.” Her usually gentle eyes made it clear, I was going to finish the race.
My Dad ran a lot, marathons, Hood to Coast, etc, and I would make him take me running and to local road races. My siblings were all moved out and in college by the time I was in middle school, but the local road race scene proved more than enough competition for me to channel my need for competition. In 5th grade I figured out that to make the Sydney Olympic Marathon Team, you had to run the Olympic Trials. So I dug around on the USATF website and found that to make the Olympic Marathon Trials you had to run a marathon in 2:22, with some quick research on Google I discovered the Cool Running Pace Calculator a tool that would tell you the average pace and splits for any race distance. I learned that running just over 5:24 per mile 26 times would qualify me for the Olympic Trials. Considering my mile PR was a stout 5:59, I blindly considered this goal very doable! I upped my training plan and started every recess with 8 laps on the dirt track at Glencoe Elementary.Train hard, race harder, repeat. In 2004 I remember spending my lunch break reading Track and Field News in the CCHS Library, I looked at the photos of Alan Culpepper, Meb Keflezighi and Dan Browne racing through the cold streets of Birmingham, Alabama and thought, I’ve got to run this race. Train hard, race harder, repeat. After the 08 trials the qualifying time was lowered to 2:18:30 and after the 2012 Trials I discovered 5:17 pace wasn’t going to be good enough to get into the 2016 Trials, 2:18:00 was the new qualifying time, requiring 5:15 pace for the 26+ mile race… Train hard, race harder, repeat. Fast forward to California International Marathon last year. You can read that story/blog here. In 2013 I missed the Trials qualifying time by 26 seconds. I learned lessons during that race that I applied to my training and racing during 2014, namely, you don’t need to lead the first half of the race, especially in a marathon. (And for all of you who reminded me of that over the past week, Thank you).
The training segment for the last ten weeks has gone pretty well, not amazing, but got some pretty good quality efforts in. Based on the previous years workouts I estimated I was about a second a mile or about 20-25 seconds over the course of the marathon better than last year…that would leave me at 2:18.01. A very empty feeling PR. So I did what I’ve done 100 times before, I went for it anyway.
I’ll post Part 2 of this blog…soon, probably tomorrow.