There are a couple of ways to taper before a big 50 mile race.
The first is to do things intelligently.
You do some Yoga.
I know it looks like I'm praying, shutup.
You do a recovery run or two.
Maybe you work in some stretching.
Or you can go play a hockey game and get splattered at the blue line by a jerk the size of a tundra Yeti, resulting in "ass over tea kettle" style acrobats rivaled only by cirque du soleil. You know, whichever.
Horrible back pain or Al Pacino impression . . . you decide.
Sweet Skating Jesus that was not a nice feeling. The adrenaline carried me through the rest of the game but once I got home, I could barely get my bag into the garage and getting my own shoes off was decidedly out of the question. (Hat tip to my daughters for helping out with that one.)
This was not good.
I hoped that hitting the pain and inflammation head-on with some Naproxen would help out, and it did, thankfully. This left me with about two days of limited mobility and a big giant question mark where running was concerned. Luckily, by Wednesday I was able to run, but by the six mile mark, I was tightening up a little. Long story short, I wasn't going to push it and needed to be chilling anyway, so I took it easy. Just in time for . . .
A big bowl of Head Cold.
The taper cold. I'm not a huge believer in "I always get sick when I taper" and this didn't make me any more skeptical. This thing was going around and it was bound to happen. Unfortunately my wife got it with an EXPONENT attached to it, making it absolutely brutal. While I only felt like crap, she was absolutely down for the count. That being said, running sounded like a fairly miserable proposition and I was only able to muster 17 miles or so.
Listen, before everyone launches into lecture mode on hockey, let me just say that I believe that hockey is exactly the type of cross training that has gotten me into great shape, rather than just running shape. My back muscles are stronger, my core feels great, and I think my results in the 50k and how I felt afterwards speak to this. So yeah, it's risky. I got it. But the juice has been worth the squeeze in my opinion.
And if you're wondering, I did play again during our game this week.
And I got two assists.
Must have been the lack of mythological beasts looking to decapitate me this week.
When wrote my race recap of this race, I did so more as a summary of the general experience, but not anything particularly race specific, and certainly nothing that would be considered helpful to anyone looking for trail runs or ultramarathons near San Jose or Monterey California.
That being said, I felt it was important to review some of the details because it truly was a great event.
The race was coordinated and held by Troy of Troy's California Trail Runs who hosts a number of trail races throughout the year at various trail heads and parks near San Jose.
While living in Monterey, California is fantastic generally speaking, there aren't too many sanctioned races in the area that covered the type of distance that I needed. Obviously Monterey has its share of amazing races, the most popular being the Big Sur International Marathon held each May. As far as Ultramarathons are concerned however, I haven't been able to find too many of them.
In addition, with great scenery typically comes great cost, which is what led me to Troy's races.
Each distance is affordably priced for the distance in my opinion and what's more, if you are an active duty military member, you get 15% off. For anyone attending the Naval Postgraduate School or the Defense Language Institute, this is a pretty awesome opportunity to get a great deal on a trail race.
Honestly, based on the bargain price of 59.50 that I paid, I wasn't expecting much. This made what Troy brought to the table so much more enjoyable. Broken down by category, here's what I thought of the the race itself.
Course: The trails themselves are very well maintained and the description on the website is pretty accurate, with a fair amount of singletrack. By my estimation, the course estimation was a little off, but given that my Garmin dumped the first 16 miles of the course, I can't really say for sure. In any case, the profile for the 50k appears to be about 8,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, which is pretty challenging and sure to scratch your itch if you need some climbing.
Layout: The course markings were fantastic and although I did get lost at one point, it was more my fault than anything else. Each and every intersection was relatively idiot proof and frankly I was surprised at how many signs, not tape, were marking the trail. I can honestly say that my detour had more to do with my fatigue than anything else.
Aid Stations: This is where Troy made his money. Every 5k, there was an aid station of one form or another. We, the 50k'ers were the last of the racers. Which means that every single person out there had been to the aid station prior to us and yet there was never a shortage of anything. GU, salty stuff, gatorade and water were all readily available and in abundance. For someone like me, that was using this as a training run such that they didn't have to stress things like this, it was wonderful. From a safety perspective, it was great to know that 3 miles away was help if you needed it.
Price: Like I said, I don't know if you can beat it. Make no mistake, this is a no frills operation. I see Troy's charter as 1) making sure everyone is accounted for out there 2) making sure there is sustenance out there to support the runners. He achieves that and then some. The price is great for everyone, but simply awesome for military.
Schwag: I'm not the kind of guy that freaks out about the t-shirt. In fact, I can't find some of the shirts I've gotten at races and my medals aren't displayed anywhere. In any case, the shirt was nice and the medal was fine. Nothing to write home about, but if you're running a low-budget trail marathon and whining about the medal, you might be running for the wrong reasons.
Views: There were some great ones for sure. I don't think it's the reason one might run here though. I also didn't find myself gazing very much either, I was too busy trying to make sure I could finish. I've also realized that I've become completely spoiled out here. If I was to travel here from the east coast I'm sure I would consider these jaw dropping compared to something like the Appalachian trail for example.
Overall, if you're in need of a race, whether it's a stepping stone to a larger one or an experience in and of itself, I don't think you can go wrong with any of Troy's races.
If you do run one of them and have some feedback that might be useful to others, please feel free to come back and comment!
So here I sit, five days removed from the longest run of my life and I feel . . . like going for a run.
I've heard horror stories and crazy superlatives related to post-Ultra recovery: trashed, miserable, elephant legs, weeks to recover, enlarged testicles, etc. Or is that post-vasectomy recovery? I don't know. Either way, I wasn't looking forward to the aftermath.
It turns out though, none of that misery actually occurred. As I sit here typing this, I honestly feel wonderful and if I had a sudden bout of amnesia, wouldn't be able to tell that I had anything other than a normal training week. I suppose that tells me I did, or am doing, something correct.
It's with that in mind that I break a few things down to solidify for those that might care, what worked and what didn't.
Since, March 2011, when I decided to make a run at the North Face 50 miler, I have averaged somewhere between 30-40 miles per week (with one day of speed work of some kind in there). I ran the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July in a so-so-for-me time of 3:55. Since that time I've averaged about 38 miles per week according to my "Criminal Justice Major Gorilla Math".
Week 31 is the week of the SF Marathon and 45 is the week of the 50k.
I'm sure it's an irritant to some that would like to see it, but I don't really have a "training calendar / plan". They sort of drive me nuts. My schedule and temperament never quite mesh and so some time ago, I decided to dump the plan-method and go with the principle-method. To wit, I keep the following in mind.
I'm training for an Ultra, my family isn't
Long run every week or ten days
One day of speed or hills
Fast is fast and slow is slow. Don't push it unless you are trying to push it; LSD's aren't the time for pushing and intervals aren't the time to chill
Don't be afraid to speed up or down or modify the day entirely if you're body is speaking to you, but stay consistent. Which is to say if you have speed planned, and your calves hurt, just make it a longish slow day instead but don't try and push the pace, a half-assed effort doesn't really help
So a typical week looked like this, keeping in mind the LSD run gets adjusted upward or downward based on how close I am to the race:
Sunday: LSD Run, 20 Miles
Monday: Rest (Nowadays, Hockey Game)
Tuesday: Run to the Stadium Steps, One lap rest, one lap staircases, 6-9 miles
Wednesday: Easy Run, 5-7 miles
Friday: Longish Slow or Tempo, depending on feel, 10 miles
Saturday: Rest, Stretch, Hydrate for Sunday
I've found this to be something I can do very consistently, which is what I wanted. I'm sure some would say that this isn't enough but here I am, five days removed from 33 miles and feeling awesome. I'm also not injured. So this works for me. It's also worth pointing out that I have started playing hockey again, and I think that cross-training has really helped me out. Specifically, my back, hip flexors and fast twitch leg muscles feel much stronger. Some of those really low mileage weeks you see up there were a result of multiple days of hockey, not just rest days.
I've mentioned it before, but the point of running this 50k was to simulate the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship 50 miler. I wanted a sense of the elevation gain, dial in my nutritional requirements and just generally get some nerves out before I went out and made a fool out of myself in front of nearly all of the world's best ultra-marathoners.
The Elevation gain for the TNF 50 looks like this:
They have modified the course a bit, since March, but it still looks painful. Allegedly there aren't many switchbacks either. Sweet.
The Almaden Trails 50k looks like this:
For some reason my Garmin dumped the first 15 miles of elevation data, but as you can see from the full embed below, the course basically looped itself, so it's not unreasonable to just double the elevation numbers, which are here:
So, in short, it looks like the total elevation gain was about 7,800 ft which isn't a bad replication of the TNF 50 course, at least by my reckoning. I won't bore you with the details, but if you take a look at the split data, when I COULD run, I was moving pretty well. I'm especially proud of the ass I was hauling during parts of Miles 31-33.
Tactics and what I learned
Nutrition, PRE-RACE: The week of the race I was pretty health conscious, leaving the beer aside and sticking with a steady supply of carbs and veggies, but without forsaking meat. I've come to really love Kale and Bok Choy and I suggest you do too. (I've got a rock solid japanese noodle recipe that I'll detail later) I added just a little salt to everything I ate for two days prior. Morning of I had a PB&Honey, a triple mocha at starbucks and a gatorade pre-fuel thing.
Nutrition, During the Race: I knew that there would be well stocked aid-stations but I wanted enough of my own stuff just in case. I took the following:
Six Hammer Gels, including Apple Cinnamon, my new favorite flavor that tastes like Apple Pie
Three stinger waffles by Honey Stinger, another favorite, total experiment, but this thing was AMAZINGLY GOOD
Camelback Elixr Tabs
I had one gel every 40 minutes like it was a religion and at each aid-station (located every 5k by law <---Good Rule!) at a huge handful of pretzels and a decent sized cup of G2, the calorie-less gatorade.
I carried my Nathan vest, not because I really needed that much water, but because I hate carrying hand-helds and am growing less fond of the waist pack. The vest is just plain comfy.
Overall, I felt like I nailed it. No nausea whatsoever, no pooping, and most importantly, no bonking whatsoever. I honestly felt better during this than during my SF Marathon experience.
Nutritional Mantra: Don't get behind and eat it (whatever IT for you is) even if you don't want it or feel hungry.
Pacing: I would recommend chucking your time goal out the window. Terrain will dictate so much of this that is isn't worth worrying about. I figured that out after the half-way mark.
My goal was to "run to comfort" and see what that pace looks like. Given the elevation gain and how I felt most of the time, I'm happy with 11:51 per mile. For the future, I know that I can push that a bit and still feel good but I would imagine anything more than a "25% over comfortable" output might force me to blade-run a little bit and possibly bonk.
Pacing Mantra:If you can't see the top of the hill, walk it. There will be plenty of opportunity to run.
Gear: Like I said, the Nathan Vest worked great and that is a mandatory piece of trail gear for me now. It might just be the Army in me, but having everything on my chest and my hands free really gives me a mental boost. It also prevented any chaffing around my waist that might have come from a waist pack.
The New Balance MT101s worked great. It's an awesome shoe and even when I got soaked at mile 22, I had no issues at all.
My cheapo running shorts are money. A little vaseline here and there and I was good to go.
The Buff. What can I say, the greatest sweat solution anywhere.
Socks. I don't care what kind of socks I have on. I think these were Golden Toes or something. Eh. Expensive socks are stupid.
CEP compression leg sleeves. These things are money for recovery. I wore them all day and all night, and my legs felt fantastic the next day. I don't like wearing them during the run anymore, but they are key to my recovery.
Gear Mantra: Test everything out and once you do, leave it alone.
So there you have it. Most of the gory details and all of the ones I felt were important.
Just so it's said, I am not any kind of an expert so common sense discretion applies for any of the above suggestions. This is simply an illustration of how one dude did things. Your mileage may vary.
I'm also not responsible for your wife's anger because after the race your running gear smells like microwaved cat food. That's totally your problem.
Me and my instant team-mate "the Professor" at the Almaden Hills 50k.
Every once in a while, I can get serious.
At least as serious as a dude in a Captain America t-shirt can get.
It doesn't happen very often, and in fact it usually happens as a function of getting shot at or playing poker. But as of yet, it hasn't come as a result of anything I've done in my short and relatively unimpressive running career.
That being said, if there is one thing that the San Francisco Marathon taught me, it's that I can get really down on myself for not doing just the smidgen of thinking/planning necessary for an enjoyable outcome. So though I joked and poked fun at myself for signing up for a 50k with 4 days notice, I really felt prepared to do things correctly and throw in just a pinch of experimentation for my race in December, the North Face Endurance Challenge in San Francisco.
The race I signed up for was the Annual Almaden Hills Run, just outside of San Jose. The race is administered by Troy of Troy's California Trail Runs and let me tell you, for an organization that is running this operation on a shoe string budget and limited staff, the race was simply outstanding.
Obviously, this was my first experience at an Ultra and on a trail, but I don't know how Troy and his wife could have done things much better. I'm often quite sheepish about my status as a member of the military but Troy is anything but quiet about his support for those who serve. With a 15% military discount off of an already reasonable price for a 50k, his races are a fantastic value for any of the military folks in the Monterey area. The hourlong drive up there was worth it in every respect and I would encourage anyone else to drive up there and experience his passion firsthand.
As for me, I started the day at 530 a.m. and had a couple of goals / thoughts in mind.
I need to get a handle on my nutrition requirements. I know this was my problem in San Francisco and it's often something I neglect during training. . . often I "muscle up" and finish, rather than fueling and finishing strong.
I need to "do no harm" and get my pacing figured out. Clearly this destroyed me in San Francisco and I really didn't want to deal with this disappointment again.
I wanted to set some hard rules and stick to them simply for the sake of discipline. My "sideburns in the Army grooming standards" are a testament to how willing I am to push the limits of this and I felt like I needed the practice. In poker, I have a hard and fast rule which is "don't go broke with one pair" which has kept me out of more trouble than I can recount. I needed a similar mantra.
Don't stress but push it if possible, toward the end. I wanted to know what "trying to haul ass" felt like at the 30 mile mark.
So with that in mind, I arrived to the trail ready to get some kinks worked out.
Here's all the crap I elected to carry with me, and or wore, along the route:
Shoes: NB MT101
Shirt: The San Francisco Marathon "worth the hurt" technical long sleeve
Shorts: Some cheapo brand I bought at Champs for like 15 bucks
Nathan Hydration Vest
Hammer Gels x 3
Stinger Waffles x 2
Buff worn in the "Sahariane" manner and making me look like the weakest member of the Sons of Anarchy
A Big goofy grin most of the time.
So, based on popular demand, here are a couple of short videos in which I talk about the first half of the race:
It wasn't very long after this last video that something occurred to me and the professor, we were actually in the lead. Not that anyone was really taking this thing all that seriously, but the Type A personalities in the both of us couldn't help but get a bit competitive. We pressed on, running smart but keeping in mind that barring a bonk, this thing was ours to lose.
Shortly after our stop at the 21 mile mark (which was also the drop bag point), we started moving in the wrong direction on the leader-board. I take full responsibility for what happened next.
I missed a turn.
It wasn't until we were 1/4 mile up a section of single-track when it completely disappeared. Sonofabitch.
Thankfully the professor had thought to grab a trail map at mile 3 (why the military in me didn't think of it first I have no idea) and after finally taking a look at the contour lines, I realized that we were screwed. Looking back on it, I think it was the result of a couple of things. First, fatigue was catching up to us. Big P was pounding gels in an effort to stall his crash he felt coming on, and I had tunnel vision on the trail in front me, it never occurred to me to "look right and up" to get on the right trail. Lesson here: Check the trail map before you leave the aid station. Had I just had the wherewithal to check for sections that might have been tricky, I might have been okay.
Regardless, after our Blair Witch Project moment, the professor and I got back on track and were curious about just how hosed we were when we got to the next aid station. We asked the nice gentleman if there was anyone in front of us.
"Oh yeah, they left about ten minutes ago."
Oh, so this is what an ULTRA LOW feels like. Not only did we just add half a mile, but we got the added insult of being behind. Ah well. It was fun while it lasted.
"Got any pretzels?" I said. After I choked down my snack it occurred to me that losing kind of sucks.
So we spent the next couple of hours trying to catch 'em.
I'll spare you the manufactured drama, because the "Great Chase" really consisted of just the couple we were chasing, their dog, and us. And I'm pretty sure the professor and I were the only ones pushing it. Had they chosen to get competitive the couple in front might have smoked us.
That being said, I ended up trying to make a desperate two mile push during which I hit my high point. Where I could run based on terrain, I was clicking off 630-700 min/mile splits. This was easily the best I've ever felt while running, and it was a great feeling to know I could reach down and shift when I was exhausted.
I finished with a total time of 6:33 on a course that we think was about 33 miles, slightly longer than a 50k. The trip down the wrong turn rabbit hole cost us about 30 minutes so I think it's fair to say that my time for 31 miles was something like 5:40. Given the terrain, I'm really happy with my results.
Oh yeah, and I lost by about two minutes. Awesome.
So in the midst of knocking out a 2500 word mid-term on terrorism this week, I went and decided to sign up for a local 50k.
Isn't that what everyone does to prepare for their first Ultra marathon?
Truth be told, 31 or so miles was on the calendar (actually, more truth be told, that was last weekend, but you know how I am with training schedules), so running an actual race seemed like a nice change of pace. After all, you really don't have to do much in the way of supporting yourself (although you need to be prepared to do so) and it seems like a nice opportunity to dial in some tactics for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler.
So I contacted the race director of the Almaden Hills run in San Jose, who happens to be a huge supporter of the military (15% percent discount ) and he told me to just come on out and we'd settle up later.
Alrighty then, let's do this.
Then it occurred to me that this would technically be my first Ultra. I suppose if you really wanted to get technical, my first distance over 26.2 miles. Huh, whaddya know? I've honestly felt strong enough the past few weeks to push well past that, but have erred on the side of caution for one reason or another.
Not anymore! Tomorrow I run 31 miles.
Now it's time to get my equipment list together.
So with some of my "Birthday Amazon Cheddar" I decided to get one of these babies:
The Nathan 2L Hydration Vest
I've also got the hydration belt, and I've tried handhelds before, but I really think I'm a vest/backpack kinda guy. And after my experience on Sunday with my POS old-school hydration pack which could only be described as a big bowl of suck, I was ready to give this thing a shot.
Initial 6 mile test-run would lead me to believe that I am really going to like this thing. It doesn't jostle, is incredibly light and just seems intelligently designed.
I'll get back to you with how it performs during the race.
I also decided to do a bit of a Mini-taper this week in preparation for Saturday.
Mon: No running, but almost no soreness from 24 the day before
Tues: No Running, I had a paper to write
Wed: 5 miles with the dog, he was driving me nuts
Thursday: 6 mile hill route, probably should have done this Wed. but I wanted to test out the new vest :-)