There is no single word to truly describe how I felt after this race, but elation comes pretty close. Everything finally came together to make for an amazing day on the trail, from the perfect weather and dry trail to my fitness and mental state. This race report will not be as much of a description of my race as it will be dedicated to everything that went into making it so amazing, so if you want good description of the trail and course itself, read some of my other reports. This one is more for those who are interested in what goes into achieving elation.
March 2015 - Registration for the fall races was approaching, and the closer it came, the more I was feeling sad that my wife and I agreed not to run this time, seeing as we had a 5-month-old daughter, making it difficult to train, especially if both of us were to run. In expressing this sadness, my wife - after some thought - graciously agreed to me signing up for the marathon. I will forever be in her debt for this, because I know how much she loves this race series and would have loved to do the same. Having done the 50-miler last year with somewhat disastrous results, I knew that it was way too much for me to fathom this year, so the marathon was the obvious choice. After a few days of tense wondering if I'd make it into the race after a lottery was instituted since the spring series, my participation was verified and it was time to get serious.
I knew I needed an adjusted approach from previous races. Although confident in the bigger changes I made in the last few years to promote better sustainability in running, I definitely had some problem areas to work on, evident from the 50-miler last year. I was aerobically efficient, but my strength and structural integrity were weak. The question was how to do this and maintain my aerobic efficiency.
Answer #1 - Be deliberate with metabolic efficiency training. Up until now, I had been training on what I had learned from a few different sources on how to become a better fat burner and be more metabolically efficient. I switched to a high fat, low carb nutrition plan and was doing all my training using the Maffetone formula (180-age) to determine my heart rate zones for maximum aerobic function. I had lost about ten pounds and was improving, but I lost a lot of strength along the way, and my fast twitch muscles were fading fast. The information provided in Phil Maffetone's books wasn't enough for me, and I needed something more specific, which brought me to Bob Seebohar, an Iron Man triathlete, sports dietitian, and coach, and his book Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, which I had heard about more than a year ago, but couldn't seem to get my hands on a hard copy anywhere, until his second edition was released. Now I finally had specifics, and I learned/became aware of two things: being a better fat burner does not mean strict low carb eating, and hard training must still be a regular part of the workout routine. I was too concerned about killing my aerobic efficiency that I didn't want to stray outside of the MAF zone or what I had assumed was the best nutrition to influence this. With this, I would add two major components to my training that had previously been missing: a 4-week metabolic efficiency "binge" to really pad my base, and thereafter one hard workout per week and an additional one or two varied high-intensity workouts that wouldn't stray far enough out of zone to hinder aerobic efficiency. With the race in September, I decided to start the summer with the 4-week ME training, eating super low carb, running an average of six hours per week and keeping all of it in zone (heart rate between 132 and 142bpm). It was extremely difficult for me, because summer usually means relaxing more and enjoying those amazing summertime delights: cold beer, ice cream, and Chipotle burritos. I'm not sure why, but Chipotle has always felt more like a summer food to me. In any case, the restrictions I put upon myself for the month of June required - but also fostered - perhaps the greatest piece to the puzzle of running a solid race:
Living in a cave by myself for those four weeks was not an option, and so living with my wife who had no need for such extremes and who wanted to enjoy the summer the way we have in the past forced me to truly steel myself to withstand the great temptation to indulge in the things that would set me back. The brain is incredibly good at
However, the more I resisted those temptingly sweet carbs, and the more I put in those miles in zone, the more my body adapted and my brain switched along with it. I stopped craving beer and ice cream, and although my brain would see it and tell me how awesome it was, I didn't have an emotional craving for it. The rewards of what I was doing now outweighed the desire to give in. This discipline then carried over into my training. I was also seeing some bigger gains in my efficiency. I was running five miles - mostly on pavement pushing a BOB stroller with my little girl (because that was the only option) - and seeing my time above zone dwindle and my speed improve. It was extremely encouraging.
Answer #2 - Prehabilitation aka Get Strong! Previously I had viewed all harder workouts and strength work to be dangerous to my aerobic efficiency, so I didn't do it, and there was also probably a bit of laziness added in there as well, because my time was limited, and the hatred of doing ridiculous exercises when I could be running more didn't help motivate me any more, but with two of my A races in the last two years resulting in injury during the race, I knew that needed to change. With my newfound discipline and some great training schedule examples from Bob Seebohar's book, a new plan was set into play. I would do one hard workout a week of various kinds: tempo run, ladder intervals, and fartlek runs, and sprinkle in shorter bursts of speedwork into my other runs, mostly in the form of strides, of which I'd try to do 8-10 per week anywhere between 40-100 meters each, keeping an eye on my heart rate. Additionally, it was time to get back to the physical therapy exercises I had been given in the last couple of years by an amazing PT who worked magic on my injuries and mechanical deficiencies. My IT band has a tendency to blow in a big way due to weakness in my hips and glutes, so post-run I would throw in one of the following at least twice a week: one-legged squats, forward-leaning standing knee raises with hands against a wall, and monster walks (my personal favorite). On a more regular basis, I upgraded my post-run routine to include the Myrtl routine along with planks on all four sides, starting at 30 seconds each and increasing to one minute per side later in the summer. This, in my opinion, was the huge piece to my strength and stability gains. I also started adding a few yoga poses, as recommended in Joe Uhan's Stay the Course post on iRunFar.com.
Anwer #3 - Run fast...sometimes. Running slowly is great for improving...at running slowly. The importance of speed work was something I read about over and over again but wasn't doing, but this time finally accepted once again as important and doable with my current training. In picking the brain of another badass runner and coach Adam Condit, I decided to combine some pieces of advice from different resources for a sort of training smorgasbord, because after all, variety is the spice of life. I started out with a Friel Lactate Threshold Test, just to see where my LT was, even though it wasn't all too important in regard to aerobic efficiency. The process seemed a bit oversimplified: run as hard as you can for 30 minutes, measure heart rate for the last 20, and the average over those 20 minutes is your LT heart rate, but the guy is well renowned and should know his stuff, so I tried it. This was my first hard run after the 4-week ME (metabolic efficiency) training stint, and I came up with what I feel is a ridiculously high LTHR of 194bpm. Could my ME training have had that much influence on my LT, or is this test completely unreliable? It was, nonetheless, awesome to run as hard as I can again.
August 25, 2015 - Endless Summer Trail Series 5k, Murphy-Hanrehan Park. With only 2.5 weeks until the race, I signed up for a final tune-up to push myself hard one last time. Rocksteady Running, the same people who organize the Superior Trail Races, set up some lovely summer races of varying shorter distances at the more lovely parks around the Twin Cities area, and this was the only one I was actually able to do. I hadn't raced that short a distance in a long time, especially not on trail, so I was curious to see what I could do. The weather was warm, but not uncomfortable, and the vibe was relaxed. I set off fast with the intention to hold back a little at the start, which quickly proved impossible if I wanted to get around the throng of people bottlenecked at the start. Redlining within the first few minutes, I decided to see how it would play out, not backing off and running with all the grit and gusto I had. I haven't hurt that much in a long time, but the unique thing is that my legs and muscles didn't hurt, my chest did. My heart was beating so hard that my throat got sore and my chest felt the pressure, as if my heart was trying to squeeze itself out of my mouth. Not a pleasant feeling, but the race was done before I knew it. In fact, I thought for sure we all took a wrong turn and did 2k instead of 5k, but the timing was right. Crossing the line my time was 22:13, a 6:54/mile pace that was good enough for 29th place out of 275 runners, a personal best! I have never run sub-7-minute miles on trail, especially on one of the most challenging trails in the Twin Cities! This was a turning point for me. I knew for sure that I was ready for this marathon, and that my training had paid off. Not only was my body ready, but so was my brain.
Answer #4 - Mental Management. While driving to and from Ely, MN almost every weekend from April of 2013 until May of 2014 while my wife and I had a distance marriage due to a job opportunity she couldn't pass up, I listened to a lot of Trail Runner Nation podcasts, and one that caught my attention in particular was an interview with Lanny Bassham, an Olympic gold medal shooter, who had created a system to improve his mental game and score him the gold medal in 1976. This interview came back to me at the start of my training for this race, and so I decided to check out his book, With Winning in Mind. I was excited to learn something new about unlocking my mental potential, because it's always been a problem area for me. I get really nervous at competitions, and my adrenaline surges right away, leaving me zapped a short while later when it wears off. The book is a short read, and I must say that nothing in it is life-changing, but two things caught my attention that were simple enough to try, and if they didn't work, there were no negative consequences. The first was to make a deal with yourself or someone else, as a sort of carrot to help you achieve your goal. I somewhat half-heartedly proposed to my wife that if I reached my A goal we would go to one of our favorite and most expensive restaurants for dinner, and if I made my B goal, we'd check out a new sushi place we'd heard about. She agreed. The second - and seemingly more influential - piece to my mental game improvement is known as the Directive Affirmation. With this, you write a specific plan in a short paragraph that speaks as if you've already achieved your goal. It's dated at the top with the goal date, you state what you are or are able to do, list the reasons why that goal is important aka the pay value, then state specifically what you do daily to reach that goal, and finish once again with your statement on who you are or what you can do. You're then supposed to make five copies of it and post it around the house in places you go often (bathroom mirror, refrigerator door etc), and read it every time you visit that place. Do this for 21 days and then rest for nine. Well, I didn't print it out and post it, but I left it open on my computer which I saw everyday, so I made a point to read it often. After a while I had it memorized and recited it to myself at various times throughout the day, such as the drive to and from work. Honestly, as cheesy as the whole process sounds, I think it helped a lot in making me more positive and helping me stay disciplined with my training plan.
|The two most important resources - a winning pair.|
Sept. 4, 2015 - It's always a pleasure to open my email inbox and see an email from the illustrious Samuel Jurek, and on this day, it was short and sweet: "There is a god," along with the weather forecast for race day; sunny, with a low temp of 45 and a high of 59. Perfect! Things were shaping up for a fast course, as it had been dry in the recent week, and things were looking consistent in the final week before go time. For him it was even better, as he was coming back for attempt #2 at the 100-miler, after absolutely disgusting weather in 2013 and an unfortunate DNF.
With only two weeks left before the race, the training itself now took a backseat and I switched to maintenance workouts: shorter, more speed bursts, a ton of foam rolling, and no more long runs. Now is when I focused once again on the key piece to running well.
Answer #5 - Nutrition. Although I totally geek out on this and would love to post about the actual science behind my decisions, I feel that I wouldn't be able to do it justice, so I'll leave it to the professionals. If you're interested, check out Phil Maffetone and Bob Seebohar. For now, I want to speak to what I have done over the last few years and more specifically what I did differently this time.
In following a high fat, low carb nutrition plan pretty regularly over the last two years, I was feeling that something was still missing. It had much greater benefits than my previous carb-centric diet and I didn't want to go back. In my daily life, the benefits were the greatest: increased and balanced energy throughout the whole day without the sugar crashes mid-morning and afternoon, better gastrointestinal health with no gas or bloat to speak of, and a general feeling of lightness in both mind and body. Don't get me wrong, it was - and is still at times - incredibly hard to resist all of the amazing foods that are packed with sugar, but time after time of indulging in those foods, I felt incredibly crappy afterward, so the pay value wasn't as high. I discovered that certain carb-heavy foods didn't bother me as much, such as most pizzas (no deep dish) or Haagen Dazs ice cream, which was higher in fat and had fewer sugar/carbs than other ice creams. To this, I still had some of the things I enjoyed, and for those I knew I wouldn't enjoy after eating, I lost the desire to eat them at all, at least in most cases. I gotta say, I don't really miss bread all that much, except for the convenience of a sandwich on the go. For someone without a lot of free time, it's hard to find a variety of non-carb foods to eat quickly. Most meals required planning and preparation, but it was worth it.
Throughout the summer, I would usually eat 3 fried eggs for breakfast adding in bacon, sausage, or do a scramble with cheese and veggies on days when I had time, a salad for lunch with at least three healthy fat sources such as cheese, nuts, and an olive-oil-based dressing along with small amounts of fruit, and a dinner with some kind of meat with grilled/roasted vegetables drenched in olive oil and sometimes also with cheese. Burgers and brats were heavily consumed, but with romaine lettuce used for a bun, which by the way, allows one to experience more of the flavor of the burger/brat without muting it with a bun. It's a bit messier, but tasty. Since I was feeling that something was missing in this equation, I decided after my 4-week ME stint that I would periodically add in more healthy carbs to see how it affected my training. Sweet potatoes became a staple, along with increased amounts of delicious summer fruit mostly in berry form, and of course an occasional splurge of ice cream. I noticed that with moderated amounts of these types of carbs, my runs on the following day were more successful in most cases, without sacrificing aerobic efficiency. I was finally figuring out the right balance for my body.
A key takeaway from Bob Seebohar's book was the idea of carbohydrate restoration. The idea is that if you're a fat burner eating low carb most of the time, adding more carbs to your meal the night before a hard workout will not hinder your performance, but rather give you a head start and buffer your fat burning. This, of course, sounds like carb loading, a long-held theory in the endurance world, but it's much more modest than that. If, for example, you're eating 40-50g of carbs a day in your normal plan, you should bump it up to 80-90g for something like an interval run. That's not a huge difference, and certainly doesn't require a giant plate of spaghetti or something equivalent. That's essentially like eating one normal serving of rice with stir fry at dinner, and only before truly hard workouts. That does not include long runs, because long runs should be done at lower intensity. I used this once a week before my one hard workout. For days when I did strides, hill work, or strength training, I didn't need the extra carbs.
A Note on High Fat Low Carb Eating (or any big change in your nurtition)
I want to mention a few things worth noting about changing to this nutrition plan. I'll try to keep it brief, in list form:
- In combining this nutrition with aerobic efficiency-based training, I lost quite a lot of weight and kept it off, whether I wanted to or not.
- I didn't get as hungry as often, because my body was burning more fat - a slow burning fuel.
- I did, however, need to eat a sh*t ton more food to keep up with daily caloric needs, because low carb foods are typically lower in calories. The salads I ate each day were family-style sized.
- Two realizations: carbs are everywhere (take a look at ketchup), and I am totally addicted to sugar.
- This plan is meant for people serious about becoming the best athlete they can be. It takes enormous discipline, patience, and checking your ego at the door. It's a big change in daily living. There's no half-assing it. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're totally motivated.
- It takes support and encouragement to do well. If family and friends aren't on board, or at least understanding, it won't work and will cause havoc with relationships. Some may think you have an eating disorder. Be prepared to compromise when you can.
- It could very well make you food obsessive (see the extreme here), but done properly doesn't need to be extreme. One simply needs to shift daily routine and patterns. It does, however, take time to figure that out for yourself and your own body. Obsessing about it is not mentally healthy, and if body and mind aren't both healthy, then you're not healthy.
- There is an ebb and flow with this eating plan. It is not a diet, but a nutrition plan, and it need not be maintained 100% of the time to the strictest of standards. It's taken me a while to truly figure this out and internalize it. Some people will figure it out faster, and some need time to learn about their own body and how it works, because everyone is different. Nutrition periodization is key. Loosen up in the off season and have the bagel or brownie. It's ok.
- In general, this is the plan I chose to try and it has worked for me over time, especially since I learn more about my body each day and tweak things a bit. Everyone is different, but in following some basic principles, you'll be fine with whatever you eat. A great post to sum this up is from ultrarunning champion and pathologist Pam Smith and can be found here.
RACE WEEKEND - SEPT.11-12, 2015
It was finally here! In the two weeks pre-race, I was feeling quite negative: I was stressed from starting the new school year, didn't feel strong, and just wanted to get the race over with. I'm not sure why I was so negative, considering the many big improvements I'd experienced throughout the summer, but for some reason my brain took a downward spiral, probably just because I was super stressed with work. In any case, I worked a half day on Friday and the girls and I headed up north on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Runner check-in at Caribou Highlands, dinner at Mogul's Grille, and race day prep to follow.
Pre-race day nutrition: 3 fried eggs for breakfast, almonds for mid-morning snack, lunch of chicken choylla (spicy Tibetan dish with chicken, sauteed peppers/onions/tomatoes over rice) with a little spinach mixed in, and bacon-wrapped meatloaf in mushroom cream sauce with sauteed veggies for dinner at Mogul's.Although trying to get myself ready and help my wife prepare for the day of crewing with our 10-month-old daughter and two dogs in tow was a little stressful, I slept really well, which is quite unusual. The morning started at 5am with breakfast of homemade grain-free granola (nuts, seeds, coconut shavings/oil, cinnamon, and honey) in Greek yogurt and about 8oz of my usual pre-race drink (scoop of chocolate whey protein, 2oz coconut milk, 10oz almond milk) which had frozen into a slushy in the overachieving hotel fridge overnight. Everything else came together and I was on the bus headed to the start. It turns out I sat across from a guy I met at the 5k a few weeks prior, so we chatted a bit about this and that. He had finished right behind me and thanked me for setting a good finishing pace, and mentioned that he was hoping to do the same with this race. I told him we'd see.
The start was brisk, but perfect running weather. I got in a solid warm-up and was thoroughly enjoying the cool temperature. The best part was the woman next to me who was all smiles while wearing a shirt with big black letters that read, "I HATE RUNNING." How's that for inspiration?
Although wanting to run the first part of the race measured and relaxed, I set out at a somewhat brisk pace in the front half as not to get stuck behind slower runners once the pack turned onto the trail itself from the road, where everything bottlenecks. The goal was to run measured, but not "like a sissy" as Max King put it in his Ice Age 50 race report from last year. I hit it perfectly, just behind some runners going a little faster than I would like, with runners behind me going no faster than my current pace. Golden.
The race was truly a blur. I ran behind a couple of runners for a while - one woman in purple and a guy in bright orange - and shared some good conversation. I kept passing the woman on the downhills and she'd overtake me on the uphills, so we agreed to let it play out. Once we hit Cross River, however, she and the guy in orange took off. Later on there was a college student from St. Cloud behind me for a good stretch. It was his first marathon, and he seemed to like my pace. Once we hit Temperance AS - which came up a helluva lot quicker than I expected, even with it being the longest stretch of trail on the course - I didn't see him again. I rolled through there in about 51 seconds, but only after the girl who filled my water said, "Hey, I remember you. You had the cute baby at the restaurant last night!" It's those kind of statements that make trail racing fun. Thanks for that, whoever you are.
The second section includes the climb up Carlton Peak, which was thoroughly enjoyable this time around. Once again, it came up quicker than expected. I made good use of the awesome sustained downhill coming off the backside. I was a little bit sluggish rolling in to Sawbill AS, but still feeling good, and looking forward to seeing my girls. Upon arrival, no wife and daughter! It was here that I realized I was blazing at my A-goal pace! I also wasn't going to wait around, so I fueled up and took off.
Now it was on! Between Sawbill and Oberg is the fastest part of the trail, with rolling hills and relatively smooth trail. It was quiet here and I was alone for most of this section, passing an occasional runner. I recalled the last climb up to Oberg from 2013 and remembered how trashed I was feeling, but this year the thought was: "I'm eating this sh*t for breakfast, but actually since I had breakfast, this is second breakfast!" Hitting the soft, wide path shrouded in pine just before the opening into Oberg was almost magical, and I hit the downhill into the AS with a huge smile, especially because my girls were there waiting! One of the TC Running Company guys made swift work of filling my Camelbak while I connected with girls, who just barely missed me at Sawbill.
On to the final stretch! I was pumped to get moving and blaze the last 7+ miles on my all-time favorite stretch of trail. Coming down off Oberg Peak I opened it up a bit more, only to feel a blip on the inside of my right quad, threatening to cramp. Damn! I was feeling so great. It was time to pay attention to my form a bit more. I was letting my legs splay out to the sides and my feet get in front of me too much, but by the time I got to the long, steep climb up Moose Mountain, I was ready. I kicked it into climbing gear and set out, passing a guy in a green shirt, who held on with me to the top. After the race he came up to me and thanked me for pulling him up the mountain with him, but to be honest, it was him right behind me that put me in gear. Heading down Moose felt fast, but I was focusing hard to keep that threatening quad in check.
Next came the "Long Climb of Loneliness" as I like to call it, up Mystery mountain. This time around it wasn't long or lonely! I felt great and was hiking well. At the top of this climb is where I usually set it to my final push and realized at this point that I've never been passed in this last section, so I felt confident and was ready to keep it that way.
Until I heard footsteps approaching behind me.
A tall guy in a hunter green shirt passed me up at a brisk pace, but not too brisk that I couldn't hang with him, so it was on! We zigzagged through the woods until we passed the campsite, which is always my signal that the end is incredibly near! One last set of screaming downhills before hitting the approach trail and the river. I stepped out in front, feeling ready to fly...and then promptly ate it, my first fall ever in a race! Tumbling into the soft dirt just off the trail, I got up quickly, checked myself, and took off. Green shirt guy was about 30 yards up the trail, and just as I started cruising, I saw him faceplant. Now it was getting interesting! I caught up and passed him, feeling both my quads offering a "hang on a minute there" in polite rebellion, but ignored it. Bad idea. Just after passing, I ate it again! This time it was a bit more intense and I did a sort of awkward side roll to get myself up without coming to a full stop. The sudden jolt sent a huge blip to my right hamstring. No, I can't cramp now! Ok, at this point, being way ahead of my A-goal pace, I decided to back off and let Green Shirt Guy run his own race. It wasn't worth cramping right before the worst part of the race, namely the 3/4 mile of pavement back to Caribou Highlands. Setting into a swift and only somewhat uncomfortable rhythm, I hauled it in to the finish ahead of schedule, with such joy that I did a diving somersault across the finish line, squirting water out of my Camelbak all over me. Official finish time 15:15:25 with a 12:03/mile pace!
|BEST RACE EVER!|
As I've said before, I'm no elite runner, but surpassing lofty goals is something truly amazing, especially when everything comes together and it almost feels - dare I say - effortless. I had a blast on the trail that day, and it went by so quickly.
As wrap-up, I'll stick to my traditional format:
Fitness - A
Of course there's always room for better fitness, but I nailed it this time around with the added hard workouts and additional PT/post-run exercises. Other than the blip in my right quad, everything felt solid.
Mechanics - A-
Just like with my fitness, I feel that my form was solid and sustainable. The only thing that gives me pause is that inner right quad blip. I was stepping too much out front and to the side on downhills with my right leg. That hints to an imbalance that I'll need to figure out more. It might simply be psychosomatic.
Mental Toughness - A
Great mood all day, ready to race but disciplined and smart.
Nutrition/Hydration - A
No problems whatsoever. Consumed only gels, banana chunks, Heed, and water all day, and in relatively small amounts. Fat burning was truly optimized.
Joy - A+
I totally overachieved on this one. I had no lows at all, even when I felt a little sluggish coming in to Sawbill. I had my party pants on...or shorts as it were.
Pacing - A
Allow me to share my stats, for you number nerds like me.
- Start-Temperance: 1:27:51 (7.1mi, 12:22/mi pace), avg HR 165, max 171, AS time - 57sec
- Temp-Sawbill: 1:07:23 (5.7mi, 11:48/mi), avg HR 168, max 173, AS time - 2:07
- Sawbill-Oberg: 1:06:08 (5.5mi, 12:00/mi), avg HR 172, max 180, AS time - 5:11
- Oberg - Finish: 1:25:48, (7.1mi, 12:00/mi), avg HR 177, max 192
- Avg HR for the whole race: 170, max 192.
Until the next excessively tardy race report. Cheers!