New York is a helluva town. ~ Beastie Boys

I’ve been pretty quiet of late due to an abundance of work and trying to stay fit. I had to take a little time off in September to reset then caught a cold 2 weeks ago just when I was starting to feel fit again (just after running a PR 10K in training, go figure). So as I approach next week’s race, I am, once again, cautiously optimistic about how well things will go. As of today I am planning to run conservatively through 20 then assess. We’ll see how well that plan sorts itself out.

Overall, this hasn’t been the best training cycle for me for a number of reasons. After running trails most of the summer, I came into training mode with a general clunkiness going on. My right knee was acting up a bit, I just felt “flat” a lot of the time, and I was having a tough time getting up for the process. I think that beating my goal of running a sub-3 back in April made establishing a new goal difficult. That was such a major milestone, running a 2:55 or whatever just didn’t hold as much luster.

In recent weeks (barring that stupid cold I caught), I have been wrapping my head around what running a PR or even another sub-3 at NYC would mean and have come to the conclusion that I should go for it, despite not having had the most fantastic run-up to the event. I am in shape, I have the confidence and experience to run a smart race, NYC will be a tougher challenge but with a LOT more crowd support than Eugene, and I have the benefit of already reached my goal for the year so, unlike Eugene, I can just put everything out there on the table and see what happens without fear of blowing my chance of meeting my sub-3 goal.

So, for NYC, I have several targets in mind: 2:55, 2:58, 3:00, finish. I am guessing the first mile or two will be slow but I’ll work my way slowly back up to 6:40s and see where the chips fall. If I feel awesome when I hit the Bronx, I’ll start racing. If you are interested in following my progress, I’m bib #6583.

In the meantime, send out good thoughts to everyone along the east cost getting hammered by Sandy. It’s a big one.


4-Pass Loop

Maroon Bells at Dawn

That was… beautiful. ~ Edwina “Ed” McDonnough

Sometimes, you just need to lean on your friends to get you back in the swing of things and Caleb definitely upped the ante by recommending we tackle Aspen’s famous 4-Pass Loop as a main summer goal (Note: My Garmin blew up at mile 25 due to my turtle-esque pace). I knew this had the potential to be both an incredible adventure and a serious effort. I was up for both. (Here’s a link to the full gallery.)

4-Pass Loop Map 4-Pass Loop Elevation Profile

We decided that a weekday trek had the best potential for success so penned in the 24th as the day we’d tackle the route. This is a popsicle loop of about 27 miles that summits 4 passes: Buckskin (12,532), Trail Rider (12,412), Frigid Air (12,398) and West Maroon (12,469) on a route that circumnavigates the Maroon Bells. We jammed up to Aspen on Monday, stopping briefly to hike up to Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon (well worth the effort) and car camped at the trailhead.

Caleb Melamed on Buckskin Pass Caleb Melamed on Buckskin Pass

Up before sunrise on Tuesday to start our adventure, Caleb and I grabbed some breakfast, packed up our gear and headed out just as the sun was kissing the tops of the Maroon Bells. What an amazing start to a proud adventure. We made our way up the technical singletrack toward Buckskin Pass and fell into a decent rhythm of steady forward progress. the route climbs steadily upward through aspen groves to treeline where we were greeted by incredible views. One final, steep pitch through fields of incredible wildflowers and we made our first summit (about 4.9 miles into the run).

Snowmass Lake Caleb Melamed on Trail Rider Pass

We headed down the steep, northwest side of the pass and made our way quickly into some of the most incredible singletrack running on the planet. This section drops down below treeline and makes its way toward Snowmass Lake. We got a little off-piste for a bit while trying to navigate what was described as a bit of a hidden turn but soon were back on track. (If you do this loop, turn left at the log footbridge under the beaver ponds rather than taking the somewhat obscured path above the ponds.) We quickly made our way to the unbelievably gorgeous Snowmass Lake (words do not describe) then pushed up through even MORE amazing fields of wildflowers above the lake to the summit of Trail Rider Pass at 11.75 miles into our day (probably more like 10.75 for those who don’t get off-route). More amazing views. This could never get boring.

Waterfall on Frigid Air Pass Frigid Air Pass

The southwest descent of Trail Rider was STEEP and my knee got pretty grumpy on this section but we soldiered on, stopping to fill up with water from a small stream about mile 14. The approach to the next pass, Frigid Air, is long but we were treated with decent running through a variety of ecosystems and were treated to more incredible vistas and scenery. We navigated a section of blow-down just before reaching a large waterfall about mile 16 that set the stage for a short, steep pitch just below treeline. The trail then climbs steadily through one of the most beautiful mountain valleys you will ever see on the final approach to Frigid Air.

I really started feeling it once we got back up above treeline on Frigid Air. My knee was grumpy, my stomach abandoned me and I resorted to some old Leadville tricks to keep things moving. 100 steps, stop, 5 big breaths, repeat. Eventually, I summited Frigid Air (about mile 19) quite a bit behind Caleb who was still moving well. From the summit, you can see Crested Butte and we ran into our first day-hikers who had made the climb up from the CB side of the pass (Schofield, if memory serves). Most of the traffic we encountered up to this point consisted of backpackers who normally take 3 days to complete the circuit. Needless to say, they found our 1-day shenanigans to be either impressive or idiotic or both.

One pass remained and I had pretty much run out of running juju though I was still hiking pretty quickly. We descended just a bit on the trek over to West Maroon then I went back into 100-rest-repeat mode for the final steep push up to the top of the pass. I summited well behind Caleb (again) on what was definitely the most trafficked section of the route (lots of people on West Maroon, about mile 21) and we headed down for the final 7 miles of our journey. Caleb was moving well (better than I, for sure) and I ran a little on the descent but that made my knee and stomach unhappy so I just decided to hike it in. Caleb stopped several times to check on me and I finally cut him loose since I didn’t want to extend his day any further. Since there was a lot of foot-traffic at this point, it was safe to split up.

I hiked the remaining few miles. Stopped briefly to talk with a Ranger at Crater Lake (about mile 26) and just got the rest done in a slight (and welcomed) sprinkle of rain. Saw some blue grouse at the end of the journey just above Maroon Lake and shortly thereafter found myself back at the car.

Caleb was all cleaned up and ready to go so I quickly scrubbed off the worst of the day’s grunge, tossed most of my stuff into his truck (with the exception of a pretty much new pair of shoes I donated to the Trailhead gods on accident), and we made our way back to the Front Range. All in all, a fantastic day out of the trails. I definitely didn’t perform as well as I had hoped but we bit off a pretty big chunk and I didn’t really have the time to get trained up for a 7+ hour push so I don’t feel bad about the effort. It really showed me how specificity of training works (I’m speedy for efforts up to 3-4 hours but after that, I start to fade) but also made me really happy to have been able to accomplish this type of run on what fitness I had in the bank. I also feel really blessed to be able to get to see some of the more remote parts of our state. Not a lot of people get to experience this stuff. I’m super lucky to be able to do so.


Efficiency gained, efficiency lost

Caleb and Stu just below the summit of South Arapaho Peak

I want what I want. ~ Roger Sterling

Marathon recovery always seems to take longer than I want. This cycle has been particularly difficult because I have been REALLY excited to run trails and followed the prescribed recovery regimen only to find myself a battling some knee pain over the past couple of weeks that definitely set me back a bit. It’s all good, just didn’t get to log as many trail miles as I had hoped in May. June is shaping up well, however.

I ventured up high with my buddy, Caleb, yesterday to South Arapaho Glacier via the Rainbow Lakes Trailhead. Overall, it was a decent – albeit slow – run. We battled fierce headwinds all the way up the pass and decided to abandon our goal of summiting South Arapaho Peak after hunkering down for a bit at the base of the last pitch. Just a little too windy for our taste. We ended up with a little over 12 miles for the day. Most of which were pretty hard-fought. Much slower than we anticipated but all in all a great outing.

I did discover that though my fitness is good and I am moving quite efficiently on smooth trails, my technical running has taken a hit after all this road training and racing I have done over the past couple of years. If the trail is obstacle-light, I can fly. When things get dicey, not so much. I also have lost my ability to fall into the “ultra shuffle” and tend to stride out a lot more than in the past. It has yet to be determined whether or not this is a bad thing. I just noticed it makes matching pace with Caleb a bit of a challenge and I found myself switching between a fast hike and slow run cadence while he kept a pretty consistent trot most of the way up. We topped out at over 12,600 feet for the day which makes this the third week in a row for me to get up over treeline. Really looking forward to our 4-Pass Loop run in July.

I upped the mileage considerably this last week since my knee has been feeling better and am hoping that spell of grumpiness is behind me. Seems like it was just a matter of needing a bit more time off and having quads that, though they didn’t really feel it, were a bit wrecked. Worked on mobility, took some time off, watched a lot of movies, brought yoga back into my regular regimen, and did a lot of foam rolling and massage and things seem to be on the mend. Hoping I can get back up in the 50+ mpw range in the next couple of weeks.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.


Recovery: Putting yourself back together post-race

I run the marathon to the very last mile. ~ Beastie Boys

First of all, I have to say how sad I am about the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (MCA). His music has been in heavy rotation in my life since 1986’s License to Ill and he will be sorely missed. As I have said before, cancer can go fuck itself.

Now on to (hopefully) less depressing topics: Race recovery. I am no expert but have learned a few tricks in the past few years about what works for me once the racing is done and your bod is in need of some TLC.

Immediately following a longer event, I am usually fairly dehydrated and my electrolyte balance is all out of whack. I sweat like it’s going out of style so even though I try to stay on top of hydration during the race, I still am depleted by the finish. Once I stop running and my heartrate starts to drop, my blood pressure crashes. The fluid level in my system is depleted and when the pump slows down, the volume of blood being delivered to my brain diminishes. Bad things can happen after that if I don’t get some fluids going. And stat. So immediately post-race, I guzzle some Gatorade, grab a couple bottles of water (or re-usable cups, if available) and I find a place to sit down if I am feeling woozy. I have also found that chips are my bestest friend immediately after a race. I think the salt and calories treat me right so I’ll whack down a couple bags of those as well. Lunch-sized bags, not Party Size, tubby.

I try to get moving again fairly quickly post-race vs. sitting for too long. If I feel well enough to jog a little, I might try that but usually I am just up for a stroll back to the hotel or shuttle or wherever I need to be next. If you have friends or family attending the event, have a place picked out to meet up since there will be hundreds of runners milling around like zombies post-event and finding your loved-ones in this mess is not happening. I have found that a couple miles is a decent distance for a post-race walk but durations may vary depending upon what works for you. If you can walk back along the course and cheer for those racers finishing after you, that is a lot of fun.

Once I get back to my room, I jump in an ice bath then follow this with a warm bath to help flush my legs. Not the most pleasant of experiences but I do find that it helps reduce the inflammation in my legs and puts me on the road to recovery. I also try to get in some decent complex carbs at this juncture to try to rebuild my glycogen stores. Lunch is usually on the immediate agenda as well, so as soon as I have cleaned up, I’ll head back out to grab some grub. I find that it helps to spend at least a little time in the afternoon with my feet up. I’ll watch a movie or read a book before heading back out for a mid-to-late-afternoon walk or celebration.

The next day:
Usually, I travel for my big races so like to spend some time post-event exploring the town. I have found that this helps get my legs moving again and greatly reduces the down-time post-event. The past three marathons I have done, I have spent a good chunk of time the following day walking or hiking in the surrounding area. Post-Boston, I walked the Freedom Trail, which was fantastic and when I was in San Fran last summer, I walked all around the area checking out the sites of Chinatown, Telegraph Hill and the neighborhoods of the Bay Area. In Eugene last weekend, I hiked a small peak south of town. Going down stairs or downhill can be daunting but it is worth it to get out to soak in the sites as well as to keep things moving.

I keep pushing the fluids and tend to eat like there’s no tomorrow in the days following the race. I also like to wear compression tights on the flight home as this seems to make my legs recover more quickly.

The following week:
I tend to need a couple days for my legs to feel less like hunks of wood and like to throw in walking/hiking during the first week post-race. If I am feeling fantastic, I might try a short, easy run as early as Wednesday after a Sunday event but usually find this to be counter-productive. I keep the running super light and easy for at least a couple weeks after a big event, tend to move to easy trails vs. roads and definitely don’t push the pace or intensity much during this period. I have made the mistake of trying to jump back into faster workouts too quickly in the past and am learning that time spent being nice to myself now, pays off immensely later. I can either take it easy for a couple of weeks now, or be required to take at least another couple of weeks later. Think “big picture” at this juncture vs. short-term pleasure. I missed trail running last season due to my road racing schedule and am SO jonezing to run the amazing trails around my house. But I am forcing myself to hold back a bit, be patient with my recovery, and wait a bit to get out on a longer, more intense run. The trails will be there when my bod is ready to roll. (Hopefully by Sunday!)

One final note, the above recommendations are based upon racing marathons where the intensity level and surface contribute to more post-event suffering than I experience when running trail races. Even after the Leadville 100 in 2010, I was running normally again later that week. To be completely honest, I am WAY more wrecked after racing a marathon than an ultra. Though I haven’t fully “raced” an ultra yet… I’ll have to get back with you on that one. Let me know if I missed anything.

As always, have fun out there.


EDIT: Talked with my coach and World Marathon Champ, Mark Plaatjes, on a run today about recovery. He recommended running only 2-3 days – no more than 5 miles per run – the week after a marathon. If you feel like jumping on a bike and doing easy rides, that is fine. Week two, you can increase your runs to 4-5 and add some distance but no intensity. Just keep everything mellow. The third week you can start running your regular schedule with some fartleks but no sustained efforts. After that, you should be good to go back to your regularly scheduled training regimen.

We also talked about doubles and his take on them is that if you have time to run in the morning, come home, eat, take a nap, get up around noon and do another run, eat, take another nap, then doubles are sustainable. If not, they are just a recipe for injury. He does like adding easy bike riding as a supplement in the evening after hard morning runs.

Good stuff.


Level up: Sub-3 Completed

Be the banana. ~ Susan Nuzum

Way back in the 5th century, a wise person said, “Patience is a virtue.” After running a 2:58:47 (gun time) at the Eugene Marathon this weekend, I could not agree more. Throughout the first 20 miles of this race, when I felt so good and wanted so badly to run faster, I kept telling myself, “Be patient,” and doing so paid off in spades.

Everything came together for this race: a solid training cycle, limited injury/wonkiness complications, good focus and preparation, fantastic weather, a good course… the list goes on. Sometimes, one can have everything prepped and ready to go and one small thing throws off the whole endeavor. But for me, at the 2012 Eugene Marathon, all the stars aligned and I had a great day of running.

The Prep:
After running a solid 5K in January, I decided that perhaps my fitness had finally returned. I was physically crushed after Boston last year and it took forever to recover. This effort, in the off-season, really helped bolster my confidence that I had returned to form and was in a good position to take another stab at the sub-3-hour barrier. My team was training for Boston so I just settled in to their regimen and started looking for a different race to run this Spring. I settled on the weekend of April 29th since it seemed to a) fit my schedule well and b) not push me too far out of the team’s cycle. This would give me a couple more weeks to prepare, the opportunity to tack on another long run or two onto the program and the ability to include a slightly more extended taper. OKC and Eugene were contenders and Eugene won out with the promise of “less bad” weather potential (Eugene could be rainy but never has extreme storms or heat like can be found in OKC) and more appeal on the travel front (sorry, Oklahoma). Plus, I have been trying to support areas with my travel dollars who do a better job of not discriminating against others and Oregon wins that competition hands-down.

Leading up to this race, I was more focused than any other event in regard to nutrition and attention to staying rested and healthy. Rach always keeps me very well-fed but I have a tendency to add snack calories here and there and have been known to be less disciplined than I should be when it comes to sodas and whatnot. Starting at the end of February, I made sure to pay special attention to my snacking, soda and beer consumption and made sure I was getting a lot of extra sleep throughout the week. I run enough (and generally snack very little) that this probably didn’t make a huge physical impact, but mentally it made me focus a lot more and feel like I was really sacrificing for this difficult to achieve goal.

My workouts were formulated with the help of Mark Plaatjes, who is just fantastic. Pretty much stayed on a similar plan of attack as prior cycles but added one over-distance run (28 miles) and several “fast-finish” long runs to the plan. Frankly, most of my longer runs didn’t go as well as I would have liked but having completed several marathon training cycles at this point, I knew that getting them done was slightly more important than hitting every split right on target. Again, patience paid off.

Race weekend:
I headed out to Eugene on Friday and went straight to the Expo to pick up my bib and get that nonsense out of the way. Eugene is mellow enough that I probably could have flown in on Saturday without creating too much stress but I didn’t want to risk bad weather or other factors getting in the way of my travel. Eugene has some great vegetarian options as well and I ended up gravitating to Cafe Yumm for meals on three different occasions during my stay. I picked up some general provisions at Trader Joe’s and after driving the first 10 miles of the course and dinking around Eugene for a bit, headed back to the hotel to watch a movie and hit the sack early.

Saturday, I did my standard pre-race run (slightly extended to get the lay of the land so I wouldn’t be confused at all on race day). I ran from the hotel to the start (about 1.75 miles), then did some surges (4) on the way back toward the hotel, then did 1 mile at race pace on the course. Felt fine and dandy. I then headed out to King Estate Winery to meet family for lunch and some wine tasting. I spent the rest of the day with my feet up and head down, either watching movies or napping (briefly). I hit the sack early and the next morning, it was go-time.

Race day:
Up at 5:25 to get ready, I ate some food (1/2 a bagel w/almond butter and banana, a cup of coffee, some gatorade), did my  warm-ups in the room, then headed out the door at 6:25 to jog over to the start line. It was cool and overcast – perfect racing conditions – and after 4 surges in front of the line, I joined my corral. I ate 4 Clif Blocks and finished off a 12oz Gatorade before the start, chucked my short-sleeved warm-up shirt off-course and after getting a quick pep-talk from Meb Keflezighi, we were off.

I was seeded in Corral A, so was pretty near the front of the pack at the start and was able to settle into my race pace quickly. Way different than some of the larger races I have done where the first mile or two are incredibly frustrating from a pacing standpoint. I started looking around for people to run with and settled in with one guy who claimed to be wanting to run 2:58. After running with him for a bit on rolling terrain, I dropped off as we were ticking off 6:40s and I wanted to be super conservative through 20. As with most of my experiences running at (or near) sea level, hills were super easy. I would just maintain pace up hills and people would come back to me. By the first mat at the 5K mark, I was right on target pace (21:30ish, 6:45 pacing) and I kept these even splits through at least mile 20. My plan was to run 6:45-6:50 pacing all day unless I was feeling fantastic after mile 20 and I nailed it.

The majority of the hills come in the first 9 miles of this race and honestly, they were not a big deal at all. Training at altitude on hilly roads builds the strength and confidence to master most hills and dropping 6000+ feet in elevation makes them a breeze. The steepest hill on the Eugene course came on 19th street, about mile 9. I sailed over this one with a guy from Philly who was aiming for about a 2:58. He told me his last two marathons were 3:00:22 and 3:00:28 and he wasn’t going to let that happen to him again. Eventually, I dropped off his pace and he finished a bit in front of me for the day so a special congrats to him on breaking 3-hours!

The course loops back on itself and we passed Hayward Field at about mile 9 and sets off east along the Willamette River into Springfield, home of the Simpsons. I wasn’t sure what to expect on this portion of the course and was pleasantly surprised to find us running in a forested park area for a bit then nice, residential neighborhoods. I crossed the half-way mark in 1:28ish and kept rolling.

By mile 16, I was starting to get tempted to pick it up a little bit as I was still feeling fresh and relaxed and was nailing my 6:45 pacing. Whenever these urges arose, I reminded myself to be patient and continued to run relaxed. I am so glad I took this approach as the last 10K of pretty much every marathon I have run has been particularly difficult and Eugene was no exception. We ran along Pre’s Trail in central Eugene for a bit then headed west along the Willamette. I started feeling the effort around mile 18, flubbed a gel hand-up at mile 19.5 (for which I circled back briefly) and by mile 20 was content to work out the math of what I needed to do to get in under 3-hours and delay any notions of picking up the pace for if I started feeling better. There was a great cheering section at mile 20, which really helped and as we crossed a footbridge for the final leg of the race, I was feeling drained but confident I could get this done. I walked briefly through an aid-station at mile 23 but then just kept thinking, “Run sub-7s,” all the way in. The sun came out at mile 24 and even though my legs were dead, I motored in. At mile 26, Hayward Field came into view and a felt a wave of joy as I stepped onto the track and pushed the last 150 meters to the finish. 2:58:47 gun time, 7.5-minute PR, 87th overall and 13th in my age group. Good stuff.

The Aftermath:
Post-race, I took some time to relish the moment in the recovery area, sat down and ate some chips for a bit and drank a couple bottles of water. After about 5 minutes, I felt ready to get going so started my walk back to the hotel. Met up with a couple people who were out spectating and pacing friends and generally took my time getting back to the hotel. I was tired, of course, but not destroyed like after other races. I took an ice bath then went out to grab some food and a celebratory beer with Heather and Ewan North. Ewan had some stomach problems during his race so didn’t finish as well as he had hoped but still managed a top 10 2:31, which is impressive to say the least. I headed back to my hotel, ate some more and hit the sack early.

Monday, I woke up starving and had time for a fantastic breakfast at the Morning Glory in Eugene, then headed south to hike Spencer Butte. The weather on Monday was less agreeable than on race day (drizzley and socked-in) but it was good to get out to get my legs moving and hike around in the forest. I had a bit more time to kill before my flight so checked out the Hydrangea Gardens in Hendricks Park then jammed out to the airport for my return flight. All in all, a fantastic weekend adventure.

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