Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sequoia 50K - Next Race

Just booked the hotel for the Sequoia 50K.

This race takes place in the Oakland Hills and within the South Bay Regional Parks. This area will always be special to me because I did my first ultra here; a 50 miler called the Firetrails 50. I had a great time and a great race, I even qualified for Western States. It is a beautiful area, much different than my usually brownish green surroundings in So. Cal.  The hills are lush green and the trails are soft and moist. It will be a welcomed change of scenery and a great weekend of fun and racing.

Now, if I can just find a few race companions to make the trip with me!  They also have a 10k, 20k and 30k.


Ted's 2008 Ultra Schedule

Calico was my first ultra in a while.  I had not raced ultras since Sept. of last year, when I did the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run.  For Calico, I didn't really paid much attention to the preparations.  I kinda just, "showed up and did it".  It wasn't my "A" race, it was almost just a training run. During the run, I realized how if I had paid more attention to certain things I would of had a much better race. It was a good reminder of how important race preparation was.  But, on the other hand, I much enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. I had so much fun at Calico; and it was challenging enough to have pushed me beyond my ordinary training. Now, I'm all juiced up for racing again.

I have decided that this year I would race myself into shape. I want to get really "tough" by testing myself against many of the courses in our area. For me, the "A" race for 2008 is again the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run in Sept.  This time, I hope to go under 24 hours and earn the coveted solid sterling silver buckle. 

Leading up to AC100, I've decided that I'm gonna do a race a month; mostly 50k's and at least one, if not two, 50 milers.  I currently have the list below, if any of you happens to want to do the same race, we can do it together!  It would be fun.

02/16/08 Sequoia 50K - Oakland, CA.
03/16/08 MontaƱa de Oro 50K - Los Osos, CA (Morro Bay).
04/05/08 Agoura Hills 1/2 Marathon - Agoura Hills, CA.
04/19/08 Leona Divide 50 Miler - Lake Hughes, CA.
05/17/08 Bishop High Sierra 50K - Bishop, CA.
05/24/08 Mt. Wilson Trail Race - Sierra Madre, CA.
06/08/08 Holcomb Valley 33 Miles - Big Bear Lake, CA.
07/05/08 Angel Island 50K - San Francisco, CA.
08/09/08 Mt. Disappointment 50k or 50 miler - Mt. Wilson, CA.
08/23/08 Bulldog 50k - Malibu, CA
09/01/08 Mt. Baldy Run to the Top - Mt. Baldy Village, CA.
09/13/08 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run - Wrightwood, CA.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to Peak or Prepare for an Ultra

Hey, a lot of people have been asking me about how to prepare for an ultra. So, here it goes.

Assuming you already have a good running base, getting ready for an ultra means gaining the appropriate fitness for the specific event.  What this means is that peaking for a flat-land road marathon and peaking for a trail 50k up in the mountains will take completely different training. The more specific training you do that's appropriate for your event, the better prepared you will be. The body grows by adaptation; your fitness gains will come through stress-recovery cycles.

For running ultras, usually this means a lot of hill running. Many people don't like running hills because they are hard.  But, people make it hard because they try to run at their normal speed up the hills as they do on flat terrain. Try this next time you run a long hill that's more than a mile. Start at fast walking pace, then start running just above your walking pace.  To many of you, this will feel extremely slow. Then, gradually increase speed until you feel you can sustain your pace and run to the top without walking.  The goal is to run the whole climb at a pace that you can keep.  The speed will come as you gain climbing fitness.  The more regularly you do this, allowing rest in between, the quicker you will adapt to hill running. 

Hill running is easy if you can take the above mental attitude. In many ultra races, the course winds its way up the mountain for 15+ miles; so, in these cases, a steady pace should always be faster than running too fast in the beginning and then having to walk the last few miles. 

Practically, the preparation means at least one of your weekend long runs should be done on hills. And, it should include, at least one, if not two, shorter but faster hill runs during the week. The training plans you find on ultra-running related websites sometimes will just list mileage, but what they really means is that those mileage should be done on hills. 

You will love hills!  Just keep this in mind: "hills are not your enemy, they are just different." Over time, they will become your friend. :)


Friday, January 25, 2008

Spirit of the Marathon - Movie Review

Let's cut to the chase, I'm not impressed.  I thought that the Ironman broadcasts on TV were much better and more inspirational.

However, I do have to say that the original score music was good.  And the peak behind into the training of elite marathoners was also interesting.

The movie is a documentary following several runners, from the average person to the elite, who ran the Chicago Marathon. It takes the viewers through the training and see the dedication that each runner had. What stood out to me is that the average runner had as much dedication as the elite, but the elite are just more talented and can run much faster.

If you are into marathoning, then the movie is worth a view.  If you are into inspirational stories, then look elsewhere. 


Monday, January 21, 2008

Calico 50K 2008 Race Report

Before race picture, (taken by Karen's camera)

Okay, I admit it!  I'm afraid of cold.  What can I say, I'm just a warm climate person.  So, when we decided to do Calico, I was mentally prepared for "frigid" conditions. I heard that last year, they had 11 degrees temperature and 20 miles per hour winds at the starting line. So, I wore two pairs of tights, gloves, with a poly long sleeve undershirt and our green ATB shirt on top. And, in my drop bag, I stashed thicker gloves, a beanie hat, arm warmers, a wind jacket, and more shirts. I thought, that ought to do it!

On race morning, I got up at 2:00 am, mostly because I couldn't sleep from the excitement; and left the house at 3:00 am for the one and a half hour drive to Calico. I stopped in Barstow to take a nap and got to the Calico Ghost Town by about 5:30 am. One of the advantages of being so crazy early is that I parked really close to the stairs leading up to the start/finish line. It was really cold, so after braving the elements to get my race packet, I retreated to the warm cocoon of my car until just before the start. 

When I finally emerged from the warmth of my car and appeared at the frigid starting area, most of my fellow ATBer's were already there. It was great to have 14 of us doing the race together. We took a group picture.  The race announcer counted down to zero, but the guy holding the starting gun wasn't paying attention. Hello, hello!!  Here's something new, I don't think I've ever had this happen before. But, being so conditioned by our civility, we actually waited for the gun and took off a few seconds after zero. 

The course went down hill immediately, I took off like a caged bird. I passed a whole bunch of people until I could see the leaders just up the road. With my new found speed, I was cruising along with ease. We were actually on asphalt for about a few miles before we went onto dirt. After the short down hill at the start, the course went gradually up hill for the next 15 miles or so. I kept a pretty good pace for the entire 15 miles. I knew I was up there with the 50k leaders because I passed Kyle Hoang (4th overall) right at the start, and when he finally passed me back just after the 1st aid station, I was able to followed him for a few miles. That was cool! 

From reading the course description and looking at the elevation profile, I though the course went gradually up hill and then back down in about the same way. Boy, was I wrong. I though I could just charge up the incline and then rest my up hill legs and let my down hill legs take over on the second half. But, there was a lot more up hill on the second half than I thought. 

I had to finally let Kyle pull away from me, he was just too fast. I was doing great until my lower calves cramped up slightly. I scaled back my speed and ran/walked the last three miles up to the highest point of the course. I was trying to rest the legs and hope that they would recover.

The wind really kicked up just before the summit, I was getting cold because I took off the long sleeve poly shirt and left it at an aid station. I put on the arm warmers I grabbed from my drop bag and kept them on for the remainder of the race. The double tights kept the wind out and was not too warm and uncomfortable. I thought that was a good call.

I was in survival mode on the second half and was worried that my legs won't last the entire race. I ran/walked most of the hills on the second half. People were passing me but I didn't mind. Finally, I saw the parking lot.  But the course went away from it and then looped back, ugh. Then, at the very end, the road went up a very steep incline. That was mean!  Then it gently descended to the finish line. Hallelujah.

I learned that there is no "easy" 50k. You have to respect every course. It would have helped tremendously if we pre-ran the course; but that was next to impossible. But, next year it would be better. 

I waited at the finish area for all the other 50k ATBer's to come in.  They rocked!  If you were at the race, you probably saw a large group wearing green shirts; that's us. Most of us PRed, some were doing their first 50K. The winds kept blowing harder and harder, until at one point it toppled one of the huge loud speakers. I kind of felt bad for the people still out on the course. 

I had a lot of fun, it was a great way to spend my weekend with my friends.

After race picture (from Karen's Camera)


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Build an Awesome Running Base

Another thing that I'm doing this off-season is working on my base.  

Every runner of some experience knows that you need to have a base.  But have you ever wondered what is a base?  If we can understand what a base is and why we need it, then we might be able to figure out what it will take to make it better. 

From my actual running experience and reading what others have written; what I came up with is this: a running base is a level of bodily adaptations over time consistent with the intended duration and intensity of the running activity. 

The more consistently we run, the easier it gets. The body adapts. Many running articles are written about how the body grows new muscular fibers, creates new passages ways in the lungs, increases its red blood cells, and etc. when we start to run consistently. I don't want to repeat that same material here; but, let me just say that the body adapts over time to the rising level of challenge we allow it to endure. 

The body adapts and grows during the period of rest or recovery.  After exercise, the soreness we feel in our muscles are actually the result of old muscles being torn apart.  During our rest, new muscles are built to replace those which were torn.  The new muscles are rebuilt stronger to withstand the level of stress we had put it through.  In this way, adaptation happens in a stress-and-recover cycle. This is why we need to have hard runs and easy runs and rest days.  The novice mistake I made when I started running was to not allow enough rest, or to run too hard for too many consecutive days.  

Here's what has been happening in my running.  After the Angeles Crest 100 mile race in September of last year, I took a two week break and resumed training.  Soon, I was working harder and going slower. I was over-trained and had worked myself into the ground. At that point, I decided that I was just going to take it easy and work on my base and core strength.  

So, I begun a methodical way of increasing mileage slowly. I begun with 30 miles per week until I regained my strength.  Then, I went from 60 miles per week and built it up all the way to about 90 miles. I learned to run slower on my easy runs. I would purposely not wear a watch when I did my easy runs and just go by feel. I had enough running experience to gauge what an easy run feels like. To me, an easy run is that which I can recover from relatively easily.  Then, I would wear a watch on Saturday long runs and use that as my fitness test or gauge.

As I started this regiment. I started pondering what building a base means and what happens to the body while doing it. From what I had read and from my pondering I came up with my own formulation which I presented above. I asked myself: if building a base means bodily adaptation through stress-and-recover cycles, then what happens if I shortened the stress-and-recover cycles, thereby making it more frequent; but making the runs easier so it was faster to recover from.  Would my body then grow and adapt faster? I decided to try it out.

So, when I felt better recovered from my hard season; I started running in the mornings and evenings. I would try to make the runs at about 12 hours apart; so, if I ran at 7:00 am then I would run again at 7:00 pm. In the mornings, I would usually go a little harder because I would feel fresher from a whole night of sleep, then the evening runs would be slower and sometimes even a run/walk. If I don't feel fresh, even in the mornings, then I just run really easily. Soon, I learned how hard to run in the mornings so that I would recover enough and be able to run again in the evenings. Before the long runs on Saturday mornings, I would sometimes skip the Friday night run and rest. 

I started this regiment with runs lasting 5 miles.  Then I went to 6 miles and 7 miles. When running twice a day, mileage really adds up fast. With 5 miles per run, I logged about 60 miles per week. Then, with 6 and 7 miles, I went to 70+ and 90+ miles per week. After doing this for about a month, my long runs were getting much faster while feeling less tired afterwards.  I had not done any speed work whatsoever, just lots of easy runs.  I think my increased core strength also helped with my speed, but I was feeling much stronger overall and had more energy.  

Was this working?  Did my increased frequency of stress-and-recover cycles help to build a better base faster? It has been three months since I started this; and the highest mileage I built up to was 93 miles per week. Wow, that sounds like a lot; but, remember that most of those miles were easy to very easy miles. Actually, I don't have an objective way to gauge if this is working or not.  However, I feel like my fitness is as good, or better, as ever.  Also, what feels easy on my runs has become faster and faster. I would guess that I went from 8:30 pace to about 7:00 pace in my easy runs in the three months.  Just last Saturday, I ran at about 7:00 pace up a two and a half mile incline which we do on Saturday long runs.  I knew this incline very well and had done it many times before; but I had never done it so fast, especially at the end of the run. With zero speed work, where did this come from?  Stronger core?  Yes, that helps with cadence, but I had more energy than ever. Lighter weight?  No, I actually gained a few pounds.  

I think this is working.  

Furthermore, this week, I was tapering in preparation for the Calico 50k. I scaled back the runs to 5 miles and only once a day.  I felt, from run to run, that I had not run for a long time.  I was still running every day, yet it felt like I had taken a few days off between runs.  I think this means that my body was adapting to the twice a day runs, and going back to once a day actually felt weird. Adaptation is happening.

Thinking back, if I were to give advice for a fellow runner. I would not recommend starting the runs at 5 miles. But, instead, I would say to take your normal once a day run and chop it in half. So, if you had 6 miles to run for a day, then run 3 miles in the morning and run 3 miles at night. Then, work on increasing the length of the runs gradually.  Adding no more than 15% per week. Also, remember to run easy.

Additionally, I try to follow a post-run regiment to give my body the best chance of recovery. I try to eat a balance of proteins and carbohydrates within 30 minutes after the run. This fuel is needed by the body to rebuild. Proper nutrition is another topic I like to talk about in a future post. I also take a mid day nap lasting about an hour and a half. Sleep also helps the body to recover. 

Another benefit of running twice daily is the increased metabolism. For most of us, our metabolic machine of youth went off-line at about age 35. We used to be able to eat and not gain weight, but no longer. Exercising twice daily will actually help increase our basel metabolic rate, so that we are burning more calories even sitting still.  

I feel like I'm off to a great start for the 2008 season.  I didn't put on off-season weight and I'm faster now than I was at peak form last season.  With adding speed work and hill work as the season wears on, I think I'm gonna get even faster.   

Bottom line: I'm gonna have a lot of fun this year.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Run Faster with Less Effort

Sounds too good to be true?  You bet!  However, that is what has been happening to me.  How? You ask.  

I've been using this off season to work on my base and core strength.  I had lower back strains a couple of times last season, so I though I should do some exercises to strengthen my back.  In the process of doing so, I thought that I should be more balanced and also work on my abdomen, chest, and shoulders.  Runners have a tendency to be overly weak in the upper body.  Body imbalance just leads to more potential for injuries.  What I discovered in this process has unlocked the speed that was already in me.

Let's start with the physics of running.  I've always thought that the lighter you are the faster you will go; because there is less weight you have to push.  As a novice, this made a lot of sense to me; as a result, I went to near starvation for many days to loose body weight so I can be faster.  Does this sound familiar to you?  I think this is a common novice mistake.  In fact, what I did when I starved myself was to lose the precious running muscles I worked so hard to build up.  Building a higher power to weight ratio is what makes you faster, not just having a lower weight.  If you lowered your weight, but also lost muscle, then you have made no improvements in your power to weight ratio at all.

I also thought that taller people can run faster because their stride is longer.  This is another novice mistake.  If this were true, then Yao Ming, the NBA basketball center, can run much faster than most of us.  Being shorter, I tried to stretch out my stride as much as I could; but I was actually running slower and working harder.  In stretching out my stride, my legs spent more time off the ground, thus not accelerating; and I was pushing harder with my legs in my foot strikes to launch my body forward.  Runners accelerate when their feet contact the ground.  As soon as the foot leaves the ground, the body stops accelerating and decelerates due to inertia (body mass), and air resistance.  But, as fast as you can whip your other foot forward for a foot strike, you will accelerate again.  Taller runner will naturally have a longer stride, but shorter runners will naturally have a higher stride rate.  I think that there is an optimum stride length at which a runner is most efficient.  At this stride length, you will be comfortable and feel like you can run forever.  When a runner begins running faster, the stride length will naturally increase due to increased momentum.  Don't purposely shorten your stride either, as this would be like driving your car with the brakes always on.  Let your speed carry you.  Concentrate on whipping your legs forward as fast as you can to get ready for the next foot strike.  For whatever sized runner, settle into your optimal or most efficient stride length; and then increasing your stride rate will make you faster.  

The physics behind what made me faster hopefully made sense to you.  For me, my weaker core and shoulders were slowing me down.  My quads and hamstrings were plenty strong enough to provide powerful push offs, but I was slow in returning my legs to the front.  I did those core exercises to alleviate my lower back strains, but I got noticeably faster because my stronger back, waist, and abdomens were whipping my legs forward with much increased efficiency.  Also, my stronger arm swings from strengthened shoulders helped to drive more power into the core.  As soon as your foot strikes ground, swing forward the opposite arm, which should be back, and then the shoulder will follow, driving a twisting power into the back, down to the waist, then the hip, and whips the leg forward.  I did gain about 5-6 pounds from the increase muscle mass, but I look and feel leaner and I am running faster with less effort.  I have increased my power to weight ratio. Lighter is not always faster.  

This is the daily exercise regiment I followed:  do 15 push ups then roll over and do 15 V crunches; rest to catch the breath, then repeat two more times.  To do the V crunches: lay flat on your back, cross your arms in front of your chest, then lift your head, shoulders, and back off the ground while simultaneous lifting your legs.  Keep the legs straight and knees locked.   Just by doing these two simple exercises, you will benefit much if you have a weak core like I had.