A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Monday, December 26, 2011

On to 2012!!!

I hope everyone has had a great holiday season.

In this week between Christmas and New Years, peoples' thoughts tend to shift to the coming year. The past 2 months have been very special since we extreme runners and triathletes now have a committee in a great club like the Staten Island Athletic Club. I owe it all to Mark Vogt, the President, and the SIAC Board to recognize the growth of alternative forms of running and to embrace it.


Off the top of my head there are two other clubs in this area that have a sizable alternative running population inside them. One is the Essex Running Club who have a nice group of people who do a heavy dose of trail running in the NJ area. The other group is the New York Flyers, who have a huge and passionate contingent of trail and ultra runners in its ranks. Both clubs' main bodies are still dedicated to road running (in NJ, the Essex Runners do the USATF-NJ Grand Prix and the NY Flyers do a lot of NYRR races in the big city) but both support and embrace the growing population of those who want to do trails races, ultras and triathlons without any conflicts.

So to those who are still a bit uneasy about having a new committee in the club, you can definitely relax. Both road runners and trail runners can comfortably live with each other under the same banner and these 2 clubs prove it. :-)

As for 2012, our first siXac committee meeting will take place on Wednesday January 4 at 8PM. I think we have a location for this meeting but I'll need to confirm it in the next couple of days. If interested, let me know via my email (ironpete@ironpete.com) and I'll keep you in the loop where it will be. Among the topics of this committee will be setting up a schedule of races to go to as well as picking out which endurance relay we all want to try to get a team for next year. Options for that are several races in the Ragnar Relay Series, the Green Mountain Relay, and the Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire. These are usually 12 person relays, so if you're interested, let me know also.

Even before the meeting we already have a schedule down for January, and some interest in forming a group for the North Face Endurance Challenge in May. The North Face includes a trail marathon, a 50k race, and a 50 mile race as well as a 4 x 10k trail relay for those who want to run shorter and run for a team. From what I hear, the Bear Mountain Lodge is now open (after being closed for renovations last year) and we can stay there overnight before tackling the races the next day. Again, if you're interested in any of these races let me know and I'll keep you in the loop.

One last thing there is an interest in is the two NJ Trail Series races in January. The Watchung Races are coming up quickly (Sat Jan 7) and you have a choice between a 10k, 10 mile, a trail marathon, or a 50k. It's a short trip across the bridge; if you are interested in carpooling to this event, feel free to contact me. The second race is the Winter Series on January 21. Distances are 5k, 10k, or half marathon. We already have a good number of people going; if you want to carpool, let me know.

That's about it for now. Happy Trails, and have a Happy 2012!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Time for the Greenbelt Festival Trail Races

The Willowbrook Carousel, site of the Start/Finish line

So here we are, about 3 days away from the inaugural Greenbelt Festival Trail Races, with the start/finish line held only about a mile away from where I live, in Willowbrook Park. The temps are going to be near freezing for the early part of this race, so I'll need to prep up the appropriate clothing for the race.

I like to thank Matt Lebow and the Greenbelt Conservancy for getting this race launched. Finally, an ultra trail race held in my own backyard!

What I would like to do for people is to try to go through the 25 kilometer course in general and what hazards one might expect when running the this loop (twice if you're doing the 50 km ultra).

If you're in the NYC area, look outside your window today. Ah, it is most definitely raining! Now look at the weather forecast for Saturday morning...about 32 at race start. Yes, that's the temperature for freezing, but it will not be enough to freeze the mud that's on the course. So as a result, expect very sloppy and muddy conditions on Saturday.

OK, the course itself...if you want an overall view of the course, you can go here if you have a Facebook account.

Starting out we will be running around the lake on a path wide enough so that runners can easily seed themselves before hitting the single track trails. This is a good thing. Once we circle the lake we finally leave the Willowbrook Park vicinity and trek south on the Greenbelt White Trail. There will be a small stream crossing at around 2 miles in and then a general uphill climb as we go deeper into the Greenbelt. The paths here are smooth enough but there are some technical areas where there are roots and rocks. For the experienced trail runner, these are nothing, but it might cause a little shock to beginner trail runners. There is not much mud in this stretch; that will be coming soon enough.

At about 3-4 miles you will reach the first road (Forest Hill Road). Cross the road and continue on the White Trail. Right after the road is your first muddy spot and a very slippery turn onto a small footbridge. In my training runs I have wiped out there a number of times so take this section very, very slow. The path stays a bit muddy at times before you hit a section where you'll be on wood planks. IF THE WOOD PLANKS ARE WET, THEY ARE VERY, VERY SLIPPERY!!! Slippery as in you just need a little sideways pressure on your foot to slip off the plank. Be very careful on those wood planks and you'll be fine. The course will still be going uphill at this point.

After the wood planks you'll cross another road (Rockland Avenue). After crossing this road you'll be back on the White Trail with the uphill grade getting noticeably steeper. Watch for embedded rocks on your climb up. With the entire course entirely uphill at this point, you might start to tire a bit, but the end of the uphill grind is in sight...once you get to the top, you will hang a right turn off of the White Trail and head toward the Greenbelt Bikeway that parallels Forest Hill Road.

Greenbelt Bikeway

The Greenbelt Bikeway is the easiest section of the course; there are no rocks and no roots here. It is wide enough to pass slower runners without any problems and its slight downhill grade ensures a nice section to gather your wits before the next nasty section of the course. If you want you can casually glance to your left and watch the golfers tee off on the golf course as you run by.

By about mile 5 you'll hang a left off of the Bikeway onto an adjoining trail and then another immediate left brings you onto the Blue Trail, a very nasty single-track section that hugs the ridge of Snake Hill. The trail itself is tilted which makes for some dangerous sections where you might slip down off the trail. If you can, slow down a bit and make sure your steps are sure and steady so that you safely negotiate this section. There is also one mother of a steep uphill at the end of this section that will bring you onto the boundaries of the golf course (near the driving range). You'll cross Richmond Hill Road at this point and get to your first Aid Station (around mile 6).

One past the first Aid Station, get ready for the mud! And lots of it. The muddiest section is the section between Aid Stations #1 and #2, so get ready for a swim. After the first aid station you'll go for a bit on a path on the golf course before you head back onto the single-track trail (Red Trail). As soon as you hit the single trail, you'll start to hit the mud. Some of the trails here could look like small streams, so it is unavoidable to get your feet wet here. Take it with stride and run down the middle of the puddles since that is where the level ground is. Picking your way around the sloped sides of the path is not very safe as your feet might slip on the mud and take you down with it. The hills are slightly rolling at this point and shouldn't be much of a factor.

You'll spend about 3 or so miles playing in the slop before you finally encounter another road to cross (Lighthouse Hill; Manor Rd. and Rockland Ave). Once you cross, you'll be on the White Trail for another 2-4 minutes until you hit another road; here you'll hang a left and stay on that road. You'll encounter Rockland Ave. again, cross it, and end up onto an unimproved road that leads up to High Rock Park. This starts a pretty hilly section of the course. The unimproved road is generally uphill; once you get to the other side, you'll be hanging a left back into single-track trail and a hard climb. Stay within yourself, walk the hills if necessary and you'll finally wind up on the High Rock Loop Road and Aid Station #2 (around mile 10-11).

One of the hills in High Rock park

After taking in your water and food you'll then meander the trails around High Rock Park as it generally goes a bit downhill. You'll eventually wind up on the Yellow Trail moving toward Moses Mountain. You'll cross another busy road (Manor Rd.). Once across you'll be beginning your climb up to the summit of Moses Mountain. The climb is gradual at first, but it will get very steep as you close in on the top. Once at the top soak in the scenery (it's the best!!!) before you start your descent down the back side of the mountain.

Ahhh, the Scenery from Moses Mountain!!!

The back side of Moses Mountain is where it gets fun. But you HAVE to be careful. The trail turns off to a very, VERY steep downhill. The best way to negotiate this hill is to butt-slide down because any other way will involve a painful face-plant. Forget about speed here; take it real easy getting down, stay safe, and you'll be fine. Once down you can then start running again.

The course again at this point gets muddy in some sections so be careful so that you don't slip. The hills in this section aren't a factor; most of the course is pretty much flat here. At about mile 12 you'll cross Rockland Ave. again and start a tough little climb. At the top of this climb you'll hang a right onto the Nature Trail and eventually wind up that the Greenbelt Nature Center and Aid Station #3.

At this point, you got through most of the real tough sections of the loop and it's time to head back to Willowbrook Park. You'll leave Aid Station #3 and head slightly uphill on the Nature Trail until it intersects with the White Trail. You'll make a sharp right on the White Trail. You might start to recognize where you are since you ran this stretch of White Trail when you started this course. You might also see some of the 50k runners coming the other way as they head out on their second loop. Remember to always yield to the faster runners. If you see one coming the other way, just step aside and let them pass.

You'll cross Rockland Ave, encounter the potentially slippery wood planks, the very slippery muddy section (see above), then Forest Hill Road. You will be running generally downhill and as you progress, the trail will get noticeably nicer to run on. The last 2 miles of this course is a good cruising section. In the blink of an eye you'll wind up at Willowbrook Park and the finish line (or the halfway point, if you're a 50k runner).

Congratulations, you survived the Greenbelt!

Good luck to everyone running this race. I will see you on Saturday and hope that there will be people around cheering me on as I finish the second loop of my 50k race. :-)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your Endurance Race Guide to Guilt Free Eating this Holiday Season

This is the time of year where we encounter a string of holidays that just derail a lot of people from their noble tasks, a season of holidays that are just focused on the myriad types of gluttony so profound that it takes a steel will to stay on course.



The first challenge is Halloween. It's a good holiday to soften up your will a little for the major league holidays to come. Especially if you have kids or deal with them. With all that candy sitting around, it's not hard to succumb to the temptation of empty calories.

Now we have the second and third challenges coming up...Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ah, holidays dedicated to the gluttony of eating, then spending. With Thanksgiving, isn't it swell to sit down to a 12 course meal with family and friends and just eat to oblivion? But wait, after that, we spend to oblivion soon after as Christmas approaches. What's a decent person to do?

Well, the spending is up to you, but there are ways to balance out that eating part a bit. We have LOTS of endurance races to choose from.

One of the things that I've always liked about the Philadelphia Marathon is its closeness to Thanksgiving. I've done this race 3 times and it was great going into that Thanksgiving dinner knowing that I already burned all those calories ahead of time. It's as guilt free as I can get toward Thanksgiving eating.

The marathon is also a great way to qualify for Boston as the course is very fast. And as tough as Philly is, there are numerous people there that will cheer you on that day. The crowds there in downtown Philly can be quite impressive for that race.

If you're really going to pig out this Thanksgiving, the JFK 50 might be for you. Seriously though, this venerable race in Maryland attracts nearly 1000 people and is the most popular ultramarathon in the US today.

If you don't have the time to travel a bit, there are 2 local races that can help you burn those holiday calories. The inaugural Brooklyn Marathon will be done this Sunday. I believe it will be 8 loops in Prospect Park. Tackling that hill 8 times in one day will definitely help, especially afterwards when you are going for second helping of sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. The fee is quite reasonable also.

The course is also certified, so you can try to qualify for Boston on this course.

And for those who are just flat broke from all the gift-giving, there is a race for you also, the Thanksgiving Marathon which is part of the Series of Holiday Marathons. It is a no-frills (Fat Ass) event with no timing, no shirts, and minimal aid. The course isn't certified (you cannot qualify for Boston here), but the course in Van Cortlandt Park is awesome. The race is on Thanksgiving morning. You can do one loop (10k), two loops (half marathon), or 4 loops (marathon). Donations are encouraged, of course, but the race is free to enter.

If you really packed on the calories and want to work those off after Thanksgiving, or if you want to get a head start on burning off those calories before your 50,000 calorie Christmas meal, you can come on down to Willowbrook Park on Staten Island for a Day of Trail races done by NYARA on December 10. You can choose the 5k option, the 10k option, the 25k option, and the 50k option. The 50k burns a cool 5000+ calories, good for about 10 glasses of that potent eggnog at your company's Holiday Party (just don't drink them all at once). The course is quite challenging, but it's a testament to our extensive trail system in the Greenbelt here on Staten Island that we can have an ultramarathon here.

So, there's no excuse for you people to gain weight during the holidays. Pick one of these races and you can eat your way to oblivion, guilt free!

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This Saturday's run will NOT be taking place at Willowbrook Park this week due to the 5k Fall Flat race hosted by NYARA. We will resume running next week at Willowbrook Park at 8AM in preparation for the NYARA trail race on December 10.

We have a definite interest in the Ragnar Relay in New England. I haven't seen what the date is, but I'll post as soon as I research the info on it.

Anyone who wants to become a member of the new SIAC Extreme committee please let me know. This will be the committee that will presume over alternative running such as trail runs, ultramarathons, triathlons, obstacle races, and other challenging races in the area.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shaping My 2012 Season - Some Interesting Twists

Well, it's November, and it's decision time for what races I will be doing in 2012. I have decided that it will be a triathlon year next year. This stems from the fact that after 2 years of ultramarathon training, I do think that triathlon training is a the more rounded way of getting fit and would minimize the chances of injury.

The triathlon I have already registered for is the Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon in New Paltz, NY next September. The registration had to be done quickly on November 1 at midnight; last year it took only 11 minutes for the field to fill. This is quite a beautiful race, about 13 or so years ago I did this race and finished 6th overall, so I have really fond memories of this race.

Along with the fall triathlon I have 4 options for a half-Ironman in the spring. I can go for an early May race, the Bassman Triathlon, or I can go for any of the 3 June races that are nearby (Rev3 Quassy, Mooseman, and Syracuse 70.3). I am leaning toward the early May race at this point because June might be important for another matter entirely. And that's where the twist comes in...

This past weekend, after mulling it over quite a bit, I've decided to register for the Vermont 100. Yes, this is a triathlon season for me, but this will be interesting that I will enter this race after doing TRIATHLON training instead of the ultra training I did the past 2 years. I happen to believe that the more rounded triathlon training would help get me through this race a lot better than it did a year ago, and I am willing to put that theory to the test. I'll get into that theory in detail in the future.

To twist things a bit further, I'll be entering the Western States 100 lottery this week. I don't expect to win (chances are probably 15%, even with 2 ballots entered), but if by chance lightning does strike and I do happen to get in, the stage might be set to maybe go after the Grand Slam of Ultras. I would already be in 2 races (Western States and Vermont) and would talk to the Grand Slam people to get into Leadville and Wasatch Front 100 for next year. After fully understanding the difficulty of the Leadville race last year, if this situation does come to pass, I will need to seriously cut down on the weight next year. That is already one of my goals, but I seriously think I would need to trim 25-30 more pounds in order to have a serious chance at the Slam.

This is a tall order, but I've met tall orders before.

There is also space to do an Ultra Relay next year. I've talked to many runners and they seem to have interest in creating a team for next year. Again, there are options. There are the overnight relays in Ragnar Relay and the Green Mountain Relay, or there is the shorter option in the River to Sea Relay. Whatever the case, relays are just a great fun way to enjoy the fitness, so it would be great to see if we can get a team next year.

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Next Saturday will NOT be a run at Willowbrook Park at 8AM. There will however be the Fall Flat 5k Trail Race at the same site starting at 10AM. Registration is provided at the link.

There WILL be a long trail run on the following Saturday at 8AM during Thanksgiving Weekend. I would figure after stuffing your face the past couple of days you would have the guilt thing going to come on down and try to burn it off. It would also be the last long run before...

The NYARA Day of Trail Running (5k, 10k, 25k, and 50k) on December 10. Pick your distance and kick some butt! The races are held in the same area as we do our runs, at the Carousel at Willowbrook Park. Registration is provided at the link.

Also, the Staten Island Athletic Club has also created a committee (SIAC Extreme) dedicated to alternate runs and races such as triathlons, trail runs, ultras, and relays. I have been nominated to head this committee. If you are interested, let me know and you can be part of siXac.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Learning from Leadville and Planning the Future


After the DNF in Leadville I had time to think real long and hard about what I was doing. What went right. What went wrong. How to improve, etc. DNFs always come with an emotional sting, even when the organizers are the ones that pull you from the course.

And as always, I always compile a list of things that went right or wrong in all races, so that I can learn from the experience and try again, without the mistakes. My list for Leadville is shown here...

Things That Went Wrong

1) Heart rate was sky high. Even with more than a week at 10,000 feet, my body never fully adapted to the altitude. Basically I either need the full 3 weeks up at altitude or use one of the remedies (nitrogen tent or Altolab) that are purported to help to those of us at sea level.

2) Even with heart rate sky high, I was able to make cutoffs, that is, until I hit the climb of Hope Pass. The hill was extremely slow going because of my existing weight. 195 pounds can definitely work against a runner going up a major hill. If I even have hope of completing this race, the weight has to come off.

3) The training leading up to the race was pretty experimental, doing mostly runs only. There are some aches and pains in my feet right now from all that mileage that might amount to something unless I back off from the mileage for a small bit of time.

Things That Went Right

1) Pacing was OK, even when pushed to make the cutoffs. Although the heart rate was sky high during the entire race, I managed to get some good running in for most of the course.

2) For a sea level guy, going 50 miles at 10,000 ft. should be considered an accomplishment. I do harp on myself a lot for not finishing the race, but I should acknowledge that I did 50 miles at that altitude. Unfortunately, the perfectionist in me will fail to acknowledge it.

3) Mental capacity for finishing the race was commendable. That I CAN acknowledge. Right from the start I had to operate in "damage control"; trying to maintain a pace when the heart rate was in the Red Zone over the 50 miles needed a bit of mental fortitude, and I'm glad I got that right. There were various places where I could have just quit, but never thought about it and kept going. That, at least, is a plus.

That is my short list in a nutshell. There is no giving up in me, and even though I wrote off next year for another attempt, I would like to see if I can try again in 2013. As for training for these things, I don't think this current form of training that I did this year did the trick. If anything, I will be going back to my strength and train primarily for triathlons next year. What I always find time and time again is that triathlon training is one of the most balanced forms of training that is out there. Maybe going back to that training will actually help in ultras as well! I also want to see if I have the physical and mental capacity to get back on that podium as I did in the 1990s. If all goes well in 2012, then I can try to attempt Leadville again in 2013, hopefully in much fitter shape and with a lot less weight.

That's the overall 2 year plan. Of course, life might get in the way of this plan, but, at least it's something to shoot for in the future.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Long Branch Triathlon Series - Not Speedy, But Consistent

This week I finally decided to break my 3 year triathlon "fast" and registered for the Long Branch Sprint Triathlon Series. Went for the longer course, naturally, with about 600 yards of swimming, 20.6 miles of cycling, and 5 miles of running. I had A LOT of questions surrounding this race...

1) The bike itself. With a new fork installed and only a couple of rides on it, will it stay in one piece for the race?

2) My current fitness level. Three years of "mega" long slow distance training for ultramarathons does not translate well into a sprint triathlon. Picture a huge powerful semi-truck entered into the Indianapolis 500 among all those sleek cars.

3) My bike fitness is a HUGE question mark. With the bike only operational the past 3 weeks and only a couple of rides during that time, is a can of WD-40 needed to shake out the rust in my cycling legs?

Soooo...

I took it all in stride and just told myself to go fast until I fade, then act as if I was going fast. Of course this strategy was not going to give me an age group award, but I can still hope, right?

The day dawned nice and bright and got my butt down to Long Branch. Just as I was setting up my bike, the town's sprinkler system activated within the transition area, pelting unsuspecting athletes with jets of water, prompting a little bit of a panic among the masses. The officials had to swoop down and put cones on each sprinkler to stop the liquid conflagration from spraying water on those $7000 bikes.

And although that stopped the water from flying everywhere, the water started to exact its revenge by pooling into strategic areas where running shoes and shirts were placed, giving the triathletes a rude surprise during the race as they tried to put soaked shoes on their feet.

One thing I did was make sure that all of my stuff was placed above my bag so that only the bag got wet, not my critical clothes.

Once set up, the question of the minute was "wetsuit or not".

It's a 600 yard swim. Plus, my current wetsuit is notorious for clinging to me like crazy glue, so I decided to ditch the wetsuit for this swim.

As I arrived onto the beach I found that I would be in the third wave. OK, no problem as I scouted the buoys that made up the swim course. Two yellow ones on the right, and several red ones on the left. A typically easy course. Swim to the yellow buoys first, turn at the second yellow buoy, swim across to the red buoys, then turn for home.

Sounds straightforward, right?

Well, as the first wave turned at the second yellow buoy, that buoy had other ideas and started to drift away from shore. Looks like the second wave (the long course women) was going to have to deal with a longer course.

And of course, as the second wave came through that buoy, the buoy drifted even father out from shore lengthening the course even more for the third wave.

I was in that third wave.

A nervous laughter filtered through my wave as the buoy was hightailing it for France while the women were swimming after it.

Maybe I should have taken that wetsuit after all.

As we went off I quickly got into my customary position in the front of the wave. I might not be as fit as other triathletes, but I can still swim better than 90% of them.

I got past the first buoy without much pushing and shoving and made my way to the rebellious buoy which thankfully was replaced back to a more manageable position by the time I got there.

No incidents happened during the rest of the swim, but I was constantly bombarded by jellyfish as I made my way back toward shore.

Thankfully, these didn't sting.

I made my way toward the bike, got on my stuff, and said a quick Hail Mary as I got on my bike, hoping it didn't fall apart on the course.

Within a mile, my bike started falling apart.

Actually, the problem happened in an unusual area. As I was riding, a ring near the hub of my front wheel suddenly came loose and was dangling on the skewer. Thinking the worst, I stopped in front of Seven Presidents Park to take a look.

Apparently, all that was needed for the ring was to be screwed back into the hub. after hand-tightening the ring into place I got back on the bike and started off again, I lost about 2 minutes in the process.

But the bike rode well the rest of the way. In fact, it passed the test with flying colors.

Although I wish I can say that with my bike fitness.

The bike course was 2 loops around the area. I rode like a monster during the first loop. The second loop? When my eyes started to fall into the back of my head from the effort, I knew I was in over my head and had to slow a bit for the last 5 miles of the course.

I got back to transition, quickly pulled my running shoes on, and started onto the flat and fast 5 mile course.

OK, not fast in my case. But all the miles of running that I've been doing do tend to pay off in a bit of a different way. Although I barely broke 8 minutes per mile on my pace, I knew that I can hold that pace indefinitely. I basically knew what time I was going to finish by the 2nd mile of the course.

I stopped the clock at 1:47:45, according to my watch.

All in all, it was a great experience. Despite some minor hiccups, the race organization was impeccable, as I would always expect from Doug Rice and the Sandy Hooker Triathlon Club.

As for me, this definitely paves the way for my plans for 2012. The outcome of a certain lottery in November will depend on whether I'll be primarily training for triathlons or ultramarathons. If the outcome favors triathlons, expect me to be seriously training for them in 2012.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When a Race Has Too Many Unknown Variables...Wing It!

Hope Pass, the highest point of the Leadville Trail 100 (12,600 ft). My goal is to get my pacer to get a picture of me in a similar photo...and to finish the race of course!

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When it comes to training and racing, I am never a patient guy.

I am also very meticulous in planning for big races, so that I have a set strategy and every factor is covered during the race.

Twenty years of training and racing triathlons and marathons has set me up as such. And all these races have a lot of things in common, such as a standard distance, standard transitions, standard surface type most (road), etc. Yes, there are differences, such as in elevation, but such variables are small enough to be handled by the right strategy.

But in the dark realm of ultras, the variables are very different for each race. And they are frequently extreme. Massanutten is known for its extensive rocky trails. Leadville is known for its high altitude and hilly terrain. Badwater is known for its intense heat.

I've come to the realization that most ultramarathoners really cannot cover all of these variables when they train for these races. But most experienced ultramarathoners will finish these races and finish them well despite the extreme factors.

So how do they do it?

It takes a trip to the Catskills this past week to give me some realizations on how to approach these races. You see, my upcoming Leadville Trails 100 Mile Ultramarathon in August is literally on the top of the Rocky Mountains. The elevation changes and the high altitude combine to provide a formidable challenge for runners attempting to finish this race.

Course elevation for Leadville (out and back course).

The Catskills are a great place to go for mountain training, but the Catskill Mountains pale in comparison to the Rockies. I simply cannot even come close to the conditions at Leadville.

The elevation changes in the Rockies are much more extreme than the Catskills. Although 1000+ feet climbs are the norm in the Catskills, elevation changes in the Rockies are much more extreme. The brutal first climb up to the highest point on the course, Hope Pass (the right peak on the above graph) is over 3000 ft. in elevation. Most of the peaks in the Catskills are only about 3000 ft! There is no possible way to train for that climb.

Most of the race course is also over 10,000 feet in elevation. Hope Pass is a towering 12,600 feet above sea level, and I have to go over it twice. At that elevation, the lack of oxygen might become a bit of a problem during the race.

And unless I hold my breath for the duration of my training runs, there is really no possible way I can train for altitude.

Sure, I can try to mimic the low oxygen environment by buying expensive barometric tents or re-breather devices that try to create the high altitude environment. But even those devices are a bad substitute for the real thing; I've seen evidence that most of these devices aren't really effective at all.

I faced a similar circumstance with Massanutten this spring. With the exception of taking the 50 mile trip to Bear Mountain every single day, how was I supposed to train and be ready for Massanutten's extremely rocky course?

How do other ultramarathoners prepare for these extremes?

Simple, they can "wing it".

Heck, if you cannot adequately prepare for the extreme challenges of the course, it's time to improvise!

Triathletes can plan a great deal for their races. So can marathoners. Most of these races do not have the extreme challenges that ultras have, so it's quite easy to mimic course conditions in local neighborhoods. They are the best in planning their race strategies months in advance of their race, and can train adequately for the challenges involved in those races.

Although some ultramarathoners do try to plan for the challenges in their upcoming ultras, most really cannot totally plan for the extreme conditions they face in these races. As a result, they'll need to quickly adjust to any adverse condition facing them. The truly great ultramarathoners are experts at solving problems on the spot as they arise. They can be extremely tolerant and patient. They can access their current situation, identify any challenges that they currently face, and then proceed to adjust their strategy accordingly. Ultramarathoners are the best at being patient and solving their problems as they arise in a rational and logical way.

It's the patience thing that I have to work on here.

I do have some patience, but 100 mile ultramarathons require a lot more patience than I can normally tolerate. And when my patience runs out, I can start making some "less than intelligent" decisions that can put me in a worse state. And that can cascade out of control until I DNF.

So, the overall strategy for Leadville is the complete opposite of my strategy for Massanutten...to keep it simple, keep it patient, and try to solve every problem as they arise.  It would never be my main strategy in any of the triathlons that I've done, but hey, considering the circumstances involved, this will have to be my strategy for Leadville. 

All the planning in the world is not going to get me through this race in August. But perseverence will. Better to just keep it simple and try adapt to the conditions as they present themselves. It is a tough strategy for a "Type A" competitive triathlete to accept. But I think I'm finally coming to terms with this new philosophy now. It worked very well in Vermont last year.

Chances are that it will work for me in Leadville this year as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts - June 21 - "Anti-Tempo" Runs

I've always wanted to try running around the perimeter of Staten Island for years now.

I figure Staten Island is small enough to make the run possible, but long enough for it to be a real challenge.

The route that I took is about 35.5 miles, according to Gmaps Pedometer.

The big question was the logistics. Everything would need to be self-supported. But the beauty of Staten Island lies in its many bagel shops lining the main roads. I didn't need to carry a Camelbak full of food and water with me. All I needed was a bottle that fits into my hand and a small pouch.

Inside the pouch was a cell phone (for emergencies), a Metrocard (in case I needed to bail and take the bus back, and $20 (for buying the essentials at the shops).

I started at the God-awful time of 3:30AM, which, perhaps was the toughest part of the run. No, I'm not kidding. Waking up was probably harder than actually running the 35 miles. I guess once I got moving I was OK for the rest of the run.

The course that I took is here... http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4591041 .

I need to get a good diet of these long runs in. Although there is a good dose of physical benefits that I get when running 6+ hours, it is mainly the mental benefits that I'm focused on.

I come from a triathlon background. And any triathlon up to and including the Ironman distance is speed based.

That means I get a bit antsy when running at such a sloth-like slow speed. In fact, I feel there is a tug of war going on in my head, with one side trying to get me to run faster. It's always been a huge fight to reign in my long runs and keep it at when feels to be a "ridiculously easy" pace.

Yesterday was no exception.

For the first 15 miles I had to be very conscious about keeping my pace slow. After hitting the 30 mile mark, all that effort to keep it easy started to pay off.

My legs did start to stiffen up at that point, but I still had the strength to maintain the pace that I was going. Indefinitely. In other words, I didn't burn out my legs in the beginning by going fast.

That is what got me through Vermont, and this is what is going to get me through Leadville.

It's basically a different approach than Massanutten in May. And although my toe killed my race, I still am not sure if the more aggressive strategy would have worked there.

This is what fascinates me about these 100 mile races. All my training, all my methods, my strategies that I have learned from other races, mean nothing at this distance. And in some cases, I need to do the OPPOSITE of what I've learned in training and coaching in order to do well in the race.

I think that is why I call these training runs of longer than 30 miles "anti-tempo runs."

Normal tempo runs are run at a pace faster than the comfortable pace so that one can condition himself for that pace in competition, whether it be a 5k race or a marathon.

"Anti-tempo" runs are run SLOWER than the comfortable race, but for the same reason. So that I can condition myself to run at that pace over the 100 mile distance. Whereas most people try to condition themselves over their maximum comfortable pace to prepare for shorter races, I have to condition myself to comfortably run UNDER my MINIMUM comfortable pace to prepare for the 100 mile distance.

It's certainly fascinating how polar-opposite these 100 milers are to shorter conventional races, and to conventional wisdom.

But it drives the point home. I do not want to go out too hard in Leadville. I have to be really conscious of my pace and keep it really easy for the first 30-40 or so miles. After that, the fatigue will take over the pace and I should be OK (it'll be safe knowing I cannot go faster at that point). The long training runs will help me be mentally comfortable with the "ridiculously easy" pace.

I got about 2-3 of these "anti-tempo" runs left (as well as a slew of 20 milers and some mountain hiking) before Leadville. After which I *should* be ready to feel at ease with this "ridiculously easy" pace.

And just like the story "The Tortoise and the Hare", this Tortoise is going to fare well in Leadville if he sticks to his plan!

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Let me keep this short and sweet...

Friday Night is the short Group Trail Run at High Rock. 7pm. Come join us!

Saturday morning is the group bike ride into the Palisades. Meet at the ferry at 6:30AM. Hopefully we'll start at Battery park at 7AM.

Sunday is an 8-10 mile trail run along the White Trail at 8AM. Please park at Willowbrook Park (Richmond Ave. entrance). I'll see if I can fill up a 5 gallon jug with water for after the run. I'll also have some food available.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thoughts - June 15 - Certifications?

I know I'm going to catch a little flak on this, but then again, I like to rock the boat of "established principles" a little, so that people can actually wake up from their everyday distractions and think critically on a topic they never did before.

The topic here is coaching "certification".

Let me ask you a question. Which coach would you decide on going to? The one with 5 different certifications to his name? Or the one that your friends recommended after fulfilling their Ironman goals?

One of the things I learned from my father is that "word of mouth" is the most powerful marketing tool one can ever have in promoting his/her business. My father has owned a carpet installation business for 40 years and because of his excellent work never had to spend a cent in advertising at all. On top of that, repeat customers from decades ago still come to him to replace their old carpet with a new one.

I tend to join him in mirroring his business model. I don't advertise much and I let my athletes do the talking. 

At one time, I thought that certification was the way to a successful business. I thought if I had a USAT Triathlon Coach certification, a USA Swimming certification, a USATF Running Certification, and an ISSA fitness trainer certification, that I would look impressive on a business card. Impressive enough for customers to flock to my door.

Business doesn't work that way. People respond to RESULTS, not titles.

The certification process is so simple that anyone with a basic knowledge of training can get them. As long as you have the money to shell out, that piece of paper is as good as yours.

And in order to keep that piece of paper, you continue to shell out the bucks every couple of years on Contiuing Education Credits, which are simply videos that you can purchase online and answer a couple of softball questions to show your knowledge in what the video shows you.

"But don't you get insurance from certification authorities?", you might ask.

Well yes, but with so many holes in them that they look like swiss cheese. For example,  the USA Triathlon Certification provides coaching insurance for their certified coaches...but it only works with athletes who are also USA Triathlon members. 

Now I coach a lot of beginners toward their first triathlon. I'm to force them into a USA Triathlon membership before they even get a chance to participate in the sport?

Let's call most of these certifications what they really are. They are a money-maker all right...for the certification authorities!

All they really have to do is sit back, let some cheap software print out the certificates, then mail it to you.

Once I saw the writing on the wall (and my diminished wallet), I decided to let these expirations expire one at a time. And saved a bundle of money in the process.

Which paid for my own private insurance. And one that covers just about everybody I train.

My dear old Dad was right after all. Base the business by results, not titles. And do such a good job that people will come back to you time and time again, with their friends in tow.

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Last reminder for the New York City Ironman and Ironman Mont Tremblant. Registration opens at noon today. The field will fill very fast, so make sure you're online at exactly 12 noon today or you'll miss out.

Regarding the swims clinics at Great Kills Park. All swim clinics will start at 10AM, when the lifeguard is on duty. The transitions clinics will be an hour afterward, after the swim clinics are over. The cost is only $15 to attend and are great for those who either have a fear for the open water, want to improve on your sight-seeing, or want to become more effective in not-so-perfect conditions.

Friday Night Group Trail Runs are at the High Rock Parking Lot starting the week. They are free to join, and all abilities are welcome. The run starts at 7pm.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts - June 14 - Ironman New York

I have a slew of information that I want to share, but I try to keep my blogs from being lengthy.

So I'll do the next best thing. I'll run a rapid series of shorter blogs for this week, keeping the topics short and to the point.

The first such topic is the newly proposed Ironman in New York City for 2012

Now unlike a significant number of athletes who criticize the race, I do like Ironman. Their fees might be high, but they do happen to take care of the athletes from start to finish, and I've had no complaints at all when I did their races.

Plus, in the world of economics, if the demand is there, the price is justified. For those who regularly criticize the prices, sorry. You can always choose to do other iron distance triathlons that cost half as much. The Great Floridian Triathlon is one of them. The Full Vineman in California is another such race.

With that little rant out of the way,  I wasn't surprised when I saw the proposed fee for the Ironman in New York City. As a matter of fact, my first reaction was laughter.

The race will cost about $1000 to enter.

Heck, figure in the high cost of living in New York and New Jersey, the tons of permits that they had to obtain from those two states. Oh, and you got to figure in the bribes and kickbacks they had to shell out also. Heck, these are two big government states after all, right?

Also figure in all those people who can shell out the bucks also. Yep, those in the financial sector who benefitted from the huge TARP bailouts that were given to them by the taxpayer. 

Add in all of the above and you got the perfect storm for a huge entry fee.

Although I had a fleeting interest in doing a race like this in my backyard, the $1000 fee is just a tad too expensive for my tastes.

Also, all of the Ironman triathlons I did (6 in all) were *waaaaaay* outside of the tri-state area (British Columbia, New Zealand, Kentucky). In fact I had to fly out to all of them. This was a good thing because I treated these races as a vacation to get away from the tri-state area. Traveling every so often is a good thing; these races were an excuse to get away from the daily grind.

Although I am excited that an Ironman is in my backyard, I still had reservations against entering the race, even if the fee was only $500. It would not be classified as a "get away" race in my personal book. If I had a choice of Ironman, I would definitely choose to go to Ironman Mont Tremblant instead for the travel (the Ironman race up in Mont Tremblant, Quebec was also created at the same time as New York City). I've never been up to Mont Tremblant before, and heard it's a beautiful area.

That is, if I wanted to do Ironman again. Right now, the desire is just not there yet. Give it some time though, and I might enter one within the next few years.

Besides, I'm doing the double ironman race in October anyway. I figure an Ironman just isn't enough anymore. :-)

Still, I will definitely be out there that day cheering people on. And for those who brave the fee and enter this race, I wish you well with your training and with your race!

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For those who want to enter Ironman New York City, the entry process starts at noon on June 15. Ironman Mont Tremblant also opens up at the same time, in case you want to do the "travel to a beautiful area" thing.

Every Friday night during the summer, we will be having a group trail run through the Greenbelt. Although we started on Manor Rd., we will move the run over to the High Rock Parking Lot this Friday (June 17). The runs are about 4-6 miles. Although we held at 4 miles the last 2 weeks, the new location will help us extend those runs to 6 miles for those who want the extra couple of miles on the trails. It was hard to extend the runs when we started on Manor Rd. due to the combination of the confusing trails in that area and the waning daylight. 

The calendar to the right here has been filled for the summer with events that I'll be doing. Go ahead and take a look! There are group bike rides, group weekend trail runs, and some swim clinics for those who want to improve their triathlon swim times. If interested, come on down; I'll be glad to have you!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thoughts - June 3 - The Summer Begins, Tri-ing the 70.3

It's been about 3 weeks since my last posting as I lick my wounds from the Massanutten DNF and recover from the broken toe. I've finally started to put a full week of running this week to get myself ready for Leadville (2009 video).

This time, injury or not, I'm getting to that finish line.

I understand that DNFs are part of the process, but they never really sit well with me.

So Leadville is the current target. The fact that two other people will be flying out there with me to aid me is also more reason to finish this race. Granted, it's going to be a great week out west with both of these guys, but I know finishing the race will make it all the more worthwhile.

Leadville isn't the only race on the calendar either.

I do have several triathlons, runs, and swims that are included also. I rebuilt my bike for that reason alone, to keep my triathlon base active as I pursue the ultramarathons.

There might also be a half-ironman in September also.

There is an ulterior motive for that half Ironman...the Survival of the Shawangunks Triathlon (SOS). The only time I raced it I loved it. I also came in 6th overall that year, and I performed well in that race. It is a highly unusual race in that the bike comes first, then we run and swim through the various trails and lakes until we get to Skytop Tower at the top of the Gunks. The swim, which is historically my strongest discipline, actually appears in the latter half of the race (instead of first). With that I was able to power through that race very well.

In order to get into the race in 2012, I need to have completed a half-ironman in the last 2 years. That is why I need to do a half-ironman this year.

Although a sub 5 hour Ironman is probably a tall order, I know I can easily crack 5:30 and qualify for the SOS.

The Half-Ironman I'm looking at is on the Shoreman Half-Ironman in NJ on September 10.

It sounds like a very flat course, the venue being close to Atlantic City, but that would hopefully make for a very fast bike and run split.

It would be my first half-ironman in about a decade.

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I will be starting group trail runs on Friday nights during the summer. For the first 2 weeks we will begin on Manor Road in front of the JCC and utilize the trail there. After 2 weeks, thanks to the Greenbelt Conservancy, she has invited us over to the High Rock Parking lot for the rest of the summer.

Which is great since the course is basically the same, but from the other end.

After August, when the daylight is curtailed, I might have to change the venue to maybe the Fitness Path along Forest Hill Road. Sure, it's not true trail running, but it's the next best thing.

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Speaking of the Gunks, there is also a Fat Ass 25k/50k in the Gunks on June 11. This race is organized by one of the NY Flyers club, and is free, although a nominal donation is recommended. Let me know if you're interested and I'll give you the gory details of that race.

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The folks who put on the Holiday Marathons in Van Cortlandt Park are putting on a Woodstock of sorts of running in upstate NY in late July. It's called the Catskill Running Festival and it sounds to be a great week of running the trails up in the Catskills. I will be going down there for 3 days and participate in 2 of the longer trail runs there. Check out the website and let me know if you're going.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Massanutten - No Finish, But An Interesting Idea To Try

But, but, but, I thought your toe was healed...

LOL, no, it wasn't, and it played right into the course's hands too.

This is going to be an interesting write-up, because I have a lot of things that I am mulling about after pulling out of the race at mile 19.

First off, it seems like toes don't heal very quickly. Yes, I had the ability of running on a bad toe last week, and it was acceptable, but the flare-ups should have told me that the toe wasn't fully healed yet. Generally, broken bones usually take about 6 weeks to heal.

Combine that with a relentless, rocky course and I had problems right from the start. Big ones.

Even before the race it affected my decision in which shoes to wear. Before the race, I had bought a New Balance minimalist pair of shoes for the trail 5 weeks before. Finding the shoe to be bothersome to my injured toe, I was forced to opt for the regular clumsy conventional shoes to protect that toe. I knew that this decision would come with a high risk of inverting an ankle, but it was the only pair that my feet felt comfortable in.

Wearing these shoes, right from the start of the trail section, I knew I was going to have problems. We hit the trail at about 4:45AM, when it was still dark, and I had trouble finding the best footing through the rocky sections. As a result, I was constantly landing hard on my bad toe. Well, the toe kind of decided after a little abuse that it had enough.

I can understand. If somebody keeps punching me in the head, I'd start getting upset also.

After a while the toe started to throb. This started to cause me to compensate by not rolling off that toe. Instead, I was rolling more toward the outside, where the smaller toes were. 

With the clumsy conventional shoes and the wrongful rolling of my foot, I must have twisted my right ankle at least 4 times on the trail.

Secondly, at about mile 15, coming down a hill, I smacked my toe against a rock, hard. Seeing stars, I almost fell off the trail and hobbled to a halt waiting for the pain to go away.

The last 4 miles were rough walking. Coming to an aid station, I knew I had to cut my losses and end it there before I really got hurt. It's a tough decision to make that early in the race, but I saw the writing on the wall and decided to call it a day.

Taking my socks off, I immediately saw my toe bent in toward the rest of the toes. The nurse at the aid station also saw this and suggested I go see a doctor to see whether it needs to be reset. 

Oh, well. Time to call a doctor tomorrow.

My history with rocky courses was always a weakness; I tended to painfully roll my ankles a lot on the trails.

That is, until I started to wear minimalist XC-flats.

I have to safely say that even on the rockiest trails, I have NEVER rolled my ankles in XC-flats. Ever. I think the thinner sole allows it to be more flexible around uneven surfaces. This provides for more stability on very uneven areas.

But the problem with XC-flats is that with the lack of cushioning my feet tend to tire after about 30 miles on trails.

In a 100 mile race, that might be a bit of a problem.

There actually might be a possible solution to that, however. I noticed some people actually using trekking poles with their runs, and they were actually phenominal in traversing rocky sections.

I used a trekking pole for the Appalachian Trail and it turned out to be a great aid in getting through technical sections of the trail, so I have some experience in using them.

Looking for more information on the internet today, I came up with this gem of a video on Youtube. This guy is just amazing at using his trekking poles while running, so it might be something to look into.

Mind that I would only be using trekking poles for extremely rocky courses like Massanutten and would never use them for more runnable courses like Vermont.



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thoughts - May 12 - Massanutten Baby! Final Strategy

Finally! My strategy for Massanutten is below. Hopefully I can rely on this strategy for the entire race. If I go into "survival mode" a bit early, well, I'm going to have to improvise on the spot. But at least this strategy looks good on paper!

Three Phases Of The Hundred Mile Course

To summarize, the 60/30/10 formula worked at the Vermont 100. I will be sticking to that formula again.

The "60" refers to the first 60 miles of the race. This is the race where I am at my strongest. It is daytime, at regular waking hours, and a good crowd is cheering runners on at each aid station.

Sixty miles is a good psychological number because I am more than halfway through the race when this phase ends.

The "30" refers to the next 30 miles of the race. This will be from 60 to 90 miles. This will be the "survival mode" and will probably be the toughest part of the race. These miles will be mostly done at night, at cool temperatures. Sleep deprivation is a major factor of this phase and, except for those willing volunteers at the aid stations, there is nobody on the course cheering people on. It is lonely, cold, and very exhausting to even move after a long day of running. 

It is also very difficult to navigate the rocky trails at night with only a small portion of the trail lit up from my headlamp.

The "10" refers to the last 10 miles of the race. This will be the "will to finish" portion, because if I manage to get to mile 90 of the race, I will drag myself to the finish, even if I have to use my teeth for propulsion.

The last 10 miles of this race will most likely be during the morning of the next day, so the sun will serve as a pick-me-up and should rouse myself from the stupor that I would probably be in for most of the night.

Drop Bags

Three drop bags in total, all placed in key sections of the course where one phase changes into another.

The first drop bag will be at Habron Gap (53 miles). The drop bag will be my Camelbak. Inside the Camelbak will be an older headlamp, a short sleeve singlet, a long sleeve running shirt, a pair of running sandals, some Bag Balm, socks, Band Aids, and some toilet paper. Although I'm hoping to reach the next aid station (camp Roosevelt) at 63 miles before dark, it would be good to have all that I need in case I arrive at this aid station slower than usual. Plus, the Camelbak will probably be needed for the tough 9.5 mile stretch between this aid station and the next.

The second drop bag will be at 63 miles (Camp Roosevelt). This drop bag will have a couple of pairs of shoes and socks should I decide to change to a different pair. My newer headlamp will also be here for the long night's run. If I needed to use the older headlamp at mile 53, I'll be switching to the newer one here. I will also pack a thicker long-sleeve running shirt in case the weather turns real cool.

The third drop bag will be at the Gap Creek Aid Station (at miles 68.7 and at mile 95.5). Since I have access to this bag twice, I will have stuff from both night running plus running for the next day. Bag Balm, Band Aids, and fresh socks will also be included in this bag. A thick running jacket will be packed here in case I do get cold (which is a strong possibility). I will also carry a short sleeve singlet for mile 95.5, most likely in daylight when the temperatures start to rise again. I will also have another pair of running sandals available, just in case.

I will also carry a 4th "drop bag" from the starting line. This bag will be deposited at Aid Station 2 when I drop off my first headlamp after dawn breaks.

There will be absolutely no food in the bags. My ultra training history shows that about 90% of food that I place in these bags go untouched. The aid stations will have what I need for nutrition and hydration.

Clothes for the Start

Basic singlet, running shorts, running shoes with some cushioning, a water bottle carrier that goes in my hand, and a fuel belt with Bag Balm, toilet paper, and some Band Aids will be worn for the start. I aim to travel lightly for the first 53 miles of the race. The extra gear will be needed during the night-time hours. But until then, I want to stay light.

Race Strategy

My first goal is to make Camp Roosevelt (Mile 63) by daylight. If I can do that, I eliminate traversing a tough 9.5 mile stretch of trail between Habron Gap and Camp Roosevelt at night. With that done, I would have a great shot at finishing this race, no matter how I might feel during the overnight run. This is the reason why I want to be a little aggressive during the first 60 miles.

Even then, if I don't make it to Camp Roosevelt by nightfall, I do have the equipment at Habron Gap (Mile 53) to traverse that section by night, including cooler weather clothes and an older headlamp.

For the next 30 mile section, the strategy, like in Vermont is to "keep moving". In Vermont, I knew that my legs were going to stiffen up if I stopped, so I prevented that from happening by spending only 3-4 minutes at an aid station, then walking away quickly. Even the act of walking will prevent my legs from stiffening up. In Vermont, the only time I had to stop for an extended period of time (treating the blisters on my feet and changing socks), it was a good 10 minutes of walking very gingerly before my legs started to stiffen up. If I can minimize those episodes, then I can get myself through this phase very quickly.

For the last 10 miles, it's just willpower baby! Grit my teeth, put one foot in front of the other, and think about crossing that finish line, because it would now be within reach!

Well, wish me luck! This will be my last post before the race, so expect a (hopefully good) race report on the race next week.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thoughts - May 5 - The Pros of Actually Racing the 100 Mile Distance

I'm in the process of finalizing my strategy for the Massanutten 100 race coming up in a little over a week.

Now believe me, in all my years of racing the 100 mile ultra distance is the most difficult to finish. Especially when most of it is on single track trails.

So it might seem logical to play it safe here, bide my time, and the hurting should be kept to a minimal, right?

Well, no.

One thing I always hear from those who regularly do 100 mile ultras is that the hurting is always inevitable. It doesn't matter how slow one goes; it will hurt just the same.

And I'm never one to shy away from taking risks.

So this week, instead of a "playing it safe" scenario, I have decided to take a little bit more risk with this race. There are several powerful reasons for this:

1) The race is primarily over rough single-track trails. Over the past decade I have come to find out that I am more inefficient running too slowly over rocky trails. It feels unnatural and can increase the chances of sustaining an injury. As an example, most of the time, I turned my ankle taking it too easy on the trails. My more natural stride comes out when I go at a bit of a faster rate of speed. I am actually more efficient at that pace and would minimize myself from injuries.

2) I really would like to try to race this distance. I know that most runners who enter the race are just trying to survive and just get to the finish line, but it still is a race. How would I fare if I go in with a mentality to strive for a fast time on this course? That is one question that cannot be answered by "playing it safe". How would I ever know my true potential if I don't take some risks at this distance?

3) The faster pace will give me a chance to manage myself better through some true crises. This is a huge reason. I would have to be in a very heightened sense of awareness to prevent an onset of a crisis, manage crises when they do arrive, and recover well from those crises when they finally abate. It would be a great learning experience to see what mistakes I make and how to try to avoid those mistakes in future 100 milers.

4) I like to take a shot and go under 24 hours in the Leadville 100 race in August. Whatever might transpire at Massanutten can be a bit of a learning experience for Leadville.

Leadville 100

5) Even if I do not finish the race, at least I knew I gave it a good shot. Improving oneself is never without risks. To stay in ones "comfort zone" is to stay stagnant and never really improving much...and learning more about oneself in the process. To "live on the edge" is to really get a chance to see what one is made of. Sure, there is a greater possibility of a DNF, but it also gives one the possibility to realize his/her true potential. In this case, maybe I will have the race of my life. I would never get that possibility by playing it safe.

Now that you know the reasons for me taking the extra risk, I will lay out my plans for tackling this difficult course in the next blog entry.

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I will be volunteering at the Anthony Wayne Aid Station of the North Face Endurance Challenge station this Saturday. And the next week is my big race. After Massanutten, I'll be right back to planning group runs (and rides also for triathletes) on selected weekends.

I wish all of you luck on your respective races this weekends. If you are going to the North Face Endurance Challenge on Saturday, it's always easy to spot me. I'm the one with the Tilley hat on. Take a pause and say hi!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts - May 2 - High Rock Challenge and More Trail Races To Look Forward To

If you take a look at the schedule on the right, Massanutten is the only thing you see there.

Schedule -------------> ------------> ------------> ----------->

That's because that race is dominating my every thoughts at this time.

After the race though, I would like to continue leading some of the group trail runs in the Greenbelt. Some planning is in the works and I'll be happy to do it.

Trust me, I will be filling that schedule up *a lot*. You see, I have another 100 mile race in Leadville (video) coming up and I'm looking to finish in under 24 hours in that race.

That means running lots of miles. Which means a lot more time in the Greenbelt. Which means more opportunity for group runs.

I will be posting a nice write-up of the High Rock Challenge tomorrow here. I'll make sure there are a lot of pictures from the race included with the write-up.

Here's one:

I will like to congratulate all those who "challenged the Challenge" and finished. I hope you had a lot of fun out there.

The results of the High Rock Challenge are here, by the way.

As for other area trail races, we do have the Ladder 5 coming up and a NYARA 25k (15.5 mile) trail race in the late fall. The Super Spartan will be here too, and there is the Tough Mudder that will be in Englishtown, NJ.

Also, some possible trips to other areas include some trail runs from the NJ Trail Series and the Reading area races in Pennsylvania (Pretzel City Sports).

So that gives us some great excuses to continue running on the trails here. I will send out word later this week about what options might exist and to add to this schedule on the right.

Again, if you're interested in continuing the group trail runs, let me know. I can be reached at ironpete@ironpete.com.

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The saga with my bad toe continues...

It's not all bad. I just had my first run in a little over a week (5 miles). I just left the watch at home and concentrated on seeing whether it was feasible to run at all.

This was a road run. I'll try the trails later on.

Putting on the shoes, I knew the affected area was still slightly swollen; it was a bit crowded in the right shoe.

Once I started to run, I was OK. The newer techniques that I utilize (POSE, Chi Running) help a lot in this area. These techniques minimize the "toe off" portion of the running stride, so instead of pushing off from my toes, which would have been quite painful, I just lift the foot off the ground and let my forward lean do all the work.

The run went quite well. There is a downside though, and one I have to pay attention to. Landing on uneven areas, especially when the toe gets pushed upward, was quite painful. There was one area where my toes landed on a metal plate in the road and I was literally seeing stars.

On the road, it's not much of an issue. But I'm running on trails, where every step is uneven.

It makes for a very interesting situation when I get back on the trails again by the end of this week.

Overall I give the run a B minus. I can definitely run again, and so I'm grateful for that.

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Saturday May 7 is the North Face Endurance Challenge (50 mile, 50k, and relays). I will be stationed at the Anthony Wayne rest stop. I'm also looking to drag more volunteers into my station here. If anyone would like to come on down and help out, let me know. My email is ironpete@ironpete.com. There are three shifts available, an early morning shift, a late morning shift, and an afternoon shift. If interested, let me know ASAP. Thanks.

Secondly, the RD for the Vermont 100 contacted me and is looking for anyone who would want to pace some runners in the race for the last 30 miles. Although you will be most likely walking a lot of the distance, the prerequisite for pacer is that you will be confident in traversing the distance. If you can, it is a fun way to see first hand what a 100 mile race feels like. This was my first ever exposure to the 100 mile distance and I will never forget it!

Anyway, I told the RD that I will only go up there if I had other people to share expenses with who will want to do it with me. So let me know if you're interested. Again, the email is ironpete@ironpete.com.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts - April 25 - Injury Management and the Mind-Body Link

I think I enjoyed myself too much this weekend.

In my zest for running on a very muddy course I wiped out in a puddle at the 2 mile point of a 3 mile trail race (Scholarship Trail Race). I felt a little bit of pain, but continued running. I actually ran well the last mile, passing some people on the uphill and finishing the race quite strong.

Afterwards, when we were talking about our respective races, I felt a sharp pain coming from my right big toe. It was at that point when I realized that I might have significantly injured myself.

Coming home after the race, the pain sharpened and the toe swelled up.  I tried running a few strides, but every time I pushed off I was in quite a bit of pain.

I might have broken my toe.

So here I am, 3 weeks before one of my "A" races this year (Massanutten 100), and I'm sidelined for what might be a broken toe. Broken toes can typically heal in 3-4 weeks.

Boy, this is cutting it close.

I immediately started RICE for the toe, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. All 4 are needed to prevent swelling and promote healing.

Now here's the kicker. I have to listen to my body.

You see, my body and I are on clear talking terms. It tells me how serious the injury is, how fast the injury will heal, and when it will be allowed for me to work out again without aggravating the injury further. The official term for this communication is the mind/body link.

As a coach, this is my PRIMARY DUTY above all others to teach people how to listen to their bodies. It is this heightened awareness of their bodies that prevents them from overtraining, prevents them from sustaining overuse injuries, and maintains the right level of training for optimal results. This, the mind/body link is the FIRST thing that must be developed before any meaningful training can occur.

The wonder of the body is that it's always talking to you. And yes, most of what it is trying to say to you is very important. It will convey to you whether it is overtrained, whether you run the risk of an overuse injury, whether it's ready for a hard workout, and when it feels that it needs to take it easy for the day. If only all athletes can listen to what their bodies are saying, overuse injuries would not be a major issue in training. And most people would have kickass seasons.

A person who can tune into his or her body can translate those signals into a meaningful "dialogue" so that biofeedback is maintained. Biofeedback is absolutely CRITICAL for optimal training.

It also helps tremendously when one sustains an injury like I did this past weekend. I'm pretty much a master of managing injuries; I don't stay injured long.

Despite logging untold miles of running and cycling in my 21 years as a triathlete and ultra runner, I sustained very few injuries, and only one was an overuse injury.

In 1995 I sustained a stress fracture of my fibula near my ankle. After successful injury management, I successfully ran the New York City marathon on a FULLY HEALED leg just 8 weeks later.

I suffered a broken ankle in 2002 after severely twisting it on a trail run. After only 6 weeks, I successfully ran the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Ultra and in a good time (10 hours 7 minutes).

Again, unlike other runners, I don't stay injured long.

This is the Mind/Body Link at work. When fully developed, it can be the athlete's ultimate weapon in his or her arsenal that can contribute to a great athletic season.

So here I have a huge challenge ahead of me. If I listen to my body correctly, hopefully I will have healed enough to get myself to the starting line of the Massanutten 100 Ultra in 3 weeks. It's quite a tall order, knowing that the timetable for healing might take me past the race, but I'm up to the challenge.

Right now, the first thing I shall do is rest and promote the healing process. Hopefully by the middle of this week I would have healed enough to get some swimming and cycling in without re-aggravating the injury.

Will it happen as planned? I don't know. But my body will tell me when it's safe to swim and bike, and ultimately run.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thoughts - April 21 - Massanutten Data Gathering

Run 100 miles just to get this belt buckle? You bet your life!

As the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 looms (May 14-15), it has been occupying most of my waking minutes.

As the race approaches, I gather evidence from friends' pictures, Youtube videos, race reports, and even the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club website for any info on the course.

What makes it a bit difficult is that the course was changed last year. And although it appears that the major change was the location of the start/finish lines and that the course itself was largely left intact, the runners last year had to deal with the same sections of the course at a completely different time. What was then done in darkness was now in daylight, and vice versa.

This means that the race reports prior to last year are not really dependable.

And although I do get some info from previous years' race reports, the lion's share of the info I get has to be from last year's race.

So let's see what I gleaned from last year's race so far...let me pull up the course here...

The theme for most of the race is "aid station, major climb, major descent, aid station." Wash, rinse repeat. There are several exceptions to the rule but that seems to be the recurring theme here.

Some noted sections are as follows:

We actually do have a "honeymoon" of sorts going to Aid Station 1. It's pretty much all dirt road up till the aid station. After that, well, the honeymoon is over when we start to climb Short Mountain after the Aid Station.

Short Mountain is anything but. This mountain is the first climb of the new course. On the old course, this used to be a pretty tough climb on tired legs. Now, not so much when on fresh legs. 

Not to worry though! Kern's Mountain will now do the job on those tired legs at mile 70!

There are some pretty long sections between aid stations. There are some 8 mile sections in the beginning of the course, but what gets my attention are two sections in the middle of the race and 2 sections toward the end:

1)Veach Gap to Indian Grave (AS#7 to AS#8; 40.7 to 49.7 miles). This section is 9 miles long. The map above should give you a good indication here. The trail here along the ridge of that mountain is pretty rough also, so this section might very well take me 2 hours to traverse.

2)Hebron Gap to Camp Roosevelt (AS#9 - AS#10; 53.6 to 63.1 miles). This section is the longest at 9.5 miles and is quite tough. This section will be done on tiring legs during waning daylight.

3)Gap Creek#1 to Visitor's Center (AS#11 to AS#12; 68.7 to 77.1 miles). This is Kern's Mountain. 8.4 miles long. I will probably be running this in the dark. This might very well be one of the toughest sections to traverse in the race.

View of Kern's Mountain. I'll be running along the top during the night.

4)Picnic Area to Gap Creek#2 (AS#14 to AS#15; 86.9 to 95.4 miles). This section is 8.5 miles long and features a nasty climb. If I'm doing well, I'll be doing this in the dark. If not, I'll hopefully still be limping along in the morning daylight. It this point I'm hoping the last part of this race will give me the willpower needed to get me to the finish line.

With these 4 sections in mind, I will be carrying a Camelbak for the race. The debate right now is whether to take it from the start, or to put it in the drop bag and don it at Veach Gap. Right now I'm leaning toward the latter as I would like to stay unencumbered for the first 40 miles of the race.

I'll be posting my developing race strategy in future posts. The only question is when how soon I'll have to break from that strategy and focus on survival. ;-)

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I will be hosting a group at the Greenbelt Parking lot for the last preparations for the High Rock Challenge next week. We meet at 8AM.

I will be going over to the Scholarship Trail Race at the Greenbelt Nature Center afterwards. The race starts at 11:00AM. Applications can be found on the Staten Island Running website (or click this link). The course is 1 mile for young kids, and 3 miles for both high school kids and adults.

For those who like running, you can go to the Jackrabbit NYC Running Show in NYC on Saturday. The Staten Island Athletic Club will have a table there so show your face and say hi if going.

And on Easter Sunday I will be running between 30-40 miles in the last long run before the race I described above, Massanutten. I'll be doing laps on the 2 mile Greenway that goes along Latourette and Forest Hill Road between Richmond and Rockland Aves. I'll be there between 5AM and 12 noon so if you need to get a morning run in, come at anytime between those hours. Just park your car off of Rockland Ave. and start running down the path; you'll eventually find me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thoughts - April 18 - All About Boston!

Today is Patriot's Day in Massachusetts, and we runners know what that means...

Yes, I definitely watched the whole thing, and yes, I was glued to the TV throughout the race. Both the men's, women's AND the men's wheelchair divisions had exciting finishes.

This is the first time I EVER gave kudos to NBC for their broadcast. Yes, hell is definitely freezing over.

Granted, this was their small Universal Sports Channel, but it's still NBC here. The same NBC that shows more tear dripping human interest stories than the competition itself, whether it be the Olympics or the Hawaii Ironman.

I mean, omit all the human interest and commercials from their 2 hour Ironman broadcast and you'll probably get only about 10 minutes of racing highlights. Not a very good ratio in my opinion.

But in today's Boston Marathon, they nail it good! This is one of the best sporting broadcasts that I've actually seen NBC pull off. I definitely give them an A+ for this broadcast; they deserve it. 

Yes, they had a bit of background for some of the professional runners, but they kept it limited and focused on the race at hand. And yes, the actually race had 3 exciting finishes, which might lend to my praise.

But NBC covered how each of the races UNFOLDED. I was pleasantly surprised on how they even covered how the wheelchair division unfolded also, and the exciting finish in that race.

Now I understand that a marathon takes 2 hours while the Hawaii Ironman takes 8 hours and that they can fit a live marathon broadcast into a 2 hour slot. But it's really not hard to cut and paste the highlights of the much longer Ironman into a 2 hour show and make it as exciting as a live Boston Marathon broadcast. Limit the tear jerker human interest stories, and they should have a kick-ass Ironman show that might match the drama we saw today.

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As for the race itself, we had some world records that were sort of being "broken" (since the Boston Marathon is not a certified world record course due to its net downhill and point-to-point nature, they cannot officially declare world records here).

We have Geoffrey Mutai from Kenya who shattered the course record at 2:03:02. Wow, that is fast.

We have the USA's Ryan Hall who smashed his personal record and clocked in at 2:05:37.

We had a pleasant surprise in the women's race. All USAs eyes were focused in on Kara Goucher, but it turns out that another American, Desiree Devila gave the eventual winner Caroline Kilel (Kenya) a literal run for her money in the final blocks of the course. Desiree actually gave the Kenyan two hard surges and forced her hand in the final few feet.

Desiree Devila is definitely a name that will be going around in American running circles in the future, that's for sure.

And don't forget the 53 year old Joan Benoit Samuelson. She still has it! Her impressive time of 2:51:29 beats out more than 90% of the other people in the race. She won her age group, of course.

And in the wheelchair division, Masazumi Soejima (Japan) unseats 9 time Boston winner Ernst Van Dyk (S. Africa) by coming from behind in the last miles and overtaking him at the end.

Oh, and congratulations to everyone else who finished the Boston Marathon today. Hopefully most of you got PRs on this perfect running day.



Friday, April 15, 2011

Thoughts - April 15 - Continuing the Group Trail Runs

We have been getting a great turnout for the Greenbelt Training Runs for the High Rock Challenge.

What both the Greenbelt Conservancy and I would like to do is to find ways to continue some group trail runs after the High Rock Challenge is over.

There is certainly no loss of interest in trail running here. With 20+ people showing up to the group run 2 weeks ago, I'm sure there is an interest to continue it.

And we have no shortage of trail races to shoot for after High Rock either. We have the Bad Ass 6 Hour Trail Run in May, the Ladder 5K XC Challenge in July, and the NYARA 25K Trail Run in December.

My original plan is to do a group trail run every 2 weeks. It fits into my ultra schedule nicely, so I have no problems in leading some of the runs. During some of the "off week", I might come up with a plan to travel somewhere and do a trail run outside of the area and offer carpools to share and reduce costs.

Again, that is if people are interested.

I will definitely run this by the group tomorrow and Sunday and see their reactions to this. If they are interested, I can get their contact info and keep them in the loop with this.

And hopefully we can continue this past April. :-)

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Greenbelt Group Runs for the High Rock Challenge are both Saturday and Sunday at 8AM. On Saturday we'll have the pleasure of having Mario Ricca as well as me leading the runs. If the group is very big we will separate according to ability and proceed accordingly. I do intend to bring the group up Moses Mountain for at least one of the runs, so plan in a nice tough climb. :-)

Next Saturday (April 23) is the Scholarship Trail Race sponsored by the Greenbelt Conservancy and the Staten Island Athletic Club. Proceeds of the 3 mile race (1 mile for children) go to the Greg J. Buck Scholarship Fund which is awarded to High School Track and Field Athletes.

Also the next Sunday, Easter, is a personal goal for me. I will be running 8-10 laps along the Greenway along Latourette Park (the green line on the map) for my last long run before my 100 mile race in May. Hopefully I can run about 30-40 miles. If anyone wants to run part-way with me, I will be running from 5AM to 12PM. I will be parked on one of the side streets adjacent to Rockland Ave near Forest Hill Road; it will be loaded with food and drink for everyone. So come on down, even if you only do 4 miles, I would definitely appreciate the company.