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.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Two Choices for Training; Force, or Gentle Influence?

There seems to be two ways to solve things. In every single issue I can think of, that seems to be the case.

The first way to solve issues involves a lot of force. Force does work, up to a certain extent, and the results are almost immediate, there there always seems to be some unintended consequences in the long term though, and over time, these unintended consequences tend to undo the initial results and most of the time makes the problem worse. An example would be taxes a person pays for something. A tax most definitely forces people to pay for a certain project. And when governments issue a new tax, the results are usually immediate, with new money flowing into the taxing authority's coffers.

The problem is, taxes deprive the people of money they can use to better themselves and their businesses, can even shut businesses down, and destroy people's budgets. Over time, if enough people shut down their businesses because the tax prevents them from turning in profits that could better their business, the incoming money dries up, and the taxing authority takes in a lot less money. It's basically killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The second way to solve issues involves using as little force as possible, but using influence to gently steer things in the right way. This might involve a lot of patience, and a lot of time, but if done right, will yield tremendous results, but without the consequences of the method of force.

Let's go back to this issue with taxes again. Let's say that instead of taxing people to force them to give money to a project, you instead get the word out that this so-and-so project will maybe save lives, or maybe improve the lives of people in a certain area, or whatever good cause and, instead of levying taxes on people, ask them to donate some money for that cause. Most people have very good hearts and are eager to give some money to the cause, provided that the cause was just. Plus, each person would be free to donate a portion of the money that will not damage their livelihoods or businesses. These people will still be enjoying their profits over time to keep giving to this cause without the money drying up. There would be definitely no consequences here. The golden goose would still be alive, laying those golden eggs for a long time.

Anyway, I'm not getting into politics here, I just want to set some examples up because this is exactly true when it comes to training for races also, from 5k races all the way up to 100 mile ultramarathons, and triathlons too. It would be great to understand that you always have that decision to make when approaching your race season.

The past approach, and the approach that is still common today, is the "no pain, no gain" attitude. Now granted, we have gone a long way from the bad old days of running where the two speeds were "fast and faster". Periodization is definitely a more rational approach when we develop our training plans for race season.

But we have to go farther than periodization. A LOT farther.

Using the two methods above, the first approach, force, is still in use today, and STILL used by a lot of coaches also. The "force" method is basically assigning about 3-4 hard training workout per week, stressing THOSE as the way to improve your speed and distance.



In other words, these athletes and coaches are stressing and leading with their hard workouts first, then just taking either a day off or maybe a few measly miles for recovery on their off day of periodization.

Oh, it definitely works, of course. But the percentage of hard workouts is so high and the stress is so great that there is a HUGE chance of getting injured with this method. Essentially forcing your body to go hard or the majority of your weekly mileage over a lot of time can lead to breakdown, stress, and, given enough time, permanent injury. Over a decade or so, these people tend to disappear from the racing scene entirely, all broken down, injured, and mentally burned out.

The second method, the method I advocate, uses gentle nudging and influence to achieve goals. It involves stressing not the hard paced training, but the easy paced training. Yep, the "junk" miles that some people complain about.


This type of periodization plan is much different than the "force" one above. Most weeks would only involve 1-2 hard training days for each discipline. For example, an athlete would do 5 hard paced miles during one day, but the following day, he would do 8 very easy paced miles. The percentage of easy miles is MUCH GREATER than those of the hard paced miles.

"But Pete," I usually hear people say, "how can 8 miles be considered 'easy'?"

Those athletes who ask that question obviously come from the fabric that every workout is supposed to be hard, and that one is supposed to be tired after every workout. This myth *has* to be dispelled, and it is the one issue that I find myself taking the most time trying to make the athletes unlearn.

For running, an easy pace is supposed to be minimally 90 seconds per mile slower than your hard aerobic pace, and optimally 2 minutes per mile slower.

Athletes who try this new easy pace come back to me and say that it feels very slow.

"Yep, it's supposed to be slow", I respond. "How did you feel at the end of the run?"

"Not tired at all."

"Bingo", I say.

The athlete did 8 miles and he didn't break a sweat. That's PERFECT for building weekly mileage.

Now here's the kicker. Athletes who use this method for over 3 months have seen their easy pace get a lot faster. I've had one athlete go down from a 10:30 minute/mile pace to a 9:00 min/mile pace in that amount of time. This is the "no-sweat", relaxed conversational pace with no sign of tiredness at the end of the training.

What truly surprises these athletes is that they actually found out that their hard pace went along for the ride as well and got faster too! I've had athletes go to races, not expecting much, actually get PRs in their race and even make the podium for their age group.

So, it's as simple as this. In training, you can either stress your hard pace, or you can stress your easy pace. Both methods will improve your fitness. One is very stressful and can lead to injuries and mental burnout. The other method is more relaxing, less impactful, and in the long term, not subject to any injuries at all.

So which do you prefer?

If you want to do well every single year, yet keep running well into your old age, I think the choice is clear.


P.S. For all you astrologers out there that believe in signs, I was born as a "Cancer", which is a Water sign. Water people tend to use more influence than force to get their way. We don't see immediate results, but we eventually do get our way over several months or years! Take a look at the Grand Canyon; Water might not seem as tough when compared to Earth, but SOMETHING carved that big hole in Arizona over millions of years! I would definitely say that the winner is the Colorado River at the bottom of that canyon. :-)


Monday, May 27, 2013

I Think I'm Ready for the Grand Slam

I'm ready...I think.

With back-to-back days of long runs under my belt (17 miles in the Staten Island Greenbelt yesterday and 22 miles at Watchung today, Memorial Day) and my legs not tired at all, I think I can say I'm ready for this thing.

With four 100 mile races in 10 weeks, anything can happen though. There is such a huge unknown here that I really don't know what to expect.

Think about these:

1) Even with all the race reports I read about Western States, I still don't really know the course until I'm on it. I can get a feel for what running the canyons might feel like, but I will never know until I am there.

Deadwood Canyon, at the Western States 100

2) I know the Vermont course, and I did well there last year, but how will I feel like in Vermont 3 short weeks after doing Western States (if I finish, of course). In most of my 100 milers, my legs have come back to life after only a week, but I'll never know if my legs are truly 100% ready for another long run. As I stated before, I think I'm going to get to know my massage therapist real well. :-)

Me showing my sub-24 hour buckle at the Vermont 100 finish line last year (2012)

3) Each of these races will also drain me mentally. It's not the physical tiredness that I'm worried about. It's about if I can mentally take another mental ordeal of 100 miles with the previous 100 mile race's ordeals fresh in my mind. Mental toughness is going to be CRUCIAL in the Grand Slam.

 I have to go up what?!! (Chinscraper, Wasatch)

4) Leadville. Just the name conjures up images of me dying at Hope Pass. That race was by far the toughest race I've tried to do. And I'll maybe toe the start line with legs and mind tired from the last two 100 mile races. For me, I think Leadville will be the pivotal race in whether I succeed or not in the Slam.

Leadville start/finish line. Runners have to get up Hope Pass (twice) and Powerline hill, all at 10,000ft above sea level, to get back here under 30 hours.


5) Wasatch Front is by far the toughest of them all, and (of course!) the last race of the Series. Where the first three 100 milers have net gains of anywhere from 15,000 to 17,000 feet, this race has a net gain of 26,000 ft, almost one full climb of Mt. Everest. Although the race organizers give a more generous 36 hour limit to complete this race, the endless mountains are going to be tough. I am hoping that, at that point, my Grand Slam will almost be over and that I can really toughen up to get to the finish.

Wasatch, the most beautiful, and the most deadly, race. There's a reason why they call this race "100 miles of heaven and hell."


There are 28 other hardy souls doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this year, and I hope to lean on them for a lot of support, since we are all in the same boat together. Although the odds are very slim that all 29 of us will finish the Slam this year, I still hope that we can draw on each other's energies to actually make that happen.

33 days to go!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Week To Step Back into Triathlon Training

I love triathlon training!

Me in last year's Staten Island Triathlon in August (9th overall, 2nd in age group)

I'm in the middle of that group of insane triathletes trying to sink a platform at Ironman Canada. Swimming can be fun also. :-)


After a tiring 22 mile run up and down rock strewn steeps on the Appalachian trail yesterday and a longish run today, I can slip my body back into the other two disciplines to change it up so that I can give my tired running muscles a rest.

Those people who only run for fitness would either have to back off a bit or keep the running ramped up and risk injury.

The plan this week is to do about 10,000 meters of swimming this week, with some intense sets such as my 2 mile non-stop swim and some 200 meter Individual Medleys (IMs) with only 20 seconds of rest in between the IMs. On the cycling front, I will be doing a nice long 60 mile ride in NJ.

This swimming and cycling stuff is kind on the legs, but they do wallop my cardiovascular system!

Because of that very reason, the swimming and cycling will play a HUGE part in the days between the Grand Slam races, being very gentle with my legs while keeping the body primed and ready for the next 100 miler.

After this week, I will be back to my running form again, doing the Raritan Valley Road Runners "Train"ing run, going the whole length again for 34 miles. Gotta watch out though...these guys go at an 8:30 min/mile pace, so there is some speed involved.

The following week will be my last long run, going back to the Apalachain Trail with some of the NY Flyers and the NY Trail and Ultra Group near Pawling, NY for an out-and-back of over 20 miles. Since it would be only 3 weeks to go, I will be taking it quite easy and letting the "speedsters" go off to parts unknown for longer distances.

After that, the work is done! Whew! I can't believe it's almost over.

In summary, I think this spring utterly transformed me in many ways, but, that will be addressed in a future post. :-)

Yikes! 44 Miles in 10 Hours on AT Too Ambitious

Well THAT didn't work!

My plan was to run the 44 miles of the Appalachian Trail. starting from the Manitou Train Station at 8:49, then run the 44 miles to the Appalachian Trail Train Station near Pawling, NY. I was supposed to get there by 6:39PM, when the last train leaves. It amounted to about a 14 minute mile pace. Certainly, it should be easy to get done, right?

Whoa, hold yer horses!

Um, methinks I forgot how technical the Appalachian Trail can be in that area!

Yesterday, the stretch of AT I ran yesterday, probably only 20% of the trail was runnable. The rest is a boulder strewn mess of steeps that involved mostly scrambling and walking.

In the beginning of the run, I met up with Chris and David who knew a lot more about the area than I did. Chris knew that my plan was a pretty ambitious one because he's run these trails and knew how difficult it was. Chris parked his car at the half-way point of the run and his wife drove him down to the start at Manitou.

Anyway, in the beginning, we settled into a pretty brisk pace on the trails. The first 5 miles of the trail were strewn with rocks, but was actually quite runnable. We emerged onto Rt. 9 and the convenience store there.

After going to the bathrooms and restocking our supplies, we started to push forward onto some of the hillier sections of the course. This was where the course started to get more difficult.

Chris and David were good people to have a conversation with. Chris knows the Leatherman's Loop in that really well. I told him that next year, I would love to do the race itself since the nature of that course was right up my alley. Along the way, I was also talking to David about my coaching theories and how both triathlon and ultrarunning gave me a unique perspective on training in general.

We ran to the road on the outskirts of Fahnstock State Park and rested as we replenished our water with a faucet found along the AT there. We ran a hard pace to that point, got 12.5 miles in; I found that the technicality of this course has slowed us down to the point where getting to the AT Train Station was in doubt.

So I tell Chris and David that the best thing to do at this moment is to turn back and make it back to Manitou in plenty of time to get the train back to Grand Central. Chris, who had his car at the mid-way point of the trail, offered to drive to the nearest Metro North train station once we got to his car in 10 miles or so. Since I was exploring these trails for the first time, I took him up on his offer and we pressed on into Fahnstock State Park.

This is where the trail REALLY got technical. The day was warming up a lot and both David and I were actually feeling the heat. It takes me two good hot weeks to get me used to heat training, and with this cool spring, I was definitely feeling it flush on my face. I was happy that I was finally getting exposed to the heat now because I need to be used to it by the time Western States rolls around.

Most of the trail in Fahnstock was mostly rocks and boulders; we had to scramble up and down these rock-strewn hills, slowing our pace down considerably. The drastic ups and downs on the course were also pretty much starting to take a toll on the legs with the hard pace we were pressing. I was secretly glad that Chris had a car parked 5 or so miles away.

About a half-mile away from that road was a nice overlook. We stopped and rested a little at the top for about 10 minutes before making the final descent towards the parking lot. By the time we got there it was already past 2:30PM. Making some quick calculations we traversed 22 miles of hard technical running in about 5.5 hours. With 22 miles left to go to the Appalachian Trail Train Station, there was very little chance that I would make it before 6:39PM.

So we got in the car and he drove me to the Cold Spring Train Station where a train back to NYC came. The ride home was pretty much uneventful.

Even though I failed to make it to the Appalachian Trail Train Station, it turned out to be a great day of running anyway. One can never beat exploring new trails or trying a new challenge. This was both, and getting to know some of the ultrarunners in the NYC area a little better was worth it.

-----
One little hiccup in yesterday's run was the travel there. And, of course, it involved government again.

I was replenishing my Metro-Card at a machine, adding $4.00 to the card. I slide the Metro-card into the machine, plunked in $4.00 when it asked for it, and waited until the machine spit out my card.

To my surprise, the screen says "failed to add to account", spit out my card, and didn't spit out my money! It also gave me a receipt saying that it failed to properly add value to the card.

So I did what any person would do and take the receipt to the clerk to get my money back. Instead of money, the clerk gives me an envelope, telling me to "mail the receipt" to this address and I'll get my money back!

I stared at him and said,"You have to be kidding me!"

He goes, "That's the policy"

I go, "Well, your policy sucks. How long is it going to take, 6 weeks to get my money back?"

He says, "I don't know".

Government bureaucracy. I can't stand it. I'm glad I didn't add $20.00 to the card. Jeez!


Friday, May 17, 2013

My Weekend Plan - Running 44 Miles on the Appalachian Trail

I know it's getting close to the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning when I'm regularly planning these long, long trail runs in an isolated area somewhere!

Well, this one is going to be a bit of an experiment. And a bit of risk.

Here goes...there is a 42 mile stretch of Appalachian Trail that spans between two train stations of Metro North I will be dropping off at the Manitou Train Station close to the Bear Mountain Bridge, find my way about a mile or so onto the Appalachian Trail, and there I run/hike all the way to the Appalachian Train Station near Pawling, where I hope aboard back onto the City.

The map of the route going from the Hudson to Pawling NY.

The times are quite critical - if the train is on time, I'll be at Manitou at 8:49AM ready to rock-and-roll.

The schedules for pick-up at Appalachian Trail are either 4:44PM or 6:39PM depending on how fast I arrive. The risk is that I must make the Appalachian Trail Train Station at 6:39PM or I'll be stranded for the night.

Arriving at the trail station at 4:44PM will give me 7 hours and 55 minutes of hike time. This would leave me at an aggressive 11:05 min/mile pace to make this train. That's going to be a humdinger of a run! I might set out at that pace and see how far I get with it though.

The later time, 6:39PM, will give me 9 hours and 50 minutes of hike time. This would leave me at a much more leisurely pace of 14 min/mile pace to make this later train. I *should* be able to make this pace above all else.

But it's a long run, and there is always a risk that I might not make both trains at all if I develop complications during the run.

If that's the case, I can run the extra 2 miles to Pawling itself and stay there for the night. I hope that's not the case though.

The idea here is to get as many miles as I can on my legs tomorrow. But, the other significant aim is to have fun exploring trails in my area that I've never done before.

And fun is why I keep running. If this wasn't any fun I would never do this ultrarunning thing at all. :-)

If anyone else wants to come, let me know. In the meantime, wish me luck tomorrow! :-)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I'll Take Trails Over Roads Every Time!

Trail running vs road running. I've seen a lot of intense debates all the time in running forums.

There is a BIG reason why I converted big-time from road running to trail running.

The freedom to travel EVERYWHERE!

I'm not limited to a strip of asphalt when running in far off places. For example, I don't have to see the White Mountains of New Hampshire from afar while on the road. I can actually go up INTO the White Mountains and see the scenery up close.

And this is enhanced nicely when running ultramarathons. This year, I will be doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, and ALL FOUR of these races are in such beautiful places that I am willing to take an action cam with me as I run them to take a picture of the views.

I picked some random pictures from the web of the four races of the Grand Slam and tell me why I should prefer road running over trail running.

Western States 100

 Beginning of Western States, Emigrant Pass, going downhill.

Red Star Ridge - Beginning of Race

Unbelievably beautiful. I am glad to get the opportunity for Western States!

Western States Trail near Squaw Valley - Why run on the roads nearby when the trails takes you THROUGH this!

Vermont 100

I've been here twice before, and it's great up there too. I have my own pictures, but will only post the scenery only for this blog entry.

The Start Line...Majestic!


Most of the scenery is like this, rustic little farms in a green, rural setting.

Around Mile 28 of the race. The horses are with the runners early on, adding to the beauty of the race.

The hills are alive, with the sound of music! Ahem...sorry. Great vistas here though

Leadville 100

I quickly fell in love with the Rockies when I went to Leadville 2 years ago. I didn't make the finish, but vowed to come back, partly because of unfinished business, but mostly because of these views!

Above the treeline! Hope Pass. With Twin Lakes in the background.

The COLD stream crossing at the foot of Hope Pass.

Powerline Hill at Mile 82 - Rugged Beauty

Wasatch Front 100

This race is perhaps the most beautiful and scenic of all four races. If this race doesn't kill me first, I will be definitely soaking in the vistas in this great race!

The view like this will be stunning for most of the race!

The pics are just breathtaking, it's going to be even better seeing it first hand!

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!

The Wasatch Front Range. Just a quick little run through them. A little hilly though... ;-)

There's a whole big world out there than just the Triple Crown. And most of that world cannot be reached by roads. Trail running gives me the complete freedom to touch the tops of the mountains themselves, to enter and traverse different canyons (including the Grand Canyon!), and to see exhilarating vistas that no road can deliver. 

And since trails are, well, NATURAL, only a small percentage of trail runners suffer chronic or permanent injuries as a result. 

So if you're one of those road runners that have treated trail runners as second-hand runners (yes, I know a lot of you personally) take a look at these pictures and tell me if you can honestly find more breathtaking views from a strip of asphalt.

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Hard Effort vs. Easy Effort - A Small Primer


Every now and again, I need to explain some of my basic fitness theories so that people actually "get it".

I've posted numerous articles about Periodization and the "hard day, easy day" approach. And most athletes, including beginners, have heard about this.

But most athletes, even experienced ones, don't realize the SCOPE of the difference between "easy" and "hard". What they think is "easy" is still a pretty hard pace, thus not giving their bodies the time to TRULY recover from their hard workouts. A lot of injuries result from this problem.

If you're running a 9 min/mile pace for your hard pace, a 9:15 min/mile pace is not what I think of as an "easy" pace. You'll need to go slower. A LOT slower.

So, let me try to clarify in layman's terms what it truly means to go easy, and maybe this will help people understand what hard and easy means.

Hard is when you strap on your watch, and turn it on when you begin running. Easy is when you leave your watch at home and forget about timing your run.

Hard is when you go on a set course with a certain time to finish in mind. Easy is when you try a totally new course to explore.

Hard is when you get the tunnel vision, focus inward, and concentrate on your focus and efficiency to move you faster. Easy is when you focus outward, soak in your surroundings, and enjoy the scenery as you go.

Hard is when when you put your game face on and mean business. Easy is when you strap on your shoes and put a big smile on your face because your aim is to have a bit of fun during your workout.

Hard is when you are a bit run down and tired after a good intense workout. Easy is when you feel energized and not the least bit run down at all after a workout.

Hard is when you know from your tiredness that you need an easy day to recover after your intense workout. Easy is when you finish your workout excited and itching to get at your hard workout the next day.

I hope this makes the difference between easy and hard clear. As a rule of thumb, I always tell my endurance athletes that, when running, your easy pace should be at least 90 seconds slower per mile than your marathon race pace, and ideally should be 2 minutes slower per mile.

In the case above with the 9 min/mile pace, your easy pace should be around 10:30-11 minutes per mile. YES, that is what I mean by easy!

Most of my athletes, when they do this easy pace, have said that their run feels "ridiculously easy". RIGHT!!! It's supposed to be that way. All your workouts need not be hard ones that sap your energy all the time.

You'll definitely lower any chance of injuries if you do your easy workouts, well, EASY! Only then will you safely ramp up your weekly mileage volume to levels that you didn't think was achievable before.

Trust me on this.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wheat: Friend or Foe - A Rebuttal

The Staten Island Advance yesterday posted an article in their health section called, "Wheat: Friend or Foe?", an article by Dr. Sharen Palmer that tries to "dispel the myths" that wheat is bad for you and that whole grains do have "a proper place" in people's diets.

You can see the article here.

There are some items in this article that we really have to take a look at here...

Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, believes that wheat has become today’s diet scapegoat. Jones, who is an expert in the field of grain science, says, “There is no evidence that wheat is bad for you, with the caveat that you eat the right amounts as recommended, and make half of your grain servings whole grain. There is a staple grain or starchy tuber in every culture—in our culture it’s wheat. We’ve been cultivating and eating wheat for centuries, and perhaps the only bad thing about it is that for the last 50 years of eating wheat, we’ve been sitting down too much and not cultivating it ourselves. So, we’re attacking the wrong demons.”
No evidence that wheat is bad for you, huh? Just like the cigarette industry said back in the 1970s that cigarettes weren't harmful for you? Or the shoe industry "citing sources" that their overly built-up running shoes with "state of the art" cushioning is not bad for your legs?

Please. You sound like just one of those people trying to defend the establishment and their FDA and Big Agriculture sponsored food pyramid scheme. But you want evidence that wheat is bad for you, huh? OK, let's get into the details...

Growing wheat. One popular notion is that wheat has been genetically altered by humans to the degree that it is no longer good for us. However, Jones explains that the common plant foods you eat every day—lettuce, tomatoes, corn—have been modified countless times over the years through traditional cross-breeding methods, which farmers use in order to bring out the best attributes of crops. “Your grandmother and grandfather were seed savers—they saved the biggest, sweetest seeds and planted them the following year,” adds Jones.

This goes far, far beyond individual farmers just hand-picking the good seeds from the bad seeds. There's a huge experiment that has been going on for decades (and is still ongoing) about increasing wheat yields called the Broadbalk Winter Wheat Experiment. This article on Mark's Daily Apple explains in full detail why wheat genetically modified on such a large industrial level is harmful for you...

In 1843, agronomists at Rothamstead Research Station in Hertfordshire, England began what would become one of the longest-running continuous agronomic experiments in the world: the Broadbalk Winter Wheat Experiment. For the last two centuries, generations of scientists involved in the experiment have grown multiple wheat cultivars on adjacent plots of land and applied different farming techniques and fertilizers to study the effect on yield, nutritional content, and viability of the crop. They’ve rotated crops in and out, switched up fertilizers, and tracked the change in mineral content of both soil and wheat grain. It’s a stunning example of a well-designed, seemingly never ending (it continues to this day, as far as I can tell) experiment.
Between 1843 and the mid 1960s, the mineral content, including zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper, of harvested wheat grain in the experiment stayed constant. But after that point, zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper concentrations began to decrease – a shift that “coincided with the introduction of semi-dwarf, high-yielding cultivars” into the Broadbalk experiment. Another study found that the “ancient” wheats – emmer, spelt, and einkorn – had higher concentrations of selenium, an extremely important mineral, than modern wheats. Further compounding the mineral issue is the fact that phytic acid content remains unaffected in dwarf wheat. Thus, the phytate:mineral ratio is higher, which will make the already reduced levels of minerals in dwarf wheat even more unavailable to its consumers.
Increased yield leading to dilution of mineral density is one possible explanation for the reduction in wheat mineral content, but modern wheat has shorter root systems than ancient wheat, and longer roots allow greater extraction of minerals from the soil. Some people have proposed soil mineral depletion as the cause of reduced nutrient content of food, but – at least in the Broadbalk experiment – soil mineral content actually increased over time.
In other words, after years of industrial-level genetic modification, the wheat that is in production today is markedly different than the wheat of old. Such wheat is turning out to be less nutritious and more toxic for the everyday diet. Farmers hand picking good seeds from bad would never yield this type of wheat at all.

But hey, let's get back to this article by Sharen Palmer, OK?

Wheat and weight. Perhaps the most popular concern over wheat centers upon weight. Wheat-free proponents suggest that avoiding it can help you lose weight—if you eliminate wheat, you’re essentially on a low-carb diet.

According to Jones, “Studies show that low-carb diets can cause rapid weight loss in the first six months, but that people weigh more in two to three years, indicating that these diets are very hard to follow.” Any time you restrict your diet significantly by eliminating a major food group, such as wheat or dairy, calories typically drop and weight loss occurs. And so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many wheat-free dieters report—anecdotally, without published scientific findings—that they have lost weight.
OK, so what she did here is built up a "straw man" type of argument here by associating a low wheat diet to a low carb diet, then attacking all low carb diets as unsustainable. I see.

Have you ever considered fruits as a source of carbohydrates? Some vegetables? Hmmm, I think I'm getting a good share of carbohydrates there, and yes, although the amount is significantly lower than, say, a wheat diet, I'm definitely getting enough of them to live a healthy lifestyle. Plus, the carbohydrates in fruits and veggies are naturally consumed in moderation, avoiding the "sugar spike" and shock to the system that can cause complications over time like diabetes.

Let's continue, shall we?

Yet, a number of studies have found that people who eat more whole grains, including whole wheat, maintain a healthier weight. In a Tufts University study of more than 400 adults, whole grain and cereal fiber intake was strongly linked to lower BMI (body mass index), lower total percent body fat and lower abdominal fat (Journal of Nutrition, 2009.) However, if you eat too many servings of wheat or too many high-calorie products that combine wheat with fat and sugar (think donuts and chocolate chip cookies), it’s entirely possible to put on pounds.
I grew up thinking that cereals were the best for me. In my 20s, I was young enough to burn them off, but as my metabolism slowed, my weight gained considerably. Even with vigorous exercise, my weight went over 200 pounds, considered "overweight" by the BMI index that they tout. Remember, I was a triathlete, competing in Ironman races. I was NOT the typical adult who sat on his couch every day and watched TV for several hours a day.

It took a while for me to really open up my mind my diet and start accepting these "radical" beliefs that grains are actually not very good for people and that fats were in general pretty healthful. It took years for me to open up my mind because establishment people like Sharon Palmer tries to keep people like me adhering to the old dogmas of diet.

Let's continue with this article:

Wheat and disease. Wheat-free diets claim that before the cultivation of wheat humans were healthy, and that wheat is to blame for many health conditions, from diabetes to heart disease. But Jones reports, “Most chronic diseases didn’t occur in early times, because life span was only in the 30s. If anything, you could say that diets with grains have enabled a longer life. In the beginning of the 1900s, our lifespan was in the 50s and we were eating a lot of wheat. Our lifespan has continued to increase. This has to do with many factors, including diet.”
 Or you can say that other conditions improved, like health, economy, and other factors that contributed to longer lifespans as well. There's no direct evidence that our what based diet itself contributed to longer lives.

The paragraph above also talks about longer lifespans, not the QUALITY OF LIFE that goes along with the longer lifespans. There are people my age (mid 40s) that are starting to see the complications of their diets and are starting to take medication to "cure their ills". Having chronic diseases that come from our prevailing diet is really no way to go through your older years. I'm sorry, but 50 years of this wheat based diet is yielding tremendous evidence of complications in our older generation. One just has to open his or her own eyes just to see this. Dr. Palmer has got to get her head out of the sand before she can safely say that a wheat based diet is really good for you.

Lastly, let's look at this little humdinger here:

Look no further than the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a dietary pattern with years of documented, proven health benefits, including weight loss, elimination of hypertension, and reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, heart failure, and certain types of cancer. The DASH diet is a nutritionally balanced diet that includes six to eight servings of grains daily, mostly in their whole grain form. (See EN’s coverage of the DASH diet in the December 2012 issue.)
Elimination of hypertension? I'm sorry, but when I read this, and look at my father, I have to laugh. My father is pure Italian. He loved his pasta and his Italian bread. His hypertension was so sky high that he needed medications to "regulate it". After seeing my transformation to the primal diet, he's actually cut down the amount of pasta and bread he's been consuming. Amidst all the visits to the doctor this year, his hypertension has ACTUALLY GONE DOWN to a healthy level and is now considering getting off the meds.

As for me, my increasing age has forced me to really address my dietary concerns in order to stay in top athletic shape. Ten years ago, when I was conforming to the "high carb, high grain" lifestyle, my athletic performance dropped and my weight gained into unhealthy levels. I've had very irritable bowels ever since childhood and have thought nothing of it because I thought that this condition was normal. Now that I've cut out the wheat, the grains, and switched to a primarily Paleo lifestyle, I've actually felt that I've REVERSED my age, my bowels feel normal for the first time in my life, gotten my athletic performance back, brought my weight down to a very optimal 177 pounds, and am now on the verge to do something quite extraordinary with my attempt at the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this summer.

And to sum it up nicely, I feel FANTASTIC!

Sorry Dr. Palmer, but you really need to open up your eyes to see the mounting evidence against your case here. The shoe industry recently tried this approach with their overly built-up shoes, always citing some sort of "research" that their shoes were actually helping people when in fact there were a lot of runners out there with chronic injuries due to those shoes. When they changed to minimal footwear/barefoot running, their injuries miraculously went away! The shoe companies quickly had to abandon this approach amid falling profit and had to change their shoes for the better.

I am a scientist myself, as well as an endurance coach, and the rules of Scientific Method dictates that all scientists need to keep an open mind, acknowledge any new challenges to the prevailing theory, and proceed to experiment to see if the present theory holds or needs to be replaced. Simply holding on to dogma in the face of mounting challenges is not scientific and does not help humankind advance to a higher level of awareness.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Random Thoughts For an Ordinary Monday

Less than 7 weeks until Western States, and the excitement is building. I look back at all these weeks of working out and now I'm starting to sense the climax of the whole thing, and the inevitable end. Do I want this thing to end?


 The Watson Memorial, at the top of Emigrant Pass in the beginning of the Western States Endurance Run. After an hour of walking up 2500 feet from the start, this is the signal to actually start running. :-)


Sensing the end or not, the one thing I want to do is cherish every day of this Grand Slam buildup. It might be the only time I'll be doing this in my life.

Of course, if given another golden opportunity, I would try the Slam again. But still, you never know...

 Western States right before the start. Can't wait for my moment here! I'll be inserting a pic of my own here of this year's start.
 .....

My first ultra this year, the Long Island Greenbelt 50k, has come and gone. Except for a few muscle cramps here and there, I'm doing fine.

Wound up doing a 2000 meter swim workout this morning. Along the way, I got cramps in both my arches of my feet. It's definitely uncomfortable, but I've learned to keep swimming with it. Muscle cramps, as painful as they can be, are fleeting. That means that the painful episode will go away after a minute or two.

-----

It's the middle of May, and the temps will never break 60 degrees today. What gives? This has to be the coolest spring I've ever experienced in my life! I mean, the cicadas that are due out this year don't want to emerge out of the ground!

I'll be going out on my bike today for an easy workout and I still have my winter clothes out. Not cool.

I don't usually complain about the weather, because it is ultimately futile, but it is worrisome this year. The Western States canyons can easily reach 100 degrees or more on some hot summer days and I do not want to be caught unprepared for the temps at the bottom of those canyons.

I'm usually impervious to the hot temps, but it takes two good hot weeks of training to get that way. With 7 weeks to go there isn't much time left for the heat to show up.

One of the things I've been doing is hitting the sauna after my swim workouts at the YMCA. The problem with that sauna is that it doesn't usually get about 120F in temperature, so the whole little sauna thing might be futile.

We'll see. If the worst case scenario does happen, I know I can still slog through Western States if I have to.

-----

I've concocted a 44 mile run this Saturday on the Appalachian Trail between the Manitou Train Station and the Appalachian Trail Train Station.



I have a 10.5 hour window to make the 44 mile journey, which amounts to a little slower than a 14 min/mile pace. I think I can do that.

Still, the long mileage can yield unpredictable results, so I am taking a bit of a risk in not making the trains. That's OK. If worse comes to worse, I will have my cell phone on me, and if I miss that last train back to Grand Central terminal, I should be able to hit a hotel in Pawling, NY for an overnight stay.

----

What is with finisher's bling and the desire to finish a race? It's an interesting thing to see people, including me, go all out to finish a race just to get a perfectly ordinary finisher's metal that I've gotten plenty of times before.

I mean, the medal I earn will only be in a box collecting dust with my other finisher's medals, right?

This came up because I was talking to someone who struggled at the 25k race at the Long Island Greenbelt this weekend and all she was thinking was getting that finisher's metal.

This wasn't her first race. She was an experienced runner too, but the thought on her mind was that finisher's medal around her neck. I can certainly understand what she means.

I remember Ironman Canada 1998 and the price I had to pay to get my finisher's shirt there. My friends in my circle called that race, "The Hot Ironman". Temps literally about 100 degrees for most of the day. I got destroyed early in the race, at about 70 miles on my bike. Thankfully at around 90 miles, the course was a net downhill. Without that I probably wouldn't have made the transition to the marathon run.

I was literally seeing double at that point. Classic hyponatremia. Very bad. I barely coasted into T2 and tried to eat every salty food that was out there. After about 15 minutes in transition I started to walk out onto the run course.

I got better, but of course I ate too much. Boom, bad stomach problems. I did the run/walk thing for the first 13 miles as I battled with abdominal cramps, reached the turnaround and started my way back.

There was a massage tent at 14 miles. I couldn't resist. I went in.

After 15 minutes of deep tissue massage, they put me back out onto the course, and into the hot sun. I felt dizzy.

One rule to note here...never do a deep tissue massage during a race.

With 12 miles to go, I was ready to quit. But, nope! I had to get that finisher's shirt! I walked the rest of the way back toward the finish line. It felt like forever. I really wanted to drop out. But that finisher's shirt was on my mind!

And it got me home. It was my slowest Ironman ever, but hey, I got my finisher's shirt!

So after racing so many years, I still do understand what that struggling runner meant this weekend.

As a matter of fact, I still wore my 50k medal I got this weekend with a bit of pride to. Yes, it'll go in with the numerous other finisher's medals I got.

But I still earned it, so I'll continue to wear my finisher's medals with pride.

-----

Had a very vivid dream last night. It felt like someone was trying to communicate with me on a different level of consciousness.

I do believe that there are different levels of reality or consciousness that people are connected to, and strong emotions can somehow carry their way across these different levels through to other people.

Yeah, I know that some people might consider this hocus-pocus, but hey, can anyone ask me fully if they fully understand the reality we live in right now?

I mean, we got teams of scientists doing so many research projects just to try to understand our reality right now. Guess what? Even with all the data they're generating (Higgs Boson, uncertainty theory, wormholes, etc.), they STILL don't know jack about our surroundings.

And yes, I was a scientist in my heyday too. I'm sorry, but if you just rely on their data that this is the only reality that is out there, then you really have a very dim view of the world.

And I think every ultrarunner knows that we are much more capable than even scientists think humans in general can. That is why you still see them research us in 100 mile races.

Anyway, I leave you with that thought, that we are capable of so much more than we think. Remember that, focus on that, and get out there and do something amazing!



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Long Island Greenbelt 50k Race Report - No Guts, No Glory

Today was the day the new, leaner me was put to the test.

The night before, some thunderstorms swept through the area, waking me with a jolt. With thunderstorms in the forecast for race day also, I knew it was going to be a sloppy, wet day.

I was one of the first to arrive at the race venue, the reason being that the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was part of the drive to Long Island, and that expressway is notorious of having heavy traffic, even on weekday mornings. The BQE was thankfully tame this morning, and I got there with plenty of time to spare.

Once there, I quickly got my bib number (#44) and got myself ready for the race. Since this was going to be a wet one, I made sure I lubed up every body part with Bag Balm to avoid any chafing (it worked like a charm). 

I met several familiar faces. Zandy Mangold, a very talented ultra runner, was ready to tackle the course. Cherie Yanek, fresh off her 50 miler at Bear Mountain, was ready for her 2nd ultra in as many weeks. Right before the race started, I also saw Bob Wisner arrive for his 25k race that started one hour after our 50k.

My strategy was an aggressive one. With my weight officially at 177 pounds, I wanted to really see what would happen if I pushed myself to the edge.

We started off promptly at 7:30. For the first couple of miles, I settled into the second lead group of runners. The first part of the trails were generally downhill, so our pace was aggressive from the outset. I was with this group all the way toward the northern end of the trail.

The northern end of the trail is perhaps the toughest part of the course. With its steep ups and downs, and littered with rocks and roots, our group quickly started to break apart. I decided to walk some of the uphill sections as it was still early in the race and I didn't want to wear myself out too quickly. By the time I crested the last hill and descended the last downhill to the aid station at the turnaround, I was in 9th place overall.

I quickly replenished my water bottle and ended up around 7th place as I left the aid station on the way back. We settled back into a group again as we finally left the difficult hilly section and back to the gentle section. At this point I saw Cherie Yanek running towards me on her way to the turnaround. She joked to me that the finish line was only a half mile away, a dig at the erroneous info that I gave her about how far out she was to an aid station a week ago at Bear Mountain. I joking replied that I believed her with all my heart.

Several miles more and I started to see the runners of the 25k race coming toward me. Bob Wisner came by and we quickly acknowledged each other. He's been looking very good at these races lately. 

At the close of the first lap, I still remained in 9th place.

The second loop, of course, was definitely going to be the test. How long can I sustain an aggressive pace? Two of the runners in the group in the first loop, started slowing down ad I passed them to get into 7th place.

Midway out on the 2nd loop, the weather made a turn for the worse.

The skies grew dark, the wind whipped up, and we experienced heavy rain. The course was sloppy to begin with, but now the course got downright slippery and dangerous. In some sections, the trail turned into small rivers. It got real ugly really quick.

With the rain heavy, we entered into the difficult northern section. Zandy appeared and quickly passed me, shouting words of encouragement.

About a couple of minutes after Zandy passed, that is when I had my intimate contact with the mud.

I always had a rule when trail running. When the trail is wet and slippery, I always step down the center of the trail, where it is flat, no matter how rough it is. The reason is that the edges of the trail are sloped, and sloped trails greatly increase the chance of a slip and fall.

I didn't follow my own rules. On a particularly steep downhill section, I settled for the edge of the trail, my right leg took out my left leg, and I quickly fell down on my right side and rolled onto my face.

I was fine. I was caked with mud, and I looked real bad, but I had no injuries and proceeded to press on as aggressively as before. Some of the people asked me if I was OK, and told them I was. I also joking told them I wear the trail very well.

I finally got to the turnaround station and got out quicker than some of the other people, quickly getting 6th place. I still remained in a group, but as the last miles rolled by, some of the faces change, as some runners started to slow down. They were quickly replaced by other runners behind me who kept a good fast pace.

On the way back towards the finish line again, I met Cherie again. She saw me all caked with mud and jokingly asked me if I had an argument with a mud puddle. I think I said I did, and the puddle won, lol.

I held my own. I teetered between 7th place and 10th place throughout the remaining miles. I only started to slow down in the last 2 miles of the race. As Zandy passed me for the last time he encouraged me to run with him. Although I couldn't match his pace, I was still running by the time I reached the road a half mile from the finish. I finished off in 9th place, only a minute behind Zandy. Official time for my race was 5:11:58, a very good time considering the sloppy course.

(Official results of the 50k race can be seen here)

I was very strong throughout the entire race, something I can definitely attribute to with all the hard work I did in training in the spring and the change of diet that allowed me to lose a lot of weight. I will definitely never go out at an aggressive pace in my 100 milers, but it's great to see I have a lot of strength in my running, especially on the hills.

One other important thing to note...my legs are a little tired, but not sore at all. I have every reason to believe that my legs will be close to 100% in only a couple of days. This is very important because I will need the quick recovery during the short periods between the 100 milers of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning. If I can recover as quickly as this, it will give me a greater chance of actually completing the Slam.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How to Prepare for Race Day

A very short blog this morning before I go off to the races this morning.

How did I prepare for this race.



First, I knew exactly what type of race I'm doing. Today, I'll be the Long Island Greenbelt 50k. It is a trail race. It is two loops long. It also has a 25k race which is only 1 loop long.

I also note the small details of the race that might prove to be bigger than thought. In this race, the 50k starts at 7:30AM, but the 25k starts at 8:30AM. So the 25k and 50k races start off at different times. This might sound small but is a real big deal. Another race I know, the Staten Island Greenbelt Festival race in December, also has a 25k and 50k race, but starts off together. Why is this a big deal? Because in general 25k people will run faster than 50k people and the 50k people might get influenced by the faster 25k crowd. The race in December can be very tricky as the 50k people need to be careful not to run as hard as the 25k crowd, then blow up toward the end of their race.

With the race today, since the two races run at different times, there will be no influence by the 25k crowd on the 50k people. That's definitely a good thing.

Another thing I look at with races is the terrain. This is especially true if it was a trail race. Here's the map I looked at for this race.


This map is doubled for 50k. The map tells me that although Long Island might be mostly flat, I shouldn't be deceived for this race. The hills are manageable, but the race DOES have hills and will expect to climb a fair bit for this race. Since this is a trail race, I will bring my minimalist XC flats. I do have my hugely padded Hokas, but I will be saving those babies for my Grand Slam races.

The I look to see how frequent a certain race has aid stations. With road races, this might be a non-starter, since aid stations usually come at every mile, but for trail races, this can be a BIG issue. Often with trail races, this will influence my decision of what to wear for this race. If aid stations are infrequent, then I will wear my Camelbak to carry extra water and supplies  If the aid stations are plentiful, then I will probably only carry a water bottle. In this race, the aid stations are only about 4 miles apart, so I will only carry a water bottle during the race to keep it light.

The day before the race, I also will determine what food to eat and when, because it is absolutely critical to have a settled stomach for some races, especially one as long as this one. The time I eat the night before is important because it determines whether the food will pass through completely before the race or not.

Finally, the day before the race I take a look at the weather reports to see if that will influence what to wear during the race. In this case, the weather will be in the high 60's to low 70s with showers and T-storms likely. It's probably going to be a sloppy, muddy course out there, so I'll pack in a few towels to clean off during the race. For the race itself, the temperature is warm enough to stay with shorts and a short sleeve shirt. Since the race is long and my feet will most likely be wet, I will bring a lubricant like Bag Balm to put on my toes to prevent blisters.

I'll need to bring a change of clothes for after the race so that I can slip into something drier and more comfortable. With the day being this warm I don't need to bring my jacket. Just pants, shirt, and some underwear will be fine. I'll also bring a hat because rain is likely. I will also bring in some recovery food to eat for after the race.


Lastly, I try to arrive early to the race venue to take into account any traffic that might occur from my home to the race venue. If traffic is heavy, you have the time needed to get to the venue without a problem. If traffic is particularly light and I arrive early, I can always take a small nap before the race to settle myself down even further before race time.

This is precisely how I prepare for a race like this. I do this so that there are no surprises come race day. I want to be prepared as possible so that I know exactly how to start out on a particular race and how best to complete this race in the best possible time.

You've prepared yourself physically for a big race. Race day logistics like this is also just as critical as your training, so DON'T NEGLECT THIS. Start prepping for your big race at least a month before so that you know what race you're getting yourself into and what type of strategy you're going to need. You can also build a checklist for the race so that you have the right gear to take for your race.

If you prepare the right way, race day will go very smoothly, you will have the piece of mind you need, and you will increase your chances for a great outcome!

With that, I'm off to the Long Island Greenbelt 50k. You have yourself a great race also!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Last Phase of Grand Slam Training - THE GAUNTLET!

Seven weeks to go before the Western States 100! My last recovery week is almost over, and it's the final phase of my training before the taper. Yes, it's time to kick some butt!

 I'll be looking at this map more often as the race draws closer.


I love the final phase in training, and apparently my athletes love it too.

It's great prescribing this to athletes, including myself, because this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the training reaches a crescendo. This is where all the work done in the spring leads to.

This phase is pure intensity, plain and simple. Very little rest and a lot of work. For people doing small races, this phase has a lot of speed in it. Track workouts, bike/run bricks for triathletes, tempo runs, swim sprints, the kitchen sink, etc.

For endurance athletes, the primary staple is lot of long runs, long rides, open water endurance swims, with some speed thrown in for kicks. If the training goes well in the spring, the body should be able to withstand the miles and recover quickly.

Which leads to the training I'm doing. Grand Slam training. The ultimate in endurance training. I am now going into my final phase.

The ultimate phase for the ultimate training schedule? I call it THE GAUNTLET!


THE GAUNTLET. Five weeks of hellish training with little or no rest. Lots of long runs and rides planned during this final phase.

I'm mentally prepared. Yes, I've indicated that fitnesswise, I am definitely ready for the Slam at this time.

But I cannot rest on my laurels. Somehow, just trying to maintain this fitness for the last five weeks will cause me to lose my mental focus and edge. To say that "I have arrived" loses all incentive to keep pushing forward. I just feel that if I approach the last five weeks this way, I will lose all incentive to push and will end up with five mediocre weeks leading to Western States.

The goal here is to keep the mental edge by raising my expectations and goals even more; to try to reach an even higher level of fitness and not be satisfied with the fitness I have now.

All within the bounds of staying injury-free, of course. Everything is tempered by biofeedback. I always stress that as a coach and I use it all the time. Always have to listen to your body and know when to back off when needed. Train to the very edge of overtraining but do not cross that line. If that means missing some miles, then so be it.

So here are the goals for THE GAUNTLET. Remember that I'm using the triathlon approach toward The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, so there's a lot of swimming and cycling here as well as the running:

Tomorrow (May 11): The Long Island Greenbelt 50k - I'm racing this pretty hard.

Week of May 13-19: 8000 meters of swimming, 80 miles of cycling, 80 miles of running...highlight will be a 2 day Appalachian Trail run/hike.

Week of May 20-26: 10000 meters of swimming, 120 miles of cycling, 50 miles of running...highlight will be about an 80 mile bike that weekend with the Staten Island Triathlon and Ultra Group.

Week of May 27-June 2: 8000 meters of swimming, 80 miles of cycling, and 80 miles of running...highlight will be 34 miles of the Delware and Raritan Canal Towpath at around an 8:30 min/mile pace at the RVRR Train Run.

Week of June 3-9: 10000 meters of swimming, 100 miles of cycling, and 80 miles of running...highlight will be a 34 mile Appalachian Trail Run done with the NY Flyers Trail Group and NY Ultra Meetup Group, the last long run before Western States.

Week of June 10-16: 8000 meters of swimming, 100 miles of cycling, and 50 miles of running...highlight will be a longish 60 mile ride in NJ with the Staten Island Triathlon and Ultra Group to finish THE GAUNTLET.

Will I reach those goals. Not sure, but I will try. Again, if I cross the overtraining line at any time, I will back off. But I'll definitely give it one heck of a shot.

A two week taper will follow after that, and then, hopefully a good result in the Western States 100. But I have my work cut out for me. But I feel up to the challenge. Let's do this!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Initial Western States Strategy

With a little over 7 weeks to go before this no-name small-time endurance coach representing Staten Island starts his little quest for one of ultrarunning's grandest prizes and starts with the first race of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning at the Western States 100, strategy now needs to be addressed.
 
 

I'm not one to really discuss strategy of my 100 mile ultras, because by the time mile 60 comes around, most of my strategy would have been abandoned for something simpler, like, "left foot, right foot, ugh, must...make...finish...line"

But Western States is a course that needs to be addressed. A person can make or break his or her race with the first 62 miles of the race. The first 62 miles involves lots of hills and canyons; in other words, ups and downs in very isolated areas. The last 38 miles is a lot more urban and gentler on the legs. Or so they say.

El Dorado Canyon, one of the canyons I have to traverse in the Western States 100, is definitely breathtaking, but can be dangerous if one runs out of nutrition and hydration since it is so isolated.

With this race I will have no crew, but will have a pacer at mile 62 and places to put drop bags. It is very important to know what to start out with and what to put into these drop bags so that I can come out of this with a decent time.

First things first...what shall I be wearing at the start line? With the potential for cool weather at the start (this is the Squaw Valley Ski Resort we're talking about here), I must have the option of switching from long sleeve shirts to short sleeve shirts. A change of clothes on the fly can only happen if I wear a Camelbak for the start.

I'm not too keen on having additional weight for these races, but in this case, I think it would be necessary to have the Camelbak on hand. I can store extra clothes in the back, along with first aid items like Bag Balm and Band-Aids. With the difficult trails in the beginning I just want to make the first 62 miles as comfortable as I can. Plus, with all the extra water I can store in the Camelbak, I have virtually no chance of running out of water in the long miles between aid stations. Especially in the canyons, when I do not know how fast I'll be climbing the switchbacks and how long I might reach an aid station. The extra water will definitely help.

With all the weight that I did lose for this, certainly it would be fine to carry an extra pound or two of water on my back. The extra weight should affect my pace or my ability to climb hills at all.

After 62 miles, when I arrive at Foresthill and obtain my pacer, I hope to be well enough to run a little faster since the course is friendlier and the aid stations closer together. I can leave my Camelbak in my drop bag there and run light the rest of the way with just a hand-held bottle.


Anyway, it sounds like an OK plan for the time being. As with nutrition and hydration, well, I will do it exactly as I did in Vermont last year. Go mostly primal, of course! Bananas, watermelon, canteloupe, grapes, and lots of water. I will take the occasional sugary item, of course, but I'm hoping to stay away from those since they are double-edged swords; they may make me feel better immediately, but may make me worse down the road.

Hopefully, with this strategy for the first 62 miles in place, it will keep me well enough to keep me running for the last 38 miles and help me finish this race with a decent time.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Search For an Off-Road Ironman

I think insane thoughts all the time.

But I like it. That is what makes me, well, me.

Apparently, I'm not alone though. Especially when it comes to triathlon and ultras. And maybe marrying them together to get a great new endurance sport.

About a decade ago, a lot of us triathletes were actually thinking about taking the Ironman distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) and actually going off-road with it. Not just off-road though, but with extreme terrain consistent with some of the ultrarunning races.

And some person actually had a great venue for it! Rifle, Colorado. Perfect mountainous terrain, finishers would come in around 24 hours, just like the 100 mile ultramarathon, it would be great.

The event did actually sell out at 200 people, but for some strange reason, the event was cancelled.

Although the idea was still floated around many times, I don't think anyone really took it seriously.

Until now.

I just did a Google search and found this little gem, the X-Man UK, set to go off on July 14 of this year.


According to the website, the bike is extremely grueling and much of it would take place at night. Perfect!

Although my season is already set this year, I might actually try entering into this race next year, if it happens, and if it is as grueling as it seems.

Plus, if a person or sports company can actually set one of these state-side this year, I would be the first to sign up!

Maybe it's now time to tune my mountain bike up. :-)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Coming Mental Ordeal Of The Slam

With this Grand Slam of Ultrarunning craziness bouncing around in my head every minute of the day since the Western States lottery, my thoughts had to eventually come down to this: strategy.

I mean, how can one do another grueling 100 mile ultra a mere three weeks after finishing one? How does one get his or her legs to recover fully for those three weeks between races?

An even better question to ask yet is, can one get his or her mind ready for another ordeal after the previous ordeal is fresh on the mind?

By the time the Slammers hit Hope Pass in Leadville (above), they will have already accumulated 240+ grueling miles on their legs over 7 weeks.


These are the questions that I'm going to have to answer truthfully if I want to successfully finish this Slam.

The mental aspect of the Slam really doesn't start at the starting line of Western States 100 in June. At that point, I would probably be excited and raring to go.

No, the mental aspect really starts the moment my first crisis happens during the Western States, how I get through it, and how much of it I remember as I toe the line at the second leg of the Slam, in Vermont three weeks after Western States.

And how much of the misery of the first two races would be on my mind as I toe the line at Leadville four weeks after Vermont. I'm willing to bet that with each successive race in the Slam, the misery will accumulate and build.

That is why I think there is a tremendous failure rate in completing the Slam. Of course, the physical aspect of these long races are evident, but how much of an ordeal can one mentally take with four 100 mile races in ten weeks? I think THIS is the real question that needs to be answered by me and by everyone else attempting the Slam.

I have been doing a great bit of Transcendental Meditation this year, hoping that by generally shifting my thoughts from the pain of it all to being only in "the moment" that hopefully I can find the mental fortitude necessary to finish the Slam. Dwelling on the pain of past races and anticipating the pain of the coming ones is not going to get me through the Slam.

It's as simple as that. When I'm running at mile 60 in Vermont, I do not focus on the struggles that I had in Western States three weeks before, or focus on what might happen at Hope Pass in Leadville four weeks from then.

I will have to stay in the moment and focus only at mile 60 in Vermont.

Of course, it's a simple strategy, but is it simple to implement?

For my sake, I hope that the meditation makes it so. It's going be one long hellish summer, that much I understand. But if I can cut the summer down to one moment at a time, I might actually stand a better chance at completing this thing.

We will start to see in 8 weeks time.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Next Up, the Long Island Greenbelt 50k!

Less than 8 weeks to go before this Staten Islander attempts the first leg of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, the Western States 100.

I can truly say that I'm ready for it. Mentally and physically.

With some time left before the race on June 29, the trick is maintaining that mental and physical edge.

My philosophy about this is not to go into maintenance mode at all. That would mean backing off a bit on training. I think that, with some time left before Western States, the best thing to do is to try to IMPROVE on it. This would keep the focus sharp while moving the goals up a little to increase my chances of success even more.

So why not race this weekend?

I did my rear sweeping duties for 50k at the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain this weekend. It was the slowest 50k I've ever done.

Time to change gears! I'll be doing the Long Island Greenbelt 50k this Saturday (May 11) and I'll be racing it.

The graph shows 25k of the Long Island 50k race; since the 50k race is two loops, just double the graph above to get the 50k. Although not as bad as the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k, there is still about 5000+ feet of elevation gain in the 50k, so the course is nothing to sneeze at.


I know I'm the fittest I've been recently. I want to put it to the test now and see what happens.

Anyone want to race me this weekend? :-)

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The day after the race (Sunday May 12), I'll be at Great Kills Park for Brick Training. Anyone who wants to do a swim/bike brick is invited to come. Be at the parking lot near the beach at 8AM. See you there!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tales From The Back - My NFEC 50k Rear Sweeper Report

A couple of years ago I volunteered for the North Face Challenge at Bear Mountain as captain of the Anthony Wayne Aid Station.

Yes, it's a lot of work. Especially for someone who always wants to move. Standing still for 12+ hours delivering nourishment and hydration to runners is not my idea of a good time.

But I wanted to help out. So I indicated doing the rear sweep for these races.

Sure, it's a lot of hard work. Probably harder than aid station captain. But I was always moving, so it was right up my alley.

And it was. Despite the nagging feeling that I was going slower than I comfortably would, it was a pretty interesting experience. And I would do it again next year, if they would have me.

The rear sweep was also essential this year for my Grand Slam of Ultrarunning efforts as I always wanted more time on my feet. This week, it didn't matter how slow I was going, as long as I got good hard hours on my feet. And the position provided it.

The race, as with all of ultrarunning, has gained unprecedented popularity after all these years. More and more people are starting to realize that there are races that go far beyond the popular marathon distance, and that most of these races are done off-road.

And it showed at this year's races. So many people signed up for the 50 miler and the 50k that the event coordinators needed to organize each race into two waves.

I trailed various people during the race. Interestingly, most of these people were either new to trails, or to the distance, or both. Most of them really didn't know what they were really getting into with this race. Some I talked to just looked at the 50k distance and joined up, not knowing what kind of terrain was involved at Bear Mountain. They just did a marathon and decided it was worth doing because it was "only" 5 extra miles. They knew that this was a trail race, but never understood how difficult trails can be.

Most people who did this race for their first trail run didn't really know that these squiggly lines here mean lots and lots of lung busting hills!


The particularly nasty stretch between the Silver Mine Aid Station (Mile 8.6) and the Arden Valley Aid Station (13.9) did it in for a lot of these folks. This stretch involves a lot of steep ups and downs along a mountain ridge with quite a lot of rocks to navigate on the trails. As I was running along that stretch, the chirping on my walkie-talkie from the folks at the approaching Arden Valley Aid Station had people dropping out left and right at that station. The person I was following had a particularly tough time in that stretch; she was undergoing a rude awakening on how difficult the terrain can be when trail running as she was trying to compare it to the road marathon she recently did. I told her that there was a lot more to trail running than distance alone, and the terrain can be critical to how well one does in a race. Especially a race as technical as this.

I do believe that when most road runners switch to trails, they undergo a "trial by fire". Yes, these runners do understand that trails might be "somewhat" more difficult than road racing, but most do not comprehend the severity of this difficulty. Think about it; most road races have mile markers at every mile, an aid station at every mile, and the roads are smooth and fast to run on.  It's a good pampered feeling that most of these runners have.

That is why switching to trail racing is such a rough transition for a lot of folks. The aid stations are at least 5-7 miles apart. The hills are much steeper and strewn with rocks, and there are no signs to gauge your distance to the next aid station.

I had exactly the same experience when I switched over, so I can totally relate to the struggles these people were facing at this race. I related my first trail race, the Half Wit Half Marathon to these runners for encouragement so that they can try again next year. After bushwhacking a major section on that course, struggling up the "128 Steps From Hell", and twisting both my ankles in the process, I crossed the finish line swearing up and down never to do another trail race again. But I related how I got back in the saddle again, and, after experiencing the difficulty first-hand, I was able to go back the next year and do well, finishing with a huge smile on my face. The second time I did that race, I now knew what was expected and I made the adjustment, making me become hopelessly addicted to trail racing from then on.

Arriving at Arden Valley, the person I was trailing had to drop out, but I left her with encouragement to come back next year. She, like everyone else who dropped out that day, now know first-hand the difficulty of this course. I hope that most of these people will have the mental fortitude to come back next year and finish well.

And I'm sure most will come back. We trail runners really don't know what it means to give up. That's what really defines us from other runners. :-)

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Getting into Anthony Wayne Aid Station (21.8 miles) from Arden Valley, the 50k course and 50 mile course joined up, so as I was trailing the 50k people, I was starting to see the bulk of the 50 milers start coming at us from the back. As there was a 7 mile stretch between Arden Valley and Anthony Wayne. My pace at that point was so slow that my estimation at that point was a bit erroneous. The person also in front of me was slowing down even more at the end of the stretch so that my own estimated time of arrival at Anthony Wayne was flawed. At the pace we left Arden Valley, we would arrive at Anthony Wayne at a little bit before 3PM. That was complicated by the fact that I did hear the noise of cars from the nearby Palisades Parkway. One of the 50 mile runners, Cherie Yanek, approached from behind and asked how many miles to go and, looking at my time, mistakenly told her that she had 1 mile to go before the aid station. I kept moving, looking at my watch, and seeing 3PM pass by without us getting out of the woods. Another hill, another descent, and still no clearing. Finally, at around 3:15, we cleared the woods and arrived at the aid station. So what I told her as 1 mile was more like 2 miles. Yikes!

The people I was trailing dropped out there, and so I had to pick up pace to find the next 50k person to trail, and I came across Cherie again. I guess she didn't seem so enthused about my erroneous estimate and called me out on it.  I apologized, and wished her well the rest of the race as I pushed on.

I hope to see Cherie at the Vermont 100 this year. Her quote keeps resonating in my head. "The more you run, the faster you're done". Works for me!

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Another 50 mile runner I knew in the race, Zsuzsanna Carlson, passed by me on the way to Anthony Wayne. Next thing I know, she was sitting on the side of the trail with her pacer with a fully cramped and spasming hamstring. It was so severe that she couldn't straighten her knee. She never had that condition before but I knew it too well. But this was my quadriceps muscle at Leadville right before the ascent of Hope Pass. There is a stream crossing before the climb and when my aching muscles hit the cold water, the quadriceps locked up tight, preventing me from even flexing my legs at the knee. I was screaming in pain in the middle of the stream. Luckily, I knew that most cramps were fleeting in their spasms and that they would release over time. Mine did after a few minutes. With Zsuzsanna, I would believe so too. She was in good hands with her pacer, and knowing how tough a runner Zsuzsanna is, she would be running past me in no time. Before we hit Anthony Wayne, she indeed ran past, as strong as I knew she would.

Zsuzsanna will also be doing the Vermont 100 and will also travel to do Wasatch Front 100 this year. Her pacer will also be doing Wasatch Front. I hope to see them both on the slopes of Utah in September!

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At Anthony Wayne, the two men that I was trailing had to drop out because they were going so slowly that it was predicted that it would be dangerously close to night in the woods should they decide to finish. It was close to 3:25PM when after hydrating myself at the station and the people told me that the last 50k before the men I was trailing left at around 2:30. That's a full 55 minutes ahead! After all the walking it gave me a great chance to finally open up and actually run a bit. And I took full advantage of it! The 4.3 mile section between Anthony Wayne and the Queensboro Aid Station (Mile 25.3) is a pretty tough section called The Pines and I took to it like a man on the mission. I was speeding up and down some rocky sections, passing some of the 50 milers on the way, making sure I told them I was the "50k" sweep, and not the 50 mile sweep (much to their relief). Before I knew it, I got to the Queensboro Aid Station at around 4:10PM. So, basically, I rattled off about 10 minute miles on that section. Not too shabby at all!

Anyway, I did finally acquire the next 50k runner a mile after Queensboro, so all was well.

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I wound up finishing the course at a little after 6PM. Overall I had a great day. My legs are a little tired, but nothing about 24 hours of recovery cannot fix.

I'm glad to see a lot of good people on the course, including Jacqueline Choi, who did the 50 miler and is the other person in the area doing the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this year. Hopefully she can be the first person ever in NJ to complete the Slam. I have a lot of faith in her; she is definitely strong enough to do it and I'm sure everyone here will pull for her to Slam this year. She definitely has my support!