May 02

Snowed Out at Ragnar Trail Relay – Zion by Steve

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The above picture is joking a bit. Nonetheless, the Ragnar Trail Relay in Zion was quite an experience!

I previously shared some thoughts I had about the Ragnar Relay series on this blog. I wish to add the unique experience I had at the 2014 Ragnar Trail Relay in Zion.

I wasn’t planning on participating in this event but a friend (that works with Ragnar) of mine had a free open spot on his team. It’s hard to pass up a free race (Thanks Joseph!), especially an event like Ragnar.

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The drive up through Zion National Park was gorgeous as always. You do have to pay the $25 park fee just to drive through, though. 

They changed the logistical setup of unloading gear and shuttling people. Previously, you shuttled gear and people. This year, you dropped your gear at one of the multiple drop-off points, drove to the parking area, and were shuttled back to the campground. Ideally, you should travel to the event as a group to do this more efficiently. Since I went up by myself, I had to leave my gear with a volunteer. Once I got back to the campground, I had to carry my gear searching for my team. Keep in mind there is very limited cell reception. It was nearly impossible to get a message through.

 
I went to the village because eventually everyone has to go there for the exchange and found my team there. Upon reaching our camp site, I begin to set up my tent. I laid out the tent.

Then… I realized there are no poles. No stakes either. Crap.

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I had borrowed a small tent from a friend and neglected to double check it before leaving. This was poor planning on my part.

Normally, I would just sleep under the stars. However, the forecast showed 100% chance of rain. I decided to turn the tent over, using the bottom tarp to cover me from the rain. I borrowed a cot from someone on our team to keep my sleeping bags off the ground. It actually turned out to be quite warm, like a little cocoon. 

The trails were the same loops as last year. The scenery is beautiful. I ran the red loop first and had a blast. Last year, I did this loop in the dark so I enjoyed running it during the day this year.

PictureCompleting the Red Loop

I had a bit of foot pain from a foot bone issue and some peroneal tendonitis. I was able to run, just a bit slower and with some discomfort. Fortunately, one of the vendors, Mountain Land Rehabilitation, was providing round-the-clock physical therapy. They really helped me by massaging and wrapping my foot.

The rest of the Ragnar Village was much like last year, which was great. They had some great vendors, including Salomon shoe demos, free Nuun refills, and many others. I love those campfires.

By the time I ran my next loop (yellow), a light rain had begun. During the run, the rain picked up. Fortunately, I was still warm throughout the run. I was just wet. Upon finishing, I grabbed a s’more and huddled into my makeshift cocoon for some rest. I was kept nicely dry and listened to the relaxing noise of the rainfall. 

PictureShortly after I woke up

I was awakened to some commotion. People saying, “Are you seeing this?” “Can you believe it?” I realized the tarp was pressing against me, weighed down by something. I looked out of my covering and it was snowing! There were big flakes coming down thick and it was sticking.

To our alarm, we realized the runner after me was still out there! A loop that should have taken about 2 hours, took her about 4 hours. After my run, the trails had gotten much worse due to the rain and snow. The footing was sloppy, slowing down many runners. Runners slowing down coupled with the plummeting temperature and snow caused runners to become hypothermic. 

Runners and Ragnar were expecting rain and cold. I don’t believe anyone was expecting so much snow! Many groups were discussing how safe it was to continue sending runners out. There was an awkward period of time where people were unsure what to do or what Ragnar would do. Once the trail markers became covered with snow, causing runners to get lost, Ragnar decided to call off the rest of the race. 

 
 
Picture I believe this was the right decision. Ragnar had to send people out to find the lost or unaccounted runners. Fortunately, everyone was recovered. Thank goodness.

Ragnar distributed the medals. Many runners were uncomfortable with the medals since they didn’t really “complete” the race. However, I feel they survived this unique experience, so they earned it.

It was a bit sloppy with everyone trying to pack up and exit on muddy/rainy/snowy roads. I was impressed with how things went given the conditions. Fortunately, Ragnar got the shuttles running quickly. I was glad my snow-covered car didn’t get stuck!

Overall, I did enjoy myself and it was certainly a unique adventure! 

The drive back through Zion was beautiful with the snow and rain flowing down the rock formations.

Feb 22

My Respons to Steve’s Hansons Marathon Method Review by RJ

67, 72, 83, 93, 60, 114, 90, 101.

Those were my monthly mileage numbers in the eight months prior to running the 2013 St. George Marathon.  That’s nowhere near as many as I was running in training for, and setting a PR at, the 2012 Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, yet my St. George finish time was just two seconds slower (I really wish my watch hadn’t died around mile 10, I had no idea how close I was to a new PR).

Three weeks after St. George, I took more than 20 minutes off my 50-mile PR from the previous year and nearly 80 minutes off of my time in the same race in 2011.

Steve has previously posted about his experience using the Hansons Marathon Method as he trained for the 2013 Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll and Pocatello Marathons. He did amazing in those races, setting huge back-to-back PRs. If you’ve read his post though (If you haven’t, HERE it is. I’ll wait…), you’re already familiar with three pillars of the method which I have issues with in my own training:

1.      The weekly mileage. The Hansons method training increases the weekly mileage up to approximately 60 miles a week on the beginner schedule. That’s not a number I’ve ever hit for a week. Ever. Even in training for 50-milers. Heck, even in weeks I ran a 50-miler.

2.      Six days a week running. That’s also not a number I’ve ever hit for a week. It’s not that I don’t like running, obviously I do, but I don’t want to do it that much.

3.      The Hansons method is very pace-based. Each workout is run at a specific pace for a specific reason. Surely there is genius in this and, if done correctly (meaning, have a realistic goal, among other things) it can produce a desired result. Ask Steve. Maybe I lack focus or discipline, but some days I want to run faster than others and I don’t want a schedule to dictate that to me (maybe that’s why Steve’s PR is 25 minutes faster than mine). I was discussing this with another runner friend of mine a few years ago, someone who also keeps to a very strict pace schedule and my thought then as well as now is that upwards of 90% or more of my runs are not races. If I’m not enjoying the non-race runs, then why am I doing it?

One of the most irritating things I hear people say when they tell me all of the reasons they could never run a marathon is that they either can’t, won’t or don’t want to put in the huge mileage that certain monthly publications geared towards Runners and their World (as well as other sources) tell them they must meet in order to be “prepared.” Bull. Loney.

So how did I do it?

Distance running is, in large part, aerobic. Sure, some would argue that maybe Ryan Hall is not running aerobically when he clocks a 2:10 marathon. I don’t know if that’s true or not and I hate to be the one to break this to everyone, but with very few exceptions, none of us are Ryan Hall. So back to this aerobic thing.

Training the body to withstand long periods of aerobic exercise doesn’t require 20 hours a week exercising. Surely someone putting in that sort of time is going to benefit, but all I’m saying is that it’s not a requirement. It really doesn’t even require three hours or more in a single workout (again, you really want to go knock out two or three 20-mile training runs for confidence sake, go for it). In fact, some studies show that workouts of around three hours or more offer little additional benefit over a two hour workout and greatly increase the risk of injury.

This was the basis for my training as I entered 2013. After three years of doing nothing but running, my focus changed and I set my sights on training for a couple of half-ironman distance triathlons. So when I put my training schedule together it included just three days of running along with two swim workouts, a short bike ride (an hour or less) and a medium length ride (1-2 hours) per week. With only (only) a half marathon run in mind, my run workouts never exceeded 10 miles and my total weekly workout time averaged around 6-8 hours a week (I doubled up my workouts on some days, combining a swim with a short ride, a medium ride with a short to medium run, etc).

The importantly thing was that those 6-8 hours a week were nearly all aerobic. If I had been running aerobically for the full eight hours each week, I’d be right around 50 miles. See where I’m going with this?

My monthly mileage in June (114) spiked only because I decided to run the Seattle marathon with Steve at the last minute (by last minute I mean 60 hours before the race began and by “with Steve” I mean the first 11 miles before he left me in the dust—it wasn’t an aerobic pace for me). It was a bit of a stretch, but I finished that race right around my average marathon time. And I was fine the next day. Because it was aerobic. Readers of Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra will recall that as he religiously spent the bulk of his training time in his Zone 2 heart rate zone (an aerobic state), his pace while in that zone gradually increased. All he did at the end of his training was complete five Ironman distance triathlons in seven days, one on each of the Hawaiian islands.

By the time the end of the year came my body still felt fresh. There wasn’t the wear and tear on it that there had been in previous years. And so when I hit the starting line 26.2 miles away from Worthen Park in downtown St. George I felt great. And I ran great. And afterwards I recovered quickly and lined up to run 50 miles three weeks later – feeling great (I won’t tell you how I felt AFTER running 50 miles…but not so great).

My point is that there are probably as many training programs and philosophies as there are runners. The Hansons Marathon Method is one of them and many runners have had great success using it. There is certainly a place for more rigorous training programs. But if you’re thinking about running your first marathon, or maybe running another marathon but don’t feel you have the time or can’t run 50 miles a week please don’t be discouraged as you look at various training schedules. Keep it aerobic. Keep it simple. Enjoy yourself. Finish with a smile on your face.

Dec 27

Stepping Away by RJ

PictureI went from non-runner to marathoner to marathon maniac to ultra marathoner to multi ultra marathon and half ironman triathlon finisher over the course of about 48 months. 16 marathons, three 50 milers and three half Ironman triathlons in 40 months to be exact (plus dozens of shorter races). It was hard, I pushed myself beyond limits I thought existed, it wore me down and I fought through a couple of injuries here and there. The one constant through all of this was that I was always motivated. There was always the next race, and thus, the next workout. Every one of them mattered and I took every one of them seriously. Put the time and effort in now, was my thought, or you’re going to have regrets on race day.
 
I can’t think of too many races, any really, where I felt unprepared on race day. Well, maybe the 2013 Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon that I decided to run 72 hours prior to the event, but that was purely for fun and not one I had planned on running until my wife decided she would be unable to run it on Wednesday night of race week. That’s not to say that all of the races went how I had hoped they would, certainly many of them did not, but I never felt like it was a lack of preparedness. I was always motivated.

The end of 2013 has been different. After pulling off a 50 miler/trail half marathon combo on consecutive weekends for the third straight year (and destroying my 50 mile PR from 2012 in the process), I had a pain in the arch of my foot that lingered. Week after week I felt it with every step and it hurt. I took time off from running and hit the gym, participating in a weights class and a core class. Running was out and cycling aggravated my foot even more so there was none of that either. Even the light kick in my swim stroke aggravated it.

My foot eventually healed as I knew it would. But it’s been eight weeks now since that half marathon and I’ve run exactly three times. Three easy 5k runs. And while it felt great to get out and run again, and while I do miss it somewhat, there was no motivation behind it. There still isn’t. It might be that I’m not signed up for any races so there’s nothing I’m working towards right now. But I’m not even motivated to think about looking for a race to sign up for. It’s just not there.

Perhaps this is my body’s way of telling me it’s time to rest and recover. To really rest and recover. To recover from the stress of going from nothing to four consecutive years of go go go, pounding out the miles, treating every workout like it was a race, putting in the time and stringing together as many endurance races as I could fit into my schedule and budget. That doesn’t even include the mental energy used to prepare for each race, put together training schedules, learn about nutrition or pace strategies and doing all of it while juggling a family and full-time job. Perhaps this is my body telling me it’s time to rest and recover, not for a week or two weeks or even a month, but as long as it takes. Toss out the calendar, it means nothing. 

I trust that when my body has healed and rested sufficiently, physically and mentally, that I’ll know. It might be that a particular race catches my eye, or I may see someone running along the road as I drive to or from work, or someone may post something about their latest workout on Facebook. Something will happen and the motivation will return. I’ll be excited to set the alarm for 5am the next morning and anxious for it to go off. And then I’ll hit the road and start moving again, realizing very quickly that If I’m going to do this I’m going to have to start back at the beginning. But I’ll be motivated to do so. 

In the movie “Searching for Bobby Fisher” there is a principle that the Ben Kingsley character tries to instill in the child chess prodigy that he coaches. “Don’t move until you see it,” he tries to drill into him. “Don’t move until you see it.” Make a move too quickly without being absolutely sure of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the consequences that will follow, he taught, and it could be disastrous. 

For me the principle is similar: don’t move until you feel it. Don’t move until the motivation is there and I’m absolutely sure I’m ready to take on the challenge and stress and work of preparing for and completing 26.2 miles, or 50 miles, or an Ironman, or whatever it may be. 

I’m looking forward to that motivation returning. In the meantime I’ll rest, recover, sleep a little more, eat a little less and wait patiently for that moment to arrive.


Dec 18

Ragnar Relay Thoughts (Road & Trail) by Steve

First, this isn’t meant to be a specific race review.

To me, the Ragnar Relay series really captures the spirit of:

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.”

? Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

I have run three Ragnars so far. I have run the Las Vegas road Ragnar twice, and I have run the Ragnar Trail Relay at Zion.

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From (Road, not Trail) Ragnar’s own website:

“Ragnar is the overnight running relay race that makes testing your limits a team sport.

You and 11 of your craziest friends (or 5 of your crazier friends for an ultra team) pile into two vans and tag team running 200(ish) miles, day and night, relay-style. Only one runner hits the road at a time. Each participant runs three times, with each leg ranging between 3-8 miles and varying in difficulty. So, from the elite runner down to the novice jogger, it’s the perfect race for anyone.”

Yeah, a Ragnar seems crazy (and it is). People (especially non-runners) wonder how something like that can be fun. But it is!

For the Ragnar Trail, it involves 8 runners (4 for ultra), fewer miles, camping, no vans, and trail running (duh).

You don’t do a Ragnar Relay to set any PRs. Your team is timed but individual legs are not timed. Add in the fact that you have to run three legs and the distances vary, then you realize you aren’t setting records like your normal races.

It is more than a fun run though. Sure, there are decorated vans, crazy costumes, and teams with themes. There is still the friendly competitive element to it. You cheer random people on but you also try to beat them. Many vans tally their kills (when a runner passes another runner). 


This also makes it the perfect race for everyone. Both experienced and new runners can push themselves in speed and/or distance. If you’re a marathoner (which is why I assume you’re on this website), you’ll do just fine.

It is an overnight relay. If you do not do well with lack of sleep, this may not be your thing. By that third leg, you may very tired, sore, worn out, etc but you get out there and run it nonetheless. Your team is counting on you!

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For the road Ragnar in Las Vegas, we started at Mt Charleston running on the roads down the mountain. I got to run a bit on the highway into Las Vegas. What other time do you get to run on the highway? We traveled through the city and near Red Rock Canyon (a beautiful section that was unfortunately run at night). You run through the city itself more (but not the strip) and up along the beautiful River Mountain Loop trail by Lake Mead and into the finish at Lake Las Vegas. We ran mostly on the public roads with some paved trail mixed in there.

I think I may enjoy the trail relay more than the road relay. You get to camp and enjoy beautiful trails. At Zion, we ran on mostly single track trail near Zion National Park.  You camp in one spot (no traveling around in a van). Ragnar sets up a nice base camp with vendors. You get a tiny bit more sleep (every little bit helps!). There are fewer rules (especially regarding safety since it doesn’t involve vehicles and public roads). 

I do have some complaints about the relays. They are expensive! For example, our early registration for Las Vegas 2013 was $1,392 ($116 per runner). The registration fee alone is pricey. If you are traveling, you have to deal with those costs, plus van rentals. You can also end up spending on decorations, team shirts, etc. I understand that a relay race over such a distance would be expensive for everything that needs to put the event on though. If you do not travel, you have to deal with finding (or paying for) volunteers. After paying registration, you are required to provide volunteers for them! Also, there are little charges here and there along the course for food items, sleeping, etc. I understand some places use this for fundraising but as a participant you can get a bit of fee fatigue. 


PictureBling!

Overall, I find Ragnar races to be a great experience and I would like to do more of them, especially at different locations. It really brings you closer to the people on your team. Although the cost can be high and the logistics of the race can be challenging, the experience outweighs the cons. I would recommend the event to anyone looking to test themselves in something new.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Oct 29

My First Ultra by Steve

I had read a number of books about ultra-runners, including Born To Run, Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run, Dean Karnazes’ books, and Relentless Forward Progress. I wanted to see what this whole ultra thing was all about. Before my first ultra, RJ had completed two 50 milers, so he was a great help.

I had previously attempted a 50 miler the month before and did not complete it. During the race, I had horrible stomach issues. I knew this was unusual for me because I rarely have stomach problems. It may have been the heat or residual fatigue, but I had to call it quits after 50k. They didn’t have an official 50k, so I took an official marathon time. Completing my first 50 miler was also about redemption and proving to myself that I could do it.

I decided to do the Autumn Leaves 50 miler. This is the ultra RJ has done twice before. It’s a relatively flat ultra and logistics seemed perfect for a first timer like me. RJ was planning on either volunteering at the race or running it. Shortly before the race, he decided to run it. Great! He can suffer with me.

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I flew in Friday, picked up my packet, slept a little, and then at 6am we were standing at the starting line ready to go. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was in the 50s and no rain. The scenery was beautiful.

The course is a 10k loop with mostly bike path and some trail. You run eight loops.  Normally I’m not a huge fan of looped runs. This looped course worked well because I could set all my gear up at the main station and return to it every lap. Also, the scenery was so beautiful to me that I never got tired of it. Since I live in the desert, I don’t get to see such beautiful autumn colors.

However, I didn’t see much on the first lap though because we started out in the dark. I got my headlamp on and got ready. This is it. I told myself I’m definitely doing 50 miles this time. There was such a relaxed atmosphere. Instead of people toeing the line, everyone was casually getting ready. I guess when a race is 50 miles, there really is no rush. As we began, RJ and I ran at a relaxed pace. I was just soaking it all in. 

The first lap went well. I transitioned quickly into the second lap. I only stopped briefly to shed one of my layers as I warmed up. I started listening to my audiobook and did that for the next few laps. I saw a beautiful doe deer along the side of the course.

The volunteers were great! Everyone was so helpful. They would take my water bottle and refill it. They would get whatever I asked for if they had it. I had to make sure I thanked them so they wouldn’t only remember me for barely coherently making requests, “Water!” “Gels!” There was also a volunteer directing runners onto one of the trails. The guy was out there dancing almost the whole day. It was very uplifting to have someone be so positive every time you ran by. There were also a couple of volunteers early in the morning at one of the turnaround points directing people. These two ladies were having a hulu party complete with grass skirts, funny signs, and mini-mai tais. I saw one runner take one. Hopefully he didn’t think it was water! 


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By the third lap, the sun was up and I ditched the headlamp before starting it. I enjoyed the course and settled into my pace. My feet had begun to feel sore so when I finished the third lap, I switched into my Hokas. I was glad I did! My feet felt better for a while until close to the end.  I also switched into a fresh short sleeve shirt.

I should also mention that Pam Smith, the female winner of the Western States 100, ran at the event. She won the 50 miler. She passed me a whole bunch of times. It was amazing to see someone perform at such a high level!

After the fourth lap, I had finished 25 miles. I was halfway done. This is when the mind games began. I was already worn out from running 25 miles and the thought of running 25 more was daunting. This made the fifth lap really tough. The race also gives you the option to drop down to the 50k after five laps. I didn’t want that to tempt me so I mentally yelled, “NO!” whenever that temptation entered my mind. I would tell myself, “This is what you came here to do. You flew all the way up just for this race. You are not stopping.” Plus, I really wanted that sweet belt buckle. 


As I came in to finish the fifth lap and start the sixth, it was a quick transition. I was still mentally telling myself, “NO! I won’t stop.” I had to get out of there and keep going. This idea of going beyond marathon distance and even beyond 50k is a paradigm shift I was adjusting to at this point.

By this time of the race, I was getting hungry. On these later laps, I knew I needed calories. I was consuming gels regularly (about every half hour) but I needed something more. I looked around the aid station tables and tried to see what was appealing and what my stomach would like the most. I didn’t want nausea to be a problem again. I tried a little square of PB&J. That worked. An aid station volunteer offered me warm broth and it tasted glorious. It was like the nectar of the gods. I loved it and it really helped. Throughout the race, I had a bit more of that and some fruit. I snuck a few gummie bears in there. It was likely the severe lack in calories but when I bit into a slice of watermelon, I thought it was the best watermelon I had ever tasted in my life as the juice ran down my chin and I deliriously awed at its flavor.

The sixth lap went well; I settled into things and accepted that I was just going to keep going. I had switched from my audiobook to music and was enjoying that. On this lap, I ran by a park with a couple of guys playing Frisbee golf.

One of them yelled over to me, “Are you running a 5k or 10k race?”

My reply, “Fifty miles.”

I wish I had a picture of the perplexed look he gave me after I said that. I might as well have said, “A gazillion miles.”

An awkward pause. Then he says, “… fifty?”

Me again, “Fifty miles.”

Then they both broke into a cheer and yelled, “Yeeaahhhh! Fifty miles! Woooo!”

That was encouraging. 

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The seventh lap was just brutal for me. I was beat down. So many things were hurting. I tried to motivate myself mentally but it wasn’t doing much. I re-informed myself that this race was why I came. I talked back to myself that I knew I would finish but I was too worn down to push harder. I reminded myself of the buckle. I told myself I would get one no matter what. This was really quite an argument. Finally, I realized how many miles I had left and it seemed so manageable. That was encouraging and I was able to move along a bit better. I pictured myself finishing and got a little sentimental. I was really going to do this.

In the beginning, RJ and I ran together. The first couple laps, I pulled ahead. Then he passed me and the rest of the laps until this point RJ was ahead of me. He was more familiar with ultrarunning than me and I was completely at peace with him finishing before me. When I was trying to motivate myself, I would tell myself that RJ is “the deer.” Those who have read Born To Run might recognize the term. It was implying that RJ was the deer and I had to run him down. Then I mentally argued with myself again saying, “RJ is NOT the deer. He is my FRIEND.” Yeah, I was getting a little loopy.

The last lap was amazing. I was worn down but I didn’t care. I just kept going. I had no desire to slow down or walk. I just wanted to keep going. I even sped up. At one point I thought I should take a walk break but mentally, I just had no desire to do it. I had conquered whatever mental block was holding me back the previous lap. I was so excited to finish this thing! I ended up finishing a few minutes ahead of RJ. I was so surprised when I passed him because I thought he was so much further ahead of me. We both finished just under our goal of 9 hours.

Pure joy at finishing! We accomplished our goals. I received my belt buckle. I was so happy as I stretched, ate food, and wound down. I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. The race director asked if it was a PR for me. I replied that it was since it was my first 50 miler! He then offered me a whole box of Hammer recovery bars. What a great race company!

Special thanks to all my friends and family that made this possible and supported me.