Latest Event Updates

Countdown to LUT: 11 weeks out

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Last week saw the countdown to Lavaredo at 11 weeks. Though there were some definite low points, I was very pleased with my efforts. Coming back from 3 weeks in Nepal has had it’s benefits, but in many ways I feel like I’m starting over again. My core has felt like mush and there’s not much in the way of threshold ability, yet.

I knocked off 103 miles, having a good mix of moderate and long-ish distance efforts. I finished the week with a great session that lasted 6:20 and spanned 34 miles. Being blessed with some epic Spring weather didn’t hurt. Blue skies, light wind, no humidity, and cool temps all helped make it easy to stay out on the trail.

My efforts in the gym were rather weak and trying to reinsert myself into Bikram yoga sessions proved rather embarrassing (I basically had to leave the hot box twice last week!), but I’m trying to build on that in countdown week 10. I’m pulling-back a bit on the gym-based incline work and trying to add more in the way of actual feet on the trail during the build up. I’m also trying to be wise about the timing of my Bikram sessions, as they leave me completely depleted and make recovery and subsequent performance difficult if not properly planned.

This week, I’m focusing on multiple moderate daily efforts in anticipation of a big weekend coming. I’m pacing one of my mates at the upcoming Thunder Rock 100-miler in May. This weekend, we will be doing a roughly 85 mile preview of the course over 2 days. This will be a great time to knock off a couple of really long days on some unfamiliar trail, which I’m really looking forward to. The distances can seem daunting (50 and 35), but it’s a great opportunity to work on my mental strategies as well as nutrition/hydration timing.

I expect these 10 training weeks to fly by, so I’m trying to keep a good daily focus and remain committed to maintaining a positive progression towards the goal. Lavaredo, in itself, is part of that progression towards the end-point of UTMB. The rough plan is to progress through the next 10 weeks, taper for 2 weeks into LUT, recover 1 week after the race, then rebuild for the subsequent 6 weeks into another 2 week taper to UTMB. With the proper conservation of effort and attention to recovery, I’m confident that I’ll be ready for both events and hopefully be able to turn-in performances that I can be proud of.

Now, one more espresso and I’m off!

The REAL March Madness

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Tired after running that measly set of 10 hill repeats? Try racking-up 100,000 hm in the month of March. That’s what Greg Hill just did. Along the way, Greg is estimated to have burned upwards of 200,000 calories. Have a beer, buddy…

Lessons on Fueling

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Here’s a good piece from Ian Torrence on the science of fueling. (full text below) It’s boiled-down…but that’s how I like it. Too many people get bogged down in oodles of science. At it’s core, the concept of fueling for running is quite simple. Don’t lose sight of the basics, but above all, take the time to find out what method works best for you. I am constantly trying to improve and refine my strategies and I oftentimes fail. However, that’s important too. Learning what doesn’t work can be just as useful sometimes. Hopefully, it leads us to finding knowledge that DOES work!

Fueling right for the long haul is a vital component to a winning strategy.  However, whether the race is 10 miles or 100 miles, developing a nutrition plan isn’t a simple process.  Our best “recipe for success” will vary depending on the products we use, our individual needs, race distance, and conditions. Fine-tune your nutritional game plan and eliminate the guesswork with these basic concepts.

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Concept One:  Glucose is an efficient fuel source for endurance athletes.

Glucose is the most basic form of carbohydrate or sugar.  It is also our body’s “go to” source for energy during moderate and fast running.  Glucose is stored as glycogen in our muscles and liver and the trained athlete can store enough glycogen to provide energy for roughly two hours of moderately intense activity like marathon racing.  It’s no surprise then that many runners begin to hit the “wall” at around two hours into their marathons.  One part of avoiding these extreme energy lows during races is to replace sugars during the race to spare your limited glycogen stores, thus the need for a proven nutritional plan.

Concept Two: Intensity determines fuel usage.

Our body utilizes stored fat for low intensity activities like easy running.  However, the body does need to use a small amount of sugar to begin this fat burning process.  If you completely deplete yourself of carbohydrates you’ll make this fat utilization process extremely difficult and running will be next to impossible. If you’ve ever hit the wall, then you know what I mean.

As your effort and pace increases, the body relies more and more on glycogen as the primary energy source.  Obviously intensity levels vary for every runner depending on the race distance but in long races, there is a fine line between pace and glycogen usage. Run too fast for too long and you’ll deplete your glycogen stores before the finish line.

Concept Three: Race success relies on preventing a drop in blood glucose as well as depletion of muscle and liver glycogen.

To maintain adequate blood sugar levels and avoid an early depletion of your muscle and liver glycogen stores, you can manipulate several key elements during the months before your race as well as on race day.

In Training:

Runners who are more efficient at burning fat at race pace will spare their limited glycogen stores. There are two strategies for increasing your fat burning on selected easy and long runs.  One is for athletes who are new to running to train on low carbohydrate stores. The second is for runners who have experience with “training low” – running in a carbohydrate depleted state.  Runners may want to select a few long runs and easy runs within their training program to try these strategies. Note that I said, “Select a few long runs and easy runs.” This is not a strategy for every easy run and long run but something you can do a few times across your training plan to boost your ability to burn more fat at race pace.

Carbo-Depleting Newbies (little to no experience with carbohydrate depleting runs)

Before Workout: Begin the workout after a night’s sleep and eating no breakfast. If you run in the evenings, fuel with very little carbohydrate throughout the day and before the run.

During Workout: Water and electrolytes are okay. No carbohydrates for runs under 90 minutes. If your run exceeds 90 minutes, use 20-40 grams of carbohydrate per hour starting at the beginning of the run.

After Workout: Refuel immediately adhering to the principles in our RUNRRarticle.

Advanced “Depleters” (have experience with carbohydrate depleting runs in several previous training cycles)

Before Workout: Do a post-dinner run the night before. Begin workout after a night’s sleep and no breakfast. You can also run twice a day and refuel with very little carbohydrate between the first and second session.

During Workout: Water and electrolytes are okay. No fuel for runs under 2 to 2.5 hours. If your run exceeds this then use 20-40 grams per hour from the beginning of the run.

After Workout: Refuel immediately adhering to the principles in our RUNRRarticle.

The bottom line here is that if you are new to running on low carbohydrate stores, do some runs that last up to 90 minutes without any carbohydrates before or during. If you are more experienced at “training low” then stretch the no carb runs to 2-2.5 hours. If you run longer, then don’t fuel before but do begin fueling at the start of the runs.

In Your Race:

Now that you can burn more fat and spare your carbohydrate stores at race pace from using the advice above, you’ll want to fuel appropriately during the race so you can race your fastest.

Before Race: Begin the event well fueled with your carbohydrate stores topped off.

During Race: Most runners do not fuel adequately during goal races.  Consume 30-60 grams per hour depending on distance and intensity of the event. Note: The typical energy gel contains roughly 20 grams of carbohydrate.  Optimal fueling requires some trial and error in training to find the products and timing that works for your body (see Concept Four below).

After Race: Refuel immediately.  RUNRR

Concept Four: Eating and drinking will see you through to the end.

Hopefully, you are now convinced that you need a robust nutrition strategy to run your best.  The next question, of course, is how to choose a carbohydrate source. After all, carbohydrates (sugars) are the best fuel for intense endurance events.  Note:  Ultramarathons may require additional dietary fats and proteins due to widely fluctuating efforts and duration.

It’s important to realize that not all sugars are created equally.  There are high, moderate, and low glycemic sugars.  The glycemic index indicates how quickly the sugars raise blood glucose levels. Below is a chart of several common sugars that you will find in sports nutrition products.

Glycemic  indexes for common sugars Scale: 0-100 where 100 raises blood glucose levels fastest
glucose ~99
maltodextrin ~85
high fructose corn syrup ~78
sucrose ~68
agave nectar, raw honey ~30
brown rice syrup ~25
fructose ~20

Here’s what athletes find: Slow burning fuels (low glycemic index) are not optimal for high intensity and long duration endurance events.  They perpetuate “the bonk” because they are slow to digest, cause the body to utilize and rely on stored glycogen, and create gastric distress because they linger in the digestive tract.

Fast burning fuels, those with high glycemic indexes, will keep blood glucose levels high, thus reducing the need for the body to tap into stored muscle and liver glycogen.

Start with products that contain high glycemic sugars and see how your body reacts. Experimentation over a few long runs and tune up races will help you dial in exactly what works for you.

And remember, a body in motion works differently than a body at rest.  Therefore, the fuels you ingest will also be put to work differently.  Some products that work well during easy runs may not work as well at race pace so the mantra “practice makes perfect” applies. Try your chosen fuel at different intensities and durations to make sure it will work on race day.

Concept Five: You must pace yourself realistically.

Linked closely with nutrition is pacing. When it comes to racing long races, too many runners feel that “putting time in the bank” – running faster than goal pace in the early going – is a good idea. Wrong. Banking time is a very bad strategy for long races. Running even splits or at a consistent effort is the best approach because erratic pacing or running too fast too early will use up your glycogen very quickly.

To find a realistic race pace, we advise that you use shorter events throughout your training plan to test your fitness then plug your race results into the McMillan Running Calculator. Check out the Race Times tab to estimate a sensible race time for your goal race.  And of course, be prepared to modify your pacing plan depending on race day conditions.

Concept Six: Tonicity or why you feel ill late in the race.

Do not neglect the concept of tonicity, the measure of the amount of substance dissolved in a liquid.  The optimal fueling ratio is a 6-8% carbohydrate solution (4-8 grams carbs/100ml or ~3.5 oz of water).  This hypotonic mix empties from the stomach quickly and is absorbed by the intestines easily, which is why it is the ratio for most sports drinks.

However, what was once a hypotonic solution can quickly become a hypertonic solution as you dehydrate and lose electrolytes during a long run or race. This is why many runners find that the drink they used early in the race becomes intolerable later in the race.

Hypertonic solutions contain a higher concentration of electrolytes and/or carbohydrates than the body and are not as easily digested.  They pull water from the body and cause cramping, discomfort, and nausea.  As you get deep into the race, you may need to dilute your fuel to match the growing dehydration that is inevitable in long competitions.

Concept Seven: Adjusting nutrition for weather

You’ll also need to account for weather conditions in your nutrition strategy as it affects your fluid’s tonicity relative to your body and, in turn, your fueling rates. The warmer the temperatures, the more water you’ll need for proper calorie absorption. Here’s a quick guide to hydrating in varying conditions.

Weather conditions Suggested fueling rate
Warm to Hot temperatures 100 calories/12oz of fluid
Cool to Cold temperatures 100 calories/6oz of fluid

It’s important to note that athletes have individual heat tolerances.  What’s considered hot for a runner who’s trained in Minnesota all winter will not be the same for a runner who has done the same training in Phoenix, Arizona.

I should also note that electrolyte use and hydration rate will vary depending on an individual runner’s sweat rate, fitness level, daily sodium consumption, and weather.   Take a sweat rate test (search the Internet to find the protocol) to determine how much fluid you’re losing under different weather conditions and efforts. While running at high intensities begin the hydration process before you feel thirsty.  When working hard in hot conditions, ingest 400-800 mg of sodium/25-32 ounces of water/hour.  If necessary, use electrolyte pills or tablets to reach those levels.

Concept Eight: Sip and carry.  Don’t grab and gulp.

We highly recommend that you carry all the fuel you’ll need on race day or make sure you can re-supply along the course (either at race-provided water stops or from your crew in ultra races).  Wear a hydration system and don’t rely on aid station tables to have what you need when you need it.  The weight of your equipment is negligible compared to the loss in time you’ll accrue if you run out of food and fluid.

The Finish Line

These fueling guidelines are as important as your training plan. Recognize that there are many personal differences and preferences when it comes to fueling. Experiment and find what works for you. Start with these proven guidelines then modify based on your experiences. Over time, you will determine the best race day nutrition plan that helps you race your best. Good luck!

McMillan Coach Ian Torrence is a legend in the ultra & trail running community. He’s completed 180 ultramarathons, winning a staggering 52 of them.  He suffered through every available nutrition strategy to come up with these guidelines

On the Roof of the World

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Though most of my adventures of late have involved covering massive distances in the fastest possible time, I’m just back from an expedition of a different sort. For a much needed break from running and in order to celebrate my 40th year on the planet, my youngest brother and I set off for Nepal and a 3-week Himalayan odyssey. Everest Base Camp in our sights.

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We set off from Lukla on the traditional ascent route: 8 days to ascend and 3 to return. Following a surprisingly smooth flight and landing from Kathmandu to the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla (9,200 ft), we zipped through the first day’s 2.5 hour overall descent into Phakding (8,563 ft), where we settled-in for our first taste of guesthouse life along the great Himalayan trail.

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As we soon discovered, life along the trail moves in much the same daily rhythm wherever you may find yourself. Occupants of each “teahouse” start stirring well before sunrise, when they try to shake-off the frozen night and prepare for the coming day. Duffels and backpacks are stuffed and stowed, or sent along with the local porters to the next scheduled stop. Huddled trekkers sip milk coffee in anticipation of the coming warmth of the rising sun. Breakfast, which is typically ordered the night before, is consumed and last minute preparations are made before setting-off. Around noon or upon reaching the desired village, groups and individuals stop for a midday meal, which usually takes an hour or so for the kitchen staff to prepare. When full, trekkers push off for their final daily destinations, arriving around 4 p.m. Supper orders are placed and everyone gathers in the common dining area in anticipation of the daily lighting of the stove, a central wood-burning unit that provides the only source of heat along the route. The fire is usually lit around 5-5:30 p.m. and is only refueled once or twice, providing around 3 hours of warmth. Travelers practically hug the iron heaters in hopes of thawing frozen digits or drying soaked clothes. Food is served around 7:30 as the dining area is a bustle of folks reading, writing in journals, engaged in card games, or even contemplative individuals simply soaking in the scene. Most guests retire directly after supper, which is when the room really springs to life as the guides and porting staff are then served their heaping trays of dal bhat, which they consume hastily. This is when the true local flavor comes out: English is set aside for Nepalese, traditional music is turned-up, and laughter fills the small huts. Certainly my favorite time to sit and enjoy the ambiance. Sleep. Wake. Repeat.

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The following day, we strapped-up for the long, uphill march to Namche Bazaar (11,289 ft), one of the main waystations of the Khumbu region. After skirting the roaring Dudh Kosi river for the first half of the day and crossing some rather frighteningly constructed suspension bridges, we began the unforgiving ascent into Namche. This would also serve as home for our first acclimitization day to following this second day of ascent. This village, carved into a beautiful hillside, bustled with locals, trekkers, yaks, and stray dogs. Home to many bakeries, bars, and outfitters, Namche would be the last proper village on our journey to the top.

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The acclimitization day gave us a chance to get our first real peek at the range of mountains we were to soon venture into. Unfortunately, either the altitude or the local cuisine kept my brother in bed all day, as he battled with an uncooperative stomach. I ascended to the Hotel Everest View and took-in the iconic panorama from its terrace. Pretty amazing to realize that I was staring at peaks I had only once seen pictures of.

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With Justin having defeated his unstable digestive tract, we spent the next two days continuing our ascent, first stopping in Tengboche (12,664 ft), where we visited the local monastery, and then on to Dingboche (14,271 ft). We took an additional acclimitization day in Dingboche, and received our first taste of low-oxygen steep ascent as we scrambled up the peak rising from the rear of the village and overlooking the Chhukung Valley (17,388 ft), giving us an unrivaled view of the mighty Ama Dablam. This was a lung-burner of an ascent and an ankle-snapper of a return! Here, we had our first really good views of Island Peak and Makalu.

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Our next stop would be Lobuche, one more of the ever-shrinking villages along the main route. Lobuche seemed to only be comprised of six or eight tiny guesthouses, but did have a local store…literally the size of a walk-in closet. En route, we passed the fabled Thukla Pass and stopped to observe the climber’s memorial which honors those who have died on Everest and Pumori. Most notably, the memorial to Scott Fischer, one of the climber’s who died in the infamous ’96 Everest disaster.

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Finally, the big day had come; our final push to base camp. We ascended the glacier and picked our way to the final outpost of Gorak Shep. From there, we wound our way up towards the camp, though there was rarely a visible trail. With barely 30 minutes to our goal, the blue skies that we had been blessed with suddenly shifted to an utter whiteout and wind gusts of near 100 mph began to batter us. We picked-up our pace and arrived at the base of the Khumbu icefall by mid-afternoon. With the brutal weather having moved-in, we could only stay at the camp for 5-10 minutes. We snapped a few photos, enjoyed a sneaky shot of whiskey, and quickly began making our way back towards the shelter of our lodge.

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Despite the temperature hovering around -20 and 4-5 inches of fresh snow, we crawled out of our sacks the following morning at 4:30 a.m. in order to summit nearby Kala Pathar (18,208 ft). From her peak, we would be able to see the sun rise behind Everest, Nuptse, Lohtse, and entire southern range. After battling the unreasonable cold for the first hour, Justin turned back, having lost feeling from elbow and knee down. I pressed on, though I could no longer feel my feet from midfoot upward. With gorgeous blue skies, I bouldered the final 100 meters to stand astride the summit and enjoy the early morning light. Though it had been tough going, the exhilaration of the scene was immense. The effort had been worth it.

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As we reluctantly began the long trek back to civilization, we remained in awe of our surroundings, though we were retracing our previous steps. The warmth of the local people had only added to the breathtaking scenery that we had lived amongst for the past weeks. We will both most definitely be making the journey again someday. Sooner rather than later…we hope!

Dejame Vivir Trailer

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<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/88346411″>Teaser of “Déjame Vivir” Summits of My Life II</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/summits”>Summits of My Life</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

VOTW 8

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EBC…at last!

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At the end of this week, I’ll be heading off on a well-deserved, non-running holiday. In recognition of my surviving 40 years on this planet, my brother Justin and I will be making the trek to Everest Base Camp Nepal. Experiencing the mountain in person has been a dream of mine since I was a little boy, and I’m hoping that the dream will soon come true. While it won’t be a leisure stroll, I am hoping the 2.5 weeks away from the home trails and from running in general will give my body and mind the rest it needs to refresh, recover and return with a new focus for the challenges ahead this year. I promise to share some pictures, continue the VOTW posts, and catch-up on my training logs when I return. Adios Muchachos!