Monday 28 April 2014

Race Weekend Again - Big Sur Marathon

Bixby Bridge, halfway along the marathon route

I'm happy to get through the past three weekends uninjured and feeling pretty good overall. First was Lake Sonoma 50, then the Boston Marathon and finally the Big Sur Marathon. As well as enjoying three spectacular and incredible races, I wanted three sets of tough runs to host fitness for the summer 100s. Even by running Lake Sonoma at a comfy pace, it was still long and tough enough to be a perfect work-out. Then two marathons at fast (for me) but not quite 100% efforts worked on the speed when tired, especially by not taking backing off on the training much between races.

It's a fairly high risk strategy but over the past few years I've gained a good idea of where my red line is for injury and over-training. Plus with the proliferation of super-fast runners moving to ultras and succeeding, it's more and more important to work on speed - just look at the top men at Lake Sonoma this year, all with very fast marathon times.

Big Sur was as beautiful as ever along the hilly California Highway 1. Usually there's a fierce headwind but this time the air was fairly calm. I felt fast on the flats and downhills but the fatigue showed on the ascents, as can be seen in my highly erratic pacing, especially in the second half of the race. However, 2:41 following the 2:39 at Boston was very positive, particularly since it involved a slight negative split.

Much as I'm happy with the past few weeks and feel fitter and stronger, it doesn't remotely compare with Mike Wardian's win at the North Pole Marathon followed by a couple of fast short races the next weekend, then Boston (2:23) and a win at Big Sur (2:27). He set the masters' record for Big Sur as well as breaking his own record for Boston to Big Sur (that's an official thing which a lot of people enter) with 4:51 combined time. I'd say that sets him up well for a string run at Comrades in South Africa in a month...however, former Comrades winner and race team manager for Nedbank, Nick Bester, tweeted to Mike:

"Congrats on your marathon-just to (sic) close to @ComradesRace to take on the big dogs of Ultrarunning in the World."

In general I'd agree, but not in Mike's case.

The race was also a great chance to bump into plenty of ultra runners, both existing and new friends (all Bay Area races are like this now), plus Bart Yasso from Runners' World and the fastest American female marathoner ever, Olympic medalist Deena Kastor. Both are extremely friendly, approachable and have a lot of time for runners from all backgrounds, even those who want cheesy photos - just look at my grin!

How to look like a giant - stand next to a female pro marathoner!

Here are some scenic shots of the Big Sur race route, showing why the race sells out so fast. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers, especially Stephen Butler who looked after the elites and made life easy for Amy to enjoy the trip down as a spectator too.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Running For The Experience - Boston 2014

Newton Hills. Photo: Josh Niforatos.

At the moment I'm in the middle of the key part of my build-up for Western States 100 by running races for a few weeks in a row. Not all-out, 100% efforts because that would either lead to injury or burn-out. Instead it's a balancing act of getting in runs that provide quality training for endurance, speed and hills.

On top of that there's no reason the races can't be iconic, inspiring and exciting. That's why I picked Lake Sonoma 50 a week ago with a world class field combined with a great route and organization. Another obvious choice for me was the Boston Marathon, especially after the bombings last year. I've run Boston three times before and loved it, but as soon as last year's events unfolded I wasn't the only one to swear to sign up for the redemption and pride edition in 2014.

A road marathon like Boston is excellent for working on sustained speed and making the easier sections of a 100-miler much easier to cruise (yes, there is method to my madness). However, there are moments that are worth experiencing even if they don't fit in with a perfectly planned build-up to a race. After all, in a few years when I look back at my running career I want to reminisce about memorable events and trips in a lot of different styles (road, trail, jungle, desert etc).

The global running community and city came together in the expected, and genuinely up-lifting, show of spirit at Boston, as captured by Scott Dunlap in his blog. It will remain one of my favorite memories for years to come, plus the extremely fast runs of many ultra runners were enough to make me want to train harder and more intelligently. Here are a few speedy ultra runners:

2:19 Uli Steidl (1st Master)
2:21 Matt Flaherty
2:23 Matt Laye
2:23 Mike Wardian
2:23 Blue Benadum
2:32 Alex Varner (a week after fourth at Lake Sonoma despite slowing a lot in the second half)
2:41 Magdalena Lewy Boulet

I aimed for a hard effort but kept on training as normal in-between races so was happy with 2:39 with a 1:17/1:22 split. Usually I'd call that bad pacing but I wanted to test my legs and it felt like a low 2:30s marathon would have been feasible with a taper, which is as fast as I've ever been. I bumped into fellow ultra coach, Jason Koop, at the start and we ran the first half together before I backed off, then I caught him up near the end and we crossed the line waving and playing up to the crowd.

So for those wanting to run Boston one day, this year was a timely reminder of why this race is special. I know I'm fortunate to be able to pick and choose my experiences rather than relying on lotteries or unobtainable entry criteria (except the Olympics). Thank you Boston and congratulations to all the runners, especially Meb's amazing victory and Rita Jeptoo's third win and course record.

Full results here.


Scott Race Rocker 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels
Drymax Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades

Sunday 13 April 2014

Lake Sonoma 50

Lake Sonoma has become an incredibly competitive major race on the trail circuit, partly due to it offering Western States entries to the top three (or potentially four) men and women. To avoid over-racing this year and given a focus on Western States and Leadville, I ran it like the first half of an 100-miler, planning to run with Nick Clark. He was also taking things a little easier since he's racing UTMF in just under two weeks.

Unfortunately I missed the start since I was in the toilet queue and got going from the back of the pack. Since I wanted to keep the pressure low this worked out fine, but meant I only caught up to Nick just after the final aid station.

What I didn't miss out on were the great views of the lake on a course that didn't contain any hills bigger than about 600ft but still crammed in over 10,000ft of ascent. A fantastic out-and-back route where the course records were broken, as expected. Full results here.

Things felt fairly comfortable except the final couple of miles with Nick. He just wanted to get it done by that point and pushed a little more than I wanted, but we crossed the line in joint 18th. Here's the Strava file that lost a little signal in the early fog and gratuitous tree cover. Legs felt surprisingly good hiking Mt Diablo today, so it looks like the training is paying off.

Around mile one due to the road start to allow space to spread out before the single track.

First full aid station.

Running with Kaci Lickteig for half the day as she got third, under the old female CR.

Foggy morning

irunfar's Bryon Powell and Kim Gaylord.

I posed for this one, although this is roughly how the leaders must have run every hill.

Sage Canaday after the turnaround en route to third

Ryan Gelfi.

Bay Area giants making me look like a short-arse at the turnaround. Jorge Maravilla (left) wasn't running due to injury and Matt Laye is saving himself for Boston nine days later.

Low water levels due to the drought.

Nick Clark at the end. Over the past 250 miles we've raced each other our total time is just a few seconds apart.

16 miles from the finish, so the sign lies - that's pretty close to the end.
Plus a few more shots courtesy of Ultra Running Magazine.


Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels and bloks
UltrAspire handheld bottles with new 2014 nozzles
Drymax Trail Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Races As Training Runs - Super-Compensation

In the latest edition of Ultra Running Magazine (April, 2014) I discuss using races for purposes other than racing all out for the best time or place. Related to this is the concept of super-compensation, involving subjecting the body to a greater than usual training load or stress which leads to muscles being forced to adapt and improve.

This is the time of year where many runners are building up to their focus 'A' race. Many of the people I run with as well as many I'm coaching are preparing for Western States 100. WS100 is also my target event right now and it's just under three months away so I'm getting into the peak phase of my training.

Super-compensation in practice

At this stage in the build up to a focus race I find it's really beneficial to run several races in close proximity, but off maximum effort. It gives an effective boost to endurance by using super-compensation since the period of racing involves a greater workload for the body to deal with, but not too much extra. The key here is having a period (in my case for about 3-4 weeks, but this varies depending on individual circumstances and the level of training a runner has reached) of slightly harder effort by the body, derived from a mixture of a little more volume and intensity. Choosing interesting and exciting races also helps.

There's a very fine line here to avoid over-doing things with much higher risk of over-training leading to fatigue and lower performance or injuries. Possible errors include:

- Running the training races too hard with intensity above the optimum for adaptation
- Increasing total mileage by too much with volume above what the body can withstand without overtraining
- A combination of a little too much of each of the above factors
- Picking up a small injury during the races and continuing to race, thus making it much worse

I wouldn't recommend the tactic of using multiple races in every situation for every runner, but it can usually be adjusted effectively.

Below is the example of my current training using races off maximum for super-compensation through the month of April this year.

- Mileage increase from around 80 miles/week to around 100 miles/week for four weeks
- Races as follows but with flexibility over the effort levels:
1. Grizzly Peak 50k (6,700ft ascent) 4/5/14 - comfortable pace, approx 100-mile effort
2. Lake Sonoma 50 Miler (10,500ft ascent) 4/12/14 - comfortable pace, approx 100-mile effort
3. Boston Marathon 4/21/14 - hard effort but a much shorter amount of time
4. Big Sur Marathon 4/27/14 - hard effort, but less than at Boston

Note the most important part of this process is the ability to be flexible and adjust the effort as required if the body seems overly tired. Potentially not starting races is an option but that's only likely if an injury occurs.