The Week Before

A couple of weeks ago, I reached the point where my training could have essentially ended. The bulk of my quality workouts were done; I had amassed a number of miles meant to give my legs a taste of the harsh reality about to beset them. Since that point, my training has eased a bit, but not entirely. The back-to-back long runs still continue, but the long tempo runs have become fartleks of shorter workbouts at the same pace.

I enjoy running. I enjoy running hard and fast, putting in workouts that leave me feeling tired and accomplished at the end. As the season progresses, the race grows closer, and the hard training comes to a close. It’s bittersweet, really. For almost 18 weeks, I’ve had my eye on a single day and as it becomes nigh, there is nothing I can do.

I don’t really take time off, or go for a full out three week taper. With my first 50 miler seven training days away, I did my last real workout last night. A hodge-podge fartlek over twelve miles. I brought some surveyor tape to help mark the course for next Sunday so while I was aiming for five minute workbouts, some had to be cut short. And so begins the waiting game. A game of maintenance. While I need to keep my legs fresh and let them get a bit of rest, it’s important not to let them forget what they need to do. And herein lies the hardest part of training: the week before. It’s a precarious balance and I must be careful not to push too hard, it’s easy to do. Your legs start to feel fresh, the normal soreness besieged from long miles starts to dissipate, you feel like you can fly, but you can’t, you mustn’t allow yourself that luxury.

It’s really an exercise in discipline, I suppose.

Creating a Plan

Perhaps I’m jumping the gun trying to plan for a 100 mile race when I still have to get a 50 done in less than two weeks, but I like to think of it as being prepared. It also affords me some facade of control within the chaos that is my life (unless you have children you are not allowed to judge that statement…).

I’m very confident in my ability to set a training schedule for a half-marathon and shorter, and while not extremely confident, I know I’ve made a decent marathon plan before. I know when to concentrate on what systems and what kind of workouts and paces I need to hit. With a 100 mile race, I haven’t a clue.

There’s a lot of beginner plans out there, for folks that want to ‘finish’ their first 100. Perhaps it’s a bit of naivety mixed with a unhealthy portion of self-assurance, but I don’t want to just ‘finish’ my first 100. I want to rock out (as much as one can rock a 100 mile race…). I’ve gotten some advice from veteran ultra guys – some insanely fast, some not so much – but one of the big things everyone harps on is the back-to-back long run. Some have also suggested running late into the night, taking a brief nap and then getting out early in the morning.

Speed work is also given some thought, but less so than the back-to-back long runs. More often than it, it’s a threshold workout or a long tempo run followed by balls out miles, or a handful of repeat 200s.

Unlike the shorter races that I have built on 5/6 week cycles moving from one system to the next (thank you Jack Daniels), many 100 mile plans are based on 3/4 week cycles of 3 weeks hard followed by a week easy. This easy week is totally foreign to me. Except for a week before a race, or some off-season base building, there are no easy weeks. I’ve yet to find a concrete answer as to what the easy week is for other than a safety-catch for overtraining, but I’m going to incorporate it.

So between Sunday/Monday back-to-back long runs, a hill or tempo workout on Wednesday, and a whole bunch of filler, it would seem that I have a plan to get me to July 19th, but for some reason it’s kicking my ass.

I know plans can’t be static, and I plan on things changing, but it would be nice if I could dial it in just a little bit more…

My Drink of Choice

Fully mixed HoneyMaxx.

Fully mixed HoneyMaxx.

I have a handful of drinks of choice – it all depends on situation. I love cheap canned beer, but let’s face it, that just won’t cut it at a fancy dining establishment. A gin and tonic on a sweltering summer day is problematic for a subway ride (though it can be done…). Likewise, a boozy drink won’t quite cut it when you’re out pounding miles (though again it also can be done…).

When it comes to drinks on the run, I prefer to turn to my northern friends in Canada for some HoneyMaxx. (Though, I use friends tentatively, as I think they’ve gone and taken this whole “we are winter” thing a bit too far…).

For a while, I used to make my own ‘sports drink,’ a little honey dissolved in hot water with a splash of lemon juice and some salt then diluted with cold water. Probably not ideal, but in my mind, it was better than any of the -ades I could get in the store. Unfortunately, this is next to impossible to transport unmixed. Cue HoneyMaxx. (I won’t get into how I found them as that is a lengthy story with some parts that are not appropriate for this venue…)

HoneyMaxx is an all-natural sports drink in a powder form and comes in two flavors – lemon-lime and orange. For me, the flavors are only an undertone of what it actually tastes like with the complex flavor of honey being in the forefront. As it is a powder, the concentration can be changed depending on your need. (As a standard I mix it a little more than half the strength of what is recommended.) I buy it in bulk bags, but you can also purchase it in single serving for on-the-run ease. I will also be serving HoneyMaxx at the Twin States 50 in April.

HoneyMaxx comes with mixing directions and while it will still work if you don’t follow the directions it make take bit to

Clumped HoneyMaxx waiting to be shaken.

Clumped HoneyMaxx waiting to be shaken.

dissolve. According to the directions you’re supposed to add your HoneyMaxx to a half-filled  bottle and shake for 3o seconds (the jar not you), then wait five minutes for the clumped honey to soften. Shake it again and top off with water. This will work, and when you’re on the run, chances are your jostling is enough to finish the mixing process. I have found, however, if you dissolve your HoneyMaxx powder in a bit of hot water, it helps the honey dissolve a heck of a lot quicker. Top it off with cold water, and you’re all set to go.

My experience with HoneyMaxx has been nothing but positive. Unlike with other sports drinks, I don’t get heart burn nor do I get a crash. (Something about the makeup of honey requires your body to break down and process the sugars producing a slow burn rather than a sudden jolt of energy all at once. Kind of like eating an Oxy and snorting one…).

Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with HoneyMaxx. The only drawback I’ve discovered is that I can no longer deny my four year old, based on my drinks being unhealthy for him. If you’re stateside, you can only get HoneyMaxx through internet purchases, or you could take a road trip to Canada but the shipping is probably cheaper…

Following

I’ve been dealing with a bit of a motivation problem lately. I blame it on the weather – it was 3 degrees when I woke up this morning (supposed to be -11 tonight), the daily highs are near 20 degrees below historical average, and there’s near two feet of frozen ice/snow on the ground. But this is one of the beautiful things about running – one of those universal truths – that every runner, no matter ability, age, or dedication has or will suffer from at some point.

I took the last few days easy with low mileage and set out today to try and bust up my motivation issue. I set out for an easy 10 miler that runs with the Vermont 100 course for 1.5 miles. It’s not an easy stretch – around 500 feet of elevation gain – and while I wasn’t battling this hills like I will in July when it comes 90 miles into a race, I was throwing myself at the hills with some panache. It’s a common occurrence for this loop that I justify by labeling it as a watered down hill workout.

They say to really run well, you’re supposed to empty your mind, run without thinking. I can’t do it. I’m always wandering and day dreaming, sometimes seriously, others more fancifully. Today, I was thinking again, but they weren’t new thoughts, at least not when I was huffing and struggling up the hills. It is without fail that every time I throw myself at this hill I think of all the other feet that have plodded forward before me. It’s not a unique thought, or one that is even particularly entertaining. Lots of people run down common roads, or drive the same direction, hell, my house was built in the 1840s, people have probably died here.

But when I run up this stretch, it focuses me. It reminds me of one of my goals. I feel important, special. While countless runners – from pro-athletes to the eternal DFL’ers – come at the end of July to run up this hill, I can do it any day I want, alone. At the same time, we have shared something. We haven’t shared a meal, or a drink, or even some life altering event, but we’ve shared a few of our struggles and a bit of our humanness.

 

Finally Coming Together

Come April I’m not only running my first 50 miler, I’m also directing my first 50 miler. If you just said “what a moron,” you wouldn’t be the first. So while I can kind of throw in the towel on my training and figure I can crawl, roll, hobble to the finish line, I can’t really do that with planning this race.

I’m still nervous, but as the day draws closer, all the little details are starting to fall into place. We have volunteers, a bit of food, some discounts from local companies and a group that seems excited to go out and give themselves a beating. (The 50m sees near 10,000 feet of elevation change. We still have near two feet of snow on the ground and the course is 80% dirt roads – needless to say it will be like running through a bog, if it thaws…)

I did a little written interview over at DFL Ultrarunning, and I’ll be doing a podcast with them later this week.

Totally ego stroking, I know, but I’m kind of getting excited.

Demotivation

With my first 50 miler coming up in less than three weeks, you’d think I’d have my training under tight control. A willingness to get out there, keep the mileage going and do all I can to prepare. You’d be wrong. The last two weeks have been something of a shit-show to say the least.

There was a stomach bug that helped kick off last week, and then a funeral to end it. I knew mileage was going to be low, and wasn’t pleased about it. I could have kept my mileage at the bottom of where I would have liked it, but I balked at the 10 degrees and decided to throw in the towel – you see I’m done with winter and martyring my mileage is my way of protest.

Of course, the funeral was also plagued with another stomach bug that took down five of twelve family members afterwards. Luckily my family and I were spared, but my stomach has been left feeling like a vat of fermenting kim chi. We had beautiful weather on Monday and Tuesday, but some lame excuses popped up, and rather than get my mileage in, I took it easy – a family run a third of the mileage I should have done.

Enter Winter Storm Vulcan. Dun dun dun… (When did they start naming snow storms anyway?) I totally get that it’s March, but after this winter we’ve had, this snow storm did me in. My night run turned into a treadmill run and the frustration building up throughout the day led me to cut the treadmill early.

Something tells me the rest of this week will be equally as crappy though they are all excuses of my own creation. The demotivational slump will continue until I get it together and give it a kick. Hopefully spring will come soon and that will only help move things along.

Capricious Abuse

The other day, a friend shared this quote on Facebook, and at first it made me chuckle; then it made me think.

The quote, is from the injured Anton Krupicka’s blog:

“An unsolicited bit of advice: don’t construct your coping-with-life mechanisms around something as capricious and physically abusive as running up and down mountains.”

I had to read it a couple of times before it really stuck – you know, hyphenated word phrases and all. The thing is,  if I followed Anton’s advice, I’d probably fall apart. For me, running is a coping-with-life mechanism. And I think it’s probably fair to say it’s a coping mechanism for a lot of runners, if not all.

When you ask people why they run, you get a variety of answers ranging from the annoyed to the long winded. Often, you’ll hear about the health benefits. Dropping pounds is an obvious reason some people get out there. You’ll also hear people espousing the beauty of nature and self-transcendence; and of course, there the least introspective, but fairly common, I-love-running answer. While some of these responses are honest truth, there are undoubtedly a number that are lies, half-truths and a fair prevalence of  omitted truth; easy answers to appease the questioner and move the conversation along. I do it. I’m sure you’ve probably done it in the past, too.

But why?

Because running is a coping mechanism and that means there is something wrong with us. The thing is, everyone has coping devices, some binge on food or drugs, strip clubs and whores, gambling, television, QVC. (Even ascetic monks cope.)

So why do I run?

Because I’m addicted to endorphins. Because if I didn’t run, I’d be a fat lazy slob with a drinking problem. Because I’d be a rather shoddy father. Because I’m an escapist. Because I’m a hobbyist. Because running helps me cope.

Happy Friday. Get out there and cope this weekend.

The Changing of the Horn

I grew up in a small town and went to college at a University in rural Northern New York, minutes south of the border. Upon graduating I was kind of lost as to what I was going to do, so I quickly procured a job teaching English in South Korea. The next 5-6 years of my life were spent in cities, some small, some big, some foreign. It was in these cities that I learned of the car horn.

Yes, my cars growing up had horns, but they were used to let the deer know you were coming. Or to harass the cows. If you can picture four 16/17 year olds loaded into a lime green 2-door Suzuki Samurai (essentially a Geo Metro), barreling down country roads with heads hanging out of windows shouting and honking at cows, you can picture my middle teenage years.

I had always known horns were used to express ire at other drivers, but in Korea I first saw the horn being used by taxi drivers to let cars at intersections know they needed to get the hell out of the way. It worked magnificently. In New York I lived at a pretty busy intersection in Brooklyn: there were five roads intersecting, three of them major, an on ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and an off ramp, and entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Needless to say there was a lot of honking. It was in Brooklyn that I started running again; not being one for waiting, if I could nip across the street mid-run and not have to wait for an idiot lite, I would. Again, more honking. Brooklyn being what it is, more often than not, instead of heeding the honking, it was met with a middle finger and a big old “f*ck you, sh*t bird.”

Moving to Vermont and running at night, I get my fair share of honks, but for some reason, they don’t have the same harsh edge they had in Brooklyn. Instead of flipping cars the bird for breaking my beautiful silence, I just toss them a wave and a smile. Maybe I’m growing up; maybe I’m worried about cursing at my boss; maybe big cities just suck. Either way, I can’t say I miss cussing at strangers.

Hooray for Stomach Bugs!

I don’t mind getting sick altogether. It’s not great, but now that I have kids, it’s more of a matter of when. Usually, I just drink some water, drink some weird herbal tea made from foraged mullein leaves, and plow through it. Unfortunately, stomach bugs don’t really work like that.

On Friday, my son yakked a few times but had a fine disposition, and no problem eating thereafter. On Sunday, my daughter started yakking. She, a few more times than my son, but again was in a good disposition. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, I started feeling ill. Nothing awful, but a little bit of queasiness. I made my wife drive us from her sisters in Boston to our house in Vermont and with good cause. Half-way home we had to stop on I-89 so I could retch my brains out with cars whizzing by at 80 miles an hour no doubt laughing at the poor schmuck on the side of the road getting vomit all over his shoes.

We made it back to the house uneventfully, but it was then my ailment took a turn for the worse and rendered me a bit useless. I tried to help maintain kids, dogs, and unpack from a weekend away, but who knows how much help I actually was. Eventually, bed time rolled around. I offered to read my son his stories and put him to bed, but my wife just looked at me, told me I was green, and needed to go to sleep. The last time anyone told me I was green was after a bender of Southern Comfort that went on way too long. Needless to say, I was in bad shape.

I went to bed, and got up the next day almost ready to go. My stomach was still sore from all the dry heaving. I hadn’t eaten anything in 18 hours, and anything I had eaten earlier on Sunday had been purged from my body. My stomach was tender and it took a while to get any real food in it, but I was better.

Unfortunately, and this is where I get hung up, my Monday run sucked. It was short, it was slow and that was to be expected. But now my weekend miles are minimal and that is when I do the bulk of them. I know it’s nothing to worry about, but I’m still having this little struggle in my head, trying to convince myself that is okay to miss my mileage goal; that mileage goals are nothing but check points on the way to a final race goal and missing one or two won’t hurt anything. It’s tough though.