"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, September 15, 2017

2017 Superior Trail Run 100 Mile Race Report

"There is nothing in this world that would make me happier than to see you finish this race." - Bill Pomerenke
"I'm cheering for Steve, more than anyone else." - John Storkamp (race director)
"I want you to finish more than I want to finish." - runner whose name I didn't catch

Where this really started: July 2011

My Achilles heels were like walking on broken glass every step. Half-way through the Afton 50K, the pain became so unbearable that I quit. I didn't want anyone to see how much pain I was in, but when I got home, I couldn't walk. I crawled into my house on my hands and knees.

My running days were over.

The comeback

Five years of thrice-daily physical rehab had me thinking I could not only run thirty minutes in extreme pain, but maybe do something audacious, startling, nearly inconceivable. There was one un-checked box on my running rèsumé... the Superior 100, which had nearly killed me in 2008 when I was healthy. Beside the heel problem, there was: the dead quad problem, the heat problem, the cold problem, the chafing problem, the swelling problem, the knee problem, the GI problem, the vision problem, the back problem and the scatterbrain problem. And now I'm a decade older.

"I'm not sure training increases your odds of finishing Superior." - Matt Patten

I started running hills. Lots of hills. Up to 10000 feet of climb - first 101 times up the Stillwater Main Street stairs, then 30X the Afton Campground Hill. My best week:

T 6 miles, with 4 at marathon pace
W 15 miles with 3000 feet climb (18x Ohio Street "Snake" hill)
Th 8 miles
Sa 31 miles with 4500 feet climb (Afton 50K course)
S 20 miles

I needed to work on balance, flexibility, core strength and posture, so I took an exercise class for ballet (let's never speak of this again). I gradually built up my tolerance for my heel pain to two hours, then four. Then a disastrous first race back, the Chippewa 50K in just over 7 hours. I cut more than an hour off that by the Afton 50K and was optimistic.

Next up was the Voyageur 50 Mile, a good test, 11-12 hours of suffering. My heels hurt from the first step and after the powerlines, it was like 2011 at Afton all over again. Then, sliding in the mud, I grabbed a tree for support, which snapped and fell on me. I dropped at 19 miles. Something had to change.

To finish Superior, I had to be a different man, internally as well as externally. I have a nearly infinite capacity for suffering, which is good for 1500 meters, because, when self-preservation kicks in, it's the one who's willing to lose most who wins, the one who has nothing left to lose - no family, no career - whose blacking out from anoxia at the finish line is a reward. It's not healthy, but it's what I know.

"I don't enjoy the races and I don't enjoy them for a long time." - me, 2010.

People talk about how painful trail 100 milers can be, especially if they go wrong, but it's different. The mantra is "stay as comfortable as possible as long as possible." Entrants talk about it being an all-night buffet and hanging out in the woods with friends. For a former balls-to-the-wall competitor, this is a challenge of its own.

And damn if they aren't a cheerful bunch of lunatics! Ed Sandor (Sr.) told me to smile so often it seemed like a prank of some sort. Then Joel Button told me to smile. I may smile rarely, but it's genuine. But I get it: optimism is important, as is enjoying the pleasures of the moment between the rough patches.

Ian Corless photo.

I'd packed my drop bags and was headed to the pre-race meeting when it seemed cold, so I took my famous blue raincoat out of one bag to wear. At the meeting, I didn't see some people I expected, like Allan Holtz and Jason Husveth, but I said hi to a lot of people who were happy to see me. We were told that there's be a river crossing because a bridge was out, but the real problem was a new beaver dam creating a deep water passage. "It's pretty typical for a wet year." - John Storkamp. It was too loud and crowded for me, so I left early.

My reservation had been lost, so I was spending the night in my car. I never really slept, which is typical before races. At 3 AM, I was freezing (it was 40 degrees) and needed a toilet, so I drove to the wayside rest between Lutsen and Grand Marais. I decided to do all my pre-race stuff then, rather than in the morning and hoped to get some rest.

I shared the bus ride to the start with Matt Lutz and we had the usual pre-race banter - well, usual for me, anyway. (paraphrasing) "Half your age plus seven?" "Just under." I was surprised to find at the start that I had to fill my hydration bladder at the one drinking fountain and I spent a lot of time waiting in line for a restroom, which is expected.

I can't find my laminated split chart, which is worrisome.

Gooseberry falls to Split Rock

The gun goes off and I start both my GPS watch and regular stopwatch, with a 30 minute repeat alarm to remind me to take in calories. I was planning to keep my effort under control by heart rate monitor, but it had been balky and wasn't working, so I just planned to stay relaxed and hike all the hills comfortably. The first miles are on paved trail, which gives everyone space and is a nice warm-up. When we hit trail, it's immediately muddy and people are trying to keep their shoes as dry as possible, which will later seem pointless. The initial river crossing is uneventful and cut about 0.7 miles off the course, so I wasn't surprised to come into the first aid station early, but I was well ahead of where I expected to be. I was stung by a bee one hour into the race in my armpit, which seemed a bad place and an hour after that under my vest, where it rubbed with every step. I left the station at 2:00 (planned 2:15-2:20)

Split Rock to Beaver Bay

This is generally one of the less-remarkable sections, but it had the new beaver dam. The water was thigh deep, with small submerged boulders and roots to navigate. Stepping over one rock, I went into a hole with water up to my crotch and had to work to keep my balance. Coming out of the water, race legend Susan Donnelly stopped to snap some photos. My heels suddenly hurt - that was my real concern. Fortunately, the problem self-corrected rather quickly and I was still on time. 4:36 (planned 4:28-4:37)

Marcus Taintor photo

Beaver Bay to Silver Bay

I stopped four times to removes rocks and twigs from my shoes. I should've worn gaiters, though the caked mud and swelling later served that end. Each stop cost a few minutes and I'd be with different people. I was spending no time in aid stations, so I was leap-frogging with a lot of people. When Susan passed me again, I thought that I might be being too hasty at the stations. Then I had an empty hydration bladder and I knew I had been. Finished at 5:50 (planned 5:46-6:01)

Silver Bay to Tettegouche

This is one of the tougher sections, with climbs to the Bean and Bear Lakes lookout and to Mt. Trudee, but I was feeling good. I hadn't peed in a long time, and when I did it was dark, so I made sure to drink as much as possible. Soon I was peeing almost clear and too frequently, making me wish I'd salt caplets on me to restore electrolyte balance. I was moving well and having fun (yes, you read that right). The infamous "Drainpipe" was child's play compared to 2008. Arrived 9:01 (planned 8:35-9:05), which was the last split I could remember from my plan.

Photos by Zach Pierce

This was already my longest run since 2010 and I was only one-third done.

Tettegouche to Co. Rd 6

I had a bad patch in this section, where my brain went fuzzy and my fingers swelled. A little extra food helped, but flavor fatigue had set in (and Raspberry Hammer Gel tastes like burnt motor oil - still better than their banana, though). Being the heat of the day (maybe 65-70 degrees), it was good to be out of the open. The sun went down and I pulled out a headlamp.

"Two lights is one light. One light is no light." - ultrarunning adage.

Headlamps have improved dramatically since I last ran 100 miles. I had a 300 lumen lamp and decided to switch out my old back-up with another, which I'd just put in the batteries it came with. The batteries were old... a rookie mistake. I figured I'd use the bad lamp until the next aid station, where I'd switch headlamps and see if I could switch out the batteries on the bad one in case I needed it.

I was going too slowly here. I'd hiked through the night at both Kettle and Zumbro, so I figured I'd do it again. I needed to run where I could, or at least hike faster, as I was getting caught by a stream of runners. Eventually, the faint light caused me to feel I was going much too slowly and I switched out early; I got help from another runner, maybe Steve Sjolund, who'd looked iffy when I saw him 25 miles earlier. This had me wondering just how slowly I was going. I pulled into the station at 12:29, behind my scheduled 11:25-12:15, but I did not know this, not having my splits, nor crew.

John Horns, Part 1

John made me his pet project at the aid station. I've known him since we had classes together more than 30 years earlier and he's won this particular race - after age 50! - so it made sense to listen to him as he questioned me about hydration and food intake. I'd finished both Zumbro and Kettle 100's on just liquids, as my body seems to say "blood for muscles or blood for intestines, not both" and it just sluices through me. That's not possible at Superior, as the electrolyte drink they have is HEED, which contains xylitol, which is a laxative for some people - such as me. It had taken me two years to tolerate gels. Now I was about to find out whether, if I went slowly enough, solid food would be tolerated. John had calculated that the gels I was taking was the absolute minimum, but he also had exerted 50% more calories per hour in breaking 24 hours, so I wasn't so sure.

More pressing was that I didn't have a drop bag here, the temperature was plummeting (it got down to about 40 degrees) and I was underdressed. I was wrapped in a mylar blanket and had a rain poncho in my pack, which I figured could get me to my famous blue raincoat at Finland.


Remember the pre-race meeting? I took the jacket out of the drop bag. It was sitting in my car. I had some shirts at Finland, but not what I needed. I'd have to make do.

Co Rd 6 to Finland

Only meters onto the course, I was asked about my clothing choices.

2017: the Year of Wendi

Though we had a bunch of running friends in common, I first introduced myself to Wendi on a training run at Afton. We ended up running the Powerlines at Voyageur together while I pretended my heels weren't killing me and before everything fell apart for me. UltraSignup had predicted we'd finish together here in 36 1/2 hours.

Wendi said that she had an extra nylon shell back at the aid station and was willing to go back . She dug it out and John Horns helped me take off my pack, put on the shell and then put the pack back on. Then he made sure I had food in my pockets.

Jason Mullenbach is a great dad

I spent much of this section with Jason, who I'd run with a bit earlier. I had done all of my training runs alone - not by choice - and wanted the quiet of a night on my own in the woods, but we talked a bit about how I knew his hometown of Owatonna. There was a lull in the conversation and, though I wanted quiet, I could tell he wanted the distraction of talking, so I asked about his kids.

He mentioned his three boys from youngest to oldest, which seemed odd until he mentioned his 17 year-old, who has Down Syndrome. He'd been an advocate for his son and mainstreaming him in school despite some deficits, learning the bureaucracy and jargon and helping him pursue his dreams, sometimes at a heavy cost.

My own father didn't talk to me until I was 14, though we lived together; still, his own father was much worse. Over the years, I'd told myself that it was probably just as well that I never had kids, as I had no example for fatherhood. Then I had to take care of my mother when she had Alzheimer's and one goes through all the same steps, but in reverse order, ending with diapers and spoon-feeding and never getting sleep. I'd actually have made a pretty good dad, but not as provider, as my father had seen his role. Too late now - though I'm about the same age my father was when I was born. And I've taken an interest in a younger woman who seems a bit "broody" and whose "clock is ticking."

It was the time of the night when people hallucinate. Birch bark looks like discarded paper. One group of leaves looked like a box of mints. I saw grouse and amphibians, but nothing unreal.

Instead, I was thinking of a woman. She has broad shoulders for a girl and I have narrow shoulders for a guy. She has a strong chin and I have a weak one. Is that really what interests me - compensating flaws? I remembered a photo of her taken in innocence that left very little to the imagination, a pose that would be unflattering to anyone else, but... I really need to think about the race.

Finland to Sonju

John Horns, Part 2

John got my drop bag (an ice cream bucket) and helped me off with my pack and shell, put on a long-sleeved shirt which is always tight, but especially hard to put on over puffy hands - and John insisted on turning the shirt right-side out - then putting the shell and pack back on. I had him look for replacement batteries for my headlamp (in case I hit sundown #2), since they were in aid station supplies the times I ran an aid station and it took forever - I shouldn't have bothered. I had spare socks and used a pair as mittens. I ate two quesadillas and put another 4 in my pockets for later. I was also wearing a buff for headgear (I think this was since Co Rd 6 - it was in my pack). John filled my pockets with gels and I was off.

I'd packed several flavors of caffeinated gels in that drop bag and was looking forward to the buzz and the change in flavors. Unfortunately, John had given me the same ones the race handed out at every station. This is one more reason crew would've helped.

The trail to Sonju was largely unremarkable until the end. I'd expected that, with all the rain the previous week, the long beaver dam crossing would be under water like it was when I volunteered in 2006. It was fine. Toward the end of this section, before the real cedar root maze begins, there's a fairly steep decline of small boulders; I'd been down it twice before and slipped both times. I slipped this time too, banging my butt and the heels of my hands, but I can't call a 4" drop a "fall." The tree roots were just as tough as I remembered, but not hard to navigate. One could hear Maria Barton's aid station more than a mile away. She had it decorated in over-the-top fashion, most of which the darkness hid.

Kathy Jambor filled my water and gave me two mini hamburgers. I could've eaten 6 more, but thought better of it. I briefly warmed my hands at the bonfire, where several runners were seated and looked like death; I'd been there, having dropped here in 2008, but pressed on, making this my best run here.

Sonju to Crosby

This is the shortest section of the course and isn't bad, except for the roots (which is like saying Everest isn't bad except for the elevation). The last mile or so is very runnable, some even on a gravel road, but I was not running. The tops of my feet were very sore, perhaps from the constant pull of mud.

Then the sun came up. "Oh hell - I'm done." That everyone has to do Crosby in the dark is the one equalizer of the course, so I must've slowed far more than I thought (which was true) and would time out at Matt Patten's aid station (which was not true). Could they have eased the closing times of the stations that much? Still, the 38 hour cut-off at the end is firm.

I arrived at 22:50, three to four hours behind schedule, but still oblivious to the fact that I needed to make up time. I used the toilet (I handled solid food well!) and heard that Jason Husveth was doing well - where did he pass me, if he had? I remember his wife Amy's 1000 watt smile sometime in the daylight, so it must've been early. He always comes on strong at the end, so I'd been looking for him, but I must be way behind him by now.

That left Allan Holtz, who always pushes the time limits at the aid stations, but is relentless in hitting them. I told Matt and his son (#3, who I think is already taller than his dad!) that Al wouldn't pass me, "Because I will kill him." Everyone laughed at the dark humor; this was said as a coldblooded statement of homicidal intent, not hyperbole. Maybe you had to be there. The truth was, if Al passed me and wasn't having a spectacular day, I wasn't going to make cut-offs.

"Here comes Al!" Shit. I grabbed my gear and tried to make time.

Crosby to Sugarloaf

This is the longest section and, by every account, the hardest. There's an immediate steep descent to the river gorge, broken into two with a rise in between. It's treacherous, but I got to do it in daylight. The first 50 milers passed me here (I didn't recognize Jake Hegge as he went by, but I was staring at my footing). The other side of the bridge is a rise so steep it has to be done without a pause and one may use one's hands at points. It wasn't all that bad, except I got stung by another bee. Otherwise, I was feeling good! Now 50 milers were passing continuously. The rest of the section isn't technical - there was a lot of mud, still - it just never ended. I started leap-frogging with two 100 milers, including a woman who was making very good time with her pacer and trekking poles (poles may be worth investment), who I passed only when she needed a pit stop. There was a guy whose pacer was obviously just trying to get him to the next aid station to drop - I was doing great, compared to some. [I think I was unintentionally rude to that last guy; I'm sorry.] The section was endless. Distances telescoped. I finally arrived at Sugarloaf at 27:43.

At the Sugarloaf station, I stripped off clothes and stuck them in my pack. The young girl who refilled my water broke the hydration bladder - the hole was near the top, so I could still carry plenty of fluid. As it was, I sucked it down to a reasonable weight - I needed the fluid then anyway. I asked what the cut-off was at the next aid station. "1:45," I was told. It was 11:45. I can't do the math; 120 minutes, 5.4 miles, that's what, 22 minutes per mile? Is that right? If it was, I was fine, I just needed to run the downhills and what little flat sections there were.

Sugarloaf to Cramer

I hear from behind me "You were hard to catch!" It was Al. "You're the only one who's thought that," I replied, thinking of the 100 plus who'd passed. I told him I couldn't do the math for the cut-offs. "30 miles, 9 1/2 hours, we have to do 19 minute miles." 19! I have to speed up several minutes per mile AND do it while going up Carlton and Moose Mountains?! I complain a bit about how the cut-offs get harder as you go, rather than easier or staying the same. Al says he's not sure he can make the next cut-off. "Gotta try," I say. I decide to go into marathon mode; I've done marathons without water on much hotter days and in a third of the time we have.

I leave Al and catch the girl who was fast-hiking the last section. It turns out she had been doing then what I was doing now (and should've been doing then) and she'd given up hope of making the next cut-off. I sped way up. I caught Lisa Messerer on an uphill - she really should be a larger part of this narrative, as we'd leapfrogged - and I knew that she had finished this race before, so I was probably still in it. I sped WAY up again. There was a mudhole in which I remember splashing mud up to my eyes. There's a downhill I think is worse than the Drainpipe, worse than the Crosby gorge and I lose some time on it. I'm sure the course opens onto a road where the aid station is - I've never run this bit before (though I'm having continuous deja vu) - and twice I mistake fallen birch trees for gravel road in the distance. It has to be soon. Then I see a road and hear vehicles and I really hammer. I get to the road... and no aid station. "Quarter mile to go!" a woman calls and directs me across the road, through a tunnel to a wide paved trail with nothing in either direction for at least a mile. "Which way?!" I call, seeing a flag to the right as I ask. "RIGHT" several voices call, so it must be close. I go on, to the right, another turn (and I swear by this time I've entered a different time zone), maybe yet another road, another turn, another trail with nothing on it, another turn and three quarters of a mile since I started kicking, I see the aid station. I make it with two minutes to spare. 29:58, but I've killed myself doing it.

If that section needed 22 minute miles and I barely did it, 19's were out of the question. I jettisoned everything from my pack (my drop bag here was meant to hold what I no longer needed) and I didn't even want the water topped off, to cut weight. I got less than a quarter mile when the overwhelming fatigue of having raced that last bit stopped me and I walked back to Cramer. I met Al on the way. How the f$%^ did he make the cut-off? I considered Al's dictum "never stop until they pull you off the course" and thought maybe he and I could push each other... but I was toast. I went back to Cramer and dropped. Later, it occurred to me that Cramer to Temperance is largely downhill, perhaps the easiest section; I should've probably tried.

Some aftermath

Paul Hasse was laughing hard at my comments ("This section's longer than 5.4 miles" "There's no way in hell Al ran that just a minute slower than I did"). After stopping, my feet started to ache badly. Jim Wilson gave Lisa and me a ride back to Lutsen.

My feet had swollen so much that I had to cut my socks off. I had two small blisters and two blackened toenails that I won't lose. The swelling in my feet is still there a week later - it appears I damaged all the toe extensor tendons. The backache, made worse by the drive home, is slowly improving. There's no post-race depression.

My GPS watch shows I ran the last mile in 7:02! I went sub-6 at some points. My heart rate shot to my maximum of 180. That's why I couldn't go on.

How the eff did Al come in a minute behind me? Even if I were at the start of a minute and he was at the end of one, he had to run a 9 minute mile. I don't see it.

So.. no falls, no serious injuries, no bizarre accidents, no drama. Just a fun slow stroll in the park.

With better organization or with crew, I would've finished. I simply loafed when I should've been thinking of it as a race. I'd ignored the dictum I first heard from Al in 2007: "Run when you can, walk when you have to and when you can't walk... walk anyway." My heart rate monitor worked sporadically during the race. I figured I could average 120-122 bpm for the length of the race, but barely averaged 86, with long stretches in the 70's and 60's (and at night aid stations, 34, my resting pulse). I was way too conservative, taking "stay as comfortable as possible as long as possible" far too literally.

I was physically and mentally prepared. Though I didn't finish, I'm calling it a success. Considering where I started, "miracle" might be closer to the correct word.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Delay in race reporting

My Superior 100 race report will not be available for at least a week. I DNF'ed at 78 miles, but had a good race.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Splits for Superior

I thought it'd be interesting (to someone) if I posted what splits I expect at the Superior 100, along with how different it looks for someone who runs well at night. Blogger is terrible for charts, but here are: miles, 34:00 goal split, 36:00 goal split, and Adam Schwartz-Lowe's 2014 splits multiplied by 32/22.

  9.7    2:15    2:20    2:19
20.1    4:28    4:37    4:53
25.0    5:46    6:01    6:15
34.9    8:35    9:05    9:01
43.5   11:25  12:15  11:52
51.2   13:57  14:52  14:09
58.7   16:53  18:00  16:33
62.9   18:35  19:48  17:52
72.3   22:52  23:59  21:30
77.9   24:48  26:11  23:33
85.0   27:58  29:15  26:05
90.7   29:05  31:00  27:47
96.2   31:28  33:17  29:34
103.3 33:59  35:59  31:59

As you can see (if you study the numbers), from 11.5 hours to 22.5 hours, sunset to sunrise, most people slow precipitously and then start to recover in the daylight. Adam ran the same at night as in the day; one-third of the way through, his pacing looks like a 36 hour finish, but ends 4 hours faster. Great night running can cut 4 hours off one's time at Superior!

Monday, August 28, 2017

5:00 Mile Training Schedule

Throughout this, easy training pace is 8 minutes per mile. There's an average of 5.5 miles per day, 40 minutes per day, with hard runs every 4-5 days. In the interval workouts, attempt to do all repeats and intervals at the stated paces; when tiring, slow the interval pace to whatever is needed (but do the distance), then, when you can no longer hold pace for the repetitions, do them at whatever pace you can, finishing all the repeats. The plan has mileage cycling through: 1 medium week, 2 long weeks, 1 medium week, 2 easy weeks. The cycle repeats indefinitely and the 2nd, 4th and 6th Saturdays can be 5K races instead of what's stated.

M1 8miles in 55 with 10x150m hill. The hill should be 4-6%, 20-30 foot rise, 2.3-3.4 degrees. Do these at mile pace effort, actual 15K to 25K pace (35-37 seconds).
T1 off
W1 8 in 55 with 8x800 in 2:41(2 mile pace) - 400m in 3 minutes recovery
Th1 off
F1 off
Sa1 8 in 55 with 3x1.5 in 9 (10k pace)- 1/2 in 4.5 minutes
S1 9.5 in 75
M2 8 in 55 with 16x200 in 37(mile pace) - 100 in 1 minute
T2 2.5 in 20
W2 8 in 55 with 3 in 19.5 plus 8x50m "greyhounds." Greyhounds are done by doing an all-out sprint, then decelerating and turning around as quickly as possible and sprinting back.
Th2 2.5 in 20
F2 2.5 in 20
Sa2 8 in 55 with 3x800 in 2:29 to 2:34.5 (mile to 1.5 mile pace)- 800 in 7
S2 9.5 in 75
M3 8 in 55 with 10x150m hill
T3 2.5 in 20
W3 8 in 55 with 4x1200m in 4:13 (5k pace)- 400 in 4
Th3 2.5 in 20
F3 2.5 in 20
Sa3 8 in 55 with 3x1.5 mile in 9 - 1/2 in 4.5
S3 9.5 in 75 cross-country plus another 75 minutes (roughly 5 miles) power-walking/hiking immediately after.
M4 8 in 55 with 10x400 in 74.5(mile pace) - 200 in 2.5
T4 2.5 in 20
W4 8 in 55 with 3 in 19.5, plus 3-4x7-10 sec. all-out sprint
Th4 2.5 in 20
F4 2.5 in 20
Sa4 8 in 55 with 6x400 in 67-69.5 (600m-800m pace) - 400 in 4
S4 9.5 in 75 cross-country plus 75 min. hiking
M5 8 in 55 with 10x150m hill
T5 2.5 in 20
W5 8 in 55 with 4x1600 in 5:50(8K pace) - 400 in 3
Th5 2.5 in 20
F5 2.5 in 20
Sa5 8 in 55 with 3x1.5 in 9 - 1/2 in 4.5
S5 9.5 in 75
M6 8 in 55 with 16x100 in 16-19(400m to mile pace) - 200m in 1
T6 off
W6 8 in 55 with 3in 19.5
Th6 off
F6 off
Sa6 8 in 55 with 1500m time trial in 4:37.5-4:39.5, 1.5 mile, 800m time trial in 2:19-2:29
S6 9.5 in 75

This plan was based upon the Frank Horwill schedule, with refinements by Rubio, with additions from several other sources.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

[half-]Mental Readiness for Superior

For me, a number of tests are needed to feel confident to run the Superior 100. Race results are a good indicator, but I only have one finish to use, a sub-6 at the Afton 50K; RealEndurance suggests that this equates to a 31 hour finish at Superior, but that seems too optimistic. Had I finished Voyageur, I'd have a better idea, but things went wrong there - allergies, sleeplessness, trying something with a nutrition plan that failed, a tree falling on my head (yeah, that happened, though it sounds worse than it was), but mostly excruciating pain in my Achilles heels.

An old test I'd devised was: 1/3 the distance, 1/2 the climb, 1/4 the time. This came from when people ran Buck Hill 30 times, which is closed to runners this year. Half of Superior's climb would be 10100 feet, which is 103 times the Stillwater Main Street steps. I did 101 in 5.5 hours and the distance to make it 1/3 of Superior (34.5 miles) would get me to 8 hours; this gives Superior in 32 hours. Still optimistic. I then went to the (now technical, with washed out ruts) Afton Campground hill, which a topo map showed as 270 feet of climb in almost exactly one-half mile up, so 34 repeats would be the 1/3, 1/2, 1/4 needed - unfortunately, I did only 25 in 5.5 hours. I think, had I been rested or started earlier, I might've finished in 8 hours, which also points to 32 at Superior.

UltraSignup has me at 36:06, which seems right, or maybe a bit slow. They used to have me at 41 hours, which isn't even finishing.

They say the best predictor is what you think you can do. That's 34-35, depending.

I haven't figured out fueling. My heels hurt like hell. There's a ton of problems.

I will finish. "Have a reason to finish and do what you have to do to get there."

Friday, August 11, 2017

3:00 Marathon Plan for 5K Specialists

About half the people who run a 5K find that they're better at it than they are at sports that require short bursts of speed. Of these, about half find that they're even better at 10K and of that half, half are better at the 1/2-marathon. Of those better at 1/2-marathon, half are better at the marathon. It's of these 5% who excel at the marathon distance that champion marathoners come and they set the standards for marathon training. None of their expertise helped me, who excelled at 5K and did worse the longer the race, no matter what I tried. Looking at 3:00 schedules, I'd think "Well, of course if you could do those workouts, you could break 3; those are the workouts I did when I ran 2:45... and I was trying to run 2:30!" I'd think that most people who succeeded with these plans were being too cautious, running only slightly faster than they did in training, while they would think that I was super-talented, racing much faster than the training would predict. Following the plans of others, I'd run at pace for 15-22 miles and then fall apart (how long has it been since you ever heard of someone "hitting the wall?"), struggling to finish; the further I ran at pace, the slower I'd run the final miles, always ending in about the same time. The one time I tried to run negative splits, I ran evenly throughout, finishing a few minutes slower than my best.

Every time I failed, I learned. While the experts could say "I did this and it worked," I was learning why some things work for some people and nothing worked for me. Now I think I have the perfect plan - too late for me to use it.


Most 3:00 marathoners can run a mile under 5:30 (or are very close to that). My plan is for those speed demons who can run a sub-5 mile, yet keep falling just short of breaking 3 in the marathon. [My next post will be a plan for running a sub-5 mile.] The next thing that's required is being able to run long distances frequently at 8 minutes per mile. A good pre-season test is to run, for several weeks, 13 miles at 8 min./mile (or 1/2-marathon in 1:45) five days per week, with two days of complete rest each week. A few runners can go straight from this to breaking 3, but the following schedule is for those who need a lot of specific training to reach the goal. The workouts themselves should look familiar ro most marathoners.


This is a three week cycle, Monday to Sunday.

M1-Th1, Sa1-T2, Th2-S3, T3-F3: easy days of 6 miles at 8 min/mile.
F1: 2.5 hours (19-20 miles) with 2x[5x1mile in 6:24 to 6:30 - 1 minute recovery]
W2: 3 hours (23-24 miles) with 10@8, 6-10@6:51, 4-7 @8
M3: 2.5 hours (18-19 miles) with 2x [4x1200meters in 4:00 to 4:10 - 3 min. recovery]
Sa3: 2.5 hours (20-21 miles) with 1/2 marathon race
S3: 3 hours (20-22 miles) with 8x30 second sprints

This, I believe, is the correct amount of each needed stimulus, at the correct intensity and with the correct recovery, in the correct order. An explanation of each long workout, with how to progress at them is below. Scheduling such long runs on weekdays is a challenge in itself, but I think it leads to the feeling "I can run long any day of the week." Moving a workout a day earlier or later is often necessary - you have a life outside running, after all - but it makes it harder overall.

Friday 1: "Threshold" running

I have issues with the entire concept of threshold running, but it's essentially a pace one can hold for about 90 minutes and 1/2 marathon pace is close to that for a 3:00 marathoner. Five one-mile repeats with one minute rests gives a time for 5 miles that would be comfortable if run continuously. Quickly building to that speed after brief recoveries is challenging, but gives a good "feel" for that pace, which should be just about the "ventilatory threshold," that pace where one's breathing pattern naturally shifts - in my case, from a breath every four steps to every three. The first set of these should be do-able, but the second, after having run for a long time, will be very difficult to complete, so progress is measured in how many repeats are accomplished at pace (if and when your pace falls apart, keep doing the remaining repeats at whatever pace you can manage). If you're able to do this workout before being able to do the others in this schedule, you can progress by lengthening the repetitions and recovery up to 2x [2x2.5 miles with 2.5 min. recovery].

Wednesday 2: Marathon pace running

This incorporates running at race pace near the end of a run of the same duration as the race itself. "Speed" runners would have little trouble running 6-10 miles at marathon pace, but doing it after having already run 10 miles makes it feel like an all-out race (be sure not to run this too hard and make it a race run in training!) When you can no longer hold the pace, or at 20 miles, whichever comes first, drop back to training pace to finish up the three hours. I find these last "recovery" miles to be grueling and often much slower than usual training pace (8 min/mile here), but it's these miles that improve your stamina. Improvement, then, comes not only from increasing how many miles you run at pace, but how fast you run the last miles.

If you get to the point where 10 miles at marathon pace seems easy, instead of running more miles at pace, try alternating miles 15 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace with miles 15 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace.

Monday 3: Maximal Oxygen Uptake Intervals

This, the one true speed workout of the schedule, will look insanely difficult to a pure marathoner, but not to a true 5K specialist. Compare this to the Yasso workout of 10x1/2 mile in 2:40to2:45 with equal recovery and it suggests a 2:45-2:50 marathon finish. The repeats are done at 2 mile to 5K race pace, with recovery less than the time spent running, not allowing the heart rate to recover, so the last repeat should be near maximal heart rate (for some runners, much of the workout will be at or near maximal heart rate). The way I suggest doing this is to start on a long and steep hill and running up at what feels like 5K effort for 4 minutes and then returning to the bottom as quickly as possible (3 minutes may be impossible). Progression comes by doing the workout on lesser slopes - and longer repeats - finishing with 1200m on the track. Finding appropriate hills is difficult, even for those who live in hilly areas; if hills of the right length can't be found, try ro put what slope you can at the end of the repeat.

The second set of repeats, after having run long and hard already, will be extremely taxing. If your next race in the schedule is longer than a half-marathon, do not attempt the second set.

Saturday 3: Race

After doing an all-out race, the last thing you want to do is to turn it into a long run by adding on miles, but running after one's depleted one's glycogen stores improves fatigue resistance. Ideally, one would increase the length of the race each three week cycle, but races of the proper length are more difficult to find now than they used to be. The goals would be: 15K in 57:42, 10 miles in 1:02:20, 20K in 1:19:10, 1/2 mar. in 1:23:58, 25K in 1:41:12, 30K in 2:03:41, mar. in 2:59:59.

Most systems of comparing race times will say that these times are all harder than a 3:00 marathon, especially at the shorter distances. For a 5K specialist, however, the challenge is the length of the race and this progression is reasonable.

Sunday 3: Short speed

I suggest doing this workout on a cross-country course or easy trail, using GPS to measure distance and not paying much attention to actual pace. This is meant to be an easy run, done back-to-back with the race day; the fact that it is the day after a race creates its own difficulty; there are runners who will think "I have a long run tomorrow. I better hold back in my race today," so it's important to think of this as an easy, relaxed run.

Interspersed in this run, include 8 short sprints. They need be only 5 seconds long, which will tap into the creatine phosphate energy system without anaerobic glycolysis and can be separated by 15 to 20 minutes. As one improves, one can progress to a 5 second all-out sprint, followed by a 25 second "float" at about one mile pace and then a 15-20 minute recovery. If one becomes adept at this, one can shorten the recoveries to 4x[2x30 sec. sprint - 30 sec. recovery] and finally 8x30 sec. - 30 sec. recovery, which falls into both the Tabata HIIT and Billat MVO2 training methods... but again, remember this is meant to be an easy run.

Glycogen replenishment

It can take some runners up to 10 days to replenish muscle glycogen stores after a long and hard workout and even longer to recover from races of half-marathon or more. Because of this, I suggest the Western Australia method of glycogen replenishment. In the 2-4 hours after each long run in this schedule, gorge on high glycemic index foods, which "tricks" your body into storing more muscle glycogen. Personally, I drink a gallon of water with 8-10 ounces of corn syrup and a teaspoon of salt in it and add a pasta meal; if possible, I add a cup of coffee (caffeine increases the loading) and a glass of milk (the insulin response to this glucose load also brings amino acids into muscles damaged by exercise). This can be uncomfortable and sickening the first times you try it.

Practice taking in fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates in the marathon pace runs and in the races, as you'll need to be able to handle that in the marathon. The other long runs can be done on an empty stomach, which may help your body adapt to spare glycogen reserves.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


People are always surprised to find out I'm a religious man, partly because I don't behave in the way that they expect "religious people" to behave, but mostly because I'm an extremely rigorous scientist. It's the latter that I want to discuss here.

Occam's Razor Is Almost Always Wrong

You've probably heard a variation of the dictum of the Earl of Ockham, something like "The simplest explanation that fits the facts is probably the case." The simplest explanation of how we get energy from food is that chemical bonds in food are broken in a linear sequence of steps and the energy of these bonds is absorbed by the body. In a first biochemistry course, you discover the simple chain of events has a circle in it called the Krebs Cycle, which is certainly not the most direct route. The next course will tell you "what you learned before is close to the truth, but here's what really happens." In fact, every biochemistry course adds more complications to accommodate more facts. And that's the point I want o make: because you never have all the facts, whatever explanation you have is a useful simplification, but it is not real; it is an analogy.

Particles, Waves and a Probabilistic Cat

I am always stunned that some aspects of quantum theory are taught in high schools and that people then speak of the dual nature of electrons as particles and waves or of Schrödinger's cat, as if they understand them. I took several courses in quantum chemistry and statistical mechanics in college and didn't really understand it until several years later. Generally, people get a take-away message - usually incorrect - and, though what they've ben taught makes no sense, feel "people who understand these things and are a lot smarter than me say it's so, so it's true." This is making science into a thing of faith, a religion.

For the record, an electron is not both a particle and a wave, nor is it a particle that moves in a wave, nor a particle with wave-like characteristics. An electron is neither a particle nor a wave; in fact, we don't know what it is, but we have observations of how it behaves in various circumstances. Some of these behaviors we can describe with math developed to describe particles, others require math developed to describe waves, even though these exclude each other and particles are never waves. We have analogies that help us understand electrons, but the analogies contradict each other. It's like the story of the blind men and the elephant [one feels a leg and says it's a tree, another the tail and says it's a rope, another a tusk and says it's a spear]

The most important feature of quantum mechanics for my purposes here is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. We know the world through our senses, which require bouncing a particle or a wave off a thing to see it. This action to sense it changes the object's energy, so it is no longer exactly the thing you were trying to sense. On the atomic level, you can know where an electron is, or where it's going, but not both. No matter what you do, there is something you cannot know.

Why the world has things that cannot be known leads from physical chemistry to more abstract math.

It Doesn't Add Up

Physics does not describe the world, except through analogy. When the analogy breaks down, different math gets employed. Zeno's paradox that motion is impossible because, for an arrow to reach its target, it must first go half the distance, but before that happens it must o 1/4th the way, and so on in an infinite number of steps, was "solved" by the invention of calculus by Newton and Leibnitz. The paradox still exists, we just have math that can accept an infinite number of steps now.

Similarly, Euclidean geometry works great for describing the arc of a tossed ball, so that's what we use. It doesn't work, however, in the relativistic world described by Einstein, so Riemann's geometry, where parallel lines intersect and infinitely long lines circle back on themselves, is used.

Attempts to combine quantum mechanics and gravity have led to the use of string theory, which is so flexible that it can describe almost anything. Its drawbacks are math so complicated that few can follow it (I can't) and the necessity of ten perhaps even 26) spatial dimensions.

There is, however, a problem with numbers themselves, which you may have sensed as early as you were told that you can't divide by zero. Kurt Gödel proved, mathematically, that any system complicated enough to include the set of integers is internally inconsistent and contradicts itself.

As long as you try to use math and physics to describe the world, you are automatically wrong.

The logical next step is recursive

Let's say you abandon math and try to explain the world logically. Even if you use Bertrand Russell's symbolic logic, there is always that nagging something which cannot be known. The simplest version of this is this version of the Liar's Paradox: "This sentence is false." Logically, if you say that it's true, it's false and if you say it's false, it's true. The important point is: it has no truth value until you assign it one, just as Schrödinger's cat is neither dead nor alive, but has only probabilities of being alive or dead until you look at it. Your interaction with it changes it, just as bouncing particles or waves off objects does.

Metaphysics, free will and other unprovable things that don't matter

1) What if you were only a brain in a vat and everything you think you experience were merely electrical signals being fed into that brain? The world would be exactly the same. Because we experience the world through our senses, which require bouncing particles or waves off of things to be converted into electrical neural pulses, it is exactly the same. Our brains are encased in a skull where there is no light, yet we believe the electrical signals from our optic nerves are sight - it is a matter of faith and of choice. You could choose to believe you are only a brain in a vat, but it is a difficult and unrewarding choice (I've tried it).

2) What if the universe were created 5 minutes ago? Imagine everything came into being at the same time, with all of its characteristics, including you with all of your (imagined) memories. The world would be exactly the same. There is no way to prove that this is not the case and you could choose to believe the world is only 5 minutes old, but again, it's an unfruitful choice. Though I choose to believe the universe was created some 15 billion years ago (or is it 13.5?), it is a matter of faith as much as for fundamentalist Christians who believe Bishop Usher's date of 4004 BC.

3) What if you didn't have free will, but everything you did were predetermined and fated to happen? Again, nothing would change. At first, it would seem that choosing to believe in determinism removes one from responsibility for one's actions, so that any "immoral" act is permissible (I'm not going to get into ethics, though I could - for me it ends in existentialism, situational ethics and moral relativism), but you have to behave the same way whatever you believe. The randomness inherent in quantum mechanics seems at first to decide in the favor of free will, but deeper investigation returns one to a matter of choice that makes no difference.

Faith in science

Why should it be that there are things we cannot know, inherent contradictions in our math and logic and fundamental philosophical questions that cannot be decided? The standard response is: we do not know now, but science will explain it in the future. This is a statement of faith in science as a religion, which I find abhorrent.

The question of God

The final undecidable problem of philosophy is the existence of God and I say that, like the other questions, it does not matter what you choose to believe. It is impossible to either disprove the existence of God or prove the existence of God (a friend of mine, a pastor, was incensed when I picked out a flaw in every "proof" of God's existence collected in "Does God Exist?" by Hans Küng, saying "I think he knows more about this than you do." That there is necessarily a flaw is in fact what allows me to have faith).

If you choose to believe in God, you can believe in God's creating the universe in such a way that His existence cannot be proven, but must be a matter of faith. All the other un-fillable holes in knowledge I've described then become analogous, making for a harmonious whole that I find comforting.

Religion, whichever flavor you choose, is all about metaphor and analogy. Just as physics is not truth, but a useful analogy to the truth, religions are filled with stories whose truth (or falsehood) is immaterial, except in the usefulness to one's own existence. Christianity speaks to me through its influence through art, in the literature, paintings and music of my culture. Do I believe in the Lutheran "Book of Concord's" statement that each part of the Holy Trinity is distinct, yet each contains the entirety of the others? Rarely  about as often as I entertain the idea that the world was created 5 minutes ago.

Then again, it does not matter. I believe what I choose to believe because that choice exists.