Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I can't run with you I'll slow you down? How come you guys look so comfortable running? You hardly look out of breathe.

I'm so not an 'elite' runner, maybe a good 'club' runner but that would be it. I do love racing, I love the competitive element, and the chance to test my training out. But when I'm confronted with those terms, I find it quite frustrating. So in the hope of dispelling those 'myths' and maybe even gaining the occasional training partner I'll go through them;

1) I do 90% of my training solo, so the chance of running with someone is always a bonus! The pace really doesn't matter, especially if it maybe takes you a bit out of your comfort zone (if that's what you want) and leads to improvement. If it's a purely social run and there are walks on hills, cool! I ran the last 8 miles of a 30 mile training run with a friend on Saturday. We slowed down when I reached him, which maybe wasn't cool for him, but it helped me get to end in OK shape and not completely stuffed! He worked a bit harder maybe than normal and he made sure we took it easy on the hills. He still wants to run with me, so I guess it was OK.

2) Looks really can be deceptive! Especially in races. When I started running, I loved racing anything above 10k. I would spend the majority of the race in a 'comfortable' place not at maximum effort. However, the more I raced, the more I pushed the boundaries, improved my times and then had to work harder to achieve new personal bests. Now any race below a marathon is very near to my maximum effort with a half marathon feeling as hard as a 10k. It MAY look easier, because I'm not stopping and walking or completely out of breathe, but my legs are dying under me, and my brain is trying to ignore the pain by thinking about anything but how far it is to the end. Unsuccessfully.

Sometimes closing your eyes helps!
I'm re-reading Haruki Murakami's excellent 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' and when asked what he thinks about when he's running he invariably can not think of anything specific. Racing to me is the exact opposite of that. I think specifically about how far the next mile marker is (a long way), can I maintain this pace (surprisingly usually yes), did I go off too fast (yes, but it's hard not to in the charge from the line), who is the competition (often the least likely candidate), do I always feel this bad (yes), how far to go (too far).

Beautifully written
Those are the very specific thoughts going through my mind. You could call it 'focus' and certainly if I start working through personal issues, trying to deal with work challenges, etc when racing, my pace can vary (normally slowing) and it becomes a distraction. So there's no choice but to focus on the pain and how long there is left of it!

3) I'm ALWAYS out of breathe at the end, and on any significant hills, but before that it's more muscle pain, until real fatigue kicks in and my heart rate increases to maximum and you try and 'kick' for the finish. Kick meaning to me, knowing that the finish line is a given distance away and you can give it everything. In a 5k it might be with 500m to go, in a marathon with 2 or 3 miles to go.

These internal battles that do not show themselves to others are still there nonetheless, and I'm suffering just as much as the next runner :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Vertically Challenged

Hills are hard. They hurt and they NEVER seem to get any easier. I always feel slow running up, and most of the time you are slow. It feels more like a tricky exercise in breathing normally and dragging your heavy legs towards the summit.

I've haven't really read anything that specifically says 'run hills, it will make you faster and stronger' but something inside my subconscious tells me to run them. Every day. All year. Most of the time I hate it. I don't get into a rhythm, I just slog it out til I get to the top, and then try and enjoy the downs, which actually don't feel much fun for some reason. BUT I still do them. Every day. At least 300m vertical, which is child's play to Sandes, Olson, Krar etc but for an Oregon runner quite a lot apparently. It always feels a good workout and seems to compensate for a lack of speed work and any other advanced training methods.

In races, at least those without massive elevation gains all those vertical meters start to come into play. Again, although it doesn't feel like it I find I make time and position on hills over other runners, and can also keep a good pace when on flatter sections.

It's been a year since I started the 300m a day trial, and bar an injury and a visit to my folks in flat Norfolk, England I've been around and about 10,000m a month vertical. It hasn't creep any higher as being a car-less downtown Portland dweller the highest runnable point from my house is, guess? 300m! Either Council Crest or Pittock Mansion.

Given the improvement on relatively small hills, I think it's time to step up and start trying longer tougher climbs to really make some impression. It will mean visits to the Gorge, Mt Hood etc, zipcars and group runs, but it's about time after 14 months here.

One of the views from top of Larch Mountain
Larch Mountain is the gnarliest, toughest climb I've found here, and now the days are getting longer that will start to become my fitness tester. It's a straight climb up past Multnomah Falls to a spectacular 360 degree viewpoint. It was 1 hour 45 minutes up and 55 minutes down the one and only time I attempted it, which tells the story. I'm sure it's those climbs that will help get me a bit closer to the speedgoats in time....

Larch Mountain 'run' more of a power hike up

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Run Stupid Run

This has probably been the oddest 10 days of running I've ever had. It started last Thursday with heavy (for Portland) snow and a 'feels like' temperature of -12C, which was cool to run it as it was just settling. Friday was more of the same and a short 10k in -7C.

CAPESTORM, Hi-Tec, Buff and K-Way all work amazingly in -12C
My plan had always been to run the Wildwood trail end to end (30 miles) on Saturday and I thought more overnight snow wouldn't make the trail too bad. It was warmer at -4 and the first few miles were fun, with stunning winter scenes provided by the snow on the trail, deer prints to follow and snow covered trees along the way. By about mile 7 the snow was 5 inches deep and too soft to not break through. My kms went from six to eight minutes with twice the effort. At mile 10 I decided to drop down onto the wide flatter cycle path that runs through Forest Park. It was no better, and I was 10 miles from home but more from my pick up at the end of the trail. So I pummeled through the snow, for a while behind the lone XC skier, until I reached a parking lot on the road with 20 miles down, but too early for my lift back and too far from any cover. Having established my guardian angel was at least 30 minutes away I started to run along St Helens Road back to Portland as much to keep warm as for any other reason, and eventually after some comical 'where are you?' 'I'm behind a garbage truck' 'Where are you?' 'I'm huddling by a sign for BFG Construction' exchanges I jumped into a warm car with peanut butter and jelly muffins and coffee. Never having felt so happy to bail a run and very grateful that someone would care enough to drive out in white out conditions!

Not the traditional WW end to end run
The next day the snow had turned to sheet ice and i met up with local trail legend and WS100 M10 Yassine Diboun (Animal Antics) for a run on Wildwood and the streets. Luckily potential hypothermia wasn't followed by broken bones as we took over 2 hours to run the 10 miles, slip sliding our way back to Goose Hollow. Surely conditions couldn't get any worse? Monday and the thaw had started producing a nice inch crust of soft snow with 4 inches of freezing water underneath. I now have the cleanest pair of NB Minimus trail shoes in Portland I'm sure.

PDX road gritting - it just ends! Still the safest place to run
A few days of 'normal' Portland weather (ie rain) meant a track 5km in 18,08 before the Hagg Lake Mudfest 50k on Saturday. After snow, ice, freezing water, freezing rain, ice pellets and even one sunny run, it was a Mud City at Hagg Lake, with 2 laps of the muddest race I've ever run. Last week's training obviously helped as I managed fourth place in a reasonably competitive race (see results HERE and the first pics HERE). Now I need new trail shoes (trashed!) and new hip flexors :)

Part of the Hagg Lake course - pretty typical section

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Getting into the Habit

There's really one overriding factor in running, and probably most individual sports; motivation. I've just finished reading the Mike Tyson autobiography. It more than any other book shows me that whatever talent you have, whatever riches you win, the only factor that will make you a great, potentially the best ever in the sport, is your personal motivation. Tyson had ability, but his motivation waned when 'other' factors intervened.

Everything else is complementary; talent, grit, determination, skill. You can have all in abundance, but lack motivation and they can add up to nought. Of course without 'talent' you wouldn't scale the heights in any sport, but even with it, it's never enough.

I was chewing on this as I managed not to get out of bed yesterday morning and run. Why not? I was awake, I had time before work, my body wasn't sore, yet I didn't go run. Sure I did later in the day, but if circumstances had conspired, it would have been a run free day.

Running mostly alone puts all the emphasis on self motivation, and negates peer pressure which might have helped yesterday morning. Most of the time it means I run more than I would do in groups, but on these occasions it makes me skip runs I'd otherwise complete. I wonder how many great athletes didn't realize their potential because of a lack of motivation to train? I still love the Daley Thompson Christmas day story. He did his normal morning session as Christmas Day fell on a training day. Went home, showered, put his feet up and started to enjoy relaxing on Christmas day. Then he started wondering what Juergen Hingsen his great rival would be doing. Knowing the German's great work ethic, he couldn't get away from the fact he would also have been training, so he went out again for session number two. At last satisfied he'd pushed to the limit, he showered again and tucked into some turkey and trimmings. After a few hours of feasting and rest, he still couldn't get the German out of his mind. Would he train TWICE on Christmas Day? Maybe. So out went Daley for a third time. This time he knew he had the edge, because nobody would train three times on Christmas day. That's motivation.

A 10 minute daily run took 60 days to become a habit...
I'm reading a book at the moment about habits (Making Habits, Breaking Habits by Jeremy Dean) and how long they take to form and also to break. Simple habits such as drinking a glass of water in the morning took as little as 20 days to became 'automatic'. The bad news is that doing as little as 50 sit ups a day or going for a 10 minutes run took in excess of 84 days to become a habit!! The good news is that the main gains are early. So the first few days have the most effect on habit forming. More repetitions early mean quicker habit forming and longer sustainability. Some habits took up to 254 days to become automatic in other studies!

Getting injured (strangely rather than being sick) has always been a bad habit breaker for me. Day 1 and 2 of no running are hard. Day 3 onwards when I've noticed my eating patterns have changed automatically, I haven't put on any weight AND I have all this extra time become easier and after a week I'm often left wondering why I devoted so much time to running! That has changed since my volume has moved down from 100 to 60 miles a week. 100 miles a week was 2 runs a day and 2-3 hours, 60 miles as little as an hour a day 6 days a week and 3 hours 1 day a week. I miss that post long run or race feeling, but the memory fades quickly. Regrettably.

Snowlandia didn't stop Portland runners
I guess that's why the lone runner probably has to be mentally stronger than those who run in groups and have that incentive. In the summer the motivation is often to see the sunrise or sunset from above Portland. In the winter it's much more difficult. But again being outside, seeing my breath in the cold air or splashing through the muddy trails act as motivators. I also use the Daley Thompson 'surely no one else is training' persuader, especially when the weather is bleak like the last few days in 'Snowlandia' here. But the one downside of being in an area and environment of hard core ultra trail runners is that you are NEVER the only one to run in crap weather!

This weekend is the Hagg Lake Mud 50k and my Cape Town 2 Oceans Ultra qualifier I hope. Unlike last year I think it will live up to the Mud tag. Maybe good training if Oceans has another year like this.....

2 Oceans ultra marathon - the mud year

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Road and Race Tripping

Most of January was spent in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City for two big trade shows and one sales launch. It's been a hectic work time and fitting in decent runs in those locations a challenge. Las Vegas involved running up and down The Strip during the week before they were overwhelmed by the booze crowds (which start early and and end late). Two runs at Red Rocks and Hoover Dam at the weekend broke up the monotony of The Strip. Salt Lake City is apparently one of the most polluted cities in America. At 1500m and in a basin surrounded by mountains, it experiences 'inversion' where cold air is trapped under warm air creating a lid which keeps pollution in.

A run to the Hoover Dam was a highlight
It's also VERY dry. My skin was like sandpaper after a week there. I found a few 'hills' but really nothing to help fitness much, so all those 2013 gains felt like they had disappeared into the flat roads of Nevada and Utah.

My fitness is way below this time last year as a result of an injury then flu like symptoms for 8 days. My longest run for 2 months has been 22km. It seems an age ago that I was running well and competitively. It shows how much we should be grateful when we are in that state of race fitness. Its almost always transitory, but seems permanent when we are in that space.

Fast forward to this last weekend and the romantically named 'Roaring River half marathon'. American race organisers are masters of the enticing race name. This was just another in the series of races named after supposedly main elements of the race. Others; Blue Lakes 15km - didn't see any color of lake. Bald Peak half marathon - outside of Bald Peak park. Battle to the Pacific - didn't even sniff the sea. And then some others which were a bit more realistic; Speedgoat - you had to be a goat on  those hills but very little speed involved. Autumn Leaves 50k - hard to argue with as it was in November, and there were leaves! Bridges to Brews - tick! Way Too Cool 50k - yep, with frog cupcakes, pizza and beer it was cool.

Flat and lots of right angles (CLICK FOR DATA)!
Anyway, it was a flat 21km, along straight country roads, pretty unscenic, given there looked like a lot of great trails near by.... But it was an exercise in testing fitness and speed and my Pittock hill partner Greg Hickman had found the race, so a chance to race somewhere different. As is normally the case there is the obligatory college student having an 'easy' training session. This time 17 years old. We were through the first km in 3,49 which was ok, but then 3,39 and 3,44 was really a bit quick for a first race back, but with the youngster effortlessly cruising to the front, second looked possible. He was always tantalising just out of contact, and it was left for me to battle with an Ironman triathlete for 2nd and 3rd. I kept up the sub 4 min kms until 19km when my legs started to say 'no more'. Luckily I had a gap and managed two more sub 4 min km to finish off in 80,45. He LOOKED like a master (over 40) but looks can be deceiving and he turned out to be only 38, leaving Greg to pick up the 2nd place masters place on his first race for a long time.

First two Masters at Roaring River
It was good to race again and see that there was still some speed in the legs despite an injury, the flu and no speedwork. If only I had the self motivation to commit to a proper training regime, then who knows. BUT running is my therapy, my downtime, my breathing space and my thinking time. To regiment it and stick to a schedule means all those elements would also have to be scheduled and you cant schedule when you need time to think, etc. I like to just run. It's such a simple, equipment and logistic free exercise, and in Portland it's almost impossible to have a run without a spectacular vista, view of Hood or St Helens or one of the other Cascades peaks.

I saw this e-card and although I unfortunately adhere to the original words, I can also change 'drink' for 'run' and it still makes perfect sense :)

And 'run'