Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This blog has moved!

Okay, I'm a total stroke since I decided (again) to move all my blogging activity back to my wordpress site: All the latest postings will be there from now on. Thanks for the support! I also have a YouTube Channel called "Vo2max Productions."

Happy trails,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Luxury of Hindsight

“Attacking the organism with a variety of aerobic stimuli” – paraphrase of famed coach Renato Canova in regards to his fundamental phase of training

I love racing. Umm, well, maybe I don’t love the excruciating pain during the second half of races, but everything else is a gift to enjoy and savor: the nervous anticipation and excitement on the starting line, the rush of running in a pack or closing gaps,  the relief of crossing the finish line, glancing at the time on the digital clock with sweat stinging your eyes, the satisfaction of running a personal best, the testing of your limits, proving to yourself that you still have what it takes to progress, the camaraderie of fellow runners, meeting new people, post-race parties, traveling to different locations =Pure bliss. This is how I like to live and feel alive.

On a side note: I also like to do some new shoe reviews: 

At Hansons I didn’t get to race as often as I would’ve liked. Sometimes I had to go 3 months or longer without getting my racing fix.  For me that was way too long, and while I see some benefits in doing a solid training segment of a quarter or a third of a year in duration without racing, such a strict training regime was just not for me. Often, I’ve gone long periods of training that lead to overtraining and/or and anemia. Without the essential feedback from a recent race performance it was sometimes hard to gauge how my fitness level was progressing (or digressing) during such training segments.  In retrospect perhaps I left some of my best performances out on the roads hammering workouts and trying too hard to hit impressive splits – such demands that slowly lead me down the path of overtraining instead of super-compensation. The irony is that runners usually associate over-racing with burnout and staleness in fitness, while now I’m starting to see how racing more often at different distances might actually help avoid over-training (and be more fun in the process!) In races you have to show all your cards, and that kind of hand just isn’t dealt from hard workouts.

I was always race more while training in Michigan: (l to r: Robert Scribner, Me, Chad "Nails" Johnson...Asst. Hansons Coach Don Jackson holds the water)

 So since variety is the spice of life (and running) I’m hoping to have the opportunity to show my cards more often at more races. After slowly coming back from my incident at Chuckanut I’m itching to test my fitness for the first time at this weekend’s Portland Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. I guess Kara Goucher and Ryan Bak are going to be running there as mentioned in this press release by Mario Fraioli of They will probably be wearing some slick Nike singlets; I’ll probably go shirtless and will be wearing some 6 year-old racing flats that I just found under my bed. Should be fun.

Adding to my racing schedule listed below, I’m now looking at doing a half marathon that goes from 8,000 to 10,000 feet before Mt. Washington next month, then perhaps Pike’s Peak or something later this summer (if I don't have chronic altitude sickness by then). I’d like to throw in a couple 50k trail races as well. I want to get into Sky Racing and I want to compete against the best trail/ultra runners. Any race suggestions?

In closing, I wanted to share this video from fellow Oregonian trail runner Timothy Olson. It highlights his race at Western States and I think it captures the essence of trail running. I never thought I’d say this, but it makes me want to try a 100-miler some day. The background music is from Michael Franti, and it has been stuck in my head for the last two weeks. Great song.

Hope your spring season is off to a great start. 
See you at the races!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Up and Down (and back UP)

“When you’re up [You’re UP!]. When you’re down [You’re DOWN!]. When you’re up against Cornell track: [You’re UPSIDE-DOWN!] head track coach Nathan Taylor would lead the entire team is this chant during our most fiercely competitive meet: The Heps (Ivy League Conference Championships). Despite striking fear in the hearts of our opponents and sounding somewhat corny to their fans, the obvious point of the cheer tended to put things in [somewhat of a] perspective.

Almost every runner I know has experienced the rollercoaster ride of having a great season or year of races followed by some really bad ones.  I’ve always told myself “Distance Running is a fickle sport” and that sometimes-hard work and dedication don’t pay dividends right away. In my book “Running For The Hansons” I personify Distance Running and joke about our rocky relationship – a relationship that breaks and mends hearts.  Injuries, illness, and overtraining are often the culprits leading to major running disappointments. At times I’ve been so frustrated I wanted to quit: One time I went a whole year without running a single personal best- at other times I’ve been so anemic and/or mysteriously over trained that I’ve regressed with progressively slower times. Whole seasons have turned sour and championship races and major marathons have become haunted memories of when I “choked” or failed to run up to my potential.

But then I always remember all the things that running has given me: the camaraderie of being on a team (from high school cross country and college track to post-collegiate running at Hansons), meeting a bunch of cool people, and being able to travel to different races across the country/world). I’ve had great years where I ran personal bests in every event from the 800m to the marathon. The fitness gains, the amazing sensation of the legs and lungs working in harmony at the physical capacities that the body was designed for have been satisfying to say the least. Winning conference titles, qualifying for NCAAs and competing in two Olympic trials have been highlights in my running, but such performances are kind of just means to an end. 

[Running a lot also means I eat a lot of pizza! Here is the first homemade pizza I've made where I actually had to knead the dough by hand...I had no idea what I was doing but it turned out okay]

After the initial high of finishing my first ultra marathon at the Chuckanut 50k last month I’ve been having a bit of a rough patch.  Nothing that I can’t overcome in the near future, but enough to be considered a “set-back.” Because of my knee injury I had to take a forced 3-week break. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot - but when you are used to training 50 weeks out of the year it grinds on your psyche. Coming back has been hard as I’ve experienced pain in my plantar fascia, various ankle tendons, and now my SI joint…all on my left (injured side) My theory is that in my weakened state of limping around for 3 weeks I failed to put enough weight on my left side and thus lost some structural integrity. There’s always a chain reaction of events going on when it comes to mechanics and the spread of injuries/pain. Now, back training at close to 90 miles a week, I am paying for my loss of strength with some pain. I’ve brought out the golf balls and tennis balls and grinded these sore areas down; I’ve popped pain pills (ibuprofen) and applied ice. I’ve started doing hurdle drills:
["Hurdle Drills": yes, I am aware that my shoes don't match - I'm not partial to any particular brand at the moment. Also,  those headphones may or may not be from a '90s sony walkman...]

 Slowly my strength, mobility, (and fitness) seem to be coming back but it is not without a struggle. I’ve been doing the majority of my miles uphill to stress cardio and reduce impact forces. Usually I wouldn’t be in such a rush to get back into shape but without any sponsorship support (and with prize money on the line) I need to bust out some good performances and prove my worth.  

The continual challenge for self-improvement and self-discovery are always there and that’s why I like to embrace running as a lifestyle.  Overcoming the lows and progressing through any adversity in life are what help define character. Running has helped me see this perspective as it has become fused into my identity. I feel very fortunate to have such a supportive network of family, friends, teammates, previous sponsors, and other runners who have allowed me to pursue what I am passionate about. Such good fortune has made it easier for me to appreciate and actually see that my whole life, and my entire running career, has always, overall, been on the “up.” 

["Cross Training" after a 2hr long run in the woods. Don't need no gym]

Hope everyone is having a great spring and enjoying some sun. Best of luck with your training and racing.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Committed To Going The Distance

I thought the exact same thing when I crossed the finish line after my first marathon (Houston 2007), and at the finish of my first ultra/trail race (Chuckanut 2012): “Whoa, I’m dizzy” and, more importantly, “I want to do that again!”
 (Long way to go at the Chuckanut 2012. Credit: Glenn Tachiyama,

Sometimes our mind tries to suppress the painful memories of racing hard on low blood sugar, dehydrated and depleted. It warns the body to stop trying such feats of endurance, such torture. This is usually the case after I run a “disastrous” marathon (NYC 2008, Boston 2010, Olympic Trials 2012, etc). At other times though, it is our body that rebels against the mind’s stubborn will - the will that forces us to always push the envelope, train with reckless abandon, and to sign up for that next race.

Well, as eager as I was to start training hard for my next ultra after Chuckanut, I had to take a forced break due to my knee injury.  I ended up taking almost 3 weeks totally off (something I hadn’t done for about 5 years since I got mono in college). The break was hard mentally, but I knew I couldn’t start up running with a limp. Here is a picture of my leg 4 weeks later after my fall:

As you can see I’m still only about 95% healed, but I am planning on running about 90 miles this week. Scar tissue will continue to form, and I will be marked for life. Cool!

More importantly, I’ve signed up for some future races:

5/20: Portland Rock n’ Roll half marathon (not sure how my speed will be)
6/16: Mt. Washington Road Race (all uphill, it’s going to be a blast!)
7/28: White River 50 (my first 50-miler = will be interesting)
9/29: UROC 100k (Ultra Race of Champions, it should be a loaded field).

The idea here is to slowly build back my fitness, focusing on speed first before adding specific endurance. Of course with uphill sessions and regular 20+ mile long runs in the works I am always trying to add strength. I’m going to race more than what is listed above and I’ll be looking to add events as I go along during the rest of the year.

In closing, I’m going to re-post an excerpt of something I wrote for the message boards a month before the Olympic Marathon trials this year. I think it helps define why I am still running competitively and chasing after these crazy dreams:

“The plight of the 2:14 to 2:18 US Marathoner: Why do you do it? You don’t do it for the money. You don’t do it for the fame or glory.  You don’t even do it because you think you can make the Olympic team or beat the Kenyans/Ethiopians. So why? Why do you keep sacrificing your time and energy towards something that most of society would consider a selfish and frivolous endeavor? Why do you go to bed early on Friday and Saturday nights in the prime of your mid-twenties? Why do you run 120 miles a week in the cold wind, rain and snow? Why?

Because you can. Because through years of racing and hard training in high school and college you discovered that you had a knack for something. You achieved high enough in one aspect of your life enough to be considered as belonging to the top 1%.  You decided to set the impossible goal of seeing how close you could get to your full potential in something quantifiable.  And in the process you realized that you are a part of something bigger than yourself…you are a part of the depth of American distance running,

It isn’t the path that the “practical” person would take. It is a road full of risk and a high rate of failure. But in the end it doesn’t matter if you meet your ultimate performance goals because at least you tried. You took the bull by the horns and sought out on a journey that most wouldn’t dare to embark on.  You believed strongly in something and decided to act upon that belief.”

So yeah, there it is in a nutshell: my answer to the question “Why do you run?” Over the course of the next couple months I plan to post here more often about my training and add content. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The View Is Worth The Climb

 “Hills are your friend.” My dad used to always say this to me before races and difficult training sessions that involved rolling terrain.  Several years of racing cross country, marathons, (and now trail ultras), I hear that statement as positive self talk in my mind, although it is slightly modified to “Uphills are your friend.”

The fact of the matter is that unlike a lot of ultra trail runners that I’ve seen, I suck on the downhills. As mentioned in my Chuckanut 50k race recap, I was amazed at how quickly some of the top runners were able to descend technical single-track at high rates of speed.  In racing with 2011 Mountain Running Champion Max King for the first 2.5 hours at Chuckanut, I had a front row view to his amazing downhill running abilities.

So in this blog post I’m going to focus on my strength (and something I may be a little more qualified to talk about) i.e. uphill running. 

Running up hills has many attributes that can make you a faster, stronger, and more versatile runner on the trails. Considering the elevation gains during many notable ultras (Leadville 100 and the Speedgoat 50 come to mind first) or on just about any mountainous trail run, specific preparation to tackle steep ascents is essential. Famed running coach Jack Daniels mentions the “law of specificity in training” in his book Daniels’ Running Formula, which basically comes down to this: if you want to improve your ability to run uphill, you must practice and train your body for the specific demands involved. Such demands, or training stimuli, involve a myriad of cardiovascular and skeletal-muscular adaptations.

In terms of training your heart and lungs, running up hills gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Even in covering relatively short horizontal distances, the amount of vertical gain you can achieve on an ascent (and the amount of time you spend climbing) requires a high level of work output. In other words, it is quite easy to devise lactate threshold and Vo2max workouts within a hill session, as often your heart rate has skyrocketed very close to those respective intensities. Such intense efforts strengthen the heart muscle, increase stroke volume, and improve your ability to keep blood lactate levels at a constant, manageable level. These attributes of aerobic fitness development, as well as increased aerobic enzyme activity, and changes in the density and size of mitochondria, will improve your ability to cover all distances more efficiently.

In term of training your muscular system, running up hill has traditionally been a method employed by coaches to develop strength and improve running form. For example, Arthur Lydiard’s training is known to involve a specific hill phase involving regular uphill repeats. Famed marathon Coach Renato Canova has advocated the improvements in neuromuscular coordination derived from running short, steep hill sprints. Essentially, when you run uphill your running form changes so that you have to work specific muscles (quads, glutes, calves and your core muscles mainly) in a way that will make you a more economical runner. The high knee lift, a slight forward lean, a shortened stride with a more pronounced midfoot strike and toe-off, and an exaggerated arm swing pays dividends on developing your speed over time.

As I prepare for the rigors of the Mt. Washington Road Race (7.6 miles at an average grade of 12%) I find myself starting to think about runs in terms of vertical gain rather than just horizontal miles. I’ve found that the variety in training can be refreshing to a trail runner who is constantly seeking challenges and adapting. The benefits of running uphill not only include an increase in fitness, but also lead to a higher level of fulfillment and enjoyment in the sport.

Train Smart
Race Hard
and Run Happy,



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chuckanut 50k: Lessons learned in my first ultra

“I guess I didn’t get the memo: Nobody stops at the aid stations,” I mention to Max King as we climb up a dirt-trail about 7 miles into the Chuckanut 50k trail race.

“Not this year,” Max implies that the high-level of competition meant that all the top runners were going to shave seconds whenever they could – even if it meant taking in less fuel/refilling hydration bottles.

We’re following the lead back of a half dozen very accomplished trail/ultra runners when I made this first realization. Unlike Max and some of the other top guys who had camel pack/hydration packs strapped on their backs, I was holding a 12 ounce handheld bottle full of water and a limited amount of energy gels. I had figured that at every one of the 5 aid stations along the gnarly 50k trail course I would grab some more gels, empty trash from used gel wrappers, and refill my bottle full of water.  I had foolishly assumed that all the top runners in the race would be doing this as well – however, after stopping at the first aid station (for what felt like the longest 20 seconds of my life) I went from being in 2nd place to 8th place. This theme occurred at the next couple of aid stations.

Midway into the race I found myself tailing Max as we tore through 2inches of snow, a few large slippery rocks, and hilly single-track trails complete with mud pits and fallen trees. Max would effortlessly hurdle such fallen trees (often close to 3 feet high) with the athleticism that only an Olympic Trials qualifier in the steeplechase (and a 2:14 marathoner) would have. The pack behind us had thinned and there was the eerie quiet of our footsteps and breathing as we navigated around the mountain. I fumbled with the lid on my bottle and accidently spilled all of my water on the ground. “Well, I guess I’ll just take my Clif shot gels dry for the next 7 miles” I thought to myself. Then I got a better idea: how about grab some snow off of the forest floor and eat it? Not quite as refreshing, but I took what hydration I could get – even in the damp, 35-degree weather.  

I took my first fall at around mile 20 trying to climb up a slick rock slab on the infamous “Chinscrapper” hill. The picture below shows off my clumsiness:

Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama http://www/

As we began a brutal descent down Cleator Road, Max slowly pulls away from me. I was quickly amazed by the speed at which all these top trail/ultra runners seem to run the downhills: they run with reckless abandon. In my 10 years of competitive cross country racing I have never seen so many runners fly so fast down the steep parts of a course – especially on such uneven terrain. Then again I suck at downhill running so when Max gapped me I wasn’t surprised [note: Max was also the 2011 World Champion in Mountain Running).  Unfortunately at this point in the race Max and I missed a key turn onto a trail and ended up going the wrong way down the hill. After about half a mile I was stopped by another runner at a different stage in the race and was told that I was off-course. By then Max was long gone down the hill and wasn’t stopped for another mile or two later (he ended up finishing eventually after running 35+ miles).

By the time I got back on course I was 2.5 minutes behind the leaders and had slipped from 2nd place back to 6th place. I had my work cut out for me as the fatigue of running for over 3 hours for the first time of my life became somewhat demoralizing. Over the final 8 miles I slowly caught some runners, but I had trouble turning my legs over at much faster than 6:00/mile pace. About 2 miles from the finish my stiff legs failed me rounding a downhill turn and I tripped over a large rock. I guess my knee hit another rather sharp rock as I crumbled to the ground and started rolling in pain. When I got back up there was blood running down my leg and my whole body hurt. Stiff from my fall, I was still able to claw my way into second place before the finish. The eventual winner, Canadian Adam Campbell, had pulled away strongly and won the 20th Anniversary of the Chuckanut 50k race in 3:48.  When I finished about 30 seconds later I stumbled at the line. Dizzy from low blood sugar and a loss of blood I stumbled backwards, but fortunately I was caught by race director Krissy Moehl (standing on the left in the picture below)

I was immediately taken over for medical treatment and received 5 stitches from an ER doctor that the race organizers (thank you Ellen and Krissy) had brought in. I felt very fortunate to have such medical treatment and support at the finish of my first ultra/trail race and it made the event extra special and memorable for me.

 As you can see at least one of my Brooks Pure Grit’s got soaked in blood:

(Photo credit: thanks mom and dad)

Overall, the Chuckanut 50k was an amazing event and I met a lot of really cool people. The ultra running/trail scene is a little different from the typical road race marathon crowd and I like it! Everyone I met was really supportive, down-to-earth, and humble. From the sponsors handing out tons of food samples and products to the amazing race coverage from (a media hub of ultra running information with interviews, videos, shoe reviews, advice, etc.) I felt welcomed to the ultra running community. It seems like trail running is a growing segment of our great sport and I can’t wait to get back out there and start training for another event!

(Adam Campbell and I at awards later that night)

Train Smart, Race Hard, and
Run Happy,


PS. Video to follow!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Running and Diet

I’ve recently changed a major part of my life for the sake of trying to run fast. No, I haven’t started training at altitude and I haven’t started running 180 miles a week. I didn’t get into barefoot running (I’ll keep wearing the Brooks Ghost), and I haven’t started running on an anti-gravity treadmill. Instead, I remembered something that John Kellogg (a college running mentor and regular assistant at Cornell) questioned us on a couple years ago: “What is the one thing besides running that will directly have an influence on your racing performance?” Answer: Diet. With variables like sleep and types of training held constant, WHAT you EAT and WHEN you EAT is obviously a huge determinant of how your body is going to run. And by “diet” I mean the types of foods you consume and the variety of the macro and micronutrients that your body has to absorb on a regular basis. So recently I made a rather radical change to my diet: I went from being a strict vegetarian for 24 years to becoming a meat-eater overnight.

Now I’ve taken Chem, Bio, and Nutrition classes at Cornell University so I have some background in the science behind healthy eating, the physical demands involved with highly aerobic performances, and the implications of possible dietary deficiencies within the body. Yes, I’ve read the typical spiel in Runners World every month about how chocolate milk is a great recovery drink (why people are still coming up and telling me that like its some magical secret is beyond me). Yes, beets are good for your blood and aid in weight-loss. I know the differences between heme and non-heme iron. Yes, kale makes the “miracle” salad, and Brazil nuts are full of a magical dose of Selenium, etc. I know about the “15min post-workout window,” and the ergogenic effects of caffeine. I’ve read Born to Run, and I know about Scott Jurek’s vegan lifestyle. My home doctor back in Oregon predicted long ago that runners would find that they are low on vitamin D. So over the years I’ve been taking magnesium, vitamin B-12, a little kids chewable multivitamin, vitamin D, C and a little E…and a little zinc…sometimes. I love chocolate milk after a workout. Problem is, I seem to drink a half-gallon of chocolate milk at a time- Then I like to feast at Taco Bell. A frozen pizza for dinner after a Taco Bell lunch used to be a typical (and delicious!) day. Heck, throw in a stack of chocolate-chip peanut butter pancakes and I’m loving life. Like Brian Sell I would occasionally even snack on McDonalds before a day of work at the running store.

I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve piled on 100 + mile weeks and have never been injured enough to have to take time off from running. I thought I had the quality that Mark Wetmore described in Running With The Buffaloes as “durability.” In college my ability to not get injured was my main strength. I don’t have the talent of raw speed, I don’t have a high Vo2max…but I’ve put in 30 mile days easily. Well, as durable as my tree-trunk-like-legs and sturdy bones are, my weakness in durability lies elsewhere. I have allergies to tree and grass pollen (so far in Oregon, New York and Michigan); I have asthma; and most related to this blog post: I have trouble absorbing enough iron and boosting my red blood cell count. Now I don’t care if you can run 180 miles a week- if you can’t get your hematocrit (percentage of blood volume occupied by red blood cells) much over 40 you just aren’t going to run very fast! I’ve had my blood drawn so many times in the last 6 years that I have permanent scars over the veins on the inside of my elbows. My ferritin seems to jump up and down. My red blood cell count is typically low. If I didn’t have a scientific mind I wouldn’t even bother getting the tests done….I’d just shut up and run (and maybe now I will?). But then, if you have a “break though” performance wouldn’t you like to attribute it to some data? Wouldn’t you like to know that it wasn’t just a “fluke performance”?

The same goes for bad races. I’m coming off of a disastrous last marathon. Whether or not my poor performances can be attributed to a poor diet is debatable. However, I suspect that there is a connection. Anyway, you don’t want to make the same mistake twice…that is one definition of stupidity!

So now, it’s going to be an “experiment” of one- a method of testing myself. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian the last 24 years of my life and I just quit cold turkey (bad pun intended). This summer I’ll be out on the Bloomer House patio deck, firing up the grill 2-3 times a week. I’m not going to worry about taking my liquid iron as much anymore…it just doesn’t seem as healthy or as natural as real food sources of iron-and plus, it doesn’t taste nearly as good as a bison burger!