Goals: Have the most personally fulfilling race possible at the Leadville Trail 100 on August 22nd, 2015. Run a sub 12:00/mile avg pace.
Overview & disclaimer: These are the ideas & thoughts I’ve had regarding preparing for and racing at Leadville after 2 unsuccessful attempts. I’m 37, 5′8″ and hover around 150 lbs/69 kg. I’ve been an athlete for most of my life. I took a break in my early 30s, but in my 20s represented the US on the Navy Pentathlon Team, swam competitively for about 18 years, ran cross country in high school along with a few other sports (lacrosse, wrestling, climbing.)
No record setting times, the fastest mile I’ve thrown down was a 5:10 in my late teens and I used to swim 500 free (yds) in the same time. The last time I ran mile repeats I was hovering around the 6:00 mark. I haven’t swam a 500 free for time in the last 10 years.
For every one of these ideas in which I believe & base my training on, you can find anywhere from 5–5,000 assholes who are doing the opposite and getting really good results. Paleo vs grains, sprints vs LSD (that’s long slow distance, hippies!), low carb vs high carb, lifting vs running, etc. This is what I believe will work for me. This is not a training plan for you, just a record of what I’ve learned and incorporated along with what I aim to do.
I attempted Leadville 2013 on a training regimen of running 15 miles a week, thrice weekly lifting sessions of squats or deadlifts with pull ups, dips, and the occasional clean thrown in. I did a fair amount of sprinting in the 4–800m range, with a longest running distance of (I think) 12 miles in training. Late in December of the 2012 I did the Rim-River-Rim as a test run with a few friends at the Grand Canyon; that was the most I had walked/hiked/ran in 12 years. I made it to mile 75 during the race and missed the time cut off by a few minutes.
For Leadville 2014 I doubled my max weekly miles to a one time weekly push of around 30 but mostly in the 20s, headed back out to the Grand Canyon in March of that year for a full Rim-Rim-Rim push and did most of my training in the 8–12 mile/run range. Aiming to run only on “real” food and a Paleo diet with no testing, I cramped up at mile 25 or so during the race and couldn’t move for about 30 minutes. Once my legs unlocked (after a few salt tabs from some rad trail angels) I made slow and agonizing progress until about mile 38, when I started being able to actually run again. I rallied from Twin Lakes up over Hope Pass, feeling strong & holding a 14:00/mile pace going up & over Hope, but was so smoked from the cramps that I missed the time cut off by about 30 minutes on the return to Twin Lakes (mile 60.)
After the 2014 fiasco, I committed to training for Leadville 2015 in a much more serious way, my previous white trash training methods having failed me. Zach Negin was right. Hey, my methods worked when I was 23 and ran a sub 6:00 pace for a half marathon with only a few weeks training. I was a king once, you know.
I kept running after the 2014 race, but quickly overtrained and laid off running entirely from October 2014 until the end of that year. I lifted heavy twice a week, squats and deads and benches and presses, mostly 5x5s and worked up to a 97 kg squat, 85 kg dead, 57 kg press, 72 kg bench, all for 3 sets of 5. My form needs work especially in the deadlift & I haven’t worked it seriously. I weigh 69 kilos.
I did that to build a base of strength, having gotten fired up on Brooks Kubik’s Dinosaur Training book. Now, he’s a weightlifter and I’m aiming to be a runner, so as I was working the lifts on the path of strength, I was researching running in preparation for the 2015 running year.
I’m a reader, so I started by ordering a bunch of books off of Amazon. I read Siff & Verkhoshansky, Tim Noakes, Barry Murray, Phil Maffetone, Bruce Lipton, Volek & Phinney, Fred Wilt, Steve Magness, and Jay Dicharry.
I also talked to most of those guys via podcast interviews which you can listen to here.
Ok, with all that intro/background out of the way, I’ll break down what I’ve learned into a few categories: Training, Nutrition, Recovery, & Mental.
For Training, I follow Phil Maffetone’s guidance. He’s a legendary coach in the endurance world, and while some folks write him off as a legendary coach from a long time ago I think his ideas are still good and they form the basis for my training. In a nutshell, I run by my heart rate and aim to stay between 133–143 bpm, which is 180–37 (my age.) Dr. Maffetone calls this heart rate your Max Aerobic Function (MAF) HR, and the basic idea is that this is the heart rate at which you can run for days if you train it up. Once you go above your MAF you move into anaerobic work and start the countdown clock for bonking.
If you decide to follow my lead and run at your MAF after training the “regular” way your whole life, expect to run some extraordinarily slow paces. I was running a 143 and clocking 13:00 miles on the flats, getting passed by fat old men and women. I’m running closer to 9:00 miles now on the flats at the same HR and feeling much better.
Going up & over Otay Mountain on a 20 miler I stayed at an avg HR of 139 and averaged 12:57 with 4,600′ of gain over those 20 miles. All up or down, no real flat sections. I don’t do any sprints, intervals, tempos, or striders. I may start to add those in, especially the striders, but the vast majority of my training is geared towards building aerobic function. I’m aiming to average sub 12:00 miles at the race. For reference, the current male record holder Matt Carpenter averaged around 9:27/mile.
I hit my first 40+ mile week in late May of 2015, feel free to connect with me on Strava if you’d like to follow along. The general aim now is to increase up to a steady 50+ mile week with a possible run at a 70 mile week before the race. 2 runs during the week, 8–16 miles each, and a long run on the weekend that’ll top out at 28 miles and 6k of gain. 4 week cycles, 3 week build ups followed by a de-load week of around 20 miles.
I’ll be out in Colorado (Aspen) by early August, aiming to stay at the Weston Pass Hut for about 10 days prior to the race, and will be staying in town from Tuesday-race day.
For Nutrition, in 2013 I raced on Hammer Nutrition’s Perpeteum along with an assortment of their pills and powders and had no GI problems. In fact, I didn’t realize how much nutrition was a factor in ultra running because Hammer made it so easy. It tastes revolting, but avoiding that revolting taste led to a disaster in my “Paleo for race nutrition” strategy during my 2014 effort, and made re-think and study much more about training & race fueling.
After reading and talking with Barry Murray and Tim Noakes on the Paleo Treats Podcast, and chatting with Peter Defty from Vespa, I started thinking more about low carb & “fat adapting” and decided to go for it in March of 2015, cutting out any food on runs, running in a fasted state, and starting to really cut down on carbs all the time.
I’m still using Paleo as my guide for what kind of food to eat, but need to figure out this LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) thing as I really think it has a lot of potential.
LCHF has not been particularly easy, but at the same time it ain’t impossible, and I’m certainly not done tweaking my diet. As it stands, I’m aiming to run the 100 miles of the race on little to no food, no more than a few GUs and probably less, just sticking to a few dates to get glucose to my brain late in the race, and drinking water to thirst.
The general idea (I’ve been told I’m wrong in the details but sort of right overall by Barry Murray) is to run at sub-MAF pace, burn fat or ketones, and only get some quick sugar if my brain starts to fade.
After talking with Brian Peterson I’ve also set a “caffeine plan” up and aim to have butter coffee ready at mile 75. This is still a “maybe”, but that’s where Nutrition stands as of May 30th, 2015.
For recovery, I’ve been getting bodywork from Heidi Fearon once a week, usually on a Thursday or Friday after a hard run on Thursday. Heidi is a skilled acupuncturist with Taliban fingers and lots of athletic experience and has been able to fix most of the aches & pains I’ve had. I’m also pressing my legs after runs with a VES device, anywhere from within an hour of running up to 9 hours later. I think the Normatecs are better, but a friend had an extra VES to lend me and I wasn’t willing to spend $2k for a Normatec. I did end up buying a MarcPro and think it’s useful but only if you’re working super hard, which most of my runs haven’t been. I’m finishing up Earthing and may buy one of these hippie sheets, although I walk around barefoot a bunch so not sure how much of a difference a sheet will make.
Finally, the mental game. I used to teach this stuff for the Navy and have written up a post on the Big Four here. I was talking a bunch with Brian Peterson (2014 Bear 100 winner), Rich Airey (7th at Leadville 2014), and a few others early in the season about just how far we can push some wacky stuff like believing we can produce more mitochondria and meditating on that, but I haven’t put as much time into that as I have into the rest of training. Mostly I use Big Four stuff, mainly visualizing lots of the race while I’m running and before going to bed.
That’s the training plan and how I got there. For the race itself I’m aiming to run a negative split (faster second half than the first), go out at no faster than an 11:00 pace, and not eat much food beyond a few dates if I get woozy. I’ll definitely report back post-race with updates on this blog as I understand & incorporate ’em. Feel free to comment below.
None of this would be possible if I didn’t have the support of my wife Lee, who puts up with my long runs, irritability, and generally unpleasant resistance to advice with the cheerful outlook of someone who’s in love & committed to excellence no matter its mood. None of this can be blamed on her.