Thursday, November 29, 2007

Vegetarian Bedrock?

Over the last few weeks I have done a good bit of reading about vegetarian diets. In doing so, I made a number of observations, none of which are very surprising. First, there are a number of "reasons" for choosing a vegetarian diet including improving health, protecting animals and supporting environmental causes. In addition, there is the whole "fad following" concept that is probably the worst reason of all. Second, there are a lot of "famous" people who have adopted various forms of a vegetarian diet including Paul McCartney, Tony LaRussa, Clint Eastwood and athletes Carl Lewis and Amby Burfoot to name a few. Other than Lewis and Burfoot both being athletes, each of these people are very different (other than being famous) yet all adhere to vegetarian diets. It is well noted in the ultra running community that Scott Jurek has achieved great athletic success while following a strict vegan diet. Rather than "follow a fad" or copy a celebrity, I would need to delve into this further to see if vegetarianism (or some form of it) was for me.

I don't think it is realistic for me to completely cut meat at this point but think I can gradually lower my intake over time. The thought being that a more gradual approach will likely be more sustainable in the long run. I began my little experiment after turkey day and have been amazed at the results so far. My two biggest concerns were feeling hungry and lacking energy, neither of which has occurred. In fact, I don't feel as "weighed" down after I eat and my energy level has remained normal. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that I haven't really missed meat all that much. In a nutshell, I just feel better.

I have started reading a book called Vegetarian Sports Nutrition by Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD(foreword written by Scott Jurek) that has been very interesting. One critical point made in the book is the need for variety in your diet. I have noticed that I have fallen into a soup and salad "trap" of sorts this week since those are easy options. For this to be sustainable in the long run, I will need to get smarter about varying my diet (that is true for non-vegetarians as well) so that I don't "burn out". I am looking forward to exploring new recipes and food combinations in a quest to capture the benefits while pleasing my palate. As an athlete a big key will be getting adequate protein to aid in recovery and to promote an overall balanced diet. Stay tuned for updates on this and as always, I would appreciate any advice or tips from others. Below are some links to sites that I came upon during my research.

Monday, November 19, 2007

2007 Ultra Season Review

With the completion of Mountain Masochist on November 3rd, my 2007 ultra season is complete. This past year has been my first full year of ultras since "discovering" the sport last summer. It has been a tremendous year of "firsts" and I am very pleased with both my development as a runner and the improved fitness I have achieved. In short, 2007 was comprised of 7 ultra races, each of which played an integral part in my continued development as a runner. The focus for 2007 was the Massanutten 100 (MMT), my first crack at running a 100 mile race. Below are some notable highlights of my 2007 season.

January - completed the Frosty 50K and improved my PR at the distance by more than 30 minutes. Also used the race as a speed workout as I prepared for MMT.

February - completed Horton's Holiday Lake 50K and for the first time, ran strong at the end of a race rather than totally falling apart.

March - ran the Bel Monte 50K and completely fell apart. First there was an electrolyte issue and then dehydration. Managed to finish but ran significantly slower than I hoped.

May - completed the Massanutten 100, by far the hardest physical feat I have ever undertaken. The course was brutally challenging but crossing the finish line was surreal.

I took a much needed 6 week break from running during the second half of May and June. My body and mind needed the break and I was able to resume training in July with renewed energy and determination.

August - completed the Laurel Valley Trail Run, my first "unsupported" race and a huge mental toughness test. This was one of the more scenic courses I have run but the view was costly - 100+ degree temps!

September - ran the GEER 100K as a "comparison" to last year (this was my first trail ultra in 2006). In my opinion this was my best performance of the year. Although my time was roughly the same as 2006, the course was about 90 minutes slower (evidenced by comparative mid pack times). Also, I put together a "complete" race and felt strong from start to finish.

November - ran Mountain Masochist for the second time and was able to run 20 minutes faster than in 2006 despite not running near as hard. This was my 10th ultra race in less than 18 months.

My race times are still not where I want them to be but I am having a ton of fun and realize that improving my performance is going to take some time. I learned a tremendous amount during the year as I gained something from every race that I did. In a nutshell, I feel as though I became a much smarter and confident runner throughout the year. Two things I really hope to improve on next year are leg turnover and toughness. The first will require a little alteration to my training methods. The second will get better with time. I just need to learn to "suck it up" more during the "dark spots" in races. Much easier said than done. Overall, I am really excited about 2008 and hope to reap many benefits from all that was learned throughout 2007.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

25 Years of Masochism

The Mountain Masochist Trail Run ("MMTR") is a legendary if not infamous race in Virginia that celebrated its 25th birthday this year. The race is known for its challenging yet runnable course, scenic fall colors and energetic race director. David Horton (Mr. Energy himself) thinks so much of the runners, that he provides some extra distance (he does this in all his races) to ensure you get plenty of time in the woods. The race is a bit of a homecoming of sorts as it attracts a national field and the pre and post race festivities provide and excellent venue to visit with old friends and meet some new ones.

I signed up fr the race in May as I knew that it would fill quickly with the whole 25th anniversary and all. This would also be Horton's final year as the RD of MMTR as he passed the reigns to Clark Zealand after this year. This made me particularly glad that I was running in the race this year. Although I am still relatively new to the sport, I still have a tremendous appreciation for what Horton has done to promote ultrarunning.

I really had no business running MMTR this year. After all, I was pleased with my effort at GEER 5 weeks earlier and had only logged about 40 miles TOTAL since that time. My original intention for running this year was to go back so a friend of mine could avenge a DNF from last year. However, he was injured and not running. So why run the race? Well, despite my lackluster training I felt that I could still improve on my time last year. Check the results and you will see that rocket speed was not necessary to improve over 2006. So off I headed up to Lynchburg for my second helping of Horton Masochism.

Given my training (or lack thereof) I simply wanted to run a smart race, have fun and hopefully improve over last year. The only section I wanted to run hard was the "loop" where I struggled immensely last year. Once again, John Teed and I would run most of the race together since neither of us were really concerned with posting a great time. We decided to run the opening road section harder then normal to try and bank some cushion on the cutoff and this seemed to work well for us. We were both happy to get that section over with and hit the trails. The weather was perfect, much better than last year and as the sun rose, you could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. The first half of the race was pretty uneventful as we tried to power walk the hills as best we could and really run the flat and downhill sections. We ran a bit with Sophie Speidel before she left us in the dust. Sophie was very helpful to me during a "dark moment" at Massanutten this year and it was great to run a bit with her.

John and I remarked how much more we liked the course this year. Last year's race was a comedy of errors from the time we left Charlotte so it was no wonder we weren't thrilled with the course. The fall colors were close to peak and sections of the course were bathed in bright reds, yellows and orange. The crystal blue sky made for an excellent backdrop as well. We rolled into the AS 10 and Long Mountain Wayside right where wanted to and quickly filled up, got a few things from our drop bags and headed out. John had to head back to retrieve something and I headed on. I would run mostly alone the rest of the day until John caught back up with about 2 miles to go. I settled in to Buck Mountain and made much better time this year. I was amazed at how relaxed I was ad how much I was enjoying the race. before long, I came upon the Loop, which I wanted to run really well. Last year I was in death march mode here and it took me over 1:30 to complete the section. This year I ran very focused but did not push the pace too hard. I covered the loop in just over 1 hour and felt great leaving there. I continued to make steady progress and arrived at Salt Log Gap just as the sun was starting to really heat up. I took it easy on the climb to Forest Valley because I knew the next section was a beast.

Upon leaving the aid station I reflected on how bad I felt at this point in 2006, where I was worried that I might not make it in under the cutoff. This year I knew that I could walk it in and make it with time to spare. I still moved purposefully and tried to march up the steep climbs and pound the downhills. Finally I came upon the final aid station and moved through to get going to the finish - I could smell the barn! After a mile or so of a pathetic shuffle, John caught back up with me and we ran in together to the finish. I did improve over last year by about 20 minutes or so but did not "kill myself" to do so. I really had a lot of fun this year and think running more relaxed was a huge benefit.

After the finish, John and I met up with Jeff McGonnell who finished about 10 minutes before us and watched as the other finishers came in. We saw Tom Green complete his 25th Masochist - the only person to do so and watched our buddy John Teague come in. We then headed back to Lynchburg and headed to the post race dinner. MMTR is the only 50 mile race I have run and I have now completed it twice. Last year it was my third ultra ever and this year it marked my 10th ultra. I am amazed at how much I have learned over the last year and the many friends I have met on the trail. But then again, that is one of the things that makes this sport so addictive.

Thank you to David Horton for his 25 years as RD and thanks to Nancy, his wife for putting up with it. I know we are in good and able hands with Clark Zealand as the new RD. Thanks to all the volunteers and aid station workers, you guys did a great job.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mountain Masochist Preview

Today I am heading up to Virginia to run in the Mountain Masochist 50 mile trail run. This is a storied race that is celebrating 25 years in 2007. Since GEER, I have taken a bit of a break and focused most of my efforts on tempo/speed workouts. The weather is set to be near perfect which will be a welcome change from the bone shivering cold of last year. I had a tough time last year battling nausea the final 10 miles to finish in the back of the pack. Then again it was only my third ultra and I am a much fitter and smarter runner this year (hopefully). My only goal this year is to improve over last year and enjoy the time on the trails. I will post a report next week.