On Sunday I competed in the USA 50 km Trail Championships in Bend, Oregon. I ran a time of four hours and 44 minutes to place in the top 20 runners for men. I was very happy with the result. I ran the same 50 km (kilometer) course at the 2012 championships and finished with a time of five hours and 44 minutes. It had been two years since competing at this particular event. Over that period of time I learned quite a bit about the best “race bodyweight” for me, better nutrition and proper trail running gear.
Training for the championships, I had to be injury-free, realistic and smart. I began discussing my goals with Coach Jim Hendley and sat down with Coach Steve Gisselman to come up with a training plan and a racing strategy. The goal was decided:
A finishing time between 4 hours 30 minutes and 5 hours.
In order to reach the goal, training required running distances ranging from 12 to 37 miles. Most of those miles were run on trails but some were on roads and on the track as well. Training on various surfaces kept my mind refreshed.
It is difficult to achieve any goal with an exhausted mind so I mixed my training up greatly. I ran intervals, did tempo work, ran long slow sessions. Giving myself options not only made recovery easier, it kept me happy and motivated.
I met Steve almost every weekend. We would always talk (sometimes over a cup of black coffee) and then he would pace me through trails and on the roads. Training with Steve was Zen. Normally while training I would constantly look at my watch to make sure I was on pace. When I first began training with Steve, he recognized this and encouraged me to run more and look at my watch less. This advice not only improved my training but would help greatly at the championships.
Steve also recognized I wasn’t running running efficiently. He reminded me of my middle distance background and corrected my arm swing, shoulder and chest position. In no time I was efficient and saw my training results improve greatly.
Pain is weakness leaving the body.
Over a span of two years, the most important key to injury-free training and overall success was nutrition. I quickly learned how important it is to eat to recover, eat to train and never the opposite being recover to eat, train to eat. There is no easy way to run 12 to 37 miles each day, five days a week without the proper fuel.
In 2012 I ate a lot of carbs. Most of my runs were spent eating Shot Bloks every two miles. As the years went by I learned that this was not the best way for me to fuel so I began to reduce the amount of carbs I consumed each day and increase the amount of fat and protein in my diet. I instantly felt better and recovered sooner (almost instantly after training).
Today my diet is very routine but fun. During the week I eat foods that are high in fats and protein and eat less than 100 grams of carbs. On the weekends I eat foods high in carbs and protein, low in fats or foods high in fats, carbs and protein. This has worked for me.
Below are some of the products I use from time to time before, during and after training with two exceptions.
- I always use Power On 20 minutes before training.
- I always use Warrior Food Extreme Protein, Warrior Greens and Udo’s Oil after training.
If I need a quick kick to start me up, I use Vega’s pre-workout energizer, SPORTea with Warrior Endurance. If I am running late in the day, I might have a Green Power Smoothie two to three hours before training. Most of the time I drink a cup of dark coffee and that is enough to get me going.
I usually only drink water while drinking and eat whole foods every hour. I eat between 150 to 200 calories each hour.
Immediately following training I drink a Warrior Food Extreme Protein shake. Most of the time I just add water to the powder but coconut water works as well. I always eat within two hours of training.
Eat to recover, Eat to train.
Travel and race day prep:
Thursday afternoon I traveled from North Carolina and arrived in Bend, Oregon late in the evening. The next morning I left out to search for markets that were around town. I found two great markets close to downtown Bend, Devores and Newport Ave. Market. One of my weaknesses days before competition is self sabotage. I have been known to change everything the week of the race (my diet, my training). This time was different. Jim, Steve, and my wife encouraged me to not change a thing when I arrive in Bend. Don’t go out and run 20 miles, don’t eat everything in sight, don’t change a thing and I didn’t. When at home I shop and eat from Whole Foods Market so I was happy to find one in Bend. I also took it easy, no running.
Friday evening I met Coach Jim Hendley at the airport in Bend. Almost instantly he began to coach me, building up a race plan that would guarantee achievement at the championships. While waiting for Jim to arrive I ran into a true mentor and who I consider the “Rock” of ultrarunning, Nano Hobbs. It was great to have an opportunity to sit down and just listen to her. Right away she began encouraging me and planting the key to success into my mind…
Saturday morning, day of the race. Jim and I set out to eat a meal at Whole Foods, pick up my race packet and visit Mt. Bachelor, site of the championships. The race packets were being handed out at FootZone in downtown Bend. When I arrived I was greeted by Nano and social media guru, Richard Bolt. The packet handouts had just started and it was already a little chaotic but despite that, Nano still took time to remind me to focus at the championships and was kind enough to interview and include me in a pre-race write up.
We left FootZone and traveled to Mt. Bachelor to look at the course. It was a beautiful trail that promised a fast race day. When we arrived at Aid Station #1 we both realized the difficulty of meeting there at mile eight and at Aid Station #3 at mile 14 on race day. We decided meeting at Aid Station #3 would be the most important of all five. Later that evening Jim and I had dinner, finalized a race plan and got some rest. I used Power OFF and off to sleep I went.
The Big Day:
The day had arrived. It was time to get up, get dressed, eat and travel to the meeting area. Jim played some great race day tunes and then two things happened that set my whole body in race mode….
- Steve left me a message that said, “Don’t forget the wings!!!” He was referring to a drawing my youngest daughter drew for me while I was training. She placed wings on my feet.
- Not much longer after I got Steve’s message and getting mind right, Jim said these words… “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” The words shook me.
I left all doubt and fear behind with those words. It was time to compete.
The weather was incredible, the humidity was great. It was a runner’s dream on race day especially knowing it snowed and rained the year before. There was a shuttle there to take runners 300 yards to the start of a 31 mile race (Jim’s observation).
The race started well. The first eight miles were mostly downhill to aid station #1. I ate a a slice of banana, drank a cup of sports drink and carried on. Flagline Trail was steep but doable. it led up to aid station #2. I ate a slice of banana and a pretzel. Delicious! I also ate a small bag of Honey Stingers. The next miles ran to aid station #3 were absolutely stunning. When I arrived at the aid station, Jim was there to switch up with me and push tell me to get moving. Up ahead would be the toughest climb of the race. I crossed a small bridge at Tumalo Creek and then begin the climb for 3.5 miles to aid station #4. Shocking! In 2012 that hill felt unbearable. Today I was surprised how fast the climb was over. What a difference two years of experience can make. At aid station #4 I grabbed a couple of Shot Bloks, drank a little sports drink and headed out to finish the race. I was happy and filled with adrenaline. As I descended down a dirt road with Mt. Bachelor in view, I saw a man walking alone carrying a walking pole. It was Jim! My entire body became filled with emotion and I screamed from the top of my lungs! Jim calmly nodded to me as if to say, “carry on!” I gained a second wind as weakness left my body. Finally I reached aid station #5 and one of the supporters there said, “Only four miles to go!” I finished the race with these three notions…
- “Focus.” ~Nano Hobbs
- “Kick it, kick it, kick it!” ~Steve Gisselman
- “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” ~Jim Hendley
I crossed the line in four hours 44 minutes, an hour faster than my time from 2012. I also placed in the top 20 for the men in the championships. Jim was there to bring me in. Nano and Richard came over to congratulate me. It was done. Most importantly…
Congratulations to all runners who competed and thank you to every supporter. Course records were set for the men and women. It was a great day for everyone.
The day after the race I sat down with Jim to discuss the race and next steps. These were the key takeaways:
- More flexiblity: I need to incorporate a proper track-like warm up and stretching into my training.
- Speed: I need to focus on my speed.
There is room for improvement. That is always a good thing.
This post race write up wouldn’t be complete without a very serious thank you to the loves of my life. I wouldn’t have made this goal a reality without their love and support each and every day.
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