Vermont 50 – September 24, 2006

I ran the Vermont 50 Bike & Ultra event in Asctuney, Vermont ( on September 24, 2006. This is a well-organized race, across the beautiful mountains and scenery of Vermont, with over 1000 bike racers and about 100 ultra runners split between a 50K or a 50 Miler. I had done the 50K last year, my first ultra, and found it difficult then. Thought that after a year of training, the 50 miler was more appropriate this year. It was much, much tougher!

This race is uphill or downhill, very few sections of flat terrain. About ½ dirt roads (mostly hills that go on forever) and ½ vertical trails, it was particularly difficult this year because the rain created a mud pit. Going downhill was about avoiding a spill, going uphill was about getting traction. Lots went wrong for me, including doing a couple of extra miles when I got lost. At the 32-mile mark, I was totally trashed with no hope of recovery. My wife was offering me a change of socks and shoes, food, whatever... I didn't take any of it. I simply had a feeling of desperation knowing that nothing would help me. I managed to pull through and finished in 10 hours and 30 minutes, about 1 ½ hours slower than what I though would have been a reasonable time for me. Still, about half the runners finished behind me.

I learned a lot about myself in this run. I now know why I enjoy running these long distances. It's because they replicate a lifetime in a compressed amount of time. Life is about learning how to deal with its vicissitudes and tribulations. Life has a way of dealing you periods of euphoria and despair and everything in between. I believe that life is about learning to deal with these, growing in the process, and becoming a better person for yourself, your family, and society at large. An ultra race, in relatively short period of time, takes you through these emotions and affords you the opportunity to have a mini lifetime within your lifetime. Learning to deal with everything that happens during the race grows you as a person and provides you with an intensive course for the real lifetime.

My next ultra is in 8 weeks, the JFK50 in Hagerstown, Maryland, which I will be running for the second time this year. This will give me one 50k and two 50 milers for the year. Next year, I will probably do a 50 k, a couple of 50 milers, and one 100k as the training races prior to my Western States 100 mile run.

50K Training Race

Sorry to disappoint you, but my 50k race on Sunday was uneventful. No face plants, twisted ankles, nature calls in the middle of the wilderness, or alike. Just 12 times around a 2.6 mile loop consisting of dirt roads and relatively easy single-track trails.

I couldn’t convince wife and son to travel the 3 hours to NJ to crew for me, so I “recruited” the aid station folks to do it for me. I was carrying two water bottles, so after the first loop I left one at the aid station and asked the volunteers to fill it with water for my pick-up on the next loop. Sure enough, the filled water bottle was waiting for me at the table. So, I left them with an empty one, politely asking them to repeat the task. It only took five or six loops until they got the crewing just right and were actually waiting with my bottle raised in their hands, ready to perform the switch. The process of training my recruits kept me amused during the long run.

Overall, it was an excellent training run. Got to test my hydration and electrolyte calculations (1 ½ liters of water per hour with 1000 mg of sodium per liter of water), nutrition (100 calories every half-hour via GU’s), and general gear (just one small blister). Even the speed of my one pit stop improved greatly, thanks to a friend’s recommendation for baby wipes.

I finished just under 4 hours and 15 minutes, which is a little over 8 minute miles for more than 31 miles. I’m happy. Maybe the next one will be more entertaining.

Strength Training

You can get away without strength training for marathons and below, but don't try an ultra without adding strength training (i.e. weights) to your training regimen. Lower Body is important, but so is upper body (it will help keep you running straight after many hours) and, most important, core strength.

I do strength training twice a week about one hour each time. I started with low weights and high reps (2 sets of 20-25 reps per exercise) but have now reduced the number of reps and increased the weight (to increase power).

Here is the routine recommended to me by the folks at UC Davis for Lower Body Strength (Click to enlarge):

And here is the routine for Upper Body Strength:
(Click to enlarge)

And, most important, here is the routine for Core Strength:
(Click to enlarge)

My routine is a little different, but fairly similar to the above.

UC Davis Sports Performance Program

I recently visited the UC Davis Sports Performance Center in Sacramento, California (2805 J Street, Suite 300, Zip 95816, Phone:916-734-6805) to get tested for V02max and Lactate. The purpose of these tests is to evaluate your condition and determine your optimal training zones. Two tests which, theoretically, should give you the same results. VO2 Max Test evaluates the utilization of oxygen by your body. Lactate Test evaluates the accumulation of Lactic Acid in your blood. In my case, the results were identical for both tests.

The results break down the training zones by heart rate. Slow Endurance Zone gives the target heart-rate for recovery runs (easy 45 to 60 minute runs). Long Endurance Zone gives the target heart-rate range for Long Runs. Medium Endurance Zone gives the target heart-rate range for tempo runs. And Threshold Zone gives the target heart-rate range for interval training (with the associated target Interval Times also listed).

Here is how the results look like for the Lactate Test:
(Click on chart to enlarge)

And here is how it looks for the VO2 Max Test:
(Click on chart to enlarge)

Here is a chart on Lactate vs Speed and Heart Rate:
(Click on chart to enlarge)

Both tests, which include a mini physical, cost a total of $300+/-(combined). For the V02 Max, you'll be hooked up to a breathing apparatus while running on the treadmill for about 10 minutes (with the speed increasing about every minute). For the Lactate Test, they'll simply record your heart rate and analyze a corresponding drop of blood every 4 or 5 minutes while you run on a treadmill at increasing speeds.

It's well worth it, as it will help ensure that you are training at the correct intensity level for each type of run.

Hyponatremia - Your Worst Enemy

Here is an excellent article on Hyponatremia

Read it and learn!

Pacing at Western States

What better way to train on the final 38 miles of the Western States than to pace a runner from Foresthill to Auburn. So that’s what I did during this year’s (2006) race. First, let me share with you some logistics that may be valuable to you if you plan on doing the same (or even if you are running WS for the first time).

I lodged right at the Olympic Village in Squaw Valley, where the race starts. There are a number of hotels throughout the village and is as convenient as it can possibly be as far as accessibility on race day. I stayed at the Squaw Valley Lodge (1-800-549-6742), not particularly elegant, but I could see the start line from my window.

The Wednesday and Thursday before the race, there are a number of talks on health, nutrition, hydration, etc. Be sure to arrive early, so you don’t miss these. Weight-ins begin on Friday morning and the pre-race talks occur on Friday afternoon, around the lawn area. Take a folding chair with you to the pre-race talks; it will significantly improve your comfort. There are a number of restaurants at the Village, but you can also find others (including pasta) at either side of the I-80 exit towards Squaw Valley.

The race starts at 5:00 am on the last Saturday of June. Even if you’ll just be pacing, don’t miss the start. Get there before 4:30 am, and you’ll enjoy the runners’ last minute preparations before the clock counts down to zero.

The first aid station where you can see your runner is at Robinson Flat, about 30 miles from the start. Unless it’s a must for you to be there, I would pass on it. The parking area is just too crowded, you need to be shuttled, and then you still need to hike a mile to the aid station. All the aid stations are sufficiently well stocked and the runner should be fine without a crew at Robinson Flat.

For runners, two large bottles (26 oz each) from Squaw Valley to Robinson Flat should be sufficient, but from Robinson Flat (mile 30) to Michigan Bluff (mile 55 or so) you should carry a third bottle. A good idea is to take all three with you from Squaw Valley, but fill only two through Robinson Flat (or put an extra bottle in your drop bag for Robinson Flat). Start filling the third one from Robinson Flat to Foresthill and drop it again at Foresthill.

I-80 West takes you from Squaw Valley towards Auburn. Colefax, a Western looking town, is on its way there and it’s a good place to stop for a bite.

Make reservations early for a hotel in Auburn. Most of the hotels are at the two or three exits along I-80 for Auburn, California. I stayed at the Comfort Inn, which is at exit 121 (Foresthill, Auburn Ravine Road) and is on the same road that takes you to Foresthill. The hotel has a computer in the lobby, which you can use to track your runner through the course.

Instead of going to Robinson Flat to see or crew for your runner, head to Michigan Bluff. Take exit 121 from I-80, it’s the road to Foresthill. After you pass Foresthill, you’ll eventually come to Michigan Bluff Road on the right. Take this twisting road to the parking area (along the road). From there, you will be shuttled in a school bus about ½ a mile down to Michigan Bluff. No need to bring food for you; hamburgers, hot dogs, water and more are available for purchase there. But bring a chair and an umbrella; it gets very, very hot. If you arrive there around 1:00 pm or so, the parking area will not be as crowded, and you’ll catch the front-runners. It’s fun to see the lead runners come through Michigan Bluff – even after 55 miles, these amazing athletes look in fairly good shape.

Once you’ve crewed your runner at Michigan Bluff, get on the shuttle to the parking area and drive to Foresthill. You will have passed the school on the right on your way to Michigan Bluff, so you’ll know where it is. Depending on your runner’s speed, it will take them between 1 to 2 hours from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill. Foresthill is at mile 62, and that’s where most pacers meet their runners.

If you are pacing, a nice thing to do is to walk towards Bath Road (you’ll see it on the left from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill) and make your way down to where the road meets the trail. You can start pacing from there and your runner will appreciate the company during that 1 mile paved climb. You’ll then enter the Foresthill station together. As a pacer, you have full access to all the aid stations.

From Foresthill you’ll run along a slightly-downhill, paved road for about a mile or so until you come to California Street on the left. White arrows along the road will then lead you to the trail. If your runner is on a sub-24 hour pace, you’ll run this next section during the daylight. Otherwise, you’ll run it at dusk or night. I highly recommend a white-light headlamp and a green-light hand flashlight. The combination of both lights will significantly improve your vision. You should also carry a spare flashlight just in case.

There are plenty of aid stations during the 16 miles from Foresthill to the river crossing at Rocky Chucky. Two 26 oz bottles should be plenty. This section is mostly downhill, so be prepared for the long and steep decline, along with a good share of hills, to crush your quads.

Depending on the river’s water level, you’ll either cross it at Rocky Chucky by boat or simply aided by a rope. There are aid stations at either side of the river, so if you can start crossing as soon as you get there, you may wish to do so and use the aid station on the other side of the river (called the far side).

A steep 1.7-mile climb gets you from “the far side” to yet another aid station at Green Gate. We skipped it, as we still had plenty of fluid from the prior aid station and the next one was less than four miles ahead. Unless the runner has no sympathy for his/her crew, I don’t see a need to have a crew at this aid stations. It’s just too difficult to get there.

Once you get to Green Gate (mile 80), you’re about 20 miles from the finish. It’s a matter of helping your runner through the night. All the aid stations are well stocked and they are never more than 5 miles apart. Many of the glow sticks that mark the path will be faint by now, so keep a good eye for them – don’t get your runner lost!

There is a great aid station at mile 85, with neon signs and music right in the middle of the forest! I met the doctor and nurse that lead the medical team for this station back at Foresthill. Testament to their hands-on knowledge, they’ve both buckled this race before and one of them is even a double-bucker (which means completing both Western States and the horse Tevis Race which is run on the same course and was the precursor to WS).

The crew can meet the runner one last time at the Highway 49 crossing, 6.7 miles from the finish line. From there, you’ll cross a beautiful prairie and on to No Hands Bridge. You’ll catch a break for a mile or so after No Hands Bridge, but thereafter you’ll be climbing in one shape or form all the way almost to the end. Robbie Point is at the end of the trail, just before mile 99. There is a small aid station there – but unless you’re really in need of something don’t bother wasting time with just a little over one mile to go. The final climb is about a mile, but this late in the race it will feel much longer.

The last quarter of a mile or so is downhill on to the track at Placer High School. Once you reach the track, no passing is allowed. A ¾ loop around the track, as the runner’s name and bio is announced takes you to the finish line. Pace your runner all the way, but towards the end, begin to fade behind him/her and all the way to the right, so that all the glory and attentions is directed to the runner.

It’s an awesome experience to run through the night in the Sierra Nevada. Besides doing a good deed for a fellow runner, you’ll learn immensely from the experience, which you will put to good use during your own race. It’s also a great opportunity to test all your equipment, pace, and hydration techniques.

Among the things I learned:

1. Less is more. Keep it simple. The more stuff you carry or have, the more complicated things get. I have contact lenses and didn’t even bother taking sunglasses (I did take an extra pair of contacts, just in case, though)

2. The race can be run without a crew, but a crew at Michigan Bluff will probably help – particularly if they have plenty of cold water and ice to cool the runner down. Pour enough cold water all over the runner to give them a mini cold shower. Put a couple of bags with ice under the runner’s armpits as well. It will lower his/her body temperature quickly.

3. It’s amazing how quickly you can cover territory by power-walking. Instead of walking, power walk! I plan to power-walk all the hills.

4. The scale is your friend not your foe. According to the race directors, no one has ever been pulled from the race for losing too much weight. The scale tells you if you are drinking too much or too little. Make it your friend and it will get you through the race in better shape.

5. Take 2-3 Succeed tablets per hour along with water. If you are taking an electrolyte drink you’ll need fewer tablets, but aim at taking about 1000 mg of Sodium (each Succeed tablet has about 350mg of Sodium) from whatever source or combination thereof for every liter of water (that’s my ratio at 150 pounds, if you weigh more or less you can adjust accordingly). Don’t confuse 1000 mg of Sodium Chloride (i.e. salt) with 1000 mg of Sodium. Taking Sodium in Sodium Chloride form is fine, but make sure that the amount of Sodium equals 1000mg (i.e. don’t count the weight of the Chloride). You’ll need approximately 1000 mg of Sodium per liter of water.

6. Prepare a couple of #2 bio-break bags. In a small ziplock, put a couple of baby wipes. Put that ziplock inside another ziplock of the same size, which also has tissues (not toilet paper, but tissues, paper towels, or napkins). When nature calls (and believe me it will), you can step off the trail, do your business, and you’ll be able to leave with your bottom as clean as a baby’s. Please bury the evidence!

7. You’ll drink about 30% of your body weight during the entire run. Since your body is about 60% water, this means that you will replace half of the liquids in your body during the 100 mile run. If you just take water, you’ll die! You need to put in approximately what you take out (in form of sweat, urine, etc). And the number one electrolyte that you need is Sodium, without it, you die! Succeed will also replace Potassium and if you take a Tums every four or five hours, not only will it make your stomach feel good, but it will also give you the calcium that you need during the run.

8. Aim at taking 200 calories per hour. More than this you will not be able to absorb. A couple of G2O’s per hour will do. Don’t take carbs at a higher or lower ratio than an 8 to 10% mg of carb to milliliter of water combination. Your body absorbs carbs best at this ratio.

9. A 100 mile run doesn’t mean that you have to run all 100 miles. Run the flats and downhills. Powerwalk the uphills. But when you power-walk, do just that, power-walk not walk. It’s amazing how many runners we passed “walking” while we were power-walking.

10. Don’t try to beat the heat. Your best running will happen during the early morning, at dusk, and at night. Take it easy in the canyons, where the temperature will easily surpass 100.

That’s it for now. I owe a couple of posts on my experiences at Scott Jurek’s running camp and on the Hydration formulas I learned from Dr. Lind while there. I’ll catch up one of these days.

9 hours a week and building

This week I ran about 9 hours, including a 3-hour intensive long run. Weight training, discipline with my running schedule, and proper nourishment during long runs is making me a better runner. My schedule continues to be 3 weeks at increasing intensity followed by a recovery week. This week was a 3rd week, meaning the most intensive of the three weeks. I had two hard runs and one long distance run with recovery day runs in between. Each of the three recovery-day runs usually lasts 60 minutes at a 9 to 10 minute pace.

My two hard runs consist of strides on one day and a tempo run on the other (with a recovery run in between). Strides are simply 30 to 35 second of 90% effort-level sprints followed by 1 to 2 minutes of recovery time at 10 minute pace. Strides are meant to improve your running physiology. I usually do about a dozen repeats. I try to have the total workout last about 90 minutes with a 20-minute warm up and whatever the time balance is for the cool down.

The tempo run, the second of my weekly hard runs, consists of a 20 minute warm up, followed by 45 to 50 minutes at tempo pace, ending with 20 to 25 minutes for cool down. Tempo pace is the max pace at which you can sustain a 10k race. For me, it’s about 6:50 minutes per mile. Tempo runs are tough, but once you are done, you feel awesome. The goal of the tempo run is to increase your lactate threshold level, that is, the level at which your body is no longer able to clear the lactic acid from your muscles. Lactic acid, as you know, is what causes that burning sensation in your muscles.

As to my long run, this week it lasted exactly 3 hours. The second ninety minutes at much faster pace than the first 90. I try to keep the last 90 minutes at about 90% effort level of marathon pace. I threw in lots of hills and downhills (particularly important for Western States) this week. I was truly exhausted at the end – but that’s what it takes. The long run is perhaps the most important run of the week in preparation for an ultra.

Finally, I can feel that weight training is significantly improving my fitness and core strength. Twice a week, one hard hour per session is all it takes. And it’s not all about legs, actually, it’s about building the core. I’ll post the routine sometime.

The Sweat Test

Learning how much you sweat is important in order to determine how much you need to drink while running. I weighted myself nude before a run the other day (with an empty bladder), went running for one hour without ingesting anything, and weighted myself after the run (also with an empty bladder). I had lost 2.2 pounds, which is exactly one liter! (Every pound equals 15.4 oz and there are about 34 oz in one liter). I plan on repeating this test at various temperatures and humidity levels, but for now, I’m replenishing my sweat and urine with 1 liter of liquid per hour of running. During short runs I simply take water. During the long runs, I make sure I have 7-8% carb to water solution (grams to milliliters). Interestingly, Gatorade only provides about a 5% carb to water ratio – not enough for a long run. I’m beginning to do some research on the correct amount of sodium and potassium replenishment – I’ll post on it later.

Back to 40 miles per week

With the help of a well known ultra-runner, I'm back to about 40 miles per week. Rest, easing back into running, and lots of exercises to strengthen my IT band have been key to recovery. I've also learned to shorten my stride, increased my cadence, and have improved my posture - all this has served to reduced pressure on my knees (and on the IT band) while running. I also ordered and have been using a PT Band, which basically acts as an ace bandage wrapped about 3 inches above the knee. It stabilizes the IT Band by "attaching" the IT Band a little higher than the knee instead of right at the knee - this has been a savior for long runs.

My average training week now looks as follows:

Mon: Recovery run - 50 to 60 minutes
Tues: 15 min warm up, strides, 15-20 min cool down
Wed: Recovery run - 50 to 60 minutes
Thur: 15 min warm up, 25/30 min tempo, 15-20 min cool down
Fri: Recovery run - 50 to 60 minutes
Sat: Long run - 2 hours
Sun: Off

I use a four week training cycle: 3 weeks each increasing in intensity then one week at lower intensity and with more rest.

Here are a few other things I have learned along the way:

(1) Lactate threshold is usually the pace of a 10 mile or 15km race. This is the pace you should use for the Tempo Runs.

(2) The ideal carbo to water combination is 7 to 8%. To determine how much carbs you should take per hour during a long run (more than 90 minutes) multiply your body weight in kilos (pounds divided by 2.2) by 0.7 on the low end and 1.0 on the high end. Then make sure that this amount of carbs is consumed on a 7 to 8% carbs to milliliters ratio. As an example, 50 grams of carbs should be consumed with 666 milliliters of water (about 22.5 oz). Failure to do this will result in "stomach issues" much as I had during my JFK50. A good article on this subject can be found at:

(3) Exercises with weights that mimic running are ideal.

(4) The ideal cadence is about 180 strides per minute.

(5) Run tall and straight. No slouching!

(6) Recovery runs are meant to be just that - recovery runs. Never longer than 70 minutes nor faster than a 9 to 10 minute per mile pace.

I'll continue to post as my training schedule advances.

For those of you thinking of running WS100, I recommend the DVD "Running Madness". You can order it from Susan Cohn Schulz, Jalapeno Productions, 129 East 69th Street, 4C, NY, NY 10021. Her email is It's a cool movie about the 2002 WS100.