The Big Running Plan Begins


There’s a big event that I’ve had on my mind for years.  It’s the Gore-Tex Transrockies Run. This year’s gig is six days, 120 miles with 20,000 feet of elevation gain. I’m looking at running the 2015 race so I figure the mileage and such should be about the same. Go here for maps and descriptions of this year’s stages.

Preparation for the Transrockies run means a whole lotta running this year.  I need to do more trail races and another marathon, most likely a trail marathon. I’m running a lot (for me) right now. I’m up to about 30 miles per week. I’ve got a 5k this weekend and more races planned (more on that in a moment.) The very good news is that everything is feeling solid and strong, including my stubborn, chronic Achilles/heel trouble.

I’ve also consulted with Denver-area running coach Jay Johnson. I saw him speak at the NSCA Endurance Clinic a few months ago and I became very interested in picking his brain a bit. I’ll be communicating with him every month or so to fine tune my workouts and run plan. Speaking of which…

My first and only marathon (two years ago) was based on the FIRST Run Less, Run Faster plan.  This plan has only three run days per week: a track workout, tempo run, and a distance run.  Two days a week were devoted to a cross-training workout on a bike or rower.  I also ran the Ft. Collins Half-Marathon and Park-to-Park 10-Miler based on this plan. It’s a minimalist running plan. It’s very useful if there’s limited training time available. This plan got me through several races but I want to know if a different type of plan will increase my performance. I’m curious if more running will make me a better runner.

The Transrockies run is a lot of running for several days in a row, thus with the SAID Principle in mind, it makes sense to me that I should train in as close a fashion to the race as possible. This time around, I’m going the maximalist route with the Hansons Marathon Method.  (I also need to get the Hansons Half-Marathon Method.)

Something to consider with this high-volume plan is the opportunity to practice running. That is, with all the miles and the recovery runs, I get the chance to refine my running skills. Running is a skill just like playing a horn or driving a golf ball. Running improvements don’t come just from the obvious increases in fitness that come from speed work, tempo runs and tough long runs. Matt Fitzgerald discusses this idea in a Running Times article called Rethinking Junk Miles:

You see, running is a bit like juggling. It is a motor skill that requires communication between your brain and your muscles. A great juggler has developed highly refined communication between his brain and muscles during the act of juggling, which enables him to juggle three plates with one hand while blindfolded. A well-trained runner has developed super-efficient communication between her brain and muscles during the act of running, allowing her to run at a high, sustained speed with a remarkably low rate of energy expenditure. Sure, the improvements that a runner makes in neuromuscular coordination are less visible than those made by a juggler, but they are no less real.

For both the juggler and the runner, it is time spent simply practicing the relevant action that improves communication between the brain and the muscles. It’s not a matter of testing physiological limits, but of developing a skill through repetition. Thus, the juggler who juggles an hour a day will improve faster than the juggler who juggles five minutes a day, even if the former practices in a dozen separate five-minute sessions and therefore never gets tired. And the same is true for the runner.

 (BTW, Russian kettlebell and strength expert Pavel Tsatsouline discusses the exact same principle but with regard to strength training.)

The Hansons Plan has me running often in a fatigued state. The longest run I do though is 16 miles. Most marathon plans feature a 20 mile run. So why only 16 as a longest run? This 16-miler will take place after several days of running. I’ll have a tempo run then an 8 or 6 mile run the day before the 16-miler. The idea as they say in the Hansons book is that I’ll be training to run the last 16 miles of the marathon. Sounds interesting and plausible to me. That goes along with something Coach Johnson suggested. He said that at some point, in preparation for the Transrockies Run, that every other week I should run back-to-back long trail runs. Again, this goes to the idea of training specificity. I imagine I’ll do that next year.

Here’s a list of races and potential races I plan to run this year:

  • 3/2/14 – That Dam 5k – Denver: I need to run a 5k so I can derive my training paces for the marathon plan.
  • 4/6/14 – XTERRA Cheyenne Mt. Trail Run 12km – CO Springs: Don’t know anything about this race but I’m looking fwd to it.
  • 5/4/14 – Ft. Collins Marathon 13.1: Ran this one last year and had a great time.  Went out a tiny bit too fast though.  Hope to better my time of 1:47.
  • 6/7/14(maybe) – Boulder Sunrise Duathlon 3.1 mile run / 17.3 mile bike / 3.1 mile run – Boulder: My wife is doing this triathlon. I don’t swim well enough to do a tri but I’ve done some duathlons and this might be fun and a change of pace.
  • Summer – 5k: Coach Jay Johnson suggested I train for and race a 5k. He said putting in that speed work would be useful for a Fall marathon.
  • 8/23/14 (maybe) – Continental Divide Trail Race 15.5 mi. – Steamboat: Ran this one a couple of years ago and it was brutal but beautiful and a very laid-back kinda thing.  Wouldn’t mind taking it on again in a better pair of shoes. Not sure if this one fits into the overall race plan.
  • 9/20/14 – Aspen Golden Leaf Trail Half-Marathon – Aspen: This race got a great write-up in some running magazine (Runner’s World?  Competitor?) recently. We’ve never been to Aspen. Sounds interesting. Should be good preparation for the marathon.
  • 11/8/14 – Moab Trail Marathon: This is my main race. We’ve never been to Moab and this is a great reason to go.

That’s my plan right now. I’m very excited about this! I’m feeling great right now. I really love the process of getting to these races. I love the anticipation and the training. We’ll see what happens.

The Marathon: Done and Done


This past Saturday I ran the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon–my first marathon. My time was 3:57:15 for an average pace of

Proof that I helped tie up Denver traffic on Saturday.

9:02/mile. (For the record, I beat Paul Ryan’s official marathon time by 4 minutes, 10 seconds. However, in his imagination, he definitely beat me.) This race was a culmination of about 10 years of my overcoming various aches and pains brought on not by running, but by moving–walking, running, standing, lifting, anything else that counts as moving–incorrectly. I’ve overcome these issues and the marathon was a victory lap.

It was definitely a fun experience but it was very tough and fairly uncomfortable. I was very sore and way beyond fatigued by the end of the race.  I’m sore in some unexpected ways. My feet were very beat up it as you might expect. My thighs and hamstrings were plenty sore too which is no surprise.  It’s Tuesday and I’m feeling decent now.

Interestingly, my lateral abdominal muscles are quite sore. I’m fairly certain it’s my external obliques that are sore and this is actually a good thing. It means that I was using them correctly. Part of my pain problems were rooted in incorrect use of my external obliques. Now I know they were put to very good and thorough use yesterday. (For more info on the role of the role of these muscles in running, check out this three-part video series of from the Gait Guys: part 1, part 2, part 3. I’ve been using elements of these videos with some of my clients to very good effect.) I’ll refer back to my run technique in a moment.

Things got tough at mile 18/19. I was about hip deep in the suffering by then. That’s where my pace slowed and I knew hitting my goal time would be very difficult if not impossible. My legs were hurting. The crowds had thinned out a good bit by then and what I knew would be a long lonely stretch lay ahead. That I had about 10 miles to go wasn’t the most joyous thought I’d ever had. I was functioning though and there was no sign of anything like an injury.

Difficulties: nothing major

I’d planned to run with a pace group. There were several pace groups dispersed throughout the event. My goal time was 3:45 and there was a 3:45 pace group. I got to the race very early but I was late getting to my corral. Thus I couldn’t find the 3:45 group. My fault entirely but it wasn’t a disaster, just a bit of a bummer. Got kind of lonely out there, especially at the later miles. Suffering with others is better than suffering alone. Being that I missed my goal time, I can’t help but wonder how my race would’ve gone had I gotten in with the group….

Not much slowed me down but one thing definitely took a little momentum away. I’ve had a little trouble with blisters on my toes mostly on my right foot, only once on my left. Because of this I often tape several of my toes. My mistake was that I taped some of my toes on the left but not all. Not long into the race I felt friction against my left pinky toe. I knew this would probably turn into a sizeable problem well before the race was over. The only solution was to stop, sit down, take off my socks (compression socks which are long and fit tightly thus they’re sort of hard to get back on), remove the tape, get everything back on and resume running. That took a few minutes. I took one bathroom break but other than those stops I kept running.

The final stretch

Brutal is the word I’d use to describe miles 22 through 26.2. There were several short/steep hills on what was a steady false-flat that led back into downtown. (In fact, I’m convinced that during this marathon, the very laws that govern the universe were broken. We started and finished in the same location yet 99/100s of the whole course was uphill. I believe the course was designed by MC Escher.) Four miles to go was A LONG way to go. The idea of stopping to walk just a little was very tantalizing. I knew if I started walking I might not start back running. It was also fairly warm–not hot–but warm enough to add real difficulty to the whole process.

Somewhere around mile 21 I felt a potential hamstring cramp in my right leg. I wasn’t sure if it was an electrolyte issue but I didn’t really think so. I’d taken some salt pills before and during the race and I was consuming fuel containing electrolytes as well. The cramp didn’t really come on until I was crossing Speer Blvd right at about mile 25. I felt that right hamstring start to ball up underneath my right glute. I thought I was done! I thought I was going to have to walk the last mile and I finish well over the four-hour mark. This was about to be a minor disaster. I was fine though. Why?

Earlier I mentioned my glutes, external obliques, and my running technique. I went right back to the running method described in those Gait Guys videos. I focused on lengthening through the hip into the ground and letting the right hip drop away from the right bottom rib as my right foot struck the ground. I did this for a few strides and the cramp simply vanished.

Technique! Technique! Technique! It’s all about proper movement and proper positioning! This is the undisputed key to getting out of pain and performing your best.

What’s next?

I intend to run more marathons.  I’m not sure which one(s) or where.  I want to get faster.  Run Less, Run Faster tells me that since I finished slower than my 5k time predicted I need to work on my endurance.  I definitely want to run with a pace group next time.  (God that was dumb of me to miss the group…)  My shoes (Nike Free 3.0) and nutrition seem solid.

My next race (probably) is the Run the Rocks 5k in October.  Then I’m only doing random, unstructured runs for a while.  I’ll run with my dog then some time this winter I’m going to do one or two track/sprint workouts per week with random longer runs whenever I feel like it.  I’m looking forward to getting into the weight room and working on my clean and press, squat, and deadlift.  For now though I’m very content to not run for a few days.

Ski Haus Continental Divide Trail Race Outcome


I ran the big Continental Divide Trail Race on Saturday and I didn’t come in last. It was on the rough side of brutal (my feet feel like they spent the weekend in Guantanamo Bay) but I’m fairly content with my performance. That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The good

It’s been less than a year since I’ve returned to serious running. I finished in the top half of the participants and middle of the pack for men. (Results weren’t broken down by age group.) This is nothing spectacular but it makes me happy. I simply couldn’t have run this race at all a year ago.

I ran for almost three hours which is well into marathon-time territory. I’ve never done that. That’s good. I bet I can do it again.

Also, the race included a very long downhill stretch near the end (about 3000 ft.!) and my legs held up. Downhill running is typically very strenuous on the muscles. I’m not saying it was easy but I held up and I haven’t been unduly sore since the race. I think I hit it right with my strength program.

My only pain issues were in my metatarsal heads (the part of my toes that attach to my feet; more on that in a moment.) No Achilles pain. No heel pain. No back pain. No knee pain. No hip pain. Don’t call me “bulletproof,” but maybe… “bullet-resistant.” I’ve worked years to overcome chronic pain and I’m on the winning side.

The bad

By far the biggest negative to this race was some severe metatarsal pain, particularly on my left foot and to some degree on my right. (Specifically, we’re talking about metatarsal head pain. The met heads are the part of your toes that meet the feet. Think of the knuckles of your feet.) Holy s__t those things hurt!! And they hurt for quite a while. They’re still sore as I type this. By the end of the race I thought those bones must’ve popped through the soles of my feet. I’ve got to find a solution to this issue before the marathon.

Without going way too much into it, I’ve been reading Anatomy and Biomechanics of the First Ray to get a better feel for what’s supposed to happen and what can happen in the toe neighborhood. Further, I’ve been reading and learning more about Morton’s Toe, including the possible implications and what to do about them. This is a situation in which the 2nd toe is longer than the big toe. Wow… There’s potentially a lot to this issue. For now, I’m experimenting with a Morton’s Toe shim. I’ll probably write more about this issue in the near future. (If you’re experiencing foot pain and your 2nd toe is longer than your big toe, you may well want to look into this Morton’s Toe business. In addition to the links above, the Barefoot Runners Society has a whole discussion board devoted to the matter.)

I should’ve fueled better. I consumed two Honey Stinger gels and one package of Honey Stinger chews. Based on my weight, I should’ve had about two more gels or another package of chews. The race featured a lot of repeated ascents, some of them were quite steep. Then we had a long downhill run to the finish. I was more tired near the end than I expected, though I didn’t bonk. Not that I expected to feel fresh as a daisy, but I have no doubt that more fuel in the tank would have ameliorated some of my weariness. Lesson learned.

The near future

I’m taking it somewhat easy this week. I’m probably only running twice–easy runs with my dog–and possibly a little mountain biking this weekend. Then next week it’s back to work. I’m going to use the FIRST marathon plan. I really like the three-day per week plan. I’ve ordered Run Faster, Run Less which is written by the team that formulated the quality-over-quantity scheme. Assuming my tender toes are up for it, I’m looking forward to a track workout next Tuesday, a tempo run then a long run next weekend.

I’ve got the Park-to-Park 10 Miler on Labor Day.  This is a fun, scenic race and it’s local so the logistics are easy.  Then in a month is my Moby Dick.  I’m planning on running the Denver Rock’n’Roll Marathon.  I’ve wanted to run a marathon for years.  My injuries have gotten in the way.  Now I’m winning the battle and I’m ecstatic to be within striking distance of the event.

Finally, as part of the marathon preparation, I’m going to start doing group runs with the Boulder Running Co. located in the Denver Tech Center.  They do group runs on Saturday mornings. Group runs should do a couple of things for me.  First, I’ll be pushed to run harder.  That’s good. Also, suffering through long runs with other similarly suffering individuals should help the miles go by a little easier.