Running an Ultra on Minimal Training

The first weekend of January, I ran the Frosty Bottom 50 (full disclosure: it’s actually more like 44 miles, but I guess the Frosty Bottom 44 doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). For a number of reasons, let’s just say that I did not go into this race with the ideal amount of training. To my surprise, it didn’t go as horrible as I had expected. In fact, my time was almost exactly the same as last year. Maybe it is possible to run an ultra on minimal training!

Let me go back and explain what happened:

Back at the end of November, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I hurt my back. I pulled a muscle during the most dangerous of activities – having a snowball fight with my kids. This was the type of back pain I hadn’t experienced in years, when I used to weigh nearly 300 pounds. For the first 2 days, I was laid up in bed and it took everything I had just to stand up. Every day the pain got a little better, but my back was still very tight and sore. I was in no condition to be running. I had one appointment with a physical therapist, who showed me some stretches and strengthening exercises.

After about 10 days, I was feeling mostly back to normal – just in time to take a 10 day vacation to Hawaii! Before I hurt my back, I had already decided that this was going to be 100% a family vacation – I was completely unplugged from work, and I wasn’t going to sneak away for a run while my family played on the beach. Needless to say, we all had an amazing time, and I don’t regret one bit that I didn’t run a single step in Hawaii. My kids keep asking when we’re moving 🙂

We got back home in the wee hours of December 21, and I went for a run that afternoon – my first in exactly 3 weeks. I was only 2 weeks out from Frosty Bottom, and I was getting nervous. That first run was rough, and I didn’t have much time for things to turn around. During those 2 weeks, the quality of my runs gradually improved, but I still had my doubts. My last run that was over 2 hours had been the New York City Marathon back at the start of November.

Race day came and I was cautiously optimistic. My plan was to take it easy in the beginning and see how I felt. I figured worst case scenario, the course comes within about a mile of my house around mile 30, and I could just bail out at that point if things got really bad. Luckily, I started running with someone I knew fairly well from a running group I go out with sometimes on Monday nights. Chatting with him as we ran really helped pass the time, and kept my mind off of how tired my legs were already feeling.

We got to the halfway turnaround point in just under 4 hours, which I was pretty pleased with. This is where the race’s only aid station is located, which was pretty much limited to water, Gatorade, and a few cookies. I refilled the bladder in my hydration pack, mixed in some Tailwind, and we were back on the trail. As we started making our way back towards where we started that morning, the calf cramps started, and would continue to plague me the rest of the race. I had been drinking plenty, so I mostly chalked this up to my lack of recent training. My legs were feeling pretty dead as we reached 30 miles, and I was teased by the possibility of an easy out. I’ll be honest – I briefly considered this option pretty seriously. I wasn’t feeling great, but I decided that it wasn’t bad enough that I would feel good later about DNFing, so on I ran.

My friend was still running with me, if not slightly ahead, pulling me along. I had to take semi-regular walking breaks to stretch out my calves, but while I was running, I felt like I was able to keep up a pretty decent pace. I have no doubt my friend could have taken off and finished well ahead of me, but we ran together the whole race. As it was starting to get dark, we saw a beautiful combination sunset/moonrise over downtown Anchorage. It was a clear night with a nearly full moon, so we didn’t end up needing our headlamps until we were nearly at the finish.

Finally, we reached the final climb up the big hill at Kincaid Park, and then we were done. In true ultra fashion, there were just 2 people at the finish line to greet us and record our time. Granted, this is primarily a bike race, all of whom had finished hours earlier.

I ended up finishing in 8:30:51 – a whopping 20 seconds faster than last year’s time, on a slightly altered course that was about a mile longer. While it may not have been a particularly pretty finish, I discovered it’s definitely possible to run an ultra on minimal training.

I’m Back as an Altra Ambassador for 2015!

Altra Zero Drop

I was super excited to get the email the other day welcoming me back as an Altra Ambassador for 2015! Altras are the most comfortable running shoe I’ve ever worn, hands-down. I’ve been running in Altras for 3 years now. In that time, I’ve run 3 100 milers, 1 24 hour, several shorter ultras, and a handful of marathons, and I’ve never had any major foot issues during any of those races. Not a single lost toenail, and at most maybe 1 or 2 tiny blisters.

I couldn’t be happier with these shoes, and I’m excited to be part of such an awesome group of runners who want to help spread the Altra love. Some of my fellow ambassadors include:

Altra has also been building up quite an impressive list of elite sponsorships, most recently adding Ian Sharman, and also includes:

New York City Marathon Recap

Last week I traveled across the country to (finally) run the New York City Marathon. I had been trying my luck at the lottery for 4 years, and finally got in under the old “pity rule” that they stopped doing after this year.

I made a pretty quick trip out of this, since we already have a big family vacation to Hawaii planned in December. But I did still manage to cram in quite a bit of fun in just a few days, including a Broadway show (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), and a Giants football game. My wife has family out on Long Island, so we stayed out there mostly – except for the night before and after the race, we stayed at a hotel in the city.

We made our way to the expo on Friday. We must have hit it at a bad time, because the line just to get into the convention center wrapped around the block. Later, when we were leaving, there wasn’t a line at all. The expo was huge as you could imagine for a race of this size. The lines to but anything were ridiculously long, so we got in and out pretty quickly. I did get the chance to meet Ryan Hall though – and only waited in line about 5 minutes!


I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that my story was featured in the official race program:


The few days leading up to the race, I kept watching the forecast for race morning. It kept showing clear and cold, which normally would be perfect, expect they were also forecasting 30mph winds! Well, the forecast held true, and we were greeted by some seriously strong winds. The biggest mistake I made was getting to the start area WAY too early. I was in the first wave, and so I thought I should be taking some of the earliest transportation possible. That meant I spent about 3 hours out the cold, shivering, waiting for the race to start.


At least the view was nice

I had brought a throwaway sweatshirt to wear to the start, but it just wasn’t enough. I really should have worn some sweatpants as well. I saw some very interesting outfits that morning, but I’m sure they were all warmer than me.


Using a blown over porta-potty as a wind break. Bonus points for the pink bath robe.

All the time spent shivering and trying to stay warm pretty much zapped all my energy. By the time we finally got started, I had an empty tank within the first 5 miles or so. I knew this wasn’t going to be my day, and so I quickly changed my race strategy to “how many high-fives can I get from cheering kids?” My unofficial tally: 1,327.

Even with how crappy and out of energy I felt, it was hard not to enjoy this race. There were over 50,000 runners, and I can’t even begin to guess how many spectators. There were people cheering, lined up along the entire course, sometimes several people deep. There were people handing out bananas, pretzels, Halloween candy, paper towels and Kleenex.

Finally, we entered Central Park and I knew the finish line was getting close. Even though I was moving slower than I had hoped, I managed to keep a pretty steady pace. I did very little actual walking, just a slower running pace than planned. I crossed the finish line in 4:12 and change, far slower than my PR, but considering how I felt, nothing to complain about.


Mission accomplished!

Then began the long trek to get out of Central Park and back to my hotel. I had selected the no baggage option at the finish, so I got the “quick” exit, which still took probably 45 minutes just to get out of Central Park. When I finally got back to my hotel, I quickly showered and got dressed to head back out, because my day wasn’t over yet!

My mother-in-law was also doing the race, but she was walking and so was a good ways behind me still. I texted with her to figure out where she was, and hopped on the nearest subway to get as close as I could. I managed to catch up to her around mile 21, just after you cross a bridge back into Manhattan for the last time. She had been worried about it getting dark and there not being many people around anymore, so I promised I would come find her and walk the rest with her. Normally she walks a lot at home, but earlier this year she had torn her hamstring, so she hadn’t been walking as much as usual, and was worried about being able to finish the race.

There were actually still a good number of other people around her, though they definitely were starting to shut down the course. They had to walk on the sidewalks in some places, and not all the intersections were closed, so we even had to stop and wait a couple of times. As we got closer to Central Park, things got a little more lively. We could hear the distant sound of the finish line, so we knew they hadn’t packed all that up yet. She was complaining about feeling sore and tired, but I was surprised by how well she was still moving – we actually managed to pass a few people in the last couple of miles.

Finally, she crossed the finish line in 7:19 and was done! Though we still had to make the long trek back to our hotel again. Luckily, since there was a lot less activity going on at this point, some cops let us out a different exit and we managed to get out of Central Park much quicker than I had earlier.

While I didn’t have a great race, the overall experience was fantastic. Because of how difficult it is to get into through the lottery, it’s probably not very likely that I’ll ever run the New York City Marathon again, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

Summer/Fall Recap

Last time, I left you with the cliffhanger of me about to embark on running around a track for 24 hours. 6 Days in the Dome was an interesting experience, to say the least. I ran the 24 hour race on the first day, and then hung around most of the rest of the week helping out and watching the action unfold. I was happy to have met my “A” goal of running a sub-24 hour 100 miler – but not by much!

I finished the first 50 miles in about 9 1/2 hours, which I was very pleased with, and still feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, around 2 or 3 in the morning, I had something happen that was a first for me in 100 mile races: I could barely stay awake. I don’t know if it was the monotony of running on a track for that many hours, or because the lights never went off, but whatever it was, I needed a nap if I had any hope of hitting 100 miles! After a few attempts at taking just a short 15 minute nap, and not feeling very rejuvenated, I finally laid down for about 45 minutes and that finally helped. All in all, I probably laid down for about 90 minutes.

Once I started running again, I was doing the mental math on whether 100 miles was still a possibility for me. I thought I could still pull it off, but it was going to be. I figured out how many laps I needed to average per hour, and decided to just take it an hour at a time, instead of thinking about how much longer I still had to run. The mental side of a timed race like this is quite a bit difference, since there’s not really a finish line, you just keep running as far as you can until the time is up. I was meeting my hourly lap goal by just 3 or 4 minutes, but that was enough to keep my hopes alive that I could still do this. As the hours went on, I was actually speeding up a bit, meeting my hourly lap goal with 7 or 8 minutes to spare. With just a couple hours to go, I knew I had my goal all but met, as long as nothing went seriously wrong.

I hit the 100 mile mark at about 23:35, and managed to bang out a few more laps for 101.5 miles total in 24 hours. Overall, I liked the timed race format, but I’m not sure I would want to do a race like that on an indoor track again. The track at the Dome is very hard, and took its’ toll on many runners. It was very interesting to hang around the rest of the week and see the whole thing play out. There are many ups and downs over the course of 6 days, and it was pretty amazing to see someone who could barely limp around one day, would be running around at a pretty good clip the next.

Without a doubt, the most inspiring part of the whole 6 days was watching Traci Falbo break the women’s 48 hour record. She had started on the first day along with me, and was extremely friendly and cheery every time she passed me. It was a privilege to watch her final few laps, while it became very obvious how much she was hurting as she leaned far to one side, but still determined to keep pushing hard and get as many laps in as she could. After completing her final lap, she just collapsed, having given it everything she possibly could. If you haven’t see the video of her finishing, it’s something you really should take a moment to watch:

Hatcher Pass Marathon

Rewinding back a few weeks, in between Sluicebox and 6 Days in the Dome, I ran the Hatcher Pass Marathon. This is one of those races I had been wanting to run for several years, but for one reason or another, just hadn’t been able to. This year, I was finally able to swing it. I ended up running most of the race with my buddy Ray, which is always a joy. The race course itself is beautiful – as the name suggests – through Hatcher Pass near Willow. Pretty much the entire course is a gradual uphill climb, with several very steep climbs thrown in for good measure. All in all, there’s about 4000 feet of elevation gain. Then, just to really piss off your legs, the final mile is a long downhill to the finish line.


Overall it was a very enjoyable race. Having just run Sluicebox 3 weeks prior, my legs were still pretty flat, so I didn’t run a blazing fast time, but I still had a great time. My cousin was out cheering on the course and passing out beer and pretzels around mile 21, which was a welcome surprise. The race medal was also very cool, it was handmade from clay:


What’s Next?

Next weekend, I’m heading to the east coast for the New York City Marathon! I’ve been trying to get in for the last 4 years, so I’m super excited for this! I have no doubt it’s going to be a great time. After that, I’ve got a few ideas of what’s next, but haven’t made any specific plans yet. It will be the first time in quite a few months that I don’t have anything on my race calendar. But I’m sure that won’t last for long… 🙂

Around and Around I Go

Late last year, I started to hear rumblings of a new race being organized for sometime this fall. Joe Fejes, who broke the American 6-day record by running 555 miles at Across the Years, was looking to organize a multi-day event at an indoor track. The Dome in Anchorage quickly drew his attention.

And thus, Six Days in the Dome was born.

Six Days in the Dome

Apparently The Dome is actually a pretty unique facility. There is a full-size 1/4 mile track (actually just a tad bit longer), whereas most indoor tracks are half that size. Normally I don't run much at The Dome – it's fairly expensive to be a member there, and it's pretty much all the way across town from me, so it's not exactly convenient anyways. But during the winter, the Anchorage Running Club rents it out one night a week for members, so I do usually go to that.

The Alaska Dome

This race really piqued my interest. I reached out to Joe early on, saying that I'd be happy to help, since I figured it would be useful to have someone local. The next thing I knew, I was listed as the volunteer director on the website 🙂

I also wanted to try out running a timed event. Six Days in the Dome actually has 3 events – 6 days, 48 hours, and 24 hours. I wasn't going to jump into a 6 day for my first timed event. I briefly considered the 48 hour, but in the end I decided on the 24 hour. I figured it would be a good introduction to both timed events, and running around a track for an extended period of time.

So next week, starting at 9am Monday morning, I'll find myself running seemingly endless loops around a track. It's going to be a very different experience than any of the ultras I've run before. On one hand, it's a nicely controlled environment: no hills, no rain, no muddy trails, a constant 60 degrees, and there's an aid station every 1/4 mile. On the other hand, I'm worried it could get to be mind-numbingly boring. I'll have my iPod loaded up with plenty of music and podcasts to hopefully keep my mind occupied.

I'm also excited about the field of talented runners that are coming from all over the world for this race, to name just a few: Joe Fejes (of course), Zach Bitter, Connie Gardner, Frank Bozanich, Ed "The Jester" Ettinghausen, and Traci Falbo.

I'm especially excited to see how our local super ultrarunner David Johnston does in the 6 day. Dave smashed course records in both the Susitna 100 and Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 Mile last winter (with the 2 races just 1 week apart!).