Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Keep Pushing?

Why run farther? Why enter an ultra marathon or Ironman or Ultraman or mountain trail race? Why take on challenges that seem absurd, stupid, unreasonable, nonsensical? Why keep pushing?

I've spent a lot of time asking myself these questions as I dive deeper and deeper into endurance events. I've struggled finding an answer, at least one that felt complete. But, while watching this video, the answer struck me. I do it to live, to really live. I do it to experience what's possible and to find the spot where impossible actually begins. And I do it so hopefully my kids will choose to do the same as they grow up, in whatever manner they want.

I do it because I want to 

Experience Life and Fucking Live!

Jump out of an airplane. Run 50 miles. Train for Ironman. Climb a mountain. Learn to surf. Get into photography. Paint a flower. Dance on a desk to silly European dance music. Experience this incredible planet we live on. Discover what the body is capable of and where the real limits are. Whatever. But do something and fucking live.

That's it. That's the reason. All other justifications be damned.

Oh, I have yet to find impossible.


Side Note: I use profanity rarely and very selectively. In this case, it's the phrase that keeps coming to me. Sometimes you just can't fight the words. Sometimes using a profane word is just right. I believe that to be the case here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Early Morning Rides

I'm going to try something new on here. Instead of the long-ish posts I've been writing (or failing to write) in the past, I'm going to try writing really short posts, almost poem like posts. I'm sure they'll be miserable writing...oh well. They'll be about whatever's on my mind as I continue down my path to fitness.

For the first post, I'm writing about why go running or biking or swimming so early in the morning. Credit for many of the words below go to a fellow biker whom I was discussing this with yesterday.


Early morning rides.

The road to ourselves.

A lightning storm at sea.

While the sun prepares to rise behind.

Crackles of electricity smash into the ocean.

A flash of purple covers the sky.

Peaceful quietude.

We ride.


That's miserable. So be it. Predawn exercise allows us to experience moment so few get to see..

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Running In South Florida - It's Different

Over the past three years of exercising and running in South Florida, I've discovered that running in South Florida isn't like running in other places. The heat, sun and humidity suggest some pieces of equipment are more important than they would have been when I was living in Wisconsin. There are also some unique issue when running here. I thought it'd be fun to create a list of what I've learned to be particularly useful for running in Florida. Mostly this is just meant to be a silly list just for fun.

  1. You gotta have great running hat - at first I thought sunglasses were the all important item, but my thinking has evolved and now I believe a great hat is more important. Mine is silly looking and giant, and I absolutely love it. A huge brim keeps virtually all sun off my face. Well ventilated so my head doesn't get extra hot. And a neck drape for sun protection in the back. Plus, even when you're moving slow, when that drape is flapping in the wind, it makes it feel like you're moving fast! My beloved running hat: Sunday Afternoon Adventure Hat
  2. Serious sunscreen is mandatory - it's sunny here, a lot. Finding a sunscreen that could last for hours while sweating excessively in heat and sunlight took some time to find. I've settled on Target up & up Kids Lotion SPF50. One application has survived for hours without even the hint of a sunburn. It's titanium dioxide based, so does not rub in. Proper application will leave you looking a bit like a ghost with a weird white sheen. Yes, it does contain some of the chemical based sunblocks in addition to the physical titanium dioxide block. I choose to protect against the known risk of skin cancer and accept the unknown risk of exposure to these chemicals. And it doesn't feel great when a bit gets in the eyes. But this stuff has been great for me. And it's cheap, too!
  3. We do have hills! - Well, not really, but you can simulate hills with a little creativity. Given all the water, roads have tons of water crossings. Water crossings require bridges. A bridge hunting run is a great way to simulate at least some elevation gain. It's easy to create a route that has you crossing a bridge every 15 minutes. Or bridge intervals can be one for more regular climbing. Other options include incline on the treadmill or this:
  4. Leaving the road? You better be prepared for sand. - Sand, it's everywhere in South Florida. Anytime you leave the pavement, sand is a possibility. Even just that bit of grassy median between the sidewalk and road can be sandy. And head off to run some trails, you're almost certain to encounter sand...muddy sand, packed sand, loose sand, sinking sand, sugar sand. Lots and lots of sand. It's a whole different ball game than pavement or even dirt trails. I've made it a habit of practicing running on sand. Any run of reasonable distance, I try to spend at least a mile or so running in the sand along the beach.
  5. Finally, running in South Florida rocks! - There are so many great and diverse places to run.
    South Beach Park A1A Boca Raton
    For the asphalt junkie, running up and down the A1A with the beach and ocean always a glance away is a great place to hang out.
    Loxahatchee Levee Sea of Grass
    Then there's always the option to spend some time running along the dirt trails in the Sea of Grass in the Everglades where you're certain to encounter an alligator or two and a wide variety of snakes. And for the hardcore trail runners, there's the opportunity to head deep into jungle-like trails where you feel like you've stepped back to a time before Florida was settled.
    Caloosahatchee Park Trails
    I'd love to hear what you've experienced and discovered and found to be particularly useful during your adventures running and exercising in South Florida. What have you discovered that makes running here a bit unique?
     



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Four Lessons From The DTR Endurance Challenge 50K

On April 18th, 2015, I ran the DTR Endurance Challenge 50K. My second ultramarathon, and a complete different experience than my race at the Skydive Ultra. However, instead of a conventional race report, I thought it would be more interesting to write about the four big lessons I took out of this race which will include race details along the way.

Lesson 1: I Need To Run More


Going into the race, I knew I was undertrained, at least from a pure running perspective. I hadn't been able to run at all for a three week period after an odd knee issue in February and March caused by an ill-executed switch to new shoes. I had kept up aerobic fitness with plenty of swimming and biking, but the running training was lacking. Since Skydive Ultra at the end of January, I only got three long runs in prior to this race: two 14 milers and one 18 miler. And I had only one 30 mile week of training over that period. I was undertrained.

It showed up on race day. The race felt great for about 14 miles, and ok for another 4 miles. Then the wheels felt like they fell off. Lots of walking. So much discomfort. Generally, a very poor run after mile 18.

The most glaring symptom of my lack of training was having to battle a calf cramp the final six miles of the race. At Skydive, a race nearly twice as long, I only had one short moment where even the idea of a cramp entered my mind. At DTR, it was a long fight to fend off the cramp. Eventually, I switched my running form to heel strike which took pressure off the calves and allowed me to run a bit better.

But the lesson was learned... I need to run more. Biking and swimming are great; aerobic fitness wasn't an issue. And I need to do those things as I prepare for the Great Floridian Triathlon. But running long requires running long...often.

Lesson 2: Distance Is Only One Factor In Race Difficulty


So I went into this race thinking it would be hard because I was undertrained, but also thinking that the experience would be roughly 60% as difficult as my 50 mile race. I could not have been more wrong.

This race was brutal. We were treated to a record high temperature of 93 degrees during the day. Fortunately, there was occasional light cloud cover to offer at least some reprieve from the sun, but then the Florida humidity simply took its toll. The race began at 6:45 am, which meant we got about 30 minutes of running before the sun got on us. After that, it was nothing but increasing heat and sun exposure throughout the day.

The course itself held so many surprises. I knew there was some sand on the course. I had spent time beach running to prepare. I was not ready for nearly 12 miles of sand, made worse by the heat which evaporated every bit of moisture out of it leaving nothing but loose sand. The course was an out and back, and the sand wasn't too bad on the way out. On the way back, once every participant had been over it at least once, the sand became a grip-less mess. It was exhausting.

I had heard legend of the "Dunes of Heaven", a one mile stretch of rolling sand dunes beginning around mile 9. None were more than 50 feet high according to my Garmin, but they were relentless. Get to the bottom of one, and right back up the next you went. But the real surprise was that after the Dunes of Heaven, the rolling hills continued for another 5 miles to the turn around point. These hills were milder than the dunes and the trail was slightly less sandy, but the constant elevation change took me completely by surprise. I hadn't prepared. (Hey, it's Florida. Everything is flat.)

This course on this day was tough, really tough. The top finishers were a half hour off the finishing times the previous year. Sure, distance is one piece of the equation, but so are many other factors.

Lesson 3: Shut Up, Mind


Despite all the above issues, I actually didn't do too poorly in the race. While I was a full hour off the first finisher, I was less than eleven minutes behind the first place runner in my age group. Without much more effort, I could have made up eleven minutes. But much of the day, I let my mind and negative self-talk slow me down.

It's too hot. I'm just not fit enough. My stomach/foot/shoulder hurts. It's just a training run. I don't want to be here. And on and on and on it went.

However, I only had two bona fide time losses during the race. First, my calf cramp was a real fitness issue. Had the cramp truly set in, my race would have been over. So I had to manage that. But had I thought to switch running form earlier, I would have saved tons of time.

Second, I lost several minutes on a few occasions dealing with a leak in my hydration pack. This was a safety issue. I was able to slow down the leak by playing with the valve on the pack, and did take the time to make sure to do that so I wouldn't run out of water between aid stations. This cost me maybe 5 minutes total.

But mostly, those lost eleven minutes were the result of my mind slowing down what my body was capable of.

Lesson 4: I Really Love Ultra Trail Running


I felt horrible for much of the 5 hours and 29 minutes I spent racing. I was not near top form, the course and weather were absolutely demoralizing, and the bladder in my hydration pack began leaking leaving my back, butt, legs and feet soaked for hours.

I tripped on roots on four separate occasions, feeling like I could have broken a toe each time. Twice I outright fell and once tweaked my right shoulder while catching myself. For the first time ever in racing or training, I had stomach issues. Nothing severe. I was still able to eat and drink as needed. But it was uncomfortable for miles and miles.

My feet hurt, especially my left foot. I think I bruised the sole of my foot early in the race. By the end, it was nearly unbearable. In the final mile of the race, I felt what could only be a terrible blister on my large left toe. I blame the hours of water leaking from my hydration pack for that.

I was a mess, and I absolutely loved it!

Being out in nature, seeing a lightening storm off over the ocean, watching the sunrise as we ran, discovering deer moss, overcoming all the above issues to finish the race, eating whatever looked good at aid stations, the volunteers being so kind and helpful along the way; it's all such a great experience.

Frankly, I think ultra running is where I'll end up long-term. I enjoy triathlons and look forward to my first iron distance race in October, and love many parts of CrossFit. But there's something so simple and pure ultra running. Ultimately, it's just you, a pair of good shoes and clothes and nature fighting to reach the destination. It's so simple.

And it's by far the least expensive sport of those that interest me. Can't wait to run another ultramarathon soon...maybe 100K next?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

From Zero To 70.3

IMG_20141109_063032_1.jpg
(Note: this is a race report I wrote in November, but had no place to publish. So, a bit out of order here and a slightly different style than other writing on Cheaply Seeking Fitness. I thought I'd share it anyway.)

70.3 miles...it’s not a distance I enjoy driving, much less fully powered by my legs and arms. Yet, there I was on Sunday November 9th, standing on the beach, looking at the cold and murky water and getting ready to run into it for a 70.3 half iron distance triathlon at the Miami Man Half Iron Triathlon. I was hit by mountains of anxiety as I waited. I hadn't really trained for the distance and had only been training for triathlons at all since June of this year. Swimming...yeah, I had lessons as a child, but playing around in the water is a very different thing than swimming freestyle in cold water with 1000 other people for 1.2 miles.


Fortunately, I had been training hard for some time, just not triathlon training specifically. I dipped my toe into CrossFit in June of 2013, and had been going to WODs since then 4-6 times per week. I had trained for a back-to-back Tough Mudder/Spartan Race weekend earlier this year, completing both with relative ease. I had been an off-and-on runner for several years. But I still stood on that beach staring at the first buoy about 100 meters away certain I was about to drown.


And then the start gun went off and we were in the water...


The CrossFit Benefits


My year and a half of CrossFit training provided several benefits that were very apparent on race day. Three primary benefits stand out to me as a reflect on race day: strength and overall fitness, mental resilience, and a desire to do something bad-ass.


The strength and overall fitness benefit is pretty obvious. Prior to beginning CrossFit, I had really only done endurance exercise...running. Over the years, I had completed a couple half marathons, mud races, and trained for one marathon (which I ultimately didn't run.) But CrossFit offered me an introduction to something new, strength training. After a year and a half, I’m still a rail skinny endurance guy, but my strength is far higher than it used to be. That strength brings with it confidence, confidence which was extremely helpful as I approached the triathlon. And my overall fitness level was high enough to be able to jump into triathlon specific training with fairly high volume. CrossFit offered a great fitness base to jump off from.


CrossFit metcons are often about mental resilience. As the body red-lines, heart rate goes through the roof and getting oxygen in the body becomes difficult, finishing a metcon is predominantly an exercise in mental willingness to continue. No WOD better captures this need for mental resilience than Kalsu, which I nearly quit twice before completing. That mental resilience helped me push through the hours of training needed to complete 70.3 (my highest week included 14 hours of movement) and helped me push through the final three miles of the race at an ever increasing pace.


Third, if it wasn't for CrossFit, I never would have registered for a triathlon at all. When I began CrossFit, I just wanted something different and something fun. As I continued to do more and more CrossFit, I began to build a desire to take on athletic challenges that really felt bad-ass. That why I decided to run a Tough Mudder on a Saturday, and a Spartan race the next Sunday. That’s why I registered for my first sprint triathlon at the end of August. And it’s why I decided to upgrade my registration at Miami Man from the International distance (0.6 mile swim, 22 mile bike, 6.6 mile run) to the Half Iron distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) only a month before the starting gun. It’s why I've already registered for the Great Floridian 140.6 Full Iron triathlon in 2015, one of the most grueling triathlons in the country.


Specificity Arrives


During my first few months of training for triathlons (first the sprint distance, then the international), I continued with CrossFit WODs. In June, July and August, my triathlon specific training was still short enough that the CrossFit didn't interfere and, in fact, seemed to be beneficial. So I kept at it as long as I felt able to. Besides, I love CrossFit...the community and the workouts. I was going to be there as much as possible.


However, at some point in September, it became clear that I couldn't continue with the regular WODs. The swimming, biking and running were taking more and more time and I was feeling increasingly worn down during WODs. The energy just wasn't there. Finally, I had a day where my wrist was so sore I couldn't manage a light strict press, and I had to make a decision. I knew I couldn't keep up with WODs and continue to increase triathlon-specific training volume, so I had to give Edwin Morales the news that I’d have to drop out for a few months.


After speaking about how things were going and my goals, we agreed on a plan that seems to have worked out wonderfully. No more WODs, no more high-intensity work at CrossFit CVI, but continue with a simple twice-per-week 5/3/1 strength program on Monday’s and Friday’s to try to maintain strength. Monday’s I worked on strict press and deadlift. Friday’s were bench press and squats. Those two days also happened to be my rest days from triathlon work. I was able to maintain (and even somewhat increase) strength over the next two months despite higher and higher endurance volume.


But the bulk of my work was outside of the box. My training was becoming very specific: two pool swims and one ocean swim (waves permitting) per week, bike on Tuesday and Thursday, run Wednesday and Saturday, then a long run or long bike or brick workout on Sunday.


The endurance increased, the swimming improved, and strength didn't seem to be going away. Training was a win all-around. In particular, in early October I was able to complete a 1 mile ocean swim without rest. This was the moment I wondered if my training had gone so well that I could try for the half iron distance instead of the international distance I was training for. After a really long bike ride to test the distance, I decided to make the change. Half Iron it would be!


Back to the Beach and Race Day


Before the start gun went off, I had jumped in the water for a warm up swim. I couldn't breath...not even for one stroke. The race anxiety and the colder than expected water was overwhelming. I was in trouble. I couldn't swim ten meters much less 2000! I was in a near panic, certain that my race was ruined before it even began. Ah...but that CrossFit produced resilience! I returned to the beach, took a few deep breaths and gathered myself.  Then I headed out for another try at warming up in the water. This time, while labored, I was able to swim about 100 meters. It wasn’t great swimming, but at least I could move and breath.


And then the start gun went off and we were back in the water. The swim sucked. It took me 300 meters to get any rhythm and I was extremely slow all the way around. I couldn't sight buoys at all, and zig zagged across the course. This was always going to be the case, but it was still demoralizing to be passed by people who’s wave started 10-15 minutes after mine. But I eventually finished after 50:42, placing 46 of 53 in my age group...not last!
My Cannondale looks out of place in transition


Next we were on the bike. My poor old 1982 Cannondale road bike which I had bought from another member at the box for $100 looked really out of place next to the carbon triathlon bikes all costing several thousand dollars in transition. But it had done well in training, and did well on this day as well. The weather forecast had included rain showers for later in the day, but they hit during the bike ride. And these were no showers, but torrential tropical downpour. It was a bit scary, riding around slick corners and riding half blind at times as the rain came down so fast and heavy. However, the bike went well, faster than anticipated and on-bike nutrition was a success. Tailwind is a wonderful endurance energy drink that seems to cause no stomach issues for me. I finished in 2:52:57, placing 35/53.


Finally, I was on to the run, my strongest discipline. The Miami Man run is made up of two 6.55 mile loops through Zoo Miami. I was excited to see the zoo, having never visited, but the animals were almost all inside due to the weather. A disappointment, but one I could understand particularly after the thunder and lightning began during the second lap.


My goal for the race had been simple: just finish. Then, if finishing seemed likely, to finish in under seven hours. It’s a slow time, but felt realistic considering my training, or lack thereof. However, as I came around the finish line after the first run loop, I noticed the race clock read 5:01. I realized that I might be able to finish in under 6 hours if I pushed the second lap. The first lap had taken just over an hour. I decided to maintain my pace, around 10 minutes per mile, until the 10 mile marker and then would push if all felt good. I got to the 10 mile marker, and the CrossFit resilience kicked in again. I began to kick up the pace, and met with so much pain! But I continued pushing. Mile 11 - 8:50, mile 12 - 8:20, mile 13 - 7:50. I came around the final corner and saw the race clock...5:58 and I was only meters away.


A final kick and I finished at 5:59:09! My timing chip time was actually 5:54:09 my wave having started five minutes after the race clock. This placed me 29 out of 53 in my age group. (This isn't a particularly good time, middle of the pack, but is a great time for me as far as I’m concerned.)


Run time was 2:01:26, placing 13 out of 53 in my age group.


CrossFit as a Base
I don’t believe I could have finished the race without the training specificity I eventually introduced. However, I do strongly believe that the overall fitness CrossFit had built in me was a large part of my success. I completed the race on considerably less training than many others, having heard people talking about 8-12 months of training instead of my 4 months. And without the mental resilience built in CrossFit WODs, I might never have gotten back in the water after my warm up disaster. And I certainly would not have had the fire to push the final three miles at quicker and quicker pace. Plus, without CrossFit, I never would have signed up in the first place.


Now, it’s off to train for a 50 mile ultramarathon in January, then back to CrossFit WODs for several months before diving into specific triathlon training for the 140.6 next October.

Gear List
  • Shoes: Merrell Road Glove (on the bike), Merrell Bare Access Ultra (on the run)
  • Socks: Icebreaker Hike+ Lite mini
  • Shorts: Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Shorts
  • Shirt: Pearl Izumi Elite In-R-Cool Tri Singlet
  • Bike: 1982ish Cannondalte SR300
  • Hydration: Tailwind & water on the bike, lived off the course on the run
  • Nutrition: a nut and chocolate trail mix in a baggie taped to my handlebars on the bike, lived off the course on the run
  • Headwear: Buff - UV
  • Eyewear: Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 swim goggles (the best!), Optimum Nerve Omnium PM Sunglasses
  • Technology:  Nexus 5 with Strava app
  • Miscellaneous: TriGlide

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Well, That Wasn't Body Glide!

Just a silly quick-hit post today, a bit of triathlete daylight savings morning humor.

Got home from a group bike ride with some fellow Boca Raton Triathletes this morning and discovered that, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I had slathered up with deodorant instead of Body Glide on the way out the door.

Gotta say, the deodorant performed admirably.




UltraFinishers

On a separate note, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Scott Johnson from the UltraFinishers podcast. Whether you listen to my interview or not, make sure to check his podcasts out. Really cool, inspirational stuff talking to ultramarathon finishers from the middle and back of the pack, instead of elites.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hoka One One Clifton First Impression

At the Skydive Ultra, my biggest difficulty was pain in the soles of me feet. I think this is to be expected to some degree, particularly for a larger and heavier runner. But running the first 29 miles in fairly minimalist Merrell Bare Access Ultra's certainly didn't help. And, while the Altra Olympus shoes I switched to were much better in terms of cushioning, I'm just not totally in love with them. They're a bit heavy at 11 ounces and don't quite feel right on my feet no matter how much I adjust them. That's led me to search for a new, highly cushioned shoe for long runs.

Hoka One One's have been getting tremendous press and I've read innumerable positive reviews about this brand from so many knowledgeable sources. Two models in particular seem to draw the most accolades, the Bondi (except for the Bondi 3) and the Clifton. In my reading, I felt the Clifton was the most likely to work well for me, although I was willing to accept recommendations from the local running store, Delray Beach Running Company. After lots of testing and trying, I did end up with the Clifton despite liking the Hoka One One Conquest quite a bit.

First Run Impressions

This morning I was able to get out for my first run in the Cliftons, a 14 miler on easy and non-technical trail along an Everglades levee. It's also only my second long run (and first comfortable long run) since the Skydive Ultra, so my impressions may be somewhat colored by lack of training.

Overall, this shoe feels wonderful to put on. It's exactly as soft and cushioned as described, and so wonderfully light. At 7.7 ounces per shoe, they feel almost weightless on foot. Odd that a difference of just over 3 ounces compared to my Altras can feel so different, but it does. The feel on foot is just great.

The cushioning while running is everything I expected and read about. Tons of cushioning, but it never felt like the thick sole would cause me to twist an ankle or tip over. I felt nicely connected to the ground and was able to move along easily despite them being an entirely new shoe for me.

I do have one gripe, and it's the same one you'll read in many reviews. The toe box is really cramped. I didn't notice it for several miles, but by mile 10 my small toes were definitely developing hot spots from being squeezed between neighboring toes and the edge of the shoe. No blisters developed over today's 14 miles. I'm not sure that would remain the case over 50 miles, however. I'm going to try running in the Clifton wearing Injinji socks to see if that relieves some of the rubbing. My Clifton's also come with a second insole which I understand is a bit thinner and softer. I'm going to try those in the shoes to see if they offer a touch more space in the toe box.

But I'm worried about the toe box issue. I want to wear these shoes for really long runs given how great they feel otherwise. That won't be possible if the small toe issue continues.

The Other Big Gripe

I have one other issue with the Hoka One One Clifton's. They're expensive. They retail for US$130 which was far more than I've ever paid for a pair of running shoes. That's not a price really out of line with other running shoes, but it's just more than I'm comfortable spending. I generally watch for previous year models of shoes to go on sale, then buy them on the cheap. That wasn't possible with the Cliftons. And I would not have bought them had I not gotten a little money for my birthday last week. But I am willing to spend a bit more now that my running distances are really increasing, if the shoes help with pain and injury prevention. I was also happy to discover my membership with the Boca Raton Triathletes got me a nice discount.

Given the cost, I'm concerned about durability. The shoes are super light, the soles made of fairly soft materials. I'm a heavier guy. I'm not sure I'll be able to run in a pair for 400 miles, or even if they'll make it to 300 miles. Combine that with their high cost, and they may simply not be a realistic shoe for me.

Would I Buy Them Again?

I think the big question on any piece of gear is, would I buy it again? Even if I love something, but cost would prevent me from buying it again, it doesn't feel like a good value. However, if I just like something, but cost allows me to buy it again, that's value. Or I might love something so much that cost becomes less relevant; then again, that's value.

It's too early for me to say that I'd buy the Clifton's again. I wish one run would have been enough to make that decision. I do really love the feel and ride of the shoes. But the toe box is concerning. The cost is tough for me to swallow, particularly if durability is below par. These shoes are so close to perfect, but just not there. We'll see.