Running in Excess

The Extraordinary Experiences of an Ordinary Runner

Part 1: 1974-1994

 by Tom Perry

Becoming a Runner
The Early Years:  1974-1977
menu-spacer.pngIn 2010 while I was on the metaphorical injured reserve list with a prolonged case of PFPS (patella-femoral pain syndrome), I had time to reflect on what I'd been missing.  Part of that reflection was to look back on the experiences and lessons learned in over 35 years of competitive running.  A shelf full of training diaries covering most of those years has provided some real data to ground my rosy recollections.  So let us start at the beginning...


tom-the-bikie.jpg
Road racing in 1975... I was pack fill in most races.
Here I'm chasing to rejoin the peleton after being
dropped yet again on a hill.
 
How I Became a Runner.  I missed out on athletics in high school and college.  There was no tradition of sports in my family and I had no reason to believe I might have some talent for endurance sports.  My entry to sport came after college with a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed I bought for transportation in 1970 while living in Atlanta, GA.  Cyclists I met on group rides with the local bike club encouraged me to do a Century Ride.  Soon an imported road bike replaced the Varsity and a good friend talked me into trying a road race.  That led to many more road races and time trials, working in a bike shop and in the summer of 1974, moving to Auburn, AL to manage a bike shop.  I did my first running in the fall of 1973 and winter 1974 in a test of running as off-season cross training for cycling.  That low-key approach to running changed later in 1974 when one of my cycling friends challenged me to join him in running a marathon.   

Marathons in the 1970s.  Frank Shorter’s gold medal win in the Munich Olympic Marathon in 1972 is frequently credited as the catalyst of the 1970’s running boom.  Of course, it was bigger than just Shorter’s gold medal… at Munich in 1972 Kenny Moore finished 4th and Jack Bacheler was 9th.  And four years later at Montreal, Shorter finished 2nd and Don Kardong finished 4th.  America seemed to own the marathon in the 70s.  Millions of Americans were inspired by these heroic feats and thousands of them took up the challenge of the marathon.  Over time the marathon would morph into the mass migration charity runs that we know today.  In the 1970s there were relatively few marathons and the fields in each were largely limited to serious runners. 

1974-p-bowl-finish.jpg
Finishing on the track at the 1974 Peach Bowl 42k.
Not owning any running gear, I did the race in cycling
shorts and jersey.
My first marathon was the 1974 Peach Bowl Marathon.  The race time limit was 4 hours and when I finished it in 3:42, I was near the back of the field of 122 finishers.  The next year, when I finished in 2:55, I was the 53rd of 119 finishers.  For comparison, the same time in the 2010 Atlanta Marathon would have placed 15th overall of 2155 finishers!

The Boston Marathon introduced its first qualifying standard in 1970 to limit the field size.  When I ran Boston in 1976 and 1977, the 18-34 qualifying time was 3:00 and was further dropped to 2:50 in 1978 (today it’s back up to a much easier 3:10).  The 1976 official results from Boston only list the 1131 men and 28 women who finished in under 3:30.  In 1978 the official time limit was extended to four hours and the record book lists 2219 men and 102 women as official finishers.  The small number of women finishers reflects the fact that women were not allowed to enter the Boston Marathon officially until 1972 and, until the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the longest women’s race in the Olympics was the 1500-meters.

How did so many marathoners in the 70s manage to break three hours?  My theory is that it mostly had to do with our goals and expectations.  If you were a young man running marathons in the 70s, your goal after the first one was to break three hours.  It was an achievable challenge and would qualify you for Boston.  Some of your running friends had probably already done it or were also trying to do it.  You expected to be able to do it and were willing to do the training to make it happen.

Road Races in the 1970s.  It is perhaps a little dangerous to generalize from a single year and a single city but I found a 1977 Atlanta Track Club Road Race Schedule in my files.  For March through December, the schedule listed 20 events, most with two or more race distances, but without even one 5k among them.  Instead the schedule offered a eclectic mix of race distances, many of which are not available today:  4 miles, 5 miles, 6 miles, 10k, 7 miles, 8 miles, 9 miles, 15k, 10 miles, 20k, half marathon, 25k, 30k and 20 miles.  Race entry fees were $1 except for the July 4th Peachtree Road Race.

I ran in the 1976 edition of the Peachtree Road Race.  That year the race hit the big time (as befits a premium $2 entry fee).  When most races in Atlanta had only a few hundred runners, Peachtree had 2,300 and Olympian Don Kardong won.  The following year the field swelled to 6,500 and in 1980 the entries had to be limited to 25,000. 

Note:  Unlike today, almost all of the road races available to a runner in the 1970s were promoted by track clubs to provide sporting opportunities for runners, not to raise money for a charity.  

Eight Weeks to a First Marathon.  As I mentioned above, in 1974 one of my cycling buddies challenged me to join him in running the Peach Bowl Marathon in December.  During the summer cycling season my running cross training averaged only 5 to 7 miles per week.  After a final bike race at the end of October, I had only eight weeks to get ready for the marathon.  At it turned out, when you have an endurance base built in four years of cycling and you’re 29 years old, it can be done.  My weekly mileages for those eight weeks before a race week taper are listed in the table below.
 

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Miles 16 31 32 60 57 51 59 66

Despite the minimal running mileage, my first marathon was fairly easy to complete in 3:42 and left me wanting to do another one with better preparation. 

Two Sports, Two Seasons.  As shown in the accompanying chart, through the winter and spring of 1975 I continued running about 20 miles per week as cross training while my cycling increased to about 200 miles per week in March and to the 250-300 range for the primary summer racing season.  The diversion to run the first marathon in the fall of 1974 and the running cross training continued through March appeared to help my cycling.  My race performances were at least equal to those of 1974 and I set personal bests in 25-mile time trials in May and again in early September.

I then successfully shifted almost completely to marathon training… going from 0 to 85 miles per week in eight weeks and continuing to average 85 miles per week for the eight weeks before the 1975 Peach Bowl Marathon.  I ran 47 minutes faster than the year before (2:55:16 for 53rd out of 119 finishers). 

1975-cycling-running-graph.png
Totals:  8,933 miles cycling; 1481 miles running

As can be seen in the graph, it is quite possible to have strong racing reasons in two sports in one year.  And, if you come out of the cycling season at a high level of aerobic fitness, you can run a fast marathon on only 16 weeks training... 8 weeks to build up to an adequate weekly mileage and 8 more weeks to get race fit.

Running Takes Over.  The 2:55:16 finish in my second marathon did three things:  1) got me into the top half of the field, 2) qualified me for the Boston Marathon and 3) hooked me on running as my primary sport. 
The lure of running Boston kept me running through the winter and early spring of 1976.  I backed up the Peach Bowl result with a 2:59 in the hilly Stone Mountain Marathon in February. 

At Boston, it was over 90 degrees at the start in Hopkinton and, in hindsight, I feel pretty good about the 3:02 I ran that day.  I then had a final and abbreviated 15-week cycling season before again ramping up the running in early August.  After a rapid build up, I averaged 86 miles per week for the eight weeks before the AAU National Championship Marathon in Crawley, LA where I set my all-time marathon PR with a 2:50:08 for 50th place of 411 finishers. 

1976-cycling-running-graph.png
Totals:  3,060 miles cycling; 3031 miles running

Training without a Plan
.  In the beginning about all I knew about training for a marathon was one simple fact:  the top guys ran well over 100 miles per week.  One hundred miles in a week takes just over 14 miles per day assuming no days off.  Running was considered to be 8 minute pace or better.  If you went slower, that was jogging and you didn’t want to be called a jogger.

So my basic routine evolved… run every day, frequently running twice a day to get in enough miles each day to stay on schedule to complete 90 to 100 miles each week, doing every run at the same pace and working hard to get all of those miles under 8 minutes per mile.  Speed work came from shorter races run every couple weeks.  Easy days or rest days had no p;ace in the routine… I cut back only when forced to by fatigue, illness or injury.

For Want of a Coach
.  When you love something, it is all too easy to overdo it.  Over the eight weeks between the National Championship Marathon and the Peach Bowl Marathon I ran five races while still maintaining an average of 85 miles per week.  Those races weren’t controlled workouts; I ran personal bests for 10k, the half marathon and 20 miles.  By the time I got to the season-ending Peach Bowl Marathon, I was well past my peak and had to dig deep to get through the race in 2:53:55, a slight improvement on the year before that came at a high price. 

A coach would have insisted on my taking a couple of easy weeks after the National Championship Marathon and would have held me out of the 20 mile and half marathon in favor of being fresh for the Peach Bowl Marathon.  Doing so might have saved me from the physical and mental burnout that came in the spring of 1977.

The End is Near
.  My recovery after the Peach Bowl race was slow and incomplete.  My log shows that I eventually got my mileage back up into the 80-100 mile range but the comments I wrote at the time revealed a story of deep fatigue and a lingering malaise.  I remember to this day how bad I felt and how hard it was to complete runs that had been a joy to do a few months before.

In the spring of 1977, I did three long races and a highly memorable relay.  In February, without any specific training or strategy for running beyond the marathon, I started my first ultramarathon.  Everything that could go wrong did and I dropped out at 35 miles, having bonked and been hobbled by aching muscles and bloody socks.  It would be four years before I again attempted an ultramarathon.

In March while on a trip to Los Angeles, I ran the Los Angeles Marathon, finishing 45th in 3:05:41.  In April I again ran Boston.  That year the weather was only comfortably warm, not the oven-baked feel of the year before.  Running mostly on fumes and muscle memory, I just managed to get under three hours.

My Favorite Relay
.  Back in the 70s before Runner’s World was sold to Rodale, then publisher Bob Anderson came up with a bizarre idea that took off:  “Let’s do a 24-hour relay, 10 runners to a team, a mile at a time in a set order, seeing how many miles we can total.”  Teams came together in almost every state and gave the new, made-up event a try.  High school and college teams found it remarkably effective for team building.  Clubs put together teams and found it was great fun.  Results were reported to Runner’s World and records for each state were kept.  As I recall, ten distance runners at an Olympic development camp set the “world record” of 295 miles, 269 yards.

24hr-relay-photo.jpg
In May, I had the good fortune to be one of ten men on a team of Auburn area runners who set out to break the existing Alabama record.  The basic routine was: 1) run a hard mile (sub-five for the horses on the team, sub-six for the rest of us), 2) rest or snooze fitfully for less than 50 minutes, 3) return to step 1.  Weird things happened in the middle of the night… hallucinations, runners starting their miles half asleep and running like it.  Despite the challenges, we had a great time and easily set a new Alabama record with 258.4 miles.  That’s a 5:34 average pace for 24 hours.

Just as the marathon has changed since the 1970s, the 24 Hour Relay gradually morphed into the non-competitive charity events put on by the American Cancer Society and Easter Seals.  And, because the era of competitive 24-hour relays predates the World Wide Web, the records of those races exist only in the memories of those who were there.

In June 1977 I followed my wife to Los Angeles, CA when she accepted a terrific job in that city.  For practical purposes, the move put my running career on the back burner for several years.


Discovering Ultras
California:  1977-1988
menu-spacer.pngContinuing my look back on the experiences and lessons learned in 35 years of competitive running, Part 2 picks up with my wife and I getting settled in Los Angeles, CA after moving there in the summer of 1977.  Highlights of this next phase include: 
  • discovering that I have a talent for the longer distances
  • having the heady experience of leading a race for the first time
  • actually winning a race
  • surviving doing the Western States 100 as my first trail ultra 
  • repeating the error of racing too frequently with no off season
  • and finding a novel way to finish a 24 hour run 

1978-1980: Running on the Back Burner
My first three years in LA, I continued to run but was not training seriously and did not keep a training diary.  Often my running was a daily commute to and from work.  Looking to explore new challenges, I connected with the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club and started collecting peaks on the Hundred Peaks Section list of over 200 named summits of at least 5,000 feet in Southern California.  I made 20 peaks in the fall of 1977.

1978:  I hiked up and ran down 35 more peaks on the Hundred Peaks list and ran 3 marathons.  My best effort was a 2:56:45 in the Santa Monica Marathon

1979:  In the winter I took the Sierra Club Basic Mountaineering Training (BMTC) program which covered rock climbing, navigation with map & compass, ice axe and snow travel skills and winter camping.  I climbed seven more peaks, stopping at 62 without completing the list as I became more connected to the local running scene.

I started running with a Wednesday evening group at the Phidippides store in Marina Del Rey.  (The Phidippides store later relocated to Encino in San Fernando Valley; it is still generally acknowledged as the best running store in LA.)  A core of my friends who ran at the Phidippides store in the 80s moved over to the nearby Starting Line store in Venice and still run together every week.  Three years ago in LA on business, I ran with them again and it was like I'd never been away.  Re marathons completed in '79, I probably again ran the Santa Monica and Western Hemisphere Marathons but don't have any record of my finishes. 

1980:  I was a group leader in the same BMTC program that I had taken the previous year, responsible with several assistants for teaching and leading a group of about 15 students through the ten-week program.  In the summer, I changed jobs and went back to school for a masters degree.  My enthusiasm for running was on an upswing.  That summer I had a fast 10-mile (1:03:55) which helped my Culver City Athletic Club team win first place in the 35-39 age group.  I ran a 10k in 37:12 (5:59 average pace), my best time since 1976.  Then, in November, I ran my best marathon in four years with a 2:54:55 at Rose Bowl Marathon in Pasadena.  
Encouraged by that result, I continued training with the goal of a 50-mile race in February.

1981 - Discovering Quick Success in Ultras
I served a second year as a BMTC group leader and then stepped away from the mountains as running again took all of my athletic focus.  My second attempt at a 50-mile road ultra was the complete opposite of my first experience at the distance.  Four years earlier I had started my first ultra only to drop out at 35 miles, bonked & demoralized with bloody blisters – a 50-mile race at Stone Mountain, GA that was won by that pioneer of American ultrarunning, Park Barner. Barner rode the bus down from Pennsylvania, won the race on Saturday and caught a bus to Maryland afterwards so he could run a marathon on Sunday.

Four years later, I had read and reread Ultra-Marathoning – The Next Challenge, the (long out-of-print) seminal text by Tom Oslerand Ed Dodd. After running the 2:54:55 marathon in November, I took that speed into the Jedediah Smith 50 Mile and extended my range by applying the run-walk strategy suggested by Osler (and now heavily promoted by Jeff Galloway).  While Osler recommended sweetened tea as an energy drink, I went with a mix of defizzed Coke and E.R.G. (Electrolyte Replacement with Glucose developed by marathoner Bill Gookin). The course was one big flat and fast loop north of Sacramento, CA.  Where four years previously everything went wrong, in this race everything went right and I ran even splits to finish in 6:22:22 (7:39 average pace). The race was the highly competitive Pacific Association 50 Mile Championship and my time was only good enough for 12thoverall among the 114 starters.  Doug Latimer led five runners under 6 hours, winning in 5:33.
  Latimer went on to be the co-winner of the 1981 Western States 100.

My next ultra was in September at the Lake Tahoe 72 Mile.  I wrote a first-hand account of the race that was published in the November 1981 issue of Ultrarunning magazine.  You can read my account here:  lake-tahoe-1981.pdf.  As you can see in the illustration below, the run wasn't just long... it also had some major climbs and every mile of it was at altitude.  I ran a very conservative race and was only in 36th place at the top of the second climb at 20 miles.  This conservative approach paid off as I gradually moved up through the field over the remaining 52 miles to finish in 10:45:15 (8:58 average) for 5th place overall.  The race winner was Jim King in a new event record of 9:27:48.  King went on to win the Western States 100 in '1982, 1984 and 1985, making him the first three-peat winner of the race.  One lasting impact of the Lake Tahoe race was a continuing affection for long runs around lakes and the inspiration for the Can Lake 50, which I’ve directed for the past eight years.

1981-tahoe72.png 
Map and Profile of Lake Tahoe 72 Mile Ultra

In October I ran in the Southern Pacific Association 50 Mile Championshipat Pasadena, finishing in 6:28:18 for 4th overall.  As the race was only four weeks after the Lake Tahoe race, I wasn’t surprised that the time was slower than my February race although I was chagrined at being lapped on the four-mile loop course by Charlie Hoover and Jim Pellon.  I later learned just how great these two top runners were.  Hoover, co-owner of Phidippides Encino, went on to run 5:17:28 for 50 miles in the 1982 AMJA Ultramarathons.  Pellon was the first man to win 10 consequtive silver buckles at the Western States 100 and won almost every Southern California ultra that he started. 

Totals for 1981:  3 ultras (12th, 5th & 4th overall finishes) and 2 marathons run as hard workouts; 3129 miles total running.  My 6:22:22 in the Jed Smith 50 Mile made me the 104th ranked runner in North America at that distance.

Ultrarunning in 1981

The majority of ultras were road races on certified courses. There were probably as many track races as trail races in the early 80’s. In 1981, trail races for the whole country were listed on one page at the conclusion of the calendar section in Ultrarunning magazine.

While there were some exceptional American women running ultras in 1981 (Marcy Schwam: 7:47 for 100K, Sue Ellen Trapp: 8:05 for 100K, Sue Medaglia: world record 126 miles for 24 hours, Sandra Kiddy: 6:24 for 50 miles), many ultras in 1981 had no women starters.


The top men in California excelled at both road and trail events. Four months after winning the Jedediah Smith 50, Doug Latimer tied with Jim Howard for 1stplace and the new course record (16:02) at the 1981 Western States Endurance Run. 1981 was also notable as the year that Bjorg Austrheim-Smith took more than 3 hours off the women’s record with her 8th place finish in 18:45.


Nationally, winning road times were often fast and the men’s fields competitive, perhaps because there were relatively few races.  Some notable road races from 1981:

  • Lake Waramaug – Stu Mittleman won the 50 mile in 5:14 with 9 runners under 6 hours. Ray Krolewicz won the 100K in 7:05 with 5 runners under 8 hours.
  • National TAC 50K Championship – Richard Holloway won in 2:55 with Frank Bozanich and Warren Finke seconds apart at 3:06.
  • AMJA Ultras (RRCA National Championship) – Barney Klecker won the 50 mile in 5:05 with Bernd Heinrich second in 5:10. Seven runners were under 6 hours. Heinrich continued on to 100K, winning in 6:38 with 4 runners under 8 hours.
  • Nickel City 50 (TAC National Championship) – Frank Bozanich won in 5:17 with 5 runners under 6 hours.
  • Valley Stream 50 Miler – Bill DeVoe won in 5:12 with 5 men under 6 hours.
  • Metropolitan 100K – Bill DeVoe won in 6:54 with 4 men under 8 hours.

The 1981 North American Ultra Lists had 19 men under 8 hours for 100K and 56 men under 6 hours for 50 miles. In 2009, despite having many more total runners in the sport, the Ultra List shows 9 men under 8 hours for 100K and only 7 men under 6 hours for 50 miles. The early 80’s were the “golden age” for American road ultras.


1982 - A Career Year
My first target race of the year was the Southern Pacific Association 100k Championship at the end of April.  The 100k and 50k fields started and ran together until about 25 miles.  Once the 50k runners turned off, I was surprised to find another runner and I were together at the front of the small 100k field.  Being in the lead of a race was a new and heady experience for me.  I quickly learned my competitor, Jim Czachor had recently won a 50-mile with a time 30 minutes faster than my best and was the 50-Mile National Champion in 1977.  That didn’t stop me from taking every opportunity to open a brief lead every time he would stop at the race aid stations.  We traded the lead for the next 20 miles until he finally pulled ahead to stay while we were running into a headwind.  I went through the 50-mile mark at about 6:26 and fought to hold pace to the finish hoping to get under 8 hours.  But it was not to be… I was sprinting at 80 meters from the line when the 7 changed to an 8 on the clock.  In hindsight I probably expended too much energy trying to get the lead in the middle of the race and missed my goal by 22 seconds (time 8:00:21, a 7:44 average for 62.14 miles).

buckle1.jpgEight weeks later I ran my first trail ultra at the Western States 100.  By the time I had recovered from the fast road 100k, I had less than six weeks to get my legs ready for the trails over the Sierra from Squaw Valley to Auburn.  Six weeks was not enough; six months might not have been enough to convert me from a road racer to a trail runner.  It was ugly but with the support of my best friend pacing me through the final 38 miles, I managed to finish 49th overall in 22:48:35.  The best thing about finishing and getting the coveted buckle for a sub-24 finish was that I wouldn’t have to do the race again.

It took about a week for my quads to heal from the abuse of all the downhill running at Western States.  Then it was a relief to get back to the roads.  Eight weeks after Western States I ran the South Hell 50, a local 50-miler over hilly roads in the Santa Monica Mountains.  Again I found myself in the lead group in the race.  At about ten miles, I inadvertently opened a small gap on other leaders and got ambitious.  I pushed a little harder up a long grade to open the gap and by 15 miles was out of sight.  I quickly learned that it doesn’t pay to get competitive in the early miles of an ultra.  Five miles later two guys motored past me on a big hill and another mile or so later another runner passed, dropping me to fourth.

With the encouragement of my handler, I regrouped and settled into running my own race at a more sustainable pace.  By 47 miles I had moved back into second place as the runners ahead slowed.  At about a mile from the finish I got within a hundred feet of the leader.  He heard me coming and, with a long surge I couldn’t match, reopened the gap to about a minute at the finish.  If I had been more patient and waited until 30 or 40 miles to go for the lead, the result might have been different.

Another eight weeks later, I again ran the Southern Pacific Association 50 Mile Championship, contested on a four-mile loop around the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  As often happens in small races, the elite runners who had finished ahead of me the previous year did not return for the 1982 race.  At about 30 miles I came up on the shoulder of the race leader and with a little surge moved into the lead.  I expected I would gradually pull away to a comfortable lead.  However, the gap stabilized at about a minute.  I would see him each lap at about the same point on a short out-and-back to the start/finish.  Being far more accustomed to chasing down other runners toward the end of a race, I found it stressful to be the runner pursued.  Still, I held onto the lead, winning the district championship by 54 seconds.  My time was a personal record:  6:21:42 (7:38 average).

Totals for 1982:  4 ultras (2nd, 2nd & 1st overall finishes plus a buckle at Western States) and 3 marathons run as hard workouts; 3501 miles total running.  My 8:00:21 100k made me the 12th fastest performer for that (infrequently run) distance in North America.  My 50-mile personal record was good for a 113th ranking, a truer indication of where I ranked during the "golden age of American road ultras."

Training for Ultras in the 80s

Consistent Training Pattern.  Being somewhat obsessive about my training, virtually every week had the following pattern:
Mon - easy run; Tue - easy run; Wed - easy run & fast fun run; Thu - easy run; Fri - easy run; Sat - long run; Sun - long run

Back-to-Back Long Runs.  The key workout in my self-coached training plan was two long runs on a weekend totalling perhaps 40 miles.  For example, I might run 24 miles on Saturday and then back it up with 16 miles on Sunday.  The reasoning was that you needed to train your body and mind to run when tired.  In the eight weeks before tapering for my 100k in 1982 I have six weeks with back-to-back long runs and one week with a 42-mile long run.

Moderately High Weekly Mileage.  My goal for the eight weeks before tapering for a major race was to keep my weekly mileage in the 70 to 85-mile range.  My eight-week average before the 100k was 82 miles.

Fast Weekly Fun Runs.  Being a self-coached ultra runner, I didn't do any formal speedwork and rarely ran any of the local short races.  Instead, I got my speed work every Wednesday evening at the Phidippides "fun run."  The group
started from the store in Marina Del Rey at about 8 minute pace so we could talk and catch up.  Once we headed down the beach bikeway the pace started ratcheting up.  Perhaps 10 of us would still be together at the turn around at 5 or 6 miles.  After the turn, the fast guys would take off and the rest of us would do our best to hang on.  In the spring of 1982, my time for a longish 10 miles "fun run" dropped from 1:09:09 to 1:08:30 to a sparkling 1:06:05 just 11 days before the 100k.

Easy Days.  I did manage to learn a little from my over-training days back in 1975-1977.  I had a running streak of over a year going but aside from the two long runs on the weekend and the Wednesday "fun run" speed work, the rest of my runs were lunch-time runs of only five or six miles at an easy pace.

Lessons Learned.  The above training practices enabled me to race reasonably well for about two years before the wheels came off.  Following are some of the problems I recognized in hindsight: 
  • Not enough gap between major races... eight weeks is not enough time to recover, train appropriately and taper for the next race and the next race after that
  • No off season after a series of major races... in Southern California it was entirely too easy to race year round
  • No off days to ensure adequate recovery from especially hard workouts or give lingering injuries a chance to heal
  • No easy weeks to allow recovery from hard weeks ("no recovery, no gain")
  • Over-reliance on back-to-back long runs... once every three or four weeks would have been better than doing these runs three or four weeks in a row
  • Long, hard runs too close to a major race.  For example, I did a 50k training run in 4:07 (7:55 average pace) the weekend before the 100k... a three week gap would have ensured adequate recovery and fresher legs at the race
  • No plan or structure to speed work.  I sometimes ran too hard close to a major race and more often missed opportunities for improvement 
  • No coach to talk me out of racing too frequently, put me through the right mix of speed work and to keep my morale up when things weren't going well 

1983-1987:  Crossing the Long Valley
With regard to racing, I have to confess to being both overly ambitious and a slow learner.  The lessons I learned from my burnout after 1976 (see Part 1 for the gruesome details) had been easily ignored with the quick success I found in ultrarunning.  After two career years with too many hard races and too little recovery, the inevitable again happened:  a rapid fall from the peak and a long-lived loss of enthusiasm for running, reduced training mileage, weight gain, and sub-par race results.

1983:  4 ultras (8th, 4th, 6th and a DNF in my first attempt at a 24 hour race) and 2 slow marathons; only 2363 miles running.  A lot of time and energy that could have been spent training went into getting my masters thesis close to completion and a job change.

The hubris of my misadventure at the Atlanta 24 Hour is worth a brief analysis.  I totally underestimated the difficulty of a 24 hour run, much less doing one in the heat and humidity of August in Georgia.  I mapped out a schedule that would get me to about 137 miles:  hours 1-4 average 6.25 miles per hour (mph); hours 5-12 average 6.0 mph; hours 13-16 average 5.75 mph; hours 17-21 average 5.25 mph and hours 22-24 average 5.0 mph.  Worse, I thought I could win the race despite being a long way from my peak race fitness.  My two 50 mile times were 7:05:48 for 4th overall in the Santa Monica Mountains 50 and 7:06:29 for 6th overall in the Southern Pacific Association 50 Mile Championship, a long way from the 6:21:42 of two years earlier.  

From the 24 hour start at 8am, I foolishly tried to stay close to the early leaders.  I ran too fast and walked too little, running ahead of my absurdly optimistic schedule.  At four hours, I had 26 miles and was a mile ahead of schedule.  In those same four hours, it had gone from a pleasantly warm 70 degrees to a hot & humid 80+ degrees.  By six hours I lost that mile cushion and began falling more and more behind schedule as can be seen in graph below.  At nine hours I had 50 miles but was in deep trouble.  I was walking more than I was running and stopped several times in futile attempt to recover.  Over the next three hours I added only another 10 miles for 60 miles at the race midpoint.  Three hours later at 15 hours, I had 72.25 miles and blistered feet from walking.  Over the next hour I added another 3.5 miles for 75.75 miles in 16 hours.  Doing the math, I figured it wasn't worth walking another eight hours just to get, at best, a hundred miles.  So I dropped out of my first 24 hour.

pacing-in-two-24-hours.png
    
1984:  2 ultras (16th place and a 2nd place in a 24 hour with 123.25 miles) and 1 marathon; 2619 miles running and 1134 miles cycling, mostly commuting to work.  I finally finished my masters degree.

After my failure in the Atlanta 24 Hour, I went into the No Bullshit 24 Hour with an enormous respect for the challenge of the event.  I was determined to run for the entire 24 hours.  To achieve this goal, I decide to try a novel pacing strategy.  The conventional wisdom in running trail hundreds and 24 hour events is "relentless forward motion" with time in aid stations held to the absolute minimum.  I decided to turn this notion on its head and run for 24 hours by not running for 24 hours.  That is, I decided to intentionally take rest breaks every hour in order to keep being able to run for the whole 24 hours.  My inspiration for this counter-intuitive approach actually went back to a book about cycle touring I read in 1955 when I was in the 5th grade... the text recommended taking a ten-minute break every hour when touring 100 to 150 miles a day.

My most optimistic distance goal for the race was 200k (124.27 miles).  Consistent with a goal of running relatively even spits for the entire race, I decided that 5.5 miles per hour was more than fast enough (5.5 miles x 24 hours = 132 miles) and would allow for a moderate slow down late in the race.  I started the race with the following pacing strategy:  Run at a comfortable, easy pace.  Walk a lap every two miles at a comfortable walking pace.  Step off the track at 5.5 miles (at about 50-52 minutes elapsed) and sit down with my feet up in a folding lounge chair.  Eat a snack or light meal provided by my crew.  Drink and relax.  At the end of the hour, go back to running.

As you can see in the green plot in the chart above, I consistently tallied 5.5 miles in each hour for the first nine hours and hit 50 miles in 9:04:35.  In the tenth hour, I slowed a smidge and, to ensure a consistent 7-9 minute rest break, I started taking my break at 5.25 miles elapsed each hour.  That worked for three hours and then I had to cut back to 5 miles per hour.  Except for falling one laps short at 15 hours, I was able to hold that pace to 20 hours.  I hit 100 miles in 18:50:47 (9:46:12 for the second 50 miles).  Starting at about 90 or 95 miles, I found I would stiffen up during the short rest breaks and it would take a couple laps to loosen up.  My last rest break was at 105 miles.  Running continuously got me an extra quarter mile in the 21st hour and kept me at 5 mph for the 22nd hour.  Then the wheels started coming off.  Hour 23 was passed running the straights and walking the curves on the quarter-mile track.  Hour 24 was all walking.  I finished with 123.25 miles for 2nd place behind the outstanding run of 130.25 miles by David Lygre (a highly accomplished runner from Ellensburg, WA who is still active in the sport today).  My more modest effort made me the 24th best performer in North America for the year.

Why the big difference between the failure in Atlanta the year before and the solid race in 1984?  I believe the biggest single difference was the pacing strategy.  I was, if anything, less race fit in '84... my time in the Southern Pacific Association 50 Mile Championship was slower (7:18:33).  My training prior to both 24 hour races was approximately equivalent... my average mileage for the eight weeks before each 24 hour was 71 miles per week.  On the other hand, the No Bullshit race was held in the coastal community of Ventura, CA and temperatures probably never got above 75 degrees.

Two medical issues from the race are worthy of mention.  First, the track surface was granite dust.  The thousands of laps run during the race turned the surface to a fine powder that penetrated the fabric of shoes and socks.   Starting at about 16 hours into the race, I noticed increasing irritation around my ankles and heels that got worse with each passing hour.  Several times my crew tried cutting away part of my shoes in hopes it would stop the irritation.  In hindsight, it mystifies me why we never tried a sock and shoe change.  After the race when the shoes and socks came off, we discovered the tops of both feet were red and blistered due to my allergic reaction to the dust.  It was about a week before I could wear shoes again.  From that race on, I always planned for a mid-race foot wash and shoe change for track and trail races.

Second, once I stopped at the end of the 24 hour, I started to black out.  Fortunately my crew was there to catch me.  I discovered I was OK if I kept moving or if I lied down but standing around chatting was not possible.  The week after the race I got a major workup from a cardiologist who found nothing abnormal, i.e., no arrhythmia or other possible problems.  The conclusion was that the cause of the near fainting was some combination of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and blood pooling in the legs.  After that episode, I made it a point to always avoid stopping completely immediately after a hard ultra, to try to walk around for least five or ten minutes after finishing.

Tips on Applying the Counter-Intuitive Strategy for 24 Hours

If you would like to try the approach I used with considerable success in the No Bullshit 24 Hour, here are some tips
  1. Set up a pit stop where you will be able to comfortably take your rest break no matter what the weather conditions may be.  This could be as simple as a canopy for shade and a folding lounge chair so you can put your feet up.  In inclement conditions, you might need a tent to get out of the rain and wind while you rest, eat and drink.
  2. Have a pit crew to cater to your needs during the race.  Your crew should have anything you want ready to hand to you, whether it's a bottle for a walk break, a snack and drink for a rest break, a change of shoes or clothing, etc.  The goal is to eliminate all hassles and wasted time so you are either making relentless forward progress around the course or resting as comfortably as possible.
  3. If you can't have a pit crew for part or all of the race, prepare ahead all drinks and food so you won't have to waste time and energy in food preparation.  Have all other supplies organized and arranged so things are easy to find.  You might want to have food and drink within reach while you are sitting in the lounge chair so you can maximize the time with your feet up. 
  4. Plan to run from the start of the race at a very easy and effortless pace.
  5. Plan to take frequent and short walk breaks.  With additional experience, I now recommend shorter run intervals and shorter walk breaks than the run 7 laps, walk 1 lap which I used in 1984.  I suggest strong and fit runners try walking 200 meters every mile and less fit runners try walking 150m every half mile or kilometer.
  6. Do some practice runs using your planned run/walk strategy.  Take note of how many miles you effortlessly cover in 50-51 minutes.  Make that distance your maximum goal distance for each hour of the 24 hour.
  7. During the race, follow your run/walk strategy from the first mile.  When you reach your goal distance for the first hour, get off the track and rest/eat/drink until the end of the hour.
  8. As the race progresses your running pace will eventually slow.  When your rest interval gets under 5-6 minutes, it's time to shorten your goal distance for the hour.

     

Note:  The above approach is for track races and races with a short loop of a kilometer or less.  For 24 hour runs on longer loops, the approach would have to be modified.  For example, assuming a 2.0 mile loop and a runner able to effortlessly run/walk at 6 miles per hour:  I would recommend starting with a goal of run 3 laps and rest 8-10 minutes.  Eventually, the runner will slow.  When the runner feels the need for more rest, I would switch to taking a rest break after every 2 laps. 


1985:  1 ultra (6th place) and 2 slow marathons; 2115 miles running.  Life changes were a major factor this year… we adopted our older son.  My one ultra came in December at the Palm Springs 50 Mile.  I was at least 15 pounds over racing weight and averaged only 49 miles per week in the eight weeks before the race.  Fortunately the course and weather were favorable and I finished in 7:11:57.

1986:  1 ultra (7th place) and 3 slow marathons; 2448 miles running.  Buying a house, selling our condo and moving took lots of cycles that could have been spent running.

I was still carrying the extra pounds but my training was up (60 miles per week average for the eight weeks before tapering) leading into a return engagement with the Palm Springs 50 Mile.  I was pleased to do a little better, finishing in 7:01:24.

1987-san-juan50.jpg1987:  2 trail ultras (32nd & 72nd place) and 1 slow marathon; 2424 miles running.  This was my fish-out-of-water year when I tried a half-hearted switch to trail ultras with little success.

The Malibu Trail 50 Mile came at the tail-end of the Southern California rainy season.  Things went reasonably well until the deluge started after about 20 miles.  It poured and the trail turned to mud.  This roadie was really miserable in the mud.  The result was a personal worst 10:24:00 for 50 miles.

The San Juan Trail 50 Milewas on a warm day in November with lots of long climbs and descents, some rocks and not a trace of mud.  If you look closely at the photo, you will see I'm wearing a 1987 Nike Monitor at my waist.  That gizmo used the doppler effect to estimate your running speed and distance traveled.  The Monitor had no display.  Instead would tell you your current pace and distance through ear buds.  It sort of worked except it was sensitive to the terrain, giving different distances for running up versus down the same hill.  It also had a wired heart rate monitor strap that I could never get to work.  I used the Monitor for about six months before putting it on the shelf where it sits today.  My race finish was in mid-pack with a 9:38:48 time.
 
A Hint of Even Better Races to Come 
In 1988 I returned to the roads, gradually lost weight and ramped up my training in the second half of the year.  In October I again raced the Southern Pacific Association 50 Mile Championship, now on a flat five-mile loop in Fountain Valley, CA.  On a hot day I managed to finish 3rd overall in 6:46:10, my best result for 50 miles in six years.  Continuing to ramp up my training and losing the final five pounds to get to racing weight, I ended the year with my first sub-3 marathon in eight years by running 2:58:03 in the Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City, CA. 

Total running mileage for the year was 2455 miles, much of it in July-December.


Chasing Championship Medals
menu-spacer.pngCalifornia:  1989-1994

The previous phase closed with my return to the roads in 1988 and my first sub-3 marathon in eight years in December 1988.  Highlights of this next phase include:

•·         a PR in the 24 Hour

•·         age-group silver and bronze medals in TAC National Championship races

•·         discovering my favorite race in the 12 Hour and setting a race record

1989:  Another 24 Hour and the Edmund Fitzgerald 100k Championship.  With the promise of even better races to come, I started 1989 with a renewed enthusiasm for hard training.  Two workouts formed the core of my training at this time.  In an eight to ten week training cycle for a target race I did three or four weekends with 40+ miles done in two runs.  I also started working out once a week with Culver City Athletic Club (CCAC) Coach Bruce Robinson.  At the West LA College track, Bruce put me through an eclectic mix of distances each week, sometimes as short and intense as 150 meter hard and sometimes including longer repeats, up to 4 by 1 mile or 2 by 2 miles.  Sets of 200s, 400s and 800s were in almost every workout.    Bruce's strategy seemed to be to prepare me to be comfortable at any speed and efficient at marathon pace.

After placing 5th overall in the local Spunky Canyon 40.5 Mile Ultra on April 1st, I trained hard through the spring and into the summer.  My goal race was the local Orange 24 Hour on August 4-5.  I averaged 76 miles per week for the eight weeks before tapering.  During the taper, I did a 12k road race in 47:30 (6:22 per mile average indicating I was in pretty good shape.

The 24 Hour started at 6pm on a Friday evening.  My strategy for this track race was to walk a hundred meters every four laps.  I expected to run a PR and be competitive for the race win.  With these ambitions I was going for "relentless forward progress" and was not going to take rest breaks off the track like I did in the No Bullshit 24 Hour in 1984.  As can be seen in the graph below, my race broke down into four distinct phases:

  1. the "honeymoon" - running effortlessly for the first seven hours (6pm - 1am) at 6.25 and then 6.0 miles per hour (mph).  At 7 hours, I was 3.25 miles behind Mike McMahon in first.
  2. "tactical retreat" - the effort begins to tell and I decide to slow my pace to 5.5 mph for the eighth hour in hopes of avoiding a more major slowdown.  I manage to hold this pace through hour 15 of the race (1am to 9am).  At 15 hours, I had moved into second place at 7 miles behind McMahon.
  3. "hanging on" - the day starts to get hot and my fatigue increases.  I have to ratchet the pace back another notch to 5.0 mph and then to 4.75 mph.  It gets really hot and I have to pour water over my head at least once a mile to keep from overheating in the sun.  I am barely able to sustain this pace through hour 21 (9am to 3pm).  At 21 hours I was in second place at 5.25 miles behind.
  4. "death march" - the wheels begin coming off for good in hour 22 as I go to running the straights and walking the curves of the track.  Sometime during hour 23 I can no longer run and walk for the remaining time.

orange24hr-pacing.png

I finished in second place with 128.3 miles, 4 miles behind first place but 5 miles farther than I'd done in the No Bullshit race.  I finished thinking that on a cooler day I might have a shot at 130 miles.  The photo shows me (left) shuffling along with race winner Mike McMahon (right) in the last hours of the race.

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Orange 24 Hour

 


Edmund Fitzgerald 100k

After the 24 Hour, I made plans to run the Edmund Fitzgerald 100k at Duluth, MN.  The race was the TAC 100k Open Championship in 1989. 

When I resumed training and track workouts in preparation for the Ed Fitz, I was plagued with pain from the groin down the inside of each leg (probably strained abductor muscles).  The pains continued on and off through the entire training cycle.  A two-week family trip to New Zealand also limited my training.  In the eight weeks before tapering, I averaged only 60 miles per week and my weight was up five pounds.

Using frequent flyer miles, I took my coach (Bruce Robinson) with me to be my handler for the point-to-point 100 kilometers along the shore of Lake Superior.  Race day on October 28th was clear and cold, cold enough that I started wearing tights and didn't take them off until after halfway in the race. 

My race went reasonably well as I started in about the middle of the pack and after twenty miles began moving up in the field.  I went through 50k in 4 hours even and kept working on catching the next runner up the road.  My coach met me every few miles along the course to hand me drinks and snacks.  Just as important in the last half of the race, he gave me time splits to the runners ahead who were out of sight over the next hill or around the next curve.  That kept me motivated all the way to the finish.

I finished in 8:11:33 for a 7:55 average pace.  I was 11th overall, 9th man and unofficially the 3rd masters runner (there were no age group awards).  The race winners in course record times were Charlie Trayer in 6:41:47 and the legendary Ann Trason in 7:33:13.

After the Ed Fitz, my abductors were even worse and ended my season.  I saw an orthopedist, did physical therapy, got reinjured by stretching and ended the year with a lingering injury and only doing low mileage running and weight up about ten pounds. 

Totals for 1989:  3 ultras (5th, 2nd, 11th overall finishes) and 1 marathon run as hard workout; 3049 miles total running.

1990:  Chasing Age Group Medals with Frequent Flyer Miles.  My next target race was the Wolfpack 50 in Columbus, OH on April 1st.  The race was the TAC 50 Mile Masters Championship and I would use some more frequent flyer miles in pursuit of a championship medal.

The sore abductors finally quite hurting in January and I had a fair training cycle.  I did several 20-mile training runs but had no 40-mile weekends in this cycle.  I was able to get back to the track and do longer repeats (e.g., 4 x 1 mile in 6:34 average) without reinjuring the abductors.

wolfpack44a.jpgThe Wolfpack 50 was held on a bike path in a Columbus park.  The course was a 2.5-mile out and back with the start/finish in the middle.  Ten laps with 20 turnarounds made up the 50 miles.  The course was great for me as a come from behind racer.  I got to see the next runner ahead at each turnaround and tell how quickly I was catching him.  The runner I passed for third place was especially memorable.  It took me ten miles to catch and finally pass him at 45 miles.  On my last lap, I had the open runner in second in my sights but the finish came too soon to catch him. 

I finished in 6:23:21 (7:40 average pace) for 3rd overall and 2nd in 40-44 for a silver medal.  I missed a gold medal by about 15 minutes or by 26 days.  At the time, I was 26 days short of moving up to the 45-49 age group.  This race was my best 50 since 1982 and when scored using the age-graded tables, it was superior to my 1982 50-mile PR. 

Seven weeks after the Wolfpack 50, with no concentrated training (only 48 miles per week average), I ran the SPA-TAC Championship 50 Mile.  On a warm day, I finished in 6:38:12 for 7th overall and 2nd in 45-49.  This local TAC association race had a better quality field than the TAC National Championship Masters race.  This example illustrates the sad fact that national championship ultramarathons are often no more competitive than a big regional race, especially in a strong running area like Southern or Northern California.

After TAC-SPA 50 Mile, I returned quickly to hard training:  40-mile weekends and regular track workouts.  I had 16 weeks of training in preparation for Megans Run, the TAC 24 Hour National Championship in Portland, Oregon.  With an average of 70 miles per week for the eight weeks before the race, I thought I was ready to contest the age group win.

But nine days before the race, the fever and body aches of the flu started.  My fever broke five days before the race and the headaches stopped four days before the race.  My resting pulse remained high at 60 versus my 45-48 normal range.  I ran 4 miles easy three days before race and decided to go as the airline tickets were non-fundable for my handler and me.

My race was not fun.  There was no "honeymoon" phase of effortless running.  I felt achy from almost the beginning.  My strategy was to walk 100 meters every other lap, i.e., run 700 meters, walk 100 meters.  My heart rate was elevated from beginning, 150 beats per minute during the run, recovering to 130 during the walk.  I began slowing from my already slow pace by 6 hours.  My quads were sore by 50 miles.  My calves started cramping by 80 miles.  I walked another five hours to 101.8 miles in 21:15 and retired to my tent.

What was fun was being on the track as Rae Clark set the current American track record for 24 hours.  Clark completed 664.7 laps of the 400-meter track for 165.2 miles.  I only saw him off the track for perhaps 10 minutes for a massage after he completed 100 miles.  While I was on the track, he lapped me about 200 times.

In hindsight, I would have been better off to have not started Megans Run while still recovering from the flu.  Recovery from the race took a long time.  I took two full weeks off with no running.   My resting pulse remained elevated at 60-65 for a week after the race.  I saw my doctor.  Blood tests showed my SED was 40+ indicating a problem with inflammation.  Two weeks later, my SED was still 20, the upper end of normal range and my resting pulse still above 50. 

After two weeks off, I resumed a maintenance level of running, 20-30 miles maximum per week.  I would feel good on perhaps one run a week and the rest I felt tired and very slow.  It was seven weeks before I had a run averaging less than 8 minutes per mile.

Totals for 1990:  3 ultras (3rd, 7th and 16th overall finishes, 1 silver medal) and 1 marathon run as hard workout; 2762 miles total running.

1991:  A Year to Regroup.  1991 was an off year dominated by a major life change.  My wife and I adopted a second son.  Gary was seven and in the first grade.  We had lots of colds and flus that year.  I had lots of business travel also.  I ran my favorite two marathons (Santa Monica and Western Hemisphere) in lackluster times.  In the fall I began a small ramp up in training for a January 100k.

Totals for 1991:  No ultras, 2 marathons; 2357 miles total running.  

jackson50-cropped.jpg1992: Another Medal and My First 12 Hour.  I started 1992 getting over the flu.  Two weeks after being sick, I flew to Dallas, TX for the Jackson Five-0 100k.  The race was the TAC 100k National Championship.  Weather in Dallas in January can be dicey.  Race day was a mix of rain, sleet and snow with strong winds.  Temperature was in the 35-38 degree range.  My race was not particularly good.  It was only two weeks after being sick and my training was marginal: only 45 miles per week average for the 8 weeks before the race and my weight was up at 143.  Then there was the weather; just finishing was a struggle.  Still everyone faced the same conditions and I finished third in the 45-49 age group and added a bronze championship medal to my collection.

Nine weeks later was the inaugural (and only) Los Angeles 12 Hour & 24 Hour, held at the Culver City High School track just down the street from my home.  Of course, I had to support the local race.  Recovery from the 100k went reasonably well considering I wasn't at a high level of fitness before that race.  My training before the 12 Hour was a little better at 53 miles per week average and three weekends with 40+ miles.  I was still well over racing weight at 141 pounds.

The night before the race, a heavy rain blew through the LA Basin and left muddy puddles around the turns at each end of the granite dust track.  In effect, for the first three or four hours of the race, we were running in the second lane around the curves.  Since the front had moved through, it was relatively cool and dry for the race.

I had a significant pain in my right hip in middle hours of the race... I took Advil and soldiered on.  The pain went eventually went away. In the final couple of hours, I was able to move up in the standings, passing Lorraine Gersitz (1993 US 100k team member) for third with about an hour remaining and closing on second, only 500 yards behind at the end.  My total for 12 hours was 74.17 miles (9:42 average pace).

After the 12 hour, the pain in my right hip and right abductors hung around for six weeks of maintenance running (30-40 miles per week, no long runs or track work).  Five weeks after the race the Los Angeles riots happened when the policemen were acquitted of the Rodney King beating.

The hip pain continued to show up from time to time for the rest of the year.  I continued on a maintenance level of training.  After Labor Day, I decided to try something different and got out my bike to train for the Conejo Century six weeks later.  My peak week of training was only 77 miles in two rides.  The Century ride was harder than I expected... that distance used to be a normal Saturday training ride.  The Conejo Century had five major climbs and I was beat by the end.  There's a big difference between doing a Century on a base of 200-300 miles per week and on a base of 50-60 miles a week.

After the Century, I was able to bump up my running into the 50 mile per week range, ran the Western Hemisphere Marathon on December 6th in 3:17  (weight 147, heaviest so far for a marathon or ultra) and after a week to recover, continued ramping up the miles into the 70 mile range.

Totals for 1992:  2 ultras (18th and 3rd overall finishes, 1 bronze medal), 1 marathon and one 100-mile bike ride as hard workouts; 2069 miles running, 676 miles cycling.

1993:  Breaking the Event Record.  In January, I began getting a sharp pain on outside of my right foot.  After a couple of weeks, an x-ray showed a stress fracture of fifth metatarsal.  I was able to run through the injury.

In April I flew to Columbus, OH to run the Wolfpack 50, which was again the TAC 50 Mile Masters Championship.  My training prior to race was only fair:  59 miles per week average and my weight was still at least 15 pounds over racing weight.  In the race, every five-mile lap was over 40 minutes.  I finished in 6:54:45 for 6th place overall and 3rd in the 45-49 age group and another bronze national medal.

After a couple of weeks off to recover, I ramped my training back up into 50-65 mile range and resumed doing 20 mile runs about every other week.  I started doing some speed work each week, mostly 1k or 2k repeats or 400 meter repeats, all on a 1k dirt loop.

During the summer, I decided to target the Claremont 12 Hour and upped my mileage further into 60-80 miles per week range and resumed doing track workouts with Coach Bruce Robinson.  My 10k race times dropped from 42:04 to 40:36.  I gradually brought my weight down to 135.  My eight-week average mileage before the 12 Hour was 65 miles.

The Claremont 12 Hour was held on a 440-yard granite dust track on the Claremont University campus.  Weather conditions on race day were typical of October in an inland location... very dry, not a cloud in the sky and hot in the afternoon.  I felt like I was in shape to do 80+ miles but the heat was a real problem for all runners.  I had my handlers give me a wet sponge every mile from early afternoon to sundown so I could wet my head and shoulders. 

The graph below shows the pacing of the first and second place runners in the race.  Lorraine Gersitz ran a very strong first half and took the overall race lead at six hours as the early leaders faded in the heat.  I was in third place at six hours, 2 miles behind Gersitz.  At eight hours I moved up into second.  Gersitz hit a bad patch in the eighth hour but I was still 1.25 miles behind her.  Over the remaining hours I was able to pick up my pace as the day began to cool and gradually chipped away at her lead.  At 11 hours I finally pulled even and then put the race away with a strong final hour.
 
claremont12hr-pacing.png
 

When the 12 hours ran out, I had 78.06 miles (9:13 average pace), the race win and had bumped the men's record distance up by 4.31 miles.  Gersitz finished with 76.5 miles, which also broke the prior men's record and set a new women's record by 4.25 miles.

I tried to come back a little too quick after the 12 Hour... I would have a few good days and then would be exhausted and miss workouts.  The weekend before Western Hemisphere Marathon I had a cold.  I had a bad race there, fading after ten miles.  I caught yet another cold a couple weeks after the marathon and gained back the weight I'd lost.  At yearend, my weight was back up to 144 pounds and I was back doing just maintenance mileage.

Totals for 1993:  two ultras (6th and 1st place overall, 1 bronze medal) and one marathon; 3039 miles running

1994: A Final Race in California.  The year 1994 started off with a series of unsettling external events.  The most notable of these were the 6.6 magnitude Northridge earthquake and the first ever layoffs in my group at Xerox.  The quake hit at about 4:30 am one morning in late January.  There was no significant damage to our house but it really put a scare into us.  An overpass of the Santa Monica Freeway about a half-mile from our house fell down, a 14-story building where my dentist had his office was damaged so badly that the entire building had to be torn down and many houses in nearby Venice and Santa Monica had to be destroyed after being pushed off their foundations.  The next week, there were layoffs in my group at Xerox.  I dodged the bullet but it upset things badly at work. 

I went down to a maintenance level of running for the first half of the year... running only 20-40 miles a week with no track work and no long runs.  Despite the reduced mileage, I had recurring problems with left knee pain and left foot plantar fasciitis.  My weight crept up to 150+ pounds by midyear, the heaviest I'd been since 1970.  My 10k times were up 3 minutes over the year before.

In August I decided to run the Claremont 12 Hour for my major race of year.  I got my mileage up into 60-70 mile range on good weeks.  New this year, I did a couple of trial runs on the track, running 16 miles using the run-walk strategy I expected to use in the race:  run at an easy pace (holding my heart rate under 145 bpm) and walking 100 meters after each mile.  For the two trial runs I averaged 9:29 and 9:30 for 16 miles.  My eight-week average mileage was pretty good at 61 per week but my weight was 150, the heaviest I'd ever been for a major race.

The 1994 Claremont 12 Hour was held on November 26th, which put it at the start of the rainy season.  At dawn on race day it was overcast.  By the time the race started, it was pouring and continued to rain for a couple hours.  Deep puddles formed in the turns and we ran in the second or third lane until the rain stopped and the track gradually dried out. 

As one might expect, being both overweight and undertrained, I was not going to set a PR.  In the early hours I was in seventh place.  Once the rain stopped, I gradually moved up.  By the sixth hour, I was in second place at 2.3 miles behind Chris Christensen who led from the start.  In the second half of the race I gradually chipped away at his lead but never got closer than 1.25 miles behind.  I finished with 72.71 miles (9:54 average pace) for 2nd overall and 1st Masters runner.

The 1994 Claremont 12 Hour was last race I ran in California.  My wife and I had been discussing moving out of Los Angeles for at least fifteen years and the Northridge quake finally got us off the dime to make the move happen.  I negotiated a transfer to the main Xerox offices in Rochester, NY and we moved in 1995.  

Totals for 1994:  one ultra (2nd place); 2432 miles running

Part 1 of this narrative ends with my having won three national age group medals (one silver and two bronze), found my best event in the 12 Hour and set a new open record in the Claremont 12 Hour. 

The story continues with Part 2 1995 - 2005.




Running in Excess

The Extraordinary Experiences of an Ordinary Runner

Part 2: 1995-2005

 by Tom Perry

Seven Years on the Erie Canal

Rochester, NY:  1995-2001

Part 1 of this narrative ended with my winning three national age group medals (one silver & two bronze), finding my best event in the 12 Hour and setting the open record in the Claremont 12 Hour.  Highlights of the next phase include:

•·         moving to Rochester and running 40 miles around Canandaigua Lake

•·         running going on the back burner for four years as I focus on family and work

•·         undiagnosed anemia leads to a personal worst marathon and a phenomenal comeback

•·         winning another road ultra, setting a trail race age group record and finishing 2nd in my RROY age group

 

800px-northridge_earthquake_10_frwy2.png1995:  Moving to Rochester.  After the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994, Anne and I decided it was time to leave Los Angeles.  The photo at the right shows the collapsed Santa Monica Freeway overpass at La Cienaga Blvd, about a mile from our house in Culver City.

After I negotiated a transfer by Xerox to Rochester, we spent the first half of 1995 getting our Culver City home ready to sell, buying a house in Pittsford and preparing for the move in early August. 

With a little over 30 miles per week average as a base, I ran the Canandaigua Mini Ultra in September.  This Charlie Sabatine directed race was pretty old school... a hand drawn map of the course and a few signs to mark the course.  The approximately 40 mile route started on West Lake Rd just outside the Canandaigua city limits and finished at Finger Lakes Community College.  Highlights of the course were Bopple Hill (600 feet climb in 0.8 miles) and a fixed rope descent of a steep gully to get from a dirt road in Sunnyside to a driveway at the dead end of South Lake Rd.  Running mostly on muscle memory, I managed to finish 5th overall in 6:03:32 and first in 50+ age group. 

Notably, the race was won by Ian Torrence, then only 22 years old.  Torrence went on to win many other ultras and is perhaps best known for his 2002 record of 78 hours 22 minutes for the Grand Slam Series of Ultrarunning (best cumulative time for the big four 100 mile trail runs in a single summer: Western States, Vermont, Leadville Trail and Wasatch Front). 

Second overall and first woman was Daniele Cherniak from Cohoes.  In 1995, she had already run on three US 100K Teams.  She went on to become a nine time member of the US 100K Team and was the 1999 USATF Ultrarunner of the Year. 

Note:  Contemporaneous accounts of this and other 20th century races around Canandaigua Lake can be found at www.canlake50.org/canlake-history.pdf.

Totals for 1995:  1 ultra (5th overall finish); 1447 miles total running. 

1996-1999: Muscle Memory Fades.  For the next four years, I took an unplanned holiday from serious training as I focused on work and family (teenagers have a knack for taking all your attention).  I still ran regularly for my mental health but did fewer long runs, no speed work or short races, and had no formal training plan or coaching.  Besides running less and less seriously, my weight ratcheted up by an extra five pound each winter.  The one goal I maintained was to run at least one marathon or longer race each year.  It's no surprise that my performances declined over this four year span.

iceagetrail50logo.jpg


In May 1996, I ran one of America's classic ultras.  The Ice Age Trail 50 is run mostly on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in southern Wisconsin.  The course is a tour of the geological features left by the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago... evergreen and deciduous forests, natural prairies, ponds, marshes and kettles.  Except for the location, the description (and the photo at the right) should seem familiar to anyone who has run in Mendon Ponds Park.  Only the scale is different... the features in Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine State Forest overshadow their more diminutive cousins here in Monroe County.  Having trained exclusively on roads, I still managed to finish the 50 miles in 10:25:00 for 83rd overall (about the middle of the field). 
ice-age-trail-2cropped.jpg

Wisconsin, Not Mendon Ponds
 

 

 

I also ran the Canandaigua Mini Ultra in September.  I again finished in 5th overall and first in the 50+ age group.  However, with less training and five pounds heavier, my time was significantly slower at 6:37:25.

Totals for 1996:  2 ultras (83rd and 5th overall finishes); 1872 miles total running. 

The Strong Children's Ultra was once an important race on the regional ultra calendar.  Back in the 1980's I read reports of the race when it was a 24 Hour directed by Don McNeely and run on the University of Rochester track.  The 1997 event was only 8 hours long and held on an uncertified, maybe unmeasured loop in Genesee Valley Park.  I ran and walked 8 hours and an estimated 39.5 miles, finishing a meaningless first among a handful of solo runners.  There were no results and no awards.  All in all, it was a sad end to a formerly great race. 

I ran my third and final Canandaigua Mini Ultra in September, finishing 10th overall in 6:55:02.  Given what I could do when race fit, this was also a sad end.

Totals for 1997:  2 ultras (1st and 10th overall finishes); 1497 miles total running.

wineglass.jpgOver the summer of 1998 I trained a little more seriously.  For something different, I skipped what would turn out to be the fifth and final running of the Canandaigua Mini Ultra and instead ran the Wineglass Marathon.  On a bit over 40 miles per week average for the two months before the race, I managed to run the first half in 1:57:59 and finish in 3:55:58... how's that for even splits?

Totals for 1998:  1 marathon (218th overall finish); 1577 miles total running.
 

In 1999, Larry Zygo and Rick Worner added a 50 kilometer option to the already popular Mendon Trails Runs.  I was only averaging in the low 30 miles per week that fall but I did get some race specific training by running one or two laps of the 10 kilometer course the three weekends before the race.  I finished toward the back of the small field in 6:17:47 for 11th place.  My lap times were fairly even for a trail ultra:  1:11, 1:13, 1:17, 1:18, and 1:18.

Totals for 1999:  1 ultra (11th overall finish); 1325 miles total running.

2000:  Personal Worst and Rebirth.  I tried to get more serious about training in 2000.  I started using PC Coach (www.pccoach.com/) to track my training and using the Jeff Galloway plug-in module for a personalized marathon training plan.  The combination of PC Coach and plug-in coaching module is what I like to call a "coach in a box."   You answer a lot of questions about your running and the software generates a training schedule for you.  A "coach in a box" is no substitute for having a real coach oversee your training but it beats attempting to work from a generic plan in a book.  The software at least gives you workouts that make sense for your current fitness level and your target race.

I made good progress until early May when it took way too long to recover from the combination of a 46 mile week and a 23 mile long run.  I didn't get back on track until early July.  I had hoped to be at 60 miles for my long run weeks but only managed to work up to 40 miles a couple times.  That was all I could manage and even then I was frequently too fatigued to complete scheduled workouts.

I started the Wineglass Marathon having averaged only 28 miles per week for the two months before.  I knew it was going to be a long day when the first mile took over ten minutes.  The best I can say for my run was that despite my worst ever race fitness, I managed to run slightly negative splits and finished my annual marathon (in a personal worst 4:38:00).  At the time, I remember thinking that this aging slowdown thing was a lot worse than I expected and at the rate I was going, my running days might soon be over.

The weekend after Wineglass I went to donate blood at the Red Cross and got turned away.  My blood didn't have enough red blood cells to be acceptable.  So, it was off to see my doctor and get to the bottom of the problem.  Short story is that I wasn't getting enough iron and was chronically anemic.  The fix was simple enough... all I needed was an iron supplement.  Once I started it, the improvement was damned amazing.  In just a couple weeks I felt better and was running better than I had in at least two years.

I felt so much better that I started another training cycle and started a serious diet.  Four weeks later I was ten pounds lighter and much fitter when I started the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  I ran almost a minute a mile faster than a year before, finishing 7th overall in 5:49;00.  My lap times were 1:07, 1:07, 1:10, 1:13 and 1:13.  Needless to say, I was pleased with the remarkable improvement and excited about the potential continued improvement for the year to come.

Totals for 2000:  1 ultra (7th overall finish) and 1 marathon (personal worst); 1501 miles total running.

2001:  A Career Year.  This year I went through three training cycles:  1) November 2000 to April 1 for the BPAC 6 Hour, 2) April to June 30 for the Niagara 100K and July to November 10 for the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  I used PC Coach training plans for the first two cycles and then transitioned to e-mail coaching by Roy Benson (www.coachbenson.com/).

Training for the BPAC 6 Hour went well despite the usual problems with a Rochester winter.  About 300 miles were on the treadmill; the rest including all long runs in that period were outdoors.  I followed a general weekly pattern of Hard-Hard-Medium.  I was roughly following a plan generated by the PC Coach Galloway marathon training plan.  Speed work was 4-8 repeat miles at marathon race pace and a few short races or time trials.  And by BPAC, I was down another 20 pounds and ready to race. 
 

My 6 Hour was run conservatively except for the last 30 minutes which were raced all out as can be seen in the heart rate graph below.   The conservative effort was in anticipation of running a half marathon two weeks later and a full marathon within five weeks.  The 30 minute sprint was for second place and resulted in my having negative first half/second half splits.  I got out sprinted by Karen Westfahl, a member of the Canadian 100K national team.  I pleased finishing third overall with 42.24 miles and first American behind two fine Canadian runners. 

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Heart Rate Data from BPAC 6 Hour

 


Recovery from the 6 Hour went well.  I ended the Galloway training plan and started a PC Coach Roy Benson plan (10K option) modified to include longer long runs.  Two weeks later I ran a hilly CATS Half Marathon in 1:38:35, another conservative, negative split race with my fastest miles coming at the end.

ontario-shore-age-group-low-res.jpgThree weeks later, my goal at the Ontario Shores Marathon was to go under 3:30.  The course and day were PR caliber.  My pacing was again conservative in the early miles.  Around 22 miles I started winding up the pace for negative splits, finishing in 3:19:28, 18th overall and first in the 50-59 age group.

My recovery from the marathon was probably incomplete.  I was not able to do the long runs I would have liked to do for the June 30th Niagara 100K.  My training was also probably compromised by competing in three RROY Series races in the 8 weeks between the marathon and 100K.  The June Medved 5K was a bit of a break-through as I made my goal of going under 21 minutes.

The Niagara 100K had been on my "to do" list since 1995 when we moved to Rochester. The attraction was obvious... a major road ultra at the standard international distance along one of the scenic wonders of the world... all within easy driving distance.

The steady improvement in my race results and my prior 100K experience suggested I might expect to run about 8:45 at Niagara if things went well and the weather was favorable.  However, the last week of June in the Niagara Region started warm and got warmer and more humid as race day approached.  It was clear and already a humid 72 degrees at the 6:00 am race start.

The 100K and 50 Mile participants in the Niagara Ultras started together in Niagara-on-the-Lake and followed the same out & back course up river most of the way to Lake Erie (with the 50 milers turning around sooner).  About fifty of us set out to attempt the two longer distances. The pack quickly strung out on the narrow bike path as I settled in about fifteen people back.  Running through the 5K aid station I moved up a couple of places.  I ran too much of the climb up the Niagara Escarpment and passed several runners.  By 8 am the temperature had already climbed to 77 degrees.  At the falls a slight breeze was blowing spray onto the walk way providing a brief but welcome respite. Exiting the 25K aid station I caught up to Karen Westfahl and had a good chat about her preparations to represent Canada in the IAU 100-Kilometer World Challenge in France.  After 35K, the lead runners in the 50 mile started streaming by.  Daniele Cherniak was third or fourth after the turnaround and looked the most comfortable with the effort.  Passing the 25 mile turnaround in 3:33, there was no one in sight ahead but the sun and temperature (80 and climbing) were beginning to get my attention.  At the 45K aid station I was surprised to learn that I was the first 100K runner to come through.

Leading a race, especially early in the going, has been a rare experience for me.  Do I accelerate to open a bigger lead?  Keep pushing at the same pace?  Or, do I listen to my body and the beeping alarm on my heart rate monitor which are telling me the current pace is unsustainable in this heat?  I keep pushing through the 50K turnaround at 4:24 and begin looking for the next runner. Seven minutes later there's second place, another couple minutes and there's the next couple of runners and the first woman.  My lead is larger than I expected but I keep pushing.  The heat is awful now (86 degrees) and I try all the tricks to keep cool... ice in my hat, ice water in my bottle to wet my head and shirt between aid stations, using every bit of available shade.  Past 60K even that is not enough and I begin adding a short walking break between aid stations in addition to an eating-drinking walk out of each aid station.  70K comes and I can see the mist of the falls ahead.  Spotting some 50 mile runners up ahead and slowly catching them gives me something to focus on besides the heat and distance to go.  Then I'm into the built up area at the falls.  It's early afternoon, the path is full of tourists and the street is full of traffic.  It seems to take forever to get through and headed out of town.  I notice a tightness in my chest which I associate with high levels of ozone (felt like an LA smog alert day).  Finally I'm at the shady 80K aid station (7:13) where my wife and son finally catch up with me.  A quick refill and I head out to complete the final two hours that make a 100K so much harder than a 50 miler.  My wife and son stay at the aid station to help out while waiting for the next 100K runner to see if anyone is close to catching me.

It hasn't gotten any cooler but I've settled into sustainable routine.  Anything that hints of up is walked.  Slowly the miles roll by.  The tightness in my chest goes away now that I'm out of the congestion around the falls. The downhill of the escarpment is completed without cramping.  Soon after, my wife and son spot me on the bike path and Gary runs over to tell me they waited an hour without the second 100K runner arriving.  That news is both a surprise (as I have hit the wall and slowed to ten minute miles) and a relief.  The thought occurs to me that I could walk it in and still be first.  Eventually the 5K aid station appears, then the 1 mile sign.  I pick up the pace, probably from an irrational impulse to get the damned thing over a few seconds sooner.  Finally, under the banner in 9:15:57 and a welcome cool down walk with my wife.

How much of a factor was the heat?  While it wasn't as hot as the canyons at Western States, the combination of heat and humidity was pretty potent.  The winning times and median finisher times for all three races were the slowest in the past six years.  Despite the heat and running scared of being caught for half the race, it was a joy to get the win (my third in twenty years of ultras).

The heart rate data in the graph below shows what can happen if you don't slow down soon enough on a hot day.  Notice how my heart rate peaked a bit after 4 hours, right around the time I made it to the 50K turnaround.  After that, I had to slow down and keep slowing down to survive and get to the finish.  Heart rate data is missing for the last hour due to the watch memory filling up.  Reviewing the data, it is clear that I should have backed off the pace after 2 hours, certainly no later than the 3 hour mark.  If I had done so, I think I would have had a shot at going under 9 hours.

niagara100k-heart-rate.gif Heart Rate Data from Niagara 100K


I started a new cycle of the Benson 10K plan a week after the 100K.  One month after the 100K I ran 20:25 for my 5K PR for the year in the 10 Ugly Men 5K on the Ellison Park course.  One week later I ran a pretty good Phelps 20K and won the 55-59 age group in 1:30:21.

On August 10th I had a sparkling 25+ mile run (9:07 average).  That long run on top of all the racing seems to have been too much on too little recovery.  My next RROY 5K was a disappointment (21:30).  More was going on than just the Katie Harper course having a couple hills and it being hot.  I was slower by 20-30 seconds relative to the other guys in my age group.

After the Katie Harper 5K I did a lot of easy miles and carefully followed the heart rate limits for my faster workouts.   The result was some recovery as measured by 5K race times (20:39 on a flat & fast course Hospice 5K on October 13th and 20:43 on a slower Run Like Hell course on a cold, windy day on October 27th).   From mid-September I did most of my long runs on the race loop in Mendon Ponds Park, getting my quads in shape for the (down) hills and getting comfortable with the continual change of grade and speed.   In September and October I found myself counting off the races and weeks to go to the end of the (too long) season.  Something in that period aggravated my right plantar fascia and also caused some irritation in the left knee but not enough to compromise my training.

I did a pretty thorough taper before the Mendon Trail Runs 50K yet my resting heart rate stayed relatively high.  This left me pretty uncertain about how the race would go.  Fortunately, once the race started, I felt fresh and first 30K felt no more tiring than the same distance in training (at a slower pace).  The fourth lap took more effort and by the start of the fifth lap I had to really jack up the level of effort to avoid slowing.  Mild muscle cramping (twinges only) surprised me on the last lap as I rarely have muscle cramps.  Once the twinges started, I had to back off on the hills but could still run hard on the flats & downs.

One observation about ultras with aid stations:  Time in the aid station can be critical.  I went from 5th after lap 1 to 2nd at the finish, yet only gained one position while out on the course.  The other passes came when the other runners were stopped at the aid stations.  I spent no more than a couple seconds each lap picking up a new bottle and a banana.  My lap times were all in the 59 minute range and my finish time of 4:57:38 was good for a 50+ age group record that wasn't beaten until the 2009 race.

I ended the year with a 42:51 age group third place in the Race with Grace 10K.  Every race counted in the 2001 Series, so by scoring some points in 11 of 12 races, I managed to finish 2nd in the 55-59 Age Group behind Tom Dutton and ahead of Jim May among several other faster runners who didn't run as many races.  As Woody Allen said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Totals for 2001:  3 ultras (3rd, 1st and 2nd overall finishes) and 1 marathon (18th overall finish), 2nd in RROY 55-59 Age Group; 2735 miles total running.




Four More Years on the Erie Canal

Rochester, NY:  2002-2005

The previous section ended with an unexpected career year at age 56:  being outsprinted by an elite woman for 2nd overall at the BPAC 6 Hour, a top 20 finish in the Ontario Shore Marathon, a 100K win on a brutally hot day at the Niagara Ultras, a sub-5 hour age group record at the Mendon Trail Runs 50K and finishing 2nd in my RROY age group. Highlights of the next section include:

•·         Age-group gold and silver medals in USATF National Championship races and an Oven Door road trip to the "Boston" of ultramarathoning

•·         Joining GRTC Board of Directors and writing the first Eclectic Runner columns

•·         With Rick Cronise and Charlie Sabatine, reviving the Canandaigua Mini Ultra as a full 50 miles race around the lake

•·         Bringing together the directors of the other ultramarathons in the region to create the Western New York Ultra Series

•·         Relaying 310 miles across the state with Rick Cronise

•·         And still finding time to run a few ultras myself.

 

2002:  Too Much of a Good Thing.  At the end of 2001, I sent a note off to Coach Roy Benson closing with a list of things I might want to avoid in the next year.  Two of them turned out to be prophetic:  1) Don't race from March to November with no real recovery period, and 2) Don't run too many races.  Of course, I proceeded to do just those things.  My target races for the year would be the USATF National Championship 50K in March, the Niagara Ultras in June and the USATF National Championship 100K in October.

My training through the winter went reasonably well, averaging about 50 miles per week.  Despite being about five pounds over my 2001 weight, I was about a minute faster at the Runnin' of the Green 5 mile.  With the National Championship 50K on the next weekend, I foolishly ignored the mild pain in my right foot and did a last long run the next day.  By the end of a 19-mile loop, the foot hurt on every foot plant.  That last long run was unwise because it was too close to my big race and it was stupid because I ignored the injury.  After the run, it is obvious even to me that I'd really messed up the plantar fascia of my right foot.

I rested the foot for five days and took my chances in 50K.  The weather in Pittsburgh didn't favor a fast race; it was only 24 degrees at the 7am start with a 25-35 mph wind blowing down the out and back 5K course along the river.  My race didn't go well from the start... I ran at a heart rate and effort that felt like sub-8 but my actual pace was well over 8 minutes per mile.  After a few laps my right foot started hurting, especially on a stretch with tight 90-degree turns and a severe camber.  I kept pushing where I could as the pain got worse with each lap.  Despite my problems I still managed to catch and pass a few runners as the laps wound down.  The end came at 4:25:52 for a back of the pack finish, 30th overall in a small field but with a silver medal in the 55-59 Age Group.

What followed next was not pretty.  My right plantar was now badly injured.  I probably should have taken some time off running to let the foot heal.  But, instead I substituted a couple days of cycling and kept training.  And I continued racing the RROY Series... my times were off but I still managed to score points in the smaller races... CATS Half Marathon (1st Age Group), Tom Wahl's 5 Mile (2nd Age Group) but out of the points at 11th in Age Group at the more competitive Lilac 10K.  I kept looking for a quick fix for the foot... new orthotics (which didn't seem to make any difference), deep massage (which seems to help but really hurt!), new shoes... anything but taking time off.

When the Niagara Ultras came around in late June, I stepped down to the 50K distance and ran 4:25:30 for 8th place... a time that was almost identical to my 50K at Pittsburgh in March and my 50K split in the Niagara 100K the year before.  Disappointing but I shouldn't have been surprised.  With the lingering injury, my training mileage and quality was only about 60% of the year before.  The trend continued with the summer RROY Series races... my times were significantly slower and I was scoring fewer points.

By September, despite the continued abuse, my foot was better and I was able to train more.  I ran my fastest 5K of the year at Katie Harper in September, only 12 seconds over what I did the year before.  The last two months before the National Championship 100K I was able to average 51 miles per week, close to what I was doing in 2001. 

Since my 1989 visit to the Edmund Fitzgerald 100K, the race route was switched from the fairly busy highway along the shore of Lake Superior to an inland route passing over a low mountain range.  Race day was cold and stayed below freezing all day.  I started at a good pace and the race went well until I tried to squeeze GU out of the squeeze flasks I carried.  In the cold, the gel would not come out of the flask and I bonked between aid stations at about 20-25 miles.  I also screwed up the long climb over the mountain range.  The climb was about five miles long but was so gradual that I was lulled into not slowing enough.  The first 50K took 4:53 and after that, the race turned into a real struggle to finish, getting slower with each 5K segment.  I revived a bit after 85K as I became more confident I would finish.  With the second 50K taking an ugly 5:38, I finished 19th overall in 10:31:27 and got the gold medal for 1st in the 55-59 Age Group.  Despite the struggle, my time also beat the handful of runners in the 50-54 Age Group.

Comment:  Of all the National Championship races I've run, my worst performance was the one that brought home a gold medal... demonstrating the randomness of awards and the sad state of USATF National Championships, especially in the road ultras.

Three weeks later, to support my local ultra and perhaps seeking a little redemption, I again ran the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  On the first lap I enjoyed chatting with Greg Brooks (a much faster ultramarathoner than me back in the day).  On the rutted downhill into the meadow near the Add-En-On Kennel, Greg tripped and did a most elegant tuck and roll back onto his feet with no injury and no loss of position in the pack.

The race itself followed a familiar pattern for the undertrained, over-raced ultrarunner... a couple of pretty good laps followed by an inevitable slowdown:  1:05, 1:05, 1:07, 1:12 and 1:14.  Still, I managed to finish 4th overall and was happy enough with the 5:41:59.

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ODR on climb to the AT

Oven Door Road Trip!  Two weeks later I joined a large group of Oven Door Runners on a pilgrimage to Maryland for the 40th Annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon.  I had read every JFK race report since Ultrarunning magazine started publishing in 1981.  The JFK has always been on my short list of races to do but, living in California most of those years, I never made it east for the race.  So, when Rick Cronise proposed getting an ODR group together for JFK, I opted in even though it would be my third ultra in five weeks.

The JFK 50 is the oldest, biggest and most competitive ultra in the United States.  In 2002, over 1000 athletes from five countries, 37 states and Washington, D.C came to contest the 50.2+ miles from Boonsboro to Williamsport.  In every sense, the JFK is to American ultrarunning what Boston is to the marathon. 

The JFK course is an interesting hybrid of road and trail, mountain and flat.  The race starts gently enough on a road.  By one mile you start up a steady climb of 1.5 miles that takes you to a junction with the Appalachian Trail.  The trail is a single track that runs along the top of a mountain ridge for about 13 miles until you hit a set of steep switchbacks down to the bank of the Potomac River.  Most of the trail is runnable except for some rocky bits which are a real challenge... just getting through the rocks without falling took our complete concentration.

Once off the trail, the course turns onto the C&O Canal Path and follows the Potomac River upstream for 26.2+ miles.  I found the C&O Canal Path to be a lot more interesting than our own canal path.  The C&O Canal was constructed along the bank of the Potomac with the towpath separating the river from the canal.  Along much of the part we ran, the now-abandoned canal sits at the base of steep cliffs.  Running along, you have the lots to look at.  The early sections of the river have several rapids.  There are abandoned locks and other canal structures.  And, with 1000 runners, you are always catching someone.

After 42 miles, you exit the soft and flat canal path for a final road section.  If you have anything left, it's time to fly.  While the road is not flat, the grades are gentle and none of them are long.

My race went well.  I took it easy on the initial climb and on the trail, passed hundreds of runners on the canal path and didn't fall apart too badly on the road section.  I finished 196th overall out of 862 finishers in 9:23:08.  The real treat of the weekend was being able to share in the joy of my companions in completing their first ultras.  Training for a marathon you can do a couple 20 milers and grow confident in your ability to do the extra six miles on race day.  By comparison, a 50-mile ultra is a big step into the unknown.  The distance is probably twice your longest training run and may be farther than you typically run in a week.  In finishing your first ultra, you discover that you can do far more that you ever thought possible.

Totals for 2002:  5 ultras (30th, 8th, 19th, 4th and 196th overall finishes), 4th in RROY 55-59 Age Group; 2151 miles total running and 877 total miles cycling.

2003: Giving Back to the Sport.  Over the course of many a Saturday morning Oven Door Run in 2002, Rick Cronise and I discussed organizing a local ultramarathon with anyone who would listen.  Eventually the notion of reviving the Canandaigua Mini-Ultra got traction and we started to seriously plan for a 2003 race.  Greg Brooks suggested taking a proposal to the GRTC Board to see if the club might be willing to give some organizational backing to the race.  The proposal was turned down but subsequently I accepted an invitation to join the GRTC Board. 

Once on the Board, I needed to take on some work for the Club.  Seeing that the newsletter needed more content, I volunteered to do a monthly column.  Here's how I introduced the Eclectic Runner column in the January-February 2003 issue:

"Each month I will share something about running and racing.  The content will vary from month to month, hence the title.  Some of the topics that interest me right now and may generate future columns are age-graded performance, relay races and road trips, masters' competition and technology for runners.  I promise not to write too often about ultramarathons."

Over the winter, Rick Cronise, Charlie Sabatine and I had several planning meetings and divided up the tasks to organize the first annual Canandaigua Ultras and Relay.  In particular, I have fond memories of scouting alternative routes with Rick at the Naples end of the course.  Everyone who has struggled up Bopple Hill will be glad that Rick and I rejected going over South Hill to get from Sunnyside to Vine Valley.  The dirt road up South Hill is just as steep as Bopple and twice as long.  And the downhill to connect to South Vine Valley Rd is just as steep.

niagara-2003.png

Niagara Above the Falls

My own training went through some hiccups over the winter but finally got on track once the weather warmed up.  I went into the Niagara 50 Mile planning to run a controlled effort... faster than a training run yet easy enough to be able to resume training within a week or two after the race (in hindsight, even a 50 mile training run takes more than two weeks for full recovery).   

To make it easy to stay at a controlled effort, I monitored my average pace using my Timex GPS Speed & Distance Monitor.  After an easy start I settled into a steady 9:00 per mile pace and didn't worry about the increasing gap to the runners ahead. By 10 miles I started picking off runners who had started faster. I held that effort through the 25-mile turnaround at 3:48 (9:08 average). By halfway it had gotten hot. I backed off the pace a bit and kept my head and shirt wet.  At 12 miles to go I learned I was in 4th with the next runner about 2 minutes ahead.  In another 3 miles I caught her.  We ran together another 3 miles until she had to slow. I went on to finish 3rd in 7:49 (9:23 average).

The two runners ahead of me are worthy of mention:  The race winner in 6:59 was Daniele Cherniak from Cohoes, NY.  I first met her when she finished 2nd overall in the 1995 Canandaigua Mini-Ultra.  By 2003, she had been a nine-time member of the US 100K National Team, was the 1998 100K National Champion and was named Ultrarunner of the Year by Ultrarunning magazine in 1999.  Second place and first male was Todd Baum (7:31) from Fayetteville, NY.  This was one of Todd's first ultras.  Todd and Daniele will both figure prominently in the history of the Canandaigua Ultra and ultrarunning in Western & Central New York.

Preparing for the inaugural Canandaigua Ultras and Relay took lots of time and emotional energy over the summer, definitely compromising my training for the National Championship 100 Mile scheduled for September 13th at Olander Park.  But, while undertrained and uncertain about my fitness, my wife and I made the drive to Toledo and I started the race.  The first few hours were fine.  But toward the end of the fifth hour the wheels started coming off.  I felt increasingly fatigued, aware of aches in my left knee and tightness/soreness in my legs.  I slowed more with each mile over the next three hours.  It felt like I was gradually grinding to a halt.  I started doing the math to predict my finish time and debating whether it would be worth continuing.  At 42 miles I switched to walking and soon after promised my wife I would just go to 50 and drop out.  The race directors credited me with 50.9 miles in the companion 24 hour race but as far as I was concerned, I did not finish.

There wasn't much time to mourn over the DNF.  The following weekend I was the novice race director of the Canandaigua Ultra and Relay.  The turnout was modest... only 11 solo runners and 11 teams completed that inaugural 50 miles around the lake.  Despite the small field, that first race had an elite champion:  Daniele Cherniak won the race outright for her second overall win in 2003. Her 7:11 finish time beat 8 of the 11 relay teams and still stands eleven years later as the women's event record.

In November, in support of the other local ultra, I got my fifth consecutive finish of the Mendon Trail Runs 50K.  I never really got back on track with training after the 100 mile DNF and only did a couple of runs on the course.  As expected the results weren't pretty... a couple of OK laps and then a struggle over final three laps, finishing in 6:21, my new personal worst for the course.

Totals for 2003:  3 ultras (3rd, DNF and 6th overall finishes), 1965 total miles running and 232 total miles cycling
 

2004:  More Giving Back and a Wild & Crazy Adventure.  In December 2003 I contacted the directors of the BPAC 6 Hour, Finger Lakes Fifties and the Mendon Trail Runs and kicked around the idea of including our four events in a race series.  The idea took off and in early 2004, we announced the 2004 Western New York Ultra Series.  I took on the job of coordinating the series which consisted mostly of scoring the series and maintaining the series website at http://www.wny-ultra.org/.

The first race of the new series was the BPAC 6 Hour.  On a rainy day, Todd Baum won with 41.2 miles and I finished in 5th overall with 36.6 miles.

A side effect of the series discussion was that Carl Pegels, the long-time BPAC race director, suggested organizing a multi-day ultra and relay race from Lake Erie to the Hudson.  There had been such a race 20-some years ago and Carl was interested in reviving it.  Rick Cronise and I talked it over and committed to doing a 2-man relay if the thing happened.  In the end, Carl had to back out and no one else was sufficiently interested to actually do the thing. 

So, over six days in May, Rick Cronise and I ran 310 miles in 6 days... from the banks of Niagara River at Tonawanda to Cohoes Falls at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers. Two days following the Erie Canal, three days along the Historic US 20 Corridor and a final day along the Mohawk River.

Cronise and I did the run as a self-supporting relay. When I started running, he would drive the car up the road a little over 2 miles and wait. When I reached the car, he would start running and I would drive ahead. Repeat the process 12-15 times and you'll cover 50-60 miles for the day. Repeat for 5 more days and you'll be a long way from home.  There is a daily diary of the adventure, links to photographs and maps of the route on the run web site (www.wny-ultra.org/erie2hudson.htm).

The run was a wonderful experience and a great shared adventure.  Rick and I genuinely enjoyed each day. The self-supported two-person relay is a very nice way to cover ultra distances while experiencing the scenic byways of our state.  The route had lots of variety:  Erie Canal Trail, Finger Lakes, big hills, farms & orchards, historic towns & villages and bikeways through the two large cities.

rick-day2-on-canalpath.png

Rick - Day 2 on the Canal

The run was easier than it probably sounds.  While we averaged more than 25 miles per day, we rarely ran more than 3 miles at a time.  Our pace was no faster than an easy training run.  The rest breaks gave us plenty of time to drink and eat so dehydration and bonking was not an issue.  We were in 4-hour-plus marathon shape at the start so you don't have to be an elite athlete to do a similar journey run.

There were low points, usually in the first half of each day's run.  The unrelenting hills and the road camber brought out all sorts of nagging aches and pains that would have us in fear of being unable to complete the day's run, much less the whole 6 days.  And, somehow, magically, the pains would abate as the day wore on and we would become more confident of finishing as the miles accumulated.  Patience is a real virtue when running ultra distances.  Relentless forward progress eventually gets you to the finish.

One topic of conversation Rick and I revisited many times running across the state was whether the run (155 miles each in six days) was going to do us any good as training for our next race.  In hindsight, it is clear that mega-mileage on the road is not a good way to train for a trail race.

Seven weeks after Erie to Hudson, I ran the 50 mile at the Finger Lakes Fifties.  In 2004 only the 50 mile distance counted in the Ultra Series so I needed to finish.  The first half of the run went well enough... then I got tired and stopped picking up my feet.  Road racers can get away with barely lifting their feet.  Trail runners have to lift their feet to clear the little rocks and roots you don't even notice that are waiting to trip you.  After halfway, I had five spectacular falls and ended up walking the last 10 miles to finish in 11:28.   

The Canandaigua Ultra was the third race in the 2004 Ultra Series.  Todd Baum brought his "A" game to the race and won it in 6:47.  That mark stood as the event record until finally broken in 2010.

The final race of the series was the Mendon 50K.  Todd Baum led five men under the existing course record and was the outstanding runner in the augural Western New York Ultra Series with three wins, two of them in course records.  After having finished every Mendon 50K since the first one in 1999, I had a very bad race and dropped out after four laps for my second DNF of the year (and third DNF ever).

Totals for 2004:  3 ultras (5th overall, DNF, DNF), 2062 total miles running and 28 total miles cycling

2005:  Eighty Percent of Success.  Reflecting on my 2004 results, I wrote in the January-February 2005 Eclectic Runner column that I

"... decided to go back to the basics.  Pick a target race and follow an appropriate training plan for that race. ...going for a rematch with the the Finger Lakes 50 mile...  Last year I went into that race inadequately trained and paid dearly for it.  ...I've picked an ultra training plan developed by George Parrott (www.halhigdon.com/ultramarathon/ultramarathon2000.htm)."

Of course, a plan will work only if you actually follow it.  January went well. After a couple of good weeks, I ran the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon (4:12) as a "training run."  Immediately after the race I thought I had successfully kept the effort in the training range.  After a low mileage week to recover from the marathon, I was back to 40+ miles a week and a 19-mile long run only to succumb to a virus and lose the next two weeks of training. I only managed 105 miles for February.

March was better. I was able to consistently complete all workouts and had my weekly mileage up to the 45-55 miles per week called for by the plan. The plan called for a big increase in mileage in April, coinciding with warmer spring weather.  I again attempted to include a race as part of my training, using the BPAC 6 Hour as a long run. I ran a restrained effort, 35.4 miles for 10th overall and 2nd in my age group, scoring useful points in the Western New York Ultra Series.

Recovery from the Six Hour initially seemed to go well but by early May the signs were not good. I was cutting short the long runs called for in the plan and my total mileage was way down. Soon the next Ultra Series race came up and I attempted another "training race" effort at the Highland Forest 3 (a 30-mile trail race). Again, the results were good enough (6;23 for 11th overall and 3rd in age group.  But my total for May was only 185 miles, not the 250+ I wanted to run. June should have been a time of increased energy with a gradual reduction in total mileage. Instead, I was fatigued and continued to cut short my remaining long runs.

I soon ran out of time to be ready for my target race.  My plan for the race was to run just fast enough to stay comfortably ahead of the 7:30 cut-off time for 50K and then try to finish the 50 miles without falling or being reduced to walking many miles. The odds of the plan working were not good but I had little to lose in giving it a try.

The short version is that the first 15.5-mile lap went by easily enough in 3:21 (versus 3:11 last year)... it was cool, the few muddy spots on the trail could be avoided and the grassy bits had been mowed recently. The second lap started well enough but by half way around it was getting hot in the sun and my pace began slowing noticeably despite the planned easy start. It was becoming all too obvious that I was inadequately prepared for the full 50 miles and would face at least another five hours of struggle to finish the additional 19 miles of trail. Before finishing the second lap (3:45 versus 3:24 last year), I had decided to finish at 50K. The consolation was I won a "cow" trophy for being first in the 60+ age group.

The Lesson Relearned: In hindsight, it is pretty obvious to me that each "training race" set me back in my preparation.  Recovery from even a controlled effort at the three long "training races" took several weeks instead of the several days I had hoped they would. As a result, I never put in the consistent mileage (50-70 miles per week for 2-3 months) needed to comfortably complete a 50-mile trail race. On the other hand, I enjoyed the training races and wanted the points-paying finishes at the two Ultra Series races.  Life is full of choices and sometimes you can't have it all.

Having blown my target race for the year, I joined in the fun of the return of the Rochester Marathon to downtown with a 4:13 finish.  And, in November I returned for a rematch with the 50K distance at the Mendon Trail Runs.  This time I stuck it out to get my sixth finish in seven starts... my 6:56 finish was my slowest yet but it did give me the final points I needed be the top point scorer in the 50+ age group in the 2005 Western New York Ultra Series.  Paraphrasing Woody Allen, "Eighty percent of success is just showing up and finishing."

Two additional items of note:  In April I took over as President of the GRTC from Paul Kato.  I am thankful that Paul Kato set such a good example for me to follow. 

Totals for 2005: 4 ultras (10th, 11th, 27th and 20th overall), 2 marathons, 1852 total miles running and 0 miles cycling

In December 2005, after my doctor got concerned about a rapid spike in my PSA score, I had a biopsy and got a diagnosis of prostate cancer.  Fortunately the cancer was found early and had not spread beyond the prostate gland.  Since I'm writing these words over five years later, you can conclude that the cancer surgery turned out OK. 

Looking over my training log data from 1974 through 2005, I found the last time I took off more than a week without running or cycling was two weeks in 1986.  Cancer surgery in January 2006 was going to change that. 

The story continues with Part 3 1995 - Present


 

Running in Excess

The Extraordinary Experiences of an Ordinary Runner

Part 3: 2006-Present

 by Tom Perry


Yet Another Comeback

Rochester, NY:  2006-2010

Looking over my training log data from 1974 through 2005, I found the last time I took off more than a week without running or cycling was two weeks in 1986.  Some years I trained hard and was a contender in the races I ran.  Other years I ran less, primarily for pleasure and stress relief.  Injuries and illnesses were no more than a minor blip in the data... a few days off now and then while the dominant pattern was to run through every injury or illness.  That all changed at the close of my 60th year.  Cancer surgery in January 2006 and a series of other medical problems in the last five years changed my running life to a series of successive comebacks from extended layoffs.  In this final chronological segment of my running autobiography, I will share the things I've learned about comebacks.

Highlights of Part 5 include:

•·         Coming back from cancer surgery to complete two ultras in 2006

•·         Finishing one ultra in 2007 before Morton's Neuroma forced a long layoff

•·         Sneaking in a spring ultra on minimal running mileage and completing two hundred-mile bike rides before having foot surgery in October 2008

•·         Coming back to my best fitness in five years, finishing two ultras and placing 6th in 60-64 age group in the 2009 RROY Series before being hobbled by knee injury

•·         Coming back from a two month layoff to run a Boston Qualifier at the Rochester Marathon and finish 4th in the 65-69 age group in the 2010 RROY Series

 

2006:  Coming Back from Cancer Surgery

In 30+ years of running I've had many personal bests and, especially as the normal effects of aging have caught up with me, I've seen more frequent personal worsts.  My performance at the 2006 BPAC Six Hour was a worst but, this time, I could not have been happier to be there and do as well as I did.

Background.  In November, routine blood work revealed that I had an elevated PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level.  A biopsy in December confirmed I had prostate cancer.  I had laparoscopic surgery at the end of January.  The surgeon found that the cancer was confined to the prostate and got it all.  I was up and shuffling around the ward only hours after the operation, but didn't begin building walking mileage until ten days later when the catheter was removed.  I was able to mix running with the walking five weeks after the surgery... doing the same sort of run/walk routine I previously did in long ultras.  As running gradually became easier, I reduced the amount of walking and increased the length of my longest run.  By mid-April I was running about 35 miles per week.

The Take Away:  For males over 40 and the women who love them...

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men after skin cancer. Found early, this cancer is very treatable. But, there are no symptoms in the early stages. Your doctor can detect most prostate cancers with the combination of a digital rectal exam and a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. These screening tests should start by age 50. Guys, suck it up and go get that physical. Wives and partners, make sure your man gets screened for prostate cancer.


Run 19, Walk 10
.  So, on a base of seven weeks of training and a long run of 12 miles, I went to the starting line of the BPAC Six Hour with a range of goals:  minimally I wanted a 20-mile training run; realistically with some walking I expected to do at least a marathon and, if things went perfectly, I hoped to do 10 laps of the 3.25-mile course.

Ten laps in six hours would take 11:04 per mile or 36 minutes per lap.  My first two laps were pleasantly passed in 34 minutes each.  Laps 3 and 4 were also under 35 minutes but I was becoming aware of the increasing effort as the day turned warm.  Starting lap 6, I was still under 36 minutes per lap but my heart rate was edging toward my anaerobic threshold.  It was clear that I was not going to run 10 full laps, not even with an all-out effort.

So, I revised my plan consistent with keeping the day in the training column... I ran to the end of lap 6 for a 19.5-mile run and switched to walking to run out the clock.  Doing the math, I had a shot at completing 3 more laps.  Lap 7 was a recovery walk completed in 52 minutes... a little too slow to finish 9 laps.  Lap 8 went by in 50 minutes... I was right on the bubble.  On lap 9, I surprised myself and got under 15 minutes per mile, completing the lap in 48 minutes with less than two minutes left on the race clock.

On to Green Lakes.  My initial post-race recovery went great.  I got back to a pre-race level of training after a couple of easy weeks.  I started a 16-week marathon training plan to prepare for a return to competitive ultrarunning at the August 27th Green Lakes Endurance Runs 50K. That was the plan.  Then life intervened with my mother's sudden decline and death in July. 

My father's need for support and assistance took precedence over my plans for high mileage and sharpening speed work.  Between trips to Florida, I did make it to the starting line for one of my favorite races, the Phelps Sauerkraut 20K, finishing with another personal worst.  Three weeks later I started the 50K event at the Green Lakes Endurance Runs.   Knowing that my training was marginal at best, my goals for the race were scaled back:  1) finish the distance with dignity, and, if things go right, 2) finish in less than six hours.

Things started well.  Most of the certified 5K-trail loop in Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse was flat and fast, looping around the wooded shore of two beautiful glacial lakes.  I found it comfortable to maintain a sub-six hour pace for the first five laps, reaching half-way in 2:51.  I fell behind goal pace about 30 seconds per mile for the next two laps.  If I could maintain that pace, I would still squeak under six hours.  In the eighth lap, I slowed another 30 seconds per mile as fatigue and muscle aches were rapidly escalating.   I remember the internal debate at the end of lap 8... I could fight to avoid further slowing, risk possible damage to my screaming abductor muscles and finish a few minutes over six hours or I could wuss out and walk the last 10K.  Without really consciously choosing, I walked out of the aid station and kept walking.  The first few kilometers of lap 9 seemed slow and my legs ached.  Gradually, I was able to pick up the walking pace a bit and felt better.  At the start of the last lap, wanting to get the race over more quickly, I tried running again and found most of the soreness gone.  I was able to run the entire last lap, walking only the short uphill bits and while drinking.  My one lap recovery walk was pretty effective as my 10th lap was only 5 seconds slower than my 8th lap.  My time for 50K was 6:15:53... faster than some of my Mendon 50K runs but a personal worst for a flat, fast 50K.

The Take Away:  For runners going beyond what their training allows...

Of course your goal should be to run even splits... but when the wheels fall off and you can't run any more, don't give up.  Keep walking while you eat and drink.  You may be able to recover and get back to running like I did at Green Lakes.  You may have to walk the rest of the race.  Either way, you can get to the finish.


Totals for 2006
:  2 ultras (40th & 20th overall finishes); 1445 miles total running.

 

2007: Morton's Neuroma Ends the Comeback

In March 2007, I presented in this blog an analysis of my 2001 career year and the lengthy slide to the mediocrity of the past few years' results.  As I concluded the tale, "the data from my training log clearly show what it will take to again race well:  1) lose the extra weight and 2) follow a sensible training plan... What would 2007 bring?  More of the same or a return to a respectable level of fitness?"

A Good Start.  I promised to let my readers know after the 2007 BPAC Six Hour Endurance Run.  Well, I did a pretty good job on #2... following a Galloway marathon-training schedule.  When illness or other emergencies interrupted training, I got back on the plan as soon as it was possible.  Curiously for me, I had no trouble meeting or exceeding the speed work targets in the plan but did fall short on completing the full distance of some of the scheduled long runs.  As to losing the extra weight, I easily lost a few pounds from my full winter weight and then plateaued.  Just adding miles was not going to be enough.

The good news from the Six Hour is that I was able to run effectively for the entire six hours and complete 10 full laps for 32.5 miles.  I did slow a bit after the marathon mark but was able to finish strongly on the last lap.  The less positive news is that my pace is too slow to be competitive... the winner in my division lapped me.

Recovery from the Six Hour went well.  I started another cycle of Galloway marathon training, targeting either the Green Lakes 100K (62 miles in my 62nd year) or some other long ultra.  As noted in March, the key would be following through on both 1) and 2) above.

The Pain That Wouldn't Go Away.  It started as a tingling, burning ache in the ball of my left foot.  The pain would come on after a few miles and keep me company for the rest of the run.  Then I noticed that the foot hurt even more when walking fast up a steep hill... that really got my attention as uphill walking is a necessity for ultramarathoners.  Over perhaps six weeks, the condition gradually got worse.  By the time I made the appointment to see a podiatrist, just standing around would sometimes trigger pain in the ball of the foot that radiated into the second and third toes.

neuroma-dec08.pngFollowing an x-ray to rule out a stress fracture and the podiatrist doing a bit of squeezing and poking of the foot, I got my diagnosis.  The injury was a neuroma... a fairly common foot problem consisting of a benign tumor-like enlargement of a nerve at the ball of the foot.  The nerves involved are between and under the metatarsal bones.  On toe off, the metatarsal arch was probably collapsing (flattening) and pushing the metatarsal bones down and into the nerve.  This irritated the nerve and, over time, the nerve thickened to protect itself and paradoxically, took up more space and became more easily irritated.  My podiatrist described three treatment options:  1) cortisone injections, 2) surgery, or 3) new orthotics.  We decided to give the orthotics a try since I wasn't keen on having surgery and cortisone injections wouldn't address the underlying cause. 

After getting the diagnosis, I switched over completely to cycling to give the foot a rest and resolved not to plan any racing until after I could train pain-free.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that cycling, even climbing out of the saddle, didn't aggravate the neuroma.

After three months in the new orthotics with zero running, I continued to experience some pain in daily activities (e.g., walking the dog, etc.).  It seemed obvious that the new orthotics would not be an immediate fix for the neuroma, so my podiatrist gave me two cortisone shots in the foot.  The pain relief was immediate but within a month the intermittent pain gradually returned.

Fortunately, I continued to be able to ride a bike without aggravating the neuroma and maintained a reasonable base level of fitness:  320, 275, 420, 415, 400, and 245 miles for July through December respectively.

Totals for 2007:  1 ultras (25th place overall), 947 total miles running and 2147 total miles cycling

 

2008:  Keeping the Streak Alive

In January, with the clearance of my podiatrist, I began a cautious return to running with the optimistic goal of running the BPAC 6 Hour Distance Classic.  I ran my first marathon in 1974.  Every year since, I have run at least one marathon or ultra.  The BPAC was my opportunity to extend the streak by running at least 26.2 miles or optimistically, 50K in the six hours.

Cross Training Works.  Running two or three days a week, my January to April monthly mileage was about what I used to run weekly:  42, 50, 74, and 65 miles.  Long runs were limited to three 10 milers and one 13 miler.  Objectively, my running training was barely adequate for a 10K.  The wild cards were my extensive cross training bike miles (262, 121, 125 and 199 miles for January through April respectively) and my years of experience at going long.

I completed 10 laps of the 3.25-mile course in 6:08 for a pro-rated 31.83 miles in 6 hours (exceeding my 50K goal by 0.75 mile.  Using the familiar ultrarunning run/walk strategy (run a mile, walk a minute while eating and drinking, repeat until done), I ran remarkably even splits, 3:04 for the first 5 laps and 3:04 for the second 5 laps.  My last lap was my fastest as I skipped the walk breaks to get done quicker.

The Take Away:  Cross training works!

Base fitness can be maintained or increased with a high volume of cross training.  Races as long as the marathon or 50K can be completed on as little as four months at 20 miles per week of running if one also does enough cross training. 


My foot was pain-free during the race but was sore at the site of the neuroma for several days afterwards.  Eleven days after the race, I went for a run to test the foot.  The neuroma was sore for several days.

Back to Full-Time Cycling.  I enjoyed getting reacquainted with cycling.  On a warm, sunny day with the wind at your back and a smooth winding road through beautiful countryside, cycling can be truly wonderful.  I enjoyed the challenge of building up to do a flat century ride (100 miles) at the Rochester Bicycle Club Challenge Ride in July.  Encouraged by that result, I accepted the challenge of training for and completing the easier Lowlander route at the Highlander Cycle Tour in September.  With 5,000 feet of climbing and 100 miles, the Lowlander was enough of a challenge.

My summer of cycling was great fun but I really missed running and didn't want to go through another winter cycling in the cold and wet.  So, I had surgery in October after directing the Can Lake 50 Ultramarathon.

 Totals for 2008:  1 ultra (36th overall) and 2 Century Rides, 345 total miles running and 3291 total miles cycling

 

2009:  Coming Back from Foot Surgery

The Operation.  After making an incision in the top of my foot, the surgeon cut the ligament connecting the two metatarsals, spread the bones apart and removed the neuroma.  The procedure took about an hour and then I was sent home with a prescription for Vicodin and instructions to keep the foot elevated.

After four weeks hobbling around in post-op shoe, I get cleared to wear normal shoes, walk and cycle.  While there was still some inflammation, the incision appeared to have healed.  I started low-key training program alternating walking and exercycle days.  After a couple weeks my walking pace for 2-4 miles was only a minute or two slower per mile than prior to the surgery.  Eight weeks after the surgery, I began incorporating running into the walk days and continued cycling as alternate day cross training.

The Take Away:  Be patient coming back from surgery; start with low impact cross training.

Coming back from both surgeries, I started running soon than I should have and did too much too soon.  The swelling and inflammation around the incision in my foot would have gone away quicker without the impact of running.  I would have had far fewer episodes of blood in my urine after the prostate surgery if I started with cycling or some other low impact cross training.  


Back to the Six Hour
.  The BPAC Six Hour in April was the first real test of my comeback after 18 months of little to no running.  As only four months training (starting from zero running) is marginal for a marathon, much less an ultra, I planned a medium effort, completing 10 laps for 32.5 miles in less than six hours.

The first couple of laps I used my heart rate monitor to keep my pace slow enough.  As planned, I did a short walk segment every mile, i.e., 3 walks per lap.  I did this on every lap, from the first lap.  My first five laps went by exactly per my plan... all laps were in the desired 34 minute range. 

After five laps things changed and the pace I could sustain ratcheted up.  Laps 6-8 were in the 35-minute range and my last two laps took 36 minutes each.  The slow down wasn't huge (my first half/second half splits were 2:54 & 2:59), but the slowdown was enough to let me know that I wasn't adequately trained to go beyond 10 laps.  A quick review of my training prior to the race showed the problem... my weekly mileage was marginal and I had no runs longer than 20 miles in the run-up to the race.

On to Niagara.  My target race for the first half of 2009 was the Niagara 50K on June 20th.  My training for the 50K ended up being about 90% of what I had hoped to do.  I completed long runs of 19, 24 and 25 miles in May.  My long weeks totaled 47, 50 and 47 miles... not quite the 60 miles I would have liked to see but realistically, the high 40's was all I could handle after six months of training.  My repeat mile pace had dropped into the 8-minute range... plenty fast to prepare me for the 50K.

Race day turned out to be very wet at Niagara Falls.  It had rained overnight and the Niagara River Bike Path was still wet when the more than 130 ultrarunners set out from Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Within the hour, the rain resumed... first as a light shower that left hope that it might stop and feet might stay dry.  By the time the field made the 280-foot climb up the Niagara Escarpment and passed under the Lewiston Bridge, we were running into a steady rain that looked like it could last all day.  As the field entered the City of Niagara Falls, the rain had filled the usual puddles to overflowing and made creeks flow in the street gutters.  Runners skirted the deepest puddles when they could and continued on, dodging Japanese tour groups, to the 25K turnaround beside the Horseshoe Falls.

About half way back, the rain finally eased to a drizzle.  The bike path drained except for the occasional flooded section that runners could get around on the grass beside the trail.  Despite the conditions. 134 runners finished the 50K.  Plenty of good times were run, none more so than that of my friend Ed Housel.  Ed ran the 31.07 miles in 3:49:00, winning the race overall for his second career ultra win and first win as a Veteran (age 50+).  Back in the middle of the field, I finished a bit slower than I had hoped but was happy with my 5:17:06 for 69th place out of 134 finishers.

Peaking for a Final 2009 Race.  After a couple weeks to recover, I started another cycle of Jeff Galloway's Marathon Training Plan, targeting the Rhode Island 6 Hour on November 15th.  Along the way, I ran several more RROY Series races.   My training went well.  By October I experienced a breakthrough, indicative of a jump in running economy.  Over the space of about two weeks, my easy run pace got consistently faster by about 30 seconds per mile.  Looking back at my training over the summer, it looked like this was a result of getting my hard weeks up over 50 miles per week.

The ideal for any long distance runner is to build over the season, improving with each successive race and peaking for your most important race.  If that race is a long one, it will typically be the last race in your planned season of racing.  Then, satisfied that you've given your best, you promise yourself that you'll take some time off to let lingering injuries heal before carefully building next year to another, even higher peak.  But, the thing about peaks is that they are precarious.  You can easily fall off.  A badly timed injury or illness can prematurely put an end to your season. 

My Season Ends.  Three weeks before the big race, I had completed the last long run in my training plan.  I had run my fastest race in four years at the Hospice 5K.  All that was left was one more repeat mile session and a two-week taper.  On October 31st, I easily completed 8 miles which included 3 repeat miles.  I don't recall any pain during the run but later that afternoon I was hobbled by a new pain at the back of my left knee.  The pain was unlike the typical "runners knee" (patellofemoral pain syndrome) I've experienced on countless occasions over the last 35 years.  Rather than being at the front of the knee under the kneecap, the pain was distinctly at the back of the knee.  It felt like I had overstretched the tendons or ligaments at the back of the knee.  There was no obvious swelling and the knee hurt most when walking down stairs.  The next morning the knee seemed pain free so I followed my general approach to running injuries:  If it doesn't hurt to walk, try a short run and see what happens.  A couple miles into an easy run the pain became noticeable and I cut the run short.

The pain again went away after a couple of days off.  With my target race coming up in ten days, I decided to "test the knee."  This time a short run was no problem, so I took another day off and then ran two days in a row... that turned out to be too much and the pain came back worse than before.  At this point I reluctantly canceled the trip to Providence for the Rhode Island 6 Hour. 

When the pain in the back of my left knee wouldn't go away and stay away with a month off from running, I got a referral to a running orthopedist in a sports medicine practice.   After a very complete physical exam and X-rays of both knees (for comparisons between the injured and good knees), the doctor's diagnosis was that the cause of pain as either a meniscus tear or synovitus (inflammation of the lining of the knee joint).   Since the treatment for synovitus is cheap and quick compared to that for a meniscus tear, the orthopedist put me on the standard treatment for synovitus:  a 3-week course of anti-inflammatory meds, no running and physical therapy.  If knee gets better, synovitus is confirmed.  If not, then meniscus tears are suspected and we proceed to an MRI and possible surgery.

Fortunately, the knee got better and I was cleared to resume normal activities just before Christmas.  After approximately two months off with no running or cross training, I was back to square one.

Totals for 2009: 2 ultras (26th and 69th overall); 1598 total miles running and 293 total miles cycling 

 

2010:  Coming Back from Sinovitus.

Starting Over.  My first runs after the long layoff were discouraging... my gait felt awkward, my heart rate was elevated even though my pace was a minute or more slower than what was comfortable previously, and, even with walking breaks every half mile, I was done for the day after only 3 or 4 slow miles.

I had hoped for a swift comeback but it quickly became clear even to me that this comeback from two months off (with zero cross training) was not going to be as fast as my 2009 comeback.  I was going to have to slowly rebuild my base mileage, regain running efficiency and then put in the speed work to get faster.  I had two goals for 2010: 1) Return to injury-free, competitive running, 2) Finish at least one marathon or ultra. 

January went well but my progress was interrupted in February by a recurrence of PFPS (patellofemoral pain syndrome).  The pattern in January thru mid-April was up and down... I would have a couple of promising weeks followed by having to cut way back when the knee pain would flare up again.  Things turned around in May and June.  Starting in mid-April I followed a slightly modified Jeff Galloway marathon training plan.  With no more than four runs each week and two knee-friendly cycling workouts, I was able to successfully manage the knee pain, gradually build my training mileage and even enjoy some success in the RROY Series races, the best being an age group second in the Medved 5K.

The Take Away:  Patience is essential to any comeback

Trying to do too much too soon in a comeback is a quick way to a setback.  Put your excess energy into cross training that doesn't stress the injured muscles or joints.


 weekly-mileage-b4-marathon.png
 

37.75 miles - 8-Week Average Before One Week Taper for Marathon

"It's Always Something."  The graph above (from Daily Mile at www.dailymile.com/people/tperry) shows my weekly miles since early May.  You can see how I ramped up my training in May and June.  My fastest 5k came at the Medved 5k (Week 24 on the graph).  Following a good 20-miler on June 26th (Week 25), my lower back started complaining on my next run and significantly limited my running for weeks 26 thru 29.  And even after I got my mileage back up into the 40+ range, I did not do any runs longer than 12 miles to avoid reinjuring my back... not the usual set of 20+ mile runs associated with marathon success.

One of my favorite predictors of readiness for marathons and ultras is my average weekly mileage run for the eight weeks before tapering.  For the Rochester Marathon, that number was 37.75 miles.  For an unrealistic comparison, in 1976 I set my lifetime marathon PR after an eight week average of 86 miles.  My last sub-3 hour marathon was in 1988 after a 73.7 miles average. My best marathon after moving to Rochester was the 2001 Ontario Shore Marathon, 3:19 at age 55 on an average of 54.8 miles.   

Pre-race implications... while my 5-k times suggested it might be possible to run a 4:15 Boston qualifying time, I was clearly under-prepared for the marathon distance and would need to approach the early miles with caution.  My baseline goal was to finish and make this the 36th year I've finished a marathon or ultra.  My desired-state goal was to run a smart race and finish strongly over the final 10k.

Boston Qualifier!  As planned I went out at a comfortable pace and settled into a planned strategy of walking for about one minute every two miles.  Even with minor variations due to hills and the scheduled walk breaks, I was consistently hitting each two mile split in under 20 minutes, reaching the half marathon point in 2:08:03.  Over the next couple of miles, it slowly occurred to me that a slight negative split could get me a Boston Qualifying time of 4:15:59. 

Pushing a little harder, I was able to slightly increase my pace and hit 20 miles in 3:15:18.  The math going through my head was simple; if I could run 6.2 miles in less than 60 minutes, I could hit 4:15 exactly.  At 22 miles and 3:34:45, I needed to run 4.2 miles in 40 minutes.  At 24 miles and 3:53:20, it was down to 2.2 miles in 21 minutes.  At 25 miles and 4:03:07, I just needed to hold pace to cover the remaining 1.2 miles in less than 12 minutes.  The 26th mile had some nice downhill and was my fastest of the race as I hit the final mile mark at 4:12:13.  A few steps later and a sharp twinge hit my left calf.  I slowed a little and tried to get back on pace... another sharp twinge hit... and then another... I settled into what felt like a slow shuffle, watching in frustration as the seconds ticked by on the finish clock, finally crossing the finish at 4:14:40.  The last 385 yards took 2:28 (11:17 per mile pace).  Thankfully the leg held up until the finish was practically in sight and I was able to exceed all my goals for the race:  finishing a marathon in 2010, running a smart race, finishing strongly over the final 10k and getting a Boston Qualifying time.

The Take Away:  Treat the Marathon as a 20-mile run and a 10K race.

Get to 20 miles with some zip left in your legs and then race as hard as you can over the final 6.2 miles.

Totals for 2010:  1 marathon (382nd overall); 1163 total miles running and 854 total miles cycling

Preliminary Summary

Totals for 1974-2010:  60 ultras including 3 wins, 5 National Masters Medals (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze), 42 marathons including 8 sub-3 hour finishes and 193 races at all distances

Thanks for reading this far.  Next month I will go back to an eclectic mix of content.  Then, in a couple months I will conclude this autobiography with a summary of the key things I've learned about running and racing over the past 36 years.


 

Concluding Remarks

pdf running-bio-1974-2010-race-summary

Looking back over 37 years of training and 195 races (including 60 ultras and 42 marathons) listed in the PDF above, I want to close out this series by sharing some key observations and lessons learned:

 

•·         Keep a log of your training and races.
One of my most valued possessions is my training logs from 1974 to the present.  One of my regrets is that I didn't keep a log of my first three years in California (1977-1980).  All I have of those years is a fuzzy recollection of a few memorable training runs and results from about half the races I ran.  Logs are useful in planning training for the coming year.  Records of your training and racing will become more precious the older you get.

•·         Why did I focus on running ultras?
After a couple years simply finishing a marathon lost its challenge and my performance plateaued in the low 2:50s.  I realized that, while I might have been able to take another couple minutes off, I was never get down into the 2:20s run by the best runners in the region.  With the insight that I did better the longer the race in both running and cycling, I decided to move up from the marathon.
While marathons had lost their challenge, ultras presented a vast array of challenges... at different stages in my career I focused on the 50 mile road race, the 100K road race, the 24 Hour, the 12 Hour and most recently the 6 Hour and 50K road race.  I also sampled a variety of trail races in the mountains of California and the hills of Central & Western New York.  Ultras have never lost their challenge... in events beyond your longest training run there is always a real risk not just of having a bad race but of having to drop out.  In the world of ultrarunning, every finisher is honored.
I also got hooked by instantly becoming a contender.  In 60 ultras, I had 22 finishes in the top five overall.  I have had the great luck to win races in three different decades.  I have been able run in eight national championships, sharing the road or track with the best runners in the country.
And, last but not least, there is the wonderful ultrarunning community.  It's a small world but with a wonderfully supportive camaraderie, not unlike the distance running scene of the early 1970s when I ran my first races.       

•·         Multiple Comebacks
My running career is characterized by multiple comebacks.  I switched to running after 4 years of bike racing and quickly reached a personal high level of performance.   After three years of training too hard and racing too frequently in the late 70s, I was cooked.  Three years later, the hunger had returned; I got fit and was competitive for another 3-4 years before my motivation again lagged.   Since then I've had several more comebacks to competitive running, each lasting 2-3 years before being terminated by some combination of loss of motivation, nagging injuries or life changes (job changes, moves, children, becoming a race director).  Over the years I have been personally frustrated that I haven't been able to stick with the grind and stay race fit for more than a few years at a time.  In hindsight, there may have been a disguised blessing in that the off years gave my body a chance to recover so I could train and race hard during each comeback.

•·         Goals and expectations make a big difference.
How did so many marathoners in the 70s manage to break three hours?  I believe it had more to do with our goals and expectations than with our talent as runners.  If, like me, you were a young man running marathons in the 70s, your goal after the first one was to break three hours.  It was considered an achievable challenge and would qualify you for Boston.  Your running friends had probably already done it or were trying to do it.  You expected to be able to break three hours and were willing to train to make it happen.

•·         Want to get the most of the training hours you have? 
Get a coach to plan and supervise your training and racing... all too often we are blind to our own mistaken ideas and errors.  A coach's knowledge and objective analysis can save the ambitious runner from these common mistakes: 

•o    Too many races... the gap between major races needs to be long enough to fully recover, train appropriately and then taper for the next race.

•o    No off season after a series of major races... the natural tendency is to return to hard training and try to get another good race.

•o    No planed days off to ensure adequate recovery from especially hard workouts or to give lingering injuries a chance to heal.

•o    No planned easy weeks to allow recovery from hard weeks.

•o    Long, hard runs done too close to a major race, e.g., a fast 20-mile training run a week before a marathon... a three week gap would ensure adequate recovery and fresher legs at the race.

•o    No plan or structure to speed work.  I sometimes ran too hard close to a major race and more often missed opportunities for improvement. 

•·         If you don't have a coach, a training plan will help.
In the beginning about all I knew about training for a marathon was one simple fact:  the top guys ran well over 100 miles per week.  So I ran 14+ miles each day and tried to run every mile in less than eight minutes (anything slower was considered jogging).  Over the years I learned that I could race faster on less training by following a sensible training plan... one where every workout has a defined purpose with an appropriate duration (minutes or miles) and level of effort (pace, heart rate or perceived effort).

•·         Training needs to be specific for the target race.
This is one of those lessons I was slow to learn.  When the ultra scene in Southern California shifted from flat and fast road races to trail races in the mountains, I kept training on the roads convenient to my home instead of driving to the mountains to train.  Then on race day I would be disappointed when I finished way down in the field and well behind running buddies whom I used to "beat like a drum" in the road ultras.  In time I understood that to be fast on trails you have to train on trails.  The general rule is you need to train extensively on the same kind of surface and terrain as your target race. 

•·         When you fall off, get right back on the horse.
Many things can lead to a runner falling off his or her training plan weeks or months before the target race... an injury or illness, changes at work, family issues, etc.  The main thing is to quickly get back into the training routine, doing some form of each scheduled workout while taking care to avoid doing too much, too hard or too soon.

•·         How much mileage is enough? 
When I started running in the mid-70's, we heard that the top runners were doing over 100 miles per week and we obsessively counted miles, sure that it would make us faster.  And, if you could survive the experience, you did get faster until slowed by injury, chronic fatigue or mental burn-out.  So, how much mileage is enough? Or better, how much mileage is optimal?  A wonderfully obvious finding in the available research is that, the less mileage your run today, the more likely it is that more mileage will result in improved performance.  This is true up to a plateau of about 70 miles per week for most runners.  Beyond 70 miles per week, the gains get much smaller and the risk of injury increases sharply. 

•·         Use 8-week average mileage to predict marathon readiness.
One of my favorite predictors of readiness for marathons and ultras is 8-Week Average Mileage.
That is, the average weekly mileage for the eight weeks before tapering for a race.  My lifetime marathon PR came in 1976 after an average of 86 miles.  My last sub-3 hour was in 1988 on an average of 74 miles.  My best marathon in Rochester was the 2001 Ontario Shore, a 3:19 at age 56 on an average of 55 miles.  Want to run a strong marathon?  Seventy miles per week average should be close to optimal.  Fifty miles per week would be a good goal for older and more injury-prone runners.  Want to just finish a marathon?  A Galloway training plan and about 30 miles a week will get you there.

•·         No Recovery, No Gain 

"No Pain, No Gain?" I think there's a more appropriate slogan for our t-shirts. Ever wonder why every training plan from a competent coach has a mix of hard and easy days? We get stronger and faster by gradual adaptation to the physical stress of running.  A hard day stresses the body. The easy day (also known as a recovery day) is when the body rebuilds and gets stronger. Too many hard days in a row and you will actually get slower if you don't get injured first. Older runners may need two days of active recovery after each hard workout. The harder the workout, the more critical it is to keep the easy days really easy.

•·         Is it a good idea to run a race as part of your training?
The answer is obvious if your target race is a highly competitive 10K like the Lilac.  You will want to race several 5Ks to get race sharp for the event.  In training for a half or full marathon, an occasional 5K or 5 mile provides a good speed workout, gives you a chance to assess the progress of your training, gives your competitive juices an outlet without screwing up your training plan and gives you a chance to reconnect with your racing friends.  Moderation is advised:  Anything more than one short race every 3 to 4 weeks will probably interfere with the rest of your target race training and, especially for aging runners, increase your risk of injury.
One of my few regrets is that for many years I ran only marathons and ultramarathons.  I missed out on a lot of great times and camaraderie.

•·         How about running a marathon as a training run?
Here the answer is not so simple.  Run under control at an easy effort and you can get the benefits of a long training run.  But, if you get swept up in the emotion of the event and run even a little harder than planned, you'll blow your training plan and could need up to a month to fully recover.  I always got too competitive in "training races" and screwed up my training plan.

•·         Training errors cause most running injuries.
Over the last 35 years I've sampled most of the injuries associated with running and enjoyed repeat courses of some of them.  The most significant single factor in the onset of these injuries has been my training, specifically doing too much, too soon or for too long without adequate recovery.

•·         You can train through most running injuries.
Looking over my training log data from 1974 through 2005, I found the last time I took off more than a week without running or cycling was two weeks in 1986.  In most cases reducing mileage and/or avoiding hills was enough to allow the injury to heal while maintaining some fitness.  More recently I have learned that low impact cross training can be a huge aid in maintaining basic fitness and mental health while waiting out a stubborn injury.

•·         Be patient coming back from any surgery; start with low impact cross training.
Returning to running after surgery requires a different approach.  After foot surgery for a Morton's neuroma, I started running as soon as the surgeon said I could and did too much too soon.  The swelling and inflammation around the incision in my foot would have gone away quicker without the impact of running.  Also, I would have had far fewer episodes of blood in my urine after the prostate surgery if I started with cycling or some other low impact cross training.

•·         Patience is essential to any comeback.
Trying to do too much too soon in a comeback is a quick way to a setback.  Put your excess energy into cross training that doesn't stress the injured muscles or joints.

•·         Cross training works.
This is another thing I wish I had learned sooner in my career.  Base fitness can be maintained or increased with a high volume of cross training.  I have completed races as long as the marathon or 50K on as little as four months at 20 miles per week of running when I've also done two or three days of cycling each week.

•·         Coping with age-related slow down
A common issue for aging, long-time runners is coping with the knowledge that they are getting slower every year.  This was really brought home to me the past couple of years when I realized that my best racing times are just about the equal of the pace I ran on easy runs 30 years ago.  Some friends have shared with me that they have stopped racing and either just run for health or do other sports because they're discouraged about how slowly they run now.  There are a few things that help a little:

•o    Focus on how you are running compared to the other folks in your age group.  Get to know the regulars in your category and enjoy a friendly competition with them.

•o    Each year strive to get faster over the course of the racing season.  You may not be able to match the results of five years ago or even last year but you can improve and run faster in October than you did in May.

•o    Plug your current times into an Age-Graded Calculator.  You may be surprised how fast the equivalent times are for open runners.

•o    Limit the number of days you run each week and include more low-impact cross training on the days off.

•o    Ultimately, it comes down to accepting the things you can't change (age-related slowdown) and doing the things you can... keep running and train smarter to avoid injuries and make the most of what you can still do.

•·         "I'm not dead yet!"
It's getting harder to train adequately and the injuries are coming more frequently, but I hope I've still got a few more marathons and ultras in me.  I've entered the Rochester Marathon and will be doing my best on September 18th to run even splits and finish the race with a strong finish.
Note:  If you don't remember the quote in the title above, google "Monty Python I'm not dead yet".

menu-spacer.pngBear with me for this little essay.  It starts out off topic but I promise it will get around to saying something about running and racing.  The inspiration was a story on the radio that got my attention the morning of February 27th.  It got me to thinking more broadly about the role of chance or luck (good or bad) in our passions.

The Role of Chance in Art and Running

Chance and Success in the Arts

NPR’s Morning Edition ran a fascinating story that said volumes about the role of chance in most aspects of our lives.  The segment is Good Art Is Popular Because It’s Good.  Right?  It’s only eight minutes long and well worth a listen.  Meanwhile, I will briefly summarize the research study that looked at the role of chance in popularity of music.

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