My name is Nick, I am a Wisconsin dad who loves all things fitness, diving, and food! Persistent Resilience is a log of the fun and craziness that is my life. I am passionate about running, I love to see how far I can push myself, and my favorite runs are off-road. Currently I am trying to add to my ultra-marathon experience. If you have any questions about how/why I run or eat the way that I do please do not hesitate to contact me by leaving a comment, via facebook, or by email at Thanks for Visiting

10 April 2014

RACE… RECEOVER… RACE… an experiment in ultra-stacking! Step 3 - Recovery

My idea of recovery!
Previously I covered how I approached my training (here) and nutrition (here) for two ultras I planned to race close together; (Mad City 50k & Ice Age 50 mile) there was three weeks between the races.  To be able to consistently train for the first race and fully recover for the second, I was going to need to dial in my daily training, nutrition, and recovery.

This article is going to focus on what I utilized to consistently recover between workouts and, most important, between the two races.  Obviously training and nutrition directly affect recovery hence the reason those articles were written first.  The more consistent your training is the stronger and more durable you become, thereby shortening the recovery needed between hard efforts.  Eating a clean diet daily and strategically fueling during and post activities also speeds recovery.  The following areas are where I focused my recovery energy: rest, active recovery, muscle manipulation, supplements, and listening to your body.

**(As a disclaimer, I am not sponsored by any of the products I discuss in this article, they are just the ones I use, or have found work best for me.)


First I am going to define what I mean by rest.  For me this is defined as one of two activities; sleep and non-training days. 

Sleep, in my opinion, is the most underrated recovery tool available.  There is a reason you see the best runners in the world (East Africans) appearing to be the laziest.  They run their workouts and then spend all non-training time horizontal or eating, PERIOD.  Now I am not a professional athlete, I have a 60+ hour a week job, two kids, house, and other responsibilities.  So the Kenyan method doesn’t quite apply.  What I did do however was to prioritize sleep. I went to bed early, as I had to get up early (3:30-4:30am some days).  That’s it!  I tried to sleep at least 8-10 hours a night.  It didn’t always happen and I didn’t let that stress me out.  But when it did, consistently, I felt much better in training especially on back to back long or hard days. 

Non-training days are days with nothing I would consider training.  Examples would be; bike riding with my family, hanging out with my family, laying on the beach with my family, or generally doing whatever my family wants to do.  There’s a theme right?!  For me I take every Sunday as a non-training day, yes EVERY SUNDAY!  Training hard is not only physically wearing but mentally as well.  For me being able to spend the entire day just focusing on my family is incredible recharging.  Some would argue that by not training 7 days a week I might miss out on some fitness gains.  I believe however that any minimal gains I miss out on are fully made up for by the huge mental recharge I gain.  This allows me to regroup both physically and mentally for the next week of focused training.

Active Recovery

Sticking with the rest theme I will cover active recovery.  For me active recovery means any activity that enhances my ability deliver quality in my hard workouts, without further fatiguing me mentally or physically for those efforts.  My favorite form of active recovery is swimming.  I love swimming.  First, when you swim (if you don’t have a waterproof MP3) it’s silent.  Talk about great mental recovery, 30-50 minutes in the pool is my equivalent of meditation.  Second, the water is cold, not as cold as an ice bath, but the anti-inflammatory benefits are similar.  Third, you are horizontal in the water and that combined with the kicking motion is great for clearing your legs of damage.  Some other active recovery tools I use are the elliptical, bike, and walking/hiking.  Yes I said walking!  Much like sleeping, walking is truly underrated as a recovery tool.

Muscle Manipulation

I chose this title to represent the following methods I utilized to aid my muscles in recovering more efficiently; massage, foam/stick rolling, the dry sauna, active stretching, ice bath, and compression socks.  These are pretty self-explanatory, so I will just briefly describe how, when, and why I utilize each of these.

Massage is pretty easy to explain but hard to acquire.  The most complicated part of massage is; first finding a great massage therapist and second being able to afford that individual.  I happened to luck out on finding not only a great therapist but also got a great 3 session package deal (Same price as 1.5)!  The tricky part of a deep sports massage is that it causes just as much damage as hard work out, so you have to be cautious when you schedule them.  I had my first one in the middle of my hardest training block; the reason for this was I wanted to see how my body reacted to the massage without jeopardizing my race.  The second was timed 7-8 days prior to my first race.  The reason for this is that I run my last hard work out 10 days prior to a race, so therefore my muscles need the work and it gives me enough time to recover from the damage of the massage.  The third massage was timed similar (7-8 days) prior to my second race.  I believe if you can afford to get the work done it will really help with both mental and physical recovery.

Foam/stick rolling is basically a self-inflicted torture session.  For most of us weekly massage sessions are not an option, enter the foam roller.  I use my foam roller every night before bed.  I roll out every muscle from my hips to ankles.  First this helps speed the recovery process.  Second it quickly pinpoints tight or damaged muscles, I value this because it allows me to avoid an overuse injury.  I most often utilize my stick roller prior to hard workouts and races as a warm up tool.  I find this is a good way to loosen up tighter muscles and increase blood flow prior to intense activity.
Trigger Point Grid Roller
Sprinter Stick


The dry sauna may not be the easiest for people as they usually need a gym membership to gain access to one.  I love the dry sauna for several reasons.  First it is relaxing; by easing the tension in muscles you can get a deeper stretch which leads to greater flexibility.  Second it increases blood flow, this speeds the removal of waste products from damaged muscles.  Third, it is a body stressor which helps with both heat, and in my experience altitude, acclimation.  By no means is it similar to living or training at altitude but it does help.  As an athlete who is inspired by mountains but lives at sea-level this is something I plan to research further, and write about later.  I spend 50% of my time in the dry sauna on my back with my legs elevated against the wall.  This is so relaxing I have actually fallen asleep, much to the dismay of the gym staff, who thought I had collapsed!  The other 50% I stretch.  I try to utilize the dry sauna at least 3-4 times a week.

Stretch Out Strap
Active stretching is something I do both prior to and after workouts.  I also stretch every evening after I am done rolling my muscles.  Prior to my workouts I do a series of dynamic stretches involving hip, glute, quad, hamstring, and calf activation.  I believe that this aids in warming my muscles up and allowing them to fire properly.  This makes getting into a workout feel easier and more fluid.  Here are several resources I have pulled from for different dynamic activities. (Dathan Ritzenhein Dynamic Warmup, Coach Jay Johnson lunge Matrix & Coach Jay Johnson 8 week strength progression) 
Post workout I stretch most of my major muscle groups with the aid of a “stretch out strap”.  You can also roll up a medium size towel or t-shirt to facilitate the stretching.  By utilizing the strap I am able to get a more controlled and deeper stretch.  Again I do this type of stretching post workout and in the evening after I have rolled out my muscles.  This stretching routine allows me to maintain greater flexibility and correct imbalances in my body.
Compression socks are a tool I utilize on evenings when I have back to back long or hard efforts coming.  For example; when I have back to back long runs scheduled I will sleep with my legs elevated and wear compression socks.  I believe this aids in recover and helps with a reduction in soreness.  This has a two-fold benefit.  First since my muscles have recovered a little bit I am able to do a more quality second hard/long workout.  Second because I am a little less sore when I begin the second workout I am able to maintain better form which reduces my chance of injury.  I do not utilize these socks during runs because they annoy me, and that just becomes a training hindrance.  I also do not wear them every night.  I am a big believer that your muscles need to actually adapt to the stress you are placing on them.  There are times for me when a little extra soreness is a good thing; it means my workouts are doing their job.

Ice baths are a tool I only utilize post-race.  Ice baths are an amazing recovery tool.  That being said some of the inflammatory reaction that ice baths inhibit or reduce I want to happen.  The reason for this is that some of your great training gains are made when working already fatigued muscles.  Similar to compression socks there are times I want sore muscles, and I want my body and mind to adapt to those situations.  As I said before swimming in the pool will provide a similar benefit as the water is usually cooler.


I am not a huge proponent of taking supplements in place of real nutrition. I prefer to get everything my body needs from clean whole sources of food.  That being said the extremes I to which I push take a heavy toll.  Even though I do not race a ton, focus on rest, and take ample off-time in between races and at the end of the season, I still smash my body and immune system pretty hard.  Here is a list of the supplements I take, as well as the why, and how often/much.

Fish Oil – I take a fish oil supplement that is 1 gram of pure EPA harvested from deep water Pacific fish.  There are two main components to fish oil EPA and DHA.  EPA has been shown to have the greatest anti-inflammatory affect, as well as greater health benefits.  This is the reason my choice is a pure EPA source.  I take 2 capsules (2 grams) on a daily basis during normal base training or activity.  When I start to reach peak training volume or pre and post-race I will up that to 3 grams a day.  I have found that this amount aids in recovery and helps with the inflammation process.  Not only do my muscles feel better quicker but my blood tests show a reduced amount inflammation.  As a side note I also eat fish at least 2-3 times a week.

Capra Flex
CAPRAFLEX – Sticking with the anti-inflamatory theme, I will also take CapraFlex during hard training cycles, pre, and post-race.  CapraFlex is a blend of natural ingredients (Collagen, Goats Milk, Ginger, Bromelain, Amylase, protease, turmeric, and others) which aids in reducing inflammation, protecting and enhancing joints, and speeds muscle recovery.  The standard serving is 9 caplets (3x3 times a day) which is the dosage I will stick to during a heavy training cycle.  Pre and post-race I vary that a bit and load dose the supplement.  I will start at least 7 days out, from a race, taking 12 capsules a day (4x3 times).  The morning of a race I will take 6 capsules, then immediately after the race I will take 6 more, and I follow this with 6 before bed.  I will then do another week of 4x3 times a day.  Again this is only a supplement I take during heavy training, racing, or if I were to sprain or pull something to aid in recovery.
Multi-Vitamin – I know the jury is out on whether this is a needed supplement if you eat a balanced and clean diet, but I would rather error on the side of caution.  There are times I really put my body through hell and this just gives me piece of mind that my bases are covered.  Worse case is that I expel the unneeded vitamins and minerals and end up with expensive urine.

Magnesium – When I began to run longer it wasn’t long before I started to get cramps in very weird parts of my body.  These areas were not at all involved in running such as; my cheek, eyelid, or forearm.  After speaking with several of my friends who are endurance athletes themselves as well as registered dietitians I was told to try supplement with Magnesium.  This is something that most endurance athletes are deficient in and can be a cause of muscle issues.  I tried and low and behold the systemic cramping ceased.  I take 2 Magnesium Chloride pills a day, every day, regardless of training or racing.

Vitamin D3 – I live in Wisconsin (maybe 100 days of sun a year), not Colorado (300+ days of sun a year).  Because the sun disappears for long portions of time my body’s ability to naturally produce Vitamin D is hampered.  Also nutritional sources will not adequately supply my daily needs.  A vitamin D deficiency is a serious health risk, for both your heart and your muscles.  (Imagine that, your heart is a muscle) I take 2 x 1000mg Vit D3 pills a day.  My multi-vitamin also contains some Vit D so I am close to 3000mg.  I do this anytime I am void of sun exposure.  During the summer months where I am running shirtless for long periods I will drop that to 1 pill a day.


I know I should have placed this first, as it is the #1 way you can recover effectively to maintain consistent training and productive races.  But just as most runners/endurance athletes will admit, (or fail to admit) this is a very difficult task to master.  It is made even more difficult if the race you are running or training for is a new distance or terrain.  Take me for instance; I went from racing 5 miles on the road to 50 miles on the trail. (Hey they both have a 5 in them right!)  I had zero idea how to train for a 50 mile race and it was really hard for me to listen to my body and not train when it needed a rest.  I had silly thoughts of not finishing the race, being last, or it just hurting really bad.  Well guess what they are ultras they all hurt, A LOT, at some point.  The sign of a confident, mature runner is one who can show up to a group run and a few minutes in completely bag it, return to the car, and have the food and beer ready for their friends.  This is an ideal I strive towards.  I have gotten better at listening to my body, I am no longer afraid to miss or change workouts depending on how I am feeling.  I still struggle with bailing on friends as I get very few opportunities to train with people, but everyone has to have something to works towards right?

I hope you found this article, as well as the previous two, informative.  I by no means have all, or even a few, of the answers to the questions related to optimal raining, nutrition, and recovery.  But as I learn more I found that my greatest asset was my lack of fear of change, and my willingness to experiment.  Hey, you never know what will work unless you try!  I have failed, a lot, and will continue to do so.  But I believe my greatest insights and training gains have come from some of my biggest failures.  Please feel free to comment below on any methods you have used to bolster your training, nutrition, or enhance you recovery. 

Like always go find your trail and enjoy it!

25 November 2013

RACE… RECEOVER… RACE… an experiment in ultra-stacking! Step 2 - Nutrition

Last week I covered how I approached my training for two ultras (here) I planned to race rather close together; (Mad City 50k & Ice Age 50 mile) there was three weeks between the races.  To be able to consistently train for the first race and fully recover for the second, I was going to need to dial in my daily, training, and race nutrition. 

I am not a nutrition expert, though I do have a science and medical background.  I have experimented enough with myself to know what works for me.  I sought extra advice from Peter Defty (VESPA) and Ben Greenfield (Ben GreenfieldFitness).  Both Peter and Ben advocate a high fat ketogenic or OFM (Optimized Fat Metabolism) diet.  I guess I’m a little more moderate, I like fruits, Vodka, hard cider, and dark chocolate too much to be in ketosis as deep as they are.   That said, I did refine my diet, which was already grain free/gluten free, to lower my carb count a little more and add in more variety when it came to protein sources.  I changed the timing of the intake of carbohydrates to coincide with post session insulin sensitivity.   I also started to do all of my training either completely fasted from the night before or with just some green tea and coconut oil. 

I often get asked what my diet is.  I hate this question as I do not have a “DIET”, unless you consider eating real, whole, and unprocessed foods a diet.  The descriptive term which most matches my eating habits is probably no sugar/no grains.  Now as I said earlier I am not a monk and will eat things like dark chocolate or drink alcohol, yes these are sugars.  I also will eat quinoa on a rare occasion.  That being said my diet is pretty clean due to the fact that I mostly eat meat, veggies, fruits, cheese, and the occasional starch (rice/sweet potatoes).  I do not eat processed foods or grains therefore my diet is absent of fake sugars, chemicals, gluten, and GMO products.  A sample of how I eat during the day is listed below.  There are days that will differ from this but this is usually how I eat 6 days a week.

BREAKFAST (Post Exercise – usually running)
3 eggs – scrambled in olive oil
½ serving meat (usually leftover from previous night)
½ - 1 Cup shredded cheese
½ banana
1 Cup of blueberries or strawberries
Green Tea

LUNCH (post exercise – usually weights or stretch)
Smoothie (12oz Coconut Milk, ½ Cup of beets, 2 TBSP of Flax, 1 TSBP Cinnamon, & 1 scoop whey protein)
½ Avocado

Beef Jerky or Cheese

1 Serving Meat (fish, lamb, game meat, chicken)
Salad (veggies, greens)
Cheese (sliced or shredded)
Olive Oil

I feel this diet gives me the optimal balance of fats, protein, and carbohydrates.  Eating simply, as I call it, allows me to maintain a lean body mass, as well as enjoy the foods that I really like.  I choose to eat for long term health not just short term performance.  A major change that I made was when I consume simple carbohydrates (fruits).  After soliciting advice from Peter I switched to eating fruit only post exercise.  First, I did this because my muscles insulin receptors would be sensitized thereby allowing for quick absorption of the carbs into my muscles, versus their being stored as fat.  Second it would aid in muscle recovery.

I separate these two where most people treat them as the same.  The reason most treat them the same is the old adage of “Never try anything new on race day”, therefore they practice how they plan to race.  Thankfully genetics has blessed me with an iron stomach during extreme efforts.  What this means for me is that I can more specifically train my body and mind during training and not be overly concerned during the race.  During the race I usually keep nutrition as simple as possible.  Below I will describe how I plan and execute my nutrition strategy for training and racing.  I will also give the why behind it.

The way I fuel training sessions is listed below, after the description I will delve into the why behind each.

#1 (Easy & Tempo Runs)
Coconut Water

#2 (Long or Workout Runs)
Coconut Water
VESPA JR (long run only)
Green Tea w Coconut oil (bulletproof tea)
Electrolytes (Salt)

First, by completing my sessions fasted (no additional carbs to spike insulin) I train my body to utilize fats during all levels of exercise intensity.  Second, because I would not be spiking my insulin levels during the session I will not cause as much oxidative stress and therefore, I will recover quicker allowing me to go harder sooner.  This is where VESPA really comes into play.  VESPA is an amino acid supplement which acts as a key.  This key unlocks fat metabolism earlier allowing you to burn fat more efficiently as your fuel source.  (For more information regarding the exact science behind VESPA please view these articles (1) (2).)  Third, I was training my mind to handle hard efforts with little external glycogen.  The benefit of this strategy was apparent during Mad City when I had to take in fewer calories to sustain a higher intensity. I only took in about 400 calories total, about 100g of carbs for 3.5 hours.  When you compare this to the 50K I did 6 months earlier where I consumed 1400 calories total, about 300g Carbs for 4.5 hours and you can see the benefit of the training nutrition plan.

As I stated my race and training nutrition strategies differ.  I do not restrict glycogen (carbs) during races.  Rather I fully embrace their use in moderation.  I follow what some would call a “sugar drip” strategy during racing.  The human digestive system can absorb about 20oz of liquid per hour.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t consume more than that, just that your body won’t absorb it.  (You spend a lot of time in the woods.)  Keeping this in mind any calories you consume need to be accompanied by liquid to be absorbed.  This is the reason I keep my nutrition plan simple.  First it allows my body to get exactly what it needs to perform, and second I can adjust it if things change.  Here is a look at my nutrition before and during races.

(2-3 hours pre-race)
2-4 Packets of nut butter (Depends on Race Distance)
Coconut Water
VESPA Concentrate
Green Tea with coconut oil

(40 min pre-race)
Coconut water / water w electrolytes

(roughly each hour)
1 20oz Bottle water
Flask w honey, maple syrup, gels, or glucose powder diluted w coconut water
(I sometimes skip the flask and place the mix in the bottle) - EASY
1 salt tab (I use Succeed tabs, or Salt Stick)

(every 1:40-2:00 ish)

(Last 1/3 of the race)
I will switch over to coke in my 20oz bottle and just drink as needed.  I feel the caffeine helps me focus and maintain my effort towards the end of the race.

I will grab the odd potato chip or orange slice at an aid station just for a change of texture or flavor.

As you can see I keep my race nutrition simple.  The main benefit of this is that I do not have to think about it during the race.  A perfect example was Ice Age this year.  I planned on running on gels and plain water in my bottle.  The aid stations however were light on gels.  This really threw a wrench into some nutrition plans.  I simply switched over to filling my bottle with ginger ale, till the final 13 miles when I switched to coke.  I stuck with my timely utilization of VESPA and salt and had zero energy or GI issues the entire race.  Going forward I plan to continue this strategy, and possibly simplify it further by switching to a glucose powder.  I can easily carry the powder and empty it into my bottles at aid stations, thereby relying only on myself during the race.

I hope you enjoyed this look at how I tailor my nutrition for optimal health, racing, recovery, and eating pleasure!  If you have any questions regarding my diet, specific meals, VESPA and my use of it, or meal planning please do hesitate to comment on this post or to contact me.  Stay tuned for next week’s post regarding the supplements and methods I utilized for recovery to handle this challenge.
As always enjoy finding your own trail!

18 November 2013

RACE… RECEOVER… RACE… an experiment in ultra-stacking! Step 1 - Training

I have been meaning to write this article for some time, better now than never right?  Late in 2012 when I was planning out my race schedule for 2013 I needed a challenge.  Apparently ultras by themselves are not challenging enough right?  I wanted to push my limits, so I was either going to race my first 100 miler or two ultras within a few weekends.  My decision was made for me in the first week of December when I didn’t get into Western States via the lottery, so racing two shorter ultras in succession it was.  Now, Mike Wardian I am not, so the two that I chose (Mad City 50K) & (Ice Age 50 mile) were 3 weeks apart.  I am still relatively new to running long distances in training and racing so I wasn’t really sure how to go about training for two ultras so close together, or how I would recover in between. 

I sought out advice from some of the more experienced, and prolific front runners, in my trail group (The Lapham PeakTrail Runners).  Their first response went something like this; “So what!  You are racing a 50K before a 50 miler, I did that last weekend!”  Helpful right!  I kept at it though and eventually received the following advice.  “A 50k is not really any longer than a Marathon, and you have an ok base.  Do some advanced marathon training for the 50K, recover right, and the speed work from the marathon training will get you through the 50 miler.”  Now that made sense.  This recovery they spoke of, that was going to be my real issue.  I figured my ability to recover would be affected by 3 very distinct but related topics; specific and consistent training, nutrition (pre, during, & post race), and body damage mitigation.  In this three part series I will describe the training, nutrition, and recovery techniques I utilized to complete this task.


Specific and consistent training is the backbone of all endurance sports.  You may be able to complete an event but not compete during the event if your training is interrupted or not specific to the race course you are attacking.  This posed an issue for me as Mad City is a fast, flat, & looped 50K course, whereas Ice Age 50 is a hilly trail race.  I knew I would end up sacrificing something as I couldn’t train for all the variables in both races.  I learned this would be my ability to quickly ascend the hills at Ice Age.  The leg speed I gained from the fast training would help on any flat or downhill sections, but I was going to have to power hike most of the significant climbs at Ice Age.  I followed a pretty standard marathon training bloc; the only change I made was in regards to the long runs.  I doubled up on Friday and Saturday and they were also sub-race pace or fast finish (Progression) runs.  The schedule looked like this.


Mon – Tempo (8-10miles),
TUE & THUR (Easy 6-10 Miles),
Wed – Workout (Hills, Fartlek, Track)
Fri- Sub Race Pace Mid-Range Run (9-15 Miles)
Sat – Long Progression run, final ¼ of distance was at race pace (13-25 miles)
Sun - OFF

I steadily built my Friday sub-race pace run and Saturday long run distance.  As far as the individual training blocks I did break up 12 weeks into three distinct groups.  The first group consisted of my Wednesday workouts being hill intervals.  The Second group consisted of fartlek runs on Wednesday.  Finally the last group I completed before my taper was track intervals.  This plan completely prepared me for Mad City.  I was able to hold a sub 7 minute pace for 30 of the 31 miles. (Yes I had one bad mile, 29, where a cramped hamstring caused me to walk a bit.) 

For this challenge I needed a double taper. Tapering is a very individual aspect of training.  I do better with a 10 day taper.  This means that I shift my last long run to Wednesday the week before a key race.  For Mad City that meant the week before the race I completed a 12 mile tempo run on Wednesday and a 6 mile tempo on Saturday.  I did three shorter fartlek sessions during the taper week, to hold the speed in my legs but show up race day completely rested and hungry to race.  I finished the Mad City 50K in 3:50 which was good for 7th overall and 1st age group. 

Post Mad City, I took 1 week off of running.  I just biked and swam.  I then repeated my taper for Mad City.  The only difference was that all of my runs 2 weeks before Ice Age were completed on hilly trails.  My Wednesday (10 Days Before Race) run was a 21 mile hilly trail tempo run.  I also replicated the fartlek sessions the week of the race.  I raced Ice Age conservatively, starting off slow (11-12 min pace) but finished the race running the last 13 miles of 50 at 7:50 pace.  Finishing only 15 minutes slower than my fastest 50 miler.


I peaked with my longest run being 26 miles in 3 hours, and my longest week near 80 miles.  I really feel this training got me ready for the 50K which allowed me to race without causing excessive damage to my body.  The largest component to mitigating this damage was my nutrition during training, racing, and recovery phases.  I will cover my nutrition in next week’s post. 

If I had to replicate this training block for these two races again one major change I would make would be to combine the track and hill sessions in the final 8 weeks.  I chose to do the hill sessions first for 4 weeks, then the track work for the next 4.  The benefit of this was that I had awesome leg turnover for the fast 50K.  Unfortunately I had zero ability to climb fast in the hilly 50 miler.  Going forward I will be utilizing more of a hybrid workout where I will do fartleks or track work first followed by hill intervals.  I believe the benefit from this work will be a refinement of leg speed as well as allowing me to run fast uphill with extremely fatigued legs.

I hope you enjoyed this look at how I trained and tapered for two races so close together.  If you have any questions regarding the exact workouts I was doing please do not hesitate to comment on this post or to contact me.  Stay tuned for next week’s post regarding how I nutritionally handled this challenge.

As always enjoy finding your own trail in life!

20 October 2013

Enter My Racing Mind: My North Face Endurance Challenge (Madison) 50K Report

Courtesy of
I have the same conversation weekly.  It usually takes place while in some non-trail running social setting.  Casual banter with others who run usually leads to questions of what races I have run, places I like to train, or distances covered.  My response, that I run ultras and specifically trail ultras, always elicits the same reaction; disbelief, curiosity, awe, and fear.  Several responses are; “You ran how far?”, “That’s INSANE!”, “I don’t even like to drive that far!”.  My favorite two though are “How much do you run to train for that?” and “What the HELL do you think about for that long on the trail?”  Well I will answer both of these in the context of my last race, The North Face Endurance Challenge (Madison) 50K.

First, “How much do I run to train for ultras?”!  I will cover this in a future post detailing my training for this season as well as nutrition and recovery!  There 1st question answered.  I know procrastination right!

Second, “What the Hell do you think of for that long on the trail?”!  I am going to use my most recent race to answer this.  TNF Madison is a really easy ultra to wrap your brain around, as you can break it into distinct sections.  The first 7 miles are road and hilly ski trails, the next 5 are hilly and sand filled horse trails, followed by 9 miles of fast Ice Age Trail running, and the final 10 miles on the sandy horse trails. Now here is a breakdown of how I mentally handled the race and its challenges.  For a similar take, during a much longer effort,  on race reporting check out Adam Condit’s (3rd place) Podcast “TNF 50MileAudio Recap

I arrived at the race about an hour early, which gave me time to warm my legs up a bit and head to the first aid station to watch the lead 50 Mile racers as they came through.  The first two through, Tyler Sigl and Brian Condon, were moving insanely quick for a dark mile 7 with 43 to go.  No worries for these two though, Tyler would go on to finish 1st in 5:38 setting a new course record, with Brian right behind in 2nd with a 5:55.  Anyways back to my race, I got to the start line so let the fun begin, welcome to my mind! (It will be in italics and underlined!)

Wow this is cold, good thing I brought this crappy old long sleeve shirt to stay warm!  Time for some VESPAWait what did that guy just say?  As I was lining up a guy, looking like he stepped directly out of Trail Running Magazine, was laughing at the individual in front of him, wearing only Hokas, shorts, a head band, a torn up long sleeve shirt, and no bottle, stating “This joker should be farther to the back!”.  Well that guy was me, and my bottle was tucked into my shorts so I could keep my hands warm.   Oh yeah buddy, we’ll see what good all that compression and anchor(Hydration Pack)are doing you out at mile 25!  Is that Dean Karnazes, huh why is he talking about Francis Scott Key?   A history lesson??  Whatever,  I guess he did write a book!   5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!

Alright we are running, man this road sucks I am so glad it is only 1.5 miles till the trail and that 1st hill.  Man I just went from guy #20 to guy #120 look at these fools running at 5k pace.  Hmmm, Maybe I should be running faster, nope, I feel like crap!  Man I need to get off of this road.  Look there’s ANTON!  No wait it's just some guy with long hair, beard, and full ANTON kit, funny!  Wow when will this road end, oh wait there’s the trail and that first hill, time for some power hiking!  I dropped down a gear as this first hill is pretty lengthy and steep enough that hiking it at mile 2 is preferable.  Holy shit, what the fuck!  Why are these people running this hill at 5 min pace, am I really moving that slow, man I feel like crap, come on legs loosen the hell up!  I glanced down at my watch for the 1st of only 3 times the whole race to learn that I was in fact “hiking” this hill at 9 min pace, so no I wasn’t moving slow they were just going way too fast for mile 3.  Screw these hosers!  I’ll catch them later, WHAT is going on with my MOTHA F’N LEGS!!! My grandpa could move up this hill faster than me!  Oh well screw it, look at this awesome trail!  Maybe if I think more happy thoughts my legs will loosen up.  Man maybe I should have warmed up a bit more.  Wait here’s the down hill. 
starting to pass people downhill
This was the thought process that would accompany me for pretty much the first 7 miles.  Early on, about mile 4, I met up with Andrew Hollatz from Madison.  He was running his first ultra, and had a few questions regarding the course and how it raced.  The conversation was flowing smoothly and he and I were running similar paces, though he was pushing the climbs while I would catch him on the descents.  We ran through the mile 7 aid station in 30 something place, not bad for crappy tight legs that refused to climb.

Let the 5 mile loop on the Horse Trail begin.  Man these legs are finally starting to work, I must be getting old it now takes me 5+ miles to warm up.  Hmmm I’m getting hungry must be time for some honey.  Man I LOVE running on trails!  For this race I simplified my nutrition plan to consist of a flask filled with honey that was diluted with coconut water.  I planned to use this, VESPA, and the odd orange or potato chip at an aid station until mile 22 AS then switch over to coke in my water bottle for the remainder of the race. Man that honey was good, and so easy.  Who says never try anything new on race day, this was a great idea.  Well, maybe I should have tried it in a long run.  Ahhh who cares, I have a stomach of steel I could eat dirt if I had to.  Wow these hills are coming easier, and the downs are really starting to heat up!  BLAMO buddy, yeah that’s right, you there, guy who was making fun of me at the start line, why are you running 10 min pace down this hill!  SWEET the final long hill into the aid station before we hit the Ice Age Trail, my legs feel awesome, it’s time to pick it up!  Man this hill is insane awesome I frickin love running down hills!  For the second time during the race I glanced down at my watch to see that I was holding 4 min pace down this hill.  I blasted through this aid station to learn Andrew and I were now in 20 something place.  Now it was time to run fast.

Dropping sub 5 min mile
The Ice Age Trail section of this race runs really fast, similar to a fire road.  There are a few hills but they are rollers and you can really fly through the open meadows with the cool AM temps.  I was able to move through this section and maintain 6:50-7 min pace pretty easy.  Hell yeah, I am killing this trail.  Hey, I know this guy he went screaming by me on that first hill, why is he walking, this is flat?  Oh man I feel awesome.  Wait it’s starting to get hot I might have to loose this jersey soon.  MAN AM I HUNGRY, where did that come from.  Hmmmm, crap this honey is almost gone.  How long have I been running, ahhh that’s why it time for more VESPA!  Whew!  Now I feel better, I hope  the honey will last, I only have a bit more to go till aid.  Where is this damn aid station? Oh here we go, I am starting the horse trail.  MAN, I hate this sand where the hell does it all come from! 

I found the sand but still having a blast
As the 9 mile fast Ice Age Trail ends you are introduced to the horse trails by a long climb that seems like 2 hills but is really just 1 long one with a false top.  Andrew and I were still running together at this point, but my season of racing was catching up with me.  My body and mind were tired.  I would be hiking all the rest of the ups, and running the downs and sandy flats as fast as possible.  Andrew told me he was feeling strong, I encouraged him to go smash it and catch as many as he could!  HE did!  Andrew ended up finishing 3rd 6 minutes ahead of me!  Man, this stupid sand, this is why I said I would never run this race again!  Where is this mile 22 AS?  Why is it so hot?  Man I feel like crap, I am so tired I just want to sit down!  That tree looks pretty comfortable!  Oh there’s someone, crap I should try to pass.  AHHHHH why do my legs hurt so much, passing was not a good idea.  CRAMP!!!! FUCK!!!  Where are my S Caps.  Man those taste like shit when you chew them!  Sweet no more cramp, works every time!  Through experience I have found that when I start to develop a cramp if I chew salt pills or drink a super salty liquid, pickle juice, my cramps will abate within a few seconds.  No real science to back this one up, just my personal experience. 

As I ran through the mile 22 Aid I learned I was now in 12th place, and I was feeling pretty good and ready to finish my last race of the season!  There is the 22 mile AS, man I can’t wait for that coke!  Man I am so hot this jersey is coming off now!  WHAT, PEPSI, who the hell drinks fucking PEPSI!!!!  Fine who cares its sugar and caffeine, it can’t taste any worse than chewing these damn S Caps!  Alright I feel so much better without out that jersey.  Man if only this carbonated Pepsi in this stupid bottle would stop spraying all over my like some jungle shower!  Sweet there is the lead women, I am not going to be chicked today!  Man I am moving ok through this sand.  It is time for some tunes.  That’s right bitches I am rocking Aerosmith and now you all get to enjoy my lovely voice as I run down this trail.  Man I love running.  WOW, it is getting hot again, crap I can’t pour this stupid Pepsi over my head.  Is that a water faucet, it is ahhhh, sweet relief!!  At mile 24ish there is a water faucet a few feet off of the trail, and it makes for a great cool off station. 

Man a Pepsi Shower, REALLY!
Just a few more miles of sand and then you come upon the final hill that leads back out to the road and the finish.  It was running down this final hill that I checked my watch, for the third time, to learn that I was running another 4 min mile!   Man I CAN NOT WAIT FOR THIS SAND to END!!!!!.  I hate sand!!! Man this music is awesome, I hope this mp3 player doesn’t die.  Arrrgghhh!!  When will this sand end!  Oh wait I am coming up on that final hill.  Holy sweet mother of GOD I only have 2 miles left!!  ARRGGGHHH, I will run this hill, I will run this hill, I… I am running this hill.  There’s the top time to let it rip!!!  Kamikaze!!!!  Is that Dean K running at me, look out Dean I am going too fast to stop.  Right on, that’s another 4:30ish mile!! Holy smoke this feels awesome!  Wait what’s that cop doing down there at the bottom.  WHAT, wait here WHAT!!! I don’t have time to wait I want to be done with this race. 

The final 2 miles on the road to the finish, unfortunately you can hear and see the finish but it always seems to be just too far away.  I just have one final stumble through a ditch to the finish arch, and the announcer trying his hardest to pronounce my city’s name, Wauwatosa, then giving up and just saying Milwaukee.  Yes, I can see the finish!  Yes I can hear the finish!  Man I must be crushing this pace right now!  I was only running 6:55 pace but it felt more like 5 min effort!  I can see the finish!  I can see the, WHAT THE…. when does this damn thing end.  Screw you cramps I am just going to keep running!  Where is the damn…ooooffff…who the hell puts a ditch right before the finish!  Finally, the END!  Smile nice for the camera, make it seem easy!  What the heck is the MC saying, ha ha he can’t pronounce Wauwatosa!  Oh man am I glad to be done.  I NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN!  Well we’ll see how I feel tomorrow ;)! 

A Welcome Finish
I was pretty pleased with my race, my pacing, and my nutrition.  I started off slow and got faster.  I was never passed the entire race and worked my way up the field from somewhere around 40th to 7th overall and a 1st place in my age group!  As for not trying something new on race day, the diluted honey worked great.  The rest of my nutrition plan consisted of VESPA, salt, water, and Pepsi.  Keep it simple, right!  I want to thank my family who always support me no matter how crazy my next adventure is.  I also want to thank my sponsors VESPA and Performance Running Outfitters, your support and advice allow me to pursue and conquer great challenges.  I had a great racing season and cannot wait to start planning for next year. 

I hope you enjoyed the report, I know it was different, but I hope it gave you a feel for how my mental state changes throughout a race, and how important it is to keep a good mental outlook when things are starting to go wrong.  For those of you still racing this year, let it rip!  For the rest of us, sit back have a drink, and enjoy the rest!

4:20:41  (7th Oveall)  (1st Age Group)

Hoka One One Bondi 2 - iRunFar
TNF “Better than Naked” Shorts - PRO
Drymax Trail Socks - PRO
PRO Sugoi Race Singlet - PRO
Ultimate Direction Hand Bottle - PRO
Nike Head Band - PRO

Pre Race
2 hours before
2 Justins Chocolate Hazelnut packets
1 Green Tea with coconut oil
1 VESPA Ultra Concentrate
1 Multi Vitamin, 2 Fish Oil, 1 Vit D, 1 Magnesium,
6 Capra Flex

45 min before

6oz honey diluted with coconut water
2 UD bottles of pepsi
S caps

Post Race
1 Guinness
1 recovery smoothie
1 hard cider
1 Large meal followed by several more large meals

24 May 2013

“You Run To Find Quiet” –2013 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile Race Report

“You Run To Find Quiet” – Ice Age Trail 50 Mile Race Report

“Daddy I know why you run for so long in the woods!”  This was how my daughter started a facetime conversation with me while I was in NJ, the morning before the race.  I asked her why and she responded; “When you run in nature your heart is talking to God.”  I was shocked, as I usually am, by the crystal clarity my daughter’s statements can provide during hectic times.  The days leading up to the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile race had been truly hectic.  I believe that racing ultra-distance events prepares you for the challenges of life, and I was about to fully test this theory.
It started three weeks earlier when I raced the Mad City 50K.  I had a great race but had really punished my legs.  I have never raced 2 ultras so close together before so I was entering uncharted territory.  Then a week before the race my boss called to ask if I was busy the following week, race week.  I told him my birthday was on Wednesday and Saturday I was racing 50 miles.  His response was, “good you are free Thursday and Friday, we need you in NJ.”  Finally the winter in WI had been exceptionally brutal and had not really dissipated until the prior 2 weeks.  This meant that I had zero race specific training for a hilly, trail, 50 mile race.  As I was flying home Friday evening the guy next to me asked if I had plans for the weekend, after telling of the race he commented that I seemed really relaxed for someone about to run 50 miles. I was, deep down I needed this race, the trails, the challenge, and the quiet of nature so my heart could talk to God!  Well, let the challenge begin, it was time to find my quiet.
Racing the Mad City 50K had left my legs tired, but I was pretty sure they had recovered enough to finish and possibly race the 50 miles.  Keeping this in mind I lined up in the middle of the crowd, and decided to take the first 9 mile loop extremely easy.  I say crowd because there were over 400 starters for the 50 Mile race.  Due to my starting position as well as the slower beginning pace (11-12 min miles) I got to run with some incredible individuals.  One such gentleman was Mike Price from Salt Lake City, UT.  Mike is 62, started running ultras in the early 80’s, and has run almost all of them (over 200).  Clicking off early miles with him involved an awesome game of name that race.  I named them, he told me how many times he finished, DNF’d, or DNS’d, and how to train for them.  This was awesome and the early 9 mile loop flew by.  As I came into the aid station (mile 9) I decided my legs felt good so I would gradually pick up the pace.  I made the decision here that I would not be passed by ANYONE in this race, I would only pass people.   I normally run ultras on water and gels, well I surveyed the aid table and there were no gels.  The volunteer apologized, I smiled, thanked them for everything, and told them; “No worries, you guys are awesome, time to run my first ultra on ginger ale.”
The next 14 or so miles down to Rice Lake (mile22) went pretty smoothly.  I took the technical sections closer to the lake pretty easy, especially the climbing.  I had mentally prepared for this eventuality as I had zero specific trail hill training for this race due to the disaster that was the WI winter.  I power hiked most of the hills, where I ran them last year.  (A great article regarding specific race training and it effects is Zach Bitter’s (3rd place).)  A holdover benefit I received from my speed training for Mad City, similar to Zach’s, was my enhanced ability to descend the technical trails.  My descending, normally strength, was enhanced by the speed work which increased my foot turn over allowing me to “fall” down the hill more efficiently.  I had slowly picked up the pace, and by the turn at mile 22 was running pretty quick.  I was really feeling connected with the trail and my surroundings and was about to have even more time to acquaint with them.
I had been waiting for some deep hidden fatigue in my legs to slow me.  It was a driving rain/hail storm that got to me first.  Luckily I had kept my arm sleeves on and rolled them back up, right on hypothermia averted!  Then right after leaving the mile 26 aid some deep fatigue in my left quad, a hold-over from Mad City made itself known.  While descending a small hill I felt a small hot bomb explode inside my quad, ending my ability to descend quickly.  What I found truly amazing was that when this happened instead of causing my mood to sour, I suddenly began to enjoy the trail even more.  I ran mostly alone, other than passing people, till the next turn at mile 40.  During this time I reflected on just how lucky I am to be able to run in such a beautiful environment, and how truly blessed I am to have the ability to enjoy it in a manner that, as my daughter told me, allowed my heart to talk to God!  I was finding my quiet.  I was keeping good on my plan to only pass people and not be passed.  Filling my bottles shirtless, in 50 degree temps, and with 10 miles to run I had huge grin on my face that really fired up some of the volunteers.  I was suddenly ready to run hard.  I left and let my body float down the trail.
The final 10 miles to the finish were some of the most exhilarating miles I have ever run.  My quad had either gone numb due to effort, or my mind had shut the pain out, and suddenly my ability to descend returned.  I took full advantage of this and my euphoric mood to push the pace to the finish.  I ran truly feeling the trail, becoming one with my environment.  I ran hard.  I ran fast.  I danced down the descents like a child running to a playground.  I ran because I needed to, I had found my quiet on the trail.  I cannot really explain why I felt so at peace 7+ hours into a run, but 50 miles suddenly didn’t seem long enough.  During some of the flatter sections I glanced down at my watch to see that I was holding 7 min pace, and on a few of the descents had dipped into the 5 min range.  This fast running allowed me to finish the race in 53rd place.  I was never passed the entire race!
I crossed the finish smiling.  I was truly happy; not to be done, not because I had achieved some great race result or time, Just Happy!  I had found my quiet, my heart truly had its chance speak with God, and my body had a chance to be rejuvenated by nature.  I am truly thankful to Jeff Mallach, the RD, and his exceptional crew of volunteers form making the 2013 a great race, and great experience.  Thank you also to my family who supports my desire to push my body and discover just how far I can go!  Thank you also to my sponsors; Performance Running Outfitters and VESPA, your gear, support, and advice make racing and self discovery so much fun! As a side note now that my mind thinks 50 mile/ 6-8 hour runs are business as usual, it may be time to increase distance and stretch to a new challenge!
Finding my quiet, heart talking to God! Photo by Ali Engin
Race Gear & Nutrition
1 VESPA Concentrate
1 multi vitamin, fish oil, vit D
4 Capra Flex
3 Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter packets
1 Green Tea w 1 TBSP of coconut oil
48oz coconut water
1 VESPA Concentrate
3 Gels
Ginger Ale
Coke (Final 10 Miles)
7 S-Cap salt tabs
Post Race
Guinness and good food!!!!
8 Capra Flex
1 multi-vitamin & fish oil
The North Face - Better than Naked shorts, & arm sleeves - Performance Running Outfitters (PRO)
Hoka One One Bondi 2B - 
Ultimate Direction - uno waist pack (1st 25 miles) & hand held (final 25 miles) - PRO
Drymax - Trail runner socks - PRO
Salmon S-Lab Hydro Set (2 8oz flasks) - PRO