Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50K

I heard about this race from some of my trail running friends in El Paso and decided to participate and use it as a training race for Rocky Raccoon in February.  I highly recommend this event (  and racing company ( who were the organizers.  They organize several races throughout the year in the area.
Lety and I left for Phoenix on Friday afternoon and got settled in a nearby hotel. We drove to the Mc Dowell Mountain State Park to check out the course and visit friends who were camping there.  The park is in Fountain Hills, Arizona about 30 miles from Scottsdale where we were staying.

Race AM
Woke up at 0500 and got ready for the drive to the park which took about 30 minutes.  Had to pay $6 to get in the park on race morning.  The racing bib and t-shirt were provided on race morning as the early pick up was on Thursday night.  The temp was 42F but they provided portable heaters and so this allowed me keep a short sleeve shirt prior to the race.  The 50 milers started at 0700 and the 50K at 0730.  They also had later start times for the 25K, 10 mile, and 5 mile course. (the one that Lety ran) For the 50K, one drop bag was allowed at mile 10 and another at the start finish at mile 25.  I applied plenty of sun block and ate a Gu about 15 min. before the start of the race.  I carried Cliff Bars, Gu, electrolyte tablets, and 1 hand held bottle of water.

The Race
Promptly at 0730 the 50K racers started on the trail, there were about 75 starters on this race. The pace was pretty fast for me and I had to force myself to slow down to a 11:15 to 11:30 pace to save my legs for later on.  As I do on all these events, I fast walked every mile for a tenth of a mile and if there were some steep inclines I also walked.   The course was was mostly hard backed sand with some rocks and rare soft sand.  There were some long climbs and descents along the way, but the worst grade came at the end with the 5 mile loop after going back to the start/finish aid station. The course was very well marked with different colored signs for the varying distances.  Throughout you had to watch for mountain bikers who passed along pretty quickly specially on the downhill   The aid stations were very well stocked with orange slices, cookies, water, Gatorade and electrolyte caps. (S caps and Endurolytes). At the turnaround for us, Dixie Mines, I reached my drop bag and got 2 more cliff bars, sprayed more sunblock, and refilled my water bottle.  I forgot to take out more Chocolate Gu gels which I regretted later.  One nice thing they had were paper towels, which I was able to use to clean my sunglasses and wife off the sweat.  On the return to the start finish, I came upon a historical marker along the trail designating the location of the Pemberton Ranch Homestead.  At one time there was a windmill and a productive water well which allowed farming in this area.


The last 6 miles were getting really hot and I was taking salt tablets and water.  I was able to keep my pace at around 11:30 with the walk breaks.  At mile 26, I arrived at the start/finish aid station where I was able to grab some ice to put under my cap.  Refilled water bottles, ate a Cliff bar, and took 2 Gu's from the drop bag.  Lety was there to crew me which helped expedite the stop.  I did not want to linger here too long as this was an easy place to quit.  I heard some people thought when the arrived here, they thought they were done, only to find out there were 5 more miles to go.  The last 5 miles were pretty tough as the heat of the day was upon us. 

Photo by Lety Woodhouse as I neared finish line

I finished in 6:47 which placed me at 51 out of 67 finishers, I am not sure how many DNF's there were, but I suspect quite a bit.

Post race
I was very happy with my result for this race.  I approached it as a training run to test the calf since the injury and it held up pretty well.   I feel the event was very well organized, well marked, and the aid station support was excellent.  They even had pictures on the website for free to download.  Happy training and I will continue to pursue my goal of completing a 100 mile race in Feb 2013 at the Rocky Raccoon Trail Run.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Metabolic efficiency training

I wanted to pass along some new concepts that I have recently become aware off with regards to metabolic efficiency training.  Firstly, I will describe what this means.  Endurance exercise requires us to use carbohydrates in the form of glycogen that is stored primarily in the liver and the muscle. All of us have heard about the "bonking" effect which happens when we use all our glycogen stores and have not taken in enough carbohydrates by mouth and the result is the body can no longer continue to exercise.  It has been known for many years that in addition to using glycogen, the body also has the ability to  use fat burning as a source of calories to allow endurance type exercise.  Fat burning usually takes place with less vigorous activity and as we increase effort more and more carbohydrates are required for energy.   Everyone of us has a "crossover point" which is the point where as we exercise the energy expenditure comes less from carbohydrates and more from fat.
from Bob Seebohar "Metabolic Efficiency training"

The goal of metabolic efficiency training thus becomes to move the "crossover point" to the right so that you can go faster or use more energy from fat instead of carbohydrates.  What are the benefits of this other than burning body fat off the body?   If we can train to burn more fat and go faster as we burn more fat, then we don't have to eat as much doing Ultras because all of us have unlimited fat stores whereas the carbohydrate stores are more limited.  One of the biggest problems with Ultrarunning is the GI issues which make people vomit and unable to take in any more calories.  If we can burn more fat, all you need is to drink water and run through the aid stations.

So how do we determine our crossover point?     You can estimate it by using a heart rate monitor and using the formula 180-Age which is the HR to stay below while training to maximize fat burning.  The most accurate way, however, is to have access to a Metabolic Cart.  This is available at Human Performance Laboratories around the country (I don't think El Paso has one, nearest maybe Albuquerque) and employs a treadmill/stationary bike and a mouthpiece where all the inspired oxygen and carbon dioxide (nose is plugged).  These measurements gives the amount of fat and carbohydrates that are being used.  While exercising the metabolic cart will calculate the crossover point and you can get an exact measurement of the amount of effort to reach the crossover point.  After training the body to burn more fat, we can go back and test to see if we have been able to move the crossover point to the right.  In other words, run or cycle faster and still use more fat burning than carbohydrates.

How do we train the body to burn more fat? You accomplish this by spending more time in training at a lower intensity which stimulates the fat burning metabolic pathways and increase the efficiency.  Nutritionally, you can also enhance fat burning by taking in less carbohydrates in the diet and increase fat and protein.  An important factor in fat burning are the insulin spikes that result from eating a heavy carbohydrate meal and insulin inhibits fat burning.  The Paleo diet, among other things, has been shown  to stimulate more fat burning in a resting state precisely because you don't have these insulin spikes.

One approach which I have learned about and tried is to go out for an EASY run in the AM without eating food and maybe a little water.  For nutrition doing the long runs, I have been looking into snacks that have more fat and protein with less carbohydrates to stay in the fat burning zone. Some options are Skratch Labs  which make hydration solutions with less carbs.

If you have read up to this point and are interested in finding more about this topic, I would recommend the book by Bob Seebohar "Metabolic Efficiency training" or at his Website  or listen to  Trailrunnernation Podcast  which goes into great detail and can be listened to while running very slowly by yourself because everyone else will be running faster as you do metabolic efficiency training.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sidelined by a calf (Gastrocnemius) tear

Well I got injured and wanted to give an update on my blog.  Looking back, I initially felt a pain in my calf after Baylor Pass 12 mile trail run after my fall.  I had a close encounter with a snake and scraped my elbow.  After the race, I noticed very mild calf pain that persisted for 2 days.  I was able to run by Wednesday (6 miles) and Friday (6 miles) so I thought nothing of it.  On Sunday AM 6 weeks ago tomorrow (Sunday Oct. 7),  I was again doing a trail run in the Franklin Mountain State Park.  I heard a sound that I thought was a snake so I made a quick move to the side away from the sound.  Instantly, I felt a severe sharp pain in my left calf.  I thought for a minute that a snake had bit me and did a quick check and noticed no bite marks.  Clearly, this was no cramp and I immediately diagnosed myself as having sustained a tear in the calf muscle.  I was relieved I had not been bitten by a snake or tore my Achilles, but I knew it was bad.  I limped back to my car with great difficulty.

A calf or grastrocnemius tear is a common injury and one that was new for me.  It is graded 1-3 depending on the amount of muscle fibers involved.  Grade 3 is a complete tear and may require surgery.  I think mine was a grade 1 or 2.  I decided to be my own doctor and did not have any imaging studies.
Gastrocnemius Tear. Axial fat suppressed T2-weighted MR image shows feathery high signal intensity edema (white arrow) within the medial aspect of the medial gastrocnemius muscle, with a heterogeneous hematoma (black arrow) located between the gastrocnemius muscle and deep fascia.

The treatment is initially ice which I placed followed by rest, elevation, and compression.  The next day, the calf became very swollen and blood trickled down under the skin to the ankle and behind the knee.  I have not been injured in the 6 years of running so I was pretty upset but decided to tackle the problem head on.
I had to scratch the Eagle in the Sun Triathlon which was my next race the following Sunday.  Since I had been swimming ,  I decided to maintain my fitness and my sanity by swimming.  I used a pool buoy for 3 weeks and went 3 times a week for about 30-45 min of lap swimming.  I also signed up for Crossfit at the Human Lab and with the help of Jason A. my trainer I started working on upper body and core exercises.  I had heard of crossfit from many people who are doing it, so I took the opportunity to try something new while I recovered.   After a month, I was improving enough that I could wall normally.  I got a recommendation about an excellent massage therapist Frank M. who specializes in rehabilitating athletes.  I can say, he is excellent and I would recommend him highly.  He has been breaking up the scar tissue (collagen) that forms at the site of the tear and this has done wonders for me.  Last week, I started running again, first half a mile then 1 mile.  On Sunday, my "long run" will be 4 miles.   My  plan is on  moving up the miles very slowly and hope not to re injure the muscle.  I will get massage once a week now where before I was doing twice a week. I am signed up for Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in February which may be a stretch at this point.  I am hopeful, however,  for The Copper Canyon 50 miler in March 2013 so we'll see how it goes.

Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 Baylor Canyon Trail Run

This is my first time doing this event and I wanted to write a report for anyone that may be interested in doing the race next year. My understanding is it used to be in November but this year was moved to August 18th, for the 40th running of the event.  They offered a 6 mile and 12 mile distance and I participated in the 12 miler. The event takes place on the Baylor Pass trail of the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, New Mexico. After going up to the pass we descend to Aguirre Springs Campground and return to the start point.

PRE Race
The race started at 0800 but I had agreed to carpool with a fellow trail runner and we met at 0545 AM for the 40 mile drive to the race location. We arrived pretty early and had chance to set up the gear and pick up race bibs. This year the sign up was via Ultra sign up but they also allowed race day registration for an additional fee.   Shortly before 0800, we were directed to the road off the trail where were to start 10 minutes ahead of the 6 mile runners.  The idea is to spread out the field before reaching the single track trail section.

The Race
6 mile Loop up to Baylor Pass and Back without going down to Aguirre Springs

I started at a fast but maintainable pace on the initial portion has a slight incline as we turn towards the hill. The 3 miles up to Baylor Pass were initially a little crowded but in short order the field gets spread out. As we start the run we were met by this sign.

 The trail is pretty technical with some large rocks, boulders, and even some stairs.

Credit for Photo: Greg L. 

There are some short flat sections but these are relatively rare. The views from the top are pretty spectacular as well. I was able to keep a good pace and as it was hot and humid paid attention to hydration.  I carried a 20 oz. hand carried bottle and a spare 20 oz. bottle in a belt carrier.

Credit for Photo: Greg L. 
As I arrived at the top of the pass, they had water and Gatorade at the 3 mile point. The downhill to Aguirre Springs is not as steep and provides a little more shade. I was able to go at a pretty fast clip as it was a more run-able section.    At the campground we ran in another paved section up hill to an aid station at the turnaround point. 

On the way back after the turn around, it was getting hotter and as it had rained the night before, very humid. The little bit of shade was nice on the way back up to the Baylor Pass. It was almost at the end of this section that I was alerted by a warning by the runner in front of me that a rattle snake was in the trail. I stopped and saw a large "rattler" cross the trail from a safe distance.  After it had passed, I ran along the single tract trail and the snake rattled at me which startled me and caused me to trip and fall. I landed on my hand held water bottle and my forearm.  I sustained a slight abrasion but recovered quickly as a snake was nearby. 
The descent from Baylor Pass was again technical, but I was relieved to be on my last descent for this event. I reached the finish line in 2:31:08 which placed me 17 out of 27 competitors and 2nd in my age group. (40-49). The total elevation gain was 2,446 feet and the maximum elevation was 6,388 feet.

Post Script
I highly recommend this race as it is well organized and has a nice course which is challenging and has great vistas.  The only thing I would change is the start time. I would recommend a 0700 start to avoid the heat of the day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 Silver Rush 50 mile Ultramarathon

Had a very good outing, I feel, on this my first Ultramarathon.  After completing 5 marathons and 2 Ironman races, I was ready to go to the “Dark side”.   My initial exposure to trail running came from the Battan Memorial Death March 2012  and after reading Born to Run, I decided to give it a try.   I decided that a 50 miler would be a good first step with the idea to ultimately attempt a 100 mile race. I picked  The Silver Rush 50miler because it was in Leadville and I had heard about the 100 mile race and how hard it is thinking I could test how50 felt. It is a different course from the 100 but goes up two passes of 12,000 feet on the way out and again on the way back. The total ascent is 7,400 feet starting from a base elevation of 10,200 feet.

I started training in April using the Ultra ladies training schedule  They have back to back long runs on Sat and Sunday with 2 hard weeks followed by an easy week.  The longest Sat run is about 26 miles and then 12 on Sunday.  I can't say I followed the plan exactly but I put in some 50-75 miles week.   I learned that when training for an Ultra sometimes people go by time instead of miles which makes it easier to measure.   So at most, I ran 5-6 hours at one time.   As much as possible, I did some trail runs in the Franklin mountains and Ruidoso/Cloudcroft which was good for altitude training. It is said that 75% of the time has to be run in the terrain specific for the race but I could not approximate that.  I did run on the canal levies a lot which helped for getting feel of trail running but not as much in hills.  The Franklin Mountain runs on Sunday with the Run El Paso Club members and sometimes in Crazy Cat Mountain.

We left for Denver on Friday afternoon before the race.  Picked up  a rental car and drove 120 miles to Leadville.  We stayed at the Super 8 motel 1 block away from where the race starts, not a very nice hotel but very conveniently located.  Sat afternoon picked up my bib and scouted where the aide stations were where my crew could meet me.

Race morning woke up before 0400 as usual can't sleep night before race start at 0600.  I turned in a drop off bag at the start in case I missed my crew and started to gather around the starting line.  The temp was 41F so I was glad to be wearing a windbreaker. My hands were cold and probably should have worn some gloves.

The Start
Silver Rush has a peculiar start with an initial climb that is about 50 yards with a 20-25% gradient. It is called Dutch Henry hill and Is a downhill ski slope in winter (probably a blue).  It was designed as a way to spread the field of the 900 mountain bikers who ride the same course on Saturday.  Some actually do both races and they are called Silver Queen and Silver King those who complete both.  But I digress,  I walked like 90 % of the people with my hands on my knees leaning forward just like I have seen the elites on You tube.  The others are racing to the top of the hill where a silver coin is awarded to the first male and first female plus they have an automatic entry into this year's Leadville 100 in August. (they still have to pay entry fee though)

First Section 7 miles to Black cloud Aid Station
After the initial hill we started out on trail with a slight downhill the surrounding forest was beautiful and I was thinking this is what I spent all those days training for.   This section was wide and crowded which kept pushing the pace.  I ran about 10:30 to 11:00 minute miles and walked every mile as I have done for every marathon.  (Galloway method). During the uphills I would try to keep about 12:00 minute miles but I walked them if they were too steep.  I carried with me a 20 oz. hand held bottle with Gatorade,  a waist strap with another 20 oz bottle also with Gatorade,  chocolate Gu, Cliff bars, and Salt tablets.  I had a Gu after 30 minutes and by the time I arrived at the first aid station I had finished both bottles.  The first aid station on the way out is not manned,  they had 2 Igloo coolers with Gatorade which I used to fill my bottles but noticed they were running low.  I found out later they actually did run out, and many were not happy about it.

Section 2 Black Cloud to Printer Boy 7.5 miles total distance 13.5 miles   
This is where the climbing begins in earnest with a 6 mile climb up to the first 12,000 feet on single tract.  It is a little technical in places and we passed a couple of small streams.  Thankfully, the water was not high enough to be over the rocks to allow us to pass without getting shoes wet.  I raced with Salomon Cross Fell shoes.  They are Ryan Sandes favorite shoe and the ones he used when he won Leadville 100 in 2011.   I brought along and debated whether to use the New Balance MT 110s which are minimalist trail shoes ( bought at Up and Running). They are very low to the ground with a  rock plated for added protection. Anton Kuprichka designed these and will race Leadville 100 this year with those.  I think I made a good choice.  I saw 2 to 3 people with  Vibram 5 fingers ( not a good choice in my view) and 1 guy had sandals with straps like the Tarahumara wear. 
On the way down from the first climb we went down a gravel road.  I decided to go slow during this section to save my quads for later.  This is when I met up with Jerry who was also running about 12:00 min miles downhill.  He had done several ultras and we talked the whole way down.  He told me his ankles were bone on bone and he had too much pain to go faster down hill.  He had done several 100s and was using this as a training run for this August's Leadville 100.  He echoed what I have heard often that a 100 is much harder than 2 50s.  Sorta like an Ironman is much harder than 2 70.3s.  I arrived at the Printer Boy aid station and Lety and the kids were there to meet me.  It was so great to see them and I got more Gu's, refilled my bottles with Gatorade , ate a Cliff Bar, and got more sunblock sprayed on. 

Section 3 Printer Boy to Rock Garden 4.5 miles with total distance covered 18 miles
After the aid station we ran down a forested quad trail, I'll call it to a road crossing then back up a gravel road and then up hill again towards Ball Mountain.  I had read a quote that I took to heart: "take what the trail gives you! "    So, I followed same pattern by walking the steep up hills, running the little flat sections, and going slow downhill to save my quads for later.  .  At this point is where I saw the podium overall male and female racers coming back. They looked fast and fit.  I was humbled and kept running my own race.

Section 4 Rock Garden to Stumptown 7 miles with total distance covered 25 miles.
 This is in my view the most beautiful section of the course as we go around and over  Ball Mountain. Again going up to 12,000 feet along single tract trail that was over timberline so it made for an impressive panorama.  A note about the altitude, never having participated in any event at this elevation, I had great concern about how it would feel.  Surprisingly, it was not as bad as I feared and  I think living in El Paso gives us a benefit compared to folks at sea level.  Of course people who live and train in Leadville clearly have an advantage.  After the pass we went down to 11,200 feet to the turn around point.  This section is the steepest and most technical going up and down.  A few people carried climbing poles which I think is a waste,  probable the only section you would use them.  My crew was there waiting and I was able to pick up my drop off bag and take to them as I never needed it.  Next to the timing mat there was an abandoned mining tunnel with rail tracts leading into it.  At the aid station I refilled on Gu and Gatorade. I saw rain clouds gathering so I took my impermeable wind breaker. 

Section 5. Stumptown to Rock Garden Aid Station 7 miles with total distance covered 30 miles

The trail initially is a gravel road then jeep road followed by single tract back up to the Ball mountain pass.  As I walked up I ran into Larry, also a veteran ultrarunner.  He said that in his view the effects of altitude were genetically predetermined and some people could and some couldn't handle it.  I got my first experience with the effects of altitude on the top of the pass.  There was one guy on the side of the trail vomiting.   Fortunately he was not alone and for a second I got a little nauseated but I pressed on and the feeling passed.  I had heard on podcasts and read there was a lot of vomiting and GI symptoms in Ultras.  Exercise scientists do not fully understand the causes of such symptoms of GI distress during intense physical exertion. But they have identified some of the contributing factors. In a 2005 review published in the online International SportMed Journal, authors Stephen Simons, MD, and Gregory Shaskan, MD, wrote, “To date, contributing theories mainly focus on the mechanical agitation of the gut, fluid shifts, decreased splanchnic blood flow, dehydration, increased sympathetic and parasympathetic tone, endotoxaemia, changes in bowel transit time, hormone shifts and autoimmune changes. However, none of these adequately explain the full range of GI pathology.” The descent from the pass was steep and was followed by a short incline before descending to Rock Garden aid station. 

Section 6. Rock Garden to Printer Boy Aid Station 4.5 miles with total distance covered 34.5 miles 
As I arrived to Rock Garden Aid station, I took an electrolyte capsule with water, had Gatorade and GU on the way and continued the descent to 10,800 feet. I tried as I could to maintain a good pace but my feet were starting to heat up and the sun was bearing down on us.  At the bottom, we cross a road and then continue into a forest for about 3 miles up to the aid station.  My kids, Lety and her son were dutifully waiting for me there.   It was 2:30 pm as we had calculated.  Furthermore, we were aided by a Spot Device which I recently purchased which allows GPS tracking anywhere in the world.  It can be accessed via the Internet to  pinpoint your location to let everyone know where you are.  Designed for outdoor enthusiasts  it can also send an SOS message to a predetermined e-mail address or mobile via text and also an OK message to let everyone know how you are doing. At the aid station, I poured cold water on my head, ate a Cliff bar and drank a whole 20 oz bottle of Gatorade.  I refilled my bottles and kept going.

Section 7.  Printer Boy to Black Cloud Aid Station 7.5 miles with total distance covered 40 miles
After the aid station followed an incline back up the 12,000 mountain pass.  Again the views were spectacular and we were surrounded by nearly 14,000 foot peaks.  I walked a good portion of the uphill section and ran the flatter sections.  On the way down the mountain the rain started with a slight trickle and then it poured with some lighting.  I remember reading that if you feel the hair in the back of your head stand up, then dive to the lowest point as this could mean a strike is coming.   The rain cooled me off so it was very nice.   I made pretty good time and was able to run the downhill sections.  It was about this time that I started to believe that I could finish the race in 12 hours. I arrived at the aid station with 7.5 miles to go and a little over 1:30 hours.  

Section 8 Black Cloud to FINISH 7.5 miles.
After the aid station, the course is mostly flat with some rolling hills.  On one of the hills, I tried to run a little too fast and started to get a cramp on my side.  Then I reached that "low point" I had heard about and began to walk and breath deeper to get rid of lactic acid which I assumed was the culprit of my pain. I was making good time and then the last mile came and there were some wicked uphills which took my time away and pushed me just ahead of the coveted 12 hour mark.  Nonetheless, I reached the finish and the kids were waiting for me and ran along with me on the last section to the finish. 

Finish Photo by Joaquin
FINISH 12:04:19  avg pace 14:29 min/mile
I crossed the finish line and received a finisher's medal and bracelet.   Met up with my crew and went to the nearby tent.  I got really cold after a while as I was soaking wet.  We got back in rental car and headed back to Denver for the trip home.

I had a great experience with my first Ultra-marathon.  I was pleased with my time and overall performance.  The altitude did not seem to be a great factor which I had feared and the distance turned out to be achievable for me.  My pacing and nutrition were spot on and I would not change a thing.  

I want to thank all my newly found running partners from the Run El Paso Club from who I received much encouragement and advice.  Also, to my  fellow trail runners at the Franklin Mountain State Park as they helped me to train on trails.  Finally, a big thank to my incredible crew: Lety, Javier, Celia, Joaquin, and Zack.  I told Lety that it seemed like she had done this before because she was so organized and efficient.  I could not have done this race without her and for that I am grateful. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inspiring read by Scott Jurek, "Eat and Run"

When I first heard about Scott's Jurek's new book "Eat and Run" I was very intrigued and purchased a copy on which arrived at my house on the release date of June 4th.  I have finished reading the book and wanted to write about it and highly recommended.  It is a great read at many levels as I will try to illustrate in this blog post.  If you want to get a copy check this site:

To begin with, Scott Jurek, is an ultramarathon legend who has among his many wins 7 consecutive Western States 100 mile races.  The race is the first United States 100 miler which started in 1974 and is run on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday in June.  The next event takes place June 23 of this year.  For more info on this particular event, check out their web site at
Scott Jurek was born and raised in Minnesota and the book begins with his early childhood and conflicts with his father and having to deal with his mother's chronic illness.  He goes on to describe his early athletic career where he excelled in cross-country skiing.  Subsequent chapters go on to describe in detail his training and races at Western States and other events he participated in including the Badwater Ultramarathon, Copper Canyon Ultramarathon, Hardrock 100, and the Spartathlon in Greece.

In addition, throughout the book we find out about Scott's discovery of the vegan diet in 1997 and how he felt this influenced him as an athlete.  At the end of every chapter, he provides some of his favorite vegan recipes such as 'Lentil mushroom burger" and "Minnesota winter chili" which he says tasted so good that is when he decided he could be a vegetarian.
Lastly, he includes training tips on issues such as breathing, stretching, and finding the time to exercise.  Several color pictures give a glimpse of the beautiful places he has been to in his career.

I came away inspired and I think some of you may also be able to take away quite a bit in reading this.

Lastly, as part of his book tour, he recorded several podcasts about his book and the best one in my view was his interview with   and at

Monday, June 11, 2012

Forest Fire June 2012

As part of my quest to do as much altitude training as possible in the area, I made plans to go to Ruidoso for the June 9-10 weekend.  I had planned to summit Sierra Blanca peak (12,000 feet elev.) but my access via Ski Run road was thwarted by the Little Bear Fire in nearby Alto and Capitan.   So I studied my Lincoln National Park maps and google earth to see how I could approach the mountain from a different approach.  I headed out from Ruidoso off Mecham on Cedar Creek Road until the trail head at the end of the road (about 4 miles).   At the trail head, I ran into a hiker who told me that the trail ended in Indian land, that is The Mescaleco Indian Reservation.   With this in mind, I went up until the trail ended and then followed my compass on the I phone to navigate the peak which I could see from that location.  There was no true trail but the forest is being thinned to prevent forest fires from spreading and so I was able to find some "trails" where people accessed the forest to cut down the trees.  Since there was no trail it took a bit of work and following several falls on loose ground.  The climb reminded me of You tube video I had watched from the Barkley Marathons in Tennesse which is 100 mile race with 5X20 mile loops with a lot of navigating with compass with no trails. 

Along the way, I encountered a little plant that stung like hell, I thind it was poison oak but I am not sure so I took a picture of it. 

After that, I was paying attention to little plants like this,  having learned my lesson.

I arrived at the foot of the mountain that I had spotted from Ruidoso.  The remaining 1,000 foot climb was on the bare mountain with a significant incline (21% grade) .  There were no trees or vegetation and I made my way up by creating my own switchbacks to get up.  I arrived to the summit after 3.5 miles which took me 2:14:11.  The views from this summit which was 9,400 feet were spectacular and I got to see Sierra Blanca which will have to wait for another day.

Sierra Blanca Peak and Little Bear Fire

Little Bear Fire

To the north, I also had a spectacular view of the Little Bear Fire and the city of Ruidoso as well. As I started my descent, I realized it was going to be hard to find the trail again where I had left my car.  I decided to follow the creeks as they would take me back to the city.  I passed a lot of dry creek beds but then reached what I would later find out was the Ruidoso River where I was able to drink some water and pour some on my head.  I followed the river into town and then went back to the road where I driven to the original trail head.  I had to go back uphill and finished the entire hike/run in 5:20 having covered only 15 miles with 5,200 feet of total ascent and all above 7,000 feet.
The next day, I ran an easy 10 miles with 2,000 feet of total ascent.  Overall, I feel a good training weekend as I approach 4 weeks until Leadville 50 miles on July 15.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Going Paleo

For a few years going back to my training for triathlons, I had heard via several podcasts about the Paleo diet.  As I started into ultra running and listening to more podcasts
I was struck by how many elite athletes are following a Paleo diet.  After doing some research and buying some books, I dove head long into the Paleo world.

In brief, the diet name refers to the Paleolithic era and is also called the "caveman diet".  The approach specified in the diet has been around for many years.  However, in recent years it was the research and books by Loren Cordain, PhdD who is a professor from Colorado State University who has advanced our understanding.  I read his books "Paleo Diet for Athletes" who he co-wrote with Joe Friel who also wrote "The Triathletes training bible".  Their theory is that humans evolved to eat a diet that more closely resembles a hunter/gatherer lifestyle and that modern food, specially processed food has contributed to many of the illnesses that we are increasingly seeing (heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc.).  As such, the diet consists of fresh fruits/vegetables, wild caught fish, free range chicken/turkey, free range beef, organic eggs with Omega 3, nuts such as walnuts but not peanuts, and coconut milk/almond milk.  What is not allowed is carbohydrates from grains, no bread, no pasta, no heavy starches, no dairy products (cows were not domesticated until 10,000 years ago), no sodas, or alcohol.

My goal for following this diet was to be healthier and lose a few pounds which will help me be a better runner, specially running hills.  From my reading, an additional benefit for athletes in terms of enhancing performance has to do with increasing muscle, decreasing fat stores, and improving recovery from workouts.   In addition, as you have more circulating fatty acids and less carbohydrates, the muscles start to get trained to burn fat instead of sugar.  Fat stores are much greater than glycogen in the liver and muscles, so endurance is improved, specially for long distance events.

So Lety and I went to our local market, Sprout, and acquired the necessary ingredients to start on the diet about 2 months ago.  Surprisingly, Walmart also has free range chicken and turkey available as well.  For me this meant instead of toast and orange juice, I started eating omelets with spinach and fruit for breakfast.  I made smoothies with coconut milk, strawberries, papaya, kiwis, bananas, and cantaloupe.  Lunch  is salad with olive oil/balsamic dressing and chicken/fish and dinner is salmon with vegetables and a salad.  I started drinking chocolate almond milk and lots of nuts like almonds and walnuts.  I try to focus on foods with Lower glycemic index which avoid big insulin spikes which foods with high glycemic index which causes them.

So what has been the effect that I have observed? For one, I was at first very tired and sleepy (no caffeine), somewhat more irritable and when I went to run, my legs were not responding.  My heart rate was super low but my legs did not want to propel me with any kind of energy.  I would say that lasted for about 2 weeks but slowly I started to get back to my normal pace and have started to improve.  The BIGGEST difference however, was the lack of muscle soreness in the morning.  In the past, when I would wake up, my muscles were sore the day after a workout.  However, on the Paleo diet you don't feel as sore and of course this is a benefit in terms of allowing consecutive days of training.  I had read about this effect and it has to do with the alkaline content of the foods that are consumed with the Paleo diet.  The lactic acid is more rapidly neutralized so the cause of muscle aches is diminished and speeds recovery.  In contrast to a regular diet which tends to be more acidic and so the lactic acid hangs around and delays recovery. I have also lost about 8-10 pounds while eating as much as I want of the allowed foods, so I have not been hungry.
As far as during training runs, I am still eating gels (Gu) and Cliff Bars/Powerbars which the Paleo Book for athletes says are essential.  Gatorade is OK as well.

If you read the books you find out cheating is OK and unavoidable, so I have gone out to eat "regular food" such as chocolate croissants and paninis for lunch on occasion.  The important thing is that at least 85% of the meals in a given week follow the diet.  Interestingly, I started to drink a Coke (I used to drink at least 3 a day) and could not finish it as I had lost the taste for it, never would have believed it!  I guess I now longer crave that high fructose corn syrup.
Anyway, I hope this creates an interest and you can research for your selves about this diet and how it could help you.  Meanwhile, I am going to get back to my usual posts about training as I prepare for Leadville 50 miler on July 15.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Altitude Training in El Paso and Cloudcroft

Well, I have 2 months until Leadville 50 mile Ultra and I am really concerned about the 10,000 feet elevation at the start and going up to 12,000 feet over 2 passes.  The elevation gain in Leadville is about 7400 feet so I really have my work cut out for me.  With this in mind,  I decided to run the Franklin Mountains on Saturday and make a day trip to Cloudcroft on Sunday.
Saturday AM headed out to the Henrich Park trail head to run the trails from that side of the mountain.  I drove via Transmountain and squirreled away some Gu's and Gatorade at the entrance on the Tom Mayes Unit of The Franklin Mountain State Park.  At 0700 AM, I was off to tin mine road towards Mundy's gap.  The road surface is really rocky and pretty technical.  I nearly fell a couple of times but made good progress up to the switchbacks which start after the tin mines.   I decided that I really needed to push it and for the first time went on the trail up to the North Franklin Peak.  Same rocks and at some points it is a technical single track.  I reached the summit and my Garmin read out 7,200 feet.
The Highest Point is North Franklin Peak

 That is the highest I can go here in El Paso and noticed a little less oxygen available up there.  The views are spectacular and its amazing how small Cristo Rey which I ran up last week with Run El Paso.  There was a couple up there and was able to capture the moment.

From there I could see the Organ Mountains next to Las Cruces and the Sacramento Mountains in Cloudcroft.  The winds were pretty strong up there as well.  

Next, I crossed over Mundy's gap over to the West Side of El Paso and down to the State Park and down to where I had my Gatorade waiting.  At this point, I had completed 12 miles in 3 hours.  I headed back towards Mundy's gap and again encountered the dreaded rock farm which I knew from the Puzzler was there.  Over Mundy's gap and back down to Tin Mine road and to Henrich Park I was able to complete a 20 mile loop in about 4:45.  The total elevation gain according to my Garmin was 4,700 feet.  From what I read the hallmark of ultra training is back to back long runs, most commonly on the weekends.  You never really have to run more than 26-28 miles on any given day.  The idea is to run the next day with tired legs, and my legs were sure tired the next morning. 

I headed out to Cloudcroft for the 120 mile drive arriving at the city center at 10:30 AM.  Having never run there before, I stopped at the High Altitude Bike Shop and picked up a map of the race course for the mountain bike race that was held a few weeks ago.  I proceeded to run the Osha Loop trail and did a total of 8 hard miles on some BEAUTIFUL single tract trails. 

View from OSHA trail with White Sands in the distance

Single tract section, Green all around!

As I went into the trail, there were several markings for different kinds of wild berries and trees.  It is really indescribable how nice it was to be able to do this run which is so close to El Paso and so different.  Amazingly, I came across a Douglas Fir Tree which was designated as the  "Largest native tree in New Mexico reaching 150 fee in height, 6 feet in diameter and 400 yards of age. 

The total run was for about 2 hours with stops for pictures and catching my breath.  The elevation at the start was 8,600 feet and climbed up to 8,800.  The total elevation gain for the run was 3,100 feet. 

I highly recommend making the trip up to Cloudcroft for some amazing trail runs.  There are many more to be explored and I hope I can come back up there soon.  For more maps and information, check out the New Mexico Rails-to-Trails Organization at  they have a lot of maps and have organized trail building once a month.  The next event will be on May 19. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

El Paso Trail Runner

I am calling my new blog, El Paso Trail runner as I want to share my newly discovered enjoyment of this sport.  I recently completed the book "Born to Run" by Christopher Mc Dougall and was inspired by the characters and intrigued by the races described in the book.  Tragically, just a few days ago (March 30)Caballo Blanco or Micah True was found dead in the Gila National Forest after going out for a 11 mile trail run.  He had lived for years among the Raramuri in the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua and was the Race director of the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon.
I considered the Bataan Memorial Death March my first trail run and signed up to try it out.  My training consisted in running on the Rio Grande river bed and the levees of the upper valley of El Paso.  Having completed this event and greatly enjoyed the experience of running in the trails, I have set my sights on other trail runs.  My next event will be the Leadville (CO) Silver Rush 50 mile trail run in July 15, 2012.  I will post from time to time about my training and hopefully have a blog about the race.

2012 Bataan Memorial Death March

 I came away from this event inspired in so many levels that I wanted to share with everyone what a great event this is.  This year was the 23rd running of the Memorial March.  It was began in 1989 by the Army ROTC Department at NMSU to mark a page in history that included so many native sons and affected many families in the state.  In brief, on April 9, 1942, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers were surrendered to Japanese forces.  The Americans were Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines.  Among those seized were the members of the 200th Coast Artillery, New Mexico National Guard.  They were marched for days in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles.  Thousands died in the 'Death March" and those that survived endured many hardships in the prisoner of war camps.

Participants entering the Bataan Memorial Death March may choose between two routes. The 26.2 mile Full route or a 14 mile route.  I chose to participate in the full run and did the race with no backpack, as such I was designated as Civilian Light.

Pre Race Morning

I had been instructed to arrive early due to security and dutifully left the house at 0400 for the 40-45 min drive from West El Paso to the White Sands Missile Range.  The expected nearly 7000 participants and this required remote parking and getting on a shuttle bus to the football field where the opening ceremony was held.  They had us separated by category (civilian and military) as we waited for the start.  The ceremony included the playing of Taps, the Star Spangled Banner, Special Forces soldiers landing on the field by parachute from a helicopter, and a flyover by 2 fighter jets. Prior to the start they fired some very loud cannons

The Marathon
It took a while before we walked to the timing mat but finally at 0720 AM, I crossed the timing mat and started the run.  Initially we run on paved roads but soon we reached a jeep trail that was flat to a small downhill. The atmosphere is great from the beginning as I passed soldiers who were carrying 60 pound sacks marching and some from Ft Brag (Special Forces, I assume) who were running at a pretty good clip with their packs.  I followed a walk/run strategy from mile 1.  I ran for 1 mile and then walked for 0.1 of a mile paying close attention to keeping myself hydrated and fed.
At mile 6 we started a slow incline along the jeep road until reaching an aide station at approximately mile 8.  At this point, the 14mile marchers head back to the base.  I continued on a more steep incline of about 4-6% grade from mile 8 to mile 13.1 at which time we reach an aid station.  Initially, this part is on a paved road (asphalt) and then back to jeep trails which had sand and loose rock. I completed the half in 2:14.  After this point it becomes downhill on jeep trails with some slight up hills.  We passed some beautiful yellow flowers, Mexican Gold Poppies. 

After mile 18 we were back to the paved road and got to see the marchers that were making their way up the incline portion of the course.  I saw a group of soldiers who ran the entire 26.2 miles with gas masks and also the father who was pushing his handicapped daughter on a baby jogger who came from Florida. At this point a helicopter lands at the aid station to transport someone who had evidently collapsed from dehydration.  That made quite a sound and stirred up quite a bit of dust in landing.  At mile 20 we were back to join the 14 mile marchers and another aid station.  I decided at this point to just run and not take walk breaks.  Shortly thereafter I reached the most difficult running surface and this was about a mile stretch of soft sand which slowed me down quite a bit. The last 3-4 miles heading back to the base had some small hills but the biggest problem was a headwind was developing.  The day was also heating up as the noon hour was approaching.  At mile 24, I was handed a small American flag by a young girl and carried it the rest of the way.  I reached the end feeling like I gave it my all as I pushed it and did not walk any of the last 6 miles.

My total time was 4:42:44 and this put me at 18 out of 159 men my age but granted many were not running but only hiking and enjoying the scenery.

Post Race
As we crossed the timimg mat, we were all greeted by 5 or so survivors of the Bataan death march.  These were men in their 90's who sat in the tent and shook each of the finisher's hands.   I was very moved and had to fight back tears as I passed by their tent.

Post Script
I enjoyed this experience very much and highly recommend this event.  The event is well organized and the volunteers are great.  The participants are very inspiring and the beauty of the desert and the mountain trails aroung White Sands Missile Range with the Organ Mountains is a sight to behold.  As far as my performance in this race, I was happy to finish running and with no cramps.  I attribute that to a better hydration execution than in New York and taking salt tablets along with the gatorade, water and Gu.

Now its on to start training for a bigger challenge as I prepare for the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile Run...