Feb 26, 2010

Listserv Gold V - "Activation Energy"

Time for another edition of Ultrarunning Listserv Gold, a semi-regular feature of this blog where I quote something I found inspiring, interesting, or generally valuable on one of the various ultrarunning email distribution lists I subscribe to. To view all editions of ULG, please click here. This particular one comes from the yahoo group, where you can subscribe at http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/ultrarunning/

Gordon C and Mike M on "Activation Energy"

Gordon writes,
After all of these years of running (45!) I have learned (but often forget) one immutable fact: You never know which runs are going to be great and which awful or which are going to fall somewhere in between (the vast majority fall here), until you do it. I cursed getting dressed out, tying on my Nikes, digging out my rain shell, and sloshing down the low fairway grass, and then near the end, the sun broke out, the sky was an incredible late evening blue-purple and 72 minutes had passed in the blink of an eye.

Much better than what I deserved. Thank you for my blessings.

Mike responds,
Well said! I too am a runner of long tenure, now into my 37th year of running (and into my 15th year without missing a day) and I too STILL struggle with what I call the 'activation energy' issue.

In a chemical reaction, many times when you mix two reactive ingredients together nothing happens - they just sit there. Until you add a small amount of what is called 'activation energy' - it's like the spark that turns the starter on a car's engine. It might be some small amount of heat, or a spark - whatever - but this small amount of 'activation energy' added into the mix kick-starts the chemical reaction and then the reaction takes off and proceeds to completion on its own, without any further energy input. But without the 'activation energy', the reaction would never get started.

In my running, I have to use a small amount of 'activation energy' to kick-start my fat dead a$$ out the door and into the first half-mile. I'm often grumpy and mumbling vulgarities as I shuffle off, but four or five minutes into the run my 'chemical reaction' kicks in and suddenly it's just not 'difficult' anymore, and I begin to smooth out and my breathing gets stronger and regular and I relax and really enjoy the physical movement and activity. Often, by the middle of the run I've picked up the pace significantly and by the finish I'm steaming in, hitting on all cylinders and having a wonderful time. I nearly always finish with a big smile on my face, and I'm ALWAYS happy that I mustered the 'activation energy' to get started.

I hope to never lose those feelings...
New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Feb 24, 2010

I'm not picking my nose


I'm merely blowing a snot rocket.


photography by Carl Cox Studios

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Feb 22, 2010

Tough Mudder update, and I compare it to two others

READ THIS: If you're here looking for a review from someone who's actually done Tough Mudder, go back to Google and click somewhere else. This page was just me speculating and it developed into a February 2010 incident between me and TM's marketing/PR team. There is nothing here about the event itself that you'd find useful.

UPDATE: I've summarized the whole Tough Mudder debacle in another blog post. Please click here to see it. Comments on this particular post have been disabled; you're free to express your thoughts on the summary post.

On the topic of "obstacle-course" races (for lack of a better term)...

Update on Tough Mudder

Two weeks ago, I posted about the Tough Mudder trail run, and some copy they had on their site:
Marathon running is simply bad for you – FACT. The human body is not designed to run 26 miles straight over hard ground. Unless you are an Olympic athlete, road racing is a guaranteed way to say goodbye to your knees before you hit 40.
They appear to have updated their site.
Marathon running is simply boring – FACT. And the only thing more boring than doing a marathon is watching a marathon. Road-running may give you a healthy set of lungs, but will leave you with as much upper body strength as Keira Knightley. At Tough Mudder, we want to test your all-round mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line getting bored out of your mind on your own for hours on end.
Well, aside from calling their opinion "FACT" (they couldn't manage to leave that word out), I do appreciate that they removed misguided medical advice from their site and replaced it with an editorial. Having said that, I want to point out two observations:

1.) I happen not to find marathon running boring, nor do I find watching marathon running boring. This coming from a guy who's been diagnosed, as an adult, by two different psychiatrists, as having ADD. (This is not an argument, but a statement of opinion.)
2.) It's a shame that they have to promote their event by putting down another.

I was reading a little more, and saw this interesting quote:
Is Tough Mudder really the toughest race on the planet?
Tough Mudder is the toughest one day endurance race on the planet for participants who have neither the time nor inclination to dedicate their life to competition.
I wish they hadn't added the words, "to competition" to this, because they compared themselves to races that are obviously more difficult - but they don't know enough about those races to know that most entrants are not competing against the others. That's thus just a statement of ignorance. Given the rest of the copy on the site, I shouldn't be surprised. However, let's remove those two words. Without "to competition", there are two key words.
1. "Inclination" So this is the toughest race that exists for lazy people?
2. "Time" I don't have the time to dedicate my life to ultra running, yet I somehow make it work.

I am really discouraged by thw race's web site. The race promoters just don't seem to have their hearts in the right place. Thanks, but no thanks.

An alternative - the Warrior Dash

On Thursday, out of the blue, a friend sent me a link to another, very similar race - The Warrior Dash:

As that picture indicates, every race entrant gets a T-shirt, medal, and .. a "warrior helmet".

Go to their FAQ page, and you find a completely different attitude. Tough Mudder seems to want to make themselves seem hardcore. Warrior Dash just wants to be fun. Look at this sampling of q&a's from their site:
q. Why do we get warrior helmets?
a. They’re awesome.

q. What if it rains?
a. Better yet.

q. How do I train for Warrior Dash?
a. 1. Day one: run as far as you can. Go home. Day two: do the same thing.
2. Find the dirtiest pond in your neighborhood and snorkel in it - in your slippers, without goggles.
3. Practice your climbing and crawling skills at your local jungle gym. Ignore the small children and parental glares.
4. Do not shower or shave for weeks in order to obtain a true Warrior look.
As far as I can tell, curiously absent from this site is any attempt to compare itself to any other race. It doesn't try to tell people why it's better than marathons, it just gets the point across - hey, this is a race, it's not going to be easy, but it's going to be fun.

I think I'll probably do it.

The ultimate

Of course, none of these races hold a candle to the Pittsfield Peaks Death Race. I've written about it before on this blog. Now in its third or fourth year (I think), the Race Director famously designs the ten-mile course to be "uncompletable", and yet every year, one or two people manage to finish it. So each year, he's made it a little harder to finish. If you want to truly understand just how difficult a "tough guy" race can be, go to that site and see what he puts competitors through. It's pretty impressive.

UPDATE: I've summarized the whole Tough Mudder debacle in another blog post. Please click here to see it. Comments on this particular post have been disabled; you're free to express your thoughts on the summary post.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Feb 19, 2010

Joey's Yellow Belt Test

Here is a video from Wednesday night:

If you can't see the video, please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOM_MMW3Gf4

He also got to break a board:

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Feb 17, 2010

Run Report: Old Croton Aqueduct Trail, February 15 2010

Bright and early Monday morning, fifteen of us showed up at the Croton Harmon train station. After a few hellos, we took off, 14 running 3½ miles north towards the New Croton Dam. Alone, I started south, down Route 9 for a little less than a mile before turning right on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.

I really enjoyed the trail, but there are two things that I'd like to point out if you're considering it:
1.) A map is critical. There are portions of the trail where the easement no longer exists, and you have to walk on nearby streets to cover the gap. It isn't always clear where to go.
2.) When there is snow, expect 0% of the trail to be plowed - and for good reason: If it was plowed, this mecca for cross-country skiers would be worthless.

In the morning, the hard snow was mostly OK to run on, especially where it was well-tracked by hundreds of walkers and skiers over the weekend. But by 11am, the sun had really softened things, and even where it was well packed, every step would sink or slip a little. It really sucked a lot of energy out of me.

Besides the snow, the run went rather uneventfully. Three faster runners who broke ahead of the main group caught up to me in Yonkers, where they finished their day. After that, I was alone until south of Van Cortlandt Park, where I stopped and waited for five remaining runners to catch up to me. I ran out of water a few miles before and was starting to feel a little dehydrated, no biggie. Energy was really depleted though.

For nutrition, I had 1600kCals worth of almonds (of which I ate about half), a couple of PB-cracker packs from Joey's lunch rations, and some perpetuum. I also had a 100-oz camelback filled with water. Some of the perpetuum went into that initial cache of water. By the time I was in the Bronx, I needed some quick calories, so while I was waiting I slipped into a pizzeria and had two slices and a coke, which made an enormous difference. They arrived a couple of blocks away while I was starting my second slice, so I ate it as I went to join them. At that point we decided that we wanted to forget the Aqueduct in NYC and take the fastest route to the library, so I led them to Broadway, where we ran together, as a group, over Spuyten Duyvil into the northern tip of Manhattan.

By now, it was obvious that I wouldn't be able to keep up with these faster, lighter runners. I had run 27.3 miles at that point, half of which was through wet, heavy snow, from Croton-Harmon to Manhattan. I was satisfied with my day and didn't want to hold anyone up. So I bid them farewell, and jumped on a train to Midtown where we met on the steps of the Public Library, site of the original Croton Dam.

We had beers and burgers and took the train back up, and went home. It was a great day.

All photos were shot by Tony Portera

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Feb 15, 2010

Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

(note: this was scheduled to be published to tursi.com at 10:00am Monday. It didn't actually get published until 9:00pm Monday. Not sure what happened.)

In 1842, the City of New York opened the Old Croton Aqueduct. Powered by the force of gravity alone, it brought clean drinking water a distance of 41 miles from the Westchester to the Croton Reservoir, currently the site of Bryant Park at 42nd street in New York City. It was in operation for about 100 years. Today, a recreational-use trail follows the path of the aqueduct, mostly via its own easement.

By the time this is posted, I be on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. Hopefully, as of this afternoon, I will have completed the southernmost 35 miles of the trail, south of the Croton-Harmon train station in Westchester. This is part of an group training run organized by my friend Tony Portera.

Snow currently covers the trail, and if the conditions this side of the Hudson are any indication, it will have a significant effect on my day. On both Saturday and Sunday, I took short training runs at Ramapo Reservation. The soft snow made these runs unusually difficult, which is why I decided to compensate by running south from Croton-Harmon rather than go with the main group up to the Croton Dam and back, a distance of 6 miles round trip. They'll catch up to me in Southern Westchester.

No matter what happens, come back here Wednesday at 10:00am for a full report!

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time

Feb 12, 2010

Tough Mudder and its brilliant copywriter

UPDATE: I've summarized the whole Tough Mudder debacle in another blog post. Please click here to see it. Comments on this particular post have been disabled; you're free to express your thoughts on the summary post.

Sorry for the lateness of this post. I was preoccupied with a family affair for the last two days.

A friend sent me a link to this race, and I'm really interested - I might want to run it, even though the race director (or whoever does is marketing) is a little misguided. That's the nicest way I can possibly put it, because I really don't want to be nice about this:

Marathon running is simply bad for you – FACT. The human body is not designed to run 26 miles straight over hard ground. Unless you are an Olympic athlete, road racing is a guaranteed way to say goodbye to your knees before you hit 40.
Seriously, who the hell writes this kind of crap?

(I'd still like to do the race.)

UPDATE: I've summarized the whole Tough Mudder debacle in another blog post. Please click here to see it. Comments on this particular post have been disabled; you're free to express your thoughts on the summary post.

Feb 10, 2010

Bear Mountain, Feb 9, 2010

I pulled into the parking lot at about 5:50am, under complete darkness. The evening before, I educated myself about the differences between Astronomical, Nautical, and Civil twilight. The time was right at about the transition from Astronomical to Nautical, however it was obvious that these terms were irrelevant to the task at hand. It was still pitch-dark.

Immediately after my twilight lesson on the evening prior, I posted a status on Facebook inviting people to join me for this morning's run, starting at 6am. I doubted anyone would take me up on this, but waited until 6 to start, just in case. I used the time to prepare - headlamp, hat, gloves, headphones, podcast all set and ready to go. When the clock struck 5:59am I stepped out into the dark cold and trotted up the trail.

Well, "trotted" is not actually accurate. Two months of treadmill running had obliterated the modest mountain-running fitness I had last summer, and I was forced to walk all but the most gradual inclines. This was fine, as in the darkness my headlamp did a poor job of lighting the rocks, not to mention the scattered patches of ice that existed on the trail. I hiked up as fast as I can, and felt like I was going very slow. Deer scurried off the trail as I made my way uphill.

Before long I was on the road. This portion of the Appalachian Trail lasts about a quarter mile, traversing the mountain briefly before heading back up on dirt and rocks. By now, especially out in the relative open, the sun made the transition to what I'll call "useful" twilight, and switched off my headlamp. I took advantage of the mellow incline and ran the road.

The road meanders back and forth to the summit and the trail at this point cuts the switchbacks. It only takes ten minutes or so to get to the top from here, and as I touch the tower and mark "lap" on my watch, I am impressed that it only reads 33 minutes.

Last summer I had a couple of times between 30 and 31 minutes on this 1.5-mile trail with 1000' of gain, and I thought that it would be nice to eventually break 30 minutes on it. Today's time of 33 minutes was encouraging; it won't take that much more fitness to knock 10% off that time. I looked out onto the horizon and took in the colors. I was alone, warm, and in the cold, on the summit of this iconic mountain 40 miles north of NYC. I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo before heading down.

One of the things on my mind was this running streak I was trying to maintain. At least 1 mile, uninterrupted, every day. I knew I wasn't going to get a solid mile running down the rocky icy trail in the pre-dawn twilight, so I decided to run the road to the top of the bottom half of the trail. Running downhill after hiking uphill is easy and fun, and I made sure to enjoy the views on the way down. After a mile, I came to the point where I was back on the dirt, and resumed the pattern of walking and careful running as I headed down to the car.

By the time I arrived, the sun had just peaked over the horizon. It was 7am. Many of my coworkers were already in the office, enduring fluorescent lights and carpeted walls. I took a moment to appreciate that even though I would join them in two short hours, I was at that moment, on the Appalachian trail, enjoying life.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com

Feb 8, 2010


My schedule for 2010 is slowly coming together. I have a solid year of already-confirmed races that I'm registered for, a couple that I'm seriously considering, some that I'd like to do but probably won't, and one or two that I might go to, but not run.

Monday February 15th (definite)
Old Croton Aqueduct Run
This is not a race, but an informal gathering of runners who would like to run the entire length of the Old Croton Aqueduct, from the Croton Dam to the site of the reservoir in New York City (42nd between 5th and 6th - Bryant Park and Library). If you'd like to come with us, even if you don't want to do the entire course, consider yourself invited!

Saturday March 27
Umstead 100-mile Endurance Run (definite)
This is the race that has occupied my thoughts for the last six months. 100 miles. Enough said. How I do at Umstead will determine much of the rest of the year for me.

Saturday April 10
Irvine Lake Mud Run (maybe)
There's an outside chance that I will be in California that day. If so, I'll be at this race.

Sunday April 18
Hook Mountain Half-Marathon (definite)
Local race, I'll be running it with some friends. I've done this race before, and the major feature of it is the giant hill at mile 9. It's short but very steep. I'll be power-walking the hill, and once again probably passing people trying to run it.

Saturday May 8
Long Island Greenbelt 50K/25K (maybe)
I like this race, especially the atmosphere. It's totally laid back and a lot of fun. However, I don't know how it's going to fit in my schedule.

Fri-Sun May 14-16
3 Days at the Fair 48-hour race (definite)
My first timed event, this is going to be a bit of a "baptized by fire" introduction to the genre. 1-mile loop for 48 hours is not going to be easy, and I'm really interested in seeing how I'll do.

Saturday June 19
Ride To Montauk (probable)
100-mile mostly flat bicycle ride. I've done it once before, and it was fun enough to want to do again, especially if I have friends doing it with me.

Mon-Tues July 11-12
Badwater crew (maybe)
This depends one two factors: 1. will Tony get into the race, and 2. will he choose me (out of lots of interested people) to be on his crew. Unlike most crew candidates, I have no intention of ever running Badwater, but I do want be there to see what it's like. Either way, I intend to join Tony for a trip up Mount Whitney on July 14.

Saturday July 24
Damn Wakely Dam 32.6 miler (probable)
It's neat that this race is 32.6 miles through pristine Adirondack wilderness without any cross roads or support of any kind, but the real appeal to me is the laid back atmosphere of this event.

Sunday August 8
Turkey Swamp Race Day (maybe)
I have volunteered at this event for the last two years, and this year may actually opt to run it.

Saturday-Sunday September 4-5
Grand Teton 50M or 100M (maybe)
In the past, it was a foregone conclusion that I'd be here. It's my favorite race. Awesome people. Problem is, it's kind of far, kind of remote, and thus kind of expensive. And there are other races I want to do. We'll see.

Saturday-Sunday October 23-24
Javelina 100M (definite)
This event looks like a lot of fun, and I have a lot of friends running it. It's in the Arizona desert, and that's new to me. I may go into this intending to do only 100K. We'll see how the year turns out.

Sunday Nov 7
NYC Marathon (lottery)
I really enjoyed the NYC marathon last year. I'd like to do it again. We'll see what happens with the lottery. I don't have much luck with lotteries, so this is not a likely race for me.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com

Feb 5, 2010

Brief Friday post: Umstead, Two Quotes

Time is limited this week, so today I have to give you yet another very brief blog post with content that is largely not my own. Apologies. At least it will be short.

I'm at a point where 50 miles doesn't really intimidate me anymore, but I won't lie: 100 miles still scares the shee-ite out of me. I read something somewhere last week where someone doing a very long and difficult ultra was saying he was "having fun", and I think that's the attitude I need to approach Umstead with. It reminded me of last year before running the Caumsett 50K I announced my intention to "smile the whole way", and take it easy. I ended up with a PR.

Two quotes I read during the week. I thought one was inspiring, the other funny.

"I value the accumulative strength that comes with not missing any days of running; I think it's important that the body remain accustomed to at least a little bit of specific physical motion every day in order to not set oneself up for the strange weaknesses and aches that can come with inconsistency."
Anton Krupicka, Feb 1 source

"My mom is the worst crew ever. She is totally of the attitude that 'oh, it's so cold, why don't you come to the car and warm up' or '40 miles is more than enough, why don't you rest for a little while'. I haven't convinced her that motherly love is not appropriate during an ultra."
Danny M, Feb 4, via the Dartmouth ultra list

Have a great weekend everyone!

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com

Feb 3, 2010

February Nutrition Goals

As promised, here are the nutrition goals for February (hopefully monthly goal declarations can be short enough to be a single 'blog post in the future - but in this case, Umstead is looming like an 800-lb gorilla.)

background in five pictures
Once upon a time, I weighed 400 lbs.

Then, in 1999, I lost a lot of it, bottoming out at 300lbs.

By 2004, I had gained about half of it back, probably to over 350lbs.

And in 2007, I lost a lot again, bottoming out at 270lbs.

Since then, I've fluctuated between 285 and 305.

September 2009
I decided in September that I've had enough of the fluctuation and turned to an Ultrarunnin' Registered Dietitian to give me a meal-plan that would prepare me for Umstead. She came through, and I was doing awesome for a couple of weeks, losing 10-15 lbs in a short amount of time. But even now, a familiar story returned - my discipline waned and I stopped sending updates to the dietitian. Before long, I had regained the weight I lost with her, and Thanksgiving/Christmas were taking over my attention, with predictable results.

January 2010
With the initiation of a planned year-long running streak, I paid a little more attention to nutrition, trying to eat healthy and limit calories - but when training hard, the balancing act between "caloric deficit" and "nutrition required to support training" is really difficult to maintain. I wasn't just jogging a half hour per day but rather red-lining most of those workouts; running them as hard as I could. That kind of training takes energy, and I wanted to make sure I got enough of it. But, try as I might, I apparently still could not maintain a significant caloric deficit, as I lost a little bit of weight, but not nearly enough to reach my goals.

I know what you're thinking the obvious answer to this was. I knew it too, but for some reason I ignored it. But by the end of the month I was frustrated enough to pull out the meal plan that the dietitian gave me. And I resolved that, from now until Umstead, I would follow it to the letter. Not only did it work last fall, it also was developed by a licensed professional who knew what she was doing. By not following the advice that I had paid her to give me, I just wasn't being rational.

Let's face it, irrationality is the largest reason people are obese.

Goals for February

So, here are my nutrition goals for February.
  1. Follow my dietitian's meal plan
  2. Log every food I eat. on paper.
  3. Plan every bit of food I eat
I will do this every day, without exception, from now (Feb 3) until March 1.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com

Feb 1, 2010

January Recap and February Goals


Ran 31/31 days in 32 distinct workouts.
Total Mileage: 112
Longest Run: 6.18 miles
Shortest Run: 1.02 miles

What Worked
This last week I ran 30 miles, which is the highest weekly mileage since the week I ran the RBC 50K, back in early October. I had one mild cold and I ran through it by going short and easy. Learned a lot about myself in that experience, and I have much less of an excuse to skip a run now.

Back in September, I made a decision that I had been focused too much on going long and slow, and my ability to run fast had suffered dramatically. I could barely hold a ten-minute pace for a mile. In December, my training turned a corner as I resolved to work on speed during the cold weather under the controlled conditions of a gym treadmill. As a result, my speed did improve dramatically. Biggest success of the month:

I broke 25 minutes at 3 miles. At a weight of 300lbs.

What didn't work

With all that speedwork, I neglected outside training, long runs, and hills. And, predictably, my ability to run long and especially to run hills has suffered. With Umstead looming on Palm Sunday weekend, February goals must focus on running long and running hills, because Umstead has both.

Going Long

I recover quickly and can get away with doing long runs as late as the Ides of March, so that gives me enough time to get 2-3 solid 20 milers and a 40 miler. Tony is planning on doing a group run of the entire Croton Aqueduct on February 15 (click here for info), which is pancake-flat for 41 miles. That is an outstanding opportunity for me to get that very-long run in. Additionally, I'd really like to get a 6 mile super-easy run on Tuesday, just to get my bones used to running while tired.

Then, the 20s are just a matter of getting them done. Tony and his friends always have extended a warm invitation for me to run with them at Rockefeller State Park in Sleepy Hollow. They run 20-30 milers there on weekends and I look forward to getting a couple of them done with him. The nice thing about "Rockies" is that the surface and topography are identical to the surface and topography at Umstead - a "specificity of training" opportunity that I'd be stupid to pass up.

Becoming Immune to Hills

Going long at Rockies is going to give back a little bit of the hill fitness I had last summer, but if I really want to get solid, I've got to do some specific hill-climb training runs. Without a doubt, the best place to do that around here is Bear Mountain, where I can get a solid 1000' vertical feet of gain in anywhere from 1.5 miles to 4 miles, depending on the route. As the days get longer, I intend to climb Bear at least once per week, preferably on weekdays, so I can save the weekends to long runs.

The Goals for February

Having said that, here are the goals that I intend to accomplish in the month of February:
  1. Run at least 1 mile every day
  2. Complete 1 run of 40 miles
  3. Complete 2 runs of at least 18 miles (not counting the 40)
  4. Complete 4 ascents of Bear Mountain
  5. Run at least 6 miles the day after both the 20s

I have nutrition goals as well. But since this post is getting long, I will post that as part 2, on Wednesday.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time and can be seen at http://www.tursi.com