May 28, 2010


I noticed last week that the curious decrease in speed I've experienced in the last few months corresponds with a curious increase in resting heart rate.

For the record:
  • I take resting heart rate by taking my pulse and counting 15 seconds, multiplying by 4.
  • I do this first thing in the morning, when I remember.
  • My RHR for the past few years has consistently been in the mid 40s. Lately, it's been 65-75.
  • In February, I pulled off a 3-mile run in under 25 minutes, which is under 8:20 per mile.
  • Now, I'm having a great day if I can manage 10 minutes per mile for 3 miles.
  • My training hasn't decreased, quite the contrary.
  • My weight hasn't significantly changed
(Note - this post was written on Thursday night, but now, on Friday morning, I'll add - this morning's run - 6.31 miles in 1:12, took a lot of effort. 4 months ago, I could do this same run in under an hour for that same amount of effort. That's a pretty dramatic decrease in speed.)

Sigh. I really wanted to avoid going to the doctor over this, because the fix might be simple. I went over the list of things that I thought could possibly cause this, and I came up with one thing that applied to me:
Steve-sized coffee mug
I probably drink a half-gallon of coffee every day, sometimes more. I thought I could attribute it to the large amount of caffeine I've been drinking for years, and always figured that sooner or later it would catch up to me. Figuring that was the case, I immediately cut back on my caffeine to 2-3 cups per day (next week I'll probably cut back more.)

At the same time, I posted a question on the ultrarunning listserv about it, adding that I'd like to avoid going to the doctor if it's a simple fix like decrease caffeine. People Who Are Smarter Than Me chimed in and of course said, "why take the chance?" Others threw out words like "endocarditis", "myocarditis", "hyperthyroidism", and "pericarditis." But what really convinced me to pick up the phone was a couple of people pointed out that the caffeine probably was not the culprit because I've been drinking it for so long.

So today, for the second time in my life, I stepped into a cardiologist's office. Heart doctor. Think about it. It sounds scary. The damned thing has got to keep ticking, day and night, without stopping, ever. Naturally I compare it to the endurance stuff I do. I've had cramps lock up a calf muscle into an immobile vice - if something like that ever happened to my heart, that would be it!

Anyway, she did an EKG and did whatever other tests they could then, and everything seems "perfect." Blood pressure was 115/70. Oxygen was great. Circulation at extremes was fine. The heart rate wasn't as elevated as it has been; around 60 (still dramatically higher than 45.) She basically has no idea why it's happening and ordered a bunch of tests - stress (treadmill) test and echo-cardiogram on June 24. Also, blood work: CBC (complete blood count), Lipid Panel, TSH (thyroid), and a "comprehensive metabolic panel" (whatever that is.) She said she's doing all of this to look for a cause because nothing was apparent in the exam room. Sounds good to me.

She also said it's a good idea to cut back on caffeine, but she'd rather I cut back on overeating. In fact, she pointed out that it's better to drink lots of coffee if it gets me to eat less (I wish). Interesting.

So, I guess on June 25th I'll have another blog post with the results of all of this. In the meantime, it's business as usual.

New entries for Steve's blog are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00am NY time - NO POST ON MEMORIAL DAY, WE'LL BE OUT OF TOWN

May 26, 2010

Why did I start running ultras?

This blog post by Seth Godin explains it perfectly:

All you need to know...

by Seth Godin

is that it's possible.

Mike sent me a great story about an ultra-lightweight backpacker:

"Wolf was carrying a super-small pack which weighed 14 pounds including food and water. When asked how he got his pack weight so low, Wolf would reply, 'All you need to know is that it’s possible.'"

One of the under-reported stories of the internet is this: it constantly reports on what's possible. Somewhere in the world, someone is doing something that you decided couldn't be done. By calling your bluff and by pointing out the possibilities, this reporting of possibility changes everything.

You can view this as a horrible burden, one that raises the bar and eliminates any sinecure of comfort and hiding you can find, or you can embrace it as a chance to stretch.

Most organizations forget to ask the question in the first place.

I first got the bug to run ultras when I realized that people ran ultras.

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

May 24, 2010

A different kind of streak

The emphasis I placed on running streaks is a non-ideal way to force yourself into a consistent pattern, says Coach/Shaman/Guru Tony (more on this later), and reporting mileage to someone else is better because I can have external accountability for consistency without losing the benefit of rest days.

Thus, Tony said, "the first order of business is to abandon the mile-a-day streak."  Co-coach/shaman/guru Herb agreed. Fair enough. These guys tell me what to do, and I do it.

Buffalo chicken slices
They don't, however, tell me what to eat. Or how much to eat.

In the past, the only times I have been successful losing weight is when I have logged every calorie.

Pastrami on Rye from Katz's deli
My tendency to overeat and/or snack was overwhelmed by the relatively tedious task of logging the calories.

Chicken sammich with a small salad
Not only did it prevent me from overeating, it kept me eating foods where I could easily determine the caloric content - avoiding restaurants.

Chicken Parm
And it always worked for as long as I was logging every calorie.

Homer Simpson Special
Problem was, I never was able to maintain it for more than a few weeks.

Honeydew, Cucumber
The rare times I did maintain it for 2-3 weeks, the amount of weight I lost was dramatic.

Carne Asada Fries
Suddenly, yesterday, it hit me. My pattern in running was the same as my pattern in eating.

PB on Toast, Apple
I needed some sort of structure to force consistency.

Sweetheart Deal, Dinosaur BBQ
And - a streak - where I can say I logged 1 mile every day for x days, forced consistency in my running.

Two hot dogs and a sunday from Stewarts
The parallel should be obvious here.

Cracker Barrel Breakfast
So, today, Monday May 24, is day 1 of my logging-every-calorie-I-eat steak.

And, by the way, this gallery of food I ate should leave no doubt in anyone's mind as to why I'm over 300lbs. These are typical meals for me. Most are not "treat meals," whatever that means.

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

May 21, 2010

Trail - Rockland Lake to Haverstraw

The Palisades are a line of cliffs that run along the western edge of the Hudson River for a few dozen miles from south of the George Washington Bridge almost to Bear Mountain. They're particularly prominent south of the State Line to the George, and their visibility from New York City makes them a famous geologic landmark.

300-foot columns of 200-million year old rock

The geology of the Palisades is fascinating, but outside of the scope of this article, and of my expertise. But, if you're so moved, it is worth reading about.

Ten miles north of the state line, west of the cliffs, a natural lake exists. Called Rockland Lake, you can reliably find many, many people running, walking, biking, and enjoying the state park there. The flat 3-mile loop around the lake is one of my favorite places to run, and I have probably been around the lake several hundred times.

Like I said, most of the time when you visit the lake for an idle lap, you can count on having company. In fact, on a spring weekend in nice weather, there will be many hundreds of people there. When I see them, I marvel at the likely fact that most of them are blissfully unaware of the easy access they have to the Palisades.

Crappy photo of view you can't see from the lake

If they went through the notch immediately above the lake, they would descend down the steep paved road all the way to the river. From there, if they opt to go south, they can take a smooth dirt road 1.5 completely flat miles to the parking lot of Nyack Beach State Park, locally known as Hook Mountain Park. I have gone out-and-back on this road a couple dozen times. I usually see a couple dozen people there. Most of them did not come from Rockland Lake.

However, the path along the Hudson River also turns north from the notch. I knew that it would lead all the way to Haverstraw; a sign indicated that it's 3.5 miles north - yet I have never seen anyone go this way. The vast majority of people apparently go south to Nyack.

Intrigued, I dug out my maps and looked for a loop where I could connect the bike path on the river to the ribbon of single-track that ran the length of the ridge 300 feet above the river (a portion of the Long Path, a hiking trail that, in theory, goes from the George Washington Bridge all the way to the Adirondacks.)

There did turn out to be a connector, so I went out and ran it. This is the result:

Green marks my route

The path is not flat like the shorter option south, but it is not extremely hilly either. Lots of gentle rollers which kept it interesting. Meadows and ruins decorate the path. There is a monument that marks the location where the British spy John AndrĂ© was captured. I realized I must have missed the connector trail from the bike path to the single track when I got to the small parking area that marked the northern terminus. There was a gravel road, littered with blown-over trees, that was also on the map, and which was close to the parking lot - so I took that up. The gravel road ended shortly after going underneath railroad tracks where a faint overgrown single track path lead up to the tracks and eventually to the continuation of the road. I took that to another parking area on 9W, turned around, found the Long Path, and started running south.

After 1/2 mile, I came to a clearing for power lines, underneath which the railroad tracks tunnel underneath the palisades. I realized that was off the trail, so I went straight up the clearing until I found the path crossing again. Then I continued running south.

The trail is typical of ridge-line hiking trails in our little region - a dirt path with occasional roots, lots of small hills, and many mostly-buried rocks sticking out. Lots of short ups and downs. There are few clearings but only a couple of river views from this trail. It meanders uninterrupted all the way back to the notch above Rockland Lake, passing an old cemetery before reaching the road.

Fallen tree in the tiny cemetery after our March storms. They have since removed the tree.

I finished off my 12-mile run with an easy lap of the lake.

I have never taken it, but there is also a connector in Nyack on the southern end of this path. I will be scouting that out within a few weeks - and hopefully, this summer, I'll get to at least one loop of the entire path and the entire ridge.

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

May 19, 2010


That is what I weighed on Monday morning.

Yeah, I'm too heavy to do this, but damn - that was some tasty grilled cheese. (BTW, hi Tom.)
It's really not hard to figure out why I struggle so much in these races. It's not that I don't enjoy them - but I think I'd enjoy them more if I could somehow manage to level out the playing field. A loop course, where fit runners lap me repeatedly, is profoundly impactful. I get envious of those who seemingly run effortlessly by comparison.

On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if, deep down, I enjoy overeating more than I'd enjoy being thin. My first reaction would be to say, "No way", but if I were looking at someone else with the same history as me, it'd be hard for me to come to any other conclusion given the evidence.

I don't have an answer at this point.

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

May 17, 2010

Race Report: 3 Days at the Fair 48-hour

I always thought "3 Days at the Fair" was a weird name for an ultra. For a series of races with names like, "Muddy Marathon", "Running with the Devil", and "Mountain Madness 50K", 3Days seems .. out of place. And, as a practical matter, it's inconvenient. How do you assign a twitter hashtag to "3 days at the fair"?? Do you bother correcting friends when they ask, "Are you running that 48 hours in new jersey thing?"

Ultimately, this is a small issue, and not a decision for me to make anyway. On the other hand, this is my blog, and I can call the race whatever I want.

Following is my race report for the "DEATH BY ASPHALT" 48-hour race in Augusta, New Jersey.

I had the pleasure of running this race with some great friends - especially Shannon McGinn, Meredith Murphy, Tom Sperduto, and Ray "The Cesspool of Ultrarunning Knowledge" Krolewicz. Also present were Eddie Murphy, Zoey Murphy (about to celebrate her first birthday!), and Iliana Dimitrova - Iliana drove up from NYC and paced me through my darkest hours in the middle of the night while most everyone else was sleeping. Iliana - you're the best. Thanks. And of course, Race Director Rick and his family are incredible hosts who did everything they possibly could to make the race as pleasurable as possible for us. It was incredible.

Then, as an added bonus, more friends including Frank "rundangerously" Coella, Emmy Stocker, and Susan Warren (who won the woman's 24 - congrats, Susan) showed up early Saturday morning to run the 24-hour race. Last-minute entrants!

And even with all of these great friends, my only regret is leaving early before yet another friend, Cherie Yanek could arrive and pace us for a few laps.

So, what about you, Steve?

"Having trouble with the heat and humidity, Steve? Go sit in the INDUSTRIAL REFRIGERATOR we have at the Aid Station!"

I left after 24.5 hours. After a long long LONG time feeling really really crappy, I rebounded and felt great for a few laps. But - I knew I had to leave in the afternoon (I wasn't planning on staying the entire 48 hours) and was advised to take it easy. I knew I wouldn't be able to hit 100 miles before 3 or 4 pm, so I opted to leave in the morning and get a head start on weekend errands.

Embedded Garmin Connect Log above - if you can't see it, click here.

There were moments in this race where I honestly felt "this is the crappiest I've ever felt in an ultra in my life." And the lows lasted a long, long, LONG (did I remember to tell you it was long?) time. They say that It Never Always Gets Worse, but that certainly seemed to be the case as the humid Friday afternoon continued on.

So - speaking frankly - the factors working against me were the heat/humidity, the asphalt surface, and my bodyweight, which is 305.6 lbs this morning. It made for some really miserable miles and hours. And things generally went very slowly.

Meredith Murphy put it best:
"as someone who has done many 100 mile races, includin a 25 hour PR, getting to 100 miles at the 48 hour race was extremely hard and slow going. the mental aspect is daunting, the surface was severely unforgiving, and the format just taxing inside and out. now i know why, when i see results of 48 hour races, most of the distances are so low. i did just over 100 miles and was around 18th place i think. "
Everything else about this race is top-notch. I can't say enough about the RD and his volunteers. Logistically this race will spoil you for everything else there is. A fully-equipped kitchen at every mile. You make an order as you come through and they have it for you on the next lap. Seriously! "I'd like a grilled cheese." "No problem!" And sitting out there the next time you come through 0.85 miles later is a hot buttered perfectly-grilled cheese sammich. Really - this is an excellent race and you can do a lot worse than participate in it.

Seemingly proving that everything is all mental, when I decided at 23.5 hours that I was going to leave at 24, I put two of my best laps of the race in. And finished very strongly. The scorekeeper asked me to do one more lap after 24 hours just to help him keep his sanity (technical reasons), and I happily obliged as I took off to run half a lap to catch Tom and walk with him for a little bit to finish. Really, it's mental.

My official numbers:
Time: 24:27:57
Distance: 61.76 mi

In terms of distance, the second-longest I've ever run, And twice as far as I've ever run on asphalt. In terms of duration, the longest I've ever run. by far.

Unofficially - Elevation Gain: 936 ft

Here's some more photos of the course for your viewing pleasure
A horse show! Cool!

Coming through the main aid station and start/finish

All sorts of the kind of stuff you'd see at a fair

Snack bar turned into aid station

Eddie and Zoey holding down the Murphy fort

Main aid station and start/finish from another angle

Greenhouse. They had a chicken show in this area as well. At dawn, this part of the course was noisy with rooster calls.

They've got golf carts. We weren't allowed to use them - pity, I might have gotten to 100 if I could have driven.





We had a brief (~100-yard?) reprieve from asphalt every loop

Love my asphalt breaks

By Saturday, the equestrian show was all set up and going on and it was fun to watch!




Crew and tents

My drum. I tapped it on every lap.

Shannon, cranking them out early in the race.

My tent/dropbag

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

May 14, 2010

5 laps down, 112 to go

Sussex County Fairgrounds

When this is posted at 10:00am on Friday, I expect to have completed 5 laps out of 117 in my 100-mile attempt at 3 Days At the Fair.

112 to go! WOO HOO!!

Those interested can follow along at

(In theory, this twitter feed also gets copied to facebook as status updates. In practice, the facebook updates often get delayed hours and sometimes never get posted at all.)

If you live in the area and want to come out, I will be there until Saturday afternoon (unless something goes wrong, in which case you'll hear about it on twitter.)

Here's the address and directions:

Sussex County Fairgrounds
37 Plains Road
Augusta, NJ 07822

From NYC and Eastern NJ

* Take Interstate 80 West to (Exit 34B) Route 15 North, Follow 15 until it joins Route 206 just beyond Lafayette, New Jersey. Proceed North for one mile to Plains Road, turn right at the light, and The Sussex County Fairgrounds will be on the right one mile down the road.

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

May 12, 2010

Race Preview - Three days at the Fair 48-hour race

This Friday morning at 9am, I will be making my third attempt at 100 miles at the 3 days at the Fair 48-hour race in Augusta, NJ (Sussex County.)

For those of you who read my post two weeks ago about 48-hour strategy, well - the new strategy is that I will run this race like it's a 100 with a really long cutoff. When I reach 100 on Saturday afternoon, I will go home.

This will thus be a 30-33 hour race for me.

The course
The course is a USATF-Certified 0.8578-mile loop without an ideal surface for me: 90% asphalt and 10% crushed gravel. My knees won't be happy come Saturday afternoon but at least it'll be a bit faster than dirt. For my goal of 100 miles, I'll have to complete 117 laps. See the lap sheet for all the laps and mileages. (Yes, the winners will likely go well over 200 miles.)

As is usual, I will be tweeting updates from the course. You can follow @stevetursi on twitter for updates.

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

May 10, 2010

The *real* reason runners cross-train

Today, on the advice of my crack coaching/advisory team (more on that later) of Herb and Tony, I cross-trained for 45 minutes.

So this morning, I had my first xtraining workout in probably a year. I give cross training the rather wide definition of "anything that isn't running."

I wanted to warm up with a little cardio. There were probably 3 or 4 different types of cardio machines to choose from (treadmills notwithstanding), so I chose this thing, whatever it is:
What the frick are these things, anyway?
Lasted 5 minutes. Here is what I wrote to Tony and Herb:

Warmed up for 5 minutes on some machine with a weird movement. felt totally unnatural.

Then, I lifted weights with Will and Barry for 45 minutes. W&B are friends of mine who work out at that gym a few times per week, and I had arranged to meet them there. They had a routine that they did, and I went along with it: four sets of four different workouts, all compound joint. Two focusing on chest, two focusing on back.

This being my first time lifting in a year, I made sure to lift light and focus on form. I'm no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but in my early 20s lifting was actually my exercise of choice, and the experience I gained is still alive and well. One technique I used to use and rarely (then and now) see anyone else do is focus on the eccentric contraction - that is - go nice and slow when lowering the weight. So I did that as well, and, as long as I could handle it, I went for twelve reps per set.

On the drive home, I had difficulty turning the steering wheel. Seriously.

Here's what I wrote in my report:
Then, lifted weights for 45 minutes. Haven't lifted in a year.

Can't move my arms now.

I concluded the report with what I learned today:
I now know why we x-train - to remind us of how awesome running is.

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

May 5, 2010

I run in North Jersey

And it's not as bad as you'd think!

Steep, rocky descents!

Smooth, soft ribbons of dirt!

Rocky and rooty and yet still soft ribbons of dirt!




More Ruins!

Steep Climbs!

Steep climbs with obstacles!

Steep climbs with obstacles and streams!

Steep climbs short enough to BE obstacles!

Expansive Rock Gardens!


Not pictured: Waterfalls, lakes, cascading rivers, and incredible views of New Jersey suburbs. But who'd want to see New Jersey suburbs anyway??

(All pictures taken on this morning's run and on Sunday's run at Ramapo Reservation in Mahwah, NJ)

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