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If you think it’s been colder this winter, you’re right

13 Feb
The Mississippi River near Keokuk, Iowa, was iced over for much of January and February.

The Mississippi River near Keokuk, Iowa, was iced over for much of January and February, which made for great eagle watching but for chilly running.

After my third or fourth run in a row in single-digit temperatures, I was ready to toss in the towel on my outdoor Iowa adventures for the winter.

But I would do almost anything to avoid the dreadmill. It hasn’t always been this way. Just a few years back, if it got into the teens, I would retreat to the warmth of an indoor workout. But as I ran further and more often, I couldn’t stand the thought of heading indoors.

A Cold WinterI enjoy the fresh air — even if it’s especially brisk air. I love the  sights, whether it’s the frozen river, falling snow or an eagle sitting by an ice-hole waiting for dinner to swim by.

But this winter has seemed especially harsh. And in reviewing my training log from the past few years, it has been. Since November, the temperature has been a bit chillier than the past couple of years. And since mid-January or so, it has been considerably colder.

But I’ve managed to avoid the dreadmill by adding an extra layer — or two — and having a ski mask in reserve for those very cold days.

Just as I thought the cold may get the better of me, I’m headed out of state for a few days. It’s bound to be warmer in New Orleans and San Diego.

But then there’s always the hassle of trying to get in a run in unfamiliar surroundings and at odd times. If you want an excuse not to run, you can always find one.

But out as my wife is fond of saying: “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

See you on the roads.

New, challenging goals help keep me motivated to run

21 Jan
Barb shot this photo of me starting a climb in the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile run.

Barb shot this photo of me starting a climb in the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile run.

I often hear of runners who have lost their motivation. Every six months or so, “Runner’s World” publishes a new story on how these folks can get their mojo back.

In a dozen years on the roads, this has never been a problem for me. The stress relief alone keeps me motivated. 

But I think there’s another key to my internal motivation: I am always striving toward a new goal, a new challenge. 

2013 mileage by monthAt first, I wanted to complete a marathon. Then I wanted to complete a marathon faster. At one time, I was working hard to qualify for Boston — although a years-long injury and an acceptance of my limited abilities have prompted me to set aside this goal. Last year, the goal was to complete an ultramarathon — 50 miles in my 50th year.

So what will get me off the couch and onto the frozen, snow-packed roads this winter? The challenge presented by the Bighorn Trail 50 mile run, which will be run near Sheridan, Wyo., in June.

The unknowns of my first 50-miler kept me honest last year. The Potawatomi Trail 50 was nearly double the length of my longest previous runs. It was on a trail and featured some crazy ascents, descents and creek crossings. It started in the dark and, as it turned out, finished in the dark, too. 

The Bighorn 50-miler takes this to another level. First and possibly most obvious, it takes place in the Bighorn Mountains (the web site says that, under certain circumstances, runners may be liable for their own search and rescue costs). It tops 9,000 feet in altitude. Despite the fact that it starts on top of the mountain and ends in the valley, one climb includes more than 3,100 feet of vertical gain. If I don’t stay motivated and honest in my training, this could be a disaster.

There’s another factor that will keep me motivated: I’m running with my niece. And she’s a decade younger than me. Screw this up and Christmas dinners could be embarrassing for years to come. 

♦ ♦ ♦

2013 snapshotIt’s probably easier to stay motivated in the coming year when the previous year has been good to you, and that’s certainly the case with me. 

Having just passed the age of 51, I’ve learned that injuries can become a problem. But for the most part, they weren’t a factor in 2013. Sure, my hamstring bothered me off and on over the months. But I have learned that when the dull ache becomes a constant pain, I’ve got to lay off for a few days. 

My total mileage was up in 2013, which training for a 50-miler in the spring will do. And I ran a pair of marathons in the last quarter of the year, although my finishing time in the Belize marathon hardly qualifies me for “running” a race. But when you are in Belize, who cares?

And a review of my training log has helped me determine an area of improvement for 2014. Over the past three years, my annual mileage, monthly mileage and average run distance have all increased. Unfortunately, in 2013, my average weight increased, too, so some sort of weight loss plan will be on the agenda in 2014.

Happy Turkey Day!

28 Nov

I added a little variety to my Thanksgiving run in Keokuk, Iowa, by creating a GPS drawing of a turkey. I used the Endomondo running app to track the run.

I added a little variety to my Thanksgiving run in Keokuk, Iowa, by creating a GPS drawing of a turkey. I used the Endomondo running app to track the run. You can click on the GPS drawing to go to the Endomondo site.

The turkey itself is not quite 4 miles around. All together, my run was 7 miles.

What did you do for your Thanksgiving run?

Useful links for runners

24 Nov

Over the years, I’ve found a number of resources to help with my training and racing.

And when you spend a number of hours on the road, you also need some way to pass the time; I spend a great deal of my training hours listening to podcasts.

Following are recommendations to web sites that I think many runners would enjoy. Today, I’ve entered these as a post. But the links can always be found at this page on my blog. 

Favorite running podcasts

Looking for something to listen to while you log all those miles? I listen to a number of podcasts from NPR, ESPN and others. But these are some of my favorite running-related podcasts: is produced by Eric Schranz and Scotty Sandow, two California ultrarunners. They interview the stars and studs of ultrarunning — plus they offer their thoughts on the best craft beers. On their website, you’ll find a daily update of ultrarunning news and lots of other useful information. If you need something to keep you entertained while logging your training miles, give this fun podcast a try. It can be found here:

23274_107017422649343_693_qMarathon Training Academy is produced by a southern Missouri couple, Angie and Trevor Spencer. It offers useful training advice, race reports and more. It’s very well done and a good listen. The link is:

endurance planetEndurance Planet actually offers several different podcasts on nutrition, fitness, medical advice and ultrarunning. My favorite is the ultrarunning podcast, which is hosted by Tawnee Prazak and features ultrarunner Tim Waggoneer, aka Lucho. The pair also team up for a podcast called Ask the Coaches, which focuses on triathlon coaching but also touches on many running subjects. And I like the podcasts that feature questions that are answered by two different doctors. All of these podcasts can be found at:

Talk UltraEnglishman Ian Corless hosts the bi-weekly Talk Ultra. The show has a distinctly European or global perspective, but there are plenty of Americans featured, too. The show manages to nail interviews with all of the top ultrarunners from around the world. It runs a bit on the long side — about 3 hours — but if you want to hear from the world’s best, this is the place to go. The podcast can be found as part of his web site at:

McMillan Running Calculator

mcmillan_logoWhat pace should you use for your workouts? What is a good goal time for your race? The McMillan Running Calculator is a useful tool to determine these paces and finish times. Find it at this link:

Athlinks — Compiling Race Results

athlinks-logoThis website compiles race results from around the country into one place, allowing you to track all your results at once. It also displays your results in several different ways, making it easier to analyze them. It’s amazing the race results that this site has compiled. Any big race — and many of the smaller races — that you’ve run is likely in their database. All that said, the site has undergone a major redesign, and in my opinion, it isn’t for the better. The new design makes it more difficult to see all your results at a glance and to resort the results. Even so, it’s a site worth looking up.

Find the site at this link:

Run My Route — How Far Was That?

runmyroute-logoThere are a number of web sites that can help you plan a running route — Map My Run, Endomondo, USATF and many others. But has some of the better features for planning a run, and you don’t have to become a member of the site to use the program.

Find it at this link:

Pace calculator

Three different calculators to help you determine time, distance and pace.

Find it at this link:

Marathon Guide — Choose a Race

mguidelogoThis website lists most marathons across the country and features a number of helpful runner reviews of the races. It also posts news on many of the races.

Find it at this link:

Online Running Retailers

These are two of the largest online running retailers:

This is one of the few places I have found that keeps a good insole with a metatarsal pad (good for those with Morton’s neuroma):

The specific insole I recommend if you have Morton’s neuroma is the Lynco Orthotics L-405. I have tried nearly every type of insole with a metatarsal pad, and this is by far the best. I’ve had a podiatrist look at the insole, and he said it looked like a good one. The insole has been updated since I purchased it last, but I hope they kept the best qualities. The specific link to this insole at the time of this writing is:

Excellent article on blister care

Ultrarunners are notorious for suffering from blisters. As a frequent road runner, I very seldom get blisters. On my first trail ultra, I got blisters in the opening miles and battled them for all 50 miles. The uneven terrain and the extra moisture — either from running through creeks or simply sweating — makes you more susceptible.

This is a great article on how to manage your blisters:

Better runners through circumcision as young adults?

20 Nov

Watch the YouTube video above of Kenyan runner Kipchoge Keino win the 1,500 meter race in the 1968 Olympics. Keino’s victory marked the beginning of nearly 50 years of Kenya’s dominance in long-distance running.

Many scholars and scientists have sought the answer to the question: Why are Kenyans such great long-distance runners?

In it’s own inimitable style, Radiolab tackles that question in this podcast. You can read books on the subject, you can read magazine articles on it, but this 25-minute podcast is worth your time.

In the story, NPR’s Gregory Warner explores the many factors that have led Kenyans — and specificially the Kalenjin tribe — to dominate long distance races over the past 40+ years. Among the many factors are:

  • Diet
  • High-altitude living
  • Mileage run over a lifetime, beginning as children
  • Socio-economic benefits derived from running success
  • Genetic differences that benefit runners

But perhaps the most dramatic — and, for me, headline grabbing — reason for the Kalenjin success is their self-nurtured ability to withstand pain.

Faced with an extremely taxing and painful rite of passage shortly after puberty, Kalenjin children spend years preparing themselves for the ordeal. And since the ordeal includes a unique manner of circumcision, it’s easy to understand how the Kalenjin can endure the pain of a measly marathon.

Give the podcast a listen. I guarantee you’ll be enlightened and entertained.

♦ ♦ ♦

Here are links to several other interesting topics mentioned in the podcast:

Training by heart rate instead of pace during a sultry summer — Duh!

16 Oct
Posing with Barb before part of her 50K run at Jubilee College State Park near Peoria, Illinois. This is one of my last training runs before the 2013 Des Moines Marathon.

Posing with Barb before part of her 50K run at Jubilee College State Park near Peoria, Illinois. This is one of my last training runs before the 2013 Des Moines Marathon.

In early September, I wrote a post about training in the heat and humidity. The summer’s heat was dragging on, and my training pace was dragging, too.

What effect did these conditions have on training pace? According to a couple of articles I referenced, high heat and humidity should be expected to add up to 3 minutes per mile to your training pace. Here’s my earlier post.

The question I couldn’t answer at that time, however, was: Would the slower training pace have a negative impact on my race results?

According to this article in Runner’s World, the tough climactic conditions still can translate to good results when the weather moderates. Using an example of a specific pace and a specific heart rate, author Susan Paul wrote:

A large part of training is related to the heart rates achieved during training. Even though your training pace has slowed down, your heart rate will still remain in the 120 bpm range and possibly be even higher because of the adverse weather. Your body becomes conditioned to that heart rate range regardless of the actual run pace. When the weather cools down, and you run at that heart rate, you will find you are able to run your 9:40 pace and probably even a bit faster after slogging through tough conditions!

It was like a light bulb turning on for me. It was both an “aha” moment and a “duh” moment.

I’ve done some training by heart rate, but because of technical difficulties with my heart rate strap, I tired of that method. But I listen to the Endurance Planet podcast on training runs nearly every week (great podcast, highly recommended), and Dr. Phil Maffetone’s training method is a frequent topic on the podcast.

In a nutshell, Maffetone says subtract your age from 180 to find your optimal heart rate for training. Consistently train at this aerobically appropriate heart rate — no matter the weather or the hills or whatever — and you can expect to see an improvement in your training pace over time. If you don’t, there are other stresses that are depressing your results.

But the key to this method of training is to maintain a steady heart rate. Nearly every week, podcast hosts Tawnee Prazak and Tim “Lucho” Waggoner are asked if the optimum training heart rate can be adjusted — because of the time of day or the nutrition consumed or because the questioner is a well-trained athlete. As Maffetone himself indicated on the podcast one day, if you allow variations in the heart rate, you aren’t training by that method.

Even though I haven’t been training by heart rate, that variation in heart rate due to the stress of heat and humidity resonated with me. Any attempt to maintain a specific pace was going to result in an increase in heart rate that was going to be hard to maintain. But if I allowed my pace to slow so I could maintain a certain heart rate (or a certain level of perceived exertion), I would maintain a steady level of training.

So my pace decreased with the harsh conditions. Will my race results suffer? Susan Paul says “not necessarily so.”

I guess I’ll find out when I run the Des Moines Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 20. A number of other factors may impact my race results — the temperature that day, my race day nutrition, pacing, et cetera — but I do feel better about my summer training.

When is an ultra run like a prize fight?

13 Oct
A face plant on the second lap of the course gave Barb a black eye and a swollen lip, plus several other bruises.

A face plant on the second lap of the course gave Barb a black eye and a swollen lip, plus several other bruises. This photo was taken the day after the race.

If the weather is nearly perfect, and the trails are dry, the light is good and there are no obstacles per se, how does a trail runner come out of a race looking like she’s gone through a 10-round prize fight?

It’s those pesky tree roots on a narrow single-track trail. At least that’s the story my wife, Barb, is offering.

Barb was looking for an extra challenge as her 50th birthday approaches in early 2014. After I did a 50-mile trail run earlier this year, I suggested she try an ultra — and she bit.

She thought 50 kilometers (31 miles) was crazy enough, so she decided to run the Farmdale Trail Run, which includes a 30-miler. To make it a 50K, she added a 1-mile jog before the race even began.

Due to the federal government shutdown, the race was moved in the last week to Jubilee College State Park, which is located just north of Peoria, Ill. The original site was supposed to be just south of town, but Farmdale is operated by the Corps of Engineers.

There were a few showers in Peoria before the race started, but when we arrived at the park, the trails were dry, and the conditions were really perfect for a run.

The course was mostly under tree cover, single-track and — although there were some steep sections — along rolling hills.

Barb wanted to complete the run in under 8 hours, and she kept up a very steady pace and met that goal, finishing in about 7 hours, 43 minutes.

The biggest challenge was staying on her feet, but she wasn’t alone. Despite the nearly perfect conditions, there were a number of tree roots on the single track, and if you weren’t careful, it was easy to snag a foot. I noticed an inordinate number of runners who came across the finish line with their shirts covered in dirt or their arms and legs covered with trail rash.

But I think Barb got the prize for the day. She fell at least once on every lap, and she did an epic face plant on her second lap and rolled into a log. That resulted in several bruises, plus a swollen, black eye and a fat lip. Trying to take a drink from her water bottle on the next lap, she just laughed. Every time she tried to squirt in water, it dribbled out the side of her mouth due to the fat lip.

One more example of women being tougher than men.

The day after the race, Barb is sore and tired, and her shiner has made for a hell of a conversation piece. She said she looks like she’s been fighting for Team Miesha, referencing the UFC television show.

But after a few extra ibuprofen, she’s doing some chores and made a great seafood chowder for lunch.

I think she’ll forget all about her sore muscles by the time the Belize marathon rolls around in early December. At least I hope so.

♦ ♦ ♦

If you’re interested in doing a trail run or an ultra, there’s an active group in central Illinois. Check out these links:

♦ ♦ ♦

And if you haven’t read my post about the 50-miler I did earlier this year in nearby Pekin, Ill., here’s a link to that article. It’s a great race, and it also includes 100- and 150-mile options.

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