Sunday, October 20, 2013

One-Itis: Life After Western States

How do you get over something, after thinking about it every single day, many times a day, for months, even years - only to be so squarely rejected? Even now, nearly four months later, I'm not sure I know that answer yet.

Perhaps the answer lies in not getting to that point in the first place...

Immediately post-WS, after my family departed, I stuck around in Placer County for a while.  Mr Wonderful invited me to spend the Fourth of July up at Tahoe.  I thought about it; it sounded fun, but a part of me recoiled: that'd be like breaking up with someone, then spending the holiday at her parents' house.

I'm out.

I went west, as far as I could, away from the stifling, 100+-degree heat. I drove into the night until the road ended, and only a thin ribbon of asphalt separated me from the end of the continent.  I slept in the back of my truck along the PCH, in the cool, thick Pacific air, Rickey Gates-style. 

Leaving Placer County - Carb-Crazed, post-WS binge. 

Acommodations along the California Coast, just north of Sonoma Coast State Park

California 1.  Amazing drive.  Like Wisconsin...with sea cliffs, ocean views, and eucalyptus trees.

Breakfast along the coast. 

The next day, I caught a Fourth of July Parade...Mendocino-style:

Fourth of July Parade in Mendocino!

Very political.  Also a lot marijuana smoke. 

An admirable-sized rat-tail...and bag of chips.

What says Liberty better than a giant dog that pees on the patriots?
The next night's lodging: the Lost Coast/Mattole Road, south of Ferndale, CA.

I spent the next several days, alone, driving.  Contemplating.  I'm not sure when it came to me, but I eventually it hit me.

I did it again.

I had one-itis.

One-itis is a debilitating disease:  "A unhealthy obsession with a single entity", a "social malady that results in a feeling that this entity is totally special and unique, and therefore one must not mess up anything with it".  Moreover, it almost always involves "completely unrealistic idealizations and expectations" -- of what your life would become, should you successfully master that thing.

But ultimately, this obsessive fixation invariably interferes with one's ability to execute and successfully.  Because anything that valuable takes a confident, relaxed (if not detached) execution to master.

There's the rub.

I felt jilted: I put so much into this race, that day, and for what? Nothing. I blew it.

All the hard work, from December to June. What did I have to show for it? Two lackluster races and a beer mile victory.

Something had to change. Many things.
Base Training

First, I had to let go. Oddly enough, that was easy. The relentless obsession with Western States had drained me, even pre-race. And now, after having blown it? I felt a tremendous weight release when I began to let go. 

Secondly, I had to change. I needed to achieve greater balance, perspective, and resourcefulness in my life. Wiling the hours, doing nothing more than eating, sleeping, slogging miles – all the while remaining obsessed about Western States had gotten me less than nowhere – it caused me to lose sight of those things.

After returning home from the race, I was determined to work on the non-runner me. I felt like, in many ways, I was deficient in the comprehensive non-running resources and abilities to not only effectively maintain balance, but also help me reduce my stress and anxiety, and keep perspective. Developing and enhancing my social skills was a big part of that.

I recall during the Solo Fast 2012, that one of my most significant issues was the void of meaningful day-to-day relationships in my life. Simply put, I spend way too much time alone, bored and lonely. In particular, a lack of a significant other in my life for the past year has been a tremendous void, and a drain on my spirit. Like the absence of food during the Solo Fast, it is easy to put out of mind, but every so often it would strike furiously, and a deep ache would set in. 

I feel the purpose of relationships are two-fold: one, they are people with which to share important and exciting moments in life, and two, they exist for you to help them, and them, you: to survive the challenges of life and transcend toward greater living.

But relationships, like anything else, take time and effort. They take intention and commitment, skills and abilities, energy and courage.

I was committed to taking July off running.  So instead of training my legs, I trained my social skills.

The EUG can be challenging for post-collegiate to pre-retirement single folks like myself, but, I had a blast.  I went out. A lot. I all but begged folks to hang out, and if they couldn't, I'd roll solo. And I stayed out, until 3AM. On a Wednesday night. And when I wasn't going out, I was at home, reading and studying relevant social skills that I lacked (and sometimes I'd go out and read and practice!). I'd go out, being friendly, just talking to people. And, by and large, it was effective: I interacted with more people in meaningful ways in that month than I had in the previous four years I'd lived in Eugene.

Clifton and Jens, out at Max's Tavern - July 2013

Good times. 

Perhaps the most randomly awesome picture of the summer: Teacher, Mentor and friend, Gregg Johnson (L) - with Chris DeMarco teaching a manual therapy course in Portland - July 2013.  Chris punctuated his trip to PDX with a surprise-appendectomy at the very hospital where the course was taught.  On Sunday, he came down to say hello.

KILLING IT with Dan Majerle in NBA Jam - August 2013. 
An extremely important conclusion when overcoming One-Itis is the reality that no race is so important that winning it is going to make your life great, or not great. Fact of the matter is, it never works that way: those singular experiences can never live up to that pressure, that hype – and if they do, it is short-lasting, and you're left invariably asking, “It's not enough, what's next?”

Relationships are identical. No one person can ever make you happy. You make you happy. And the sooner one can recognize that experiences and relationships are only a part of life – and not the end-goal – then we can be set free to experience them unfettered, and without expectation. And then, we're far more likely to optimize those experiences and relationships.  When interacting with folks this summer, I expected nothing.  Then, when something did develop, it was everything

Through random-but-valuable interactions this summer in EUG, what I learned was this: meaningful relationships - and experiences - are not scarce.  However, those experiences frequently appear in places and forms you least expect - so you have to be open and accepting to whatever comes your way.   If you are, you just might find that very thing you're looking for.

The Rebound

Despite my positive mental being, post-Western States, I still felt driven to have a Rebound. I felt driven to do something, anything, besides Western States. The choice was easy: Waldo.

For the past two years, I'd signed up for Waldo 100K, and, post-WS, DNS'd both, due to inadequate recovery. This time 'round, after my WS Fun Run, I felt I'd be rested. But would I be prepared?

The Training

During my Western States ramp-up, I read a lot of the latest edition of Lore of Running. In it, Tim Noakes writes in characteristic detail about energy systems, and what we now know – or think we know – about endurance metabolism. Until now, I'd never read or heard significant treatment about the importance of fat-burning as fuel for endurance performance. That changed in 2013, reading from Noakes. Another big factor was spending time with Tim Olson down in Ashland. Our conversations about diet and training, coupled with what I was reading in Lore, pushed me to radically change my diet to be more fat-burn-friendly: namely by slashing the quantity of carbohydrates from my diet. Since mid-March, I've been bonafide low-carb: eating next to no carbs from sun-up to evening, and only then will I eat unprocessed fruits and vegetables, devoid of any grains, pastas, breads, or any previously guilty pleasure foods such as The Big C's (chips, cookies, candy, chocolate, [pan]'cakes). They were all gone.

(But: I wouldn't cut out my beer. I gotta live!)

Diet was a big change, but another important conclusion drawn, post-Western States, was that my fitness in 2013 was “upside-down”. This is a term I've coined when talking about the difference between aerobic and anaerobic fitness.  While diet is crucial to training fat burning capacity (what you put in is what you'll use), one must train at the proper intensity to allow fat-burning to happen.

Lore of Running talked about the 1989 Ironman Triathlon -- the epic battle between Dave Scott and Mark Allen, where the men ran 8:09 and 8:10, respectively, including a sub-2:40 closing marathon leg.  Noakes talks about the physical impossibly of only sugar burning for such an effort, then outlines Mark Allen's work with coach Phil Maffetone, DC, to enhance his fat-burning and sustainable training.  

Maffetone advocates his Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) effort as the most important element in developing aerobic fitness.  It represents the maximum intensity whereby fat can be used as fuel.  According to Maffetone, if we maintain [the vast majority of] our efforts at or below this level, we will enhance fat burning.  The effect is, the speed at which we travel - whether by foot, bike or swim stroke - will improve at the same effort level.  

MAF is measured by heart rate.  And the beauty of heart rate-based training is, it takes into account everything: not just fitness, but restfulness, stress, and nutrition, among other factors.  If any of those are off, it will reflect in heart rate.  With MAF training, the days of only focusing on "miles" are over.  It is, in effect, truly holistic training.

MAF is calculated, simply, by taking your age and subtracting it from 180.  Mitigating factors - including injury history and consistent training - might increase or decrease that value by +/- 5 BPM. 

Since resuming running at the end of July, 95% of my running has been at or below my MAF heart rate of 150.  Subsequent testing at our clinic found that my true end-range fat-burning is 158-162 BPM - the absolute highest intensity where fat burning stops.  

Progress is tracked by doing periodic 5-mile time trials at MAF heart rate. It's a rather fun game: how fast can you run, while keeping your heart rate low.  It emphasizes maximum efficiency and relaxation.

My initial effort highlighted how upside-down my fitness was:  by mile 5, I had to slow to >8-minute pace.  It has since imporved to 6:20-7:00 pace, simply by "running slow". 

Since July, I've experienced palpable benefits in both running and body composition: I felt “fat-burning power” during long runs and races, where I felt like I could “run all day”.  Moreover, this is the most muscular I've ever been.  I've gained some weight since WS, but it's been all muscle; in fact, I'm sure it's been a net muscle gain with fat lost.  

Moreover, my Waldo experience  - and a recent run around the Three Sisters, where I ran 50 miles without a single calorie - reinforced that this approach is extremely effective.  

Waldo 100K

Almost by definition, Rebounds never work as planned.  But they do serve a purpose.

I went into Waldo unprepared to run well, and that was OK.  I was committed to spending the entire run at or below anaerobic threshold.  While my MAF was 150, I allowed a ceiling of 160 for the "race".  But with the numerous steep and long climbs, sticking to this would be no small feat. 

As Craig Thornley set us off - for his last Waldo - it was yet another example of the impact of the sympathetic system on heart rate.  Three weeks before, I did the opening climb - a solid, 1000'+/25 minute slog - fairly easy at 150 BPM.  Race morning?  170, pegged.  Sonofabitch!  I leisure-hiked as the entire front-pack faded into the pre-dawn darkness.  All but Jacob Puzey, who was coming off a recent illness.  He and I shuffled with each other early, then reconnected as the trail summited the ski hill and rolled west and downhill.  Yet even then, I could scarcely keep the HR under 160.  Damn!

After the first aid station, I slowed even further.  The slog up to Mt Fuji was brutally slow.  Being passed by several runners, including early women's leader Joelle Vaught, were further gut-punches.  "This sucks.  What am I doing?"

I wanted to quit.  It was stupid.  But I shuffled along.  As I summited Fuji amidst irritating wildfire smoke drifting from the south, passing the front runners, already ten-plus minutes behind, I connected with Rob Hendrickson, who I paced at Waldo in '11.  We ran together, and I had a purpose again, for the time being.  He and I ran in lock-step down Fuju and back west toward the PCT.

On the PCT, things started to click.  I got comfortable.  I figured, "OK, this is good fat-burning training.  Just go with it".

So I did.  I shuffled along.

It was a tremendous learning experience.  I felt when my body grooved in fat-burning: when it did, I felt like I could run all day.  When I inched over 160, I felt a heaviness in my gut, and things got cloudy.  Soon, I scarcely checked the HR read-out.  I could feel it.

At the aid stations, I took my time: I stood around, drank soda, chatted, and waited for my HR to drop.  Often, I took over two minutes per station.  But I felt the heart - and brain - needed that rest to re-set the system and allow for better running in between. 

I I hiked a lot.  Uphills at 7,000' with low fitness made running in the fat zone impossible.  So I hiked.  At the 45 mile mark, I picked up my iPod.  Fun music invariably drives up heart rate, but it was a small price to pay for the entertainment.  I jammed to Akon and Eminem as I rolled south along the PCT toward the last big climb up the 7,800' Maiden Peak. Again, tons of hiking, but I made the most of it.  And I felt strong.  There was no fatigue in the legs. 

The summit marks the 53-mile mark and the high-point of the course. From there, it's all downhill. I made quick, aggressive work of it.  I stopped for another couple minutes at the Maiden Lake AS, the put the finishing touches on my first Waldo finish.

The closing ten kilos at Waldo are among the best in ultrarunning: groomed single track, flat-to-downhill in its entirely, save but a few uphill blips.  And the views! You're treated to four different mountain lakes, including three in succession in the final four miles.  It shocks me that some complain about that closing stretch - but I suppose the final kilos of a 100K are inherently brutal.

As I passed the Lower Rosary Lake, marking 5K to go, I was feeling the fatigue of the day, but the finish line was in smelling range. The root wad repair marks about a mile to go.  I was keeping to my 160 ceiling until then.  Then, this song came on.  I looked at my watch: sub-10:30 was in reach.  So I pushed it.

Western States was not in my thoughts very much that day, but it came to mind in those closing minutes.  I thought about Craig waiting - as he does at Waldo, and now WS - at the finish line.  I was looking forward to seeing him, and I thought about how Western was supposed to be.

Like this.  Success.  Triumph.  Joy.  As the single track burst into the clearcut homestretch to the ski area, this song came on.  On the WS playlist, was supposed to be my River-to-Green Gate song...

I crossed the finish line - MAF to the wind - just a shade over 10:30.  I was a good 85 minutes behind winner (and newest speedster-du-jour) David Laney.  That stung, but it is what it is: a terrific training effort, and an important rebound.

Occupy Waldo - the encampment, pre-race

Pre-Race Meeting: presenting Craiggers with a going-away thank-you present - a quilt of all the Waldo shirts

"Congratulations on a job...done".  The HRM's max'd-out calorie count.  That's a lot of beer. 

The Man at The Helm.

So, here we are.  It's Fall.  That magic hour, liberated from heat, bugs, and impending snow.  Ample opportunity for care-free outdoor adventures amongst the watercolor splatter of autumn leaves mixed with Pacific Northwest showers.   

Yet, The Cup looms.  Bandera is right around the corner. 

Yet in order to be successful - to do it right - is going to take patience.  Balance.  Perspective.  Relaxed detachment.  This fall continues to be an exercise on those things.  Some fall races and adventures that I'd looked forward to will have to take a back-seat to the Big Picture. 

I'll be back to Western States some day - with a number on. And when I do, it will be different. And even better than before.  Until then: patience, balance, perspective.


  1. Great read brother! All the best on your journey.

    1. Thanks, Tim! Here's to a great '14 for us both. B-)

  2. Great read Joe. It looks like we pissed away the summer about the same. I was completely fried after WS both physically and mentally. I wanted nothing to do with running. But, I got up to level 61 in Borderlands 2. I led the Assault on Dragon Keep, Mastered Torgue's Battle Dome and slayed the evil Handsome Jack. Yes, Majerle is BOSS with the deep ball. All that rest got me in the best shape ever. I have also been low carb for a while- sliding off a bit this summer post-WS before buckling down before my last race. When you come back to it, it makes such a difference. Weight down, muscle up. Never seem to need food or water. It is THE WAY!

    Glad to see you feeling better and getting the stoke back. With your thoughtful approach to this game, I have no doubt the best is yet to come for you.


    1. Jer-Bear-

      Good post...I wish I'd rested as awesomely as you did over the summer. With the Rebound out of the way, I feel like I'm now ready to do so, before the big push of '14.

      Best of luck to you,

  3. Hi Joe,

    I just happened to be re-reading 'The Lore' this past summer as well. In that section on Mark Allen's, Noakes reviewed Allen's training with MAF for base (as you have noted) but he also spoke to the 10-12 week 'speedwork' phase and the 8 week 'push' phase (high intensity) that Allen used to prepare for races (pages 456-460 of the 4th edition). Based on my understanding, this approach is essentially no different than the generalized 'Lydiard' program and also the program of many endurance athletes starting from at least the 1950's. The only difference is that in the 'Maffetone' method one is enslaved to (or, as some feel, advantaged with) a HR monitor. As a road cyclist in the late 60's through the early 80's I specialized in long races with lots of climbing. Such events are not very different from shorter mountain Ultramarathons (they typically last about 5 hours or so) or Ironman events. These events and Ultramarathons typify the class of calorie-deficient competition (i.e. the human body cannot physically take in as many calories as are consumed and therefore fueling requires significant, and, to be competitive, efficient fat burning). At the time the USCF (now USA Cycling) team coaches endorsed a cycling version of the Lydiard approach which we adopted according to our individual circumstance. This program did not deviate very much from the base-speed-push protocol that Allen describes in Noakes' book and this is what we generally used leading up to the racing season. It should also be noted that other endurance athletes use the base-speed-push protocol as well, a primary example being cross country skiers. I continue to wonder exactly what it is that Maffetone is bringing to the table that differs in any real sense to well accepted base-training protocols developed prior to his emergence. We all felt our base-training progress to faster and faster speeds (times) at the same perceived effort through the late winter-spring training period, we just did not have HR monitors to put numbers on it.

    In addition there is very little science to support the protocol that Maffetone prescribes, not the least of which is the 180 minus age formula and the posture that speedwork is harmful to aerobic fitness. I agree with Greg Crowther in his analysis:

    In training regularly with retired endurance Olympians (my wife being one of these), the single element that I find to be common among these athletes, even among those who are now 20-30 years beyond their prime but still competing, is an adherence to a general version of the base-speed-push protocol and particularly to the VO2 max workouts. The performances of some of these athletes, even as 50-somethings, is impressive and, although 'talent' and experience plays a role, their training regimen is fundamental.

    I will suggest that you may not be well served by a strict adherence to MAF-only training, just as Mark Allen demonstrated.

    1. Great comment, Robert!

      I am aware of Allen's periodization, and I agree that he incredible performances were the product of extreme discipline:

      - in time off (which was 2-3 months of basically nothing, post-Kona)
      - in base phase (ardently at/below 150-155 BPM)
      - in speed/push, which he hammered in that 6-12 week chunks (diminishing as he aged).

      I also agree that this approach is not unlike other classic "base-to-speed" approaches.

      The big difference is two-fold:

      - A legitimate metric
      - Holistic discipline.

      As a classically-training physiologist and coach (with a Master's Degree in kinesiology and Level II certified USATF distance), there was very, very little treatment in WHAT, exactly, constitutes ideal "aerobic", other than %VO2 max. However, VO2Max is inherently flawed - it is nothing but a measure of "inefficiency" (how much O2 can you blow out, regardless of efficiency).

      That said, the Maffetone approach takes heart rate as a legitimate metric of effort. And *stress*.

      If you're stressed out due to lack of sleep, work/family stress, or poor nutrition, there's no way to objectify that - or account for it - unless you're looking at HR. If you're HR's high, you're stressed - and - what I *believe* - your metabolism will react as if you're running at that intensity.

      That said, what impresses me most about this approach is it forces you to confront all the non-running factors that impact training, fitness, and performance.

      That is what Allen was so masterful with. And - as he, Maffetone, and Noakes (in the afterward for the "Big Book") attested to - this was the key to Allen's phenomenal success and longevity.

      For me specifically, the HRM was been critical to adhering to true aerobic, and monitoring holistic stress response (sleep, anxiety, nutrition). And I intend to adhere strictly to "MAF-pace" work (e.g. "aerobic") for all but those few short periods in the next year - namely, pre-Bandera and pre-WS (should I get in) in '14.

  4. Hi Joe,

    Agreed, and it seems that perhaps I misunderstood your post to mean that you were planning on sticking to MAF-only training. Sounds like you will be putting in speedwork-push segments prior to your important races.

    For me I like the HR monitor for just the reason that you point out- it provides a legitimate, reliable metric. I use it and rigorously track the time series data both inter and intra-session. It also provides an 'electronic leash' to ensure that the workout you planned to do is, in fact, the workout you do.

    The HR is a sensitive measure of the 'other stuff' going on in one's life as well and this 'other stuff', as you note, can be clearly seen in changes in resting HR, average magnitude during sessions, and recovery rates. Accumulated tiredness, personal stress, sleep issues, etc. can be detected in an athlete's HR data, provided a baseline is available.

    In the 'old' (pre-HR monitor) days we captured this type of data via perceived effort (RPE), an admittedly subjective assessment. However, many experienced (pre-HR monitor) athletes have told me that they know the response of their body so well that the HR monitor just confirms what they already know- a developed skill that some of us were never very good at. The monitoring of RPE as a function of session difficulty as well as attendant data (tiredness, muscle soreness, etc.) is where the 'holistic' part arises for those who trained prior to the advent of the wearable, miniaturized HR monitor. Most serious athletes would capture this in the 'notes' columns of their respective training journals and it was/is considered by many coaches to be a critically important part of the journal. Although the HR monitor has allowed for significant improvement in reliable measures of these other stressors, similar (but more diffuse) data has been collected by athletes for a long time preceding the relatively recent routine use of HR monitors. So I still ask myself exactly what it is that Maffetone has brought to the table. Certainly the apparently baseless (although potentially useful) 180 minus age formula is new, but I do not see much else.

    Good luck with your 2014 season!