Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Coe Project

If you follow my training via Twitter or Facebook or here on my blog (Thanks Dad) then you know that I have been working on some weird "project". Likewise, if you regularly attend the weekly Rush Hour speed sessions at Tiger Track in Bentonville you might be wondering, "Who is that pasty skinned dude doing something different from everyone else?" (Thanks Whitney). Well, it is my Summer carrot...
I thought I could provide some details for this idea here so that I don't have to keep explaining it to people that ask and have them stare at me blankly or hold back the laughter. Yeah, I'm that guy usually pulling off back to back weekend runs of 20+ miles and traveling to Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri or Tennessee for trail races. This time last year I was rebuilding my base following the stress fracture. My first race back was the Pumpkin Holler 50k (Tatur) over near Tahlequah where I bagged a top 10 finish and a new PR. Next up in December was the Rock Creek Series Lookout Mtn 50 miler in Chattanooga where I found a very lonely, dark place to die before being pulled to the light by David Newman for my worst race ever (but a great learning experience). February found me back in the Lone Star State for the Tejas Trails race known as Rocky Raccoon where I once again tackled the 50 miler and bagged another PR. In April I erased my newly set 50k PR with a new one at Frisco Trail 50k (OMRR) in Missouri and earned a top 3 finish. Then I blew myself away with my time at the Bentonville Half Marathon with a huge 18 minute PR. Then this month I grabbed a top 5 finish and new 25k PR at War Eagle. Coming off of that streak I was hungry for more PRs. Namely for the 5k and 10k distance. Based on my new half mary PR I began some workouts for the 5k distance. I was not able to finish any of the workouts. Oh yeah, I could nail it for a couple or 3 miles but then my legs would quickly turn to lead. Sure, I could run 50 miles at a given pace but try to speed things up for a 5k and I was done. My aerobic base was great but the lactate threshold was anemic. 
So I gave up and decided to just run over the Summer. No specific training, no races, just run. That lasted about two weeks. I read this article at about the mile being America's classic distance. You see, I'm a carrot guy. I need something to shoot for to stay disciplined in my training. The thought of stepping outside my comfort zone was appealing to me. I floated the idea past Mike Rush, owner of Rush Running and former NCAA 800m animal at the U of A. Mike knows my running background. He knows my strengths and weaknesses. He laughed at me. He asked what my goal time was. I told him 5 minutes flat. He laughed harder. He asked "Why five minutes?" and I told him "Because it sounds good." I had to pick him up off the floor. OK, I didn't do that but he did laugh. I explained the reason why. How I wanted to not just set new PRs for 5k and 10k but to blow them away. The reason those first fast workouts were cut short, he said, was because I had worked backwards as far as I could from all of the big volume training for my ultras.  There was no turnover, the engine couldn't rev high for very long. If the goal was to crack new ground in shorter distances then I would need to go forward in my training, not backwards. I needed to start from square one. He asked what my best time was for a mile. I told him I ran "4:50 something back in high school. You know, 1987." He shook his head and told me to meet him at the track the following Monday. He needed some numbers to work with and was gonna make me run hard. 
So I showed up. He wanted me to run a 400 as fast as I could. I knew a 5 minute mile is 4 x 75 second laps. I figured I had go sub 70 to have any type of shot at it. I had no clue if it was possible. For motivation, Matt Blaty offered to rabbit for me. Matt is a former NCAA stand out at Cal Poly Pomona where he set records that remain intact to this day. He was All American in 1980 and once ran a 30:16:00 in the 10k. Sick. Mike says "Go!" and Blaty is off like a scalded cat. I'm thinking "Holy $#@!". He instantly gets 5 meters on me but I manage to hold it there all down the back stretch. Then we hit the turn. Halfway through it my legs were burnt toast. I began throwing my arms out front in an attempt to keep my momentum moving. Probably looked more like flailing. He began to pull away. By now I could hear some of the Rush Runners yelling at me and cheering. I wanted to die. My legs felt so damn heavy. We crossed the finish line and Mike asked for the time. The answer was "77" and I thought I had just embarrassed myself. Then "No, wait, I mean 67." I do the quick math and realize that is 4:28 pace and that Mike might be surprised. I was. Mike then says he wants us to do 3 x 200 repeats all out with a 400m shuffle for rest. We knocked those out in 35, 34 and 36 seconds. More proof that my legs had turned to concrete. After an easy cool down I asked Mike what he thought. His realistic projection was 5:10-5:15 and anything better than that was icing on the cake. And yes, he was a bit surprised that I ran a sub 70 on the 400. 
But you know what? The goal is not the final time on August 12th (yes, just 8 weeks of training), that is almost irrelevant. The process is what is important. That is the focus. I am really stepping out of my comfort zone here. I know if I want to get that 18 minute 5k time and sub 40 minute 10k and get my BQ marathon it is going to take work. But it is possible. I also know that doing this will require smart training. I will need to monitor my body physically in new ways. I will have to incorporate regular strength work and stretching. All the stuff I normally blow off and disregard. After chalk talking it with Mike the plan for the first two weeks looked like this:
Regular runs of 5-7 miles at a comfortable to comfortably hard pace. If the body says slow down then slow down. Just get miles for now. One long run of 10-12 miles weekly. Again, allow the body to dictate the pace. Striders 2-3 times per week, 6-8 x 110 meters and build up to 75-80% effort on them. In other words, not all out but comfortably hard right at the very end of the stride. In addition I complete a lunge matrix before every run that takes about 4 minutes. I have been vigilant about taking time for proper cool downs. I have taken time to stretch when needed and try to closely monitor for any signs of breakdown. It has been a long time since this body went hard. Wait, that sounds wrong. You know what I mean, my body ain't used to running 400s and stuff. 
So week 1 looked like this:
Mon: LM (lunge matrix), 20 min w/u, 400x1, 200x3, 15 minute c/d down and GSM (general strength work)
Tue: LM, 5 miles @ 9min pace (recovery run)
Wed: LM, 5.5 miles @ 8:15 pace, 8 striders
Thu: LM, 4.5 miles @ 8:15 pace, 4 x repeats Fishback Hill
Fri: LM, 5 miles @ 7:50 pace
Sat: LM, 10 miles @ 8:55 pace, several surges during middle of run
Sun: LM, 7 miles @ 8:20 pace, 6 striders
Total: 41 miles in 5 hours and 37 minutes 
After two weeks I am contemplating a name change for this from the Coe Project (in honor of the great miler Sebastian Coe) to Project FT. The FT could stand for "fast twitch" or on other days it could stand for "F*** that!" I like the sound of that. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

War Eagle Trail Festival 2013

2013 race logo (hand drawn by Ryan Holler)

Coming off of my surprising time at the Bentonville Half back in April I knew that I should be able to carry a pretty good pace through the 25k out at Hobbs. Scouting the competition it looked like a sub 2 hour time would be needed to get a podium spot and take home one of those coveted handmade Indian head trophies. Ultrasignup had me projected to finish 26th overall and run a time around 2h26m or so. Pffftt! That made the Farmer a bit angry. I went out a couple of weeks before the race and ran the course at about 90% effort or so and bagged a 2h15m running time with just a couple of short stops. Thanks to David Newman for actually crewing for me that day. How cool is that? The cold water at Piney was much appreciated. 

Mike Rush & Trae Etheredge battle in the 25k (photo by Luis Escobar)

As race day approached RD Jeff Genova made an announcement that Luis Escobar, trail running photography guru and a pretty bad ass runner, was coming to NWA to shoot pics at the race. Some of you may recognize his name from the best selling book Born to Run.  As a bonus, Luis was generous enough to present his incredible photo essay, Running With the Tarahumara, the night before the race at the Bentonville Activity Center. The photos are amazing and the stories that go along with them are compelling. Luis was an open book and the audience was fortunate to get a glimpse into a world that few Westerners have experienced. Thank you Luis, Korima, my friend. To learn more about Luis and his work check out his website and enjoy. I found Luis to be extremely genuine and generous. Make sure to look through the shots from the race, absolutely beautiful work. 

This is the third year for the current format of the race that includes 10k, 25k and 50k distances. Like last year I opted for the 25k. Why not the ultra? Well, I didn't have the desire to train for a 50k and the 25k was the more attractive carrot for me this year. More on that in my next post, stay tuned. Last year I finished 16th (2h25m) with so so training coming off the stress fracture. I certainly had a better base this year. My training was not focused as much as I simply ran after the Half and averaged about 40 miles per week. I did some hill work and tempo runs but stayed off the trails mostly to allow my ankle time to heal. Regardless, I felt pretty confident heading into race day. The last two years the story was the heat. But this year the forecast was for rain. A lot of rain. As in 4-6 inches the morning of the race and a good chance of severe weather. Mother Nature did not disappoint. The predawn sky on the drive out past Beaver Lake was lit up with lightning flashes as the rain fell. Fortunately, the park staff opened the visitor center early so that we could stay dry. I found a spot in the back of the nature room and got my stuff ready. The start was delayed about 30 minutes due to lightning. After wrapping up my routine I walked around and visited with some familiar faces and met some new ones. After some words from RD Jeff Genova and Mike Rush the 25/50 group headed outside to toe the line in the grey, rainy morning. 
Another great shot from Luis Escobar

I took up position near the front as I had decided to use the Tom Lane method at the start. This entails sprinting the 70 meters or so to the trail head and running as though your hair is on fire for the first 1 1/2 miles before the hill out of Van Winkle Hollow. Apparently I need to work on that as Tom was, like last year, off like a greased dart well in front. No worries as I was in the front of the pack. I love running in the rain. It makes me feel alive. Despite the downpour these trails handle water very well. My initial plan was to take things relatively easy until the climb above War Eagle Valley Overlook and then pick it up from there. No need to red line things in the first 4 miles, right? Well, it was pretty much pedal down from the get go for me. I had the sensation that my body and brain agreed on a pace that would be maintained for the entire race and it was go time. Climbing out of the valley I began to pass guys that I normally would not pass. Now, they were doing the 50k but I still would not see them under normal conditions. I pressed on and continued to pick runners off. About 4 miles in Jeff Erickson caught me from behind. He and I would race one another to the finish. 
Me at the Tatur Station. That's the fastest lawyer in the land, John Nobles, in the background. Notice the swim goggles. At the table is Dana Childress trying to make me eat Pringles. Photo by the Trail Zombie Ken Childress. 

The first aid station is 6 miles in and it was good to see Taturs Ken "TZ" and his wife, Dana, as well as the wounded Sled Dawg, John Nobles, from the Tatur group in Tulsa. A quick refill of my bottle and a slice of pb&j and I was off on the heels of Doc Erickson. We kept the pace honest and I'm not sure if I was pushing him or he was pulling me. I think more the later. The guy can climb smooth and strong. I kept thinking I might get him on a downhill section but I could never pull away. The next section to Piney we ran quick and smooth. At Piney fellow Rush Goats Aaron and Dave were manning the aid station, always good to see some running buddies. Topped off the bottle again and the Doc and I shagged out. At this point I thought we should be top 5 overall but I wasn't sure. We couldn't see anyone in front of us but there were two guys hanging with us. I could tell from their breathing that these two guys were working hard. I thought the descent back into the hollow might be a good chance to drop them and maybe pull away. We hit the switchbacks and the Doc and I got froggy. We quickly dropped one of the hangers on and by now the other was breathing really hard and his footsteps were becoming heavy. I know I glanced down at one point and saw a pace in the 7 minute range. We pressed on and the other guy fell off. It was now just the Doc and me. We flew through Townsend Ridge AS without stopping and it was confirmed that we were 4th and 5th. I mentioned to Doc how I liked the sound of that. He agreed. By now we were passing some 10k runners. 

The 2013 finisher's medal. That would make a nice belt buckle. Hmmm....

As we approached the turn at the bottom of Van Winkle Hollow and the long climb out my legs were feeling the burn. Doc and I hit the climb together and about 1/3 of the way up I felt the explosion. Boom! I had pushed it over the limit. The Doc continued on and I glanced behind me. I saw nobody across the hollow so I got to the crest as best as I could. Once there I began running again and well. The Doc had a good gap on me and I only had maybe a 1/2 mile to close it. No chance. I put my head down and tried to close it out as best I could. My time was 2h05m07s and good enough for 5th place overall. Choke on that Ultrasignup. We nearly caught the 3rd place finisher. I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable racing experiences I have had to date. I crossed the finish line and shook hands with the Doc. 

I want one. 

Next year, I'm getting one of those trophies. I want one. 

Great weather, beautiful trails, excellent company, hot fried catfish, cold PBR, awesome shag carpets, the sickest shirt and medal design I have seen (shout out to Ryan Holler) and a free pair of Sole Sport sandals. 

For more info on the War Eagle Trail Races check the website below
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Both the 25 and 50k races are a wee bit short in terms of distance. The 25k clocks in with about 1,400’ of vertical and the 50k around 3,000’ total gain. I would highly suggest making a weekend trip of it if coming from out of town. There are some great family friendly attractions in the area including the world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the new Rogers Aquatic Center (water park), the 21c Hotel, War Eagle Mill and Cavern, and some outstanding local eateries. And don’t forget the Bentonville Square where you can check out the Farmers Market and First Fridays for some fresh food and kid friendly entertainment. 
25k course elevation profile