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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Bad, the Ugly and the Good

Ultrarunning Cover April 2008

One of these things is not like the others,One of these things just doesn't belong,Can you tell which thing is not like the othersBy the time I finish my song?

Did you guess which thing was not like the others?Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?If you guessed the guy in the blue hat is not like the others,Then you're absolutely...right!

No experience has taught me more about racing well than the 2008 Moab Red Hot 50k. It was my second ultramarathon attempt, and one of only two 50Ks I have raced. The cover shot above was snapped during the opening miles of that race, and yes, the guy in the blue hat is me. You know, the one wearing the wool turtleneck, long pants, and dark sunglasses. I'm "not like the others" because of my wardrobe choice, but more importantly because I am undertrained, rebounding from a heinous bout of flu, and I'm suffering from a total lack of humility. In the end, I ran, undoubtably, the worst and most painful race of my life, but the take-away was more than any other race I have run.     

The Bad

I would love to tell you that this dismal race performance was a direct result of the three days I spent in bed, vacillating between bouts of convulsive shivering and profuse sweating, just five days prior to the contest, but that would be a lie. I certainly blame the gas station microwave sausage and egg burrito, clearly a bad pre-race meal, as a contributing factor to my 50k suffer-fest. Bad luck was to blame for the untimely arrival of my ailment, and bad choice of cuisine undermined my efforts in Moab that crisp February morning, but there was a far greater bad working against me. Bad training will yield a bad race every time, as was the case that fateful day.  I had spend the majority of the winter nordic skiing four to five days a week, while running the remaining two or three. I could skate ski from the Aspen to Snowmass golf couses with relative ease, and my cardio fitness was excellent. However, I completely ignored a basic tenet of the training philosophy that I learned as a youthful harrier under the tutelage of Mark Wetmore...SPECIFICITY! For me to run fast, I have to run. Cross training gets me Crossfit, but running gets me Fit! Similarly, to run far I have to do long runs, something I neglected to do in the build-up to the Red Hot 50k. The importance of the long run in my training cannot be overstated. It has been the cornerstone of my training, whether I am prepping for 1600 meters or 160,000 meters. So when I lay in the fetal position, begging for pain killers to assuage the pain, during the hour that followed the race, the Jimmy Buffet refrain, "I know it's my own damm fault!" was all too fitting.        

The Ugly

Bad luck, bad choices, bad training and an ugly uniform left me weakened, unprepared and looking like a rookie out for a jog while I attempted to chase the country's best ultra-marathoners during the Red Hot 50k. However, an ugly lack of humility, another Wetmorian principle, was the biggest culprit in my putrid performance.  How many times had I heard, "run your own race", "relax,", "be cool Zeke!" Yet, when I toed the line for this race I arrogantly said to myself, "none of these guys has run a sub-thirty minute 10k."  With this in mind I hammered from the gun, ignoring my body's sensory signals that were screaming, "slow down!" I ran too fast, couldn't hydrate or fuel and disregarded my lack of training and weakened body.  I desperately hung on to the leaders, none other than Hardrock record holder, Kyle Skaggs, and two time Leadville champ, Anton Krupicka, for the first five miles, running far faster than I should have.  Soon other runners passed, and by mile 17 things were ugly! Lacking calories and liquid, I slowed to a snail's pace, walking huge chunks of the course.  Instead of being humble regarding my competition, the race course and the distance, I had cockily tried to beat the best, running their race instead of mine.  The last miles were beyond ugly, and the only reason I finished was that it would have taken far longer to have been evacuated from the remote desert course than it was to crawl my way to my waiting girlfriend (soon to be wife) at the finish. The ugly affair was punctuated by some a-hole hitting our car, causing $2,000 worth of damage.   

The Good

While I pledge never to return to the Red Hot 50k, a good lesson was learned that day; stick to my principles. One principle is, "good training".  For me, proper training means specificity, or running training runs that emulate the target race. It also means don't cheat the long run; it's the most important run. Another principle is "good eating".  I need healthy breakfast and proper fuel during the race. But, the most important principle is "good humility". My status quo, when it comes to running and life, is either arrogance or self-deprecation. I either do what I did in Moab, assume that I am way fitter and faster than anyone in the race, or I think that everyone will beat me.  Since this race I have worked hard at just being Zeke and running my own race, trying not to compare myself to my competitors.  When I am able to be, "right sized", achieving some measure of humility, I have good races.  My bad preparation and ugly arrogance led to a terrible race, but they crystallized some good lessons.         

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If The Shoe Fits, Run In It

Imelda Marcos's legendary shoe collection included over 3,000 pairs of shoes, and while I am not quite an Imelda Marcos, I have acquired a plethora of shoes.  You might say I have a regular smorgasbord of trail running footwear. On any given run I have my choice of ten different shoe brands, several of which I own in multiple models.  I can head out for a jog in a pair of: Brooks, La Sportiva's, Montrail's, Solomon's, Vasque's, Patagonia's, Merrell's, Mizuno's, Nike's, or Scarpa's.  Yet, crazy as it sounds, I recently added six shinny new pairs to my cornucopia. Since I have a hard time getting rid of old pairs, I am pretty sure that my wife thinks I'm a bit of a horder.  We talked about enacting a, "new shoe in, old shoe out," program for each new pair I indulge in, but I have since chucked that idea.  There's something about a new pair of shoes that evokes giddy excitement in me, and for some reason I have the darndest time retiring old shoes.  What is it about new shoes that causes such excitement?  What is it about old shoes that makes me hang on to them well past their prime?  To answer these questions, look to the shoes.

New Shoes
The truth about my love affair with new shoes is that I believe they have superpowers.  What powers you ask?  The power to look hip.  The power to stay injury free. The power to give me confidence.  The power to intimidate my competitors.  The power to make my stride more efficient.  And most of all, the power to run fast! However, these are just beliefs; they are not reality.  The truth does not support these beliefs.  For starters, I never look hip.  I'm just not a hipster, and trail running shoes certainly won't transform me into one.  Secondly, I have had numerous injuries, regardless of what type of shoe I wore.  Over the course of my running career I have had: a stress fracture, IT Band Syndrome, my medial plica removed, a partially torn MCL, sciatica, shin splints, quadriceps tendonitis, and countless other phantom ailments that have caused me to take forced breaks.  When I stop and think about it, believing that confidence can be spawned from rubber, foam, and faux leather seems pretty silly.  The truth is, faith in my training gives me confidence.  If I toe the line with the belief that I am well prepared for the race, I do so with confidence.  As far as shoes' ability to increase the intimidation factor, well the truth is, I doubt if I intimidate any of my competitors, regardless of the footwear I am sporting.  In fact, one racer even poked playful fun at my shoe choice during this year's Leadville 100.  I was wearing a hearty shoe and he is a minimalist.  He could not believe that I was wearing a pair of 12oz clunkers during a race.  Clearly, he was not intimidated.  Similarly, the truth about my stride is, I have been a heel-striking shuffler since the first day of cross-country practice back in the fall of 1989.  No shoe I have ever worn has changed my stride.  Finally, and most significantly, shoes don't make me fast!  I have run slow races in fast shoes and fast races in slow shoes.  So why do I continually indulge in new shoes?  To answer this question, look to the old and dirty shoes.

Old Shoes
Old shoes revive found memories.  They represent old runs and races.  When I go to my shoe pile each morning to put on the day's shoes, as I consider my many options, I am reminded of the various adventures that I had in the different shoes.  Yes, this means that I wear running shoes nearly every day, both for running, and for life.  I told you, I am not a hipster.  At any rate, for me, shoes are memories. When I grab my blue Books Cascadias I remember the great camaraderie I shared with my pacers at Leadville this year.  When I put on my grey ones, I picture the stunning beauty of the epic 45 mile circumnavigation of Capitol Peak and Snowmass Mountain I completed this summer.  When I put on my Mizuno's, I chuckle, remembering how I showed up to run the LA Marathon without shoes, and was forced to make a hasty purchase and run in brand new shoes the next day.  When I wear my Solomon Speedcross, I recall my brother's gentle encouragement as I struggled to round Turquoise Lake during the 2010 LT100.  My grey Nike Triax conjure up images of sand and seaweed, as I used them on the beaches of the Riviera Maya last year.  Each pair has their own story, and that's what makes them so hard to part with.

As much I wish they did, shoes don't have any superpowers, they simply don't make me a faster runner.  However, shoes can take me on wonderful adventures, thereby bringing me happiness.  New shoes represent adventures on the horizon, while old kicks are relics of good times passed.  This year is my quest to take running back to its roots, by giving myself a reprieve from competitive obsession and just enjoying the trail.  I now have six new pairs of shoes to do that in.  I can run roads or trails, long or short, or I can even run on my new treadmill, always sporting the appropriate pair of shoes.  Imelda Marcos beware, I'm gunning for your record.  I hope to surpass your 3,000 pairs of shoes someday, only mine are all going to be running shoes!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Coming In From the Cold

"In this life, in this life, in this life
In this, oh sweet life
We're coming in from the cold..."
- Bob Marley

Chilly! That's an understatement for the recent weather pattern in the high Rockies.  True, we have also been blessed with some much needed snow accumulation, but man it's been cold.  That being said, project "Get Zeke Fit" has begun to hit it's stride.  Having taken a solid hiatus from training, getting back on the trails and roads has been doubly sweet, and I am mostly achieving my goal of running for running's sake.  I say mostly, because, as my fitness returns, I can't help but feel the allure of the up-coming racing season.  However, I have largely come to terms with my non-racing year and I have begun to find great joy in running with no race on the foreseeable horizon.  After each run I am literally, "coming in from the cold", and with each stride I am enjoying my, "oh sweet life".    

The most important people in my "oh sweet life" are the various members of my family, of which there are many.  When it's all said and done I have: a wife, a two year old girl, a mother, a father, a stepfather, a stepmother, an ex-stepmother, three sisters, one brother, a sister-in-law, mother-in-law, father-in-law, three step sisters, and two step brothers.  These eclectic characters are de facto members of team, "Freaks for Zeke", and while all of them support my ultrarunning career, it's my wife to whom I owe the greatest thanks.  She has orchestrated four flawless crewing efforts during my hundred mile attempts.  She has endured: water bottles hurled her direction in frustration, being called a "rookie crew", endless hours of Fleetwood Mac (my pump-up music), all night post-race puke fests, all night pre-race nerve fests, a sleepless night while I wandered the winter woods during an errent training outing, piles upon piles of smelly, muddy shoes, and countless other abuses. All the while, she sacrificed her own time to make time for my exhausting training schedule.  So, it was with great pleasure that I was able to spend sixteen wonderful winter miles with my wife this past Sunday.

Molly (my wife) is training for the L.A. marathon in March and she was slated for a sixteen mile long run last week.  However, her training partner was out of town, so I saw an opportunity for a great husband-wife bonding session, and offered my services as her running companion.  My mom graciously agreed to watch our daughter, and since she lives in Aspen, we headed there for the run.  I mapped out an eight mile loop that we were to run twice.  The run started out as a mellow jaunt along the Roaring Fork River under sunny skies, and we chatted as a happy couple for the opening few miles.  However, my wife soon bored of my typical immature banter, turning instead to the special "running mix" on her iPod.  This forced me do something I rarely, if ever, have done, listen to music while running.  I loved it!  Spotify radio was rocking a killer set, with songs by ranging from the The Dead to Men at Work, and even some sweet Dolly Parton to boot. My wife and I were cruising, not talking, but simply enjoying the presence of one and other.

If only the loop I designed had not steered us right into the heart of holiday Aspen, chalked full wealthy, gaping tourists, dressed in ridiculously expensive, yet hideously tacky ski outfits, then my wife would not have been hit by a car!  Outside of a light bump from a self-absorbed vistor, the rest of the run went pretty smooth.  We finished the run by "coming in from the cold" and jumping in a hot tub, followed by a blowout Bronco's victory.  Sixteen miles with the woman I love, fifteen minutes in 103ยบ water with a spectacular view of the iconic Pyramid Peak (one of the fourteeners in the Elk Range), my mom's chili relleno egg casserole, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, what an "oh sweet life" I have!

Tiernan Family Sunday Run - Aspen, CO