Dreaming of Ultra (Part 2)


In Part 1 I described some of the background theory and premises of my journey to 50k (31 miles).  On March 23 I was able to complete the race just short of the cut-off time of seven hours. It wasn’t a race of speed, but attrition! In Part 2 I want to detail the work-outs and some of the issues I dealt with during the training.

[Note: Yes, a massive delay between Part 1 & 2. What can I say? Priorities change. If you want to see where most of my energy is going, please visit this Facebook page.]

Let’s start with some numbers, so you can get a handle on just the 12 weeks were like. A little background on my athletic ability, however, so you can understand what I was starting with (my “engine and suspension” did have a bit of tuning prior to the twelve weeks):

  • 2005-2007: Recreational runner, 20-30 miles per week (5k time: ~22:30)
  • 2008: Amatuer road cyclist (5-10 hours per week, non-competitive)
  • 2009: Cat 5*, Cat 4 Road cyclist (10 hours per week, competitive)
  • 2010-2011: Cat 3 Road cyclist (10-20 hours per week, competitive) (I also started weightlifting these years)
  • 2012: Combo of weightlifting, running, rock climbing  (10-15 hours per week, non-competitive)
  • 2012 (September): Started CrossFit (The Ville!)

It’s all relative: by some measures I was “that guy who always works out” and by other measures (often my own) I wasn’t doing enough. Such is the plight of the amateur athlete: when you see others around you training, moving up, getting stronger, you desire that too. Road cycling took its toll after 2011, so I tried mountain biking for awhile (it’s fun!) but slowly moved into weightlifting and got back into running, aided largely by the injury-free method of “barefoot running.” I run exclusively in minimalist shoes, preferring Vibram Five Fingers or super low-profile Merrells and by-and-large it’s kept my injury free. Sore calves and tight hamstrings are about the only real “issues” and that comes with the territory. Bring on the yoga and stretching!

So, those numbers I was talking about:

  • Official training dates: December 31, 2012 to March 22, 2013 (12 weeks)
  • Average time spent per week (CF & Running): 6 hours
  • Average time spent per week (CF, Running, Yoga, stretching, planning): 10 hours
  • Average mileage per week: 7.9 miles
  • Longest run pre-50k: 6.9 miles (Feb 26)
  • 1 RM** Back Squat: 305 lbs
  • 1 RM Deadlift: 405 lbs
  • 1 RM Clean: 185 lbs
  • 1 RM Bench Press: 180 lbs

As I pointed out in Part 1, CrossFit will expose your imbalances: it will highlight your strengths and showcase your weaknesses. After three years of riding bikes and doing squats, guess what – I was pretty decent at doing squats! Deadlifts, too. Upper body strength? Not so much. Try doing thrusters (a front squat into a push press) at 135 lbs over and over and over again…ugh. My body shudders just thinking about it. But I have no qualms about becoming stronger in all areas, be it upper body, lower body, or overall aerobic capacity. The short, 10-20 min workouts that close a CrossFit class (typically an hour long) are the sort of high-intensity intervals that athletes of all disciplines use, and trust me, they are high intensity.

So, the workouts! I have detailed logs for the 12 weeks that I trained for the ultra. There’s the Google calendar, which lists whether CrossFit or some sort of interval was on the agenda for the day (or both), and a training log, which lists the specific work-out (as dictated by my gym) and the interval prescription (as dictated by MacKenzie’s program in The 4-Hour Body).

Those two files are public, so feel free to share them with whomever. A few important notes, however:

  • I followed the plan as outlined in the two files, except for when there’s an “XX” in front of the workout on GCal, which means I skipped it. You can check the training log for a reason why (probably sick or fatigued).
  • I didn’t follow MacKenzie’s plan from 4HB exactly, I modeled it based on what my own CrossFit gym prescribed, and what I was able to do that week. Most of the interval workouts are exact, but I sure as hell didn’t stay within “2-3 seconds” for each one…ain’t nobody got time for that! (Rather, that was just a level of discipline I didn’t adhere too.)

How was the 12 weeks, you ask? In a phrase: not easy. But not impossible. The first two or three weeks went by pretty fast, and I found myself getting into the “rhythm” of doing the three-on-one-off CrossFit model, plus various intervals throughout the week. Sunday quickly became a day to look forward to, where I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with any serious work-outs. I did find the model outlined in 4HB a bit confusing, and not always consistent. The terminology, apparently written by MacKenzie himself, was often cryptic and sometimes didn’t even make sense. There’s some chatter on the 4HB forum (though old) about this (see this post, too).

During the 12 weeks, I got sick, and had to take close to a week off, and also had a minor injury involving a kitchen knife and my thumb (guess I need to read the Four Hour Chef!) which caused some serious modification of the work-outs for a few days. I tried not to beat myself up over all this, even though I knew that each work-out had a purpose; minimum effective dose, remember? Another challenge was simply getting motivated to go out and do the runs: some of the running intervals would seriously last 10 to 12 minutes total (for example, 4×400 m…that’s no more than a mile!), and in January and February it was damn cold. But I did most of them (at least 80%! Again, think 80/20) and realized that if I wanted to have that engine to run for 31 miles, I needed to fire it up somehow.

Strangely there never seemed to be a penultimate 5k or 10k time trial in the plan, as described in the earlier chapters, so I’m honestly not sure if my 5k times improved. I felt faster, but as the race neared, I wasn’t doing many long fast runs for fear of injuring myself before the big day. After the 50k, I took a break from working out (and got sick, again…) so I can’t tell you the overall effects of the whole thing, except for the fact that I finished.

The race was in Chicago on a day that required running tights, a jacket, gloves, a even a hat to start with. The wind off the lake was quite cold, and after awhile we weren’t really moving fast enough to stay all that warm. You can see the race data from my Motoactv here, and here is a run down of the stats:

Total distance: 31.42 miles
Time: 6 hours, 59 minutes, 7 seconds
Average Pace: 13:20 min/mi
Total steps: 62627
Calories burned: 4204 (questionable)
Total elevation gain: 599 ft (a very flat 50k)

My best pace was at mile 17, surprisingly, at a relatively stable 10:07 min/mi. At mile 15 I hooked up my iPod and blasted some Deafheaven, which really helped me get me through that slump. Miles 0 to 10 were quite easy, and 10 to 15 wasn’t too bad either. The music helped 15 to 20, and then the real pain started…

Myself and Alan (a veteran ultrarunner) somewhere around mile 13.

Myself and Alan (a veteran ultrarunner) somewhere around mile 26.

Miles 20 to 25 were hell. Not hell in the “oh-my-god-this-hurts!” way, but in the “I-am-tired-and-want-to-stop” way. I was still moving, jogging, slowly, but it sucked. My legs cramped in ways I knew not possible, in particular, my hips. My hips became so sore, so inflamed, that by mile 25 I alternated between a slow shuffle at around at 12:00 to 13:00 min/mi, and a walk about about a 13:00 to 15:00 min/mi. Not much difference! As my running partner Alan said “If it hurts to run, walk. If it hurts to walk, then run anyway.” I certainly tried! Stretching, salt, food, music – nothing made a difference at that point, except will power.

That’s the one thing an ultra will teach you, and it will teach you will: how far are you willing to go? Not with intense, brutal, excruciating pain? But with a long, dull, slow pain that you have to deal with for hours. I was sore by mile 10, sure, but it didn’t get bad until mile 20. With 11 miles left, I had to make a decision: go on, or give up. And while all the physical fitness, CrossFit, and minimal training was cool to learn about and participate in, that was the big take away for me: finishing something like a 50k shows a strong dedication, a strong will. I wouldn’t have started the journey down that path if I didn’t think I had one, but doing so allows me to affirm many of the good, positive qualities about myself.

So what now? I had planned to train again for a 50 miler this summer, but haven’t found the time, or motivation to head back into that world of 2-a-day work-outs and such dedicated fitness goals. Along the way to my 50k goal I was able to set a PR on deadlifts: 405 lbs! And since I do love strength training, that might transform itself into another goal this year, deadlifting 500, or even 600 lbs! If that happens, keep an eye out for a video.

Lift heavy, run fast, go vegan!

*See a description of cycling categories here. In general, Cat 5: beginner, Cat 1: elite, with gradation in between.
**One rep max

Dreaming of Ultra (Part 1)

marathon shot

Reviewing the last twelve weeks of training – a mixture of Crossfit in all its forms, running intervals, yoga, and recovery – makes me realize just how much I did put into training for a 50k (31 miles). It wasn’t easy. But in the end, I did it: I ran 31 miles within the race-imposed cut-off time of seven hours, was able to walk (poorly) the next day, and probably would have been working out the week after if I hadn’t gotten sick. Whether my illness resulted from the race, the weather, or simply traveling all weekend (Louisville to Indy to Chicago and back all within 3.5 days) I can’t say.

I was a disappointed that I didn’t get to test the hypothesis that a strong body would recover quickly – the aches and pains I got from being sick (still not sure if I was a cold, flu, or some weird virus thing) overrode the hip and leg pain from the race so by Thursday after the race I was still sore – but there will always be more races, more recovery, and more testing. What makes me happy is that 1) I am an ultrarunner (or ultramarathoner) and 2) I completed my goal of training for the race on less than 10 miles a week, with a lot of strength training, and minimal injury. Read on…

This plan, known to Tim Ferriss readers as “5k to 50k” is laid out in his second book, The 4-Hour Body, as being put together by Brian MacKenzie, a Crossfit instructor and teacher from California. MacKenzie runs the site (and wrote a book called) Crossfit Endurance, where he merges the aesthetic of Crossfit – varied, functional movement that isn’t specialized – with classical endurance sports like running, biking, and swimming. The idea is to take the uncommon approach of training for long, endurance events like a marathon, bike race, or triathlon by using a large amount of Crossfit and high intensity interval training (HIIT) on the sport(s) of choice.

So, for example, instead of running 30-40 miles per week with a long run or two on the weekend, you’ll do a ton of Crossfit – squats, snatches, kettlebell swings, burpees, rope climbs – and then several high-intensity runs such as 4x400m or 8x100m throughout the week. The typical schedule as laid out in The 4-Hour Body might look like this:

Monday: Crossfit in the AM
Tuesday: Crossfit in the AM, Intervals in the PM
Wednesday: Crossfit in the PM
Thursday: Intervals in the PM
Friday: Crossfit in the AM
Saturday: Crossfit in the AM, Intervals or Trail Run in the PM
Sunday: Off

Does this seem like a lot? I ask honestly, because at times this seemed overwhelming, and other times I really enjoyed it. Towards the end of the 12-week program I was able to “get in the zone:” I did Open 13.1 twice in one day (and had pretty consistent scores!), would run without injury, and increased the weight on almost all of my lifts.

Crossfit, for those who are unfamiliar, will showcase your imbalances. After taking a year and a half off from road cycling, my high-end endurance was nearly gone, so the WODs (Workout of the Day) that required a “Zone 5” level for 20 minutes wore me down quick. On the other end of the spectrum, back squat days were a lot of fun. I learned how to front squat, clean, climb ropes, do the tortuous “Glute Ham Raise.” These highlighted by strengths. Overhead squats, snatches, and handstand push-ups displayed my weakness exquisitely. I’ve been doing Crossfit since September 2012, and it still kicks my ass every day.

The model behind MacKenzie’s Crossfit Endurance approach is that one can lower the volume of endurance training (running, in my case) while upping strength and conditioning, focusing on excellent form, and correcting imbalances. This, according to the model, will accelerate gains in the chosen sport in a similar manner as traditional “low and slow” training would, while keeping injuries minimal, and time spent at a premium. Ferriss has represented this idea in each of his books with the “80/20 principle,” the 80% of the results come from the 20% of the training or input. So, the theory goes, find that 20%, and make it count. Much of this theory can be detailed on the – you guessed it – Theory page of MacKenzie’s website.

So, how did it all work out? In short, I finished. I trained for a 50k in 12 weeks and was able to cross the finish line. But, it wasn’t easy. In Part 2 I’ll detail the work-outs and talk about my experiences over the course of the three months.

Misunderstood: A Foie Gras Follow-up

Foie Gras protest

In the weeks after the foie gras protest, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the issues, the protest itself, and of course the immense amount of controversy it generated both online and off. The internet – mostly Facebook – was abuzz with status updates about the protest, often from people who care little about the animal rights issues I post so frequently about. This signified something “different” about this particular issue.

From my estimation, the criticism could be characterized into one of three categories: 1) attacking Game was unethical because they’re a small, locally owned and operated restaurant, 2) attacking foie gras is inconsistent because either a) all meat is bad or b) many other restaurants in Louisville also serve foie gras and have been doing so for much longer than Game, 3) protesting people’s food choices is inherently unethical and shouldn’t be done.

Point 3 was often contorted into various condemnations of PETA (“Going to come picket and do their disgusting displays of blood, etc, and how evil everyone is that eats meat, and in particular hunters and their taste for wild game.” link) or how we (the activists) shouldn’t force our views onto others, and that people should be “free to eat whatever they want.” In general I agree with that, although I think the understanding and acceptance of just how food is produced should be a prerequisite before it is consumed. And really, that was the whole point of the foie gras protest: understand how foie gras is produced, and then make a decision. For Game, I felt like the logical choice was to stop serving it, especially after speaking with Adam. For patrons, I feel it’s morally necessary to abstain from eating it unless a plethora of carnistic beliefs are firmly understood within your brain.

To the gawkers and “trolls” that said “well, isn’t all meat bad?!” – Yes, and we addressed that (both Loyd, the co-organizer and myself). In fact, they betrayed their own morality by admitting that point and then not following it up by adopting a vegetarian diet. But that’s not surprising, and we work to educate and combat ignorance in that area every day. Animal lovers, even those who resonate with just dogs and cats, would most likely (with a very high level of probability in my opinion) not be okay with the way 99% of meat is produced in this country. The only consistent choice after that is to abstain from eating it.

The other points I will let Loyd address, in his remarks below. Louisville.com journalist Collette Henderson was on top of things enough to write both an pre- and post-protest piece about the Game debacle that generated some much-needed press for our cause. Wave3’s coverage was laughingly docile, but once again the cognitive dissonance bled through: a man justified his eating of antelope by claiming that even though they are cute, so are cows, and he eats them. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Collette’s piece was cut short due to the website’s guidelines (not by her), so the full interview is below. My points made it online in their entirety, which you can read here.


An Open Letter To Louisville’s “Game” Restaurant

game 2

If you haven’t heard the news on Facebook or elsewhere, a new restaurant called Game opened last month in Louisville. True to its name, it serves mainly “game” meats, including some more exotic ones including kangaroo, ostrich, and wild boar. As disgusting as this is, it’s also insane to me why people have an obsession with weird meats like this. However, the inclusion of foie gras on their menu is a point of contention between myself and the owners. After talking with one of them, Adam, and learning about their source of foie gras, I felt it necessary to write openly about the problems of sourcing and serving foie gras.

Many will condemn this approach for being too narrow: “why don’t you go protest McDonalds too?” they say. We do. “Well, don’t you think all meat is inhumane?” I do, yes. But foie gras is expensive, unnecessary  and supremely cruel. Far beyond raising animals for their flesh, ducks and geese are force-fed and tortured to put them in a diseased state where their liver becomes so fat that it is – for some twisted reason – considered a delicacy. This isn’t right, and I’m urging Game to stop carrying the dish. Read on for why:


Ale-8-One Still Not Vegan

Ale-8-One, still not vegan after all these years

For those of you who live in Kentucky, particularly the Outer Bluegrass or Cumberland Plateau regions, you know of Ale-8-One. It’s one of the few remaining “local” sodas, made from primarily from corn syrup & carbonated water, along with a secret recipe. Think of it as a unique kind of ginger ale.

Sadly, after all these years, Ale-8-One (“a late one”) is still not vegan. That is, the original formula, anyway. Diet Ale-8-One does not contain the offending ingredient: glycerine! Please see my update below! 

Oh, the bane of many vegans around the world. Glyercine, as you may know, can be both animal or vegetable derived and as evidenced below, is from an animal source when it occurs in Ale-8-One.

The following is an exchange between fellow vegan activist Loyd (who runs the totally awesome button company Button Badger!) and Ale-8-One’s PR rep, DeAnne Elmore. You contact e-mail her directly for more info.

Loyd: Is the glycerine in ale 8 animal derived?

DeAnne: The glycerine used in Ale-8-One is animal based. The company has explored the synthetic glycerine option but found two big problems. One, synthetic glycerine is in extremely short and supply; and two, even if we were able to purchase it, it is extremely expensive.

I hope this answers your question. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.

No one wants synthetic glycerin, but why not switch to vegetable glycerine? Even if it is more expensive, vegetarians and vegans could actually buy your product then. Might make up for it. For instance, there is a vegetarian restaurant in Louisville selling ale 8. I emailed a couple years ago, and this email was just to check to see if anything has changed. Since it hasn’t, that restaurant will soon stop selling ale 8, because I will have to now inform them that it isn’t vegetarian.

I will check with our QC department regarding vegetable glycerin. I am not familiar with all the options, but was told when we researched it a couple of years ago that other options were in short supply and more expensive. More expensive is a is a big concern for us. As a family owned business we struggle to keep our costs in line to stay competitive. Our raw materials are increasing, utilities are increasing and Ale-8 doesn’t share the same purchasing power as national brands. We fight for shelf space at the retail level, and price drives position.

We understand the vegan preferences and respect their position, but changing the formula at any cost must be carefully weighed. I do intend to bring up the issue again with management.

I see what you are saying, but keep in mind that you are literally telling us that you don’t want our money. Also, I can’t think of any other sodas that even have glycerin in them at all.  Anyway, thanks for getting back to me.

What I’m saying is that our company can not offer vegans an Ale-8 that adheres to their principles right now — my hope is that in time, supply issues can be resolved and then cost issues will follow and that someday Ale-8-One will be acceptable to the vegan community.

I don’t know about other sodas honestly.  I do know that it is a binding agent and I’m happy to speak with you anytime.

Sounds like the Ale-8 crew needs the hook up on some vegetable-derived glycerine! Can anyone help them out? Until then, I’ll stick to regular old ginger ale, or Rockstar, which is 100% vegan!

Photo: eclectriclibrarian

Update 2/19 14:06: I received correspondence from Ale-8-One that this is untrue. Glyercine is present in the diet version as well, but in such minute amounts that it is not required to be labeled on the bottle. I appreciate the company disclosing this information to me when they could have easily not done so. Contact them and let them know you want a vegan Ale-8-One! Here is the e-mail I received today from DeAnne, above:

It is not [listed on the bottle], it is in the secret formula as a binding agent which falls under trade secret protection. Technically, those elements don’t have to be disclosed. The amounts are very small in a 12 oz bottle. However, I know that the amount doesn’t matter, it is the presence.

Additional glycerine is added to the process for creating Ale-8-One which is why it is listed on the panel. Glycerine is only present within the secret formula in Diet and Caffeine Free Diet. To give you an idea of the amount, a 100 ml test tube of the secret formula is just under a half cup measure, and it will flavor 600 bottles. Again, I know the amount doesn’t matter to you just the presence.