Indoor Training

"It's sad to see anyone inside on the trainer." That was the comment attached to an article about riding outside all winter lo...

Monday, September 30

A View from the Sidelines

(After seeing Dianna many times throughout the day during the Sangre de Cristo Ultras, I asked her to write about how her day volunteering went. We always get the race reports from the athletes - never from the people out there helping. I know she'll get back to adventuring in the mountains soon, but meanwhile there's more ways to be a part of an event then just pinning on a bib number.)

To quote a blast from my college past, The Indigo Girls, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” This is a different kind of race report. After battling with a health issue for 6 months, and many conversations with my MD and friends, I found myself making the difficult decision to sideline myself from any runs over 2 hours long for the near future.  Eventually, I had to admit that the MD was correct, and I reluctantly emailed a Race Director, John Lacroix regarding my entry in the September Sangre de Cristo Ultra. I'd been looking forward to that race for almost a year and it was devastating not to be able to run. The race director was very supportive, which I hadn’t expected. He wished me good luck with my treatments, and then asked me to think about another avenue to be part of the race: He challenged me to volunteer!

I initially signed up for helping out at the finish line on Saturday afternoon. When I received the thank you email for volunteers  it mentioned that there was “still a huge need” for overnight aid stations volunteers. Hummm... I convinced a friend to volunteer with me for both the 50k finish line and overnight at Colony Creek Aid. It just happened that Colony Creek was one of the least accessible points of the run, with a note in the volunteer manual recommending 4x4 to reach the location. I was having some doubts Saturday night as my jeep, “Sadie” whined as we drove up the dark dirt hill into the woods, and my out- of -practice off-roading skills got my jeep semi-stuck on a drain pipe. We finally reached the aid station at 9pm.

I've volunteered during the day at aid stations, but never overnight. Our shift was scheduled from 10p - 6a and we were set to receive some straggling 100Ker’s (most had checked in at that point) at mile 45.4 of their race. The bulk would be the outbound and inbound 100 milers at 58.8 and 88.8 miles. We were briefed by our aid captain, and he agreed to hang out with us until midnight to make sure we were all set. He toasted us with a shot of whiskey and we got busy. Setting heaters to combat the chill, making quesadillas to order, and heating up broth and coffee kept us occupied. Quesadillas and broth seemed to be the most popular 10pm “snack of choice” for runners on a brisk almost-fall night. In that first hour, people were coming in hot & and we were hopping. The 100kers were motivated as they were off to Music Meadows and “almost done.” Some of them just wanted a clap on the back and reassurance that they still had 4 hrs to the last aid station cut-off, with only 7 miles left to reach it.  We were also seeing 100 milers heading out. They were tired, but had picked up a pacer at Music Meadows and were off to start a 30 mi out and back renewed by support, hi-fives, and chicken broth.

As the next two hours went by, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. We all put on another layer and some of the wearied runners started to trickle in from the darkness. One gal showed up almost blue and shivering. We wrapped her with blankets and stuck her in the car to warm up, fearful for her safety if she tried to continue in that state. The heater became our “new best friend” as everyone at the aid station huddled around it when we were not serving runners. We started taking turns greeting runners coming off the white-lit trail from Music Meadows with blankets, shouting ahead what to get ready, so our cold, weary runners could be greeted with warm food and drink. Most runners were in good spirits, despite the cold. One made the decision to drop and we helped him warm up before he headed back down to the start. We sent our “blue runner” out on the trail after getting her warmed up enough to continue. Finally, our aid captain informed us that he was “going to bed”. It had been almost as long a day for him as it was for the runners!

The next hour saw a slowing of runners and left us to play with music and remind each other to drink water, until we were surprised by a quiet and weary runner coming up the rainbow lit trail to the north. He was as the first runner to greet us at his 88 mile mark. He was visibly hurting, and definitely needed motivation and reassurance. In an instant, the job changed from chef to counselor and support, helping him to warm up enough to get back out there. He was almost done, currently leading at an amazing pace… 20 min after runner 1 left, runner 2 came in, motivated as heck, especially when he realized that he was less than an hour behind the leader.

The temps kept dropping. The wind was coming up at 9500 ft of elevation, adding to the cold from the creeks just to the north. My friend and I were freezing and starting to feel the effects of the cold ourselves and huddled together to try to stay warm. We tried to stay positive and cook things that runners would eat…mostly broth and coffee. The 2:30 doldrums set in for us, and our music died… The runners had been up for almost 24 hours at this point, moving the entire time. We were working hard to keep them from “giving in to the mountain” as one  gentleman called it. The temps flirted with freezing, but the damp made it feel even colder. It was hard to stay focused on the runners and what they would need, not feeling sorry for ourselves being so cold. We started making up nicknames for the runners as they came in and groups started coming in together in the starry, cold, pre-dawn hours. We reminded runners to take a few seconds to “look up at the stars” and to eat what they could, and to drink water. We sought out “ pee spots” and provided toilet paper, we provided blankets and encouragement, soup, leftovers from our own dinners (because what is better than fried okra at 3am), and just told all of the runners how proud of them that we were. We got to hear a lot of stories about why people chose to take on the 100 mile challenge, and reminded people that they were nearing the finish.

About 3:40, one particular runner arrived that was emotionally and physically done. He was nearly in tears of frustration as the cold temps and dark night were getting to him. We sat him in the car, and turned on the heater on medium as we listened to his story. He described how his joints were aching, and how cold he felt, but also talked about the thing that brought him to 100 milers, and why this one, specifically. We told him that once the sun rose, he would feel much better and the view would help. We also encouraged him to regroup, refocus his goals that that he had plenty of time left. (This was also reminder to ourselves that the sun would bring a new day and new warmth, as we were equally cold at that point.) I later heard that he finished the race, and he was very complimentary about our aid station.

As the sun began to rise, one of our aid station guides did as well. I, tired and testy at that point, informed him that I was taking a nap. He said ok, and I grabbed a few minutes of shut-eye in the back of my car. The smell of bacon soon woke me. Our aid captain was awake and cooking breakfast for us. The runners started arriving in larger groups, the sun was just starting to fill the valley with light and warming our bones. The temp read 34 degrees and the wind had finally calmed. Just as I'd promised that late night, struggling runner: the sun renewed our spirits and the views filled our hearts. I went from shivering and “cursing” volunteering at 3:30 in the morning, to laughing and joking around with spirited runners grabbing breakfast at 6:30. We all agreed that volunteering over night, like racing, was a really mind-blowing experience. While my body wasn't sore the next day, my mind and heart were full in a different way. We made our way to the finish line and got to see a bunch of the runners that we had supported overnight finish. I have never gotten so many thank you’s and high-fives as I did that morning - both at the aid station and at the finish line hours later. It was a totally different experience than running.

I look forward to returning to running/racing, but I was excited to take on this new challenge. I was almost more tired than if I had actually run, and I gained a new respect for 100 milers…I also realized that I really have no desire to ever do that distance. I WILL be back to running, but I am glad that I got the opportunity to see a different side of the race while I was sidelined. I thank Tracy, and John for encouraging me to try a “different answer” to participating in a race.  It won't be an experience that is soon forgotten.

For anyone that has not yet volunteered, I pass on the challenge to you: Get out there at a race and help others. To those who have volunteered during the day, I challenge you to tackle night shift…it was a whole different experience!

And thank you for your help, Dianna! 

Thursday, July 4

June Results

Some good racing in June for Thelen Coaching athletes - both on foot and on the bike. There were new races, epic adventures and new PRs. All the things I like seeing!

Andrew had a really busy June - racing in both the Dirty Kanza 200 and the Michigan Coast to Coast 200. At Dirty Kanza on June 1, his goat was beat to Midnight. It would be a tall order and require focused riding and good conditions. Last year, he finished in 20:09, so beating midnight would require taking over two hours off his time. Unlike with events like the ITI or the CTR, there's no blue dot watching. The only updates come when he reached each check point - talk about stressful as a coach! Blue dot watching might get boring, "Oh look! Another 400' in the last 10 minutes...." but you can see the forward progress. This year, Andrew reached the final check point - 12 miles out with about 90 minutes left to pedal to beat midnight. Easily within reach if there were no mechanical issues. The official time? 17:37:09 - before midnight and almost 2:30 faster then last year! Andy followed up the performance at DK200 with the Michigan Coast to Coast - a 210 westward push from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. He was riding with a friend, so the pacing was a little different then at DK200. Even so, taking on a second 200 mile Gravel Race in one month? Stout... Michigan turned out to be another successful day as he finished in 17:01:33.

Meanwhile, Judd was prepping for the Sancho 200. This is another unsupported gravel race in northern Michigan. The twist for Judd? He was going to take up stoker position on Don Wood's Tandem. Don is a former Thelen Coaching Athlete and a podium finisher in the Tandem Class at DK. He's also part of the BPR Crew and an all around great guy. As an experienced tandem captain, it was the perfect pairing. Still, taking on something like the Sancho as a tandem? Pretty brave... There was some battling with deep sand and mechanical issues, but the boys kept moving forward. They reached the finish line as the only tandem still standing in 21:17.

Don and Judd at the finish of the Sancho 200 on June 8th
Photo Kristy Charles
Back in Colorado, Dianna took on the hills of the Mueller 25k. This Mad Moose Events race held at Mueller State Park at an altitude of nearly 9,300' is one of the harder 25k races on the front range. The trails aren't technical, but there's enough challenge in the never ending hills to make up for that! This was the stepping stone race - half way to 50k with plenty of time before her goal 50k to learn and revamp as needed. And it looks like we are right on target to s successful first ultra as Dianna finished in 4:15:20!
Dianna finishing her Mueller 25k race on June 8th
Photo Lynne Day

Thursday, May 2

Four Letter Words

We've all heard someone saying it "I'm only doing the 10k" when there's a longer race involved. Or "it's just a 5k,” as if that distance isn’t worth racing. Only and Just - we toss those words around, not realized the impact they have on the athletes around us. Only and Just are as much four letter words as something I won’t print here. But why? Why are those words inappropriate to use when discussing races or workouts? There’s a few reasons.

They minimize the athlete and the distance - regardless if you are talking about yourself or something else. “I’m only doing the 10k” can easily be translated into “I’m not a bad-ass like you are,” when someone is talking a runner doing a longer race. Any distance is a meaningful distance, regardless of what else is going on. Someone else might be doing the 50k race that same day, but that’s their race - not yours. Are they looking down on you for doing the shorter distance? No. At least they shouldn’t be! The race you are doing is your primary race on that day. And there’s nothing only about the shorter races. A 5k run hard can be just as challenging as comfortably paced half marathon. That same half marathon all out can require as much recovery as a 50k. It all depends on the race and the athlete. Don’t minimize the race you have chosen to do by comparing to other runners. Even if it’s not the race you originally planned on doing, instead of saying “only doing xyz event” be proud of what you are doing. You trained hard for your race. Don’t take anything away from that, regardless of everything else around the event.

Just another four letter word when it comes to racing. “It’s just a training race,” or “I’m just doing the half marathon” are the most frequent phrases we hear. Both phrases diminish the race itself or the athletes doing the races. They also minimize the training required for the different events. Yes, we as runners frequently jump into other races instead of doing our long runs or speed workouts. But that doesn’t mean we should brag about that. Telling someone else that its just a training is like a slap in the face for all the work they have done for that event. It’s their A race, their big goal race for the year and you are just training through. Imagine how that feels. So if something is truly a training race, or a supported long run - be respectful of the other runners. You don’t have to toss that Just around as easily as you crank out the miles. The Just when it comes to distances works the same. You are telling everyone around you that the race they are doing isn’t a big deal to you because it’s Just a short little race. How would that make you feel? You’ve trained super hard for a big race and someone else comes around and knocks you down without realizing it.

So what am I saying? Run your race and be proud of the distance you are racing. Don’t feel like you are anything less if you aren’t doing the longest distance the events offers. It’s your race and meaningful for you so enjoy every minute and every mile. On the flip side, if you are doing the longer race realize that the shorter distances are equally important. The runners in those races are working hard for their finish tines. Let them celebrate their finishes without degrading the accomplishments. It doesn't matter if a race really is “only” a short event for you or “just” a fun event. Be respectful of the other athletes around you. You don’t know what that person you are talking to had to overcome to stand on the starting line. Don’t knock them down before the race even starts. At the same time, if you are doing the shorter distance when you normally do a longer race, don’t diminish the race because it’s shorter. Go out and crush the 5k and develop a new respect for the shorter distances within events!

Friday, April 12

Early Spring Athlete Results

Spring may just have started a few weeks ago, but Thelen Coaching athletes have been out and about, turning in some solid performances at races all over the country.

Brenda traveled to Moab for the Mad Moose Events Behind the Rocks 10 mile race. This was a new experience for her, having never raced in Moab before. Trail running in Moab is a different kind of running - trail running, but more like concrete due to the hardness of the rock. She handled it well and had a great race, breaking 3:00 hours for the technical 11 mile race. Yes - there were some bonus miles at the race...
Brenda at the finish line of Behind the Rocks

Jen returned to the trails for the Mountain to Sea Challenge, a 12 mile point to point race in Raleigh, NC. While the results wasn't as fast as she wanted, there were still some great lessons learned. And that's what racing is all about, learning things we can apply to upcoming events. She still managed to break 3 hours under some challenging conditions and beat her goal time for the race.

Dianna went east for the Cherry Blossom 10 mile race, a bucket list event for her. Given that its a lottery entrance, just getting in is a feat. With family in DC, there was also a vacation for her. Yes, taking 43 photos during a race is perfectly normal when it's cherry blossom season! Even with stopping to take all those photos, she still had a great race breaking 2:00s for the 10 mile event. That's a great performance for her after a hard start to the season and I'm really proud of her pulling through and finishing strong.
Dianna's photo of the Washington Monument at sunrise

New athlete Andy is getting ready for Dirty Kanza and as such is hitting the gravel circuit to prepare. He returned to an event from last year, the Rough Road 100k, with the goal to beat last year's time and work on some fueling and pacing strategies. And not only did he beat last year's time, he smashed it - riding the 60 miles over an hour faster! Next up for him is the Barry Roubaix 100 mile race.

Friday, March 22

Iditarod Trail Invitational

Two Thelen Coaching athletes took on the Iditarod Trail Invitation this year. Dennis returned to the trail in the 150, a new distance this year that replaced the 130 he won last year. I'll have his report posted once I get it. After getting stymied by the weather at JP's Fat Pursuit, this was the goal for the winter. It wasn't about place or time, it was about reaching the finish line safely. It was also one step closer to the ITI 300 in either 2020 or 2021. Every race is an opportunity for learning and that becomes even more important with the extreme weather winter racing can throw at athletes. This edition of the ITI had some unexpected challenges including a sudden temperature drop and a malfunctioning tracker that required a longer then anticipated stop at the first check point. Overall, his plan of forward momentum and assessing the upcoming conditions at each checkpoint proved smart. Dennis reached the finish of the ITI 150 in second place this year.
View from the trail
Photo - Dennis Staley

Dennis at the finish of the ITI 150

Judd had some demons to face for the ITI 300 this year after a challenging 2018. His strategy this year was to act like a rookie and take on the trail in a new way with one of the other BPR racers, Steve. They had a plan in place for staying in the back of the pack of the cyclists, but ahead of the foot traffic churning up the trail. Just between the wave of racers, they were able to utilize the checkpoints and aid much easier and able to keep moving throughout the race. They did take two zero days to recover from the effort of riding and pushing the singlespeeds, but breaks were worked into the plan. They managed the sleep demons, the temperature plummeting to -35 in the first night and then the inconsistent trail conditions that lead to pushing more then 50 miles of the race. In the end, they still finished a few hours faster then Judd's last time on the trail in 2017.

Judd at the summit of Rainy Pass
Judd has a great race report with some awesome photos on the BPR site. Check it out for more details.

Wednesday, February 20

Indoor Training

"It's sad to see anyone inside on the trainer." That was the comment attached to an article about riding outside all winter long. And yes, there is a certain joy to being outside in the chilly air, getting fresh tracks on a snowy trail. The terrain changes under the snow and old trails become new. But with the changes in terrain come the hazards associated with winter - ice to mention one. Like with everything, there is a time and a place for both outside rides and inside workouts. Instead of demonizing the athletes who choose to take the workouts inside, we all might gain some perspective if we really think about why.

Here are just a few of the benefits for taking workouts inside during adverse conditions.
- Time savings. There's no bundling up in three layers of clothes to ride inside, nor the extra time required to wash all those extra clothes. In order to get a quality workout inside, you just need to throw on bibs and jersey. You can be pedaling in 5 minutes after walking in the door after work, freeing up more time to do other things.

- Monetary savings. Not everyone can afford the fancy clothes to ride outside, or the lights required for safety on a cold winter night. If you haven't tried doing a hard workout without some of the breathable gear, it's a challenge. There's only so far zipping and unzipping layers can do to keep you comfortable and dry. The same goes for running, although a treadmill or gym membership is a little more of monetary commitment then a simple trainer.

- Safety. Ever try doing a hard workout on a sheet of ice? Doesn't work so well, does it? It only takes one small patch of ice hidden under the snow or camouflaged by dirt to derail not only that ride, but possibly the entire season. Riding a fat bike doesn't always protect against the ice either. And for running, trying too hard to get outside under those conditions can mean wearing traction devices. Those are great for shorter runs, but frequent and continuous use can affect gait pattern leading to injury.

- Ability to do workouts at any time.Very few people work at a job where they can take a long lunch to be able to run during the warmest part of the day. Taking a few of the workouts inside means that you can still get the ride or run done before work, regardless of weather conditions or road conditions.

- Ability to do focused workouts. Some workouts, like single leg pedaling drills, are best done inside anyway. You can isolate one leg more effectively and safely on a trainer then outside. Speed workouts on the treadmill can be targeted for specific paces, without the risk of injury associated with running on a track

- Training for early season races. Heat acclimatization takes some time and is very important for early season races in warmer climates. Taking workouts inside allows the body to start to acclimatize to heat effectively, thus improving performance at the early season races.

Naturally, some things can't be translated to inside workouts - like the ability to ride on packed snow for the winter ultras, or testing gear for cold weather races. Riding inside all the time also does not improve bike handling skills or technical riding ability - it just addresses fitness.  But with judicial use of the trainer or treadmill for workouts, there can be the perfect balance of safety, quality training and fun adventures.

Saturday, October 6

Any Plan is Better then No Plan

It's a oft discussed topic in the world of ultras with firm opinions on both sides. To have a plan or to not have a plan?

The no plan camp says that a detailed chart can lead to more mental anxiety then not if things don't go according to that plan. There is truth to that statement - how many times in a race have you targeted specific goals and then struggled when the goal times weren't met? Seeing goal times at checkpoints slip away can have a devastating effect on a race. Athletes either push too hard trying to make up time or just give up because the goal is gone. Pushing too hard often has the opposite effect. Instead of making up time, there's too much energy expended and the athlete loses more time in the end. On the other end of the spectrum is the athlete who simply gives up and stops. This athlete isn't hitting the goal splits and doesn't see the big picture that while one segment of the race might not go according to the plan, there's miles left to go. Another issue with having detailed plans is feeling like they need to be matched exactly. If the plan says eat this and the athlete feels like eating that instead, there's another area for mental anxiety. It is too much food? Not enough food? Or if there is crew involved, will they actually be able to help the athlete if they are just sticking to the plan? These are all excellent points and some good reasons to not get completely invested in a plan.

At the same time, if an athlete doesn't have a sense of how long the miles between aid stations will take, how will they be able to estimate how much food or water to carry? If they don't have an idea of when it gets dark and what drop bag location will be before darkness fully arrives, then will they have the lights and warm clothes needed to keep moving? If the crew doesn't have some idea of the options the athlete might want at different aid points, will they best be able to help? These are the points that the Have a Plan camp bring up in response to all of the concerns of the No-Plan camp. If you don't know what you are doing, how can you best prepare for the event?

Me? I am firmly in the Have a Plan camp - but with the cavate that you need to be willing to abandon the plan or move to plan B at any time in the race. It's one of the things I provide to my athletes - a simple spreadsheet based on the target event. I highlight the important sections - miles between aid stations for instance - and provide estimated splits for those sections. The splits are based off the terrain and the training each athlete has done, but the key is always estimated. In the spreadsheet, there's room for planning fluids, food, gear and any notes such as crew points, cut-offs and other important information. Why is all that information important? Because in a race, I want my athletes to be prepared - but I don't want them carrying around the kitchen sink! If the goal race is a trail marathon with aid stations every 4 miles or so, then the athlete doesn't have to start the day with 2L of water and a full pack. However if it's a 125 mile bike race with stretches of 5 hours between aid stations, then the amount of food and fluids need to be carefully assessed - as does the gear required. Having those splits between aid points helps with the food and fluid planning. If the race has crew access, then the crew needs to know a range of when to be at the first crew point. The crew also needs to have a sense of when to have fresh shoes or a new pack ready for the athete. These are things that need to be thought about in advance.

Which is another reason why I ask my athletes to sit down and make a plan for the race - it makes them think about the day in realistic terms. I don't write the plan for them. I want my athletes to reflect on the hours of training for the event, considering what kinds of drinks worked best for training runs, what foods sat well on the stomach and what were some treats or motivational tricks  that always got them going at the end. While race day will be different with the increased adrenaline and intensity, the training standbys are good starting points. If on a hot day, the athlete is drinking a liter an hour, then that needs to be considered into how much fluid is carried. The history of training provides the  framework for successful racing and there is no better way to learn from history then reviewing it and preparing from what was learned. This goes for gear as well. Perhaps one pair of shoes is really comfortable for Hike-a-Bike but not so comfortable for hard pedaling? Maybe the pack that is super comfortable when empty has some horrible chafing after adding some extra gear. Now is the time to think about this - before the race starts. If there are drop bags, then I want my athletes to write down what and when they will be exchanging things. Again - it makes them think. Why am I doing this? It also gets into the brain so when the athlete is tired and delirious from hours of running, the steps at the aid stations are second nature and nothing is forgotten.

The biggest take away I give to my athletes though? That the plan is just that - a plan to help prepare for the race, not a firm set of instructions or times that have to be met. And like any plan, things change. Flexibility is one of the most important factors for success in any sport. Running a little faster then you thought? Maybe you don't need quite as much water then. Going a little slower? Have your crew give you warm clothes and lights a little sooner in the day then anticipated so you aren't caught between aid stations in the dark. Have the plan for the crew so they have an idea of what to do for you, but realize that when you come into the aid station - they are in charge. Ask for what you want if there's something specific, but be willing to let them help you if things are changing. The plan is for before the race - not during. It helps my athletes prepare for the event better then not having a plan ever would. But during the race, live in the moment. Don't stick to the plan at the detriment of the end goal - which is finishing.