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...

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.

Tuesday, September 11

Preserverance - The 2018 Imogene Pass Run

This is from Merideth - her story of perseverance despite crazy odds to reach the finish line. 

Like the sun, we must always keep moving. Sunrise on the road to Imogene Pass
Imogene Pass. A little slice of heaven that separates Ouray, CO from Telluride. I was privileged enough (thanks to a dear friend) to secure a highly coveted place in a 17.1 mile race that goes over this 13k foot high pass. (All 1.6k-ish slots sold out in less than 30 minutes). 5,363 feet of constant and unrelenting elevation gain while climbing for 10 miles, and then descending 7.1 miles back into Telluride. There were 3 cutoff points where the race officials reserve the right to turn runners around based on weather and elapsed time. The first cutoff for this race was 7.65 miles in.  Runners have 2.5 hours to get to this cutoff point, and “all” runners who arrive at this point after the 2.5 hour mark were supposed to be turned around to trudge back to Ouray with their tails between their legs.

On the road up to Imogene
Luckily, beautiful weather and forgiving volunteers let me continue even though I arrived 10 minutes after the cutoff. I only continued because I had no way of getting a hold of my husband (who was in Telluride) until I got back to Ouray or to the summit of Imogene. Cell service isn’t a thing when you’re 7.65 miles into a slot canyon in the middle of the San Juan Mountains. I sat on my butt and cried. I was so frustrated. Down or up - it was going to be a long and grueling journey, and I had just lost any semblance of adrenaline or motivation that I had.  The 2.3 miles from that point to the summit of Imogene were merciless.  The few of us that were “fortunate” enough to be allowed to continue were all broken. “One and done” was said by many of my cutoff friends as we hiked to the summit.  (Most of us were racing this for the first time.).  I laughed at the thought of making up my 10 minutes and getting to the summit by the second cutoff time- noon.  You don’t “make up time” on elevation like that. I reached the summit at 12:15. Luckily they still had water at the aide station there, but no food or anything substantial that I could use to replenish. The summit photographer had even left already!
Had to be my own summit photographer!
Feeling small in the huge mountains.
I was hoping the downhill would be more relenting since it was.... down. Uh, no. The next two miles down were rocky and potentially ankle-breaking-if-you-try-and-run miles. I feel like I was lucky to not slip and fall. After the aide station at the 12 mile mark, I was walking by two ladies who were hiking casually and chatting like they were out for a walk in the park. I asked if they had missed the cutoffs and they said, “No” - they had made the summit with 4 minutes to spare.  What?!  I was cutoff at BOTH points and I was passing them. Also, the course was clearing off enough that there was about a 1 foot wide path through the rocks so I could actually RUN. I checked my watch and did a little math - I could still make the cutoff at the finish. 2:30pm. I had an hour and 15 minutes to run 4 miles. Easy. Off I went. 

I passed runners, cars and dirt bikes passed me.  But 48 minutes and 36 seconds later, I crossed the finish line. I made up my 15 minute deficit and finished with about 20 minutes to spare. You wanna know the best part about finishing so close to the back of the pack? You get a solo photo finish just like the winners do. But only if you keep running.  🏃‍♀️