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...

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.  🏃‍♀️


Thursday, August 16

Ultra Part 4 - Dreams Worth Dreaming

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

At the base of Rosa, I encountered the second to last aide station where one of my friends was volunteering. Not only did I grab my typical potato chips and Coke, she also handed me some candied bacon she had brought with her. My nutrition felt really good at this point, and honestly, I stopped checking my watch. I was within 10 minutes of my target overall time, and I felt really good. I also had a bit of a cell signal at this point, and got a text from my coach - who had already finished - reminding to be mindful on the decent I had in front of me because it had some rough spots.

Just past the aide station, I received a notification on my phone for rain that was supposed to start very soon. I was grateful I was off Rosa in an area with tree cover, but I also knew that I had some technical spots ahead of me that would be more treacherous if they were wet. I also realized that I was past the 20 mile mark, and I was feeling good enough that I could run at a normal downhill pace with a normal gait. I wasn’t hobbling, my feet didn’t hurt, and I wasn’t having any issues with nutrition. I ran for a few miles until I got to the switchbacks on the trail near St. Mary’s Falls, and then I noticed the thunder starting. I had a baseball cap on my vest and a rain jacket in my pack. I grabbed my hat to start, but I didn’t stop since it was attached to the top of my bag. Big mistake. While focusing on getting my hat, I lost sight of the trail for a split second and caught my foot on a root or rock and fell hard. I landed off the side of the trail that was descending, so I started sliding for a few feet. Luckily, I mostly landed on pine needles, which slid with me. I climbed my way back up to the trail and checked myself over. Thankfully, I wasn’t bleeding anywhere. I just had a little rash on the front of my right shin and a good bruise on my left kneecap, but otherwise, no marks. I walked for a few feet to be sure my knee was ok, but then kept running. Once the rain and pea-sized hail started, I slowed down a bit to make sure I didn’t fall again. I also took advantage of the slower pace and ate another gel (which I can thankfully do without taking my eyes off the trail!). It only rained and hailed for a few minutes before everything subsided.

I arrived at the last aide station, the Gold Camp station where my drop bag was located, around mile 25. As I arrived at the aide station, a good friend completely took my vest to refill it for me so I could take care of my nutrition and grab my drop bag. I ignored the mess in my bag as I dug around for the charger for my watch. As she finished filling my bag, I grabbed my go to chips and Coke, as well as a tater tot they were cooking at the aide station. After regrouping, I finished one more small ascent - a mile up High Drive. This is my favorite ascent in all of North Cheyenne Canyon. My legs felt so strong, and I was able to keep a very steady pace all the way to the top. I didn’t even feel like I was 25 miles into a run. When I got to the top of High Drive, I starting processing that I might be able to come in faster than my 10 hour predicted race finish. I tried to keep a steady pace coming the 2.5 miles down High Drive that I ran in the first part of the race. I did walk a few times, but I was very happy with the pace I was able to keep between intervals. As I transitioned at the base of High Drive to the final 2.5 mile push into Bear Creek Park, I power hiked the uphills and ran as much as I could on the downhills.

 

On one of the last hills in Bear Creek
My husband and daughter, as well as a huge group of my friends were at the finish line waiting for me. My daughter was even able to run into the finish with me. I ended up finishing in just over 10 hours, but I felt AMAZING. I was able to run in strong at the finish, and I felt so good. No demons. No dark places in my head. The perfect race. Rain, hail, 7,500+ feet of elevation gain, strength, perseverance, solitude, strangers, friends, family, trails.

Crossing the finish line with my daughter

 
50k - 10:04  I am an ultra runner.

Wednesday, August 15

Ultra Part 3 - Reaching the Summit

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

The race started at 6:30am sharp. The first 7.5 miles of the course included a few miles of rolling trails before the first big ascent started up High Drive. I started the race with just a small hand held water bottle and a gel. Earlier this year, I ran the High Drive Challenge, which is a 10 mile out and back race that includes the exact same first 5 miles as the PPU. I used my times from that race to help guide me on my pacing up the 2.5 mile ascent and to help me gage my food and fluids. Once I got to the top of High Drive, the course circled around to a trail called Captain Jacks, which is a mountain biking trail that descends another few miles to the first aide station. I felt great by the time I reached the aide station. I refilled my water, took my gel, and drank a small glass of Coke, which was available for runners. I did notice that I was behind on my goal time for this section, but I wasn’t worried. I had a lot of time to make up the minutes I had lost.

The second section of the race was the shortest segment between aide stations – a “short” 3.5 miles along a rolling trail combination of Spring Creek and Columbine. I was definitely feeling the humidity in the air, but otherwise, I was feeling really good.

The next aide station on Gold Camp Road was the main aide station for the race. I would run through this station a second time later in the race, but it was also where we were allowed to leave a drop bag. This race was my first race that gave me an option to have a drop bag. In my training, I had purchased a pair of more advanced trail shoes that worked really well on more technical trails, but I had experienced blisters when I used them for my longer runs. I had planned on switching to these shoes and grabbing my hydration vest at this aide station since the most technical trails were next. But I had a huge problem. I hadn’t locked the nozzle on my hydration vest, and my shoes were soaked. I also had some trail mix in Zip Lock bags that had spilled all over my wet bag. It was a mess. It was at that moment that I stopped to breathe. The shoes I was wearing were feeling really good at that moment, and we had experienced a lot of rain in the days before the race, so I wasn’t as worried about lose gravel on the technical part of the course. I kept on my shoes, grabbed my vest, and dug to find some backup snacks that were still sealed. I was also planning on taking in something salty at this stop, so I grabbed some potato chips and tater tots from the amazing station volunteers and took off. This stop alone cost me over 5 minutes. Something I will definitely fix next time.

I was dreading the next 6.5 miles of the course. There were two big ascents before the next aide station with a little bit of a flat reprieve in the middle. After the aide station disaster, I was also about 20 minutes behind my goal pace. This was not enough of a setback to be worried about missing race cutoffs, but it was a little frustrating. At this point, I was still around quite a few people because there were places were spectators could hang out, and the 30k course included the same trails up to this point. Once we hit the Gold Camp aide station, the course split away from the 30k. I was over 10 miles into the race, I had my audio book ready to go, but my demons hadn’t started creeping up yet.

I started this 6.5 mile section with a climb up a trail called Seven Bridges. Due to the torrential rain we had experienced before the race, the first bridge crossing had been taken out by a mudslide. The creek had rerouted itself around the former bridge, so a little unexpected jumping and trailblazing had to take place in order to get across. I felt strong during the ascent up Seven Bridges, but the humidity was draining. I kept an eye on my watch, but my pace for this section of the race was looking really good. Even though I felt like I was going slower than I wanted, I was quite a few minutes under my goal pace, so I didn’t make any attempts to speed up. By the time I finished the first ascent up Seven Bridges, I was at a beautifully shaded intersection that connected me with the Pipeline Trail. The first part of the Pipeline Trail is almost perfectly flat because it literally follows a pipeline that brings water into Colorado Springs from the mountains. I felt like I should run on this section to take advantage of the terrain, but I chose to relax a little, get my heart rate down, and refuel. I ate a PBJ sandwich I had picked up from my drop bag, and I focused on my hydration. The hardest part of the course was the next ascent up the end of the Pipeline Trail. When the uphill terrain started, I felt really good. There was another runner about 30 yards ahead of me, and I kept my eye on him. I would make small goals to power hike up to a spot he had just been, little by little working my way up the trail. Even though this was supposed to be the hardest part of the trail, I was able to complete it stronger than I anticipated. I was expecting to mentally crash during that ascent. I kept thinking about turning on my audio book because I felt like I was supposed to, but honestly, I didn’t need it.

When I reached the aide station at Pipeline, I was now only 4 minutes behind my goal instead of 20. I refilled my hydration vest, grabbed more potato chips and Coke, and headed up the final big ascent of the race: Mt. Rosa. I noticed the fatigue on my legs heading to the summit, but I still felt really good. I made sure to take a gel half way up, and I paid very close attention to my hydration. Mentally I was starting to get really excited because I was about to hit the highest point on the course, and I was about to surpass the longest distance I had ever run. Also, I had conquered my demons. They were gone. I did end up turning on my audio book near the top of Rosa, but it was only because the course was pretty solitary at that point, and it was nice to hear another voice. The decent down Rosa was pretty rocky, so I took my time to be sure I didn’t fall or injure my ankles.