Sunday, July 29, 2012

Countdown to Virgil Crest

In roughly 50 days I'll be running the Virgil Crest 100. Here's what I've been up to for the last 50 to prepare.

Metabolic Conditioning:

 "Intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains"-CrossFit founder Greg Glassman

A long sentence a la CrossFit to sum up a valid point -intensity gets results. This link provides information on the 3 metabolic pathways that provide energy for all human action and the physiological adaptation associated with each one.
I'm currently performing 2-3 met-cons per week in preparation for Virgil Crest. I've chosen or created short duration, high intensity workouts that blend speed, power, and compound body movements. For example:

5 rounds of 400m sprints with a weighted vest followed by 5 power cleans.

3  rounds for time of: 500m row-12 Body Weight Deadlifts-21 Box Jumps


Functional strength carries over into any activity that we perform. This may seem obvious but I remember a period of 2-3 months where I didn't I performed a single pull-up or put anything heavy over my head while training for a race-there just wasn't enough time. Looking back I would have been better off trading the short and easy "recovery runs" that did nothing but fill up my mileage log for some time underneath a squat rack. I would have been better prepared for the race and not as far off from the average strength to weight ratio that many distance runners, myself included, struggle to maintain.

Since last January I've focused on low reps with heavy loads on all of the major lifts (Squat Deadlift Overhead Press Bench Press). This builds pure strength as opposed to size, takes less than 20 minutes 3 times a week, and has me feeling stronger than I have in longer than I can remember.


Through a combination of necessity (life has been incredibly busy) and design (eliminating junk miles in favor of strength development and race specific cross training worked well for me at the Peaks 50 Miler) I've built this training cycle around as many quality miles as I can get in during the week while prioritizing my weekly long runs. Following a stress fracture in mid- June I was able to amp up the mileage pretty quickly and begin my training for Virgil Crest on the first week of July.

Saturday July 7th:

22 Miles: Ran from my house in Brunswick to Bradbury Mountain in Pownal (14 miles). I met my friend Jordan who will be running the Virgil Crest 50k for a speedy 8 miles on the trails.

Sunday July 15th:

20 Miles: In preparation for pacing my friend Jeremy Bonnet at the VT 100 the following week I wanted to continue to tack some speed onto the end of my long runs. Running the 14 miles to the start of the Bradbury Scuffle, a 6 mile trail race at Bradbury Mountain,seemed like a great opportunity to get one last long run in before VT. I was excited to see how this would all pan out...

I ran well all morning until the heat caught up with me at mile 4 of the Scuffle and the wheels came off from there. Not a great race but a perfect training run for VT.

Saturday July 21st:

30 Miles: An unforgettable run along the last 30 mile stretch of the Vermont 100 with Jeremy Bonnet. I knew that running some of the more technical trails at night would be good practice for Virgil Crest but the greatest benefit was witnessing Jeremy run harder than I ever anticipated over some very challenging terrain for the last stage of a 100 miler. He ran amazingly well at this race and crossed the line at just after midnight for a 20:05 finish. I left with lifelong memories of headlamps, moonlight, and the galloping hoofs of horses as we ran through the fields and trails of back country Vermont. I would love to compete in the 25th running of this incredible race next year. I returned to Maine with an even greater respect for a runner and friend who I've always held in the highest regard, an appreciation for my teammates at Trail Monster Running  that grows stronger with each experience that we share, and a dose of pure inspiration as race day in Virgil NY fast approaches.

Saturday July 28th:

21 Miles: This was a tough run. I spent the beginning of the week recovering from the Vermont 100 (my nutrition and sleep have been very tight lately and a weekend of wonky wake-ups, late night running, sugary gels, and greasy ultra burgers -sans bun but still really, really bad- took a serious toll on me). The end of the week was spent pounding through some tough workouts at the gym and the combination of the two caught up with me on Saturday morning. I woke up feeling sick, stiff-legged, and not ready to run my planned 21 mile out and back to Wolfs Neck State Park. I sucked it up as good practice for the inevitable low points at Virgil Crest, enjoyed the technical, hilly, and highly scenic trails at the park, and proceeded to enjoy nothing else about this run except for its conclusion. Tough runs happen and tough runners run through them.

Moving forward...

Sunday August 5th: Bradbury Breaker-This is my scale back week with the 9 mile, ultra-hilly Bradbury Breaker scheduled to be my longest run. It's all build up from here on in...

Weekend of August 18th: 25 miles of tough trail-A planned 25 miler either at Bradbury Mountain or Ragged Mountain. I'm looking for hills, technical terrain, and generally tough trails.

Weekend of August 25th: 50k+- I'd like to run the 38 mile Grafton Notch Loop as my longest training run for VC. This trail has 11,000 feet of vertical gain and has been described by my friend Chuck Hazzard as the Pemi-Loop on steroids. If this isn't logistically possible I'll be heading down to N.H to hit the 31 mile Pemi.

The three weeks before the race will include an additional 20-25 miler before tapering, some more night miles on the trails, a continued emphasis on strength development and general physical preparedness, and both a 5k and a 12 mile trail race scheduled for the weekend of September 8th. (The 5k is for a program that I'm coaching and the 12 miler is for a Bradbury Bad-Ass shirt that I've been coveting for years...once I get it I can stop all this running.)

Then on September 22nd I head down to Virgil NY for the toughest run of my life. Looking forward to the Virgil Crest 100 and to the many miles that lie between here and.the finish line.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

MovNAt: Explore your true nature

Since discovering MovNat in 2010 my interest and appreciation for the program has continued to grow.

Based on using the full range of our evolutionary natural, human-specific movements MovNat has played an important role in challenging, re-exploring, and re-defining what it means to be "physically fit".

"MovNat is a fitness concept that teaches you how to move naturally with ease, power and grace. You become very fit through the practice and that fitness is applicable to any area of life. MovNat is both a physical education system and activity that places at its core the full range of real-world, species-specific movement skills essential to the natural life of the human being. Based on this, we have defined 10 essential principles that support the naturalness of the MovNat approach and practice"

- MovNat founder Erwan Le Corre

I highly recommend checking out their website for more videos, interesting feedback from participants, and a deeper exploration of this innovative physical education and fitness system.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Back to bike. I mean back...

I've never been a fan of incorporating Back to Backs (two consecutive days of long runs) into my training. I personally have a hard time recovering from these efforts and it affects the quality of my running over the long haul- a trade-off that hasn't worked particularly well for me in the past. (Although I know other runners who swear by B2B's and consistently crush it when it's time to throw down on the trails).

Following a fast (for me) 22 mile run on roads and trails yesterday morning I was considering an early a.m "shake-out" followed by an afternoon of rest for today. But when I woke the sun was shining bright, I wanted to stretch my legs, and the idea of packing up my lap-top, the garlic and rosemary chicken wings that I laid across the grill last night, and an ice cold bottle of water for a 25 mile bike ride seemed like a good option for active recovery as well as the best possible way to spend the day.

I kept the pace relaxed, took the hills slow and steady,and broke the ride up into several sections to allow me to get some bills paid, groceries purchased, and writing accomplished in between.

What I ended up with was a solid weekend of training that has me feeling a) adequately "cooked" at the moment yet ready for a day of strength/skill work at my gym tomorrow b) anticipating the ability to perform said strength/skill work at a level that makes it worthwhile to do so and c) ready to get back on the trails on Tuesday for some fast miles in preparation for a Sunday morning race.

Despite the extensive reference material on exercise physiology, the countless pre-packaged programs for every possible athletic endeavour, and the performance gains or losses experienced by a friend or teammate who's altered their training, the real magic of successful program design lies in identifying what works for you, the athlete, the individual. And if you are a trainer or coach- what works for others.

The 1958 novel The Professional by W.C Heinz presents this point beautifully:

It is one of the most difficult of scientific endeavours, this struggle to bring an athlete up the mountains of his efforts to the peak of his performance at the precise moment when he must perform. That peak place is no bigger than the head of a pin, shrouded in the clouded mysteries of a living being, and so, although all try, most fail, for it requires not only the most diligent of climbers but the greatest of guides.

Creating a "well-designed training program to improve performance on game day" is only one aspect of coaching. It is an important one that should be respected as an accomplishment of it's own and approached with a sincere and thoughtful consideration of what the achievement means to the individual who set out to achieve it.

"Navigating a scientific endeavor shrouded in the clouded mysteries of a living being" is another aspect of coaching, closer to the heart and spirit of what many of us strive to attain through our efforts, and intricately woven into the first. This may seem like a spacey and somewhat aloof statement in the context of  "sports training" but when viewed carefully, with honest and open eyes, it is clearly an integral component of everything that we do, not only as competitive athletes but as active and mobile human beings.

Without it the creation of a "well-designed training program to improve performance on game day" would be devoid of both possibility and purpose.

All training is a balance between the physical and mental compartments that make up a person. The above statement speaks as clearly to the latter as it does to the place in which the two converge. It also begs the deeper questions inherent in all of our pursuits, athletic or otherwise. When do we push ourselves harder and when do we relent. When do we accept that an athlete, a partner, a loved one,or a friend is ready to quit-and should quit. When do we push back.

In each instance in which we push, struggle, strive, and strain to see what we're made of and what we're capable of achieving these questions quietly lie in wait...

These are the thoughts that occupied my mind over 25 miles of rolling road today. It's not uncommon for the "how's " and "why's " of athletic training to cross my mind during these long hauls; and although I am both impassioned by, intrigued with, and inspired to "figure out" the first... I absolutely live for the second.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


With the Fourth of July on the horizon I wanted to post are a couple of my favorite recipes for gluten and grain-free grilling...

Bun-Less Burgers

Not really a recipe but a reminder that good quality foods can stand alone. For these Bun-Less Burgers I like to use use ground steak from A Wee Bit Farm in Orland. The farm specializes in free range, grass-fed beef and it's products are available at a variety of natural food stores throughout the state. Check their website for a complete lisitng.

It costs a little more than your "run of the mill" burger but I save on the other items that used to crowd the picnic table (buns, spreads, chips and dips) while supporting a local farm that respects both the animals that they raise as well as the people that they feed.

Highland Beef Burger topped with grilled sweet potatoes, onions, mushroom and sliced tomatoes

Spicy Skewered Shrimp w/ Coconut Milk

Jumbo shrimp
Diced Pineapple
Cooked Sweet Potato
Green/Red Peppers
Organic Coconut Milk
Black Pepper
Crushed Red Pepper

Let the shrimp and veggies marinate in 1/4 cup of coconut milk for 10-15 minutes, sprinkle with black pepper and crushed red pepper to taste, grill 'em up and enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Because cavemen did it.

After nearly a decade of vegetarianism (the last two years as a strict vegan) I've been sharing the benefits of going "Paleo" with anyone who will listen.  Fortunately for me I am surrounded by a bunch of intelligent, educated, and (very) critical thinkers who want to know 'why" going gluten free, grain free, and low-carb is supposed to be so good for you. And the "because cavemen did it" explanation just isn't going to cut it.

What led me to paleo eating was the discovery of scientific studies that demonstrated the nutritional superiority of the diet. These studies pointed out the benefits of introducing lean meats and fish back into my diet while clearly explaining how grains, gluten, and the processed carbohydrates (breads, cereals, pasta etc.)  that I regularly consumed were affecting my health.

After reading a ton of material on the subject I was convinced  to give it a shot. I'm now feeling better than I have in years and working to become a stronger communicator of a lifestyle that I feel has the potential to make a huge dent in the healthcare epidemic that we're currently facing.

The following is my attempt to answer three of the major major "why's" that I've encountered while providing a link to published research for those wanting to dig a little deeper.

Why Low Carb? Because it regulates insulin production.

Carbohydrates control insulin production. Insulin controls fat storage.

This oversimplified equation is possibly the most important piece of nutritional information to explore regarding body composition and weight management: two factors that unfortunately define many peoples relationship to food.

(We should be clear to separate processed carbohydrates from those naturally found in fruits and veggies while focusing on the glycemic load of the food itself, i.e. to what extent it cause's blood sugar levels to spike and then rapidly fall)

Endurance athletes or anyone doing glycolyticaly demanding workouts such as CrossFit or other high intensity strength and conditioning circuits need significantly more carbs to both fuel and recover from these efforts. Good carb sources for athletes can be found in root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and yams which won't spike blood sugar as much as carb-rich fruits leaving you feeling good both during and following your long workout.

Why No Grains? Because of phytic acid.

All whole grains contain the anti-nutrient phytate, or phytic acid, which binds the key minerals that they are noted for providing (e.g. magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc) making them unavailable for absorption in our bodies. Studies have also shown that whole grains impair our metabolism of Vitamin D, a hormone that many of us are deficient in to begin with and one that is critical to the function of so many of our cells and organs.

By following USDA guidelines grains can make up nearly a quarter of our daily calories which can be better obtained from nutrient dense sources such as lean meats and fresh vegetables.

Why No Gluten? Because you might be allergic to it.

The number of Americans who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by the consumption of gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley has risen to the point that the Center for Disease Control now considers gluten-sensitivity to be a major public health risk. With symptoms ranging from anemia, to type 1 diabetes, to infertility there is a high risk of living with celiac without ever being diagnosed.

The best approach that I've heard regarding the identification of gluten sensitivity/intolerance comes from Paleo pioneer Robb Wolff and can be applied to any dietary or lifestyle change that you might want to try out.

"Cut it out for 30 days and see how you look, feel, and perform. Measure the bio-markers of health, wellness, and disease (total cholestorol, blood pressure, vitamin d levels, cortisol levels etc.) Now reintroduce it and see how you look, feel, and perform. Measure the bio-markers of health, wellness, and disease. See how you do..."

The following is a link to  peer-reviewed papers by Professor Loren Cordain, Dr. Boyd Eaton, and other experts on Paleolithic nutrition