Monday, February 16, 2009

Why do I lift so much if I'm allegedly an ultrarunner?

First things first - my workouts since my last post. I'm sure that all 3 of my readers are on the edges of their seats to see what I've been up to. Friday night, as planned, I did 10 x 1 minute intervals, at 6:40 pace. I could have gone faster, but the treadmill only goes to 9mph. After that workout, I went out for a nice dinner with my wife, my daughter and my wife's parents.

Saturday, I taught skiing. Sunday, I taught skiing. Conditions were OK, with lots of snow to be found, but also plenty of east coast ice to survive. The mountain was less crowded on Saturday than I'd expected, but Sunday was very busy. I had a large group on Sunday and two of the girls were feeling less than 100% late in the day. One of the girls had some sort of quad cramping going on that slowed her down and put her in a bad mood. Then, my daugher wiped out pretty badly and just wanted the day to be over. We called it quits a little bit early so the girls could go and participate in a Radio Disney broadcast going on at the mountain. They were all smiling and dancing when the day ended, so I think it was a successful day.

On to another topic: training and the "why" part of it all.

A fried of mine posted something on his blog and some running lists recently about his lack of motivation as a 100 miler approaches:

Ollie's Post

I saw some replies on multiple running lists but didn't respond for a while. On another running list where Ollie and I both reside, the talented and tenacious Dr. Andy had some interesting recent posts.

He commented on my training techniques and the muscle mass I told him I've gained over the past two years - about 15 pounds. I think Andy misread that as pure weight gain, which isn't really true. My body fat percentage is much lower now than two years ago at this point and my total weight is about the same. My BF% when I started lifting was just under 25% and it's closer to 17% now.

Andy also suggested that Ollie needed to "man up" or move on (my paraphrasing).

I found Ollie's post and Andy's recent comments to be very much related. I think in the world of long distance endurance activities, motivation is very important. I think we all derive motivation from different places. In my road racing days, I'll admit that my motivation came from beating others and impressing others with my times. Maybe that's why I performed relatively better at road racing than I've done at ultras. But, where is the real value in "impressing" someone? Even my most successful ultras have simply been long, slow slogs on very tough courses like Wasatch or Hardrock and I've never gone sub-24 in a 100. Ollie has walked 100 miles in under 24 hours and Dr. Andy has finished WS in under 24 hours, along with numerous other sub-24s. I'm not sure if I'll ever go sub-24 in a 100 and I'm not sure if I care anymore.

I think I've reached a point in my life where I want my workouts to be fun as much as possible. I told Ollie that I find myself thinking more and more abou the eventual "end" of my athletic career. I would like to run and lift and teach skiing for many more years, but I've been training hard for 25 straight years right now. I'm finding myself more interested in my long-term health and in how I can have the most fun when I train.

I have a lot of responsibilities in my life and my time is very tight at times between my family time and my work time. I choose to be this busy, but free time is precious. When I train, I want to do something that gives me pleasure. That doesn't mean it has to be easy. I love doing speed work. I love lifting heavy. I love running very long runs on difficult terrain as well. And, I love skiing and teaching skiing.

So, right now, I'm taking an unconventional approach to getting ready for WS. I may be doing more lifting than anyone else entered in that race. I imagine I'm doing more skiing than anyone entered in the race. I'm probably not running the lowest mileage of anyone entered, but my mileage is not very high right now. I'm doing more miles (at the corresponding time of year) than when I ran a 27:15 at VT100 in 2006, about the same mileage as when I ran a 26:04 in that race in 2007, and less mileage than I was doing last year when I was prepping for WS.

My first 20 miler of the year will be this coming Friday morning. My second 20 miler will be a snowshoe marathon on 3/7. I'll add a thirty miler in mid-to-late March, and then hopefull pace 50 miles at Umstead on 4/4-4/5. So, I'm planning long runs. I'm starting to map out some hilly runs as well.

But, I keep lifting and doing interval work. Is that appropriate work to maximize my results at WS, given the time limitations that I have? If I end up getting very lean for the race through that work, the answer might be yes. But overall, the answer is more likely no.

So, why train this way? Because it keeps me motivated to do the next workout, and I'm having fun and I'm getting more fit. It might not be race-specific right now, but it's fitness. By the time I'm done teaching skiing for the season, I'll be ready to focus my weekends on long runs. I think I'll have enough time to get to where I need to be. And if not, I will have had fun getting to where I end up.

I've simply decided that the only person I need to impress any more is me. If I spend my free time doing what others think I should be doing, then it isn't really my time at all. So, I'm making up my own rules and I'll see how it works out.

I wonder if any of that made sense at all.


ollie said...

Damon, you enjoy this post by Julie Berg She credits lifting as being the difference between success and DNF at the rugged Sawtooth 100.

I can say this in all honesty: after this period of time, her legs just rippled.

Damon said...

I read Julie's blog regularly and I know the success she's had through lifting - both in terms of getting leaner and running better. There are others on the ultra list who have had similar success. I think it's helping me so far in my ultra running, but as you saw on the ultra list recently, heavy lifters and the Crossfitters are often viewed as lunatics by those that don't (want to?) lift.

I have no regrets about the path I've taken the past two years, at least not so far. Plus, my lifting got my wife lifting and at age 46, she's the fittest she's ever been. She looks way better now than when we got married 22+ years ago. And, I thought she looked pretty good then.

pathfinder said...

Though I am not an ultra runner by distance standards, I have run some trails and it seems that a solid core is so important in the late stages of a trail race.

Lifting does work on core and even though you may go a bit beyond the toning stages, there is a lot to be said for motivation and enjoyment.

David Ray said...

If you're not enjoying the workouts, then what's the point? I'd hate to suffer for 6 months for a 1 day payoff. I'd rather enjoy the 6 months *and* the 1 day. Anyway, I have a hard time seeing how you could squeeze more in. Spring's coming and that'll change the equation.

Dr. Andy said...

Ok, just a few points
1. I made my comments to Ollie and Damon on a private running list which exists expressly for those who want to maximize their performance. In fact, it is a breakaway list from another list that has more of a "courage to start" mentality. One of the points of the list is to get advice and constructive criticism from others. So I'm not just trolling the internet trashing people.

2. I fully support the concept of strength training for ultrarunners and in fact regularly do strength work myself. In my post on running well at Western States, tip #8 specifically mentions doing strength work. I personally favor body weight exercises like dips, pullups and lunges, but that is minor difference. My query for Damon was about how much time and enery he was putting into lifting versus running. This time of year, I do 2 25-30 minute sessions per week cutting down to 2x 20minutes as I get closer to race day. I think like everything else, strength work is subject to the law of diminishing returns. I don't have time to really follow the ULTRA list but my impression is those posters who extoll heavy lifting for ultrarunners in general aren't very fast.

3. My impression, based on his own previous statements, was that Damon's goal was to run his best possible race at Western States. Last year he was talking about sub-24. My questioning of his training strategy was a reaction to that goal. It now seems his thinking has changed. That is fine, life is full of trade offs and enjoying your workouts more in the short run is definitely a worthy one.

4. 12 years ago or so, when I first got to know Damon he was an incredible hardass about training and schedules and mileage and I was much more of a free spirit who fit in what he could. How the hell did things get turned around 180 degrees?

Ok, time to put some kittens in the blender for my protein smoothie

Damon said...


I certainly didn't mean to imply anything negative about your comments in my post. I wasn't trying to "talk out of school", but rather offered the comment as a counterpoint to what I was thinking these days.

I apologize if you think my paraphrasing of your comment portrayed you as a troll or in any way you don't want to be portrayed. I'll remove the comment if you like.

As far as being a hardass, I don't think too much has changed. I still work my ass off all the time, but I don't put all of my time into running anymore. And, I will admit that I'm not doing the total volume of training in January and February that I did a few years ago. Part of it is age, I think. Part of it is desire. Part of it is the need to work two jobs to pay the bills these days. It would be a major strain on my family and my marriage if I chose to train 60+ mpw during the winter right now. Plus, I wouldn't be enjoying it.

So, maybe I have gone soft. So be it.

ollie said...

Ok, I should weigh in a bit.

1. Andy's reply to me was completely appropriate.

If I can be so bold: though Andy and I have our (mostly political) disagreements, I consider him to be a friend.

Friends (by definition) know each other and I took his comment as a "good natured" kick in the butt; it was similar in spirit to when other ultra walkers yelled at me to get going when I was hurting and feeling sorry for myself 60-70 miles into a race.

2. Andy is no troll; though his advice lacks sugar coating, he has never given it (to me, at least), when it was unwelcome.

3. But Andy is also a scientist (as well as a doctor); he speaks precisely and is loathe to be misunderstood, both in content and in context.

4. And yes, Andy can take it as well as dish it out.

As for you Damon: I love reading your blog and comments; just don't take Dr. A too seriously. He doesn't get offended easily, as far as I know. ;-)

Dr. Andy said...

No offense at all Damon, I just wanted to clarify that I am in favor of strength work and give some context to my comments

I endorse Ollie's comments (scary, huh?)