Cross/strength training workout idea for this week: 9/21-9/28
15 MINUTES, OR TO FAILURE, EMOM:
(Every minute, on the minute)
5 Kettlebell swings (challenging weight)
5 Bosu Ball Burpees
5 Goblet Squats
Start every minute with 5 of each and use the remainder of the minute to rest before starting again at the top of the next minute. When the 15 minutes is up, you can't complete, or you start to break your form - the workout is finished. Maintain proper form and posture.
A perfect score would be 75 reps of each exercise. Do not do this before speed work, crucial workouts, or races. For more advanced athletes, it is a good way to end a workout or crossfit session.
At 6 years old, I was already competing. At 8 years old, I shot my first birdie. I remember it was a par 3 and my tee shot landed about 4 feet from the pin. I remember how proud my Dad was. I've been competing for as long as I can remember. Including All Star MVP baseball seasons, grueling two-hour football practices, smashing into scorer’s tables in basketball, countless hours devoted to college and post collegiate soccer, bodybuilding competitions, ultra running and road races in which I've racked up many accolades. My idea of fun was winning - nothing else. After all, it became my identity. It came with other costs as well - missing time with friends, family and hobbies. A dusty guitar in the closet. Body aches.. You get the point.
I've inadvertently become someone that I didn't plan on being. I'm more than an athlete. I have an identity, and my self-worth exceeds what I'm able to do in competition. I never imagined that I would be where I am now. I'm a father with a successful career and a beautiful family. I'm a friend, I'm a leader, I'm a coach. I'm present in the community and I contribute. Ironically, I have no confidence in the competitive realm right now. I've dropped out of my last two races and love the process of training but am hating process of racing. The pressure that I'm putting on myself is immense.
As a reset and in an attempt to be more present in the moment and proud of myself. I've opted to take a 100-day hiatus from competing. No planning races, no training cycles, no thinking ahead. My mission during the 100 days from competing is to train in a matter that I enjoy and push my own limits with myself while being more present for my athletes, family and friends. It will consist of Kayaking, running, rowing, weight training, rock climbing, ukulele playing, Netflix watching, cycling, adventuring, traveling, swimming, loving, and maybe drinking a few beers along the way.
Day 1 starts now.
Simple Fuel To Build Your Grocery List
Quinoa is one of the few complete plant protein sources that contains adequate amounts of the nine essential amino acids, but that doesn't mean that it's only beneficial for vegans. It's also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins and a host of antioxidants.
Beside providing protein and fiber, the antioxidants in quinoa may help reduce inflammation and reduce the amount of free radicals that come as a byproduct of strenuous activity and training. This is a super fuel that can boost your performance and decrease your recovery time.
I buy quinoa in bulk and mix it into a variety of dishes. I always opt for organic and it's a good cheap staple food that goes well with any dish.
Here's a recipe I love:
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of healthy fat and have a decent profile of electrolytes. The study below, along with many others, also indicates that pumpkin seeds have anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic properties (1).
Pumpkin Seeds also bolster very high amounts of the amino acid arginine, which has a number of health benefits. Some evidence shows that arginine may help improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart. It's easy to see why this may be beneficial to endurance athletes, but more evidence is still needed on that subject.
*If you have a virus, or frequently get cold sores you may want to avoid foods with high arginine content.
Here's a great recipe that is gluten free, keto, vegan, and paleo friendly - how the hell is that even possible?
(1): Xanthopoulou, M. N., Nomikos, T., Fragopoulou, E., & Antonopoulou, S. (2009). Antioxidant and lipoxygenase inhibitory activities of pumpkin seed extracts. Food Research International, 42(5-6), 641-646.
SPROUTED GRAIN BREAD:
The odds are that you're not allergic to gluten; but you might think you are. At the very least, your neighbor or somebody probably told you all of the horrific things that gluten will do to you. They saw it on Dr. Oz and he's widely known as the world's foremost expert on all things nutrition (end sarcasm). Where bread could potentially cause problems is in the form of anti-nutrients like phylate, which could block the absorption of important micro-nutrients. Depending on the type of bread, it's usually loaded with sugar and preservatives and digests very fast, meaning it's not good for regulatory body functions. Is there any solution?
Enter sprouted grains - when the grains are sprouted the bread is healthier. Lower in calories and carbohydrate content and higher in digestive enzymes, this low-glycemic nutritional powerhouse can fuel you for performance. Sprouting the grains also removes much of the anti-nutrient property that it would normally have. Keep in mind that sprouted grains typically have a much shorter shelf life, so be prepared to freeze it and toast it if necessary.
Aldi has great organic sprouted bread with only a handful of whole food ingredients at a really good price. I've also had very positive results with Ezekiel Bread (in the frozen/organic aisle at your favorite grocery store) or Trader Joe's Sprouted 7 grain bread.
Pro Tip #2 if your bread costs $1.29, you probably shouldn't put it in your shopping cart and definitely shouldn't put it into your body.
I usually lead a group run on Wednesday afternoon, but they only like to run six miles, so I tack in miles before and after to hit what's on my schedule. After 12 hours at work, I put on my tights and zipped up my Northface jacket and went out the door to get some miles in before the group run. I followed the same route as always, winding through a lightly-trafficked subdivision. Four miles into this Wednesday's run, I was hit head on and at full speed by a cyclist. He swerved from the shoulder of the road, into the sidewalk that I was running on. While it sounds funny (it is, I know), the cyclist who was riding at 16-17 miles per hour was hurt too.
When the initial impact occurred, I didn't know what happened. It was pitch black and I was on my back. The wind was knocked out of me, and during that time that I was panicking and unable to catch my breath. There were a million thoughts running through my brain uncontrollably. Was I hit by a car? A bike? A deer or some animal? Was I attacked? Once I was able to breath, I was afraid to stand up still not knowing the extent of what happened. I pulled myself to my feet and noticed my watch was still running (damn it, what will my Strava friends think!?). At this point, I assessed the damage. It hurt to breath, I bit my tongue badly, and my legs hurt. As I looked back, the cyclist was wobbling to his bike and wouldn't respond to my attempts to ask if he was okay. He may have thought that I posed a threat to him, or felt guilty that he smashed an unsuspecting runner, but I certainly wasn't mad.
At this point a moment of realization occurred and I panicked. Nothing was likely broken, but I was hurting. I have been running a lot of high volume mileage, quality speed work and long runs. I've been executing the training plan that my coach developed for me. We were rocking it. I didn't want to let him or my wife or family down. It reminded me of breaking my foot in a race. Was I going to be out another 6 weeks? I am fit and I am three weeks away from a race. It was Wednesday, and I still had 60 miles to run before Sunday night on my training plan. I knew I wouldn't finish the run, I couldn't breathe properly. But I still had to cover ¾ mile to get back to my group. I was hopeful that even though this week was ruined, I could still still salvage some fitness for the race. My limp progressed from a goofy walk, to a shuffle and then a jog. I made it back and told everyone what happened. I started shedding layers of clothes to blood, scrapes and bruises that I didn't even know were there. I realized that while the impact hurt, it didn't break anything. While I was scraped up I wasn't seriously injured. I was hurting, but I wasn't going to be held back by that. I was right about one thing: I'd be 7.5 miles short for my Wednesday run.
This is where the the accident did more good for me than finishing the run ever would have - I made a commitment in my head to work through the pain over the next few days (as long as it didn't alter my gait or form) and get those miles in. This means something to me. On Thursday (today) I ran 12 miles. Every step hurt my scrapped up butt, every breath hurt my bruised shoulder, lat, ribs and pecs. Every breath out reminded me that my tongue was cut. All of these are minor in the grand scheme of things, but I had every reason not to run and I did it anyway. As I kept plodding forward, the pain started to subside some.
When the going gets tough at the Pilot Mountain Trail Marathon in 27 days, or during my 100M race this fall, this is a run I'll remember. I'll know that I've been deep in the trenches, the swamps - a bad place mentally before and I can keep going even when every muscle in my body hurts. I can push on even when I have to work for every breath. This is one of the many opportunities over the last year that have helped me become more resilient and tougher. This was also comparable to a checkpoint or exam; how tough am I? I aced this test, I'm as tough as nails now. But I wasn't always…
Growing up I was weak as hell from a mental standpoint. I was insecure, scared of failure and didn't believe in myself - I couldn't take risks or even be myself. I was afraid to be who I really was. I wanted to be accepted. This provided me with another opportunity to silence those inner doubts and be courageous in the face of pain and adversity. I love growing like this. You can't get it from a normal 12 mile easy run. This shit is situational and cannot be simulated. I'm not that scared insecure boy anymore. I am not the kid who is easily conquered by his demons and inner voices. I was never missing talent and I've never lacked work ethic - I'm a workhorse. I lacked mental strength and courage, but I've come a long way and it's evident. My doubts are what killed me in the past, now I kill all of my doubts and I feel unstoppable. My doubts and negative talk were the root of my problem, and over the course of the last few years I ripped those roots out of the ground and planted new seeds that will make me grow.
No feeling sorry for myself - ever. No letting anything stop me - ever. I'm coming for what I want.
As a disclaimer - please don't let my message get misconstrued. I'm not telling anyone to run through injury or pain. If you're hurt and you run it will get worse and you'll be in a bad situation. Be sensible and always conservative. I knew my aches and pains were cosmetic and mental. This provided an opportunity for growth for me in my own personal journey.
Improving aerobic endurance is a painstaking process. After all, aerobic endurance is forged from years of consistency and countless miles. While the mileage and speed work are the two aspects of training that get the most attention, there are little things you can add to your weekly routine that will pay off. Periodically add these 3 elements to your training and it will pay off:
Short Hill Sprints:
I love to do these following an easy run; especially the day before a speed session. Not to be confused with ‘hill repeats’ which can be an effective means of improving VO2 max - but hill repeats can impact recovery or the next day's workout. Short hill sprints, typically 10-20s in duration on a 4-6% grade give you a lot of bang for your buck. While they don't typically last long enough to make your legs heavy the next day, they do provide a stimulus in the form of a runner-specific strength workout. While weight training is effective, this type of training is runner specific and improves your ability to generate and sustain power output. These sprints improve your running mechanics and strengthen your lower leg tendons and muscles, hamstrings, quads, glutes and hips making you more resistant to overuse injuries. Being more resilient means that you may be able to train harder and longer while recovering better. As a bonus: there is evidence that short sprints like this improve a neuromuscular connection, allowing you to run more efficiently at faster paces and better recruit muscle fibers during activity.
Periods of faster-paced running injected into an existing easy run. For example, I typically have pickups prescribed a few times weekly in my 10-12 mile runs. I’ll usually do 4-6 x 30 seconds of pickups with at least two minutes of easy running before the next one starts. The practice of doing this essentially forces your body to adapt to the physiological demands of running faster, without being long enough to build lactic acid or develop heavy legs for the next day. I aim for 1 mile to-5k estimated race pace by feel to really get my legs turning over. The runners who add pickups to their run improve their mechanics and positively impact their running efficiency. Simply put, pickups make you more comfortable running faster.
Running downhill generates more than 50% more force than normal running. It beats up your quads, and glutes, but if you master it, you'll see much improvement come race day. In fact, elite runners run downhill much more efficiently than the average runner. Downhill Sprints of 10-20s on a 4-5% grade help you improve speed and neuromuscular connection like short hill sprints. As a start - aim for your 5k pace by effort for the short bursts. Usually 6-10 downhill sprint repeats is enough to provide the necessary stimulus. As an added bonus, downhill sprints get you more comfortable with running downhill leading to faster race times from that aspect as well.
Get faster and fitter by becoming stronger.
I've been asked by more than 20 people recently to write about my nutrition and thoughts around diet. I've been tremendously busy, but I've also been hesitant to write about nutrition because few things are more polarizing. After all, diet is heavily ingrained in our culture and social lives and we have this unnecessary emotional attachment to what we eat. I think who we share our meals with is far more important than what's on the plate. So why argue? I'll get to exactly what I eat below, after I lay out my rules, but many of you will be shocked.
Before you read any further, please understand that I am not an R.D. - I'm actually in a business career and it's likely that I'll be heading to law school. I am well-educated when it comes to nutrition, and I'm very passionate about it. I've been a fitness professional for more than a decade. This is what I live for, but ultimately I am not a dietitian, so keep that in mind.
I'm writing specifically about my thoughts around nutrition for athletic performance. I'm certainly not writing about disease prevention or cure - that's above my pay grade.
The most common question I get is:
“What do you eat and how can I look like you?”
The short answer is that you can't, we don't have the same genetic makeup. As a side note: I don't eat to ‘look’ a certain way as much as I eat to ‘perform’ a certain way.
From all of the data I've gathered and all of the painstakingly tedious research I've done - I know one thing in absolutes: Elite athletes don't typically cut out any specific macro-nutrient from their diets. I personally know elite runners who wouldn't dare have a cheat meal, and I know elite runners that eat Arby's before a race. There are fringe athletes in the endurance community who do cut out whole food groups, but this rule is mostly-true. Zach Bitter eats a ketogenic diet he is one of the rare anomalies among elite athletes. You don't need to start name-dropping other people who don't eat carbs (I swear that I don't care). My personal friend Sage Canaday is a vegan and a world class mountain-ultra-trail runner, but it's not all too common among elites.
For most people, I think that moderation is going to be the key to success. Numerous large studies show that unless someone has a medical or health related reason for restricting specific aspects of a diet, they'll ultimately end up back where they started.
Nobody can produce facts or reproducible studies that say “this or that” is the optimal human diet for performance. I can say, however, that slamming a series of chemical-filled saturated fat-laden cheeseburgers down your throat isn't good (yes, even if you've removed the bun).
No matter which philosophy you subscribe to, here are the rules that I follow -
I currently average about 100g of complete protein per day on a diet in which I consume no animal products whatsoever. I would like to emphasize that I make no effort to get extra protein, 100g comes pretty easy when you're eating a varied diet. Yes, a varied diet makes complete proteins.
3.) Water consumption must be adequate. I spent years dehydrating myself. When I ruptured my hamstring during college soccer, it was suspected that dehydration played a major role. Now when my training volume gets higher, my right hamstring suffers most still. This seems fairly simple, but it's a common issue and should be addressed.
4) There's no point in going Gluten-free if you don't have an intolerance to gluten. You could say “wheat belly” but I've never had a wheat belly, so not sure what the issue is. Though each person is different, you need to find what works for you. I think sprouted grains are an even better choice than standard whole wheat.
Biggest thing to remember:
What works for me might now work for you. I'd never attempt to convince you to eat what I do. I have flaws, as does my diet. I have been eating a plant-based whole food diet in which I consume zero animal products whatsoever. Please don't call me a vegan though. I don't really like the idea of being pigeonholed into some philosophy that is associated with judgmental hippies. I just do my thing and I don't judge anyone else. That's another reason I've been hesitant to write this article. I haven't always been plant-based, but I have always been uninterested in meat; I just don't enjoy it and it gives me acid reflux. I also hate the way animals are treated and would argue it's a catalyst for disease, but that's another story.
Within the next week I'm going to write an article or make a video which chronicles a full day of eating for me personally. Since becoming fully plant-based I have recovered faster, had no instances of acid reflux, and have been able train at a higher volume all while saving money at the grocery store. I attribute most positive changes in my physique, musculature and performance improvements to my switch to a plant based diet, I was will able to gain muscle, I lost fat and didn’t have a guilty conscience in doing so.
I'm going to recommend at this point that you stop reading because below I'm going to tell you why fad diets are complete rubbish and it's going to offend people, it's going to hurt some feelings, it's gonna make me lose some followers.
Okay, if you're still here; here's the deal. If you've ever struggled with weight issues, or body image, or poor performance - you know that you would have killed for a quick solution. The part that most people hate is that there is no quick solution. But that's what they want to sell. How boring is that?! This new keto craze may have some applications - specifically in epilepsy treatment, but it's long-term effects have yet to be determined. My guess is that we'll see seemingly fit 55 year olds collapsing left and right from heart disease. When you're overweight or obese - it feels good to throw some bacon at it. That's what fad diets do - they sell you on your addictions, on the things you don't want to walk away from. Sure, if you eat only 1600 calories worth of bacon each day, you'll lose weight. You'll also triple your odds of dying from pancreatic cancer I'd imagine too. Isn't the keto diet just a new version of the Atkins diet? With no intent to body-shame Dr. Atkins, wasn't he clinically obese and struggling with heart disease and hypertension? Not exactly what I'd hope to emulate. In addition to his large midsection and collection of obesity-related diseases, he had a fat wallet filled with money from profiting off of his fad diet that either didn't work or wasn't easy enough for him to sustain.
Am I boring? Doesn't it suck that I'm not trying to sell you some magic pill? That I'm saying the best way to be healthy is adopt a sustainable lifestyle, make sacrifices, and stick to it for a really long time? I hate the idea of profiting from people's struggles with health and obesity or food addiction. If you are on the fence about changing your diet, whether to plant-based or not -message me, and I can give you tips, recipes and other useful tools. I'll help in anyway possible.
Thanks for taking the time to read.
Running in high temperatures and high humidity can prove challenging to the fittest athletes. A myriad of factors likely contribute to summer-time struggles and below I'll break it down:
Humidity is the biggest factor that contributes to poor performance and potential danger during your run. 85° Temps with less than 45% relative humidity will have a real feel of 85°. But 80° Temps with a relative humidity of over 70% puts that close to a real feel of 100°!
When running, your body releases sweat that evaporates from the surface of your skin to cool itself down. The problem is that humidity (excessive moisture in the air) doesn't allow the sweat to evaporate thus rendering your body inefficient at cooling it's core temperature. When this happens, your body goes into a “survival mode” which sends excess blood flow to organs and to aid other vital process within the body. As a result, your heart rate rises causing effort to increase. Your digestion almost completely ceases making it really challenging to absorb calories or fluids and can result naseau. Your risk for muscle cramps and side stitches increases dramatically. Finally, your brain temperature rises and this can impact the body's ability to assess and regulate your body's core temperature; this is the main contributing factor to heat related illnesses.
What can you do?
Your body adapts to the demands of heat and humidity and learns be be more efficient, but running will still be a challenge and potentially even dangerous. My athletes come to me with this question, and I wish there was a magical answer, but there isn't one.
First and foremost: Prepare for success, the old adage that if you fail to prepare, you're prepared to fail has never been truer. Make sure you're hydrated. I personally prefer Spring Energy's Electroride mixed with 16-20oz of water. Make friends with your foam roller.
Slow Down! Understand that performance and paces will be impacted in the high heat. Run by effort, not pace. Pay attention to your heart rate if you have the technology to do so. This part is hard for many people.
Take your training indoors. Gyms and fitness centers are, or should be, climate regulated. This may help you salvage some quality in your training but also will be much safer.
Fatigue, headaches, nausea, tingly skin and dizziness are all symptoms of heat related illness such as a heat stroke. Call it quits in this case - always.
It's not all bad though, as several studies suggest that the stressors of high humidity and heat can mimic the effects of altitude training. Training smart and properly during the brutal summer months will prime you for PR season in the fall when temps and humidity drop off.
Living with anxiety was, and continues to be, a monumental challenge for me. At the same time, it has been empowering and has allowed for tremendous personal growth. Overcoming anxiety has been a long process filled with crushing setbacks and thrilling bouts of self improvement and self discovery along the way. I felt ostracized and alone, while my friends, family and support system felt powerless and frustrated. At times the path I was on seemed endless. I felt alone on my travels; isolated from the outside world. Those who were by my side weren't always able to be as effective as they’d hoped. It was hard for them to completely identify with, and properly support, someone who’s battling an enemy that they didn't understand. Anxiety doesn't only affect the person struggling, but also their loved ones. I'm fortunate to have had the support system that I have, they helped me cope, they supported me even though they didn't necessarily understand and are responsible, in part, for the improvement in my mental health. For them I am forever grateful.
Anxiety is a broad category that encompasses several anxiety disorders including Panic Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and other more specific phobias
While all anxiety disorders are different, and each person experiences those disorders differently, all anxiety disorders share some general symptoms:
Panic, fear, and uneasiness
Not being able to stay calm and still
Cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet
Shortness of breath
The brain is infinitely complex and researchers aren't sure exactly what causes anxiety disorders in various people, but environmental stress, genes and environmental conditioning can all play a role in the development of these disorders.
Throughout my journey - both therapy and self discovery led me to realize that much of my anxiety stemmed from the pressure and unrealistic standards of perfection that I set for myself. While having such lofty standards could potentially put you in an environment for short term success, it's likely to end in disaster. I lost my confidence and I started to measure my self worth on arbitrary things that didn't matter. I had always been quick to avoid loud and busy places, so it was normal to me. When the physical symptoms started to creep up, I knew something was wrong. I started to wonder what was wrong with me; I couldn't figure out why I was experiencing a variety of symptoms including dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, etc.
Did I have a disease? Was it cancer, heart disease or something else? Was I going to die before ever truly accomplishing something in my life? This false narrative and unhealthy thought pattern led to a vicious cycle of anxiety and OCD dominating my thought process and keeping me in a perpetual state of perceived illness and unexplainable anxiety. I visited doctors and specialists countless times, had hundreds of tests including x rays, blood tests, cat scans, etc. The inaccurate, but overwhelming, realization that I was going to die before accomplishing anything relevant leeched the joy from my life. It was a permanent cloud hanging over me and it followed me everywhere I went. The doctors, nurses and receptionists knew me on a first name basis and I think they started to get tired of me.
I reached an all time low when I made three emergency room visits within the span of a week. I hadn't ate in 24 hours. Every single test they performed came back negative. I sat in tears as what would be good news to others truly brought me no comfort or answers. I sat in my wife's arms and cried; I was inconsolable. It was at that very moment where I came to the realization that anxiety and OCD was the cause of all of my pain, my depression even my physical symptoms. My obsessive checking and need for reassurance was the catalyst for the downward trajectory that my life was on. It needed it to stop and I needed to take my life back. For a five year period in my young life I was so afraid of dying, that I never truly lived. For my wife, for my friends, for my family, for myself - I vowed to take my life back.
The process to self discovery is painstaking. The truth and inconvenience hurts. Parting with old destructive habits and relationships can be complex and agonizing but it's entirely necessary if you're ever going to get better, if you're ever going to grow. So during this process, I had to find out what those things were and eliminate them from my life. Certain friendships were contributing to my unhealthy patterns and I had to remove them. My thought process was flawed; I was crippled by my quest for perfection. I had to learn to love myself for who I am, not for the accomplishments or accolades I'd accrue. I thought I had nothing to offer beyond winning, so why would people like me? I often changed the person I was in hope for acceptance, but in the end I didn't accept myself because I didn't like who I was becoming. I didn't believe I was good enough, so I'd seek reassurance from the outside in all contexts, but it never worked because ultimately you have to love yourself before anyone else can.
It's been a long and arduous process, but eliminating those negative thoughts and habits led me to an unbelievable improvement. I still face setbacks, but now because of therapy and my self discovery I'm able to overcome anything.
Just recently when I launched my website, my coaching business, my decision to pursue running at a high level - I was scared. These things have been years in the making but I was apprehensive. What if I failed and people judged me as hard as I judge myself? What if I was a complete joke? That's when I reminded myself that I'm capable. That maybe my story will make an impact. That I might fail, but that's okay too, as long as I do my best.
It's rather ironic that the very thing that almost stole my life from me has given me the opportunity to reach others, to help others and to be what I consider a success. I'm now successful in my career, I'm successful as a coach, I'm successful as an athlete and I'm the companion, teammate, friend and family member that I've always wanted to be. I've had hundreds, if not thousands, of people reach out to me about how my story helped them in some way and that alone, to me, is my proudest and most important contribution.
I thought anxiety was the worst thing that could have ever happened to me, but I was wrong. It made me a better person, it made me more empathic, it made me more caring and understanding. Facing anxiety and adversity made me realize that there's nothing I can't handle. Anxiety didn't take my life away - it gave me a purpose.
There were several times in the past that I faced anxiety and I wanted to give up. It wasn't getting any better and nothing would bring me relief. I thought because of my anxiety and mental health struggles that I had no future. I was wrong. So, when things are tough, please don't give up. Please don't think you can't do this - or anything for that matter. You can overcome any obstacles that may stand in your way. It will get better, it will get easier, you will get stronger. Don't give up.
Setbacks such as injury, illness and burnout are unfortunate repercussions of pursuing your passions and pushing the limits. While all of our limits and goals vary, the process by which we try to achieve those is more or less the same. Setbacks can ruin your training cycle and depress you - but only if you let them. Everybody faces adversity, and how each specific person responds to adversity really determines how far they'll go in regards to accomplishing their goals or realizing their potential.
I was just over 12 miles into a 50k, and running really well. I was in 2nd place, less than a minute back from first. The top five runners were all under course record pace at this point, despite the unseasonable ice and snow that lined the relentlessly hilly single track trails. The first runner, a newly graduated NCAA D1 All American and 2:20 something marathoner, was pushing the pace in his debut ultra and I found myself in pursuit - a position that I really hadn't been in this year. While I thought that his pace was unsustainable, I wanted to keep him close and wait for him to potentially slip up. I was running smart, or so I thought.
After a long climb, I plunged into a steep downhill before catching my foot on a root and taking a hard fall. I wasn't running out of my comfort zone whatsoever, but the technicality of the course was unlike anything I've ever run before. I already fell once on the course, but I bounced up without issue. This time around it was different though - I heard a popping noise and in the seconds after falling I didn't know where it came from. Initially I thought I was fine until I stood up and noticed immense pain in my right foot. After about 1/10th of a mile I realized I couldn't go on. All x rays and tests were conclusive and unfortunately I broke my foot. I am lucky to have narrowly avoided surgery, but coming to grips with the notion of not racing competitively again in 2018 feels like a punch to my stomach. I've set two course records thus far, and I had big goals for this year.
At this point I have two options: feel sorry for myself and give up or remain relentlessly committed to my long term goals. The first one isn't an option. I can frame this as a tragedy or a blessing, and I'm opting for the second choice. While I won't be able to compete at the level I'd like to this year, It’s just the beginning for me.
Yes, I will have more down time. Which means a few things. One; I can now put more focus into growing as a coach and spend more time with each individual athlete. Two; I can spend more time working on myself as a person. I'm on a never-ending mission to improve as a person and live more gently on this earth. Three; I can find balance in my life and I can strengthen my weaknesses outside of running. More core work, back to weight training, more stability, hone my nutrition, more family time, more time with my wife and Australian Shepherd. All of these things are good things that arose from a less than ideal situation. Lotus flowers grow from the murkiest ponds and they're stunningly beautiful. The future is not about the situation you're presently in, it's about your ability to react and adapt, and I know that this injury is going to make me a better runner and more importantly- a better person.
I arrived in Florida on Thursday. I opted to have an extra day of preparation as my last races with extensive travel involved didn't go as well as I'd hoped. We landed in Orlando and we all made the nearly two hour trip to Jacksonville. The weather was beautiful and an extreme contrast from Michigan's notoriously frigid winters. I felt so encouraged by the outpouring of support I received, especially from my clients/athletes who were so thoughtful. I felt hungry to compete and felt the rumblings of my competitive spirit, but for the first time in a long time, I wasn't hyper focused on the race.
On Friday, we woke up and did some shopping. We ate a small breakfast and went for a shakeout run. I went 4.5 miles at a comfortable 6:40 pace. I felt great and I felt confident enough in my training. I started to get slightly nervous following the run, but I was less nervous on the eve of a race than I had ever been before. Maybe I developed a deeper self belief, or maybe I've been able to look at the bigger picture more, but it's probably a mixture of both.
I woke up just before 5 AM on race day. I was well-rested, but I was not hungry whatsoever, which made me nervous considering I would be tackling nearly 32 miles in the next few hours. We made the 30 minute drive from Jacksonville to the race location. The atmosphere was incredible with hundreds of racers, spectators and volunteers. Floodlights dimly lit the start and aid station areas. I found a bit more inspiration because it reminded me of the videos I watched on YouTube about the North Face Endurance Championships. Those specific videos made me fall in love with ultrarunning, and they were ultimately the reason I was at the event. I didn't feel nervous; I felt a deep sense of belonging despite never racing an ultramarathon. I’ll never forget that moment, because I truly felt at peace. For the next few minutes nothing else mattered.
Once the gun went off, I knew there were about a half dozen runners who were aiming to run similar times - all of which were under the current course record. I left the runner who would eventually come in third at the 1 mile point and ran the next 31 miles completely solo. As expected the miles were clicking off easily, at first. With the exception of a 6:50 first mile, I ran all in the 6:20s or low 6:30s for the next 24 miles. The miles were clicking off easily, but as the sun continued to rise, the heat was becoming omnipresent. I hit my first minor setback coming out of an aid station at about mile 21. My hand bottle stopped working and I spent that whole mile trying to extract water from it, as the heat and humidity were starting to worry me. I tucked into my shorts and left it with my crew at mile 25.5. When my hand bottle broke, that was the first moment of adversity I faced during the race. It's irrational how frustrated it made me. I think this was the first indication of the elements taking a toll on my body. I came through the marathon point at 2:47, not bad considering the muddy trails and humidity with more than 8k still left to race.
Miles 28-32 would present a challenge to me that was unlike any physical challenge that I've ever faced. My arms were cramping. I hadn't consumed any gels/nutrition/electrolytes after about 30k, and it was coming back to haunt me. The sticky humidity and heat, now in the mid 70s, was nauseating me. It's quite the contrast from January in Michigan. After I completed 28 miles, the whole left side of my body started to cramp. I wasn't bonking or hitting the wall - I was spent and not used to that type of late race strain. I split 7:30s and 7:20s for the final 4 miles and they felt like an eternity. I knew I had 12 minutes on the second place runner, Shawn Webber, with 10k left and I was doing the math to figure out every possible scenario.
I had heard earlier in the race that my training partner, Dan Sowa ran a great race to win the 10k and he certainly lifted my spirits on that final 10k. I crossed the finish line in pain, but there was no sense of disbelief because I knew from before the gun went off that I could push the pace and make it work despite my lack of experience in ultramarathons.
This win felt great, but it's by no means the answer I'm searching for in life. It wasn't the finish line for me. In fact, the finish line of the Hellcat 50k represented the start of new beginnings and outlooks on life as well as a kick off to my ultra running career. As for what's next on the race schedule, I don't know. But I do know that my drive to become a better person and a better runner is stronger than ever. The rest of it is out of my control.