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Anthony Kunkel for iRun4Ultra/Covid-19 series

Island Workouts

You’re going to a desert island and you get to bring two things? What would make your list? What would be your third, fourth, or fifth? This survival exercise might apply to your physical exercise right now.

Periodization, which I’d define as structuring the training cycle (including nutrition and lifestyle factors when controllable) that sets an athlete up to feel best on race day, is magic. It’s the ‘secret sauce’ of meticulous runners everywhere and a beautiful accident for the less intentional ones. Ever feel like hills can’t hurt you? Or your breathing just doesn’t feel labored, even at fast paces or extreme altitudes? Those elusive days are a major driving force for many in the MUT (mountain, ultra, trail) community, and there’s certainly much to learn from the more conventional end of running, for example elite marathoners typically peaking for just two races a year. But trail races rarely merit that level of commitment (read: intolerable FOMO), and especially now, when events all over the globe are postponed or cancelled altogether, it’s a great time to consider how to structure intentional training without a goal event. 

Enter “island workouts.” This is a concept I’ve been exposed to a few times via the excessive number of coaching certifications I’ve attended, and I love the wording; “island workouts” is catchy isn’t it? Like a desert island, you only have limited resources (workouts in our case) at your disposal, and you will have to use them for everything you need. In practice, we’re talking about workouts we can do every week of the year, regardless of race date -or even race distance or type. Most people can recognize a peaking workout from a base building workout: 3×1 mile at 5k pace being an example of the former, while 3×1 mile at marathon pace the latter. But it’s a long order to iron out specific sessions in a sport that includes vertical kilometers as well as 200 milers! So I’ll begin with the least controversial, and most agreed upon options and move to my own opinion as we go, seem fair? 

1-Easy running. This should already make up the bulk of your training, 52 weeks out of the year. This is not up for debate. Easy running is king. From about a minute a mile slower than 2-hour race pace, up to 200 mile race pace, or 90-140 beats a minute’ish, depending on age and training level, for those inclined to HR zones. When in doubt, slow down.

2-Strides, or any alactic, anaerobic exercise with the intent of improving running economy. A step many miss, when jumping from purely easy mileage, this and easy miles alone can bring you 70+% of the fitness you’ll need on race day. This includes supplemental work like squats, lunges, dynamics, or plyometrics, as well as sprints of less than 10-12 seconds (strides), core and hip work, and most other ancillary things runners already know they should do. These workouts have minimal effect on aerobic development, positive or negative, if kept short with full recovery between sets, but can prevent injuries and help you become a more efficient runner. Beyond that, they are all things we can do week in and week out, whether it’s race week or 16 weeks out from it. A typical session of strides would be 5 by 10 seconds at 2-10 minute race pace, with mile race pace being a good place to start. A trail runner can use an incline to ensure less mechanical stress and work on uphill economy. 

3-Tempo work. For ultra running purposes this includes “true tempos,” runs of 20 minutes at 1 hour race effort (half marathon pace for some, 10k pace for others, 5k pace for others), but can be expanded to include paces as slow as three-hour race pace I’d assert. True tempo effort is about handling lactate in your system, training the body to utilize it more effectively. This has benefits for every type of runner, from 800 meters up to 200 miles, as it will further decrease your energy cost of running. For slower paces, say 3-hour race pace (similarly, half marathon pace for some will be 55k pace for others, to equal 3-hour race effort), the goal is still to become comfortable at less-than-comfortable paces, while making all slower paces feel easier. There’s rarely a runner that can’t PR confidently off of just these first three foundational workouts, and they can all be repeated year-round for any runner and event. 

4-Race specific pace work. You know you’ll want to run a Vertical K again, or a 100 miler, so there’s rarely harm in keeping a toe in the pool of these efforts, for visualization and logistical (shoe choice, nutrition, etc) reasons alone. Since the goal race might be months away, I prefer these as “micro workouts,” where the goal is feeling race effort more than truly building fitness there. An example would be 2-4 hours at goal 12-36 hour race pace, long enough to feel like you can fuel and try out gear and paces, but not long enough to do much damage. On that note, this doesn’t include runs longer than 4 hours, or hard long runs, as those should be reserved for when you have a defined goal (or do them for fun of course!).

5-Overspeed of all kinds. I really like these, due to the idea that mitochondria, the “powerhouse of the cell” require long, slow effort to multiply, and harder efforts to grow larger. The nervous system also thrives when given this sort of stimulus, and that should leave you feeling amazing. For this we’re talking 5-10 by 20 seconds at around 2-10 minute race effort (simply longer strides), depending on the type of runner you are. An alternative, that’s a bit more mountain- and ultra- specific, is downhills: 1-3 miles (in one go or split up) at dream 5k pace down a gravel road is an ideal target to shoot for. These can be playing with fire for those runners with an overabundance of speed, but can be ideal year-round for those with less of it. Use some discipline and gage your effort honestly, beginning these only after a few weeks of consistency with the above four types of workouts. You will probably find you don’t need the extra abuse on your body, at least until you’re “in-season,” whatever that might mean for you. 

Notice what didn’t make the cut, from conventional speed workouts like 12×400 all-out to race-specific sessions, or any intervals so hard to merit recovery slower than your typical easy pace -or passive recovery for that matter. The sessions we use to peak for a race need to be specific to the race, done at the right time before race day, as well as customized to the type of runner you are and your background. The good news is that those workouts, sexy as they are, are simply icing on the cake; you can achieve 95+% of your potential without them, and in most cases you can and should cram them in during the last month before race day. For the rest of the year, and for uncertain times like these, you have island workouts. 

For more content like this, as well as topics to juicy for most media outlets, as tell-all as I can make it, all about self-coaching, find me on Patreon going forward: https://www.patreon.com/AnthonyKunkel?fan_landing=true

And on IG: @AnthonyKunkel 

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Finding the Proper Balance Between Running, Calories and Adaptability

On its surface, the thinking makes total sense. Cutting calories helps you lose weight; exercise helps you lose weight; one of the best ways to exercise is running. So, if you’re cutting calories and exercising by running, you should be at least twice as effective, right?

Wrong.

In this battle, your enemy is one that is typically an ally: Adaptation. The human body is undoubtedly a miracle, filled with all kinds of ways — some known, others still a mystery — that we naturally defend ourselves by unconsciously making physiological changes to combat threats. One good example is the way our bodies increase blood flow to the skin when it’s cold outside — warming us up by opening blood vessels where needed. One bad example are allergies: conditions caused by the immune system overreacting to harmless substances in the environment that are mistakenly perceived as a threat.

On a similar (if not nearly as frightening as allergies can be) note, when you run long distances, your body adapts to a perceived physical stress. Unfortunately, you can’t explain to your body the difference between running 10 miles a day for training vs. running the same distance because you’re being chased by a T-Rex. So, your body adapts to the repetitive nature of the activity, allowing you to burn fewer calories and hold on to more of them so they can be converted into additional energy if needed.

“If your goal is to be leaner, then greater endurance isn’t really to your benefit,” Lou Schuler, author of the book “The New Rules of Lifting for Women,” tells USA Today.

University of Minnesota physician/former president of the American College of Sports Medicine Dr. William Roberts says that the key is to basically make it so that the randomness of your workout outsmarts your body’s ability to adapt. “If I’m looking at a gym and looking at what can I get the most bang for my buck from, it’s whatever I can use that moves and works the most muscle groups at the same time,” he says, admitting that even though he’s a runner, strength training must be added to the upper body — which long-distance running neglects. “If you can build strength and build muscle mass, you’re going to burn more calories, even if you’re idling.”

According to the 2015-2020 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, active men should consume up to 3000 calories a day, while women should be around 2400 — of course, such guidelines need to be adjusted for height, activity level and other factors. Those calories are processed through metabolism, and turned into the energy we all need.

“When we talk about calorie burning, we are including calories burned for basal metabolic rate—those calories we need just to maintain our temperature and breathing, etc.—plus the extra calories burned in physical activity,” sports medicine specialist/orthopedic surgeon Natasha Trentacosta, M.D., tells Runner’s World. “The extra activities we do in life burn calories beyond the requirement for basal metabolic rate, and to burn these calories, your body first looks toward readily-available sources, and then subsequently stored energy sources.”

If your calories are in deficit, your body turns to glucose in the liver and muscles. “Eventually, longer duration exercise will deplete the readily available glucose and the glycogens stores, requiring the body to get energy from fat or even muscle protein,” Trentacosta explains. “Your body literally breaks down muscle to provide energy for your run, decreasing your overall lean muscle mass.”

This last resort of the body would typically be used as an adaptation to starvation. But — once again —you can’t have a conversation with your body to explain that you aren’t starving, you’re simply trying to lose weight to fit into that bridesmaid’s dress for your cousin’s wedding. If you trigger starvation mode, your thyroid is likely to suffer — and your body will warn you of this, but rather than a “check engine” light in a car, you’ll just feel really terrible.

The body will also suffer in terms of its ability to recover, and you’ll likely begin to feel the effects of the insufficient vitamin and mineral intake triggered by lack of food — hello, weaker, more breakable bones!

It’s not often that you’re told in modern-day life to ignore common sense and work to overcome your body’s god-given tendency to adapt. For many athletes, the key to achieving the body you want is a smart, varied workout regimen complimented by the fuels necessary to make it happen. Rather than going to extremes, go for a gameplan, and then execute it. Because ultimately, your body’s most powerful muscle is always the brain.

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Ultra-Running in the age of coronavirus: What to do now?

Right now, everyone has a lot on their minds, and there are few who would argue that any public event is more important than the recommendations we shelter at home, keep a 6-foot distance from others, and take seriously all hygienic precautions in an attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve. But for professional athletes like ultra-runners, accustomed to daily workouts encompassing substantial miles on foot, cancellations and self-quarantine are as challenging as any slippery hillside or uphill climb.

Virtually every major sporting event for the next 30 days has been cancelled, many with barely a few days of advance warning, impacting athletes who may have been training for months. This can’t help but feel like a massive disappointment for such folks, who may be able to commiserate with those around them who’ve had birthday parties, guitar lessons and work mixers similarly cancelled, but it isn’t quite the same. We’re all hoping and praying that the COVID-19 threat goes away as quickly as possible with as little impact as possible — but while birthday parties and guitar lessons can easily resume, if an elite athlete sits in a house for a month or longer largely inactive, resumption is not so easily achieved.

There is also the issue of separation. Many athletes train with one or several coaches and mentors, people who they speak with day in and day out, and who come to know them as well as any member of their blood family. Now, common sense dictates that they must stay apart to preserve their health — but every fiber of their athleticism yearns for their wisdom, camaraderie and support. On top of that is the loss of community — runners are typically a tight-knit group, seeing each other regularly at events — and to suddenly have that infrastructure taken away can be difficult.

These days, we all have to remember: You are not defined by which event you are training for.

“Races don’t determine what kind of athlete you are or who you are for that matter,” coach and trail athlete Anna Mae Flynn of Marble, Colorado recently told Trail Runner. “Health and safety are always the number one priority.” 

On the other hand, perhaps athletes are better equipped for this crisis than others. In addition to the health advantages of being physically fit, athletes have been trained to encounter adversity, conquer it and move on. They know that there will be bad days, but all that means is a good day must be right around the corner. They know to support others around them, and to work as a team — whether they are part of a running group in training, or a family of five co-habitating in the same house for multiple weeks.

Also, like so much in life, perspective is everything. While the pessimist may feel defeated by the prospect of weeks indoors, the optimist could see the same situation as an opportunity. If you have a good treadmill/bike/workout room at home, there has never been a better time to become closely acquainted. How many sit-ups will it take to finally achieve the 6-pack you’ve always wanted? How much base building can you do while not training for a specific race?

“Even though there are bigger issues in the world, caring about races is a great thing,” coach David Roche tells Trail Runner. “But also think about why you race in the first place. I like athletes to frame events as a means to structure the day-to-day process they love, rather than the end goal.” 

Another thing to keep in mind: modern technology is your friend. Numerous organizations online are offering fitness classes, training sessions and pretty much anything else you can imagine via video conferencing. FaceTime with your coach, group-chat with your running buddies — once you get beyond the inevitable glitches and the one guy who can’t seem to get the mic to work on his laptop, it’s amazing how much goodness you can still get from human interaction, even if the humans aren’t in the same room with you.

Along those same optimistic lines, there is perhaps no sport better-equipped to weather the coronavirus storm than competitive running. If the goal is to avoid proximity with others, there are few options as effective as heading out into the woods and running alone. Be smart, stay up on the latest precautions, and when all this is finished you may just find that it’s made you stronger — both mentally and physically.  

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meditation

Making Meditation Part of Your Training Routine

It’s long been widely recognized that regular meditation practice brings a variety of health benefits. Reduced anxiety and depression, increased pain tolerance, improved attention span, lower blood pressure, and improved sleep are just a few of the medically acknowledged benefits to mindfulness. 

That’s a list that looks like it could double as a description of the benefits of long distance running, which may be what inspired a team of researchers to examine the effects of combining meditation and running1. Their research suggested was a big win for the combined program, which is one of the reasons we now see ultra running pros, like two-time Western States 100-mile winner Timothy Allen Olson and three-time Hardrock 100 winner Darcy Piceu, advocate for what they call “mindful running.” 

Getting Started

If you’ve never meditated before, you won’t accomplish much trying to get your first session in on the road.  Instead, you should start by adding a short, seated meditation session before you start your workout. 

Find a comfortable seat—there’s no need to cross your legs, unless you’d like to—close your eyes, and tune in to a guided meditation program. There are several applications available serving exactly this purpose. Three favorites: 

Calm – an excellent meditation primer. The freely available “Seven Days of Calm” unit is a perfect place to start, and the additional features are well worth the subscription cost. 

Headspace – another solid introduction. The free offering isn’t quite as robust as Calm’s, but the opening session is slightly more approachable. 

Run Mindful – Timothy Allen Olson’s own offering to the selection, an app made specifically for endurance runners. 

Once you’ve got the program running, all you have to do is sit still, listen for about ten minutes, and do the best that you can to follow along. There’s no need to worry about whether you’re doing it right, just trying will be enough to improve. 

Immediate Benefits

Over time, you’ll start to notice better sleep, experience reduced stress, and exhibit lower impulsivity and greater patience in your daily life. The improvements won’t be limited to long-term gains: in the short term, you’ve brought your breath under control, lowered your heart rate, and cleared your mind of the day’s stress. Pay close attention, and you may notice a marked difference in the quality of that first workout. 

Honing the Mind-Body Connection

Depending on the guide program that you choose, you’ll likely encounter body scan meditations. These meditations encourage you to mentally scan your body from end to end (usually head to toe), carefully observing any and all sensations. With practice, these body scans can help you discover knots, tightness, and posture imbalances. Sometimes, simply noticing a pain that you’ve been ignoring is enough to relieve the tension. Even when it isn’t, if you pay attention to the signs, you’ll know when you need a little extra stretch, or a date with the roller. 

Take It to The Road

As you grow in your meditation practice, you are essentially developing the ability to train your focus on one stimulus while tuning out distractions. At first, the stimulus will almost always be the rhythm of your own breath, but once you’ve got the knack, you can substitute anything. That’s when it’s time to take the show on the road. 

Some mindful runners like to silently repeat a positive mantra (a simple, short, repetitive statement, usually reflecting a goal or ideal). Focusing on the finish line can be a strong motivator, or general thoughts about life can help influence positive thinking outside the run. 

You can apply the body scan technique here, too. Any time pain crops up as a distraction, you can try impartially listening to it. Our natural instinct is to push pain aside, which often leads to unconscious changes in form and stride. By making an effort to listen to the pain, welcome it, and understand it, we avoid making these comfortable negative corrections, and give ourselves a much better chance of correctly identifying and treating the problem. As Timothy Allen Olson told REI, “When you observe it and accept it, many times pain simply dissolves.”2

Mindful Running Retreats

If you want to make the advantages of mindfulness a part of your running routine, but you don’t think a phone app will get you there, there is help available. As the practice has grown in popularity, there’s been a movement toward group mindful running retreats. Timothy Olson’s Adventure Mindful is one of the groups on the forefront of this movement. They’ve got retreats planned for 2019 in the Canary Islands, Colorado, and Austria, which include trail running for all experience levels, mindfulness training, food, and transportation. 

  • “MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity.” B L Alderman, R L Olson, C J Brush & T J Shors. Translational Psychiatry volume6, pagee726 (2016). https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2015225 

  • “For Runners: How to Stop Stalling and Start Meditating.” Kelly Bastone. REI. May 15, 2018.  https://www.rei.com/blog/run/meditation-for-runners 

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Training Tips

Training Tips from Three of Ultra Running’s Greatest Coaches

Whether they’re gearing up for your first marathon, making a third attempt at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k, or testing their legs on a 24-hour, the most important piece of any long-distance runner’s preparation is a thorough, intentional training plan. The right regimen can spur an athlete to P.R.s and victory laps, and a mistimed routine can leave the same athlete on dead legs before the starting pistol fires.

With so much riding on a runner’s routine, there’s little wonder that a handful of high profile champions have leveraged their racing success into reputations as the sport’s ultimate gurus. Let’s check in with three of the top trainers in ultrarunning for a quick primer on the techniques and philosophies that carry their clients to the finish.

Training Tips

Sundog Running’s Ian Torrence

Ian Torrence has built a sterling reputation in the ultrarunning world, winning 53 of the 200 ultras he’s completed. 27 of his finishes have been 100-mile runs. Formerly a coach under the legendary Greg McMillan, Ian and partner Emily Torrence (nee Harrison) formed Sundog Running in the hopes of reaching more runners. They offer personal coaching services, advisement, and weekly training plan packages, and keep up a blog with free tips for all levels of experience.

The Sundog team stress individualized plans for each athlete. They build long-term plans for the full season based on the runner’s goals, experience, form, injury history, life events, and fitness gains.

Training Zones

Torrence’s training philosophy revolves around four training zones, each of which focuses on improving a small subset of the body functions involved in an endurance run. This allows a runner to emulate the effects of extreme distance in shorter training sessions. As Torrence himself wrote in Trail Runner Magazine, “Training is the art of replicating different exertion levels in short, controlled bouts so that our body and mind may adapt to the new stressors and be better able to handle that workload on race day.”1

In the Spring Zone and Neuromuscular Training phase, we enhance the ability to run quickly when our muscles our inundated with lactic acid. This includes workouts like neuromuscular strides, and interval springs with slow jogging recovery between. In this zone, a focus on proper form is stressed.

During Speed Zone Training we run full speed for extended durations (8 to 15 minute bursts) to improve mechanics, recruit fast-twitch muscle fiber, improve our metabolic pathways to use fuel more efficiently, and improve the rate of oxygen uptake from blood into muscles.

To improve the body’s ability to remove lactic acid building, we use Stamina Zone Training, which consists of race pace work for an hour or more. Steady state runs, tempo runs, tempo intervals, cruise intervals, and progression runs are a few recommended Stamina Zone exercises.

Lastly, Endurance Zone Training, which forms the bulk of the training under Torrence’s plans. These runs improve the ability to run for long durations, maintain aerobic fitness, and maximize the capacity to train and recover in the other three zones. These are long, easier runs where the heart rate should not rise about 70% of the runner’s maximum threshold.

Base Phase

Torrence’s plans interweave the 4 training zones throughout four training phases. The first phase is the base phase. This phase should make up more than half of a runner’s training throughout the year, and consists of lighter work in all four training zones to keep the body fast and efficient without a high degree of exertion.

Pre-Race Specific Phase

This consists of a 4 to 6 week ramp-up phase. Runners in this phase perform roughly the same exercises as in the base phase, but slowly increase distance, duration, and intensity to prepare the body for hard running.

Race Specific

Three to 10 weeks of full intensity in all four zones. During this phase, the runner focuses most strongly on their individual weaknesses and on the specific demands of the race.

Peaking

For the last two to three weeks before the race, Torrence’s team recommends maintaining the race specific routine and intensity, but gradually dropping the volume of each run to rest while maintaining peak form.

Jacob Puzey of Peak Run Performance

Compared to Ian Torrence, Peak Run Performance founder Jacob Puzey has had a slightly rockier road to renown in the running community. While Torrence’s claims to fame largely hinge on his own running career, Puzey became a name in the running community when he returned to Hermiston High School, his Alma Mater, and coached the cross-country team to their first ever state title. Despite the differences, the two do share one key link: both have worked as coached under the legendary Greg McMillan.

Training On A Treadmill

As holder of the 50-mile treadmill world record, Jacob Puzey is a major proponent of training on a treadmill. He sees treadmills as a technological advantage, a way to help balance the demands of long running with the other commitments of a busy life.

Aside from taking advantage of treadmill time to spend time with family while training, catch up on TV, or listen to an audiobook, Puzey also loves it for form improvement: put a mirror in front of the treadmill (or find one near the mirrors at the gym) and watch yourself run.

Finding Your Form

If you’re not sure what to look for in the mirror, Coach Puzey has a lot of great advice available on the Peak Run Performance YouTube channel, including an excellent series on injury prevention that serious runners absolutely must see.

In his “Running Form Cues” primer, he provides these vital tips to help with efficiency, speed, and safety.

Relax your jaw. To get the feel for this, Puzey recommends clenching your teeth and then letting go until your mouth is slightly open. A tight jaw causes tension in the neck, which can travel through the back, shoulders, and even into the glutes and hamstrings.

Relax the shoulders, too. To test this out, raise them as high as possible, then drop them to your sides.

Hold your elbows at a 90-degree angle, and don’t open and close them while you run. Your arm movement should be driven from the shoulders, almost like putting your hands into your pockets.

Don’t let your hands cross your upper body.

Hold your hands slightly closed, but not clenched, with the thumbs on top, nearly touching the index finger. Puzey suggests visualizing a delicate, dry leaf between the thumb and finger.

Hold your body tall while you run, with a slight lean forward at the ankles. Your feet should strike the ground directly beneath your hip.

Sage Canaday’s Sage Running

Sage Canaday has been running, and winning, on some of the sports biggest stages for 16 years. His pro endurance wins include the World Long Distance Mountain Championship (Pikes Peak Ascent), the Tarawera 100k, the Speedgoat 50km, and TNF50 mile championships.

Through his and Coach Sandi Nypaver’s Sage Running coaching company, Sage offers training plans and advice to runners across the world. His Vo2maxProductions YouTube channel, where he releases training tips, gear reviews, and other content, has over 100,000 subscribers.

Feeling Based Training

As vital as a strong training plan is, it can be even more important to know when to know when to leave the plan behind, so Sage Running’s training plans are all based on how the runner feels. Canaday and Nypaver futher explain the philosophy in a joint post on the Sage Running site, “The Art of Feeling Based Training”.

In the same post, they offer several tips to avoid (or recover from) overtraining.

The coaches caution that poor sleep, incomplete nutrition, long term stress, or bad caffeine habits can all mimic the symptoms of overtraining. If you maintain healthy habits outside of running, it will be easier to tell when your body needs more rest.

Be honest with yourself when evaluating your condition. You don’t want to force yourself to meet the schedule unless you’re sure it’s right for your body.

Bad quality of sleep, an uncharacteristically sour disposition, a weak immune system, or an elevated resting heart rate can all be signs of overtraining.

If you have overtrained, check your training logs to get a sense of where you went wrong. For now, cut back on hard runs and mileage. Go easy until you’re feeling normal, and then cautiously ramp back up to full intensity over a few weeks.

Don’t Underestimate Easy Runs

Canaday is a big believer in easy runs, and pushes runners to take them at an even lighter pace than they typically expect. Pushing the pace on easy runs limits your ability to recover from the hard days. The key is to get enough work in to keep your heart rate elevated for an extended period, while still giving yourself enough rest to heal from your more intense work. The exercise strengthens your heart, builds capillaries and increases the efficiency with which your body transfers oxygen to your muscles.

Make the Long Runs Count

The long runs on Coach Canaday’s schedule are all specific workouts, rather than pure mileage. Canaday believes that this is the most effective way to simulate race conditions for event specific training exercises, so he makes them an integral part of his training. To further simulate the intensity of competition, Canaday recommends planning long run workouts so that the second half of the run is taken at a much faster overall pace than the first half.

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UTMB Champion

Thoughts on UTMB

UTMB, the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc is the biggest mountain ultra in the world. It is a dream for most mountain ultra runners to take part and winning catapults any runner to trail stardom.
The race kicks off tonight at 6.00pm local time. It is 170km with 10000m of ascent – Everest is 8848 meters to put that in context. There are 2300 runners and a cutoff time of 46.30 to complete the course. The leaders should take approximately 21 hours to finish.
So, what are the thoughts of the international champions who have taken part (past or present) as UTMB 2016 gets underway? We look at their motivation and inspirations, reflections and even share some of their training tips.

Zach Miller –  2015 CCC Champion

image1

Photo Credit: Zack Miller’s Mom

“I’ve received many messages, emails, and words of encouragement from all sorts of people in the lead-up to UTMB, but this picture of a bulletin board from the school where my Mom teaches really hit home today. Thanks Mom!”

Rory Bosio, 2 x UTMB Champion

Photo Credit: North Face

Photo Credit: North Face

“I do not have the fortitude to run just for the sake of running. I like to use running as a way to escape from everyday life or to see a new place. Fitness is a great by-product. I choose races based on location rather than competition. If I’m running somewhere that inspires me, or I find beautiful, I usually have a better race anyway.“ https://www.theguardian.com/

Kilian Jornet, 3 x winner UTMB

Photo Credit: UTMB

“A great athlete is one who takes advantage of the ability that genetics have brought him in order to secure great achievements, but an exceptional athlete is one who can swim in the waters of complexity and chaos, making what seems difficult easy, creating order from chaos. Creative individuals search for chaos in order to explore all the places they can imagine beyond the frontiers of consciousness, following the irrational forces that come from within themselves and from their environment.” https://www.amazon.com/Run-Die-Kilian-Jornet

Marco Olmo – twice winner of UTMB and Ambassador for IRUN4ULTRA

Marco Olmo

“It is very emotional to be back here because ten years has passed since I first won UTMB. I realise that the years have passed and that you have to be happy with what you have done before.”

Xavier Thevenard  2 x UTMB Champion

Photo Credit: © UTMB® - photo : Pascal Tournaire

Photo Credit: © UTMB® – photo: Pascal Tournaire

“UTMB is mythical because of its relationship to Mont Blanc. It is a place known all over the world and everyone wants to get closer to see what it looks like. And then there is the route itself that is very tough and physical. For purists, it’s something to do. Chamonix is the capital of mountaineering and all these make this race unique. I think this is how it will continue for a long time.” https://www.meltyxtrem.fr/

David Laney, UTMB 2015 3rd place

Mont Blanc

Photo Credit:David Laney

“Run the most technical trails you can find.  Find steep rocky mountain ridges and steep rugged canyons that mirror the course you plan to race on.  Get to a place where you can roll through really rooty, rocky or steep downhill sections.  Find those trails that allow you to practice the more technical aspects of running. Do them again and again and again.The mountains are big and free and wild and powerful.  Use those emotions to inspire your next race.” https://davidlaneyrunning.com/

Luis Alberto Hernando Alzago, Skyrunning Champion

Photo Credit: correrxmuntanya.com

Photo Credit: correrxmuntanya.com

“Everything is prepared and we are convinced that the third time is a charm!“ https://www.luisalbertohernando.com/utmb/

Lizzy Hawker, 2 x winner UTMB

Photo Credit: Lizzy Hawker

Photo Credit: Lizzy Hawker

“As a child I preferred to walk rather than take the bus and I just found moving under my own effort more appealing. By the time I came to run that first UTMB I was used to long days on my feet – mountaineering, hiking as well as running – and for a long mountain ultra like the UTMB ‘time on feet’ is good preparation.” https://www.independent.co.uk/

Jason Schlarb, 4th place UTMB 2015 and IRUN4ULTRA Ambassador

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“I want to improve on my 4th place. I want to get on to that podium which is a very high ambition for a USA runner.One of our difficulties (in the USA)  is that our mountains just aren’t as steep. We have the Rockies, but they are more characterized by switchbacks and there are trails there for mountain bikers and hikers whereas the Dolomites and the Alps are really sheer. I really attribute my fourth place to the fact that I went to Europe for three months to train. It made all the difference.” https://www.runultra.co.uk

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IRUN4ULTRA in Chamonix for UTMB: TDS – The Wild Alternative

August 24, 2016

I Run4Ultra Race

By Alice Hunter Morrison

Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for RunUltra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA.

It is quite possibly the most important mountain ultra on the planet UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc). It takes place annually in Chamonix in the French Alps and is a week-long fest for ultra runners from around the world.
IRUN4ULTRA is based here all week, following the action, and raising awareness about Autism and
ADD/ADHD from our base in the Competitors’ Village at Booth 99.
An estimated 50,000 runners and supporters will be in this tiny Alpine town during the week to enjoy and participate in the five races that take place from July 22 – 28.
The five races are:

  •         UTMB: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (166 km + 9,600 m)
  •         CCC: Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (101 km + 6,100 m)
  •         TDS: Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (119 km + 7,250 m)
  •         OCC: Orsières – Champex – Chamonix (53 km + 3,300 m)
  •         PTL: La Petite Trotte à Léon (approx. 300 km + 28,000 m)

There are also mini events for children and the YCC (Youth Chamonix Courmayeur), which is open to 16-22 year olds.

TDS Depart

TDS Start © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

TDS
The big race for today began at 6:00 a.m. local time from Courmayeur in Italy. It is the TDS (Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie) and comprises 119 km with 7,250 m of climbing.
1600 runners lined up this morning on the start line on a cool but clear dawn. The weather conditions were perfect with 100% visibility. The runners set off in great spirit.
It was a hotly-contested race from the get-go with the leaders changing constantly. The course starts off with a sharp climb and the pressure never lets up. At the four hour mark, Jessed Hernandez Gispert was leading the men and Meredith Edwards from the USA led the women.
Meredith Edwards hung tenaciously on to that lead, running strong over the peaks and for the main body of the race. As we publish this, however, she was in second place, having been overtaken by the strong Frenchwoman, Delphine Avenier, who had an eleven-minute lead.
 

Pau Capell

Montée de Bourg saint Maurice – Pau CAPELL © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

Pau Capell
As the men’s race progressed, Pau Capell, the young Spaniard who won the Ultra-Trail of Australia in May went into the lead for the men and stayed there, pulling further and further ahead.
He came through in a final time of 14.45.44 to an ecstatic reception and spent time celebrating with the crowd and enjoying his tremendous victory.
In his post-race interview, he said that one of the hardest things about the course was the heat. It was the hottest race he had ever run. And he said that whether he was 5th, 10th or 1st, it was absolutely extraordinary to see the public in Chamonix coming to welcome the runners across the finish line.
In second place was Yeray Duran Lopez with 15.14.07.
Congratulations to all the runners, many of whom will be out there for many hours to come. Don’t forget we will be covering all the action on Twitter @irun4ultra and will be regularly updating on Facebook.  Also, check out our Instagram @irun4ultra as well!

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The UTMB Course: An Expert Preview

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UTMB

Arête du Mont Favre © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

August 24, 2016
By Alice Hunter Morrison
Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for IRun4Ultra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA.
Ester Sofia Alves is a Top 10 female UTMB finisher. She is in Chamonix for her third Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc race and is running for Salomon Portugal. This year she is hoping to break her personal record and finish the 170-kilometer course in 28 hours. We caught up with her just after she had collected her race bib and asked her to talk us through the course.

UTMB

Arête du Mont Favre © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

The Facts
Start date: Friday, August 26 at 18:00
Start and finish: Chamonix, French Alps
Distance: 170 kilometers
Elevation: 10,000 meters
Number of Runners: 1900
UTMB in the words of Ester Sofia Alves
 

Mont Blanc

PTL © UTMB® – photo : Pascal Tournaire

“UTMB is like the Mecca of trails. Everyone wants to run around Mont Blanc. It is SO hard. It has nine tough climbs and you get cold at the top of the passes and hot while in the lowest valleys. The heat this year is going to make it a hard race. We have the best runners in the world gathered here, so although it is beautiful – gorgeous in fact – it is also very competitive.
In my experience, everyone wants to try and win this race before the 10-kilometer mark, so they set off quickly and then the real crunch point comes at Champex-Lac. That is the point where many elites blew up last year. It is also the point where you can tell who is going to win.
So, the course starts off with a fast, flat 8 kilometer to the first climb, Le Delevret, to which you can also power up. Then the next climb up, the Croix du Bonhomme, is more technical, as are the next three climbs. They tire you out.
The front of the pack will pass through Courmayeur (78 kilometers) while it is still dark. But, for most racers, they get to that stage as day breaks or during full daylight. That is when you get a new battery. It is a great vibe. Some people start passing and the race goes on.
Then, you need to get into your rhythm for the next section. It brings you up the Grand col Ferret, which is the highest part of the course at 2525 meters. Then, it is down to the lake…
For the last three climbs after the lake, you don’t use your legs, you use your soul. You have to put your trust in your ambition.”
The UTMB Dream
For many runners, UTMB is the dream race and the buzz in Chamonix during race week is palpable. The fastest runners are expected to complete the course in approximately 21 hours. The cut-off point is 46 hours 30 minutes.
The sheer size of the organization is astounding with over 2000 volunteers working the five races and competitions for young people and children that comprise the entire event. UTMB is the jewel in the crown and is part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour.
We wish Ester and all the other runners the best of luck as they take on the ultimate mountain race. We will be following live with updates on Facebook and Twitter, so please join us!
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The Challenge of Badwater 135 miler 2016

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release

For more information, contact:

Alice Hunter Morrison, Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, a writer for RunUltra, author of “Dodging Elephants, 8000 miles across Africa by bike” and Special Correspondent to Hope So Bright [email protected]

The Challenge of Badwater
Running America’s toughest race for awareness of Autism
July 21, 2016
(Manhattan Beach, CA)
Mohamad Ahansal is a Moroccan Berber from the desert town of Zagora. He is a five-time champion of the Marathon des Sables, the six-day race across the Saharan Desert. This year, for the first time, he took on the challenge of STYR Lab’s Badwater® 135 in the USA, running for IRun4Ultra to raise awareness about autism.
The STYR Labs Badwater® 135 covers 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA. It is the most demanding and extreme one-stage running race offered anywhere on the planet. The start line is at Badwater, Death Valley, which marks the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level and boasts some of the hottest temperatures in the world. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m). The Badwater® 135 course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859m) of cumulative descent.
Before he started the race, Ahansal said, “Running for IRun4Ultra gives this race special meaning for me. It is going to be very difficult, very tough with the heat and the elevation. I have never run this far in one go, but I believe that when you take on something so hard and give it everything and push through it to help children with difficulties; it is worth the suffering.”
The elite wave of runners for Badwater, including Ahansal, set off at 2300 PST, Monday, July 18. At the first checkpoint at 17 miles, he was lying in 12th place and was running strong. However, trouble started to kick in over the next 20 miles and his position dropped to 25th with a time of 7 hrs 17 min at 41 miles.
His knees, first the left and then the right, were failing as he was not accustomed to running on tarmac and he was wearing new shoes.  His luggage had been lost at Los Angeles International Airport.  As he pounded down an eight-mile descent, he was forced to confront the fact that he was facing long-term damage to his knees unless he gave up. He made that heartbreaking decision at 73 miles, with just over 62 miles to go.
“He gave it everything he had,” said Linda Sanders, Founder of IRun4Ultra, “ We couldn’t ask any more of him. Ahansal is a true champion and great desert runner but Badwater is a massive challenge and, this time, it was not to be. He has made us proud and, most importantly, he has helped tremendously in our mission to raise awareness of the problems of autism.”  Will he be back? “I hope so,” said Ahansal, “Next year, God willing!”
About Mohamad Ahansal
Mohamad Ahansal is a Moroccan Berber from the town of Zagora in the Sahara in the south of Morocco. He started running competitively in his teens but as a young boy he ran to and from school every day (7K each way) so, his conditioning started early. He and his elder brother, Lahcen, have won the Marathon des Sables 15 times between them. Ahansal has just taken first place at the Iranian Silk Road Ultramarathon.
About Hope So Bright and I Run 4 Ultra
Mohamad Ahansal ran as an IRun4Ultra Ambassador for Hope So Bright.  Linda Sanders founded Hope So Bright, a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity foundation in 2012, to provide financial support to nonprofit organizations who offer programs and services to disadvantaged, underserved and at-risk youth. The current goal of Hope So Bright, for the next several years, is to promote awareness, collaboration, education, resources and advocacy for children with learning disabilities, particularly autism syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with special consideration given to the underserved.  IRun4Ultra uses the sport of ultrarunning to promote those goals. For more information visit:  https://hopesobright.org.  To watch the sizzle reel for the ADHD documentary filmed at Marathon des Sables please visit https://vimeo.com/155417209 .
About Autism
Autism is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities, which cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning.
Hope So Bright’s 2016-17 Autism Awareness Campaign is focused on spreading awareness about the epidemic of Autism as well as the non-pharmaceutical behavioral programs that can effectively help children who exhibit symptoms.
 

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The Challenge of Badwater 135 miler 2016

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Harvey Lewis

Harvey Lewis Became Ultrarunner Despite Learning Difficulties

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How One Inspiring Man Conquered His Learning  Difficulties to Become a Teacher and World-class Athlete

By Alice Hunter Morrison, Moroccan-based Journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, RunUltra, and Special Correspondent to Hope So Bright

June 27, 2016

6E1A5136_MDS Harvey Lewis - Fresh Start Photo - John & Dawn Borntrager-34Harvey Lewis is a world-class champion, a lean, mean running machine, and a high school teacher of Economics and Government. He is an Ambassador for Hope So Bright, working to raise awareness about autism and ADHD and he is engaged to his beautiful fiancée, Kelly. By any measure, he is a very successful man – someone to be looked up to and admired. But that wasn’t always the case.
When he was young Lewis was fat, in fact, he was the second biggest boy in school. He was also categorized as having learning difficulties and was put in a special education class. “I was put into the Learning Disability classes. I was embarrassed by it,” said Lewis, “It was rough. In first grade, I got F’s on all of my English assignments. Writing was my worst skill. My teacher put me in the back because I was naughty. My parents had gotten divorced and my attention wasn’t there.”
Then a couple of things happened that were to change his life forever. The first thing was that Lewis went on a long hiking trip in Wyoming with his dad and the weight dropped off of him. The second was that he entered the Cleveland Marathon at age 15. Lewis finished the marathon, even though he had never run half the distance before and that gave him what he really needed self-confidence. “That changed things,” said Lewis, “My mindset changed. I thought to myself, this means that anything is possible. It’s what you put into it. After that, I got all B’s and above for the rest of high school. There was nothing that was going to stop me.”
6E1A7643_MDSLewis truly understands how children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD often feel. “They have lost hope. If you feel you are always going to fail, you don’t put in any effort,” he said. “It becomes a self-fulfilled prophecy.”
Lewis now teaches Economics and Government to 11 th and 12 th graders at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He works with up to 130 kids a day and many of them are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ADHD. He says that as many as a quarter of them might say they have ADHD, for which the school has an excellent program in place, but you have to remember that kids are kids and that it’s generally hard for many of them to sit still hour after hour in a classroom.
Added to that, modern life has changed the family unit, the way we communicate and, most importantly, our diet.
“Kids now are living with instant, changing technology. They are scrolling through Instagram, then looking at Facebook or a video. Concentration is different. One thing I have observed is that kids who are in orchestra or ballet are able to concentrate better, they have a little bit more focus.” Harvey Lewis - Fresh Start Photo - John & Dawn Borntrager-57
Lewis also says that the way children eat is a real problem. “A lot of the kids come to school and they’ve had chips, soda, doughnuts, or a Frappuccino…It’s not adequate and it doesn’t promote concentration. It only provides short-term energy. These are unhealthy choices. Kids are not eating properly.”
Everyone agrees that children should eat a healthy, balanced diet, but with many kids now living in single-parent homes or homes where both parents work, it can be a real challenge to make sure that food is home-cooked and nutritious. We live in an instant gratification world. This is something that Lewis believes we really need to prioritize. “We should have a serious push on teaching nutrition. Without that, everything else falls apart,” says Lewis.
Another major issue is fitness or the lack of it. “For some kids, walking to the bus stop is the only exercise they get. In lots of states, they have cut back on gym class because of budgets, which means there is no positive outlet for kids to expend their energy. The body is not regulated.”
Harvey Lewis - Fresh Start Photo - John & Dawn Borntrager-29Lewis continues, “I feel mentally and physically at my best when doing some form of fitness. Just 30 minutes a day. If we started off with yoga it could really have a calming effect. At the moment, we want the quickest solution for those with learning disabilities, just give them a pill. Of course, there are cases where that is necessary but it seems to me that we are not educating children about coping mechanisms, which will be beneficial to them throughout life.”
As someone who has actually walked this walk and has conquered his early problems to go on and have a full and productive life, Harvey Lewis is an inspiration to others. He believes that with the right support and attention, with correct diet and exercise, huge steps forward could be made for many children.
Harvey Lewis - Fresh Start Photo - John & Dawn Borntrager-24His story is one of hope and triumph against adversity. Lewis believes that his early struggle and the fact that he conquered his problems have given him strength in his later life and helps him when he is facing a challenging time or a really tough race. This is what he has to say, “I am thankful I went through it, it was a hell of a struggle but I had to get through it, and I did.”
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