Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Western States 100 2014 - 6th

Just after the escarpment at mile four. Photo: Tanner Johnson

It always takes a couple of days to digest the emotions from 100 milers and that's the case again for Western States this year. Overall it was a beautiful day, not too hot (around 90F, compared to 100F+ last year) and punctuated by so many consistent, fast and smart runs.

I had a great week at Lake Tahoe pre-race with some excellent easy hike/run sessions, reminding me why I got married there back in August 2010.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe.

View from Mt Tallac, Lake Tahoe.

Running down Mt Tallac.

In terms of a race report, I'll summarize it briefly - I learnt stuff last year in the Grand Slam which meant I avoided any major problems, staying at a cruising pace all day with no real low points to finish 6th in 15:47. The heat training paid off so that ice in a bandana plus a water bottle full of ice was enough to keep me cool all day.

This time I was more excited than the previous four WS100s I've run - it just gets better and better. So the early mountain miles were spent chatting to a lot of the usual suspects, especially with Nick Clark at the front after he summited the escarpment first. I probably didn't need to go from outside the top 20 to leading from miles four to six, but the pace was casual and below the speed we all went last year. In fact, even Max King's leading time to Robinson Flat at 29.7 miles was a little slower than the lead pack ran there last year.

I was certainly happy with how it went, although I could tell early on that running Comrades four weeks earlier was still weighing down my legs. I'd hoped that going a bit easier at that race would have been fine, but I was greedy to include both and expect to be at 100% at WS100. It didn't make much difference, but I won't be doing that again next year, despite having such a great time seeing Ellie's incredible win. No regrets, but with major trail ultras getting more competitive every year, each takes more focus and respect.

I had a great time running with Team Montrail as my pacers (Matt Hart and Sean Meissner) as well as crew of Olivia Rissland and her boyfriend, Adam. Thanks so much to them for an amazing, flawless job.

Full WS100 results here and loads of info on irunfar. Big congratulations to all the finishers, especially Rob Krar and Steph Howe for their dominant wins.

My Strava file from the run. Plus Alex Varner's race report since we ran within a couple of minutes of each other all day long. He has the best trail etiquette in the business - he pulled off the trail to fart so it wouldn't poison me!

As a bonus I won the 2014 Montrail Ultra Cup with the Pixie Ninja, Kaci Lickteig. This mainly became a focus in the final miles when I knew I had to be close enough to Max King to avoid him leap-frogging me in the standings. In the end it came down to hardly and time or positions and could have gone either way.

Kaci Lickteig and myself with a huge-ass cup. Photo: irunfar.


Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0
Clif Bar Shot Gels (x50) and Bloks (x2)
UltrAspire Handheld Bottles
Drymax Maximum Protection Trail Socks
Julbo Dust Blue Shades
Mission Athletecare Enduracool Multi-cool

Photo: Tanner Johnson

Photo: Ultrarunner Podcast

Photo: irunfar
At the river for a swim with Bryon Powell and Matt Hart. Photo: mojoscoast

Monday, 23 June 2014

Welcoming Ellie Greenwood to the Sharman Ultra Coaching Team

Ellie winning Comrades 2014. Copyright MMPhotoSA

I'm really excited to announce that Ellie Greenwood is joining the Sharman Ultra Endurance Coaching team. Ellie needs no introduction as a runner, having won almost everything out there, including Comrades and Western States. Her focused training and smart race tactics make her almost unbeatable in races, while her smiley demeanor is legendary. So now she can pass on that experience to others to allow people to maximize their running potential, however an individual chooses to define that.

As well as her stellar personal achievements, Ellie has given numerous talks to runners and has the USATF Fundamentals of Coaching qualification. Ellie uses the philosophies and tried-and-tested methods I've developed through Sharman Ultra to provide the best advice and highest levels of personal contact in the online coaching business.

In honor of Ellie joining the team, Sharman Ultra also has a new website, so check it out at www.sharmanultra.com.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Western States Predictions Based on Strava Vert

Like a lot of other runners, I like Strava and the stats it produces. So, for the Bay Area guys with a shot at top 10 (mainly based in Mill Valley), who did the most vert and mileage in their build up to WS100? I guarantee there's little relationship between this and where they actually finish, but I thought I'd have a look anyway. So this is a prediction that's certain to be inaccurate (except through fluke)...so I suppose it's not that different from most predictions out there.

These figures are year-to-date up to the morning of Sat 6/21, a week before race day and only include runs with GPS data for the vert in Strava. They don't allow for a million things that will affect performance on the day, not least periods of injury (like Matt, Jorge and Chikara have had recently).

Dylan Bowman - 316,693ft over 1,695.4 miles

Ian Sharman - 247,379ft over 1,817.8 miles

Alex Varner - 234,770ft over 2,103.9 miles

Gary Gellin - 200,686ft over 1,205.1 miles

Brett Rivers - 185,387ft over 1,207.5 miles

Matt Laye - 145,627ft over 1,269.9 miles

Jorge Maravilla - 107,359ft over 641.9 miles

Chikara Omine - 90,558ft over 1,249.4 miles

In summary, DBo will win the Bay area face-off. Or not. These stats just pique my interest since fitness is only about 50% of the battle on race day and training quantity isn't the same as quality. These guys all know what they're doing and I hope they all have great races (just maybe a tad slower than my race, ideally).

Also, here's what the WS100 race course looks like on Strava.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Comrades Marathon 2014 - All About Ellie

Ellie in her moment of victory.

It's three years since I was last in South Africa for Comrades and I almost forgot how much I enjoy the event and surrounding atmosphere. This was my sixth run, my fourth 'down run' and it was the first time I hadn't focused 100% in my training on peaking and nailing the 89.3km road course. So I felt much more relaxed for starters and managed to treat it as a surprisingly fun 80-90% effort training run for Western States 100, four weeks later. I've done that with marathons to use them for training in the past, but I wasn't sure how it'd work out for something much harder like this. Judging by how I'm usually a cripple after Comrades, but am walking normally today, I think I got the balance right.

With around 4,000ft of ascent, the down run isn't exactly flat or purely downhill, but it does have a net loss of about 2,000ft. My Strava file gives a good idea of what it's like.

However, the real story was Ellie Greenwood's spectacular win. I've been lucky enough to help Ellie with coaching in the build-up, although what made the difference on the day was undoubtedly her iron will to push to her maximum.

Ellie had a lot of pressure on her with local media expecting her to break the decade long Russian winning streak. Last time Ellie ran was 2012 when she ran one of the fastest times in race history in 6:08, but eight-time winner, Elena Nurgalieva, ran 6:07. Having had injury issues through 2013, Ellie was very hungry for this race (a massive understatement). She set off at a good pace, settling into third while the Nurgalieva twins went off fast like always. She was four minutes back at 45k in 3:07, which was well within striking range.

Unfortunately Ellie wasn't feeling great and lost a little time over the next 15k to be as far back as 8 minutes. For most people racing against such dominant and successful siblings, it'd be easy to accept a solid third and a very respectable finish. But that's not the way Ellie races.

I was lucky enough to see the action first hand, although I didn't expect to. Per the plan, Ellie should have stayed ahead of me the whole way by a large margin since I was aiming for 6:30, which was far slower than her expected time. So it wasn't a great sign when I caught her at 69k with just under a half marathon to go. However, I'd seen Ellie running down the huge Fields Hill as I approached her and she was clocking off a solid pace around 6-6:15/mile and was moving well. Just as I was going to give her words of encouragement she briefly walked and I couldn't help but run past, still egging her on but with no conversation.

I kept looking over my shoulder to see if Ellie was moving well but lost sight of her within a couple of miles and hoped she wasn't cramping or injured. At 7k to go I rapidly came upon the twins who looked exhausted and kept walking uphills. If only I could have let Ellie know that they were spent then I know she'd be spurred on, but I suspect the crowd told her that as she ran by anyway.

Just 3k from the end I noticed the lead vehicle for the women was visible behind me, which it hadn't been since I passed the twins. It was approaching me fast despite the fact I hadn't slowed and was still moving the same speed as all day long. My first thought was that Elena must have found a second wind and was somehow closing fast to make sure she stayed ahead of her sister. Yet that car was approaching me rapidly and I couldn't see how she'd have turned that around so much. With 800m to go the car and lead motor-bikes went by then a green bullet shot past instead of a Russian in red. It was Ellie and she was closing with a steely focus that only champions have. I cheered and shouted out to her but she didn't even look to her left due to her single-mindedness of purpose. Looking behind I couldn't see any women so knew she'd won and achieved her biggest running ambition.

Running into the stadium I got out my phone and aimed to take a shot of her crossing the line but she was charging so hard that she finished before I rounded the final bend into the finishing straight. It was inspiring and exciting to run in behind her while Chariots of Fire played through the loud speakers. I must have been almost as excited as she was then I crossed the line and congratulated her before she was whipped away to TV interviews and drug testing.

It was one of the best running experiences of my life to cap a really enjoyable personal run throughout the day.

Durban beachfront.

Nedbank elite team, including Camille Herron, Amy Sproston, Ellie Greenwood and several others who got gold (including the first two men, just out of shot)

The start pre-dawn.

Finish selfie just before crossing the line.

Ellie receiving her prize on the big screen in the stadium, plus live on national TV.

My own race:

I'd aimed for around 6:30 but didn't intend to push since I didn't want to jeopardize Western States. So 6:18 with a negative split (3:12/3:06) and a 5:40 through 50 miles was really encouraging, especially since I've never felt that good in a race before. It also makes me hopeful that one day I can come back and run a gold medal for top 10...which required a 5:40 finish time this year.

For those who haven't considered this race yet, I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Here's a more detailed race report with plenty of stats about the race from my 2010 run.


Scott AF Trainers
Clif Shot Gels x6
Julbo Dust shades

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Final Western States Build-Up

View down the initial climb out of Squaw at WS100.

I felt a little sad to miss the 70 miles of Memorial Day weekend training runs for Western States, but have been in the UK for a couple of days in transit to Comrades in South Africa. The whole year so far has been about preparing for that classic trip from Squaw to Auburn and I've even decided to take Comrades easy (relatively), despite the fact I love the race and have given it my all five times already.

I've been getting in more vertical than previous years and heading up Mt Diablo as much as possible. Plus working on speed since there are so many ridiculously fast guys on the trails now that 5-minute mile pace isn't particularly quick to them. Lake Sonoma 50 was a good example of these speedsters really performing on hilly trails.

A week ago I took part in the Bay Area carnival that's Bay to Breakers, although I did a bit too much speed work during the week and didn't have much in my legs on race day. Still better than the last time I ran it, so the 43:41 for the 12k course wasn't a disappointment. However it was slower than the some of the other local guys who'll be racing WS100, given one of the centipedes (12 runners leashed together) had Matt Laye, Brett Rivers and Alex Varner...in fact Alex managed to jog 5:30s in a Daft Punk helmet. Scott Dunlap wrote it up very well with plenty of photos of the drunken costumes, plus those with a lack of costume.

With Comrades just five days away I'm planning on relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere without caring too much about how the race goes. I've always wanted to do it purely for fun and that should work better as a quality training run with a lot of downhill pounding. Instead I can live the race through Mike Wardian and Ellie Greenwood, both aiming to win after coming back from injuries. Once I get the last long haul flight out the way I'll be excited like a puppy being fed (trust me, I see that level of excitement twice daily).

Then it's just four weeks 'til the Big Dance. Plenty of time for a few more Diablo summits and also one on Mt Tam with the SF Running Company boys.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mt Diablo 50k

This weekend included the start of the Skyrunner World Series with the Transvulcania VK and Ultra, plus the last qualifier for Western States 100 at the Ice Age Trail 50. These races attracted a large portion of the world's trail ultra talent for good reason and led to many amazing performances and records. However, in-between peeking at updates for these races on Twitter I took advantage of yet another great Bay Area ultra, this time from the revitalized Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR).

Under previous race management I ran the Mt Diablo 50k back in 2010 and this largely affected the decision to move to Walnut Creek (which is at the base of the mountain) in 2011 and again last year. In fact, running on Diablo has been the centerpiece of my training over recent months so I knew every tiny change in gradient in the race. The double 25k loop which summits twice totals 8,900ft of ascent, making it one of the harder 50ks locally (Skyrunning's Speedgoat 50k has 11,600ft of ascent for comparison).

After a purposefully hard April with plenty of races, some at harder efforts than others, I wanted to see whether that training was paying off. When I ran it before it took 5:09 but the loops were 2:26/2:43 so I aimed to be a little more consistent while keeping things at a sustainably hard effort. Since only one person broke five hours since the race started in 2002 and many fast runners have had a go over the years, that was my target. Yet the more important part of the plan was to keep the lap times similar to practice pacing - running a fast 50k but fading near the end would tell me nothing useful about my fitness for 100 milers.

At the start I bumped into Brett Rivers (fresh off taking my Diablo Challenge 50k record last month) and Dylan Bowman (just a week after his strong win at TNFEC Bear Mt 50 Miler) who were squeezing in their eight hours of trail work for Western States before the deadline by volunteering. There were only about 10 runners in the 50k event, partly because PCTR is still getting back on its feet and many more were running the 25k or 8k distances. If this event is anything to go by then that will soon change and PCTR, like all the Bay Area trail race companies, should flourish. 

So I headed up the Back Creek Trail and was passed after a couple of miles by a guy I didn't know who ran every step of the ascent. I ran perhaps a third of it but used power-hiking efficiently enough to be only 30 seconds back at the summit in 1:26, then took the lead immediately on the descent. Loop one ended in 2:15, which was quicker than I expected, but I know several runners who started with that kind of time in previous years but missed five hours overall by slowing significantly. 

Loop two was similar and I got the pacing about right as temperatures heated up slightly. The summit came a little slower, arriving after 1:29 on the loop (3:44 total). Then the familiar descent was still fun with my legs behaving and feeling surprisingly unbattered. My final time was 4:33 with loop splits of 2:15/2:17, taking 15 mins off the 2009 record. Overall, it went better than expected and the record was a bonus plus a great confidence boost. However, I think that record could go much closer to four hours if some of the best mountain guys turned up motivated.

Full results are here and thanks to the race directors and volunteers for another excellent day on the trails.


Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels and bloks
UltrAspire handheld bottles with new 2014 nozzles
Drymax Trail Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades

Monday, 28 April 2014

Race Weekend Again - Big Sur Marathon

Bixby Bridge, halfway along the marathon route

I'm happy to get through the past three weekends uninjured and feeling pretty good overall. First was Lake Sonoma 50, then the Boston Marathon and finally the Big Sur Marathon. As well as enjoying three spectacular and incredible races, I wanted three sets of tough runs to host fitness for the summer 100s. Even by running Lake Sonoma at a comfy pace, it was still long and tough enough to be a perfect work-out. Then two marathons at fast (for me) but not quite 100% efforts worked on the speed when tired, especially by not taking backing off on the training much between races.

It's a fairly high risk strategy but over the past few years I've gained a good idea of where my red line is for injury and over-training. Plus with the proliferation of super-fast runners moving to ultras and succeeding, it's more and more important to work on speed - just look at the top men at Lake Sonoma this year, all with very fast marathon times.

Big Sur was as beautiful as ever along the hilly California Highway 1. Usually there's a fierce headwind but this time the air was fairly calm. I felt fast on the flats and downhills but the fatigue showed on the ascents, as can be seen in my highly erratic pacing, especially in the second half of the race. However, 2:41 following the 2:39 at Boston was very positive, particularly since it involved a slight negative split.

Much as I'm happy with the past few weeks and feel fitter and stronger, it doesn't remotely compare with Mike Wardian's win at the North Pole Marathon followed by a couple of fast short races the next weekend, then Boston (2:23) and a win at Big Sur (2:27). He set the masters' record for Big Sur as well as breaking his own record for Boston to Big Sur (that's an official thing which a lot of people enter) with 4:51 combined time. I'd say that sets him up well for a string run at Comrades in South Africa in a month...however, former Comrades winner and race team manager for Nedbank, Nick Bester, tweeted to Mike:

"Congrats on your marathon-just to (sic) close to @ComradesRace to take on the big dogs of Ultrarunning in the World."

In general I'd agree, but not in Mike's case.

The race was also a great chance to bump into plenty of ultra runners, both existing and new friends (all Bay Area races are like this now), plus Bart Yasso from Runners' World and the fastest American female marathoner ever, Olympic medalist Deena Kastor. Both are extremely friendly, approachable and have a lot of time for runners from all backgrounds, even those who want cheesy photos - just look at my grin!

How to look like a giant - stand next to a female pro marathoner!

Here are some scenic shots of the Big Sur race route, showing why the race sells out so fast. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers, especially Stephen Butler who looked after the elites and made life easy for Amy to enjoy the trip down as a spectator too.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Running For The Experience - Boston 2014

Newton Hills. Photo: Josh Niforatos.

At the moment I'm in the middle of the key part of my build-up for Western States 100 by running races for a few weeks in a row. Not all-out, 100% efforts because that would either lead to injury or burn-out. Instead it's a balancing act of getting in runs that provide quality training for endurance, speed and hills.

On top of that there's no reason the races can't be iconic, inspiring and exciting. That's why I picked Lake Sonoma 50 a week ago with a world class field combined with a great route and organization. Another obvious choice for me was the Boston Marathon, especially after the bombings last year. I've run Boston three times before and loved it, but as soon as last year's events unfolded I wasn't the only one to swear to sign up for the redemption and pride edition in 2014.

A road marathon like Boston is excellent for working on sustained speed and making the easier sections of a 100-miler much easier to cruise (yes, there is method to my madness). However, there are moments that are worth experiencing even if they don't fit in with a perfectly planned build-up to a race. After all, in a few years when I look back at my running career I want to reminisce about memorable events and trips in a lot of different styles (road, trail, jungle, desert etc).

The global running community and city came together in the expected, and genuinely up-lifting, show of spirit at Boston, as captured by Scott Dunlap in his blog. It will remain one of my favorite memories for years to come, plus the extremely fast runs of many ultra runners were enough to make me want to train harder and more intelligently. Here are a few speedy ultra runners:

2:19 Uli Steidl (1st Master)
2:21 Matt Flaherty
2:23 Matt Laye
2:23 Mike Wardian
2:23 Blue Benadum
2:32 Alex Varner (a week after fourth at Lake Sonoma despite slowing a lot in the second half)
2:41 Magdalena Lewy Boulet

I aimed for a hard effort but kept on training as normal in-between races so was happy with 2:39 with a 1:17/1:22 split. Usually I'd call that bad pacing but I wanted to test my legs and it felt like a low 2:30s marathon would have been feasible with a taper, which is as fast as I've ever been. I bumped into fellow ultra coach, Jason Koop, at the start and we ran the first half together before I backed off, then I caught him up near the end and we crossed the line waving and playing up to the crowd.

So for those wanting to run Boston one day, this year was a timely reminder of why this race is special. I know I'm fortunate to be able to pick and choose my experiences rather than relying on lotteries or unobtainable entry criteria (except the Olympics). Thank you Boston and congratulations to all the runners, especially Meb's amazing victory and Rita Jeptoo's third win and course record.

Full results here.


Scott Race Rocker 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels
Drymax Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Lake Sonoma 50

Lake Sonoma has become an incredibly competitive major race on the trail circuit, partly due to it offering Western States entries to the top three (or potentially four) men and women. To avoid over-racing this year and given a focus on Western States and Leadville, I ran it like the first half of an 100-miler, planning to run with Nick Clark. He was also taking things a little easier since he's racing UTMF in just under two weeks.

Unfortunately I missed the start since I was in the toilet queue and got going from the back of the pack. Since I wanted to keep the pressure low this worked out fine, but meant I only caught up to Nick just after the final aid station.

What I didn't miss out on were the great views of the lake on a course that didn't contain any hills bigger than about 600ft but still crammed in over 10,000ft of ascent. A fantastic out-and-back route where the course records were broken, as expected. Full results here.

Things felt fairly comfortable except the final couple of miles with Nick. He just wanted to get it done by that point and pushed a little more than I wanted, but we crossed the line in joint 18th. Here's the Strava file that lost a little signal in the early fog and gratuitous tree cover. Legs felt surprisingly good hiking Mt Diablo today, so it looks like the training is paying off.

Around mile one due to the road start to allow space to spread out before the single track.

First full aid station.

Running with Kaci Lickteig for half the day as she got third, under the old female CR.

Foggy morning

irunfar's Bryon Powell and Kim Gaylord.

I posed for this one, although this is roughly how the leaders must have run every hill.

Sage Canaday after the turnaround en route to third

Ryan Gelfi.

Bay Area giants making me look like a short-arse at the turnaround. Jorge Maravilla (left) wasn't running due to injury and Matt Laye is saving himself for Boston nine days later.

Low water levels due to the drought.

Nick Clark at the end. Over the past 250 miles we've raced each other our total time is just a few seconds apart.

16 miles from the finish, so the sign lies - that's pretty close to the end.
Plus a few more shots courtesy of Ultra Running Magazine.


Scott Kinabalu T2 2.0 shoes
Clif Bar Shot gels and bloks
UltrAspire handheld bottles with new 2014 nozzles
Drymax Trail Max Protection socks
Julbo Dust shades

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Races As Training Runs - Super-Compensation

In the latest edition of Ultra Running Magazine (April, 2014) I discuss using races for purposes other than racing all out for the best time or place. Related to this is the concept of super-compensation, involving subjecting the body to a greater than usual training load or stress which leads to muscles being forced to adapt and improve.

This is the time of year where many runners are building up to their focus 'A' race. Many of the people I run with as well as many I'm coaching are preparing for Western States 100. WS100 is also my target event right now and it's just under three months away so I'm getting into the peak phase of my training.

Super-compensation in practice

At this stage in the build up to a focus race I find it's really beneficial to run several races in close proximity, but off maximum effort. It gives an effective boost to endurance by using super-compensation since the period of racing involves a greater workload for the body to deal with, but not too much extra. The key here is having a period (in my case for about 3-4 weeks, but this varies depending on individual circumstances and the level of training a runner has reached) of slightly harder effort by the body, derived from a mixture of a little more volume and intensity. Choosing interesting and exciting races also helps.

There's a very fine line here to avoid over-doing things with much higher risk of over-training leading to fatigue and lower performance or injuries. Possible errors include:

- Running the training races too hard with intensity above the optimum for adaptation
- Increasing total mileage by too much with volume above what the body can withstand without overtraining
- A combination of a little too much of each of the above factors
- Picking up a small injury during the races and continuing to race, thus making it much worse

I wouldn't recommend the tactic of using multiple races in every situation for every runner, but it can usually be adjusted effectively.

Below is the example of my current training using races off maximum for super-compensation through the month of April this year.

- Mileage increase from around 80 miles/week to around 100 miles/week for four weeks
- Races as follows but with flexibility over the effort levels:
1. Grizzly Peak 50k (6,700ft ascent) 4/5/14 - comfortable pace, approx 100-mile effort
2. Lake Sonoma 50 Miler (10,500ft ascent) 4/12/14 - comfortable pace, approx 100-mile effort
3. Boston Marathon 4/21/14 - hard effort but a much shorter amount of time
4. Big Sur Marathon 4/27/14 - hard effort, but less than at Boston

Note the most important part of this process is the ability to be flexible and adjust the effort as required if the body seems overly tired. Potentially not starting races is an option but that's only likely if an injury occurs.