Monday, September 16, 2019


More important to me than the RACE RECAP and getting to the finish line is how I got to the start line. In that race recap I wrote about the seeds that were planted as far back as 10 years ago. But what finally lead them to take root? What was my “WHY” for doing the race? What were the last 9 months of training like? What was my mindset along the way? How did it all come together? These are the questions that I attempt to answer here.

Journal entry 9/17/18 – note this is less than 2 weeks after last year’s race:

The Compete and Strong books talk a lot about goal setting, challenging yourself, not being afraid, etc. As I read from one of these books last week, it hit me, I want to run the Superior 100 next fall. I’ve always said that I don’t like being awake that long, let alone moving that whole time and that I don’t think my body would enjoy it. But deep down I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like – to see how far I could go and if I could battle the mental side of the sport. Of course, there was always the fear of failure, but I’ve been telling the cross-country kids that failure doesn’t exist – we try something, we learn something, and then apply those learnings going forward. Besides, if I “fail” I’ll be surrounded by like-minded people and, most likely, a crew of great friends who would support me.

While I like to coach runners, I admit when I’m out of my league – and training for 100M was definitely out of my league. Luckily, I bumped into Sherri Schummer at a happy hour in October and I was able to pick her brain. I first met Sherri in 2015 as I trained for my first 50M and she trained for her first 100M. That year she finished Superior with less than an hour to spare. Then last year, she ran 6 hours faster and was the 10th woman. Obviously, she was doing something right. That “something” was being directed by Coach Alicia Vargo.  

On October 29th, I reached out to Alicia;
I’m friends with Sherri Schummer and have been extremely impressed with her improvement over the last few years. I’d like to run the Superior 100 next year too and am looking for a coach. I’m wondering 1) if you have any openings and 2) how long you typically like to work with a runner leading up to a race? When it comes to #2, I imagine “the longer the better” but I was wondering if I started in January, would 8 months be long enough?

She replied the same day;
Thank you so much for getting in contact with me. Sherri is such a tough gal and it has been a pleasure to work with her!  I would love to see how I can best help you moving forward with your training and racing. Superior is such a unique and tedious (and beautiful!) 100 miler. It definitely necessitates a long, proper buildup. I think that 8 months would be prefect. I would probably structure your training, depending on where you are starting from, into two segments. A based building phase for 3.5 months, shorter break for 2 weeks and then 4 months of Superior specific training. January would work really well!  I do have openings and it would be a pleasure to work with you! Please let me know if you have any additional questions or if you would like information on what we would need to do to get started. 

Game on!

While Alicia handled the physical side of training, I knew it was also important to work on my mindset. As I tell the marathoners I coach, if we leave our thoughts to chance for 3 to 6 hours, it’s very likely that they’ll turn negative. I can only imagine the negative spiral that could take place during a 30+ hour race. To help get my head on straight I turned to sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais – well I didn’t turn to him personally, but through his terrific podcast, FINDING MASTERY, where he interviews “tip of the arrow” performers.

Journal entry 6/11/19
Being scared shitless is giving way to confidence and excitement… Feeling more confident because I’m able to get on the trails again, because of the two 50Ks I raced, because of some power hiking workouts, along with back-to-back longer runs.

One thing I’m working on is finding my ‘why’. I don’t want the Superior 100M to be about racing / competing / numbers. Instead, I want to focus on the process and let the outcome take care of itself.
Dr. Michael Gervais talks about the importance of clarity of purpose and finding your “why”;
“The more extreme the environment, the greater the benefit of clarity of purpose holds. When pain is greater than purpose, we give into the pain. When purpose is clear, we can override the discomfort to move to the expression of purpose.”
Right now, my purpose for running the 100M is a tribute to 40 years of running, sort of my Love Letter to Running, if I had to put a name on it. During hill repeats I’ve been thinking about everyone I’ve met through running, typically going through the different phases of my running life; my youth, high school, college, roads, trails, MDRA, youth running, and so on. I also think about all the races I’ve run, other events, and all running has given me. 

Journal entry 7/30/19
I like the idea of spending time on the trail thinking of everyone that I’ve met through running over the years. On the next few pages I’ve tried to make a list of everyone that I can remember. I’m sure I missed a bunch, but that’s not the point.

As someone who was concerned with sleep and being tired, I heard a few things along the way that gave me confidence.

On the drive to South Dakota for the Black Hills 50M, I heard a podcast where an ultra-athlete said that a 24-hour race isn’t really long enough to get sleep deprived.

Also, Steve Tapajna (who ran his first 100M last year at Superior) told me this summer that you don’t get sleepy when the sun goes down. That was really good for me to hear.

Not sleep-related but I also heard that if you stay hydrated and consume enough calories, you can do amazing things.

Dr. Gervais likes to say, “By doing the inner work, you earn the right to tell yourself ‘I can do difficult things.’” For me, inner work included defining my “why” as stated above, but also adding in a meditation practice. I use the Headspace app. Also, a gamechanger for me has been doing yoga twice per week. I used to have hip and back issues that seem to flare up 2-3 times per. Once the pain forced me to skip the Birkie ski race and just 2 years ago I DNF’d at TCM. Soon after TCM I added yoga to my practice and I haven’t had a flare up since.

As for the training itself, I don’t want to give away all of Alicia’s secrets, but let’s just say I was shocked when I look back at my weekly mileage. And, I mean, shocked because it was so low. From January 1st through August 31st, I average less than 42 MPW. Other than when I ran the BH50 and ran 66 miles, my largest week was 60 miles. And my largest month was 232 miles. I’ve had marathon build ups with way more mileage.

That’s not to say the training was easy. The numbers don’t show the back-to-back medium-long runs, or power hiking 15-20 hill repeats at Hyland when it was 90 degrees out, or the last three long runs of 24, 27 and 30 miles – the last one being a solo run on the SHT. There were definitely hard days, but there was also a lot of recovery. It was just surprising to me, because I think most people would associate 100M training with HUGE numbers in the log book.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t want this race to be about time or place. The only reason I put any time down on paper was so that my crew would have a better sense of when I’d arrive at aid stations. To help with this I used the information on Course Record times into each aid station and multiplied that by 50% to 67% in order to get a range. That seemed to work pretty well as I compared this range of time to actual results for friends I know from previous years. The problem with these previous results is that they were all over the board. The same friend would run 26 hours one year, but 33 hours the next.

After being set on my times for each aid station, Mallory Richard’s STATISTICAL ANALYSIS was posted. I reviewed my numbers with her method and tweaked a few things to determine the final numbers that I gave to my crew.

Another thing that really helped was reading Kevin Langton’s COURSE DESCRIPTION . Going into the race I’d only been on about half of the course, so this provided some great insight. Although I will admit that most of that goes out the window when on the course.

All of this combined to bring me to the starting line feeling incredibly calm. I wasn’t really sure why, however, the week after the race Dr. Gervais explained why.
“There’s a relationship between skills and challenge. If the challenge is hard enough and you believe you have the skills to match that challenge, that’s the sweet spot. If you don’t believe you have the skills to match that challenge, that’s where we get anxiety. You might actually have the skills, but if you don’t believe, if you don’t trust yourself, that’s where we get sideways.” – Michael Gervais
I definitely believed that this challenge was hard enough, but I also believed I had the skills to match the challenge.

Photo: Brian Beckman

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Just finished reading this but haven't shown it to your Dad yet. We are both so proud of your accomplishments. I had no idea of what all this run was about. So much mental prep plus the physical work, it was a great read. Love you, Mom & Dad