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Train Speed First

Many of us run and race for the daily challenge of waking, putting two feet on the floor and heading out the door.  The daily task that gives us purpose independent of anything else in our life.  That one thing we have control over, that never disappoints.  That dopamine hit with each step that creates self-discovery and the belief that we can strive and achieve, and that challenge makes us human.  As endurance runners, challenge is our middle name and I am going to challenge what you think is important about endurance training.


Photo Credit: Eric Orton

We need more than endurance to run well for long distances. In fact, I would argue that developing speed FIRST is the ideal approach to catapulting your ability to new heights as a long distance runner or ultra marathoner.  The elite marathoners and ultra runners develop this way, whether it is Eliud Kipchoge or Jim Walsmley, both considered one of the greatest marathoners and ultra distance athletes of today.  

Before Eliud began his marathon career, he specialized in the 5,000 meter distance, winning gold at the 2003 World Championship.  Jim got his start at the 1,500 meter distance with a 3:48 PR.  Jim often races on road and trail, which helps him keep his speed and leg turnover for longer trail races.  This variety is important.

Kilian Jornet, considered the greatest ultra athlete of all time has won some of the most challenging 100 mile mountain races AND has won the World Championships at the much shorter vertical kilometer distance that takes just under 30 minutes to complete.  Kilian would not be the athlete he is at the ultra distance without his short course ability.  In 2020, Kilian set out to improve his 10k road time and then went on to have his best ultra running season.  I do not think this was a coincidence, he improved his speed to help his mountain running and long distance abilities.


Photo Credit: Eric Orton

Let's take these examples to the typical path a collegiate distance runner might take, where they start in high school with track and cross country. In track, they might build up to running the 2 mile and in cross country the 4-5k distance.  This speed development prepares them for college where they might continue to compete at these distances or bump up to the 10,000 meter distance. Eventually, some of these runners will have post collegiate running careers that might lead to the marathon distance as they reach their late twenties and early thirties. 

 With the growing popularity and career opportunities in ultra running, we are seeing more and more of these collegiate speedsters take the speed they have developed since high school and apply it to the ultra distance races, starting out with a 50k and incrementally building in ultra race distance through time.  The point being, they are developing speed first, and then applying this to racing longer later.  It is this speed that is directing their potential and ability for running longer, well.  

I’ve already written a lot about how the Tarahumara (link to first article) Indian’s lifestyle helps them to be the natural-born ultramarathon runners they are.  What is a mystery to many - how to train to maximize our running ability and performance - the Tarahumara do as part of their daily life.  Yes, they have great strength and form (link to form article), but they also have a lifestyle from childhood forward that gives them a natural base of speed.  


Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

From the time Tarahumara children take their first steps, they’re walking a lot, all of the time, up and down hills. No horses, no cars, no buses, no bikes.  If they want to get somewhere, they hoof it.  If you had to call one thing they do the “secret weapon” of their culture, it would have to be the game rarajipari.  Children play as soon as they can (though at shorter distances than adults).  Here’s the game: Take eight to ten players per team and an agreed-upon distance for the race, usually 5-10k for their kids on an out-and-back course (so the villagers can watch).  

The object is to be the first team to kick and flip a baseball-size wooden ball over the race distance.  Some players carry a short stick to roll the ball on top of their foot to flick  it really high, but otherwise it's a ball and some very fast feet moving all the time over hilly, uneven terrain. With short, fast runs up and down the canyons, chasing after a ball, Tarahumara children develop incredible speed and have fun doing it.


Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

By adulthood, the Tarahumara easily transition to the longer fifty-to-a-hundred-mile version of the game.  At this point, they need very little, if any, additional training to compete at the much advanced adult race distance.

Speed dictates your potential!

With the growth and popularity of ultras marathons, many runners are jumping right to these longer trail races, without this speed development or much racing at shorter distances. This is great, but if their raw speed is not fast enough, they will not have the ability to run easily enough at an appropriate pace for the distance, missing race cutoffs. In other words, their appropriate pace for an ultra distance is hiking.  And then the common mistake is to add in longer and longer runs and increase total volume in an effort to improve, when they actually need to improve their “raw” speed and potential first, and then apply it to endurance training to truly improve their endurance ability.  

Let me tell you what I consider raw speed: the time it takes you to run one mile. This raw speed dictates your ability, potential, and is a great race predictor.  The faster your one mile, the faster you’ll be across the board in race distances.  

A few years back, I began coaching a female ultra runner who had hit a plateau and wanted my coaching help.  I told her that for her to improve and reach her goal of becoming a professional ultra runner, we need to improve her speed and spend more time on the track to improve her speed endurance in the mountains.  

One of her greatest abilities was trusting the process and being coachable in what might sound like a counter-intuitive approach.  Once we attacked her speed, she had a breakout year, placing second at the UTMB TDS ultra in Chamonix France, which helped her obtain sponsorship and become a full time ultra runner.


Photo Credit: Eric Orton

It's a little easier to describe this with marathon racing. If the one mile time is a great marathon predictor, to run a 3 hour marathon, your one mile time needs to be well under 6 minutes for you to have the ability to consider training to run 26.2 miles at a 6:51 minutes per mile pace that is required for a 3 hour race time.  If you want to break the 4 hour marathon barrier, look to improve your one mile time to approximately 7:00.


The keys to improving your one mile time:

  1. Carve out a period of time in the early season that you can devote to this specific training without worrying you need to be running a lot higher volume. 
  2. Perform a One Mile test: A timed one-mile run, executed as fast and as steady as you can. 
  3. The test is best done on a track for consistency.
  4. Record your time to measure improvement and to use for training.


6-8 Week Training Schedule:

Day 1 = Easy run at 65% of your one mile test pace.

Day 2 = *5-10 X 90 second intervals at your one mile test pace.

Day 3 = Recovery run at 60% of your one mile test pace or Day Off.

Day 4 = *4-6 X 2-3 minute intervals at 95% of your one mile test pace.

Day 5 = *5-10 X 30 second intervals at 105% of your one mile test pace.

Day 6 = Easy run at 65% of your one mile test pace.

Day 7 = Off Day

*Increase the number of intervals each week based on your ability and experience.

Run Fast, To Run Long.




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Let's talk about shoes, because they’re the culprits for many running issues I encounter - or at least the development of them. It’s time to realize that your shoes with the high stack height and nice cushy foam, all that “comfort” is breaking you down as a runner even as they likely advertise that they’re helping you keep from breaking down.

If you were a rock climber, would you climb in big puffy insulated winter ski gloves to protect your fingers from the rock?  Of course not.  As a climber your lifeline is your fingers, not only to feel the rock in a precise way, but also, how you use your fingers directly helps engage your forearm and shoulders for strength.  So it would be silly to use gloves, as you would not be able to grasp the rock and perform without the risk of a fall. This is very similar to how our feet stabilize our body and help activate other important muscles when running, like our glutes.  Yes, our feet dictate how well we use our glutes.  And putting on big cushion pillows as shoes has a similar effect to our running as it does climbing with gloves.  The super shoes, the cushion, the stack height, take away our foot’s ability to feel the ground and stabilize, which is our lifeline as runners. 

Our Feet Are Our Super Shoes

I’m not a barefoot and minimal running purist who believes that you should run this way twenty-four/seven.  Barefoot - or what I call natural running - has its purpose, particularly in strength exercises and run form practice - and for the purpose of this article, run strength.  Running naturally is a great way to feel how your toes and arch stabilize our feet and our body as we run.  It’s also a great way to build strength and muscle endurance that can be the most functional type of conditioning we do as runners.

But I am a coach, one who helps runners perform well in races in mountains and very long distances on road and trail.  Most runners are not strong enough to run in minimal or natural shoes for longer than 15-20 minutes before breaking down.  And it's very hard to train and perform appropriately without adequate protection for your feet.  The Tarahumara Indian runners know to wear some kind of protection while traversing their rugged terrain over hundreds of miles.  


Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

There is protection; then there is the kind of shoes that have gargantuan heels and stack height.  They might feel comfortable, but they are problematic for lots of reasons: They inhibit the natural movement of your foot; they don’t allow you to engage your foot for stability or proper muscle activation up through the leg; and they elevate the heel.  By taking away all of your proprioception and feel of the ground, the big shoes make it difficult to execute proper foot strike form, you have to almost force yourself to have a good forefoot strike, and even then, it is hard for your feet to stabilize and your calves aren’t engaged completely because your heel hits the ground too soon.  

This means you’re not getting the stability and muscle activation you need from your forefoot to your knees to the glutes.  This is a vicious cycle when tens of thousands of steps are involved in training and racing.  Equally bad, when you heel strike, the calves do not fire as they should, which translates into a loss of power, elasticity, and an overstressing of the quads.  You know the drill, tight hips flexors, tight IT Band, a speed or improvement plateau, and all the muscle tightness we have been brainwashed to think is normal - all from our inability to use our feet well.


Photo Credit: Eric Orton

Our calves act as loaded springs, storing and releasing energy as we jump or run.  The calves need to be loaded (or what I call “on stretch”) to release this energy, giving us a springy feeling.  This can’t take place in high, off the ground shoes.  With the invasion of the super foam in today’s super shoes, the shoe industry is trying to manufacture this elastic energy with the use of carbon plats and very responsive foamed midsoles. And guess what, from all indications, they work and are making runners faster. It's no mistake that these companies are putting the carbon, propulsion plates into the forefoot of the shoe - which if you don’t believe in forefoot strike run form, this should convince you, as they do not engineer them into the heel.  Records are being broken, but there is some indication that the performance gains are only real at very fast speeds.  And if you wonder what destruction they are causing to your body, checkout many of the video clips on Youtube of the elites racing in the super shoes and notice the excessive pronation that occurs. This shuts down our glutes and over-stresses the quads and hip flexors, causing all sorts of muscle tightness.  

Cushion Vs. Stability

Is there a perfect shoe? I’m not so sure, but I do know that if we begin to view our shoes as “tools” our perspective changes and that our shoe choice doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach.  Furthermore, if we embrace the idea that our run health begins with the strength of our feet (link to foot strength article), we can then use a natural shoe as a strength tool to enhance our performance, strength and health.  A natural shoe has a very thin, low to the ground sole that is flexible, with a zero drop, where there is no difference in height between the heel and toe.  This kind of “performance” shoe allows for proper forefoot engagement with the ground, awareness of form, stability through the toes and foot, and the lengthening of the calves to act as a spring.  By running in them, you foster foot strength and muscle equilibrium through the body, because you are able to use your feet and body better.

Look again at the Tarahumara runners.  They run hundreds of miles in old tire treads cut to fit their feet, nothing more securing them than a leather strap between their toes and around their ankle.  They have run this way from childhood, but you can benefit just the same by using a natural shoe as a strength based tool.  The Kenyan runners start out running barefoot as a child, that develops foundational strength in their feet and legs that is no less important as their speed development as they mature.


Photo Credit: Eric Orton

Ultra Strength

Many of my ultra running athletes use this strength approach.  I have coached Margot for almost 20 years. She was a triathlete who had some pesky injuries when we first started working together. We attacked her foundation by training her feet and infusing the use of a minimal, low to the ground, natural shoe for some of her runs.  Every step can be an opportunity for strength.

The strategy is to use a natural shoe for some runs and use a more protective shoe for longer and faster runs. And then through time, as the athletes develop more and more strength and capacity for lower to the ground shoes, they are able to run their longer runs and races in a more natural shoe, based on the protection and their tolerance needed for the terrain and distance. Ideally, this process is never ending, you just get stronger and stronger, and lower to the ground.

We know strength training is beneficial for runners. And you might also realize the importance of speed training to improve your running performance. But we don’t have to go to the gym or the track every day to achieve these benefits. The approach here is no different with a natural shoe. A little bit of running in them goes a very long way towards improving strength in a very potent way.

This was my goal for Margot.  Through our natural shoe strength development approach, she was eventually able to race the Tor des Geants 200 mile mountain race in Europe.  She went into the race much stronger and injury free, and was able to race in a low to the ground, 4mm drop shoe that gave her great performance agility and feel of the ground.  And this course was no joke, with 100,000 feet of elevation gain over the 200 miles.  As a 50 year old athlete, Margot placed 17th overall female and 2nd women US finisher.


Photo Credit: Margot Watters

Strong From The Ground Up

But if you’re still not sure, just try it.  Experiment with a zero drop, low profile shoe.  Feel how much easier it is to feel the ground and use your feet for stability and how much stronger you become as a runner.

But don’t just toss out your old shoes.  Remember the minimal shoe is a strength tool and you will have to take the transition slowly because you’ll be firing and using muscles you are not used to using - which is the point.  The shoes will feel GOOD, and that is where runners get into trouble, they do too much too soon because it feels so good.

Here are a few ways to incorporate a natural shoe into your weekly running to help with the transition:


Improve Your Natural Running

What to look for in a natural shoe:

  • Zero drop platform.  

*Not every zero drop shoe is created equal. There are some very high stack height, cushioned shoes that are zero drop but are not minimal or natural in performance.

  • Flexible Midsole/Outsole with a stack height of approx 10mm or less.


Natural Running Goal:

  • Build up to 1-2 days of short, easy natural strength running.
  • As your strength capacity improves, look to reduce the stack height and drop of your “everyday” shoe. As your feet get stronger, they will prefer more natural movement and your everyday shoe might start feeling uncomfortable, this is your signal to choose an everyday shoe that has more natural shoe qualities, like less cushion and stack height. 
  • Use a casual natural shoe for work and walking about your day. Now you are adding strength all day long.

Run strong, to run long.





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Our Feet Are Our Super Shoes


The majority of runners do not have the strength they need to become the runners they want to be.  They have been brainwashed into thinking muscle tightness, poor mobility, pain and discomfort are just “part” of being a runner. The more we run, the more we hurt.  I was recently at a 2-day run relay event and the longest line at the race expo led to the injury management tent.

This is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be this way and what you are about to read could transform your running, if you let it.   

But let me first tell you a story.


I stood at the starting line of a fifty-mile race, the culmination of a week-long dream journey for me as a runner and a coach. Save for my shirt and shorts, my hydration backpack and fuel in my pockets, this was no ordinary race. Far, far from it. First, I was in the tiny remote village of Urique, tucked between steep cliffs and a river, in the Copper Canyons of northwestern Mexico. There was no grand race gate, no timer microchip on my shoes, no firing of a gun, and no massed swell of athletes tripping over each other to get ahead. In fact, we had to recite the words ‘lost and die’ as a possibility, that would be “my own damn fault.”

There were only a couple dozen runners, a simple, foot drawn mark on the dirt road in the center of town to indicate a starting point, and a tall, sun-bleached blond American nicknamed Caballo Blanco to shout ‘Go!’.

The runners that day were not my usual competitors either, and that was the point, really. This was a race to bring together two cultures, one old, one new, both with a devout love of running, and running at the extreme, over very long distances. In today’s race, we faced 50 miles in the stark, hilly landscape of the Copper Canyons. Those of the new culture were among America’s best ultramarathoners, including the dynamos Scott Jurek and Jenn Shelton. Those of the older culture were the Tarahumara Indians. Dark and tawny-skinned, their legs rippling with muscle, they wore loincloths and brightly-colored, long sleeve shirts that billowed when they ran. Their shoes, or more appropriately huaraches, were simply a flattened, foot-shaped cut-out of tire tread lashed to their feet with leather straps. 


Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

The Tarahumara, whose true name was the Raramuri (or, “Running People”), came from a collection of isolated, secret tribes who lived in the Copper Canyons, surviving not much differently than they had for hundreds of years. They were known, most of all, for their amazing feats of endurance running, able to seemingly journey forever over parched and rocky trails amid some of the most forbidding landscape on Earth. I had known of their legendary feats for over a decade, but to be with them in the flesh, as I had been for several days now, remained a wonder.

While in Urique the days before the Copper Canyon race, I spent every possible moment watching and interacting with the Tarahumara.  I wanted to know how they’d become such amazing endurance runners. What gave them the ability to run a hundred miles, more, in a single day over such extreme terrain, into their fifties, sixties, seventies. 

I found their special, secret “sauce.” It’s not some extra muscle or anatomical advantage.  It’s many ingredients blended together: running early and a lot as children, their diet, their terrain, their shoes, the games they play running, a whole lifestyle built around movement.  But this sauce isn’t magical or surprising.  Much of what I observed in the Tarahumara I had already come to learn was essential for my athletes and something YOU can have too.  Rather than being revelatory, my time in Mexico that became part of the best selling book Born To Run, was more affirming of the new “sauce” I had developed in my own coaching.  In the field of coaching runners, one that is both an art and a science, affirmation is a beautiful thing.

In terms of strength, the Tarahumara have it in all the right ways for endurance running.  This first became clear to me when Manuel Luna, who was kind of the grandfather of the tribe of indians, offered to make Barefoot Ted his own pair of huaraches.  In his late fifties, sporting a Yankees baseball cap over his jet-black hair, Manuel had run in the first Leadville 100 ultra race featuring the Tarahumara.

While making Ted’s pair of huaraches, he remained in a squat on the side of the main street in Urique.  With his butt sitting low, almost touching the ground, he sawed away at the old tire tread with his knife that would soon become the sole of Ted’s huaraches. Not a big deal, you say.  Attempt a simple deep squat on your own; see how close you can bring your butt to the floor in a squat without your knees going inward.  Or maybe your squat is more of a lean at the waist.  Manuel’s ability to remain in a squat for close to an hour while working with his hands demonstrates remarkable stability, mobility, and muscle equilibrium. 


Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

In the following days, as we ran the same trails that Manuel and the other Tarahumara ran, there was no doubt where he had developed this strength, stability - muscle equilibrium - and it reinforces the central role our feet play in running health and performance.


Stop. Reach down and take your shoes and socks off and balance on one foot.  Not too hard, yeah, but notice how hard your big toe and arch has to work to just stabilize your balance.  Now try lifting your heel slightly off the ground and stabilize on your forefoot only. Not so easy, actually very challenging, yet every running step we take we are asking our leg and foot to be stable in this position.  An amateur runner will take between 1,500-2,500 steps per mile. That is 39,300-65,000 steps for a marathon.  Foot strength is the ‘true strength’ we need.

How we use our feet directly relates to how we stabilize and use our running muscles.  Simply put, we are only as strong as our feet.  Yes, your feet.  It’s rare for people to talk about endurance runners needing to be athletic - and the strength that comes with that.  It’s rarer still for foot strength to be in the conversation.  Bizarre, really, since the design of our feet, from toes, to arch, to heel, is integral to our ability to run.  You could argue that they are our lifeline as runners, just like finger strength is a rock climber’s lifeline. Climbers train their finger strength all of the time, why don’t runners train their feet with the same vigor?


Photo Credit: Luis Escobar

Our feet, with their many bones, joints and muscles, tendons, and ligaments, are key to run strength and equilibrium.  Most runners don't think - it’s simply not in our consciousness - that we can train our feet, but we can, and we should think about doing so with the same level of purposefulness that we pay to “the core.”  For runners, the feet are more than a key part of our strength. Everything starts with them.  They set the stage, good or bad, for the whole leg, and we want to set a very, very good stage.

A lack of foot strength reduces our stability, and stability is the foundation you need to propel yourself forward efficiently and in a healthy way.  Without it, you are no different from a house with a weak structure with a welcome mat inviting in IT Band syndrome, tight hip flexors, achilles issues, shin splints, and general aches and tightness.  Overtime, things will collapse and this points to how foot strength sets the stage for everything else.  It does so because of its interconnectedness to the rest of your lower body, from ankles, calves, and knees to your glutes.  


Photo Credit: Dillon Deloge

As runners, this interconnectedness makes it impossible to separate foot strength from leg strength and stability.  Utilizing the foot properly helps you activate and fire muscles all the way up your body that helps create muscle equilibrium and takes away the tug and pull of dominant and weaker muscles that cause tightness and dysfunction that lead to a parade of problems that most runners deal with and lead to standing in the injury management line at the race. 

This is not a function of being a runner, but a function of not using your body well.  It doesn’t have to be this way and using your body well, starts at the feet.

Here are a few simple but POTENT foot core exercises to help you get started and rebuild your foundation from the ground up.  


One-Leg Barefoot Balance:

  • Balance barefoot on one foot on a hard surface with your heel a little elevated off the floor to stabilize only with your forefoot.
  • Use a chair or poles or the wall to help you stabilize when needed. 
  • How Many: 2-4 sets of 30-90 seconds per foot or until fatigue.  2-3 times per week and/or done as a run warm up before you head out the door.
  • Awareness: You will feel it where you need it. Some might struggle with strength in their feet, others might be stronger in their feet and feel more fatigue in their calves and glutes. 
  • Note: This is not a calf raise exercise, with up and down movement of the foot. There is no movement, just stabilization.
  • Video: Watch Eric’s coaching demonstration.   

One-Leg Side Lift:

  • Balance barefoot on your right forefoot using a chair, poles, or wall to help stabilize. DO NOT try and do it without this balancing help.
  • Keep your right leg straight, raise your left leg sideways.
  • Raise your left leg only as high as you can while maintaining level hips, and then go back to start position.
  • How Many: 2-4 sets of 15-20 reps with both legs or until fatigue. 2-3 times per week and/or done as a run warm up before you head out the door.
  • Awareness: This is a stabilizing exercise for the stance leg, not a range-of-motion exercise for the moving leg.
  • Video: Watch Eric’s coaching demonstration.

One-Leg Knee Lift:

  • Balance barefoot on your right forefoot using a chair, poles, or wall to help stabilize. DO NOT try and do it without this balancing help.
  • Keep your right leg straight, lift your left knee in front of you as high as you can, and then back to the start position.  Keep your movements slow and controlled.
  • How Many: 2-4 sets of 15-20 reps with both legs or until fatigue.  2-3 times per week and/or done as a run warm up before you head out the door.
  • Awareness: This is a stabilizing exercise for the stance leg, not a range-of-motion exercise for the moving leg.
  • Video: Watch Eric’s coaching demonstration.

Run Strong to Run Free!




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The carbon plate has become the star of the Olympic Trial build up and all of the rage in shoes these days. For good reason as it increases propulsion and energy return.

The idea behind the plate AND the new innovative mid sole foam is to create more STIFFNESS that creates more energy return. Just like our muscles, tendons, and ligaments are meant to coil energy and then release it - elastic energy!

Stiffness, tightness, force production, all of this is necessary to improve run performance AND for heathly, strong longevity in the sport.

Here is my "DON'T DO THIS, DO THIS" list to help train this way:

-> DON'T underestimate how crucial it is to train the feet. They are your foundation of stability, force production, power, and energy return.

DO train your feet as YOUR MAIN focus of strength. You are only as strong as your feet.  For those of you who have my book, The Cool Impossible, you know how potent my foot strength program is.

Using the FREO Slant Board trains the feet to engage the big toe and arch, which in turn activates the calves for superior muscle elasticity - or your body's own CARBON PLATE. HOW we train the feet, dictates how we fire our muscles and create stability at our knee and glutes/hips. And this is the holy grail for running performance and health.

-> DON'T rely on gravity or leaning when running.

DO focus on providing force into the ground to propel yourself forward.

-> DON'T continue to rely on stretching and group classes that focus on hyper mobility that deflates elastic energy, stability and strength.

DO focus on power metric drills to create more force, elastic return, and stiffness to improve health and speed.

-> DON'T focus on developing strength in the gym thru heavy and slow lifting or high rep, low weight.

DO focus on developing proper run strength by doing power metric drills, short, fast sprints, eccentric and isometric training.

-> DON'T stop focusing on foot strike and resist that their is a proper way to run.

DO be patient when transitioning to a forefoot to heel strike technique. How we use our feet and strike the ground dictates everything.

-> DON'T consistently rely on tempo and long easy runs for ongoing improvement. This is no different than relying on the above gym strength.

DO incorporate short sprints, short uphill AND downhill intervals, and VO2max workouts, regardless of the type of runner you are.


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The Trails Are Open. But how's your IT Band?

What goes up, must come down. And for the most part, run form should not change relative to speed, or in my case today, terrain. Especially footstrike.
It is fairly easy to have goog forefoot to heel strike going up, and challenging to have good foot placement coming down, as gravity will try to pull you into mistakes.


Every Spring I get calls from local athletes complaining of IT Band issues. Because as the trails open, more and more runners are doing more and more descending.
Poor footstrike places a lot of stress on the quads and a huge demand for stability that is hard to have with bad form.
This all can create IT Band issues, and eventually tight hip flexors.

The simple, long term remedy is to use the early season to develop eccentric loading strength and stability. This is done by slowing down on the descents so you can have ideal forefoot to flat foot strike under you.
The key is to be patient with your speed and practice "good" so you can have good muscle equilibrium and the ability to go faster later. This all goes in concert with the foot/leg strength program you are doing in my book.
More is not better, better is better.

Today's Session:
MS1: 1,000 ft climb at threshold watts.
MS2: downhill easy for foot strike practice and strength.

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Ouachita Trail 50 mile race report


This race is directed by Chrissy Ferguson. Need I say more? She is a powerhouse and puts on top notch events. The MANY volunteers were awesome. The weather was extremely challenging, with almost constant rain, very heavy at times, wind, and temps in the low 50s. I don’t know how they kept from freezing to death waiting on us for hours at aid stations.

Advanced warning...this is the long version. This helps me go back and pick through my thinking and what I did so I can be better prepared for the next race. I try to do this quickly after my races so my thoughts aren’t modified by time and the ability to process and change how I perceive my race. It’s amazing how quickly those first thoughts are modified by time and reasoning. I can also remember details of what I did better, and the devil is often in the details.

This was a “train through” race. No planned taper, not much recovery post race. I had done longish runs the previous saturday and sunday with hard long intervals.  I also did intervals and speedwork this week. This left me with tender quads through Wednesday. Thursday was my only really easy run this week and Friday no running.  Race strategy was to keep things very easy and controlled for 30 miles, then race with constant focus for the last 20 miles. My goal race this year is Moab 240, a 238 mile race in October. We’ve been working on speed early this season to get the legs accustomed to “faster feeling easier”. The focus will shift later this season to translating that “faster feels easier” to “faster feels easier LONGER” in other words speed endurance.  

With the predicted weather, I packed my 2 drop bags with dry long sleeve tech shirts, dry light, but waterproof, jackets and some caffeinated chocolate and various snacks I might decide I want. I knew from experience that even with a totally waterproof light jacket, with sustained wind and heavy rain, water would eek it’s way in over the hours around my head and neck, and along with sweat, gradually saturate me from the inside out. A heavier shell would keep the water out, but I would suffocate and sweat more. I wore shorts, as wet leggings are no fun.  With the temps, rain pants would also suffocate me. If I could keep my chest and arms warm, I would stay warm.

Race start was 6am, so headlamps on, we headed out of the park’s shelter into the rain and onto the road. Fortunately, we had a couple miles of road to warm up and spread out a little before hitting the rocky, rooty, muddy, wet trails. Initially, the trails were saturated. There were frequent pools of mud and water, some stretching several meters. We crossed some small streams and made our way over to Pinnacle Hill. We climbed a little, but were restricted to the base due to the weather. The dogwoods, blooming shrubs, and other trees were on full display. The bright green leaves were almost glowing in the early dawn. My mood was good, but not particularly “happy”. I knew the nature of what lie ahead….50 miles of rocky, rooty, muddy trails and cold rain. My mind was not excited. The race strategy, which seemed like it would be nice and “ez” (compared to most of my 50 mile races), was actually going to be challenging. I knew I would be in this mode for the next 20 miles... not racing, but not dilly dallying. Being in this place still required focus or laziness sets in. I felt decent energy was, but knew I was not rested, and I wondered how that would play out over the long haul.

I was tolerating solid food and water very very well. I started with pb&js i had stashed in ziplock baggies. I was probably taking in 200-300 calories or even more per hour, due to pace and effort, my stomach was absorbing it well. Normally on a 50 miler, max caloric intake for me is closer to 200 calories, and usually in the form of gels. By 10 miles I was starting to realize this would be the scene for the next 40 miles. Rocks, roots, water, mud, wind, rain. I had to pull my jacket hood on which limited my view to my feet and about 10 feet around me. It also limited my hearing to only the wind and rain. It was somewhat like being in a sensory deprivation chamber. Normally, at races you have the varying terrain, the changing views, the noises of birds, animals, leaves, and the chatter of runners to distract the mind. Not today. The scene unchanging. Everyone dead silent. Only 2-5 word exchanges here or there between runners. My body felt fine, my mind not so much. I was amazed and frustrated by how limited my senses were wrapped up in my jacket and hood.

By mile 13, I was calculating how many more hours of the same shit. 8? 10? It’s always a bad idea to calculate how much farther/longer one has to go this early in a race. Not only that, but I had to return on the same damn trail. The nasty shit I was treading, I would be treading again. I typically shoot for courses that are point to point and mountainous, so this was a huge shift for me. Quite frankly, I was being a baby. I thought about how many people would love to have the ability to be on a trail for 5 minutes, and at that moment, I realized I didn’t care. Normally, that thought sets my head straight. That’s when I knew I was facing the biggest challenge of the day...my own damn candy-ass mind set. I knew it was off…. and I was wallering in it, thank-you-very-much. I knew at 16ish miles I could make the decision to drop to the 50k, that is where we would split off from them. Go left, day done early, go right and it’s the whole enchilada. I knew i just had to get my ass past 16 miles so I would no longer have a choice. As time went on and my head did not clear, I was actually nervous I might just take the 50k turn. Fortunately I passed it.

At 18 miles I hit an aid station and was informed I was now in 2nd place. The 1st female runner was dropping and I was about 5-10 minutes behind the second. I knew this was a good sign, and very possible for me to catch her if she was going at a less conservative effort than me. I knew the cold and the rain would catch up and slow everyone down, and that most people were probably exerting a little higher effort to stay warm and get done as quickly as possible. I also knew that the next female was probably 20 years younger than me. Youthful legs count, but so does age and experience. And today’s course and conditions lent itself to experienced legs. So I was cautiously optimistic. Unfortunately, this knowledge did not lift my mind/spirits.

At 18 miles my mind was struggling, but I was doing nothing to help it. “Well, that’s just dumb” I thought. If my belly is grumbling, or my feet are hurting, or I’m cold, I’m going to try and help myself right? You would do something to try and alleviate those problems, right Lori? You would be stupid not to. My mind was hurting, no different than my feet or my belly….so what was I doing? Throwing salt on that wound. Beating myself up for having a bad head game.  Soon, I remembered that research shows that just talking optimistically to yourself actually boosts performance. This was shown in repeat studies to boost performance by 6-10%. That translates to speed. So just like calories make you faster, taking care of your mind makes you faster. I was at a loss for positive thoughts. “You’re doing really well….”. I laughed…. “is that the best you can really come up with?” Then I started thinking, what is the goofiest, silliest thing you can think of….and (don’t judge)...King Julien from Madagascar came to mind. The fuzzy, self absorbed, ignorant to the world around him, lemur. He is totally oblivious to his own ignorance and he dances. I visualized him dancing and talking in front of me, oblivious to the miserable conditions. The song he dances to in the movie?..… “Move It”. So I was singing, “I like to move it, move it” and following King Julien. I was not dancing, but it worked to put a little salve on my wounded brain. Then, I got out of myself enough to visualize how Todd would treat me at the end of my 100 mile races. He almost always paces me the last 10 miles. Always in front of me, with his black calf sleeves and black shorts. Making silly moves, shrugging his shoulders when I’d whine, saying “meh, you got this” Totally chill, totally confident. Just shake it off and lets go. Then thoughts drifted to my kids, oh man….I would not want them to feel defeated. One of my mantras in parenting, “show em how to be”. So, even though they couldn’t see me, I straightened up as if they were watching, to show em how to be, persist, be strong in adversity, finish what you start. By 24-25 miles I was back. I only had 5 more miles before I could “race”. I knew I could “race”. I was already passing people steadily and I knew I had a nice physical reserve just waiting.

Fortunately, I had restocked/refueled my mental tank over the past 5 miles as well. I ran in to good friend James Reeves as he was coming back. He looked great. I was worried about him as he did not wear a jacket, no vest. Shorts, long sleeve tech shirt and 2 handheld cold water bottles. He’s tall and lanky.  I was afraid he was going to freeze to death, so I was really relieved to see how fresh and good he looked. This also boosted me. Damn, if he can feel that good/look that good, so can I.

About 2 minutes from the turnaround I met the lead female. She looked to be feeling really good and moving well. I just hoped I was moving and feeling better. I took my time at the turnaround and downed a full cup of warm noodles and a square of pb&J. I did not feel the need to change even though I was completely soaked. I was comfortably cool, and thinking my effort would increase, was worried I would actually get hot if I added layers. I also didn’t want to take the time to change, knowing where the lead female was. In 15 miles I would have another opportunity to hit my drop bag with fresh clothes, so I took off. I still had 4 miles before I was to “race”, but with the lead female not far off, and a small road section and easier trail, I picked things up just a little and ran more focused. My heart rate didn’t go up much if any, but I felt like I was moving a little faster and definitely more efficiently.

The new focus really helped as well. I was focusing on my effort, increasing it enough to be steady and strong and not fade. My only concern was my heart rate. It was not going up despite my higher effort and perceived faster pace. I knew it wasn’t lack of calories or dehydration. I knew it was likely the cold, even though I wasn’t “cold”. I was cool. I kinda let go of the concern about heart rate and just focused on the effort, calories, water. I added some salt stick and started picking some saltier crackers from the aid stations.  I caught and passed the lead female around mile 29. We exchanged a few words of encouragement. I stopped looking at my watch so much, as I was noticing the awareness of my heart rate was making me too nervous. I just focused on effort, calories, water, not getting cold. I hit the aid station where our final drop bags were around mile 32. Here was my mistake. I was still not “cold” and the rain had let up just a little. I did not change jackets or shirts. I left in my saturated self. I knew I was soaked under my thin rainproof jacket. I had no gloves and I was really just completely soaked. I saw everyone else the same way, so I lulled myself into thinking I didn’t need anything more, I didn’t need anything more to sustain. But sustaining and performing are 2 different things. IMPORTANT. Sustaining and PERFORMING are 2 different things.  I needed more, dry clothes, dry jacket to PERFORM better. The problem was, I was ok, but I could have been much better. And, later I would find out that I did truly NEED that dry shirt and jacket.

The weather deteriorated even further. The wind picked up and the rain become a more sustained downpour.  There is definitely a significant difference between a steady rain and a steady downpour. The trail also changed. What was wet, rocky, rooty, muddy, frequent extended areas of water to ankles, was now a river. A muddy, rocky, rooty 3-6 inch river, with few exceptions of ankle deep mud where there weren’t rocks. The numerous stream crossings were now calf to upper thigh (on me) deep swift moving water. It was like cold immersion torture. I could feel my body temperature drop with each deeper immersion, which was literally every ¼-1/2 mile. This next stretch between aid stations was 8 miles.

At about mile 36 (halfway between aid stations) I ran up on a slender, 20 something, fast looking kid.  He was weaving and had a very distant look in his eyes. I asked, “are you ok?” Shivering uncontrollably, he shook his head “no”. He was shivering so hard and uncontrollable he was groaning with each really hard chill. I gave him my most stern motherly look and said, “ok, this is going to suck and it is going to hurt, but you have to get on my heels and run with me”. “We have to get your heart rate up, that is the only way. If we get your heart rate up, you will get warm”. I made him eat 2 of my sacred oreos to try and ignite his engine...or cause him to vomit. Either way, the calories or the vomiting would increase his heart rate, I thought sadistically. “We are going to run hard for 4 miles, that’s it, just 4 miles to the next aid station and then you get heat” I reassured him, “You are way faster than me, you can do this, but you HAVE to focus!”. He shook his head yes and I took off. It hurt. And, concerningly, my heart rate was still going up only slightly. My legs were now cold and gelling. My mind was fine, I was full of energy, but my legs were rigging. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to run hard enough to get his heart rate up enough to get him out of danger. I could hear him dry heaving and groaning behind me. He faltered and fell back a few times at first, but after about 10 minutes he was doing a little better. I knew we had a good 40-50 minutes to the next aid station. He continued to groan and heave.

I was working hard and trying to navigate the very slick terrain. I didn’t feel like I had time to slow enough to dig out food for myself or drink.  I did manage to get a few nibbles and sips though, as 2 hypothermic runners would not be of any use. At what I thought was about 2.5 miles left, I told him, “ok, less than a 5k, you got this, a hard painful 5k and it’s over”. About that time we passed another runner. He said “only a little over 3 miles to the next aid”. I was like, “shut the f up!, i told him less than a 5k several minutes ago”. Finally, we made it to the aid station around mile 42. Got him fixed up and grabbed a large zip-lock and threw a bunch of cookies in.

Filled my water bottles and took off. Time to get fueled back up and hydrated. That 4-5 miles of hard running was good, in that it gave me focus, but it was scary and hard. Hard enough that I needed to recover, I slowed down, telling myself, “just long enough to get your breath back and calm your screaming tired quads” The slowing gelled my legs even further and my pace was set. I couldn’t will my legs any faster and my heart rate dropped more. I got cold. Not dangerously cold, just miserably cold. But, I could see the barn. 8 miles left. I continued to stuff food in and water and ran as steady hard as I knew I could sustain without falling apart. Falling apart would mean walking, walking meant uncomfortably cold would become dangerously cold. I was so grateful to hit the last 2.5-3 miles of road. My feet and quads were not. The asphalt hurt. A lot. My legs were rigged, my feet on fire and my big toes screaming. I finished 10:27, first female 10th overall. I found out my hypothermic friend John was fine. He was pulled from the race and warm. I was so amazed at all of the runners. Like 180 people out there, amazed that most everyone did ok, amazed at the hikers. Amazed at the volunteers that endured those conditions to hand us food and drink and go above and beyond, taking my bottles, asking before I was finished with one cup of noodles if I wanted more and even asking, ”is the temperature of the noodles ok?” Seriously? You are freezing your ass off handing me noodles and worried that I might not like the temperature?! I was humbled….and so grateful. I learned much that I will unpack over the next weeks of training and reinforced things I already know. But King Julien? Really? I may have to watch Madagascar again. Hopefully I will have some pictures from the race to show how nuts the course was.

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Downhills Are GOOD For You - Strength Running


Too many strength programs focus soley on building concentric strength, with full range of motion exercises.
These movements are loaded and usually too slow to be very functional for running. And target building muscle fiber MASS/DENSITY rather than utilizing MORE muscle fibers. More fiber mass just requires more oxygen and energy - not efficient. Creating more muscle fibers allows you to use more mitochondria, which is the muscles energy powerhouse!

And most times these slow, heavy, massive range of motion exercises do not target tendon strength, elastic rebound, and the stretch shorting cycling in the running gait.

In running, the range of motion is not very great and therefore tendon strength and stability come into play, and why the strength program in The Cool Impossible focuses so much on foot, leg, glute isometric and stabilization strength. It's not sexy, but very potent and works very quickly.

Bottom line, if your concentric strength over powers your eccentric strength and isometric transition, your running will suffer in many ways.

Today's Second Run Session after morning track:
WU: 10' easy.
5 X 60" fast downhills with a focus on good foot strike, quick knee drive and relaxed propeltion downhill.
After each, a very easy 90" run back up with a focus on forefoot strike and very quick cadence.

》Downhills = train my eccentric and isometric abilities, the landing. This is tremendous strength training BUT foot strike must be a focus.
》Uphills = this trains my elastic properties in my arch creating a better "spring or rubber band" to help propel me forward.

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How Sprinting Can Improve Your Endurance


Spring time. Sprint time.

Sprinting plays a tremendous roll in endurance development for ALL distances.

Here's how:
- improves isometric strength, one of the key strength factors in cadence and forward propeltion.
- trains precise and efficient use of the reflex muscle tension during eccentric landing. This helps your down hill and prevents injury.
- improves economy, helping your cruising speed feel much easier.
- increases your ability to store and release elastic energy in your muscles. This improves endurance efficiency.

- trains absolute strength which actually improves your ability to run well for a prolonged period.
- improves tendon health and strength, due to the short range of motion during the concentric running movement. Squats are not functional, running is your strength and resistance training!

Today's set:
MS1: 5 X 100m building
MS2: 2 X (400/300/200)
MS3: 5 X 100m descending

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Speed Up Your Race Pace


Spring is in my step.

The great Grete Waitz ran 19 marathons in her career, winning 13 of them.
She was the first woman to break the 2:30 barrier, eventually lowering the world record to 2:25:42.
She believed that speed training was imparative for all runners of all distances and abilities.
Her marathon training reflected that of her 3,000 - 10,000 meter race training.

Many marathoners and ultra runners do not have the requisite raw speed to match their desired race pace speed, yet they continue to try and train their race pace speed and endurance.

Speed dictates endurance capability and potential.

Here is one of my Raw Speed practices on a soccer or football field:


WU: 10' easy.
Drills: quick feet, quick skip, skip for height/distance, one leg hop, standing jump, one leg high hop. (Watch Drills)
MS1: 10 X 15" moderate sprints.
MS2: 20 yards longer than MS1 - 10 sprints faster than 15".
MS3: 10 diagonals at 4:30 pace, (run what is fast for you) with easy jog on horizontals.
CD: easy

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Kick for Gold or Stumble to Fourth


Sometimes you have to HOLD YOURSELF BACK:
Today was a recovery run. After taking the day off yesterday to heal a mild cough in the lungs, my legs felt great!
I stayed patient, with my sights on the upcoming week.

Patience + Practice = Performance

At the 1972 Olympics, all of the pre-game buzz was on rock star USA 5,000m runner Steve Prefontaine. The anticipation was high to see how he would do against an international field. Would his front running style hold up?

And then there was the 800m race, featuring American Dave Wottle. Recently married he was written off as having got "soft" in his training build up and wedding bells.

Well, since I am writing this you can guess what happened. Prefontaine faided, stumbling to 4th.
Wottle was in last for most of the 1st lap, and then out kicked everyone for Gold.

Running Takes Patience

This weekend I have several athletes racing: La Marathon, 6 hour ultra, and a training run 5k.

Their race strategies employ being patient to perform.
》the marathoners are looking to stay patient during the first 20 and then "race" the last 10k.
》The 6 hour ultra strategy is to run in zone 1-2 for the first 4 hours and then run trail marathon pace for the last 2 hours.
》the 5k strategy is to hold back the 1st mile about 15 seconds slower than 5k pace to avoid going too fast, and then building to the finish. 

I believe there is always a way to improve our running, regardless of age, experience, ability, and goals. And this path to improvement usually includes patience and practicing something new.

Run Strong and demand the impossible.


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Home Grown Adventure: Cache Peak

10059098875?profile=originalWith Teton National Park 30 minutes up the road from my house, this usually gets most of my attention for running.  But this Fall I decided to change things up and look to create some run projects that are even closer to home and focus on exploring more vertical gain, peaks, and off-trail ridge line link ups (My Training).  So I have spent the last month exploring to develop some of these adventures for the future, either leaving directly from home or after a very short drive approach.

My first reconnaissance project was to run Cache Peak.  The trail head is a five mile drive from home, with a 5 mile dirt road/double track trail approach to the Gros Ventre Wilderness Boundary.  So I decided to ride my snow bike up this 5 mile, 1,000 ft elevation gain, section and ditch the bike at the start of the Wilderness line that marks the beginning of the climb to Cache Peak.

I am very blessed to live here in the Jackson Hole area, but it is a choice and more importantly, I feel adventures begin with a mindset and rely on originality and creativity.

creative: characterized by originality and imagination.

creator: one that creates.

We all have this ability, regardless of where we live.  Any location can provide stimulus for doing something different and creating something original for your running. 

Here is my adventure, Five Mile Drive from Home.  What can you create, five miles from your home?


Ditching the bike at The Gros Ventre Wilderness Boundary


Cache Peak in the distance: The Start of the Run 


Heading towards the Divide Looking back at the trail 

10059100296?profile=originalCache Peak Approach: right side ridge

10059100901?profile=originalThe Ridge line Route to Cache Peak - 10,167 ft


Western view of Jackson Hole heading up the Ridge

10059101664?profile=originalView from south end of Cache Peak Summit: looking at the next project


Date - October 25, 2014

Mtn Bike Ride Approach/return - 10 miles total, 994 ft elevation gain, 80 min total

Run Moving time - 2:30

Run Distance - 8.7 miles

Run Elevation Gain - 2,992 ft


Shorts/shirt - Marmot

Shoes - older pair of La Sportiva X Country.  Great sticky rubber good for rock scramble.

Snow Bike - Surley Pugsley 

Compression Socks - CEP

Hydration Pack - Marmot Kompressor

Hydration - 1 bottle SOS Hydration + 1 bottle water

Fuel -  Coconut Taos Mountain Energy Bar

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10059102696?profile=originalI stood high on this peak during the Fall season in the Tetons, enjoying the reward of magnificent views that come from 6,000+ feet of running and climbing.  I took the below winter photo during a ten mile run.  These two photos grasp the beauty of the Tetons in different ways, BUT also show the SAME peak in both shots.  Two ways of looking at the same thing - two different perspectives.

You could agrue that they are both stunning in their own right, and maybe even the winter landscape is more beautiful in many eyes.  It depends on your perspective.  To look at the first photo, you get a dramatic look at the rough, jagged rock, and an intimate feel.  But the second landscape photo actually brings the first photo into perspective and gives the context of the effort required to be on top of one of those peaks in the distance.  Both photos, independent of each other, are beautiful, but you need both of the photos to put the experience and effort into perspective.

Many times, our running represents just one photo.  We get stuck doing what we always do, running that same route or loop each morning.  Or, our long run sub-consciously has morphed into always 12 miles, or one long hill is enough.  

But what if you start creating another photo and challenge your personal perspective - giving way to an elevated sense of ability and performance.  All of a sudden with two photos, you experience things differently.  You "up" the ante and set a new bar for yourself that creates new motivation and ultimately you begin to see that you are capable of much more than you think.

And more importantly, you begin to seek more photos and more perspectives that allow you to understand that we now have an infinite process and way to improve.


Get up earlier and do two loops, do that long hill 2 or 3 times.  Add more miles to your week by doing some night running and make it an adventure.  Run twice a day to get in more miles or get a group together and run to breakfast and continue running until it is time for lunch.  

Create your own personal challenges and adventures using a bit of creativity or  what I call a home grown adventure.  Go run the Grand Canyon and experience what it is like to run DOWN first, and then UP, after a long day.

Our minds have a tendency to get stale, that gives way to a comfortable sense of belief and truth that is just an illusion and our worse enemy.  Don't believe your thoughts, believe your experiences!  Reality is not how you look at it, reality is how you see it.

We don't need mountains, everyone has the potential for new perspectives and new ways to improve, regardless of location, age or ability.

BONUS: Using the second photo, who can guess which peak I am on the summit of in the first photo?  Let me know below.

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How Balanced Are You: Speed vs. Endurance

10059108655?profile=originalHow Balanced Are You?

When I start working with a new athlete, I analyze how balanced they are between their speed and endurance. 

Just like the program in The Cool Impossible, at start up, I have my athletes perform two field tests:

  • 1 mile test
  • 20 min test.

This helps me design their speed and Heart Rate training zones for their coaching program, AND helps me detect strengths and weaknesses that will become a target in their training.  

For example:

one of my new runners from London clocked a 5:15 mile test and held an average pace of 5:50 for his 20 min test.  I then compare the two.

For a good balance between speed and endurance, based on his mile time, I would like to see his 20 min avg pace between 5:30-5:40 pace or approximately 92-95% of the one mile test time.

So he is almost there and a great starting point for us to improve on this with coaching.

November is a good time to check where your balance is.  

You are coming off the year fit, and now going into maybe some recovery before 2018.  So doing your field tests now will allow you to take advantage of all the run fitness you have built up thru the year, and also give you a benchmark for 2018 training.

Bring on a balanced 2018!

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Knee Pain and Hip Tightness: Leg Extension

10059106660?profile=originalIf you are experiencing "runners Knee" with discomfort on top of knee, under knee, or on the medial side of the knee, you might be keeping your legs too bent.

If your legs remain too bent throughout the running gait, you are prone to stressing your quads too much and 'turning off' or not using crucial muscles very well - all leading to a vicious cycle of dysfunction:

  • Tight quads
  • Tight IT band
  • Over used bio flexor (psoas)
  • Under used glutes (medius)


Common knee issues can result, due to the tight quads pulling on the knee, causing poor tracking - the pain!

This also causes the hip flexors to over work, causing tightness and the inability to utilize your glutes for strength AND stability. You can be the strongest in the weight room, but if you are not firing and using muscles appropriately, this strength goes for not and will continue to cause imbalances.


We have been brainwashed into thinking the more we run the tighter we get or the more unhealthy it is. This is wrong.  As runners, we do not have to be chronically tight, with aches and pains.  Every running step "can be" an opportunity for strength and health.


One way to help turn this around is to include short, steep, powerful hill repeats into your weekly program. These intervals should be no longer than one minute, so you can maintain a strong and powerful gait.

I call this "strength running." The key is to focus on getting good leg extension with your stance leg like I have in the photo above.

If you do not have access to a steep hill, improvise by using a set of stairs, skipping every other step or even every two steps to get power and extension. Or simply use a treadmill and jack up the incline.


To help with the knee discomfort while you are working on the solution, foam roll or preferably do some self-massage on your quads.  Then lightly stretch the quads, holding for 1-2 minutes at a time.  Remember, this will only help relieve the pain, but will not rectify the problem.


  • 10 X 1 min repeats at 15% grade at Snow King Resort.
  • My rest interval was long, 2-3min, which is very important. The rest allows you to recover well, so you can run each one well. This is NOT a cardiovascular workout, so take the rest.

Hope this helps - E

Author of The Cool Impossible

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Bighorn 100 2017 Race Report


Warning, this is almost longer than the race itself.....above PC @ Charles Danforth.

After 14 hours of driving, I arrived in Sheridan WY on Wednesday evening before the race. My two pacers/crew, David Newman and James Reeves, right picture10059104101?profile=original

would be arriving Thursday evening. The race start slated for Friday morning 10am. They drove 17 hours to come crew/pace me. They would miss Father’s Day with their families and go at least 36 hours without sleep to keep up with me. I am so grateful to them both, and their families for allowing them to come. Without them, I would not have finished this race. This race would be a crucial race for a number of reasons. First of all, I needed this race finish to keep my name in the hat for my bucket list race, Hardrock 100. I wanted to prove to myself I still could be able to finish a Hardrock qualifier. More importantly, I needed the experience to gain confidence in my ability to complete Hardrock. My last qualifier, Mogollan Monster 100, 2 years ago ended disastrously. I finished, but my back failed at mile 95 and it took me nearly 6 hours to get from mile 95 to 108. I was completely broken and hunched over, I literally could not hold myself upright the last 10 miles. I was embarassed that I could not even stand straight hiking and running. That did not give me much confidence for Hardrock. My deepest fear going into this race was that my back would fail again. I didn’t want to finish this race in the same shape.


I ran Jemez 50mile race 4 weeks ago. I did well and finished strong, but in the few days after my back started hurting. I did a 3 hour training run and could not run uphill. My back was spasming and limited me severely. The next two weeks I worked with my coach Eric Orton, and Jordan Williams, DPT at Proof Performance in Flagstaff. They both worked with me, encouraged me, and helped me do what we could to help my back. The weeks leading into the race did not build much confidence. While uphills were better, my back still bothered me at least mildly on any uphill. This race would have 18,000 feet of climbing and the same descending. More than Mogollan. I also had a niggly hot tendon over my left knee cap that just wouldn’t settle down completely pre-race. With all of the training and sacrifice put into this race, my family, and my pacer’s sacrifices, I had decided that I would finish this race no matter what. I decided it might hurt like hell, it might not be at all the race I wanted, but I would finish. I had high hopes that if things went well, I could potentially finish in 26-27 hours. I knew that was possible, and that was a fun and exciting idea to entertain, but I was prepared for the worst.


I used to be judgemental about DNF’ing (did not finish) a race. I DNF’d at Ouray 50 mile last year. I was hard on myself for that. I had a horrible day there. It was the most amazingly beautiful course in the mountains, some of the same course as Hardrock. I was pushing too hard from the start. I was near dead last. I had stomach issues. I was hating that day. I was hating the course. I was hating myself. I started to hate the mountains and all that hate frightened me. I quit. I wanted to quit before I hated that place. I was afraid I would ruin my love for the mountains, ruin my desire to run in them. I’m glad I quit. It was the right thing to do.


I did a little shake out run Thursday morning. Everything felt great, but still had that little hot spot on my L knee. I was ready mentally and emotionally. I felt good about the race. I was nervous about my back and knee, but somehow just felt really calm in general. David and James arrived Thursday evening and we ate a hearty dinner and enjoyed eachother’s company. Friday morning we ate a big breakfast and headed to the pre-race meeting at 8am. The course director went over course conditions as it drizzled rain intermittently. Lots of mention of mud and rain. Lots. I didn’t think much of it. I expected rain and cold weather from afternoon to the next day. I had my drop bags stocked with warm, dry clothes, rain shells, and gloves. I knew I was prepared for really cold weather. Living in Flagstaff gave me lots of first hand experience with mountain weather. It is always colder and wetter than anticipated. When you’ve already been running for 40 miles, your ability to stay warm under normal conditions is compromised. Your thermoregulation is off, you are slightly dehydrated and depleted. I’ve seen severe hypothermia in 50 degree rainy weather at night. Normally, no one would consider getting hypothermic running in that. I personally experienced hypothermia at Leadville 100 in 2012. I was terrified I might not make it to the next aid station. I ran for two hours crying and feeling myself gradually freeze to death. I spent over 30 minutes in a warming bag by a fire once I got to the aid station. I was terrified to leave that aid station. Ever since then I have had a fear of that kind of cold feeling. I also don’t tolerate cold conditions as well as a runner since...so needless to say...I made sure I was damn well prepared for bad weather. Turns out is was a really good thing I was.


The other thing running 100 milers has taught me is to be completely prepared for your crew to miss you at the aid stations, and for the aid stations to have nothing you want to eat/need. Pack your drop bags like no one is going to be there to bring you something. If James and David never made it to any aid station, I would have been fine from a gear and fuel standpoint. Prepare for a 100 like no one will help you. I can’t tell you how many racers I have seen drop because their crew wasn’t there and they didn’t get what they needed. It is also a huge mental let down, so just expect it, and be pleasantly surprised when your crew is ready and waiting for you. Fortunately, James and David nailed it. They never missed me. They were right there, every time.


After the race briefing, we headed to the start line. 300+ runners jammed on a dirt road. PC@Bighorn10010059104469?profile=original

Now I was nervous! I started counting women ahead of me, probably 30..at least. We took off and even more women passed. I was disappointed, but knew I had my own race and my own strategy. I had a feeling I would catch many of them. We ran the dirt road a mile or so up to the trailhead, hitting the single track trail that would lead 8 miles up the mountain. The drizzly rain started. It was cool, low 50s and felt good. The trails were mildly technical, narrow, and the mountain was amazingly beautiful, full of wild flowers and deep green grass. Pine trees dotted here and there and giant boulders. I let my heart rate be my guide, not letting it spike and sticking to the lower zones my coach and I agreed upon. It was tough letting all those girls go….30-40 of em. As we climbed I started passing runners. A few women here and there. Lots working harder. I could hear their breathing, mine was silent... almost. I was calm and relaxed. My effort was mostly easy. 8 miles up we hit a downhill and it felt good to open up and run down, still keeping my effort easy, focusing on relaxed arms and legs and back. My back was doing just fine and my knee completely silent. I noted how steep that downhill section was, keeping it in mind for the return. We ran some double track jeep roads, a few water crossings and more sweeping views of the mountains, pine trees, wild flowers, all under a cloudy and intermittently rainy sky.


I rolled into the first crew/aid station at mile 13 feeling great. Ahead of time, and in very good spirits. James and David filled my water bottles, gave me more gels, some encouraging words, and I was out of there. I added my rain jacket and gloves, as temps were getting cooler up higher, now around 8,000ft. I stuck with water, gel, electrolytes for the first 70 miles. Everything felt pretty spot on. We headed down out of that aid station on more double track trail. The trails were less technical than at Jemez and the trails around Flagstaff. I knew I was moving faster with less effort and was so grateful. I think this also helped my knee and back. The next 13 miles would be rolling up and down along mostly single track trails. I started thinking, “this is gonna be a course record kinda day”. I figured the men and women’s leaders would pull this off if the conditions remained cool and calm. This course gets notoriously hot in the canyons. The trail is mostly exposed, very little shade, and last year word was temps got to 105 during the heat of Friday and Saturday. At around mile 20 something we hit an aid station that was cooking bacon. I was hesitant to eat it, knowing my stomach was doing so well and solids often jack things up for me, but I couldn’t resist, it smelled sooooo good. I ate 2 strips and headed out. Along here I could hear Elk bugeling. It was awesome.


At mile 26 we hit a steep 4 mile section down to the next crew/aid station. It was technical and I made mental note, again, for the return, thinking I might want poles going back up that section. Near mile 33 was a roaring river over huge boulders. We crossed the foot bridge and rolled into the 33mile aid/crew station.


Still a bit ahead of schedule and feeling very well. I added a long sleeve tech shirt and a completely waterproof light rain jacket with hood. The rain was picking up. It was later afternoon by now. There were volunteers everywhere and many runners sitting in chairs, changing shoes, refueling and getting geared up for the climb. “Would you like to sit?” The pleasant teenager-looking volunteer asked. “No” I replied. “Would you like soup?”. “Oh yes, that would be great.” I got tickled at his response, “I’ll be back in 20 seconds”. He was so eager and rushing to keep from slowing me down. “You’re ok, no rush”. He continued to offer help as James and David helped me make sure I had what I needed to enter the next section, the rain and the dark. This section would be a 16 mile climb, gaining 4,000ft elevation to around 10,000ft. The wind and rain would pick up as we climbed. I continued to pass people as I climbed, just gradually moving my way up in the field. I continued to keep my effort and heart rate in check. Within just a few miles we started hitting mud. Deeper and deeper mud. Slick, sliding backward mud. And water crossings, lots of water crossings. It got windier and colder. My hands were getting cold and despite some water resistant gloves and covers, were getting soaked. I picked up my effort, simply to keep warm. Stopping to pee was not a pleasant experience...finding a hidy place, being cold, and exposing private areas...then trying to pull things up with cold, wet gloves and fingers that can’t feel turns into a funny dance and shimmy...funny to imagine, not So pleasant to experience it.  Men have it much easier. The climb, I alternated running and hiking depending on the grade and the mud. Running up mud is easier than hiking up mud, less sliding...sorta. You just get a momentum, but the effort is harder. I could tell I was using lots of accessory muscles trying to stabilize myself and was wondering how this was going to affect things later in the race.  There was a girl in front of me. I would catch up to her and she would speed up. Then she would slow down to the point where I had to hike. I would get cold when she slowed down. I said, “passing on your left”....nothing. She sped up a little, then slowed down.  I said, “I’m just gonna pass on your left”.....nothing, she sped up. This went on for a while. Finally, with more firmness, I said, “I’m going to pass on your left”. All I heard was, “No..blah blah blah”. I was freezing, it was then I hollered, “Well you better run girl!” She did. I think she was freezing too and just needed to hear that. She ran. We both ran into the next aid station.


The night came and the wind and rain continued. We hit an aid station about 3 miles from the top. I briefly stopped at the fire, filled my water bottles and took off. Any extra standing around would be dangerous. I was cold, shivering, but heartened by the fact I knew I had dry clothes waiting at the top. I left the girl behind at the aid station and took off. The mud became just completely ridiculous. It was now 6-14 inches deep. Not very runnable. With large ponds water up to 2 feet deep in spots. You couldn't tell whether the next step would sink 2 inches, 6 inches or 14 inches. It was pitch black with fog and rain and no moon. I fell several times getting my gloves covered in mud. I fell sideways, backwards, forwards, every way imaginable and some ways I never imagined. Wiping my runny nose with mud covered paws. I felt like I was in a mud wrestling pit. The slowness was getting me colder. Then it happened...a turning point…. at around mile 44, I stepped knee deep into mud and pulled my foot out sans shoe. I fell forward launching my water bottle and gel pack into the sinking mud. It was just that moment... I wanted to cry, to stop, to quit. I was a little panicked too. I couldn’t fathom 3 more miles of this...I could barely move forward, how was I going to get to the top? At that moment, clear as a bell, Coach Eric’s voice rang in my head, “Don’t think, just do”. He first told me that years ago when I’d worry about this or that during a key training run or race. Usually, it was before a track workout where I’d be running beyond what I thought my limits were. For me this phrase meant, “you know what to do, just do it”. It was like everything became silent. The wind and rain were tuned out. I reached my hand 6 inches down and retrieved my mud filled shoe. I snatched my water bottle and gel flask before they disappeared. I sucked several mouthfuls of water and mud from my water bottle and spit it over the spout to clear the mud and stuffed them back in my pack. With frozen fingers, a few curse words, and a lot of effort, I stuffed my foot back in the mud filled shoe, thinking, “My foot will just have to squeeze the mud out, there isn’t room for both and my foot is going to win this battle dammit!”. I got moving again and just kept going. I drank even though it tasted like mud, I ate gel mixed with mud and I kept going. The nurse in me wondered what kind of organisms might be growing in the mud I was consuming, but I figured I had a good 24 to 72 hours before the full effect of any parasitic or bacterial infection kicked in...long enough to be in a hotel with a nice bathroom.


I came into the tent/aid station at the top at mile 46. The heaters inside were incredibly welcoming. I was greeted very quickly by a medical person and my pacers….”Do you need to sit?” the lady with the stethoscope said. Shivering, I looked around. There were runners everywhere sitting in chairs shivering. They all looked like death. I knew if I sat, I would be dead too. 12 hours into this journey I had not sat once, and had no intention to now. “No, I just need to get warmed up”. We pulled off my wet outer clothes. I pulled on a smart wool top, another fleece lined top and the medical person stuffed hot bean bags down into my bra and under my armpits. We added a rainproof jacket, dry gloves, waterproof glove covers and tightened the hood to my jacket down around my face. I sucked down 2 cups of ramen noodles and some of a quesadilla. I didn’t let myself “think” about how long it would take to get down the 16 mile mudslide in the cold rainy dark. If I had allowed myself to “think” about it, I probably would not have left the tent. I relied on what I knew….I was warm, I was dry, and I had what I needed to be safe, so I left with David at my side. I knew the trail, having paid good attention going up, so I took the lead. David and I chatted a little at first...then just exchanged curse words as we could hear each others smack-down falls in the mud. I was quite sure he was regretting his decision to come pace me.


The next 16 miles were a blur of falls, curse words, and running/sliding down. There were many stream crossings and foot bridges. It was a miracle I didn’t slide right into the damn bridges or the roaring streams. 6 hours to get down.  I came upon another lady about my age and allowed myself to slow down a little, staying behind her as we chatted for about a mile. We both fell numerous times. We gave up asking each other, “you ok?”. We just assumed if the other got up and kept moving all was well.  She was a 3 or 4 time HURT 100 finisher. HURT is of course another extremely difficult 100 mile race that takes place in Hawaii. The last time she ran she fell around mile 8 and broke a rib. Her daughter was at the next aid station. She had every reason to quit, but her daughter reminded her that she promised her ice cream if she finished the race…. and her daughter really wanted that ice cream. So she finished. I cannot even imagine running 90+ miles up and down volcanos with a broken rib….for ice cream for my daughter. If it were me, Avery would be very disappointed.  She slowed down to get some calories in, and I passed her. I passed a gentleman who was running with 2 or 3 other men. He had fallen and earned a concussion. He was okay, but good grief! As I rolled into the mi 66 aid station, my next pacer, James said with wide eyes, “That took you a reeeally long time”. I don’t recall my response but I was thinking something like, “No shit!” I lost my previous pacer David, somewhere on the way down. He was no longer behind me. I told the aid station chief who agreed to check with the previous aid stations to see if they could locate him. Fortunately, he was on the trail. I was worried he had fallen and broken his neck. I really didn’t want to have to explain that one to his wife.


It was 4-5am and dawn was approaching. I love the pre-dawn on 100 milers. The air is crisp and there is just something so relieving and inspiring to witness the first hint that the long cold night is almost over. The sunrise hasn’t started, but you know it is coming. It feels like being renewed, like when I stepped into the water to be baptised, just before the baptism. It’s the anticipation of its arrival.  It is only through the dark, cold, long, sleepless, somewhat frightening night that the dawn is so appreciated. A sense of, “I made it”. It is worth the miles and sleeplessness. I was relieved and thought surely the rest of the trails would not be as treacherous. James hadn’t slept all night trying to keep track of me and traveling up to 2 hours between aid stations. It’s almost easier to run from aid station to aid station than to drive the routes around the mountains to access crew spots. Nevertheless, he was cheerful and ready to roll. We crossed the roaring river over a footbridge and began to climb a steep 3 mile section. I opted to use climbing poles here to help. It was still alternating between rain and drizzle as we climbed. My climbing was slow, but James was patient. I worried he would get really cold, noticing he didn’t have any gloves on and I questioned whether or not he had enough layers. I had plenty of time to contemplate this as the climb was so slow for me. My quads and calves working fine...all of the hip flexors and stabilizing tendons and tiny deep accessory muscles crying from the 16 miles of stabilizing me while running in the mud. If you are ever interested in pacing, just know, pacing sucks. The pacer is running/hiking at a much slower pace than they are used to, often with a grumpy, less than eager racer. I was giving every segment my best effort, but unfortunately, after spending the last 16 miles trying to stay upright, every muscle in my legs, hips, back were struggling to maintain. I still felt strong in general, just slow, like I still had 10lbs of mud stuck on my feet. I didn't let myself open that mental door...to think about how slow i was now moving, about how much damage this had done to my time and pace.The trail conditions were still crumby, very muddy and slick. We often had to get completely off the trail and trek through the scrub/brush to keep from just sliding backward. It was also much of the time faster to do this despite the shrubs and clods of grass and rocks. Unfortunately this required more of those “stabilizers”.


The most memorable point was coming into Cow Camp aid station at mile 76. Bacon and fried potatoes. I stuffed my face full of both. The trail was getting even more slick. The aid station workers were pretty convinced they would not be able to get out of the aid station, would likely be there another day. There were two runners that had run intermittently with us into the aid station. They were both pretty down, one convinced he would drop at the next aid station. The next aid station would be mile 82. I tried to encourage him...to make it to mile 82….he could surely finish. It’s almost all downhill from there...literally, like 12 miles of that would be downhill. He had made it day, night, and part of the next day. He ended up regrouping and finishing...ahead of me. I kept telling myself, “the next section is going to get better”. Nope. More mud. Getting out of cow camp was absurd. It’s uphill out of that aid station, double track, normally supremely runnable. Now slick as snot on ice. The alternating sliding on the trail, side stepping off the trail and through the brush. When the brush became unbearable, I’d step back on the slick mud until it became unbearable. Back and forth. I was getting frustrated and confused as to which was harder. James finally just pointed and encouraged me to just follow him. He was thinking more clearly and could evaluate where to run/hike better than I. Most of this section from mile 76 to 82 was a complete walk. The only comfort was knowing that it was the same for everyone else. Also, no women were passing me. A few men caught me in this section, but I held my position. Based on what I was seeing, I was thinking there was a chance I was inside the top 10 women. I kept telling my pacer. I think “I’ve moved way up, but I am probably the dead last female on the course”. This section I just put my head down and kept going. I didn’t allow myself to think about how much farther or longer or the fact that I was walking/sliding instead of running. I knew I couldn’t go there. The switch was flipped, “Don’t think, just do”. Despite the crappy conditions, my mood was pretty decent. I was starting to allow myself to lose perspective on fueling/hydration and time to finish. I had in my mind that I was getting “close”. While I had completed 76 miles and “only” had 26 more to go, I wasn’t realizing that 26 miles meant at least 6-7 more hours.  I think if I had thought in those terms I might have sat down and cried. I wasn’t as focused on getting those 200 cal/hr, salt and 1 bottle water per hour. I still maintained good fueling/hydration/salt to mile 82 aid station, but wasn’t as focused on it and might have started slipping a little behind as I got closer to mile 82.


I was so so glad to get to mile 82. This was the last big aid station before the finish. “All downhill from here” in my head. I knew if I made it to mile 82 I would surely finish, so it was a huge relief to make it there. One of the aid station volunteers said, “you look pretty fresh”...I didn’t know whether to laugh hysterically or flatly respond that she was either a horrible liar or too sleep deprived to recognize how horrible I really looked...and probably smelled. Another volunteer noted the amount of mud all over me...everywhere...including in my ear. James emptied my pack of everything I didn’t need. The day was warming up quick. I ate something at that aid station, refilled bottles and left. I forgot to grab more salt. I did grab a plastic baggy full of goldfish. Still not thinking about really how much time I had left, I planned to eat the goldfish as my sole calories. By this time I was really tired of the gels, the heat was making it hard to want anything and my stomach..as usual late in race was not interested in anything.at.all. I still had minimum 3-4 hours left. 1 baggy of goldfish was not going to be enough calories. However, FINALLY, the trails were becoming more firm and dry. This meant RUNNING!


We had started meeting fresh runners….the 50 mile, 50k and 18k races all started that morning. It was  a love hate feeling...more love than hate. Their fresh enthusiasm, encouragement and cheers for us haggard 100 milers was incredibly uplifting. The jealousy of their light, fast, hop-scotchity  running was tough. But we were on the home stretch! It was about that time I saw Don Sims. He was running one of the other distances that day. He ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug. I was afraid he’d crush me, I felt so frail at that point, but the hug energized me and his genuine enthusiasm was infectious. He caught this picture of James and I, I was shedding another layer of clothing when we met.

10059105060?profile=original James and I continued on, and After about an hour, I looked at my goldfish baggy….I think I had eaten maybe 8 goldfish, and not a full bottle of water. I took my last 2 salt caps and stuffed about 10 goldfish in my mouth and drank the rest of the bottle and determined myself to pay better attention and drink and eat more.  I was swelling. We had 1 more short but very steep climb at around mile 90. Almost 1000ft in less than 1 mile. It hurt. My back was spasming, but I just shortened my steps, stayed tall and moved as best I could up.  We topped out and I was so thrilled to finally get to go down...on dry trails! The sun was out full on and the wildflowers were beautiful. Thousands of daisy-like and sunflower-like flowers, columbines and white fluffy flowers. The jagged rocks shone bright in the sun, and the deep green pine forest covered mountains all around.10059105458?profile=original


Soon though, the joy of getting to run downhill was replaced by...well...not joy. My quads were trashed. The tops of my feet were screaming, the flexor tendons of my feet on fire from pulling my feet out of the mud for so many miles. After about 4 miles of running down I told James, “I think my quads are bleeding internally”. He was feeling pretty beat up too, either that or he was lying to make me feel better. Fueling and hydration became a blur. We dumped out 8 miles later at the bottom of the trail and at an aid station. Still with ¾ full bag of goldfish. I knew I was behind on calories and probably salt too. I was drinking plenty of water though and swelling more. It was getting really hot. I think I ate like 4 peanut butter crackers here. I knew James was going to expect me to run well the 5 mile dirt road section into town. I was a little foggy and out of sorts. I got a couple of electrolyte caps from the aid station also. The wheels were starting to come off the wagon. I rambled over the next couple of miles of trail at a much slower pace than I had hoped. I was struggling.

We hit the dirt road. 5 miles. That’s it. I ran as hard as I could….which was insanely slow. It was a slight uphill grade that felt like Mt. Everest. James could actually walk as fast as I was running. It was sad. But, I was upright...my back did not fail. I Wasn't hunched over and limping. There were people cheering on the side of the road...a sprinkler at the edge of someone's yard, pointed at the road for runners to cool off.

10059105872?profile=originalKids running popsicles to us to help us feel better. The road was very hot and dry. We finally turned into town. More cheers, “Be proud!, look what you’ve done!” someone said. My eyes welled up with tears. “You are amazing!” The people were so excited and encouraging. A small stand filled with people in the last 25 meters were cheering and clapping and shouting more praises. Finally, finally...the finish line.10059105695?profile=original

The finish was in a park next to a stream. I got past the finish area and collapsed in a heap on my back in the cool grass under the shade of a tree next to a couple other runners who had done the same. I opened my eyes, and David and James were there. I laid there for a few minutes. A medical volunteer came and stood over me and asked me how I was doing. “Much better”, I replied.  “We’re here for you” he said. We chatted a bit and he offered to take a look at my feet in the medical tent. I made my way to the river and soaked my feet and rinsed off layers and layers of mud. I laid back down for a bit more. James or David came back, “6th female” one of them said. I was surprised. I started 30 or 40 females back. So many didn’t finish. Only 47% of the starters finished. Of over 70 women, only 25 or so finished. I got my Hardrock qualifier! I finished without my back failing. I ran smart and worked every section as best I could. My only downfall was in those last 20 miles...I need to remember to be persistent...to the finish with calories/lytes/water. I probably lost 15-30 minutes on the race in that section slowing due to low calories. Not much in a 29 hour race, but still.


Again, I can’t thank David, James, and their wives and kids for donating them for my race. Coach Eric Orton, I am so fortunate to have found him 5 years ago now. He has helped me grow strong, stay healthy and motivated, and up to the task racing. His intuition and instinct continue to amaze me. I can trust him completely as my coach. He has never steered me wrong. He keeps me honest about my goals and desires, and helps keep me from hindering me in training and racing. Todd, my rock, was not able to be there, but I summoned many of the things he would say in those last miles he normally paced me on these crazy adventures.  The best one volleyed in the last 10 miles of my last 100 miler amidst my whining and whimpering  about my (excruciating) failing back... “It’s gonna hurt until you finish, so you might as well speed up”. His comments usually conjure the image of a rock hitting him square in the head, but I know he will never let me give up in the trail...on anything. And he knows how sorry my aim is anyway, so he figures he is safe. I can’t wait to go to Hardrock. My turn is coming…..




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Today's Thoughts: Real Performance

10059087652?profile=originalToday's Thoughts: Running Ultras is all about performing when everything goes wrong.

It is easy to perform when things are going well, but just like in life, 'real' performance is about how we act after we think, being aware, and continuing to perform when things "seem" to be wrong.

But in reality, the only thing that is wrong is this flawed thinking in the moment.

Can you perform when your thinking goes south?  

Can you be aware when thinking goes wrong?  

Can your mind perform when you want the current situation to be different?

What Can You Do?

I believe most of our thinking is just fear, and once we can understand this and have awareness of these thoughts, we can break the cycle, fear stops, and we can then create better thoughts to keep moving forward and perform extraordinary.

Race on!

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We Are All Ultra Runners

By Katie Rosenbrock for The Active Times


What if someone dared you to sign up for a 100K ultra marathon right now? Would you take on the challenge or completely dismiss the idea?

I would tell that someone they were crazy. “I’ve never even completed a marathon. How could I possibly cover more than double the distance?” I would say. Heck, I’ll run my first marathon this year, but even after that I’m still not sure I’d be able to wrap my mind around the idea of finishing an ultra.

Eric Orton believes otherwise; for me, for you and for all runners everywhere. And he mostly has me convinced.

You may know Orton as the coach from Christopher McDougall’s widely popular book about running, Born to Run. Or you may know him as the author of his own book The Cool Impossible. I know Orton as an enthusiastic coach who believes in adventures and following your dreams.

Orton has an impressive background as a running coach and fitness expert. He is the former fitness director for the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and works with dozens of athletes from recreational runners to elite ultra-marathoners. He’s helped countless athletes reach feats they never dreamed possible, but his real dream is to create a larger, lasting impact.

Enter, the Jackson Hole Running Camp; a three-day, running-intensive camp set in Jackson Hole, Wyo. amidst the breathtaking terrain of the Tetons with Orton as your coach.

“I’ve always wanted to do this camp,” Orton told me. “Timing is everything and the timing just seemed right. With my book The Cool Impossible and with Born to Run, these last four years I’ve heard from people all around the world who wanted to come and train with me. This camp will really allow me to affect a lot of runners globally.”

The camp is designed for experienced runners who want to push their potential to the next level. Although Orton requires that you must be able to run continuously for two to three hours upon arrival at the camp, he emphasizes the fact that it’s meant for runners of all abilities.

“It’s important to get across that even though we will be running a lot and people need to be running two to three hours up to that point, that this is a camp for all abilities. Experienced runners of all abilities,” he said. “It’s not an elite camp. It’s a camp for runners who have a good foundation and who have the ambition to find the next big goal for themselves.”

In all that I discussed about the camp with Orton, he seemed most excited to be able to share the exquisite scenery of Jackson Hole (where he currently resides) with his new student athletes.

“I think this is an opportunity for people to come and use the mountains as a way to challenge themselves within their own abilities,” he said. “The mountains provide a natural challenge that is above and beyond anything anywhere else. It’s like ‘nature’s classroom,’ when they walk away from this three days later… The point is to walk away thinking, ‘Wow there’s something more possible for me.’”

That’s a lot to learn about running and your own potential in just three days. So I asked Orton how he trains athletes to conquer the mental aspect of training, which is arguably the most difficult part of the battle to overcome.

He says it’s all about understanding effort.

“Most people have the ability but they don’t understand the effort. We’re all ultra runners. It’s just understanding how effort works and how we manage that. You have to be efficient,” he said.

In fact, Orton told me that it’s his passion to help his athlete’s morph the physical and the mental aspects of athleticism together. “They’re so important and go hand in hand,” he said.

But how exactly does one go about better understanding effort? And probably more importantly, what does that really mean?

“That’s where heart rate training comes in,” he said. “That learning will take place and how they use the heart rate monitor will help them understand what proper effort is based on what they’re doing, how to really manage their effort so they can run four or five hours every day. That’s the key… to understand what running at 160 beats per minute means for you. Work interval, rest interval and distance all go together to form this understanding.”

So, maybe in terms of running experience you’re more towards the beginner end of the spectrum, if that’s we’re you’re at what can you do right now to improve your performance? I asked Orton to share some of his best running advice.

“If you’re looking to train and get better you really have to have purpose. My number one tip is to set a goal,” he said.

He also said that he always reminds his athletes to never confuse difficulty with failure. “It’s supposed to be difficult and we have to view that as part of the process,” he said.

And for runners like me who are somewhere in the middle (say, about to start training for their first marathon), Orton reiterated the following advice.

“Understand what effort is. What is my marathon pace? What should my interval pace be? Many people don’t get to have that understanding,” he said. “Understand what’s appropriate for you based on where you’re at, that will allow you to run more without breaking down. The more we can run well the better.”

At the end of the day, Orton says that accomplishing your goals is about eliminating any fear you might have.

“People are dealing with fear, they don’t know what they can do. When they leave my camp and go back home they might think, ‘I don’t know if I can do 100 miles, but I know can try.’”

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Peaking For Your Peak Race

10059068899?profile=originalI believe an effective “peak” in fitness first starts with a well thought out training plan and more importantly, a prioritized race schedule.  This all sets the stage for the peak process, making your run fitness as race specific as possible. Peaking is a mysterious art and for many reasons, it is just not easy to achieve one’s highest possible level of performance on the day of a major goal race or peak part of the season, despite all the effort and care that goes into planning and training to produce peak results.

I see it all the time, athletes to race very well early in the competitive season and fall flat toward the end of the season, when they should hit their peak.  The reason, I believe, is that they start to do race specific training too early in the season and do too much cardiovascular conditioning in preparation for early season races.  I have mentioned in previous posts that the development of endurance is associated with the functional specialization of the skeletal muscles, particularly the enhancement of their strength and neuromuscular qualities, rather than the improvement of prolonged cardiovascular ability.  And to experience great gains in strength and speed endurance, one should aim to eliminate the disparity between the anaerobic and aerobic abilities of the muscles.  If this is not the focus early in the season and carried out to some extent all season, there is a tendency to do too much endurance or cardiovascular training and peaking too soon or plateauing, which many times cause runners to over train.  To drive this home, here are some points to ponder:

  • Why do athletes with equivalent VO2 max levels perform different results?
  • Why do VO2 max results in elite athletes stabilize as results continue to improve?
  • Why is there a decreasing correlation between VO2 max and improved times?

This could indicate that VO2 max or cardiovascular efficiency on its own is no guarantee of an outstanding performance and that a runners body can only progressively adapt to race specific training for a few weeks until a limit is reached. For this reason, I assign about 6 weeks of race specific training leading up to the athlete’s seasonal peak or race occurs.  Once the athlete hits the peak phase, they are now ready for a heavy dose of hard intervals.  These hard intervals heighten neuromuscular coordination and enhance economy, in concert with the easier overall weekly volume for recovery.  As coordination and efficiency at high speed improve from these hard intervals, the athlete’s previous race pace is now faster, because the oxygen cost of running at that speed has fallen. Thus, one reaches VO2 max at a higher speed than previously, and might explain why there is a decreasing correlation between VO2 max results and peak performance.

Merely regulating or limiting the duration of your race specific or peak phase of training will not guarantee a successful peak, however.  There are a few tricks you can use to reliably increase the odds of peaking successfully.  As mentioned above, your peak phase should include some hard intervals once or twice a week.  If you feel you are peaking too soon or need to extend your peak longer than a 3-4 week period, integrate some tempo runs to ‘massage’ your form and prolong it for the duration required.  If you are in your peak time of year, your heart rate should be very responsive, elevate quickly, and be higher than during your heavy training phase.  If  you notice this is not the case and your heart rate is low and slow to respond, be sure to take 2-4 days of recovery running or reduce you peak training volume even more.  Your legs need the recovery and a lower heart rate is NOT an indication of peak fitness.

And finally, you should taper not just before your big races but on a monthly basis. After all, since tapering is such a great thing, why reserve it for just a couple of times a year? If you taper for the last five to seven days of each month, you'll find that your fitness will move upward in sizable jumps, instead of just creeping up a little or - worse yet - stagnating at the same level.

Hope this helps - E

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The Way of the Cool Impossible


I coach because I love to help athletes explore their own potential and the rewarding part of this for me is witnessing the self-discovery that my athletes experience throughout the process.  Writing my book, The Cool Impossible, was the culmination of a life long dream and a way for me to continue to help more and more runners.  And, just like with my coaching, the most rewarding piece of writing a book is hearing from all of the  readers around the world about how their running has hit new levels and how stoked they are to embrace their Cool Impossible.

Here is a quick story I received from a runner just this week after just two weeks of his Cool Impossible training.


Just a note to update you on progress - I finished the Cool Impossible book and will re-read it from time to time.

I'm now into my new training program - workouts 6 days a week, including hills and sprints. I actually laughed at the thought of doing sprints at my age (61 in two weeks), but then I tried it and it was like turning the clock back!

So I did my first serious 6-miler with the new technique this morning, a low Level 6 workout. My best previous time on the course was a 9:16 pace - today it was 8:48! Form was good, with a bit of a sprint at the end. When the book talks about the kind of Cool Impossible that makes you get goose bumps, I knew what that was for me ... qualifying for Boston in my age group. Now that I understand how to get there, I'm excited to start the journey.  

Thanks again and just wanted you to know what a difference Cool Impossible has made for me, physically and mentally.

SIP (Strong, Interconnected, Persistent)
The proof that The Cool Impossible works keeps rolling in. 20 min HR test gone from 4.63km at 170 bpm to 5.30km at 170bpm.
That's the equivalent of going from a 21m35s 5k to an 18m50s 5k. Hard work works.
Thanks - Andrew
This is what is it about.  We can all get better no matter who we are.  Whether it is thru better form, bomber foot strength, proper run training, clean eating, or approaching a new way to think.
Bob's mantra is Strong, Interconnected, Persistent.  This drives his Cool Impossible, just like it drives Chris Sharma's cool impossible way of life and climbing.  Everything is a project and the goal is to make it a game, a game to see how close you can get to impossible.
In The Cool Impossible, I use Chris as an example:

Be Chris Sharma. Heard the name? He’s one of the world’s best climbers. On one route in Spain, he made one hundred unsuccessful tries before reaching the top. One hundred attempts, one route, no ropes, and every time he failed he would fall thirty to forty feet into deep water below. Chris fell in love with seeing how far along the route he could get each time. He fell in love with what climbers call the “project,” the present effort. Think Chris Sharma whenever the fear of finishing a race or training session comes into your mind. Think of Chris, and refocus on your foot hitting the ground for your next step.  - The Cool Impossible

Here is Chris in action and words.  I have started A Cool Impossible Group for those interested in sharing their stories and their own Way of the Cool Impossible.



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High and Low Priority Races

10059097266?profile=originalEvery season I have races that are high priority races with a few lower priority races. As an athlete, I go into every race with a race plan ready to give it my all.  Sometimes I might go into a lower priority race a little tired but that doesn't mean I can't have good results. Lower priority races are a great place to gain race experience, practice race strategies or use as a tune up for a higher priority race.  For example, this weekend I am doing a 1/2 marathon road race in Jackson (a tune up race).  It will be a speed workout with some intensity.  The following weekend is a high priority race with a gravel road section at the end of the race.  I hope to draw from my 1/2 experience during these final miles.  Higher priority races are a time when all my training and racing experience come together. I would love Eric to chime in on a coaches perspective to different races.  Good luck to everybody and happy racing!!

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