Monday, July 13, 2015

Dead F*ing Last: Sheep Mountain 50

The Sheep Mountain 50 mile course is one of the most beautiful races I have ever run. Starting in Fairplay, the run moves through majestic alpine... rough mountain terrain. The visuals are inspiring and positive energy surrounds. The runners, the volunteers, and the race director are all there to help you find the finish.

 This weekend, I had the pleasure of coming in last place at the Sheep Mountain 50 mile!  (And no, I'm not being sarcastic.)

I have run very minimal this year and been dedicating time to so many other fun things in life. Sherpa John, the race director of the Sheep Mountain 50 mile, invited me to run and I just couldn't say no. Against better judgement, I set off on this extremely difficult 50 mile course from Fairplay, Colorado.

Sheep Mountain 50 mile race start, 6am. Fairplay, CO

Above treeline toward Brown's Pass. An extremely difficult terrain at high elevation.

The elevation was about 10,000ft for a majority of the day. The course was extremely rocky and seemed to go uphill in every direction. Knowing I was completely untrained for this, I started the run at a very comfortable pace and stayed focused on hydrating and eating well. I was definitely feeling pretty waisted by mile 20. I tapped into areas of my brain that remind me "not to think" too much and I continued from mile 20 toward the next aid station.

I then found camaraderie with a few other runners...namely Sean Cook and Bernie Hohman. Both Sean and Bernie were running their first 50 mile race. Bernie was struggling and I suddenly found myself giving him some pointers, suggesting he push through the pain a bit and wait for his mental game to come back. In doing this, I was locking myself into doing the same thing. I had some thought about dropping due to a complete lack of training...but, after sharing all the positive energy I could with Bernie, I felt obligated to listen to my own advice and push on toward the finish.

 (left to right) Myself, Bernie, and Sean...approximately mile 40.
I met Sean around mile 50. He shared he was an Army Ranger and driven to finish this ultramarathon no matter the effort. We stayed together from that point forward and Bernie then joined us. We stayed together as a team of 3 from mile 30 to the finish. This made the adventure extremely unique for me. It was a completely new flavor of ultrarunning for me. I think Sean and Bernie enjoyed learning some pointers from my experience I, in turn, enjoyed their company as I suppressed the pain and physical reminders I had not done the work.

Jalen giving me his support in the last 7 miles.
Over time, we learned we were among the last potential finishers on the course. I had to I was trotting to try and finish the race and make the cut-offs, while in recent years, I would have not been satisfied with anything less than 3rd place. Perhaps I have a new "why". It was just awesome to be out there...pushing hard...laughing, dreaming of the finish.

I enjoyed every step with Bernie and Sean. I felt purpose in helping them find the finish. Without them, I wouldn't have continued. They gave me purpose...a reason to finish.

In the final mile, I asked Sean and Bernie if I could be the last finisher. They asked why and I shared that many people thought of me only as a front-runner. I explained that my adventures in ultrarunning are much more meaningful to me than just racing and competing against others. It was special to me that we had worked together to find the finish. For these reasons, the finish line touched my heart again...and had new meaning.

In the last 100yds before the finish, with Sean (left) and Bernie (right).
Congratulations to Bernie, Sean, and all the other finishers of the Sheep Mountain 50. A huge thank you and congratulations to Sherpa John and all the volunteers of the Sheep Mountain 50. It was everything an ultramarathon should be...friendly, challenging, and inspiring.

Run long and prosper,


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Going Vegan: Plant-Based Nutrition for Athletes

Weird Vegan Food :)

I've been a plant-based endurance athlete for over 7 years. It is seldom that I think consciously about these nutrition choices because I am fully adapted to making food choices free of animal products. Recent inquires lead me to put this post together…aimed at providing some input into a plant-based diet aimed at supporting an athletic lifestyle but not compromising convenience or cost- effectiveness.

Veganism /ˈvɡənɪzəm/ is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in one's diet, as well as following an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals. A follower of veganism is known as a vegan.

True “veganism is a life free of animal products and nutrition in any way or form. So, in truth, the word “vegan” is not truly applicable to many of us who claim the title for simplicity sake. More appropriately, those of us who eat primarily vegan are more appropriately referred to as “plant-based”. People have the desire to categorize others under one title, but in this case, it’s important to understand that choosing plant-based nutrition does not make you 100% “vegan”. At the same time, a plant-based, vegan, diet can yield you great heath benefits and a new perspective on life in general.

Through my initial efforts to improve athletic performance and health, I have benefited from a greater awareness to the cruelty to animals that take place in our current food production system. This clarity and increased awareness provided me a greater respect for all life. Over time, I increasingly find many of the common cultural habits in our society to be very selfish and ignorant to their negative impact on other people, animals, and the earth itself. This came as a secondary benefit of choosing plant-based nutrition.

People have different reasons for choosing a vegan diet. For me, my choices were initially the effort to improve athletic performance/recovery. I had a reached a limitation in my endurance training for physical effort. That is, I was not finding any greater improvement through more physical training. At that point, I considered the other factors that would help maximize my training. Those were nutrition and recovery. So, I began experimenting with a vegan diet and Bikram yoga. Both enhanced my athletic performance and self awareness greatly.

My efforts to start paying closer attention to my daily nutrition paid off exponentially over a few years. But, in the first 6 months, I saw incredible changes that solidified my decisions and kept me on track since that first step. These are some of the changes I first noticed, that continue to this day:

-Improved sleep
-Steady energy
-Enhanced recovery
-Improved digestion
-Skin clarity

I personally think it’s a mistake to make any significant life choices based solely on weight control. It’s almost always a mistake for people to take on their first marathon with an overall goal of “losing weight”. Of course, weight loss is a result of consistent training and proper food choices, but it should be lower on the list than positive motivators like improved overall health, or chasing that marathon dream.

In this, it is a mistake to choose a vegan diet solely for weight control. This is not a “diet”. That word has been poorly used through marketing efforts in the last 50 years. No, going plant-based is something that should be carefully thought-out and for the right reasons.

So, if someone chooses to gradually move toward a plant-based diet, what types of things might they expect? Well, here are some ideas from my experience:

There are common foods that must be exchanged.  Anything that was meat or dairy, must be exchanged for something similar but free of animal derivatives.

Typical Household       Plant-based Household

Mayonnaise                                   Vegenaise
Hamburger                                    Veggie burger (100 varieties on the market)
Cow Milk                                       Soy, rice, almond, cashew milk
Cheese                                         Daiya, Soy Station Almond, soy, etc.
Ice Cream                                     So Delicious brand, coconut/soy, etc.
Butter                                            Earth Balance (variety of flavors)
Whipped Cream                          Cashew cream
Whey Protein                               Vega brand, pea protein/soy/rice
Meat                                              Tempeh, Tofu, Gardein/Morningtar products

These are just a few exchanges I make on a daily basis. As an example of my daily consumption, both to support endurance running and fuel plant-based... This is my intake and training from yesterday:

Calories Burned: 4009
Calories Consumed: 3200
Exercise: 13.5 mile trail run

Breakfast: Coach’s Oats oatmeal, Earth balance margarine, agave, 1 cup fresh blueberries

During Run: 34 oz Coconut water, electrolyte fluid “Coco-Hydro” brand. 4 fig bars “Natures’s Bakery”

Post Run: Vega recovery protein w/rice milk.

Lunch: Spinach salad w/tomatoes, carrots, pepitas and Ken’s Steakhouse balsamic honey dressing. Morningstar “riblets”. Vega sport protein w/1 cup rice milk, 1 cup mixed frozen berries.

Dinner: Bangkok curry “Buff bowl” from Noodles and Co

Evening: 2 cups Raisin bran crunch, 2 cups soy milk, 4 stalks raw celery w/peanut butter

All day: 110 oz water consumed over the course of the day.

When fueling plant-based, you will quickly realize that you need to eat more often. That is, if you are an athlete, you will be eating every couple of hours. I don’t go anywhere without food of some type. I carry granola and fig bars with me. I also plan where I’ll be eating if I’ll be away from home. I know the exchanges that can be made at common restaurants like Chipotle, Noodles and Co, Which Wich, etc..  This is just the normal routine because I live an active, busy life, on top of trying to ensure health habits and choices.

It’s very difficult for me to put together a comprehensive how-to on a plant based diet. What I will share is that you need to know “why” you are choosing to take this path. And also, you need to have some idea of what foods contain and how you should go about making the exchanges like those listed above. 

I am limited by the same things that people offer as excuse for not being able to eat healthy. For me, however, very few things in life are more important than my health. I started this journey to make a significant lifestyle choice 7 years ago. That choice was confirmed by the way I felt and the rapid recovery I saw through ultrarunning. I feel better, sleep better, and I’m always alert and ready to take on life. For these reasons, I continue to live this way.

I hope some of this information helps you on your journey.

Run long, eat plants!


Additional reading: "Eat and Run"-Scott Jurek

“Let’s improve ourselves as human beings, let’s become more compassionate, let’s become bigger, let’s become stronger, let’s become nicer people.”
                              -Scott Jurek (vegan; ultramarathoner)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Hacks of the Weathered Ultrarunner

Tips and tricks? Heck yeah! I’m talking about those little short-cuts and techniques that you pick up after doing something for a long time. It’s like grandma’s spaghetti sauce. Some of these tricks were passed down to me from fellow runners  and others I developed myself.  Regardless, they’re all field tested for ultrarunning. Hopefully you’ll pick up a few new ones to add to your toolbox. 

Semi-Frozen Handheld:
Problem: You’re prepping your gear for a long run in the morning and the weather is supposed to be pretty hot. You know you’ll want cold fluid after a few hours but there are no aid stations. Freeze the entire bottle of mixed electrolytes? No way man…it’ll be rock hard all day.
 Trick: Mix your bottles of fluid the night prior and position them in the freezer at a 45° angle. In the morning, add some more fluid to the top. Over the course of a few hours, the bottom half will keep the top cold and melt slowly while you’re running. You’ll be the envy of the group with your chilled bottles of tri-berry Nuun at mile 19. Take that!

 Salt Pill Pop Top:
Problem: You’re prepping for a 50 mile in few days. You want to carry your S-caps with you. The Ziploc bag works ok but you want something that will hold up to the conditions of the race. When salt pills get wet, they are just a mess. Seriously….
Trick: Buy a “mini M&Ms” pop top container and share the candy with your friends. Put a cotton ball in the bottom with some S-caps on top. The lid stays attached and you can pop it open while running giving you instant access to the S-caps without breaking stride. Wait…maybe we should try a Pez head instead...Heck yeah...Pez head.

Blister Shoe Mod:
Problem: You made a mistake and took off on a long journey run with friends after buying a brand new pair of trail shoes. The shoes are creating a hot spot on the ball of your foot and you know it will be a 1 inch blister soon. Drop out of the run? Heck no!
Trick: Remove the insole from the shoe and cut a hole in the space where your hot spot is located. This additional space will reduce the friction and likely eliminate the hot spot/blister. Now you can finish your Grand Canyon double crossing like a boss.

Arm Sleeve Pocket:
Arm sleeves are pretty popular with ultrarunners, and for good reason. They are great sun protection and they come in crazy twisted designs and colors. (My “flame” sleeves are a fan favorite.)
Trick: You can hide about 2 gels or a granola bar in the lower part of the sleeve where it meets your wrist. They wont slip out and you will have quick access to them while running. (What you actually put in there is truly none of our business.)

Race Day Cheat Sheet:
Problem: When you run a race, the majority of the information about the course is listed on the internet in great detail. You often need this information on the trail!
Trick: Transfer the course profile to another sheet of paper and mark the approximate locations of aid stations. Add any other information you would like on the course, like the drop bag locations and distance between aid stations. Print a small piece of paper with this info and laminate it, if that is available. With that small piece of paper, you can stop asking the aid station volunteers how far it is to the next aid or, “what’s the course like between here and the next stop?” Now YOU have the info everyone wants! Basically, you are now Google.

Got a tip or trick to share? Send it to! We’ll publish some of the best submissions in a sequel to this epic post.

Run long and prosper,

Monday, May 25, 2015

Endurance Nutrition 101: Beginner Ultramarathon

In this article, I will speak on the topic of endurance nutrition for the new ultrarunner. The information is guided toward those new to the sport and explained to those new to endurance nutrition for long distance running.

"How do I fuel for long runs?"

A long run means different things to different people.  For someone very new to distance running, a long run can be something like 60-90 minutes. For those who have trained and completed a marathon, the long run is conceptualized as something like 5 hours or more. Regardless of this fact, proper fueling will support your effort sustain your physical effort through the completion of that distance.

There are some standard, accepted norms for endurance nutrition intake during aerobic exercise. (of course, there are always exceptions too) Among those are the common effort to intake some form of carbohydrate while training. A safe and accepted rate of intake is 200-300 calories per hour of exertion. 
This food can come in many forms, to include liquid, semi-liquid, or solid form. In support of the digestion and overall effort, a balanced intake of electrolytes and water must also be consumed. (Often taken in the form of electrolyte fluids like GU Brew, Hammer HEED, Succeed, Pedialyte, Cytomax, etc..)

The longer the run, the more critical nutrition/hydration become.  That is, if you were to run for 2 hours and not eat or drink anything, you would likely finish the run feeling moderately OK and somewhat dehydrated. You would, however probably finish the run just fine as long as you have the physical endurance to run that far. As we push out this example with respect to time, the consequences become greater for those who do not start introducing nutrition and hydration from the start of the run.

At 3-4 hours of running, if it is not too hot…you will still likely finish the run but feel quite exhausted. You would experience increased fatigue, a slowed recover, and more intense dehydration. Should we go on in this example?

As we increase the running time without nutritional support, the problems become worse. Now, after 6 hours of running….assuming the physical ability is present in this runner, he or she would likely run into heat exhaustion or heat stroke ( if it is warm or hot). They would also likely exhaust their on-board glycogen energy. Their pace would have slowed considerably or been forced to walk, as their body changed from glycogen energy to fat. The recovery would be significantly longer and the suffering would be memorable, to say the least.

In this example, I attempt to paint an obvious picture. These are eventual consequences to running without any type of nutritional intake. Of course, running for that amount of time without any type of intake is uncommon. Most athletes practice some type of intake, even if it is lacking. So, even if a runner is taking in ½ the calories needed to sustain a given distance, they are, at least, putting something in the tank and delaying the consequences associated with this critical error.  The longer the run, however, the more we must face the consequences associated with improper or no intake, lack of hydration, and/or exhaustive pacing.
With careful attention to your intake, both hydration and calories,
you will finish with a smile on your face like this guy on the right!

As endurance athletes, we must be intentional about our pace and practice regular intake of nutrition/hydration which supports our physical effort to run a given distance.  These are some common, easily digestible forms of food you can eat while running. They are also common items found at 100 mile aid stations:

Bananas, oranges, pretzels, chips, granola bars, potatoes, soup, carbohydrate gels, peanut butter, bread,  and honey.

Typical Aid Station Fare in Ultrarunning

This is not a complete list. There are many other things found at aid stations. Some of which are just strange or unique. It’s just a good reminder not to experiment on race day! Strange stuff? Yeah…here are some other things I’ve seen at aid stations:

Buffalo meat, Red Bull, pickles, whiskey, M & M candy, bacon, ice cream, and jello.

Admittedly, there is something magical about running for many hours and eventually ending up in some remote aid station where they offer you a ice cream sundae or whiskey. Truth be told, I am not the only ultrarunner to accept these offers when the moment hits just right. That’s just one of the cool things about this sport…

At the basic level, however, broad experimentation by a new ultrarunner should be kept to a minimum. You wouldn’t want to ruin your key race by taking in something weird in the early miles of the day…and pay for it over the rest of the race.  So, consider carrying much of your nutrition in a pack or through drop bags, if they are available.  You can usually count on aid stations to have water…and if you only rely on them for that water, you will avoid any possible pitfall associated with a hasty bad food choice.

If you train with some of the quality examples above, like bananas, carbohydrate gel, PBJ, and granola bars…you will work through any particular issues related to taste or digestion. Then take these same items to your event and fuel on them for the duration of the race.  This eliminates so many of the unknowns and should put your mind at ease.  For your first race, shoot for an intake of 200-300 calories per hour.  Consume the types of things mentioned above, and hydrate with quality electrolyte fluid. If you do this from the beginning of the run and continue for the hours of exertion, you will set yourself up for success and also aid your recovery from the day.

Don’t forget to finish your run with a liquid protein recovery drink of some type. This should be consumed within the first 20-30 minutes after your run. By doing these things for every long run, you will yield maximum benefit from each long run.

Run long and prosper,

Friday, May 22, 2015

Daily Strength Training for Runners

Runners like to run! Unfortunately, when all we do is run…we drive our bodies to be quite imbalanced physically. These imblances can lead to overuse injuries, inflexibilty, stiffness, soreness, hampered gait, and othe issues. Trail running, especially rugged trail running, is much better at broadcasting a wide range of training across many muscle groups. But, even trail runners would greatly benefit from just a few minutes per day of core strength exercise and a quick daily routine for muscle strengthing.

5 minutes:

5 minute abs! Seriously….if you carve out a small piece of time in your day, you can include a quick routine in almost any venue to get your core strength and/or strength routine completed. As an example, I can count on the fact that I will be brushing my teeth each morning I wake up. So, just prior to doing that daily routine, I have made a daily habit of doing 25 push-ups, 50 crunches, and a quick set of curls with exercise bands. The total time for this daily routine? It’s about 2 minutes. After one week, however, this yields 175 push-ups, 350 crunches, and 250 curls. Not too shabby…

This is, of course, in addition to any other exercise I do throughout the week. But, by including it it my daily routine, I do not think about it or ever consider it a burden to my life.

If this makes it seem more reasonable to include some strength training to your routine, then I have set you up for this:

Daily Routine Example:
@Wake-up (2 min)
20 push-ups, 50 crunches, 1 min plank, 30 curls w/rubber band or dumbell.
@Lunch (3 min)
20 push-ups, 20 shoulder raises, 30 sec right side plank, 30 sec left.

Of course, these are just an example. It’s a total of about 5 minutes. Personally, I really enjoy pull-ups. I have a chin up bar at work and one in my basement. I find them at the gym and city parks sometimes too. So, I make it my practice to never pass a chin up bar without a few sets. By doing this, I have made it my routine…just like brusing my teeth.

You will benefit greatly from strength exercises like those mentioned above. As a runner, you would also benefit from a little stretching each day as well.  With running as the priority, consider carving out a small piece of your daily routine to improve your running through these types of supportive exercises. You can modify these examples as you see fit. Have fun!

Run long and prosper,

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pacing the Long Run

One of the most important things about distance running is the pace, or effort, at which an athlete choose to run. With proper pacing, the distances are all physically achievable, and the obstacles become those related to endurance nutrition/hydration. So, give yourself the best opportunity of success when taking on the long run.

Run long and prosper!

PACE: Marathon Considerations

You, as an athlete, have a “pace” or level of effort that is sustainable for every distance. Your 10k pace is NOT the same as your ½ marathon pace. Put another way, when running as hard as possible, you cannot run for 1hr at the same pace you would attempt to blast for 2hrs. If you know the distance of your run from the first step, you must select a level of effort which is sustainable for that duration or time/distance.

Something unique happens when we push our bodies past 2.5 hours of hard running. You might recognize that this is a common place during a marathon (“the wall”). This is the approximate amount of time it takes for you to exhaust your on-board glycogen stored in your muscles/liver. If a runner takes off to blast their first marathon and doesn’t consume anything, they are very likely to experience some major discomfort around the 2 ½ hour mark. This is mitigated by staving off the predictable exhaustion point by slowing your pace in the first hour of the race. By slowing down intentionally, you use more fat as fuel and reserve some of that glycogen for the final 6 miles of the marathon distance. (Different for ultra, however.)

You further support your ability to feel good to the end of the marathon with some easily digestible carbs throughout the race and some hydration. Of course the marathon distance is not far enough or long enough to truly give you an indication of whether you fueled right. The marathon is still short enough, from an ultrarunning perspective, to allow for someone to make many imbalanced choices but still finish well. Regarding pace however, the new marathon runner gives themselves the best chance of success by slowing their pace in the first hour and consuming electrolyte fluid/calories during the event. For most, this is acceptable and ensures success.


Whether training for marathon or ultramarathon, the average training pace should be nice and slow. You should feel really comfortable during long runs. Whether measuring by heart rate or perceived effort, you should feel like you can run forever at that pace. For some, this means a mix between walking and jogging.  If someone is really unconditioned, it may mean more walking than jogging and eventually building to a balance of time between them.

Especially for those of you training for your first ultra, let go of those feelings that you must run every step. Just let go! You don’t have to run every step. If you are moving out of the marathon range, then sprinkle in walking breaks from the first hour of your long run…walk whenever you feel the need. Relax, eat something…take a picture. Ultrarunning is an adventure. Your body needs time to adapt…and you must let go of the idea that you must run every step. We in ultrarunning, do not run every step.

In training, go easy….really easy. Try running so slow and comfortable you could fall asleep. Now you’re training for ultra! And, to answer a very common question I get…”is this slow training building my cardio” Hell yes! The most important thing is building this base, through a very comfortable aerobic effort…consistently over months or years. You need to add a little bit of time to your long run each week, but keep the pace nice and slow…easy and comfortable.

(That last paragraph is worth reading again for most runners going from marathon to ultra.)

To recap, training pace should be slow and comfortable. If you are well conditioned and have a strong base already from marathon or distance triathlon, then you can charge forward and do a tempo run each week. You should keep it at about 45 minutes in length. (The weekly short runs shouldn’t really go beyond an hour or so.) For most, however, the bulk of training runs should be totally comfortable and maybe even include a good mix of walking.


In ultra, you train like you race. So, treat every long run like a race rehearsal. You shouldn’t modify your pace that much for runs over 35 miles from the effort you did in training. You should also just eat and drink the same stuff you did in training runs. In fact, don’t change anything on race day from your long runs. The only thing that should be different on race day is the positive energy you feel around you!

Building endurance is something you can achieve without much pain or discomfort. With consistency and time, you can build an efficient engine that supports your effort to run extreme distances. Just be confident that slow running is extremely beneficial. Pain is not gain in ultrarunning. Enjoy every step.

Run long and prosper,


Coach's Corner: New to Ultrarunning

When I first started training for ultrarunning, I hit a series of stumbling blocks that slowed my progress reach to a level of fitness that allowed relative ease in running extreme distances. Truthfully, running over 5 hours is never really “comfortable” but I’ve found that over the years, a combination of consistent training, balanced hydration/nutrition, and relaxation of the mind has allowed me to feel quite unaware of any discomfort a vast majority of the time.

As a coach of new ultrarunners, I’m constantly reminded that reaching a level of comfort is not achieved easily. I often find myself giving much of the same advice to my clients as they move through the various stages of running fitness in a quest to complete their first 50-100 mile run. These topics are often related to training mileage/time and nutritional intake before, during, and after running. I am energized a few months later when I hear from these athletes that they have made such significant progress using the methods or suggestions I provided. In truth, this feedback has become one of the most inspiring things for me as I strive for my personal athletic goals.

This will be a series of articles related to common questions/topics discussed with new ultrarunners during my coaching sessions. These posts are aimed at an audience of new ultrarunners, who are working toward their first successful ultramarathon.  If you find this information helpful and would like to set up a consultation, you can find the link for a 1 hour consult on the right side under “coaching”.

As always, run long and prosper.

Coach Jerry