Sunday, December 30, 2012

Training Update and New Goals

It's been awhile since I logged in to give an update on my training. Ever since Palo Duro, I've been nursing a calf strain of some sort on my left leg—specifically on the proximal fibular head. I took plenty of time off from exercise that strained the area, but it flares up every once in awhile—particularly when I run with shoes that cut down on proprioception.

Following some advice I got from Patton over at the Natural Running Store, I've been incorporating a good deal of barefoot (6-10 miles per week). By "barefoot," I mean totally unshod—or in Invisible Shoes, particularly on trails. I've got a pair of Vibram El-X's on the way (arriving tomorrow), which should help those efforts. They look ridiculous (toe shoes), but they will protect my feet from glass and stickers while not inhibiting natural movement.

Having spent a LOT of time barefoot since October (the majority of the time, actually), I have come to really appreciate going unshod—not because of the Tarahumara, or because of "the book," or because it's so popular with some runners—but rather I enjoy myself the most when my running is at its purest form.

I have found myself, in the past, far too hampered with technology and gear. As I look back on my running in 2012, I think that a lot (probably most) of the nagging injuries came from problems in my running form. For me, those problems came from wearing shoes that allowed me to run in unnatural ways (slower cadence, footstrike far in front, more of a heel strike, etc). Kicking off the shoes fixes those problems—at least for me—almost instantly. So, I'm becoming convinced from personal experience what I've heard from many others: you should run in the very least amount of shoe that you can get away with right now. Of course, the barefoot also is great.

Not only have I been working on my form—and barefooting, but I've also been working on my strength. I've benefited a ton from the Runner's Strength WOD's over at Kinetic Running and am gearing up to start a functional fitness program (think CrossFit without all the hype) from Pete Kemme. Strength is so neglected amongst us ultrarunners, but, if you look at the guys who are really crushing it, with the exception of folks like Tony K and Kilian, they are all jacked! Hal, Timmy, Max, Sage. I assume the same is true for the ladies. As part of this strength work, I've also started adding Tabata routines for stuff like sprints and squat jumps. Only four minutes and I've destroyed my legs. The next day I'm literally as worked over as I would be from an easy 10 mile run.

Add to this that I'm venturing out on a more intuitive training plan. I'm ditching a rigid approach for one that pays the closest attention to what my body is telling me.

So big changes are afoot...once my leg heals.

What does this mean for me in the coming year?

I'm dropping from Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. I'd LOVE to do it, but I just can't shake the feeling that it's a bad idea. Basically, if I run a 50 miler in early February I will likely re-injure my leg. I would be worth it if Rocky were an "A" race for me, but it's not. I just no longer have an answer to the "Why?" question for Rocky. So, I'll still go to Huntsville this year, but not to race. I'll volunteer and maybe pace some of the hundo runners. It should be a big party and one that I don't want to miss.

If I'm not running Rocky, what am I doing this year? Great question. I'm not sure. But here are some possibilities...

Cross Timbers 50 miler (Feb 16) : 
Toughest N Texas (March 16): 
Grasslands 50 miler (March 23) :
Hells Hills 50K or 50 miler (April 6) : 

And then,...

Leadville Silver Rush 50 Miler (July 14):

I'm looking for an answer to the "Why?" question right now. Once I get my strength up and my form down, then I'll be looking to PR at the 50 mile distance, but until then, I'm more than content to train. Truth be told, I really do enjoy training for the sake of training. Racing is incidental; at least at this point in my running career.

Lastly, I've got a lot on my plate this Spring since I'm taking preliminary exams for my PhD at Baylor in late April—early May. So, I need to manage my stress, which will include keeping my running moderate (for an ultrarunner, anyway).

That should do it for now. 

Happy trails!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Got Tailwind? Tailwind Nutrition Review

Got Tailwind? I'm an ultrarunner and Tailwind Nutrition is a drink mix fuel for people like me (and you, since you're here). I run for hours and hours and hours and a time. Accordingly, I need a product that simplifies nutrition. If you get behind nutritionally or get dehydrated in an ultra, you had better prepare for an epic sufferfest, if you can't turn things around quick.

The Basics of Tailwind Nutrition
It was in an effort to avoid the almighty bonk that I sought out Tailwind Nutrition. Tailwind offers a mighty punch of nutrition that promises to be "All you need, all day. Really." The product was designed by Jeff Vierling, an ultra-endurance athlete himself, in an effort to make a product that will taste good AND sustain you all day. In other words, for Tailwind, taste and nutrition should not be mutually exclusive. Three things make Tailwind Nutrition unique among the myriad of options you could choose from. First, it has loads of sodium and potassium (see below). While these levels dwarf other sports drinks, according to Tailwind, the product is designed to match the electrolyte levels found in sweat. Makes sense. You're replacing what you are losing, in proportion, if not in volume. Second, when so many folks are touting the benefits of long-chain carbohydrate sources, Tailwind has opted for straight dextrose. Nothing complex here, folks. Just simple sugar. The idea is that scientific evidence has yet to demonstrate consistently the performance benefits of complex over simple sugars as fuel.
Photo Credit: Tailwind Nutrition

The result of the electrolyte and simple sugar is the third unique factor: it has a really delightful, if surprising, flavor that is more savory than sweet. I'm told that it reminds several folks of the original Gatorade compound...that is, before they turned it into a syrupy, sugary mess.

Before I get to how Tailwind performed in my own experiments (n=1), I need to include a word about the level of customer support. I have never experienced anything like Tailwind Nutrition from another product manufacturer. What, good reader, do I mean? I'll give you an example (or two). This is company is small. Really small. The result is that they become your friend and take a genuine interest in your training and your progress. When I deviated from the recommended dosage of Tailwind in the Palo Duro 50 miler in October (and bonked hard as a result), they took the initiative to contact me and help me zero in on what went wrong, what I did right, and how I might best move forward in race management, daily nutrition, etc. I asked tough questions of the physiological benefits and biochemical mechanisms of the product... and got real answers from Jeff himself. It's this sort of thing that makes lifelong customers. And this is sorely missing from the big companies. It's also the reason that these companies are losing to the real winners like Tailwind Nutrition. But I digress... So, what do I actually think of Tailwind Nutrition? I thought you'd never ask!

Tailwind is RIDICULOUSLY simple to use. I'm mean a monkey could use it. It mixes into your ~20 oz bottle (or whatever size), so all you do is drink whenever you ordinarily would. That's it. All day. In ultra events, it's great to not have to think too much (Did I take a gel or not? And what about salt? How long has it been since I popped an S-Cap?). And with Tailwind you can really go on autopilot and rest assured that you've got all you need all day. Just keep the bottle(s) full. That's it.

Tailwind also tastes SO good. And it only gets better as the miles and hours tick by. It really tastes better at 5 hours than at 1 hour—and that's saying something because it's a perfect blend of savory and sweet from the first sip. It comes in Mandarin Orange, Berry, Lemon, and Naked. The lattermost still has the savory-sweet taste but without the added (organic flavoring). You can mix and match to your heart's content—which is a fun component in the whole process of planning your fueling. It also allows you to change things up considerably in those late hours of a 50 mile or 100 mile race where "nothing" tastes good. That said, plenty of people report that Tailwind never gets to that point.

Anyone who has followed the discussion surrounding Tim Noakes' book Waterlogged (see iRunFar's brillant summary and interview articles here and here) knows that there is considerable discussion on whether or not we actually need sodium during endurance events, even for 24 hour efforts. In fact, Noakes mentions a study that demonstrates that blood sodium actually goes up in athletes that run purely on sugar and water. That said, he also acknowledges what we ultrarunners (and Noakes' himself is an ultrarunner as well) have long known... many of us feel better with sodium. There may be a physiological reason for this, as well. This is not the place to get bogged down in the details (and I'm not qualified to address this), but what's important to realize is regardless of a your view on whether we "need" sodium in ultras to keep us from bonking, Tailwind has got your back. I can attest to feeling like I could run forever, even at the end of a 15 mile tempo run (which for me is a long tempo run).

In sum, this is a highly customizable nutrition bomb in your water bottle. Simple enough to go on autopilot, and complex enough to cover your nutritional needs all day long.

Possible Shortcomings
The only potential shortcoming that I find in this product is one that is shared by every drink mix: it requires significant planning for proper use in ultra trail events. You need to know how long it will take you to go through your bottle(s) before race day and have your crew keep you fully loaded with individual sized, pre-measured baggies of Tailwind so you can keep that bottle full. Don't be afraid to dump the last four ounces or so as you come into an aid station. If you stop drinking or run out, your toast. But, like I said, this is nothing specific to Tailwind. It comes with the drink mix territory.

What is the Ideal Product for you?
It just may be. But you'll never know if you don't try it. If you are a fan of drink mixes, you really MUST try Tailwind. It's that good. They even have a "Tailwind Challenge" package. Buy enough Tailwind to train with it and dial in your system. Once you get to race day, if your race collapses because of Tailwind, they will refund your race entry fee. Period. If you are a gels and water sort of athlete, you should still give Tailwind a shot. The flavor beats gels every time. Personally, gels don't upset my stomach at all (I'm one of the fortunate few, I suppose). But I rarely enjoy the taste. With Tailwind, every sip is a pleasure. Really.

Tailwind Nutrition is a great product from an unbelievable company. Give their product a shot and, the chances are, you won't be sorry. Unlike the bigger companies, you can even get specific feedback from the product designer, president, and ultra-endurance athlete, Jeff Vierling, as well as his wife Jenny. The service is unparalleled amongst the competition. And, with the proper planning, the performance benefits of Tailwind might just be without parallel, as well.

Dislclaimer: Some (but not all) of the Tailwind I used for this review was provided gratis by the good folks at Tailwind Nutrition.