Fear & Suffering in Big Sky, Montana

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Race Director Mike Foote getting his selfie on before the VK

We were skirting the West edge of Yellowstone National Park, the pedal of the Jeep Wrangler smashed all the way into the floorboards when Lone Peak first came into view. I don’t exactly know how to describe the sensation, but something unique happens the first time you witness a big mountain in person. It’s some scattered combination of awe, fear, excitement, anxiety and desire. It’s a deep, spiritual sort of feeling, one that reminds you that you’re alive.

Bugs exploded against the windshield as we swerved into the left lane to pass yet another Subaru, driving well below the posted limit, obviously without anywhere to be, admiring the put-all-your-wallpapers-to-shame magnificence draped all around us.  If only we were so lucky.

It was Friday at 1:50pm Mountain Standard Time and the gun for The Rut Vertical Kilometer was going off at 3pm.  I left Santa Monica at 4pm (PST) on Thursday afternoon and had been in the car ever since, literally without a single minute of sleep. It had been about 18 hours of driving and a couple scattered hours sitting in diners and watching my wife charm her way out of a ticket (she was going 80mph in a 60mph construction zone- if that was me driving, they would have found some way to arrest me, but naturally, she got off with a warning).

By the time we finally pulled into the Big Sky Resort, I got changed and jogged the 200 meters to the starting area, it was 2:40pm.  I was a little shocked that I actually made it.  18 hours and seven states (CA, AZ, NV, UT, ID, WY and MT) later, my Altra Superiors were laced up and I was ready to go.

All the speeding and driving through the night aside, the whole thing just seemed surreal, the surroundings were taking my breath away everywhere I looked.  I may have been delirious… but it was probably just the altitude. Standing at 7,800’ staring up at Lone Peak another 3,400’ above me, it was hard not think about the fact that I hadn’t slept since I’d left the beach.

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Lone Peak

As per the notification I received from the staggeringly useful Run the Rut app, winter was coming sooner than expected in Big Sky country and a lightning forecast from 3-6pm forced Race Director Mike Foote to make the tough call to stop the VK short of the summit.  From Mike’s email:

Don’t worry too much, the plan B course will still be hard!  It starts in the same area and climbs just over 2,000 ft in 2.4 miles on a mixture of ski runs, single track trails and scree fields to the base of the Lone Peak Tram.

Honestly, I was relieved.  I felt surprisingly good for spending so much time in the car but I knew that I soon as I started demanding high-end performance from my body, it was going to be a different story.  I was entirely out of touch with my whole gastro-intestinal array; I didn’t know if I was hungry or I needed to take a shit. I probably needed a nap. I figured I would still be able to tag the summit during the 50k on Sunday and I definitely needed a warm up at (slightly) lower altitudes.

The gun went off and I started out fast, probably somewhere in the top 15.  I had warmed up with a few hill repeats and felt decent but I could tell instantly that this pace was far beyond my current capacity. I started gasping pretty quick and then my biceps starting cramping, something that has never happened to me before, under any circumstances, even after climbing for two hours and then doing pullups. So that was a little weird.  Then my abs joined in.  Then I was being passed by someone every couple of steps.

The trip up to the bowl directly under Lone Peak, at the top of a large scree field took me 42 minutes.  My Suunto had me at 2.35 miles.  Hardest two miles of my life, without a doubt.  I’ve been above 14k’ before but I’ve never sucked oxygen like this.  My throat and lungs burned with every inhalation of the crisp, mountain air.  I crested the top of the gigantic choss pile, walked through the Run The Rut archway and proceed to projectile vomit all of the water, coffee and bile my stomach had to offer.

Then I continued to gasp for air until I had jogged about halfway back down to where we started from. Then I ate a burger, drank a beer and fell asleep for thirteen straight hours.

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Feeling wrecked after the VK

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There’s something about this race that is just different than other races.  For one, it’s the only race in North America that belongs to the International Skyrunning Series, which is a series of eight races around the world (well, mostly Europe with a single race in China and the US, respectively) that draw the best mountain running talent around the world.  Kilian Jornet has run this race. The Men’s podium for the VK went Spanish, Bulgarian, Catalan.

Secondly, the race directors/creators are world class mountain runners themselves, so it’s fun to be interacting with them and running a race conceived by them that was so fucking epic the International Skyrunning Federation had to include it.

It also ended up being a fun, inclusive environment captured by the Big Sky Resort and centered around the race.  With three days of racing, the majority of the people at the resort are runners or there to support the runners in some capacity.  It seemed like most people were hanging around the events they weren’t running in, watching the show put on by a bevy of world class mountain runners.  Oh, and you could just walk around the whole resort with a beer in your hand like it was Mardi Gras or some shit.  Somehow slightly reminiscent of my college days.

Saturday for me was mostly spent sleeping and eating.  I watched the first 15 runners finish the 28k (unfortunately the early leader, Dakota Jones, rolled an ankle around mile 14 and dropped- it would have been nice to watch him win) and, in some misguided and wholly worthless attempt to acclimatize to the elevation, I rode around on the chairlifts up as high as possible.  The views were nuts.

By the time Sunday morning rolled around, I was feeling pretty good.  Presumably ready to run hard.  A full-on winter advisory warning had been issued for Sunday and they expected upwards of eight inches of snow to fall on the big peak by Monday morning.  My second chance to bag Lone Peak for the weekend was ripped away in the chilly  pre-dawn dusk. Fucking lucky 28k runners…

Mike Foote assured us once again the course would still be hard- albeit with slightly less distance and elevation gain.  As disappointing as the announcement was, it carried the slightest twinges of relief.  I had pretty much fully convinced myself that my VK woes were due to lack of sleep more than pure elevation. I thought all the sleep I had gotten the past couple of nights was going to manifest well, but I was still a bit worried.

Sure, I had been up to 14,000’ before and I had spent plenty of time running above 10k’ but the reality was, I had never raced up this high before.  I had never demanded the kind of top-end performance that racing requires above about 7,500’.  The Skyline Mountain Marathon in the Wasatch Mountains flirts with 8,000’ a couple times but it’s nothing sustained.  After just flying up from sea level, I was running in 5th in that race through 22 miles (in 2013) when severe ab cramps on the final descent forced me to walk far enough that I slipped to 18th.  Then I threw up for the rest of the night.

I tried to shut off my brain as the Elk Bugle sounded and I, along with the rest of the first wave, charged off into the damp darkness. I went out hard but quickly realized that I was pushing an unsustainable effort. The weird bicep cramps came back. I felt like I was hammering up the initial fire road climb but a glance down at my Suunto revealed that I was chugging along at a mere 11:30/min pace.

Then things started to get really steep.  I settled in to what I thought was an easily sustainable power hike, something I could have maintained for hours on the steepest pitches in the Santa Monica Mountains.  A mile and a half into the race, as I reached the top of a particularly gnarly pitch, I did something I’ve never done before, ever.  I stepped off the side of the trail and proceeded to pretend like I was taking a piss.  Probably thirty runners passed me as I gasped for air through a wide mouth and teetered from side-to-side, happy to be standing up at all.  I clicked the light on my headlamp off in embarrassment.

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I got going a little bit on some downhills and I began thinking that my body was settling into a groove.  I was running well on some of the climbs, about every other one, and I started to pass some people. I had been nurturing some very early thoughts of dropping out of this race, but now I was thinking that a finish was within reach.  

With so many racers on the course, there was never a moment where there wasn’t two or three people visible and it seemed like every time I slowed down a bit I got passed and every time I sped up a bit I was passing a couple of people. Frankly, it was annoying. I did get lucky enough to glance an elk, full on devouring his breakfast as I jogged by. He paused his massive jaw for a split second and peered in my direction before resuming normal activity.

We started picking our way up a scree field a couple of miles below the Swift Current aid station (about 14 miles into the race) and the temperature had dropped a bit, the weather now exhibiting some combination of rain and snow, and I was finally forced to pull my jacket out of my AK vest and cover my t-shirt.

This is about the time shit started deteriorating fast. I honestly don’t remember exactly what happened.  I was hopping across a scree field one minute and the next I was trying to remain upright as vomit splashed against my shins as it ricocheted off the flat talus below.

By the time I was done yacking, I was shivering uncontrollably.  The average temps in the various mountain ranges I frequent in Southern California have been in the 80s and 90s recently.  I haven’t worn a shirt on run in as long as I can remember.  I came into this race (unintentionally) heat trained.  Sweating early and often. I don’t think the sub-freezing temps would have been a problem by itself, without the elevation slowing me down so much, but the combination of the two left me in pretty rough place.

As I hiked into the Swift Current aid station, Luke Nelson was standing at the edge of the drop bag pile with my bag (he had placed 8th in both the VK and the 28k the previous two days).  I quickly changed my shirt and my jacket and added a second long sleeve layer.  The shaking continued. I walked over to the table, looking to get something warm and found myself a delicious smelling cup of broth that lasted about 45 seconds in my stomach.

I found a volunteer to inquire about what exactly I had left on the course and for what I hoped would be some solid motivation (it’s been my experience that aid station volunteers will usually do whatever necessary to get you back on the course if they feel like you still can). The guy I talked to did everything short of carrying me to the chairlift himself.

“Look man, you can be back down below 8,000’ in a hot shower in less than 20 minutes.  The chairlift is right there.” I was shaking, I couldn’t keep anything down, my head ached and it was dumping these massive, fluffy snowflakes.  I wanted to keep going but I couldn’t wrap my head around the decision.  I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I told the station captain that I was dropping, he brought me inside for a minute to try and warm up before riding the chairlift down and within a few minutes, I was back down in warmer temperatures and lower elevations, feeling infinitely better.  It was only 9:15am. I had barely gotten started.  I had only been running for three hours. Did I really just drop?

After a shower, a nap and a bag of chips I felt pretty good. I barely felt like I had gone running that morning. I felt stupid for dropping.  I couldn’t remember why I dropped.  The condition was so fleeting…

When I had dropped in the past, I had been in bad shape for days after the race.  Laying on the grass as my quads and hamstrings took turns seizing for hours as I desperately drank bottles of coconut water.  A couple hours after this drop and I was feeling fine.

After wrestling with these feelings for far too long, I’ve decided that I need to trust myself. Whatever I was feeling up there that caused me to drop, I suppose I made the right choice. But I still can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had just left that aid station.

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Another reason The Rut is such a cool and unique race: they offered free tattoos of their logo (which is dope) and gave anyone who got one free entry into next year’s race.  There has never been better motivation for me than a DNF.  It always spurred my training and my drive. My best performances as an ultrarunner have come on the heels of  DNF.  

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My fresh Rut logo tattoo

So, naturally, I figured that if I DNFed, then got a tattoo of the race logo and entry into next year’s race, I would be motivated as hell.  Not only would I have the memory haunting me as I tried to fall asleep every night, I would also have a very obvious reminder permanently inked on my body. A good performance at next year’s race would turn that mark of shame into a trophy.

Despite my relatively poor performance in the VK and my DNF in the 50k, I still had an incredible time.  Montana open my senses to a whole new type of experience while firmly cementing my beliefs that I want to spend as much time in big mountains as possible.  My Run the Rut tattoo and I will be back next year, for no less than two weeks this time, and for better or worse, ready to run steep, get high.

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The view from my tattoo chair.  The Montana Mikes.

 

You Run Like Shit: Pose Arguments

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This is Part Two of a Pose Method series. Here’s Part One if you missed it. 

For a while after I discovered the Pose Method, I lived in a happy little bubble.  I was so excited about how fast I was beginning to run and how all my little aches and pains were dissipating as I was simultaneously increasing volume.  The amount of effort it took me to run at high speeds was coming down and my heart rate was staying much more consistent— especially on big climbs.  It all seemed perfect and everything made sense.  It was beautiful. All was right in my world.

Then I made the mistake of going on a comment thread on some stupid website and making a small, inconsequential comment about physics and running, without any specifics and certainly no mention of Pose. From there, a reader found my website, discovered I run Pose Method and then him and his angry cohorts proceed to spend about 15,000 words telling what a stupid fucking moron I was, complete with the phrases “google it” and “ask any physicist”. 

First, I was a little shocked.  I didn’t realize this kind of ire was out there.  I couldn’t possible fathom why people would be so upset about the Pose method. It didn’t make sense to me.  It’s not like it effects other people if I’m running Pose. At the very WORST, Pose gives us some tools to think about what were doing.  Someone isn’t going to misinterpret the Pose principles and go blow up and building or shoot somebody.  Why was it so polarizing?  I had to get to the bottom of it. 

So, I descended deep into the Pose-hater rabbit hole.  Like, to page 125 on the google search results deep.  And it was interesting.  It was great to read some of the well-crafted attempts at refutal.  A little bit unnerving that people waste THAT much time dissecting things that they don’t believe in or want to try, but hey, you gotta do you. 

One big problem that quickly became glaringly obvious: most Pose coaches don’t fully understand what they are teaching or they are unable to articulate it properly.  Sure, they can look at stride and point out inefficiencies and they probably have a solid grasp on what Pose running entails, but they can’t effectively argue the physics or biomechanics involved.  More often than not, they get pushed a little about the physics on a message board and they get angry and start spouting Romanov quotes and the discussion starts to turn away from physics into something much more dogmatic.  I for one, wish these people would stop. No one wants to hear about how you know the Pose Method is perfect because of how you feel. You’re making us all look stupid.

After my research, I believe that Pose skeptics/haters can be broken into one of three categories:

  1. The runner/running coach with a background in biomechanics and/or physics.  This person never actually finds anything wrong with Pose per se, but they don’t fully endorse it.  They will usually make a claim that Pose has “some good tenets” or say something about how the cues can be helpful, or that “most elite runners” show “pose principles at a high speed”.  But these guys are scientists and as such, can’t really be certain about anything.  They would all probably agree that running form is something we should be talking about and, from what I read, probably agree that Pose is the best technique being taught.  But it’s not perfect. 
  2. The entitled millennial who believes that they are super special and super unique and nobody— I mean nobody— has any idea what is best for them except for them.  They are beautiful snowflakes of individuality and if anybody has the fucking audacity to tell them how to run, they’ll be sorry.  They don’t have an argument beyond “google it, moron” but if they know anything for certain, it’s that you’re wrong. 
  3. The skeptic sniffing out any dogma, ready to pounce regardless of the topic.  Quick to call Pose runners “cult members”, etc. 

Let’s start with the people who are actually trying to have a discussion, understand that running technique is something that we should be talking about and attempting to use science to refute Pose principles.

The Physics:

Go on any running form message board where people are talking about Pose and you will see inevitably see a handful of comments that say something like this:

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A “giant joke”? What do you think the chances are this guy could actually articulate an argument against the Pose Method?  But someone else reads this crap and regurgitates it somewhere else and… well, you know. And why is the word physics in quotes like it’s some made up thing that doesn’t exist?

This is my big problem with comment threads— no one makes an argument.  “Google it” or “ask a physicist” is not an argument, but for some reason, people not only think it’s an argument, they actually waste their time posting it. 

Beyond the message boards, however, you can find some very intelligent people with an actual background in Physics or Biomechanics and they’re usually making one of three claims:

  1. Gravitational torque cannot provide horizontal linear momentum by itself.
  2. You MUST push off: ground reaction force is being ignored/seriously underestimated.
  3.  Your general center of mass travels upwards vertically after you leave support, which is contrary to falling.

Let’s run them down quickly….

1. Gravitational torque cannot provide horizontal linear momentum by itself.   

According to Newton’s Second Law of Motion:

“The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.” 

Dr. Romanov claims gravity is moving you forward, so how can that be?  As soon as your general center of mass (GCM) is in front of your support (leg on the ground), you’re producing angular rotational torque in a forward direction.  In other words, you’re falling forward, toward the floor in front of you, a fall that is cut short by your trail leg swinging through to the front, where you can recapture the Pose and fall again.  Many people erroneously believe that running is a continuous fall forward— you’re falling to regain your pose and fall again, linking these falls together is what we call “running”.

A lot of people making this argument believe that gravitational torque does provide horizontal momentum, just not enough to be the primary source of locomotion.  Which leads us to…

2. The push off argument: ground reaction force is being ignored/seriously underestimated.

The failure to account for the forward momentum created by rotational torque is usually combated with a some sort of force plate data (from some study that has less than 10 participants) showing that the force upon foot strike is equal to two or three times your body weight and so, according to the third law of motion, the ground reaction force (GRF) is equal to this and is the main cause of forward momentum, which essentially becomes the “push off argument.” 

This could be true.  It’s hard to believe that GRF is more responsible for forward movement than fucking gravity (smh) but there isn’t any definitive data on this (that I could find) in the form of a scientific study.  Even if it is true, it changes nothing about the Pose method.  Pose teaches a “pull” of your foot from the ground as opposed to actively attempting to propel yourself forward with a push.

My big problem with the GRF argument is that I still don’t see any evidence of an active push off.  Your body is impacting the ground with force, and this force is being redirected (by the springs that are your legs) and applied to horizontal (and possibly vertical) momentum.  The energy is there, there is no need to add extra muscular effort to this equation. That extra effort is simply wasting energy and increasing time on support.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Romanov’s 2006 book, Training Essays:

“Does [the push off] exist or doesn’t it exist?  Neither is right and neither is wrong, too… Basically, very simple things that push and pull exist in the same system of movement, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes separated by a fraction of a second. All our movements contain push and pul and it is very difficult to see whether we are pushing or pulling and for what purpose. In running, push-pull relations are hidden, camouflaged by a seemingly obvious presence of a push-off, so obvious that there is almost no reason to question it.

But the questions are there: do we have a push off and do we need a push off?  The answer to the first question is positive.  We have a push off, and the sport science received a tremendous number of force platform data confirming there are vertical and horizontal components of ground reaction force. But does that mean that we got the answer?  The movement is not as simple as it seems. There are two types of movements here and only one of them needs to be produced by our voluntary muscle contractions, our muscular efforts.”

Even Dr. Romanov freely admits that there is some sort of vertical reaction force propelling you from the ground, he just realizes that “we don’t need to do it with voluntary muscular efforts, all we need to do is release the elastic property to do the work.”

I admit that some of the calculations and claims being made might about the amount of momentum gained from GRF might not be 100% accurate.  There is a possibility that, under the Pose Method of running, GRF might be underestimated.  But even if this is the case, why does it matter?  You’re moving forward from some combination of gravitational torque and GRF. An active push off doesn’t make you run faster or more efficiently.

The bottom line is still the same: you’re not thinking about pushing into the floor for forward momentum.  There is an apparent disconnect here between what is ACTUALLY happening and what you are actively MAKING happen.  No matter how much GRF you’re getting, you’re still simply thinking about pulling your foot from the ground.  This doesn’t change anything about the Pose Method or how you should run.  In fact, it reinforces the Pose principles. 

3. Your general center of mass travels upwards vertically after you leave support, which is contrary to falling.

This argument seems anecdotal but according to one website:

“Objective measurement from video recordings demonstrates that [Usain] Bolt’s COG rises after mid-stance rather than falling as Pose theory predicts”

Naturally, the author links no actual study and fails to elaborate at all about how these “measurements” are being taken or how they are determining where Bolt’s GCM is.  Taking measurements of moving person’s COG from a video sounds pretty unscientific in general, but without the information, who knows?

I think this argument goes hand in hand with argument number two and it’s pretty easy to see why this argument is made: in order to keep falling, your GCM has to rise. But because Pose Method is claiming gravity is the main source of forward momentum, it’s very hard to see what is causing your GCM to rise, when intuitively, we see gravity as pushing us DOWN. 

People running using Pose technique do, in fact, have vertical oscillation.  Your GCM has to rise, but pushing into the floor is not what causes this to happen.  This is happening by a combination of unweighting and the muscle/tendon elasticity that is happening thanks to Newton’s Third Law of Motion. 

From Training Essays once again:

“Vertical displacement in running happens by utilizing muscle/tendon elastic property, which lifts the body 4-6 centimeters above the ground, just enough to shift the body weight from one support to the other.”   

How much of your GRF is being converted into horizontal momentum vs. vertical oscillation?  Obviously a little bit of both is happening and the vertical oscillation gained from your muscle-tendon elasticity is enough to allow your GCM to rise enough for you to recover Pose and fall again. Repeatedly.

These arguments are all great.  They force you to think about what you’re doing and they push everyone’s understanding of running further.  Diversity of intelligent opinion makes us all better and I welcome it.  From where I’m sitting, however, these arguments are pretty knit-picky about certain claims being made, when these claims have nothing to do with the actual function of running.  Sure, the propulsive forces might be skewed a bit but I think it’s pretty clear that a) nobody really knows what is going on for sure and b) it isn’t changing a thing about how you’re running anyway. 

It seems like we’re arguing about semantics when the practical application of the running remains unchanged. If you disagree, please comment below, I would love to get a discussion going and I know I need to learn a lot more. 

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Beyond the scientific arguments, there are numerous anecdotal arguments out there being thrown around.  Let’s take a quick look at the most compelling:

Pose Method moves the load from the knee to the ankle, causing subsequent achilles tendon injuries.

So you’re telling me that switching the loading from the knee (an unstable hinge joint operating in a single plane of motion) to the proprioceptive monster consisting of your foot-ankle complex is a bad thing?  In Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run he details running— and winning— the Western States 100 with all the tendons and ligaments in his ankle “completely shredded” from a bad ankle sprain he suffered playing soccer a day before the race.  You think if Scott Jurek sprained his knee, even a little bit, that he would have ran WS?  An NBA player will roll his ankle so bad he can barely walk and be playing again five minutes later.  That same player tweaks his knee the smallest amount and he’s out for the rest of the game until they can get him in the nearest MRI machine. 

The problem isn’t switching loading from the knee to the ankle.  The problem is failing to take into account the fact that most of us are running around with shortened, weakened achilles tendons from our shoes that have padded heels.  It’s going to take a lot longer than six weeks for this to be fixed.  But you can’t tell someone who has been running their whole life to stop and slowly build back up so you develop the necessary strength. No, that would be absurd. Just keep fucking up your knees. That seems like a better idea. 

We are not “taught” to walk as babies, and we don’t need to be “taught” to ride a bike, we just figure it out.

So if you just happened to come across a bike, you would just pick it up and “figure out” what to do with it?  This is sorely underestimating or misinterpretation the meaning of the word “taught”.  Just because you lack the vocabulary to be taught in words how to walk as a baby, you’re certainly being “taught” by observing.  And you’re not wearing SHOES!! How is this overlooked? 

We are all too different for one way of running to be applied to all of us. Essentially the millennial “I’m special” argument where people cannot, under any circumstances, come to grips with the fact that, despite minor difference, were all walking around with the exact same equipment and using it in the most efficient way involves the same patterns. 

Actually, you’re not fucking special at all.  You’re just like everyone else. You’re the same collection of levers and fulcrums.  Look at any other animal in the world.  They don’t move around differently.  You don’t see two different horses running with different gaits.  They might have a little bit of their own style— as we do as humans— but their fundamental moment patterns do not differ. Even dogs, who have been tinkered with beyond belief in terms of artificial selection— they all still run the same.  You’re telling me the lever length matters THAT much? 

It’s too difficult to teach.  After a couple weeks, the participants were reverting back to their old gaits.  If it’s so hard to teach, what’s the point? 

Considering how ridiculous this argument is, it’s amazing how often it’s cited.  People making this argument are lacking a certain understanding of how our brains work. Simply put, every time you move, the corresponding motor neurons in your brain are communicating.  Doing the same movement repeatedly causes these motor neurons to get better at this communication process. After a while, you essentially hardwire a pattern into your brain.  For movements you do all the time, the ones you don’t need to think about (like picking up a cup of water and taking a sip) have become automatic because those motor neurons talked so much they’ve become super efficient at it.

Developing neuromuscular patterns is what “bro science” would call “muscle memory”. Obviously, you’re muscles can’t remember shit. You’re brain certainly can.  This awesome component of our elastic brains allows us to become proficient at movements that are important or necessary to us.  The problem arises when we’ve been doing a movement wrong for a long time.  It is very hard to undo that hardwiring.  You can start making new patterns, but your brain wants to fall back into the old habits— they’re more efficient. 

There are studies being done now that show people born with a disease like cerebral palsy, may have recovered the ability to walk normally as they have gotten older, but they cannot overcome the patterns for walking that have been hardwired into the brain over time.

(There is a great Ted talk about this by Karen Pape entitled, “Baby Brains Do Recover but Habit Hides It“, if you’re interested.) 

For runners that have been running incorrectly for years and years, it’s gonna take a little bit of time.  You can’t do it in two weeks.  You probably can’t do it in six weeks.  Have some fucking patience, it’ll be worth it in the long run. 

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I don’t think the Pose method is perfect.  I do think that it helped me a ton.  I admit, I was not a runner before.  I never had a high school track or cross country coach telling me what to do when I was running.  Pose was my first foray into the world of “running technique”.  So, this probably gives me a huge advantage over the runners out there who grew up hearing someone telling them the wrong things all the time. 

I was starting out from first principles, with zero bias or investment either way.  I just wanted to run faster and farther and not get hurt.  Pose did that for me.  I don’t have some biblical desire to see everyone running Pose.  In fact, it’s better for me if you don’t run Pose (I’m a pretty selfish person for the most part).  But if someone comes to me and asks for my help, I have to go with my experience, an experience paints a pretty compelling picture for the Pose Method. 

You Run Like Shit: My Pose Journey

This is Part One of a Pose series.  Part Two digs into the (mostly) scientific arguments made against the Pose Method 

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“You run like shit.”

Not exactly something anyone wants to hear. If you’re currently in the process of running 80+ miles a week, this kind of news can be devastating.  I stared blankly at the 50-inch flat screen placed precariously in front of our small group— maybe 16 people—and wondered why I looked so bad. 

The full breadth of my stride was on display here; one foot trailing behind my body and the other reaching in front, driving forward.  This was how I was supposed to look.  This is how “good” runners look.  All those Nike ads and pro-runner’s Instagram feeds had burned the images into my mind.  I didn’t understand.  All these people I emulate run like shit too?

There was clearly a disconnect here.  The smartest man in the world of running, Dr. Nicholas Romanov, was tracing a laser pointer across the TV screen, advancing my lumbering body frame by frame to show everyone in attendance why I couldn’t run.  In increasingly specific terms, he shredded my gait from top to bottom, eventually concluding that if I was going to run like THAT, I should probably just save my energy and not run at all.

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Don’t do this. You’re gonna have a bad time.

As I sat there, disillusioned, disheartened and incredibly embarrassed, I realized this was, in fact, exactly what I wanted.  Did I really spend a shitload of my money and time to fly to Miami (in August!) so I could hear Dr. Romanov tell me that I run perfectly?  That’s an expensive ego boost, even if it is coming from The Most Interesting Man in the World. No, this was a good thing. It was time to figure out what I had been doing wrong.  It was time for my education to begin.

  1. Historical Context

It has become widely accepted that running played a huge part in our development as human beings.  Despite anecdotal romanticisms like Born to Run, the real information (i.e. backed by data) is out there and has become an accepted addition to our larger evolutionary picture.  In his incredible book, The Story of the Human Body, Harvard Evolutionary Biologist Daniel Lieberman describes all the ways evolution designed us to become running machines, from the stabilization and balance systems in our heads/ears/spines specifically designed to let us balance and see clearly while running to the entire anatomy of our lower leg being setup like an energy-returning spring.    

According to Lieberman’s research, running made us who we are today.  It allowed us to track and run large mammals to death, largely thanks to our bipedalism and superior cooling systems, which allowed for larger, more nutrient-dense meals to be consumed, eventually resulting in an explosion in brain size.  So without running, there is no us.  We are inextricably linked to this simple act of locomotion, for better or for worse, and whether we want to believe it or not, we are all “runners”.  We might not be “born to run” but we were certainly “born runners”. 

Most people view running as a very simple movement.  People are constantly uttering cliches like “just put one foot in front of the other” or some similarly reductive phrase to remind you how simple it is.  Sure, at one time it might have been the pinnacle of complex movement, but now we have bikes and baseball bats and basketballs and pole vaults and 110m hurdles.  We go to the gym and sit on massive machines designed to let you barely move a single joint in your body so you can “isolate” it. 

Clearly, we’ve got it all figured out.  All this overcomplexity and information has made us the healthiest we’ve ever been in human history (ha!).  Also, we never get injured anymore (ha!).  All kidding aside, the real irony here is that if you look at all the athletic movements we make as humans, only the ridiculous invented motions (i.e. swinging a golf club, shooting a three-pointer, the backstroke, etc) all come with a universally accepted prescription. In a lot of cases, it’s based in physics (measuring the amount of torque produced at the end of a bat based on various swings) or simply based on years and years of data (the tennis coach who has seen thousands of hours of backhand swings and understand exactly— even if he cannot fully articulate it— why certain players are more effective than others). 

For running, this doesn’t exist.  If you go out and hire a running coach, 90% of them will “coach” you by essentially writing a program that tells you when, where and how hard to run.  They toss around words and phrases like tempo, intervals, aerobic threshold, hill repeats and “recovery run” to make it seem like they’re doing something more complicated to justify the money you’re spending, but the bottom line amounts to ZERO time spent focusing on actual running technique.  People don’t teach it. If you compare that to someone who hires a tennis coach or swimming coach (or any other coach), the vast majority of the time spent coaching, usually around 90%, will be spent on technique. 

What this fact tells us (beyond illuminating running coaches as assholes who steal your money) is that the prevailing sentiment— not just in the running community but in the athletic community at large— is that we all run differently.  People believe that they DO NOT need to be taught how to run.  People will say things like, “Nobody taught me how to walk, when I was eight months old I couldn’t even talk, I don’t need anyone to teach me how to run.”  Most intelligent people quickly see how foolish a statement like this is.  It shows a total lack of understanding for how we “learn” as humans while completely missing the point at the same time (more on this in Part Two).

So just to recap:  All the invented-by-humans human movements we’ve been talking about, swinging a golf club, the breast stroke, karate chopping a cinder block— whatever it may be— has a very specific technique that must be taught and mastered.  Deviation from this technique is worthless and unacceptable.  But running, the movement that was “invented” by natural selection over the course of millions of years with a very specific set of levers and fulcrums acting against a very specific force (gravity), can be done any fucking way you feel like it.  It doesn’t matter at all.  Just do what feels “natural”.  Nature doesn’t know shit.  You know everything. 

II. Looking for Answers in All the Wrong Places 

Ever since reading ’Born to Run” I had been wearing minimal shoes.  For my first race ever, a 50k in Idaho, I “laced up” a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. I ran a mountain 50k wearing these kicks, based on Chistopher McDougall’s generalized view that minimal footwear makes you run properly.  I had dreams of running 100 miles across the mountains like Tony Krupicka and Scott Jurek but I could barely run 50 miles a week without totally breaking down.  I was bruising my feet constantly on rocks, my ankles were always a mess, my knees ached, my IT Bands felt like someone was ratcheting them up like a slackline.  I would read articles about the weekly volume elite ultra runners were putting in, sometimes upwards of 200 miles a week, and wonder how their bodies could possibly withstand all the punishment.  It seemed unfathomable. 

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Back in 2012 before the Foothill Frenzy 50k. Give me a break- it was my first race ever.  I didn’t know what I was doing. A volunteer working the aid station at mile 27 introduced me to my first electrolyte supplement that day.

Nevertheless, I tried and I tried.  I started to get my weekly volume up a bit.  I finished 7th place at the Zion 100k.  I snuck onto the podium at the Malibu Creek 50k. I started really pushing to get more miles on my legs.  I was looking at all these successful runners and the formula seemed obvious: more volume. 

The problem for me was all in the health of my lower extremities.  My energy systems were never an issue.  My feet or legs would always breakdown long before I could get to that point. I needed more volume and my legs hurt… so I began running through a lot of pain.  I ignored my body completely and routinely went out on long runs in the mountains despite experiencing agonizing pain with every footfall. Then one day, about nine miles from the trailhead, the pain got too bad to continue.  After a two-hour hobble and a couple of days of denial, I was at the doctor’s office with a diagnosis: severe stress fracture of the Lateral Malleolus. 

The Lateral Malleolus is the distal end of your Fibula, basically what most people refer to as their “ankle bone”.  According to my physician, during bipedal locomotion, this bone is non-weight bearing.  To me, this immediately meant that my gait was FUCKED UP.  I did enough damage to a non-weight bearing bone to break it?  My stride is so bad that I’ve got muscles wrenching on the end of my fibula to the tune of enough torque to crack it?  This was obviously something I needed to figure out. 

Naturally, I asked the doctor what I was doing wrong.  What could I do to fix this? I will never forget what happened next.  This prestigious orthopedic surgeon, operating out of one of the most respected clinics in Los Angeles (SMOG), sat down in the chair across from the table I was sitting on, took a deep breath, exhaled, looked up at me and said, “Unfortunately, you’re just too tall to run. Especially long distances.  I wouldn’t recommend running more than two miles at a time.  You need to get some shoes with some more padding and on your next visit, we’ll fit you for orthotics.” 

I am tall.  I’m 6’7”.  But I have the same equipment as everyone else.  I have the same set of levers.  Just a little longer. I couldn’t believe what he had just said. I stared blankly through his face as he kept rambling on about the history of tall NBA players and stress fractures of the feet. He was saying something about Yao Ming when I stopped listening. 

This couldn’t be true. I wouldn’t accept it. I’d long held a deep distrust for every doctor I’d ever met so it wasn’t hard to convince myself that he was a myopic idiot.  No, that was easy.  The hard part was going to be figuring out what to do next. 

The answers had to be out there, I just needed to find them.  Freshly clad in a size 15 walking boot, I was out the door and on the search for my running salvation… but a revolution would have to do.   

III. (My) Running Revolution

When you’ve been running a couple hours everyday for the past year or so and then you’re forced to halt this activity abruptly, it really fucks with your psyche.  There have been countless studies done showing the hormonal effects of cardiovascular activity— it changes your brain.  It alters your decision making.  You’re not really the same person, in terms of brain chemistry, when you’re not exercising that you are when you’re regularly getting a good dose of cardio. 

I suffered through this (much of it probably placebo) for about three weeks and fell into a desperate pit of despair.  Then my ankle finally got to the point where I could put some weight on it without any pain, and I started biking, doing a lot of hang cleans and front squats (I still couldn’t do a full power clean) and generally started to feel less worthless and ready to uncover some answers (that I hoped were there). 

So I started doing research.  And this is when I started to realize that most people don’t talk about running form.  If someone was , it was usually a current or former elite runner who has made a transition to coach, but doesn’t understand why they were faster than their peers or happened to stay injury free.  The result of this is a lot of ambiguous, relative terms being thrown around like, “make your stride feel smooth” or “be light on your feet” or “imagine yourself gliding down the trail” or “drive your legs”.  None of this helps anybody and it certainly wasn’t what I was looking for. 

No, I wanted definitive information about the differences between a heel/forefoot strike.  I wanted to know what cues I should be focusing on during the different phases of my stride.  I wanted to know if Nike really ruined the world like Born to Run claimed.  And more than anything, I wanted to be able to run with a certainty that I wasn’t damaging my body.  A quick google search of “running+physics” and I stumbled across the Pose Method site.

I started reading a bit and it sounded promising.  It was offering me a way a singular, correct way to run. At fast speeds and jogging alike.  It has always seemed naive to me that, as creatures of the same species, we run so dramatically different.  I grew up watching NBA games on TV wondering why some of the players (the more athletic ones) ran on their forefeet, while the big centers usually plodded down (very un-athletically) with an obvious heel strike.  It was apparent that these things were not equal, but no one else was talking about it and I was ill-equipped to discover the answer to which of these methods was better. 

Dr. Romanov was laying it all out there for me: here’s how you run and here’s why.  Not only did he have the balls to say something audacious, but his claims were making sense.  I was never a competitive runner before I started entering ultra marathons in my 30s.  I never worked with a track or cross country coach and I never had anyone tell me how to run (my college basketball coaches wouldn’t have dared to correct someone’s running form).  So, I was picking all of this up starting at first principles, with an empty cup waiting to be filled with information.  (I honestly think this was a huge advantage for me because I didn’t have to unlearn a bunch or erroneous information or running dogma.  A lot of runners are already full of that shit, so it’s hard.) 

Upon my initial reading of The Running Revolution, I missed a lot. Even with the videos that accompanied the iPad version of the book, it’s hard to learn how to run by reading a book.  It’s hard when you can’t watch yourself and see what you’re actually doing. So I kind of heard what I wanted to hear and picked up about half of the Pose tenants and adopted them in my running. 

It helped a lot, but it wasn’t perfect.  My big mistake after reading the book was inaccurately synonymizing  the words “fall” and “lean”.  I took falling to mean leaning, and I ran with poor posture.  I was trying to do a continuous-leaning-type-thing instead of the pendulum falling effect.  Then, when your posture is shit and you’re bent at the waist, you’re forced to counter-balance (around your GCM) by leaving your feet trailing behind you when they should be directly underneath your hips.  I had more time on support because I was waiting for my trailing leg to catch up with the rest of my body that was essentially running away from it. 

I need someone to look at me and point out my specific deficiencies, and Dr. Romanov certainly obliged.  After I left the clinic in Miami, I couldn’t wait to get out and try my new technique.  I had finally seen myself in action and I knew what was going wrong.  At first it wasn’t easy.  I had been so conditioned to “use my long stride” that the short, choppy steps felt incredibly foreign to me.  I didn’t feel like it was conducive to running fast.  Then, one day about two weeks of running, I had a breakthrough. 

I was running on a trail that I had been on a lot (over 100 times) and I was focusing on pulling my foot from the floor as quickly as possible— even though the high cadence felt weird— and maintaining my posture.  I got to the top of the climb much quicker than I normally would, but I was keeping the effort easy and (incorrectly) assumed that there was some mistake or I had forgotten to un-pause for a bit after I took a leak.

I turned and started back down the mountain, once again with laser-focus on my cues, fighting the urge to over-stride.  What happened next was amazing.  I still remember the sensation vividly. My short, choppy steps started to flow.  My legs started to feel light, like they were popping off the ground as soon as they touched down.  It felt great, but I assumed that I was running very slowly.  I felt way too in control of my body to be running fast downhill— usually when I hit seven minute pace, I felt out of control like I was pounding and the impact felt dangerously high. 

I glanced down at my watch and did a double-take.  It said I was running at 5:30min/mile pace. That can’t be right!  There’s no way I could be running this fast and be in control like this.  I didn’t feel like I was doing anything.  I had this weird feeling where I felt detached from my legs.  I was just this person up in the cockpit driving, and all I had to do was pick my feet up and get them under my GCM as quickly as possible. It was surreal. And I was fucking flying down the hill. I couldn’t help but let a huge smile grow across my face.  

Never in 100 years would I have come to the conclusion that my downhill running problem was from leaving my foot trailing behind me too far.  This type of error wasn’t even on my radar. In a single moment of clarity, running downhill switched from being slow and strenuous to being fast and fun.

I got home and checked the results of my run on Strava.  I set something like 25 personal records on a run that I had done 100+ times.  And I had kept my effort easy the entire time.  I wasn’t pushing, I was concentrating on my cues.  From that day forward, I was sold.  You could now call me a Pose runner.

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Since then, I’ve naturally had some ups and downs with my training, but you can’t even compare the runner I was with the runner I am now.  100 mile weeks aren’t scary anymore.  My legs don’t hurt.  I’m partially convinced that the only thing holding my running back at this point is the amount of food I can eat.  Now, instead of having my legs break down, I’m dealing with energy systems issues (which has led to a few dangerous situations actually where I was way too far away from home and running out of energy— it took me a little while to get a handle on that situation because it hadn’t happened before). 

I do a lot more flat running too.  I still hate it, like I did before Pose, but now I see the real benefit in it and I understand how it translates to the mountains a lot better.  I need to come back to the flat to push the reset button after too much time on variable terrain.  Taking all the other variables out of the equation is still the best way for me to get in touch with my form, but as I said, I’m still very new to this whole thing, so hopefully that’ll improve in the future. 

I’ve fared well in my races since fully adopting the Pose method as well.  I brought my 50k PR well below five hours and somehow (I’m slow) managed to place 2nd in the Santa Barbara Red Rock Marathon with I time I wouldn’t have dreamed of a year before. 

I haven’t raced much though, and it seems to surprise people when they look at the volume I’ve been consistently putting up for the last year.  They want to know what I’m training for.  I’m just having too much fun running as much as I want as hard as I want.  I’m having too much fun pushing the boundaries of my own body right now. When I’m interested, the races will be there.  It’s like someone finally gave me the blueprint to operate this vehicle I call a body and I’m still test driving the shit out of it. 

There are myriad reasons why I’m sold on Pose running.  But to avoid sounding dogmatic, I’m going to save you the rest of the anecdotal evidence of my personal experience and do my best to look at some of the common arguments made against Pose (scientific and otherwise), understand why they are being made and attempt to get to the truth.  Because at the end of it all, after the trolling and debating and commenting is over, truth is all that matters. 

Part Two: The Problems with Pose, Breaking Down the Arguments

 

Western States and the State of US Ultra Running

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Photo Cred: Myke Hermsmeyer

Last weekend’s Western States 100 Endurance Run was exciting.  Much more exciting that I expected it to be.  With the news that Francois D’Haene wasn’t starting the race, frankly, the field looked weak.  Sage Canaday— a runner yet to complete the 100 mile distance— was the favorite on the annual iRunfar.com WS100 fantasy game (which is fucking insane when a runner like David Laney, who placed 3rd at UTMB, is toeing the line). There were a lot of unknowns and a lot of untested runners with huge expectations.

Jim Walmsley came into the race with seemingly unprecedented expectations for someone with such little experience.  From iRunfar’s Bryon Powell:

“Aside from his inexperience at the 100-mile distance, one might question Walmsley’s mountain worthiness. To that point, does have the course record at Montana’s Old Gabe 50k, but he also finished 28th at the 2014 Speedgoat 50k.”

Powell ranked Walmsley in his top three (along with Canaday and Laney) based on wins at 2015 JFK 50 Mile, 2016 Bandera 100k, 2016 Red Hot Moab 55k and the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, an uber-competitive race drawing all the Bay Area talent, in which he set the course record.  Definitely not a bad resume, but Powell’s predictions and Walmsley’s “I’m definitely going to set the course record” pre-race attitude still seemed super presumptuous and disrespectful of the distance.  Until you prove yourself across that space, everything else should be ignored.  Sage Canaday’s UTMB experience should tell us that.  If I’m at the helm of iRunfar.com,  a true monopoly on ultra running news, I choose to be wrong before I pick some untested twenty-three-year-old.  But maybe I’m just an asshole. So it goes.

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Jurek didn’t look cool in 2002 and Walmsley looks just as stupid in 2016. Jurek was amidst a seven-year winning streak at least. Photo Cred: Scott Jurek

The race began and a crop-top sporting Jim Walmsely, looking fully homeless with his stringy hair, 80’s sunglasses and holes cut all over his shirt, proceeded to leave everyone seemingly standing still.  Including a bewildered Sage Canaday who tried so hard to keep up with him, he couldn’t even snag a top-ten finish after running under course record pace for the majority of the race. This was probably my favorite part…  as someone who has watched a couple of Canaday’s YouTube videos, I strongly dislike him.  Anyone who is that sure of anything is completely full of shit.  His analysis leaves no room for anything but a singular agenda; the one of his own making.  It’s honestly disgusting.  I can’t listen to the guy talk. 

According to Meghan Hicks: “Observing his run, he seemed somewhat torn by the dueling ideas that 100 miles is a long race and that Jim was running quite strongly ahead of him.” You gotta love that quote, especially after Sage took to YouTube after UTMB last year and talked all that shit about the 100-mile distance and how it’s boring because you can’t “run it hard” and if you’re running 100, you just have to “get through it”.  I have to give Jim Walmsley all kinds of kudos for showing this douche, if even for a moment, that he doesn’t know shit about racing 100 miles.

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How can anyone take this guy seriously? Photo Cred: DryMax Socks

The rest of the race seemed to melt away under some sort of Walmsley-induced fog.  No one on twitter was talking about anything else. I was interested in the Women’s race but I found myself scrolling through the feed each time it refreshed to see if he was maintaining his suicide pace.  When he went splashing into the American River at mile 78, thirty minutes ahead of course record pace and a full mile ahead of his pacer, I was in shock.  I didn’t think the heat would allow him to keep this type of intensity.  It was damn impressive.  Tim Olsen, Rob Krar and Geoff Roes were shitting their collective pants.  Their performances were about to be crushed.  This was the oldest 100-miler in the US.  Since 1974 for god’s sake!

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Walmsely fighting his way out of the American River. You gotta love the legend hashtag.  78 miles does not a legend make, my friend. 

Then the wheels fell off.  Walmsley gets washed a few hundred feet down the river. Then he takes a wrong turn.  In his post race interview, he blamed it on the information he was given about the distance to the turn.  In all reality, he was probably fucking trashed.  But most importantly, what was his pacer doing?!? When choosing a pacer for a 100 mile race, the criteria seem pretty simple: 1) keep up with me, 2) don’t let me get lost, 3) don’t let me drop.  Jim’s pacer blew the first two, which all the sudden become massive mistakes when you consider the fact that he was running THAT far ahead of record pace in the most prestigious 100 in the country.   

The current record holder, Tim Olsen, went off course for about ten minutes during his record-setting run but generally speaking, you don’t hear about people getting lost on the WS100 course that often.  It has a history of being very well-marked and very well-known.  I know he was running fast but if you drop your pacer, you gotta look around a bit, have some awareness, this isn’t a road marathon, bruh.

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That guy doesn’t look like he has any chance of keeping up with Walmsley.

So Walmsley ends up walking down Highway 49, and according to an Outside Magazine article he was found lying down on the 105 degree pavement.  The few times I got lost in an Ultra, like when I got to a highway, I turned around immediately.  You have to wonder about his mental state here. He gets lost and finishes three hours and six minutes behind the winner and almost four full hours behind the CR pace.  If he doesn’t get lost does he hit the course record?

There are so many factors at play, we will never have anything close to a definitive answer.  The physiology and the psychology are tested beyond what most human beings will experience ever.  When I was running my first 50-mile race in the Marin Headlands, I was furious with my father who told me to exit an aid station in the wrong direction, a mistake that probably cost me a total of 200 meters.  I can attest to the devastating mental effects of these mistakes.  If you’re running 100 miles, taking literally one step in the wrong direction has to feel like a huge waste of energy. But, laying down on 100+ degree pavement doesn’t sound like something somebody in their right mind does and, even if he doesn’t go off course, there’s a huge chance that Walmsley still blows up and collapses under the weight of the previous 90 miles.  I really wish I knew what would have happened… 

I had two big take-aways from the WS100.  The first perfectly aligns with my personal philosophy, which is roughly “I don’t know shit”.  The truth is, we don’t know anything and anything is possible.  Sage Canaday probably went home and cried to his marathon coach about how what Walmsley did for 80 miles was impossible.  He seems like that type of guy.  I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if Canaday had started accusing him of blood doping. 

And secondly, the Western States isn’t what it used to be.  The WS100 is a fast, non-technical, downhill finishing race that no good mountain runners want to run.  The only really “mountain runner” in the race was probably Jeff Browning.  With the list of entrants, we might as well run this whole race on the Placer High School track, not just the last 400m. Ian Sharman, a guy who runs treadmill marathons, has placed somewhere in the top-ten (between 5th and 7th) for the past seven years.  No one could do that at Hardrock.  The nature of the terrain throws too many variables at you.  The technicality and the elevation make each time you run it very different.  Sharman has the WS100 so wired at this point, it seems he’s on autopilot. 

Western States has become a 2nd-tier race that no good runners want to compete in.  When Kilian is coming to the US for the Mt. Marathon 5k and has zero interest in WS, you know it’s become irrelevant as a mountain race.  This split, between runners wanting to run 100 miles as fast as possible and those who want to tackle the most difficult, aesthetic terrain, seems to be growing larger by the day.  And as more Americans make placing well in European races a high priority, expect to see the chasm grow even more.  Western States and Hardrock seem like they’re event for two different sports at this point.  

When I first started running ultras, I actually put my name in the WS100 lottery.  Now I’m just looking at The Rut and the Big Horn as realities and dreaming about Hardrock and UTMB.  #iwontseeyouinsquaw #notthaticouldgoanyway

 

Jenn Shelton’s Outside Voices

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I have been a big fan of Joel Wolpert for the last few years.  His films are things of beauty, to say the least, and whether he’s chasing Anton Krupicka down Green Mountain in the snow in Runner in Winter or flying down the Kabib Trail with a deeply introspective Rob Krar in Depressions, you know you’re watching more than a simple trail running film, you’re viewing a piece of art.  From the spot-on soundtrack choices to the compelling subject matter and the flawless tracking shots, Joel Wolpert is producing quality content.

I was lucky enough to attend the Los Angeles screening of the Wolpertinger’s last Vimeo VOD offering, In the High Country back in late 2014.  This film is essentially Joel’s “ode to the moutains” and follows Tony Krupicka around the Rockies (specifically up Long’s Peak).  I was always amazed at the candor and vulnerability that this film was able to access from its star; most of the others things I had seen or read almost always portrayed Krupicka as this bearded enigma who, if you’re lucky enough, you might catch a glimpse of tearing shirtless down a Boulder-area trail. 

In the High Country did a great job (for me at least) of breaking down some of these barriers and not only showing some of Tony’s personality but also some of his running too.  During the Q&A session the followed the screening, Krupicka was raving about Joel’s technical trail running ability— something that is certainly witnessed in most of his films (just watch how smooth the shots of Rob Krar bombing into the Grand Canyon come out). I love Billy Yang and his running films, but he would need a vehicle of some sort to keep up with TK and it shows in how impersonal a film like 15 Hours with Anton Krupicka comes across. (Note: I’m not trying to knock Billy Yang, his work is awesome, if you haven’t seen his Mont Blanc film, you should definitely check it out.)

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Joel Wolpert seems to be the perfect package for producing this type of film: he has the eye, the skill and acumen to follow athletes through technical, varied terrain and he picks compelling subjects. Or maybe he’s just lucky enough to have awesome friends, but Jenn Shelton certainly does not disappoint in Outside Voices.  The first thing you hear the “Hunter S. Thompson of ultra running” say as she’s about to begin a speed work session on the track is “I just ate a shit-ton of Taco Bell so this could be interesting”. 

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What follows is a gorgeously crafted, black and white film showcasing Jenn Shelton’s eclectic personality, fun-loving attitude and her hard-charging, leave-it-all-on-the-trail approach to running. Shelton might not necessarily be worthy of the HST comparisons but her gonzo approach to her (decent) writing coupled with her hard-partying antics certainly make her the best candidate in the ultra running scene to carry on the flame.  I, for one, would much rather hear Jenn talk about Taco Bell and beer than listen Timothy Olsen tell me how to “run mindful”. 

Some of my favorite moments in the film:

Shelton getting hammered on Mezcal while volunteering at an aid station and attempting to get every runner who comes through to “take a nip” off the bottle. 

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Her story involving $20 of Taco Bell being puked all over her kitchen floor directly in front of her ex-boyfriend and the realization that they probably wouldn’t be together too much longer after that. 

Shelton about to strip off her sports bra and hop into an alpine lake for a mid-run dip when she asks, “Do you think Vimeo is ready for some milky white jugs?” and Joel, who is behind the camera, firing off a super quick “Yeah” without an instant of hesitation.

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The Tony Krupicka cameo where he shows up to crew/pace her to a 3rd place finish at the Bear 100 looking impossibly cool (per usual) in a Sombra Mezcal tank-top and his Fr33ky cap.  The best part is probably when Tony is handing her a bottle of water and she calls him her “fucking cabana boy”.

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For what seems to be her “recovery run” a day or two post-Bear 100, Shelton organizes a beer/shoot a can mile where she has to pound a beer and shoot a can off of a fence with a rifle every lap.  And then proceeds to run it hard and not miss a shot.  Doesn’t get much better. 

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Six Ways to Suck at Strava

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We all love Strava.  Or hate it.  Or spend hours obsessing over it while simultaneously pretending that we don’t care at all.  As has been pointed out exhaustively—it’s a pretty polarizing piece of the social media puzzle.

I personally spend anywhere between five minutes and two hours a day on the site, a time usually determined by how impressive I deem my current activity levels.  If I went on a run that boasts impressive stats, I’ll repeatedly open the page throughout the day at work just to look at the run—check my splits again, memorize my segment goals or simply just stare at mileage totals. 

If I haven’t been doing anything impressive—or anything at all—I am far less likely to open the app throughout the day.  I’m just going to see that Dylan Bowman ran 22 miles in a little over 40 minutes and summited Mt. Tam for the #108 time that week.  Or that Anton Krupicka rode his bike 150 miles to the base of Longs Peak before skipping up the keyhole route and tagging the summit.  Just a bunch of depressing shit mainly.  But you can’t say that it isn’t motivating. 

Strava at it’s best is a statistical catalog that allows you to track and share your endurance activities while giving you a transparent look at the training programs of your friends and some of your favorite athletes.   

Like all social media, however, it can be horribly misused.  Just like you have friends who suck at Facebook or Instagram whose name you dread seeing pop-up in your feed, we all have those people on Strava that we feel obligated to follow even though they suck at using it and perpetually flood your feed with garbage.

If you’re already one of those people who suck at Strava, just keep doing what you’re doing.  If you are using it properly, please stop immediately and follow these six steps:

1. Break your run into as many parts as you possibly can.    You would never want to have a single activity as your run on Strava.  Then you’re just lumping your warm-up, cool-down and actual run into one thing.  This is going to bring your average pace way down.  Not cool. 

If you can, try to break every run into 4 separate activities: pre-warm up, warm-up, run, cool-down, and post-cool down cool down.  That way, we can all see your “real” pace during your workout but you can also flood all of your follower’s feeds with multiple activities. And— perhaps most importantly— you are effectively quadrupling your Kudo potential.  Just think about all of those extra Kudos. They are going to make you feel sooo good.

2.  Put EVERYTHING you do on Strava. Did you walk to the mailbox?  Strava that shit.  Did you walk around Whole Foods for 15 minutes?  Strava the hell out of that shit.  That’s mileage you gotta keep track of.  When you’re looking back at your training log trying to figure out why you performed so well last year, the answer might be in all those walks down to the corner store for beers.  You never know.

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Holy shit bro, you were walking FAST that last mile. 

3. Log your indoor resistance training workouts (with details).  I love it when I’m looking through my feed and I see “Lats and Core Work Today” or “4 x 10 reps of Bicep Curls”.  This is really why I started using Strava. Oh, the motivation!  I think I’m going to drop to floor right now and do 25 pushups so I can log it.  I should probably take a photo too…

4. Sign up for every possible challenge that you can, every month, over and over again.  Sign up for the 10k challenge every month, even though you run a 10k every other day.  And definitely sign up for the open-ended challenges that track your mileage monthly, that way it pops up into feeds each time you run 25 or 50k.  That’s better.  I love when I can’t even see a single activity in my feed because all I can see are someone’s list of 14 current challenges. It’s awesome.

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Nothing against Jorge Maravilla obviously- the guy is a badass- he just sucks at Strava

 5. Create a bunch of segments-within-segments so you can find the perfect section where your time cracks the top ten. I know Strava says they don’t want you doing this but simply ignore all those warnings about your segments being to similar to existing segments.  And definitely do NOT make it private. We all need to see these results and how amazing you are.

6.  If you go running on the treadmill, please take a picture of the treadmill screen after you’re finished.  Otherwise, you could totally be lying.  Plus, when Strava updated their app to give photographs a much bigger role in the interface, this is exactly what they had in mind: treadmill photos.  Just like treadmill runners are their target demographic for Strava Premium Memberships. 

DCIM116GOPRO

An Open Letter to the Non-Runner

I know what you’re thinking: Here’s another self-righteous asshole trying to tell me what to do. Up on his high horse, berating my sedentary lifestyle, tossing around phrases like “obesity epidemic” and “heart disease”.  Making grandiose claims about brain chemistry, all while promising a decrease in body fat and an increase in energy. 

But that’s not what I’m here to do.  I want to talk about running in the context of our culture.  I want to talk about running as a way to escape. 

I used to be just like you.  There was nothing about running that appealed to me.  I used to sit behind the wheel of my car and scoff at the idiots running by in their short little running shorts and stupid visors.  I would laugh at their sweat stained shirts as the artificially cooled air spilled out of the vents and into my face. 

“Why would anyone want to run, just for the sake of running?” I would often wonder.  It just didn’t make sense.  It was too simple to be attractive. There were no bells and whistles.  It wasn’t exciting enough. “If I want to do cardio, I’ll just play basketball.  Then at least the running has a purpose beyond just… running.”  

But then something changed.  And it wasn’t from a physical standpoint, like you’re probably imagining.  No, this particular change came from a spiritual standpoint.  To put it succinctly, I was bored.  I had gotten myself into a place where I was completely overrun with stimulus; sounds and pictures and lights constantly bombarding my senses; computer screens and TV screens and a cell phone screens, music being pumped directly into my ear canal and advertisements shouting at me from every direction I looked.  But somehow, amidst the ever-present stimuli being disseminated on a level unlike anything the human brain has ever seen, I was incredibly bored. 

I found myself withdrawing further and further from the reality TV, fast food, endless-consumption culture that was being thrust upon me at every turn.  It just didn’t feel right.  Everything about my life had become so complicated.  All the technology that professed such convenience and comfort was making me feel like a prisoner.  Complications that beget more complications.  Did it ever end?  Suddenly, I was craving simplicity. 

As Steve House, arguably the finest American Alpinist, reiterates many times in his book, Beyond the Mountain, “The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.” It seems counter-intuitive, but if you keep it simple you’ll never get bored. We’ve been brainwashed by consumer culture to think that we need a huge production to be entertained.  I’m here to tell you that the exact opposite is true.  What you really need is to get as far away from your cell phone and TV as is possible in your current situation.  You need to pull the headphones off of your ears, get off of the air-conditioned car seat and start putting one foot in front of the other.  Just run—like we’ve been doing for thousands of years.  It’s time to regain a little primal simplicity.

Use running as a way to stand up and rebel.  Don’t watch Keepin’ up with the Kardashians like everyone else.  Don’t spend countless hours a day mindlessly browsing Instagram and Twitter feeds like everyone else. Just get outside and do exactly what we were designed to do: move. 

Use running as an escape.  Don’t think about how many calories you’re burning or how fast you’re running. Take the most simplistic, primal activity that exists and make it a part of your everyday life.  Get away from your work emails and group texts.  Don’t worry about the trending topics.   Just enjoy the rhythm of your feet falling onto the dirt or the road or the grass.  Really listen to the sound of your breath.  Connect with the landscape.  Find your place in the natural world.  Find your flow.

If you’re even a little bit like me and you’ve been feeling bored staring at all those screens—trapped in a world that never stops trying to sell you something—I am offering you a simple, no-strings-attached escape:  Run.