Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DOMS, MAP and Black Mountain: When Supplements Prove Their Worth

Master Amino Pattern: Six Month Supply
I began using Master Amino Pattern (MAP) in the fall of 2013. At first I incorporated it into long runs and hard workouts preparing for The North Face Endurance Challenge. It seemed to work; the essential amino acids provided the building blocks to repair muscle damage and reduce fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). My soreness was substantially diminished and recovery happened faster.

When I gained entrance to Western States, I bought a six month supply. It is not uncommon for a supplement company to recommend ridiculously large doses. It sells more product. For my diet and weight, it was recommended that I take 40-50 pills a day! Some who use MAP have reported good results with as little as 5 pills per day. I opted for a daily regimen of 15 grams: 10 pills prior to workout, 5 pills as recovery. On easy or rest days, I take 5.

MAP worked well to reduce DOMS all winter. I steadily ramped my weekly volume up to record levels by Spring. Daily doses became routine. I was running more than ever and suffered no muscle soreness at all, even with 40 mile weekends. I practically forgot what DOMS felt like.

Headed up Black Mountain with Twirly
Then my training had a hiccup. Tendonitis in my foot sidelined my 6 days a week training. As a result I took no MAP for 4 days. Then I ran an easy hour, with MAP. Everything felt good, so I resumed training. My Saturday long run, a week before Lake Sonoma 50 miler, took me up Black Mountain outside Los Altos Hills. It wasn't until about a half hour into the run that I realised I had forgotten to take any MAP. The run went well, I felt strong. Afterwards I took 5 as usual for recovery...

Sunday's recovery jog revealed heavy legs, but little soreness. I resumed my daily 15 grams of MAP. Monday morning, DOMS returned! That familiar ache indicating a hard effort from days before was all the proof I need. While I do enjoy DOMS as a reminder of an honest workout, I have not missed it these three months! I have put in efforts 2-3 times harder than my run up Black Mountain and suffered no residual indication that I had a hard workout. I am now 100% certain that the daily use of MAP is facilitating better recovery, muscle repair and training volume. Not having any in my system for the 17+ mile, 3500' effort resulted in an obvious difference. 

That's my two cents. Speaking of cash, I was able to get 50% off the retail price per bottle by buying two boxes at once. While I find it worth the money at either price, I have enjoyed not feeling the need to ration my supply!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Western States Training Update: Weeks 7 - 12

Three months of base building has me feeling fit and strong. The high water mark is creeping up; my weekly and monthly volumes are higher than ever. Continued consistency and strength training have paid dividends in endurance, strength, confidence and speed. That said, Spring brought more than wildflowers to the table. My team has suffered turnover once again. Unmet expectations forced me to make a change in my coaching staff. But before I get to the drama, here is the log:

Strava log of weeks 7 - 12, consistency pays!
Six days a week never felt so good! The two weeks following Way Too Cool on March 8th brought me to all-time high volumes. I eclipsed 70 miles in a week, and broke 250 for the month (both personal records). What surprised me was how solid I felt. I had always assumed that when I achieved this volume, I would be in bad shape. Instead, I continued to feel stronger and more balanced. I can feel my core and gluts doing more work on technical terrain. My MAF pace is faster than ever. I am now in possession of a well developed base. I'm ready for the "sharpening" phase. Course specific training aimed at improving my weaknesses, building more endurance, and more vertical are in order.

In the middle of March, I got a curve ball. Jorge Maravilla was leaving Mauka Running. Did I want to continue, or request a refund for the balance of my retainer? It was a conundrum. I hired Mauka for Jorge's experience at Western States. After sleeping on it, I decided to reach out to Jorge. I was hoping to continue under his guidance. Jorge balked at the news that he was leaving Mauka, and assured me that everything would work out. Within hours, the story changed: Jorge was staying with Mauka. 
The entire episode had forced me to step back and re-evaluate. A 10,000 foot view revealed that I was not getting what I had bought. While the base-building training plan had put me in great shape despite the aggravated groin pull, Jorge was not visibly involved in the development of my plan. That fact added to the drama and lack of professionalism I saw made it an easy decision to not renew with Mauka.

With a solid base in hand, I vacillated over going it alone or seeking out a new coach. Experience on the Western States course was paramount. I wanted a mentor who could provide me focused workouts. I needed someone who could help me develop a strategy specific to the challenges of this race. I happen to work for Bruce LaBelle, who has been kind and supportive of my endeavors. But Bruce is not interested in one-on-one coaching. As I considered self-coaching these final three months, I realized that despite knowing what needed done, I still needed support from above. Then David and I ran Way Too Cool together, and he dropped a bomb on me.

"I talked to Ann Trason for like, an hour last night. I think I'm going to hire her for TRT100," he said.

I had heard Ann was coaching in her interview with Eric Schranz and Scotty Sandow on The fact that I was perfectly positioned to benefit from her wisdom had escaped me. With 14 wins, I would be hard pressed to find someone with more experience. I reached out to Ann in the last weeks of March, and decided to bring her on board for the final push to Squaw Valley.

March ended with an interruption in training. The last Saturday of the month, I woke to a searing pain in the top of my right foot. I was able to hop on the foot, which meant a stress fracture was unlikely. I went out for some hill repeats and it felt fine. The next morning, however, the pain was significantly worse. I skipped the 30 miles I had planned, and made an appointment with my doctor. I immediately went into damage control. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation to the rescue!

After four days off, two doctors and three x-rays, the diagnosis was Peroneal Tendinitis. No sign of stress fracture. Running is still comfortable, but any pressure at all on the affected area causes sharp  pain. A manageable condition. If the discomfort grows or effects my stride, I can get a cortisone shot which will ease the condition for a few weeks. I hope to save that strategy for the latter half of June, if at all.
Probably not a coincidence that this condition manifested after setting volume PRs, right?

A few stumbling blocks, but a solid start to my 100 miler training. Adaptation is a key element to ultra-success, and I feel I have negotiated these obstacles well. My reactionary ego has been contrary but amicable. I spent those few mornings lying awake, feeling the pain coursing in my foot, worrying about making it to Squaw Valley healthy and fit. My thoughts consumed by what-ifs and worry. In the end I have to remind myself that the training is most of the journey. My diagnosis allows me to continue training. The fact that it all could have been taken away from me makes me appreciate the opportunity to run States all the more. Having Ann temper my enthusiasm will prevent aggravation or injury. I am excited to execute the next 12 weeks. Saturday morning, the 28th of June, I will stand in Squaw Valley in the best shape I can muster.

Lake Sonoma 50 mile is approaching. I have decided to run it as a training run, practicing a slow starting pace and race fueling. I would like to arrive at the finish line with another 50 miles in my legs! Three weeks later, The Canyons 50k will provide a preview of the infamous canyons along the States course. Four weeks after that, the Memorial Day Weekend Western States Training Runs, where I will log 70-90 miles of the course in just three days. Then, just to take the edge off at the beginning of my taper, I think I have gained entry to this year's Dipsea race. Ann is already concerned that I not injure myself in the infamous cross country race, but from my vantage it is all coming together!

See you on the trails!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gear Review: Osprey REV 1.5 Hydration Pack


[This post was originally written for, it  was published there on March 24th, 2014. Thanks to Eric Schranz for enlisting my help with the review.]

I use a hydration pack for runs longer than 2 hours, preferring the Nathan HPL #020 for its capacity and comfort.    I also use more than one pack, so that I can swap them at aid stations without having to get in and out of the pack or bladder. Osprey’s quick disconnect reservoir makes multiple packs unnecessary, and there is plenty more about the new REV 1.5 to talk about.

I was told the new REV series trail running hydration packs from Osprey “fit like a shirt”, moving with your torso as you run. Osprey has long been an innovator in pack suspension systems, and I was eager to put the claim to the test. The REV is Osprey’s first backpack designed for trail running.

Key features include:

  • A 1.5 liter reservoir
  • A magnetic bite valve keeper
  • Digiflip” media pocket provides weather-resistant access to your smart phone


Tight and adjustable fit with no bounce.

My large frame (6’2″, 190 lbs) pushed the limits of the adjust-ability of the M/L pack. A S/M is also available. After a little tug here and there to get the straps headed in the right direction, the pack was comfortable. Once running, the pack felt compact and did move well with my torso. Despite the claim, it felt more like a vest than a shirt. The low profile kept the weight of the bladder close to my back, and after a mile I forgot it was there. As I drank, I was able to maintain a good fit using the straps to take up the slack.

The REV sports two removable sternum straps. I like this feature. Removing the lower strap may be necessary to accommodate a heart rate monitor. All straps are well-organized with keepers; no loose ends to flap about. The REV was comfortable for the long haul; I had zero issues with its fit over 2-4 hour runs.




The REV 1.5 has a zippered reservoir compartment and a smaller zippered stash pocket in the main body of the pack. The smaller pocket is adequate for extra gels or energy bars, a headlamp, gloves, and even a small windbreaker. An external shock cord system on the exterior will hold extra layers and an extra water bottle. Up front, the shoulder straps provide more storage. Two small stretch pockets on the right strap are suitable for 5-6 gels, a sleeve of bloks or supplements.

The small pocket appears to be made of a weather proof material, which is always helpful on the trails. Overall, the material is similar to other packs, but doesn’t have the rip-stop that Nathan does.  That aside, it’s very well made, and the attention to detail is obvious.

The left strap contains the removable Digiflip media pocket and a small stretch pocket. The Digiflip pocket holds my iPhone 5 in its Lifeproof case, but it is snug. Some brands of phones, phablets, or Otter Box cases may not fit inside the media pocket. The entire pocket flips down, revealing a clear window providing access to the phone.

Zippered storage
Zippered storage


Quick connect bladder

The 1.5 Liter reservoir sports innovations which I expect to see in other brands soon. The reservoir incorporates chevron baffles, which reduce sloshing and help maintain its shape and the compartment contains a stabilization band which locks the reservoir into place. A quick disconnect on the reservoir makes removal and replacement a non-issue. The magnetic bite valve keeper and rotating on/off valve were much easier to operate than other brands. A note on the magnetic keeper: it is strong enough to interfere with pacemakers.

Magnetic bite valve. Pacemakers, beware!
Magnetic bite valve. Pacemakers, beware!


The REV 1.5 lived up to the hype. Little details like locking strap keepers and the magnetic bite valve impressed me. The baffled reservoir retains its shape, keeping the center of gravity close to the torso. The quick connect on the reservoir makes refills feel like a Formula One pit-stop. The pack with its shock cord are capable of carrying enough gear to outlast the reservoir.


DigiFlip pocket flips down for smart phone access

The pockets on the right strap were too slim for my liking. They held gels well enough, but Pocket Fuel or other products with screw-on caps were difficult to get in and out. The Digiflip pocket felt gimmicky as access to my phone was both improved and impaired. My phone remained secure while I accessed apps and music, but the pocket made it impossible to use the camera. On the trail, I don’t use ear buds often, but being able to pull out my phone to take a picture is paramount. I remedied this issue by removing my phone from its case, making it easier to get the phone in and out of the pocket. I found that the reservoir sloshed audibly, unless I took care to remove all the air before setting out. And the downside to the quick disconnect is that it makes the hose difficult to clean.

Final Verdict

The REV 1.5 is a well-designed, comfortable, compact hydration pack perfect for training runs. The REV series includes sizes ranging up to 24 liters of storage and I intend to investigate the larger sizes for use in longer races. I want more capacity in the reservoir, so I would consider buying the REV 6. Until then, my Nathan remains my choice for runs over three-four hours.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Way Too Cool 50k

NorCal Ultras' Way Too Cool 50k is too cool to miss! The 2014 edition was my second go at this course; an opportunity to race a virtual version of myself. Not just any version, but my 50k personal record. Differences in courses and conditions make comparing performances more of a thought exercise, but that doesn't stem the urge to better myself.

I'll show that younger guy who's got more grit.

The ego doesn't care that previous performances were those of a younger, leaner me. Arguing with that ego occupies many of the late miles, and some of the early ones too.

My training has turned a corner recently. I finally feel my hip and groin are strong enough to begin increasing volume. To race or train? I left that question for the race start. Comparing last year to this year, I had 6% more distance (387/364) in 42% more runs (51/36). Unlike 2013 I had not run further than 16 miles since December's TNFEC 50.

Race morning was clear and cool, with promises of a warm afternoon. I saw many familiar faces amongst the 1000 runners this year, and had fun catching up with friends from all over Northern California. David and I were in wave 1, with the big boys. Karl Meltzer and Don Freeman were on the mic, getting the parade started down the brief paved start.

The paved initial mile, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling
Once underway, I decided to push the Olmstead Loop. I had two handheld bottles: one with 400 calories of Tailwind and one with plain water. In 2013 I had averaged around 10:30/mile for the 8 mile section and realized in hindsight I could have gone out a little faster. This year I pushed for position until the first creek crossing, then fell into the conga line. Feeling strong and enjoying the gorgeous weather, I managed to finish the section about a minute per mile faster than the previous year. I dropped my now empty handhelds with Twirly and switched to my Nathan HPL#020 pack and one handheld. The weight of the pack felt uncomfortable. I had 900 calories of Tailwind pre-mixed in the reservoir, and another 900 calories of dry powder to mix with a refill. In the handheld I used plain water.

Olmstead Loop, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling
Unavoidable crossing, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling

Cruising the loop, photo courtesy of Scott Sandow
Leaving the festive start/finish area for the second time, it took me a couple of miles to get comfortable in the new gear. The downhill towards No Hands Bridge and the first Highway 49 crossing is a favorite trail of mine, but I did not attack it as I usually do. Despite the strong start, I was already having an inner dialogue with my ego. Also, I was beginning to feel a familiar rumbling in my gut.

Approaching Highway 49, photo courtesy of Myles Smythe
Twirly managed to arrive at the Highway 49 aid station just as I was ducking into the porta-potty, and David was right behind her. The pit stop was brief, and soon enough I was cruising through the aid station without stopping. David and I ran a few miles of Quarry Road together before I dropped my zip lock bag of MAP, skidding to a halt. I was able to keep him in sight until American Canyon, but he put a gap on me there. I felt strong; no niggles, but a little slow.

Quarry Road climbing, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling
Quarry Road is douche grade, but my leg turnover wasn't there. I shuffled along, letting a steady stream of faster folks trickle by. At the crest of the first hill, I found Eric Schranz of snapping photos and drinking a beer.

"Is Alex killing it?" I asked, referring to pre-race favorite Alex Varner. Alex had been posting 100+ mile weeks in Strava.

"Vargo was leading", Eric replied. Chris Vargo is Alex's team-mate on the new Nike Trail Running Team. They would go on to finish 1-2, separated by only 20 seconds.

I ran through the next aid station at Maine Bar, and made my way up  the climb in American Canyon. I was holding my own now that we had returned to the single track. I began watching the time, knowing that to best my PR I would need to leave the Goat Hill Aid Station by 12:20. 
Climbing American Canyon, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling

Chasing the American Canyon climb, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling

Middle Fork of the American River, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling

Hoboken Creek, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling

Photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling
The runnable miles approaching Auburn Lake Trails aid station at mile 21 were fast as I hooked onto a freight-train on the single track. Runners choked the aid station, and I had no choice but to navigate them as I needed to refill my reservoir. When I opened my pack, I realized I was way behind on Tailwind consumption. I should have stuffed a bunch of food in my mouth immediately, but of course, I did not. Adding 900 calories of Tailwind powder to the partially full reservoir resulted in a super concentrated version which was difficult to drink. It did make catching up on fuel a little easier though.

On the way out of A.L.T., I ran with Kimberly White for a few minutes. Kim and I have raced each other a few times in the Marin Headlands; she usually beats me in the end. We were both vying for the Sierra Trailblazers Running Club administrative entry to Western States this year. She congratulated me for getting the golden ticket, as she had run States a couple times already. "You'll have a blast, the race is the easy part, just train hard and it will be fun" she counseled before pulling away.

With only Goat Hill between me and the marathon split, I once again settled in with a train of runners. The pace felt hard, and I was feeling apathetic and sore. I managed to hold my place until just before the hill, when the trail widened and I slowed. A glance at my watch told the story. I was already 17 minutes off pace. I was in training run mode.

I climbed Goat Hill, passing a few runners who were having GI or cramping issues. One woman was in tears, consoled by a fellow runner. Strava sponsored a segment for the climb; prizes were on the line. I had already shifted gears into training-run mode and was just happy to crest the hill. The Goat Hill Aid Station is always a big party at the top. I filled my handheld with ice water and trudged onward. The time was 12:37; still 17 minutes behind my PR from 2013.

Consciously avoiding Ibuprofen has allowed me get some experience running sore. I have depended on 600-1800 mg for 50k-50 mile races until this year. My doctor has given me permission to consume up to 3000 mg in a 24 hour period. In preparation for States, where I plan to wait until mile 62 at Foresthill to even consider taking any, I am avoiding using it at all.

I enjoyed the final 10k of the race as the course followed a short section of the Western States finishing miles. Nate Dunn from welcomed me to the Upper highway 49 crossing Aid Station. I grabbed some ice water and a few Tums, just like 2013.

The final climb, photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling
The final mile was practice for the buckle shuffle; I was tired, sore, and ready for a massage and a beer! Twirly and David caught some video of me finishing. I went directly to the Monsters of Massage tent and put my name on the waiting list. Victor, my pacer from TNFEC and owner of Victory Sportdesign was pouring hill 88 IPA, which went well with the pizza!

Somehow, I managed to make up 5 minutes in the final 10k for a time of 5:35; just 12 minutes off my PR of 5:23. So in the end, I'll call it a success. I stopped at one aid station for a refill of my reservoir, and another two just for ice water and Tums. I failed to eat banana and nut butter at any aid station, something that worked well for me at TNFEC 50. I think I may have been able to stave off the apathy if I had stayed abreast of my fueling.

What a great day for a race! The volunteers were awesome, and many. Spectators dotted the course and were effusive with their encouragement. Way Too Cool 50k really is a top-notch event. A bucket-list ultra to be sure. I'll have a hard time staying away from this one.

Even Smith got some props at the end.

Happy its over, but sad too... Photo courtesy of Leigh-Ann Wendling

Gear Review for

The week of Way Too Cool 50k I was asked by Eric Schranz at to try out Osprey's new REV 1.5 hydration pack. Eric is on the disabled list, and needed someone running long miles to put the pack through its paces. Having been a fan of Osprey gear for years, I was happy to help out. Check out my findings here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Changes Afoot at Wanderplace!

Ever heard that old saying "don't change horses mid-race"? When I was a kid it would conjure images of jockeys leaping from one thoroughbred to another on the back stretch. Difficult? Sure. Impossible? Not quite. And how exactly would that be a disadvantage if your new horse was stronger?

Feeling a bit fickle, I have decided to change horses in my Western States 100 preparations. My support team is important to me, and when there are disturbances in the Force, I have to pay heed. So, it is with more than a little disappointment that I announce I am leaving Mauka Running. Their support has been integral in my base building phase this winter. My volume and consistency are at all time highs, despite the added complications of old injuries.

I wish Laura and Jorge all the best in their endeavors. I look forward to the final three months of WS100 training under the guidance of a new coach. I will announce my new team at the end of the month.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Best Five Beers in the World

h/t to Eric Schranz at for bringing this to my attention

I have long held that I prefer the beer that is in my hand to one that is difficult to obtain. We've all seen lists on the interwebs, and beer is a common subject. This post at nails it.