The Road to Bear
So about 5+ months ago, just as I started a new job and ran an “off-the-couch” Way2Cool 50k in the same week, I hatched an idea that in order for me to get back to my old ultra running shape and weight, I should sign up for a next big life challenge: a 100 mile race! But there are so many 100 mile races (100+ worldwide) and what is a guy who’s had the nickname “Russian Bear” for over 16 years to do? Oh. Right. Bear 100. Duh. Done. Problem solved. Right? RIGHT? Oh crap. I’m signed up.
And true to my nature of signing up for stuff first, worrying about said stuff later (see Ironman before learning swimming; see 1st 50 miler before learning what 10,000+ feet of climb really meant; etc) turns out Bear 100 is one of the toughest 100 milers in the world. What with the 22,000 feet of climbing at up to 9,000 feet elevations and that less then 1/3 of the race field finishes before 30 hours (for comparison Western States 100 has a 30 hour cut off) and what not. Soooo I better get cracking on training for this.
Luckily for me I happen to have a secret weapon in my corner: the biggest bad @$$ of all bad @$$es when it comes to ultra running … Karl “The Speedgoat” Meltzer, as my coach. Karl has won more 100 mile races (32) than most people have had thoughts about running and up until recently held the record for the fastest time in running the Appalachian Trail. So having someone who has a little bit of an insane running streak in him, as my coach and in my corner, has definitely helped. Every week or so I would hatch an insane weekend training scheme and Karl would tepidly approve with some toned down advice which I listened to (for the most part) and so I think it worked out pretty well so far.
Ok training. Neat. In theory it sounds SO great. Its April, the race is in September, plenty of time, lots of weight to lose, plenty miles to run but oh, right, the new job. That pesky little thing. Crap. Sooooo Challenge: Balancing work with training. Work is important. Rest is important, so you can do well at work. So priorities always for me were: be well rested and get good sleep so you can be effective at work (and when working at home later). This unfortunately meant having to cut out a lot of mid-week running workouts (read: honestly, most of them). Solution: Compromise with solid weekend workouts.
Fortunately, living in the Bay Area and having 5 racing companies (Inside Trail, Coastal Trail Runs, PCTR, TCT Runs, Brazen Racing) and some others, in addition to, of course the San Francisco Marathon and its Worth The Hurt 52.4 Ultra Marathon, meant that every weekend was full of one or two regular or ultra races within just an hour drive of my house. When not racing, I volunteered at the races, including sweeping after, just to get the extra miles in and to give back to the local running community.
And so that was the heart of my training. Work hard during the week, try to diet and eat right and run hard on the weekends. Fridays typically involved getting about 3,000 calories in, mostly via Gatorade (good hydration and carboloading), and Saturday/Sundays involved getting up at 5/5:30 and driving to a race/local park and doing an ultra or a back-to-back run/race and nights …. well those were sad sad recovery nights … ice baths, recovery drinks, stretching and playing with dog (i.e. giving up social life).
So taking stock of the last 23-24 weeks:
• I ran 13 ultras* as training races and each one got easier and easier, despite running them almost every weekend. (*I finished 11, but even those that I did not finish due to blisters and stomach issues, I ran 30 miles and 42 miles).
• I ran a 55 mile race, the San Francisco Marathon Worth The Hurt race, on the road, and I felt good doing it (though I think my knees paid for the pavement running). This was the 2nd longest run I’ve ever done, behind a 100k, 2 years ago. It was also one of the most fun running experiences I’ve had since I started running 6 years ago.
I mean. Look. A guy in a tutu at 1 am in SF running in an ultra. Totally normal.
• Last weekend I ran two 50ks back to back (and another one 5 days later) and my best running probably came at the end of my 2nd 50k. I ended up running an extra 3 miles (always get lost) for a weekend total of 65 miles with almost 10,000 feet of elevation gain, my biggest running weekend ever.
• All in all I’ve probably ran about 20 trail races, including other 20k to 30ks that I used as my back-to-back training races on days I wasn’t running ultras. This also means, I got A LOT OF SHWAG. Like A LOT. Do you guys like t-shirts?
One race company gives out 50k coasters, another 50k beer glasses = Win (and a frog!)
• As of yesterday, still month to go before the race, I’ve lost 36 lbs, down to 237 lbs, but still below my peak race weight of low 220s. I feel good though and confident that before and after the race I can lose a lot more.
• I ran my 2nd best 50k and missed my 50k PR on a 6,700 foot elevation course by 2 minutes (7:04), despite being 20 lbs over the weight I was when I ran my PR and having run 2 ultras in the 2 weekends prior.
• I went hiking in Colorado for a long weekend with some friends and felt great speed hiking at 10,000 to 11,000 feet of altitude. Must mean I’m in shape.
• Running all these races has given me great opportunity to learn what works during races with my nutrition (mix up a lot of stuff per hour, don’t depend on one food/drink group); what gear works (I’ve recently developed a somewhat dorky look of wearing a bandana around my neck but its been really helpful in collecting sweat and keeping cool; can I get away with running with one bottle … yes; toe socks … thumbs up); trying out shoes (the love that dare not speak its name: between a man and his Hoka Ones) and just getting great trail racing experience in general.
RUN365’s Erin (middle) is teaching me how to properly fuel at aid stations
• I have not done any night hiking/running since my 100k two years ago. This is something that needs to be remedied and practiced on the 5 mile mountain trail loop behind my house at midnight on weeknights going forward.
So here we are. Last weekend I ran the Tamalpa Headlands 50k, with 7,300 feet of climb, the hardest 50k I’ve ran all year, but given the cooler temperatures and the last 5 months … it didn’t feel hard. I was planning on running the next day so I took it easy, but my knees have been singing the “what the hell are you doing to us” song for weeks now and it was time to listen so I stopped. And now? Now, I rest. And obsess. And rest some more. Ice my knees. And obsess more. Maybe swim and spin a little bit. Mostly rest. I have a side goal of losing another 5-6 lbs before the Sept 28th race since psychologically my best race was the 100k 2 years ago which I ran at 231 lbs. But make no mistake about it: Bring on Bear 100!!!
My goal: Under 30 hour Bear buckle!
Final note: Yes. That is a lot of running. I enjoy it. A lot. I wasn’t born into it. In fact 6 years ago I could not run a single mile. It all started with training and running for the 2006 San Francisco Marathon, a race that is incredibly special to my heart and will always be considered the wellspring of all that is great with running in my life. I am honored to be able to share the progress of my running as my final act of being a 2012 San Francisco Marathon ambassador through the race blog and wish everyone great success in their San Francisco marathon adventures and beyond!
SF Marathon Memories and on To Bear 100
Ambassador Peter “Russian Bear” Rabover