Sunday, February 23, 2014

Journey to Boston: Part 2 (4 months in)

I started my journey to qualify for the Boston marathon four months ago today. To qualify for the Boston Marathon as a 32 year old, I need to run 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 5 minutes. That means I would need to average 7 minutes per mile. I ran my last marathon in 3 hours and 56 mins. I somehow had to shave 25% of my time off. I decided to shoot for a year. The Rock n Roll Marathon in St. Louis is where I've decided to make my first true attempt. I chose that specific marathon because I will be moving to that part of St. Louis in May. By October, those streets will be my pounding ground.

As per my plan, I have almost completely eliminated all refined carbohydrates from my diet. The first couple weeks were hard to get used to. There is a lot more planning and preparation involved with meals and snacks now, but after a while you get used to that being part of your day. I have gradually switched from eating 3 meals a day to 5 or 6. Because my mileage has increased tremendously, so has the amount I eat.

The combination of Crystal's love for cooking, current enrollment in Pastry school, and creativity have made my food choices and options almost limitless. For example, our lunch today is homemade brown rice flour based hamburger buns for buffalo burgers. I'm getting hungry just typing about it. Exploring different foods has been one of our favorite parts of this journey.


My running plan for this journey was to follow Flo's plan as much as possible, at first, and adjust it for how I felt. I was going to start running a lot of miles at a lower intensity to build up my aerobic system. As stated in my previous post, my heart rate range I have been running at, per Dr. Maffetone's 180 formula, is between 138-148. In his teachings, he uses a test called a MAF(maximum aerobic function) test to measure improvement. It is quite simple. For a MAF test, you run 5-7 miles. The first 2 miles should be your warming up. After that, you run as closely to your aerobic HR as possible for the following 3 miles. You should notice that your pace peaks and then slowly starts to slow down from mile to mile. I did my first MAF test on October 21, 2013 and I averaged 9 min and 25 sec per mile. I couldn't believe how much I had to slow down to achieve my aerobic heart rate. This was going to be a long road. What stuck in my head was that I had been warned this would happen and to be patient. So, I put my head down and ran. This was going to coincide perfectly with the 50 miler training I was about to start.

Over the next month I averaged ~45 miles a week. Running 5 days a week, 2 of them being back to back longs. I need to start getting used to being on my feet. I took my second MAF test a month after the first, on November 22nd. While running at the same HR as I had for the first MAF test, I averaged 8 minutes and 31 seconds per mile. This was a huge improvement. It was 10 degrees cooler outside for the second one, which was a minor factor, but I was completely amazed. 

During the month of December, I started running closer to ~50 miles a week . I was starting to notice that even after 20 mile runs, my body wasn't feeling completely defeated like it used to. I took my third MAF test on December 18th. This month I averaged 8 minutes and 25 seconds per mile. I had only improved 6 seconds, but it was improvement and I was feeling amazing. December was the first time I had back to back 20 mile runs. My legs were really starting to get strong. It was starting to look like 2014 might be an exciting year for my running. 

January marked the beginning of a new year. With that came new goals and expectations. By the end of the month I was running close to 60 miles a week. A little shy of three months into my experiment, on January 15 , I recorded my fourth MAF test. I was amazed to find my average had dropped to 7 minutes and 45 seconds/ per mile. That was 1 minute and 40 seconds per mile faster than my first MAF test. In just 3 months, I had shaved off 18% of my original time. The goal was 25% and I still had 9 months! This really worked! How long would I see improvement? I was completely addicted. 

It's now February and I am tapering for my first 50 miler. Over the last month I've ran further than I've ever ran on four separate occasions. My longest run peaking at 31 miles. My MAF test for the month came in at a steady 7:35. I am starting to really believe this is going to happen. I don't know how this way of life isn't more popular. Maybe it is and I just haven't been introduced to it. Either way I am telling everyone I know. This isn't a competition with my neighbor. It is a competition with myself and currently feel in the lead.

Daily Life
The downside to all these miles is the amount of free time I have. I am learning to be more efficient in everything in life, because I'm putting running at such a high priority. I've really had to learn how to fit everything into the day, but also realize that if I am giving up rest or my sanity to fit running in, it's more than okay to take a day off. I feel energetic and clear in my daily life, along with strong and determined while running. I've haven't slept this well in as long as I can remember. I am in better physical and mental shape then I've ever been. I currently weigh around 155 lbs. That is roughly 10-15 lbs. less than I would want to, were I not carrying this weight 50 miles in two weeks. At 18 months in the making, my first ultra is around the corner. I'm ready.
Unhealthy and at peak weight of 200 lbs. at 0 miles/week on the left.
Currently 155 lbs. and running 65-70 mi. a week on the right.
Same shorts and hat!
With our first 50 miler,Dances with Dirt Green Swamp, in 2 weeks, my mileage will be down for the next few weeks. Afterwards I will start incorporating some hill repeats to get ready for a summer of hills. I will have roughly 8 weeks to prepare for my race in Indiana. I am going to try to level out around 70-75 miles a week for the next few months to see how my body responds. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Journey to Boston: Part 1

I didn't know it at the time, but I read an article on Thursday, October 17, 2013, that would change my life in a big way. I had gotten to school early that afternoon, after a wonderful 8 mile run with my wife, Crystal. On this particular day we had ran to a friends house, ran with her for a bit, and then returned home. There had been a lot of talk about running, nutrition, and recovery. With that on the brain, my day moved on to school. While catching up on the daily news at UltraRunnerPodcast, I came across a sentence that grabbed my attention. "Good Stuff: How this guy trained to run a sub 3 hr marathon."

Image from UltraRunnerPodcast

I had roughly 15 minutes before class was to start so I decided to read the article. In the first paragraph of the article, the author, Flo, references his first marathon time of around 4 hours and 11 mins and his second one of 2 hours and 55 mins. I was already hooked and buying whatever he was selling. With my first marathon time being 3 hours and 56 mins, my brain automatically told me that I could do what Flo had done. I was willing to do whatever it took, before I had gotten through the first paragraph he had written. He then goes on to discuss how he had completely changed his diet, started running a lot more miles but at much lower effort, and paid very close attention to recovery and rest needs. That was it?!? No special pills that you take before, during, after, and then a bit after your workout?!? No specific shoe that you had to buy? I just had to really start paying attention to what I was eating and why, along with dedicate time to running. It was worth the experiment. 

In Flo's article, he discusses nutrition before anything else. I don't know if he did it on purpose, but I agree with him that it comes before anything else. Your diet affects every part of you from physical activities, to thought processing, to pain tolerance, to sleep ability, to overall good health. If you are using bad or dirty gas, your car won't run properly. It's the same with your body. He goes on to explain his change in diet. The inspiration of his that I really started learning from was Dr. Phil Maffetone. My new nutrition plan would be cutting all refined carbohydrates out of my diet. Not only did this include common carbs like bread and pasta, but also included sugar, white rice, and a few other items. The goal from a nutritional standpoint, was to eat foods that my body could process easily and that were high in nutrients. After reading Dr. Maffetone's "Big Book of Health and Fitness", I had a much better grasp on not only what I should or shouldn't eat, but "Why?". This part of my journey I give all the credit to my wife, Crystal. There is no way that I would have the dedication to cook all the food that is necessary to feed me. I am not a fan of spending much time in the kitchen, though I am blessed with an amazing wife that not only enjoys it, but feeds off of challenges thrown in her way. We were ready to at least give it a shot.

This used to be a years worth of vegetables. Now it might last through the week.

In Flo's article he talks about heart rate training. This is a practice I was definitely curious about. I had received a Garmin 910XT from my wife for my birthday, but hadn't really learned much about the HR monitor. He talks about Phil Maffetone's teachings of finding your maximum aerobic HR and training in that range. Phil talks about two different types of muscle fiber groups. Most muscles in the body are made up of both aerobic and anaerobic muscle fibers. In the aerobic fibers oxygen is used to burn fat as fuel. These fibers are used in low intensity workouts and are generally fatigue-resistant. In the anaerobic fibers, glycogen is used as a fuel. These fibers are used in higher intensity workouts. Phil Maffetone teaches that if you train your body using mostly your aerobic/fat burning system, it will get stronger and more efficient. You will be able to increase your speed while keeping a low intensity effort level. It made complete sense. He was says, "Want speed? Slow down!". In the article, he talks about the 180 formula and finding your maximum aerobic HR. He also mentions over and over that at first the speed might feel uncomfortably slow. I decided to try this. My HR target is 148. I was excited. I decided that through the 50 miler training, I wouldn't do any speed work. I would try to stick to a 138-148 range for all of my runs. What did I have to lose?

In November 2013, I started this nutrition plan and started running all my runs at low intensity.  I was focused on following in Flo's footsteps. By striving to become the fastest and most efficient runner I could be. I was ready to change my life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Training for my first ultra

One of the first questions that came to mind when hearing about people running such long distances was "How do you train for something like that?" Up to this point, I had trained for a half marathon, marathon, and half Ironman triathlon. To train for each of those, I found online resources for a schedule to go by. I found that there were a lot of free options out there. They had a nice variety of 4-6 days a week and you can find them based on your experience level. For both the half/full marathon and during most of the first year of running, I used an app called Runkeeper. I attribute a good amount of my early progress to this program. If you aren't familiar with it, Runkeeper is an application for your phone that you can used during a workout to track progress. It uses the gps function on your phone to record  your location data. It is a very user friendly program with a lot of helpful tools. All of your activities are also available online. They offer a nice assortment of training schedules that you can follow for various distances. I found my half and full training schedules here. They worked great, being as I had no experience in running. Since then, I have also discovered Strava which offers a very nice community aspect.

Finding a training plan for a 50 miler though was a different story. During a 50 mile race, it isn't uncommon to be running for 9 to 10 hours straight. That's longer then a traditional work day, but you don't get 30 minutes for lunch and two 15 minute breaks. Factors such as nutrition (which I will touch on in a later post), play a much different roll. I had to find a training program that I could fit into my busy work/school schedule, but also intense enough to give me the mental strength to make it through the tough miles. The best way to prepare for hard times, is with hard times.

When I came across this article/plan from Runner's World magazine, I knew it was a perfect plan for me.
It was a 16 week plan that recommended you be currently running 15-18 miles for your weekly long run. I will admit that coming into this training, that was a stretch. Crystal, my wife, and I had just come off of a summer of training for a half Ironman. We had the 4-5 hour endurance coming into the training, but due to only needing to run 13.1 mile for the triathlon, I had only ran more than that a few times in the past 2 months. It would only mean I'd have to make up for it with hard work. A program with only 5 days running fit perfectly into my schedule, while giving me enough time to get much needed recovery and rest.

As expected, the first 4 weeks were difficult. Getting used to running back to back longs runs took some time. I found myself wanting to quit often, though nothing was going to get in the way of completing this goal. As the weeks have gone by, the miles have become easier and easier. Just 3 months ago, I found myself wanting to be done 15 miles into a run, where now that feeling doesn't start setting in until close to 25-30 miles now. I've also noticed that my recovery has improved tremendously. Just 2 weeks ago, I had a 31 mile training run on the roads. At the end of the run, my legs were completely beat up. I had problems moving from one room to another in the house. To my surprise and amazement, I was back to normal the next day. I am currently in week 13 of the training plan with my last back to back super long weekend ahead. It feels so good having come this far in the training. I have a new found understanding and belief in the power of having a plan of action. If a road is already in place, the journey can be made much easier.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Choosing my first ultra

While training for my first marathon a year ago, I started searching for ultras in Florida. It made absolutely no sense to look into running my first ultra at or with elevation. Especially when 100% of my training would be flat. Most of which would be on roads for that matter. I was surprised at how many ultras I found in Florida. One of which, Dances with Dirt Green Swamp, was taking place within two months and was only an hour and a half drive. We decided to volunteer at the busiest aid station to take it all in.

The day ended up being amazing! It was so cool to see runners 12,24,37, and then 46 miles into their run. Everyone was so appreciative of us for being there. "Thank You!" was the phrase of the day. They have a wide variety of distances so we got to see runners running everything from a 10k up to a 50 miler. Part of their volunteering perks is a voucher towards a future race. It worked out perfectly. We got to experience and be in the midst of the ultra while saving money towards a future race. 
Crystal and Josh setting up Traffic Jam aid station. Green Swamp, FL 2013

I highly recommend volunteering at an ultra even if you just have an interest in exploring what the world of ultras is all about. There is so much that one can take away from the experience.

A year later, here we are 3 weeks away from the same race. This time I will be the one saying "Thank you!"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why would you want to run 50 miles?

The first question that most people ask me when they hear that I'm training for a 50 mile race is "Why?". There was a time when I was in those same shoes. Back when we first started running, I went searching for every resource I could find about running. I wanted to improve as quickly as possible. I found many online sites that had great articles. The best resource I found anywhere though was a podcast about ultra running.

When I first listened to UltraRunnerPodcast, I was averaging 4-5 miles on my runs and struggling. I started downloading and listening to these interviews. I was immediately hooked. I was getting first hand knowledge on all aspects of running from a huge range of people. The guys at URP have done an amazing job of recording hours and hours of interviews with front runners, new runners, old timers, race directors, nutritionists, and doctors just to name a few. Within a few hours of their podcasts, I was mesmerized. How could these people run for hours and days at a time? What we're they doing that I wasn't? How far can I push my body? These are questions that built inside me.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Why do we run 13.1 and 26.2 miles for the half and full marathon? Have we for years been putting mental boundaries on how far and how long we should be running? If you believe you can run further, can you? I believe you can. This is why I am taking this journey. To test myself.  The growth and lessons along the way are just pure bonus.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Introduction post

I am starting this blog not only as a means to share my experiences and thoughts while running, but also as a way to document the journey and learn from mistakes made along the way. It also is a way to help hold me accountable during the darkest of times. As some of you may know, every little bit helps!

With this being my introductory post, it is only fitting to introduce myself. My name is Kurt Schilling. For the first time in my life, I truly consider myself a runner. Growing up I always played sports. Soccer and swimming were the main ones. My parents seemed to always do a good job of keeping us active. That faded into high school as other interests took over. It wasn't until almost 15 years later in 2012 that I decided to try to get into some kind of shape by running. Back then my idea of a healthy meal was anything that wasn't fast food. A lot has changed since then. In April of 2012, I ran my first 10k in Winter Park, FL. Looking back, it feels like I walked half of it. With a time of 1:03:56, you could pose an argument that I did. I couldn't get over how everyone else around me didn't look the way I felt. Completely broken down and exhausted. I took the summer off due to lack of motivation in the Florida heat and a wedding to help finish planning, but the seed had been planted. That summer was the only time I've ever seen 200 on the scale.

Deep sea fishing with my brother summer of 2012.

In September of 2012, a few friends and I decided on planning and training for the OUC half marathon in December. This was the first time in my life that I had a planned out schedule from start to finish and just followed it to see what happened. I was amazed. Finished the half while running the whole way, which was the main goal. Final time was 1:56:10. Comparing that to my 10k, I was amazed at the difference. I had ran twice as far and averaged a minute and a half faster per mile(from 10:17 to 8:52). I didn't know if what I was doing was correct, but I was really enjoying the improvement.
(Crystal, Victor, Josh, and I at the OUC Half Marathon 2012 in Orlando)

Coming off the high of the half marathon, we quickly scheduled a full marathon four months later. We planned on the Go! St. Louis Marathon. After following a schedule for the half, it only made sense to do the same for the full. Training for it went well. I was trying to follow a low carb, low fat diet, but really didn't know why. I saw a lot of improvement come marathon time. I finished 11 minutes shy of my 3:45 goal, but I was completely and totally hooked. I found myself asking the questions "How fast can I go? How far can I go? Why didn't I find this sooner?".

Go! St. Louis Marathon 2013  from Left to Right: Myself, Crystal, Victor, and Josh 

Leading up to the marathon we had decided to try a half iron man distance triathlon over the summer of 2013. With Orlando summers getting close to unbearable for running, it made sense to spend a good amount of time in the water and on a bike for a few months. We picked a race near the Florida/Georgia state on the east coast. The race date was set for October so it gave us the whole summer to prepare for it. Going into the race I felt good, but until you work out for 6 hours+, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into. It was an amazing experience and we made it through alive.

Atlantic Coast Triathlon 2013, Amelia Island, FL from Left to Right: Myself, Crystal, and Victor

Since the triathlon, I have been focusing only on running and eating well. In my next post I will go into detail on the training plan I have been following for this 50 miler as well as the dietary plan I have been following.