Status Update, Tuesday, January 30, 2018


It is Tuesday morning. I am at Steelhead and will soon be heading over to LA Fitness for my weekly yoga class with JR (don’t call me William) Johnson. I don’t take many organized yoga classes these days–just three per week–and J.R.’s classes are a highlight. A big part of having an enjoyable yoga experience is the narration provided by the teacher, and this is an area where JR clearly excels.

After class I will do my treadmill workout. My short-term goal is to finish the Zion 50K Ultramarathon this April in the time allotted. I have ten hours to complete the 31 mile course, most of which is on trails or even cross country at times. While it is definitely possible to maintain at least a 3.1 mph pace walking, my task will be much easier if I can run the easy parts. I am using the treadmill to sneak up on running and am making good progress. I have been able to sustain 15 minutes of running, part on a 10% grade at 3.5 mph, and on a 4% grade at speeds up to 5.5 mph. The first couple of times I ran my right ankle complained a lot afterwards, but those complaints have dropped off to almost nothing. I will be ready to take my running to the road as soon as I get my shoe situation sorted out.


Vegan Tacos at Fox Coffee House–Every Tuesday!!



Ashley Shaw, none the worse for wear after teaching three classes.

It is now Tuesday afternoon, and I have just finished my weekly dose of vegan tacos at the Fox Coffee House. The treadmill went well again today, and once I finish writing I will be heading over out for a walk on the CSULB campus, followed by a Pilates class at Pilates X. My usual teacher, Becky Tyo, is out this week recovering from a medical procedure, which has me kind of bummed out, but her class yesterday was more than ably covered by new teacher Ashley Shaw. It turns out that Ashley used to teach with my core coach, Stephanie, and there was a lot of familiar material in her class that had me missing Stephanie again.

I am starting to feel stronger again! On Sunday, rather than go for a longer hike I decided to work on my pace. I hiked 3.5 miles and 1580 feet up the Mount Wilson Toll Road at a pace just over 3.0 mph, and then managed to maintain 3.5 mph for the downhill portion. That is a pace that if I could extend to 31 miles would make me a finisher for the ultra. My feet still were fine afterwards, and in my swing dance lesson with Mary-Morgan Childs on Monday I even got my right foot to hopping as we worked on a bit of a Charleston step. Onward and upward!

Status Update, Friday, January 12, 2018

I am starting this on Monday morning, 1/8, and just a warning, it may be evolving over time. I am at Steelhead right now, and to this point have been distracted by conversations with my neighbors.

The current program is to prepare myself for the Zion Ultramarathon 50K coming up in April. Ultramarathons are not really races but endurance events. Competitors need to get from point A to point B within a given time frame. The allotted times vary with the distances, which can range from 50K up to some pretty outrageous distances. In October I crewed for my friend Kerry Ward while he ran the Moab 240 event, and there are much longer events on the international scene.

I am starting small with a 50K (approximately 31 miles) and my time limit is 10 hours. In order to do this it is necessary to average at least a 3.1 mph average speed for 10 hours. That is actually a focused walking pace, so it is possible to actually complete an event like this without even running.

Course Map

Course map

There are at least a couple of obstacles to accomplishing that task. The first is me. As I have aged, I have also slowed down. When I was younger I customarily walked a mile in about 18 minutes, but over the past year or so my walks have been more in the 21-22 minute per mile range. Not quite focused walking, and more of an amble, so my first objective is to speed myself up.

To that end, I have been practicing my speed walking by timing myself over short distances (1-1.5 miles), and that has gone well and I am now maintaining a 17:30/3.4 mph over those distances. I need to also build endurance so I am doing some intermediate distances where I really try to maintain focus, and my best so far was 4.46 miles at a 3.3 mph (18:12 min/mile) pace.

All of that was over flat terrain (city walking), and the ultra will not generally be flat nor will it be paved. Back in November, after I came back from the Moab 240 all (as we used to say back in the EST days) “all jacked up and glazed over” I tried to start my training by attacking the first half of the Mount Wilson Trail (the antithesis of flat and smooth) in running shoes. What I found out was that my feet were not nearly up to that task, and it took me the better part of a week to recover from the beating I gave them.

Elevation Profile

Elevation profile for the Zion 50K

I have since backed off and decided to work on the feet more, so my strength/endurance work comes on Sundays when I take a serious trudge. In the past weeks I have been to Chino Hills State Park, Black Star Canyon, and my benchmark route, the Mount Wilson Toll Road. The MWTR ascends almost continuously for 10 miles to the summit of Mount Wilson, with an elevation gain of 4240 feet. There was a period time around the turn of the century when I was living in the Hollywood Hills, had easy access to the trailhead in Altadena, and made a point of hiking the entire road once a month.

That kind of endurance is what I need now, and I am using the same strategy I used back then to get there. I go to the trail and try to get farther and faster each time. This past Saturday my goal was to go up six miles and maintain a pace approaching that 3.1 mph pace I need to finish the 50K. Started off very well and was able to maintain a 2.9 mph pace for over four miles while gaining over 2000 feet of altitude.


The view from the 5.5 mile mark

Somewhere between the 4 and 4.5 mile marks I hit the wall. My pace fell off a lot, and around 4.5 I was feeling a bit dizzy, so I stopped for a break. I had brought along some Tailwind, a solution of simple sugars and salts that seems to be de rigueur in the ultra community, and a few snacks. I drank some of the Tailwind, ate a few cashew nuts and chocolate covered espresso beans, and proceeded on my way. In the interest of prudence I also revised my target to be just one mile more.

I made it up to the 5.5 mile mark where I turned around and started back down. The trip down was very promising! The downhills in recent excursions had been, paradoxically, slower than the ups. By the time I head down my feet are already tired and my legs have not been up to cushioning the pounding. This time, however, all systems were go. My moving average had dropped to 2.6 by the time I got to my apex, but had increased to 2.8 for the full 11 miles (2647 feet of elevation gain), meaning that my average going down was greater than 3.0 mph. I was able to maintain a nice rolling gait, and on some moderately sloped stretches a bit of a jog!

I am also currently working on running on the treadmill. My strategy is to sneak up on a run. I start really slow on the flat surface to get my leg swing and foot action dialed in, and then I start increasing both the speed and the elevation. By the time I get to 10 degrees and 3 mph I can transition to a little running. Yesterday (Thursday now) I was able to get in five minutes at 15 degrees between 3 and 3.5 mph, and was able to increase my speed to 5 mph as I took the elevation down to flat. It’s coming along!