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Training for 50, a number cruncher's daily fix

October 22, 2008 - Erik Brown
For a bean counter like me, training for the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Ultramarathon not only delivered exceptional physical and mental health benefits, but also a daily fix for my somewhat obsessive, compulsive habit of number crunching. Here are some of the numbers that I accumulated in 2008 as I trained for the Mountainback.    
284 – The number of days from January 1st, 2008 through October 10th.
1,144 – The total miles I logged in 2008 prior to the race on October 11th. I know that’s not so much. Here’s why. A typical running year for me begins slowly due to cold weather, early sunsets, and my heavy workload from January through March. I had hoped to do a little better through the winter months this year, but a high ankle sprain in February (from slipping on a patch of ice) and several nasty bruises in March (from a close encounter with an SUV) caused me to miss a total of 27 days before April even rolled around. And of course, I had to take it easy when I returned to my training after each of those injuries. By March 31st I had only 192 miles in my log.
47 – The total number of days lost due to injuries. In addition to the aforementioned boo-boos, I strained a calf muscle in April and had some chronic pain in my arthritic left knee through the summer months for which I received two cortisone shots. I topped all of that in August, nine weeks before the ultra, by stepping on a rusty nail in my shed (barefoot, of course and yes, I got a Tetanus booster shot). The nail went into my left heel far enough that I had to get Nurse Deanna to remove it. I was very lucky that it didn’t do serious damage to my Achilles tendon. I missed the next six days. Then, thanks to the elliptical machines at the Hollidaysburg Area YMCA, resumed my training.
72 – The number of days I didn’t run, but wasn’t injured. Most of these were legitimate recovery days although I suppose a few of them could be called lazy days.
922 – The total miles I logged during the period from April 1st through September 30th. I’m sure this is the most miles I’ve ever run in a six month period - an annual rate of 1,844 miles.
8,000+ pushups
6,000+ curl reps with 20lb. dumbbells, and
2,000+ sit ups (I don’t like doing sit ups!)
No, I didn’t keep an actual count (I’m not that obsessive / compulsive!), but these are fairly conservative estimates of the core strengthening exercises I did to prepare for my day in the Rothrock State Forest. For you high school runners out there, a strong core is very important! It helps you maintain good running form in the later stages of a race. I know this part of my training made a big difference for me.
8 - Long runs. For purposes of this column I’m defining a long run as 16 or more miles. My longest training run was a 28 miler on the Moutainback course three weeks before the race. Leading up to that, I did two 16 milers, two 18 milers, and one run at each of the following distances: 19, 22, and 24 miles.
4- Training runs in the Rothrock State Forest on the Mountainback course for a total of 73 miles. I’ll have more to say about this later in this post. 
15 to 20 – Pounds. I had several people ask me how much weight I dropped during my training for the ultra. I don’t know precisely because I don’t weigh myself very often. I rely more on my belt and a mirror to tell me how my weight is. I was close to 205 last winter. I’m now at about 185 to 190, or about 5 to 10 pounds over my so-called “ideal” body weight.
45 to 50 – My resting heart rate. This is my favorite number. In a previous post I said my 50th birthday made me think that I’ll never be in the best shape of my life again. That may be true. As Deanna has reminded me, I can’t run as fast as I used to, and I’m certainly not as strong. But here is a different perspective. Back in 1980, at the age of 22 and shortly after I had run my first marathon (Johnstown), I took EMT training in the U.S. Coast Guard. I remember during one class we took turns hooking each other up to a monitor that displayed our heart rate. I remember that mine was in the mid-forties because it was by far the lowest in the class and surprised the instructor. So I was very pleased to discover recently that my resting heart rate has dropped by about 10 to15 beats per minute from the 60 that it had been for quite a while before I increased my training volume for the ultra. So, for now at least, my heart thinks I’m 22 again!
1 – Worried wife. Deanna was fairly stressed about the whole 50 mile thing. She was worried I’d get hurt or keel over or something. But she was very encouraging and a terrific help on race day. I’ll have more to say about that in my next post.
1 - Training partner, coach, mentor, and friend. No account of my preparation for the Mountainback would be complete without recognizing all of the advice, assistance, time, effort, wisdom, and encouragement I received from Joe Shuta, AKA the “Rothrock War Horse”.
Joe is a veteran ultramarathoner having completed six, 50 mile ultras (2 JFK’s and 4 Tussey Mountainback’s). Early in the year, I sought his advice. What I got was much more than I could have hoped for. Joe became a training partner, coach, mentor, and a friend.
Most of the knowledge he imparted had to do with executing the race itself, but there were two pieces of advice about my training that were particularly significant. The first bit of advice Joe gave just once, but I remembered it practically every time I went for a run. He said my “short” training runs needed to be at least an hour long, or a little over six miles. I can honestly report that for the most part I heeded that advice. As for the second piece of advice, Joe repeated it quite a few times just to make sure I didn’t forget. That advice was to get as many training runs on the actual course in the Rothrock State Forest as possible. To that end, he accompanied me on all four training runs I did over there. Joe ran with me for most of the nearly 73 miles I logged in Rothrock and even drove his car as a support vehicle over the second half of my “dress rehearsal” 28 miler three weeks before the Mountainback. Between driving time and running time, we probably spent close to 20 hours on those four training runs alone.
As race day approached Joe started kidding me that he was on standby to take my place in case I changed my mind. At some point I started calling him “Standby Shuta”. One final note, that 28 mile training run turned out to be a huge confidence builder. Thanks Standby!     

And a partridge in a pear tree…

In my next post I'll finally get around to writing about the race itself.

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