A Slice of Ultra Running Pie

I know this blog has been capital lamo.  Been pretty busy and, besides, actually writing about the races and following the sport has been kinda capital lamo, too.  Just being honest.  Meanwhile, Tim and I have been working on this project.  We’re going to follow a couple of runners as they prepare for and run WS100.  It’s a bit of insight (we think) into the sport.  In the end, ultra running is more about these kinds of people.  Tim’s publishing on his blog, as well.  Hope you enjoy.


The gym at Placer High School is hot and humid from the mass of humanity squeezed in beneath the old scoreboard and elevated basketball hoops. The electricity in the moist room raises the hairs on Max’s and Luther’s necks as names are drawn in what is, for many, the most important day of their lives.  Their entire existence is hinged on hearing their names announced as one of the few chosen individuals who will be living the ultimate dream in Squaw Valley in late June at the Western States 100 run.

Max and Luther were, in fact, chosen this year for Western States and, in a several part series, we at Elevation Trail will be covering everything from their backgrounds leading up to the lottery all the way to the drama of the race in a follow up report on their individual experiences during the incredible event.

ET: Gentlemen, let’s start with an introduction.  You’re on the verge of the Super Bowl of Ultra Running, a place hundreds (or a couple thousand) can only dream of; briefly explain where you’ve come from ultra running-wise.

Luther: I have never really been an athlete.  So running is everything for me because I can finally say, “Luther, you’re an athlete!”  This great ultra running culture has accepted me with open arms.  It’s so reassuring to see that at my local 50k or 100miler, I’m surrounded by others who are just kinda new to this and all giddy about their outfit, their shoes, their family and crew excited to help them get through this, just all the smiling faces that have that desire to spend the day breathing in this new identity.  I think about it every day.  It’s more than running.  It’s who I am.

Finishing the WS100 will be a life time achievement even though I just started.  I really feel born-again.  I started this new life August 2012 and since then have completed 13 ultra marathons.   Yeah, that may seem like a lot, but it’s not.  Some of my best ultra running buddies make me look soft (and yeah I’m still working on this belly!).  So, that’s the short of it.  Ultra running found me.  Frankly, I have never felt so invested in anything (not even my marriage).  Ultra has given me so much.  Aside from all of the thought I put into my blog and training program, I’m really trying to think how I can pay ultra back.  Is there a church of ultra I can erect to allow people like me to pay reverence to this incredible sport?  In the meantime, I’m thinking of going semi-pro (working on some cool sponsorships); helping some “ultra” brands to grow might be one way I can give back.  The last year and a half has been insane.  Before that I was nobody.  Just an accountant with a doughnut addiction.  Now it’s me, my ultra crowd and cliff bars!  I hope you’re listening Cliff Bar!

Max: Yeah, even though I’ve finished dozens of ultra distance runs and even won the Southeastern Missouri Marble Hill 100 mile race in 1998, getting into Western States is life altering. Don’t tell my kids but I cried when they called my name. I’ve applied to get in the last 13 years, so I feel really lucky. I plan to up my game with training and even thought about getting a coach to tell me what my heart rate zones are. 30 hours is a tight cutoff compared to other 100s I’ve done but I know, with some speed work injected into my 100+ mile weeks, I’ll crush it. (Eats a Lance Armstrong Honey Stinger waffle cookie while motioning to the issue of Ultra Running magazine on the table).  That’ll be me on the cover sometime. My buddy, Hank, was on the cover, like a PRO, last summer.  He had it framed with a little baggie of dirt from the actual race in the photo.

ET:  Right.  I can feel the enthusiasm.  Good for you.  Max, you brought -up training and even the prospect of hiring a coach for this run, I mean, race.  Guys, tell us a little about your actual preparation.

Max: I’ve learned a lot from my friends on Facebook. I mean, I knew a lot anyway and have even run a three hour marathon on the road in the Midwest but without my ultra buds on Facebook I would still be wearing Five Fingers and not Hokas now. I never realized that the foot had so many fragile bones. Now with my Hokas and my AK signed ultra hydration pack, I feel as though I could run forever.

Preparation will be key and that’s why I started my third blog:  “myjourneytowesternstates.blogspot.com”. It, along with my daily postings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Strava, Daily Mile, Garmin Connect, Athlinks, and, of course, my family blog “relentlessforwardwalkerandfamily.wordpress.com”, I’ll be able to chronical the experience. Because, when I get that sub 30 hour buckle, I want to not only remember how I did it but I want everyone in my blessed life know what they can achieve through sacrifice. After my first ultra, I got a tattoo on my thigh that says, “if these legs are rockin’ don’t come a knockin’”, which, to me, means that I’m serious about this sport.

Luther:  Sweet tattoo, Max! Oh, and ET, thanks again for interviewing us for this incredible journey.  I practically wet my shorts thinking about things like Hokas, irunfar, Anton, WS100 and Elevation Trail!  Now, as far as my training goes, golly, where do I start?  I love the blogosphere.  No seriously.  I asked my partner to join forces via social media.  From the top of my driveway (I was doing hill repeats), I tweeetered my love, which showed up on my blog (time to plug: cheers2ultrafolkblog.blogspot.com).  Two days later they said YES!!!  Obviously, I get so much of my life’s inspiration from the web.

I fell in love with my training via the web, too.  I’ve gotten all of my training from reading blogs and Facebook.  After 5 ultras last summer (2 50ks and 3 100ks), somehow I fractured my right foot and developed, oddly enough, an oblique fracture in my left knee.  Crazy stuff.  I actually walked my sixth ultra, another 50k, because I knew any extended downtime would kill my relentless forward progress.  I knew I needed a change.  I knew I needed a coach to help push me further.  This was a big step for me.  Asking around the community, 2 names kept coming-up. I couldn’t decide which to hire, and given the incredible work we have to put-in to be able to finish these huge treks, I hired both. One is a MAF-oriented coach who obviously has his dipstick in the LSD.  The other guy, who also loves ultra, has introduced barefoot speed work to supplement my big mileage.  This has really worked for me so far though I’ve only been with this program for about ten days: I combine both training schedules.  My first full week of training consisted of 187 miles that included two really tough speed sessions with strides, plyometric work, a tabata work-out and sets of stairs.  I actually just got back from urgent care to record this interview: I have a deep, dull pain in my right shin and sharp pain in both hips.

ET:  Wow. You’re a monster, Luther.  Good luck with, ah, those schedules.  And congratulations on your marriage.  That brings up a great question: how have your family lives been affected by this commitment?

Max: 187 miles your first week, Luther? Pretty good start and I’m sure you’ll get over 200 in no time. Family life for me couldn’t be better. Like jumping into ultrarunning and big training, there were some growing pains. (Luther laughs at Max’s unintentional pun) But as I spent more and more time before and after work on weekdays and every weekend grinding out the long runs, and securing several KOM routes that I have finish in my kitchen so no one else can beat them (Luther laughs again), my wife found other hobbies and new friends to fill her time. She always liked good wine and she really honed her knowledge of it over the last couple years. We’re both quiet people, anyway, so, when I read this great guide on “How to Run the Leadville 100” and it suggested getting an altitude tent, it was a no brainer. I spend what little daylight time I have in it working and then sleep in it every night. I live in the Bay Area at 5 feet elevation, so this is a major training tool for my quest of Western States. I mean, we’ll be at over 8,500 feet for at least 30 minutes! I’ll be ready for it.

As for a coach, I don’t really need one since I’ve learned just about everything I know from blogs, Facebook, and other awesome sites with informative articles. Sometimes the information is a little confusing like whether to eat salt or not, minimal shoes or overly cushioned ones, when to run through pain or when to stop – NEVER, ha ha. Overall, almost like Luther is doing by hiring two coaches, I’ve simply combined all the information and use everything. A typical week for me looks like this:

Monday through Friday – get out of my altitude tent at 3:30am, wipe down the condensation in it, make a green drink, and get out for my first of two daily runs. This is when I can really have some time to think. At 4am the trails in the Bay Area area are at their least crowded and I only usually encounter a dozen or so people per hour. After my run, I spend time in the bathroom; the green drinks often give me diarrhea, which I figure is part of training since diarrhea is common in races. Then I sneak into my kids’ room to see them sleep (Max Jr. and Patricia, ‘Pat’ since she’s in some tomboy stage), then wave to my sleeping wife who usually falls asleep on the sofa overnight after watching her favorite TV shows, and I’m off to work.

I’m not very overly micro-managed at my workplace, so I’m able to catch up on blogs, both writing and reading, and follow what all my friends are doing on Facebook and Twitter most of the day. At lunch I’ll try to sneak in a run or at least do jumping jacks in the Men’s Room for 25-30 minutes. At 5pm I’ll often leave my car at work and start my second – or third – run of the day. I usually get home around 9 or 10pm, have a few IPAs while making dinner, eat a couple pounds of cheese and red meat along with another couple of beers because I’m paleo and training my body to burn fat for fuel, otherwise known as ketosis. At about midnight I’ll do a set of 10-15 sit-ups for core work and zip myself up in my cozy altitude tent for the night.

Saturday and Sunday – look pretty much the same as the weekdays except I’m able to replace the work hours with running. Depending on which time of the year it is, I’ll put in around 28 hours of training per week, which translates into a solid 120 miles. Of course, at peak training I’ll take vacation time from work and strive to get in over 200 miles a week.

Luther: See, that kind of life-style is a dream I am frantically trying to make real.  Speaking of IPA, Max, have you tried that new one from CO or CA or OR, it’s called Musty Butt Muff DIPA, I think.  So good.  I actually threw-up the first couple of sips because it was so strong and bitter, but, by God, I learned to like it.  Finished three and woke-up passed out on my kid’s bed (he was on the floor nearby).  I didn’t have time to console or apologize because I was up early, a little dizzy, to get in a morning 25 miler.

My family, on the whole, has learned to deal with my ultra ambitions.  Like Max, I am trying to convert to this fat-burning approach, enabling my ketosis?  Whatever it is, the family loves all the butter and ice cream.  I’m also consuming a lot of milk (and as many IPAs as I can), but the kids really enjoy the soda and cakes, etc.  Who knew bacon cheese cake could be so delicious in the morning with my cocoanut butter coffee?  Fat for life.

As for my lover, there have been some real difficulties on this front, which I don’t really want to discuss in this venue (unless ET has a degree in marriage and family therapy?).  Let’s just say there is some disagreement as to the role ultra should play in my life.  For instance, I chose to spend half of a decent retirement account at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Expo.  Sure, I might have slept on the coach for a few nights (or passed-out on my kid’s bed), or in the garage next to my Nordic Trak (that’s a real bummer, to have such easy access to my training – take that, honey!), but my ultra gear for 2014 looks amazing!

ET: Nice segue, Luther.  It sounds like you both have a handle on your training and how it fits in with family. Let’s talk about some of the gear you’ll be utilizing during your training and actual race at Western States. Tell us about the one piece of gear you can’t live without and, also, we know you both have some sponsors and this would be a great time to talk about them.

Max: Gear! Where do I start?! Nothing gets me fired up to hit some awesome trails like a new piece of running gear. Now that I have a part-time apartment in Boulder, I get to dress for all sorts of weather. With my wife’s responsibilities with her membership in several wine clubs and the time she spends with her new friend, Ricky, she stays in the Bay Area when I travel to Boulder for both physical and spiritual training. I like to lay out all my clothes, pack, food, and accessories neatly on the kitchen table and take an Instagram photo of it before every run – it’s so colorful and cool looking that my adrenaline spikes!

To pick one piece of gear I can’t live without is tough to do but I would have to say that for winter running it’s a toss up between my insulated Salomon capris-length tights and my Smith Glare Goggles (new screaming flame orange color for 2014). For summer, well, I can’t live without my signed Christophe Le Saux Buff Hankie. It has so many freaking uses. There’ve been plenty of times I’ve had to crap on the trail and not had toilet paper – Buff to the rescue! A quick rinse in the nearest drinking fountain and it’s back on my head, or neck, or arm, or ankle, or wherever!

Of course, I have to to mention my all time favorite piece of gear, my cool Foreign Legion style floppy drape baseball cap. Nothing screams “I’m an ultrarunner!” like it does. I also have an original David Goggins belly shirt but that baby is framed and hangs in my kitchen and inspires me every single day.

ultra gear.jpg

As for sponsors, after winning the Marble Hill 100 mile in 28:45 – a PR for the distance, I decided it was time to reach out to some companies. I got snagged up as a Full Ambassador In-Training by Hoka. The new Conquest model is like running on air. The way God intended us to run. Check them out at your favorite running store. They retail for $190, so I’m super thankful for the 50% off Ambassador deal. I also get gaiters for free from my second favorite sponsor, Dirty Girl Gaiters and the lady who makes them is smokin’ hot! (winks and giggles).

Luther: It’s a three way tie.  For this I’ve come-up with a way to talk gear along with the importance of the mind, the heart and the sole in ultra running.  The mind: my Buff headwear is crucial.  The way my lover used to approach scarves for happy hour at Applebee’s, I absolutely covet my various but stylish Buffs. My Ora SS14 Cool Bandana Buff is pretty legendary in my household.  I held-on to finish my fourth ultra at the Zoom Croom 50k in Brooksville, Florida, and the Buff helped me seal the deal.  Flat as a pancake, but pretty darn hot, that race requires a ton of heat management, given the amount of pavement: my Ora Buff was central to an 8 hour finish. Boom.

Of course, I have to mention Buff’s association with my hero, Anton Krupicka.  Bit of a man crush there. . .

ET:  Luther. . .

Luther:  Oops.  Sorry.  Buff keeps my mental game in line for any ultra and any ultra distance.

Next, the heart of ultra.  This might sound a bit bizarre; my hydration system is the heart of any race coordination I undertake, from 5k to 100miler.  For my ultimate commitment to the ultra trail, I take to Ultimate Direction for my hydration gear.  The website says it best: “Designed by the champion of minimalism and a 2014 Trail Runner Magazine Gear of the Year Award winner, the AK Race Vest gives you everything you need and nothing more.”  Enuff said.  There’s a mysterious quality to this vest. I’ve finished races or long training runs with tears in my eyes.  Passersby have wondered if this is from the water bottles repeatedly hitting me in the face while I run.  Ha ha.  Not quite.  In fact, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed with the gear; this vest kinda wraps its “arms” around me.  Between the beauty of the trail, the story of my new life and an affirmative warmth and near intoxication I get from using this AK Race Vest 2.0. . .I feel the support of this ultra community in this one piece of gear!  Add this to the ledger: “We” design our own gear.  Thanks again, Anton!

Last but not least, the sole of ultrarunning.  My shoes.  Ah, I might write a book about this gear.  Ha.  Get it: the sole of ultra running.  I’ll try to keep this to the point.  For my speed work I wear whatever is the next generation of New Balance minimalist shoes, currently the Minimus Zero v2, or a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.  Naturally, for the longer stuff I’m solid with my Hokas.  LOVE MY HOKAS aahhhhhhh!  Sorry.  I’m a little pumped about the direction of Hokas and the way people notice me when I wear them.  The other day some dorks called me a clown and I guess the shoes do look a little clowny.  But I just fired back, “yeah but look who’s having all the fun!”

Sorry to go on like this.  Kinda like talking about a new lover or something.

As for sponsorships, I’m grinding hard to get noticed and picked-up by anyone who wants to support this love affair though I have a little support from the guys at SkinFit and an evangelical church here in town that wants to remain anonymous (but they get pretty involved in my fundraisers throughout the year.).  You can check my blog cheers2ultrafolkblog.blogspot.com for updates on any new fundraisers or new sponsors.

One thought on “A Slice of Ultra Running Pie

  1. Rick Merriman

    With 200 mile weeks, I’m concerned about the environmental impact these guys will have on the trails. Do the barefoot running shoes cause less erosion to our trails than say a Hoka Hoka One One?


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