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Remembering my running Roots

I ran the Hagg Lake 50K for the fourth consecutive year this weekend.  Some people ask why I keep going back to the same race year after year.  Here are my top five reasons:

1). It is where I ran my first ultra, so it is a way of returning to my roots.

2). The people that put the race on are second to none and there is always a solid field.

3). Despite being the same course year-in-and-year-out, the conditions are never the same so you never know what you are going to get.

4). It is at a challenging time of year which motivates me to train through the dark, cold, wet months of winter.
5). Hagg Lake Mud Runs were cool even before mud runs were all the rage. In terms of mud for your buck you get ten times more mud for half the price and you don’t even have to get electrocuted.  Seriously.  Why spend more, run less, and shock yourself?  

My morning began with my son critiquing my race attire.

“Dad, why don’t your pants go to your feet?”

“They aren’t pants, Cairo.  They are called manpris.” 

“They look weird.”

“I wear them so that my knees don’t get cold.”

“They don’t make you look very manly.  They just make you look weird.”

Needless to say, my confidence was a little shaky.

Unlike my first year, I gave myself plenty of time to get to the start, take care of business and mingle rather than get caught in a port-a-pottie when the gun went off.  I wore the best shoes I could find for the conditions - the Altra Lone Peak 1.5 - and I wore several layers, gloves, wool Swiftwick compression socks, and a hooded jacket for most of the race.

While everyone assumed that Zach Gingerich would take it out hard like he usually does, it was Jason Leman who led up the first climb.  I ran with Jeremy Tolman, a sub 4:00 miler & former All-American steeplechaser, as we tried to keep Jason in our sights.

 With the longest legs and greatest body mass, inertia took over and I found myself in the front by the time we descended and reached the single-track.

I knew going in that after a long break from running I wouldn’t be in the kind of shape I had been in the past few years.  Given the recent record snowfalls I wasn’t about to put pressure on myself to best my previous year’s time, but I needed to get in a solid long run and figured at least I would have some company if I showed up at Hagg.

We settled in to a comfortable pace running as a large group that ranged between two and seven or eight runners.  Early on, I was reminded once again that ultrarunners tend to be well-educated, informed people.  Over the course of 50K I found myself running stride for stride with a medical doctor, two engineers, a health care administrator, and an I.T. guy for Nike.  Maybe I should go back to college to extend my running career.

After about eight miles, shirtless Jason Leman took over the pacing duties.  Zach Gingerich and I tried to hang on.  At about this time Zach realized that his trademark baller shorts lacked a draw sting and were getting weighed down by the downpour. Jason and I joked that we had sabotaged Zach’s shorts by removing the drawstring just to keep him within striking distance.  A few miles later Jason took a pit stop and Zach (now with sagging baller shorts) and I gradually pulled away. 

By the end of the first loop an ever patient Neil Olsen joined me and we started rolling.  We came through at about 2:03 which was only two minutes slower than Neil’s pace the previous year under much more runnable conditions.  This both impressed and frightened me.  While the split was significantly slower than my split the year before, I was already hurting.  

After being away from regular training and racing for so long I made some rookie mistakes – like doubling the duration & distance of my long run in muddy conditions and not sticking to a regular fueling plan because I was so cold.  In the past I’ve done some longer training runs in preparation for the race.  After resuming running a few weeks ago, I’ve deliberately tried to gradually increase my volume, including the distance & duration of my long runs.  I hadn’t run for much more than two hours since November.  Due to my lack of training, after about two hours my muscles just wouldn’t fire, especially when we got around to the even sloppier second loop.  Each place a person’s foot had landed the previous loop became a receptacle of water the following lap.  Add fatigue, delirium, and soggy shoes and that makes for some sore hip flexors and epic spills. 

Enjoying ourselves at about mile 17 with one lap to go.  Jacob Puzey, Neil Olsen, Zach Gingerich
On the nutrition side of things, I typically drink about two liters of liquid (electrolyte drink) over the course of a four hour race.  I also prefer to take in calories through gels/liquid shot/trailbutter every 30-45 minutes and additional salt caps at least every hour.  I knew that the course would be slick and I didn’t want to rely entirely on a handheld bottle to fuel me (because I’ve often fallen and spilled the contents of my bottle) so my loving wife and son met me at each aid station with a bottle of my own concentration of electrolytes.  At one point, Jason commented how nice it must be to have a wife to crew for me.  I couldn’t agree more.  I appreciate it even more given that she had to get up early and still cut her long run short so that she & Cairo could be out on the course cheering me on and helping me out.  Unfortunately, due to the cold and rain I just wasn’t thirsty and didn’t consume very much.  By the end of the race I had only consumed about 10 ounces of liquid (First Endurance EFS Drink) and 1.5 flasks of First Endurance EFS Liquid Shot, but no extra water and no additional salts.  While this may be enough for some, this isn’t enough for me.  It only equates to 800-900 calories and I burned at least 4,000.

While I figured I’d pull away for the win when we hit the dam, Neil asserted himself as a challenger.  I was happy to have some company through my suffering.  I wasn’t feeling as well as I had hoped to at that point in the race. We talked for quite a while about our families and the high school cross country teams we help coach, Crater and Hermiston, which are often some of the top programs in the state and when we line up against each other it is usually a fight to the finish.  Crater is similar to Hermiston, so I knew that despite beating Neil in the past, he wouldn’t just roll over.  They have a four word motto at Crater:  “Work Hard.  Work Harder.”  Neil and the Crater program embody that mantra.

At one point, Neil asked if the long haired child crewing for me was YassineDiboun’s daughter.  People often mistake Yassine and I, but this was the first time that our children have been mistaken for one another.  I tried to explain that my son just insists on growing his hair out until it is as long as Qui-Gon Jin’s.  He thinks it will help him become a Jedi master.  

I began to struggle through some of the slicker climbs and descents and eventually went down hard with about six miles to go.  It took me a while to regain my composure and get back on my feet.  By the time I was upright Neil had already gapped me.  I tried to real him back in but just kept slipping.  I knew that my best chance of regaining the lead would be the next stretch of pavement where I could rely on my youth and longer stride.  Unfortunately, by the time we reached the pavement he had already pulled away so much that I couldn’t see him.  I was struggling just to stay upright and fight through the cramps in my arms and legs.  I was cold, wet, and dehydrated and just needed to get warm.  My only motivation from there on out was the hot soup waiting at the finish. 

Finally finishing with Cairo, Jen, and Todd

When I finished, I was pleased to see so many friends and family.  I wish that I hadn’t been so cold, because normally I like to stick around and share war stories and cheer on others as they finish.  But I couldn’t stop shivering and my body was aching so I figured I needed to take a hot shower and get in some warm clothes. 

I had a rather piercing post-race conversation with my seven year old son on the way home.  One of the hardest things about parenting is when your kids actually listen to you and then use your own words against you:

"Dad, why didn’t you win? Why did you let that guy beat you?"

"He was running better than me in the mud and I was too tired to catch him."

"Why couldn’t you catch him?  He wasn’t even running that fast?"

"He was running fast for as long and as muddy as it was."

"No he wasn’t.  I ran next to you guys on the road (for about a stride).  I’m faster than both of you."

"You might be, but we were running for a long time, so we were trying to save our energy. "

"You still should have won.

"I’m sorry.  I’m just not in as good of shape as I used to be."

"Why not?"

"I took a break and I haven’t been running as much as I usually do.  I’m only running a couple of days a week."

"You should be running everyday if you want to get better.

"I know."

"Then why don’t you?"

"I’ve been working a lot and trying to get healthy.  I’m starting to run more.  I want to be healthy all year so I'm trying to be patient.

"That’s not an excuse.  You should be running everyday so that you win next time."

"Duly noted."
A few other things I learned/remembered from my return to running and racing:

Catching up with Trail Butter founder, Jeff Boggess
  • You can’t fake fitness.  There is no substitute for consistency. 
  • Never underestimate old man strength.
  • Never rely on the spryness of youth.
  • If you consume two boxes of Triscuits after the race there is a pretty high likelihood that you should have consumed more salt during the race.
  • Avoid Girl Scouts after a race.  One box of macaroons quickly becomes the standard serving size.
  • Set & stick to a hydration plan even when it is cold and you aren’t sweating or thirsty. 

Many thanks to Kelly, Eric, Todd, Renee, Trevor and the countless other volunteers who make the event what it is!  Thank you to my sponsors for helping me do what I love.  Thank you to my family for supporting me.  Thank you to my competitors for pushing and inspiring me to become better.  

Stamina Work

Of the five essential components to an effective training plan, Stamina work is where most of us put the bulk of our time and energy.  But if we are not using our time effectively we won’t make as many gains as we potentially could.   So I am starting this series with Stamina work, because even stamina, which we feel we’ve got a pretty good handle on, can be improved.

Most aerobic activities (running, cycling, swimming, hiking, Nordic skiing, etc.) can help in maintaining or increasing stamina, but it is how we place stamina work within our training plan and couple it with other areas that will ultimately determine our progress.

While there are plenty of forms of stamina work, I will break stamina work into three general categories: long runs, threshold runs, and maintenance runs.


Any long distance training program should be founded on the long run.  It should be a regular staple for any distance runner.  Consequently, when developing a training plan for myself of an athlete I coach, I structure most weeks’ training around the long run.  In the base and pre-competition phases of the training plan I make it the top priority, assuring that my athletes go into the long run rested from previous workouts during the week.  After the long run, I plan for adequate recovery before tackling another high intensity or high volume workout.

Long runs can take on a variety of forms.  One coach from whom I have learned a great deal is Greg McMillan.  Greg is not only an accomplished runner himself, but  he has led countless athletes to new heights.  In 2011 he outlined some of the tried and true methods of top marathon coaches in an article entitled, “The Marathon Long Run: Variations on a theme.” I highly recommend this article and the other articles Greg writes in his monthly McMillan’s Performance Page.

In addition to the 16 week sequence of long runs Greg suggests in the article above, two long runs that I have found to be particularly beneficial for ultrarunners are fat-burning/glycogen depletion runs and higher intensity progressive or threshold runs.  Both serve different, but equally important functions.

The longer (2-5 hours) fat-burning run/glycogen depletion run is intended to simulate how the body feels toward the end of a long race while also increasing the body’s capacity to metabolize fat. While not as enjoyable as adventure runs with a picnic in your pack, the objective of these runs is to simulate what is commonly referred to as “the wall” or “bonking” by limiting the consumption of sugars and limiting liquid intake to water. Most people decrease their pace and mentally shut down when they hit the wall in a race, however by training the mind and the body to run through the wall it is possible to more efficiently transition through this phase in the race.  Then, when you are fueling regularly in the race this painful process is delayed considerably and sometimes eliminated.

The shorter (1-3 hours), higher intensity carb-burning run is still a long run, but is generally run at a m
uch faster pace.  Whereas the over-distance run intentionally depletes the glycogen stores, on some of these shorter, higher intensity long runs it is possible to actually practice fueling for an upcoming race.  Whether carrying your fuel along with you or setting bottles out along the course, these runs are perfect opportunities to test out drink mixes, electrolyte caps, and gels.  They are also important ways of gauging one’s fitness and preparing the mind and the body for an upcoming effort - often longer - in a race.

Both of these runs can be done solo, but they are often much easier when you have some company.  Join a group or find a friend to join you on these runs as often as schedules permit.  If you are like me and live miles away from other long distance runners, be willing to drive every once in a while to meet up with a friend or sign up for a race and use that race (1/2 marathon – 100K) as a long run in preparation for your goal race.  Heck, that’s how I got into this crazy sport – jumping into a 50K as part of a buildup for a road marathon – and I’ve been at it ever since.


Threshold runs, also known as tempo runs, can take on a variety of forms, but the overriding goal of threshold work is to run at or near your aerobic threshold – the red line – for as long as possible.  Overtime this will not only increase your threshold, but also your capacity to sustain a threshold effort, also known as stamina.

For those making the transition to running longer distances this may simply mean a series of short (400m) bursts at 5k-10K effort/pace followed by a very brief (30-45 sec) recovery interval between each rep.  This workout, known as Georgetown 400s, were a common workout for former Georgetown mid-distance Coach Frank Gagliano’s athletes moving up in distance.  Most of my high school athletes enjoy Georgetown 400s because sustaining 20 minutes + of quality running is not always possible (mentally or physically) for beginning runners.  I have seen the benefit of this simple workout for even more advanced runners training for a half marathon or marathon.

For more experienced runners, threshold work should mean a run between 20 minutes and 2 hours at half marathon to marathon pace.   As Dr. Joe Vigil likes to say, “There are many roads to Rome.”  His elite athletes run multiple threshold runs of varying distances and intensities, but the underlying principle remains - the goal is to increase your body’s capacity to sustain hard efforts.  The key is to work your aerobic threshold regularly - at least weekly.


Some people call these runs easy or recovery runs.  Maintenance runs are what I call all running that does not specifically target speed or strength.  Some people believe that all running should be hard or fast, but maintenance runs are as important as the harder, faster sessions.  They keep us regular - on a routine - and they serve as a means of increasing blood flow to parts of the body that have been taxed through long or hard running.  Maintenance runs are just as important to the development of stamina as are higher intensity and longer runs.

Maintenance runs can also serve as SKILL development runs.  While the emphasis may not necessarily be on skill, if there is a skill to develop, particularly adjusting to terrain (grass, rocks, roots, cinder, mud, pavement, track, singletrack, downhill, etc.), maintenance runs are a great way to allow the body to acclimate to the demands of different terrain without overdoing it in a workout, race, or long run.  Over time, these regular runs allow the body to adapt to the new demands of the foreign terrain and will better prepare the athlete for harder or longer sessions on a similar surface.

STAMINA work should be foundational to any training plan designed for distance running.  If you are missing any one of these elements in your training, LONG RUNS, THRESHOLD RUNS, or MAINTENANCE RUNS, you can make noticeable differences by gradually introducing them into what you already do.

A few years ago, after listening to some interviews of Greg McMillan and his athletes who were having great success, I began placing a greater emphasis on long runs and threshold runs in my own training and in the training of those that I coached.  Over a short time, my marathon PR went from 2:35 to 2:25 simply by adjusting my training schedule to emphasize the long run.  Similarly, I dropped over twenty minutes on the same trail 50K course.  My athletes made even greater gains.  Every school record from 800m to 5,ooom for men and women at my Alma Mater where I coach cross country and track  has been broken and the top ten lists have been rewritten (I'm not even in the top ten on any of the lists anymore:).,,My wife, Jen, went from a 21:30 5K to a 16:40 and a 1:35 half marathon to a 1:18.    All of this can be attributed to a greater emphasis on the long run.

It is certainly possible to make considerable improvements with a greater emphasis on STAMINA training, but over time without some emphasis on STRENGTH, SPEED, SUPPLENESS, and SKILL you will inevitably reach a performance plateau or be sidelined by an injury.

Next time, I’ll discuss the importance of STRENGTH work in a comprehensive long distance training plan.

Jacob Puzey is a competitive endurance athlete and USATF certified endurance coach.  He runs for Altra, First Endurance, Swiftwick, and Trail Butter.  He also blogs for When he's not on the road with his athletes, he’s usually exploring wild places with his family and friends.  For more information about Jacob and the coaching services he provides, please visit his site:

Coach's Corner: Coach Smith's Essential S's to Success

Like most coaches, I have been influenced by the work and philosophies of many others.  Fortunately, most successful coaches recognize that success breeds success and are therefore pretty open about sharing what they do that works.  Consequently, I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the best in the sport.

Coach Michael Smith of Kansas State University is one of the many coaches that has shaped my approach to endurance training.  In addition to coaching successful collegiate and post collegiate distance runners, Coach Smith is one of the instructors for the USATF Level II Endurance Coaching program.  At the USATF Level II Endurance Academy that I attended a couple of years ago at UNLV, Coach Smith outlined his comprehensive and comprehensible training philosophy. He has since documented his rationale and spoken about it on Coach Jay Johnson’s podcast.

According to Coach Smith, effective training programs must touch upon each of the essential elements of endurance: stamina, strength, speed, suppleness, and skill.  The emphasis placed on each depends upon the athlete and the specific distance and surface for which she is training.

As distance runners, most of us naturally put the majority of our training efforts toward building or maintaining our stamina, often neglecting the other essential elements of speed, strength, suppleness and skill.  Unfortunately, we don’t generally realize that we have neglected a specific area until it is too late.  Injury and under-performance are far too frequent. This should not be the case.  These harrowing experiences can be effective indicators of one’s strengths and weaknesses, but if nothing is done with the new data to alter one’s training program, the passion for training and racing will ultimately wane.

Working with a qualified coach can help you train toward your goal race, avoid injury, and find enjoyment and fulfillment throughout the training cycle. By offering a fresh set of eyes, an experience coach can work together with the athlete to evaluate her strengths and weaknesses and measure them against the goal race distance and terrain to determine how much emphasis to place on each of the five elements of training and ultimately tailor a training plan specific to the individualized goals and needs of the athlete.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss each of the five essential elements of an effective training program and how to incorporate them in a plan tailored to your specific race goals and needs.   In the mean time, please ask questions that you would like address in upcoming articles in the comment area below.