If that’s not the version of success we want for our kids, why do we keep pushing for it?

Courtesy of New York Times Op-Ed

Courtesy of New York Times

Attended a great talk by Dr. Madeline Levine as part of the Common Ground lecture series on January 30th.  Her August 2012 op-ed piece “Raising Successful Children” is apparently the most emailed piece in history of New York Times.  My favorite quote from that two-pager is: “In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.”

In 2008, when she wrote Price of Privilege she was gaining clarity on the solutions, now she feels she’s starting to make progress on some of the solutions which are reflected in last year’s Teach Your Children Well.  Levine was a teacher in the Bronx, prior to starting a psychology practice in Marin county, just north of San Francisco over 25 years ago, where many an affluent child can be found.  She’s also a mother of three, and sees motherhood as one of her superpowers (more on that later), so she knows children well.

She’s a wonderful presenter, very comfortable in front of a crowd, with only a flip chart “to keep her on track”, and many amusing anecdotes.  Great dinner company, I’m sure. When she presents to crowds like the five hundred or so presumably affluent, well-intentioned parents in Silicon Valley jammed into that lecture theatre at 9am on a Wednesday morning, she likes to ask what is your  goal for your kids?

a) to know themselves well, to have passion for their vocation, something to contribute, to be resilient, to have zest for life, a loving family, etc, or 

b) to follow the linear “classic” definition of success: private schools, Ivy league undergrad, Harvard MBA, Goldman Sachs banker 

Perhaps because the answer is obviously not “b” in this context, typically only 2-4% of the audience admit to “b”.  So if that’s true, why do we keep demanding it of our children?

In the end, success with children is not the outcome of today or tomorrow.  It’s a lifetime.  10 years out, the success rate of those that went to Yale vs. those that didn’t is indistinguishable. Yet, with all of the day-to-day blocking and tackling, it’s very easy to forget the long term view.   She provides an example of one of her own children, who she transferred from public to private school, despite the contrary advice of experts, and yet with no apparent negative consequences in the long term.

Adults have a very well-kept secret from their kids – you only have to be good at a few things to succeed.  When you look at yourself, and ask what are your superpowers, you probably excel at a handful, are good at some, and poor at the rest.  A Gallup poll of executives revealed the same thing – of around thirty management capabilities, each executive only excelled at 3 to 5 things.  The conclusion is the greatest rewards come from focusing on strengths, both for you and your children.  As she says, kids don’t know this.  Rather than trying to raise a kid that excels at everything, let them find what they are good at, and let the other stuff go.  You probably don’t get straight A’s in your life, so why should your kids be expected to get straight A’s at everything too?

The challenge with the narrow linear definition of success is it creates huge pressure for kids to meet this straight-A’s trajectory and with that pressure comes a host of side effects from stomach aches to stress to depression.  As Levine says, “in reality, most of your kids are really quite average.  That’s basic statistics, the bell curve… If two people with an IQ of 140 marry, the likely result is not additive, its more likely to regress to the mean.”

For her, if someone is described as “smart”, she now likes to ask “in what way?”.  She subscribes to Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence : analytical, creative and practical, and says she ended up with a kid of each type.  When the first one come along, with straight-A’s analytical intelligence she patted herself on the back, and thought how good she was at parenting.  Then the second turned up with creative intelligence.  “Creativity is like a river, if just flows, and you can’t stop it.” It took a while for him to find his way, but he did.  The third child apparently had fantastic hands-on skills and amazing emotional intelligence. (A critical overlying capability for all of us, in my opinion).

The challenge is the school system rewards such a narrow definition of academic success.  For kids not gifted with analytical intelligence, the challenge is how to help them develop confidence and high self-worth in a system that doesn’t value what they offer.

Clearly each child is different, and you have to match the school to the child.  Imposing your own wishes on the children doesn’t do anybody any favors either.  In another great quip: “at 16, kids have enough to worry about without worrying abut what the parents want”  Apparently the most common request she gets from kids she sees in her psychology practice is “please help my mother to find a hobby [other than me]”.   She’s not a fan of weekend sports spectating, as she feels it makes adulthood look boring.  Parents should “keep in mind your own needs. Kids need to know its not all about them. Your home is your child’s first community.”

She acknowledges why many of us default to the linear success path in evaluating our kids and others: “we are anxious because the world is tough, and we don’t want our kids living at home after college, playing video games, and hitting the bong.”  Somewhat surprisingly, Levine said that in terms of content and skills American kids are as good as any other.  “In terms of everything else they stink … Kids have a sense of entitlement, a lack of grit, a lack of collaboration, and are so accustomed to external support and evaluation that they can’t evaluate themselves.”

The other reason, she suggests, is the lack of honesty in the “latte line” – all the other parents are hiding problems and saying everything is great rather than having an honest dialogue. In Levine’s view, the two most important developmental tasks for school-age kids are:

  1. exploration
  2. developing friendships

Her solution for over- parenting in a nut shell is: “don’t do what your child can already do, or almost do”.  For example, “if your ten year old forgets a school project – do you bring it in for them? [Answer:] It depends! A succession of successful failures is really good for kids. They have to solve problems for themselves and learn how to cope and manage unhappy things.  This isn’t always the rule, it depends, you have to have each others back. So if its super important, bring it in.  If not, don’t. Every kid in America knows how not to load the dishwasher – “mum, I have an important test tomorrow “.  Yet it’s more important they spend 5 minutes on a family obligation than an extra 5 minutes studying for a test.”

A few other tips from a most thought provoking and entertaining lecture:

  • “Kids say nobody listens to me – you have to listen, really listen.”  In other words, put down that smart phone, get down on their level and listen
  • Don’t over schedule kids – they need space to construct a sense of self – playtime, downtime, and family time are critical
  • Young adolescents love to argue. It may be easier to deal with if you remember it’s really just to practice abstract thinking skills.

Have you read any of her books?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Review: Barnana Bites replace sticky gels, end stomach upset and calf cramps

barnanabitesOver the last 10 years of endurance events, GU and other energy gels appeared to be a necessary evil for energy and electrolytes.  Unfortunately I’ve found they get harder and harder to stomach the longer the race and the harder you are working. I was getting a lot of gastrointestinal (GI) upset and still getting debilitating calf cramps after about 2 hours of hard exercise. I’ve tried more or less water, salt tabs, magnesium, and potassium supplements all to no avail.

The longer and harder the run, the more likely the issues.  At Quicksilver 50 mile race in 2010 I clearly remember knowing I needed to eat, but just not being able to force down a GU, and reaching for PB&J sandwiches, bananas and salted potatoes instead at the aid stations.

I first tried these Barnana Banana Bites about 6 months ago and found it not only was easy and relatively pleasant to eat no matter how hard I was working, it also caused no GI distress and my cramps were gone. Barnana is literally just partially dehydrated banana (which is why it is chewy rather than like the banana chips we all know), so its packed with potassium, which seemed to be just what my body needed to avoid the dreaded calf cramps.

As you can see from the pic above, they do look a little odd (dare I say unappetizing?) as they are little brown lumps. For me, all the other advantages easily exceeded the issue of appearance.  You can also get a chocolate flavor, but I didn’t see any need to add that to the mix while running.  Amazon sells them in bulk if you want to save a few $, and some Whole Foods stores stock them if you want to try a single pack without paying shipping charges.

For me, a full bag is perfect for a marathon – 1 chew each mile from roughly mile 4 to mile 22. Using this strategy , I ran a personal best (almost 30 minutes faster) at California International Marathon in December using them. You can put them in a sandwich bag and there is no mess like you have with the sticky energy gel packets. Price wise its about the same as doing 4-5 gels in a marathon, so it was a no brainer to switch for me.

So if you’re tied of the gels, this might work for you.  Let me know what you think!

(Note: this is an authentic review.  I’ve had no contact with the owners or makers of Barnana Banana Bites and received no compensation or free product)

The Icarus Deception: Seth Godin wants you to fly closer to the sun

icarusdeceptionIf you haven’t made your New Years resolutions yet (as Seth would say “NOW is the time to start”), maybe you should give yourself a prod by picking up a copy of The Icarus Deception and seeing if the prodigious Seth Godin can exhort you to go make some art.

Since writing Linchpin in 2010 (my review), Seth has been on a campaign to get us out of our comfort zones and creating the art that is within each and everyone of us, but we are just to scared to let it free.

Seth is on top of a major movement here – according to the Census Bureau about 3/4 of US firms have no payroll (21.4 million vs 5.9 million with a payroll).  If you add in small businesses with less than 10 employees (77% of 3.6 million of the 5.9 million) the segment is even bigger.  At 21.4 million the self-employed sector is nearly 2x the employment size of  largest industry segment (education at about 12 million).  The change appears to be accelerating too (as a proxy, those working from home grew 41% in the last decade to 13.5 million)

It’s a spin on the old follow your passion line – it’s better to love and lose than to never have loved at all. He argues passionately and persuasively that the people wrongly assume they are taking the low risk path in a “safe” corporate career that they don’t care about.

That’s the clever and unexpected component of the title of this book – the part no one ever talks about is that Daedalus told his son not to fly to low either – because being too close to sea there would be no lift.

There’s a lot of repetition, but there are also some handy ideas and lists and a few (albeit brief) case studies.  Seth works hard to make sure you get what art is and requires:  being vulnerable and honest, relentless persistency (grit), putting your best work out there, realizing those who value your art will find it, and learning to live with the inevitable trolls who won’t value what you do.

Like most of Seth’s books it’s a quick and easy read.  If you’re still procrastinating, this might get you moving.

The one critical flaw that turned my Nike+ SportWatch GPS into a non-functional piece of jewelry

I was so excited to get the Nike+ SportWatch GPS a couple of years ago for Christmas. It was stripped down to key functionality (distance and pace, time, backlight, upload results to cloud), offered some nice options (add a foot pod and a HR strap) and looks cool (one of the few watches I’ve ever owned to receive multiple compliments)

20130127-110659.jpg

All show, no go!

The watch has worked well, with one critical and debilitating flaw that has turned it into a piece of jewelry. In technical gear Nike has exhibited the “all show, no go” syndrome (for example, the Nike Running cloud software looks fantastic but has limited useful functionality when it comes to reporting) and this watch has ultimately suffered from this.

Critical Lesson: Design for partial failure conditions (aka, always provide a workaround)

The watch relies on what appeared to be a very clever USB connection hidden in the strap buckle (see photos).

20130127-110815.jpg

Now you see it

Now you don't

Now you don’t

This is the only way to recharge the device, and to upload runs, clear memory, update watch firmware and settings via the Nike Connect software on PC and Mac.

Unfortunately the wires between the USB plug and the watch itself are not robust and partially failed (of course about 3 months after the one year warranty) and despite numerous calls to the nice folks at Nike Support and multiple attempts the watch is no longer recognized as connected by the Nike Connect software. It can still be recharged however.

Doesn’t sound too bad right? Can still use it to record runs and manually record the distance and time, right? Well yes, until the memory fills up and one discovers there is no way to delete what is in memory, either through a simple erase capability on the watch (best) a device reset (ok), or running down the power (painful, but doable), and the watch will not record new runs once the memory is full.

Final injustice? Watch is not repairable or serviceable in any way.

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Where the band meets the watch is where the connection failure occurred

So I’m left with a chunky piece of jewelry that tells the time. Another failed piece of running technology (more reviews on more devices to come)

My plea to product designers: think about failure conditions and how your device will work (or not) once those occur and always provide a workaround! Even if that means just making it repairable.

Ever owned a piece of technology with the same flaw? I’d love to hear your stories.

It took Thomas Keller to teach me the secret of beautiful poached eggs

Keller cookbooksI’ve always loved poached eggs ever since my grandma used to make them for breakfast on top of toast and promite (a sweeter version of vegemite).  The splash of yellow as you cut into the yolk and the luscious unctuous sauce the yolk makes.

I never had much luck with making them.  Seemed like there was always strands of white all over the saucepan.

 

Enter Thomas Keller.  Sorry, not in person.  But through two beautiful cookbooks I received for Christmas – the very ambitious The French Laundry Cookbook and the more relaxed Ad Hoc at Home.

Time: 5 mins to boil the water, 2 mins to cook the egg

Start with a deep saucepan. Boil the water, and add 2 Tbsp vinegar.

Here’s the secret:  Create a whirlpool in the saucepan by stirring and break the egg into that gently.  Then drop the heat so it doesn’t hit the bottom and stick but spins beautifully in that little whirlpool.

poached egg whirlpoolRemove after 2 mins with a slotted spoon and you have poached egg perfection.

Repeat for how ever many eggs you want to do.  If you’re Thomas Keller presentation crazy you put them in an ice bath, dress them up by snipping off any straggly bits and reheat them later.  But they look pretty damn good after the whirlpool treatment and I say eat ’em while hot.

If you want to get healthy serve these over some wilted greens and some warmed cannellini beans with garlic, salt, pepper, lemon, chili pepper flakes (or Sriracha sauce).  Asparagus and bacon are great adds too.  Or follow my grandma’s lead and go Aussie-style with some nice thick toast with vegemite.  Below is a tasty Mexican inspired breakfast from the other day.

Egg with black bean and roasted poblano chile salad and avocado

Egg with black bean and roasted poblano chile salad and avocado

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers.

TSA Pre – The best gift of the holiday season

tsa_preIf you’re a frequent traveller, airport security is a constant pain if for no other reason than the uncertain duration.   Even with premier access lines for frequent fliers, at airports like SFO, EWR and ORD the premier access lines can take 15+ minutes.  For most of last year, I used to head up to the premier line at International to avoid the monster premier access security lines at United Domestic (and the United Club is better there too).

Life before TSA Pre

Along comes TSA Pre.  Suddenly the barcode on your boarding pass grants access to a lane with no one in it.  You leave everything on except bulky winter jackets (no need to take off shoes, belts and sweaters),  laptop and liquids stay in the bag, and no full-body scanner.  It’s just so civilized.   And so quick.

Life after TSA Pre

Flying out of SFO on New Year’s Day my morning looked grim with another monster queue, when all of a sudden I spy the TSA Pre lane, my hopes are raised, and the lady scans my boarding pass and waves me through.  And I’m through in barely a minute, without having to go through the whole uncomfortable undress and unpack business.  Leaving Chicago on Thursday, same fabulous experience. It really does feel like Christmas.  I guess I’ll be annoyed at any airports that don’t have it now…

Very easy to sign up.  Just Google TSA Pre + [Name of your airline] to find the sign up page.  For United, all I had to do was tick a box saying I wanted in and press submit.

Go on, give yourself the gift that will keep on giving.

Safe travels, all!

Simple tricks for improving your success with New Year’s Resolutions

resolutionRecent research suggests you are ten times more likelihood of succeeding with New Year’s resolutions if you explicitly commit to them (such as by writing) vs. just thinking about them – it’s the difference between intention and commitment.

How incredible is it that 46% of those explicitly making resolutions are maintaining them after 6 months vs. 4% of those who don’t? That seems like pretty good odds to me – you have nearly a one in two chance of long term success with a resolution if you write it down!

If you want to increase your chances of success further, make resolutions some or all of these:

  • Specific (how many, where, what, by when)
  • Realistic (lose 10 or 20 pounds not 100 pounds in weight),
  • Public (fear of embarrassment if fail), Shared (who’d let a friend down – share a goal to run weekly or train for a specific race)
  • Competitive (challenge a friend to beat you in achieving the resolution)

So to increase my own chances of success, related to this blog,  in 2013, I will:

  1. Enter and train specifically for 4 marathons or ultras, at least one international, in locations on my list of places to travel to.
  2. Post on training, racing, eating, travelling, and hopefully useful “life hacks” like this once a week.
  3. Have folks over for a dinner I will cook using at least one new recipe once a month.

So far, (if I can count New Year’s Eve!) I’m off to a good start.

  1. Entered the Napa Valley marathon for 3/1, the Gorges Waterfalls 50k on 3/31 on the Columbia River, and the Swissalpine K78 in Davos, Switzerland.  I’m hoping to get into the UROC 100k on 9/28 from Breckenridge to Vail.  That’ll take me to Colorado destinations like Vail, and Oregon destinations like Bend and Ashford (I’m planning an awesome running and craft brewery road trip around Oregon after the 50k) and a chance to visit Switzerland and see the alpine stages of the Tour de France.
  2. Resurrected this blog with this post and a list of topics.
  3. Cooked for 4 last night from a bevy of new cookbooks that I received for Christmas 🙂 Zuni Cafe’s cookbook Roast Chicken with Bread Salad  along with Roasted Root Vegetables and a Squash, Farro and Black Rice salad from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.

Ok. I’m committed. What are you committing to?

Here’s to succeeding at our resolutions in 2013 🙂

An unlikely idea for improving airline boarding – help us!

(Inspired by recent experiences and an Economist Gulliver blog post )

I’ve regularly experienced Southwest boarding passengers in 10-15 minutes with no assigned seating. And I’ve regularly experienced large carriers like United that board by rows taking 30-45 minutes. Why? Bags travel free on Southwest so there’s less demand for overhead space. And as others have noted, unassigned is faster and surprisingly better than assigned seating. I’ve never had a bad seat on Southwest with no status, whereas unless I’m Gold status (50K miles/year) or above on a large carrier, getting a good seat is a source of stress, which is only multiplied if you’re travelling with a family – on 5 of 5 recent trips our booking has been split by the airline despite our requests to keep them combined.

On airlines like United, first class and then all the myriad tiers of frequent fliers board, often filling all the overhead space and then having to swim upstream back to front of plane as the remaining non-frequent fliers try to get to back of plane, and discover there is no space for their bags and then they have to swim upstream to check their bags. The last minute upgrades to First Class and serving of drinks and hanging of jackets add additional delays to the boarding process (although the latter two are not an issue on 757s and larger where the “lower classes” don’t have to walk through First to get to their seats).

On deplaning, the problem is reversed as frequent fliers now have to go towards the back of the plane to retrieve their bags against the stream of the deplaning passengers. If you’re a frequent flier, you’re only getting on the plane early to make sure you can get your bag in the overhead near where you are sitting. The whole process is inefficient and unpleasant for everyone.

Idea: (If they don’t want to follow the superior Southwest model, or won’t make the overhead storage bigger and/or enforce a smaller overhead bag) Could baggage handlers load the carry on bag into the overheads near the assigned seats and gate check the bags if they don’t fit? Then board from the back to the front, and from the windows to the aisles. Not a solution for late arriving aircraft and will add tangible costs of extra labor vs. intangibles of delays. But would be a nice service improvement.

2011 Way Too Cool 50k Enhanced Course Map

I’m one of the lucky ones who got into Way too  Cool 50K next Saturday.  The official course map I found hard to read, and a little annoying in the way it was cut up.  Personally, I like to see course elevation, directions and distance between aid stations all on one page.

The first 8 miles - flattish but prone to navigational errors

It appears the first loop is more prone to errors than the rest of the course despite being only 8 miles, judging by the directions, so for these reasons I put the first loop on page 1 and the second on page 2.

The business end - the last 23 miles

These are definitely not pretty, but hopefully they are functional and readable while running 🙂

Obviously a huge thanks and credit to the writers of the instructions, and the Fit 2 Run, Inc. folks who did the topo maps, hence the source credit on the bottom of each page.

 

Please let me know of any errors you find, or if you know the actual mileage marks of some of the turns as I had to guess some of them by eyeballing the map and interpolating the instructions.  I’ve uploaded it as a PowerPoint show (.ppsx) so you can edit in PowerPoint with your own annotations or just print it as is.

WTC 2011 50k course

Hoping you may find these useful, and hoping to see you out there on March 12th 🙂

12 reasons why you should run an ultra instead of a marathon

Finishing at Quicksilver – my daughter is running me in 🙂

I’m still a little baffled by my recent experience successfully completing the Quicksilver 50 miler. Like much else in ultra-running it appears counter-intuitive. Maybe I was just lucky.  Isn’t 50 miles supposed to be way harder than a marathon? Shouldn’t the body break down after 8 ½ hours of running, leading to some sort of self-actualizing moment? I think I heard trail running is growing faster than any other sport. For those of you looking for a challenge to get you motivated to get fit, I offer 12 reasons why your next challenge should be an ultra instead of a road marathon.

1. Way better bragging rights
It seems like every man, woman and child has run a marathon by now. Tell someone you’re running a marathon and they’ll just nod and wish you luck. If you say you’re running an ultra, you invariably pique their interest. Almost no one even knows what an ultra is, let alone has run one. When you explain its longer than a marathon the average person’s eyes widen in awe. Bonus: the easiest ultra is 50km, which most people will confuse with miles, so you may well get credit for 50 miles, even though you’re only running about 31 miles.

2. No one cares how fast you run it
After your first marathon, it’s all about how fast you can run it. Can you qualify for Boston? Because no one know what on earth an ultra is, they have no idea how long it should take. Especially if it’s in kilometers. Add in the fact that every ultra trail is different with staggeringly different terrain, and that when things go wrong, the minutes can really add up, and you have completely unpredictable race times. And once you start talking about being on your feet for over 5 hours, everyone is so amazed by the duration, they never get around to computing the velocity.

3. Fewer injuries (you can run the next day)
If you’ve ever run a road marathon, if you don’t get injured trying to make it to race day,  you know how beat up you are after you finish, hobbling around. Not so with ultras.  You can even start training for them injured and still finish just fine.  After my first 50km race, I ran 6 miles with my wife the next day. A week after Quicksilver, I ran 10 minutes faster than I ever have on one of my favorite 13 mile trail courses. They say you should only run 1 or 2 marathons a year because of the damage it does.  There are people running ultras every other week.  My theory on this one is that in a road marathon, if you’re running for a specific time, you’re redlining the whole way. You want to cross that finish line, completely spent without a drop of energy left in your body. On an ultra, you always run within your means to avoid blowing up. To give you a sense of this, if I put the hammer down in a trail run, I invariably get crippling calf cramps after about 2 ½ hours, no matter how much water, electrolytes and/or salt tabs I take . As soon as I back off 5-10% in effort, I can run 8 ½ hours without cramping. Just like a car can only redline for a short time before overheating, we humans can only keep going if we stay consistently below the redline.

4. Walking is encouraged
There’s a certain degree of animosity in road marathons between the runners and walkers. Not so in ultras. And only the top contenders can actually run up those hills. Mere mortals keep heart rates under control – see the comments on redlining above. If you want to finish, don’t waste your energy running up the hills. Once the perceived exertion, or heart rate (if you’re using a HR monitor) hits your lactate threshold, time to back off and walk. But learn how to bomb the down hills – such an easy way to make up time.

5. More happy people
If you’ve ever been in a marathon, you’ll know there’s a large number of extremely tense people. They are very stressed about running their best possible time. At an ultra, people are there to have a good time, take it easy, and enjoy the scenery. There is no prize money at stake – everyone gets the same t-shirt or finisher’s medal. So there’s just a ton of goodwill and camaraderie.

6. It seems like you get better as you get older
The proportion of folks in their fifties, sixties and seventies running ultras is way higher than for marathons. I’d like to think this is because they’re just plain wiser. And they obviously have a lot of time on their hands. But given all that free time, the running must be pretty fun for it win over all the other recreation options they could choose. And finally it can’t be too bad for you, if seventy year olds are still doing it.

7. You can eat whatever you like
In the world of marathons and triathlons it’s all hi-tech energy drinks, bars, gels and powders. Hardly what Michael Pollan would call “food”. At ultras there are typically bananas and oranges and cookies and potatoes and PB&J sandwiches at aid stations. There are tales of people eating pizzas at aid stations. Chocolate milk, turkey sandwiches and burritos are popular. Not only do you need a ton of food if you’re running for this long, but you’re stomach tends to enjoy real food much more than gels or other concoctions. At Quicksilver I couldn’t get gels to go down, but my body was just taking as many bananas and potatoes as I could eat. Because you’re not redlining, your body can digest more complex foods. And of course, if you’re running all those miles and burning all that fat, you get to eat more in general, which is a huge plus.

8. No more speed work
Every time I’ve tried to add speed work to improve my marathon times, I’ve got injured. With ultras, if you’re going anaerobic, unless you’re actually in a position to win a race, you’re going too fast. Just not necessary. Ok, you need to run a lot of hills. But the best training is literally time on your feet learning how to run long, easy and smooth, and how to burn fat. You’ve got about 2000 calories available as glycogen from carbohydrates, but 50,000 from fat. No amount of carbo-loading is going to meet your needs, so your body has to be comfortable using those fat stores – that means you need a few long (3 hours plus), slow training runs.

9. Less time training
Despite these long runs, you really don’t need to run that much.  Arguably you can get by with less than you need for a marathon. A lot of marathon programs involve up to 6 days a week of training with mileage in the 30-50 miles per week range. Much like my training for the Quad Dipsea, I ran Quicksilver with 12 weeks of training in the 25-50 miles per week range based on just 3 days per week of aerobic training: a long run (12-32 miles) on the weekend, up to 1 hours in the gym with some combo of bike/elliptical/stairclimber/ fast hill walk/ fast run, and a medium 6-10 mile run. I even stopped the yoga and stretching. I periodize each 4 week bracket into 1 hard, 2 medium and 1 easy week, and do 2-3 longer long runs (18-32 miles) and 1-2 shorter long (12-16 miles) runs per week. I try to do 2 races as part of the prep – around 20 miles long for a 50km, or 50km for a 50 miler. These build confidence and simulate the challenges of trying not to run too fast and how food and drink go down when you’re running a little harder. . As I said, it’s all counter intuitive. How can one do so little, and still run strong for nearly twice the distance and over twice the time of a marathon?

10. More fun
Trust me it’s a lot more fun to run 3 hours in the woods than 3 hours on the road. The scenery is way better. You’re mind calms down in amongst all that nature. Plenty of time to think through all your problems. You get to witness the passing of seasons as wildflowers come and go, the trails get muddy and dry, the creeks and waterfalls get full and then empty. And because you’re not redlining, no need to spend the afternoon in bed recovering.

11. You don’t need to buy any fancy gear (but you can if you want to)
In your first ultra, don’t be tempted to try to outrun the old-timer in a ratty old cotton t-shirt, cotton shorts and beaten up no-name sneakers. I tried this on in my first 30km trail race, and was trashed by a guy matching this description who ended up coming second in the 50km on that day. Mind you that was 10 years ago, and the front runners now are typically sponsored, and most people are wearing all manner of technical gear. If you’ve got the cash, it’s can be fun to buy a bunch of gear. It’s just nice to remember you don’t need it. If the Tarohumara regularly run 50 miles in sandals and a tunic, so can you.

12. If you listen to audiobooks, you can “read” a book a week
This is a bonus. You can appear amazingly well read even if you don’t like reading (which I do, but if you’re not travelling, and if you fall asleep when trying to read horizontally, it can be hard to find the time). Sometimes it’s great to just run for the sheer pleasure of it: no watch, no HR monitor, no headphones, just taking in the sounds and sights of the forest. Other times, a good book can be a very enjoyable way to pass the time on a long run. I’ve enjoyed listening to and learning from: Crush It!, Outliers, The Big Short, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and most of all , Born to Run on my long runs this year.

If you’ve already made the switch to ultras, I’d love to hear your reasons for switching.  If you’re thinking about it, what’s stopping you?  Have fun out there.