The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Running

Training Tips From Ultimate Mountain Man Josiah Middaugh

The GoPro Mountain Games are a little more hardcore than your average weekend sports festival. After all, this is the place where an obstacle course is called the Badass Dash and the half marathon route climbs 2,900 feet and 13.7 (not 13.1!) miles to the top of Vail Mountain Pass.

The Games' most hardcore athletes tackle not one, but four events over two days. This combination of kayaking, mountain and road biking, and trail running is called the Ultimate Mountain Challenge (UMC). For the past eight years Vail local Josiah Middaugh has dominated the UMC, claiming the title of Ultimate Mountain Man and taking home the coveted golden hatchet. 

What does one do with a golden hatchet? We didn't know, so we asked. The 35-year-old father of three was nice enough to tell us a bit about his training and nutrition, too.

The hatchet is real; it's great for camping but not so great for kids. At the awards ceremony, my kids were running around the podium with it. We are going to try and keep it away from them. 

The GoPro Mountain Games isn’t a big deal for me. It’s is a local event. I live right down the road so this is where I train; it’s nice to compete in my hometown. 

You pay the price if you come into a race beat down from hard workouts. I don’t have any high-intensity workouts a week before competing.

I’m a multisport athlete, so I train for each event at the same time. On a weekend, I will go for a long swim, long mountain bike ride, and a short run on Saturday. Then on Sunday, I will run anywhere from 12 to 15 miles off-road.

When you train for three to five hours a day, you have to eat. A lot. I eat 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. I eat a lot of high-calorie foods and carbohydrates. 

My diet is not bizarre. It's just double the portion size of most people’s. I’m vegetarian because I grew up eating vegetarian. Hunger dictates what I eat—and I eat carbs and gluten and sugar and dairy. Fad diets are like cults.

Ice cream, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and sea salt kettle-cooked chips are what I crave. Man, I love those things and I eat them quite a bit. More than I probably should.

The 10K trail run portion of the UMC usually leaves me the most sore—it is straight up and down Vail Mountain.

There are two hours in between the 10K and the 9.75-mile road bike time trial. I carried my 4-year-old son around Vail Village for one of those hours.

Kayaking is my weakest event. But this year, a buddy owed me a beer after not catching me in the Class II down river sprint during the UMC. I don’t really party down after wins, though.

This year’s GoPro Games win celebration consisted of my wife and me just getting the kids home and getting back to work. I cooked dinner. That’s what you do when you have kids aged four, eight, and ten.

The satisfaction is enough of a reward. I have big goals for this race season.

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the 2014 GoPro Mountain Games:

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The Tyrants of Running Fashion

Runner Maggie Vessey knows how to turn heads. At last week’s Prefontaine Classic track meet in Oregon, the 32-year-old nabbed silver in the 800-meter event, then promptly garnered more press for her designer duds than her impressive kick.

In a sea of muted running outfits, Vessey rocked a kit Runner’s World described as “a bright Navajo-inspired print with long sleeves on top, and a skimpy, strappy bottom. And she sported Chanel earrings.” The move garnered a lot of attention and made us wonder if we could expect to see more exciting fashion choices on the red carpet—er, track.

Sadly, says elite runner Lauren Fleshman, the answer is probably not. Strict clothing regulations enforced by both national and international track and field governing bodies (USATF and IAAF) is the main reason. Athletes and their sponsors must comply with those policies, which include rules about coloring, and logo size and placement. (Check out a video Fleshman’s sponsor, Oiselle, created showing the difficulties sponsors face in getting USATF approval for their designs.)

The rules have come under fire in the past few years for restricting athletes’ sponsorship opportunities. And while the rules haven’t effectively budged despite athletes' heavy campaigning, there is a loophole: unsponsored athletes can wear pretty much whatever they want.

Vessey isn’t the first athlete to take advantage of that fact. As the Eugene Register-Guard reported in 1999, high jumper Amy Acuff “competed in the Millrose Games wearing an Anne Klein-designed strapless two-piece fur outfit.” More recently, 3,000-meter steeplechaser Alexi Pappas showed up to meets wearing a homemade singlet with polka-dot stripes, and a Spiderman top. Aric Van Halen ran the 3,000-meter steeplechase at this year’s Payton Jordan Invitational in a jersey featuring the torso-sized face of the Mona Lisa.

Of course, the costumes aren’t just for fun. The media coverage they get can help attract sponsors. Acuff signed with Asics, while Pappas signed with the Nike Oregon Track Club. Vessey, a former New Balance athlete, will likely attract new sponsors as well. Should she sign, the fashion show would effectively come to an end.  

But there’s another reason we shouldn’t expect to see more outrageous clothes on the track that has nothing to do with regulations.

Fleshman brings up a study outlined in the New York Times that looked into how clothes affect self-perception. In the study, people were given a coat, then asked to take a test. When they were told the coat belonged to a doctor, they performed significantly better on the test than when they believed the coat belonged to a painter.

“That’s part of the reason why there are certain things that keep repeating in athletic uniforms,” Fleshman says. “Someone like me who grew up watching the pros—I watched X who looked like X and wore X. So that’s what I associate with being world class. I think it’s difficult to evolve fashion too much without feeling like you’re sacrificing performance.”

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Meb's No-Impact Workout Weapon

When I first heard that running pros—the likes of Meb Keflezighi and Magdalena Lewy Boulet—were supplementing their training with elliptical-style bikes, I was skeptical. Why ellipti-cycle when you could run? Why drop 3Gs on such a funny contraption when you could buy a carbon fiber bike for less? When I heard that ElliptiGO, the leader of this low-impact revolution, holds a 100-mile world championship event in September, I rolled my eyes. "Who are these weirdos?" I wondered. What’s the deal?

But despite my skepticism, when an ElliptiGO 8C arrived at Outside HQ, I was eager to try the product that so many professional and/or injured runners have raved about. I walked the gargantuan, 44-pound machine onto the Santa Fe Rail Trail and hopped on. 

Getting started is the hardest part. ElliptiGOs are about 11 inches off the ground, so you have to simultaneously jump on with one foot and push off with the other. I got off to a wobbly start: I'd erroneously assumed riding the ElliptiGO would be like riding a bicycle, that my feet would move in big, looping circles beneath me. But, like an elliptical machine (and like running, for that matter), your feet stay on a relatively flat plain. It’s a very forward motion, as opposed to a more centralized pedaling motion. After a minute or two, I fell into a comfortably rhythm. The wind whipped through my hair, and I felt alive for once on a Monday morning.*

{%{"quote":"“Meb got really excited about the ElliptiGO. As he’s aging, he feels that fear of injury more and more.”"}%}

Apparently, that’s the whole point of the ElliptiGO: feeling alive. Or, more specifically, helping runners (who are injured or have bad knees or are otherwise unable to run) to achieve a runner’s high. “It’s for people like me, who miss that experience of running,” says ElliptiGO founder Bryan Pate, a former Ironman triathlete who suffered knee and hip injuries. “The bike just doesn’t fulfill the runner’s high."

Pate dreamed up ElliptiGO in 2005 and sold his first contraption in 2010. The Solana Beach-based company has now sold more than 10,000 bikes and works with more than 100 elite athletes. Of that group, Keflezighi is the most well-known. “Meb got really excited about the ElliptiGO,” Pate says. “As he’s aging, he feels that fear of injury more and more.” The ElliptiGO allows him to have a cardio workout with minimal impact, which is particularly useful for recovery. “Instead of doing a 5-mile recovery run, he’ll go out and ride the ElliptiGO for an hour and a half,” Pate says. “So he gets a way better cardiovascular experience because he gets the blood moving, but he puts zero pounding on his body. When he goes to work out the next day, he’s way fresher.” 

Okay, that makes sense. But what if you want more than a recovery workout? “I just went for a run in Central Park on an ElliptiGO and my heart rate was probably 180,” Pate says. “It was the real deal.” ElliptiGOs—which have many of the same components as bicycles, just arranged a little differently—can reach speeds of more than 23 miles per hour and climb hills with a 30 percent grade. They have gears that allow you to tackle inclines, and hand brakes to slow you down. They also come sans-shocks, and aren't intended for technical off-roading (mellow trails are OK). 

The handlebars are reminiscent of those on a Razor scooter—flat and supported by a long stem. Balancing with one arm is tricky at first—removing a hand to signal to traffic might result in you falling off the ElliptiGO—but as with riding a bicycle, practice makes perfect.

Practice also makes you faster, which is why the company has teamed up with running legend Greg McMillan, who's agreed to write training plans for runners who'll use the ElliptiGO to help them PR (in running, not ElliptiGOing). Pate uses Keflezighi as an example: “I mean, if you think about how unlikely it was that Meb would have fun faster than he ever has in his career at age 38 without doing something different training-wise, that’s not gonna happen. The fact that he changed his training is what led him to be able to do that.” 

Maybe when I am 38 years old, I will agree. Although I enjoyed my ElliptiGO experience, I am not a complete believer—yet. But I will say, with the glide factor, riding an ElliptiGO is way easier than going out for a run. And, the ElliptiGO fills a void that long distance running often lacks: pure speed. You can go really fast on an ElliptiGO, and there is a sense of weightlessness while riding it. You are guaranteed to have fun on board.

You’re also guaranteed to get some really weird looks from strangers. 

*Helmets are recommended for ElliptiGO riding.

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