The Best Stuff I Read Last Week — ‘Failure’ Edition

It makes me a little sad to report that I’m not going to be running 100 miles on June 4th.  But I’m okay with that.

The reason?  No excuses or blaming external circumstances.  I honestly just haven’t found the discipline recently to get out there for 20, 30, and 50 mile training runs.   It’s not anyone’s fault but my own, and I can handle that.

One ultrarunner friend of mine encouraged me to go down to Virginia and run it anyway.  “You just ran a marathon,” he said.  “Given that and the fact that you’ve done a few 50’s, you can make it through a hundred.”

Hmm.  Crazy as that sounds, it’s how these ultrarunners think, and maybe he’s right.   But that’s not how I want to do it.  I’ve run a few races without being prepared, and it’s not fun.  Not just because it hurts so bad, but because it makes it impossible to really look forward to the race and enjoy all that goes along with it.

Does that make this a failure?

Sure.  For now.  But it ultimately won’t be.

When I do run my first hundred, which I have zero doubt that I will someday (I still hope to do it within the next year), this will just be the first step I took on the way to doing it.  Not a step I’ll be especially proud of, but I’ll be able to say that it got the process started.

Isn’t that the only way to look at failure?

A new training experiment

Some good has come from this, and that’s a renewed interest in running fast.  Since I qualified for Boston a year and a half ago, almost all my running has been of the long, slow variety, usually in preparation for 50K’s or 50-milers.  But running the Boston Marathon helped me realize that I do want to run fast again to get back there, and that’s been key for my motivation.

So I’ve been hitting the track again, and loving running like I haven’t in a long time.  And though the next few races on my schedule are ultras (the Vermont 50 again, for one), I want to see what happens if I do mostly short, fast training — lots of track workouts and tempo runs, under eight miles or so, with just a few longish runs sprinkled in to keep the aerobic system in shape.

So yeah, I could dwell on failure.  But instead, I’ll be excited that running is fun again, and to be trying something new.  That’s what I’m taking from this.

New Balance winner!

Alright, we have a winner for the New Balance 890’s giveaway.  It’s…

“Kim in MD,” who said:

Thanks for a chance to win!As my 60 year-old father has run 50+ marathons & ultras and he refuses to go anywhere near the minimalist running, I’m in the cushioned camp. But I am always interested to hear how others feel about this issue. It’s a pretty big commitment to transition over, if you’re unsure.

The conspiracy theorists will note that Kim is from my home state of Maryland, but I can assure you I don’t know Kim and that the drawing was random.  Thanks to everyone who entered and left interesting comments about the minimalist footwear debate, as well as to New Balance for doing the giveaway.

And finally, the links

Here they are, the most interesting articles (well, one’s a video) I found last week.  Enjoy.

How to Run a Marathon with (Almost) No Training — Location 180

I didn’t think I was going to like this post.  As I alluded to above, so much is missing from the whole race experience when you’re not prepared for the distance, even if you can manage to drag yourself across the finish line.

But as I kept reading, I recognized that the things that kept Sean going (when the furthest he had run in “training” was eight miles) are the same things that keep everyone going when they’re running farther than they ever have before.

Anyway, it’s an interesting read, and that message isn’t “why bother training?”  Instead, it’s “you’re capable of way more than you realize,” and I like that.

Splenda — Made from Sugar, but is Closer to DDT — Mercola

If you’re still consuming artificial sweeteners, this one’s for you.  The hype-y DDT headline is intriguing, but that comparison doesn’t seem too meaningful to me (how about you, chemists?).  Still, I’m glad this stuff is making news.

Yes, sugar is probably at the heart of the obesity epidemic, but artificial sweeteners are no “solution.”  And that is a really, really bad chemistry joke.

Forks Over Knives

It’s in a few theaters now, with lots more being added in the coming weeks.  There’s a ton of buzz around this film, and I believe it’s going to do a lot to change the way people eat.

As you know if you’re a regular No Meat Athlete reader, I don’t write much about ethical issues here.  I think they’re important and interesting, but I’m not comfortable preaching about what’s right and wrong.  I like writing about running and about feeling great and having the energy to do awesome stuff, and I personally know I can do a lot more good that way than I could with another, guilt-driven approach.

Forks Over Knives appears to take the same tack, focusing on how this diet can improve our health as the reason to go vegan (it doesn’t really even mention veganism in the marketing).  So that’s why I’m excited about it.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I think they’re going to send me a screener, so look for a review here soon.

Get Started — from Overweight to Healthy — Zen Habits

A lot of times I think about where you possibly start when you are significantly overweight, and how hard it must be to make drastic changes to your eating habits or to start exercising.  Especially when exercise itself is so miserable, precisely because the fact that you’re overweight makes it hard to actually do the activity that’s required to change that.

So I suppose you take it on in the same way you take on any overwhelming task, which is by breaking it down and taking some action, no matter how small.  That’s the approach here, and it seemed worth sharing to me.  I’d love to hear what you think about it, if you’ve dealt with weight issues, either successfully or unsuccessfully.

Alright, that’s all for today.  I’m heading into my last week of school, so I’m hoping to be able to write a lot more posts in the coming weeks and months.  See you soon!



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  1. I love how you are totally honest about your training, I think a lot of us can relate to not having the energy or time to do 20 mile training runs! 🙂

    I can’t wait to see forks over knives! 🙂

  2. Matt! It just so happens I might be doing the Vermont 50 miler this September as well (It’s the same race right?). Let’s do this!!!

    • That is awesome, Scott! Yes, same race. So that treadmillathon you did got you bitten by the ultra bug, huh? 🙂 Well maybe once you finish Vermont three or four hours ahead of me, you can turn around and come find me and run the rest of way with me… what’s another 20 miles when you’ve already done 50, right?

      Seriously, we’ll have to meet up there if you end up running it!

      • Hah, I think it was more those 30 mile long runs at a good clip that got my interest peaked…but the treadmillathon sure didn’t hurt. Funny thing, it was my wife’s idea, and we are using it to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. Well…4 months to train! I’m going to need to talk to you more about your experience with the course and training as this is totally new territory for me. And of course we’ll meet up.

        • Definitely, I’ll be happy to tell you about the course. As for training advice, I don’t know that I’ll have much to offer the sub-2:30 marathoner. 🙂 But I can help you find good vegan breakfast in Vermont!

  3. Matt,

    The bottom line is that you have a goal to shoot towards. Reading your earlier post about Boston, sub-3 hours would be an excellent goal to achieve. The ultra intrigues me, but I personally feel I need to focus on one particular goal…getting to Boston.

    Being a born-again runner, I feel that goal setting (and achievement) is the best part about the sport (or any endurance sport for that matter). It fuels the passion to get on the road.

    Best of luck…great site.


    • That’s a really good point, Steve. Just today I was thinking about how great running is for that reason, that you can set personal goals that are so meaningful, even if you have no hope of ever competing at a truly high level. With lots of other sports, you don’t have that.

      Boston is such a great goal. Qualifying for it (along with the struggle and pain that went into it) is one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I’m sure you’ll find the same.

  4. The fact you can even consider doing a 100 mile run is insane to me. I have a ton of respect for you for being in anywhere near that kind of shape – I have even more respect now that I know what it feels like to finish 26.2.

    Thanks a ton for the mention, and glad you enjoyed the post!


    • Thanks Sean. As crazy as a 100-miler might sound, I don’t think it takes an insane level of fitness as much as it takes mental strength. Think about like this. If you ran a marathon after running 8 miles for your longest run, then someone who is in marathon shape could (by extrapolation) run around 80 miles (3 x 26.2) on mental strength. Of course, this assumes the distance you’re capable of running on mental strength is proportional to your longest training run, and who knows if that’s true, but you see my point.

      And that, I suspect, is why my friend said I could still go down there and do the 100 since I can run a marathon without a lot of difficulty. And I do hear about a surprising number of people who run 100’s without ever doing a 50-miler in their training.

      Congratulations on your marathon and on a unique blog post worth linking to!

      • Thanks man, it was definitely a big accomplishment! But you really do bring up a good point, whether it can be proven or not, the theory makes sense.

        The biggest thing I realized is that its really my own boredom standing in the way of getting in much better “marathon” shape. By finding ways to keep myself more entertained by running, I think I could probably do much, much better.

        Will keep you posted!

  5. I always love these posts =) I love finding new reading material!

    Having been overweight (although not obese) and rather out of shape (couldn’t even run half a mile without stopping) and become very fit and healthy, I can say that no two people will find success using the same approach. I went the “small steps” path several times before but because progress was so slow I always gave up & returned to my habits. But when I dove in and started counting every calorie, lifting 5 days a week and doing cardio 5 days a week, taking vitamins, the whole deal, I saw results quicker and so I stuck with it permanently. That’s just me though — everyone is different!

    • I can see that. I can imagine that to someone who is overweight, the thrill of progress towards becoming fit again (and actually being able to see and feel the results in every aspect of their lives) must be an incredible motivator. My guess is that those who do successfully lose a lot of weight probably do get really into it and dive in, simply as a result of excitement at the changes.

  6. Jon Weisblatt says:

    I can’t wait to see Forks Over Knives. Been looking forward to it for over a year. If anyone get the chance to hear T. Colin Campbell live he’s a great speaker.

    • I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to hearing Campbell, because I still haven’t read the China Study. I’m so busy now that I know I’d have trouble getting through it. One day.

  7. The idea of those kind of 20, 30, 50 mile training runs is the very reason I’m not signing up for ultras anytime soon!

  8. Matt,
    I’ve done 12 and 24 hr races, 180mi bike races, and day’s long climbing marathons–and I don’t blame you at all. I didn’t do my first ultra for those same reasons.

    Here’s an idea: Have you tried using the Crossfit Endurance site for your training? They’re training ultra athletes (50-100mi) and they never run more than 13.1 mi in any single training session.

    I’ve done it, and loved it. You have to do it all the way though, or you’ll DNF.

    Just an idea.

    • Matt, that’s exactly what I was thinking about when I wrote this (I actually had a line about that, but deleted it during editing to avoid introducing to many ideas).

      So my question though… when you say “do it all the way through,” do you mean their specific program? Do you think simply doing tons of speedwork and occasional long runs, without following a specific program, is asking for trouble?

      • Matt,
        I meant that if you were going to do the CFE program, you can’t skimp on the workouts, not do all the runs, or skip the weights–that’s bound to fail.

        On the other hand, since you are an experienced runner, you could probably design your own plan and do well. I agree with more speed, less total mileage.

        Easiest way to do that may be to join your local track club and run with them 3-4x/week–have them push you till you puke. I’ve done that and running with them really helped.

        If I were going to do an ultra on less than conventional mileage, I’d want to do strength training 2-3x/week–mostly strength/power: 5 sets of 3 reps with 85-90% of your max. Have you heard of Barry Ross? Check out his training philosophy.

        Might be fun to write an unconventional sample training plan (or two) and do it as a post on NMA. That might give people some ideas.

        I’d be willing to help with that if you want.

        Matt R.

  9. Matt, I had to go through the same decision making process for my first 100 that was supposed to be a few months ago. In my case, 5 months of little to no training just didn’t make me relish the prospect of trying to run 100 miles, so I just downgraded myself and turned it into my most expensive marathon to date.

  10. Hey Matt,
    I’m curious to find out how your training plan goes. I’ve generally (tried to) followed traditional marathon training plans, but some of my best marathon times have been when I’ve had to cut back on mileage because of injury or weather (too hot down south to get in a 20 miler at a decent pace in the summer) and focused more on just running fast. I’m interested in trying out the Hansons brothers training plan for my next marathon.,7120,s6-238-244–13791-6-1X2X3X4X5-6,00.html

    Also, do you do any hill work? I started doing it for Boston and I think it has helped me with speed and strength.

    • SS, that’s an interesting-looking plan. I’d really like to try the lower-mileage approach, and it’s nice that there’s at least a structured plan to follow. I might give it a try. Thanks!

      As for hill work, yes I do a lot of it when I’m training hard. There’s a trail near my house with some really nice hills that I do almost all of my middle-distance runs on. I’ve learned to love hills because of it!

  11. Losing a significant amount of weight brings the term, ‘One Day at a Time’ to a whole new level. There are times when there is nothing but a black hole of despair, and no matter how hard you search for that tiny light at the end of the tunnel, it just gets farther and farther away. It took years for me to put the self doubt aside, and live the life I have always wanted. Watching my husband run marathon after marathon and only being a spectator, wishing one day it were me. The self doubt is still there, but a lot less. The light at the end of the tunnel has been found, and in 5 months, I too will get to say I finished a marathon…because I didn’t give up. I let myself win.

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