Welcome to the “Spark Series” – a set of interviews with people who, I believe, will provide that spark of inspiration for you this summer to go outside – head out for a run, do some yoga, or maybe a combination of both! First in the series is Michael Garrison, a runner with heaps of energy and enthusiasm for running and life – who takes time for yoga in between coaching and leading running-tours on Oahu, whilst still maintaining a high mileage load himself to prepare for ultra trail races. With an extensive background in running, from high school to post-college, Michael has a great run-story that I think will motivate you to either hit the trails or a yoga mat, soon!
LRY: As a seasoned runner and coach, with 10 marathons and 30 ultra races under your belt you have obviously logged many miles on the roads and trails, and gained a lot of experience! But first things first – when did running in general first become an activity you dedicated significant time to?
MG: I think at last count, I have 12 marathon and 34 ultra finishes (time to update our website!) I grew up playing soccer and always enjoyed running laps before and after practice. I moved on from there to run junior high track. I first became relatively serious about running in high school and have been in love with it ever since.
LRY: Throwing back to your first marathon, where was it, and what went through your mind when you crossed the finish line?
MG: That really is throwing it back! My first marathon was the 1989 California International Marathon in Sacramento. I was 19 years old and I was in solid 5k/10k shape. I ran the marathon without long runs past 15 miles or specific marathon training on a bet that I could hit the Boston Qualifier of 3:10. Needless to say, I ran with a buddy and we ran WAY too fast for 20 miles and then the wheels totally came off. The last 10k was absolutely brutal. I crossed the line in 3:05:23 and thought “I am never doing that again!”
LRY: What drew you towards ultra running, and moving past the 26.2 miles of a marathon?
MG: Toward the end of my collegiate coaching career, I stopped running for a while and put on a bunch of weight. I was looking for a different challenge to help motivate me to get out and run again. I signed up for the Way Too Cool 50k in California. I was totally out of shape and that race was a very humbling experience. Guess what… my thought crossing the finish line of that race in 2010 was “I am never doing that again!” Once that sting wore off, I decided that I was ready to start training again and I knew that I could be a pretty decent ultra/trail racer. In my experience, I have learned that for most runners, marathon racing and training is a fairly linear process. Many marathon routes are relatively flat and the training progressions necessary to complete/improve on past performances are relatively straightforward. The challenge of the marathon has a familiar set of components that come into play during training and racing. For many people, the marathon is about time. Whether it is setting a PR, running a qualifying time, or breaking the barrier that they have been chasing… The numbers on the clock at the finish line will be a big factor in how the runner views their performance (I still enjoy this kind of challenge from time to time). The thing that really drew me toward ultra-marathons was the feeling that it was “me against the course”. I wanted to shift my competitiveness away from racing others and chasing PR’s (a very tough transition) toward working to get the best out of myself on a specific race day and a specific race course. I now value my races based on the actual experience and my effort as opposed to my placing and time. I still enjoy running fast and love all the challenges involved with the process…. however, I do love just spending time on our brutally tough/beautiful Oahu trails and not really worrying about how fast or how far I am running.
LRY: When it comes to training for an ultra run do you like to include any cross training? How about strength and mobility work?
MG: Like many, this is an area that is a work in progress for me! I have a series of circuits and a weight program that I designed and in a perfect world, I would get this done 3 times a week. Hopefully, after the San Diego 100 June 3-4, I will get this back into my regular routine because I feel like a better runner when I have solid functional strength. My weight/circuit training combines body weight exercises with a few lifts in the weight room. I like to get in a lot of work with my hamstrings, glutes and hips because I feel so much better/more efficient when those areas are strong. Those exercises are also quite helpful when it comes to staying injury free. During my HURT 100 2016 training, I included Bikram Yoga and I really enjoyed it. I like the structure as well as the strength/flexibility it helped me improve during the months that I practiced. I do not include any aerobic cross training because I would rather spend any aerobic time I have actually running outside.
LRY: What would a typical week look like for you in the middle of an ultra‐training plan?
MG: Great Question! Here’s a week that I would typically use if I was training for a mainland longer ultra or a long race at Peacock Flats. (I think the HURT 100 and the Tantalus trails require a bit different weekend set-up). I have found that the best weekly training volume for me is in the 70-80 mile per week range. As long as I keep up on my sleep (super important!) I can work in this range and stay injury free. I also have an amazing massage therapist that I try to see every 3-4 weeks—I would go every week if I could!
Monday: Easy day 4-7 miles with HRL Volcanic Run Club. Weights/circuit.
Tuesday: 10-15 miles with at least 5 miles of solid climbing (Tantalus/Sierra Drive type of climbs) all miles are easy with the exception of putting in solid efforts on either the climbs (for strength) OR descents (for foot speed). I would likely alternate every other Tuesday with long intervals (1000m, mile, 2000m, 2 mile) on the track with 1’ recovery.
Wednesday: Easy day 4-7 miles with HRL Volcanic Run Club. Weights/circuit.
Thursday: 8-12 miles with 2-3 miles of climbing. Strong effort on the climb and easy pace for the rest of the run.
Friday: Easy 4-8 miles (try to get in weights/circuit) OR a day off.
Saturday/Sunday: I like to get in 2 long runs on the weekends when possible. One day (usually Saturday) will be 20-25 with at least 4-5000’ of climbing. The other day will be a nice flat/easy 15-22.
I use my Monday/Wednesday/Friday runs to make necessary mileage adjustments for the week. I also try to make sure that approximately 80% of my weekly volume is at an easy pace/effort. This allows me to get the most out of my “quality” efforts while I maximize the benefits of a large amount of aerobic work. In this phase of my training quality=up tempo climbing or long repeats. I also like to substitute like 5-7 mile steady state runs or timed intervals (long effort/short recovery) if I cannot get to the hills. I try to take days off whenever I feel like I need them. I also keep an eye on my resting HR to make sure I don’t get too close to the over-training line.
LRY: Which ultra race is on the top of your bucket list?
MG: That’s tough… I would love to finish HURT 100. I have had a few rough efforts out there and would like to knock that race out someday. The HURT Ohana has been a tremendous inspiration in my growth as a runner, coach, and human being. However, growing up in Northern California, I would really like to test myself someday against the Western States 100 course. That could be a pretty fun day as well where I would be able to see lots of friends and eat Dos Coyotes burritos while in NorCal.
LRY: Are you a ‘can’t forget my iPod’ runner? If yes – what do you enjoy listening to when you’re out on a run?
MG: I’m pretty good with or without music. Overall, I enjoy a pretty eclectic mix of music…old hardcore punk rock, Radiohead, the Replacements, Pixies, Prince, hip-hop, Alice in Chains… I would much rather be running with friends, talking story, and finding out where they sit on the Biggie & 2Pac feud.
LRY: As the founder of Hawaii Running Lab what inspired you to start a coaching business for runners?
MG: After 10 years of college coaching, I spent some time away from the profession and I found that I really missed the coach/athlete interactions. I get a ton of satisfaction helping people achieve their goals. For most of my life, I have been a runner and been around runners. I even studied distance runners with my doctoral dissertation so when the time came to choose a new path, forming Hawaii Running Lab seemed like a great fit. My wife Pauline is a big driving force behind our business—we make a wonderful team! I have several friends/former teammates/former athletes that are also entrepreneurs and they inspire me on a daily basis. Two of the founders of Skratch Labs (Dr. Allen Lim & Aaron Foster) were teammates of mine at UC Davis. San Diego race management company, HP Movement, was started by Eric Marenburg & Pete Hess—2 of my athletes at the University of Maryland. I reach out to each of them for guidance and I am very grateful for their friendships. As far as the specifics of starting HRL in Hawaii, I think there is a market need for individualized coaching and we can provide that with a high-level skill set and outstanding client service.
LRY: You also give guided running tours ‐ where is your favorite place to take visitors and why?
MG: Wow—That’s a tough one… I love sharing all parts of this island. I think many of us take for granted the amazing views at Ala Moana beach park and running along the coast around Diamond Head. For many visitors and friends, hitting up those runs checks a box off the bucket list.
LRY: Can you name 3 ultra runners (past or present) you’d like to take on a tour of the Oahu trails?
MG: In no particular order….
Michael Walsh, my high school coach. I don’t think he has any official ultra finishes under his belt, but he has put in some long Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) efforts and it would be amazing to reconnect with him. Without his influence, I would not be the man and coach that I am today.
Dan Gabor, my best friend, multiple-time All-American at the University of Arkansas. Danny passed away in 1996 and getting some more time with him would be incredible! He was a true adventurer and I am positive that we would have a blast on the Tantalus trails together—I know this because, sometimes when I am tired and alone out there, he jumps into my head and works through things with me.
Pat Reaves, a former athlete of mine from the University of Maryland. Pat has continued running since his time at Maryland and his hard work, consistence, and persistence has paid off. Pat is now a sub-2:30 marathoner and works for Nike. I last ran into Pat at a random trail race in Northern California and we each had awesome races.
LRY: Finally, what is your ‘top tip’ for someone who has signed up for his or her first ultra?
MG: Pick a race that peaks your interest… Maybe something that scares you a bit. Finishing should be the #1 goal of your first ultra. Realize that your ultra experience will be your own and will be different from anyone else’s. Gather your resources, and get expert advice based on your individual experience and knowledge base to fill in the gaps. Train smart, develop a solid training/race day plan, and most of all HAVE FUN—Remember you are choosing to do this!
LRY: Awesome advice!
To read more about Michael’s work at the Hawaii Running Lab follow this link: http://www.hawaiirunninglab.com/
Look out for more interviews in the Spark Series coming this summer!