Inspired by Refinery29’s Money Diaries and The Cut’s Sex Diaries, welcome to The Runner Diaries, where we’re sharing a behind-the-scenes look into a week of training with runners of varying ages, paces and GPS coordinates.
This week, we have 31-year-old Chris Mocko, an accomplished marathoner and ultra runner who quit his tech job at Square earlier this year to pursue running full time. Below, he documents his personal Hell Week, the most grueling week of training (including 150 miles and more than 20k feet of vertical elevation gain!!) in his build-up to Western States, a 100-mile ultra marathon.
The Run Down
Name: Chris Mocko
Location: Mill Valley, California
Training For: Western States Endurance Run (100 miles), Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc
Occupation: Professional Runner
Following a training plan? Self-coached
Part of any running communities, clubs or training programs? Running Commissioner at The Olympic Club
How long you’ve been ‘a runner:’ Ultrarunner for just over a year, running since a toddler
Goal weekly mileage: 150 miles (this was not a typical week–generally 120-130mi/wk)
In mid-February, I quit my tech job in Silicon Valley to pursue a career as a professional ultrarunner (you can read more about the decision here). I’ve been an avid runner for as long as I can remember, but began taking it more seriously in high school, was lucky enough to compete for the Stanford Cross Country and Track & Field teams, and then transitioned to road racing and marathons after graduation. Looking for a change of pace, last year I decided to focus on qualifying for Western States, the original 100 mile trail race. After competing last June, I was hooked and have spent the last 10 months preparing myself for massive improvements in my second running on June 24.
I’ve nicknamed this week of training as “Hell Week” as I expect it to be one of the most grueling weeks of training in my build-up to Western States. I plan to run 150 miles and climb more than 20k ft of vertical elevation gain, including 2 hard workouts and a 30+ mile long run followed by a 20+ mile secondary long run (you can read more about Hell Week here). Wish me luck!
6:55a — Woke up naturally to birds a-chirping (it sounds idyllic, but it gets a bit annoying after Bird Alarm Day #46) and sun coming through my blinds. Passed out like a rock last night for almost 8 full hours of sleep. Good start to the day.
7a — Weighed-in at 162.8lbs — must still be dehydrated from yesterday’s run. I don’t typically weigh myself regularly, but I’m extra-focused on my weight during this heat wave. Monitoring my weight will ensure that I am remaining hydrated following my efforts in the sun. Thirty-second cold shower to wake-up the body. Tendons behind right knee are a bit tight, legs feeling the weekend’s back-to-back long runs (23mi on Sat, 17.5mi on Sun).
7:15a — Breakfast! Coffee, 1 cup of oatmeal, 1 egg added to oatmeal as it was simmering, cinnamon, sprinkle of Maldon sea salt, and a banana with peanut butter on the side.
8:30a — Still hungry. And sleepy. Slice of toast with peanut butter. And another cup of coffee.
9a — Began Silicon Valley episode. Do I need a third coffee?
9:45a — Found my momentum to begin my run! 5-minute core, stretching, rolling and then out the door by 10:30a. Let’s go!
10:45a — Finally out the door. Wouldn’t have survived without the entire family of GU products to stay fueled.
10:45a-2:00p — 20 mile run (Strava) in 2hrs 47mins (8:22/mi pace). It took less than a mile to start having doubts about Hell Week. Super hot (89 degrees!), SUN-ny and legs especially fatigued. But if this was easy everyone would do it, right? Reset pace expectations, hiked when I needed to hike, ‘gramed when I needed to ‘gram, and focused on relaxing in the heat. As much as I hate the heat, it was perfect prep for States conditions.
2:00p — DEHYDRATED. Finished my 1.5L bladder at the 2.5 hour mark and went without fluids for the last 20ish mins. Took 2 salt tablets at 90 mins and 135 mins, which helped (need to remember tablets on these hot days). Scale read 159lbs when I got home, which means I lost more than 3lbs on the run. Normally that would be exciting (I’m getting skin-neh!), but I know this means I’m under-hydrated. Hydration and recovery will be the focus for the rest of the day.
2:30p — Pancakes (obviously). Chocolate protein powder + 1 egg added to my standard Kodiak Cakes mix to assist in the recovery.
3:00p — Called the parentals. Happy 41st Anniversary, Mom and Dad!
3:30p — Costco trip! Decided to treat myself with a big shopping spree. Free samples were ON POINT (I desperately needed the extra calories). Most excited to consume: tri-tip steak (5lbs!), ALL of the guacamole, Rotisserie Chicken Florentine Stromboli (new product!), and chicken flautas (front-runner for Cinco de Mayo snacking). I try to prepare as much of my food myself to ensure I know exactly what ingredients are going into my food (not to mention I enjoy the food preparation process and it’s a lot cheaper than eating out all of the time!).
4:15p — Chatted about Cinco de Mayo with the Costco cashier at checkout. He asked me when it was this year. I told him I thought it was May 5th.
6:00p — TIRED. Probably too late for a nap, so I guess we’re going to have to power through it (6pm might be a tad early for bedtime, even for me). Commence tri-tip preparations.
6:10p — Maybe a quick nap wouldn’t hurt.
7:00p — Tri-tip and spinach salad (with bacon, egg, cheese, onions, and tomatoes!). Steak makes me happy. I don’t count my calories or worry too much about getting in specific nutrients, but naturally have a fairly balanced diet–I try to be good about vegetables, avoid most junk food. But as long as I’m not bonking during my runs I assume I’m getting enough protein and I’m happy!
8p — Legs are trashed. Didn’t expect to be feeling this rough after only one day, but I’m hoping some rolling and stretching before bed will help. Shutting down the laptop for the evening, so we’ll see you tomorrow. My big focus for tomorrow/Tuesday: getting through my massive hill workout — 6 x 10′ hill (route)! Big focus for tonight: staying up long enough to watch last night’s episode of Veep!
Daily mileage: 20 miles
8:15a — Slept in! 9.5 hours of sleep, baby.
8:20a — Morning weigh-in = 163.4lbs. Don’t normally weigh myself each morning, but I want to more closely monitor my hydration levels during these hot-hot-hot days. Another super-short cold shower, and then guzzled two big glasses of water immediately after.
8:30a — Breakfast! I’m always happiest when eating. Tried a new oatmeal concoction, savory instead of sweet–standards oats with an egg, but added salt, pepper and cheese instead of cinnamon and banana.
10:45a — How is it 10:45 already? Toast with some guacamole (I feel an obligation to use guac on everything until my Costco supply is gone) and a glass of water with a GU electrolyte tablet (pre-hydration for the workout). Decided to jump into the NormaTec boots (neat device that applies pressure to your legs to encourage blood flow) to help warm-up the legs. Let’s try to get out the door by 12:30p.
Recovery date with Norma
12:45p — Yeah…that’s not happening. Texted my buddy, Chris Baird, to see if he would join me in the afternoon. He mentioned something about an “office job” (what is that??) that would prevent him from joining until the evening. He encouraged me to get out the door–“I think you should suffer in the sun.” Damnit, you’re right.
1:15p — Dog walk beat out starting the workout (shocker). It’s HOTTTT. Going to wait this one out a bit. Ridley was POOPED after our walk. Feelings were mutual.
2p — More guac & toast + spinach salad. And all of the water.
2:30p — Batman on TV. I can’t go running now and bail on Christian Bale (see what I did there?).
3p — Nap. Short and sweet (15mins) — a sign that I’m actually doing pretty well on sleep?
3:30p — Coffee (iced this time). Little bit of oatmeal and peanut butter for some calories. Getting closer to rallying…
5:30p — Started pumping the jams, guzzled some caffeinated GU energy gel for an extra boost, and finally got out the door.
6p — Actually out the door. The workout:
- 2-mile warm-up
- Light stretching and drills
- 5 x 1.4-mile hill repeats (9-11 minutes in length), alternating between Marincello and Old Springs (two hills out of Tennessee Valley).
The distance of 1.4 miles is pretty random, but that was the distance to the summit of both climbs (yes, they were exactly the same length!). Original plan was to go up all 6 ascents out of Tenn Valley but I audibled to just the first two. These are the most runnable of the climbs (no uber-steep pitches) and allowed me to keep my water bottles at the base instead of having to carry them for the full workout. Marincello is 680ft with a very gradual grade and Old Springs is 420ft with a peppier first half and flatter second half. Marincello is probably my least favorite climb in Marin as it just draggggs on forever while maintain a consistently uncomfortable pitch–I’m hoping with more repetitions, I will begin to love it (or at least tolerate it).
Old Springs is interesting because after some steep early pitches, you can actually run the last half mile at a decent clip. Trying to will your legs back into a tempo rhythm after building up lactic acid during the climb hurts like hell but makes you strong like ox. I didn’t intend to go very hard on the descents, but found myself running very comfortably at just under 6-min mile pace. For distances of 50k or less, I’d like that descent pace to be closer to 5min/mi, but the ability to recover at 6-min pace would be HUGE at States. Running the flats during an ultramarathon are rarely the issue–it’s the ups and downs where you legs first give out. The more practice I can get running efficiently on hills, the better.
- Finished things off with a 3 mile cool down!
9p — Home after dark! Great workout and another 20 miles towards the weekly goal! Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/968519968
Lap splits + pace chart. Laps 1-3 = warm-up; Lap 18 = cool-down. Between each hill repeat there was a 0.1mi jog to the other hill, so this is how to read it: lap 4 = uphill, lap 5 = downhill, lap 6 = jog to other hill, lap 7 = uphill, etc. Paces look to be ~7:15-7:45/mi on the uphills, ~5:30-6:00/mi on the downhills.
9:05p — Stole some steak from my roommates’ dinner for some early post-workout snacking. Stretched and showered.
9:30p — Dinner (finally!). Burrito, small salad, and a fried cheese chip (courteous of my roommate–it was delicious!).
Fried cheese chip (exactly what it sounds like) = yum
9:50p — Sorry, Ridley, not enough burrito to go around.
10:30p — Thank goodness. Batman is on…again.
12a — Holy moly–it’s midnight and I’m still on my computer! Probably will need to delay these posts by a day so I’m spending my late evenings sleeping rather than writing! Time for some shuteye!
Daily mileage: 20 miles
2a — Finally in bed. Endorphins from the late workout finish did NOT help with my sleep.
4:50a — Awake! I better try to give this sleep thing another try…
7:30a — Up for good this time. Hopefully this means I can finish my run before it gets too hot. 165lbs this morning–much closer to my actual weight, which means I’m winning the hydration battle. This heat is very unusual for Northern California, so it’s important to be extra cautious with hydration–my body is probably not used to sweating this much!
8a — Oatmeal (cinnamon, peanut butter, almonds, cashews, dried cranberries, Maldon sea salt) and coffee.
9a — Morning goal = begin run by 10a!
9:15-:45a — NormaTec recovery boots to get the blood flowing.
10:50a — Out the door!
1:30p — 16.5 miles with 2.5k ft of climbing. Hot again today and didn’t feel great out there (especially on the descents!) but got through it. Nothing remarkable. Average pace(8:23/mi) was 1 second per mile slower than my effort on Monday, which is interesting because on Monday I chose to walk the steep sections and today I avoided hiking and slowly jogged instead.
2p — Late lunch of spinach salad with steak, some leftover bacon bits, 1/2 hard-boiled egg. And then chips and guac.
2:00-3:00p — Square Q1 Earnings Call. I’m might not be employed any longer, but I do still have some equity in the company—gotta make sure that (very modest) nest egg is trending in the right direction! #basementlife
4p — 30 minute with legs up on wall to help drain some of the fluid build-up.
4:45p — NormaTec recovery boots. Legs are definitely better off than the previous two days after all of this time invested in recovery today.
5:30p — Begin dinner prep.
6:30p — Stromboli, spinach salad, cornbread, and catching up on Billions (Season 2 has been such a disappointment…).
7:30p — Shutting down laptop for the evening. Let’s see if I can get in bed before 9p and get nice and rested for the workout tomorrow!
Daily mileage: 16.5 miles
6:00a — Woke up 2hrs before my alarm. Somebody’s ready to get rolling!
6:15a — Toast, 2 eggs, some trail mix, coffee
9:30a — Go time!
12p — And we’re back. 3.5mi warm-up + 15.85mi of workout + 2 mi CD = 21.3mi total.
- Details: 3 x (10′ @5:40, 10′ @5:30, 10′ @5:50) = 15.85 miles in 90 mins (5:40/mi avg). Felt great, legs did not feel impact of big mileage week so far. https://www.strava.com/activities/971034655
This workout was really solid. Felt controlled the entire time. I did a quick scan of Strava and saw two similar workouts that I had completed in the past:
- 11/21/15 – 3 x (10’@5:40, 10’@5:30, 10’@5:50) [skipped the last easy 10′] = 14.4mi in 1:21:40 (5:40/mi avg). Ended this workout early (didn’t have the fitness for the last 10′!), but looks like it was an identical pace to today with 2 less miles of running. Two weeks after this workout I ran my marathon PR (2:22).
- 7/14/15 – 4 x (8’@5:45-:35, 8’@5:35-:25, 8’@5:55-:45) = avg 5:38/mi for 17.0mi. Slightly faster pace and 6′ longer. This was my final big workout before winning the SF Marathon and quite possibly was the pinnacle of my fitness. THE best shape I have ever been in my life. The fact that I came so close to this effort on today’s workout is a very positive sign!
Only one way to react to that.
12:30p — Lunch! Started off with some cold stromboli (leftovers!) while stretching before a more legitimate turkey sandwich with guac and some spinach.
1p — Quick Macy’s trip to return some pants for an upcoming wedding. $81 back in my pocket! Glad I knocked out my one big social interaction for the day early so I can spend the rest of the day locked up in my house 😉
2:00p — Nap/legs on wall for some post-workout lactic draining.
3:30p — NormaTec. We’re taking recovery seriously today.
5p — Fetch with Ridley. 4-5 ball tosses = 1 push-up?
6:30p — Dinner! Spinach salad, stromboli, chicken flautas (prepping for Cinco de Mayo). Food is the best.
7:15p — Too nice to stay inside! Sunset walk with Ridley.
8:15p — Core! 5 minutes of abs (I need to bump this to 10 mins!), stretching and a bit of rolling. When I’m especially focused, I get up to 15 minutes of daily core, but the most difficult part is incorporating the work into your daily routine. While not critical (more running is still the best way to get better at running), strengthening your core can have a massive impact on your form and reducing your risk of injury. Legs felt great this morning after just a short stretch/roll the previous night, so I should continue to invest time each evening in making sure my legs are as fresh as possible for the next day’s effort!
What core am I doing? I discovered Carrie Tollefson‘s workout videos a year ago and have found that they are so simple (and short!) that they’re actually manageable. I’ve stopped watching the videos (I’ve memorized the routines by now), but she’s got a great personality and her commentary is a nice distraction while you’re hurtin’:
9p — I watch Highly Questionable with my roommate, Chris. It’s our favorite.
9:30p — End of Warriors/Jazz game. Our house dislikes the Warriors despite living in the Bay Area. Hard to root for a team when they are the favorites. Let’s go, underdogs!
Daily mileage: 21.3mi
Feliz Cinco de Mayo!
6:15a — Wake-up without alarm (my favorite!).
6:30a — Breakfast. Small coffee, bite of leftover stromboli (when you open the fridge and see cheese+bread, you eat the cheese+bread) and toast+peanut butter.
8:15a — Out the door! Shockingly early, I know. It turns out it’s a lot easier to get motivated to move when you have a deadline (I had a call at 11am and then will be volunteering all afternoon).
10:30a — And we’re back! Post-workout legs are a thing, but not nearly as sore as after Tuesday’s effort (finishing at noon instead of 9p probably helped too). Finished the 14-mile run with a couple of hill strides (4 x 30sec) just to wake up the legs a bit. We’ve got a big day tomorrow!
5-DAY TALLY: 92 miles, 11.9k ft
REMAINING WORK FOR THE WKND: 58 miles, 15k of climbing (the climbing might be aggressive in two runs!)
11:30a — Lunch. Found some more stromboli (I’ll admit, it would be better if it was warmed up). Main dish: eggs+steak on top of a bed of salad with chips, salsa & guac as toppings.
12:15p — Legs up. Power nap.
1-6p — Volunteering at SFRC–packet pick-up for the Miwok 100k. Always fun to geek out on running with fellow running nerds. And the margaritas were flow-ing (I had one drink–my first of the week = good behavior! I don’t normally restrict my alcohol intake, but for 7 weeks before race day I feel like it’s appropriate to make some sacrifices). Not often do you bump into a former MLB player and a Barkley Marathon finisher in one afternoon. Our sport is cool like that.
7:30p — Dinner. Cinco de Mayo! Taquitos, flautas, salsa, guac, fried cheese (of course), a little spinach, beans (hope I don’t feel these tomorrow!).
8:30p — #breaking2 marathon attempt about to begin! Decided to eat 3 granola bars. Stress eating for the runners?
8:45p — #breaking2 begins. This is EXCITING!
10:40p — Are they almost done?
10:45p — 2:00:25. So close!
11p — Sleep time!
4:15a — Early wake-up! Would like to be out the door at a reasonable hour, but also want my coffee time 😉
4:30a — Coffee + oatmeal.
6a — Go time! Going to miss the sunrise but I love that first hour of light.
1p — Annnnnnd we’re back: Went out for 31-35 miles. Ended up with 37mi (thanks to some wrong turns and too much beautiful weather!). 5hrs 40mins (9:11/mi) and 7.6k ft of climbing. Was feeling the suffer (do I really need to do this for another 63 miles in <1.5 months?), but legs were still working at least. Forced myself to do the Miwok climb instead of skipping out on the last ascent and took the steeper descent back to the house to make sure my quads would feel it (and they did!). Dialing in that mental game!
Sunrise over Miwok Trail; Stinson Beach; Ryan hanging in @mile 38 of the Miwok 100k; that sock tan 😉
2p — Itching a little bit. I definitely got some poison oak out there today. Yikes. But it’s lunch time! Pancakes with protein powder (too hungry to overthink this one).
2:30p — Nap time. Didn’t sleep much but kept my legs up to drain them a bit. Pulsing the whole time and HURTING. This was a good run.
3:30p — NormaTec time and email.
5:30p — Where the heck did the day go? Dinner time I guess? Spinach salad, steak, cornbread and MY FIRST BEER OF THE WEEK. It was lovely.
7p — Turning this guy off early. Might actually try to be social this evening for a bit. 22-27 miles tomorrow (focus will be on getting in some quality climbing) so let’s hope my legs wake up when I do in the morning!
7:30p — Ended up visiting friends and having some wine. Fun evening!
10:30p — In bed at a reasonable hour. One. More. Day!
Daily mileage: 37 miles
Day Seven: HELL WEEK IS O-V-E-R!
4:30a — Wake up! Didn’t expect to be up this early, but figured I might as well stay awake instead of trying to fall back asleep for the hour before my alarm would go off. Have stopped weighing myself after a couple of cool days–my body’s hydration is feeling back on track and no longer require daily monitoring.
4:45a — Coffee, oatmeal (thank you, roomie, for preparing last night!), let’s go!
6a — Out the door.
9:40a — Done with my run before 10a! 21 miles up to the East Peak of Mt. Tam and back. Legs felt surprisingly good especially in the last 5 miles. Is my fitness (finally) coming ’round?
10a — Returned to Ridley the Devil terrorizes the couch. #dogfail
10:30a — Quick second breakfast/early lunch? Spinach, ham, toast and finishing off the guac. Almost burned the house down by leaving a towel too close to the stove. Sorry, roomies/landlords!
10:45a – 30mins of NormaTec. Let the recovery begin!
11:45a — Nap time followed by, you guessed it, legs up on wall. Let my lactic acid, drain!
1p — Coffee and computer time. Took a peek at Strava and was reminded–HELL WEEK IS OVER! I have a feeling this week is going to come in handy around mile 70 of States! The final tally:
3p — We’re going to be social. Heading to San Francisco for some dog walking on the beach.
7:15p — Dinner.
8p — Saturday Night Live (I know, it’s a day late…) and some (foam) rolling.
9p — Bed. We are D-O-N-E. No alarm tomorrow morning so I’m hoping for some really quality sleep!
Daily mileage: 21 miles
Weekly mileage: 150 miles
A Look Back — Thoughts On The Week
Planning out the week in advance (and sharing the plan on social media) held me accountable and kept me focused throughout the week. Instead of feeling like I was drudging through the easy days, each day felt like it had a purpose and was meaningful to my training. And my investment in recovery was exceptional (2+ hours a day in recovery boots, legs on wall, and napping). Is this sort of intense training feasible every week? Absolutely not. But once or twice in a training cycle? Sure.
About Chris Mocko
Chris Mocko is a 31-year-old professional runner living in San Francisco, California. He quit his job at the beginning of 2017 to pursue running full-time. You can follow his blog here.
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