Repost: 90% of Badwater 135 Runners Finish By Jason Koop


badwater 135

90% of Badwater 135 runners finish. Here’s what they can teach you about preparation.

Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning

By the time this newsletter hits your inbox, runners in the 2020 edition should have been testing themselves along the course of the Badwater 135, which many consider to be ‘the world’s toughest footrace’. Alas, in a very last-minute decision, organizers of the Badwater 135 cancelled this year’s edition, leaving this year’s field wondering what they could have accomplished with their fully formed fitness and heat acclimation strategies.

PHOTO ©ADVENTURECORPS, INC.

I have been fortunate enough to run and crew for the Badwater 135 a total of eight times, as well as prepare numerous runners for the event. All of these experiences have had an impression on me, and I am a better coach because of them. No other group of runners prepare quite as meticulously as the Badwater athletes do. The combination of the searing heat, mind numbing monotony of the road, the complexity of the application process and the exclusivity of getting an entry, the sheer expense of participating, and a relentless culture of improvement that has evolved over the years all combine to create what I observe to be the most prepared ultramarathon field on the planet. And the statistics bear this out. Badwater, despite the notoriously difficult conditions, has a finish rate of 85-90%. As a comparison, the Leadville Trail 100 hovers around a 50% finish rate for any given year, and the coveted Western States 100 has finish rates routinely between 70 and 80%. Make no mistake, the Badwater runners and their crews come fully prepared and bring it on race day.

Badwater is also one of the greatest hot environment sports performance proving grounds imageable. The searing heat will put your heat acclimation strategy to the test. Frequent access to your crew (your crew can leapfrog the runner in a support van) allows the runner to put cooling strategies and nutrition interventions in place without many logistical limitations. Being a crafty lot, Badwater runners have implemented an array of bizarre, sometimes effective and ultimately outlawed strategies in order to gain an advantage. Over the years I have seen everything from the use of refrigerated trucks to pacers on rollerblades with umbrellas (both of these strategies are now prohibited, by the way) to battle the heat. Still, the Badwater runners don’t always use the most efficacious strategies when it comes to heat acclimation and nutritional interventions. They tend to try to combat the challenges the course and environment will throw at them with contrived and combined strategies that at times are ineffective or even counterproductive. You might not ever have the urge to do the Badwater 135, but there are still some lessons we can all learn from the strategies this hearty group of ultrarunners use to battle the course and the heat, what actually works and how things go awry.

Heat Acclimation Strategies

Out of all the unique aspects in preparing for the Badwater 135, acclimating to the heat naturally gets the most attention. With temperatures that can be in excess of 120 degrees, runners rightfully approach this element of preparation with upmost importance. I first attended the Badwater 135 in 2006. When I arrived in Death Valley, I curiously took a straw poll of the participants to understand the heat acclimation strategies they used in training.

PHOTO ©ADVENTURECORPS, INC.

Over the years, either at the race of from afar, I have done the same straw polling and observed what the athletes were doing to prepare. I recently pulled my notes from these experiences and below is a short list of various protocols I’ve found, in no particular order:

  1. Running on a treadmill with a dryer vent blowing on your face. As a bonus, some runners would put portable heating elements round the treadmill for an added effect
  2. Running in the heat with a down jacket, pants and rain jacket
  3. Running on a treadmill in a greenhouse
  4. Running on a treadmill in the sauna. This normally involves cajoling the gym owner into some, shall we say, creative electrical engineering that may or may not pass a fire inspection
  5. If your gym owner was concerned about said electrical engineering, doing jumping jacks and core work in the sauna
  6. Driving around town with the heater turned up, perhaps with a down jacket
  7. Passive sauna exposure
  8. Camping in Death Valley in the weeks leading up to the event
  9. Turning up the heat in the house to > 90 degrees
  10. Some combination of some or all of the above with time frames that range from days to months

Although the complexity and duration of these protocols vary, they all can be catalogued into two broad categories: 1) passive acclimation/acclimatization strategies and 2) active acclimation/acclimatization strategies. Each have basic advantages and tradeoffs.

Passive strategies (strategies where you just sit there and let the environment do its job) allow for heat acclimation to occur with minimal interruption to training. They do not, however, allow you to ‘feel the heat’ while running, and many athletes feel the need to experience training in a hot environment before competing in one, simply to understand the sensation.

Active strategies (strategies that use a combination of exercises and environment) allow for heat acclimation to occur and for the athlete to feel the sensation of running in a hot environment. However, compared to Badwater, where the humidity is low and solar radiation is high, some of the contrived active strategies will be mismatched, particularly the overdressed ones that create a high humidity environment with little solar radiation. Additionally, active acclimation strategies involve some training compromise either by reducing the duration or intensity of the training session to accommodate for the increase in core temperature.

How Heat Acclimation Strategies Actually Work

Fundamentally, heat acclimation strategies work by inducing systemic and cellular responses to help your body cope with the heat. Systemically, your body responds (primarily) by increasing plasma volume and sweat rate in an effort to dissipate heat. Cellularly, your body upregulates heat shock proteins which act as cellular chaperones and managers for proteins that have been damaged by heat stress and other forms of degradation. Both systemic and cellular responses help athletes manage the heat in various ways, ultimately resulting in increased exercise capacity in the heat (and sometimes in temperate environments).

What has started to emerge in the research is that the extent of core temperature increase is critical to the success of the strategy. Heat up your body to a certain temperature and then hold that temperature for a certain amount of time and you get great results. Miss the mark on the temperature or duration and the physiological results are not as good. This critical core temperature, which appears to be in a very narrow range of 38-38.5 °C or 100.4-101.3 °F, is difficult to achieve and athletes will describe it as somewhere between ‘feeling hot’ to ‘too hot, dizzy and lightheaded’.

Through this lens, we can look at the aforementioned strategies from our (perhaps ill-fated) Badwater runners. Strategies that are capable of producing a core temperature of 38-38.5 °C will be markedly more effective than those that do not. Additionally, active acclimation strategies (strategies that involve running/cycling in the heat or overdressed) will most likely be hampered by compromising exercise intensity, as a high core temperature will limit the duration or intensity of running (how long can you run while being ‘dizzy and lightheaded’?).

heat acclimation strategies

The Best of Both Worlds

Many athletes now choose to use an ‘active-passive’ protocol, where they go out and do a normal run and then immediately jump into a sauna or hot water immersion bath. The initial run begins the process of increasing core temperate and the heat exposure from the bath or sauna finishes it off to achieve the critical temperature of 38-38.5 °C. In this way, training is not compromised and the sauna/hot water immersion bath session duration is reduced. If you really feel like you need to ‘feel the heat’ to experience the sensation of running in a particular environment, contrive the environment to try to match the temperature, solar intensity and humidity of your event as much as possible, and do so for the minimum number of sessions to do the trick. For the Badwater runners, a treadmill with a dryer vent blasting in your face a few times is a better option than running around in a down jacket for a month.

Hallucinations

whitney portal badwater 135

THE VIEW OF RACERS RUNNING INTO THE EVENING, FROM WHITNEY PORTAL.

Ultrarunning has been known to produce good hallucinations.  Sleep deprivation combined with physical exhaustion, bonking, and blurred vision is a ripe recipe for the mind to conjure up memories of distant past and teleport them into a fuzzy present.  And Badwater hallucinations are the best, by far. While your trail ultrarunning compatriots will brag about stories of a stick that turned into a snake, a tree stump that looked like a bear or a rock that talked, the Badwater hallucinations take this altered reality to a whole other dimension. The runners at Badwater encounter a cast of characters ranging from the Michelin Man to old 49er miners. Even the infamous white line painted on the road gets in on the action by transforming into various beings of and out of this world. Hallucinations come complete with incomprehensible background stories (the Michelin Man is there to run for President), unintelligible plot lines (I was helping the 49er change a tire), and bizarre interactions that border between a Star Wars movie and a DMT trip.

There is zero training for this. So, I have no help for you here other than to say if you really want an out of this world experience, just go run Badwater.

Too Much Aid Can Be a Bad Thing

One of the differentiating features of the Badwater 135 compared to other ultramarathons is that you have copious access to your crew and supplies. Food, water, pacers, your medical kit and the all-important performance enhancing ice, are never more than several minutes away. And, this level of assistance can be intensive. I once paced an athlete from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe wells, just a 24.6-mile section of the race, and blew through over 60 liters (15.8 gallons) of ice water in the process of drinking and dousing. And while it might seem like a luxury to have your every ultrarunning need fulfilled at a moment’s notice, at times it can be a bad thing.  Runners can take on too much fluid and too many calories, particularly in the beginning of the race, simply because they are there. And later they lean on their crews to bail them out of a situation when they could simply just put their head down and run.

Remember that when you are training, you are doing the vast majority of it by yourself. Almost any racing situation involves many times more support than you would receive during any training session. And Badwater is an extreme example of this. While ultrarunners should learn to leverage their crews, pacers and other support personnel, they should not rely on them to get the job done. You don’t need pacers or crew to get the job done (in most ultras). Do they help, yes. But, running is ultimately the responsibility of the runner.

Badwater will be back

Like many of the races that couldn’t happen this year, Badwater will ultimately be back. I look forward to returning in some capacity, as an athlete, coach or crew. I simultaneously learn and get a chuckle out of many of the strategies athletes use to prepare for the event. I love hearing stories of how many layers of clothing athletes put on for a simple training run and how Kermit the Frog ran alongside athletes in the middle of the night during the race. Soon enough, we will get to experience or hear about all of these again. Until then, we can learn for the next time.

References-

Gibson, Oliver R et al. “Heat alleviation strategies for athletic performance: A review and practitioner guidelines.” Temperature (Austin, Tex.) vol. 7,1 3-36. 12 Oct. 2019, doi:10.1080/23328940.2019.1666624

How To Qualify For The Boston Marathon (Chapter 3)


Chapter 3: My Four Months Training With CTS

I am not trying to force-feed you with the training that I did with CTS as I want to share my story from the time that they accepted my application as one of their CTS athletes. I was just lucky that I was able to contact Jason Koop when he was advertising the publication of his book on Ultrarunning in May 2017 and asked him if CTS accepts a 65-year old runner.

After I applied on line on their Website, I was asked to answer (on line) a questionnaire, asking my personal data, experience and number of years of training, and if I had a recurring running injury. After a few days, one of their Senior Coaches contacted me through e-mail and gave me instructions on how to set up my Premium Training Peaks Platform by giving me my Signing-In data. I think it costs me $70.00 as full time payment for my subscription with Premium Training Peaks. Two of my GPS Watches (SUUNTO Ambit 3 Peak and Garmin Forerunner) were linked to the said Training Site Platform. Everything (data) that my Coach need to know  about my daily workout are uploaded to the Training Peaks and you can not fake your effort on those data. The Senior Coach had briefed me about the terms being used on the description of each workout and the specific data that are incorporated in the workout. Above all, my workouts were given to me in the number of hours and minutes and not by the number of miles or kilometers that I have to run in each day. My Coach asked me what is my preferred REST Day for the week and I said, I would like it on Mondays.

My Coach would send me my training workout for two weeks and each day I should give my feedback how my body felt in terms of effort from EASY to Very HARD, the rank measurement is from 1 to 10 with Rank 1 as Very Easy and 10 as Very Hard. It is a also a “must” that you send a short message as how you felt during and after the workout. Your feedback description will be gauged in terms of your fitness condition, fatigue, and motivation.  However, your feedback will be matched with numerical data captured from your GPS Watch and as seen on Training Peaks. At the end of the week, you can easily see your totals in terms of the total number of hours and the total of miles/kilometers you covered from those hours.On those first days as CTS athlete, I would review the Book on Ultrarunning by Jason Koop making sure to know the description and details of each workout I was given to do.

It is worth mentioning that the Coach would prescribe in each daily workout the following description: (1) the number of hours and minutes of your total workout; (2) each workout is described from its warm-up period (in minutes), main workout (in hours and minutes, depending how long is the period), cool-down period (in Hours/minutes); and (3) the type of terrain where the Coach would suggest you to run, whether it is flat road, trail, or in a course with hilly or steep elevation. The Coach would suggest also your “Total Score Stress” (TSS) where Training Peak would refer it as Running Total Training Stress (rTSS). Depending on what type of workout, the Coach will designate an rTSS score for a specific workout (Easy Run, Endurance Run, Tempo Run, Hill Repeats or Interval). The higher the score, the more the stressful the run. Thus, your workout will be quantified in terms of training stress for a specific running workout. Once I upload my workout from my GPS watch, my rTSS for the workout will be immediately compared with the suggested rTSS from my Coach. Most of the time, my workout rTSS would not surpass or equal my Coach rTSS. But in my feedback, I felt that I am wasted as a result of the workout. Anyway, whether I can equal or not on the required rTTS, my personal observation was that I was running stronger every week.

Jason Koop (Center) & CTS Athletes (Picture From Facebook)

For the first two weeks of training workout, I was given a mix of Endurance Runs, Tempo Runs, and Recovery Runs from the duration of One Hour & Thirty Minutes to Two Hours. In the succeeding weeks, I was introduced with Hill Repeats. After three weeks, I was asked to conduct a “20-minute field test”. It is done by having a 15-minute warm-up run first and then I did my fastest 20-minute run along a flat paved road, and then had a cool-down for 30 minutes. The result of my “20-minute field test” determined my Average Pace for the Tempo Run. The Average Pace would be my target time whenever I do my Tempo Runs. Most of the succeeding weeks will be devoted to Tempo Runs and Hill Repeats! I was surprised that my Tempo Run’s Average Pace would be faster than my usual Tempo Pace. Before, I could not breach less than 9:00 minutes per mile pace with too much fatigue and pain to my legs and body after each workout. But after  3 weeks of CTS training, I was able to breach the 9:00-minute barrier and with more regular “test runs”, I was able to record a 8:09 minute per mile pace  and then lowered it to 7:30-minute pace. With my age and not-so-perfect running form and short legs, I could not believe how fast I could make those leg turn-overs whenever I do my tempo runs on a flat paved road. Since I was preparing for ultra trail runs in the future, I did not have a chance to run on the oval track. I guess, I could run faster if those “20-minute field test” runs were done on an oval track.

One month before the Javelina Jundred 100-Mile Endurance Race, I was given more time for my Endurance Runs on trails in my Playground and they would last from 4 hours to 6 hours. CTS would not allow their athletes to run more than 6 hours in their Endurance Runs for the basic reason that the runner could not recover in a span of one to two days. CTS wants their athletes to be fresh and feeling stronger after a day of recovery. The training concept on those four months was clear to me as it followed the training concept and principles written in the book of Jason Koop—-assessment of my body on the 1st two weeks, followed by fast runs through tempo runs and hill repeats, and then Endurance Runs on the last weeks leading to the target race.

Bottomline, with those 4 months leading to JJ100, I was not injured, my body was always fresh and recovered on Tuesdays, and felt becoming stronger during my Tuesday runs. 

In the next succeeding posts, we will go to the details of my daily workouts.

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How To Qualify For The Boston Marathon (Chapter 2)


Chapter 2: Consistency & Coaching Services 

Training Plans On The Internet & Professional Coaching Services

From the age of 45 years old to 64 years old, the range of Qualifying Time for Men’s is from 3:20 hours to 3:50 hours. And for the Women’s in the same range of age, it is 3:50 hours to 4:20 hours. Those qualifying times are very hard to attain if you are not consistent in your training. So, what should you do? You have two options: Download a Training Plan in the Internet or simply follow the suggested Training Plans at the back of every Running Book published and available in the market (that is one option). And the other option is subscribe to a Professional Coaching Service where you could apply with a considerable amount of monthly fee or a fee for the whole package deal of the Training Plan. In the number of years that I have been a runner, I have tried both and at the present I am under the supervision and coaching service of the CTS.

Let us talk first with the FIRST Option of getting a Training Plan in the Internet or in the back pages of Running Books. You can do that and most likely, you will not pay for anything or if you download those training plans with a fee, it is still very cheap and affordable. However, you should be consistent in following your training plan. Nobody will monitor you except yourself. As long as you follow the scheduled workouts and you attain your desired pace or speed to a certain distance, there is no problem. Most of these training plans consider your weekly mileage as the barometer of your weekly performance. You will realize that your training program will ask you to do more of your mileage to become faster. These training plans will not consider or measure your body condition after every workout and you have only your Strava or any Training Platform where you can download the data from your GPS Watch and see the basic distance, time of duration of your run, pace/speed. elevation, and your heart rate. Your watch might recommend also the number of recovery hours every workout but most of the time, such data is not always accurate.

If you are training on your own, you have to consider visiting the Jack Daniels’ VDOT Running Calculator. All you have to do is to input your Boston Marathon Qualifying Time and it will calculate your Race Pace for the Marathon; your Training Pace for each type of running workout, and Equivalent Pace/Speed for each Distance from 1,500 meters to Marathon Distance. If you can attain your Target Goal Time in 4-6 months, then you are very good and very consistent in your training. But remember, these training plans should be supplemented with better hydration, nutrition, strength training, recovery periods, and flexibility exercises. On this site, you can ask for a custom plan depending on the number of weeks you select as the duration of your training. An example is: You pay $100 for a Training Plan for 24 weeks based from your target goal time.

Ultrarunning Book By Jason Koop

When I applied for Professional Coaching Service with CTS, the book, “Training Essentials For Ultrarunning: How To Train Smarter, Race Faster, and Maximize Your Ultramarathon Performance” by Jason Koop was just published and available in the market in May 2016. I immediately bought the book and personally contacted Jason Koop through Direct Message on Facebook and asked him if I can qualify to apply for their Coaching Service even if I am about to reach the age of 65 years old. He replied positively and the next days and weeks, I was asked to answer some questionnaire about my running, set up my Premium Training Peaks, and I had my first telephone conversation with my designated Coach. So, in the middle of June 2016, I started my training geared towards a “smarter and faster” ultrarunner. If you happened to read the book of Jason Koop, you would find out how scientific is their approach to make you a long-lasting ultrarunner. And for the past 4 years that I have been a “CTS athlete”, they have valued to maintain my healthy condition as a runner so that I can enjoy running as long as I live.

For the first 6 months as a CTS Athlete, I subscribed to their Premium Plan with One Month Free with a monthly subscription of $300. You can click on their site if you want to know more of their Coaching Services. For the past 3 years, I downgraded to their Select level where I am paying a subscription of $185 per month with a yearly contract. But before last year, I was paying then $175 per month. I am not telling or suggesting you to apply also for a Professional Coaching Service as most of these more popular and credible (not “fly-by-night”) ones have the number of athletes  to attend to, are filled-up already. You are very lucky if you will be accepted as one of their CTS athletes but you may never know. You can try. I must accept that those first 4 months that I have trained with CTS, I became stronger ultrarunner but my “gut problem” due to heat was always my weakness. Slowly, I have progressed through the years with the help of my Coach on this problem. I can say that CTS accidentally helped me to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Carmichael Training System (CTS): Train Right

What is the difference between CTS and this Training Plans in the Internet? There are so many differences. First, CTS measures your training output by the time (number of hours) you put in to your weekly training schedule. Those Training Plans in the Internet measure your output by the number of miles/kilometers you run for the week. CTS monitors my daily workout through the Premium Training Peaks and I have once in two weeks telephone conversation for 30 minutes with my Coach. My Coach had never been changed since the time I started to be enrolled with their service. You could just imagine the relationship I have developed with my Coach for the past four years.

In the coming days, I will mention in my posts the details of my training workouts leading to the 2017 Revel Canyon City Marathon Race.

Thank you for reading.

Repost: Top 3 Hot Takes From The 2019 UTMB, CCC, & TDS Races By Jason Koop


The following article is a repost from what Jason Koop, Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning, had published in their CTS website and shared in the Social Media outlets. I have received a copy of this article in my e-mail as one of the CTS Athletes for the past two years. (Note: I am on rest and recovery up to the end of this year). I hope this article will be of help to future trail ultra runners who have plans of joining this iconic race.

Repost: Top 3 Hot Takes from the 2019 UTMB, CCC and TDS Races

By Jason KoopHead Coach of CTS Ultrarunning

As has been the case for the last few years, I spent the better part of a weekend following athletes around the (newly revamped) Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (TDS), Courmayeur – Champex – Chamonix (CCC), and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) races. The races were packed with drama, success, failure and everything in between. From the front of the field through the final finishers, the mountain teaches us common lessons – sometimes the hard way – about how to prepare for and execute a great race.

Lesson #1- To win the race, you can be reasonably bold or just grind it out.

UTMB winners Pau Capel and Courtney Dauwalter days played out in seemingly opposing fashion, yet both ended up taking the top step of the podium. Pau took the lead early and never relinquished it, looking spry and springy all the way around the 170-kilometer course. Courtney on the other hand, quite frankly looked terrible the whole way. Normally a smiling and happy runner, she muddled, grunted and grinded her way to a 24 hour and 34 min winning time (which from a historical perspective is quite good).

As a quick comparison, go take a quick look at Update #8 and Update #9 from the final climb to Tête Aux Vents here- https://utmbmontblanc.com/en/live/utmb. It’s an easy compare and contrast of the styles from the winners of both races on the exact same climb.

What all runners can learn from this: There are several different pathways to the exact same result. If you are having a good day, take it and roll. Don’t get greedy with your race plan, but at the same time, if you are having a good day enjoy it and ride out the goodness, hopefully all the way to the finish line. On the other hand, if you are not having the best day and you have built up enough good fitness (as Courtney had), you should have enough resources to simply grind and tough it out. The day might not be all you hoped of, but you can still reach the finish line (and maybe surprise yourself along the way).

Lesson #2- Everyone has a bad day. The harder the race, the more the bad day is exacerbated.

Many of the top runners in the UTMB, CCC and TDS races did not have their days go to plan. Some of these runners ended up dropping out, while some ended up forging on for a respectable finish. Similarly, many of the mid- and back-of-the-pack runners we work with, and several I witnessed out on the course, were simply not having their best days. Although there is no easy ultra, the UTMB race in particular presents a wider variety of issues to contend with. The difficulty is compounded by the event’s length, starting at 6:00PM, running through the entire night right from the get go, copious amount of elevation gain, and the sheer energy of the Chamonix valley that drains the runners in advance of the starting gun. Generally speaking, athletes who got themselves into trouble in this race simply had a harder time bouncing back than those in the shorter (but still ridiculously hard) TDS and CCC.

What all runners can learn from this: If you are in a ridiculously hard race, do yourself a favor and play some defense early on. Aside from entering the race fit and ready, runners can do themselves a favor by running conservatively, taking some additional time at aid stations, having a good attitude, and – if there are any weather conditions ­– making sure you have enough gear to stay comfortable. All of these will give you a bit of downside protection for races where the penalty for failure is high!

Lesson #3- Multiple mistakes have compounding effects

Every runner wants to have a perfect race. Sorry to tell you, but those are rare. In a lifetime of running if you are able to scrape together a small handful of perfect races, consider yourself lucky. More often, ultramarathons are a series of problem solving exercises. Encounter some bad weather, move through it. Then, you will have a big, quad thrashing descent. After the descent, maybe your legs are giving you trouble. Your legs feel a bit better, then you have a monster climb ahead of you. Most runners can take each individual battle head-on in sequence by solving one problem and then moving to the next.

When issues pile on top of issues, the effect is greater than the sum of all the individual parts. I saw this unfold at the Beaufort (91.7 K) aid station during TDS. Nearly every runner from the front to the back of the field was tired at this point. CTS coach and eventual 2nd place finisher Hillary Allen (coached by Adam St. Pierre) even had the 1000-yard stare as she entered the aid station. As the day transpired, the runners arriving at the aid station complaining of one singular thing (I can’t eat, for example) would move in and move out quickly to tackle the next climb. The runners with a laundry list of issues (I can’t eat and my feet hurt and my quads are shot) took at least four times longer in the aid station and were moving at half the speed, regardless of where they were in the field. In this way, the runner who can’t eat but deals with it, then has their feet hurting and deals with that, and then has shot quads and deals with that, will finish far faster than the runner dealing with all three issues at once.

What all runners can learn from this: Dealing with issues during ultrarunning is inevitable. They are long and hard enough to present a host of problem solving opportunities. When these ‘opportunities’ creep up, don’t compound the problem by creating another one or not addressing the first. Address each issue as it comes up, when it comes up. ADAPT when necessary and slow down if you need to. It is far better to take a bit more time as issues creep up than continue to plow forward and create compounding issues.

I have always relished the opportunity to attend races as a coach, fan and support crew. These opportunities have always been ‘learning by observing’. The UTMB, CCC and TDS races were no exception. If you are reading, I hope you enjoyed the wonderful coverage of the event and some of these on the ground takeaways.

Carmichael Training System