Monthly Archives: February 2016

The 100 experience

run 100

People ask me all the time how I run 100 miles and if I’m feeling factious I say one step at a time. But I know they want to know more, how is it possible and how does it feel to run 100 miles without stopping.

Running 100 miles becomes possible through passion, dedication, and a lot of training. Just like running any distance, you have to work up to it. You really shouldn’t just decide one day to go run 100 miles and then do it. The training takes six months, and that’s if you have a good base to build on.

Okay that’s all fine and good, but what happens and how do you feel during the race? This varies from individual to individual and there are good races and bad. I’ll tell you about both extremes. Most races, for me, have had a little of this and a little of that.

The good: running down trails is just amazing no matter how you look at it. You soar on the runners high while you bomb down the slopes jumping over and around rocks, roots, and branches. You crash through creeks. For a runner, there is just nothing like it. When the sun comes up on the second day, it brings you out of any down mood. It’s the most beautiful sunrise you’ve ever seen. You feel like one of the pack because the comradery and respect among trail runners is second to none. Aid station volunteers greet you with a smile and lots and lots of tasty food. They are always very helpful and happy to see each runner regardless of the weather conditions, at least in my experience. Many of the volunteers are ultrarunners themselves. Even if they aren’t they are dedicated and come out year after year.

The bad: it can get really ugly out there sometimes. You are going to go through low periods and possibly question your sanity. Hallucinations are not uncommon. I’d put these on the good list because I think they are funny, but I can see how they would be unnerving to some.  You’re going to hurt at some point in the race. Your feet could get blisters. You could have chafing. You could be vomiting. You might have diarrhea. You could get heat stroke, hypothermia, and hyponatremia. Much of this is preventable if you are prepared and know your body.

The more 100’s you run, the more you learn about how to address these problems. Notice I didn’t say prevent them. One of the things you can and should count on is at some point in the race, things are going to get tough (or interesting depending on how you look at it). There is a saying among ultrarunners: It’s not if, but when you have problems. Count on having them, and then have the knowledge and gear to reduce their impact on your race.

Aid Stations, Bigger and Better

aid buffet

The number one job of an aid station is to keep track of runners. They check you in and check you out. The second mission of the aid station is to supply runners with food and hydration to keep them in the race. The third thing aid stations do, is encourage the runners.

Aid station volunteers are remarkable people. They stand out there all day and all night and all day making sure runners get through and resupplied, regardless of the weather conditions. They don’t have to be there. They are donating their time.

Many aid stations have a captain who teaches new recruits the ropes and manages the running of the aid station. There is a system and assigned roles, in the most proficient aid station.

Aid stations have come a long way over the years. Not too long ago, and still with inaugural races, there was a lonely volunteer in the middle of nowhere with a tarp on the ground and some food and water set out. Sometimes if you weren’t in the lead, there wasn’t much left when you arrived.

Now a days, they are a runners dream buffet. Most aid stations have tents or canopies with heaters or fires at night. They set up stoves to cook food like quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate, coffee, and broth. And of course, there is coke, mountain due, and ginger ale among the water and electrolyte mixes.

If you can’t find what you want at the aid station or you know that the race doesn’t stock your favorite running fuel, they will haul it out there for you in your drop bag. Drop bags allow you to have everything you need at the aid stations including food, gear, and clothing.

When my running team sets up an aid station for a 100, we bring out a full kitchen. We make breakfast including eggs, bacon, and pancakes. We also  have a pizza oven and bake fresh pizza for any runner who wants it. We can make hot drinks as well. There are heaters, chairs, a cot, and blankets in our tent for any runner to use.

Volunteers at the aid stations come from every area of life and many volunteer year after year. Some of them have become experts in assisting ultrarunners just from their experience as volunteers. They can make suggestions on dealing with the various issues runners deal with and tell you about what is to come in the race. Some of them are ultrarunners themselves and can be invaluable when things are getting really tough out there.

Being a volunteer is something I recommend to all runners. It’s good to stand on the other side. You appreciate the aid station crews even more when you have done it. All the volunteers ask in return is a smile and gratitude, which is easy enough to give even at mile ninety-five.

Is it all about the numbers for you?

stop watch

I’m not saying running fast isn’t fun. What I’m talking about is are you a competitive runner or someone who just runs for the joy of running? The idea of getting into ultrarunning to be fast is a little strange to me. I know there are fast runners out there who can finish one hundred miles in eighteen hours and sometimes less. Those runners are incredible and just fun to watch. They make it look so easy. I’ll never be that fast, but that’s okay with me because I didn’t get into ultrarunning to be fast.

Despite these pure reasons to get into the sport, we all want to know finish times and all the split times. How much time did we spend in each aid station? How much did we slow down after mile seventy-five? Were we able to pick it back up? Is there any consistent pattern in our races?

It’s all fine and good to want to track these things and to improve your times and compete with other runners. However, the risk I see if it’s all about the numbers for you, is it’s no longer fun. The joy of being free and tromping through the woods is lost.

Training should be fun too. Of course, you are going to have hard days, but if you have more hard days with no motivation and you are dreading your runs, it’s time to take a long look at why you are running a particular race and if you need to adjust your mindset.

I got into it to be on the trails and to challenge myself. I believe that most ultrarunners get into the sport to explore nature and spent time on the trails. I choose my races because of where they are. I want to see new places and I want to see them in a way that others don’t get to see them. I also go back out to the same races I did the year before to improve my time, but I never lose sight of the freedom and joy trail running brings me.

Never lose the joy of running. If you do, running is just a job, which is just about the saddest thing I have ever heard. Ultrarunning is a horrible paying job anyway.

Can running help with depression?

depression

I’m not advocating going off your prescribed medication. Not at all, going off psychotropic medications must be done under the supervision of your doctor and never just a complete stop. Running should not be the sole treatment for depression, but it’s my firm belief that it is a necessary component of treatment. Also always talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program if you have any chronic or serious health issues (see the lawyer in me showing). With that said, let’s see what the psychological benefits of running are.

Running boosts self-esteem because you’re body improves and you feel like you are accomplishing something as you improve in your times or your distance. Running also releases endorphins, which trigger positive emotions. The “runners high” is a real thing people. This feeling of euphoria can change your outlook on your day and if you run daily, it can change your life.

I know I’m talking about running specifically here, but any type of moderate exercise is going to bring up your mood. The difficulty is getting started when you don’t have any motivation and don’t even feel like getting out of bed.

If this is you, start with something light such as yoga and definitely get someone to go with you. Pick someone who can give you some tough love and really support and validate your feelings and accept where you are with an open heart.

Next think about activities you enjoyed in your past and whether or not you like group activities or individual. A class may be the perfect thing for one person, and individual tennis lessons may be better for someone else. You should pick something that fits well in your schedule and eliminate any excuses you see yourself coming up with when you are having a difficult day.

Start small with twenty to thirty minutes three days a week, and as you feel better, you can increase your duration and/or the number of days each week.

It’s hard and you are going to have to force yourself to get started, but in the long run you will be glad you did.

Benefits of Running Alone

thinking runner

Do you get lonely when you run alone? I don’t. Sure, it’s nice to have someone along for a run once in a while maybe even a few days a week, but there are benefits to running alone too. Running is a great way to clear your head of all the stresses of everyday life. Talking with others about stresses is helpful, but breathing fresh air and just letting go of it, can be even better.

Running alone gives your brain the space to wander and create. I do some of my most creative thinking when I’m running alone. If you have someone there talking with you, you spend your energy processing what they are telling you and responding to them. This is probably my favorite thing about running alone. During the first twenty minutes to an hour, I think about a lot of things. Thoughts just jump in and out of my head, but then it goes quiet and the magic begins.

As an ultrarunner, you can potentially spend a significant amount of time alone during races and if you don’t train alone and become accustomed to being inside your own head, it can get scary. The critic inside your head is rarely a nice guy. Your mood goes up and down during a 100 mile race and if the race is the first time you are having to deal with that without another person to distract you, it’s going to get ugly.

There is an old saying among runners, never try anything new during a race. That means no new types of clothing, gear, or food. It applies equally well in this situation too.  You want to be able to mimic your race conditions as much as possible during training including elevation, gear, food, terrain, shoes, clothing, drink mixes, and yes the people in your head.

Running one hundred miles takes both physical and mental training. You have to learn to deal with whatever is inside your head or it could get the better of you during your event. The sooner you can learn different strategies for dealing with any self-defeating thoughts and negativity the better all of your runs will be.

One of the most effective ways I’ve learned to deal with this is through awareness. I know the tough times are coming and I know they will pass, so I stay focused on what’s around me. I stay present feeling the ground beneath my feet and taking in any other information my senses are picking up on. Your brain has a hard time criticizing you if you it’s filled with sensory information.

I try not to linger on any negative thoughts. If they just won’t go away, I begin challenging them by coming up with as many experiences I’ve had which contradict whatever the negative thought is.

What do you do to counter act negative thoughts during a race?

It’s all about that base

undies

I’m talking about base miles, of course. Base miles are your foundation as a runner. They are the miles you maintain even when you are not training for a race or it is your off-season, which is typically winter. Maintaining a base allows you to increase your miles easier when race season opens back up. It also makes sure you don’t lose the fitness you fought so hard to achieve.

How many miles you maintain depends upon your goals for the spring and the amount of miles you were running at before.

The longer and earlier your spring race is the more miles you will want to maintain during the off-season. Most marathon training programs are between sixteen and twenty weeks long. They start out with low miles and slowly build ten percent each week. If you’ve already spent sixteen weeks building do you really want to start at the beginning again? Most runners do not want to start over every race season, so they maintain a base.

This base means you can jump into the build phase of training as soon as possible, cutting six to eight weeks off of your training programs.

If your goal race is a marathon, I recommend maintaining twenty miles a week as your base or four five-mile runs. If you’re running 5k’s and 10k’s a base of 15 miles is sufficient but I would run four days a week rather than three fives. As a 100 mile ultra-runner, I maintain 50 miles a week during the off season (10, 10, 20, and 10 miles).

Your base miles should be low enough to allow your body to recover and relax, but not lose what you have gained. If you’ve been struggling with any injuries, starting your off season with a two week break may be the best thing you can do. The off season is the ideal time to address any aches or pains which have been hounding you throughout the race season.

Dropping down to half of your peak miles is a good place to start with deciding on how many miles you want to maintain. You can throw in some speed work or tempo runs every ten days to keep your muscles accustomed to running fast. If your bread and butter is the long run then keeping a moderately long run as a part of your base is a good idea.

Think back to your training and find the miles where you were most comfortable. You are looking for that sweet spot with enough miles to take the edge off life, but not make you want to sleep twelve hours a day.

Other considerations are weather, family obligations, holidays, or vacations all of which have to be worked around and worked with. An off-season provides you with the ability to give these, sometimes neglected, aspects of life more attention.