Eager Beaver

Not everyone is an eager beaver. Pulling yourself out of the winter hibernation can be quiet the process. “But it’s running!” the beavers say. I know I totally get it beav. I’m right there with you rearing to go, chomping at the bit, barely containing the animal within.

But for some, it takes time for the snow to melt, the limbs to thaw, and the warm blood to reach the toes. It can be especially challenging if you have dropped your miles very low over the winter months or if you had a disappointing race season before the cold hit your neck of the woods.

When your miles drop to the point that you are having to work up to the fitness level where you were at the close of the race season, overcoming that mental hurdle of knowing how hard it can be to come back is your most formidable enemy, but you’ve slain this foe before. Write yourself a good gradual training program, set some goals along the way, sign up for races with increasing distances, and help your running partners thaw themselves out as well. Remember how great it feels when you’re at peak fitness. And at the end of next season, rethink the idea of maintaining a higher milage base.

A disappointing race season can leave you depressed and questioning why you work so hard only to miss the goal you set for yourself. If you find yourself in this space, you really need to get out into the sunshine, even if it is just to sit on a park bench. Soak in some of the suns rays. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Wiggle your toes in the grass and earth. Brush your fingers gently on the blossoms covering the trees. Breathe the mountain air. There is nothing like getting outside away from the business of the city to reignite the fire that fuels your engine.

Once your brain is in a better place, it’s time to rethink your race season. Failures are only failures if you learn nothing from them and continue to repeat them. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Failure is not falling down; it’s not getting up.” Find the places where you think you were less than your best and pull them apart until you know why. That “Why” is your starting place.

Turn your why around and look at it from every angle. Get intimate with it. Pull it apart and turn it inside out. Now, come up with a plan to kill the why. This will likely be trial and error during your training.

Trial and error can be fun. It makes you think outside the box. It makes you dig deep and find something new about yourself. You may make new friends through collaboration as you work through this little issue of yours.

We’re runners, we stare into the face of challenge and smile.

 

 

Common Challenges During 100s: part two

endurance-is

Welcome to part two of the challenges ultra runners face during a 100 mile event and some suggestions on how to deal with them. Please post comments and other suggestions as we are always looking for new ideas.

Feet issues

Knowing your feet is the number one prevention tool. But just like every situation or problem that can occur during a 100, be prepared for problems because a change in conditions can change how your feet respond. Have a good knowledge about how to resolve blisters and hot spots. The book, Fixing Your Feet, is an excellent resource and covers just about every issue you can have with your feet. I have a whole kit dedicated to fixing feet. You can find the list of its contents on my gear page above.

Chafing

I’ve had my hydration chafe my lower back, usually I don’t know about it until I shower afterward, but I’ve also had seams in sleeves chafe. The biggest contributing factor in chafing for me is humidity, rain, or having wet clothes for more reasons than just sweat. Carry or pack Glide in your drop bags. It’s light and you can even get picket size. You can also use Hydropel or Aquafore, even Vaseline will work. If you don’t have any of those, ask another runner or the aid station staff. Finally, change your clothes or put something between your skin and what is rubbing, tape works.

Diarrhea

This can be a serious problem because it has the potential to lead to dehydration. I always carry an anti-diarrheal medication in my hydration pack and in my drop bags because this is common enough and serious enough to be prepared for it. If it does happen to you, you need to look for the potential causes what you ate before and during the race, anything new? High fiber? Anything past its expiration date or potentially spoiled?  How much effort were you putting out? At high effort your metabolism is going to kick into high gear and things can pass through your system much more quickly than normal. Slowing down can be one of the things to try during the race. Also during the race, you can try eating something that may calm things down, bread or more complex carbohydrates. Cheese or protein will slow things down. Stay away from high sugar and fruits.

Missing your crew/pacer at a checkpoint

Prepare for it and don’t panic. There can be a whole host of reasons for your crew missing you: you’re faster than predicted, there’s traffic, there is some unforeseen event on the route. If there is any question that you may miss them, use drop bags at aid stations regardless of whether or not they will be there, because then you at least have gear to restock and change if needed. Talk about this in your pre-race meeting, let them know you won’t wait and if you’re not there to check with the aid station volunteers to see if you have checked in and out yet.

Missing a checkpoint or portion of the course

You’re playing in dangerous territory here. You will be disqualified even if it’s an honest mistake. It’s your responsibility to know the course and to check in and out when required. Lots of people get off course and they figure it out. You can’t expect special treatment. If you miss a check-in, go back as soon as you figure it out or drop from the race. Even if you have to go back miles, you should go back, if you can still finish within the time frame (usually 36 hours).

Gear problems

Have spare critical race ending supplies, extra shoes, an alternative hydration system, and extra lights. Make sure you test them before the run. You should be training with these supplies and know if there are issues. Having an extra hydration bladder on hand is just smart. Make sure your shoes and laces are in good repair.

Experience, planning, and a clam disposition are your friends whenever problems come up during a race. Make sure your crew has all the information and that they are not prone to freak outs and meltdowns. You have enough on your plate and shouldn’t have to deal with any crew problems.

Common Challenges During 100s: part one

sexy-ultrarunning

One hundred miles is a really long way and there are a lot of things that can go wrong, in fact, in my experience, it’s pretty rare to have everything go right. I want to go over some common problems runners have and some remedies or at least some options to try to eliminate the cause of the problem.

Stomach problems:

This comes up in nearly every race I have to some degree. Nausea is typically caused by hydration and electrolyte imbalances. Here is a useful table, created by Karl King of Succeed!, that can help you determine whether it is a hydration or electrolyte issue you are having. Another possible source of stomach upset is high altitude. It’s not really the altitude, it’s the impact altitude has on your hydration and nutrition plan. If you are not accustomed to running at altitude, make sure you take small sips and eat smaller portions of food. You may also have to slow your pace to prevent making things worse.

 

Dizziness and Weakness:

First make sure your hydration and electrolytes are where they need to be. Second it could be the altitude, you may have to sit down for a minute, however, get down to lower altitude as quickly as you can. Finally, are you eating enough? No food means no energy.

Cramps:

Cramps are typically caused by electrolyte imbalances or just plain tired legs/muscles. So first, make sure your hydration and electrolytes are balanced. Next have your crew, or do it yourself, rub out your cramping muscles. I also use Icey Hot or Tiger balm.

Soreness in feet and legs:

Everyone gets sore in either (sometimes both) their legs or feet. They are getting a pounding, literally. Make sure you train for the type of course you are going to be running on.  Changing up your cadence and stride length during the race will help because it changes the way your body impacts the ground. A faster cadence and shorter stride reduces impact.

Unexpected weather

Always expect the unexpected, if you still get caught in some craziness (which happens in the mountains) get creative. I stuff a plastic garbage back in the bottom of my hydration pack. They can be life savers in wind, rain, hail, and snow. You can also keep a bandana tucked away some place, which can be used to hold ice to put around your neck. Ice under your hat can also help and ice in arm sleeves as well. I always pack for both ends of the spectrum. I put gloves/socks (can be used as gloves), a long sleeve shirt, and a short sleeve shirt in every drop bag. As frustrating as it can be, you’ll have to adjust goals as needed for the conditions.

Getting lost

It happens. It happens more than you think. Course markings get pulled down by people, animals, and weather. Even if they are there, you can miss them depending on weather, chatting with friends, and level of exhaustion. Don’t panic and flip out. Turn around and go  back until you find a course marking. There’s nothing you can do about it so don’t let any discouragement or anger set in. Just keep moving.

 

Bear 100

bear buckle

The Bear 100 mile endurance run is held the last weekend of September and is located in the beautiful mountains of northern Utah and Idaho, which surround Bear Lake. The Bear has 22500 feet of ascent (yes that’s all going up) and 21900 feet of descent (going down). It begins in the small farming city of Logan, Utah at a park nestled against the foot of Logan peak. It ends in the small town of Fish Haven, Idaho.

The scenery during September is spectacular. The leaves are turning red, orange, and yellow. The temperatures range from the high seventies to the low forties (typically). Of course, you can get your extreme weather years. Last year, it rained the entire race making the trials rivers of mud and rock.

In January of this year, I made Bear 100 my goal race. I saved up the money and went to register in March. The race was full. I was so disappointed. I put my name on the waiting list and began looking for another 100 because I didn’t think I was getting in. I ran Bryce 100 in early June and then planned to participate in the Bear Lake Brawl Ironman distance race, which was scheduled the week before Bear 100.

In early July, I received an email saying I was accepted into the Bear 100. I was ecstatic and registered without a second thought. Then I realized I had nine weeks to train…

On September 25th, I stood at the starting line with my crew and pacers. I was nervous, but confident I could finish this race. At Bryce 100 in June, I had barely scraped across the finish line with 22 minutes to spare. At Buffalo 100 in March, I had cut it even closer with only eight minutes. I was determined to finish Bear with hours to spare despite it being the most difficult 100 of my life. The time limit was 36 hours.

I was a little concerned about stomach issues because I had changed my diet back from low carbohydrate to high carbohydrate.

The first 10 miles of Bear climbs 4600 feet and most of that is in the first five miles. This means you get stuck in the conga line up the side of the mountain on the single track trail. Once we were reaching the top and the trail became runnable in my opinion, I started to get antsy to run and frustrated with those in the front. As soon as the trail hit a fire road, all those stuck in the middle bolted forward careening down the trail.

I reached my first aid station at 10.5 miles, filled my hydration pack, grabbed an orange, and was gone. My crew was supposed to meet me at the second aid station at nineteen miles, but I came in an hour before my scheduled time, so they weren’t there. I filled my hydration pack, changed shirts, grabbed some potato chips, and was off again. The next aid station was only a few miles down the road and I went right through.

Once I finally met up with my crew, I was 30 miles into the race and felt great. The only issue I was having was my insoles were rubbing the bottom of my forefoot. My crew found some duct tape and we taped the insole, so my foot could slide smoothly over it; no more rubbing.

At mile 37, I picked up my first pacer. I was beginning to have some stomach issues. I was able to figure out I needed less electrolytes and more water. I dumped the Pedilyte out of my pack and filled it with straight water at a water stop. I felt better within ten minutes and we were off again at a run. I changed pacers again after sixteen miles. It was dark and the trail was rocky, which slowed us down because we didn’t want to roll and ankle with 50 miles to go.

From 3:00 am to 6:00 am, I’m interesting to be around because I’m very tired and I hallucinate. I am very aware that I’m hallucinating and think it’s hilarious.

Me: “Andrew, do you see those black mice running down the middle of the trail?”

Andrew: “What mice?”

Me: “The ones running between my feet.”

Andrew: “I see them too. It’s a trick of your headlamp.”

Me: “Are you sure?”

Andrew: “Yes.”

Andrew stays with me for 22 miles. At mile 75, I change pacers to Robert. When I first came into the aid station, my plan was to take a twenty-minute nap because I was nodding off along the trail.

The conversation as Andrew and I come in.

Andrew: “She wants to take a nap.”

Troy: “Do we let her take a nap?”

Robert: “No way. Keep her away from the heat tent.”

I don’t nap and Robert and I head out about 5:30 am. It’s a climb out of the aid station (it was a climb out of every aid station).

Me: “Robert, Do you see the black mice running down the trail?”

Robert: “What black mice?”

Me: “The ones running between my feet.”

Robert: “There aren’t any mice.”

Me: “Andrew said he could see them too. He said they were a trick of the headlamps.”

Robert: “Well, Andrew’s on crack too because there aren’t any black mice.”

Once Robert and I left the final aid station, I began planning for Bear 100 2016.

I’m climbing the last mountain, sucking wind and taking breaks. “We need to train doing climbs at elevation, at 10,000 feet.”

Robert turns around. “I can’t believe you are planning for next year at mile 92.”

A wicked grin spreads across my face, “We also need to work on descending rocky trail in the dark. Are you going to run it with me next year?”

Without hesitation Robert says, “Yes, I’m running next year.”

“I gotta find a way to stay awake from 3-6 am that won’t kill my stomach. But it’ll be sad to lose the black mice.”

I finished the Bear 100 in 32 hours and 44 minutes (three hours and 16 minutes to spare).

I’ve registered for next year.

bear plack

Drop Bags…

Drop what? A drop bag is a foreign object to any runner who does not run farther than a marathon. To an ultrarunner, a drop bag is your savior. Well-placed drop bags can even replace a crew for the more experienced ultrarunner.

The purpose of a drop bag is to store gear and supplies that you will likely need later in a long race, such as a fifty or one hundred miler. If you plan to be out on the trail for twelve or more hours having a place to stash some things is very very useful.

I spent about two hours organizing my gear into drop bags yesterday. Salt Flats 100 allows drop bags at every aid station other than number one, which is ten miles into the race, that’s right the first aid station is ten miles in. That may come as a huge surprise to any marathon runner who has a aid station every one and a half to three miles during their race.

In order to pack your drop bags responsibly, there are some things you need to know about your race such as elevation, likely weather conditions, and the aid station food and drink selections. Without this information you will be packing things you don’t need or not packing something that you do need. You can’t carry everything you may need out on the course. And, even if you could, you really don’t want too. It is better to have a drop bag at every aid station than care unnecessary gear especially in the later stages of a race.

Elevation gain and loss changes your gear requirements. It influences temperatures and the technicality of the trail. It affects your speed and the thus the time you will be reaching particular points in the race. You need to be able to calculate about the time you will be reaching each drop bag to be able to include necessary items. The drop bag you will reach just before sun down needs to include things like a flashlight or headlamp. Possibly a jacket and long pants, if it is an early or late season mountain race. Might there be snow at the higher elevations? Or river crossings requiring you to change your socks multiple times during the race? Is there an extreme climb where trekking poles would be helpful, but you don’t want to carry them through the flat sections? You need to look over the elevation map and consider what you might need at each point in the race.

Weather conditions changes your gear requirements. In the desert, it is hot during the day and below freezing at night. The sun beating down on you is unrelenting. Wind changes things as well, think about keeping dirt and other debris out of your eyes. Wind can drop the temperatures even on what would otherwise be a perfect running day. Rain creates mud and excess water, in addition to sopping wet clothing, it could change your shoe choice or pre-race foot preparations. Heat and a dry climate can cause chafing issues requiring glide or some other type of lubricant for bodies or feet.

Food and drink supplies change your supply requirements. Ultra-aid stations have a buffet laid out for their runners. You will find various candy choices, a trail mix or two, chips, fruits, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and during the night hours soup or other warm foods. Drink options are just as extensive, water, Gatorade, heed, EFS, there are a bunch of them out there and it all depends upon who is sponsoring the race. There is generally salt tabs and some type of gel. It’s a good idea to check on the race website or contact the race director to find out what is going to be there. If it is something you don’t use, you have two options either test it out to see if you can tolerate it or bring your own supplies.

The Salt Flats 100 has approximately 5500 feet of climbing over the entire race, so relatively flat for a 100-mile run. The weather conditions are pretty much ideal, 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit with the possibility of thunderstorms. I will have drop bags at miles 31, 50, 57, 67, 81, 90, and 95. My crew will be meeting me at each aid station other than the 90 where no crew is allowed. I pick up my pacer at mile 81.

No matter how well you plan, you have to expect the unexpected. I have learned this not only in ultrarunning, but in parenting too. Being a single mom of two teen boys, the unexpected tends to happen so often that it loses it chaotic feel. One of the most important things you have to also accept and be willing to do is completely scrap the entire race plan on the fly and just deal with things as they come up. If you are too tied to your plan, it can and will wreck your race.

So train for six months, plan all you want, organize and reorganize your drop bags, have a million and one meetings with your crew and pacers and in the end be ready and willing to throw it all to the wind. Only then you are truly ready to run an ultra.