Back Pain?

Back pain is no joke. Many adults and even children suffer from back pain, specifically lower in their backs. There are a whole host of things that contribute to back pain, some are life style choices and some are genetics. Back pain can remove you from daily life activities that are both fun and necessary. Runners are not immune. Running involves repetitive stress and impact for long periods of time, which obviously has the potential to cause some back pain or tightness at some point. Maintaining good running form, following some basic training rules and keeping the back muscles loose will save you from missed work, and more importantly missed running.
Maintaining proper running form and a strength training routine (see mine here)  focusing on the core muscles (including the lower back) is going to go a long way in preventing lower back pain. Running form can make you a more or less efficient runner and it can make you a more or less injury prone runner. What is proper form? First, you don’t want to make big changes to your running form at a time, pick one of these and do it until it becomes automatic and then move to another. If you notice any pain, which you shouldn’t, make sure you are doing it correctly. If any pain continues, reduce it to every other run until it’s comfortable and then increase to every run.
  1. Head up and shoulders back, not uncomfortably but might feel a little weird if you sit at a computer for a long time each day.
  2. Chest up. Imagine a string attached to your sternum about nipple height pulling up to the sun or moon. This is probably the most helpful with aligning your body.
  3. Be aware of your legs. they should be under your body when you land not way out in front, especially downhill otherwise every step is like putting on the breaks and causes major impact to go through your body improperly.
  4. Foot plan should be mid-foot or forefoot. If you are doing one or the other, don’t switch. Basically, you don’t want to heel plant see number 3 above.
  5. Arm swing. Hold a ninety degree angle at the elbow, hands loose, like you’re holding a potato chip. Don’t cross your arms past your mid-line, center of your torso. Your elbows should come up to your hip and swing back until your wrists are at your hip. They should go straight back and then straight forward, a little pull toward the center is okay, just don’t cross over.
Another important factor, is increasing your miles by the 10% rule and taking rest weeks every 4th week (reduce your miles by 20-25% for the week). Increasing your miles too quickly doesn’t give your body enough time to build the muscle to handle the next level of training. Training with big mile jumps leads to over use injuries. Rest weeks are equally as important because they give your body time to heal and get stronger. As we run we create micro tears in our muscles. This is good because they heal stronger and build more muscle. But if you don’t give it time do do that effectively, it will just do the best it can with what it has, which doesn’t work well long term for you.
Self massage on the back. Sure being able to afford regular massages by a professional would be awesome, but not all of us runners have sponsors, which means all our money goes to our shoes and socks… That leaves massaging to our significant others or more often ourselves. The least expensive and surprisingly very helpful are La Crosse balls. Buy two of them from Amazon or a local athletic store and tape them together. Keep the tape smooth and make sure they are secure. Place the taped balls between your back and the wall with the indentation in the middle over your spine. The balls will be on either side. Now slowly raise and lower yourself against the wall. Keep your hips neutral (great squat workout too). Stop on knots for a few 20-30 seconds to see if you can get them to release. Keep going for 2 minutes or longer if you’d like.
A wonderful tool for total body massage (no they don’t pay me) is the Body Wrench, find it here. It’s a bit pricey, but remember it’s an investment in your body and it’s 100% money back guaranteed. You can use it for strength training as well (a 2-fer). It comes with a storage bag and an instruction manual. There are instructional videos online, found here.
Running forever, means we are going to do what we need to do to prevent and fix injuries and pain.

Making the Leap to the Ultra-World: Introduction

making the leap intro

What do you do when you hit the marathon distance and you run marathons for a few years and it just no longer satisfies the need? Go longer.

Ultrarunning is challenging and not everyone wants to be an ultrarunner. It takes a pretty big commitment in order to finish races and not be injured. The internet is packed with information about how to make the transition from “regular” runner to ultrarunner. I’m going to try to simplify things and make it not so daunting.

I love running and I want everyone to love running, so I try to make this crazy thing I do easier for others to digest. If you run less than a marathon, I encourage you to get to the marathon distance before jumping into an ultra.

An ultra is anything over a marathon. Most people think about the 50 or 100 when ultras are mentioned, but there are also the less known 50k (31 miles) and 100k (62 miles). I’m going to give you an overview of the differences in this post and then give you more detail on each section over the next few weeks by comparing the marathon, fifty miler, and 100 miler when it comes to training, food, crew, pacers, gear, and what I’ll call body functioning issues.

Here is a snapshot of what I’ll be covering:

Training: there are definitely differences here. First, the back to back long runs. Second, speed work. However, the rules of ten percent a week increase and taking a rest week every fourth week still applies. This gives your body time to adapt to the increase in miles. Speed work is more controversial some ultrarunners do it and some don’t. There are costs and benefits both ways, which will be in my next post so stay tuned.

Food: You’re going to need to increase your calories obviously, but what I want to tell you about is eating while running. There are few ultrarunners who get all their fuel from gu, or similar product, while running. Solid food is the norm or a mix of solid and energy gels. Bottom line is you need to find things you can eat while you run that won’t make you sick and you need to train your body to digest while you are running.

Crew/Pacer: Once you move into the ultra-arena it becomes harder to organize your events and get through them without a little help from people who love you and like watching you torture yourself (or achieve greatness. It’s really the same thing here). Who you have out there with you and what they do can make or break your race. The more you know about ultrarunning the better prepared your crew and pacer will be to help you.

Body functioning issues: The possibility of injury is always there for runners, but just because you run farther doesn’t mean you will get injured more. And injury is not the only body functioning issue you can encounter. Runners of all distances can have problems with vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and other pleasant things. The longer you’re out there the more chances there are for body functioning problems to arise. You need to know what causes them and how to fix or minimize the problem and keep going.

Gear: There is always lots of new fun gear out there for runners. As an ultrarunner, it’s easier to justify buying fun new things because well…you’re out there for a really long time and you need things, Right? Of course you do. There are some things that can be helpful for ultrarunners to have like blister kits, hydration packs, and drop bags.

Like in anything new, there is a learning curve, but I hope this makes breaking into the world of ultrarunning easier. If nothing else it gives you enough knowledge to begin asking questions or enough to deepen your belief that we’re all crazy. Either way, I’ve done what I set out to do.

Buffalo 100 2016

DSC01490

About 66 runners stood bouncing on their twos waiting for the race director, RD, to yell go! The sun was high in the sky, although, you couldn’t see it with the cloud cover. Volunteers and support crews stood along the sidelines with cameras, smiles and encouraging words.

Fifteen minutes before the runners lined up at the starting line the RD gave a brief pre-race meeting inside the large white tent located at the start and finish of the race. He gave a description of the course and where the aid stations were located.

“You 100 mile runners are going to do two loops around the course,” he said.

“Do you have any maps?” asked a first time runner.

“No, but I can count on one hand how many runners have been lost on the course over the past 11 years.”

The RD continued by telling the returning runners about the changes made from the year before. And then everyone shuffled outside to the starting line.

A mix of excitement and anxiety passed over the faces of runners standing in the chilled air waiting for the countdown to begin. They didn’t have to wait long.

At the count of five, Garmins began to beep as they were turned on and locating the satellites.

Go!

And so it began, runners of every age and size began putting one foot in front of another. They had 30.5 hours to finish the 100 mile trek over and around Antelope Island. They encountered buffalo all along the trails and dedicated volunteers who were out there all night long cheering and encouraging everyone who came through their aid stations.

All the climbing is from miles 1-20 and again from miles 50-70 since the race is a double loop, so the walking starts pretty quickly.

My left hip began to ache a little within the first five miles. I knew it would be a problem and hoped it wouldn’t slow me down during the race. Then there were blisters on both arches of my feet by mile 13. Blisters early in a race were never good. I stopped to take some tape off my feet that was causing some of the blisters. And I left my gloves sitting on the rock. I didn’t realize it until a few miles later and I wasn’t going back. All I could do was hope they were still there when I made my return trip.

Two weeks before I had run the first 20 miles of the race in 3 hours 18 minutes, which is way too fast for a 100 or so I thought. I came in to the aid station at 20 miles in 3 hours 30 minutes. My support crew was waiting for me even though I was earlier than expected.

“I need my blister kit, water refilled, and more apples,” I called out as I came in. They scrambled to tend to everything. I was out within about seven minutes.

I continued down the trail which was little rolling hills for 30 miles and then would climb into the mountain section I had just finished. I felt good. The blisters were taped up and stopped hurting after a few minutes. My hip was feeling better and only ached in various spots every once in a while.

I stopped to take pictures here and there. The obstinate buffalo were right along the trail and forced me and other runners to take small detours into the sage brush to remain a safe distance from them. They run 35 miles an hour after all. I even saw my first coyote on the trial.

My amazing crew was at every aid station refilling my water, rolling out my legs, restocking my food, and telling me how great I was doing. My goal was to get in and out of aid stations within five minutes especially for the first 50 miles. Swiss Miss even showed up with a new pair of gloves. The sunset was absolutely amazing and I tried to run faster to see it without the mountains being in the way. I missed it by just a few minutes.

I came into mile fifty still feeling great and ready to pick up my first pacer, Troy. I pulled on long pants a beanie, and packed a long sleeve shirt just in case. Troy and I set out at a steady pace and hiked all the climbs. We made good time and found the lost gloves.

At mile 70, I picked up my second pacer, Cody. It was early morning and about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. We talked and maintained a nice steady pace. He was running with me during my most difficult hours 3-6 am. In all my past races this was where I lost the most time because I was tired and pretty out of it.

But I had changed my strategy to prevent this from happening. I stopped using caffeine three months before the race. During the race, I started popping caffeine pills about 130 am. This section of the race was still my slowest time, but it was much faster than any prior races.

At mile 83, I picked up my third and final pacer, Jake. It was still dark and I was still running. I felt good and my mood was in a good place. During the last 17 miles of the race there were times when I was coming up small hills and thought, “I should walk,” but I didn’t. I told myself I was strong and the hills were too small to walk.

Mile 89 was the last time I met up with my crew before the finish line. They provided me with more Oreos (my primary fuel for this run) and refilled my pack and off I went with Jake at my back. I watched the sun come up and it filled me with more vigor. I ran the whole way back to the start/finish tent.

My dad and youngest son were there waiting for me a little ways before the finish line. They ran with me toward the finish. I ran next to another runner. He pulled ahead by a few steps, but about three feet before the finish line he said, “Come on let’s finish it together.”

It was 9:30 am and I was surrounded by my best friends, my dad, and my son. I couldn’t have asked for more. It was a perfect race.

Finish time: 21 hours 30 minuets.

Second place for women.

First place in age group.

Ninth place overall

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.

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

The Ready of Ready, set, go!

run 100

Other than training, how do you get ready for a 100-mile run?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll tell you how I prepare for a 100. First, you need to read all the rules on the website. Also on the website, the race director will tell you when or if you can have a pacer. A pacer is usually allowed after the first 50 miles. You want to find out what they will have at the aid stations as well. You will need to train with that stuff if you plan to use it during the race.

I start looking for pacers and crew shortly after I register for a 100. You will need to find people who are pretty tough because they may need to watch you continue even when you look like you could fall over. Not only that, they have to send you back out there when you want to quit. I take my training partners, friends, and my dad. I took my son once and he asked to never be asked again because he had such a hard time watching me continue when I was hurting.

The other thing I try to do is predict when I will be coming into each aid station. This does a few things. It helps me keep on track to hit all the cut offs and finish. It also lets my crew know when I will be coming into each aid station.

To do this, I create a table in Microsoft word. It has a column with each aid station’s name, the mile the aid station is at, whether or not I can have a drop bag at that aid station, whether or not I have access to my crew at that aid station, whether or not I can pick up a pacer at that aid station, the cut off time, and what time I expect to arrive at that point. I’ve included my most recent chart at the end.

I estimate my time to the aid station by experience, distance between aid stations, and the elevation profile of the race. I know that I slowdown in the last 40 miles both in my ascents and descents. So in those estimates, I try to be generous on my time frame.

Once I have times, I can plan my drop bags. I usually put a drop bag in every twenty miles. There are things I put in every drop bag such as stomach medication, blister first aid, food options that the race doesn’t provide, a long sleeve and short shirt, and two pairs of socks. In my night bags, I put in a head light and extra batteries, long pants, gloves, and an extra long sleeve shirt. In my day bags, I have sunscreen and my long sleeve shirts are lighter in color usually white. There are things I leave with my crew too. My trekking poles, extra shoes, extra food, clothing for rain, extreme cold and snow, and pedialyte.

I have my crew at every aid station possible, unless they can’t get to the race until after I start. I really need them there after mile 50. Sure I could do the race without a crew, but it’s so nice to have a someone you know there to help you do whatever you need them to do. The aid station crew will help, but if they are not experienced ultrarunners, they can’t help you much when you are really struggling.

A pacer is helpful because they can keep your pace up when you are tired and hurting. They work as a distraction and encouragement. They can help find your drop bag and dig through it searching for what you need. They can massage aching muscles and help you change clothes and shoes when are off balance. They help you stay on the right trail. They CANNOT carry any of your gear.

My pacers do anywhere between 20-30 miles depending on their experience as a runner. I don’t want my pacer to slow down. Nor do I want them to have stomach issues, blisters, or anything else that will impact my race, so choose pacers wisely and don’t use them beyond their experience.

The final thing I do is have a crew/pacer meeting. At the meeting, I cover the possible weather, all the above information, and any strange behave I predictably have during a race such as I get really tired during the hours of 4-6 am but come back once the sun comes up. I also cover how they need to prepare. They need their own food, running gear especially for the weather conditions we expect to see. They need to be able to entertain themselves for hours while waiting for me to come in. How they can address problems that I am having and encourage me to keep going.

The bottom line is you really need to be prepared for every possibility because these races tend to be in remote areas where you cannot easily get something you forgot to pack or suddenly NEED to have. You do need to figure out where you can go to get stuff if really really really needed.

In my elation, I neglected to tell you I was accepted in to the Bear 100! At the beginning of this year the Bear was my goal race. In March, I found out it was full so I put my name on the wait list. Low and Behold, I got in and just found out a few weeks ago.

Bear 100

Where mile Crew allowed Drop bag allowed Cut off Pacer allowed Expected time in Ascent

From last aid

Start

Hyrum Gibbons

1400 E 350 S

0

10. 5 to next aid

Yes Yes   No 6:00 a.m.  
Logan Peak 10.52

9 to next aid

No No   No 11: 00 a.m. 4600
Leatham Hollow 19.66

3 to next aid

Yes Yes   No 1:30 p.m. 300
Richards Hollow 22.50

7.5 to next aid

Yes No   No 230 pm 200
Cowley Canyon 29.98

7 to next aid

Yes Yes   No 5 pm 2100
Right Hand Fork 36.92

9 to next aid

Yes Yes   Yes

Robert

7 pm 800
Temple Fork 45.15

6.5 to next aid

Yes Yes   Yes

Robert

830 pm 1100
Tony Grove

5$ fee

51.84

8.5 to next aid

Yes Yes 7:00 a.m Saturday Yes

Robert

10 30 p.m. 2700
Franklin Trailhead 61.48

7 to next aid

Yes Yes 9:00 a.m.

Saturday

Yes

Robert

1 30 a.m. 900
Logan River/Steep 68.6

7.5 to next aid

Yes No 11:00 a.m.

Saturday

Yes

Change to Steve

3 a.m. 1350
Beaver Lodge 75.82

5.5 to next aid

Yes Yes 12:30 p.m.

Saturday

Yes

Change to Erin

6 a.m. 1500
Gibson Basin 81.18

4 to next aid

No No 2:00 p.m.

Saturday

Yes

Erin

730 a.m. 200
Beaver Creek CG 85.25

7 to next aid

Yes Yes 3:00 p.m.

Saturday

Yes

Erin

9:30 a.m. 1200
Ranger Dip 92.2

8 miles to finish

Yes Yes 4:30 p.m.

Saturday

Yes 11:30 a.m. 600
Finish 99.7 Yes Yes 6:00 p.m. Yes 3:30 pm. All down hill

 

Which is more difficult, Ironman or Ultra?

triathlon

Verses

run 100

 

I know, I know I have not done a full ironman yet so I can’t really compare them right? I have done a half ironman and run a bunch of ultras. So, I have an idea. My goal is to complete an Ironman, but the logistics haven’t worked out. Plus, I really like ultrarunning.

I’m not sure you can really compare the two races side by side beyond both being an ultra endurance sport. I’m over simplifying in this post, but it will give you an idea. I’m really comparing the full iron distance and 100 milers. Some people think the 50 and the full iron are more comparative.

As far as gear, the ultra is so much less complicated. All you really need is a hydration system, shoes, and some clothes. You don’t technically have to have a hydration system, but it’s highly recommended. For an Ironman you need a lot of stuff such as a bike, a wetsuit, swimming suit, bike clothes, running clothes, bike shoes, swim pass, and running shoes. The clothing can be combined in a tri-suit.

Overall time spent training is similar, I would say. A full ironman and a 100 mile run both take about 6 months to train for, if you have done shorter distances. Day to Day training is similar, but in triathlon you are spreading your time between three sports rather than the one, which may make travel time increase depending on where you live.

The ironman is definitely more expensive than the 100 miler not only in gear, but registration fees, especially, if you are competing in Ironman sanctioned events. Full iron distance races are out there, which are run by other groups and they tend to be similar in registration fee to a 100 mile race.

Ultra running is harder on your body in many respects because you are using one muscle system to compete in the event where in the ironman you are using different muscles (there is some cross over with biking and running). Ultrarunning also puts your body through more impact. I’m not sure which would have a higher injury rate because the ironman includes a full marathon and full marathon runners have a higher injury rate than ultrarunners, seems counterintuitive I know. The ironman includes high speeds on the bike and training around pedestrians and vehicles.

Duration of the race is a big difference. Most Ironman events have a finish line cut off at 18 hours. In ultras 18 hour finishes are the front of the pack. Most 100 mile ultra’s are between 30-36 hour finish cut offs.

As far as the competitive nature of each race, Ironman takes the cake. Ironman athletes are very competitive to the point where they will not stop to help other athletes. I’m sure this is not all athletes. I’m also sure there are ultrarunners who are the same, but I think you find more non helpers in the ironman than the ultra. Most ultrarunners will give you their food, clothing, and water if they can spare it and sometimes if they really can’t. Ultra runners are a very down to earth and good natured crowd. There is tons of comradery and support of one another. It’s not just about who can finish first, but who can finish at all. This characteristic is what makes me love ultrarunning.

Volunteering: Team Nut Up or Shut Up, Gives Back

001

My running team volunteered at the Salt Flats 100 endurance race this past Friday to Saturday. I ran the Salt Flats 100 last year during the epic wind and rain storm. Thankfully, the weather this year was much better. We did have some rain and wind, but it was nothing compared to last year’s run.

My team was assigned to man aid station 13 located at mile 89.3. We wanted our aid station to be the best out there and we wanted to provide the runners with everything they needed at that point in the race. This took a little thought on my part recalling what I wanted and needed during my 100 mile races at mile 89. At mile 89, many runners just want to be done. They are tired, hungry, and hurt.

We set up two canopies with sides to hold in the heat from our propane heaters. We had a full kitchen in one canopy to provide the runners with quesadillas, romen noodles, coffee, and hot chocolate. We had Christmas lights strung up around the canopies and other lights illuminating the entire aid station. The runners drop bags were kept dry under tarps.

Inside the other canopy were chairs, the heaters, a table with fruit, chips, water, power aid, coke, mountain dew, ginger ale, cookies, candy, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, gu, salt tablets, salted potatoes and various over the counter medications. We were ready for any blister or foot issue the runners presented with. We had massage tools for tight muscles and blankets to wrap cold runners.

There were fourteen of us out on the top of the last climb in the race waiting for runners. From my team I had Swiss Miss, Spongebunny, EZ, J$, Gear Gnome, Cousin Jon, and myself. There were four people from the ham radio team and three other volunteers.

We massaged them, filled their water bottles, brought their drop backs to them, and packed them full of snacks for their last ten miles.

The greatest thing we had at our aid stations was the portable propane pizza oven. We were able to bake fresh pizza (take and bake pizzas) right there for the runners and volunteers.

We didn’t expect any runners before 10:00 pm, but we arrived at 430 pm to set up before dark and before any rain began to fall. Forty-three runners started running Friday morning at 7:00 am. Just under thirty runners came through aid station 13. No one dropped out at our aid station. We tried not to let them linger for too long because body temperature drops quickly when you stop running.

The first runner arrived just before midnight. We went a little way down the road to meet him as he came in, telling him about the options available and asking what he needed. The look we got when we told them there was fresh baked pizza was so worth the cost of getting the oven and pizzas.

“You have pizza?”

“Yes, fresh baked right here.”

“Oh my god! I love pizza.”

“Let’s get you into a chair and you can have all you want.”

We’d usher them into the warm space, sit them down, and set a piece of warm pizza in their waiting hands.

Through a mouth full of pizza they each said, “This is the best pizza I have ever had!”

Cost of the pizza and oven $300.00; The appreciation and joy on runners faces at mile 89, priceless.

 

When it all goes wrong… it’s still a beautiful thing

The Buffalo 100 Endurance Race was a struggle. Running 100 miles is challenging, but some really ask are you a sissy pants or can you roll with the big dogs? Salt Flat’s 100, dished up 16 hours of rain and 40 mile an hour wind with a side of stomach issues making me consider quitting once at 50 miles. Pony Express was near perfect conditions, never once did I think of quitting. Things got hard and I had to slow down, but I was going to finish. Buffalo Run took the liberty of reminding me I have a lot to learn.

I was so excited that the weather was going to be beautiful for the Buffalo Run. Beautiful things can often blind us to problems. I wanted that sub 24-hour finish time. I was so close at Pony Express (24 hours 15 minutes), Buffalo Run was going to be my race.

I put in all the training, tapered, and felt good on race day and then the dominos started to fall.

My hydration pack was leaking. The temperatures climbed into the low to mid-seventies. The heat was getting to me. At one point, I was dizzy and light headed and had to slow down. I made my goal time for the first 20 miles, but came into the aid station soaking wet from shoulders to knees and had blisters on my feet. We changed my shoes and shorts. I took my handheld water bottle and continued down the trail. I was the sixth woman at that point.

There is no shade on the course, none. The sun continued to scorch my skin. Because it is early in the season, I had done zero heat training. I run in the early morning hours when temperatures are between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. I came into the aid station at 27.5 miles overheating, sun burned, and fighting nausea. Gear Gnome told me everyone was feeling the heat. Some runners were laying in the shade tent after vomiting repeatedly. “Everyone is feeling the heat and slowing down. But you’ve moved up three places because of it and your only ten minutes behind where you thought you would be.”

I told them I would be slower on this next section, 12 miles, until the sun went down. Sure enough as soon as the sun went down and a slight breeze cooled my skin, I was able to get in some good miles. My quads were starting to ache, which was abnormal because I do hill training, have run races with a lot more climbing, and had never had that happen. I knew the second loop through the mountains would be challenging on the descents.

I met back up with my crew at 38 miles and was in and out pretty quick. It was five more miles to the next aid station, which went by fast as did the next six miles into the fifty-mile aid station. I picked up my pacer, Sponge Bunny. I drank some coffee. I couldn’t decide if I was warm or cold. I pulled on a long sleeve shirt. We pulled off my shoes and drained the sizable blisters on my feet and off I went into the dark. Within three minutes of leaving, I decided I would be cold walking up the mountains so I sent Sponge Bunny back for my pants.

From miles 50-70 crews cannot get to their runner unless they hike about five miles, but there is an aid station, which runners pass through three times. Sponge Bunny and I took it easy not wanting to burn out the energy I had and could use better on the flat sections of the race. After a short time, the coffee was not sitting well in my stomach and I had to force myself to vomit to be able to drink water to stay hydrated. I continued to overheat on climbs and had to take my long sleeve shirt off. I didn’t think this was a good sign since Sponge Bunny was wearing full tights, shorts, and two layers on top. Around sixty-seven miles I started falling asleep while we walked. Sponge Bunny continued to tell me stories and made sure I was on the inside of the trail. As we came down out of the mountains, it got very cold.

I was shivering when we reached my crew at 70 miles. They wrapped me in Gear Gnome’s coat for thirty minutes. The sun was starting to come up and the tiredness lifted. Sponge Bunny and I went back out. I continued to have stomach issues and was doing a mix of running and walking.

At mile 77, J$ took over pacing. I had been going for 21 hours. My legs ached like the day after my first marathon. I didn’t think I could do another day in the heat. Twenty-three miles seemed incredibly far. But I went out. We shuffled along. J$ talked and I grunted. The sun was up and the temperature was climbing again. When we reached the aid station at mile 79, Cousin Jon tracked down some sunscreen and covered me with it. I ate some real food and sat in the shade for twenty minutes. J$ rubbed my sore aching legs and another runner gave us Icy Hot. Then I went back out. My stomach started to feel better for a few miles but then got a lot worse.

At mile 88, I was ready to be done. I climbed into the back of the van almost in tears. I didn’t think I could make the cut off times. Every inch of my body hurt. I was exhausted. I was sick. But I went back out.

Six miles of more heat. Shuffling along at a turtle’s pace. We reached the mountain view aid station. I plopped down into a chair. J$ rubbed my legs again. I shoved some more potato chips into my mouth and off we went once again. We trudged up and over the last hill and then down into the final aid station.

I crossed the finish line after 30 hours and 22 minutes. Totally exhausted and utterly thrilled to be standing on a desert island in the middle of a salt filled lake.

 

Pony Express 100-mile Endurance Run 2014

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Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.

The Pony Express Trail in total is 1890 miles long starting in St. Joseph, Missouri, and ending in Sacramento, California. Riders ran the route, relay style, in ten days. It only operated for 18 months, April 1860 until October 1861, before telegraphs replaced it.

There were 157 pony stations along the route and each horse ran approximately 10 miles before the rider swapped out horses. There were 500 horses. The horses were not actually ponies. They averaged 14 hands and 200 lbs. There were 80 riders. Each rider rode between 70-100 miles of the route and could not weigh more than 125 lbs.

William Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, was the most famous rider. He helped build some of the stations, and then was hired as a rider at age 15. He made one of the longest runs when his replacement rider was killed by Indians. He rode 322 miles nonstop over 21 hours 40 minutes.

Robert Haslam was also a well-known rider. He ran 120 miles in 8 hours and 20 minutes, while wounded, carrying President Lincoln’s inaugural address. He also made the return trip after nine hours of rest. When he arrived back where he started, Indians had killed the stationmaster, so he continued and rode 380 miles.

It took a lot of grit to be a Pony Express rider, and the ultrarunners who run the Pony Express 100 capture the same spirit.

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The sun light fell on the earth like opening the blinds on the first morning of spring. A dust cloud moved across the flat open land planted with anthills and sagebrush. White and chestnut wild horses emerge from the dust. They toss their mains and their nostrils flare as they come to a stop before cantering across the rocky road to take up the run on the side among the splotches of red, brown, and yellow across the plain and toward the peaks jutting from the ground.

The Pony Express 100 is an amazing experience because of the history and the unique setup of the race. Knowing the stories of the riders and stationmaster of each of the stations you run through brings the sagebrush and anthill strewn land alive.

Part of the Pony experience is bringing your own crew to act as your stationmasters. They help you change out your gear and keep hydrated in the desert sun. Pony Express is the most family and friend involved 100-mile event out there. They can see you at any time, your crew can reach you whenever you need, and you can have a pacer at any point by bike or on foot. The race is held over fall break, so kids are out of school and can participate or not as much as their age and demeanor allow.

There is only one aid station along the 100-mile route. It’s at mile 50. There you will find Davey Crockett, the race director, handing out metals to the fifty-mile finishers. Argentine barbeque is dished up for all the runners and their crew and each bite alone is worth the 50-mile trek.

Davey makes the race better every year. This year he added “nearly” real time tracking on the internet. That may not seem like a huge deal in this day and age, but if you know where the Pony Express is held you begin to appreciate the difficulty of doing that. Cellular service dwindles to one or two providers at Lookout Pass. Once you reach Dugway Pass, it’s a dead zone. There is nothing, but ham radios and (in my experience) spotty satellite phone reception.

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My dad and I woke up at 3:30 a.m., and snuck out of the camp trailer leaving my mom and my thirteen-year-old son, Sky, asleep. We dodged cottontails on the dirt road as we drove the 16 miles from camp to the starting line at Lookout Pass. I began my 100-mile journey along the Pony Express route at 5:00 am. It was about forty degrees Fahrenheit. Starting times are staggered at 5, 6, 7, and 8 a.m.

My dad met me at mile five. He filed my handheld with water and took my jacket. I ran the first ten miles or so with the race director of Salt Flats 100, Vince, and a few other guys. We talked about the epic storm at Salt Flats 100. Vince said he talked to the Bureau of Land Management who said that it was one of those storms that only happens every one hundred years. He went out to pick up the port-o-potties on Wednesday after the race and the wind had pushed them 2.5 miles.

While I ran, my dad went back to the trailer to get some breakfast. He met me just outside our camp at Simpson Springs (mile 16.5) by then I was the second runner. Ahead of me was the Jester, who I would get to know as we played leapfrog over the next 50 miles. I remained first or second runner until about mile 92 when Sherrie Shaw (First place 20:15) passed me. She had started at 8 a.m.

The Jester, Ed, has run eighty-three 100-mile races. He is attempting to break the world record for most 100s in a year. Pony Express was his 30th 100 of the year breaking the men’s world record of 29. He had to finish Pony in 22 hours to make his flight to California to run another 100 Sunday! The women’s world record is 36, which Ed intended to beat by four races. He finished in 21 hours and 42 minutes.Pony Express 100 2014 005 one marathon finished, three to go.

We saw the wild horses along the course between the Riverbed Station and Topaz Well. They were off in the distance, but still such an inspiration.

My dad met me every five miles, making sure I had everything I needed. We reached Blackrock Station, mile 48 at 2:30 p.m. From there we went ten miles out to Fish Springs (the turnaround) and then back to Blackrock (68 miles), which we reached at 7:30.

Pony Express 100 2014 007two marathons finished, two to go.

We met up with my night crew, Swiss Miss and Larry, around mile 62. Miss’s cousin, Jon, was a surprise crewmember along with his charge, the puppy Constantine. I was so grateful to see them, because I was struggling at that point in the race. I had given a lot up to that point and I knew I would have to slow down to be able to finish. Miss paced me for the next 15 miles alternating between walking and running. Jon and Constantine paced on their bike on and off with Miss. She was wonderful. She told me all the things I had missed since I had come out to the starting line: Friends getting engaged and busting sneaking domestic violence perpetrators in closets.

Melissa and Larry were supposed to take over crewing for the night shift, so my dad could sleep, but my dad wanted to stay on and see me through to the end. I marvel at how much my relationship with my dad has changed over the years. When I was a teen, we could barely stand the sight of one another and now he is my crew chief for the Pony Express 100 catering to my needs every few miles.

three marathonsThree marathons finished, one to go.

We were way ahead of schedule. I called J$ on the satellite phone to find out where he was. We spoke for a minute before the phone cut off. He met us at mile 78 at about 11:00 p.m. and took over pacing duty from Swiss Miss.

We had our crew meeting us every three miles. It was very dark. The moon was hidden behind the surrounding mountains. My calves were tight causing pain on the inside of my left knee. J$ rubbed them out every three miles. At each stop, they had a chair out waiting for me and something warm to drink as the temperatures dropped. My dad and Larry made broth and coffee through the night.

J$ and I would see our crew stopped on the side of the road ahead of us. Each time, we would think, “Oh, they’re only a quarter mile away.” And each time, they would get farther and farther away, the closer we got. They swore they were not moving. I’m not convinced.

By the time we got to 95 miles, I was ready to be finished. I was seeing three moons in the sky and the stars were clusters of dots rather than one single star. I saw signs on the side of the road that disappeared by the time we reached them.

After 24 hours and 15 minutes, I crossed the finish line of the Pony Express 100.

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