HURT 100 Finisher

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The HURT 100 was an incredible event. The entire HURT ohana (family) was welcoming, supportive, and showered every runner with the aloha spirit. I would absolutely go and run this race again. It was a mentally and physically challenging course but in the most beautiful 100 mile way. hurt-100-5

The HURT 100 is run in on the island of O’ahu near Honolulu. It’s a 20 mile loop through the rain forests including the tangled surface root systems of the Banyan trees, the clacking of bamboo, and multiple river crossings. Runners complete the loop five times. The total cumulative elevation gain is 24,500 ft and the same amount of loss for a grand total of 49,000 feet of cumulative elevation change. There are three aid stations on each loop with 5-7 miles between each aid station.

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Less than 50% of runners who start the HURT finish the HURT. This year 125 runners started and 54 finished. You have 36 hours to finish the race. There are a lot of things that contribute to a DNF (did not finish). It would be interesting if races started tracking reasons for dropping from a race. HURT is a extremely technical race and I would guess many runners drop because they have twisted, sprained, torn, and broken various body parts. The heat and humidity is also a big factor in the DNF rate because it contributes to dehydration, stomach problems, and blisters/chafing.

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I finished HURT in 35 hours and 12 minutes. Not my fastest finish by any means, but a finish. I had two amazing men jump in and pace for me last minute. They live on O’ahu and run the HURT loop about once a week. It was great to get to know them as we made our way through the jungle.

So what did I learn from HURT? 1. train for the race you are going to run. I added hot yoga to my training to prepare for the heat and humidity. It helped immensely. I ran up and down a lot of stairs (the mountains are snowed in here). This helped keep my climbing and descending muscles strong and made sure I focused on foot placement. I also included agility training (thanks Dennis). If you are going to spend a day and a half running through roots and rocks while going up and down mountains, you  best be able to move your feet quickly.

2. Don’t chew gum while you are running because it keeps your mouth wet and you drink less.

3. if it hurts to walk and it hurts to run, run.

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There is a documentary being produced about the HURT 100. Here is a link to the trailer (which I’m in :0) That’s me in the white hat purple shirt kissing Cody at the finish line). HURT does have an amazing story and a beautiful soul. Every ultra course has it’s own personality and soul. I’t’s comprised of the passion and love of the sport through the race director, staff, volunteers and runners, but then there is this piece that you cannot know unless you run the race. It’s the soul of the course itself. Every race I’ve run has a different personality and soul and they draw different types of runners.

 

Mahalo to my HURT ohana and all my readers.

Making the Leap to the Ultra-World: Training

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The same two golden rules of training for marathons and shorter races apply to training for an ultra. First, never increase your miles by more than ten percent. Second, reduce your miles by 20-25% (or however much you need to make an active recovery) every fourth week.

The training programs you find on the internet for ultras usually have you running five days a week. I haven’t found this to be necessary. And I believe the extra day is “junk miles.” What I mean by junk miles is, they don’t help you improve. It’s typically on Wednesday and fairly short compared to the other distances.

Your energy is better spent doing functional strength training than throwing in miles you don’t need. Functional strength training uses body weight and light weights, such as kettle bells and dumbbells. It’s focus is on balance and your core (knees to nipple line).

Balance and core strength are critical when running trails. Rocks, roots, and the shape/angle of the trail can put you off balance. You need to train your body to adjust on the go—quickly. Core strength also helps with balancing. However, the more important reason for core strength is maintaining your form for the entire event.

Form failure causes injuries due to compensation. Injuries cause more damage/strain due to compensation. The longer you can maintain your proper running form, upright, slight lean forward, shoulders back, head up, 90 degree angle-loose hand arm swing, and landing on a bent knee, the less likely you are to cause an injury during the event. The other piece of this equation is, poor forms decreases energy efficiency. Your body has to work harder to put one foot in front of another if you are hunched over, heel striking, landing on a straight leg, or have tense shoulders/arms you’re burning through energy you should be using to run.

Speed work is controversial among ultrarunners. I have mixed feelings about it as well. I know it can be helpful, but you have to balance the increased risk of injury when doing speed work, such as pulled hamstrings or shin splints. The benefit is increased leg turn over, which translates into more speed and less impact per step. These are good things, but I wouldn’t have a beginning ultrarunner do speed work. I would have more experienced ultrarunners include some speed in their Tuesday or Thursday runs, either as fartleks or 800 meter intervals.

The back to back long runs are the keystone to ultrarunning. Your back to backs should be long enough to keep you running on tired legs on the second day, but short enough to allow you to recover for the training week to come. This comes with time. When you first start back to backs, you’re going to be tired. Your legs will feel heavy until your body adjusts. Remember the two golden rules and you’ll be fine.

My athletes train six days a week. They run Tuesdays (10-12 miles), Thursdays (10-12 miles), Saturdays (long run), and Sundays (long run). On Monday and Friday they do functional strength training. Wednesday is a total rest day.

Environmental condition training includes the terrain, weather, and time of day. To be prepared for a mountain race, you have to run mountains. To be prepared for a flat race, you have to run flats. It’s that simple. Try, as best you can, to mimic the terrain of your hundred. During an ultra you can get snow and heat in the same race. There may be torrential rains and hurricane force winds. Because of this, don’t save your training for a sunny day. Get out there and deal with the crappy weather.

One hundred mile races take most people 24 hours or more to complete. This means you will be running during the night. You need to be comfortable with a headlight and negotiating trails with the limited light. If you’re not, they will significantly slow your pace throughout the night. That’s a long time to be slow. The night time hours can be the perfect time to increase your pace and make up some time because of the lower temperatures at night (most of the time). Don’t lose this chance. Train in the dark.

Mental exhaustion is another thing you can mimic in your training. You’re going to have it during a 100 and maybe even a 50. How are you going to deal with it? Caffeine is a possibility or energy drinks of some sort. Just be careful because these increase your heart rate and your core temperature. You obviously don’t want your heart rate or temperature up any higher than running 100 miles causes.

Finally, be consistent. You’re going to be tired. Don’t let it be an excuse to not get your training done.

Making the Leap to the Ultra-World: Introduction

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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.

Heroes and Angels

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I love aid station volunteers. A Lot. They have saved countless runners who are ready to quit. They have assisted grumpy and rude runners with a smile. They’ve helped change dirty smelly runners socks and shoes. They stand out in the cold and rain patiently waiting for the last runner to come through.

They are heroes and angels.

Last year I decided to make heroes out of my running team. Well, they were already my heroes since they are my ultrarunning crew and pacers, but I wanted them (and me) to be heroes to other runners too.

We decided to man aid station 13 at mile 89 of the Salt Flats 100. I soon found out just how hard it is to pull off a successful aid station. There is actually a lot involved if you want runners to leave feeling as best as they can at mile 89.

Race directors supply their aid stations with as much as they can depending on the money from registration after other costs and sponsors for the race. This means supplies can very greatly depending on how big and well known the race is.

Salt Flats 100 is not a big race. It doesn’t fill up days after opening registration. Most years it doesn’t fill up at all. Because of this, my team brings a lot of our own stuff to create a refuge for the runners.

Runners don’t ask for much at mile 89. What they want is a bit of shelter, food, and encouragement.

Shelter: my team puts up two big canopies and walls off three and a half sides to create a shelter for the runners. Salt Flats 100 is run in the west desert of northern Utah. If you’ve seen the movie “Independence Day” the scene where Will Smith is dragging the alien through the desert on a parachute was filmed at the Salt Flats. It’s barren and exposed. There are mountains, but those are also barren and exposed.

Food: by mile 89 runners are either hungry and want real food or they are having significant stomach issues and would rather die than eat food. Most are in the former category. My team brings out a big camp kitchen and a propane pizza oven. We’re able to make pizza and quesadillas in the evening and night and then breakfast burritos and pancakes in the morning. We also bring the snacks we love to have when we run.

Encouragement: the “You’ve got this” attitude is a must for aid station volunteers. My goal is to never have a runner drop at my aid station. It gets ugly out there and pushing forward when your exhausted, want to vomit, and have torn up feet is tough. The front of the pack runners come through strong and don’t stay very long. The longer the runner is out on the course, the greater the beating their body takes. It’s harder to go slower. I know it’s the same distance, but it’s not the same race.

I mean think about it, the back of the pack is usually less experienced, less trained, or injured. Their mental state has been going up and down for miles and hours. Their stomach is likely to be in bad shape because of the duration of effort being pumped out. They are more exhausted. They’ve been exposed to the weather longer. They’ve been on their feet pounding away with sweat and dirt in their shoes for much longer than the front of the pack.

Volunteering for an ultra aid station is rewarding and it’s hard work.

Thank you to all the aid station heroes and volunteers.

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Oh, look a shiny new race!

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There are so many races to run and sometimes the ones you want to run are on the same weekend! It can be so hard to decide which races you are going to do. Of course, you can make your choice and then put the others on the list for the next year.

I see races I want to run all the time. It’s hard not to whip out the cash and register for one every weekend. Even if running a race every weekend isn’t cost prohibitive, you shouldn’t put your body through the rigors of a race very weekend.

Racing means you push your body to its limit to achieve the time and distance you set out to do. When you run this way, you cause micro tears in your muscles and tendons. Running a race in this way every weekend will not let your body heal and get stronger. Running at your max ability stresses every system of your body and can lead to you getting injured, sick, or plain exhausted.

You should choose your races based upon your fitness and your availability. If you lack the fitness level to run a marathon and don’t have the time to train for one, don’t sign up, even if it’s in a really cool place or you have friends doing it. If it’s a new race distance for you, look at the training program first and figure out if you have the time to dedicate to the training you need to do. If you don’t, then run something that is within your fitness level and availability.

The goal is to keep running and committing yourself to a race that is out of your league when you don’t have the time to train will only cause you stress and angst. It can also put you in the position of having to choose to either forfeit your money or run the race under trained. If you run under trained you can end up injured and not running for weeks or months. One race is not worth, months of not being able to run.

Running an event as a training run is another option. You don’t have to run a race at your max capacity. You can use it as a supported training run. Many of the events I register for, under the 50 mile distance are just that, training runs. It gives me the chance to run with new people and in new places.

I choose one goal race a year and the rest of my races help me keep focused and motivated to keep working toward my goal. My goal race is a 100 mile run typically in the fall. A fall race gives me all summer to be out running in the mountains getting stronger. The warm sunny weather allows me to train for long periods of time during the day and the night.

I choose a challenging course because I don’t compete with other runners. I compete with the course and myself (if I have a prior finish). Autumn is my favorite time of year and running through the mountains with the autumn leaves and the earthy smell gives me no end of joy.

Pick your events for the season, register, and put everything else on next year’s race list.

Vegan Running

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I know you are all probably wanting to hear how the Buffalo 100 went, but I wrote this blog before the race. I figured I’d be sleeping and eating for the 24 hours after the race and blogging would not be a top priority. But stay tuned, I’ll write a report for Thursday.

I’ve blogged about nutrition a few times including low carbohydrate running and fueling during your runs. Since my lifestyle has moved to vegan, I thought I would blog about how that impacts or could impact your running.

I’m not going to get into the reasons I switched to a vegan lifestyle because it doesn’t really relate to my running. For those who don’t know what vegan is, it means I don’t eat or use products which contain any animal products. It’s different from vegetarian because vegetarians will eat dairy products and some also eat eggs and fish.

The one thing I hear the most from people is where do you get your protein?  Don’t you need protein to build muscle?  This is just a lack of knowledge. There is protein in many plants. There are the well- known vegan “meats”  tofu, tempeh, and seitan. But Lentils, edamame, and quinoa also have quite a bit of protein.

So how can a vegan lifestyle improve your running? It lowers your chance of heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses. It lowers your blood pressure and bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol. It reduces your risk of inflammation even after miles of pounding. It doesn’t decrease your energy levels.

There are many ultrarunners who are vegan: Scott Jurek, Ariel Rosenfeld, Denis Mkhaylove, Damian Stoy, and Vlad Ixel just to name a few. Scott is probably the most widely known and has taken first place at races including Western States 100 seven times, Badwater Ultramarathon, Spartathlon 153 miles, and Hardrock 100.

As far as advice about transitioning to a vegan lifestyle as a runner: make the transition slow so your body has time to adjust. You can take out one thing at a time for a week or two until all animal products are gone. Some people have gastral intestinal issues during the transition. If you take things slow, I think most of this can be avoided.

Things I have noticed: I have to eat more frequently when I am running, but it has yet to cause any stomach issues. I still recommend watching the quantity you put in at one time. It’s better to eat more frequently but smaller amounts when you are running especially, if you have had stomach problems in the past.

Give your body time to adjust to being vegan before a big race. I changed three months before a race came up on my calendar. Get some good long runs in and back to backs before race day, so you know if you could be facing some GI issues on race day and how to deal with them.

 

Could You Run Without Your Support Team?

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I couldn’t. My crew and pacers have been and continue to be instrumental in my ultrarunning and finishes. I know some runners complete ultras without crews or pacers. And my hat goes off to them. I sometimes think I could do it without, if I needed too. I’ve done the first fifty miles of a few hundreds without a crew (you typically can’t have pacers within the first fifty miles). And those races went fine. I’ve also had total melt downs at mile 83 and my crew has been able to get me back out there to finish the race.

I love to have them there even if I don’t “need” them. Their smiling faces and tough love make my race fun even when I’m struggling. Their belief in me, when I don’t believe, gets me through.  Sharing my success and love of running is another reason I bring out such a large crew. I have six people, three pacers and three crew, who will be joining me out on Antelope Island for the Buffalo 100 on March 18th and 19th.

I also recognize they are giving up time with family to be out there supporting my running habit. It’s important to me to recognize that and remember it during races. I try to be very aware of their sacrifice when I come into aid stations. I don’t want to criticize them or be a pain in the ass. They are, after all, out there just for me.

Because of all of this, I make a special effort to make sure their needs are taken care of and that they will have a good time out there as well. When I have my crew meetings, I go through things they will need and what their experience will be like. I try to plan things as precisely as possible so they know what to expect and don’t have to guess about what I will need or search for things I am asking for.

Even though I don’t have to have drop bags with my amazing crew at every aid station they can get to, I put them there to make life easier for my crew. It is easy for them to come into an aid station get my drop bag, which has most of what I thought I would need at that particular place and time in the race.

I also try to find a gift for them which is meaningful and will remind them how important they all are to me.

Take care of your support system and never forget, they don’t have to be there. They are there because they love to watch and help you succeed.