Tag Archives: Ultra marathon

Some things I’ve learned along the way

Recently a friend who is going to be running in her first 100k race the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, asked me for some race day advice.  I also ran this same event last year as my first 100k race and I learned a lot from the experience.  I gladly shared some of my insights as I wished to help her as best I could.  This spurred the idea that I should share with others as well.  I’ve learned so much from fellow runners since I ventured into ultra running and I don’t think I would have made it this far on my own without their generosity.  Certainly not without a lot more pain, angst and slower progress.   This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a few important things that have been key in improving my race day performance.

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Racing in the S.O.B. 50 miler in 2015.

Run your own race.  When starting out in a race it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement. Adrenaline is flowing, everyone is rested and happy and it’s oh so easy to push harder than you should.  If you are not paying attention you won’t even realize you are clipping along way faster than you should be. Know what your race pace is and stick to it. Following someone else’s pace or simply running too hard up that first hill climb will eventually catch up to you towards the latter stages of the race.

Be consistent in your training.  Putting in consistent mileage, time on your feet, week in and week out helps prepare your body for the pounding it will take on race day.

Listen to your body.  If something starts niggling at you don’t be overly stubborn and just keep pushing through it. This can lead to injury.  Better to ease back on training a bit before something becomes a major issue.  Be sensible in your training.  Don’t get obsessed with reaching a specific mileage every week but instead be flexible as sometimes you get sick, get a minor injury or are just plain tired and on the verge of over training so know when to take an extra rest day.  Better to miss a work out or two so you avoid injury and come back to your next run well rested and refreshed.  And don’t forget to get enough sleep.  You are pushing your body and it needs plenty of time to recuperate and it can’t do it properly without enough rest.

Practice using your equipment prior to race day.  The first few hours of my first 100k race was in total darkness. The trails were single track, tight and rocky with sections with sheer drops down steep slopes. My headlamp of choice was lacking in a major way. It was great for rummaging around in a tent, but did hardly anything to light up the trail before me.  I was extremely happy to see the sun come out later that morning.

Same goes for fueling needs.  Know what you’ll be using and have it thoroughly tried out before the race.   Also know what may be available at the aid stations, but realize that supplies run out and other things happen so not everything will be there as advertised.  Don’t try eating or drinking something new during the race. You just don’t know if it will cause you stomach issues later down the trail.

Train on similar terrain as you’ll experience in the race.  If it’s a hilly course, verify the amount of elevation gain and loss and prepare for it.  Will it likely be a warm day or cool?  High humidity or relatively dry? Expect the worst and hope for the best in what mother nature will throw at you.  Better to have that extra layer of clothing or rain gear and not use it than to be stuck out in cold, windy, wet conditions and suddenly find yourself extremely uncomfortable or even hypothermic.

Seek advice from those who’ve been there. Don’t ignore the old coot in your local running group who looks like he could be your dad or even grandpa. He may very well have decades of experience and sage advice to offer. At one time he might have been able to run circles around you before time slowed him down.

Stay inspired. Set personal goals, daily, weekly and yearly to help motivate yourself.  Have multiple goals set prior to a race.  My first goal is always to just finish and have fun.  My second goal is a finishing time that I think my training prior to the race makes realistically attainable.  Lastly, if I’m really “on” during the race then I shoot for the last goal which may be a PR for that race or distance, or finishing in the top 20% or top three in my age bracket, etc.  By having multiple goals and being flexible with them during the race will help you keep moving when things get rough.  When in such a rough spot you will have to acknowledge that a PR is just not happening today, but you will realize you can still enjoy yourself out there and finish with a sense of accomplishment.

Use social media to your benefit. Strava, Facebook and others can help you connect with other runners, find new trails, see how others train and get involved with running groups.

Read, read and read some more. The library, magazines, online blogs podcasts and websites can all be a wealth of information.  Just be sure the source is a credible one.  In my town one local shoe store carries books you can check out like a library.  They have books available that my library may not and if I really love the book I can purchase it from them.  Also, if your local library doesn’t carry a book you are interested in ask them to obtain it on loan from another branch.  You might even be surprised that they may be willing to purchase it to add to their collection.  I will list specific books, publications, web sites and podcast that I’ve found helpful in another post.  For now try reaching out and exploring on your own.

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Taking in the beauty of the surroundings while on a training run.

Lastly, have a life outside of running.  I believe it’s helpful and healthy to have other interests.  Sometimes these can be complementary to your running.  I myself have enjoyed photographing the natural landscape for years before running came along.  I currently don’t pursue it as I used to, but I am not hesitant to spend some time photographing even if it means stopping during a long training run to pull out the camera and taking a few snaps of the scenery in front of me that I find so inspiring  I also believe we need to be mindful that we don’t become so obsessed with running that these other parts of our lives begin to suffer such as your job and especially your family and friends.  They often help us make running and attending races possible.  They may have endured countless hours of hearing about our latest training runs, injuries, races, new gear we’d love to have etc. So be sure to give back plenty of love and friendship as well.  They deserve it.

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My son helping finish. My family supports and inspires me!

Hopefully some of you found some of this useful and feel free to leave your own comments with further suggestions.  Until next time, happy trails!

 

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My Local Running Community and the Dynamic Duo

imageAs a trail runner and recent ultra runner convert I am so fortunate to live in Bend, Oregon. Not just because of the plethora of running opportunities on the National Forest Trails, Three Sisters Wilderness trails, Smith Rock state park to name a few, but also because of the awesome running community. As I’ve learned about how to run starting from my first half marathon in 2009 to my first 100k last year I’ve been able to learn much from so many individuals. From long time local runners who showed me where to go run and inspired with their never waning passion even in their advanced years, free training group runs and just the great openness of more experienced runners willing to share their knowledge. Add to that the large number of elite runners here with the same openness and attitudes it all adds up to a wonderful place to be as a runner. Take the latest example. Two great local runners Denise Baroussa and Jeff Browning both ran a great race at the Hurt 100. Not only that but they both won in dominating fashion. It was a lot of fun to watch online as updates came in via Ultra SignUp throughout the race and updates and photos via Facebook. Being able to root for a couple of local runners who make themselves available to the average runner such as myself makes it all the more meaningful and fun.

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A week later upon their return from the tropical paradise of Hawaii a couple of local running companies, Recharge and Footzone threw together an informal party to congratulate them. People mingled and talked of the race and running while sipping on great local brews. Denise and Jeff both graciously did a Q and A session with those in attendance. It was an opportunity for them to relive their well earned victories a bit longer and share their experiences. This was another opportunity for myself to learn a bit more on running and racing and get some more inspiration. I certainly am lucky to call Bend home.

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Walking during ultra and trail races

As a new year approaches and with it thoughts of possible races to partake in, new trails to explore and adventures to be had I reflect back on this past running season.  I feel from a running standpoint it was a successful one for me as I took on and completed more challenging races then my previous year.  As I hope to continue this trend in 2016 and improve I need to work on all aspects of my running.  One of the things as a trail runner I encounter plenty of is mountainous terrain.  In fact many ultra races are established within this type of environment so it pays for one to be properly prepared.  Although I’ve completed seven ultra races ranging from 50k, 50 mile and 100k distances these last two years I am still a newbie to the sport with much to learn.  In his article Training to walk for ultra, trail and mountain running , Ian Corless explains why walking it is not only o.k. and not a sign of weakness, but should be a part of any runners racing/running strategy.  For those who have many years of racing experience under their belt I feel they still might get some new insights or at least reminders on how to approach, plan for, train and execute hill climbing.  I intend to try and employ what he speaks of as much as possible into my running as so should you.

Training to walk for ultra, trail and mountain running

Climbing Broken Top during a training run.

Climbing Broken Top during a training run.

Running against anxiety and depression.

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I along with some 40 million other adults in the U.S. Suffer from anxiety and depression. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)  It’s a debilitating illness that has no easy answers or solutions. Just a constant battle in which I at times feel I am either winning or losing. But whether I happen to be on one side of the spectrum or the other or somewhere in between I know it’s ever flowing and changing. When I’m doing well, feeling generally good, you know a happy person, I tend to forget that this stasis is only temporary. Sooner or later it will start to go the other direction. And when I am at the other end, suffering a severe bout of the illness it feels like it’s going on forever. Over the years with the help of others I’ve developed coping mechanisms that I try to employ and help me along these turbulent seas. About six years ago I realized exercise was quite beneficial. It helped lesson the depressive episodes, made anxiety a bit less severe and in general helped me cope better. I soon turned to running regularly as this was my favorite form of exercise. Doing something I enjoy helps make it more likely that I’ll stick to it at a regular basis for the long term and thus be beneficial to my well being.
But today I struggle. I struggle to get myself outside for a run. In fact it’s the third day I haven’t run or done some excercise and during the last two weeks I’ve not been very consistent. I currently find myself in a place where my mental illness is getting the better of me and this makes everything in life more challenging. Work, family, daily chores and tasks and even going out for a normally pleasurable run all become more difficult to accomplish and deal with. This includes doing things to help myself through this current upsurge in depression and anxiety. So here I sit wanting to be better but feeling helpless in doing anything about it. I share this with you because the majority of the population does not suffer from this mental illness and yet some 18% of you out there are in the same boat as I. So to that 18% of you I say if you are in a bad state right now please hang in there and cut yourself some slack. You are not alone and you can get out to the other side in time. To a place where you are not feeling so overwhelmed and where life becomes more tolerable and even pleasant again. For those of you who don’t fight this illness please be considerate to those who do. It’s a hard illness to comprehend if you yourself don’t suffer with it. It’s important to give support to those that do. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who suffers this mental illness in reality you probably do and definitely come in contact with them. To put it into a runners perspective in Western States there are 369 participants in that  100 mile race. This means some 66 of those runners suffer from anxiety and depression. So in all likelyhood you’d be rubbing shoulders with, pass or are being passed at some point with a runner with anxiety and depression. So many of us suffer and it needs to become more visible and accepted by the general public.  Too many of us suffer in silence and that needs to change.  Although I really don’t want to I feel myself needing to go for a run.  See you on the trail.

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Quicksilver 100k race report 2015

A bit slow in posting this race report but better late then never.

Entry into my second 100k race of 2015 happened quite unexpectedly. It all started when I read a tremendous local ultra-runner, Denise Bourassa had hidden a silver coin somewhere in Bend,Oregon. The lucky person who found it would get free entry into the Quicksilver ultra marathon compliments of Quicksilver Running Club and Greg Lanctot.  There were several hidden in other states as well. She posted several clues and I thought I knew where it might be hidden but I waited. I thought a more deserving, experienced ultra marathoner should get it. However after several days and two more clues nobody had claimed it so I thought I’d see if I could. The next morning on a run on Pilot Butte I found it.

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The silver coin!

I was thrilled and nervous at the same time. This is not an easy race. Not just because of the distance, but also because of the over 13,000 foot elevation gain mixed with potential heat.

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Gonna have a lot of climbing to do.

I did have the option of choosing the 50k instead of the 100k race. At the time I had never run a 100k and I was to run my first 100k 6 weeks prior to the Quicksilver race. Not sure if it would give me enough time to recover I threw caution to the wind and went for the 100k. If I finished the race in under 16 hrs it would also qualify me to get into the lottery for one of the most prestigious ultras around: the Western States 100.

In the weeks leading up to Quicksilver I was struggling with aches and pains from my first 100k the Gorge Waterfalls. It was a tough race and I struggled to finish it and now as this race drew closer my confidence wained.

I was dealing with a niggling injury and my body wouldn’t let me put in the training I wanted. After one group workout I approached another runner who I crossed paths with before. I expressed my concerns and she gave me a vote of confidence. She reminded me that I’d already put in the work and I was ready. Even my previous race could be looked at as more preparation for this one. Coming from someone who completed so many ultras and was still going strong helped put me back into the right frame of mind. Thanks Rhonda Sundermeier for taking the time to talk to a newbie like me.

As the race was located near San Jose, CA over 500 miles away I used the prize money I and another lucky silver coin finder from Seattle had received, to help pay for my air fare courtesy the Darcy Fick Memorial Travel Assistance, Greg Lanctot and Quicksilver Running Club. Flying out for the weekend to travel and participate in an ultra made me feel like one of those elite runners. Jetting from one locale to another across the globe to run various races. As this was my first ultra race outside of Oregon it wasn’t hard for my imagination to take flight and I was feeling loose and confident on what lay ahead.

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The race started at 4:30 am and before the start we got a debriefing of the course markers and a quick introduction to cougar etiquette. Seems several lived in the area and one in particular had been seen on the trail numerous times recently.  In fact the race was almost called off because of this. We were encouraged to run as a pack or at least try and be in the vincinity of another runner until daylight. That got us ready to run fast.

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Awaiting the start.

The course immediately started to take us uphill as I followed the stream of headlamps twinkling up the hillside.  I did my best not to head out too quickly, as I have a tendency to do so.  With my first 100k under my belt and still fresh in my mind I did my best not to push too hard too soon as I had previously. It didn’t take long for the racers to spread out a bit but I kept contact with other runners as I didn’t want to mimic the wounded or sickly one out of the herd to attract any possible cougars.  Ha!

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Keeping an eye out for cougars!

The race takes place in Almaden Quicksilver Park and many of the remnants of the Gold Rush days of California remain.  While still running in the cover of darkness we ran around the perimeter of an old cemetery and did a brief in and out into an old abandoned mine.  The race directors sense of humor was to show again later in the course to the chagrin of many of us.

At the arrival of dawn we were greeted by banks of fog.  It would be a while before it burned off and I was happy with the delay of the direct sun and the inevitable heat that would accompany it.

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I found this course very runnable as it is on single track and fire roads most of the way.  So when I wasn’t climbing I did my best to take advantage of this and also tried to attack the downhills aggressively.  I believe one has to increase their pain tolerance in this sport to be successful.  During races of this length a runner goes through many highs and lows along with ever increasing physical pain. Going into this I wasn’t sure if I’d even finish because of ongoing leg issues from the previous race. Luckily some of those issues didn’t get as bad as I feared and I gritted my teeth and trudged on when at times my knees hurt like hell on the downhills. I figured if my body was going to give out I’d go down in flames trying.  I recalled a podcast I heard where ultra marathoner Jeff Browning described some of his physical pain he went through during a race but didn’t injure himself.  This gave me the confidence to do the same. I wasn’t hurt just uncomfortable.  I recall on one section of trail as I bombed down and passed two runners hiking one of them said “Yeah, I used to be able to run downhill like that.”  That gave me a positive boost and during a race like this you have to take them anytime and any way you can.

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Many more miles and hills to go.

But it is a long race and as I approached about midpoint I was going to run by the starting area.  At this time I was in a very low mental state.  My car would be very close by and it would be so easy to just stop, give up and call it a day.  Fortunately it was fleeting as I told myself over and over I needed to get to the end to earn my first ultra buckle!

Now I mentioned previously that it seemed the race director and those who created this course had a sense of warped humor shall we say. Well it was about mile 44 when I encounter a steep hill of loose, jumbled rock.  It seemed the course could have easily been routed to avoid this pile of scree. I think to myself “Are they f..g serious!”  Now at this point of the race I’ve logged a lot of miles, my legs are fatigued from all the miles of racing.  I’m hot and sweaty as the sun beats down unobscurred now as the fog from this morning is long gone.  I watch as another racer scrambles over the top and I set forward as well.  I quickly relax though and take it for what it is. There’s even a photographer off to the right side to document the spectacle of tired ultra runners trying to scramble this rock pile without falling.  I see the humor in this and make my way gingerly.

Quicksilver 100k

Trudging up a steep, rocky section during the Quicksilver race. So fun!

This photo of another runner summed  up what many a runners initial response was in seeing this obstacle.

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All in good fun. But at the time…..

Some time later during the race I started to feel nauseous.  I felt terrible and my energy level plummeted.  I stopped and let another runner go by.  Not knowing what else to do I pulled out an energy bar to see if it would help.  To my surprise it stayed down. Turns out I was hungry and in need of energy.  I greedily ate it and began to walk. Slowly I began a slow shuffle and within several more minutes my strenght came back and I was cruising down the trail again.  I soon passed that other runner I had previously let by and I would wind up finishing the race ahead of him.  Earlier at an aid station I emptied out my pack and unfortunately took out all but that one snack. But at the time I wasn’t eating much and the aid stations had these awesome turkey avocado sandwiches that were hitting the spot.  So I figured the food in my pack was just extra weight.  It’s well worth keeping more at all times as one never knows when they will need that pick me up between aid stations.  Another lesson learned.

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As the miles accumulated I tried to find different motivations to keep me going.  I’d take my mind off the task at hand by observing and taking in the scenery.  I had reception on my cell phone so I’d exchange texts with my wife, giving her updates.  She’d give me encouragement and even sent a photo of my two kids cheering me on.  As they could not travel with me to be at this race it was a tremendous energy lift.  At times I’d find myself next to another runner and as we were running the same pace we’d chat a bit.  I don’t usually do this but found it to be of great benefit.  The last dozen miles I focused on several other runners I kept trading places with.  I used them as my pacer to keep pushing and trying to keep moving.  At the last aid station there was one runner who I had previously passed but she now caught up to me once again.  As I munched on some fruit she came into the aid station, serious and almost angry it seemed.  Brushing by me and other runners she grabbed what she needed and was off in a huff.  I thought to myself “Geez relax.  Your not racing for the podium.”  I decided to try and catch her again.  It was hot and we still had some climbing to do but we changed places a couple more times.  Eventually she passed me and I had to let her go as my legs started to  begin talking to me as we entered the last downhills.  I was ok with it.  In retrospect I realized her rude behavior at the aid station was just her focus and determination to get in and out as fast as she could and get to the finish.  It’s that kind of single-mindedness that gets you across the finish line in an ultra.  A few more runners were to pass me before the end as I also passed a few more, but as I heard the music from the festivities at the finish line I was happy to know I was nearing the end.  I went up a small slope and there ahead of me was the finish line. It turned out to be a great adventure and in the end I bettered my previous 100k by 43 minutes and finished in a time of 13 hours 31 min 21 seconds and earned my first buckle and entry to the Western States lottery.

The event was very well organized and featured great aid stations and volunteers. In this race during and after I encountered some of the friendliest runners anywhere. I highly recommend this race to any runner out there. Great post race bbq , great runner swag and plenty of sweat, pain and sometimes blood and tears. But us ultra runners wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you again for all who made this happen and especially to my wife Julia for all her support day in and day out and for letting me be out of town on mothers day weekend.

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Some post race notes and observations.

Nutrition:  Eating at aid stations helped immensely. I found a particular sandwich they had was really hitting the spot. Had turkey and avocado. Also fruit too. I definitely ate the most in this ultra then others and it helped. Yes don’t waste time at an aid station but do spend enough time to replenish. Time well spent.  Reduce rice balls. I make bite sized ones out of sushi rice, a dab of miso, small piece of fresh ginger, sprinkled with some chia seeds and wrapped with sushi grade seaweed. Last two races I only finished 6 of the 12 I had. Six gets me to about 30 miles and then I need something else.  Phase out gu. Almost didn’t use any. Stuck with real food and Skratch in my bladder. My stomach doesn’t like that condensed sugar.  Picky bars are my go to energy bar/snack.

Putting ice in bladder.  At one aid a volunteer asked if I wanted to put ice in with my water in my bladder. I never did that before and it helped having cold water go into my system those last four hours of the race with the sun beating down.  Ice water soakings help air to cool off the body too.
My shoes felt awesome need to stick with them. Sauconey Paragrins.

New headlamp worked great, Black Diamond.

Changing shirt and hat was good.  Compression socks on calves felt fine. Not sure if they helped but sure didn’t hurt. If it got any hotter I would not wear them as they are warm. It was in the 70s last quarter of the race. Also probably not good if they get soaked in water.

I tried going out slower and hike more hills in beginning of race but still had a faster first half. Maybe need to work more on that so I can have more energy at finish.

I definitely need to get better at hiking up steep grades that I can’t run. I repeatedly got passed in these situations by most runners and lost time. Effort was there but not the result I wanted. On the positive I did awesome on grades of about up to 14% Similar to my training and it really paid off in these sections. Need to train more on steeper grades. Hiking up and maybe learn to use poles. Might help. Could use when allowed in races.

Lastly, next race try to arrive 2 days early. If I could have arrived Thursday night then I could have slept in late Friday and been well rested even if I had trouble falling asleep night before the race. Also might give me an opportunity to scout out parts of the course.

Group runs

This last weekend I had an opportunity to join some other local runners for a fun run. Most of those who participated seemed to know one another already and the intent was for runners and their families to gather together before the start of the holiday season. However an invite was posted on a public forum on Strava and since I was part of this Strava group I thought it would be fun to meet some of these runners in person outside of cyber space. Although the majority were faster, more accomplished runners then myself and seemed to already all be friends I was welcomed into their circle and had fun at the event.

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First Annual Stilly con Chili Trail Run

This reminded me of the general great attitude of the running community at large. When I began taking my first strides as a runner I joined a local running group CORK (Central Oregon Running Klub) on the weekends for runs. As I was still new to town I didn’t know of many places to run. I got the opportunity to learn about the local trails and made some friends and drew inspiration from some of the older runners. These individuals were well into retirement age and beyond and were out there hitting the trails and running races. It was a real eye opener for me. The last few years I try to regularly attend a weekly group called TPG (Tuesday Performance Group) . The focus is on speed work and all levels of runners are welcome to attend.  When I began attending I was certainly one of the slower and out of shape runners. I also had no clue what speed work, tempo and intervals even meant. But again as I’ve found over and over in various groups and even races I was never looked down upon and always felt welcome and encouraged throughout.
So if you are new to running or prefer running solo, as I do most of the time, I encourage you to check out what your local community offers and give it a go. At the worst you’ll decide it’s just not for you.  More likely you’ll gain knowledge, inspiration and a few friendships along the way. Happy trails!

Injury and recovery.

So I made it through my toughest running season relatively unscathed. I dealt with a few issues that required I scale back my training at times and simply stay in recovery mode between races. I tried to listen to my body and yet try to continue making progress throughout. It can be a tough balancing act and for the most part I think I managed it fairly well. However after my last race I took a short recovery period and as the beautiful fall weather beckoned me to hit the trails I did so with mid season vigor. This was to be a mistake. Soon I began feeling some discomfort in my ankles but I ignored the warning signs and kept running at a hard pace. Ultra runners as a group develop a high pain tolerance out of necessity. To be able to compete in long grueling races that can take 5,15 even more then 24 hours one has no choice but to toughen up. To learn to push through physical and mental pain comes with the territory. Once the pain in my ankle became severe and it swelled up I could no longer ignore it.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Pushing forward would have potentially brought on a more severe injury. So as I now take a break from running I’ve been contemplating what one can do to avoid such pitfalls. Much of it seems like common sense you read and hear about from various running sources but it’s always good to remind oneself of these guidelines. Here is one such article from Irunfar.com.

Recover Better: 10 Rules For Optimal Ultramarathon Recovery  By Joe Uhan.