Ultramarathoning

An ultramarathon is a run longer than a marathon.  Because most ultras are run off-road, please first read the trail running page.  This article will specifically address training for, and running in ultras – not how to be trail savvy.

First off, for most mortals, running an ultra is probably not a good warm up for an “A race” ironman.  It is not uncommon to need upwards of a week of serious recovery after a 50 mile race.  But if you have an early season IM race, and don’t want your season to be done in May or June, picking a fall ultra definitely falls under the “doing cool s*$^ with your fitness” motto!

Building up to your first ultra

 Just as in the leap from olympic triathlons up to long course, there’s a big leap from a marathon to a 50 miler, or even a 50 kilometer run.  While the distances are believable from a fitness point of view, one must run an ultra very differently from how you would run a marathon.  The assumption here is that most ultras are on trails, and most ultras contain a significant amount of climbing – and descending. 

I’ve heard people on marathon courses complain about the “hills” – when the only bump in the road is a freeway overpass.  In contrast, the Western States 100 starts out with about 2000 feet of climb in the first 3 miles!!  Oh, and the start is at 6,000 feet!  Many triathletes will survive the climbs due to strong thighs and glutes from biking, but the matching descents can really tear you up.  Start slow and build up.  Rushing into running hills can send you to the doc.

A great way to learn about how to run an ultra is to volunteer.  Ask to be at an aid station out on the course (as opposed to helping with registration!). This will teach you a lot about what people are wearing, how they are running, eating, and acting (the ‘vibe’ is much different than at tris and shorter running races).  Many groups that put on trail races will give you a 1/2 off credit for a future race if you volunteer, which is an additional perk.

Many ultraraces provide shorter distances as well.  Your first race should probably not be more than a 1/2 marathon or a 30k (18 miles).  Run EASY, learn, talk with other racers, enjoy the scenery.  This is a training/learning run!

Another way to gain HUGE amounts of experience and knowledge – for free – is to pace another racer.  Many races (generally only 50 miles or longer) allow registered runners to be acompanied by a pacer for the second half of the race.   You get to run the course, eat the aid station food, and enjoy some great company.  If you are looking to race past 50 miles, I would STRONGLY encourage you to first pace another runner.  Some races have discussion forums (or Facebook groups) that will light up with requests for pacers in the months before a race.

Selecting an ultra

There are two main kinds of races: Distance races, and timed races.  There are four primary ultra distances: 50k, 50m, 100k, 100m.  For timed races, these are mostly in 12 and 24 hour flavors – run around a loop for the time, most miles run wins.

The calendar at the Ultrarunning magazine website is one of the most comprehensive lists of ultras.  Start there to find races.  A nice feature of their calendar is that it includes two ranking numbers – one for terrain (how much climbing), and one for surface (paved, dirt, technical rock).  PLEASE pay attention to these numbers – and for your first couple of ultras…UNDERestimate your abilities.  When the surface ranking gets to a 3 (out of 5), these trails can be quite difficult to run.  A level 1 or 2 is managable, but it is not uncommon to see at least some blood at the end of a level 3, 4, or 5 race.

Some people love courses with tons of climbing, some don’t.  Pay very close attention to the profile contours that are provided on most race sites.  And keep in mind that the scale is pretty crunched – fitting 100 miles of contour into a 3 inch picture means you are missing a LOT of detail.

Race specific training

A big surprise to many new ultrarunners is the amount of time spent walking during a race.  Many courses have prolonged (more than a mile) sections where you are best off walking – so you need to train to walk!  Walking (quickly) up a steep hill uses different muscles than you are used to using – and the hills can go on for 15 minutes to an hour or more(no joking!).  Try to find a hill that resembles the most knarly on the race course and walk quickly up, and run hard down, lather, rinse, repeat.

It is important to do some of your training at your actual race pace/intensity. Your running mechanics might change substantially when you are running this slow – and you’ll be doing it for a long time.  Make sure your ultra race pace running is as smooth and efficient as when you are pushing it.

You MUST practice running downhill.  There is a right way to run downhill, and a wrong way.  The wrong way is slow, hurts, tears up your quads, and kicks up a lot of dust (which will make you popular with your competitors right before they blow by you on the trail).  There is a big section on running downhill in the ‘Special Techniques’ section of the trail running page.  Read it, try it, practice it.  DO NOT try it first time on race day!  Remember when we talked about ‘blood’ earlier?!?!

Another aspect that needs to be worked out in your training is race day nutrition.  In most 5k – marathon races there are aid stations every mile or so.  Not in ultras.  It is not uncommon for aid stations to be 5 or 7 miles apart, which for most runners will be an hour or more of running.  Oh, and since many aid stations are remote, you CANNOT trust that they’ll have all kinds of goodies…or that they will be there at all in some smaller races!  There is also a very real possibility that you will get lost.  It happens.  A lot.  Usually this just means “bonus miles!” – the point is, make sure you are equipped to carry enough water, and train with that equipment.

If your race will start, or end, in the dark, be prepared to run with a light.  Know how it feels to run on an uneven trail at night – it takes practice.  Some people have a hard time doing this – they get dizzy and disoriented.  That doesn’t get better after running 50 miles!  Practice with your equipment.

Race day

Be prepared to be underwhelmed!!  The atmosphere at most ultras is almost sleepy!  Five minutes before race start some guy will stand up with a bull horn and say a bunch of stuff that nobody can hear, and those that can hear can’t understand it anyhow.  Someone will say go…and you’re off.

The ultra-mantra is: “Start slow, then slow down”.  The good news is that ultra racing lends itself well to Endurance Nation style pacing.  The EN guidance on riding a bike up a steep hill translates directly to ultra racing.  You will feel like you are going backwards as people pass you going up hill.  Smile, offer them kind words, you will see them again ūüėČ  Use your uphill walk to adjust equipment, pop a salt tablet, drink, stretch.  As the crest of the hill approaches and the trail levels some, start jogging.  At the top, start your run.  The others who ran past you a while back will now start going the other way.  You are now flying downhill on fresh legs and a clear head.

Just like using a power meter to restrain yourself on a bike climb, a heart rate monitor can do you a big favor in an ultra.  Aim to keep your HR stable between the flats and the climbs.  Even more difficult is keeping your HR constant on the descents.  It’s common to drop 25 beats from your HR going downhill.  And while it’s probably inevitable that it will go down some – fight it, and RUN the downhills.  Running downhill intelligently is where the smart ultra runner wins the race.

Because it’s next to impossible to apply your road pacing to a hilly ultra, we are left with Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), and Heart Rate (HR).  My (untested!) suggestion: shoot for a target HR of 70% of your threshold HR (your flat 10k HR).

Like a long course tri, you will probably want to have someone drive you home if the race is local.  A 2 hour car trip after a 50 miler is torture.  No really…torture.  Cruise control can help ūüôā

 

Trail running basics

Trail running is a great break from miles on the road, or hours on the treadmill.  Trail running is also a key part of Ultramarathons.  Here are some tips to make your experience fun and safe.

Hydration

One of the first things you’ll discover about trail running is that you often have to be more self reliant than you might otherwise be.¬† While you may know every park and schoolyard in your neighborhood that has a drinking fountain, five miles back from a trail head you will hurting if you don’t bring your own.¬† You should also plan on carrying extra fluids, just in case (see the Navigation section below :|).¬† A Camelbak comes in very handy, because in addition to providing an easy way to carry lots of fluid, they also typically have room for stowing some extra gear – either to put on if it gets cold, or to hold things that you strip off as you warm up.

If you plan on being way out in nowheres-ville, you should know how to make water safe out on the trail – typically this means carrying some sort of chemical treatment like iodine tablets.

Critters and plants

One of the great treats of trail running is seeing wildlife.¬† One of the worst things about trail running is seeing wildlife :?.¬† Hitting the trails in the early early morning almost guarantees you a sighting or two.¬† Common animals on the trails¬†(at least in Northern California) are rabbits, deer, coyote (they’re WAY¬†more afraid of you than you are of them!), the occasional (and very illusive) bobcat, snakes, gophers, squirrels, and all manner of birds.¬† And then one morning I came around a bend and saw a chewed off deer leg lying in the middle of the trail – probably the victim of a mountain lion.¬† Yipes.

OK, some big predator tips.¬† Unless you have crazy speed – don’t run.¬† Running triggers a “catch the prey” response that you DO¬†NOT¬†want to trigger!¬† The general rule is get BIG.¬† Stand up tall, raise your hands out, and talk defiantly to the cat/bear.¬† If they do attack, fight back.¬† (Note, some might say that playing dead for a bear is better – but I’ve never had occasion to have to figure that out).

Poison oak and ivy are a continual concern. ¬†There’s a special soap called Tecnu that does a good job of washing off the offending oils¬†– and can also be applied pre-run if you are pretty sure you’re going to be exposed.¬† A note about these plants, they are still dangerous even if there are no leaves. ¬†So be cautious kicking branches out of the way – you can still get a good stripe of painful itch.

Ticks can also be a concern.  Always wear a hat, and give yourself a look over after the run.  Dogs running free are magnets for ticks Рif Fluffy is running with you, be sure to check her out as well.

Navigation

Trail running almost always means getting lost sometimes.¬† Make sure you have a trail map which often available at the trail head,¬†or sometimes you can download them from the park’s website.¬† One thing is for sure – trail signs are very, very often not enough for you to successfully navigate a large area with many trails.

If you can, run with someone who is familiar with the area and the trails.¬† A GPS can help…if you know how to use it!¬† A Forerunner type device will give you some help – but again, you have to know how to use it.¬† If you’ve never played with the GPS functions, start by taking it on a familiar road run.

General Safety

Be aware.¬† No really, that’s one of the most important tips for trail running.¬† If you can “only” run with headphones – deal with it and don’t wear them for a while.¬† You NEED to hear the sounds around you.¬† You¬†should¬†be aware, particularly on singe track trails, of other people on the trails.

Until you get very comfortable running on trails, and even after that, it’s also critical that you focus on what you are doing.¬† One of the joys of running on roads, tracks, and treadmills¬†is zoning out and just hammering.¬† You just can’t do that on a trail.¬† Rocks and roots,¬†mud and branches.¬† When you fall (notice that wasn’t an “if” ;)), take a quick second and think back to what was going on in your mind – probably work, what to cook¬†for dinner tonight, etc., etc. – but it¬†was¬†something other than “trail”.¬† It always happens…you’ve been warned.

Run in the middle of the trail/fireroad.  You are much less likely to brush up against harmful plants, and much less likely to surprise a nasty critter.  Many snakes will try camoflage first, then rattle, then strike Рstaying in the middle of the trail helps.

Gear

The best thing about trail running is your free license to spend $$$ on GEAR!!

  • Trail shoes.¬† While not an absolute necessity¬†(you can get by with your regular shoes), trail shoes offer a number of benefits:
    • they typically have protection against sharp rocks poking through the sole (guess what, it HURTS)
    • they also typically have a good chunk of rubber on the front of the toe to protect you¬†when¬†you kick a rock or root
    • some level of water-proofness, and many trail shoes come in a Gore-tex version
    • wider base
    • “stickier” sole (hint, this means you should NOT run too much on hard surfaces since they will wear out fast)
    • bigger cushion around the ankle (keeps rocks out)
  • Camelbak – drinking is good
  • Trail socks.¬† Huh?¬†¬†Yep, they are important, here’s why.
    • trail socks are usually crew or 1/2 crew – providing some abrasion protection, and a bit of protection from poison oak/ivy
    • the additional height keeps rocks out of your¬†socks¬†(which is a major pain) – anklet socks have a gap around your ankle bones that catch little rocks!
    • trail socks tend to have a bit more cushion, which really helps when running downhill.¬† The downhills on trails tend to be MUCH steeper than roads, and your toes will smush into the toes of your shoes.¬† Socks with cushion in the toes really help
    • you will ruin your regular socks (unless they already happen to be trail-dust-brown)
    • One brand that meets all of these:¬†Injinji¬†– highly recommended
    • I’ve also been running a lot with Drymax socks (I sweat a lot, and they don’t get soggy)
  • GPS – and know how to use it!
  • Survival kit.¬† Check out the¬†S.O.L.¬†(Survive Outdoors Longer) kit.¬† It’s missing water treatment tablets, but otherwise it’s a very light and compact way to carry most of what you need just in case.
  • Trail map(s)
  • Hat.¬† Good protection from ticks, sun, and the occasional overhead branch.
  • Sunglasses.¬† They are good to have for a number of reasons:
    • protection from bugs and branches
    • keep dust out of your eyes (kicked up from other runners, horses, mountain bikes, wind)
    • increased visibility in some situations
    • photochromatic glasses rock (they self adjust between light and dark) – highly recommended when running in and out of tree cover
  • After run – hopefully you won’t have to buy all this:
    • towel to cover your car seat
    • recovery drink (you’ll often have to drive home, so get recoverin’ on your way!)
    • new shoes if you don’t want to get your car dirty/muddy
  • Tracking tools.¬† If you have some geek-fu, there are many solutions for tracking your run in realtime.¬† Here’s an example:¬†Where’s Mike Now?¬† This will help if you miss your return time (you did tell someone where you are going and when you will return, RIGHT!?!?).

Special techniques

Downhill – in trail running the ups tend to be more up, and the downs tend to be more steep than other running.¬† Going downhill the wrong way is slow, tiring¬†and painful.¬† Most novices run downhill with the brakes on – leaning your boddy back, taking big steps and jarring their heels in on each step.¬† This results in trashed quads and lots of hip and knee strain.¬† Going downhill the right way is fast and exhilarating (ok, maybe “sphincter puckering terrifying” is a bit more accurate than “exhilerating”).¬† The strategy is to lean forward, take tons of small quick steps, and keep things moving under your feet, rather than trying to stop yourself with every step.¬† For illustration, think about a BIG rock falling straight towards your head.¬† You wouldn’t dif your feet in and hold your hands up and try to stop the rock, as it approached you would put your hands to the side of the rock and push it a bit to the side, and yourself the other way – so the rock “slides” by.¬† Well, there is a big rock, the earth, coming at you pretty fast.¬† So rather than trying to stop it with your feet, try to push it to the side, and yourself a little to the other side.¬† Running this way lets gravity move you, and all you have to do is stay ahead of it.¬† The first time you try this, you will feel very tired – this is due to the inevitable adrenaline rush that will flood your bloodstream as your brain thinks “I’m going to die”.¬† If you don’t die (if!), you will be on your way to mastering an important skill.

Uphill – Two rules:¬†in training run, in racing walk.¬† When your running slows to¬†15:00¬†min/mile or slower, you aren’t really doing yourself any favors running rather than walking.¬† But the only way to get faster going uphill is to…go faster uphill.¬† So run up when training.¬† But when racing you’re just burning tons of energy without much speed gain.¬† Running uphill causes a lot of up and down of your body that doesn’t typically translate into faster across the ground. ¬†Better to walk the ups, bring down your heartrate, and fly down on your newly freshened legs.¬† By the way, by “uphill” we’re talking UP, and HILL¬†– not speedbumps or freeway overpasses.

One exception to the “run uphill in training” rule – if you will be racing in an ultra with extended very steep sections (like a mile or more of steep-steep), you should get some hill walking training in.¬† Walking uphill uses more glutes than normal.

As for form when running uphill, particularly in a triathlon when your quads are probably fatigued, you can help yourself by “recruiting” your glutes (butt).¬† As you’re running, rock your hips forward a bit – think of pointing your belly button down a bit.¬† You should pretty instantly feel the pressure come off your quads, and your glutes will come alive.

 

Dick Collins Firetrails 50

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What a great day. Not a day free of pain mind you, but great nonetheless!

 

I started my Saturday at 3am (I had planned on 4, but I woke up early). Had my standard race breakfast at 4 – Banana, hard boilded egg, Cliff bar, 1/2 bagel, and a Gatorade. Drove with Karen to the start, where it was still dark. After some quick words from the Race Director, we were off.

 

The course starts out on a flat, paved bike path – which is good since it’s still pretty dark and it serves as a warmup before the first real hills at mile 3. Which is where I made my first change in plan…and I think it was a good one. I had every intention of at least jogging up all the hills. In a past race I had a lot of problems getting going again after walking due to dehydration. Well, I got to the first hill and EVERYONE was walking. Duh. Maybe I should listen. The problem was dehydration, not walking. And there was still a LOT of day ahead, so I joined the plodding procession. I was happy when things leveled out and we could get running again. That first hill is one of the bigger ones of the course, so it was great to get it over with so quickly.

 

Then I was surprised – the course was much, much flatter than I had expected (and trained for). I had read online race reports that this course has very few flat sections, and the elevation profile backed that up:

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But after that first big spike, things leveled out and became pretty gentle rollers for quite a while. There were still plenty of hills to walk up though, and I tried to be disciplined to not hammer on the downhills to “make up lost time”.

 

Karen drove ahead of me and met me at many of the aide stations. Here’s a picture of me coming into an aide station at mile 21.7:

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The next big chunk of the race was pretty uneventful. I was really focusing on hydration, and had already pee-ed 2 or 3 times before the turnaround. One embarrassing moment – there was a winding section of single track trail, and I was all alone, and really had to “go”. So I figure “why not?” Pulled down my shorts a bit and just kept running (I learned this trick from Matt Aro when I paced him at the Headlands 100 last year). Fifty feet later I’m turning a switchback and hear some people, glance back, and I was definitively NOT alone. They didn’t say anything, and I didn’t ask – but I did pick up the pace and put some distance between us!!

 

Funniest line of the day – at the turn around aid station a young lady ready to start out on the second half gave her boyfriend a hug and then quickly apologized: “Sorry for being so sweaty!” – after 26 miles of trail running and she wasn’t Downey Fresh – the nerve! I cracked up ūüôā

 

The next event for me came at mile 34. I was cruising along in a pretty technical section and kicked a root or rock. I didn’t fall down, but I was pretty sure my big toenail was toast. The good news was that about 15 feet after cracking my toe I started down the steepest, most technical section of the whole course. It’s basically a stream bed with tons of rocks, and very steep. Steep = foot jammed into the toe of your shoe. Yeah, definitely uncomfortable.

 

Another hour or so went by with pretty much just easy flat cruise, but then somewhere around mile 40 I lost my focus on hydrating properly. I remember getting to the aid station at 44.1 and refilling my Camelbak, and then in the intervening 2.9 miles to the next aid station I pretty much drained it. This section was the most exposed and arid of the course, and also had a 660 foot rise (so there was a lot of walking). Why do race directors feel compelled to put the hot, dry sections of a race right near the end?!? But indicative of how well this race is run – there were aid stations on either side – so that was nice.

 

Then the real pain began – not due to the course as much as my own (pick one): vanity, drive, insanity. Right at mile 45 I glanced at my watch and saw: 9:08. I was stunned. I was thinking it would be saying 10 something. Up until then I had tried to keep my eyes off my watch, not stress about pace, not endlessly do the math of this many miles divided by that time, yada, yada. But 9:08!? Dang, if I could bang out 10 minute miles from now on I could beat 10 hours! The only problem is that my normal pace on trails is more like 12 minute miles…and I’ve had a 45 mile “warmup”. Screw it – I’m going to go for it. And I started working like I’ve never worked before. There was an aid station at mile 47 that I took like an Indy car pit stop – they reached for my bottle, but I just kept it in my hand, got a top off of water, and bolted. Leaving the aid station I looked down – 9:30:01, with three miles left. Up to that station had been pretty flat, so I was feeling upbeat. Then I turned the first corner in the trail and was hit in the face with a long steep uphill. Oops. I power walked it and kept drinking, and then started running as soon as I could. If you look at the last three miles of the elevation profile above you’ll see the many little hills – ouch. After walking the first one I knew I couldn’t walk any of the others. Those last three miles were the hardest miles I’ve ever run.

 

I was really, really, really happy to come around the last corner and see the finish chute. I glanced down and saw that I had a minute to spare. My final official time was 9:59:35. All grins for me. And then something new – I came within an inch of breaking down in tears. It was such a relief to be done, so happy to have squeezed in under 10 hours (when my stretch goal had been 10:30). Here’s me right after the race (and yes, I do my own hair!):

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Then the eating. Oh, the eating. According to my Garmin watch, I expended 6646 calories over the course of the run. I calculate that I took in around 3000 calories from my Infinit drink. Right after the race I had two bottles of recovery drink, and I tried some bread, soup and a hamburger (but the hot food just didn’t sit well). On the way home from the race I asked Karen to pull over so I could pee and get some french fries, which ended up being a hamburger and fries (which I drenched in salt). Even though my Infinit has the electrolytes turned all the way up, and taking 2 Thermolyte tablets an hour, my body still craved salt after the race. When I got home I sliced up a mango and sprinkled it with chili powder and salt (Mexican style!). At 10pm I asked Karen to cook me some eggs and (5 pieces!) of bacon. There was something else in there, but I can’t remember what it was.

 

As for the schwag – this race is schweet! In a reusable shopping bag was a nice windbreaker, a tech shirt, a logo’ed wine glass, a water bottle, TrailRunner and UltraRunning magazines, and then the requisite coupons and ads.

 

Sunday morning – I feel pretty good today. My shoulders are sore – I’m not sure if it’s from the Camelbak, or more likely from carrying a bottle all day. My legs are fine as long as I’m stationary, but they like to “remind” me whenever I move around. The toe I whacked is tender, but it looks like it will be fine. All in all, not too bad.

 

Thanks to everyone for their well wishes, and to Karen for being my chief supporter and super crew during the race!

Skyline to the Sea 50k

“Well Jeff, I can say that this is the longest run I’ve ever done.” “Me too” he replied. And so we marked passing into the 27th mile of the Skyline to the Sea 50k Ultramarathon. Jeff and I had bumped into each other on and off through the day, but after that exchange we stuck together and finished together. It’s SO helpful finding someone who’s going about your same speed (or a little better).

My goal for this race was six hours, and crossed the line in 5:48!  I had a hard time guaging how to pace for a race like this. Overall, the course goes downhill – it starts near the top of a mountain and ends up a couple of hundred yards from the ocean. But there were a ton of steep uphills (walkers!), and a LOT of technical downhills which really trash the quads and knees. One thing that probably ended up helping me a lot was that I was about the last person to get lined up due to standing in a slow moving porta pottie line.  Right before I made it to the front of the line they asked people to line up for the start.  Well, I didn’t anticipate that they literally meant line up – as in single file!  Since the trail is so narrow, we were strung out on the course in one long line, with me at the back.  But this meant that there was NO way for me to start off running too fast.  Things opened up after a while, and then I was able to pass some folks.

And then Nature kicked in – and kicked in with a vengance.  You could hear it from the runners up ahead: “BEEs!!”  Well, they were actually wasps I think, and they didn’t take kindly to 200 people running through their yard.  Over the course of the first 10 miles I think there were three separate nests.  One guy on the course cracked: “They should call this race ‘Beeline to the Sea'”.   I was stung three times on my legs, and three on my back.  I was pretty lucky – some people got hit a lot more (and some not at all).  The pain was quite intense.  About six hours after the end of the race the needle like pain subsided…only to be replaced by crazy bad itching.  One person on the race forum reported that they went to the emergency room because of the itching.  It’s been three days since the itch kicked in, and I’ve eaten a box of antihistamines, and a ton of cortisone cream…and I still can’t sleep normally. ūüôĀ

Nutrition wise I did pretty well.  I wore a Camelbak with six hours of concentrated Infinit drink, and then I wore a bottle holder with plain water which I refilled at the aid stations.  The only problem I had was the long gap before the final aid station.  The previous gaps had been only 7k long, but this one was almost 14.  Halfway through that gap my water was gone.  Let’s just say, I was really glad to see that final aid station!  I ended up not drinking 16oz of my Infinit.  Since it was concentrated, I had stopped drinking it during that long leg.  But I didn’t feel the loss of calories.  I also had 5 or 6 electrolyte pills (SaltStick) over the course of the race.  All in all, I felt good about my nutrition and hydration.  But considering I only pee’ed once on the course, and not again until hours after the finish, I was well on my way to being dehydrated.

Special thanks goes out to Marcus Frame and his girlfriend for giving me a lift to the starting line, and to Karen and the kids for making the long drive to pick me up.  After the race we went over to Waddell beach for a while.  The kite surfers there are amazing!  It’s a cool mix of parasailing, surfing, and windsurfing.

Headlands 100 (but only the last 25!)

Two weekends ago I participated in a local 100mile run as a pacer. One of the competitors asked on the race forum board if anyone would like to run with him for the last 25m of the race, and I took him up on the offer.

I then did a little looking into his background, and I got a bit nervous…the guy’s an animal. He came in first and second in two triathlons – DOUBLE IronMan races!! Two weeks out from the race he mailed me about his last long training run, a 50m run that he did in 8h 13min – and that was a holding back run to not incur the need for an extended recovery. But in the end, I figured that a 75m warm-up would even things out considerably.
Race day on Saturday came, and the online tracking wasn’t working, nor could I reach his girlfriend who was crewing for him. I had hoped to get an idea of his 50m split to gauge when he would show up at 75m. So given the lack of info I just drove to the race site, and got there about 6:30pm.
Upon getting there I see that they have the splits posted for 50m, and there he is in second place:
Matt Aro – 9:00:54
Let me tell you, that’s SMOKIN’. The first 50 was very hilly, with some pretty technical trails, with 8100′ of altitude change! The first place guy was 2″ ahead.
I got dressed and sat in my car, estimating that he would be arriving somewhere between 8:30pm and 9. He arrived right at 9pm, and we got going shortly afterward. 75m split: 14:01:17. There was no sign of the previous leader, who eventually hit the 75m mark half an hour later.
We ran with headlamps, but there were portions of the trail where it was quite foggy, so I was glad that we also each had a handheld flashlight. In the fog all you can see with the headlamp is the fog 1 foot from your face, so we just turned those off in these sections. Another thing I learned is that holding the light lower increases the contrast of rocks and roots considerably. So the next time I do a night run I’ll figure out a way to mount my headlamp on my waist.
As for the run, it was pretty slow. Matt was pretty trashed, the uphills were too steep to run, and running down the more technical hills would have been suicide. For many of the downhills Matt rested his arm on my shoulder just in case – but I don’t recall him ever slipping. I nailed one root somewhere in the middle of the run, and half rolled my ankle like 7 minutes into the run, but it didn’t affect the rest of the run. ¬†¬†e4ae6-media_httpwwwenduranc_xtooaAt each aid station Matt’s girlfriend Shevaun was there with his own private stash of goodies – ibuprofen, gels, salt tabs, and PBJ sandwiches. We would refill his camelbak, he’d grab a sandwich and stick it under the thigh of his compression shorts (no joking), he’d tell her what he would likely want at the next stop, and off we’d run into the night. I can tell you, she was a GREAT help!

As the night went on we started passing people who were still in the 50-75m loop (the race is one big 50m loop, followed by two laps of a 25m loop). Some of these people were walking (it’s midnight by now) and on the ridges they were pretty cold (strong wind and fog – the course was right on the coast). I felt bad for them, many of them alone, and knowing that they had a LONG trip ahead of them. But we just kept moving.

To brighten his spirits I wrote down a forum posting that his training partner back in Wisconsin wrote to him the morning of the race. After a couple of miles I broke out the mail bag and read him the encouraging mail – he was overwhelmed! I had wanted to keep the mail as a just in case, but then I got scared that I would forget – so I just busted it out when I thought of it. After 15h of running, he was pretty happy to hear from home.

Matt really only got “dark” once. He stopped for a while and had a hard time not being light headed. He took a caffeine pill, we stopped talking, and turned off our headlamps and just walked for a while. He soon recovered and we got back to running.

One interesting element of the course is that you run through tunnels that lead up to bunkers built in 1940 to protect the Golden Gate from bad guys. I read later that the cannons installed there could fire 26miles!

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Of course, the guns are gone now, but all that concrete is still there, along with a tunnel going straight back behind the gun. Matt had run through them a couple of times by then, and didn’t know what they were when I asked. It was only by looking back once we got through that I realized they were bunkers!

We finished around 3:20am – Matt’s finishing time was 20:23:52, a new course record, and first place by more than 50min! For my part, I did 25m in about 6h 20m or so. Here’s a picture of Shevaun, Matt (in the middle, and yes, he’s 6’4″!) and me on the right (after I had cleaned up a bit):

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So there we are, 4am and finishing the race…so what the heck do you do now!? I started my 90 minute drive home, but about half way had to pull over and sleep for a bit. I got home at 8am, ate and slept for quite a while.

Big, big fun. Matt’s an amazing athlete. Shevaun was a great help. And the course was incredible. For the west coasties, I strongly recommend the races put on by PC Trail Runs (http://www.pctrailruns.com). They do lots of Northern California runs, and some in So Cal as well.

A funny thing happened on my way to Boston

When I finished IronMan Couer d’Alene last year, I expected that April 21, 2008 would be my return trip to the Boston Marathon…but this time as a competitor. While at Boston University a brzillion years ago I soaked in the race, and this year was supposed to be my turn to run.

But then over the summer I did an open water swim in a race that had a guided blind athlete competing. Long story short, I’m going back to CDA this year in support of the C Different Foundation and their exciting work for blind athletes. (There’s a link to C Different’s web site over on the right side of this page.)

So Boston will have to wait until next year. And yes, in case you’re wondering about the title of this blog – the Western States 100 will slide another year.