The other night I grabbed an issue of Trail Runner Magazine from my desk to read in bed. I flipped through the pages and read a blurb about Anna Frost, and then I found an insiders guide to UTMB – The World’s Greatest Trail Race, the article was dubbed. Then I hit a few pages displaying the photo contest winners for 2015. 2015? I looked at the cover and it was the January 2016 issue. Look at that, a nice glimpse of the sport from a couple years ago. Then I thought… shit, that’s been sitting on my desk for two years. Get it together, man.
Time goes fast, and if you don’t stop and clear off your desk every once in while, stuff piles up and gets forgotten. I haven’t written in this blog in almost a year. A lot has happened in that time—a lot learned. The last time I wrote I came off a bad DNF that made me re-evaluate my relationship to running, among other life stuff. I found myself lying down on the side of the trail near the end of the race, giving up. It sucked, but it was a wake-up call.
I took time off from running, and time off from everything, really. I took care of some life shit. But this isn’t a blog about life shit, or the overly-dramatic existential crisis I found myself in after that DNF. It’s about running. It’s time to go through and sort out what I’ve gathered over the last year so it doesn’t fall by the wayside, or end up forgotten in a clutter on my desk.
I’m not giving advice. There are plenty of people offering advice on running, good advice, and I’m not nearly as qualified to do so. I’ve had some decent results at some competitive ultras, but I have a long way to go. I’m sharing some of the lessons I’ve gathered since that DNF that seem to be working for me, so I don’t forget. I will say this about my running though; I love this sport more than the next guy. I feckin’ love it.
- Study the course, especially the course profile. I used to go into races blind to the course profile, thinking that if I didn’t know how long the climb lasts, then I wont think about what’s ahead. Dumb. Knowing exactly when each climb and descent is going to hit, how big it is, and how many miles allows me to mentally prepare for it, as well as get dialed in on nutrition. I’ll slam multiple gels before big climbs and go with higher caffeinated ones.
- Eat and drink A LOT early in the race. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found that taking in more calories than I used to early in the race helps me maintain a harder pace, much longer. I’ve heard and read various studies that say your body can only absorb a range of 150-250 calories an hour in endurance activity. That’s B.S. I bet those studies weren’t conducted on someone running a hard pace for hours upon hours on end. I drink much more water, too. At Run Rabbit my legs cramped up really bad at mile 23. I peed and it was brown. I stopped, stretched, and drank two full bottles of water as I went from 6th place to 14th. After a mile of shuffling to let the water absorb, I started cruising and never cramped again, showing me the cramps I often struggle with are very much related to hydration.
- Wear what’s comfortable. Courtney Dauwalter’s shorts. That.
- Don’t look at the other guys training. Strava is a good tool, but it’s a double-edged sword. I stopped posting my training (except for races) and stopped looking at others. I don’t want to see the 100, 120 mile training weeks the other guys have stacked up that I’ll be running against. It does me no good to compare my training, which is often far less, to theirs. Come race day, all that matters is who throws down.
- Quality > Quantity training. We’re in an era of high mileage ultra training. Strava fuels it. There is nothing wrong with consistent 90, or 100+ mile weeks. If you can rock that, power to ya, that’s awesome. I can’t. Maybe someday I will, but I break down if I do too much mileage. To make up for it, I make sure to nail crucial workouts. For instance, I came off a nasty bout with the flu before a condensed one-month training block for Sean O’Brien. During my peak training week, still fatigued from the flu, I took two days off so I would be fresh for a hard effort, long run. I needed to nail that run to feel confident going into SOB. Had I gone into it fatigued, it would have been a slog and had me worried for the race. Instead, I was peppy, well-rested and nailed it. Less = More.
- Simplify everything. Minimize gear, clothing, food and drink options. Minimize drop bags and what’s inside them. I study what’s offered at the aid stations, use them for resupply if possible and know exactly what I need going into each one. Minimize/eliminate crew. It’s just more logistics and planning I can do without. Ultras tend to suck for crews anyway. I’d prefer they drink beer at the finish line and have a good time instead of driving all day on dirt roads and waiting around for me. Simplify travel plans. Pack a light suitcase. Don’t forget the water bottle. Less = More
- Time off after big races. This one took a couple times of sticking to it, and not getting back into training after a couple days, to realize the benefit. I won’t start training again until I feel completely recovered and, more importantly, I really miss it. At least a couple of weeks off. I’ll still exercise a bit, but no running. Opens up time and energy to do some other things too, like make a fool of myself at Ronika’s dance-workout class. I 100% do not know how to move my hips.
- Sharpen mental fitness. After that DNF I spent time thinking about how to deal with the dark place and overcome the wall when it hits late in a race. Confronting it again at Run Rabbit, I used a new tactic. I asked for more. “Is that all the pain you got? Is that it? I want more.” I said to the wall, over and over again. It helped. It weakened its hold on me. At a certain point around mile 82, up at 10,500’ outside Steamboat Springs, somewhere around 3 or 4 in the morning, if you were in the right place on the course, you’d see a guy chasing a little white light in front of him, grumbling out loud through the night forest, “Is that all you got, motherfucker? Is that all you got…”
- Race specific training. The last few races I’ve studied the splits of the runners who’ve completed the race in a time I’m shooting for. I study their pace on all the climbs and descents and then train to match it. For Run Rabbit I did a ton of weight-vest power hiking. For SOB all the climbs and descents are around 500’ per mile. I knew on one particular descent I’d be pushing a sub-6 minute pace. So I found the only couple spots in Tucson that have runnable 500’/mile grade, and practiced running hard efforts up, and sub-6 down.
- Always bring my “A” game, even if it’s a “B” race. When I DNF’d, it was a “B” race, and I didn’t do much mental or physical preparation for the race. I thought I’d wing it. That didn’t go well. Since then, I raced a 15K “B” race leading into Transrockies, and a 50K “B” race leading into SOB. I went in dialed, knew exactly the pace I wanted to hit, and executed it like it was a goal race. I’ll never bring my “B” game to a race again.
Finally, I’ve been learning how to be the runner I want to be. If you’ve read this blog you’ve noticed that it’s written from the perspective of someone who is looking up to the best guys and gals in the sport in awe. Well, I still look at them in awe, but now I look to the side, not up. At a certain point I had to convince myself that they aren’t all better than me, at a level I’ll never reach. I had to trick myself into thinking that I can meet them at their level. Pam Reed helped me with that. I was stretching in the hot tub at the gym when she stepped in the tub. We got to talking about running, naturally. She never said who she was, but I knew she was the legendary Pam Reed who has won the Badwater 135 miler, outright, a couple of times and I’ve watched her interview on Letterman. I told her about all the really fast guys in the sport these days. I talked about the fierce competition and how I don’t think I’ll ever compete with the best of um. I won’t forget her response.
“Don’t give them anything! Don’t give them shit! As soon as you give them that in your mind, they have that over you. You need go out there and know you can win. Don’t let them have anything over you.” She reiterated. “Don’t give them anything!”
I’d imagine she didn’t give anything to ultra-star Dean Karnazes when he came in 2nd place to her, the 42-year-old mother of five, at the ’03 Badwater. She passed him at mile 111.
I unwrapped my second golden ticket to Western States. I’m looking forward to the upcoming training block and all the stuff I have yet to learn. And there’s one last thing I have to keep reminding myself along the way…
Don’t take it too seriously, it’s just running.