2 Weeks from now…

2 weeks from this moment right… now we’ll be 7 hours and 39 minutes into our first 50 mile run at Rocky Raccoon 50. It won’t be the longest time we’ve run although hopefully it’ll be the longest distance we’ll have run.

We’ve taken this last few days after our 2nd 50K off to recover although we both did a bit of work right before this post. Bunny did some trail work and I did hill repeats and some road work. It’s obvious to me from the hills that I’m not 100% recovered from the 50K but that’s not unexpected and it’s why there is such a thing as a taper period before a long race.

We’re still playing fine tuning with our plans for the race although mostly I think of something and find out that Bunny has already thought of it and made plans. Case in point today I decided it might not be a bad idea to have some small cans of sugared, caffeined, soda in our drop bags just in case the AS’s don’t have or have run out by the time we swing through. I text her and of course she already thought of that and has already bought them.

So having a Uber Planner for a running partner is a giant bonus towards our success on our journey toward our ultimate goals.

Speaking of ultimate goals this week I’ve decided that my target goal right now is a sub 24 hour 100 mile race. For me that’s going to require a perfection of training, hydration, nutrition, weather, course and a fair bit of luck. And of course some crew help.

For whatever reason Rabbit has proclaimed she will crew for me. She’s an very experience ultra runner and experienced at managing a crew and running a crew so making sure she’s there will go a long way toward letting me reach that goal. Having her waiting in the AS’s and Bunny on the trail makes me think I have a fair chance of accomplishing that goal.


Spring Energy fuel results

We successfully used Spring Energy gels and drink mix to finish our 2nd 50K in good shape nutrition and hydration wise.

We both had a plan based on the fuels we had, while similar wasn’t exact. At the high level nutrition consisted of primarily Long Haul and Canaberry with the occasional Hill Aide, Power Boost and McRaecovery. This was supplimented with a little candied ginger, a Skratch bar and granola bar for me, some Miur gels and Justin’s PB for Bunny.

I find I don’t care for the Hill Aide much, it’s not gag worthy but it’s also not something I’ll look forward to but the quicker energy and caffeine boost was appreciated. The other Spring energy flavors aren’t bad. They’re about on order of baby food in terms of enticing’ness. Just a little bland and short on flavor for an adult palette.

But over the course of the 50K the one gel every 30(ish) minutes and one bottle of water kept my energy levels stable and even keeled for the entire race. My aches and pains were the primary reason I was glad to see the race end, not hitting up against a wall of lack of energy.

They’re certainly not cheap, standing out as pricey amongst running nutrition but there are a number of coupons available that will knock up to 20% off the price bringing them more in line with other gels or at least less egregiously overpriced.

Go Short, Go Long, Go Very Long Race Report

Yesterday we did our last long run before our debut at Rocky Raccoon 50 mile in 3 weeks. We really couldn’t have picked a worse day to have a race. The weather on Friday was 50-60 and no wind, the weather today is clear and no wind although cold. The weather on Saturday was 20’s with 20mph winds gusting to 40mph.

I won’t lie the headwind was real and when we had to cut across it it was worse. A 3/4 angle 40mph gusting in the face as we determined is just more horrible than it bashing you straight on in the face.

The race got off without any issues, we started out doing our planned Rocky pacing which over time proved to be just a little slow for our legs. About 5-8 miles in we ended up going about 30 seconds per mile faster than we’re shooting for for Rocky. This continued over the course of the entire 31 miles.

Due to the cold not everyone showed up we’re guessing and of those that showed up it’s possible a few decided not to go back out on the second lap. In the end only 32 people crossed the finish line the second time to clock in the full 50K.

Support was typical for a street race held by FleetFeet but again the cold cut the number of volunteers down to the barest of bare minimums for lap 1. We’d like to offer our most heartfelt thank you for the few brave souls who came out to support the runners, you’re always appreciated from the bottom of ours and every runners hearts.

3 or 4 miles from the end of lap 2 we started to see groups of 25K runners ahead even with the 8 minute resupply we did from our own car based aid station and some 2 and 3 minute potty breaks. At this point my competitive streak, not very wide but sometimes pointy, kicked in and we kicked the pace up by a couple of minutes per mile and skipped our breaks to reel the runners ahead one by one, group by group. Not the wisest of things to do on a training run but it proved we were capable of doing it and pushed us a bit which with the 3 week taper coming up should in the end make us stronger for Rocky.

For lap 2 it got pretty lonely out there with all but 1 of the aid stations deserted when we came through with no one in sight or possibly trying to warm up in their cars. But there was water and some pretzels and granola bars at each one when we needed them. A trail ultra with fresh cooked bacon and quesadillas it was not but it also doesn’t cost as much as a trail ultra so one can’t complain too much.

Our pacing and plan showed its value as we continued to reel in a few 50K’ers catching up and passing another 5 or 6 who’d started out good but burned out by mile 20-25. In fairness the cold and wind was just miserable. We know of at least one person who seems to have dropped around 40k, at least they didn’t have a finish time.

Tim, the owner of the local FleetFeets, was there along with a helper till the bitterly cold end to greet Bunny and myself as we crossed the finish line for lap 2 completing our second 50K. Even announcing us over the PA system even though there was literally no one else around to hear it. He gave us our medals and as it turned out we placed in our age groups so we got a race logo’d coffee cup as well.

Finishing long distance races with little fanfare and zero crowds or cheering is something we’re used to and will always have waiting for us. We’re never going to be in the front pack where the excitement is. But we run for us (and the medals) not for having a crowd of strangers applauding our showing up at the end of a race. 🙂

Overall it was a good race/run. We cut almost an hour and a half off our 50k PR and half an hour off our trail marathon PR. We proved to ourselves our race plan works. We determined that Spring Energy fuels work for us without any bad side effects and that our fueling and hydration plan worked.

Now just to do it again + 19 miles at Rocky on Feb 9th 2019.

Pacing

One thing I’ve had major issues with so far in marathon and longer distances is pacing. My ass writes checks my legs can’t cash basically. Each run over 20 miles my resource problem has been my legs. If it’s not blowing out my quads then it’s my calves going to Crampington and more worrisome with the 50K it was my knees.

Because of the foot problems I’ve been having it’s throwing off my gait which is stressing my other joints like my knees. At least I hope that’s what it is. They’ve been slow to recover for sure.

TLDR;

Anyway one of the things I’ve been trying to work on is coming up with pacing that will let us finish 50 miles in some reasonable pretense of being healthy at the end of it.

Once I ‘go long’ I invariably go out too fast which kills me in the end game. So I’m trying to be a little smarter about it.

We finished a 30K run two weekends back and it wasn’t too bad. We hit every run and walk segment at the pace I was shooting for. I’m not sure I had another 50k in me at that pace though. Okay let’s be honest I’m pretty sure I didn’t have another 50K in me.

Last weekend we did a 40K and I was good up till mile 22 or so and then fell over a bit but we were hitting the runs faster than I plan on doing a 50 mile. I was kind of wanting to see how it went.

I’ve taken the last 4 days off with some gym work only. The tendons behind my knees continue to bother me and be a worry for going long.

I’m going to alter my plan for Rocky as a result to have a longer recovery every 3 runs instead of 5 runs. It shouldn’t cut our overall pace significantly but I think it’ll help push the crash and burn point further out.

Rocky Raccoon 50 2019 Route

Using the heat map function and some freehand pathing I re-created the Rocky Raccoon 50 Mile route for 2019 in Garmin’s route app.

Rocky 50

You can find it over here. It’s not 100% accurate to the published route, at least I only have 24.86 miles and the actual route is measured at a hair over 50 miles for 2 laps. So I’m a quarter short give or take over 50 miles.

But it should be ‘good enough’ for following or just looking at the vertical. Per Google elevation data there’s only 900′ of vertical per lap. Which is practically flat. We did 25 miles this last weekend with 1800 total vertical and while it was rollers none of it was badly sloped.

One of the things I realized when I was charting this is that when given the option to turn, always turn left and when you can’t turn left go straight. This only applies to the T junction with the out and back to Gate that you don’t do on the way back. So if you consider Farside as the turn around then the route is somewhat shorter on the way back than the way out. So that’s a plus I think.

We’re down to 4 Weeks (plus a day) before we load up the truck and head down to see if we can finish a 50 miler in less than the time allotted.

For this honestly my current target goal is 14 hours for various reasons. I think it’s pessimistic I’d like to do it in under 12 but I’d rather be short than long of my goal.

What does it take to try a 50 mile race?

Running 50 miles or rather traveling 50 miles on foot in one stretch with a fixed time limit is rather daunting to some, most, all but a few? Take your pick on that answer.

My wife tells me I’m crazy each time I set a new distance goal. And I’m doing it to myself every time I come home showing my true age from some long run or back to back long runs.

And maybe you do have to be a bit crazy to keep setting these kinds of goals for yourself. Everyone has to make their own determination as to what at any given point is a major goal in their lives. Because I don’t believe 99% of us can pick ultra marathon distances as a minor goal. The sheer amount of time on feet if nothing else to train the body to be able to sustain the abuse of a 50 miler, 100k, 100 miler and beyond for most of us makes it a major investment of our available time.

And you can’t even say it’s a cheap sport. Running can be a cheap sport if you’re doing shorter more ‘normal’ distances. A few miles a few times a week to try and stay in shape. You can do that in any pair of shoes, in cotton shirts and socks without any other gear than maybe a bottle of water in the summer time.

But once you reach the point where you’re running for hours on end multiple times a week then the gear costs creep up. Shoes wear out every couple of months and the wrong shoes lead to injury.

So cheap it isn’t.

Reaching this point where I’m going to attempt my first and hopefully not last 50 mile race over the last 2 years I’ll have put in a little over 3000 miles. I’ll have logged a little over 700 hours of on my feet time. 700 hours… That’s the equivalent of running 29 days 24 hours a day. Plus a little extra. It breaks down to about an hour a day unless you count travel time and then it’s more like 1.5 hours a day. So of the past 24 months I’ve given up one full months worth.

I’ve gone through 15 pairs of shoes, granted some didn’t last long because in the end we weren’t compatible for each other for the long haul and they were delegated to every day wear or boxed up in case of a zombie apocalypse. Or just being too broke to buy new ones.

I’ll have burned roughly 500,000 calories. Half a million calories or roughly 1800 standard sized Snicker’s bars. Half a million calories sounds like a lot more than 1800 candy bars but the math is what it is.

So to sum up, for me, what does it take to try your first 50 mile race?

  • 4+ runs a week
  • 15 pairs of shoes
  • 53 races of everything from 5k’s to 50k’s
  • 700+ hours of running
  • 3000+ miles of running
  • 500,000+ calories

Seems like a lot to ‘just’ do 50 miles.

Our 50K Plan

We’re in our taper weeks (thank goodness) for our first 50K (2 weeks out!).  It’s been a interesting journey to get here from that first 5K I agreed to 2+ years ago when I was a 100 yard runner and 100+lbs heavier.  A journey filled with learning about shoes and socks, shirts, shorts, tights, watches, training, hydration,fueling and the list goes on and on.  There have been injuries and forced layoffs as well as high points of PR’s set and re-set for shorter distances.

And now here I am about to travel 31.5 (ish) miles in one stretch.  To get here I’ve picked up a few things that work for me and by necessity have worked for Bunny.   One of those is what I feel is a winning strategy for me to finish this thing in a time I won’t be too unhappy with and doing it injury free so we can jump into the training for Rocky.

To wit: for me a run/walk is faster than trying to run until I can’t run another step and being forced to walk and less stressful both physically and mentally.

We’re going to be running the following workout on our Garmin’s for Dead Horse –

  1. Warmup (walking pace) for 0.5k
  2. Run 1K at a pace between 11:00 and 13:00
  3. Walk 0.25K with no pace target but typically my walking pace is between 18 and 20
  4. Every 6th walk will be a double walk of 0.5k
  5. Repeat 2-4 until we cross the finish line.

We will also walk every incline of significant excessive slope.  Because literally 80% (an out of my ass guess) of the first 25K is uphill we can’t walk every uphill since we’d be walking the front half of this course but any excessive inclines we’ll walk it out.

We’ll take time to enjoy the folks at the aid stations, the scenery and the entire process and experience of our first ultra.

I doubt we’ll finish DFL but I know we also won’t finish above the 50% mark.  It’s been my experience and observation the longer the race the farther back I place.  And I’m fine with that.

For Rocky 50 Mile race , pending the results of the Dead Horse 50K run, we’re considering splitting the difference.  The first 25 miles we’ll do a distance based run/walk.   The remaining distance we’ll do a time based run walk of 7 minutes / 3 minutes.   At our cruising paces these are fairly equivalent but it would be interesting to do the 50 mile and see how it changes the ‘feel’ of the race.

For that one it works out like this –

  1. Warmup (walking pace) for 0.5k
  2. Run 1K at a pace between 11:00 and 13:00
  3. Walk 0.25K with no pace target but typically my walking pace is between 18 and 20
  4. Every 6th walk will be a double walk of 0.5k
  5. Repeat 2-4 30 times (a hair under 25 miles in total).
  6. Run 7:00 min at 11:00 to 13:00
  7. Walk 3:00 min
  8. Every 6th walk will be a 6:00 minute
  9. Repeat 6-8 until we cross the finish line.

Ultra Marathons for Mere Mortals

The sport of ultra marathoning, i.e. by technical and literal definition any race that is longer than the established 26.2(ish) miles of a marathon, has grown quite rapidly.   In no small part it’s my firm belief because let’s face it these it’s a little cooler to say “I’m going to be running my first [50K, 50Mile, 100K, 100Mile] that there are a greater number of people who are attempting these distances.

But after purchasing and reading multiple books on the subject of ultra marathoning I find there is lack of information for folks like myself.  The published training plans are aimed at doing well in ultra marathons.   At finishing in the front pack, not the mid or back pack.

And a 100 mile ultra is yet another step toward my goal to see how far I can go before I break in the trying.

Websites with how to run your first 100 mile have anecdotes like “marathon time of sub 4” which frankly for a lot of us isn’t even a dream.  You can train for endurance, anyone barring physical disabilities can train to ‘go long’.  But to go fast requires a certain amount of physical ability.   To endure a 100 mile race that does not include a high level of vertical and technical terrain and do it in under the typical 30 hour cut off only requires an average of 18 minute miles.  A fair number of people, not me, can sustain somewhat easily a sub 18 minute walk.  Me, my walk pace is closer to 19 minutes.  So for me to do a 100 mile in the 30 hour cut off I have to run some portion of it.

For us mere mortals let’s ‘do the math’ and see what we have to accomplish in order to finish a 100 mile race purely from a moving pace perspective.  I think it’s not as bad as you might be assuming if you’re just looking into the crazy notion of moving 100 miles without stopping.

For me, let’s choose a moderate pace assuming some levels of moderate vertical and technical terrain.  A 6 minute run at 12:00m miles and a 4 minute walk at 20:00m miles is an average of 14:17 minute miles.  That’s a sub 24h 100 mile.   Granted that’s not possible for anyone to actually be able to finish at as there’s no AS breaks, potty breaks, food breaks, scenery appreciation breaks etc.  But still that leaves 6 hours for all the breaks.  (Again assuming a 30 hour cut off)

Drop the run pace a small touch so you average 15:00m pacing and you still have yourself a 25hour 100 mile.  Based on a 6/4 run/walk schedule that’s a 12:52 run pace and a 20:00 walk pace.

Which oddly enough a 12:52 is exactly my average pace for the very first 5K I did 2 years ago this month.

So for those of us who merely desire to do the distance these numbers should be of some at least small inspiration in that yes we too can aspire to completing an ultra marathon of even the bigger distances.

Many of the books and online guidance do have it right I believe, an Ultra, especially once you get past the 50k distance is going to be a combination of two factors.  Time on feet because our bodies, especially our feet, have to be prepared to be upright and mobile for these increased time frames.   And mental endurance to sustain the discomfort, boredom, fatigue that our minds will suffer from being upright and mobile. These are both very much trainable.

My ability to do boring things for extended lengths of time has greatly increased thanks to our long runs.  I can sit through 2 hours of kids choir concerts a lot easier now than I could 3 years ago.   You learn/gain the ability to speed the passage of time, an analog mode organic based time machine if you will.  While it passes at the same inexorable rate it always does, you no longer are part of ever tick.   Think of it like using an Acceleration Wand in Minecraft, except in reverse.  You’re decreasing your own ‘tick rate’ so that the world speeds up in relation to you rather than speeding you up in relation to the world.

Time on feet becomes more and more important in my opinion the larger a runner you are. Yes I speak from personal and painful experience.

It’s quite simple, more weight equals more impact because gravity is a bitch.  More impact is more stress.   So the larger you are the harder on your feet and every impact absorbing component of your body it is.  This physical stress is a lot more difficult to remediate. You can ‘will’ it away to some extent and medicate it away to a larger degree but the human machine that you are does have a point of failure.   I recently hit that this last weekend in fact where I started cramping bad from pushing things too hard over the course of a long day in my calves and shins.

Mental stress has more available remediation.  Simply finding someone else on the trail and hanging with them if they’re amenable can be a major boost for most runners although it’s my observation that ultra running tends to be a solitary sport to a larger degree than street running. Listening to audio of some kind, music, podcasts, books on tape can also help.  Or simply zoning out of everything but your focus on where you’re going to place your next 10 steps.   Just don’t zone out in general as that’s the fastest way to take a dirt nap.

In terms of training most, even perhaps all, of the plans available on the internet are created by and aimed at front packers.   Front packers are just literally the folks who will finish at the front of the pack.  They’re the ones who have the physical and mental resources to travel 100 miles in under 20 hours, in most cases well under 20 hours.

These leaves a gap for those without their level of abilities, i.e. the mere mortals.  When we try to do their training plans we end up injured, burned out or find out we can’t hit those 70-80 mile weeks and those 30+25 back to back weekends that we simply cannot do an ultra marathon.   And I believe that couldn’t be further from reality.

It makes for an easy rationalization to pull back to the safe distances we’ve done and if we need that rationalization / opt-out then there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  You do you as the saying goes.  But you’ll never know how far you could have gone if you don’t push yourself.

If you’re still with me then I think as long as you can achieve the following with an average pace of under 17 minute miles including all breaks and recoveries then you can be an Ultra Marathoner.  Granted for the typical cut off times you just need to average 18 minutes but realistically you need to allow for a little slack for unexpected events, terrain etc that might cost you some time so I feel an average pace of 17 is a good value to shoot for as your upper edge-

  • 50K – 3-4 weeks prior to the race having done 20-26 mile long run.
  • 50Mile – 3-4 weeks prior to the race having done 30 mile long run.
  • 100K – 3-4 weeks prior to the race having done 30 mile long run.
  • 100M – 4-6 weeks prior to the race having done 50 mile long run.

Is this a very simplistic rule of thumb?  Yes of course it is.  It’s yet another one size fits all kind of blanket statement.

Now to get to the above long run goals then you need to build your training plan based on your own abilities.  The “I’m an elite and this training plan is how I train” plans are unlikely to work for most of us, at least in the early years, especially the first year.

You can obviously pay to play and hire a trainer and there’s certainly value in having an experienced open minded trainer helping chart your path to your first or 100th ultra marathon.  Unless you live in a small town it’s likely there are plenty of runners out there in your area who can offer thoughts and recommendations on trainers.

If you’re going to roll your own plan then take any online plan with a big dose of salt and skepticism.  Unless the author goes at length to indicate it’s aimed at someone of your current ability then assume it’s going to be a good plan for the upper 25% of ultra runners.  If you fall into that category then no issue but if you might not be there yet then I’ll offer the following recommendations based on my own experiences.  Much like every other plan and guidance out there come at it with salty skepticism that it will work for you (this assumes you have at least the ability to do a 20 mile long day).  If you can’t do that much yet then jump on any of the 3 to 4 day week, 4 month marathon training plans out there.  You don’t have to race the marathon, just have the ability to do the distance –

  1. dial back the weekly mileage to something manageable (you’ll have to judge this for yourself but a reasonable guidance might be start with 20 miles a week and peak at 50 not withstanding the race week in #10 below)
  2. have at least half the weeks with 3 or 4 runs instead of 5 or 6 and potentially average 4 workouts a week.
  3. weekday runs should in general be speed runs (400’s/800’s, thresholds, intervals etc) to improve your VO2 max and running efficiency.
  4. restrict your double long run / back to back weekends to 2 per month
  5. do not increase your total mileage per week by more than 10%
  6. do not have a long run more than 30 miles in general, exception one 50 mile long run a few weeks out if you’re doing a 100 mile race.
  7. do not have a back to back weekend of more than 50 miles
  8. do not have a same day back to back runs of more than 30 miles
  9. one recovery/light week a month at the start of the plan with one recovery week every 3 weeks as you hit your peak mileage.
  10. Add in a race if you can manage it in that 3-6 week time frame of a lower distance before your target race.   So a marathon before a 50k, a 50k before a 50 mile/100k, a 50 mile before a 100 mile.

After the last year of training to move from a half marathon to something bigger these are my personal truths based on my own abilities right now.  I’m a 27m 5k, 60m 10k, 2:15 half, 5:30 full runner.   I’m 6-3 and currently 238 lbs as of this morning.

And a 100 mile Ultra is yet another step toward my goal to see how far I can go before I break in the trying.

What not to do…

I’ve been reading race reports of 50+ races and last night I read one that was filled with ‘do not do this’ kinds of events.  The runner started out well but then a litany of things went wrong leading to a decision about 2/3rds of the way of whether to even try to finish or not.  Much less placing like the runner had planned on at the start of the race.

Several runners apparently had to be hauled off by emergency services due to the heat and dehydration so that’s not a great thing.

  • Went out too fast
  • Didnt use the aid stations
  • Didn’t carry enough water (temps were 90’s)
  • Didn’t carry fuel
  • Missed route markers
  • Race had no water or ice at the finish line

Obviously the runner had no say in that there wasn’t any water or ice at the finish area but the other things were something he could have changed.

My very first 25K is where I learned do not trust aid stations being there.   There was supposed to be an aid station around mile 3 / 12.   Temps weren’t super high but they weren’t cold either.  As a result there was a 6 mile stretch between the last aid station and the finish.

6 miles doesn’t seem like that much.  If you had planned on that.  As a result I wasn’t hydrating properly and ended up overall pretty severely dehydrated and a case of rhabdo.

It was that race that showed me that always plan for issues.  In the race above the runner got lost and ended up with an extra 40 minutes or so of trek and then had to take a bit of a lie down which added even more time before he was able to get water.

In a local race put on by our zoo, this was driven home to me again.  We ran it carrying just a small flip bottle (10 ozs) assuming the aid stations would be there.  We came back around on the second loop of a section and they’d already packed up that aid station.  And we were still well in front to mid pack, not trailing the pack by hours.

So now, I always carry at least two bottles for any race longer than 5k.  For a long run >20k I always carry a bladder although I may not fill it at first. But I have it just in case.

I think the race report drives home the fact that some lessons are hard learned.   For me it took two instances of missing aid stations, a case of rhabdo, a dangerous level of dehydration that I now don’t assume everything is going to go smoothly at a race or in a run.

A little preparation can make the difference between a finish and a did not finish, it can make the difference between a back pack finish and front pack finish.

Ginger

While ginger is a great thing for both runners and #notarunner s alike and has many benefits I’m actually referring to another ginger right now.

I’m not sure why she didn’t come up in my feed before but I came across Wild Ginger Films youtube channel while doing a search for packing for an ultra marathon.

I think she has a great perspective on running and especially ultra-running and her channel has a number of good videos, videos that I’ve found directly relevant to my training and planning for running.

Because she currently has a lower number of subs than many bigger channels this I think keeps her from showing up in suggested/recommended lists and that’s a shame.

I highly recommend you check her channel out and if there’s something there that you find useful then go ahead and sub to the channel.