Friday, December 31, 2010

Long Ultras - What will you need, Where?

Clothing and equipment rules change your race is a 100K and up.  If the race is mountainous, the change is drastic.  Because you will be running into the night, or all night, you will have to plan ahead.  I will first explain my technique for "guessing" what my finish time will be.  Then, tell you how I actually figure out about how long it will take me to cover the distance from one aid station to the next.  I will use The Wasatch Front 100 which I ran in September as and example of how I developed my plan of attack.

1.  Figure out how long it will take to run the race.  Most people build to a 100 miler in a logical manor by running several 50ks then a 50 miler or two.  It would also be a good idea to throw in a 100K if you can find one.  I didn't exactly follow this plan.  I ran two 50Ks and headed out to Utah to run the Katcina Mosa 100K with 14,000+ feet of climbing.  I did not finish the race but I learned enough to successfully run the Pinhoti 100 here in Alabama three months later. 

If this is your first 100 miler, figuring out you finish time is pretty tough.  You will have run several 50Ks and a 50 miler or two before trying a 100 mile race.  Talk to people at these races, especially runners finishing about the same time as you.  Ask what 100 mile races they have done and what their finish time was.  If you plan to enter a 100 mile race in your area, (This is a good idea. Most race directors will organize runs over the race course, especially the most difficult sections.  Being able to run sections of the course in advance is a huge benefit on any 100 mile race.) you can probably find other runners that have run the race you intend to run.  If you can't you have to guess at a time.  GUESS SLOW!

2. Estimate how long it will take to reach each aid station.  When I was trying to plan for Wasatch I had no idea how long it would take me  to reach each seven AS that took drop bags.  Below is a chart of the distances to each.  
Aid Stations With Drop Bags MILE
Francis Peak – 18.76 mi 18.76
Big Mountain – 39.4 mi. 39.4
Lamb's Canyon – 53.13 mi – DB 53.13
Millcreek (Upper Big Water) – 61.68 61.68
Brighton – 75.61 mi. 75.61
Pole Line – 83.39 mi 83.39
Pot Bottom – 93.13 mi 93.13
The Homestead 100

The cutoff is 36 hours so I estimated I could finish in 34 hours.  Next, I went to the Wasatch 100 results page and picked out 6 runners that finished in about 34 hours.  I then copied their times at each aid station on a spread sheet and averaged the splits at the bottom.  I now had a way to estimate how long it would take me to get from one aid station to the next through the entire race.  Then I posted the times to the course profile to see how the times fit in with elevation.  At high elevation in Utah in early September and you may encounter temperatures as hot as 95 deg.  At night high elevation temperatures will likely be below freezing.  Using this information you can accurately figure what clothing you will need in drop bags at each aid station.  Most important, you will know where to put put the headlamps and flashlights.  (Note: It is a good idea to place a small flashlight at the aid station before you think you will need it.  Getting stuck an a trail in the dark without a flashlight could be a disaster.)  If your pace in the race is faster than you estimated, great.  You will just pick up a jacket a little earlier than needed which is much better then the alternative.  I actually did three time estimates for the course, 33 hours, 34 hours and 36 hours.  I will show the spread sheets I created later.

3. Now you can figure out what to put in each drop bag.  Below is the third section of the Wasatch profile showing how I calculated my estimated time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Equipment for Ultrarunning

There is no answer to what is the best hydration pack, headlamp, water bottle, electrolyte tablet or running shoes or any other piece of equipment for running ultras. Go to any race and look around. You will see some runners using a particular piece of equipment you like, but many will have other types or a different brand. In many cases the only way to decide what you like is to try it. These are the upcoming topics.

Clothing: Socks, Shorts, Shirts, Jackets, Sleeves, Layering
Hydration: Packs, Belts, Handheld Bottles
Trekking Poles

I will talk about some of the things I like and explain why I use them. There are a few items I will recommend to everyone. (Very Few!)

About the only critical variable here is the weather you expect to encounter. It is a good idea to anticipate the worst possible conditions you might experience. This can take a little planning. In a 50K this can be pretty simple. Check the forecast before heading to the start line and dress accordingly. If rain is a possibility, carry a jacket or stick one in a drop bag. (A Word of Warning: Occasionally drop bags get lost. Keep that in mind when stuffing the bag.) If the run is long like a 100K or 100 mile race, the planning gets a little more complicated, especially if you are an average runner and expect to be on the course for 24 hours to as much as 48 hours. And then there are the mountains. (In the Rockies, you can encounter blizzard conditions in July.)

Socks: I wear two types of socks depending on how wet I think the course to be. If I expect the trail to be dry and warm, I will usually wear “compression socks.” I use them for ultras and the run segment of Ironman events. Read about the claimed benefits and consider a pair. The other type of sock I wear is “Drymax.” They come in several weights and do a great job of keeping your foot dry in wet conditions. Last weekend I ran in wet, heavy, snow for about 4 hours of a 5 hour run. I had on a pair of Drymax Trail Running Socks and my feet were never cold.

Shorts: Take you pick. Wear what is comfortable. I like shorts with pockets. I usually wear one of two types of running shorts. One had deep side pockets much like a pair of slacks. They are great as long as you don't put too much stuff in them. When they get too full, they interfere with arm movement. The other shorts I use are called “RaceReady” shorts and have shallow pockets all across the back and side. The pair I have has 4 pockets across the back and two small ones on the side with Velcro closure.

Shirts: About the only rule here is never wear a cotton shirt. Wear a “technical” type top that wicks water away from your skin. I have several “Coolmax” shirts I like and wear most of the time. I have light weight ones for cool weather and heavy ones for cold days and nights. I also have a “Hot Chili” top that I wear in frigid conditions. If it is hot and I expect to be in the sun for hours I wear a very light weight, white, Coolmax, long sleeve top to block the sun. Although I usually wear Coolmax shirts, there are many good technical tops to choose from.

Jackets: Again, take your pick. I have three types and weights of jackets I use. I have a very light jacket that will stuff into it's pocket and compress to a size smaller than your fist. In mile weather I will carry it if there is a chance of rain. I have a medium weight jacket that is great on cold days with no chance of rain. I also have a heavy hooded jacket that I only wear if rain is expected and it is cold. I use layers under each jacket to adjust for temperature. It is better to be “over-prepared” and have to tie your jacket around your waste than to get caught in a cold rain miles from anywhere. Hypothermia can be a real threat to ultrarunners, even at fairly mild temperature.

Sleeves: By sleeves I am referring to arm warmers or arm protection sleeves that can easily be pulled on when needed. I use a pair of Pearl Izumi arm warmers I originally purchased for bike riding. Moeben sleeves are another very popular brand with ultrarunners. I use then on most winter runs.

Layering: If you run, you already know about layering, that is, unless you live in South Florida or Hawaii. The possibilities are endless but the important thing is to do it when it is cold. The key is to start with a base layer of what you expect to be wearing by the end of the run or race. Next, add enough layers to be comfortable (or a little cool) at the start .This rule only applies to runes or races that will end before the temperature begins to fall significantly in the afternoon. If you will be running over a 13,000 ft pass in route to the finish, you may need to adjust for that, too. If it is cold, don't forget the hat and gloves. 

Gaiters:This is one item I recommend to every trail runner. I wear them every time I set foot on a trail. In my opinion, there is only one gaiter suitable for ultra running and I have three pair. They are “Dirty Girl Gaiters” and they are great. Follow the link to their web site and order a couple of pair. I have never had to stop and empty trash out of my shoes when wearing them. They weigh nothing and they are “dirt” cheep.

If you cannot find the clothing or equipment you are looking for at you local running store try the ZombieRunner website.  They specialize in ultrarunning gear.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A few more notes on training – The Long Run

The key ingredient of your training is the long run. You have to do them or you will never be able to reach your goals in ultrarunning. As I mentioned earlier, in the months leading up to a 100 mile run, I will build my long runs to 8 hours.  Four to six hours of that time is spent doing hill repeats. Believe me, that does not make for a fun workout but there are still some great moments. I don't stop very often, but I will occasionally stop on a ridge or at a waterfall and enjoy the scenery. Saturday I stopped to watch a deer trot off a to safe distance and try to figure out what I was doing on her trail.

It is important to make every long runs count. Here are a few elements to making those long runs accomplish what you want them to, that is, preparing you for that first ultra.

1. Always train for a race. Don't just a workout.
Every time I run, I am preparing for a race. Ever if I have not decided what the next race will      be, I am training for something, usually Hardrock. This gives you a reason to be there. Yes, going our for a run is certainly good for you health but it is still just a workout and personally, I do not like to workout!

2. Time your training to peak three or four weeks before your race.
If you are running a 50K on May 28th (the date of the Run for Kids) by the final weekend in March, you should be running between 4 and 5 hours on your long training runs. (One to two hours less than you expect to be running in the race.)
If you expect the race to take you 7 hours to finish, you should build up to 5 hour training runs.
If you think you will finish in 5 hours, 4 hour training runs should be sufficient.

3. Keep a log book with every detail of your training runs.
Recording every details related to your training runs can assist in finding out what works best for you. Write down not only the length and the route of each run, but also what food and fluids you used, your sleep quality, resting pulse, pace, weather, etc.

4. Training runs should mimic your first ultra (or your 20 ultra.)
Training for the specific conditions of the race will give you the best chance to succeed . This means running under similar types of weather, terrain, time of day, with similar food and fluids, and using the same equipment you will use during the race.  If you may find that a particular piece of equipment you like for training runs is not very good for racing. As an example, I like to run with a hydration pack on long training runs. I can carry up to 3 liters of water so I can run for hours without having to refill it but I would never use it in a 50 K race. I use a hand held bottle for races. They are quick and easy to refill and you can always tell how much water is left.

5. Pay attention to your body, Do Not Over Train.
How do you know if you are over training? That is a good question.  Some indicators are:
     You just are feeling fatigued all the time.
     You do not sleep well at night.
     Persistent and increased joint pain.
     Training runs are getting slower not faster.
      Increased resting heart rate. 

6. Taper!!!
The taper, along with long runs is critical to a successful race. A proper taper before a race will enhance your ability to run in top form. The taper that is best for you may not work for your running friends and vice verse. Each person regenerates at a different rate after a period of hard/long training. The taper will help you get ready physically and mentally for race day. The taper will also vary with the race. For a 50 K you may find that a two week taper period will be all you need. For a 100 mile race you will probably run your final long run (8 hour in my case) four weeks before the race. The taper is so important I will devote an entire article to it, later.

7. Rest
If you are trying to train for an ultra and not sleeping 8 hours every night, you will not be able to train or race at you peak. (PERIOD!) 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Training - Myths and Misconceptions

I started running road races in 1978 and ran my first marathon in Panama City, Florida in 1979. I loved racing and wanted to get faster as quickly as possible. I subscribed to Runner's World and bought several books including Dr. Sheehan on Running and Marathoning by Bill Rodger's. The books were a great help. Although by then I had been running about 15 years, in reality, I knew nothing at all about how to train, eat or run efficiently.

There was one major problem with all that “how-to-train” stuff back in the late '70s and it is still true today. It all is written assuming you are going to train at least six days each week. Do you have time to run that much? If you do have the time, are you willing to invest that much time working out? If you do, don't bother reading this blog. I have never even known anyone that ran more that three or four times a week and I certainly do not now, and never did. Actually, only in the last 10 years have I been able to run regularly more than once or occasionally twice a week. I have been self employed for 30+ years. For many of those years I worked long hours and just did not have time or energy to run more than once a week. When there was extra time, I spent it with my kids.

When I first started road racing in '78, I worked for a CPA firm in Mobile, Alabama. Most of the year (except during tax season) it was an 8 to 5 (well more like 7 to 6) job but there was still usually time to run three times each week. Occasionally I would squeeze in a 4th run. I would do short and fast runs midweek and a long run on Saturday or Sunday. I was able to increase my speed significantly and during this period ran my fastest 10K, 35:39. I also ran a 2:51:?? at the Panama City Marathon.

About this time I purchased my business and moved to Dallas. That same year I was able to run the Dallas Whiterock Marathon in 2:47:00. It should have been much faster. I ran the first 10 miles in one hour to the second (6:00 pace) the whole time telling myself I had to slow down, but I kept thinking, I can break 2:40. By mile 14 I no longer had to tell myself to slow down, my body took over. Every mile of the last 12 miles was slower than the previous mile. I had intended to go out at 6:15 and finish in about 2:43.

My goal for the next years, 1982 (I think) Whiterock Marathon was to do exactly what I planned for '81. I was going to run a 6:15 pace start to finish. Well, over 1982 the business grew significantly and I started working much longer hours. By the time I started actually training for the marathon, I only had time to train once a week and that was not enough to run my intended pace.  I did start at a 6:15 pace but I could only hold that for a few miles and I began to slow. I do not remember my time but it was the slowest marathon I had run to date and certainly the most miserable and painful running experience I had ever had, and the two are not the same.

I did learn one very important thing from that experience, although it was some months before I even realized it. I learned I could run a pretty fast marathon, (under 3 hours) only training one day each week and that is exactly what I did for the next 20 years. No, I did not get faster running once a week, in fact, I got slower and slower, and at a faster rate than I would have based on age, but I was still be able to run a reasonable pace. In 1998, I was still running only once a week and entered the Blue Angel Marathon in Pensacola, Florida. I was able to run a 3:16:04. Yes it was a lot slower but I was also a lot older. In fact, I was 49 and had been running no more than one a week for about 16 years. One additional note. During the final few months of training for the Blue Angel Marathon, I did start running two, one hour runs during the week. One workout was usually intervals, the other was just a quick 5 mile loop. One big benefit and curse of being self employed is, you can take off a couple of hour when you need to. Then, when you get back, you make up for the time lost by working till midnight. (I was not married at the time, obviously.) If I had not run the additional midweek runs I would have probably finished in about 3:30. That is still not bad considering, and is about what I ran my last two marathons in, (3:36 and 3:35.) If I can run a marathon running once a week, anyone willing to put in the effort can do it too.

So how does this translate to ultrarunning? I said I do not know anyone that runs six days a week. I also have never known of anyone but me, that ran once a week and ran marathons, either. The point is, you do not have to run every day or every other day to be able to run very long distances. If you run one hard run each week and nothing else, you can run a marathon. If you can run a marathon, you can run a 50K, at least a reasonable one.
I ran marathons between 1982 and 1998 while never training any more than once each week with very few exceptions. The marathons were never fast and they were sometimes pretty miserable, but I finished them. The only requirement is that the once-a-week run has to be hard. My theory was, since that will be the only workout for the week, I had to combine three workouts into one. So if you can find time for three runs each week, you certainly can run a 50K. In fact, you will be able to run the Leadville 100 or the Wasatch 100 if you choose to, and never run more than three times a week.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where Do You Start?

I am going to make a couple of assumptions here.  First, your first ultra will be a 50K and second, the race will be on a trail.  There are a few ultras on pavement, but you will not catch me running one.  Well, maybe Badwater!

Step 1.  Are you ready to run an ultra?
Step 2.  Select the right first 50K.
Step 3.  Train
Step 4.  Evaluate you progress
Step 5.  Do it!

1.  Are you ready?
As stated before, I will assume that your first ultra will be a 50K.  This is not a requirement, just common sense.  Running an ultra can be very complicated and there is a lot to learn.  Attempting a longer first ultra could prove to be very frustrating and demoralizing.  Start slow and build.  Every person I know that runs 100 milers runs a lot of 50Ks on a regular basis.  I only run one 100 mile race each year (that is, so far) but I try to  run five or six 50Ks each year.  They are great training and there are some awesome events around. 

The general rule is that anyone attempting their first 50K should have run at least three marathons.  This seems like a reasonable measure of your preparedness and if you have (recently), you should have little trouble going for an additional 5 miles, especially at a reduced pace.  If you have never run a marathon I really don't think it is that important.  The key to all ultras is "time on the trail."  If you can complete three or four long runs (4 hours or so) on consecutive weekends, several weeks before you first 50K, you will most likely be able to finish the race with no trouble.

So go out a do a trail run.  See how long you can run without overdoing it.  That first evaluation run should be comfortable.  You will note I always talk about time not distance.  Distance is irrelevant in training runs.  I will sometimes spend 4 hours running at my local state park and probably run no more than 17 miles.  That is because I am doing hill repeats and all I do is going up and down a very steep 3/4 mile climb.  The workout is much harder than if I had run a marathon in 4 hours. 

Lets say you run for one hour on that first run.  So what next?  I will give you an example of how I build up my run time.  I will use the 1 hour run as my basis for my long weekend runs.  I will then plan on running one hour for each of the next three weekends.  I would also try to get in two short runs (maybe 30 minutes) during the week.  On the fourth weekend I would up the distance so the run lasts 1.5 hours and again repeat the two runs during the week.  After three weeks of 1.5 hour runs take a break and on the fourth weekend just do a 1 hour run or maybe some other type workout like biking.  Now, on the 9th weekend of your training you should feel refreshed so go out and do a 2 hour trail run.  By the way, the long weekend runs should be hard.  Even though I suggested doing the first run at a comfortable pace, the actual training runs should leave you tired.  Or maybe just plain worn out!

What you are doing is training in a 4 week cycle.  For three consecutive weekends you did three hard runs approximately the same length.   Then, on the 4th weekend you did a little easier workout.  Now, repeat the cycle, increasing the length of you weekend run to 2.5 hours, and so on.  By the time you reach the 4 hour goal for three consecutive runs, you should be ready.  Actually, it would hurt nothing to build to 5 hours or more, before the first 50K.  The longer the training runs you are doing the more prepared you will be.  Before each 100 mile race I have done, I build my weekend runs up to 8 hours.  That will leave you zapped!

I need to say one more thing about using my training program to increase your mileage. This system works for me. It may not work for you. Depending on where you are starting, you may find it better to use another system. The critical component is that you gradually increase the duration of your runs and train consistantly. Look on the internet under any of the major running magazines such as Runner's World, Trail Runner and Ultrarunner. They will all have articles on training. You may find one you like better. You may decide to create you own plan.  Just decide on one and use it.

I actually use a modified version of the above plan. Because I never allow my training runs to drop below three hours, I often will jump from , for example, 3 1/2 hours to as much as 5 hours from week to week. While training for the Wasatch 100 this summer, by the time I had done a couple of 5 hour runs I jumped right to 7 ½ hours. I have been running so many years I can easily adjust my pace a little and run a much longer workout, but the principal is the same.

Step 2 and 3 actually are interdependent.  I will discuss them next.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ironman and Saltwater - It is close to an ultra!

I just learned something interesting. It relates to triathlons, specifically Ironman Triathlons with the swim in the ocean. That is OK. You are covering 140 miles. That is definitely an ultra.

I entered the Florida Ironman the last two years. Both years I had trouble with a very upset stomach during the run, especially this year. In 2009 I was fine until half way through the second lap of the run. ( The run at Florida is two laps of a 13.1 mile out and back course.) I ended up walking almost all of the final 7 miles. This year was much worse. I began to feel a little queasy during the final 20 miles on the bike, but not bad. I thought I could fix everything in the run, after all I am an ultra runner. I can run 100 miles with virtually no stomach problems. Right? Wrong!

I was able to run a about 6 miles of the first 13 mile loop and not one step of the second lap. I did run the final 100 yards to the finish. It would have been embarrassing to walk to the finish. Literally, that was all I ran. It was actually so bad I could not even walk fast. Last night I talked to an old friend and Go-Kart racing buddy from college, John Cobb. If you are a triathlete, yes, the John Cobb known as “America's Aerodynamics Guru.” If you are not a triathlete, he actually did teach Lance Armstrong how to ride a time trial long before anyone knew who he was. John continued to work with Lance for years and actually went to France one year with the team.

I mentioned the problem to him and without a moments hesitation he said, “the problem was saltwater.”
During the swim you drink so much saltwater that you need to drink plain water and take no electrolytes during the first two or three hours of the bike ride. That way you flush out all the excess salt. He said if you don't, by the run, “your stomach just shuts down.” All during the run I thought I was so sick because I was not getting enough electrolytes. I will know next time, except I plan to enter the Houston Ironmen in 2012. The swim is in a fresh water lake! Maybe I will get in Kona.

David Tosch