Thursday, March 3, 2011

Steps to running a 100 miler

There were three signs at the start of the climb back over Hope Pass at the Leadville 100 in 2009.  The first read, "If you can't Run, Walk."  The next said, "If you can't Walk, Crawl."  The final sign read, "Just Keep Moving."

Plan at least one year ahead for that first 100 mile race if you are stepping up from 50Ks.  It will take that long to train and know if you are ready.  The best way to know you are ready is to build up to that 100 miler in logical steps. If you run your first 50K in April, for example, and feel good abut how it went, then find a fifty mile race.  I would also recommend continuing to run a 50K every few months, "speed work."  You will be build your mileage gradually so you can stay healthy and the races help you hone your ultra skills.  After the 50 mile race, find a  100K.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, things that work for training runs do not necessarily work in races.  By racing, you will be able to sort out what does work and what doesn't.

 There is another reason to run races at regular intervals.  You are working for a short term goal, not just training.  I have never been very successful at "just" training.  Every training run I do preparing for a race.  I do a lot better on those hard, long, training runs if I am building toward a peak just before a particular race.  Normally that race needs to be in the near future.  Things have changed a bit since the Pinhoti in 2008, Leadville became my immediate goal.  Every run was aimed at that single goal.  After Leadville the next goal became Hardrock.  Now every time I put on my "Dirty Girl Gaiters" I am training for Hardrock.  I haven't been drawn in the lottery yet, but maybe next year.  I'll be training!

Lets say you run that 50K in April, pick out a 50 mile race in the fall or early winter.  Next, find a 100K for Spring. (Another 50 miler will do, 100Ks are harder to find.)  Obviously, if you live in the southern half of the country you have a lot more options.  If you do live in the north you might even want to take a long weekend trip and travel to a race in the south or warmer parts of the west.  Chicago to Atlanta is less than 600 miles.  Going out of town to a race makes it more of an event.  It's a lot like shaving arms and legs while training for an Ironman.  You know it will make absolutely no difference in you final time, you are going to wear a wetsuite,  but each time you shave you are doing a little mental preparation.  All that planning along with the training makes the race a real event.  Besides, it is always nice to see some new scenery.  Select a date and go the Ultrarunning Online and check out their calendar.  They list virtually every ultra in the country and provide links to the race websites.  Then take a look at pictures and select one that looks like it would be enjoyable to run.  Consider the location, and what there is to do in the area.  If you have family and they will be accompanying you, consider what would make the trip fun for all.  You shouldn't have all the fun!

Two years ago, when I ran Leadville, after the race we drove over to Telluride Colorado to spend the rest of the week.  This is my favorite place on earth and my wife loves it as much as I do.  We usually ski there once each year, except this year, and go back in the summer.  We hiked a lot and ate a lot.   (I could not believe I felt like hiking up a mountain three days after Leadville, but I did.  I even ran some.) Telluride may have more great restaurants per capita that any place I have ever been.  In 2010, we stayed at the Canyon's Ski Resort in Park City, where we have a condo, during the Wasatch 100 race, then drove up to the Tetons for several days and spent a couple of days in Yellowstone.  The Wasatch 100 course actually comes up behind one of the lifts at the Canyon's, called 9990 (the elevation at the top.)  While skiing at the Canyons in early 2010, I knew I would be running Wasatch, so I traversed to the right from the top of 9990 over to the ridge-line and looked down on Desolation Lake (actually it was covered in snow, but I knew where it was,) location of one of the very remote aid stations in Wasatch.  Where I was standing within a few feet of the actual trail we would run in the race.  Later we skied a couple of days at Alta (best skiing in America) and took the Supreme Lift up to the far east side of the resort.  We skied back to the boundary fence and were looking directly at Sunset Pass and Sunset Peak, mile 78.5, the high point of the course.  It was exciting and inspiring.  Check out my website I have several pages on Telluride.

The logical steps to progress from a 50K to a 100 mile race is 50K, 50 mile, 100K, 100 mile.  I didn't think I needed the 50 miler in there so I skipped it and went straight to a 100K.  I didn't pick an easy 100K but the hardest I could find, the Katcina Mosa in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.  Here is the elevation profile.

I ran the Imogene Pass Run for the first time in September 2006 and again in 2007.  Since I had been training all summer for the IPR I decided to try the Dizzy Fifties 50K in Huntsville, Alabama in November.  That was my first 50K.  Then in March of 2008 I ran my second 50K, the Oak Mountain 50K here in Birmingham.  By then I had decided I wanted to run the Leadville 100 the following year.  At that point I knew nothing about running ultras and had no idea if I could ever run 100 miles, much less Leadville.  I started looking for a "test" race.  That was the Katcina Mosa just six months away in August.  I stepped up my training and felt confident I could do it.  Boy, was I ever wrong.

I realized before reaching the top of the first climb (a very gentle10 miles long climb that gained 3,500 ft,) I had not done anywhere near enough hill training.  Five miles later I drank a cold cup of Gatorade at Rock Canyon aid station at the bottom of the first descent and had to deal with atrial fibrillation the rest of the race.  Next, I ran totally out of water half way up the third climb up to Windy Pass and the temperature that day reached 100 in Salt Lake City.  I couldn't turn around and go back because the aid station workers would all be gone by the time I made it back. (I was near the end.)  There was no cell phone reception anywhere back there so I couldn't tell anyone where I was.  I had to continue.  I was without water probably no more than an hour but in the heat and intense sun I thought I might die before I reached the Windy Pass AS on top and water.  The next aid station was Little Valley about 10 miles away.  It felt more like 20 and by the time I finally reached that aid station I was only about 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff but I had no intention of continuing.  I sat down and waited for the aid station to close and helped clean up.

Although I didn't finish I learned a lot. John Bozung, the RD of Katcina Mosa and the Squaw Peak 50 mile run (a very well known run) holds the record for running the most consecutive marathon length races, one each month for over 20 years.  Now he only runs ultras.  (If he runs a 100 mile race, that definitely covers the marathon length.)  He gave me a lot of information on how to run ultras.  There were a lot of very fast runners in the race and during the prerace meeting and the early stages of the race I talked to other very experienced ultra runners and learned even more.  Another thing I learned was, if you are wearing a hydration pack, take the time to pull the bladder out and see how much water you add!!!!!

When I got home I decided I was going to run Leadville in 2010, almost exactly one year away, but I was still not sure I could do it.  Then I noticed there was going to be a 100 mile race right here in Alabama in November, the First Annual Pinhoti 100.  I had three months to get ready.  If I finished Pinhoti, I would register immediately for Leadville. I knew I was going to have to do a lot of very hard running over the next three months.  One thing that really helped was that Todd Henderson, Pinhoti RD, had several training runs over several segments of the course, including a night run over exactly the section of the course I hit as it got dark.  That was a very difficult section that started after descending  from the top of Mt Cheaha and extended  to Adams Gap, about 14 miles.  (A "gap" would be called a "pass" out west.)
I thought I would throw in another elevation profile.  This is the Pinhoti 100 and if you enlarge it you will notice it gains 16,180 feet.  It actually has more elevation gain than Leadville simply because you are either going up hill or down hill the entire race.  I can actually only remember one relatively flat spot on a trail about 50 yards long.  We did run about a mile on a pretty flat gravel road and the last 4 miles were flat.

I will stop here and pick up the training and preparation I did for Pinhoti next.

1 comment:

  1. David,

    thanks for the post and the comments how to build up to your first 100 miler. While I've been running all my life, it's only over the past year I've started endurance training. So I'm not sure if I've got a 100 miles in me, but that's certainly the goal.

    I'm looking forward to your next post. Scouring all over the web, it's kind of hard to find training plans, even general guidelines, of how to prepare for longer ultra events. Even a training outline would be a great help in guiding my thinking on training for the future.