Monday, December 19, 2011

Dump the GU's

This weekend I threw out about everything I thought I knew and understood about staying fueled during an ultras.  After the disaster at the North Face Challenge 50 mile race in Pine Mountain, Georgia I decided it was time to try something different.  In that race (Pine Mountain,) I started our running  like I was in a 50K figuring I could bluff my way through the last 18 or 19 miles.  It was the worst run I think I have ever had and by about mile 36 I could barely walk.  I literally imploded.  I honestly was not sure I could make it to the aid station at mile 38.

As soon as I got home I registered for the Lookout Mountain 50 mile race in Chattanooga, Tennessee with a little over 6,300 feet of elevation gain (held Saturday, December 17) and started my recovery from the disaster at Pine Mountain.  The following week I ran 6 miles on Tuesday (3 laps at Veteran's Park) and 6 miles Thursday followed by trail marking 14 miles of the Pinhoti 100 course on Saturday .  The following week I again ran 6 miles on Tuesday and Thursday and did another 4 hours of running while marking more of the Pinhoti course.  The next week I ran 9 miles on both Tuesday and Thursday but volunteered to help Todd Henderson with the Pinhoti 100 on November 5th and 6th.  Since I was up all night I decided to skip the run on Sunday.

The next weekend I did something I have never done before, I ran two races in the same weekend.  Saturday was the Ruffner Mountain 21K here in Birmingham and Sunday was the Xterra 21K at Oak Mountain.  I did pretty well in both although I ran an extra 3+ miles in the Xterra race.  They had a duathlon that started 30 minutes after the 21K and it just so happened that the 21K and the duathlon runners merged on the same trail at the same time, within a few 100 yards of the duathlon start.  Suddenly I found myself in a pile of much slower runners and started trying to pass when ever I had a chance or could create a chance.  While dealing with a jumble of runners I missed where the two races split and I ran the last couple of miles of the duathlon course. (It was also the finish of our race so it had the correct trail marking.)  When I got the finish I asked where the 21K went and someone directed me down the road to the turnaround. I knew something was wrong.  I was pretty far up in the 21K field but there was no one ahead of me.  When I got back to the person that sent me down the road I again asked where to go and she said to the finish.  I knew I was in trouble.  

I backtracked back up the mountain a ways thinking I had missed a turn at the top of the hill but within 100 yards I came to a blue plate with an arrow directing me right back were I just came from.  (Blue plated pointed the way for the 21K)  I then headed to the Start/Finish area to find out were I missed the turn.  I found out where I messed up and headed back up the mountain another way to intersect the trail where I missed the turn.  I was now officially in last place.  I actually got back to within two minutes of the 3rd place finisher and about 16 minutes behind the winner.  It was a good workout.

The next weekend was 4 weeks after the "Disaster at Pine Mountain" and 4 weeks out from the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile and I had to do a very long, very hard run.  I decided to try my new plan for eating during races.  I had reached a point that I could no longer tolerate any type of "GU."  I decided to take real food.  I made a couple of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, a couple of Honey Stinger Waffles and my usual Perpetuem mix.   I ran 7hours, 15minutes with 10 hill repeats on my usual trail plus 2 on a new trail that has just recently been opened.  It was on of the best runs with the fastest hill repeat times I have ever had.  

The following week I started my taper but still ran 10 hill repeats even faster than the week before, for a total of 5:44.  Again I only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, HS waffles and Perpetuem.  The combination was working.  I never had to take an Enervit tablet for cramps, never felt the least bit "queasy," I actually felt great.

So that brings us to this weekend.  I decided to use the same plan for the Lookout Mountain 50K.  Friday I make 4 PBJ sandwiches, cut them in half and wrapped each half.  I filled eight "Nathan 10 oz bottles with two scoops of Perpetuem and grabbed a pile of Honey Stinger Waffles.  I loaded them in the appropriate drop bag and my backpack for the start and I was ready.  

I have learned that if things are not within my reach during the race I tend to not use them.  That is, If I have to pull my backpack off to the get something, I will probably just not bother and do without.  That is not good in anything longer than a 50K.  I still like the NUUN tablets so I put a baggie containing 6 tablets in the zipper pocket on each of my Nathan hand-held 20 oz bottles and I was set.  

The race started at 7:30 AM on top of Lookout Mountain, 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain and it was cold and very windy (and damp) on top.  About 30 or so people were huddled around a very small fire waiting for the start.  I stayed there until about 30 seconds before the start.  We would run 22.5 miles before reaching our first drop bag. The course followed a trail just below the crest of Lookout Mountain for about 5 miles, along some spectacular granite walls.  (There is some awesome rock climbing around Chattanooga.)  We then rounded the north end of the mountain and began to make a 7 mile descent down the west side to a stream at the bottom of the hill. (The stream turned out to be flooded so for about half a mile we followed a gravel road just above the creek.) We then stared back up to the top of the mountain and the start/finish area at Covenant College.

I carried both hand held water bottles the entire race although one would have been adequate most of the time.  The aid stations were 6 to 8 miles apart but it was cool enough that I emptied one bottle between each.  Approaching each AS I emptied what was left in one bottle into the other and added 16oz of water to the empty one.  All I had to do was throw in one NUUN tablet and I was off.   I also did my best to empty the one 10 oz bottle of Perpetuem I had mixed with water between each AS.   Then I would open the next bottle with Perpetuem and add water.  I followed this pattern for the rest of the race.  At each aid station I would eat a few chips, something that looked like "Chex cereal party mix", maybe a salted potato or a cookie.  I even grabbed a few of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the aid stations.  I put one of my Honey Stinger Waffles in my running shorts pocket for later.  At the aid station I would retrieve one of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (unless I ate one from the aid station) and eat it leaving the aid station.  Starting at the Covenant College AS at mile 22.5, I started eating Ramen Noodle Soup at every aid station.  I would grab a cup as I was leaving and walk long enough to finish it.  Sometimes I also grabbed a small cup of coke.  Basically, I ate what looked good, I just made sure I did eat.

My fueling strategy worked great.  Although I started out way too fast (as I always do,) I slowed down by the mile 22 AS and took it easy for the next 20 miles.  I was feeling pretty tired for a while but after slowing in the second 20 miles I began to feel good.  By the final 10 miles I was feeling strong and ran all of the flat and downhill and much of the easier uphill.  I never got sick at my stomach and never had one cramp despite all the climbing.  During the final 7 or 8 mile climb back to the finish I probably passed 15 other runners.  My time was 12:47:49. 

So here is what I did:
  1.  I made four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them in half and wrapped each half in plastic wrap.  
       They were evenly spaced in drop bags so I would always have a sandwich at aid station.
  2.  I placed Perpetuem drink mix in eight Nathan 10oz bottles and spaced them through the course so I            
       would always have at least one full bottle and one bottle with powder to be filled.
  3.  I packed 8 or 10 Honey Stinger Waffles so I would have a couple with me all the time.  (They are very  
       light so I don't mind carrying extras.)
  4.  MOST IMPORTANT, I took the time at every aid station to get out a sandwich or eat some real food,
       mix up my Perpetuem, and add NUUN tablets to my water.
  5.  I drank constantly.  I always drink more when I carry water bottles.  The one down side is you have to
       step behind a lot of trees.  
  6.  I did not eat even ONE Gu the entire day.  And I don't plan to ever eat one again.

When I unpacked everything Sunday I found that I had consumed 5 of the 8 Perpetuem bottles and eaten five of eight, half sandwiches.  Remember, I also ate several aid station sandwiches and other food at every AS.  After mile 22.5 I also ate a cup of soup at every AS.  I don't know exactly how many of the Honey Stinger Waffles I started with but I ate 6 or 8 of them too.

I am getting better at planning and scheduling and I always had what I wanted or needed when I needed it.  I also had extras.  In a final email runners were warned that there was a lot of water on the course, both mud and creek crossings.  And there were.  I had extra socks packed in two drop bags although I never needed them.  After slogging through a few miles of mud puddles you would cross a stream and that would clean you shoes and socks.  Therefore I didn't need to change.  I hope someone took some pictures of the climb up from Lula Falls to the top of the ridge.  Without the ropes someone had strung the climb would have been almost impossible.  (About 60 feet of mud with scattered rocks and limbs at, I would guess, 50% to 60% grade.)  Coming back down in the dark would have been no problem, though.  At least not until you hit a solid object on the way down.  Coming down you just hung on to the rope and slid.  And then there were the Falls.  I wish I had taken a camera.

I did make one planning error.  I did not get a new battery for the headlamp I wear around my waste.  It is the SureFire Minimus Headlamp.  It uses a 123A Lithium battery but I just didn't have time to go get one.  It was still bright although I had used it at the start of the Pine Mountain race a couple of months earlier.  I figured it would make it through two or three hours of dark.  I was wrong.  After about 30 minutes I realized it was pretty dim and tried to turn up the power.  It would not increase brightness.  I did have my backup flashlight in my backpack but I really didn't want to mess with it since I was carrying water bottles in each hand.  I decided if absolutely necessary I would dig it out.  I made do with with my headlamp the rest of the race.

Anyone in the Southeast looking for a great and 50 miler, take a look at this one.  Randy Whorton the RD does a awesome job and course is spectacular.  Rock Creek Outfitters is the major sponsor.  They sponsor the entire Rock Creek Series which includes the nationally known Stump Jump 50K.
Here are a few pictures taken by Jeff Bartelett.
The first 5 are along the trail just below the crest of Lookout Mountain in the first 5 miles.

 The trail near Lula Falls

 The flooded section below the mountain.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your conquest! When I run long, I either can only take GUs or I can only take real food, but I can't ever seem to do both. I start out with GU then see how my body reacts and go from there. I know how it feels on both sides though. Sometimes I'm surprised at what I crave. I have a thing for Oreos dipped in water.