I’ve been running ultras for three years now and I’ve managed to learn a couple things. Normally this would be a good thing, however I seem to keep forgetting those couple things which forces me to relearn them at inconvenient times. Like in the last 5-10 miles of races. Tune-up races can serve many important purposes in a training program such as being a well-supported long run, the ability try out new gear, or practice race-day strategies. I’ve used all these in the past, however I’m coming to realize that the most valuable use of these races is to highlight potential pitfalls in your upcoming A race and allowing you to plan better. The 2017 Naked Bavarian was the perfect example for me. Here is what I (re)learned:
Something always goes wrong
The farther you go distance-wise, the more likely problems are to surface. Saturday it was my stomach misbehaving again. It could have been any one of a number of other things though: I could have fallen and twisted an ankle, my right knee could have started bothering me, my watch battery could have died, or several dozen other possibilities could have reared their ugly little head.
Right now I have visions of a perfect Umstead run dancing through my head. This is not going to happen. Problems and issues are going to come up. This isn’t a possibility, but a definite. I know this intellectually, however emotionally I can’t quite seem to grasp this. Maybe this is why I am able to keep signing up for these races. I have the capability to detach myself from the pain, suffering, and just plain arrghhh!!!! late in races (please, Lord, don’t let it be early) and continue grinding. So I just need to have backup contingencies planned out ahead of time to make things easier for me to switch gears during the race.
I need backups to my backups
Speaking of backups. I typically have a backup nutrition plan, however I need to come up with more than one. My current base plan is to eat a gel every 3-4 miles and take electrolyte caps whenever I think I may need them, which is typically hours after I probably should have started. My backup plan has been to switch to Ensure Plus if I’m not able to stomach the gels anymore. I think this is a solid Plan B for me, however depending on where my drop bags are my backup calories could be 10-15 miles or 3-4 hours away. So I need to come up with options for me to use in between access to my drop bags.
But more than just having a plan available to me, I need to be able to pivot to it from what’s not working much quicker. A lot of times, I’ll get on a mental track during a race and it’s tough to get off it even after I know I’m heading down the wrong path. It’s like when you take a wrong turn during a race and didn’t see markings at the last intersection. You know you’re going the wrong way, but it’s hard to admit to yourself that you made a mistake. “If I go 2 more minutes, maybe I’ll see a confidence ribbon”, you tell yourself. At Naked Bavarian, I stopped being able to eat gels, but it took me 5 miles to realize I had my plan B sitting in my waist pack. Talk about having blinders on! Also, just because a food choice is working at mile 35 doesn’t mean it’ll still be viable 12 hours later. I need to have 3-4 options open to me at all times so I can maintain a consistent caloric intake throughout the run.
A corollary to this is that I need to slow down in aid stations and take whatever time I need. In the early part of races, I typically fly through and am down the trail before the volunteers can hardly even write down my bib number. I’ve done a good job more recently in my 100s of taking more time once it gets dark out, however I need to be able to modify this earlier if necessary. Taking 5 minutes per aid station will dramatically increase your finishing time, however sometimes taking an extra 15 minutes can save you hours.
Easy isn’t easy enough
I don’t think the end of NB17 on Saturday was mostly caused by the pace I went out in, but I’m sure it contributed a little bit. It was a good 50K or 40M pace, however it was far too hard an effort for a 100-miler. I think I’ve found my easy pace, but I have yet to discover my too easy pace. I am coming to the realization that I can’t run my too easy pace. I had problems with a run/walk strategy during my first 100, however maybe that was just an injury thing and I would have had problems with whatever I was doing. I think I’m going to try walking more earlier. Like in the first loop early. I will need a concrete plan in place though as I’m afraid that if I try and play it by feel, then I’ll just go out at an easy pace again. Which is not easy enough.
As you can tell, I still don’t have 100 miles figured out. Not even close. And that’s kind of what makes this fun and exciting. I have an idea of what’s going to happen, but it’s really only a rough outline. I haven’t run the course so don’t know how easy/hard it is versus my expectations. The weather is still changing with rain forecasted one day and 5 degree temperature changes the next. And who knows what kind oh physical shape I’ll be in 3 weeks from now. Needless to say, I’m starting to get a little excited.
Hope your spring training is going well.