Nine years ago I began Lewis and Clarking my way through ultras. I had been running steadily for a couple years and spent a lot of time reading about the sport, but overall it was this large blank canvas. What to eat, how to pace, best way to prevent blisters, handling rain; I was faced with nothing but question mark after question mark. Slowly over the years (oh, so slowly), I’ve been able to create a detailed map to navigate by. Distances from 50k to hundred milers are marked off. I know most of the weather pitfalls the different seasons are likely to throw at me. I’ve noted the challenges of different course layouts (short loop, out-and-back) in the margins. It even has the contours of different formats (fixed distance, timed, backyard, whatever DUC is) outlined. While I’m not yet ready to call myself an expert, I’m pretty confident I can navigate my way around most of the obstacles I’m likely to face.
Thar Be Monsters
And now I’m about to go off the edge of my map.
Four times I have had the opportunity to go past the hundred mile distance and four times I have been unsuccessful. Twice I have been stopped short by injury (MDT FKT attempts), which I’m chalking up to bad luck as it’s never happened on any of the other 60+ times I’ve attempted ultra distances in races or training. And twice I’ve decided to call it quits (MDT again, Capital Backyard) because I didn’t want to. So my detailed map has this large blank space after the hundred mile distance with little pictures of monsters on it.
There are two types of unknowns: the known and the unknown. This is what I know I don’t know about 200s:
- General muscle fatigue
The first bullet is the most obvious. I’m going to slow down, however I don’t know how much. I know my 100 mile pace for this course so while I’m planning to start slower than that, I have no idea if this is slow enough. And no clue whether the decline curve translates into a 10% drop-off, 25%, 50%, or something more.
Sleep is something else that’s difficult for me to plan for without any experience or context. I’m confident I can make it to the second night without resting, however I don’t know if I’ll only need a couple 15 minute naps. Maybe I’ll need a couple hours. Maybe quite a bit more than that. I’ve read and talked to people who have done multi-day runs and I’ve gotten all kinds of responses back. Basically, this is something I don’t think I can really plan for and will have to play it by ear.
I’ve eventually learned that works nutrition-wise for 6-10 hours typically won’t work for 24 or more hours. I have my nutrition dialed in for the hundred mile distance and can now execute this if not flawlessly, then at least close to plan. I’m going to extrapolate a bit and assume that just because something works for me for 30 hours doesn’t mean it will work for twice this distance. Similar to my sleep “strategy”, I’m going to be flexible here and adjust after day one based on what’s working (or more accurately not working).
I periodically develop blisters towards the end of my hundred milers. The dry conditions on flattish roads reduces the risk of this, but again – I’m not exactly sure what will eventually happen. The pack I’m using causes some chafing on my back though it’s been manageable in prior long uses. I’ll be bringing along some tape to address this if it gets too bad, but generally is just something I’ll have to live with.
What’s not on the list above is all the potential issues I don’t know about. There’s probably a dozen other things that can derail my race, however I don’t typically spend too much time thinking/stressing about them. I’ll either be able to deal with them when they rear their ugly little heads or I won’t be able to.
Fingers crossed I can either slay or avoid all the monsters I’m about to face.