This summer there were some major successes and major failures, or nicely put, learning experiences. From these experiences I learned a lot of lessons that made me, and will continue to make me a better runner. I think a couple of them can make you a better runner too. I’ll share a few and hope that they will be applicable for anyone running a mountain ultra distance trail race.
- Chill in the outdoors: I spent most of the summer training, eating, reading, working and sleeping outside, usually in big forests and near big mountains. Using lakes and creeks to shower, sleeping at trail-heads and, having plenty of time to chat with strangers at Laundromats, makes you a little more flexible and little less reliant on consistency. Making yourself better at adapting to change on the fly and rolling with challenges in normal life with make you better at rolling through big ups and inevitable dark points during an ultra. Our Air B&B host in Chamonix named Mihai was always saying “tranquilo” or “It’s chill” his attitude is imperative in ultras. Sometimes things get gnarly in the mountains, you run out of water, you get sick, roll an ankle, things start to go downhill fast. You always have time to catch your breath, realize you trained for this, hit the mental reset button, and get back after it. Spending a lot of time in the mountains allows plenty of opportunity for this practice.
- Eat fat: This summer I ate a lot of fat, cause french fries taste good and are cheap, Ok ok in actuality I ate a lot of nuts, avocados, and all that stuff people consider “healthy fat” in addition to french fries. I didn’t notice a huge difference in daily life, what I did notice was the ability to spend really long days in the mountains with very little food, and without getting that “bonk” feeling. I could feel my body utilizing fat as the primary energy source. I’m not a scientist but as the average pace in the mountains is much slower, I think relying on the slower burning energy is beneficial. The ability to use fat more efficiently allows you to not only carry less food and water but allows blood to be used in the running muscles as opposed to stomach for digestion.
- Roll with your nutrition plan: Nutrition depends on conditions, not only on race distance but also on pace, temperature, technical aspects of the course and hydration. Nutrition is super dynamic, fueling during an ultra is like bowling on a canoe during a hurricane, the variables are constantly changing. If you don’t account for the changing variables and choose to simply follow your prescribed 400 calorie an hour plan you might end up in a rough place. Quite often mountain races are slower and cooler than most ultras, often this allows runners to eat more than they normally would. Have a tentative plan for eating, and have plenty of food options, but let what you actually eat roll with the race.
- Be battle ready: Having the right gear is vital. Be prepared for anything the mountains throw at you. I live pretty minimally, in fact everything I own fits comfortably in the back seat of my car. After being under prepared and under dressed at this years Chuckanut 50k I over packed my pack for much of this summers adventures and runs. UTMB requires a ton of seemingly unnecessary gear, but at 2AM when its 40 degrees at 6000 feet and blowing wind the gear suddenly feels really really necessary. Be ready for whatever might come your way.
- Geek out on tech: Run the most technical trails you can find. Find steep rocky mountain ridges and steep rugged canyons that mirror the course you plan to race on. Get to a place where you can roll through really rooty, rocky or steep downhill sections. Find those trails that allow you to practice the more technical aspects of running. Do them again and again and again, pretty soon running downhill feels like skiing. That’s when things get really fun. Yeah you’re probably going to roll an ankle a few times. I know I did more than once, run within your limits. Ankle rolling is one thing, falling is another. Be careful.
The mountains are big and free and wild and powerful. Use those emotions to inspire your next race through the alpine. Good Luck!