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!
“Running is like getting up every morning and shooting yourself. You know that you are going to put yourself through something really painful, but you also know how much strength and speed are going to come with it. The passion of a runner is to force forgetfulness on that pain and embrace the benefits that will without fail make you a better person.” -Mark Wetmore, coach of University of Colorado XC team
They say Everything’s Bigger in Texas. Well it turns out everything is bigger in Chamonix as well. (except the food sizes, I’m convinced the French have stomachs the size of grapes) When I arrived at my Air B&B two weeks ago I was greeted by the biggest Newfoundland I’ve ever seen, a 130 pound pup that looked more like a bear than a dog. Her name was Guaya and judging by her smell, she avoids baths like…well like a dog, who hates baths. Within an hour of my arrival in Chamonix, my teammate Ryan Ghelfi and I were headed out to run the Vertical Kilometer from town up to the top of Brevent (A Vertical Kilometer is a trail that has 1000 meters of ascent in a distance under 5k, the Brevent VK climbes the 1000 vertical meters in 3.8k) Over the course of the week we climbed a ton of vertical, saw massive glaciers and huge, jagged peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif. We got to experience a taste of the suffering we would without a doubt swim in during the following weeks race.
Two days before the race I wrote in my training log, “BATTLE READY. Race of attrition. Hammer last 50k”. When race evening came I didn’t have the usual pre race jitters. I was really calm, relaxed and ready to run a really relaxed 50 miles, followed by a really hard 50 miles. I felt very prepared for the tough climbs as well as the technical descents as I had spent the entire summer training on similar terrain in Mammoth Lakes, The Wallowas, The North Cascades and various other ranges and volcanoes in the American West.
The first 50 miles were really chill, treating it like a training run I was able to relax, enjoy the mountains and stars and preserve my energy for the later stages. The moon was huge, stars were bright and crowds were ecstatic.
At Grand Col Ferret I started rolling a bit, and by Champex-Lac (122 Kilometers in) it was hammertime. With a conservative strategy early, this was the time to take a BIG Texas sized risk. I was focused, hungry and attacking every step. Every climb I was able to hike and run strong, the flats and descents smooth. My summer focus on technical downhill was paying off in a big way. For the first time running steep technical downhill was fun, rather than stressful. I was jumping off rocks and roots, sprinting the smooth sections and charging through rollers. The experience felt more like skiing than running.
Every runner I passed gave me a huge surge of energy. On the final climb up Tete aux Vents I was finally in 4th and both hunting and running scared. I knew I was redlining and it wouldn’t take much to blow up and spend an hour in an aid station. Every time I came to what I thought was the top of the climb it would continue another few 100 meters up. My mind was totally focused on grinding up to the top, and then hammering back down.
At La Flegere I was finally done with the 10,000 meters of climbing, and I started blitzing down the final descent.
When I finally hit the pavement of Chamonix with under a mile to go I saw teammate Zach Miller (Previous days CCC 100k Champ) he had fire in his eyes and was yelling that I needed to sprint to the finish. Finishing any race is hard, but kicking from a kilometer out in a 105 mile mountain race is…Well, I honestly don’t remember. I imagine that it was painful because such an act usually is painful, and it has been 4 days since the race and I’m still sore. So I have to imagine the finish was pretty hard, but I think my brain could only process so much information and I believe it decided to remember the screaming fans rather than the pain. Thanks brain!
Coming down the final stretch was surreal. The crowds, hands outstretched waved us home into the finish line. Huge mountains, dirt, hills, rocks, cows, mud, sweat, sunrises, sunsets, chaffing, blood, coke-cola, and 105 miles make a trail race, but the fans are what make this trail race an experience truly unique and memorable.
Mountains and emotions are bigger here.
Thanks Chamonix. I’ll be back; soon.
Thanks Huge thanks to the amazing fans, volunteers and organizers! You all made it an awesome experience. Thanks to Bighorn Bistro (THE place to eat in Cham) for keeping us well fed all week. Thanks to the Ghelfi Family for coming out and supporting the team, Thanks to everyone back home cheering, and Bryon and Megan of IRunFar.com for being all over the course and providing great coverage of the event! Thanks also to Like The Wind Magazine for hosting two great social events before and after the race. Thanks to all the Nike Running crew who came out to shred the trails and cheer us on! Thanks to Billy Yang Films for documenting the weeks adventures. Finally, huge thanks to Trail Boss Pat Werhane for regulating like Warren G, keeping food in our stomachs and shoes on our feet.
UTMB Gear List Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3 Nike Kiger Jacket Gu, Sport Beans and UGO Bars Simple Hydration Bottles (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a 35% Off Promo Code) Check them out at SimpleHydration.com
Like many things I do, I decided to head to Joseph Oregon on a whim. I had just finished working at Steens Mountain Running Camp and I had a few days before the US Mountain Running Champs in Bend, So I got in my car/house and drove over to Joseph Oregon. The drive from Steens to Joseph wound through flat cow country. It is pretty country, but I wanted big mountains, and as I got closer to my destination I had doubts. Finally the valley opened up and I got to see what all the talk was about.
This is some of the greatest running country I have ever explored. 100’s of miles of singletrack wind through glacier carved valleys and over huge granite peaks, with plenty of crystal clear lakes to swim in and enjoy along the way. I won’t waste your time with reading. Look at the pictures, then pack your bag.
My Sophomore year in High School I got a tibial stress reaction, not a full stress fracture but basically an injury from repetitive stress on the tibia. If I continued to train on the injury a stress fracture was likely. The doctor told me to take 6 weeks off from running. Those were a rough six weeks, but I biked, swam, did 100’s of sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups daily. I did just about everything I could imagine to get ready for the fall cross country season. When the fall came I was fit, but far from fast. Our first time trial of the season was a disaster. In an all out effort I came across the line clocking a 6 minute mile, slower than I was 5 years earlier as a 5th grader… saying I was discouraged would be an understatement.
Galen Rupp, The Central Catholic High School Alum and 2012 10,000 meter Olympic Silver Medalist, occasionally dropped clothes and shoes by practice. Usually it was USA gear, outgrown shoes, shorts, sweats, etc. At the end of practice we would dig through the box of treasure and take a few things. The next day at practice we would all proudly wear our new clothes. The day of the discouraging time trial a box of clothes was delivered to the track, as it was a particularly good box of gear, CCHS Coach Dave Frank had us guess numbers for who got to choose an item first. Whether Dave knew I could use some encouragement, or if I really guessed the right number I’ll never know, But I went home with a new USA track warm up jacket. It was dark blue with red piping, USA stitched in big white letters on the back, and the winged USA emblem on the chest. I don’t think I took it off for a month. I was so excited to have a USA jacket (earned or not) that I went home and started researching the USA cross country team. I came across an article about Dathan Ritzenhein, I read about his history of stress fractures and injuries, and his ability to come back, get healthy, train smart and run fast again. I figured if someone can come back from three stress fractures and many other injuries, I can comeback from a few more trials. This planted the idea in my head that someday I could make a world cross country team.
That decision was a realization for me, that distance running was going to be a roller coaster. There are major ups, and long, dark, drawn out downs. The ups will excite you, but coming back from the downs is what inspires others.
12 years later I’ve passed the USA jacket on to someone else who found inspiration from it, And I’ve earned my own USA team gear. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to represent The United States of America.
For the last month I’ve been increasing my training load. Doing a lot more running in the mountains on steep, technical trails and preparing for the IAU World Trail Championship. On May 30th I’ll put on the Red, White and Blue and race 86 kilometers through some very rugged country. Not exactly cross country… but it will do.
Thanks to all those who have cheered me on over the mountains and through the valleys of long distance running.
My first Ultramarathon was Chuckanut 2013, two years ago. At the time I didn’t really know what the marathon plus world did to a person, the highs and lows of each race and season. It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been doing this thing two years, it (like the last two miles of last weeks race) feels much much longer.
Trail running isn’t exactly easy. The sport destroys feet, wrecks digestive systems, frys mitochondria and occasionally sends the mind into a tailspin. But what’s pretty cool is at then end of the day there is always somebody to lift you up. You may have had a rough few miles, or rough day on the trail, but the runners, the support system, and the family is what makes the sport amazing. Thanks to everybody out there who knows way to much about GU, trail shoes and reads IrunFar daily, and an even bigger thanks to those people out there who don’t know much about trail running but care about it because its important to someone they care about it.
When it comes down to it, I’ve enjoyed the trails and been inspired and freed by the mountains. I’ve been strengthened by the difficulties,and toughened by the challenges. In two years I’ve learned much more than simply how to run fast in the mountains. I still have a lot left to learn.
Usually I start these things with some failed sarcastic joke and end them by thanking the race director, organizer and volunteers. Today, we give thanks first.
On Saturday morning temps at the Hill Country State Natural Area outside Bandera were below freezing. Freezing rain and ice covered the ground, tarps and cars. The temperature rose little over the course of the day, and I assume it dropped once the sun went down. The cut off time for the 100k is 24 hours, meaning volunteers spent all night in the cold cooking food and warming soup for the runners. Thank you for being out there. With out you all (or should I say ya’ll) I’d likely be shivering under some ice covered cactus, swearing I was never going to run again. Thanks to Joe Prusaitis, Tejas Trails, and all those who worked hard organizing and executing this great event.
Now here’s what happened out there. The first 5 miles were pretty slow and cautious as no one wanted to risk an early spill on the icy rock. Once we got out on the smoother sections the group split up quickly. Paul Terranova and I ran together, off and on, for the next 30 miles or so, chatting shoes and GU flavors. Neither of us was in any hurry to push the pace. By the second loop the rain and foot traffic from the 50k and 25k, as well as the other 100k’ers had turned the Texas dirt into a thick muddy paste that stuck to anything it touched. Within minutes my shoes and back of legs were fully coated in mud, pebbles, and sand. The slop made running on the “easy” sections of the course very challenging. I tried to stop and scrape the sludge off a few times but the process was a waste of time. I started looking forward to the last 15 miles, where the mudfest gives way to rockier trails with less shoe coating mud. The last 5-10 miles flew by. Cold temps made eating and drinking easy. Usually the body has to work hard to cool itself down and blood goes to the extremities, I’m guessing with less cooling work to do my stomach was able to digest much better.