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!
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.
As we drove the curvy mountain roads toward the starting line at 2:30 Saturday morning the van was pretty quiet. Especially quiet for a team that had been chatting constantly all week about everything from GU flavors to training plans. My mind was still a little fuzzy (as it usually is at that hour). As we got into Annecy and got closer to the starting line, the years of dreams about competing for Team USA started becoming clearer…and scarier. I started thinking, “I’ve never climbed 17,000 feet in a day before, I’ve never run with a pack on before, I’ve never eaten real food during a race before! This terrain is far more technical than anything I’ve ever run. How much blood did they take for yesterdays drug test? Will that effect me?! Did I eat too many baguettes yesterday? Did I eat enough baguettes yesterday? This could be a very rough day…” But as we got to the start line, put on our head lamps and stripped off our USA warm-ups the worry melted away, and I remembered, This IS GOING to be a rough day. That’s what ultrarunning is; rough. Expecting anything less than getting your bell rung is a mistake. The sport is a marriage of freedom and suffering that will make you extremely tired but also unbelievably free.
The starting gun went off at 3:30 A.M. We ran through a tunnel of fans holding fireworks and flares, down the boardwalk on Lake Annecy, and then began the first climb up Semnoz. The trail was dark, wet, and fairly quiet. Near the top of the climb the trail popped out in a campground complete with large expedition tents, campfires, and huge geo-domes lit up with purple and green laser lights. The place looked like it had been the scene of a pretty spectacular alpine party the night before, but maybe that’s just how people camp in France. From the campsite to the top of Semnoz the trail was lined with flaming torches, it made for a pretty spectacular sight. From the top we descended down through the ski resort on a fairly rocky jeep road, and continued down to Saint Eustache. On the way we passed though many tiny towns where spectators were cheering and ringing bells. From there we went back up and down 5 more major climbs and descents from which I will spare you the details. Here are some pics from the day.
On the ascent up Col de la Forclaz I started hearing the ringing of cowbells in the distance. I was pretty hungry and thirsty and was looking forward to an aid station, or at least a town to fill up a bottle. The higher I climbed the louder the bells got, and the drier my mouth got. I was really looking forward to an aid station. As I crested the hill, I looked down to a green valley full of cows eating, bells swinging in the wind…It was not from the encouragement I was looking for but in its own lonely way, it was far better.
Over the final climb up Mont Baron I ran out of water, got hot and started bonking pretty good, it was really motivating knowing my teammates were counting on me to power through the hard sections, and it was really inspiring knowing they were doing the same thing. In the end the US men’s team took home the silver medal. Here are a few post race photos.
Here is a brief summary of what I used during the race. -Ultimate Direction AK 2.0 Pack – 3 Simple Bottles- Great hands free bottles that fit in pockets, waist band or pack(message me at davidlaney12 at Gmail.com for a 35% off promo code) simplehydration.com – 2 UGo Bars- Really good, fast and easy to digest, Check them out at UgoBars.com -Special Edition Nike Zoom Kiger 3’s. You can buy them soon at Nike.com/Trail – A bunch of GU, Shot Blocks and Coca-Cola.
Thanks to Bryon Powell and Meghan Hicks of IRunFar.com for their coverage of the event for friends, fans and family around the world. These two do an awesome job and are all over the course taking pictures and tweeting standings/updates.
Thanks to Team Coach Richard Bolt for being an awesome support system, crew, and manager while in France, and thanks to Nancy Hobbs, USA UltraRunning and ATRA.
Finally a HUGE thanks to Trail Butter for creating a “TEAM USA” flavor and supporting us with the proceeds from sales of that flavor. It is amazing to see a small Oregon company volunteer big support for the team. Without support like this the elite component of trail running would not survive. The small companies that give back to the sport in a big way are necessary for dreams to come true, and to you we are all very grateful. Check them out at TrailButter.com
And for those of you that are still reading, here are a few more pics from the event.
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.
After someone finds out I run 100 mile trail races the first thing they usually ask is, “What do you eat?!” I usually vaguely say, “Oh just normal stuff” or try to change the subject to something else (literally anything else) or sometimes I just say, “Cherries… they’re delicious”.
Anyhow, after saying, “Oh just normal stuff” a few days ago, I realized that my statement was a complete lie. Part of my daily diet is an eclectic mix of creative debris. Kind of like a yard sale, nothing there is really good, that’s why someone is trying to sell it for .25 cents. When you decide you really didn’t need 3 pounds of cinnamon toast crunch, well, it’s too late to take it back. The other part is really solid, healthy food that keeps my body fueled for the trails. Here is a little bit of both.
Exhibit A. Cinnamon Roll French Toast This is probably not a new idea, but it is new to me. On the drive back from a threshold run a few weeks ago, I was struggling with the decision between french toast and a cinnamon roll, thus was born the idea, Cinnamon Roll French Toast.
Basically the process here is buy cinnamon rolls at any local bakery. Slice them like bread. Make french toast.
Exhibit B. Ravioli Lasagna
Pasta sauce, Ravioli, Spinach, Cheese, More sauce, more cheese, more spinach, more pasta. You get the picture. Bake that till it looks done.
Exhibit C. Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich with Toasted Marshmallow
I really think this needs no explanation, just remember roasted marshmallows make food better, just like 100 mile weeks make beds more comfortable.
Exhibit D. Ugo Bars
Thanks to sponsor Ugo Bars for providing me with some food that is actually good for me and fits in running short pockets! These are amazing and handcrafted in The Heartland, check them out at UgoBars.com.
Exhibit E. Blackberry Pumpkin Smoothie. -Frozen Blackberrys -Banana -Vanilla Yogurt -Spinach -Almond Milk -Pumpkin Puree Or Pumpkin Ice Cream
Exhibit F. Frozen Bowl
Every night in the summer before I go to bed I put a bowl of granola in the freezer. Then when I wake up at 2 a.m sweating cause its 90 degrees in my top floor apartment I have something cold to eat. Add peanut butter, milk, cinnamon, banana, etc. Cereal is more than just a box of flakes and some milk. Get creative.
Obviously to run fast you have to fuel well, but the above is a bit ridiculous. We live someplace where water and food are taken for granted on a daily basis. And while it’s great to have, it’s also our responsibility to help those who don’t. Join me in supporting Ryan and Sara Hall and Team WorldVision in their work to bring clean water to Ethiopia. Link Here Halls Steps Foundation.
Or for something closer to home (for some of you) Check out the Oregon Food Bank, They are always in need of volunteers and donations. Volunteering is a great way to help folks out and make new friends.