5 ways to Better Slay the Mountain Ultra Gnar

TrailUTMB
Photo from Elana Mate at UTMB

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

UTMBSUNRISE

 

Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc – 170K Of Big Free and Maybe Pain?

“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. photo 1 (25) photo 2 (23)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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