It was 5am, Sam and I were driving up trail creek. The early morning and drive was nothing new to me. I have been guiding on Borah and up in the Sawtooths most of the summer, so I have became accustomed to early mornings and long drives. The race began with Ben Blessing playing the national anthem on his trombone. I was wondering if there was anyone in the campground confused by the strange noises in the middle of nowhere. We all took off and I mean TOOK OFF. There was a large crew moving quickly up towards summit creek. I looked down at my watch to see what my heart rate was... 167 bpm. What the fuck!? Is this thing even working right now, it didn't feel like I was pushing it that hard. Over the last year, I became obsessed with watching my heart rate and would never go above 143. But this was race day, I didn't research where I should be... oh well I don't want to fall too far behind.
I settled in with a small pack, as we all began to naturally segregate away from the others. As we crawled our way up Summit Creek, I could feel the person behind me leaching on and my energy being sucked away to them. Its funny the thoughts that go through your head when you are pushing yourself for 9 hours straight. I didn't like the feeling and became angry for no good reason. As we descended down the hill, we all started to talk, and I realized that he was pretty chill. I hated myself for feeling those previous thoughts... we are all out here to test ourselves and have a good time. I've come to realize that people who run these "ultras" are interesting people. We are all corky and a little crazy inside. You have to be to put your body through so much pain.
My goals for this race were to break 9 hours (my previous time was 9:35:26) and be top 10 overall. I need to have goals to keep myself motivated to crush it or I'll just give in. The last time I ran the 60k was in 2016, I had a big training season with lots of runs. It was followed by a large taper, due to a busy guiding season. It is a huge challenge to fit long workout runs into an already physically demanding profession. During the race I went out too hard and crumbled on the next two big climbs. So this race I took it down a notch and was able to hang on through those hard climbs.
Overall I was really satisfied how things went this year and plan to change the training plan next time to maybe even (dare I say it) break 8 hrs?!
I've come to realize with these huge missions in the mountains, it is important to have guidelines for success. Here are some thoughts:
- Pre-Race Visualization - I analyze the course map, then look over the topographic and satellite overlays. This is where Gaia GPS (shout out) comes in really handy. Figure out what the terrain will look like and picture yourself running through it. Then it won't be as much of a shocker when you come to it for real. There shouldn't be any real surprises out there. And you can have a mental map as you run the course, to know where to coast or attack.
- Break it down - for me that comes down to all the climbs. Which hills will be the real challenge? Once you get over the hurdle, you can feel a huge relief. That will help keep you going and hopefully, provide some motivation to continue.
- Pack running - I used to never like running in packs while competing in high school and college. I'm beginning to understand the benefits and be more accepting to the pros of it. Ultras are fucking long! It is nice to create friends out there and conversation to help pass the time. Packs can also help keep you moving and pull you along (leaching mentioned earlier...), keeping you in the game of forward progression. Packs can also have a negative effect of making you go faster than your pace should be, so find the right group for you!
- Sweat is Death - I used salt tablets for the first time this race and holly shit, did it make a difference! Far less cramping meant I could focus on moving faster and not be consumed with how much my body was hurting. I was taking two capsules (2000mg) every hour, but my buddy Sam had to throw down three or more at some points. SO it might depend on pre-race conditioning.
- Poles? - some claim that the weight and nuisance outweighs the benefit. I guide with them on a regular basis for carrying large packs in uneven terrain and up/down steep hikes. This was my first time using them and I wouldn't have finished as well as I did without them! They engage your upper body for hill climbs, so your legs aren't doing all the work. Poles allow some relief on your knees for steep descents. Both were crucial for my success. Buy some that fold up in three parts. I'm a fan of Black Diamond's Distance Carbon Z.
- Hill Workouts - a big lesson learned after this last ultra was I lack the ability to move up hill fast... I felt it hard on my quads, which leads me to believe that I should be adding squats and hill repeats to my workouts to strengthen those legs.
- Energy - keep putting fuel on the fire so you don't burn out. Whether this is sucking down your favorite energy gel, shot bloks or simply finding anything your body will take down without fighting back. I've been raging the Keto diet for the last year and a half, so I didn't know how this was going to go for me. I tried taking Nuun Active in my drinks until I realized it was making my stomach sick. I realized my body wasn't hungry which made me nervous that I thought I was going to burn out, so I tried to eat some Quest bars but realized they wouldn't go down easy. Luckily, some of the aid stations had broth and bacon! All in all, I finished the race with 2 Dixie cups of broth, a handful of bacon, 1 Quest bar, and a SHIT load of salt tablets. Maybe this Keto thing really works?
When it comes down to it, you must have the will to suffer and live on. If you possess that, anything can be overcome!