Monday, August 31, 2015

So You Finished a Hundred Miler, Now What?

“I don’t want to be a marathoner.  I want to be a runner who has done a marathon, once.”   I said those words to my family in 2009 when they were worried I was training too much.  That statement was only somewhat true.  I didn’t fall in love with marathons.  But I did fall in love with distance.  While my own journey didn’t follow the natural progression from shorter to longer (I ran 100 miles in 24 hours before a point-to-point hundred and 250k in under 48 hours before either of those.), many will find the natural distance progression of 50k, 50 mile, 100k, etc.  The point is, there’s always something else, just when you promise, “this is it, 100 miles, nothing longer.” 

 “Have you done ATY?”

“Did you follow Johan at LAVS? Alan’s screwed record was supposed to be untouchable.”

Just when you‘ve promised, “this is it,” you hear the discussions at the starting line of your goal 100-miler.  What are they talking about?  What are those acronyms?  Who are Alan and Johan? What in the hell is a “screwed record”?   Eventually you fall in step with another runner during the race and your eyes are opened to the world of multi-days.  You spend the better part of the next day listening intently to the stories of runners covering hundreds of miles over the course of 2-10 days, and even longer.  The rest of the race you spend wondering how you’re going to break it to your family that there indeed is something after one hundred miles.

Several Epsom salt baths, a massage and fourteen straight hours of sleep later, your significant other catches you scrolling Ultrasignup for Across the Years and The Last Annual Vol State.  You try to explain as you’re met with a cocked eyebrow and “what the f---- is a multi-day?”

Since the questions will come rapid-fire, hurled at you like a Stephen Strasburg fast ball, and you’ll be left muttering something about “300 miles and six days” here’s a little cheat sheet to read off of, or just share with your skeptical spouse or concerned kids, explaining what these events are and how, exactly you plan to do them without fear of divorce, job loss and going into debt to pay for them.

A multi-day is just what it sounds like, a race of two days or longer.  They come in several forms such as fixed time, fixed distance and stage races.  They each require a special mind-set and have different pros and cons that may work with your particular lifestyle better than another.

Across the Years (ATY) is an example of fixed time.  ATY is run in Phoenix, Arizona every year during the week that spans the end of one year & beginning of the next. It features races of 24, 48, 72 hours and six days all on a loop course.  The goal is to get as many miles as you can in the allotted time frame.  Fixed time events may be one of the easiest ways to break into multi-day racing.  The short distance loops alleviate the need for crew or carrying gear and supplies on your back.  The cost is kept to a minimum because runners camp usually camp on site and while you might bring food you specifically want, the races normally provide adequate and easily accessible nourishment.  This same loop format also makes it ideal for loved ones who are so inclined to support/torment you as they will see you regularly with a reasonable amount of predictability. 
Some events may allow “pacers” or “safety companions,” which is an excellent way to involve a friend or family member late in your race.  Even a non-runner will likely be able to keep up with you and can choose to stop when they’ve had enough of running, or your rapidly declining attitude.  Even if companions are not allowed on course, you’ll likely find lots of company.  On a short loop you’ll share trail, track or road time with runners you’d likely never see in a traditional point-to-point race.  This may also be one of the easier to defend against concerns about over doing it.  “I’ll have a tent.  Look, I have a schedule with nap breaks and everything. Naps!”  Never mind that your schedule will be out the window six hours into your 48 hour race and you’ll skip your last break, hallucinate three dimensional glowing arrows in the middle of the road somewhere around forty hours and will require a few hours sleep in a luxury hotel before you can drive home.  You don’t know all that yet.  The biggest drawback, for me anyway, of timed events is the very thing that makes them affordable and friendly also makes them exceedingly easy to quit or at least take extended breaks.  You do not need aid every single mile.  Keep moving through the start/finish for several laps at a time and hold yourself to a predetermined time to leave the aid station or your tent when you do stop and you’ll be fine.

Stage races are races where all participants cover a set mileage each day and cover the distance in stages.  The goal is to finish each stage as quickly as possible, to allow some recovery before starting again the next day.  The “winner” has the lowest cumulative time over all stages.  The Marathon de Sables is a six day stage race covering 156 miles in Morocco, across the Sahara Desert and is considered one of the toughest foot races in the world.  Each day is a different stage with its own cut-off, like running consecutive ultramarathons of varying lengths daily, until the finish.  The challenge here is to knock out each stage in under the cut-off.  Getting up day after day knowing you must stop and start at given points and times is more challenging to some than a continuous distance where breaks are at the runner’s discretion.  The great thing about stage races though is since all runners stop and start at given points on the course, once you’ve finished for the day (depending on the race difficulty and venue) there may be time and opportunity to socialize and still get some much needed rest.  Again, a format that could be easy to defend by pointing out you’re only “allowed” to run so many miles each day before you stop.  And, again, stage races provide opportunity to see family and friends at various destinations.  Stage races can be pricey though, especially if you’re required to pay for lodging.  Also, many of them are in Europe, but hey, that could be a selling point if the family wants to travel while you torture yourself.

Finally, there are the fixed-distance multi-days.  These can be point-to-point or loop just like any other standard distance race.  The loop variety has similar pros and cons as the loop timed events.  If you’re thinking of something like the Self-Transcendence 3100 miler though, you’d better make sure you have that vacation time saved up.  It has a 52 day time limit and is run around a city block in Queens, NY.   Having time off from work is one thing.  How you get a 52 day kitchen pass from home is another.  Let me know if you figure it out.

The point-to-point, for me, provides the biggest challenge.  All participants follow the same defined course route and start together.   There is a final cut-off.   Some may even have intermediate cut-offs to ensure runners are making the minimum daily progress necessary to complete the race.  What happens in between, well, that’s up to you. 

Before you ever get to the start though, consider if you’re going “crewed” or “screwed.”  Going crewed means you will have a crew of at least one person who either cares enough about your safety or has, as one of my own crew once put it “a morbid curiosity” to watch your struggles up close.  The advantage of a crew is you have someone catering to your every need along the way.  No need to carry a pack, in some cases not even a handheld.  They can pick you up and transport you off course to seek aid, shelter, go bowling, watch a movie, get dinner, whatever your heart desires, as long as they put you back out where they picked you up before you advance.  Also, you have somebody who (hopefully) still has their wits about them when you finish and is able to drive your tired behind home or to the nearest Super 8.  Why Super 8? Since you went crewed, that’s probably all you can afford by the end, if you’re lucky.  And there’s the drawback.  You convinced somebody to join you for probably a week, or close to it, and cater to your every need, whim and demand.  The descent thing to do is pay all of your future ex-friend’s expenses.  Future ex-friend?  You heard me.  Hopefully not future ex-spouse.  Don’t get me wrong.  The experience together has the potential to create or strengthen a bond between friends, spouses, siblings or parents and children that will never be broken and can’t be explained with words.  However, it also has the potential to ruin relationships and create a lot of drama.  Running a multi-day is already a drama.  You’ll experience every possible emotion, in cycles…Cycles that become shorter as the race goes on.  You’d never snap at your wife, you say?  Good luck with that, buddy.  Let me know how that goes.  It is a days long process that puts stress on runner and crew.  A good crew/runner relationship can make your race.  A bad one can make it downright miserable.  If you go crewed, choose carefully, preferably someone with a thick skin; someone who is willing to push you “just three more miles today before you stop”; someone who understands your motivations and knows what buttons to push to get the best out of you but who knows when you’ve reached your limit.   One way to cut expenses, if you have an amenable crew, is to avoid hotels and travel in a van or suv, something large enough to sleep in.  Generally speaking, not always, crewed runners finish faster than uncrewed because their loads are lighter and a good crew keeps them moving like clockwork. 

Having run both crewed (Tarheel Ultra 367 miler in 2013) and screwed (Last Annual Vol State Road Race 314 miler 2014 & 2015) I have to say screwed is the ultimate adventure.  It’s just you, your pack and some money.  In the case of Vol State you leave your car in a field in Georgia, are transported to the ferry crossing the Mississippi River in Dorena Landing, Missouri and the only way home is to travel, by foot, back to your car.  “Screwed” means you can take no assistance of any kind from anyone associated with the race, a crewed runner or his crew.  Screwed runners may work together.  And they may accept aid from concerned strangers who probably think you’re homeless (no joke). 

These good Samaritans are known affectionately as Road Angels and often remarkably show up at the exact moment you thought you were going to die.  For instance, this year at LAVS, my partner and I were running and opted to leave a restaurant with less than topped off bladders in our packs, knowing there was a farmer’s market nearby that had restrooms, drink machines and bottled water set up for the runners.  It was dark and as we approached the outskirts of town we realized we had to have missed the market.  Suddenly we were faced with the choice of backtracking to the market or trying to press on to the next town, probably without adequate supplies.  As we stood contemplating, a young man with two children pulled up and asked if we needed anything.  He had bottles of water, granola bars and popsicles.  We eagerly loaded up on all he offered and thanked him profusely.  He probably saved our night. 

Barring the appearance of a road angel, your next best bet is to start looking for outdoor spigots.  Churches are a favorite of the Vol Stater for both water and shelter.  By the end of 300 plus miles, a screwed multi-dayer has become a master at spotting outdoor sources for both water and potential sleep.  And it is not beyond reasonable to end up knocking on a stranger’s door if you’ve planned really poorly and run out of water sooner than expected or opted to pass up an opportunity to fill up in order to keep your pack lighter. 

Speaking of light packs… Planning what you absolutely need, what would be nice to have and what you can live without is tricky business for the multi-day runner.   This is a problem not encountered when running either loop races or crewed point-to-point.  You have the luxury of “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it” mentality in those cases.  Often you’ll figure it out on the fly, ditching things you originally thought were necessities as you go.  And believe me when I say this: veterans will judge you by your pack.  One of the surest ways to identify yourself as virgin multi-dayer is to show up with a 35 pound pack with five days’ worth of clothing, a pop-up tent and three pairs of shoes.  One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received from a veteran is “wow, I wouldn’t know by your pack that this is your first time.”  You will learn you CAN wear the same clothes for a week.  Water is the most important thing.  If you have the ability to carry water, most other things can be dealt with as you go, especially at a summer race like LAVS where you (most likely) will not have to worry about warmth.

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make, and one of the biggest money-savers or expenses of the race, will be determining your lodging strategy.  You can most likely plan your entire race around the availability of hotels.  If you choose this option, you’re at the mercy of what’s open, what their rates are and whether there is also a softball tournament happening that weekend, effectively removing any chance of getting a room at your desired location.  Yes. That has happened to me.  More than once.  If you’re a super good planner and believe you can absolutely stick to your schedule (yeah right), you could book your rooms well in advance.  So far I’ve not been able to accurately predict where I’ll be when I’m ready for a hotel room beyond day one.   I suggest you make sure the hotels you choose have a lenient cancellation policy so   you aren’t charged for rooms you never use if this is your plan.   If your goal is to stay in a hotel every night (or day, as the case may be) you will benefit from hooking up with another runner(s) to share costs.  Often runners on different run/sleep cycles will vacate a room well in advance of checkout time.  Usually there is some system for notifying others of the availability of a free room through a social media group or email system. 

Of course you can cut your costs drastically by choosing to “hobo it” for the entire race.  This could be a selling point or a scary point for your family.  Obviously the number one benefit of sleeping wherever you can find shelter outdoors is not spending money.  But if you tell your family this is how you’re cutting costs, most likely they will be worried to death that you’ll be murdered in your sleep until you finish.  I don’t recommend telling your mom that this is your plan.  Maybe not your kids either.  The second benefit is not wasting time getting to, in and out of hotels that may or may not be directly on course.  Even more, you won’t have that urge to take a whole day off in your cushy hotel room.  Cushy being any room with running water and pillows, hookers and drug dealers outside are optional.  Downside?  No shower for a week.  But, this is an adventure.  Wear your ever-increasing filthiness and homeless appearance like a badge of honor.  When, on your last day and final push to the finish, you are mistaken for homeless drifters by actual homeless drifters (as we were this year), well, you know you’ve embraced the “screwed” experience.

Perhaps the best option is to utilize a combination of sleeping outdoors and using hotel rooms.  There is a lot to be said for what a shower and actual good rest can do for your pace.  It can be difficult to get honest sleep on the side of the road, a picnic table or in a gazebo fifteen feet from a railroad track (personal experience in all cases).  As our friends over at Dahlonega Ultra Marathon Association (D.U.M.Ass) like to say, poor decisions make for good stories.  Maybe not the best finishing times, but definitely the best stories.  I don’t regret any of those choices.  But, my plan for next time might be slightly different, should my goal be to actually finish faster.

When considering which point-to-point you’d like to do, take into consideration the route and time of year the event happens.   Crewed runners don’t have to worry as much but screwed runners definitely need to consider weather and availability of services in their race plans.  For instance, LAVS is in the summer.  Cold weather gear isn’t a factor (except during the arctic blast of 2014).  You can definitely pack lighter.  Also there is pretty ample opportunity for necessary services.   Tarheel is a winter race.   You must factor weather, especially if you plan to sleep outside.  It’s in the Outer Banks, during the off-season.  You could find yourself with no choice but to sleep outside because hotels close their offices early or close up for the winter altogether.  Available services can be very far apart, even outdoor spigots.  If the cost of specialized gear is going to be an issue (honey I NEED these $150 heated socks), perhaps a warmer weather race is more practical.  Although, the likelihood that you’ll need an IV due to dehydration and heat exhaustion along with a signed waiver and probably consent from your next of kin (yep, I’ve seen it happen) in order to finish is low at Tarheel.  Some races may have lots of scenery.  Others, nothing but road.  Some have a healthy mix of both.  Some have a painful amount of elevation change.  Some are painfully flat.   Do not underestimate how a flat course can wear on you.  Do your homework and decide what mix of challenges you’re most willing to deal with before deciding on your multi day race.

Finally, screwed or crewed, you may face the decision of whether to run with someone.  Perhaps you go to the race with your best friend, significant other, or some other important person in your life with the intent of running together.  Or you go alone and quickly find someone who seems to be running a similar pace.  Eventually you have to decide to stick together or not.

If you sign up together it is absolutely imperative that you decide in advance if you’re committed to sticking together or not.  One person could definitely end up with hurt feelings or worse if this is not clear from the beginning and gets left behind by the faster runner who assumed “this is how we’ve always done it.”  Multi days aren’t your average 50 miler or even 100 miler.  The concept of sticking together as long as you can and the faster one pulling away to do his or her best later doesn’t necessarily hold up here.  If you commit to sticking with someone understand that you will move at the slower person’s pace, always.  Who is slower can change daily or hourly.  Without a doubt the faster person at some point will get frustrated that his partner can’t go just a little faster or needs so many breaks to continue.  The strong one at the start may not be the strong one at the end.  Reconcile this in your mind at the beginning and embrace the experience.  You decided to tackle this thing together.  Again, it’s an adventure.  Enjoy the experience and forget about your time or who’s ahead of you.  If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.  Of course even if you separate at some point you may end up together again before the end as your up and down cycles change. 

Picking up with another runner during the event is another thing altogether.  First of all, run your own race and your own pace.  You may decide to go slower in order to have company but sacrifice your goal finishing time.  That can work out fine as long as you’re sure you won’t spend the next year (if you’re lucky enough to run it again in a year) regretting it and blaming your finish on the person you chose to stick with.

Last year at LAVS I linked up early with a couple of runners.  We never verbally committed to staying together and ended up leaving each other time & again in various combinations.  We benefitted from the company.  We shared costs of food & hotel rooms at times and we finished within an hour of each other in the end.

The big mistake can be saying that you’re going to pace off of someone who has definitely planned to set a fast pace.  You have no agreement to stay together and while that person has no problem with you tagging along, he also has no plan to change his own pace to suit yours.   Now you’re running someone else’s race.  This can blow up early and spectacularly.  If you do this, remain calm, regroup and finish your race.  Maybe the finish you had in mind isn’t going to happen but you can finish.  Embrace the “poor decisions” mantra and move on. 

In any of the types of multi day races always remember that your goals most likely will change as you go.  As much planning as you may put in, there is always something unexpected that happens.  That’s why it’s an adventure.  If the outcome were certain, why would you want to do it?  For myself I usually set and A, B & C goal.  A being the best case, everything goes right goal.  B, the I’d really be happy with this result goal.  C being the absolute minimum I’m willing to accept goal.  If I’m lucky, I don’t have to resort to D on the fly.  I usually accomplish this in point-to-points by scheduling myself back at work the day after my C goal, and something faster than absolute cut-off.  That can provide either motivation or unnecessary pressure.  That’s not a strategy I recommend, just one that has worked for me.  In timed races I often keep a pace board with columns for my A, B and C goals that I can reference regularly to see where I stand without doing math after moving for 36 hours straight.  Everyone thinks differently and responds to different motivation.  Figure out what tricks work for you.  If it works I don’t care how silly someone else thinks it is.

Wow.  That’s a lot to consider!  You still want to conquer a multi day?  Once you wrap your head around all that running a multi day encompasses, I can tell you it will be one of the most rewarding experiences ever.  Maybe you end up loving them so much that you try all the formats and try them crewed and screwed, solo and paired with a friend.   Choosing your first multi day can make you feel like Goldilocks,  “this one’s too cold,” “this one’s too far,” but “this one sounds just right.” Study up.  Listen to stories, especially the ones that involved poor decisions, and choose the right one for you.  For all the grief you may get in the beginning from your family, they’ll still beam with pride when you get home.  But they won’t be so impressed that you get out doing your own nasty laundry.

Remember, if you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.  And please don’t forget to have a beer along the way.

Karen Jackson is a Guest Writer for Grounded Running and personal friend. If you've never had the opportunity to run with here, you are truly missing out. Karen is truly a Grounded Runner who's skill and expertise is one that I refer to often! Check out Karen's blog here.










Sunday, August 23, 2015

Leadville 100

 Congratulations to everyone that ran the 2015 Leadville 100 this weekend! Amazing job! Be sure to check out the entire race series and results:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Join Grounded Running on STRAVA

Grounded Running was created in August of 2015 as a host site for our Grounded Running Podcast. Our Podcast features Ultra runners and races along with training, nutrition and overall health information to help you go longer, faster and get you across the finish line. As our sport continues to grow it's easy to forget where it came from. Grounded Running is here to help remind us of that and help us "stay grounded". Grounded Running is a community of like-minded runners who are all here for the same reason.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Charlotte Ultra Running Commpany: Running Form Class

Training Series: Running Form Class
Sat, August 22, 20158:00 AM - 9:00 AM

 We are pleased to welcome Amy Peacock back to the Ultra Running Company for a series of Good Form Running Classes. We strongly believe there IS a correct way to run - a proper technique that allows each of us to run more efficiently, for more distance, and for the rest of our lives. Amy is a certified ChiRunning instructor, which means she has spent a significant amount of time decoding the nuance of this technique and is excited to share it with friends of the Ultra Running Company. ChiRunning is simply good form and designed for runners, walkers and triathletes of ALL levels.  There are many options on how to learn!
These classes are a rich learning experience packed with good information to help you run injury-free for the rest of your life. Amy will provide an overview of ChiRunning and guide you through a set of exercises and drills designed to leave you with a clear sense of what the ChiRunning technique feels like in your body. We will not be doing lots of running (contrary to what you might imagine), so no matter what condition you are in, have no fear! We will spend time alternating between demonstrations, fun exercises and technique drills ... the nature of the class will be relaxed, full and inspiring, and will provide an overview on many of the following topics:
  • The Keys to Effortless, Injury-free Running
  • The Physics of Running: Run without Using Your Legs
  • ChiRunning versus Power Running
  • Introduction to the Chi Running Form
  • Injury prevention techniques
  • Personal Check-in Tricks and Tools
  • Core Muscle Drills and Exercises
  • Pre-run Body Looseners, Post-run Stretches
  • Innovative technique drills
  • How to conserve energy at any speed
Classes will take place in our main showroom at 1027 Providence Rd, Charlotte, NC. Classes will begin promptly at 8:00, rain or shine. Please RSVP via our event page here, come join us, and begin a lifelong habit of good running form!!

Introduction to Grounded Running

Grounded Running was created in August of 2015 as a host site for our Grounded Running Podcast. Our Podcast features Ultra runners and races along with training, nutrition and overall health information to help you go longer, faster and get you across the finish line. As our sport continues to grow it's easy to forget where it came from. Grounded Running is here to help remind us of that and help us "stay grounded".
Thank you for being a part of this journey with us, we'll see you on the trail. -Tim Waz