Monday, February 20, 2017

100 Mile Ultramarathon Mental Tips

I'm going to be helping crew someone running their first 100 mile ultramarathon. As the race approaches, I've been thinking about my own 100 mile races and what might be helpful for someone to know particularly as it relates to the mental side of the 100 mile game. While I'm still a neophyte at these races, I think I've learned a few lessons along the way.

So, in no particularly order, and under the assumption a person has done the basic work to have the requisite fitness for a 100 miles, my tips for the mental side of 100 mile ultramarathoning:
  • Decide what's negotiable and what's non-negotiable before the race begins. In the dark moments, you'll want to negotiate everything with yourself. Anything you've left as an open question will become available to negotiate away. My most recent 100 miler, I had a stated goal of finishing in under 24 hours. However, I kept a private goal of trying to get under 20 hours. Even though I was way under 20 hour pace at the time, in the first real dark moment it became very easy to negotiate my way to giving up that private goal and settling for the sub-24 hour goal.
  • Know your motivations. There are the obvious answers, but I've discovered sometimes it's the less obvious that get you to the end. My first race, I wouldn't quit although I probably should have because the person who suddenly decided to pace me when I was fading made it so clear she really didn't want me to quit. No matter how painful it got, I did not want to let her down. I was also pushed forward (as slowly as it may have been) that I was at an invitation-only race and someone else might not have been there so I could have a space. In my second race, I wish I would have remembered that the faster I finished, the sooner my crew could get rest. Had that been at the forefront of my mind, I might have finished in under 20 hours. Frankly, I've also been motivated by how cool it would be when I get to post my finish to Facebook. Silly, of course. But a driving factor nonetheless. Motivation can come from all kinds of places and in a variety of shapes and forms. When running really long, it's critical to keep these motivations in mind and find new ones along the way.
  • Form. As fatigue sets in, form deteriorates, both in running and walking. As form deteriorates, things start to hurt. As things start to hurt, form deteriorates even more and things start to hurt even, even more. It's a vicious cycle with one solution. A relentless mental focus on maintaining form. This saved me at Daytona 100. I was 65 miles in, had felt absolutely great for the first 100 kilometers and then suddenly had terrible pain in a knee. I was reduced to a snail's pace. After a few minutes, my pacer convinced me to try a short run. At first, it was a no go. But after a couple tries, I really focused on forcing good running form and the pain receded. I was running again! However, had I had that relentless focus earlier, I would likely have prevented the worst of the pain from the beginning.
  • Have a plan. Follow the plan. And plan as many things as you can: when you plan to eat, when you plan to refill nutrition bottles, when you'll take salt and reapply lubrication and changes shoes and socks. Every little detail can be planned. If you have crew, let the crew keep you on plan. It becomes remarkably simple to forget even the most basic things deep into a race. In my first 100, the person pacing me asked me how much water I'd been drinking. As I thought about it, I realized I hadn't had a sip of liquid in a very long time, perhaps hours. And be completely ready to adjust the plan on the fly. Things aren't going to go according to plan. So make the adjustments that are needed. But refer back to the plan to make sure you're not forgetting anything.
Finally, if the goal is to finish the race, making the commitment to finish no matter what is the most important of all. (Disclaimer: risking potential injury falls outside the "no matter what" commitment.) I ran across the perfect description of commitment on the Science of Ultra podcast this week: "commitment is making the choice to give up choice." Choose to finish, leaving no other alternative available.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Phantom Ponies And Bare Bums

Not everything in an ultramarathon is inspiring or spiritual or life changing. In fact, much of a race is mundane and mechanical and even easy to forget about entirely. Occasionally, there is not much more than discomfort and pain. And sometimes, there are moments that are not inspiring nor mundane and not necessarily painful, but utterly and comically absurd. This was one of those moments.

So much of the 2016 Daytona 100 Ultramarathon had gone exceedingly well to this point. Sure, there were some dark points. Yeah, I was slowing down. But, by and large, a great day.

Of course, in a 100 mile race the unexpected or overlooked seems to always happen. And I knew this particular problem might happen, but forgot to discuss it with my crew and forgot to be prepared. I had overlooked this problem despite having dealt with it in training a couple times. That evil, nasty thing nobody likes to talk about...groin chafing.

76 miles into my race and I noticed the first hint of that chafing feeling. Nothing bad, but an instant "UH OH" moment. "UH OH" because some bad bloody chafing could end my race and I wasn't carrying anything deal with it. "UH OH" because I had just left my crew who drove on ahead to the 80 mile aid station. I had packed plenty of chafing solutions, but those were somewhere off in the dark distance, in the buildings of Daytona miles ahead. "UH OH" because I wasn't thinking clearly.

Solutions began to bubble forth in my brain. The first solution, stop trying to run and walk to my crew and minimize the damage. Of course, walking is one thing. But walking to prevent thighs from rubbing another thing altogether. So I began to walk with this bizarre "I'm riding a horse" kind of gait. This horse-riding and damage-reducing walk seemed to help for a while, but slowly the discomfort increased again.

A second idea struck! Readjust my shorts so that the liner was no longer sitting on the same location! Yeah, that definitely helped as I continued to walk along while riding my invisible horse. But it required constant adjustment as my shorts slid back into their natural place. And my wonderful pacer (oh yeah, I forgot to mention I had someone running with me during this pants adjusting, horse riding moment) began to give me kinda funny looks as I continually jammed my hand down my pants.

I really need a good long term solution to get me to my crew without ending up a bloody mess and ending my race. We'd made it less than half way to my crew vehicle while moving at about 20 minutes per mile and my race goals were slipping away. And then the absurdity struck. My half-witted brain put the puzzle together. The solution was so obvious and yet so preposterous, it took a while to connect.

It was night and very dark. We were running -- well, horsey-ride walking -- in the dark along the beach away from civilization. We were alone with only the occasional passing car to see us. I was wearing a rather long shirt and a coat. When I got the liner moved off the chaffed area, things improved dramatically.

The solution? Oh yes, the solution. Absolute genius! I pulled my shorts off my ass. Pulled them straight down and walked bare-assed! No more liner rubbing against the damaged skin! No more further damage occurring! Ultramarathoning genius of Einstein-ian proportions!

Of course, I still had a couple miles to go to get to my crew vehicle where a variety of lubricants waited. And now I was walking with pants pulled of my hinder, still riding that mysterious and difficult to see stead that kept my thighs from rubbing, and my joints beginning to stiffen from too much walking and too much cooling down. And my poor pacer along for the ride.

Adding to this foolishness, we began to enter the outer limits of Daytona. Some late-night drinking establishments at first...oh, the stories the patrons must have told one another! A restaurant. A grocery store. Street lights. Some condo buildings. We were entering civilization and street lights and people, but still no crew vehicle... no relief. My rear-end (and much more!) a gust of wind away from being exposed to an ever increasing number of drunken vacationers and revelers! What a sight it would have been. Bum out, legs stiff, bizarre and stiff walking manner, delirious look on my face, a race bib pinned to my clothes in the middle of the night. And my poor pacer at my side likely trying to hide his face.

Then, FINALLY, the traffic light I knew to be the location of the 80 mile aid station came into view. My crew would be waiting. Lubricants, compression pants, new shorts, solution upon solution upon solution. Just waiting, a half mile or so ahead.

10 minutes later and the ordeal had ended. The absurdity was over. The humorous figure I was casting across all of Daytona disappeared into the ether. My tuchus was covered. The phantom pony evaporated into thin air. Only the stiff joints and muscles after for miles of awkward walking lingered. And the worst of the damage seemed to have been avoided. (I would learn in my shower the next morning how wrong I was on that last point!)

Ahhhh, the joys of running ultramarathons. I think I recognized the humor of the moment as it was occurring, but I was in no mind to appreciate it. Oh, to have been on of those barflys watching me pass by!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

10 Perfect Miles, And We Weren't Even Supposed To Be There

They weren't even a part of the course. About 10 miles, from Mickler Road until we entered the beach somewhere around South Ponte Vedra. Yet these 10 miles made it clear that ultramarathons weren't just trail runs. That running on the roads could be just as beautiful and just as connected to nature as any trail.

10 miles of intense loneliness. 10 miles of straight roads crawling over rolling beach dunes. 10 miles of bird and wildlife noises to the right and the crash of waves to the left. 10 miles of the bluest endless sky overhead.

10 miles with the ocean ever present to the east. I couldn't see that vast expanse of water. A dune covered in sea grapes blocked the view. But I could smell it. I could feel its weight. The air carried the water. And the waves, crashing and crashing and crashing. The ocean was there, only feet away.

10 miles that stick in my brain, that I remember again and again. And we weren't even supposed to be there. We were only there because nature had dictated it. Nature had washed a beach away and forced the race director to reroute the race. Nature had demanded we experienced this bit of itself, despite human's best efforts for that not to happen.

10 miles of nature preserve continually to the west. Estuaries filled with endless wildlife. Birds noisily starting their morning. The distinct bang of a shotgun as humans entered to hunt. A lizard or two, or perhaps a hundred. I dreaded knowing later in the race I would lose this preserve, and run through city. But that was hours, maybe even another day, away.

10 miles of absolute, unequivocally perfect weather. Cool air, but not cold. Perfectly sunny, but no heat from the sun. No humidity, a constant light tailwind. Later in the day, it would get a touch warm. In the evening, a few drops of rain. At night, a bit of a chill. But for those 10 miles, utter perfection.

Yes, 10 miles on asphalt. 10 miles on that seemingly endless road. But 10 miles as connected to nature as any trail could ever offer.

And it was then I really understood what I'd seen some other ultramarathoners write about or heard them talk about. That ultramarathoning isn't synonymous with trail running. That there's something special about running the roads. No, not better than trails, but not inferior either. Different and wonderful and a worthwhile pursuit.

10 perfect miles, and we weren't even supposed to be there.

(This is my first of a few stories from the 2016 Daytona 100 Ultramarathon I plan to write. I thought this might be more fun and more interesting than a formal race report. And, boy, do I wish I had gotten a photo of the rolling roads on this 10 mile stretch.)