Tag Archives: race

How to Survive an Ultramarathon: One Runner’s Strategy

Today was the kind I dream about all winter – where you can just slip on a few clothes and onto the bike for a quick 12-mile evening ride. My post-Voyageur recovery is going so well, it’s hard to keep from overdoing it. But my next event – the Crim 10 miler – is just two weeks away, followed by Run Woodstock and my biggest race of the year. Plenty of sweat ahead!

Speaking of copious sweating, my revised strategy for the Voyageur did the trick, as I finished it without any of the nausea or disorientation I felt at my last two 50+ mile attempts. Following are the main changes I made.

First, here’s an idea of what a trail ultrarunner “goes to battle with” as one of my friends puts it. Some goes into my drop bag, along with extra clothes, but most of this I wear or carry.

Gear for Voyageur Trail Ultra

Gear-wise, I used triathlon shorts to minimize chafing, and compression calf sleeves (left of shoes), which save my legs from thorny bushes. The long-overdue change was adding a cap, which kept the sun off my head and could secure a wet towel or ice while running. It also has some UPF (sunblock) built in. I got this one at REI; it’s pricey ($25), but I will never run a summer race without one again.

logo_scaps_300I also believe a salt-water imbalance contributed to my earlier problems. Salted potatoes at the aid stations help, but time and amount are irregular. Salt tablets at regular intervals were the answer. After some research I estimated that two S-Caps (642 mg of sodium) per hour of running would meet my needs. I did supplement with ice-cold Powerade later in the race; it just tasted too damn good.

Hydration was about 20 ounces of water (one full bottle) per hour. Much more than that and it just sits in my stomach. A “fluids check” about every 12 miles showed that while I was getting dehydrated, it was manageable. And needing to do it was another good sign.

Crossing the Jay Cooke Swinging Bridge.

Crossing the Jay Cooke Swinging Bridge.

For food, I avoided the aid station offerings except for cold grapes and pickles, and relied on the energy bars and Gu in my pack. I did this to keep my stomach settled with familiar foods and to make use of complex carbs rather than simple sugars (candy and soda). One Clif Builder bar is around 300 calories (about what my body can process per hour while running) and also provides some protein to help prevent muscle breakdown.

Voyageur - Aid Station

While the results were everything I’d hoped for, there are still a few issues to deal with before I run the 100K next month. Feet, for one – I changed socks and shoes at the 25-mile mark and retaped my toes, but still had some blistering and pain at the end. More taping should help, and perhaps some Body Glide, but I welcome any other suggestions.

Taping for an Ultra

Mentally, I expect some challenges too. Not only is the 100K my longest distance attempt yet, most of it will be in the dark. I don’t run with music or radio, so it will be a long time (I estimate around 14 hours) of me alone with my thoughts. Fortunately, the aid stations are lively and the other runners are great.

So there you have my recipe for a successful 50-mile trail run. That, plus lots and lots of training. Fortunately, most of that is enjoyable, especially on an evening like tonight!

How Not to Taper

“We have to go light today,” I told Mark, my Body Specs trainer, on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been feeling sore all week, and I have a long trail run Saturday morning.”

Monday’s workout, while not like the previous two weeks (shall we say, “Bru-tall”), had still been fairly intense, and I was not up for another one like that. Besides, I’m in the taper period before my July 25 race.

“What did you do after Monday’s session?” he asked.

Well, the usual – Aikido Monday night, then a Tuesday evening run with PR Fitness that had somehow or other turned into a tempo run. On hills. On Wednesday I’d volunteered at the Pterodactyl Triathlon, which hadn’t involved anything strenuous, but I’d been on my feet for over five hours doing this and that.

Mark looked at me. “So what you’re telling me is that you didn’t take a day off on your own taper week.” He shook his head. “I’d be sore, too!”

Guilty as charged, sir.

In my relatively short marathon and ultramarathon career, I’ve found the taper period to be, at times, more difficult than the training. Not in exertion, but the lack thereof. It takes discipline to cut back, to not run as far or as hard, before a race.

Pace too fast 2

What makes taking it easy so hard?

I know the reasons for tapering. Rest and recovery are needed to be at peak form before a race. And gains from strength training, or long running, take about three weeks to be manifested. So hard training the two weeks before a race provides zero benefit and could easily mess me up. Overworked muscles and injury, for example.

And there’s the ol’ competitive nature to deal with. Like with Tuesday’s run. I’d planned to go easy, but the group started off fast and I didn’t feel like being left in the dust. Then we hit the uphill repeats, and what was I supposed to do? Let people pass me?

Never met a hill I didn't want to charge up. (Channeling T.R.?)

Never met a hill I didn’t want to charge up. (Channeling T.R.?)

Ah, the ego. Despite ten years of Aikido it remains stubbornly unconquered. Or, as we say in my profession, “always further opportunities for improvement.”

Fortunately, I have another week to get my act together. Saturday’s 16-miler will be a dress rehearsal for the Voyageur Trail Ultra, with a fully stocked drop bag and trail backpack. I will also be trying out a revised strategy for hydration (carry more water, drink more water), electrolytes (salt tablets), and heat protection (a cap with UV blocker). Then everything short and easy next week.

And I promised myself to take it easy until Saturday morning. (With the exception of a stretching clinic yesterday evening. It was brief. And Skip from Body Specs was teaching it. How could he be mad at me for going?)

Great Event, But Where’s All the Trash?

Last Sunday was another “first” in my adventures in running – an early morning two-hour drive to Grand Rapids and the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon & 5K.

Photo from Gazelle Girl website

So, one might wonder why a manly man like me would be part of a female-only race. Well, I was not there to take part in the race, but to pick up after it. Yes, I was on the waste collection and sorting team. A minor version of Mike Rowe doing a Dirty Job. (Being called the “Green Team” didn’t mean we got to keep our hands clean.)

What kind of stuff gets tossed out at a race? Some of just about everything. But the main categories are food waste, cups, water bottles, and Gu / energy bar wrappers. Any large event generates a lot of all of that, and the Gazelle Girl had over 3,500 runners, plus spectators.

What made the job intriguing was that last year, a grand total of one 6 lb. bag was sent to the landfill. Yep, one 6 lb. bag. Everything else was either recycled, sent to a composting service (Organicycle), or (as with the Gu wrappers) sent to Terracycle, a company that turns the scrap into other products like children’s furniture.

Gazelle Girl waste bins 2How did this happen? Good planning and lots of information. One way of limiting waste, for example, is to tell people not to bring something that’s going to end up as landfill trash. Another way is to mark very clearly what goes where, and to staff the stations, which I did briefly before moving to the lovely sorting brigade.

So how much waste actually went to the landfill this year? See below. Enough of describing what happened – I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Enjoy! And many thanks to Chelsea and the other Green Team members for helping me learn how sustainable a race can be!

No one's going to steal this waste on my watch!

No one’s going to steal this waste on my watch!

I was so good at manning the station that they moved me to sorting.

I was so good at manning the station that they moved me to sorting.

A sample compost bag. Most of the cups and lids were compostable, but we had to sort out the others for recycling.

A sample compost bag. Most of the cups and lids were compostable, but we had to sort out the others for recycling.

Even with bins all around, there was still food waste scattered everywhere. Sigh. Grow up, people.

Even with bins all around, there was still food waste scattered everywhere. Sigh. Grow up, people.

The final tally. The truck has the compost and Terracycle bags. The bins and bags are for recycling.

The final tally from the start/finish area. The truck has the compost and Terracycle bags. The bins and bags are for recycling. Aid station bags were left on-site and picked up on Monday.

And here's what went to the landfill. Yep, that's all.

And here’s what went to the landfill. Yep, that’s all.

Water, Water (and Trash) Everywhere

The 2011 Chicago Marathon, my first-ever 26.2, was sweaty, painful, taxing to my physical and mental limits – and one of the best days of my life. So much was wonderful; the weather, the energy of the other runners, and the cheers of the crowds lining the course. Yet there is one disturbing image that sticks in my mind about that race:

Blue sponges.

Yep, just like this! Thanks to Marathon Pundit for this photo.

Yep, just like this! Thanks to Marathon Pundit for this photo.

Somewhere in the middle miles, an aid station handed out large blue sponges soaked in cold water. Oh, how fabulous, I thought as I took one and cooled off my steaming head. But then I looked ahead to a curb-to-curb sea of sponges on the road for at least 50 yards. Volunteers were trying to sweep them away, but the runners were too thick. So I gingerly ran through the mess, hoping I wouldn’t slip and get trampled by my fellow sponge-bearers.

At other aid stations it was empty water cups everywhere, although nothing quite like the sponge station. I’ve run enough races now to know this is pretty common, and that most are well-run enough to pick up after themselves. Even so, that’s a lot of cups, sponges, and other detritus that end up in a landfill.

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

This is from the Berlin Marathon, but quite typical. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

Let’s look at just one resource critical to a race: potable water. There needs to be plenty of it, delivered quickly to runners in stride and to exhausted, dehydrated finishers. But it’s heavy and bulky, and needs to be at several locations along the course, along with its packaging and distribution materials. This means a lot of plastic, transportation costs, and manual labor – and a lot of trash.

Here, for example, are some numbers I found from the 2011 New York Marathon, with 47,000 runners and Lord knows how many volunteers, crews, and spectators. Just making water available during the race resulted in the following:

  • 237,200 free disposable plastic water bottles
  • 93,600 eight-ounce bottles of water
  • 2,300,000 paper cups

All of which contributed to the more than 100 tons of trash collected afterward, including six tons of paper and three tons of metal, glass and plastic. (See more interesting numbers from the marathon here.) It led Mother Jones to write an article entitled, “Are Marathons Bad for the Planet?

2012 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon: just one of the water stations.

2012 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon: just one of at least 7 water stations.

As the 2011 NYC marathon raised $33 million for charities and generated roughly $250 million for the city’s economy, I’d argue that it was a positive event overall. But it came at a substantial cost in setup and cleanup. Is it possible that those costs could have been reduced – substantially reduced, even – while maintaining the quality of the race experience?

The good news is that the answer appears to be yes. From simple “cup-free” races to internationally recognized “sustainability certification” some events are reducing their impact on the environment, and the associated costs, through innovative approaches and better management of existing methods. Here are just a couple of recent examples.

From Running USA:
Sonoma‘s Destination Races Strives For Zero Waste

ONOMA, Calif. – In July the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, presented by Newton Running and produced by Destination Races of Sonoma, achieved an impressive 96.98% landfill diversion rate…compostable products [replaced] all the water bottles, coffee cups, paper plates, napkins and plastic utensils that would typically be headed to the landfill.  This plan also resulted in a 62% reduction in greenhouse gases.
Read the full article here.

And this is from the website for the Two-Hearted Trail race in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this June.
Environmental Measures

  1. Greenlayer, eco-tech shirts made from 100% recycled polyester.
  2. Each runner must carry a functional hydration system or a minimum 20oz water bottle. There are no cups at the aid stations.
  3. Food served after the event are either locally produced, organically grown, or both.
  4. Medallions and glasswork awards are made by Michigan artists.
  5. Food waste is composted and all other materials are recycled.
  6. Course is marked with reusable flags that are removed after the event.

And while this 2009 festival in New Zealand was not a race, it shows what a day-long event with 25,000 attendees can achieve in waste reduction. Highlights include 5,200kg of materials recycled or composted vs. only 550kg to landfill, an 86% reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminating the need to landfill contaminated recyclables – a reduction 640kg of waste over the previous year.

Next up: an organization that has created a multi-level certification program for recognizing races that reduce waste, conserve resources, and promote local businesses. It seems to be catching on. Stay tuned!