Tag Archives: Voyageur Trail Ultra

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?)

Ultras Up Ahead: Power Lines and LSD

DWD Devils Lake - Halfway Point - cropped 2I MUST REALLY LOVE running crazy long distances in the woods. Otherwise, why would I keep signing up for the silly things?

My 2015 race calendar is less ambitious than 2014, however, when I had over 30 events mapped out in a color-coded spreadsheet. This year I’ve run seven so far, with only two others officially signed up for. There will be more, but I’m being more selective and giving myself more time to train. Still feels odd to have all this time between races.

No need to get quite so fancy this year.

No need to get quite so fancy this year.

But fewer races doesn’t mean an easier schedule. Here are the upcoming races I’m committed to:

Saturday, July 25 – Voyageur Trail Ultra 50

From the website.

From the website.

Billing itself as, “one of the oldest trail ultras in the nation,” this race treks through Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park from Carlton to Duluth and back. As its name implies, it’s a 50-miler, promising “scenic overlooks of Duluth and Lake Superior, the iconic Swinging Bridge over the St. Louis River, and the infamous Power Lines.” I can only guess what’s “infamous” about those lines. If I survive I’ll let you know.

I chose this race over Burning River, a much larger event on the same day in Cuyahoga, Ohio that attracts top ultra talent from all over. The BR was much closer to home, and I’d actually begun the signup process. Then an innocent little question on the entry form changed everything:

Bus ride to start? (Yes / No)

Turns out the race is point-to-point, and you’re expected to park (and/or stay) in the finish area. The 50-miler starts at 6:00 a.m. (okay), but the runners must be on the bus by 4:30. That means dragging my butt out of bed at 4:00. Sorry, that time of morning doesn’t exist. Oh, and the 100-milers? They must be on their bus by 2:30. Yikes!

So I chose the Minnesota race instead. I like that it’s smaller, and that it was half the price. And my motel is just a few miles from the start (and finish).

Friday/Saturday, September 11-12: Run Woodstock LSD 100K

Run Woodstock - Randy StepThe Pinckney trail system was the site of my first 50K (2012) and first 50-miler (2013). Last year was supposed to be my first triumphant 100K, but Nature and my body had different ideas. So it’s back to Hell Creek Ranch to give it another go.

This ultra starts at 4:00 in the afternoon – a very civilized time if you ask me. Of course, my likely finish time of 15-16 hours means I will be running literally all night long. Still beats getting up in the middle of the night in my book.

LSD, by the way, can stand either for “Long, Slow Distance” or for the substance you suspect I might have been on when I signed up for this. Your choice. I have read several accounts of runners experiencing hallucinations during ultras, so maybe the traditional definition wins out anyway.

I’m also intrigued by the Speedgoat, a 50K in Utah that has nearly 12,000 feet of climbing – all at 7,600 feet or above. What a shame it’s the same weekend as the Voyageur! Oh, well, maybe next year.