No two ultramarathon experiences are the same. Our bodies, minds, stomachs, chaffing spots, and schedules all handle the stress of training and racing differently.

Which is why — in addition to sharing my own experience — I like to facilitate or participate in round-ups of advice from several different runners. There’s value in laying advice out — side by side — so you can pull form several people at the same time.

A few weeks ago I was asked by NordicTrack to contribute to one such article about making the leap to your first ultramarathon. The article features myself and seven other ultrarunners and bloggers, covering topics from what to expect during training, to mindset, to racing myths.

The advice and experience here is so good, they’ve allowed me to share it here with you.

Here we go …

The Most Difficult Aspects of Your First Ultramarathon

So you want to run an ultra. Are you ready?

Running an ultramarathon demands a lot more than just strength. In this first section, we discuss the mental and nutritional challenges of ultra running.

MENTAL FRAME OF MIND

It’s been said that ultrarunning is 10% physical and 90% mental. That may be off by a percentage or two — my tests aren’t conclusive just yet 😉 — running that far undoubtedly requires a certain metal frame.

“The physical side of training for an ultramarathon can be tough, but the mental side is what gets you across the finish line. Not just on race day, but also throughout training. The day in and day out of building up to your first ultra can leave you questioning why, or if  you can even do this.”

“I find that the most challenging part of an ultra is the mental aspect, which applies to newbies and veterans, alike. It’s important to show up to the start line feeling positive, confident and determined to finish. I’ve found that starting a race with negativity and self doubt is like going out with 40 lb weights strapped to your back.

In fact, my worst races are always the ones that I am the most stressed about. I’ve found myself toeing the start line with negative thoughts or even comparing myself to other runners and find myself feeling weighed down. And when I start out negative, when things get tough (and they always do), it’s harder to pull yourself back out again.”

 

“Rousseau once said ‘patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.’ If you are considering moving from marathons to ultra marathons, training your mind and developing a strong sense of patience may well be your greatest challenge. To me, the term mental training is really a euphemism for teaching yourself to embrace a mindset. When I switched from marathons to running ultras I had to teach myself how to think differently. To abandon the mental shackles that controlled my perceptions and expectations about running and being a runner.”

OVERCOMING THE MENTAL ROADBLOCKS

There’s not a “one size fits all” technique to mastering your mental state during training or race day. In fact, experimentation and trying different methods is key …

“I recommend runners take it one day at a time, focusing only on that day’s scheduled run. Check that one off the list and move to the next. The same theory applies on race day. Instead of looking at all the miles ahead, focus on just getting through the next mile, or the next ten minutes. Then the ten minutes after that”

 

“How do you prepare mentally for an ultra marathon? First step – don’t obsess over pace, especially those coming from a marathon background. You need to throw away the GPS because, as Rousseau said, patience is bitter.  Your ego will be threatened to learn that your mile pace, especially during 100 mile distances, will often not be much faster than a brisk walk.

Second step, understand that your pace and energy levels will vary wildly depending on the terrain, altitude, vertical gain, descent, heat, daylight, distance covered, and nutrition/hydration. You have to be prepared to roll with this, and don’t try to control it. The mindset that you control your pace and use a GPS to monitor it is like thinking you can fly a rocket to the moon with a compass. Think of it this way – when you’re running 100 miles, especially in the mountains, you are entering the stratosphere. What worked at ground level won’t help you up there.

Rather than monitoring your pace, focus inward, on maintaining a steady energy output. This is critical in training because to do this well you need to teach your mind patience and your body how to move efficiently for long periods. Finally, when running ultra’s there will inevitably be highs and lows. Understanding and believing that both will pass is part of the mental training you have to practice. If you can embrace these concepts, you will indeed taste the fruit, and it will be sweeter than ever.”

Your frame of mind during an ultra can make or break your performance. Remaining positive and confident throughout the race is important. Also, taking the race a mile at a time, and not getting caught up in pacing, will help lessen your suffering and ultimately get you across the finish line.

DIET AND NUTRITION

If there’s one area where more well trained ultrarunners blog it, it’s with nutrition. How you fuel your race could be the difference between crossing the finish line and ending the day early.

The problem is, nailing nutrition is no cake walk.

“As I often discuss with coaching clients, physical fitness, diet, and mindset are the pillars of ultramarathon preparation.  I grew up around ultrarunning and came from a strong background of adventure racing, mountain biking, and collegiate running; the mindset and physical training came a little bit more naturally for me (which isn’t to say they weren’t hard then or aren’t still tough now). However, diet has been my challenge and evolution over the years. I went from a college kid who shoved down dorm food to a 20-something who ate whatever was cheapest to, now, a mid-30’s athlete, coach, and family guy who’s highly focused on nutrition.”

“The hardest part was to figure out the proper nutrition. Even so, you can practice food and fluids intake during training but it is very different in a race situation. There is for sure a time needed for working out the details – learning what works for you and what doesn’t. This becomes even more crucial if you work up to real long distances like the 100 miles or longer.”

 

“Nutrition is by far the hardest. I have a sensitive stomach and finding food that I can eat during a run is extremely hard.I tried things like peanut and nut butters, which just get stuck in your throat and you can’t swallow. I can’t eat anything greasy the day before a long run like pizza. I have found food items such as a plain bagel and black coffee an hour or so before work best for breakfast but that won’t hold you over very long. Fig Bars work well for me to digest slowly without being harsh on my stomach. Pickle juice – it’s amazing to prevent cramps. I learned the hard way to use it in very small doses

My favorite gels are Huma Chia Energy Gels. I can take these for hours and hours during a run and they won’t mess with my stomach at all. However, I wouldn’t suggest this, even though they are really tasty (kind of like your favorite jam) it does still get old after a while and your body needs protein as well on those extra long runs.

Some people however, can eat pizza, drink coke and be totally fine during a run! That is so amazing to me!”

 

“Second to the mental aspect, nutrition has always been the most challenging aspect of my training and racing. While I believe that nutrition matters for most races, in an ultra, I feel as though it’s almost more important than the training itself.”

 

NUTRITIONAL ADVICE

Diet and nutrition is another aspect of ultrarunning that requires experimenting through trial and error to find what works best for your body. There are some basic guidelines, though, that can assist you with figuring out the right balance to nourishing your body during an ultramarathon.

“I follow an “optimized fat metabolism” nutrition style that teaches the body to burn fat as a primary fuel source at relatively high effort levels. This diet has become a key factor in my ultra preparation and general health – and an exercise metabolism test showed that it’s working. I took over 50% of my fuel from fat when maxed out on a treadmill, never reaching the so-called “crossover point”.”

 

“I learned the hard way, and on more than one occasion, that eating early and often isn’t just a fun thing to say. In an ultra, you truly need to eat early and eat often to make sure you’re fueling the body properly from start to finish. You’re running a deficit all day and it can be easy to forget just how much energy you actually need to get your body to perform the way you’re asking it to.”

“It is all about trial and error and finding what works best for your body, every ultra runner is going to tell you something different when it comes to what they eat during runs but they will all say the same thing in the end about testing food out on your long runs. Good luck! Get creative!”

There is incredible science and biology happening within your body during an ultramarathon. In order to be able to accomplish such a feat, especially if you’re in a 100 miles race, the body requires specific attention to nutrition that is unique to you. Just as these experts have said, keep these takeaways in mind: it’s important to learn now what your body needs, eat early and often on race day, and remember that it will take time to discover the right nutrition plan for you.

TRAINING

Then of course, there’s training …

“The most difficult and challenging area of preparing for my first and early stages of ultra running was the physical training aspect.

TRAINING: It’s a daunting task when you are inspired and motivated to tackle an ultra for the first time but have ZERO clue on how to prepare.  While many assume that you “just need to run lots” this is simply not the case.  Too much running can easily lead to overuse injuries, compromised long term health health and the inability to run with any kind of speed or power.  For example, “just running lots” will not necessarily make you good at hill climbing, fast and efficient on the flats or be able to conserve energy and run effortlessly down hills.  When I was preparing for my first ultra race, it appeared like training smart was one big puzzle.  Knowing how to increase mileage safely, how to incorporate speed training into things and how to become better on hills was at first a mystery.  Pair that with availability to train, life commitments, work and actually having quality workouts was something that I had to address right away upon entering the sport if I was too have any kind of longevity.  And recovery….how much do you need?”

“What I discovered in learning how to train was that there was a lot of one size fits all (ie – cookie cutter) training programs out there which made me question how and why should everyone train the same when all runners are starting at different fitness levels, with different goals and with different strengths and weaknesses.  It seemed like a sure way to get injured super fast. I also realized quickly that there were not actually a whole lot of coaches who understood the sport of ultrarunning as it was so new and therefore, there were not a lot of people coaching it with great expertise.  However, I knew that I wanted a coach to guide me for the following reasons:

  • Master Plan – someone who could see the end goal and work backwards in how to actually get me ready.
  • Someone to tell me when to push and when to recover
  • To have a daily plan to follow so that I knew what to do for training each day of the week. No more guessing.
  • Guidance on how to train smart and make the most out of time allowance

So with those reasons, I did hire a great coach and mentor to guide me in pursuit of my ultra running goals.  While I didn’t lack motivation, I actually needed someone to tell me to rest and relax, the other important side to training!

In fact, my involvement in ultra running over 12 years ago and having a coach is one of the main reasons that I pursued a career in the endurance coaching realm.  I was inspired to guide others through this training journey and to share my experiences.  To this day I remain committed to always staying on top of the latest in endurance research and how to work effectively with a wide scope of my athletes in my coaching practice.”

 

Ultra Running Myths, Debunked

There’s definitely some stigma surrounding the world of ultrarunning, and paired with that are a set of incorrect expectations and beliefs.

But what is really true?

ULTRARUNNERS

Like any community, ultrarunning has it’s stereotypes — the weirdos, superhumans, and bearded sufferers. Then there’s the assumption that you can’t have a job, support a family, or do anything else while training.

“I think one of the most common misconceptions about ultrarunning is that it’s only for the superhuman types. Sure, you have to have mental strength and you have to train but it isn’t an impossible feat. At the end of the day, running for a long distance on trails is a pretty basic activity. You put one foot in front of the other, stay tuned in to your effort, make sure to eat and drink, and most likely you’ll be just fine.”

 

“I would say that the most common misconception is that you have to be a little crazy to be an ultramarathoner. I have met some of the most down to Earth, sane people that I have ever met through ultra running. It really helps to put a lot of life’s problems into perspective. I jokingly say that I stopped going to church because I found running. But that’s not it at all. I feel so at peace when I am out there on the trails, in God’s country. I have let all of life’s troubles wash away; it’s my therapy session. Once those wash away I feel that I am able to appreciate the world and all of its wonders. It brings me such joy to be free in nature. It has nothing to do with distance for me, but with wanting to be out there in the beauty of the world. Signing up for races is more of a way to bond with other runners, to all have similar goals, to cheer each other on through our accomplishments and have fun while doing it. But we all know that the trails are where are our hearts are. It’s not crazy to be out in the places where we feel the most at peace.”

 

“One of the most common misconceptions about ultra-running is that it is an outlandish sport that irrational people do to satisfy some absurd obsession. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve gotten to know a lot of ultra runners over the years. What I’ve learned about them is similar to what I’ve learned about myself. As I’ve said before, we are just normal people. We are the electrician who crawls into your attic when you need wiring in your home. We are the parent who drives their child to water polo practice every day. We are men and women who report to an office everyday. More than anything, though, we are people who want something more in life. Something real, not just material. Something we have to dig deep within ourselves to obtain, and the deeper we dig, the more satisfied we are.”

“A lot of folks still think that Ultra Running is for “slow old people”; even so, that was a little true for the sport years ago but not anymore. There are plenty of young guys in their mid twenties moving up from road racing to Ultras and Trail Ultras. We are talking guys that can run 62-64 minute Half marathons and 2:14-2:18 Marathons. Also, a lot of people think all you need to do is run long and slow, not true. I train a lot like a marathon runner, just with long runs being longer and closer to race day, my training is more specific to the upcoming course (flat versus mountain, i.e.).”

To recap, ultra running is not just for the “crazy”, “old”, or “superhumans”. In fact, it’s a way for all runners- of various ages, personalities, fitness levels, and stages of life- to enjoy the world around them and find the peace and satisfaction needed from living stressful, busy lives.

TRAINING

Everyone has their own image of what training for an ultramarathon looks like, but the realities don’t usually match up to the expectations. Things such as the time required to devote and the mileage needed to run each week can be much different than what people assume.

“When road marathoners start considering a trail ultramarathon, they often think that ultra training looks a lot different than what they did for the marathon, and that it will take up a lot more time. In reality, they’re very similar.

Sure, you’ll want to increase time spent on the trail, and replace some of the speed work with extra mileage, but I’m a firm believer that if you can run a marathon, you have the strength and skills to run a 50K ultramarathon.

And you can do it while having a job, taking care of kids, and juggling everything else life throws your way.”

 

“New ultra runners and people considering the sport often assume that adequate preparation requires an incredible volume of running in time and mileage.  “I can’t do it because I’m too busy,” they tell themselves.  That’s not true. You CAN do it, and you might be surprised that you don’t need to go for 40-mile long runs in order to be an ultrarunner.

I train for 100-milers with 65-75 miles per week of running, and I always take one day fully off.  Granted, these are hard miles at altitude with plenty of quality, but I’m not spending my entire life running and I still have time for work and family.  Many of my clients have experienced success in long ultras on less training than that.  Key to your preparation is intentional, structured training, and you might consider reading books and articles and/or working with a coach.  Also, keep in mind that what’s right in training for your running buddy might not be right for you, so don’t shy away from doing your own thing when needed.”

 

“I hear one thing over and over from non ultra runners (many of whom are established or elite marathoners). “You must have to run a lot of MILES to be able to run a race that far!”

As a coach, I make it clear to my clients that it doesn’t take 100+ mile weeks, long runs of 30, 40, 50+ miles, or regular “back to back” weekend long runs to be ready to run an ultra. That goes for 100+ mile races too! Many of my clients have been fit and ready to complete (and complete it well) their first ultra from 50k up to 100 miles on just 30-35 miles / week with long runs that rarely crack 18-20 miles. Much less than most road marathoners. That’s not to say that ultra runners are lazy! If you factor in the time on feet and vertical gain into the training notes then it’s easy to see why “less MILES” is actually OK. As in any sport, specifically those with high impact like running, rest if especially important to benefit from the training. Don’t get caught up in the number of MILES you run, rather think about the type of miles you’ll be running during your goal race(s). Tailor your training to mimic that. Chances are your total MILES will decrease but your fun while training and time on your feet will likely increase!”

RACE DAY

No matter how perfectly you train, shit’s gonna happen. That’s just a fact.

There will inevitably be surprises, hiccups, and unforeseen experiences along the way. However, first time ultra runners, and even spectators of the sport, tend to make assumptions about various aspects of the race. In fact, a commonly believed myth involves how runners run the race.

“Everyone thinks that runners “run” the entire way and this couldn’t be more far from the truth.  In fact, Id say that 99% of the field walks in almost every ultra out there at some point. Yes, even the elites walk!

So, that said, if people train the walk/run and become very efficient at power walking (or as I call it, power walking with purpose) chances are good that they have the capability to complete an ultra!  All of my athletes who are training for an ultra spend a great deal of time learning how to be efficient at power walking.  This includes training the hip flexors in that range, how to intake calories while walking fast and how to really move uphills with power and speed, all while walking.  The longer the race, the more power walking that happens.  In fact, in many cases it is much easier and faster to walk then it is to run. I challenge many of my athletes to test this theory. I ask them to power walk up a hill beside someone who is running and to notice if they are maintaining the same pace while determining who is expending more energy.  In addition, it is important for ultrarunners to become good at transitioning back and forth between run/walking and to not get lulled into just walking when they could in fact be running.

So, when someone says that they ran 100 miles, chances are pretty good that they actually mean that they walk/ran 100 miles!”

What To Know Before Running Your First Ultra

Regardless of the amount of articles you read, or the amount of runner friends you interview, you may still have questions and experience surprises on race day. Here’s what you can expect:

“My first ultra was awesome, until it wasn’t… the first 50k was smooth, effortless, and exhilarating running 30+ minutes ahead of 2nd place. The kicker? I was running a 50 miler! I had gone out wayyy too fast, been carrying wayyy too much water, and I should have researched the course a LOT more.

I went off course around mile 37 and did an extra 5 miles. Not only did it frustrate me that I lost the huge lead, it also made me wish I knew the course better. Around mile (for me) 42 my hips were killing me. I rarely trained with a pack or even a handheld for that matter but on race day I wanted to “make sure” I had enough fluids. The added weight from my 100 oz H2O bladder threw my gait off and after 4-5 hours of running I was paying for it.

To top it all off, the pace I was going was far from sustainable. It would have been great for 50k but the additional 30k (where the race begins for most in a 50 miler) turned into a struggle. I went from being on-pace for a sub 8 hour 50 mile debut on a mountainous course to walking / limping / dragging my aching body across the finish line (55 miles later) in around 11 hours.

So what did my experience in that first ultra teach my now more experienced self?

“When I ran my first ultra, I literally knew nothing about them. I was in my early 20’s, had completed a handful of marathons and paced a friend running his first 50 miler and thought, that was fun, I should try that. Two months later, I had signed up for my first 50 miler.

I approached the start line with casual ease, wearing a cotton tank top and shorts, carrying a handheld water bottle and wearing a hat that I had worn during training runs. I didn’t have special trail shoes, a watch, or even a drop bag. It was just me, myself and the trails. And honestly, I had a pretty great race. I was even decently fast.

That said, I did experience a pretty epic bonk around mile 42. It was purely a nutrition problem as I hadn’t eaten much at the start and likely wasn’t eating much during the actual event. I wish I had known just how important nutrition is when it comes to racing and wish I had been more prepared when it came to taking in calories and drinking water.”

 

“I wish I had known how hard it can be physically and mentally for a long time. You know if you ran a 10k let’s say you start to hurt with 2 miles left, so you are talking 10-15 minutes of suffering left? Even if you are only running 10 minute pace that is 20 minutes of mental and physical struggle.

In an ultra, you could be at mile 70 in a 100 miler and it is getting dark and you have 30 miles left to go in the dark woods, which equates to many hours of suffering. You can’t prepare for that, you just have to experience it.”

 

“I wish I had known just how important a strong crew team was. I had a last minute crew thrown together, wrong coordinates were handed out, missed crew stations happened, I ran out of water, it was a rough go of it.  I wanted to quit the race. I had started walking, sat down for a long while, and had basically given up until a young lady, also named Katie, found me on the course. She gave me water and food and helped me get to the next aid station. Once we reached the aid station I stopped my watch, sat down, called my mom and told her I quit and to come and get me. As soon as I hung up, everyone at the aid station started cheering me on, saying I could do it, and that I should at least go to the next aid station. I called my mom back, told her to met me at the next aid station. Started my watch back up I ended up running with Katie the last 18 miles. I thought that time spent at the aid station, letting them convince me to continue on took forever, it turns out it was just over 1 minute according to my watch and official time. I never realized before how something as simple as a little encouragement can go such a long way and that having the proper support can be a huge game changer.”

MAKING THE LEAP TO AN ULTRAMARATHON

If you’re wanting to make the leap into the ultra distance world, don’t be overwhelmed. Hopefully, after reading this article and hearing what ultra running professionals have to say about the sport, you feel more prepared to run your very first ultramarathon. Even though each racing experience will be unique- for every runner and for every race- the wisdom from someone who has succeeded can better equip you with what to expect and plan for. Ultra running is just like any other endeavour – you need to take the time to learn, plan, and prepare. But if these bloggers can make the leap and succeed, you can too!

THE ULTRA BLOGGERS

NordicTrack is grateful to the bloggers that participated in this project and shared their knowledge on ultrarunning! Visit their websites to read more about their experience and adventures as ultrarunners!

It has been a little over five months since my daughter was born, leading to a pretty drastic shift in my training.

For the past few years I’ve benefited from a flexible schedule. I had the freedom to run at just about anytime of the day. But with the new kid (and new responsibilities), training took a back seat.

So I made a plan, and in January I wrote a post outlining how I’d train for a 100K ultramarathon with a newborn, where I shared five strategies to get the most out of my more restricted training schedule. Read the post here.

The strategies could help — I thought — not just someone with a newborn, but anyone with a particularly busy or limited schedule (due to kids, work, travel, etc.).

So, did my plan work?

In today’s episode of Trail Talk, I evaluate the past five months of training and share what worked, what didn’t, an unexpected surprise benefit, and my plan for moving forward.

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

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Support for Today’s Episode

This episode of Trail Talk was brought to you by Discover Your Ultramarathon, the eBook system with training plans, audio interviews, and a 129-page guide to get you through your first 50K or 50 mile ultra.

Pick yours up now at rockcreekrunner.com/ultramarathon.

 

Some ultramarathons results in epic tails — overflowing with non-stop highs and lows — like the kind you’ll find in bestselling novels.

Others result in a more humble, disjointed collection of short adventures and mishaps, connected only by the trail and runner who lives it.

My 2017 UROC 100K experience was the latter, so instead of a long race report loaded with lessons or life-altering epiphanies, I take a more simplistic approach to this race report: a collection of short stories from the day.

Draw morals as you please.

11.2 Miles is a Long Way

I pride myself as being comfortable running in the mountains. I love technical descents and can seamlessly transition between a run and a power hike (I’m currently working on more run, less hike). But when doing research on the course — which as you know, I do plenty of — I didn’t anticipate how difficult this course would be.

Actually, I don’t think the organizers did either, considering the website easily low-balled the total elevation gain by a good 4,000 feet.

The first 6.8 miles to Aid Station 1 consist of paved or gravel road, and the miles go by equally smooth for us runners. After grabbing a quick bottle refill, we make a sharp turn onto an 11.2 mile stretch of insanely beautiful singletrack and drop over 1,800 feet to the next aid station. From there it’s a quick turn around and back up those same 11.2 miles from which we came.

As I make that turn, swapping race stories with another runner, only having one aid station for the next 22 miles doesn’t phase me.

“It’s early on in the race,” I think to myself.

“You’re tough. You like mountains. 11.2 miles is easy peasy,” I proudly proclaim in my head.

Well hot damn is 11.2 miles is a long way, especially on this tough trail.

I emerge back at Aid Station 1 (now Aid Station 3) a full five and a half hours later with bottles (and spirits) drained. And that’s when it hits me:

Reading a map is much easier than running a race.

Ring, Ring! Anyone There?

Somewhere around mile nine, I split from a runner (hey Terry!) I’ve spent the last hour chatting with, and start off on my own.

I like running alone. For the most part that’s how I train, and I often long for that inside-my-own-head focus I only find during a long run.

Six and a half hours later, though, I’m still running alone, and my daughter’s favorite song gets stuck playing through my head on repeat.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring … banana phone.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring … banana phoooooooooone.

It’s hard to say if she actually likes the song — at five months she reacts basically the same to all music — but for some reason we keep playing it. And in this moment, as the few lines I can remember of Bananaphone replay in my head for the 67th time, all I can think about is her.

I wonder how she did on the car ride to the race that morning, and how her mother slept after I said goodbye around 4:00 AM. I wonder if she has extra diaper cream I can use on my thighs (I was starting to chafe), and if she’s enjoying the cool mountain morning.

And that’s when it hits me:

Running alone for hours on end is magical … only when you have someone to return home to after.

Every Crew Needs a Mathematician

When it comes to crews and pacers, I’m one lucky dude. Race after race I’ve been fortune enough to rely on a passionate, supportive, and determined bunch to get me across the finish line — often the largest and most vocal at the race.

But I never realized I was missing my brother-in-law, Mike, until UROC.

Mike is a high school math teacher, runner, and all around smart guy. He likes numbers, and isn’t afraid to share it.

Earlier in the day, when it became clear I had no shot at my original goal of 13 hours, I told him I’d be disappointed if I didn’t come in under 15 hours. Fifteen hours means I’ll receive a special black belt buckle that somehow feels way cooler than the over 15 hour buckle.

Unbeknownst to me, he takes that comment to heart.

I pick Mike up at mile 53 to pace me to the finish with just two hours and forty three minutes to cover 10.2 miles and a 1,800 foot climb. Might not sound like much on fresh legs, but it feels like a massive feat in the moment.

He has it calculated out to the minute.

“We can do this. I’ve worked it all out. Do you want to know what you need to do, or should I just keep that to myself?” he asks.

“Break it into sections,” I respond.

“Great, so we need to make it to the climb in … ”

Mike knows mile for mile where we need to be, and it’s just the get-up and go I need to keep moving with intention. We wade across creeks, blast up one steep mountain, and pick off multiple runners along the way. I grunt. I moan. I gnaw on expired citrus CLIF Blocks.

He monitors the clock, silently processing numbers in his head.

And that’s when it hits me:

Math is hard at mile 54. Always have a mathematician on hand.

That Section with like 20 Creek Crossings

Sometime around the 38th mile, as I slowly climb my way up to Bald Mountain for the first time, I’m stopped by a 50K runner about to finish her race. She’s a reader and sounds excited to say hi. I’ve never stopped mid-run before to chat with a stranger, but what the hell, at this point I’m happy to have any distraction (or person other than myself to talk to), and love to hear from readers. We introduce ourselves.

“This course is legit!” As the words come from my mouth, something feels off, but it seems like an appropriate thing to say.

“Yeah, especially those creek crossings!” She responds.

“Creek crossings?”

“That section with like 20 creek crossings!”

I have no idea what she was talking about, and in what I can only imagine is a simultaneous epiphany, we both realize we’ve been running for nearly eight hours but on two totally different courses.

Duh.

The 100K joins with the 50K course around the halfway point, meaning I’m just starting the route she’s a few miles from finishing. Without acknowledging my stupidity, I congratulate her and continue on in the opposite direction.

Not three minutes later, it dawns on me I should have asked the important and totally relevant question of which section had all those creek crossings. But alas, it’s too late, and for the next several hours I keep anticipating that maybe this would be the section.

It wasn’t that one, so it must be this section, right?

Or this one?

Hmm …

Maybe she was exaggerating, delirious, or got lost and there is no section with countless creek crossings?

Turns out the section comes right after I pick up Mike at mile 54, and no shit, there are like twenty, ragging, knee deep creek crossings, with muddy scrambles up the bank and unsure footing.

It’s rugged, wild, and generally badass (and side note, an x-factor in Mike’s careful calculations. Luckily, he padded the numbers anticipating any unforeseen x-factors. Mathematicians win again!).

And that’s when it hits me:

When someone who knows the course offers advice, ask questions.

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That Time I Stole My Wife’s First Mother’s Day

The day after race day is Mother’s Day — a special day to honor the love and sacrifice selfishly given each day by mothers around the world. Or more specifically, a day to celebrate our mothers and the mothers of our children.

The day after race day is my wife’s first Mother’s Day … and she spends it in the car next to a man with swollen feet and a baby who wants to be anywhere but in that car. Unintentionally, I stole my wife’s first Mother’s Day and made the whole weekend about me.

But she never once complains, or even mentions it.

As I lay sprawled out in the back next to the car seat while she drives us home, I realize I did her wrong.

And that’s when it hits me:

Running is one of the most important parts of my life, but it comes nowhere close to the importance of my family.

Can you imagine visiting all 59 US national parks in the span of just over a year?

Now how about running a full marathon in each one of them?

When I first heard about Bill Sycalik’s Running the Parks project, where he will run 59 marathons in 59 national parks, I knew he was the kind of guy I’d want to talk to.

Bill set off last June to run in each national park in the United States. Eleven months later and he’s already checked off 41 marathons.

In today’s episode of Trail Talk, Bill shares the motivation behind his project, how to logistically plan such a massive trip, and what all that running has taught him about gear, locating trails, safety, and rapid recovery.

Follow Bill here:

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

Or subscribe and download on:

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Support for Today’s Episode

This episode of Trail Talk was brought to you by Discover Your Ultramarathon, the eBook system with training plans, audio interviews, and a 129-page guide to get you through your first 50K or 50 mile ultra.

Pick yours up now at rockcreekrunner.com/ultramarathon.

 

In a sport where the laid back, just ‘run for the love of it’ approach is celebrated, detailed planning ahead of race day isn’t always considered a priority.

Which blows my mind.

When I dedicate months to long miles, tough trails, and physical and mental fatigue throughout training, I’ll take any advantage I can find going into race day.

Logistical planning is one such advantage.

The Prepared Runner’s Advantage

I’m not going to lie, this is probably the least sexy topic I could write about. Big mountain days, speed work, fancy gear … all sexy.

A preparedness checklist? Not so much.

But there are real advantages to showing up on race day with your shit in order:

  1. You can relax the night before, rather than scramble to pack your bags.
  2. On race morning, you can focus on the race itself and not last minute items.
  3. You can anticipate tough sections of the course.
  4. You can prepare for long stretches without aid, and know how to take advantage of frequent aid stations.
  5. You can rely on your crew to be where they need to be, when they need to be there, with what they need to have ready.

When you’re scrambling at the last minute, or running blind with no idea of what the course will throw your way, there’s an underlying level of stress that’s hard to shake — even after the gun goes off.

The prepared runner, however goes in confident and at ease (at least when it comes to logistics).

Enter my race-week checklist.

The Pre-Ultramarathon Checklist

With just over a week before the UROC 100K, I’ve switched from training to taper and full-on prep mode. Maps are printed, charts created, and I’ve begun to think through gear and nutrition.

Plus, this is the first non-local race my daughter will be attending, and I don’t want to embarrass her. (That’s code for, “Holy shit there’s a lot of stuff we need to bring to keep her happy for a six hour road trip, full day in the mountains with her mom, and sleeping outside the house.)

To keep make sure I cover all my bases, I rely on my pre-race checklist (download for free below), which covers everything I need to think through ahead of race day.

1. Know the Course

Trail ultramarathons vary wildly depending on the terrain and elevation profile. Even if I’m familiar with the distance, the first thing I do to prepare for a race is get to know the course.

Ideally I’ll actually get out on the trails to run sections of the course, but when that’s not an option, I do the next best thing:

I print out the map and elevation profile, and walk through the course with my finger.

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Pre Thunder Rock 100 planning last spring.

It’s a simple practice that allows you to visualize how the course is designed and what race day will look and feel like. You can place yourself on the big climbs, and mentally run through an aid station. Seems a bit silly, I know, but it’s a powerful practice.

What to consider:

  • Where are the biggest climbs?
  • What’s the longest stretch without aid?
  • Are there out and back sections that might be mentally taxing?
  • Are there obvious ways to break up the course mentally?
  • What does the last quarter of the race look like?

2. Know the Aid Stations

Unless it’s a self-supported race, aid stations are your lifeline. They’re where you refuel, rest, and meet your crew.

But unlike road marathons, where you can count on a water station every two-ish miles, ultramarathon aid stations may be anywhere from three to fifteen miles apart … or even longer. They could come with a massive buffet of options, or just water.

Knowing as much as you can ahead of time means you aren’t stuck without your fuel.

What to consider:

  • Where are they — aka, how far apart are they? This may dictate your gear choices. If they’re every five miles apart you may need to carry a lot less than if they’re every ten miles apart.
  • What will they supply? If you have any dietary restrictions or rely on a certain gel/drink/snack, it’s good to know what to expect in advance.
  • Do they allow dropbags?
  • Do they allow crew and pacers? For longer races where you have a crew and/or pacer, this is going to be the most important of the four.

Armed with this information, you can start gear, dropbag, and crew preparations.

3. Think Through Gear

For me, this is the fun part.

Gear decisions come down to weather, trail conditions, distance, crews, and level of support. A well supported, flat 50K requires a lot less gear than a mountain 100-miler, for example.

Start by making a list based of what you know you’ll need, then add the “just in case” gear you want on hand (either with the crew or in a dropbag), depending on the weather.

What to consider:

  • Pre-race clothing — What do I need to stay comfortable before the race?
  • Post-race clothing — What do I need to for after the race?
  • What’s the basic gear I’ll want to carry for the entire race?
  • Do I need to carry required gear?
  • How should I split gear up for dropbags?
  • What’s the best way for me to keep gear organized for both crew and myself?
  • Any weather specific items I should have in a “just in case” bag?

Start with your list, then lay it all out so you can see what you have. From there it’s easy to pack and stay organized for yourself and crew.

4. Prepare Your Crew

If you have a crew coming to support you, they will become your savior. I can’t emphasize enough how crucial crew and pacers have been for me over the years, and I often owe my entire race to their hard work.

But in order for a crew to be effective, they need to also be prepared. Which means you need to be prepared.

It’s your responsibility as the runner to inform them of what you need.

What to consider:

  • Crew sheets, gear list, food list — create them.
  • Do they know where to go and when to expect me?
  • Do they know what I’ll likely need at different stages of the race?
  • Discuss expectations with my pacer?
  • What extra food and drink will my crew enjoy?

No matter how tired, hungry, or sore you are, never forget that your crew gave up an entire day (or more, sometimes much more) to help you out. The least you can do is help keep them comfortable and informed.

Start Planning (Free Download)

For most of us planning and list creating isn’t much fun. It takes trail running, where running wild is a key ingredient, and puts it in a box.

But it’s exactly that restraint and structure that allows you to execute your best race (and in turn, race wild). I’ve never heard of anyone who regretted showing up to a race prepared, but the same can’t be said for the unprepared.

To help you out, I’ve put this list above into a quick one-page checklist. It can become your go-to reference ahead of race day, as it is mine.

Download a free copy of the Ultrarunner’s Pre-Race Checklist here:

Get the Checklist

Last week I packed up a bag, said goodbye to my wife and daughter (for the first time, sad-face), and took off to California for the Mendocino Coast 50K directed by my buddy Sid Garza-Hillman.

It was to be my second time running the course, and after having so much fun last year, this time I decided to bring my camera along to document the trip.

Watch that story, including awesome footage of the trails (and burritos), here:

Or watch and subscribe directly on YouTube here.

The fitness world loves to share expensive stuff — exotic races, the latest gadget — but the truth is, most of what keeps us running day in and day out isn’t that expensive.

It’s the little items that make us more comfortable on the trail and help fight off injury.

So today I want to focus on a few of those … the un-sexy, un-exotic, inexpensive little things. Here are three of my favorite items, all under $25:

1. A Good Pair of Socks

Socks. The thing we dread getting each Christmas. But socks … they matter.

As someone who has dealt with more foot issues than anything else, I’m the first to admit that if your feet go, so does your run. No matter how good of shape your legs and mind might be in, blistered and bruised toenails can be a goal-ender.

Which is why a good pair of socks that helps prevent blisters instead of causing them can make all the difference in the world.

My go-to? Injinji toe socks, trail midweight. They’re durable and built for the trail, and the individual toe pockets have significantly reduced blistering. But whether you’re into Swiftwick, Balega, or any other company, it’s always worth investing in a good pair of socks.

Get some socks — Injinji, Trail Midweight — $16

2. Running Shoe Gaiters

Along the same, anything-to-save-my-feet line, I’m a big fan of running shoe gaiters. I don’t wear them every day, or even every race, but when I’m expecting a lot of mud, sand, snow, or debris, they’ve proven to be a run-savor.

Just slip a pair over your shoes to help prevent all the junk from creeping it’s way inside your shoe and causing discomfort or blisters.

It’s such a help that some companies like Altra and Inov 8 have built in clips to make it easier, but you can find a pair that will work with just about any shoe.

Get a pair of gaitersAltra Trail Gaiters — $24.95

3. Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop

Want to dive deeper into the science behind your training? Check out Jason Koops training book, Training Essentials for Ultrarunning.

I own just about every ultramarathon manual out there, I’ve even written my own, and most are geared towards beginners. Jason takes a different approach, sharing his know-how for experienced ultrarunners to step it up a notch.

Get the book — Training Essentials for Ultrarunning — $12

Bonus: Next Level Runner

I know, I know … I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make a quick plug.

The Next Level Runner program is a membership program devoted to taking your training to the next level by focusing on one specific aspect of running each month. You’ll immediately gain access to a library of training plans, loads of resources, coaching calls, and most importantly, a community of runners.

Join here — Next Level Runner — $24


What I’m Digging this Month: April, 2017

Mendocino Coast 50K

Tomorrow morning I’ll toe the line of the Mendocino Coast 50K. This is my second year running the race, and I’m beyond stoked to get back out on this beautiful course.

Yesterday I helped RD Sid load up the truck with aid station supplies, and today I’m crewing him while he runs the entire course to check for markings.

It’s going to be a blast.

Think You Can Break the Appalachian Trail Speed Record?

Karl Meltzer thought he could, and while it took three attempts, he made it happen.

Red Bull, one of his sponsors, was around to document the effort.

Watch it here.

Rickey’s TransAmericana Run


Running across America is nothing new. In fact, just last year the speed record went down.

But when Rickey Gates announced after last year’s surprise presidential election that he felt called to run cross-country, it stood out as something different. His intention is to better get to know this country, and the people and communities that make it up.

He’s been running (and paddle boarding) for a few months now, and documents the trip on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s unlike any running project I’ve seen before, and look forward to each new mini-story he shares.

Ultrarunner Podcast also just shared a great interview with Rickey.

As with most things in life, hindsight is 20/20.

If only I had known this …

If only I had done it this way instead of that way …

And when looking back my first experiences running and racing on the trail, there are a number of things I wish someone had told me before I hit the dirt. Lessons or advice that could have saved me a lot of time, energy, and frustration.

In today’s podcast, I share four such lessons, so you don’t make the same silly mistakes I did.

Listen to the episode here:

Click here to download the file.

Or subscribe and download on:

PodcastiTunesButton copystitcher

Support for Today’s Episode

This episode of Trail Talk was brought to you by Discover Your Ultramarathon, the eBook system with training plans, audio interviews, and a 129-page guide to get you through your first 50K or 50 mile ultra.

Pick yours up now at rockcreekrunner.com/ultramarathon.

And by the Next Level Runner program, a monthly membership site devoted to taking your training to the next level. Learn more: rockcreekrunner.com/next-level.

 

I’m not very comfortable with kids. I like them, and always want them to like me back, but my experience level is so low that interactions typically end in me feeling like a dumbass and the kid thinking I’m a weirdo.

Now, before you ask, yes, I do have a kid of my own. But she’s only four months old, and she’s learning how to be a baby at the same rate I’m learning to parent one.

Kids older than four months? I haven’t gotten that far.

So when my cousin — a runner and third grade teacher — asked if I’d come speak to his class about goal setting, I was more anxious than confident.

“Third graders?” I thought to myself. “They’re what, five or six and just learning to read, right?”

It turns out most in his class are nine years old, and have been reading for the past two grade levels.

With no clue how to talk to third graders, I did the only thing I could think of …

I kept it simple.

A Goal Setting Strategy, Simplified

Goal setting has become a hot topic of late. There are countless books, blogs, podcasts, and worksheets devoted solely to the topic.

They get down to the nitty gritty by formulating strategies, establishing habits, and tricking your mind to believe things you doubt are possible.

It has become this massive industry with gurus preaching their own twist on a complex formula.

But here’s the thing:

At it’s core, setting a big goal is incredibly easy. And with some very minor planning, the path to reach your goal should be just as simple.

You don’t need gurus. You don’t need a library of motivation books. You just need to:

  1. Dream big.
  2. Make a plan.
  3. Take action.

It’s that’s simple.

3 Steps to Achieving Your Ambitious Running Goal

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Under the advice of my cousin, I decided to put together a short slide presentation using my first 100 mile ultramarathon goal as an example of how to set — and follow through with — a big goal.

He said, “Use pictures. Kids like pictures.”

So I did, and kept the words to a minimum. Using the three steps above, this is what I explained, only for the purposes of this post I’m sticking exclusively to running examples:

Step 1: Dream Big

What’s the massive, scary, out there goal that you’d love to achieve? The one goal that sends shivers down your back with both excitement and nerves?

For me it was to run 100 miles through the mountains. But for you it may be:

  • Run a marathon or ultramarathon
  • Qualify for Boston
  • Go sub-twenty minutes for a 5K
  • Run an epic trail route at your favorite national park
  • Make it into the Western States or Hardrock 100 lotteries
  • Fastpack your way down a trail

The options are endless, and motivations unique to you alone.

The key is to think big. A goal that may feel out there now, but over time — maybe even years — you can make it happen.

Most of us know what that goal is, whether we’ve admitted it out loud or not.

Step 2: Make a plan using stepping stone goals

What are the medium sized steps it will take to get there?

Before I could run a mountainous 100 mile ultra, I need to be comfortable running in the mountains. I needed to train up to the 50 mile distance, then the 100K distance, and learn to run in the dark.

Before you can qualify for Boston, you need to train up to a half marathon, then marathon, then work on speed for a faster marathon.

All of these are stepping stone goals, and once determined, become your roadmap that gradually leads you towards that big, ambitious goal.

Step 3: Take action today

What’s the one action you can do today that will help you work towards those stepping stone goals?

My first step was to find and start a training plan.

Yours might be the same, or to find a coach, sign up for a race, or even simpler, to get back into the routine of regular running.

This is my favorite step because it makes that lofty goal feel more tangible. More real.

But unfortunately, it’s where most people get stuck. They set a big running goal, then never take the first step to start.

They get hung up on excuses — not the right time, don’t have the right gear, no one to run with — when in reality we’re just scared.

In part, I believe, precisely because it makes that lofty goal real, and no longer just an idea.

Be Fearless … Like a Nine-Year-Old

After I made it through my ten minute presentation, the kids broke into small groups, each armed with a single page and pencil. The page listed the three steps, along with a number of blank lines for them to fill in their thoughts.

I wasn’t sure how this exercise would go …

… What they understand the concept?

… Would they feel inspired to set a big goal?

… Would they think I’m too big of a weirdo to take seriously?

What happened, though, was beautiful.

The kids furiously sketched out their big goals, along with what they needed to achieve first in order to reach them. Goals like, play in the Wisconsin Marching Band, become a pro soccer player, start a smoothie shop (I like this kid), and become a judge.

And then came my favorite part of this entire experience. We sat in a circle, each sharing the action they were going to take today to begin the journey of making that goal a reality.

They weren’t scared. They didn’t list excuses. They didn’t hide behind a complicated goal setting process, only to never start in the first place.

They were both ambitious dreamers and fearless action takers.

And just like those nine-year-old kids, you can be too.