How do you train for something like this? What did you eat? Did you run the whole time? What do you put in a drop bag? These are the questions I am asked after every ultra race I do…
Following my previous blog THE VAN100, a race that took a total of 30 hours and 48 minutes that I completed this past weekend June 4th-5th, I would like to help those of you curious runners with the questions above. I will cover the gear I used, what I ate, how I train… the INS & OUTS of running for 30 hours. I am going to start with the #1 question…
1. Did you run the whole time? No, we are not running the whole time, but we are moving the whole time… above on the elevation profile I have highlighted in green and red. Red is areas where yes we would be running and green are the areas where we would either be power climbing up or coming down very steep terrain and not running but moving down. Of course with every race this will differ. Van100 takes place following the Baden Powell Trail which is a very technical trail with lots of steep sections. So there was lots of power climbing however if this was a flatter more runnable 100k then yes for sure I would have been running more… we follow the motto “RUN THE RUNNABLE”. Each race will differ depending on when you hit the tough terrain and how much of it there is. Keep in mind there is stoping at aid stations also.
2. What do you eat when your running for that long? This will be very different for everyone and can also be very different for me race to race. Things like the temperature and the distance can play factors. It has taken a lot of practice to have nutrition dialled in. But from lots of trial and error through races I now have a fairly good understanding to what I need and what to pack just in case. I know that no matter what, no matter how bad I feel I can get down a PB&J so PB&J’S it is. I knew that I would be looking at a 24hour or more time frame for this race so I am planning to eat 250-300 calories per hour this leaves me with packing no less then 8000 calories! This is what I brought for food:
- 8 PB&J’S
- 5 veggie samosas
- Lots of GU Salted Watermelon Gels
- “party mix” chips
- NAKD raw bars (dates and nuts)
- Organic baby food in to go pouches – mushed up fruit blends
- Maynards Swedish Berries – candies
- Cliff Shot Bloks
- Nuun electrolyte tabs
At each crew station, so every 25kms, I also had a few sips of coffee. I do not drink coffee on a day to day basis so I find for the long hauls, like this race, the caffeine helps keep me awake and gives me a nice energy boost. Between each aid station I was eating a PB&J (sometimes 2), Swedish berry candies, 1-2 GU gels, a baby food fruit mix and a NAKD raw bar. At each aid station I ate some chips, a samosa, drank orange juice and coffee and at the 50km mark I ate two vegan doughnuts (SO AMAZING THANK YOU BRIE). For me I find that eating real food works best, theres no way I can get enough fuel from GELS and bars for this long and not for this long without feeling sick. So real food with added bits of gels etc. for the added energy I find works best. I also find for me its more about eating what I crave until your stomach says no more and then you eat to just make sure you get calories. I have had some pretty bad luck with nutrition in races previous, I do find I struggle most in the heat, where its also about staying hydrated and keeping up on electrolytes, however I had no stomach issues and full energy for 30+hours for VAN100, perhaps because we weren’t dealing with super hot and humid weather… I am going to thank the PB&J’s though for carrying me through.
3. What do I put in my drop bags/What gear do I depend on? Of course each race your drop bags will look a bit different… for VAN100 here is what I did…because it was pouring rain and I knew we would be running through the night…each drop bag had a dry change of clothes, socks, a buff and lots of food, extra essentials like muff wipes, toilet paper, first aid kit, things like hair ties, nail clippers, vaseline, extra charged battery for my head lamp, a towel. In my 25km drop bag I had my head lamp, a change of shoes and my poles because from this point on is where we really started to climb. So I grabbed my poles, my head lamp and changed my socks and shoes. I wore my Hoka Stinson’s for the first 25km then changed into my Hoka Mafate’s for the remaining 75km. The Hoka Mafate’s have better traction and are better on slippery surfaces and due to all the rain I knew I would need that traction for what lay ahead. Normally I wouldn’t worry to much about changing socks at each aid station and or clothes however because of the rain all day Saturday soaking wet clothes can make or brake you, dry clothes also help with chaffing, and keeping you from getting cold. Getting specific on gear… my head lamp is the Petzl RXP, my poles are the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z, rain coat is the women’s Arc’teryx Norvan Gortex Jacket, Hoka running shoes both the Stinson and the Mafate’s, and I can’t run without my Injinji toe socks! oh and a Buff, I never run without a Buff! I also had my Patagonia Trucker Hat to keep the rain off my face. BUT WAIT!!! my running pack of course! The Salomon S-LAB Advance Skin Set 5L.
4. The BIG question… How do you train for this… I don’t know why but I have a hard time answering this question. Basically you run… A LOT. For me at this point I have done lots of ultra distance races and have spent the past 10 years of my life running. So to start basically you need to train for a 50km distance. You need to train for trails. You then need to know the who, what, where, when, why, how’s of the race you are going to do. If your race has a lot of technical terrain… well then guess what start running technical terrain. If you have 17,000 feet of elevation gain well guess what you better start doing uphill and down hill repeats. Once you have your distance/endurance base down you will then train for the race specifics. For me this is what my typical week of activity looks like…
Tuesdays: 5-10km of fast trail running
Wednesdays: Cross train in the gym, core strength and treadmill speed workout
Thursdays: Downhill repeats/uphill repeats in the trails (or sometimes swimming laps depending on where in my training schedule I am)
Fridays: BCMC 1100meter climb up and down
Saturdays: Long runs up to 5 hours
Sundays: Long runs up to 9 hours
The biggest thing is going to be training long and hard back to back days. Your not going to run 75kms in a day to train for 100kms. Your going to run a 40km Saturday and a 45km Sunday, or have two 8 hours days back to back for example. Also training for a trail race is very much different from the road in the sense that its more about time on your feet and not distance ran. I can go out for a 10km run in the mountains but have it take me 4 hours because of the terrain. This is what its about. Time on feet… you best be getting at least an 8 hour day on your feet. You need to learn to eat, run, pee, poo, everything while your out there for that long. We ultra runners say often “everything past 50k is mental”. Its true you can physically train for 50k but soon after that if you don’t have the mental strength to endure what is going to happen to you then you won’t make it. Mental training comes from everyday… It comes from constantly putting yourself into “the unknown”, situations that you are not used to. You have to be able to take on any situation, even in day to day life, and learn to deal with it, problem solve, fix it or let it roll off your shoulder. Mental strength is key in ultras. I am a great example of this… I am not the strongest physical runner… no way… but theres nothing that will stand in my way from a finish line… I know how to push through anything thrown at me… Its my mind that carries me to the finish lines.
5. How did I prep for VAN100/other ultras? I am one for a longer taper. Two weeks before a race I will cut down my mileage, get back to my swimming laps etc. Low impact activities, like cycling and shorter runs. I also have multiple massages, I visit my chiropractor who will get my body aligned, he also does Active Release Therapy, I stretch at home for around 1 hour everyday, I also head into my Naturopath for an IV consisting of multiple nutrients. These things I do continuously throughout training however I do make sure they happen also within two weeks before a race. I start eating… I always already eat a lot of food but I will more or less start eating more of what I crave usually brown rice spaghetti with homemade vegan pesto, lots of dates and fruit and vega protein powder, food I normally eat but ill just start eating a bit more of it/bigger portions within these two weeks. Its not about eating pasta or carb loading the night before a race… no its what you do 2-3 weeks before a race that counts. During the taper i’ll get antsy, want to run more, feel like I am gaining weight… but only will I run it off!!
6. What does the after look like? Well… Lucky for us the VAN100 finished right at the ocean, so it was shoes and socks off and into the cold water! I downed a vega shake… Then it was some pizza and I hit “the wall” about an two hours after I stopped running… Slept for the car ride home. The worst thing about the finish line is having to stop… stopping means starting the process of recovery. Your muscles tighten up, blisters fill up when your shoes come off, everything swells, your brain stays foggy, your in another world… I got home, got in the tub to soak my mud coated toes and legs and to scrub some of the blood off… then laid in bed with my feet up and feel asleep again. I woke up with a giant appetite of course… I need SUSHI! So I ordered myself a whole bunch of sushi to only be able to get 1.5 rolls down. Great lunch for tomorrow… Typically for me I won’t sleep well or at all the first few nights after a long race. I pop my blisters, I had two this time that ended up being bigger then the size of the toes there we attached two… total of 6 blisters, not to shabby. It will take 2-3 days for my body to realize that it has stopped running. Internally for the next few days after a race I am still running. So my appetite is there however in small portions just as if I was running. Unfortunately, for me I had to work Monday which meant standing on my feet for 7.5 hours not such a good idea… I had my compression socks on however the swelling still got worse. (I don’t recommend standing on your feet for this long the day after a race) moving around is good to keep the muscles lose though. I had to wear my crocks to work because my feet were way to swollen for shoes. Luckily I have had the following two days off and my cankles are going away, I have started to sleep, and I am still eating in small portions. All in all I am feeling great my muscles are not sore, no joint issues or pain, stairs are still my friend… we will see though often with these distances recovery and soreness/fatigue can settle in weeks later. I take recovery very seriously and won’t be trying anything to crazy for the next couple of weeks.
ULTRAS ARE THE BEST!!! For the full race report of the VAN100 see my previous blog titled: The VAN100