Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask an Ultrarunner #4

Pooped Out asks: I'm a first 25% of the pack ultrarunner who prepares himself well for the one 100 miler I run each year. At least I think I prepare myself well. Everything goes well until the last 30 miles. At that time my perceived effort is huge, yet I'm barely moving. I can't run any uphills, and even on the flats I struggle. So, my question is how does one prepare for the last thirty of a hundred mile race.

To me, the last 30 miles of a hundred mile race are what make the distance so special and so difficult to predict. From my perspective, running 50 to 70 miles at a crack, while difficult, is not a good predictor of hundred mile success. In fact, there are scores of runners with tremendous talent and ability at 50 miles or 100K who have never realized success at the hundred mile distance.

Why is this?

From my observations and experiences the single best way to prepare for the last 30 miles is to be well-prepared mentally. While this may sound trite, it is, nonetheless, the most significant factor that separates people in the last few hours of a hundred miler. All the training in the world cannot prepare the runner for the intense physical, emotional, and psychological fatigue that sets in after 12 hours on the trail. In order to meet the demands of that feeling the best runners do one (or more) of the following three things:

1. They run quite a few hundreds so that they are accustomed to and prepared for the pain and suffering that they encounter in the waning stages of a race.

2. They have figured out how, in training, to mimic the conditions that they will face in those last few hours.

3. They know how to find the right mental space during the last few hours of a hundred to drown out the pain and suffering and to revel in the experience.

I have only hit all three once, and that was in 2005. Western States that year was my best race ever.

Here I am at Mile 70 in 2005:

The Seed asks: I am a fairly solid 50M runner but can't seem to collect much more than yellow buckles (or, if not States, the particular race's equivalent) when I step up to the 100 mile starting line. I do have one token silver buckle but it is more of an anomaly, an outlier if you will, compared to my standard performances which, among others, include the following: 2 DNF's at AC in '98 & '99 (I mention those for The Jiz's benefit); a 28 hour at Western, wait, I mean, States in '02 where I spent 2 1/2 hours in a beach chair at Hwy 49 aid (mile 93) and it wasn't because the aid station folks were in pear-adorned monokinis serving margis either; and a 30 hour Wasatch in '08 in which I got to Brighton (mile 75) in 18 hours (you do the math on that one). Is there any hope for me to have a 100 mile performance on par with say, a 7 hour High Sierra 50M or should I stick with the "warm-up ultras," as Karl calls them, and maybe try and become a permanent member of The Jiz's crew to make sure he never DNFs (because only Sky daddy the knows the ripfest that would ensue after that).

Seed, tough one. And, seeing as how you've been running these things for going on 20 years I am not sure I can be of any help. Of course, one of my fondest memories of my early ultrarunning career was running the 1996 Holcomb Valley 50K with you, Ben Hian and Tom Nielsen. If I recall correctly, the main focus of discussion during the early stages of that race when we were all suffering in the High Country was whether or not you felt the effects of altitude as much as we did given that you were, how to say, vertically challenged. Anyway, I've always admired you as a runner ever since then. Of course, there was also the time we were out all night on the Wasatch Course on a training run during the Outdoor Retailer show but that's another story.

In short, I think the best thing you can do is keep trying. Clearly, based on your 50 mile speed you should be running WS in 19 and change and WF in 24. The fact that you are not means you:

a. Have not figured out your nutrition routine yet.

b. Don't understand the importance of smart pacing.

c. Are a total and complete headcase.

Of course, it could also be some combination of all three. Sort of like this guy:

And, don't hold your breath waiting for the "ripfest."

Horatio Lovejoy asks: I win almost any race I enter. I'm young, a well established entrepreneur, drive a nice car and have a great fiancee. What else should I be doing?

Horatio, what you should really do is quit this sport. Guys like you belong in the NBA or the NFL. And, if not that, at least in professional cycling or NASCAR. I mean, c'mon, this is a sport for self-indulgent, addicted, anti-social, introverted fruitcakes. Look around the next time you're at a starting line of an ultra (and please make sure it's the starting line and not the finish line:) What do you see? Do you see a cross-section of Middle America out there enjoying a day in the sun? Hell no! Rather, you see a bunch of people one step away from the loony bin. Given how successful and popular you are I can only imagine it is rough to be associated with such a group.

So, do yourself a favor and quit the sport. You've got it all anyway and now you can go out on top. Think about it, it really is the right thing to do.


Craig Thornley said...

You need a Seed poll. I vote that The Seed is a total and complete nutcase.

Scott Dunlap said...

Well said, AJW!

I think Seed needs the "negative split challenge". Next 100-miler, DARE yourself to run the first 50-miles in exactly 12 hours. Then try and negative split. I think you will be surprised at his energy level come nightfall.


Koz said...

I'd prefer 10 and 9 but then again I don't want to split negative hairs. Speaking of splits, hey Jiz, what are the splits for 10 to the spring on descent into El Dorado and 9 to the track?

Carson said...


If you get to the Spring in 10 you'll have a tough time doing 19. I think you need to get there in 9:40 to give yourself a chance.


Koz said...


My suggestion would be to stick with what you know best: split times, as your recollection of dates seems to leave a little to be desired. The Holcomb Valley experience in which you long drinks of salty water displayed your comically-challenged deficiencies with those high school-esque short jokes was in June of 1999(and I have the photo to prove it). Good times, good times:) No chance of me holding my breath...too much respect beneath all the jabbing! And speaking of pasty white legs, please get some quality sun time or at least purchase a spray tanning treatment before States if you plan on wearing those shorts being sported in your previous post.