How To Run An Ultramarathon
Running an ultramarathon is a race that is doable, more so than most people think. There are some challenges that come along with running ultra distances, but with the right training and preparation you can finish an ultra. Here are some tips on how to run an ultramarathon.
- Build up your mileage base gradually. Rushing this can lead to burn out and injury. Having a good base is very important.
- Register for races that you can use as training races. The marathon and 50K distances are good for training for a 50 miler and a 50 miler can be a good training race for a 100 miler. Half -Marathons or 10Ks can be great training races for a little speed training.
- Be flexible. Don’t get caught up with following a training plan. Weather and injuries can keep you from sticking to a training schedule and that’s okay. Work, relationships and other commitments are important to maintain and should remain a high priority.
- Focus your mind on finishing. You will need every ounce of mental toughness you can muster to finish. At times mental toughness and focus are just as important, if not more important, than physical toughness.
- Find a friend who has ultra running experience who can coach and mentor you.
- You need to know how to run on tired legs. To do this schedule back to back long runs. Your legs will be tired from the first day’s run and this will simulate a race-like situation that you may face during your actually race.
- Know the course you will be running. Will it have mountains, flat roads, technical trails, or water crossings? Knowing this before hand can help you know how to train and prepare you mentally for what the race will be like.
- Remember to taper leading up to the race.
- When race day comes remember to go slow. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and go fast. The name of the game is to maintain a manageable pace through out the whole race.
- Before race day think about clothing and gear. Will it be cold or hot? Will you be running in the dark? Some of these questions can help you know what clothing and gear you may need or do not need.
- Know your nutritional needs. Know what works for you and does not work for you.
These are my top eleven tips on how to run an ultramarathon. In future posts I plan on going into more detail on each of these points.
Running In The New Year: The Grand Canyon, Havasupai, and Squaw Peak 50
It’s that time of year again when we say good bye to the out going year and greet the new year with goals and new year’s resolutions. If you’re like me you may have goals and new year resolutions for running.
For me I plan on running the Kahtoola Bigfoot Snowshoe Race in January and then during the months of February and March train for some Spring/Late Summer adventure runs. I want to either do a rim to rim run of the Grand Canyon or do a day run into Havasupai to play and swim in the waterfalls there and then at the end of the day run back out back to the trailhead.
Back in May of 2012 I did a Grand Canyon rim to rim run and I would have to say that it was one of the most enjoyable adventure runs that I have done. It’s enjoyable to do for a number of reasons. 1) Well maintained trails that are relatively rock free. 2) Lots of downhill running and flat trail running equals very runnable trails. 3) Low elevation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon means easy running that makes you feel like a running God. Especially if you live and train at higher elevations. 4) Water is piped into the trail.
What I think would make Havasupai a fun adventure run is that this is an Indian Reservation with places to buy food and a restaurant to eat at. This means we can go light and carry with you water and a few things to eat while on the trail. The real highlight of course would be exploring the area around the waterfalls and the swimming in the turquoise blue water of Cateract Creek, and to see the beauty of Navajo, Havasu and Mooney Waterfalls.
In June I plan on Running the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Endurance Run. I have 7 lifetime finishes for Squaw Peak, but for the past few years I have struggled to finish this race. For this year, I really want to get my 8th Squaw Peak finish and then eventually get 10 lifetime finishes.
After June I plan on running the local trails during the summer and running Mount Timpanogos as mush as time will permit.
Holiday Running: 4 Running Tips
Running during the holidays is a little different than the rest of the year. The focus shifts from preparing and training for races to holiday parties and time with family and friends. Here are four tips to help you keep running during the busy holidays when it can be easy to not run.
- Sign up for a race: Look for a race that is in the month of January that can help you stay motivated to train. Without a race goal it can be really easy to get caught up in the business of the holidays and as a result running gets put on the back burner. Choose a race that is not too demanding so you can still dedicate some time to enjoying the holidays.
- Get a running partner: It’s likely that there is someone who wants to run during the holidays, but can not find the motivation. Invite that person to run with you. It will give you and that person motivation to run during the holidays. Who knows maybe a running friendship will result that will become long lasting.
- Enjoy the sights and plan ahead: For the holidays you maybe going out of town to visit family. Where ever you may be going plan ahead a route to run. Also include in your route planning sights to see that are unique to the location you are visiting. This will add motivation to get you out the door running and to learn something new about where you are visiting.
- Run in the mornings: There are a lot of evening parties/activities during the holidays that can get in the way of evening running. To get around this, simply run in the mornings. Running in the mornings may be hard especially if you live in a cold area during the holiday season. If you dislike cold weather running dress in layers and just get out the door. No one ever said they regretted going for a run once they have done it.
Cold Weather Running
Last winter I drove up a near by canyon and before I got out of my car I checked the temperature….it read 6 degrees. It was cold! But I went running anyways on a snow covered trail.
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean we need to stop running. In my opinion, if you prepare and dress properly cold weather running can be enjoyable. Here are a few tips.
Dress in layers. Doing this allows you to take off layers if you begin to get hot. A lot of times when I go running in the cold I usually over dress, but once I get going I warm up and as a result I take off layers.
Your base layer should not be a cotton base layer. Cotton, moister, and cold weather are not a good combination. You want a synthetic base layer that will wick moister away from your skin. The next layer should be your insulation layer. Something like a fleece. Your third layer or outer layer can be optional depending on the weather. If it is raining or snowing you will want to put on a waterproof layer that is breathable. What I mean by breathable is so moister from your sweat can pass through your outer layer, but the outside elements (rain and snow) can’t get in. It’s all about staying dry and warm. Being dry is important to staying warm.
For your legs wear tights. Your tights should not be cotton, but a synthetic material that wicks moister away from your skin. I like to wear synthetic shorts over my tights, but shorts are optional.
Same story with socks….don’t wear cotton. Wear a synthetic sock or wool socks specifically made for running.
Always wear a hat that will cover your ears. Someone asked me the other day what may be the reason for getting headaches after running in cold weather. I asked her if she was wearing a hat that covered her ears. She said, no. She began wearing a hat and her headache problem went away.
Also wearing a hat helps with keeping the rest of your body warm. Your head has a lot of blood. If you can keep that blood warm then that warm blood will circulate through the rest of your body which will help prevent you from getting cold.
Cold and numb hands can make a run miserable. To prevent cold hands wear gloves. Again, wear synthetic gloves. They don’t need to be heavy gloves, but a light pair can go a long ways in keeping your hands warm.
Remember synthetic clothes are a must. dress in layers. wear socks that are synthetic or wool. Always wear a hat. And gloves can make a run a lot more enjoyable in cold weather.
Trail Running: Fitness and Nature
There are many reasons why I love to run! Among all my many reasons I thought I would blog about two of those reasons….being fit and being in nature.
Being fit just feels good! It feels good in more ways than one. Being fit just doesn’t effect your body, but your mind and mental health. I find it easier to focus on work or whatever I’m working on after a run. I also feel less stress. There have been many times when I have been stressed out and don’t feel like going for a run, but every time I go running when feeling stressed I always feel better afterwards.
Being fit allows me to do strenuously physical tasks or activities. An example of this is when I summited the highest peak in the Tetons. I didn’t have to do much preparation fitness wise because I was already fit. I was able to just show up and do the climbing. Running to be fit affords me these opportunities to just show up to a strenuous activity to do it and enjoy it.
Most of my running is done on mountain trails in nature. It just feels good to be in nature away from the stresses of life. One of my favorite times to run in nature is after it has rained and the air temperature is cooler than
normal. The leaves on the trees and plants drip with rain drops and the birds sing as I run by. I love moments like this! Breathing in the clean mountain air helps clean my inner self from stress and worries. Here is a favorite quote of mine from the naturalist John Muir:
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
Running is a great stress relief and a great way to enjoy nature especially if you get on the trails in the mountains.
Bib Numbers…What To Do With Them
Bib numbers…if you have run at least one race, then you have a bib number. But what do you do after the race…do you throw it away? I keep my bib numbers and display them like they are finisher medals.
I have kept all my bib numbers except for one that happened to be from my first race, which was a marathon. I did not keep it
because that race was such a miserable experience that I never wanted to run again and did not want to remember the experience so I threw my bib number away.
A week or two later, after I had forgotten the misery and pain, I signed up for my first ultramarathon and second race…The Tahoe 50k. My second race was a much better experience and I became hooked on running ultras. Since that second race I
have kept every bib number from all my races. I have bib numbers from 5ks, half marathons, marathons, 50ks, 50 milers, 100ks, and 100milers.
On all my bib numbers I’ll write my finishing time and maybe a note or two describing the race and what I enjoyed about it. If I DNFed (Did Not Finish) then I’ll give an explanation on what went wrong, how I was feeling, and what I was thinking. It’s a nice way to remember some of the fun races and learning experience gained in running ultramarathons.
If you decide to keep your bib numbers, don’t just tuck them away out of site. Display them somewhere, where you can see them often and where others can see them too. Having them in sight can be a reminder of what you have accomplished as a runner and help provide motivation for training and for running future races. Also, having them in sight for others to see can make for a nice conversational piece.
I display my bib numbers simply by threading a small rope threw the holes in the bib numbers. This last Christmas my sister bought me a small plaque with two hooks on the bottom specifically for putting bib numbers on. Those are two options for displaying bib numbers.
Over the years I have found that I value my bib numbers just as much and maybe more than my finisher’s medal. I’m not sure why? Maybe it’s because that each bib number I have was with me as I ran those races. Races that required me to sometimes go deep into the pain cave in order to pull out finish. A finisher’s medal is something nice, but it is something you only receive after the race. It’s not something that is with you from the starting line all the way to the finish.
Vanuatu, Squaw Peak 50, Tetons, and Half Marathons
It has been a while since I last posted anything on this blog. That’s partly because I have been doing what this blog is about….running trails. I have also been doing some traveling. So in an effort to catch up on blog posting I thought I would do a write up on what I’ve been up to during the last six months or so. In short list form I traveled to Vanuatu, ran a 50 miler (kind of), summited the Grand Teton…the highest peak in the Tetons, and ran two half marathons.
I lived in Vanuatu for two years as a Mormon missionary from 1996 to 1998. For the first time since I left Vanuatu, I was able to go back this last May. It was an awesome experience!! I was able to see so many people that I love and was able to reconnect with them. By far this was the number one highlight for me.
Vanuatu has some beautiful beaches, but I’m not much of a beach goer…so I didn’t spend much time laying on the beach. I did do some snorkeling in the ocean, swam in a blue hole, and visited a very active volcano. I documented my whole trip by taking photos and video. Below is a YouTube video I made of my trip to Vanuatu.
50 Miler (Squaw Peak 50)
One week after getting home from Vanuatu I toed the starting line of the Squaw Peak 50 Mile Endurance Run. I have to admit that I’ve been struggling with the ultramarathon distance as of late….like for the last four years or so. I had seven consecutive Squaw Peak 50 finishes but the last four years I’ve struggled to finish an ultra. This June was no different. I made it to mile 33 and DNFed (Did Not Finish). I was out of gas physically and mentally and could only go that far. Since then I’ve been training better and feel that I am in better shape than I have been in for a while. I plan on running Squaw Peak next June and with my training that I’ve been doing I should finish.
At the end of August I headed up to the Tetons to climb to the highest peak which is named the Grand Teton. I hardly have any climbing experience so my friend I hired a guide to help us summit. It took us two days to do it. The first day was a hike up to what is called the Saddle where there was a hut for us to sleep in. The second day started at 3:30am as we began our summit attempt. Being a unexperienced climber I found climbing in the Tetons challenging and exciting. The challenging part came in two forms… the climbing which requires upper body strength and mental toughness. I don’t do much exercise
or activities that require upper body strength. This Teton trip helped me to realize that this is something I need to work on so I can round out my fitness. The mental part came because of my fear of some of the exposed cliffs I was on. It took a lot to focus on not being afraid and to just climb. The exciting part of climbing in the Tetons was overcoming my fears and just being up on a beautiful mountain. It was a great experience!!
I’ve run two half marathons this year. One in October and one last weekend (November). The half marathon I ran in October was on Antelope Island…an island in the Great Salt Lake. It was a trail race called the Mountain View Half Marahon. It was a lot of fun! My goal was to run it in under two hours, but I took a 8 minute bathroom break and I ended up finishing in 2:05. The second half marathon I ran was called the Snow Canyon Half Marathon which is run in St. George, Utah. This race was a road race. This race was on the road and pretty much all down hill. I ran it in 1:46. I was happy with this time and felt strong at the finish.
It has been a good year so far. Beside everything that I’ve mention in this post. I’ve spent as much time as I could in the mountains running. Whenever I could on a Saturday I was up on Mount Timpanogos running. It was a lot of fun being on this particular mountain and especially to be able to explore parts of Timpanogos that I have never been to.
I plan on finishing off the year by doing as many Grandeur Peak summits as I can and I want to put in some long miles on the Provo Canyon Trail. Life is good…especially when I can be out running!!!
Ultramarathon Running and Trail Running
What’s the difference between ultramarathon running and trail running? Not much…except to be a trail runner you don’t have to run ultra distances (more than 26.2 miles) and to run an ultramarathon you don’t have run on trails.
The reason I’m making a distinction between the two, is that I am starting to realize that to enjoy trail running I don’t have to necessarily run ultramarathons or be training for an ultra race. This realization has come to me for a number of reasons. First off, my time is more limited than what it used to be. I just don’t have the time to be out training for an ultra. Second, I have been having a debate in my head about quality or quantity.
What I mean by quality or quantity, is asking if it’s better to have more quantity, as in logging more miles on a run? Or is it better to have more quality, as in shorter and slower runs to take in the scenery and enjoy the moment more?
This may be stating the obvious…but I’m beginning to realize to be a trail runner I don’t have to be an ultramarathon runner. The benefit of just being a trail runner is the time benefit. It doesn’t take as much time to run trails as it does to train for and run an ultramarathon. I can enjoy the moment more when I am out on the trail running and not worry about training or running at a certain pace.
All this depends on your interests and goals, I guess. If you want to run beyond the marathon distance in the mountains then perhaps ultramarathon running is for you. But if you just want to get out and run trails to enjoy nature…then trail running may be what you want and will enjoy more.
The Mental and The Physical in Ultramarathon Running
Struggling during an ultramarathon race is common and part of the challenge. To overcome those struggles toughness is required. So….where does toughness come from?
My feeling is that toughness is a combination of the mental and the physical. When I am in good physical shape for an ultramarathon, my body can respond to the physical challenge of running ultra distances. When this happens my mind or the mental part of me is more at ease and I am in a better place to handle the challenges than if I was not in good shape.
With that said, there have been times when I have toed the starting line of an ultramarathon knowing that I’m not in good shape. I have found when this is the case my body does not respond very well to the challenge and my mind or the mental part of me seems to go down hill.
So does the physical part of me determine my toughness? I think being in good shape physically certainly does help with the mental component of ulta running, but there are times even when in good shape, when physically I feel crumby. When this happens it becomes mental and it is mental toughness that gets me through the hard times.
How do we stay mentally tough when physically we are struggling. The physical may be a sour stomach, muscle cramping, or any kind of aches and pains. Perhaps the mental toughness comes with understanding that these physical struggles will pass. They may pass after a few miles or they may pass after crossing the finish line.
Getting better physically means drinking, taking salt, and eating. Doing this can be hard especially when your stomach goes sour.
So, where does toughness come from? Mental? Physical?
Trail Running Photography
Is there more to running trails than just running trails? I think so. What I mean by that is if you are out running trails then you are out in nature. Maybe you are on a mountain trail or in the desert on a trail or maybe on a city trail. Whatever kind of trail you are running on there is a good chance you are surrounded by nature. Something I have started to do more of is enjoy nature on my trail runs. I do this by taking pictures of what I am seeing as I run up and down mountains. I also have found it enjoyable to take video of my runs and then edit that video into something that is hopefully enjoyable to watch.
I started out doing this by taking pictures with my iphone 4. Not the best option as far as quality pictures go, but it was good enough and the only option I had at the time. I found a couple of apps that I could use on my iPhone to edit my pictures…Google’s Snapseed app and of course Instagram. Snapseed works great for editing photos before posting them to Instragram. Instagram is a great way to share photos and Instagram has photo filters for minor photo editing. Instagram is primarily set to share and view photos on a smart phone, but there is a sharing function in the app that allows you to share to Facebook, Twitter or to email your photos to family and friends.
After using my iPhone 4 as my main camera for awhile I decided to buy a nice point and shoot camera that I could easily carry with me on trail runs. The end result of this purchase has been better quality pictures. I also bought a GoPro Hero 3 which has been a lot of fun to use. I can take video and pictures with my GoPro. Both video and pictures from the GoPro are great.
Trail running by itself is a lot of fun, but adding photography and videography to trail running adds another element to running trails. And it gives you a way to share with others the things you are seeing and experiencing. Below are some of the photos and a video I took on my run last Saturday.