Ultra training part 2

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Long runs. Just mentioning them leads to a variety of responses, depending on who the runner is, their ability, and their goal. As I prepare to enter the ultra world, there really isn’t any part of my training that is more necessary than the long run, especially since I didn’t do enough of them before any of my marathons, and in my opinion, paid for it.

As discussed in my last post, on August 27th I ran with some of the people signed up for the Daytona 100 and Daytona 50 on the actual course. It was later in the day than I normally run (a big deal in the Florida summer) and it may have been tougher on me than necessary, simply because I have done many of my long runs on the treadmill. I have since reconsidered the value of training in the heat and have been doing more of just that.

However, my first long run following the debacle that was the on-course group run needed to be a solid effort in order to boost my mental strength. After all of the struggling that I did on A1A and on the beach I spent way too much time questioning my ability and my desire to press on for the 50-miler that was just 3 months away. I felt that a solid treadmill long run would confirm that I could indeed complete this mission that I’ve signed up for. A week after the group run I climbed on the treadmill, equipped with water, Gatorade, PBJ, and Swedish fish. Doesn’t everyone do that? I ran the first hour at 6.2 mph all the way through. For the second hour I stayed at 6.3 mph, and for the third hour I sprinkled in a few minutes of 6.4 here and there as I was feeling like I wanted to go faster, but even by the end of three hours I was only at 19 miles (too early to push). For the 4th hour I stayed at 6.3 mph, putting me at 25.3 miles in 4:02. I was nine-tenths of a mile from a bunch of things I had never accomplished before.

I restarted the treadmill again and ran another 8:56, completing my first treadmill marathon in 4:10:56. This was the first time I stayed on the treadmill over 4 hours, the first time I did a training run of 26.2 miles, and the first time I ran 26.2 without taking walk breaks. I did have to stop every hour to reset the treadmill, but honestly that’s more of a nuisance than a break. Oh, and my marathon PR is 4:31:37, and this run was 20:41 faster than that PR! Mission accomplished: I managed to turn my thoughts in a positive direction and felt a renewed confidence that I might actually be able to complete this craziness.

Fast forward one week to 9/10. My return to doing long runs outside started at 4:45am. I had made a plan to take a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade, 2 Clif Shots, and some Swedish fish with me and keep backup supplies and additional food in a cooler by my front door. I knew my pace would need to be slower than the treadmill marathon because of the extra heat and humidity so I settled on about a 10:15 pace and decided that after each mile I’d walk for one minute while I took on fluids and calories. This seemed to work really well and I made it back to the house after about 90 minutes and 8.5 miles. I swapped out water and Gatorade bottles and grabbed a quarter of a PBJ sandwich and headed back out.

Another 6 1/4 miles and 70 minutes or so and I was back at the house for more fluids, more PBJ, more fish, and some ice water over my head. The sun was just starting to come up and it felt like the temperature was jumping every minute. Back out there I went, running for another hour, now taking walk breaks after each half mile. In total I ran 20.05 miles in about 3:45, a pace of over 11:20/mile. A week ago I ran 6.15 miles further at a pace that was more than 1:40/mile faster, and felt so much better after. It’s amazing the extra toll that 75-80 degrees and 95% humidity will take on the body. I did, however, learn some things about my “aid station” setup that I could improve upon and I learned that the run/walk schedule that I was trying seemed to be good for me; I think I’ll stick with it.

One more long run to add in here and then I’m pretty much caught up. Last Saturday had the same basic plan: Running near the house with my own personal aid station set up at the front door. I wanted to get out there closer to 4:15, but managed a 4:30am start, and this time I was running with my new headlamp for the first time. I usually run on sidewalks under streetlights so a headlamp isn’t critical, but I know I’ll need one during the 50-miler as I’ll be running on the beach at night and there just aren’t enough streetlights on the beach!

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For this run I decided to go two miles before my first walk break, and kept the pace at 10:13 for those first two. Perfect! I stayed with walking for one minute following each mile from that point on and returned to the aid station after 90 minutes. Swap, sandwich, and go! This time out was about 85 minutes and I was right at 16 miles when I made my second aid station stop. Back out on the road and watching the sun come up I knew that things were going to get more difficult. After about mile 18 I started taking walk breaks after about 3/4 mile running. Around mile 20 I was down to 1/2 mile run to 1 minute walking. I stopped back home for a quick refill on my water at about mile 21 and then managed to run another mile-plus without stopping (only because I knew this was the end). In all I did 22.36 miles in 4:06 (11:00 average pace).

The bright spot here is that I can do long runs in this heat, just not quite as well as I’d like to. Considering this 50-mile race will be in December I’ll have the chance to do several more (and longer) long runs, and the weather should start to become more conducive to running soon, in theory. For my long run this week I’m going to try an earlier start and a longer run in the neighborhood since my second on-course group run was cancelled. Next group run will be in 4 weeks and it’ll be 30 miles of the 50 that I’ll race in December. That could prove to be my most important training run of the year!

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Ultra Training part one

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It’s been a while since I’ve really had anything to post but I think it’s time to get back behind the keyboard and document this process called ultra training. It’s new territory for me, and from the reactions I’ve seen across social media, it’s not familiar territory for very many people. A few months ago I decided to jump into the ultra world when I saw a race advertised that looked too good to pass up. When I signed up for the race, the hardest part was deciding between the 50-mile and 100-mile distance. Seriously, I was just seconds away from clicking on the 100-mile option for my first ultra, but I opted to play it safe and chose the 50. Now race day is less than 3 months away and I’m getting into the meat of my training.

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The lighthouse in Ponce Inlet

The race I’m training for is the Daytona 50 (part of the Daytona 100), which is a point-to-point race down the east coast of Florida. The 100 starts in Jacksonville at 6am, while the 50 starts in Marineland, FL at noon. The finish line for both races is on the beach in Ponce Inlet after circling the second biggest lighthouse in the country. 50 miles…. sounds like an enormous undertaking, but by race day I will have devoted close to 9 months getting myself ready for it. This post covers part of the experience, and once I get caught up then I’ll try to be a little more timely with my posting.

My training started in March with a long stretch of heart rate training. You can see my updates here, here and here. Much of the heart rate training was done on the treadmill simply because it was easier for me to track progress if as many factors as possible are consistent from day to day, and being inside was my way to control the weather differences. In May I started bumping up my long runs and my weekly mileage, first hitting 40 miles per week in early May and 20 mile long runs on July 23rd. By the time it’s May in central Florida the heat and humidity are already off the charts (even before dawn) so I continued most of my long runs inside while moving about half of my short runs outside. Here’s the reasoning: I needed to stay outside regularly in order to stay used to the heat and humidity, but I found it difficult to make it to 20 miles or more in those conditions. Knowing the troubles I experienced in my six marathons I felt that becoming comfortable with the distance was top priority and I could move the long runs outside if/when it cools down. I also kept one 5-6 mile run inside every 10-14 days for a progress update on the heart rate training.

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Now for the fun part: On August 27th there was an opportunity for anyone registered for the Daytona 100 or 50 to run part of the course as a group run. There would be aid available on the course to help out as well. Even though the selected part of the course covered in this run is not part of the 50-mile race, I signed up and made my way to St. Augustine on the 27th, parking at the designated end of the run. We carpooled up to Jacksonville and started our run at the race’s actual start line. I quickly learned that I was the only member of the group with no ultra experience. There was good motivation to do well on this run since my car was parked 28 miles away. The bad part of this experience was that the start time was 9am. In August. In Florida. It was 82 degrees and cloud-free when we started running. Here’s the part where running more outside would have been beneficial.

I ran fairly conservatively (I thought) through Jacksonville, around 10:10-10:40 per mile. Since my long runs for the past three months had been in the 9:30-9:40 range and I had done so much heart rate training, I assumed that taking this run about a minute per mile slower would be about right. You know what happens when you assume, right? By the end of the 4th mile I was averaging 165 bpm and peaked over 170. I still have 24 miles to go and it’s going to get hotter? I’m in trouble. For the next couple of miles I stayed with someone who had run this course last year and was taking walk breaks. I’m not a run/walker, more of a run until you’re dead and then walk as needed, but I needed to find a way to survive this run. We were doing 5/1 and after 3 miles of that I slowed it down even more and let the veteran run ahead of me. Mile 8 was 14:03 with 14:46 at mile 9.

This was exactly why I wanted to do this run. Not to destroy myself physically, but to learn what’s working and what’s not. The hard part is going to be applying things I’ve learned about running in August to a race in December, assuming that it won’t be quite as warm. So I continued down the road under the impression that this road would never end. Around mile 12.5 I saw a friendly face, Dave Krupski’s (race director) wife. She was at the edge of a parking lot with a cooler full of water, Gatorade, some snacks and ice. Lots of ice. I explained to her that I was struggling with the heat and she said that they weren’t worried about how long they’d be out there and that I should keep going as far as I could. I started through the parking lot and just before crossing the bridge onto the beach I spotted a couple of showers intended for rinsing off after being in the ocean. I spent a good 30 seconds letting that water cool off my head, and soaking the rest of me pretty well.

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Sunscreen wasn’t working, still 2 hours to go!

Next up was the bridge to the beach. There were quite a few people walking on the bridge and most of them looked at me like I had lost my mind. I wasn’t prepared to argue. Onto the beach I went and headed south. The sand here was very well packed and was almost as firm as running on the road. After the first quarter mile there was no one on the beach in front of me as far as I could see. And the sun was still blazing away.

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Hello? Anyone there???

 

I’ve been in a place during a marathon where I was physically spent and questioning my ability. After about 2 miles of beach isolation, seeing no one in front of me and no one behind me I was in a place mentally that I had never imagined. I was not only considering giving up the run, but dropping out of the race as well. This was crazy. And it looked like it would never end. I was just about out of food and each mile was taking about a year. From miles 12-16 I ran only mile 14 in less than 15 minutes. Mile 17 took me over 20 minutes. I was seriously out of gas. At about 18.3 I saw Dave’s wife again, waiting next to another cooler. I explained my situation and again she gave me some positives to look at and told me that the tide was on its way in so the course was being adjusted back out to the road (we were supposed to stay on the beach until we finished, mile 28).

 

I let her talk me into continuing over another bridge and back to the road. She said that the next cooler was 4 miles away and if I was still in bad shape that I could wait at that cooler and Dave would take me back to my car. I regretted my decision after about 5 minutes. The sun was relentless. I kept up a pace of one minute run and one minute walk as best I could. About 2 miles after I got back on the road I started wondering if a person would find me before the vultures did. I needed to stop and kept hoping that Dave would drive by. Eventually he did, just before I got to that cooler, just before mile 22. He asked how I was doing and I replied with “front seat or back?” I packed it in and gave up for the first time ever. As we drove Dave said a lot of things that I will try to remember and incorporate in my continued training for the Daytona 50 and beyond. Dave would know what works and what doesn’t after all, he’s run 25 races of 100 miles or more, including Badwater twice. The thing that Dave said to me that stuck with me the most…. If you can last 5 hours in this heat you’re doing well. Apparently the same training run last year had two finishers out of about a dozen people.

Final numbers for the day: 21.93 miles, 5:06:57, end of run weather:

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