Monday, March 24, 2014

Getting ready for an ultra

It's come down to this: Five days from now, with any luck, I will be almost halfway through my first ultramarathon, the Leatherwood 50 miler. My training is complete; I'm just running a few easy miles this week to keep sharp. I missed a couple of key long runs, but by all accounts I've done more than enough training for a 50 miler. What I don't have is experience. I don't know what my body should be feeling like at various points along the race. I don't know what a reasonable amount to push myself would be, say, 20 miles into the race.

What I do know is that this will be a very difficult course:

Note the total elevation gain [click for larger version]

The course is simply non-stop hills. My hunch is that, early on, the temptation will be to go too hard, and later in the race, the temptation will be to back off too much. So I will try to fight those urges as I make my way through the course. What I do on race day, however, will also depend on how I prepare in advance.

I may be on the trails for 12 hours or more, burning perhaps 7,000 calories. I won't be able to eat as much as I burn that day, but I need to eat as much as possible. To get even half those calories from energy gels is simply impossible: My stomach gets upset consuming the 7 gels I eat during a typical marathon; to eat 3500 calories in gels alone would mean consuming 35 gel packs!

Clif Bars have been a staple of my training; they contain 240 calories per bar, but again, I don't see myself eating 13 Clif Bars over the course of my race. I will need a variety of foods. I can expect the aid stations will have a decent selection -- typically cookies, soup, peanut butter sandwiches, and bananas are found. My plan will be to bring a half dozen Clif Bars in a variety of flavors, about 6 gel packs, and my favorite food from the few ultras where I have served as a pacer: Vanilla sandwich cookies.

I've never been very happy drinking Gatorade or other sports drinks, so I will be consuming plain water, supplemented by Endurolyte electrolyte supplements to replace the salts and other electrolytes the body loses through sweat.

The aid stations for this race are spaced roughly 6 miles apart, so I'll be carrying a hydration pack that I will try to keep half-full throughout the race to cut back on weight. Even if I slow to a 20-minute mile pace by the end, a liter of water should be enough to get me 6 miles at a time.

I'll also carry my phone (so folks can track me via my Runkeeper account), a map, some paper towels, gloves, allergy medication, and an extra shirt for warmth. I'll have whatever else I can think of in a bag at the starting area (which I will pass through three times over the course of the race): Extra shoes/socks/clothing, body glide, sunscreen, etc. (feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments).

And that, I think, is about all I can do to get ready. All there is left is to run the silly thing!


  1. Bon chance, David. I'm not a racer, but have friends who are. Some swear by boiled, salted potatoes. Probably not easy or light to carry.

  2. I've heard of the boiled salted potatoes thing but never tried it. I'm pretty sure they will have them at aid stations at Leatherwood.