I’ve had a few days to put up my feet and reflect on what went right and what went wrong at The Buffalo Run over the weekend. I am still floating on cloud 9 that I finished my first 100 mile race – and on the first attempt, too! I know that’s a huge accomplishment and I’m insanely proud of myself! But, I also like to really stop and consider the lessons that each race inevitably teaches me. I learned a lot out there in those 30 hours and 11 minutes and I’d like to share it here with all of you, in the hopes that other first-timers can possibly glean something useful out of my own experiences.
What I Did Right
1. I Trained Well
In the past two years that I’ve been trail running, I have gradually built up my stamina, my endurance, my weekly mileage and my elevation gains. I listened to my body, pushed it harder at times and also balanced that with rest. I ran 3 (50) milers in the last 8 months and about 10 (50k) distances in preparation for this goal of a 100 mile race and a ton of other shorter distances getting my body ready for this challenge. I do not believe the 100 mile distance is a wise choice for someone who is a total beginner. Build up to it. My training was consistent. I was committed. I used the training plan from Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell based on 50 miles a week. That was a great guide!
2. I Dialed in my Fueling/Hydration Needs in Training
My first (fat ass) 50k attempt in January of 2010 was a disaster! I was totally inexperienced to trail running and how to fuel for it. I ate too many unfamiliar foods, had GI problems and dropped out at 23 miles to rush off to a bathroom! I thought I’d learned my lessons, but proved in April of 2010 at my first “official” ultra at Weiser River 50k that I was still learning when diarrhea hit me at miles 10 – 20. I spent more time in the bushes than on the trail and came in dead last – but finished!
I kept tinkering with things and slowly but surely found what worked for me. These days I carry two handheld bottles in my training and usually they only hold water. My earlier races, I had relied on Gatorade and for me, that was just too much for a long race for my gut to handle. I do take in some Gatorade or Powerade at aid stations or from a crew, down cups of soda and broth and even fill one of the bottles with Mocha Frappuccino for a caffeine boost and those seem to go down well and keep me going. Other foods that work well for me are Mint Chocolate GU, orange slices, bananas, granola bars (without chocolate!), grapes, half of a peanut butter sandwich, Lunchable crackers and cheese, animal crackers (they had chocolate ones at the Buffalo Run and they really hit the spot!), and the occasional handful of peanut m and ms or peppermints. I also take S caps throughout – approximately 1 per hour or two. Raman noodles were also served and those also were easy to digest and fueled me well.
A friend of mine suggested eating every half an hour to me when I was training for my first 50 miler. I found that to work really well, so that is how I continue to time my eating. I don’t necessarily take in a ton of food either. Sometimes it’s just two bites of a peanut butter sandwich or one GU. I’d say somewhere between 50 – 100 calories per hour while on the move, though that is for my own body (at about 123 lbs) and someone larger would need more calories than that. At aid stations, I try to consume another 100- 150 calories on the spot – downing a paper cup of soda, a cup of broth, an orange slice and a handful of trail mix for instance. I can get those down in about 3 min and be back on the move, with little to carry.
3. Aid Station Efficiency
I was pulled from the Big Horn 50 mile race in June of last year on a time cut off at mile 32. I’d barely missed it. I kicked myself over the next few weeks thinking about how long I’d taken at each aid station socializing, changing shoes, etc. I’ve made it a huge goal of mine to be quick at aid stations now during ultras. I flash my number, get checked in, take what I need quickly and then get out of there. I rarely will sit in a chair during a race. At the Buffalo Run, I sat down at two aid stations. First at the halfway point at mile 50 when I got my night gear and ate more food than usual and second at mile 94 when my blistered feet needed a break. There were 20 aid station stops throughout the race. If I’d dilly dallied even a little bit at each one, I’d have missed the cut off and not completed my first race. On average, I’d say, I spent less than 3 minutes at each aid station – sometimes less than 1 if I didn’t need anything. I’d just check in and right back out and keep moving forward. That is essential if you are a back-of-the-packer like me!
I’ve had the experience of going out too fast in these uber long distance races and regretting it later on. No matter how well you pace in a hundred, you will slow down and get tired by the second half. It’s inevitable. Many of my more experienced 100 miler friends had told me to use the first 50 mile loop as a warm up. To hold way back and rein in my pace. To walk long before I thought I needed to and to intentionally do that from the start. This course is flatter than many 100 milers (about 7,000 of elevation gain throughout) so I needed to be mindful of forcing walk breaks from the start and I did! I had so much energy the first loop, I commented to the aid station workers at mile 34 that I felt as though I’d just started, since I was so fresh! I was leaping for the race photographers, chatting, feeling great – no soreness, no exhaustion, no problems at all for about 45 miles.
Later on, when the bottoms of both of my feet were covered in huge, painful blisters, pace again became a focus. Though the pace in the second half was much slower, I made sure to keep pumping my arms and to force my back to straighten up, knowing those little tweaks would propel me forward just a bit faster – and every little bit helps get you to the finish line sooner!
5. Keeping A Strong Mind
This one alone, I believe is more important than all the other things combined! Without the intense focus on the overall goal, it would be too easy to quit. Ultras DO hurt! You WILL get tired! You will have a thousand logical reasons enter your mind about why you should just pack it in and end the pain!!! But, those who cross the finish line have learned to silence the inner whiner!! They’ve learned to be problem solvers on the spot. Overcome each new obstacle, one at a time and eventually you’ll finish! You must stay positive! You must believe to the core of your gut that YOU have what it takes! If you don’t believe that, you’re not ready. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to feel cranky out there. It’s normal. But, the overriding mindset has to be “I belong here!” “I can do this!” “No excuses!”
6. Having Support
My good running buddy, Ryan gave me a note before I left for my race. In it, he said the single best advice he could give me was to cherish the time with those who care about me – my family and my friends – since the buckle would lose luster over time, but that the memories of experiencing my race with my five kids and husband crewing for me and my friends out on the course would be the real treasures I’d always have! I really thought about his advice and took it to heart. Each time my family crewed, I made sure to hug the kids, kiss my husband and look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for being here!” I crossed the finish line, hand-in-hand with my beautiful children and my husband. It is a memory I’ll always be thankful for!
Now, that my race is over and I do have the buckle in hand, I can see that he was right. I did a good job of making sure my family felt appreciated and I applied that same mindset to everyone on the course I encountered – especially those hard-working aid station workers who selflessly meet all our needs. I smiled at the other runners as we passed, I high-fived people and I tried not to grouch too much at my faithful pacer, Conner, though I would think that he, of all people, might say I can still use a little work on that one – especially after 80 miles!
7. Remember to have FUN!
While I was running on Antelope Island, I saw buffalo, antelope, a porcupine, horses and several birds and mice! The views from the Island were breath-taking! The Salt Lake was a soothing distraction and reflected the snow-capped mountains in the daytime and the stars and the city lights during the night. The rugged rock outcroppings, the vast meadows of wheat-colored grasses that were taller than I was, the dodging of buffalo chips and the sight of the other runners, their families, the smiling faces, the cheering friends along the course were all things that deserved to be enjoyed and not overlooked! Mentally, I tried to pretend I was just on a training run as much as possible. I’d relax my shoulders, occasionally let my legs stretch out and run fast just for a bit to feel the wind in my face and to really enjoy the moment! I had FUN out there – even when it wasn’t that fun in the last 40 miles or so. The picture at the top was taken at around 20 miles in after running for about 4 hours. I was definitely still in my happy place!! Try to think positive thoughts, savor the fact that you’re on the journey to achieve a life-long dream – and enjoy it as it’s happening as much as possible!
8. Apply Body Glide and Wear Clothing that Doesn’t Irritate You
Amazingly, I had very little chafing in this race. I had one small spot on my lower back from the tag on my underwear rubbing me raw. Normally, I don’t wear that extra layer, so I’ll leave it at home next time and avoid that problem. I was pretty thrilled after 30 hours to have no chafing, though! A nice, little victory to say the least!
What Went Wrong
1. Don’t let small problems become big problems!
I made one big mistake in this race! When my feet started to blister up at around mile 45, I ignored it. I thought being tough was part of the game and that if I ignored the problem my feet would eventually go numb and I’d be fine. Instead, the hot spots I had from that point grew until the balls of both feet, my heels and eventually my toes were all covered in painful, swollen, horribly painful blisters! The toenails on almost every toe lifted straight up as blisters formed under them, too! My feet were a mess! It made it hard to even walk a step – let alone more than 50 miles. I did finish and I made the cut off in that ragged condition, but I now realize that I didn’t have to! I could have listened to my husband and the aid station workers at the half point when they wanted me to take off my shoes and socks and attend to the blisters. I had other socks and shoes right there and could have lanced the blisters, gotten bandaged and went on. Instead, it took more than 30 miles for the big blisters to burst painfully on their own and the others stayed swollen until the race was over and they were attended to.
It was a newbie mistake! I’d only had one blister in the entire two years I’ve been trail running! I’d never lanced one before! I didn’t realize how painful they would get or how they’;d make me cry and mentally get me down. The next time I have an issue like this, I will take care of it right away!
I also ended up with a bad sunburn. I’d applied sunscreen before noon on Friday when the race started. Saturday was hotter than the day before with less cloud cover. My face, my neck, my arms and legs are still painful and a good reminder that I should have taken a couple of minutes from the race to reapply the sunscreen. My husband and my pacer both mentioned it to me. I ignored them and pushed forward, too focused on the time cut off to really think about how that would have been a wise thing to spend some minutes doing.
2. Change Clothing if You Need To
I should have changed clothes on day two when I got too hot. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt since the first day had been really windy. I had a tank top in the bag my husband had. It would have taken just as minute to change the shirt and move the bib, but I chose not to do it. I would have likely felt cooler and been able to move forward a little faster if I’d changed.
I should have changed shoes! There was a timing chip zip locked onto my shoe. I was obsessed about NOT having to deal with cutting that off and getting it back onto another shoe. Somehow I thought it would take several minutes, so I didn’t change shoes even when they got so painful and tight that a friend of mine finally insisted I sit down so he could cut off the tops of my shoes to let my blistered feet have a little more room.
3. Have Charged Garmins for the Entire Race
This is a “me” thing and won’t apply to everyone, but it made me crazy when my 1st Garmin died at mile 47 and my second Garmin died at mile 88, when I was freaking out about the time cut off and also wanting to know “How much further” I had to go as I went. It was miserable not knowing those things. I’d packed a regular watch in my bag and should have had that on for the time. I plan on buying a Forerunner 310xt for the 20 hour battery life for the second half of these hundreds. I really needed to know I was on track in those last miles and feel I’d have been more calm with that information (I’m kind of a data junky and numbers calm me and motivate me!) It was super stressful especially in the last few miles when I’d ask a runner who passed by “How much further” and they’d say, “2 miles”, then 10 minutes later have another runner pass by and when I’d ask they said, “3 miles!” That doesn’t sound like much to feel frustrated about – but by that point, every extra mile I thought I had to go sounded like an eternity and it mentally got me down that I didn’t know the “real” answer.
And, that’s it!!! Overall, I am thrilled to bits about how the race went! I hydrated, fueled, paced and kept mentally strong throughout! I kept my eyes on the prize, but not so much that I ignored those who were there to support me. I enjoyed myself and had a lot of fun!
I’ll buy some better dry-wicking socks and wear bigger shoes before the next one. I’ll take the time to change shoes, socks, clothing if I need to and will apply sunscreen and lip balm (those are burned too) as needed. I’ll also make sure that I have electronics along that can handle the distance. I could have really used some music those last 50 miles when my IPod was dead and having the feedback of my Garmin later on would have been a nice touch, too!
I can’t wait to get out there and do it again – and hopefully even better than the first time!