50 Miles of Lessons Learned

Yep, these runners are walking up this hill at around mile 5.

Yep, these runners are walking up this hill at around mile 5.

The JFK 50 was a pleasant experience in so many ways.  I know that sounds a tad crazy, but it went better than I could ever have expected!  Maybe it was just my lucky day or maybe I trained right.  Regardless, I just want to pass along some things I learned about training for and running an ultramarathon.

1.  Follow your training plan.

Fortunately, I have my own certified running coach: me.  I know how to kick my own tail.  I develop my own training plans based on what I have learned and the research I have done.  Regardless of where you get your training plans and whether or not you have a coach, the most important thing is to follow that plan.  Don’t be tricked into saying to yourself “Oh, I can’t squeeze in 6 miles, so I will just do five.”  That will soon become a habit.  Then you might be saying “It will be okay if I miss my run today because I can make it up later.”  Sometimes things come up that you can’t help (like you come down with the flu), but if your schedule doesn’t allow training for an ultra, then you shouldn’t be doing one.  I have a full-time job, a coaching business on the side and three small children.  Yet, I still have time to train because I make the time.  If you can’t make the time to follow a training plan, then try something not quite so challenging.

2.  Your training runs are practice runs.  Learn what to do and what not to do, then just do what works.

In the week leading up to the JFK 50, there were quite a few people posting questions on the facebook page.  A few of them didn’t make sense to me.  People were asking questions like what they should carry for hydration and what they should be eating.  Seriously, if you didn’t practice that during your training runs, then I am not sure what to tell you.  It got to a point where I had to post a reply: “Just do whatever you did during training!”  I wore my hydration vest and carried food during training, so that is what I did during the race.  Sure, if I were trying to win then maybe I would want to lighten my load, but all I wanted to do was finish and I knew I could if I stayed hydrated and well-fueled.

3.  Practice walking during your training runs.

I know that this sounds odd, but trust me, it is a hard thing to practice if you are a runner who has never done an ultramarathon before (or a runner who has never set foot on trails).  I had trouble finding the patience to do this during a 20-mile run because I knew that I could run the entire twenty miles.  However, I compared time for two 25-mile runs… one involved running the entire way and the other one included intervals of 25 minutes of running with 5 minutes of walking.  Do you know which time was faster?  The one that included the 5 minute walk breaks!  I wasn’t able to be 100% consistent during the race, but I focused on walking most of the hills and running the flats and downhills.

4.  The most important part of your body to train is your mind.

At around mile 35, I heard a runner say to another runner “I left John behind.  He was in a dark place and I couldn’t get him going.”  Every now and then I would wonder when I would hit my “low” because I naturally expected it to happen at some point during a 50-mile run.  I used to hit walls during marathons at around mile 22.  I just thought that maybe it would be later for an ultra.  However, it never hit.  I never experienced a low point during the race.  Okay, at mile 46 I sure as heck wanted to be done with the race, but I was able to speed up and keep my focus on the finish line.  In order to train your mind, you have to experience some of the crap that comes along with training.  During one 24-mile training run, I struggled during the last 4 miles.  My struggle was so intense that I had to repeat a phrase over and over: “One foot in front of the other.”  I felt like I could barely put one foot in front of the other.  If you don’t have tough training runs, then you won’t know how to be prepared for whatever challenges you face during the race.  If you are prepared, then you have less anxiety.  You also have to run long and run far.  They say back-to-backs are good to do since you run on tired legs the next day.  Sure, that gets you physically prepared, but you HAVE to run for a long time without any breaks in order to get the true experience of what it will mentally feel like on race day.

5.  Train on the terrain you will run on race day.

The first 15 miles of the JFK are up and over a mountain on the Appalachian Trail.  I spent all of last winter running trails in Colorado.  Even though it has been awhile since I have been on a “real” trail, I still had that knowledge of trail running.  I also took advantage of whatever trails I could find in my local area (even though they were a far cry from mountain trails).  I also did hill workouts in preparation for the climbing.  Not only that, but 26 miles were on a long and boring (but very beautiful) section of the C&O canal.  If I could count how many times I experienced long and boring running around Chesapeake… Oh, and let’s not forget, if the race doesn’t allow music, then you probably should train without music.  Honestly, I wasn’t very bored at all during the race and I actually felt like those 9 hours and 55 minutes just flew by!

6.  Don’t do anything new on race day.

This kind of goes along with #2.  I actually wore different clothes than I had been training in for the past 6 months since the weather was a whole lot colder.  However, as mentioned before, last year I ran through a Colorado winter.  Also, I had prepared to eat a variety of foods, but I decided not to pass up Christmas cookies and red velvet cake.  And no, I never tried those during training.  However, I do know that I have an iron stomach.  I once spent my first trimester of pregnancy stationed on a ship in the middle of the Bering Sea during winter… and I never threw up.  If you have a sensitive stomach, then skip the red velvet cake because you don’t know how it will affect you.

7.  Female runners are level-headed.

Females are actually better able to keep their minds in the right place during distance races than males.  I know, I know… I didn’t do the research, but I will tell you that the only complaints I heard came from the mouths of males.  I remember this one specifically: “I just want to get off this canal trail!  It is so long!”  I seriously wanted to punch this dude in the face.  How dare you speak negative out loud while I am enjoying time in my happy place??

8.  Most of all, have fun!

It is a once in a lifetime experience… well, maybe more than once if you are truly crazy!  One runner has finished that race 45 times!

Even if you follow all of these tips and every other tip you read in all of the books, you can’t always be prepared for what mother nature or mankind might throw at you.  It could snow and a thick layer of ice might form on the trail.  There could be a train you have to stop for (as in the case with some JFK 50 runners).  Maybe there is freezing rain in subfreezing temperatures (only 17% of runners in 1974 finished the race due to these conditions).  Or you acquire a nasty virus the day before a race.  The point is, you just never know what could happen so tuck away a Plan B.



Let the Training Begin!

Kiefer and I wll be cycling buddies for the next 24 X 8 hours!

Kiefer and I wll be cycling buddies for the next 24 X 8 hours!

I was kind of a lump on a log during the holidays.  Okay, maybe I was still pretty active, but not as active as I usually am.  I went 2 days in a row without working out and it really bothered me.  Thanks to the damn stairs I nearly broke my toe, but I am pretty sure it was either just a sprain or a ligament tear…. still not really sure, but it doesn’t hurt.  It just looks ugly.  Well, I guess my toes have always been ugly so this doesn’t make much of a difference.

It just so happens that December 31st (of our dearly beloved 2012) was the start of my official 1/2 Ironman Training.  It kind of worked out with it being at the start of the year.  It is almost like I am in with the Resolution crowd.  Okay, not really.  Working out is nothing new to me.  The only thing that’s different is now I just need to have it planned out and stick with the plan.  Fortunately I am being helped along with a little competition.  Oh yes, I love competitions.  It is the Jammin’ January Challenge.  Whoever completes the most workouts in the entire month wins!  I’m all over this!  Bring it!  That is the only reason why I got up extra early this morning to make sure I could squeeze in a swim workout AND some weight training before work.

I have my little plan written down on a calendar.  Okay, okay, I have yet to do exactly what the plan says.  I have already switched days around, but next week this family will be back to a normal routine.  You know, school and after school activities…. all of that fun stuff that keeps you busy.  I will have my scheduled gym days and my scheduled free time when the hubby is watching the kids.  It will be scheduled… since schedules never change.  Ever.  Yes, I will laugh at that.  We are a military family.  However, we are not very military-like these days because my husband just goes to school.  Whoa!  He has a normal schedule folks!  That is unbelievable!  Okay, maybe this will work.  A schedule and a plan.  I got this!

So, my basement is ready for me.  Basements are scary, I know.  I have learned to sort of like our basement.  Sure, it is creepy, but at least there is a window.  Well, the window is only a hole with a view of the dirt, but at least some light comes in.  The scariest part is the crawl space that is closed off with a curtain.  I don’t like to look under there.  Crawl spaces definitely creep me out.  So today my husband (with some help from me) hoisted the treadmill from our room on the very top floor all the way down to the basement.  You see, I made the mistake of having the movers put it in the bedroom.  It was too late to change my mind when I saw it in the room.  That would’ve pissed them off and they would have taken more than our folder of DVD’s and my very special candle (where else could that freakin’ candle be??).  Maybe they were planning a hot date with a movie and a candle.  Oh, and a stepstool.  We are missing our stepstool.

Anyway, back to the treadmill.  It just made more sense to put it in the basement.  So, after 6 months it is finally in the basement.  I don’t have to run on it and worry that I am going to fall on my kids who might be sitting downstairs in the living room.  Okay, I rarely use the treadmill, but those single digit temperatures at 6:00 AM might entice me to use it more often.  Now the glorious treadmill is sitting right next to my bike trainer.  At least it was.  My husband is back down there moving things around to my liking.  He asked me for my opinion without realizing that I would actually give it to him.  In front of the bike trainer and the treadmill will be a very old t.v…. one of the ones that actually looks like a box.  However, I will probably be bringing down my laptop so I can watch the entire 24 series all over again.  And trust me, I will get through all 8 seasons of 24.  My butt will get sore in the process, but that is better than getting a sore bottom from sitting on the couch.

Week 1 is almost complete.  Nevermind.  I just realized I still have a long ride and a long run to do before the week is over.  Oh, and a long swim (even though the definition of a “long swim” is only about an hour, that is still a heck of a long time to swim in circles without music or something to look at).  This is going to be a long 20 weeks, but it will be worth it in the end!  Sure, some people think that is just crazy.  Do I care? Nope.