Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lessons from B2B2B

A few weeks ago I posted an article on Brain Training and I theorized that a B2B2B (Morning, Night, Morning) run might be a great way to train for a 100. I posted that I intended to do my first one on Facebook and it started a conversation on the merits of training this way, namely comparing one single long run versus similar mileage split over multiple runs. Now that I have completed my first one, I thought I would post some details about what I did and what I learned (thanks to some encouragement from Wyatt).

To begin with, here is what we did with some details.

Saturday Morning we woke early and started at Deer Creek. I only slept 4-5 hours the night before, typical of restless sleep before a big race. For breakfast, I ate what I would eat before a race: a serving of Ucan and an Epic Bar. We started at the trailhead at 5:35 am in total darkness, which meant we had to manage the first hour with headlamps. Deer Creek is a moderate climbing trail with some technical elements, so it was a good challenge. My heart rate and effort were pretty easy all day, but it was definitely harder mentally with such an early start. I am NOT a super early morning runner any more. And, I almost never start a morning trail run in the dark. I wore my Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and found myself tripping a ton, even at an easy effort. Along the run, I tried to mimic a typical early race nutrition strategy for me with a pretty rough goal of 200 Kcals per hour. I managed to eat a Hammer Bar, some Fuel 100 Bytes, and a serving of Skratch Labs. By the end of the run, my legs were stiff and I was tired.  Total was 14.1 miles and 2400 feet of vertical gain in two hours and forty-five minutes.

In between the morning and night run, I didn't rest or sleep. I ate a big breakfast and a small lunch. After lunch, I ate only food I would typically eat on race day, mostly Lara Bars and Epic Bars. I did a few hours of yard work and sat and watch soccer in the afternoon sun for a few hours. After soccer, I felt nauseous from the heat, easily the hottest afternoon we've had so far this Spring. I drank cold fluids and some electrolytes to try and tame this.

Saturday Night we met at the Green Mountain trailhead at 8pm, this time with two extra runners (five total). Before starting the run, we toasted by splitting a few PBRs. Tony was our guide for the evening as he knows this trail system the best. We put on our headlamps and headed uphill, straight uphill!  I definitely wanted to keep the run easy, but also just kind of wanted to "just run" and use Tony as a simulated pacer, only slowing him down once or twice. The trail was way more technical than we were expecting, which is a positive because that is typically the case in an ultra for me.  (It wasn't that technical, but we were expecting almost nothing.) We were treated with some gorgeous views of Denver lights and we bobbed up and down across the mountain. The trail reminded me very much of part of Bear 100, which is kind of ironic since that was the night I decided I need to train more at night! Overall Green Mountain is not a difficult trail system, but it provided some reasonable vertical gain and technical elements that challenged us just enough. I definitely felt stronger than when night comes in a 100 and also stronger than my last night run a month ago. My heart rate was low the whole night, lower than my perceived effort for sure. I switched shoes to my Altra Superior 2 and had no issues with tripping. But, my feet got a bit beat up on the underside from the lack of protection those shoes provide. Once again, with experience at the 100, I switched to a more typical nutrition strategy for me this late in a race: watered down Redbull and gels. I was quite surprised my stomach didn't get rotten from that. Total was 10.5 miles and 1500 feet of vertical gain in two hours.

After the night run, I had a decent dinner (5 eggs) and slept for about 6 hours.

Sunday Morning we met at my house for the last leg. We discovered on our way home from the night run that the local Highlands Ranch Open Space trails had re-opened and we switched our plans to go there instead of Ridgeline. We also changed our plans to meet at 6:30 (instead of 6:00) so we could leave headlamps at home. The three runners (only three of us did all three legs) remarked at how fatigued we were and just wanted to get this over with. But, we were able to keep a respectable pace as we jogged our way around the local trails, which are very much runnable trails with only a little vertical gain and few technical elements. I switched my nutrition to watered down Redbull and another handheld of plain water, again typical of the late stages of a race for me. The heart rate was once again much lower than the perceived effort, though we did manage to push the final few miles a bit to finish strong. Total was 10.1 miles and 900 feet of vertical gain in one hour and forty-five minutes, yielding a total of seven and a half hours, 35 miles, and almost five thousand feet of vertical in the three runs.

So, what did I learn?

My buddy Chuck summed up the pros and cons pretty well in his Strava post:
Pros: Night/dark running and getting familiar with technical terrain and headlamps, running fatigued, pre-run and in-run nutrition practice (although it was weak today), mental toughness preparation.  Cons: I can only say that I was never physically as tired as I might be if I did 2 Long B2B's,
I totally agree that the biggest benefits were night running and running with mental fatigue. I also liked the nutrition and gear switching as the day changed to simulate how I know that typically goes in a race. It is great to have a nutrition plan to start, but anyone that has done a 100 knows it typically goes off the rails at some point. Working with different combinations and experimenting with the switch through the day is helpful, particularly to someone without experience. One of my goals for this was to prepare for the challenge running all day long. While I would be naive to say we accomplished that, I think this was as close as we could come without doing a run that was 12 hours in length.

Also, it was nice to feel totally engaged for a weekend. I have done so many 20 - 30 mile runs over the years that it can sometimes feel like work and just go through the motions. This weekend we were totally engaged in every aspect of training and totally resolved to get it done. That is always a nice oasis twelve weeks into training.

If the critique of this approach is that it isn't the same as one long run (or two long runs) to really push into the red and find lows, then I would agree. It isn't the same. But, I would add that going into the red frequently probably isn't the best training strategy. I did a 38 mile run just two weeks ago and it really takes a lot out of you. An advantage of this strategy is the ability to recover a bit in between runs and pile up mileage/time plus other specific elements of an ultra without going that far into the red. Ultimately, as I said in my post, I am not sure there is any realistic way to be 100% ready for a 100-miler other than to run a few of them. Training should encompass lots of ways to be as specific as possible and stretch your comfort zone and harden your mind. This weekend definitely stretched my comfort zone and I feel I am more prepared for the 100 mile experience as a result. However, I won't be making the B2B2B a staple of my training, mostly because it just takes the whole weekend.

My only regret was not putting some cushioned shoes into the rotation for one or two of the latter runs. I have a few blisters that need tending too. However, I did get to test my new Petzel NAO headlamp under realistic conditions and was quite happy with both the battery and the brightness. That was a good purchase as part of my previous unhappiness with trails was just having an inferior lamp (I think).


  1. AJ: This is great stuff--thanks for posting the details. You have me thinking about watered-down Red Bull. Red Bull used to be my secret sauce back when we lived at sea level and I was a good runner. But at Leadville 2010 I took some in at MQ inbound and puked it all up--never again. Maybe I should give it a shot again? Anyway, what you did with these three runs is stout. What's stout to me isn't just the mileage and vertical (though they're both excellent!); what's most stout to me is the mental grind you endured--and the great practice with nutrition, etc. Great work. You're going to kill it at States!

    1. Wyatt: I could see Redbull as not working for everyone. I really like both the sugar (39g) and caffeine at night. Watering it down takes a bit of the edge off the carbonation and sugary constitution. Mike mixed some lemon lime Skratch with a small amount of tropical flavored Redbull, which sounded really good. Endless combinations to try...