Monday, June 29, 2015

Western States 100 - What Worked

I had an amazing day, and I will eventually write a race report. However, I thought I'd do a separate post on what I thought worked well to keep it to a manageable size! Ultra runners seem to want to force training (aka more miles) onto a situation when things aren't going well. It has never been a secret that I am not a "mileage guy". I did train hard, but what made the difference for me was training smart -- specificity and nutrition. I had a plan to attack this training cycle and it worked great. In my view, ultra running is about preparing your body for the moment, teaching it how to maintain homeostasis for long periods of time, and then problem solving in the moment. Just throwing more miles at the problem won't solve underlying fundamental issues.


I blog about this all the time and I finally got one right! I had a relatively simple (but well thought out) strategy and it paid off big time. My breakfast was small -- three hard boiled eggs and two servings of Ucan -- and then I started eating one hour into the race and stuck with it for at least 80 miles. I also had a packet of Vespa 30 minutes before the start of the race. My plan was to have Skratch as I often as I could without getting cotton mouth or dehydrated. Given my drink rate, this worked out to about every 1.5 hours (or every 3rd water bottle). Then, I had solid food (Lara Bars mostly) every 2 hours and Vespa every 2 or 3 hours. And, I had a few packets of Fuel 100 bites just for a bit of salt and some flavor. All totaled, I believe I ate between 3600 and 4000 Kcals, or 170 per hour. That is quite astounding for a 190+ lb athlete that used to eat nearly 400 Kcals per hour.

I kept what I needed on me for long stretches and utilized my crew meet ups as times to stop in place and eat. No excuses, I wouldn't leave aid without solid food in my belly. I supplemented with aid stations -- mostly a few shots of soda as a pick me up -- through the entire day. There were a few times I got some hunger in between stretches without solid food, but my energy was rock solid all day and my gut was never once upset. I don't have any fat utilization numbers to prove it to you, but I know my LCHF is a big reason why. No stops to empty my GI system, no nausea, no vomit.

The one thing I was careful about was salt. I don't normally use salt caps anymore after reviewing the work of Tim Noakes. Noakes' work suggest salt is not necessary and that it is not related to cramping or hydration.  Instead of worrying about salt intake, I heat trained to help prevent my body from dumping salt. But, the flip-side is that salt isn't bad for us in moderate doses either. Given the amount of water I drank, I went ahead and had some S!Caps every few hours just to be safe. I also got some salt in my Skratch and Fuel 100 bites. One could say I took the moderation approach to salt.

Heat Training and Cooling Off

I am not an expert on California weather, but it appears they had a somewhat unusual weather year. The high temperatures in the city near the race course were only slightly above average for this race (low 90's). However, I ran into a local at the airport -- who paced the 2nd place woman -- on my way home and he explained that the pattern of wind created a condition where the canyons where hotter than normal. That sounds like a reasonable explanation as the DNF rate was high this year and nearly all the carnage was done by Michigan Bluff. My watch read 97 degrees on my skin -- which means it was likely 10-15 degrees hotter than that -- in both of the first two canyons.

Anyway, I knew the race had a reputation for being hot and I prepared for it by heat training, primarily in the sauna -- over 20 sessions in the weeks leading up to the race. I wouldn't say I became a magically better heat runner as a result of this, but I learned to tolerate it and drink a ton of water to stay cool (sometimes two handhelds in under one hour, but only to thirst, never forcing it). After reading lots of opinions, I only did limited heat running as I really didn't want to impact the quality of my runs or put undo stress on my body by running fully clothed in high temperatures. There were a few short sessions (typically less than an hour) at really easy paces as I attempted to prepare mentally and test gear combinations.

The other part of my plan was to have a cooling strategy. I bought some "omni-freeze" gear from Columbia (hat, buff, and arm sleeves) and I stayed wet and hydrated through the entire day. In fact, I was still getting doused in water all the way up to the final aid station. The aid stations at WS100 and first class and I had no problem getting wet and packed with ice. There were a few instances where I had 3-4 volunteers giving me a cold bath at the same time. I generally left every aid station with 3 full handhelds and was usually empty (or close) by the next aid station because of my high drink rate. Even with a high drink rate, there were a few instance through the day where my pee was a bit yellow and far between (4-6 hours).


Other than the two items above, patience has been the biggest issue for me, particularly in a 100. I find myself getting into panic mode 30 miles into the race, forcing my external expectations onto the moment instead of dealing with what was in front me. This lack of patience leads to poor decisions, like leaving aid stations without addressing what I need and forcing a nutrition plan on a the fly. And, it causes me to get negative and discouraged as I try to reconcile my expectations and the current reality.

In this race, I knew quite well what the aid station splits were supposed to be for a 24-hour finish. I also knew I had to run with in myself and avoid the mistakes listed above. When I fell off the Western States projected 24-hour pace, I didn't panic. I had confidence in my conversations with Matt Curtis. I asked questions of the race veterans running near me. All of them said 24-hours was doable despite being slightly "behind". This took great faith from me as I am a "numbers guy" and figured Western States has been doing this long enough that they know. Plus, I had never nailed the second half of a 100 (until now) and figured a bit of cushion would be good. Long story short, there were a few internal arguments over my pace, but I stuck with what I thought sustainable and avoided previous mistakes. I just kept working at what I thought was a sustainable and constant energy level and trusted the rest of my training and planning would work out.

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