How to Use Races as Training Runs for a 100 Miler
From Couch to 100 Miles in Just 15 Years
Part I: Mohican Trail 100 Mile.
Race Web Site.
Video from 2013. Like my pictures, it doesn't really capture the difficulty of the trails.
Logistics: This is held in Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio. It's very hilly trails - nearly 13,000 feet ascending, and 13,000 feet descending. Very technical -with lots of roots and little stumps and rocks. Some hills very steep - hands on thighs. (I realize that when I say words like "hilly" or "technical," that it's relative. For ME, this race was very hilly and very technical! Not that I haven't done others as hilly and technical, but not this hilly, this technical, AND this long!)
For non-runners, to get a sense of how hilly this was, compare to the Boston Marathon, which is considered hilly among major marathons. Boston has 783 feet of elevation gain and 1225 feet of elevation loss. (Being a point to point race, overall it's downhill.) Mohican is 13,000 feet up and down! And while uphill causes you to slow down and uses energy, it's the downhill that destroys the thighs (quads). Having said THAT, there are many ultras that make this look pretty flat.
|Preparing my drop bags the night before the race.|
Temps were IDEAL: 50's - 70's. Never too hot or too cold. Cloud (and tree) cover made it unnecessary for sunscreen. Humidity was through the roof though. In fact we started running in fog.
Race start: 5:00am, so about an hour in the dark, but needed lamps even longer because of dense foliage. The course is four loops. Aid stations are roughly 5 miles apart. But the first two loops are slightly longer than the last two loops, because in loops 1 and 2, runners take a "long" route between two of the aid stations, and in loops 3 and 4, runners take a "short" route between aid stations. Thus loops 1 and 2 are about 27 miles, and loops 3 and 4 are about 23 miles. Actually loop 4 was about 0.7 miles shorter than loop 3.
|5:00am Saturday. Time to Run.|
|Deb working the aid station. Loop 2. About mile 36.|
|There were a LOT of these roots.|
|But sometimes it was pretty runnable.|
|Down into here on the long route.|
|Waterfall. On the long route.|
|Just past the waterfall.|
|Also on the long route. We had to pick out way through this mess.|
|Fun to climb, straight up, at the end of the long route.|
Some folks say that you "can't bank miles" in an ultra, that it'll just burn you in the end. But in this case I think going out at a fairly decent pace was smart, because once the dark came full on, somewhere between aid station 1 and 2, running was nearly impossible for me. Too many roots and stumps and rocks to contend with, plus I was starting to tire. Thus I just walked. I think I changed socks again here at aid station 3 and powdered my toes again, and was starting to be rather annoyed by the blisters forming on my smallest toes. For some reason, walking was worse on the blisters than running, but of course I couldn't run anyway. The times from aid stations 3 to 4 and 4 to 5 seemed extremely long. All dark, all walking. Hilly. Alone. Of course at aid station 4, the last before returning to the start, I pepped up a bit. Periodically someone would pass me, or more rarely I might pass someone. I did pass one lady who was in a total death march, barely moving forward on robot legs, probably a few miles from the start. I asked if she was okay and she gave only a grunt. I feel rather bad now that I at least didn't ask if she wanted some of my water. I knew others were coming behind me and rather thoughtlessly left her to them if she needed anyone. I should have given her more consideration. Loop 3 took me about 8:10, only 35 minutes slower than loop 2, but of course it was about 3.5 miles shorter, due to the short route we took from aid station 2 to 3. But still that didn't seem horrible since I had walked so much. Nevertheless I was starting to feel a bit of a panic. My goal - pulled mostly out of thin air - was to finish lap 3 in 21 hours, with the idea that a 9 hour final lap would get me in at 30 hours. It was now over 23 hours, meaning a 9 hour final lap would be needed just to finish under the 32 hour cutoff! And on top of that, the blisters really hurt. So I decided to visit the on-site podiatrist. Yes, a podiatrist was there, with her students, during the whole race. It was now 3am and they were still there! They took 20 minutes to doctor up a couple of bad toes, on both feet. But that added to my "lost" time. It was now at nearly 23:30 that I set out on loop 4. I needed to finish loop 4 in 8:30, even though the previous lap took me 8:10. I was getting nervous. And my quads were starting to feel pretty beaten up. I didn't think I had much running left in me.
Fortunately I had two things going for me. Soon it would lighten up again, and also the final loop was even a bit shorter. 0.7 miles shorter, since the finish was before we would return to the start. On the other hand, running was starting to feel nearly impossible. Light or no light, a bit of panic set in and I did try to run some, but it was still hard until the sun came up at around aid station 2. From then on all I could do is whatever I could do. If could run a few steps, I did. If I could powerhike, I did. I tried not to fall into a slow casual walk. I was repeatedly calculating my finish time based upon previous times between aid stations. I was certain that the hills were now 2-3 times taller than they were on loop 1. I was pushing hands into knees to go up. I was going down steep hills very gingerly due to nearly destroyed quads. Whereas on all other loops I lingered at least momentarily at aid stations, I now pushed through them quickly. I hit the final aid station at about 29 hours, I think, leaving me 3 hours to finish, but it had taken me 2.5 hours on loop 3 (if my memory is right here). I knew I had 0.7 miles less than last time, but I was also barely able to move. My quads were history. Running was history. Powerhiking was nearly history. The mountain bike trails were so winding and gnarly and the forest dense enough that getting a sense of distance traveled was hard. I started seeing more mountain bikers - a good sign. And, finally, I popped out of the woods into a campground. I was close! Then I could hear the finish! It was across the street from me! I knew I still had to do another maybe 1.5 miles to get to the finish, but I was under 31 hours and knew I'd make it. At that point my legs just basically quit. I texted Deb and told her to start walking towards me (she was officially my pacer) and she met me with about a mile to go. I probably took nearly 30 minutes to do the last mile, and folks were running by me, but I didn't care. The last 1.5 miles had some short but very steep downhills, and I could barely get down them going sideways. But I just kept walking to the finish, and walked over the line. I made it with over 53 minutes to spare, in 31:06:24. My final lap had only taken me about 7:48, faster than I would have guessed. I imagine the night walking was slower than I had thought it was.
I finished 97th of 108 finishers, and of 192 starters. So 84 dropped out. I was 13th of 14 in men age 50-59 (who finished). But still for my first 100 miler, I was very happy!
|Finishing 100 miles!!|
For lights, I had my Petzl headlamp. However I realize now that maybe putting in the cheapest batteries isn't very wise. They lasted maybe 6 hours total, and since some of that was used in the morning, my light was dead by about 1-2am. Yes I had extra batteries, but also I had my Knuckle Lights, and those were sufficient to get me the rest of the way through.
In general, I took in a gel every 1-2 hours (starting at hour 2), although usually I get sick of gels after awhile, so I brought some Shot Blocks from home and started using them about 15 (?) hours into the race. I find blocks easier to swallow than gels after many hours. Also I consumed RIDICULOUS amounts of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at aid stations. I mean, at nearly every single aid station I had at least one square of one, if not 2 or 3. Probably the equivalent of about 8 sandwiches during the race. I drink water and Heed and sometimes Coke and Ginger Ale. I might eat some fruit and potato chips and grilled cheese and chocolate covered raisins. Just whatever seemed right, grazing as I went along. I had no stomach issues, thankfully. I took half a caffeine tablet at the end of lap 1 and every half lap until I started lap 3, then about every 2 hours. I took one Alleve at 7 hours, and another at 19 hours - for my feet.
Although stopping at the podiatrist cost me 20 minutes, I think it was worth it. They popped a blister and taped up three problematic toes. Had I not done this, I may have been far too hobbled to continue properly. Thankful they were there! I think I'm going to investigate toe socks...
By the way, I wore Hoka Mafates the whole race. Although I would like them a bit wider (which might reduce the blisters), I do believe they help with the foot pain, which can be a HUGE problem for me. My feet still hurt, but not as bad as if I wore other shoes, I believe. Plus I don't feel rocks stabbing into me with them on.
One thing: I was under the assumption that as long as you "kept moving" you'd be fine, that finishing the race would happen. Not so. I did not just "keep moving." I pushed for 31 hours, and I pushed hard. When not running, I was powerhiking, and pushing up the hills. My pace may have been a very slow pace at the end, but it wasn't for lack of effort. It just makes it more amazing to me that folks can do this in under 20 hours. I can't imagine they walk much at all - maybe only the steepest hills, and when they are running it must be at quite a gallop. This was confirmed by the fact that the race leaders passed me - doing their 4th loop, when I was about 2/3 done with loop 3. And yes they were flying along pretty well. Incredible.
Another thing: I don't really need to be with anyone when racing. I went 31 hours, completely alone other than at aid stations and when passing or being passed. That's not to say I don't like seeing people. I do. I pep up and get chatty at aid stations, but I also have no big desire to run with anyone. I like going my own pace and am okay with my own thoughts. Although, I did discover an annoying habit. Between aid stations, especially those with drop bags, I found myself reciting over and over what I needed to do at that aid station. For example, I might decide I was to put get some more Shot Blocks, get some Body Glide, take a caffeine, put in some eye drops, grab my clear glasses, get rid of the Knuckle Lights, and change socks. Thus, in alphabetical order I would say, "blocks body caffeiene eye glass knuckle socks." Over and over. Hundreds of times, maybe for two hours straight. I could not stop saying it (in my mind, not outloud). I would do that, and also calculate the probable time to the next aid station. I really could not stop myself from doing all this, although I wanted to. However, I never forgot to do anything at aid stations. I wonder if anyone else does this, or how they remember all the things they want to do at the next aid station? (Maybe next time I will write down everything in the drop bag so I can look at it when I get to the aid station, reducing the need to memorize so much.)
By luck, this race went pretty much perfectly. By that I mean I think I paced it all well. As I said above, I banked some miles during the day, allowing me to powerhike all night. Had I went much easier earlier in the race, finishing under 32 hours - the time required to finish to get a buckle, might not have happened. Amazingly, I never tripped, and I trip pretty easily.
I was also very lucky to have Deb watching over me all day! She brought me bug spray when I needed it and told me she was proud of me, even sending an encouraging text during the night. And she helped me get through the last mile when my legs just wanted to lie down and quit. For three days after the race, she took complete care of me. I was incapacitated. It's now five days since I finished. My quads are still not back to full strength.
Race splits: The race was slightly altered from years past, and the lap distances below were provided. Thus my were as calculated below. (I know the distances are not quite right.)
Loop 1, 27.2 miles, 6:49 15:02 min/mi
About 10 min between loops
Loop 2, 27.2 miles, 7:37, 16:48 min/mi (54.4 miles, 14.26, 15:55 min/mi)
About 10 min between loops
Loop 3, 23.6 miles, 8:21, 21:14 min/mi (78.0 miles, 22:47, 17:32 min/mi)
Maybe 30 min to fix feet
Loop 4, 23.1 miles, 8:19:24, 21:37 min/mi (101.4 miles, 31:06:24, 18:28 min/mi)
Total of 101.1 miles. Final time = 31:06:24
A few more pictures.
|Deb worked nine hours at aid station 2! Got to see her there twice.|
|At the dam. We ran down this. Yet again on the long route.|
|This was a nice runnable section. On the long route.|
|Typical aid station. This one at the end of the long route.|
|This looks very nice, and it was, although it's more full of roots than it looks.|
|Also looks nice. Also hidden roots in there, everywhere.|
|The last aid station before the finish. Always nice to see!|
|Legs destroyed, but I got a buckle!|
Part II: Using Races as Training Runs.
The second title refers to the fact that to complete this race, I decided to schedule a bunch of races to use as training runs. Many races were fairly close - a few hours drive maybe, and pretty cheap. I have a confession: I like being noticed. In other words, if I can do 50K alone in training, or at a race, I'll choose the race (if it's fairly cheap and near). Why not? It also helps practice race-day tactics. I will run long on my own if I need to, but it's harder, I confess. I'm wimpy that way. Most of these races were B/C races - I did them with few days of taper. Zumbro was an A- race so a couple extra days of taper for that one. Only Mohican was an A+ race, with a two week taper.
Races I used to train for this:
First, I did an Ironman on September 21. That's mainly bike training, but it did mean I had a decent endurance base. But I did no trail running all summer, and typically ran only twice per week. (Note: cross training with triathlons was something I learned to do to make my *running* better. I had been running 5-6 times per week, and was constantly injured. Now I run 2-5 times per week, depending on the time of year, and replace runs with biking and swimming. And gym work. Much better for me.)
October 12: Running Village 50K up in Cedar Falls, IA. All trails, fairly flat, but good training. I remember I kept falling.
October 19: Des Plaines Trail Marathon near Chicago. All in gravel and again fairly flat. Just working on getting miles in.
November 10: Wildcat 50K at Wildcat Den in Muscatine, IA. A free (fatass) race - all trails and lots of little ups and downs. Deceptively hilly. I tripped a few times.
From this point on I purposely tried to pick hilly races:
December 7: Tecumseh Trail Marathon, Bloomington, IN. Well I signed up for this, but it was cancelled due to a snow storm. So I didn't get to do it.
January 11: Frozen Gnome 50K in Lake Crystal, IL. Like the Wildcat, lots of little ups and downs. Plus it was very snowy/icy which added to the effort.
February 8: Psycho Wyco 50K at Wyandotte County Lake Park in Kansas City, KS. Rocky, rooty, hilly trails. But again, so much deep snow that that was the major issue.
March 8: Land Between the Lakes 60K at Grand Rivers, KY. Fairly hilly trails. However large amounts of snowmelt caused rivers of water on the trails provided another major challenge.
April 12: Zumbro 50 Mile at Zumbro River Bottoms near Thielman, MN. This was a revenge race. I had my only DNF ever a year earlier. This race is VERY HILLY! More hilly per mile than Mohican, with 9300 feet of climbing and descending in the 50 miles. The race began well, but a HUGE rain storm hit halfway through, adding LOTS of water to the course, adding to the difficulty. So this was four races in a row where the course was very difficult due to snow/rain.
May 3: Tie Dye 32 Mile at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs, OH. Hilly trails.
May 4: Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH. A road marathon, but hilly, and the day after the 32 mile, so the legs were very tired!
May 24: Booneville 100K in Booneville, IA. Gravel roads. Medium hilly.
So as you can see, I used 50K's, a 50 miler, a double race weekend of 58 miles, and a 100K to build up to Mohican. It *did* involve a lot of driving and some money, but it was worth it. If I were to do another 100 mile race and could do something like this again I probably would, but I would also have more confidence and might not feel the need to do so many races. But I enjoy them, so why not?
Along with these races, I just tried to fit in a lot of trail running, some spin classes or biking, swimming twice per week, gym sessions 2-4 times per week, and stretching nearly daily. There were also some cyclocross races and shorter running races I threw in. I like to race.
Finally: Miles per week in my training:
Week Ending, Miles (Race)
Jan 12, 41.3
Jan 19, 26.8
Jan 26, 27.1
Feb 2, 25.9
Feb 9, 40.1 (Psycho Wyco 50K)
Feb 16 26.4
Feb 23, 39.1
Mar 2, 31.0
Mar 9, 47.4 (Land Between the Lakes 60K)
Mar 16, 16.0
Mar 23, 45.2
Mar 30 20.6 (UIVA Warrior Challenge, a 4 mile obstacle race)
Apr 6, 30.2 (Red Shamrock trail run, 3.6 miles)
Apr 13, 61.2 Zumbro 50 mile
Apr 20, 16.2
Apr 27, 32.5
May 4, 65.6 (Tye Dye 32 mile on Sat, Flying Pig Marathon on Sun)
May 11, 18.1
May 18, 25.4 (Two races on Sat: Livefit for Lupus 5K, then Sunderbruch 10K trail run)
May 25, 69.4 (Booneville 100K)
Jun 1, 17.7
Jun 8, 32.0 (Kewash Half Marathon - most on gravel)
Jun 15, 23.7
Jun 21, 9.6 on M,T,W, then Mohican on Sat/Sun
I never once planned any miles per week nor calculated this until now. I just ran what I could run. Of course I also threw in a few spin classes, biking, two swims per week, and strength training and stretching.